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Real Madrid plot Haaland-Mbappe megadeal; Arsenal's plan for life after Aubameyang

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Laurens: Inevitable Aubameyang would be stripped of captaincy (0:56)

Julien Laurens feels Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being stripped of the Arsenal captaincy was to be expected. (0:56)

Real Madrid want to pair Kylian Mbappe with Erling Haaland in a forward line that would be the envy of world football -- ESPN's Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: Arsenal have plans to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Jump to: Arsenal's list of Auba replacements | City goodwill towards Barca in Torres deal | Chelsea's Digne challenge | Napoli eye Axel

Madrid's mouthwatering move for Mbappe-Haaland

Real Madrid are trying to sign Erling Haaland as well as Kylian Mbappe next summer in an attempt to take advantage of the financial problems at Barcelona by landing the two most sought-after players in world football, sources told ESPN.

Real failed with a €200 million move for Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe during the summer transfer window, but the France international is expected to move to the Bernabeu as a free agent when his PSG contract expires at the end of this season.

And although they face competition from Manchester City, Manchester United and PSG for Borussia Dortmund forward Haaland, Real believe they can structure a deal to take the 21-year-old Norwegian to Madrid.

- January transfer window: All you need to know
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With four big earners -- Gareth Bale, Isco, Luka Modric and Marcelo -- due to be out of contract and off the wage bill at Real at the end of the season, the LaLiga leaders will have the financial headroom to fund a move for Haaland and also pay his and Mbappe's wages.

ESPN reported in October that Haaland will command an annual salary of £30m if he leaves Dortmund, where a €75m release clause will be active at the end of this season.

Sources told ESPN that Haaland and his advisers will consider interest from a range of clubs, but Real are the leading contenders to sign the Norway international.

While Barcelona president Joan Laporta remains determined to challenge for Haaland, the club's financial problems are likely to make such a move impossible. Barcelona announced debts of €1.35 billion in September -- a situation that forced the club to accept defeat in their efforts to keep Lionel Messi at Camp Nou and also led to the departure of Antoine Griezmann to Atletico Madrid.

Although Barca are now making moves to strengthen their squad, with Ferran Torres arriving from City in a €55m deal this week, the five-time Champions League winners are unable to compete with Europe's richest clubs in the race to sign Haaland, and sources said that Real know they have a rare opportunity to open up a huge gap between themselves and Barca by strengthening while their biggest rivals are in a state of financial turmoil.

Premier League leaders City appear to be in a strong position to sign Haaland due to the club's wealth and success under manager Pep Guardiola. Neighbours United have held a long-term interest in Haaland, but the managerial uncertainty at Old Trafford and struggle to secure a top-four league finish this season could damage their hopes of signing the player. Sources told ESPN that PSG are ready to move for Haaland if Mbappe confirms he won't sign a new contract at Parc des Princes, but Real could yet prove to be City's biggest rivals for the player's signature. -- Mark Ogden

Arsenal's plans to replace Aubameyang

Mikel Arteta has a short list of strikers to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal, with Alexander Isak, Dusan Vlahovic, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins among his targets, sources told ESPN.

- Transfer analysis: Aubameyang needs to leave Arsenal

Aubameyang's future at Arsenal has been thrown into considerable doubt over disciplinary issues, and Arteta is willing to listen to offers for him in January.

Arteta and Arsenal's recruitment team are planning for life without Aubameyang and have a range of options that they are considering. Among them is Watkins, who joined Villa for £27.7m from Brentford last summer and has scored 18 league goals in 51 appearances for the club. Sources said Arteta is a fan of Watkins' playing style and his ability to play in a number of different roles in attack. There has been no direct contact between Arsenal and Aston Villa over Watkins, and sources said a switch in January would be highly unlikely, but the 25-year-old will be monitored ahead of a summer move.

Real Sociedad's Isak, Fiorentina's Vlahovic and Everton's Calvert-Lewin are also options in the event Aubameyang moves on, although sources said Arsenal are aware of how expensive a replacement may turn out to be and that other options are being considered.

Elsewhere, after failing to sign Jorginho from Chelsea 18 months ago when the Italy international was surplus to requirements under Frank Lampard, Arteta is still keen on a holding midfielder. Watkins' Villa teammate, Douglas Luiz, is on his radar, sources added. -- Julien Laurens

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From bad to worse: Barcelona's 2021 to forget

Barcelona is ready for a new year after 2021 saw their superstar depart and their first UCL group-stage exit in over 20 years.

City's goodwill toward Barca in Torres deal

Manchester City helped out cash-strapped Barcelona by agreeing to receive the Ferran Torres fee in several instalments, with the first one not due until July, sources told ESPN.

Barca confirmed the signing of Torres earlier this week in a deal worth an initial €55m -- just four months after letting Lionel Messi leave because they could not afford to renew his contract.

Sources explain the deal was possible because Torres, 21, will earn much less than Messi did at Camp Nou and because City were happy to break the fee down over a number of years.

The English club will be paid in at least four instalments, with the first one not due until July so that Barca can include it in the books for the next financial year, when they expect revenue to have increased following a dip during the pandemic.

LaLiga imposed a €97m spending limit on Barca for the season, which includes outgoings on wages and transfer fees. Barca's wage bill alone is way over that cap, but the league does allow them to spend 25% of everything they save by moving on players and reducing their outlay on salaries. -- Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens

Newcastle pose Digne problem for Chelsea

Chelsea's interest in Lucas Digne could be complicated by Newcastle's desire to sign the left-back on a permanent basis, sources told ESPN.

The Blues are weighing up possible targets in the January transfer window after learning Ben Chilwell is set to miss the rest of the season following a decision to undergo surgery on a knee injury sustained in late November.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has repeatedly bemoaned the depleted nature of his squad in recent weeks as they have fallen eight points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City and have Marcos Alonso as their only fit specialised left wing-back.

With Chilwell expected to make a full recovery this summer, Chelsea are ideally looking for short-term cover and would be keen to take Digne on loan.

However, Everton prefer a straight deal given a deterioration in the relationship between Digne and boss Rafa Benitez, who is also looking to raise funds to reshape his squad in the transfer window.

Everton are thought to want in the region of £25m, a figure that would not deter Newcastle following their Saudi-led takeover. Newcastle are 19th in the table with the joint-worst defensive record in the division and will look to sign at least two defenders in January.

Inter Milan and Napoli have also registered an interest, but it is not clear at this stage whether either club would be prepared to meet Everton's valuation.

There is obvious appeal for Digne in trying to push for a move to European champions Chelsea, rather than a spell fighting relegation with Newcastle, but the clubs have to find an agreement first, with talks expected in the coming days. -- James Olley

Napoli eye Tuanzebe, Pereira wants out

Napoli have asked Manchester United about Axel Tuanzebe's situation ahead of the January transfer window, sources told ESPN.

Tuanzebe is on loan at Aston Villa, but the Italian side have enquired about United's plans for the 24-year-old as they assess options to strengthen their defence. Sources told ESPN that Napoli are yet to make contact with Tuanzebe's representatives, who are first set to meet with United chiefs to discuss the former England under-21 international's future.

Tuanzebe signed a one-year loan deal at Villa Park in the summer and has made 11 appearances so far this season, although he has not started a game since Nov. 5. He has a contract at Old Trafford until 2023 and is highly rated by members of the coaching staff, but the centre-back is keen for regular games and remains behind Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane in the pecking order.

United also have Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones in their squad, as well as 19-year-old academy graduate Teden Mengi.

Meanwhile, Andreas Pereira has told United he will not return to the club to be a squad player and is instead looking for a permanent move at the end of his loan deal at Flamengo, sources told ESPN.

Pereira has impressed in Brazil, helping Flamengo to the final of the 2021 Copa Libertadores -- though it was his error that led to Palmeiras' winning goal in the 2-1 defeat.

United interim coach Ralf Rangnick has told all the club loanees he will assess them personally before decisions are made on their futures but Pereira -- capped once by Brazil in 2018 -- has made it clear he will not settle for a bit-part role at Old Trafford after becoming a key player for Flamengo.

He has a contract at United until 2023 but is keen to secure a permanent move away to kick-start his career. Flamengo is the 25-year-old's fourth loan move since 2016 after spells at Granada, Valencia and Lazio.

There is interest in Pereira from a number of clubs in Italy, Spain and France, but he has not ruled out extending his stay at Flamengo. -- Rob Dawson