Real Madrid target £23m Xabi Alonso, Arsenal want Eden Hazard, Chelsea prepare to sell Ricardo Carvalho & buy Bruno Alves, while Villa battle to keep Gareth Barry

Comment & analysis round-up

Quote of the day: “I’m fine. I trained with the ball on Wednesday and did some running, so I’m doing all the movements I need to be doing before a game. I’ve not thought about not playing in the final. But this has been perhaps the hardest and most important injury battle of my career because there is so much at stake. I have been so engrossed in my injury that I haven’t thought about much else and I will only start thinking about the actual match when I am sitting on the plane to Rome. You’ll have to ask the manager about me playing at Hull, but physically, I’d be able to do it, no problem.” – Rio Ferdinand.

Runner-up: “Manchester City Football Club note with interest the reports circulating in the Spanish media that the club have made an offer to the Barcelona player Lionel Messi and that he has turned down the chance to join the club. While acknowledging that Lionel Messi is a world-class player of the highest calibre, Manchester City would like to make it clear that the club has at no time made an approach to Mr. Messi or his representatives.” – a Manchester City club statement.

Today’s overview: All arrows point to Xabi Alonso leaving Liverpool and heading for Real Madrid this Thursday, as Anfield prepares its revolving door ahead of a busy summer.

According to Paul Joyce, “Xabi Alonso is braced to play his final game for Liverpool this weekend as his future becomes central to Rafa Benitez’s spending plans for the second successive summer… A belated deal for Aston Villa star Barry has been secretly set up, while Benitez is also ready to seal a £10million move for Portsmouth right-back Glen Johnson.”

Rory Smith offers some insight into the likely transfer deals going on at Anfield this summer. With “an initial kitty of only around £20 million… [Benitez’s] spending will be supplemented by the likely departures of Andrea Dossena, Andrei Voronin and Sebastian Leto, while Benitez could also be tempted to part with Ryan Babel and Xabi Alonso.” While, on those arriving at Anfield, Simon Jones claims that “Liverpool have launched a fresh £15million bid to land Portsmouth right back Glen Johnson.”

Manchester United may be saved another tedious summer of will he-wont he stories linking Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, with Sid Lowe reporting how “Florentino Perez remains prepared to return to Ronaldo should other options break down but his primary targets lie elsewhere, with Kaka and Franck Ribery at the head of a list of preferred signings that also includes Xabi Alonso and David Villa.”

In a tirade against Newcastle, Paul Weaver explains why he hopes the Magpies are relegated. “They have pieced together the wrong owners, the wrong executives, the wrong managers and the wrong players… Newcastle are a complete mess on and off the field, an object lesson in how a football club should not be run. Now they are looking to Michael Owen to save them, a striker so out of form that he has scored just once this year.”

Writing for The Sun, Harry Redknapp lays out his predictions for the drop. “To be honest, I can’t see any of the four clubs involved in the relegation battle winning their matches — so it’s Newcastle and Middlesbrough who will join West Brom in the Championship next season, in my opinion.”

But the Toon have a great chance of staying up if, as Tony Cascarino believes, Hull lose to an unfamiliar Manchester United team on Sunday. “Hull will be facing a determined and committed bunch who may still be more skilful than them. While Phil Brown’s side will be nervous, United will be able to play with freedom. And having played only a handful of games this season, they’ll certainly be fresher.”

Looking towards next season, Paul Wilson argues that Manchester City have to be aiming for a top four finish. “Anything short of Champions League status by the end of next season has to count as failure and could cost Hughes his job. Because what are the alternatives? Another middling season finishing empty-handed and short of the European positions would count as failure by anyone’s standards, let alone the wealthiest club in the world.”

David Hytner questions whether Fulham actually want European football next season. “Hodgson privately accepts that unless new contracts are offered and signings made, the European adventure could become a damp squib.”

Reform of the beautiful game is a big theme in today’s papers.

The Guardian’s tag-team of Matt Scott and Owen Gibson join forces to report on “wholesale reforms to the way English football is governed will today be tabled by the Football Association in an attempt to bring players, ethnic minorities and women into the heart of the game’s ­decision-making structure.” While over at The Times, Tom Dart publishes how “the [Football] League wants the Premier League to increase its handouts to lower-division clubs in proportion to wage rises at the top level that echo down the divisions and impel smaller clubs to pay salaries that they can hardly afford.”

With the season drawing to a close, Mikey Stafford traces the 68 Premier League footballers whose contracts expire in just a couple of days. “For most of the 68 players who have yet to renegotiate their contracts Sunday presents a last chance to impress employers or attract interest from elsewhere.”

Onto the transfers, and The Times’ Gary Jacob links Arsenal with a top European talent. “Wenger is likely to continue to pursue his policy of signing young players with potential and has expressed an interest in Eden Hazard, the Lille attacking midfield player who can also play on the wing. The 18-year-old, who is also being monitored by Chelsea and Inter Milan, has three years left on his present deal. He has won four caps for Belgium.”

Over in the Telegraph, Jason Burt reports that “Ricardo Carvalho could be the first high-profile name to leave Chelsea this summer as Jose Mourinho is hoping to be reunited with the central defender at Inter Milan.” The story is also reported by Tony Banks in the Daily Express, who adds “Chelsea will be reluctant to let Carvalho go but a potential replacement has already been lined up in Porto’s £15m Bruno Alves.” The Blues are also at risk of losing a second defender this summer, although the Daily Mail write “Chelsea [are to] offer Ashley Cole five-year deal as Manchester City and Barcelona eye [the] defender.” Lastly on Chelsea, David Woods announces that “Carlo Ancelotti is set to be confirmed as Chelsea’s new boss early next week.”

Consensus opinion today sees Aston Villa wrestling to retain the services of Garth Barry.

Despite interest from Liverpool and Tottenham, Villa are prepared to offer Barry a weekly salary of around £75,000 if he commits himself beyond the one year that he has remaining on his contract.” On the flip-side, Dave Armitage claims “Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill is lining up a £7m bid to land Middlesbrough star David Wheater.”

In other gossip, Sam Wallace repeats earlier rumours of Diego Forlan to Eastlands in the Independent, while the Daily Mail print that “Arsenal and Man City on alert as Yobo prepares to turn down Everton contract.” Far-fetched, the Mirror’s Neil McLeman invents the story that “Real Madrid will try to lure Jose Mourinho to the Bernabeu after Arsene Wenger declared he will be staying at Arsenal.”