Frank Lampard believes it is only a matter of time before Timo Werner finds goalscoring form as he backed the Chelsea forward.

Werner last scored for Chelsea on November 7 and the Germany international – signed from RB Leipzig for a reported £47.5million in June – has netted just four times in 16 Premier League games.

But the 24-year-old was again backed by head coach Lampard, whose side host Manchester City on Sunday.

"In terms of scoring goals, I always found – and I'm not talking for Timo here – that every player goes through tough times in front of goal," he told reporters.

"The beauty is that he has been getting chances, because that is definitely a positive, we know that. I found work on the training ground to be the only way to turn that, simple work on the training ground and repetition of finishing, which Timo is doing now.

"When you work like that, it is a matter of time because his natural attributes will get him in front of goal and get him away from defenders and will get him those chances again.

"If his confidence comes down from missing a couple, that is only natural. It is my job to help him with his confidence and be positive and push in a positive direction and I feel the goals will come."

Werner has converted just three of his 11 big chances in the Premier League this season.

Of players who have had at least 10 big chances, that conversion rate (27.3) ranks second lowest, ahead of only Burnley striker Chris Wood (14.3).

Lampard's side have also endured a tough run, winning just one of their past five league games to sit fifth in the table, seven points behind Liverpool and Manchester United.

But the former England international said he was embracing the pressure that came with a dip in form.

"I enjoy pressure. If I didn't, I wouldn't have got back into this. I would have walked away at the first chance and that's something I'd never do," Lampard said.

"That doesn't mean you're as happy as when you're on that 16-game unbeaten run and that's normal. But it does make me focus absolutely. You learn more in defeat and tough moments.

"It's head down time. Head down and work. And not consider the table too much. We know we're there or thereabouts."

Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard has urged authorities to let common sense and safety concerns dictate any future decision-making regarding the coronavirus pandemic's impact on English football.

Much of the United Kingdom is once again under tough restrictions due to a second wave of COVID-19.

This has started to affect elite football, with Manchester City's scheduled match against Everton earlier this week postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak in the former's playing staff, while the Premier League confirmed on Tuesday that a record 18 positives had been tallied in the most recent round of testing.

Some have called for the Premier League to halt once again as it did in March 2020, with West Brom boss Sam Allardyce particularly vocal in this regard.

Chelsea's next match sees them face City on Sunday, and while Lampard is not aware of the game being at risk of postponement, he confirmed two members of the Blues' staff have contracted the virus this week.

"I've not been given the chances of it being postponed, I'm just aware of the situation and at the moment the game is on," Lampard told reporters on Friday.

"We know Man City had some positives within their training ground, we have had a couple ourselves but not on the playing staff, and that's the current situation.

"Generally, we feel probably as safe as the public because of the new surge in numbers we are seeing, so I think we feel the same. But we are in a more protected environment, certainly in the workplace.

"I know some people are working from home or staying at home, but we are now being tested twice a week, I think that's really important. I don't really understand why we went down to once a week.

"It seems to me the situation is we go game by game in terms of the games being called off due to positives around that game itself. I understand that, let's just see how it goes as it is uncertain times."

But when asked whether football continuing regardless was important for "national morale", Lampard was dubious.

"I'm not sure on that one - I understand it, I certainly love football and if you do, you love watching the amount of games on at home, but I think safety has to be paramount," he said.

"The fact I said we have a couple of staff positive means there are lots of people working within our bubble who have babies, parents, friends, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and they come here and to work, then go home and are obviously in the environment where we're in another surge of COVID-19 that seems to be more contagious.

"So, safety and security is paramount, as opposed to keeping the nation's spirits up. It might not be a nice thing to say but these are tough times for everybody. We enjoy watching our football, but safety and health have to come first."

Lampard was then pushed on whether he would back another pause, adding: "I would have no choice, would I? We had that in March then it [the infection rate] came down.

"I have to say, the Premier League and clubs themselves have done everything they can to make the environment as safe as possible, but as we are finding, that's not always easy to do when people go home, leave the building.

"Numbers are going up, particularly in London where we are, so I think it would have to be up to the authorities - the government, the Premier League - to be clear that it would be beneficial to stop with a circuit-breaker or whatever, but that's something I don't know. If you're told to stop, you stop."

Pep Guardiola has confirmed three more "important" Manchester City players have tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of their Premier League visit to Chelsea on Sunday. 

City's top-flight clash with Everton on Monday was postponed following a coronavirus outbreak at the club, with Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker and another two staff members testing positive for COVID-19.

The match was called off in the hours before kick-off after City "returned a number of positive cases", with the fixture becoming the second in the competition to be postponed this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Newcastle were struck by the virus and missed a game at Aston Villa, while a third postponement followed on Wednesday as Tottenham versus Fulham fell by the wayside.

City resumed training on Wednesday but Guardiola has now confirmed that three more first-team players have joined Jesus and Walker in testing positive for COVID-19.

"It was four people, two players, the first time and then three more," he told a media conference. 

"I don't think the Premier League allows us to name the players but you will know tomorrow. 

"We have to respect the privacy of the players maybe. Tomorrow you will see the lineups and three important players not there so you will know exactly but I'm not allowed to tell you.

"People are dying all around the world. Unfortunately, the problem is still here but now the training centre is disinfected and hopefully the next tests everyone is negative and the people that are positive can come back without problems."

There have been growing calls for a circuit break – a tight set of restrictions, likely including the suspension of games, designed to reverse the tide of the pandemic – but Guardiola is content to keep following the Premier League's advice.

"We will follow what the Premier League says," he added. "They are doing an incredible job and have been since the first lockdown but it is unfortunate what happened with Newcastle.

"I spoke with Steve Bruce and he explained how difficult it was, more than 20 people infected and it can happen to any club in the Premier League.

"The situation everywhere is dramatic, with 1000 deaths in a day. We have to be careful.

"We are delighted to play games and do our job but at the same time we cannot ignore the reality that the virus is here and we don't know exactly when you can get it. We have to be careful, wearing masks and socially distancing."

Manchester City are reportedly planning a bid for Harry Kane, while United are still interested in Jack Grealish.

City have been linked with numerous forwards amid uncertainty over Sergio Aguero's future.

And it seems the Tottenham star is among their targets.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY PLANNING £88.7M BID FOR KANE

Manchester City are planning an £88.7million offer for Tottenham star Kane ahead of next season, according to Bild.

Kane, 27, is contracted at Spurs, where he continues to star, until 2024.

The England international has scored nine goals in 15 Premier League games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United remain interested in signing Aston Villa star Grealish, according to the Daily Mail. The midfielder was heavily linked with a move to United in the close season, but ended up staying at Villa, who are in action at Old Trafford on Friday.

- Eric Garcia has seemingly made a decision on his future. The Guardian reports the Manchester City defender has agreed personal terms on a five-year deal with Barcelona. Garcia is contracted at City until the end of the season.

- With Mauricio Pochettino reportedly set to take over at Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham apparently have worries over Hugo Lloris. The Sun reports Spurs fear the goalkeeper could join former boss Pochettino in Paris and they are eyeing West Brom's Sam Johnstone and Manchester United's Dean Henderson as potential targets.

- Yet to play for Arsenal this season, Mesut Ozil's future remains a talking point. Bild reports the playmaker wants to see out his contract, which runs until season's end, with the Premier League outfit.

- Also coming out of contract, Sami Khedira looks set for a Juventus exit. The Daily Mail reports the midfielder is set to hold talks with Everton over a potential move.

- Struggling for game time at Manchester United, Jesse Lingard has had the one-year option on his contract at the club triggered, according to Sky Sports. Lingard's deal now runs until 2022.

There is no let-up in the Premier League's hectic schedule this weekend as leaders Liverpool look to hold off the threat of Manchester United, who are lurking with intent in second place.

Jurgen Klopp's side face a tough test away at Southampton, who will be led by former Reds striker Danny Ings.

The Saints' main man is joined by Wilfried Zaha and Harvey Barnes in our Opta-powered Premier League fantasy picks for what promises to be another enthralling matchweek.


NICK POPE

Burnley have won three of their previous five Premier League games, with goalkeeper Pope central to their success.

Since the beginning of November, the England international has the competition's highest save percentage at 91 per cent.

No goalkeeper has kept more clean sheets than his five in that period, either. Good luck finding a way past him, Fulham.

JOHN STONES

Stones' Manchester City career looked to be over ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, but the England man has enjoyed a renaissance of late.

The 26-year-old has started six games for the club in the Premier League this season – four of which came in December – with City keeping clean sheets in five of those appearances and conceding just one goal in the other.

That compares to just two clean sheets and 11 goals conceded when he has not played. Up next for City and Stones? A visit to Chelsea.

BEN CHILWELL

Trying to get the better of Stones will be Chelsea left-back Chilwell, who has arguably been the most successful of Frank Lamaprd's signings ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

No defender has been involved in more goals (two scored, four assisted) than the former Leicester City left-back, with only Liverpool's Andy Robertson registering more assists (five).

Only two defenders have scored more goals: Southampton's Jannik Vestergaard and Chilwell's Chelsea team-mate Kurt Zouma.

GYLFI SIGURDSSON 

Like Stones, Sigurdsson has been brought in from the cold in recent weeks by Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti.

He is up against one of his favourite opponents next so expect the Iceland international to get some points on the board.

Sigurdsson has been involved in more Premier League goals against West Ham for Everton than any other opponent (two goals, two assists), scoring or assisting in each of his four appearances for the Toffees against the Hammers.

WILFRIED ZAHA

It has not been a stellar start to the season for Crystal Palace, who face rock-bottom Sheffield United on Saturday, but their talismanic forward has been in fine form.

Zaha has scored eight goals in 14 Premier League appearances this season, twice as many as in the 2019-20 campaign (four in 38 appearances).

Indeed, Zaha is looking to reach double figures in a top-flight campaign for only the second time in his career, also doing so in 2018-19 (10 goals in 34 games).

HARVEY BARNES

Leicester winger Barnes has been attracting admiring glances from some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs this season and it is not hard to see why.

The 23-year-old, who takes on Newcastle United next, has scored eight goals in 21 appearances in all competitions in 2020-21, one more than he did in 42 games last term.

Only in 2018-19 (10) has the midfielder netted more goals in all competitions across a single campaign.

DANNY INGS

Ings faces off against former club Liverpool on Monday looking to continue his superb form over the past two years.

Since Ralph Hasenhuttl took charge of Southampton in December 2018, Ings has been directly involved in 38 goals in the Premier League (31 scored, seven assisted).

That is 16 more than James Ward-Prowse, who has the next most at the club with 22 goal involvements in the same period.

The date of January 1 is typically the time for New Year's resolutions but for some footballers in Europe's top five leagues it signals the day they can plot a lucrative move to a new club.

A number of top players, including Barcelona's Lionel Messi, are out of contract at the end of the 2021 season and from the start of the year are free to open talks with other teams.

Messi, of course, will be the one that takes the limelight but there are some other big-name players who will be free to leave their clubs for nothing in six months.

Here's the best players (and a couple of pretty good second choices) who are out of contract in 2021 and make up a free transfers XI.

FREE TRANSFERS XI (4-3-3)

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Marko Dmitrovic)
The youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Italy – at 17 years and 189 days – has now matured into one of Serie A's most consistent performers between the sticks. The 21-year-old has been key to Milan's surge to the top of the table with four clean sheets in the league so far this season.

RB: Elseid Hysaj (Kenny Lala)
Comfortable on both the right and left flanks the versatile Albanian full-back, 26, has been a dependable, and largely unsung, part of Napoli's defence since 2015. He may lack the eye-catching assists of attacking defenders but Hysaj uses the ball intelligently in possession.

CB: Eric Garcia (Shkodran Mustafi)
A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy he joined Manchester City in 2017 where Pep Guardiola has been influential in his development. Blessed with an excellent reading of the game, and a superb positional sense, the 19-year-old has rejected a new contract at City and appears hungry for regular first-team football elsewhere.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Jerome Boateng)
The knees might be creaking at the age of 34, but the Real Madrid and Spain centre-back's mix of bloody-minded determination and charismatic leadership make him an asset to nearly any defence despite being at the back end of his career.

LB: David Alaba (Romain Saiss)
Able to operate in defence or midfield the 28-year-old Austria international has spent a decade as one of Bayern Munich's most consistent and reliable players. With nine Bundesliga and two Champions League winners' medals under his belt he has bucketloads of experience at the top level.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum (Hakan Calhanoglu)
The Dutch midfielder has been converted by Jurgen Klopp from a goalscoring attacker into an intelligent midfield workaholic integral to Liverpool's style of play. Largely unheralded, he is man for the big occasion as his two goals in Liverpool's famous 4-0 comeback win over Barcelona demonstrate.

CM: Fernandinho (Mesut Ozil)
He turns 36 next May, and may lack the bite of old, but the Brazilian still has a lot to offer either as an efficient defensive midfielder or classy centre-back. Another player whose influence and quality may only be fully appreciated by City when he has actually left the club.

CM: Luka Modric (Julian Draxler)
A cultured and experienced midfield playmaker who, despite his diminutive frame, still oozes class whenever he is on the ball. Part of the furniture at Real Madrid since 2012 the 35-year-old Croatian looks like he still has plenty of years at the top ahead of him provided injuries do not take their toll.

RF: Lionel Messi (Florian Thauvin, Lucas Vazquez)
Should he stay or should he go? The transfer saga of 2020 looks set to dominate much of 2021 as well. Barcelona's greatest ever player needs no introduction. Since his debut in October 2004, Barca have won 55.9 per cent of their LaLiga games without Messi (won 66, drawn 39 and lost 22), compared to 73.7 per cent with him in the side (won 368, drawn 83 and lost 48).

CF: Sergio Aguero (Olivier Giroud, Arkadiusz Milik, Diego Costa)
Injury problems appear to be catching up with the 32-year-old Manchester City striker. On his day, there are few better natural finishers around. Aguero has more hat-tricks (12) than anyone else in the Premier League and is the highest non-English scorer in the history of the competition with 180 goals.

LF: Memphis Depay (Angel Di Maria)
A pitiful return of just two league goals in 33 appearances saw him jettisoned by Manchester United in 2017 but since then Depay has rebuilt his career and started to flourish. The Dutch forward has a respectable 62 goals in 154 appearances for Lyon in Ligue 1 and aged 26 is about to hit his peak.

Around the globe, nations are welcoming in 2021, bidding goodbye to what has been a tumultuous year.

Much has changed in 2020, and while the coronavirus pandemic continues, football has at least returned, albeit in a vastly different way to what came before.

The Premier League was suspended for three months between March and June, but following a successful Project Restart, 2020-21 is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable campaigns in recent history.

With 2020 coming to an end, and 2021 promising signs of improvement, we use Opta data to review the Premier League year.

PASS MASTERS CITY CONFINE DEFENSIVE CONCERNS TO HISTORY?

Pep Guardiola's swashbuckling Manchester City side of 2017 to 2019 may well be a thing of the past, but so, it seems, are defensive lapses.

While often rampant in attack, City could be got at the back, as Liverpool usually managed to expose in meetings between the two title challengers.

Perhaps with the league all but sewn up in Liverpool's favour by early 2020, however, Guardiola seems to have found the tonic to City's issues in defence.

City have kept 17 clean sheets in 2020, three more than any other side. Seven of those have come this season, while the resurgence of John Stones in recent weeks has been a major success story.

Stones has made six league appearances – all of them starts – and has helped City keep five clean sheets, while forming a fine partnership with Ruben Dias, meaning Aymeric Laporte has found himself out of the side.

City's improved defence has come at something of a cost, with their goal tally falling to 69, six behind Liverpool, who netted 75 times across 2020, and a drop of 26 from their total of 95 in 2019.

However, Guardiola's team still control possession as much as they ever did, making 20,237 successful passes in 2020.

Indeed, holding midfielder Rodri completed the most passes of any player in the Premier League, while his pass completion rate of 92.4 per cent was also the highest of any midfielder.

DYNAMIC PLAYMAKERS TOP THE CHARTS

While James Rodriguez has come into the Premier League and made a strong impact at Everton, creating 25 chances – including three assists – and scoring three times in 10 appearances for Carlo Ancelotti's side, it is the playmakers with more dynamism and tenacity who have impressed the most through 2020.

Kevin De Bruyne – last season's PFA Premier League Player of the Year – was the chief creator.

He was the only player to create more than 100 chances in the Premier League in 2020, while he also led all players in chances created from open play (83). De Bruyne's tally of 15 assists was also more than twice as many as any of his City team-mates.

Another standout is Bruno Fernandes, who has seemingly transformed Manchester United's fortunes since joining in January.

Fernandes was involved in 32 Premier League goals in 29 games in 2020 (18 goals, 14 assists). The 26-year-old is one of two players to have been involved in 30 or more Premier League strikes in a calendar year, after Luis Suarez in 2013.

Topping the chances created charts for this campaign, however, is Jack Grealish. Villa's captain crafted 93 opportunities in total through the year, second only to De Bruyne, and 51 of those have come from 14 appearances this term – an average of 3.64 per game.

Grealish's 10 big chances created is level with Fernandes, while only De Bruyne (11) has made more.

The key attribute which stands Grealish out, however, is his ability to carry the ball. Having amassed 8,634.99 metres, he leads the way in the league, ahead of Harry Maguire (7,462.14m), Adama Traore (6,912.35m) and Andrew Robertson (6,882.03m).

De Bruyne and Fernandes are no strangers to picking up the ball and powering forward, though their chance creation relies more on precise crossing and slick passing.

RUN, FOREST, RUN! THE PREMIER LEAGUE'S MARATHON MEN

It is no surprise to see that Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool top the distance-covered metrics for the year. In total, the Reds ran 3,854.8 metres, 20.1 more than second-placed Sheffield United, albeit Chris Wilder's men will not get much-needed points just because they run more than the opposition.

West Ham (3820.2m), Brighton and Hove Albion (3804.1m) and Chelsea (3722.4m) complete the top five, with Southampton something of a surprise omission, as Ralph Hasenhuttl's side are renowned for their pressing system.

However, Saints captain James Ward-Prowse does lead the way for distance covered, tallying up just under 396km over the course of 3,060 minutes (the equivalent of nine-and-a-half marathons).

As well as being a tireless worker, Ward-Prowse is a set-piece specialist, scoring four free-kick goals.

Indeed, those strikes contributed to Southampton's league-leading tally of 15 goals from outside of the area, with Danny Ings netting five long-range efforts and Stuart Armstrong adding four.

While Grealish has carried the ball further than any other player, Wolves' Traore clocked up the most dribbles, amassing 142 – 46 more than anybody else.

In January, Traore completed 14 dribbles in a game against Watford – the most by a player in a Premier League game since 2003-04, when Opta began recording.

 

BRUNO AND VARDY'S PENALTY PARTY

A total of 112 penalties were awarded in 2020 – 13 of these went to Leicester City, while 10 went the way of United, Chelsea and City respectively.

Fernandes converted eight times from the spot, while Leicester's Jamie Vardy scored seven, one ahead of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah.

West Brom are the only team to have not been awarded a Premier League spot-kick, with Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley – much to Sean Dyche's chagrin – winning two each.

While Leicester won the most fouls inside the area, it was Grealish who was felled the most in general, averaging at least one foul in all 32 of his appearances.

 

SUPER STRIKERS

Rounding off our review are the Premier League's leading marksmen. Salah (23) and Fernandes (18) headline the scoring charts.

Salah's 23 strikes came from 33 appearances, while Fernandes made four fewer, though more of his goals did come from penalties.

The evergreen Vardy, with 17 goals, is next on the list, tied with Tottenham star Son Heung-min, who was involved in 18 open play sequences ending in goals, more than any other player.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has enjoyed a brilliant run since Ancelotti took charge of Everton, scoring 16 times in 2020 – with 11 coming this season.

Calvert-Lewin had 93 attempts in total, which ranks second in the league, though it is 31 fewer than Salah managed, and his strikes, along with telling contributions from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and the creative forces of Robertson (12 assists) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (seven assists), helped Liverpool to their first-ever Premier League title.

Harry Kane's seemingly telepathic partnership with Son has proved fruitful for Spurs, and the England skipper scored 16 times across the year from 25 appearances, recording 10 assists.

Manchester City resumed training on Wednesday following their coronavirus outbreak and the resulting postponement of their trip to Everton.

City were without Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker for the Boxing Day defeat of Newcastle United after they tested positive for COVID-19 along with another two staff members.

The situation escalated before the meeting with Everton and the match was called off in the hours before kick-off after City "returned a number of positive cases".

Everton requested "full disclosure of all the information that Manchester City provided" to prompt the Premier League's decision, with the fixture becoming the second in the competition to be called off this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Newcastle were struck by the virus and missed a game at Aston Villa, while a third postponement followed on Wednesday as Tottenham versus Fulham fell by the wayside.

City's hopes of sticking to the rest of their schedule have improved, however, as a statement revealed they had no new cases, allowing the briefly closed training ground to partially reopen.

"Manchester City can confirm that first team training will resume at City Football Academy this afternoon," the club said on Wednesday.

"The full COVID-19 bubble underwent testing yesterday, and results have so far revealed no new positive cases.

"Safety remains our number one priority, and the club will continue to proceed with great caution.

"The first team training buildings have undergone a deep clean over the past 48 hours, and the majority of these facilities will remain closed, with only essential operations around training resuming.

"The bubble will undergo further testing in the coming days, the results of which will inform and dictate the next steps.

"Everyone at Manchester City continues to wish speedy recoveries to all of our colleagues who remain in self-isolation following their positive tests."

Announcing the Spurs-Fulham decision, a Premier League statement added: "With low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs, the Premier League continues to have full confidence in its COVID-19 protocols and being able to continue to play our fixtures as scheduled."

City visit Chelsea in the league on Sunday and then rivals Manchester United in their EFL Cup semi-final next Wednesday.

Pep Guardiola's side, who are eighth in the table, are aiming to win England's secondary cup competition for a fourth consecutive year.

Lionel Messi's future has been the subject of much speculation but a reunion with Pep Guardiola is still very much in Manchester City's plans.

Messi has been disgruntled with his situation at Barcelona since the end of last season, despite head coach Ronald Koeman's insistence that his superstar captain is happy.

Four-time Champions League winner Messi unsuccessfully tried to force an exit in August, however there will be no legal clauses to stop him when his contract expires in June 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI WANTED ON FIVE-YEAR DEAL

The City Football Group (CFG) is eyeing a 2021 swoop that will see Lionel Messi split time between their Premier League powerhouse Manchester City and MLS franchise New York City, according to the Telegraph.

A five-year contract could be offered to superstar Barcelona captain Messi, which includes three years in England, taking the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to the age of 37, followed by an additional two more in the United States.

In an interview with Spanish TV channel La Sexta, Messi admitted his desire to one day play in the United States, a hint that City's proposal may be on his mind.

Lionel Messi's days at Barcelona appear to be numbered, with the club captain and talisman heading into the final six months of his contract. 

As such, he can begin discussions with other clubs ahead of a potential free transfer once his contract expires on June 30. 

Messi, 33, set things in motion back in August when he rocked world football by publicly confirming his desire to leave the only club he has ever represented as a professional, and with whom he has won everything. 

Barca's surrender to Real Madrid in LaLiga's title race and the 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League appeared to be the final straw for Messi earlier this year, though the departure of president Josep Maria Bartomeu might have improved the club's chances of keeping him. 

Additionally, Joan Laporta is the favourite to succeed Bartomeu in next month's election, but if he cannot persuade Messi to stay then football looks set to see a move that will rank as one of the most seismic in the history of the sport. 

So, where could Messi end up next?

Newell's Old Boys

Messi's relationship with the public in Argentina has often been strained due to the fact he moved to Barca at the age of 13 and developed in their famous La Masia academy. But he started out at Newell's five years prior to that and a return to his hometown of Rosario would be an understandable move as he enters the latter stages of his career. Unrealistic? Perhaps, but it's a move all football romanticists would love to see.

Manchester City

While his form this term may have been somewhat disappointing by his usual standards, Messi undoubtedly still has the quality to play at the highest level. City, managed by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, are said to have been looking into the feasibility of bringing the Argentina superstar to the Etihad Stadium. Media reports have suggested he could spend a few years in Manchester before then being sent to sister club New York City FC in MLS for the final seasons of his career. City are certainly one of a handful of clubs that could match Messi's huge wages, and there is a strong lure given the Blaugrana alumni running the show at City.

Paris Saint-Germain

PSG have been right at the forefront of this saga since the very start in August. Thomas Tuchel, since sacked of course, was asked about the possibility of signing Messi as early as his Champions League final post-match media duties. The Ligue 1 champions have never shied away from splashing the cash – they paid Barca a world record €222million for Neymar and shelled out €180m on Kylian Mbappe. If Messi wants to win another European crown before retiring, few clubs are better positioned to help him achieve that, and the chance to link up with Neymar again might be too good an opportunity to turn down.

Inter

Even before there was any doubt about Messi's future at Barca, Inter were the main club linked with an audacious attempt to sign the 33-year-old. The Suning Holdings Group ownership makes them one of the few clubs alongside City and PSG that have the financial capacity to offer him a sizeable contract, and they do appear to be getting back to the level expected of them since the arrival of Antonio Conte as coach. Links with Inter have cooled in recent months, but they cannot be ruled out yet. The chance to battle old foe Cristiano Ronaldo in Serie A may prove an enticing prospect, too.

Al-Sadd

Things could have gone very differently for Barca had club legend Xavi been handed the reins in January instead of Quique Setien. As it happened, the iconic former midfielder felt it was not the right time to return to Camp Nou and chose to remain at Al-Sadd. A link-up with his former team-mate in Qatar could be an option for Messi, though there is every chance Xavi finds himself back in Catalonia in the not-too-distant future.

Frank Lampard admits it is no coincidence Chelsea's disappointing form has coincided with Hakim Ziyech's absence, with the winger potentially returning to face Manchester City. 

Ziyech has missed Chelsea's last six matches in all competitions due to a hamstring injury sustained in the 3-1 victory over Leeds United on December 5. 

That win lifted Chelsea to the top of the Premier League but they have won only one of their five top-flight games since, leaving them six points adrift of leaders Liverpool having also played a game more than the reigning champions. 

The Blues have a 27 per cent win rate in the 11 Premier League games Ziyech has not started this term, compared to 80 per cent in the five games he has featured from the beginning. 

And after seeing his wide players again fail to fully click in Monday's 1-1 draw with Aston Villa, head coach Lampard is eager to get Ziyech back involved again as soon as possible. 

"I don't think it's a coincidence," he said at his post-match news conference. "I can't rely completely on him.

"I think with Hakim, the way he was playing, he was being very effective for us in terms of assists, goal creation, chance creation and some goals.  

"He also had a real confidence in the way he was playing and we were very fluid at the time. He got injured when we were in a great run of form, so I think it has been a point.  

"You are going to miss players at that level when they drop out and we want him back." 

Chelsea have a six-day break before hosting Manchester City - a game that is now in jeopardy following a coronavirus outbreak at City, forcing the postponement of their trip to Everton on Monday. 

"There's a possibility Ziyech could be fit for that one if it goes ahead on Sunday," Lampard said. "I will know later in the week, but he is progressing to the point where he is close." 

Despite only featuring seven times in the Premier League since joining in the close season, Ziyech's total of three assists is bettered only by Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell (both four). 

No Chelsea player can match the Morocco international's average of 2.77 chances created per 90 minutes either, Callum Hudson-Odoi the next best for the Blues at 2.66.

Hudson-Odoi was recalled to the starting line-up for the visit of in-form Villa and, despite only managing a single shot, Lampard was pleased with the winger's overall display. 

"I liked his performance today and I liked the range of his passing, which was very evident in the first half," Lampard said.  

"He played a couple of great cross-field balls and some of his footwork, touches and movement were great.  

"The next part is the end product because we want to see Callum as he did against Arsenal, to go one against one, to be confident to go one against one, because he has the ability to do it. 

"The top wingers produce it in the Premier League in recent years and Callum definitely has capabilities. That will be the next stage for him."

Everton have requested full disclosure of all the information submitted by Manchester City to the Premier League after Monday's match was postponed.

The Premier League confirmed four hours ahead of the scheduled kick-off at Goodison Park that the game would not go ahead due to a coronavirus outbreak in City's camp.

Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and another two members of staff had previously tested positive for COVID-19, but City's Boxing Day clash with Newcastle United still went ahead.

However, City lodged a request to rearrange the match with Everton 48 hours later following an increase in positive COVID-19 test results received earlier on Monday.

The Premier League Board agreed to reschedule the game as a precaution, saying the health of players and staff takes priority.

But Everton, one of only two clubs along with Merseyside rivals Liverpool able to welcome fans to their ground, are seeking further explanation as to why the game was called off.

A club statement read: "Everton Football Club regret the postponement of tonight's match against Manchester City - not only for the 2,000 fans who would have been attending, but for supporters on Merseyside and across the world.

"Our players were prepared for the game, as were both the team staff and everyone at Goodison. Matchday is the most important date in our calendar. And this was a big one.

"Whilst Everton will always have public safety uppermost, we will be requesting full disclosure of all the information that Manchester City provided to the Premier League so the club can be clear on why this decision was taken."

Monday's match is the second Premier League fixture to be postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak, with Newcastle United's game against Aston Villa this month also delayed.

Everton's clash with Manchester City at Goodison Park has been postponed after a number of new positive coronavirus cases among the visitors' squad. 

City revealed on Christmas Day that Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and another two members of staff had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Pep Guardiola's team nevertheless fulfilled their Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle United, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres. 

The four-time Premier League champions were set to face in-form Everton on Monday, less than 48 hours after both teams had played previously, but the match has now been called off following the latest round of testing at City. 

The club's training ground will be closed as a consequence of the outbreak, with the squad having to undergo further tests before they can be cleared to return to the facility. 

In a statement released on their official website, City said: "After the latest round of COVID-19 testing, the club returned a number of positive cases, in addition to the four already reported on Christmas Day.

"With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond. 

"Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, have decided to postpone the fixture.

"All positive cases involving players and staff will observe a period of self-isolation in accordance with Premier League and UK Government protocol on quarantine. 

"The first-team training ground at City Football Academy will close for an indeterminate period, with the squad and associated bubble undergoing testing before any decision is made for training to resume. 

"Everyone at the club wishes all of our colleagues a speedy recovery ahead of their return to work, training and competition." 

Monday's match is the second Premier League fixture to be postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak during the 2020-21 season, with Newcastle United's game against Aston Villa delayed. A new date for that fixture is yet to be announced. 

If City's players are unable to return to training in the coming days, it would cast doubt over their Premier League meeting with Chelsea on January 3, the EFL Cup semi-final against Manchester United three days later and also their FA Cup tie with Birmingham City, which is due to take place on January 10.

Everton's clash with Manchester City at Goodison Park has been postponed after a number of new positive coronavirus cases among the visitors' squad. 

City revealed on Christmas Day that Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and another two members of staff had tested positive for COVID-19. 

Pep Guardiola's team nevertheless fulfilled their Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle United, winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres. 

The four-time Premier League champions were set to face in-form Everton on Monday, less than 48 hours after both team's had played previously, but the match has now been called off following the latest round of testing. 

City's training ground will be closed as a consequence to the outbreak, with the squad having to undergo further tests before they can return to the facility. 

In a statement released on their official website, City said: "After the latest round of COVID-19 testing, the club returned a number of positive cases, in addition to the four already reported on Christmas Day.

"With the security of the bubble compromised, there posed a risk that the virus could spread further amongst the squad, the staff and potentially beyond. 

"Based on strong medical advice the Premier League, in consultation with both clubs, have decided to postpone the fixture.

"All positive cases involving players and staff will observe a period of self-isolation in accordance with Premier League and UK Government protocol on quarantine. 

"The first team training ground at City Football Academy will close for an indeterminate period, with the squad and associated bubble undergoing testing before any decision is made for training to resume. 

"Everyone at the club wishes all of our colleagues a speedy recovery ahead of their return to work, training and competition." 

Monday's match is the second Premier League fixture to be postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak during the 2020-21 season, with Newcastle United's game against Aston Villa delayed. A new date for that fixture is yet to be announced. 

If City's players are unable to return to training in the coming days, it would cast doubt over their Premier League meeting with Chelsea on January 3, the EFL Cup semi-final against Manchester United three days later and also the FA Cup tie with Birmingham City, which is due to take place on January 10.

Thomas Tuchel's tenure as Paris Saint-Germain head coach is all but over.

Tuchel will reportedly be replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, despite leading PSG to Ligue 1 glory last season and the Champions League final.

Can former PSG defender Pochettino help the French giants conquer Europe?

 

TOP STORY – POCH SET FOR PSG

Mauricio Pochettino has agreed terms to take charge of Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Thomas Tuchel's sacking is set to be announced after striking a deal with PSG to leave immediately – the compensation worth €6million, reports Bild.

Former Tottenham manager Pochettino is now poised to return to PSG, where he played between 2001 and 2003.

 

ROUND-UP

Diego Costa has requested to leave Atletico Madrid in January, claims Diario AS and Marca. If Costa is unable to depart during the next window, the veteran striker will farewell Atletico on a free transfer at season's end.

Wolves have joined the chase to sign Real Madrid outcast Luka Jovic, says The Athletic. Wolves are keen to bolster their attack following Raul Jimenez's serious injury and Jovic has emerged as a loan option for the Premier League side. Milan have also been heavily linked with the Serbia international.

Georginio Wijnaldum wants time to reflect on Liverpool's contract offer, reports Fabrizio Romano. Wijnaldum is set to become a free agent amid links to Barca.

- The Mirror reports Arsenal are circling for Brighton and Hove Albion full-back Tariq Lamptey should Hector Bellerin depart for Barcelona. Lamptey has been linked to Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Sevilla are eyeing a January swoop for Marseille star Florian Thauvin, according to Andaluz Estadio Deportivo. Milan have also been tracking the Frenchman.

- Corriere dello Sport says Juventus and Inter remain keen on signing Udinese's Rodrigo De Paul. Meanwhile, Ilbianconeri claims Juve have been offered Arsenal outcast Mesut Ozil.

Manchester United remain in contact with Moises Caicedo's agents to sign the Independiente del Valle sensation, says Romano. The 19-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder wants to move to Old Trafford.

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