Manchester United or Real Madrid?

Ajax star Donny van de Beek is a wanted man following his exploits for the Eredivisie champions.

But the LaLiga giants are reportedly poised to get their target at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DE BEEK SET FOR MADRID

Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek is on the verge of joining Real Madrid instead of Manchester United, claims The Mirror.

United have reportedly emerged as a suitor for Van de Beek in January due to injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.

But a transfer to Madrid at the end of the season "is more than 80 per cent certain", according to the report.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Metro says Premier League champions Manchester City have joined the race to sign Aston Villa's Jack Grealish. Rivals United have been heavily linked to the midfielder.

Tottenham are nearing a deal to bring Benfica midfielder Gedson Fernandes to London on an 18-month loan contract, reports Sky Sports. West Ham have also been looking to sign the 21-year-old.

- United midfielder Nemanja Matic is in talks to swap Old Trafford for MLS outfit Chicago Fire, according to The Sun. Linked to Atletico Madrid, Inter and Milan, the Fire want to bring in the veteran as a replacement for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Arsenal are considering a loan deal for Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, reports The Mirror.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter have reached an agreement with Christian Eriksen for a contract until 2024. Now, Inter must strike a deal with Tottenham for the soon-to-be free agent. Spurs reportedly want €20million (£17m) for the Dane.

- Sporting CP captain Bruno Fernandes has agreed personal terms with United for a contract until 2025 with yearly wages of €6m, according to Italian journalist Nicolo Schira.

Ajax star Donny van de Beek ruled out a January transfer amid growing links to Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Van de Beek has reportedly emerged as a target for United, who are desperate for midfield reinforcements following injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.

LaLiga giants Madrid have previously contacted Ajax over a possible deal, though a transfer did not materialise at the start of the season.

Despite interest, Netherlands international Van de Beek has no plans to leave Eredivisie champions Ajax.

"It is not that I can or want to do something at the moment," the 22-year-old told FOX Sports Netherlands.

"I have said it before and I will say it again: I will remain at Ajax this season. And maybe next season as well.

"These reports about Real Madrid or Man United are a good sign, but it is not important now. I've said I will stay at Ajax and I will do so for 100 per cent."

Links to United come as the Red Devils struggle in the Premier League – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are fifth and 27 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool.

Asked whether he could see positives and negatives in moving to Manchester, Van de Beek – who has scored eight goals across all competitions this season – said: "You can look at it like that.

"It is not something that is in my mind right now, but what you say is true."

Meanwhile, veteran forward Ryan Babel has returned to Ajax on a season-long loan deal from Turkish side Galatasaray.

The 33-year-old emerged from Ajax's youth system in 2004 before joining Liverpool three years later, though he made his way back to Amsterdam in 2012.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has saluted "absolute winner" Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid's winning mentality ahead of the Supercopa de Espana final.

Madrid and Atletico go head-to-head in Jeddah on Sunday as they tussle for the first trophy of the Spanish season.

The revamped Supercopa has received plenty of criticism due to it taking place in Saudi Arabia and including teams that otherwise would not have been involved in previous years, as the competition used to be contested between the winners of the Copa del Rey and LaLiga.

Neither Madrid nor Atletico won either competition last term, yet they will play out the final, with Simeone well aware of Los Blancos' obsession with winning.

Zidane may be without several high-profile players but, after they dispatched Valencia easily, Simeone does not think such absences will be a factor.

"Madrid are a team we know very well, they have a coach who is an absolute winner," Simeone told reporters on Saturday.

"Every time they play, they transmit that they have to win and they do win. They are without [Karim] Benzema, [Gareth] Bale and [Eden] Hazard, but that doesn't change a thing, they'll be looking to field their strongest side.

"Their distribution is excellent and they'll have players arriving to join the attack from midfield.

"They've got Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo [Goes], and if they play the team will have more velocity and more possession, so we will have to think about how we can attack those positions and punish them in the way we want."

In Zidane's pre-match news conference, the Frenchman insisted he is a better coach now than when he guided Madrid to three successive Champions League crowns – beating Atletico to lift the first of those in 2015-16.

Simeone has a similar feeling for his own abilities, convinced he is getting better with age.

"It's like life itself, we improve with age," he said. "All of the experience you build up with time helps you to develop.

"I think I've grown in life and in sport, and I'm a believer that you can't really separate the two."

Zinedine Zidane believes he is a better coach now than he was when he led Real Madrid to three Champions League successes.

Zidane returned for a second spell in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu in March 2019, 10 months after departing the club in the aftermath of guiding them to a third successive continental crown.

His return has not always been plain sailing with Madrid ending last season third in LaLiga, 19 points adrift of arch-rivals Barcelona while both Spanish giants - who are tied atop the table - have been largely underwhelming this term.

He has found some joy in the Supercopa de Espana, however, with his team through to Sunday's final against Atletico Madrid following Wednesday's 3-1 defeat of Valencia.

And Zidane suggested he has learned from both his time away from the game and the club's recent, relative struggles.

He told reporters: "Yes, I think I'm better. I feel like I have developed. In life too, as a person.

"You learn from situations, from the people around you. I make sure to listen to the people who are alongside me, and my aim to is to keep on progressing."

Atleti beat Barca 3-2 in Thursday's second semi-final and Zidane is expecting a difficult encounter.

"They're a side who have always shown how strong they are," he said.

"They defend well, but they also attack very well, too. Both Atletico and Barcelona are very strong teams, so we were always going to have to be on our mettle."

Zidane refused to dwell too deeply on the story dominating the sporting agenda in Spain: Xavi's potential return to Barca as coach at the end of the season.

The Frenchman said the speculation surrounding his Barca counterpart Ernesto Valverde came with the territory.

He told reporters: "That happens to all of us as coaches. What he's going through is something we all go through as coaches."

One story is dominating the sporting agenda in Spain on Saturday: Xavi's potential return to Barcelona.

The Catalan giants have reportedly earmarked the club great to take over from the under-pressure Ernesto Valverde at the end of the season, and held informal discussions with him on Friday in Doha.

Xavi, 39, is currently coach at Al Sadd but would likely relish a return to Camp Nou, where he won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during a glittering playing career.

A strong affinity with a club is not a guarantee of success, however, and we have taken a look at eight other examples of players returning to manage teams they starred for.

 

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping away in May 2018, only to return 10 months later.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job. He is now back in Serie A and thriving with the Old Lady's bitter rivals Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Like Lampard, Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try and save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for AC Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league finish in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

Xavi seems set to return to Barcelona as head coach, replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde is under pressure again at the helm of the LaLiga giants after Thursday's Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid.

And, it seems Barca are wasting no time finding a replacement.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA OFFER XAVI DEAL TO REPLACE VALVERDE

Barcelona have offered Al Sadd boss Xavi a two-and-a-half-year deal to replace Valverde, according to AS.

Xavi's potential return to Camp Nou, where he won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues in a glittering playing career, is dominating headlines in Spain.

The cover of Sport reads 'Earthquake Xavi', while Marca also reports that Barcelona have offered the job to the former midfielder.

ROUND-UP

- Bruno Fernandes. Manchester United. Here we go again. Record reports Sporting CP officials met with the Premier League club with a move potentially going ahead in January. The Daily Mail says United are considering a £55m (€64.6m) move for Fernandes, who they were reportedly interested in during the close season.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Sun reports Manchester United are eyeing a £40m move for West Ham defender Issa Diop, who is also apparently a target for Chelsea.

- Manchester United are at the centre of plenty of speculation this month, including a potential exit for Ashley Young. CalcioMercato reports Inter want the 34-year-old and the Serie A side are offering Young – who is out of contract at season's end – a deal until 2021.

- Gedson Fernandes is seemingly set for a move to London, but to which club remains to be seen. The Guardian reports West Ham fear they will miss out on the Benfica midfielder to Tottenham.

- Out of contract at the end of the season, Hugo Vallejo appears set for a Malaga exit. AS reports Real Madrid are considering making a move for the forward this month before sending the 19-year-old out on loan until the end of 2019-20. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia are also reportedly interested in Vallejo.

- Meanwhile, Barca have had an offer of €6m for midfielder Matheus Fernandes rejected by Palmeiras, according to Globo Esporte.

Diego Simeone hailed Atletico Madrid for achieving the "almost impossible" to overcome Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals.

Atletico stunned Barca with two goals in the final nine minutes in a 3-2 victory in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Alvaro Morata's penalty and Angel Correa's strike saw Atletico into the final against rivals Real Madrid and the comeback was labelled as close to impossible by head coach Simeone.

"I think we must live it with calmness, that we qualified for the final. It is important for the supporters, it is important for the club, it is important for the players," he told a news conference.

"It was a very tough game against one of the best teams in the world. They are the best when it comes to possession, and to attack with it.

"We suffered quite a lot during the first half. I think the second half was different, they kept their intensity and had chances until the 75tth minute, when something appeared that will always distinguish Atletico Madrid – the heart, the strength and the belief.

"We faced a difficult situation, almost impossible. But, we had the feeling that if we could get an equaliser, we could win the game, and that's what happened."

Atletico face another huge test in the final, taking on Real Madrid in Jeddah on Sunday.

Simeone paid tribute to Atletico's rivals and their boss, Zinedine Zidane, ahead of the clash.

"I don't have any doubt that Zidane is a fantastic manager, suitable for Real Madrid," he said.

"The results speak for themselves. They have changed since the beginning of the season and that's reflected on the pitch despite the absence of [Eden] Hazard, [Karim] Benzema and [Gareth] Bale.

"They have five midfielders on the pitch. They can do it if they move and pass accurately. They showed this the other day [against Valencia] with a great performance.

"We'll face a potent and strong team as it is with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool."

Barcelona midfielder Carles Alena has suggested he would be open to joining Real Madrid.

The 22-year-old agreed a deal last month to move to Real Betis for the rest of the season, having struggled for regular football under Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou.

Alena will return to Barca at the end of 2019-20 but his long-term future remains in doubt.

And, while he accepts it would be a difficult decision to make, the player has refused to discount the idea of moving to arch-rivals Madrid.

"Football has many turns," he told Cadena SER when asked if he would ever play for Los Blancos. I've been a Barca fan all my life. It would be tough, but they've always taught me 'never say never'. But, for me, they are a rival team."

Alena started the LaLiga defeat to Athletic Bilbao on the opening day of the LaLiga season and played just four more times for Barca before joining Betis.

However, despite being frustrated with his lack of game time, he insists there is no bad blood with Barca boss Valverde.

"He never told me why he didn't call me up," Alena said. "But I had a very good relationship because of everything he has done for me. I hope that we meet in the future.

"I called him to say goodbye. He knew that I wanted to go. At the start of December, I was pretty sure. He knew that my decision was almost taken.

"They were complicated months, but in no moment was there a bad relationship with the coach. He decided that and he rules. I tried to get back as soon as possible, and it took a few months. It surprises you, annoys you and p***** you off a bit."

Massimiliano Allegri is without a club since leaving Serie A champions Juventus at the end of 2018-19.

However, Allegri could be nearing a return to management sooner rather than later.

The Italian is believed to be interested in taking charge of Manchester United.

 

TOP STORY – ALLEGRI WANTS UNITED JOB

Massimiliano Allegri is interested in becoming Manchester United manager as pressure mounts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to the Daily Mail.

Allegri has been rumoured to be of interest to Bayern Munich after leaving Serie A champions Juve at the end of last season, while the Italian was also linked to Arsenal prior to Mikel Arteta's appointment.

However, he is reportedly holding out for the United job should Solskjaer be sacked. Ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is also believed to be monitoring the situation.

 

ROUND-UP

- ElDesmarque claims MLS duo Inter Miami and LA Galaxy are ready to vie for the signature of Real Madrid's Gareth BaleChelsea, though, have also been linked with the former Tottenham star.

- The race is heating up for Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek. Struggling for goals and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic back at San Siro, the Poland international is wanted by Tottenham, reports The Guardian and Calciomercato. Spurs want to boost their attacking options following Harry Kane's injury. Aston Villa have also tabled a bid for Piatek, but Calciomercato claims he is holding out for a bigger club.

- While Piatek could prove a difficult signing, Villa are closing in on Milan goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Calciomercato, Gazzetta dello Sport and Tuttomercatoweb say former Liverpool keeper Reina has agreed a contract with the Premier League side until the end of the season.

- The Mirror reports United are in the market to sign a defender on loan after Harry Maguire's injury. Maguire – the world's most expensive defender – is facing a spell on the sidelines due to a muscle tear.

United are also weighing up a move for Ajax and Netherlands star Donny van de Beek, reports The Telegraph. With Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba injured, the Red Devils are in need of midfield reinforcements. Van de Beek has previously been linked to Real Madrid.

- AS claims Atletico Madrid are looking at Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik as an alternative to Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani. Out of contract at season's end, Cavani is reportedly poised to make the move to Atletico, however, United and Arsenal are also interested.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Inter winger Matteo Politano has agreed to join city rivals Milan. Struggling for game time with the Nerazzurri, Politano's agent met with Milan's management on Wednesday as a shock switch nears.

Chelsea are preparing a £40million bid for West Ham defender Issa Diop, according to the Express. London rivals Tottenham are also reportedly interested.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane was delighted with the performance of his new-look side in their 3-1 Supercopa de Espana victory over Valencia.

Goals from Toni Kroos, Isco and Luka Modric sealed a commanding victory for Madrid in Jeddah, with Dani Parejo's penalty in second-half stoppage time offering scant consolation.

With Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale unavailable along with longer-term absentees Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio, Zidane experimented with his line-up by playing without wingers and using Isco and Modric as the most advanced players in a five-man midfield.

The move paid dividends on Wednesday as both players produced excellent displays in support of Luka Jovic and in front of Kroos, Casemiro and Federico Valverde in deeper midfield roles.

Zidane suggested the tactic could be used again this season as it allows Madrid's full-backs more space to attack against teams defending in deep blocks.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said: "We put in all the ingredients to win the game and it's a deserved victory.

"We're working well. Emotionally, we're doing well. We have all the ingredients to play good games. That's what we did against Valencia, against opponents who are very good.

"We pressed high very well. The second half was much more direct and I'm happy because it's not easy against a very good team, who know how to play well. We can be pleased.

"Today, the option was to put Isco and Modric on the inside to have more runs from the full-backs.

"It was the option for today. We can play with wingers, but we did it the other way around, with more central players and using the wings with our full-backs. It worked for us.

"We prepare really well for games, we understand them very well. We're all together. In the end, it's the players that play, that give everything on the pitch."

Madrid will play Sunday's final against the winner of Thursday's second semi-final between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Real Madrid breezed into the Supercopa de Espana final on Wednesday with a commanding 3-1 win over Valencia in Jeddah.

The first semi-final encounter of the inaugural expanded tournament was decidedly one-sided despite injury and illness robbing Madrid of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.

Toni Kroos broke the deadlock when he scored directly from a quickly taken corner before the excellent Isco struck a second in the first half.

Luka Modric completed the scoring midway through the second period to send Madrid into a final against either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid and consign Copa del Rey holders Valencia to an early trip home, Dani Parejo's late penalty proving scant consolation.

Some quick-thinking from Kroos caught out the local TV director as well as Jaume Domenech, with replays of earlier action still being shown to viewers as the Madrid midfielder curled a corner into the net despite the Valencia keeper's best efforts.

Kevin Gameiro blasted over the bar from a promising position after a rare attack from Valencia, who were limited to 36 per cent of the first-half possession as Madrid controlled the tempo with ease.

One clinical passing move set up Modric for a shot and, when his effort was blocked by Ezequiel Garay, Isco controlled the ball on his chest and volleyed expertly home from 12 yards.

Luka Jovic had a quiet half but should really have made it 3-0 before half-time, the striker failing to beat Jaume with the rebound after Isco hit the left-hand post with a header.

Federico Valverde rippled the side-netting in the second half but it was Modric who put the game beyond Valencia, gathering Jovic's pass into the box, working space with a step-over and bending a sublime shot past Jaume for his fifth goal of the season.

Parejo at least gave Valencia fans something to cheer in second-half stoppage time, firing a penalty high past Thibaut Courtois after a VAR review saw Sergio Ramos penalised for handball.

What does it mean? Zidane masterplan secures another final

This was one of Madrid's best performances of the season and it came with Benzema and Bale sidelined and with no recognised wingers in the starting line-up.

Instead, head coach Zinedine Zidane gave Modric and Isco licence to roam in front of Kroos, Valverde and Casemiro, giving Los Blancos an imperious level of control over a Valencia team who had little idea how to respond.

It would be no surprise to see Zidane replicate the line-up in the final and perhaps some of their more challenging games of 2020, such as the Champions League last-16 tie with Manchester City.

Isco sparkles in new-look line-up

Zidane opted to pack the team with ball-playing midfielders, with Isco and Modric pushed furthest forward, and it was a system in which the former flourished. He was a constant threat and took his goal well.

Kondogbia run ragged

Geoffrey Kondogbia offered little protection to his back four and did not help in building counter-attacks, either, which were evidently part of Albert Celades' initial game plan. He was replaced by Maxi Gomez after 55 minutes.

What's next?

Madrid will meet either Barcelona or Atletico in Sunday's final, with their next LaLiga game at home to Sevilla not until January 18. Valencia are back in action on January 19 at Real Mallorca.

Nicolas Pepe earned his first inclusion of the season in FIFA Ultimate Team's Team of the Week thanks to his eye-catching display against Manchester United.

The reported £72million signing from Lille endured a difficult first few months in an Arsenal jersey, struggling to recapture the form he showed in France over the previous two campaigns.

But in the 2-0 win over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men, Pepe opened the scoring and was a constant livewire, troubling United's backline with his trickery, movement and general unpredictability.

With some European leagues enjoying a mid-season break, the latest FUT selection is rather Premier League-dominated, with five players from the division in the starting XI, while there are another six England-based representatives among the substitutes and reserves.

Joining Pepe in the starting XI are the likes of Real Madrid's Raphael Varane, Alejandro Gomez of Atalanta and Lazio's Ciro Immobile.

Below, we take a look at the entire squad that is set to be available online.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Salvatore Sirigu (Torino) – 86

RB: Jesus Corona (Porto) – 84

CB: Domenico Criscito (Genoa) – 82

CB: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) – 87

RM: Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – 85

CM: James Maddison (Leicester City) – 84

LM: Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) – 83

LW: Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 84

CAM: Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta) – 87

ST: Ciro Immobile (Lazio) – 89

ST: Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) – 84

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Odisseas Vlachodimos (Benfica) – 83

CB: Mouctar Diakhaby (Valencia) – 81

CDM: Mark Noble (West Ham) – 81

CAM: Marko Livaja (AEK Athens) – 81

LW: Ricardo Horta (Sporting Braga) – 82

ST: Enes Unal (Real Valladolid) – 81

ST: Nicky Maynard (Mansfield Town) – 81

RESERVES

GK: Paul Farman (Stevenage) – 72

CM: Uros Racic (Famalicao) – 79

RM: Tyrese Campbell (Stoke City) – 75

ST: Nahki Wells (QPR) – 78

ST: Matt Godden (Coventry City) – 75

Lionel Messi will draw the crowds in their droves despite fears over ticket sales for the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia, insists Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Reports suggest a fraction of the tickets allocated to the four competing clubs – Real Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Atletico Madrid and Valencia – have been sold ahead of the opening game on Wednesday.

The first fixture sees Valencia face Zinedine Zidane's side, with Barcelona taking on Atletico in the second semi-final on Thursday.

And Pizzi, who played for Barcelona between 1996-98 and recently had a spell in charge of the Saudi Arabia national team, is confident the venues will be full for all of the matches.

"I have no doubt," he told Marca.

"They're aware of how much it means to have the four best teams in Spain and four of the best in the world. It's exceptional for them, like a party.

"Also, you have to keep in mind Messi is there, who's a person they admire and recognise, so seeing him on the pitch will be a big deal for them.

"They fill grounds and love the sport. The level isn't like Europe yet, and they know that, but that's why they're investing so much and it's why they follow European football so much.

"Every weekend they watch LaLiga, the Premier League and even the Bundesliga."

Pizzi, who won a top-flight title with Barca in 1998, said his old club have to be considered favourites but warned of the threat Diego Simeone's men will carry.

"Barcelona are a favourite in every competition they play," he said. "But it's one match, so anything can happen. Atletico are a very strong team, too, and they're hard to score against. It's an attractive semi-final."

Zinedine Zidane described Luka Jovic as the future of Real Madrid ahead of what is likely to be an important test for the striker in the Supercopa de Espana.

With Karim Benzema injured and Gareth Bale ill, Jovic is likely to lead the Madrid attack in Wednesday's semi-final against Valencia in Jeddah.

It could be a key step for the 22-year-old, who has struggled for regular first-team football since joining from Eintracht Frankfurt for a reported €60million fee last June.

Jovic has started just four competitive matches under Zidane, with his only goal coming in the 5-0 LaLiga win over Leganes at the Santiago Bernabeu on October 30.

Zidane has been reported to be unconvinced by Jovic's potential but, speaking on Tuesday, the Madrid head coach made it clear that is not the case.

"The feelings are good, despite the absences. There's a very big squad and the rest are here to respond," he told reporters.

"Jovic is an obvious option. He is the future. He has to be calm. He is learning.

"He's a boy who wants to learn a lot. He's very good. He'll get a lot of goals. We've backed him and you have to be calm with him."

Madrid ended a run of three consecutive draws, which included a trip to Valencia that finished 1-1, with a 3-0 win at Getafe prior to heading out to Saudi Arabia for the first expanded Supercopa tournament.

Zidane's men are on a 14-match unbeaten streak and have kept clean sheets in four of their past six games in all competitions.

The former France star says their improvement in defence makes them a formidable opponent given their consistent threat in attack.

"We adapt to everything and now we're here to play a Supercopa match," he said.

"Every game is different. Valencia also have absences. Our mentality doesn't change at all. We're happy to be able to play in this competition.

"In order to attack well, you have to defend well, and that's what we're doing. If we're strong at the back and we don't let in many goals, we have the quality to cause problems for any opposition."

With Manchester City's Premier League title defence in tatters and a mounting injury list in defence, Pep Guardiola's side need reinforcements.

Aymeric Laporte and John Stones have been struck down by injuries this season, leaving City with limited options in defence.

As Liverpool run away with the title, City are eyeing an Inter star to rebuild their central defence.

 

TOP STORY – CITY TARGETING SKRINIAR

Manchester City have set their sights on Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, according to The Mirror.

Premier League champions City have struggled with injuries in defence this season as rivals Liverpool charge towards the title.

City are reportedly ready to buy in January and Skriniar – also a target for LaLiga champions Barcelona and Real Madrid – is on the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic says MLS outfit DC United want to sign Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric after Wayne Rooney's exit.

Juventus are "still hopeful" of signing Paris Saint-Germain loanee Mauro Icardi, reports Calciomercato. Icardi left Inter for PSG at the start of the season, having been linked to Juve and Napoli.

- Sky Sports claims Manchester United are interested in Leicester City star James Maddison, but are aware a January transfer will be difficult. Sky Sports also says the Red Devils are chasing Lille's Boubakary Soumare, along with Arsenal, Chelsea, Madrid and Valencia.

Mario Gotze will leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, according to Bild. Gotze's contract is set to expire and he has been unable to agree a new deal.

- TZ says Bayern Munich are interested in Manchester City full-back Joao Cancelo, with the Bundesliga champions distancing themselves from RB Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann.

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