Klaas Jan Huntelaar is heading back to Schalke for one last mission in his career after leaving Ajax to join a battle to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

The 37-year-old former Milan and Real Madrid striker recently announced he would retire at the end of this season, and Huntelaar now says he wants to "play my part" in saving lowly Schalke.

He previously played for Schalke from 2010 until 2017, scoring 126 goals for the Royal Blues before heading to Ajax, and he departs the Dutch giants to join a team now coached by Christian Gross.

Schalke sit bottom of the Bundesliga with seven points from 16 games, having won only once in the league this season.

Huntelaar told Schalke's website: "We need to win games and score goals to climb up the table. I want to play my part in the club staying up. Schalke belongs in the Bundesliga and it's our responsibility to make sure that we stay here."

The moves means Huntelaar's Ajax playing career is over after a second spell in Amsterdam, having first caught the eye there from 2006-08, opening the door to his San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu stints and a career in the Netherlands national team.

In all, Huntelaar scored 158 goals in 257 official games for Ajax. He won an Eredivisie title in the 2018-19 season.

Marc Overmars, director of football at Ajax, said it was the honourable thing to do to let Huntelaar ride to the rescue of his old team.

"It was Klaas Jan's wish to help Schalke avoid relegation in the last four months of his career," Overmars told Ajax's website.

"We thought it was important for him to let this move go through and fill his shoes internally with Lassina Traore and Brian Brobbey. We wish the best for Klaas Jan with this transfer and thank him very much for everything he has done for Ajax."

Real Madrid have reportedly agreed a deal with Bayern Munich defender David Alaba.

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Alaba, 28, has been linked with Europe's biggest clubs.

And the Austria international looks set for the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – ALABA AGREES FOUR-YEAR DEAL WITH MADRID

Alaba has agreed a four-year deal with Real Madrid, according to Marca.

The Bayern defender will make the move to the LaLiga giants ahead of 2021-22, the report says.

Alaba was also linked to the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Real Madrid and the news is not so good when it comes to Lucas Vazquez. AS reports the midfielder has rejected the club's first contract offer, with his current deal expiring at the end of the season.

- Dele Alli is wanted by Paris Saint-Germain. The Sun reports the Tottenham midfielder is confident of getting a loan move to the Ligue 1 giants in January.

- Jesse Lingard's future at Manchester United is uncertain. ESPN reports the midfielder wants regular game time but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is eager to keep him at the Premier League club. Lingard has made just three appearances in all competitions this season.

- After leaving the club in 2017, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar looks set to return to Schalke. SPORT1 reports the Ajax striker has undergone a medical ahead of a return to Schalke, who are bidding to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

West Ham record signing Sebastien Haller has completed a move to Ajax for a cut-price fee of £20.3million (€22.5m).

The striker has agreed a four-and-a-half-year contract with the Eredivisie giants, having previously enjoyed a spell in the Dutch top flight with Utrecht.

West Ham spent a reported £45m to bring Haller to England in July 2019 after he starred for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, scoring 19 goals in all competitions in 2018-19 as part of a formidable forward partnership with Luka Jovic.

However, his time in the Premier League proved largely disappointing, the 26-year-old scoring 14 times in 50 appearances in all competitions.

The Ivory Coast international was usurped by Michail Antonio as first-choice centre-forward under David Moyes and did not start a league match this season until October 31, when Antonio was struggling with injury.

"West Ham United would like to thank Sebastien for his contribution to the club and wish him all the best for his future career," the Hammers said.

According to reports, West Ham are interested in signing Lyon striker Moussa Dembele to bolster their attack, although the former Celtic forward is said to have little interest in a move to London Stadium.

Finally, 2020 is history - there won't be many people who aren't happy to see the back of a difficult year.

While the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of making a swift exit, the turn of the year at least gives us the chance to look forward, and the same is true in the world of sport.

2020 saw many promising young players make the step up, some undoubtedly down to the absences caused by coronavirus or the packed schedule that the pandemic has led to.

We've picked out 21 under-21 players to keep an eye on in 2021 - and while you may already be familiar with some of them, there's good reason to give them your attention this year...

 

Illan Meslier, 20 - Leeds United

Few goalkeepers can come away from a 6-2 defeat having impressed, but Meslier did so against Manchester United recently. His eight saves prevented Leeds' crushing loss from getting even more embarrassing, while only three goalkeepers have produced more in a single Premier League match this term. His total of 63 is also the second most in the division – the France Under-21 talent, who joined on a permanent deal from Lorient last year, appears to have a big future ahead of him.

Kristoffer Klaesson, 20 - Valerenga

Goalkeepers tend to break through a little later than outfield players, but Norway youth international Klaesson has already been first-choice at Valerenga for the best part of 16 months – he only turned 20 in November. Coincidentally, he could have become a team-mate of Meslier's in 2020 as Leeds were reportedly interested, but he remains in Norway for the time being.

William Saliba, 19 - Arsenal

Saliba is certainly one of the most recognisable names on this list – after all, he has been owned by Arsenal for getting on for two years. Unfortunately, he has not been afforded much of a chance by Mikel Arteta this term, which makes him an interesting prospect to watch in 2021. Either he'll eventually get an opportunity at the Gunners, or a loan move will provide him with a crack at first-team football. After a tricky 2020, he'll want to get his career back on track.

Perr Schuurs, 21 - Ajax

Given his appearance, playing style and the fact he has come through Ajax's academy, comparisons between Schuurs and Matthijs de Ligt were to be expected. He may not reach the Juventus star's level, but he has certainly shown real promise that is reportedly interesting Liverpool. Schuurs is one of the five youngest players to have featured for at least 500 minutes in this season's Champions League, while his 47 ball recoveries was the sixth highest of any player in the group stage.

Ethan Laird, 19 - Manchester United

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was supposed to fix Man United's issues at right-back, but this season his defensive positioning has been concerning and he appears to have become even less effective in attack – his chances created and open-play crosses per 90 minutes have decreased significantly. Laird has long been considered a fine prospect at United and boasts the technical abilities to be a threat in attack. If he can stay fit, chances could be in the offing.

Tariq Lamptey, 20 - Brighton and Hove Albion

Having joined Brighton last January from Chelsea, Lamptey has quickly made a name for himself as an exciting wing-back. Last year saw the diminutive talent enjoy something of a breakthrough, but in 2021 he'll be looking to truly establish himself and potentially break into the England squad. There are few more exhilarating full-backs in the Premier League – his 3.8 dribbles per game is the third most among defenders to have featured more than twice.

Nuno Mendes, 18 - Sporting CP

Sporting have a wealth of talent coming through at the moment and left-back Mendes is arguably chief among them. Blessed with fine technical abilities, the 18-year-old is apparently a target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Already a regular having started 10 of the Primeira Liga leaders' 11 games this term, Mendes' 10 completed dribbles is the fourth-highest among defenders in the division, while his 28 interceptions is second only to team-mate Luis Neto.

Gabriel Menino, 20 - Palmeiras

An intriguing player with a well-rounded skillset, Menino has already transitioned from centre-back to defensive midfield to right-back despite his young age. It is in the latter position where he impressed enough to earn a first Brazil call-up last year and only two players have provided more than his five assists in the 2020 Brazilian Serie A.

Moises Caicedo, 19 - Independiente del Valle

The past month or so has seen Caicedo brought to the attention of a wider audience – or, more specifically, Manchester United fans. The all-action midfielder was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Billy Gilmour, 19 - Chelsea

Scottish talent Gilmour had shown real promise during his 11 Chelsea appearances last season before a knee injury in July laid him low. He returned to action last month with a few cameos off the bench, and there will be plenty hoping he can return to his previous level quickly. A loan move might be on the cards, but Frank Lampard has high hopes for the crafty midfielder.

Yunus Musah, 18 - Valencia

Valencia are going through another difficult spell, with off-field matters often overshadowing on-pitch performances. Nevertheless, in United States international Musah, they appear to have a reason for optimism. Another tricky winger, Musah's 38 dribbles is the second most among Los Che players this term and he became their youngest LaLiga goalscorer (17 years, 338 days) this century when netting back in November. He's one that got away from Arsenal.

Ander Barrenetxea, 18 - Real Sociedad

A nimble right-footed left-winger, Barrenetxea broke into La Real's senior side last season with 17 appearances in LaLiga. His eight starts this term is already an increase of five on the entirety of 2019-20 and he has been using that extra time on the pitch to excite. He has attempted 41 dribbles in LaLiga, and his 56 per cent completion rate is bettered by only seven players – all of whom are much older – among those to have tried at least 40.

Bryan Gil, 19 - Eibar (on loan from Sevilla)

If Barrenetxea embodies the modern 'inverted winger' style, then Bryan is very much a wide midfielder of the classic variety. A direct touchline-hugger, the left-winger's aim is almost always to beat his man and get a cross into the box, and he is catching the eye on loan at Eibar this term. Only five wingers in LaLiga can better Bryan's 49 open-play deliveries, though his 22.5 per cent accuracy is better than all but one of those with more cross attempts. He's also tried 44 dribbles, his 52.3 per cent completion putting him close to Barrenetxea.

Jaminton Campaz, 20 - Deportes Tolima

Campaz may not be a household name yet, but a move to Europe or one of South America's leading leagues is surely not far away. The attacker, who can play wide or through the middle, is an explosive player but also productive. No younger player had more goal involvements (five goals and four assists) and chances created (32) in Colombia's top division than Campaz.

Amad Diallo, 18 - Manchester United

Although United splashed a reported £19million on Diallo, the young Ivorian remains something of an unknown quantity. A left-footed right-winger, he has only been given a handful of opportunities in Atalanta's senior side – though he has often caught the eye with his ability on the ball. Given United's lack of options on the right flank, he might just establish himself sooner than some expect – either way, he will be one to monitor.

Pedri, 18 - Barcelona

As each week passes, more and more Pedri looks to be settling into the role as Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona, but whether he's ready to take up such a mantle as early as this year is another matter. Messi's contract ends in June and so he could well depart – taking on his creative burden would be an unenviable task for a teenager, though Pedri is proving effective. He is creating a chance every 45 minutes on average in the league this term, the third most frequent in the squad among those to have played at least five times.

Talles Magno, 18 - Vasco da Gama

Are you really a Brazilian 'wonderkid' if you've not been linked with every major European club? Talles Magno fits the bill there and it's easy to see why there's interest. His end product still needs work, but his ability to excite is considerable – the 18-year-old has completed more than twice as many dribbles (106) as any other teenager in Brazil's Serie A between 2019 and 2020.

Karim Adeyemi, 18 - Salzburg

There has been a buzz around Adeyemi for a few years now as has previously impressed scouts with Germany's youth sides and during a fruitful loan spell at Liefering. Now back at Salzburg, he looks destined to be another serious talent off the club's impressive conveyor belt. Adeyemi is the only player to have been involved in four goals in a single Austrian Bundesliga this term, scoring and getting a hat-trick of assists in the 8-2 victory over St. Polten, while he set up a goal on his league debut for the club in June. A thrilling talent with great vision and dribbling abilities, Adeyemi may get even greater responsibility in 2021 following the departure of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Marcos Leonardo, 17 - Santos

It's still early days for Marcos Leonardo, though Santos clearly rate him highly – the striker's release clause is €100m. He's already the underage player with the most minutes played (296) and goals (one) in Brazil's top division this season, while he became the sixth youngest player to net in the Copa Libertadores (17y, 173d) when scoring a winner against Defensa y Justicia.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 - Borussia Dortmund

There's not much that hasn't already been said about Moukoko. He became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player in November when making his debut a day after his 16th birthday, before then also setting a new record for the league's youngest goalscorer in December. New coach Edin Terzic has already given him two starts – his next target will be to break records on the international stage with Germany. He couldn't get into their Euros squad, could he?

Matias Arezo, 18 - River Plate (URU)

Stocky, technically gifted and already proving decisive in front of goal with seven goal involvements (five goals, two assists) in 15 league matches, Arezo has a lot going in his favour. Whether he has the mentality or focus to not let the 'new Luis Suarez' labels distract him remains to be seen, but he's already the youngest Uruguayan (17y, 349d) to ever score a brace in the Copa Sudamericana having done so against Atletico Nacional in November.

It appears that, if Lionel Messi has his way, he will be playing for a new club before long.

The Barcelona captain and talisman told his employers he wanted to leave and, although the club won the battle in the previous transfer window, they may end up losing the war.

Messi is now entering the final six months of his contract and, unless a new deal is agreed soon, he could become perhaps the most sensational free transfer of all time in 2021.

Of course, tempting Messi away from Barca is by no means straightforward. His basic salary is said to be roughly €71million and, when you add in bonuses and other possible commitments, that represents a huge outlay on a player who turns 34 next June. Only a handful of clubs are even capable of pulling off such a deal, particularly in a financial landscape changed by COVID-19.

But what if, just for a minute, we imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

 

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea. Perhaps Luis Suarez could join him at his old club when the Uruguay star decides his time in LaLiga is over.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but it seems likely he will move on in January after a falling-out with his head coach.

Imagine if they signed Messi to replace him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne have gone through some tricky times but Markus Gisdol has done a good job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023. However, with another relegation battle looking likely this season, they could do with a decisive signing or two to boost their survival chances.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the big boys in the Bundesliga, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League and have become the division's great entertainers, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

NAPOLI

The Serie A move that would capture the imagination the most would be joining Napoli.

Not only would Messi's arrival get one over on long-standing rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who would no longer be the solo big ticket in Serie A, it would give him the chance dispel some other demons.

For much of his career, Messi has contended with people saying he's not at the level of Diego Maradona, the man who made Napoli kings of Italy.

Now that El Pibe de Oro has passed on, the sight of Messi leading Napoli to Scudetto glory at the stadium now bearing the name of his compatriot would be truly unforgettable.

While Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Porto have already secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages, some big names are in danger of a shock elimination.

After making history by leading Real Madrid to three straight Champions League titles during his first stint as head coach, Zinedine Zidane is on the verge of another first that could well place his future at the club in serious jeopardy.

Inter are also fighting for their future in the competition, as are Atletico Madrid and semi-finalists from the past two campaigns Ajax and Atalanta.

Ahead of what is sure to be a thrilling finale to the group stage, we take a look at the best stats courtesy of Opta.

 

Midtjylland v Liverpool: A first in reach for Reds

Jurgen Klopp's men are already guaranteed to finish top of Group D but victory over bottom side Midtjylland will see them register five wins in a single Champions League group stage for the first time.

Their form on matchday six in the competition is strong too. They have triumphed in each of their past three final group stage matches by an aggregate score of 10-0.

Taking three points would see the Reds become just the third Premier League side, after Chelsea in 2003-04 and Manchester United in 2010-11, to win all three of their away games in the group stage.

Should Caoimhin Kelleher be given another opportunity between the posts, he could become the first Liverpool goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in their first two Champions League starts.

Salzburg v Atletico Madrid: Shoot-out for progression

Atletico will be looking to avoid just a second exit at this stage in their eighth campaign in the competition under Diego Simeone.

They will need to be wary of Salzburg forward Mergim Berisha, who has scored four goals in as many Champions League starts for the club this season – only Erling Haaland (eight in 2019-20) has scored more for the Austrian side in a single campaign in Europe's premier club competition.

Enock Mwepu will be another threat for the visitors, having attempted six shots and created four chances in Salzburg's 3-1 win over Lokomotiv Moscow last time out.

Ahead of matchday six, only two players had been directly involved in more shots in a Champions League game this season – Lionel Messi and Munir El Haddad played a part in 11 against Ferencvaros and Krasnodar respectively.

Real Madrid v Borussia Monchengladbach: Blancos on the brink

A win will see Zidane's struggling Madrid into the knockout rounds and avoid the ignominy of suffering their first Champions League group stage exit after 28 consecutive progressions.

The drop-off this season can be seen in the fact their defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk last time out was Madrid's fourth in their past seven matches in the competition – they only lost five of their first 39 Champions League games under Zidane (W25 D9).

Goals should be expected at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with the previous five meetings between the teams seeing 20 goals scored with 10 apiece.

Gladbach just need to avoid defeat to advance and some game time for Alassane Plea would likely help them achieve that; he has been directly involved in eight goals (five scored, three assisted) in his five Champions League appearances at an average of one every 45 minutes.

Inter v Shakhtar Donetsk: Conte's San Siro woe

Failure to win against high-flying Shakhtar at San Siro will see Inter bow out at the group stage for a third consecutive season. Before this run, they had advanced from 11 of their 12 pool appearances (including the second group stage) in the competition.

Shakhtar may have beaten Madrid twice but they have a goal difference of minus seven; the only teams to have advanced with such a record after five games are Galatasaray in 2013-14 and Atalanta in 2019-20.

Inter will therefore be hoping Romelu Lukaku can help get them over the line. The Belgium striker has played a role in 17 goals in his 15 European matches for the Nerazzurri, including scoring a double in a 5-0 success over the Ukrainian side in last season's Europa League semi-final.

A strong performance from Lukaku would go a significant way to ensuring Antonio Conte does not become the first Inter coach to oversee a Champions League group stage campaign without a home win.

Other fixtures:

Ajax v Atalanta

2 - Ajax are unbeaten in their last seven games against Italian opponents in the Champions League, but five of these have ended in draws. They must win to reach the last 16.

4 - Atalanta went winless at home in the Champions League group stage this season (D2 L1), yet will qualify for the knockout rounds if they avoid defeat here. It will be just the fourth time a team has picked up as little as two points at home in a group stage and still qualified for the next round, after Roma in 2002-03 and Milan in both 2009-10 and 2012-13.

Bayern Munich v Lokomotiv Moscow

13 - Bayern drew 1-1 against Atletico in their most recent Champions League outing – the first time they failed to win in the competition under Hansi Flick after he oversaw 12 straight victories.

1 - Lokomotiv have drawn both of their away games in the Champions League this season and have never previously gone unbeaten away from home in a single season in the competition.

Manchester City v Marseille

16 – If City beat Marseille they will have accrued 16 points in the Champions League group stage this season, the joint-most of any English side in a single campaign along with Arsenal in 2005-06 (finalists), Manchester United in 2007-08 (winners), and Tottenham in 2017-18 (last 16).

8 - Marseille have lost each of their past seven away games in the Champions League and another defeat here would see them record their worst ever losing run on the road in the competition.

Olympiacos v Porto

100 - Olympiacos have won all three of their home Champions League matches against Porto, in three successive seasons between 1997 and 1999 – it is their best 100 per cent record on their own patch against any side in the competition.

4 - Porto have kept a clean sheet in four consecutive Champions League matches since conceding three goals away to Manchester City in October – the last side to record five or more consecutive shutouts in the competition was Juventus in 2016-17. Manchester City are also on a run of four.

Atalanta were given an unexpected afternoon off ahead of their crucial Champions League clash with Ajax as Sunday's Serie A meeting with Udinese was postponed.

Gian Piero Gasperini's men made the trip to Udine for a 3pm kick-off but, following an initial delay and a second pitch inspection, the game was eventually called off.

Both captains and the match referee agreed that a flooded Stadio Friuli surface was unlikely to improve, with heavy rain still falling.

The news looked like a boost for Atalanta, meaning their players would be taking no risks before travelling to tackle Ajax on Wednesday in a game that will decide their European prospects for the remainder of the season.

The Italians must avoid defeat in Amsterdam if they are to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages but will drop into the Europa League if they are beaten.

It remains to be seen when Atalanta's match at Udinese will eventually be played, with two midweek Serie A rounds scheduled before the turn of the year.

Nicolas Tagliafico has signed a new contract that will keep him at Ajax until 2023. 

The 28-year-old left-back's previous deal was due to expire in 2022, thus the extension seemingly secures his value to Ajax for a further season. 

However, media reports suggest the contract includes a clause that will allow the defender to leave the club next year should a major foreign side show an interest. 

Tagliafico has been linked with a host of big clubs in recent years, including Manchester United, Inter, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Hakim Ziyech, now at Chelsea, was said to have had a similar agreement written into his contract before he left Ajax for Stamford Bridge earlier this year. 

Tagliafico joined Ajax in January 2018 from Argentina's Independiente and helped them to reach the Champions League semi-finals against the odds in his first full season. 

Since the start of that campaign, 2018-19, only five defenders have featured more regularly in Europe's premier club competition than Tagliafico (21), while Juan Bernat and Raphael Guerreiro (five each) are the only two to have more goals than the Ajax defender (four). 

But he has also proven himself shrewd defensively.

His total of 39 successful tackles is second only to team-mate Noussair Mazraoui (40), while Mats Hummels (50) is the sole defender with more than Tagliafico's 45 interceptions. 

The Argentina international comes out on top for overall duels (286) and duels won (165), however, highlighting the fearlessness Ajax would lose were he to leave. 

Nevertheless, Friday's news should at least ensure Ajax secure a healthy profit if he does depart in 2021.

Arsenal and Tottenham are reportedly lining up moves for Salzburg star Dominik Szoboszlai, while three Premier League giants are monitoring Ben White.

Szoboszlai, 20, has been linked with a move from Salzburg after starring for the Austrian club.

And several European heavyweights are eyeing the Hungary international.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL, TOTTENHAM PUSH FOR SZOBOSZLAI

Arsenal and Tottenham are ready to push to sign Salzburg star Szoboszlai, according to Eurosport.

But the report says RB Leipzig look likely to win the battle to sign the star, despite interest also coming from Milan and Atletico Madrid.

Contracted until 2022, an offer of around €20million will reportedly be enough.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea are monitoring Brighton and Hove Albion defender White, according to Sky Sports. Liverpool have also been linked with the 23-year-old previously.

- Eyeing a defender in January amid an injury crisis, Barcelona have two targets in the Premier League. Mundo Deportivo reports Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi and Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger are among the players on Barca's list.

- After starring for Inter, Milan Skriniar is linked with a move. Football Insider reports Tottenham are still keeping tabs on the defender.

- Other Premier League giants could also be set for a transfer fight. The Daily Star reports Manchester United and Chelsea are facing a battle with Manchester City to sign Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria.

- Set to re-sign with Ajax, Nicolas Tagliafico could still be on the move. The Daily Mail reports the Manchester City and Leicester City target will still be allowed to leave the Eredivisie giants if a suitable offer arrives, despite re-signing.

- Catching the eye with Cagliari, Nahitan Nandez is being targeted by Roma and Napoli, according to CalcioMercato.

Jurgen Klopp praised "top talent" Caoimhin Kelleher after the goalkeeper helped Liverpool overcome Ajax 1-0 in the Champions League.

Starting as Alisson deals with a hamstring injury, Kelleher became just the second goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet on his debut for Liverpool in the Champions League.

Kelleher, 22, made four saves as Curtis Jones' 58th-minute goal proved to be enough to send the Premier League champions into the last 16 from Group D.

Klopp hailed the shot-stopper and said the Irishman's distribution was a key reason he decided to start Kelleher over Adrian.

"Top. Top, top, top," the Liverpool manager told a news conference.

"It is a situation, which I have to say, it was easy to decide for Caoimhin because he just deserves it, but it was difficult to decide against Adrian because he did really well for us: a lot of clean sheets, what a season last year, Super Cup final and all these kind of things.

"He did a really good job, but we needed the package of Caoimhin – and he is a top talent anyway, but a really good shot-stopper and a top footballer, so I like that.

"We needed that for the pressing of Ajax, we needed his chips from him into the half-spaces and these kinds of things. That was really good, but of course in the end it is all about saving, keeping the ball out of the net, and he did that at least twice in an exceptional manner. I am pretty sure he will either sleep really well or not at all, but he will enjoy both."

Kelleher completed 30 of 42 passes for Liverpool, who have further injury concerns over Jordan Henderson and Andy Robertson.

But Klopp was optimistic about the pair ahead of Sunday's clash at home to Wolves.

"We have now two days more than we had last week until the next game," he said.

"I don't know, things like this show up the next day slightly different. In the moment I am rather positive about it but I don't know.

"But that's a problem of the next few days and not tonight."

Jurgen Klopp hailed one of the biggest Champions League nights of his time as Liverpool manager after the Reds progressed to the knockout stages with a 1-0 win over Ajax.

Liverpool – winless in their last two outings and struggling to cope with a lengthy injury list – secured an important three points on Tuesday thanks to Curtis Jones' second-half strike against Ajax.

Jones became just the third teenager to score for Liverpool in the Champions League after David N'Gog in 2008 and Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2017, per Opta.

Victory was made even sweeter by Atalanta's draw with Midtjylland in Italy, which ensured Premier League champions Liverpool will win Group D regardless of their result on the sixth and final matchday.

And that fact, combined with battling performance he had just witnessed from a somewhat patched up team, meant Klopp was in celebratory mood at full-time.

"It feels [like] one of the biggest Champions League nights we had for sure; without supporters in it was the most important and the most difficult and the most exceptional game," Klopp told BT Sport.

"All the circumstances, all the things going around, not a lot of things that make you smile over a day just because of the injuries, it's tricky. 

"And then the boys throw themselves into the game, how the kids played, how [Andy Robertson] Robbo with a proper, proper knock on the ankle pushed himself through; [Jordan Henderson] Hendo, with a proper knock in the back, stiff back, pushed himself through, [Georginio Wijnaldum] Gini I have no words for him, Curtis, what a game for a 19-year-old boy.

"All that stuff, it's just amazing and I'm really, really proud tonight."

With first-choice goalkeeper Alisson having joined a number of team-mates in the treatment room ahead of this tie, it was expected that Klopp would name usual stand-in Adrian between the sticks.

Klopp instead opted for academy prospect Caoimhin Kelleher in goal – the 22-year-old produced an impressive performance that brought a deserved clean sheet.

Kelleher – the first Irish player to appear for Liverpool in the Champions League since Robbie Keane in 2008 – became only the second goalkeeper to keen a clean sheet on his debut for the Reds in the competition after Chris Kirkland against Galatasaray in 2002.

Discussing the reasons behind his decision, Klopp said: "I really think Adrian did an incredible job for us; when he came in and played last season at the beginning of the season, I don't know how many clean sheets, Super Cup final, Champions League, played everywhere.

"But now, in this game, we needed the natural football-playing ability of Caoimhin and, because he is a really good shot-stopper as well, we made that decision.

"But you never know, they are all calm the moment they get the information, but it's different to be then on the pitch. I'm really happy with how calm he was and how good he was. It was a good game."

Klopp also praised match winner Jones, who also hit the post over the course of another fine showing at first-team level.

"If I would be sure that he wouldn't watch my interview I would say something else but he's a really good kid to be honest, a really good player," Klopp added.

"I'm really happy to have him around. That's how it is sometimes, situations when you have problems there's always an opportunity for someone else and he took it just exceptionally well. I'm really happy for him."

Liverpool secured passage to the Champions League knockout stages as group winners as they earned a 1-0 win over Ajax.

A second-half goal from teenager Curtis Jones ensured the Reds would progress to the next stage on Wednesday, although academy prospect Caoimhin Kelleher, given his chance in goal, was required to make a stunning late save from Klaas Jan Huntelaar to protect the points at Anfield.

Better was still to come for Jurgen Klopp and co, too, as news of Atalanta's shock draw with Midtjylland meant top spot was clinched in Group D with a game to spare.

Liverpool had been hit by yet another injury blow in the form of a hamstring issue for Alisson, meaning Kelleher was handed his Champions League debut, preferred to Adrian.

The 22-year-old was initially a virtual spectator during a strong start from the hosts that saw fellow youngster Jones crack the post from distance.

Ajax grew into the game as it progressed, however, and called Kelleher into action on the half-hour mark through Noussair Mazraoui's thunderous effort from the edge of the box.

Matchday five of the Champions League could mean qualification for the last 16 for some - and spell trouble for others.

Bayern Munich and Manchester City are already through, but their respective opponents, Atletico Madrid and Porto, could do with positive results.

Real Madrid recorded a valuable win at Inter last time out but must do better against Shakhtar Donetsk than they did on matchday one, while the Nerazzurri themselves know nothing but a victory at Borussia Monchengladbach will do.

Liverpool need just a point at home to Ajax to progress, but with injury problems mounting and a 2-0 home loss to Atalanta last week, their progress no longer looks to be such plain sailing.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Real Madrid: Zidane's men aim to qualify against goal-shy opponents

Shakhtar's 3-2 win at Madrid was a serious shock, one that became more apparent as they lost their latest two games by four or more goals without scoring. Only Malmo and Red Star Belgrade have ever done so in three consecutive matches.

Indeed, Shakhtar have failed to score with each of their 23 shots since netting their third in the Spanish capital.

Madrid know a victory will guarantee their place in the knockouts for the 24th season in a row, a competition record. Their form might be inconsistent, but they have lost only one of their previous seven away games against Ukrainian opponents – a 2-0 defeat to Dynamo Kiev – since March 1999.

 

Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich: Holders could match club record – but without Lewandowski

Bayern Munich will match a club-record seven away wins in a row in the Champions League with victory at Atletico Madrid. They have won their previous six by an aggregate score of 27-7.

Diego Simeone has lost three of his five meetings with Bayern in this competition, but Atleti have only been beaten once at home in Europe in their previous 24 games.

Robert Lewandowski needs just one goal to surpass Raul in the all-time goalscoring list in the tournament, having reached 71 against Salzburg. However, with the striker missing this contest, Atleti may fancy their chances of beating Bayern at home for the third time in a row.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Inter: Can Conte fix his Champions League woes?

Since losing the first meeting in 1971, Borussia Monchengladbach have gone four games unbeaten against Inter.

This season marks the first occasion Inter have ever failed to win any of their opening four Champions League matches, and they are at risk of losing three in a row in the group stage for the first time.

Indeed, Antonio Conte has won only 20 per cent of his Champions League games in charge of the Nerazzurri, the lowest ratio of any of his predecessors over at least five games in the competition. Fail to win in Germany, and Inter are out.

 

Porto v Manchester City: Imperious defence meets clinical attack

Porto have lost three games in a row against Manchester City 9-2 on aggregate and are winless in five previous meetings with English opponents.

Pep Guardiola's side have already kept three clean sheets this term, one more than they managed in nine Champions League matches in 2019-20.

Porto, however, have scored with 25.8 per cent of their shots this season, a tally only bettered by Gladbach (28.6 per cent).

Liverpool v Ajax: Mane must find magic touch

Ajax and Liverpool have not met at Anfield since 1966-67, when the Eredivisie side won the tie 7-3 on aggregate. That was the last occasion the Reds lost to a Dutch side (they have played 14 such games since).

Ajax are unbeaten in 11 away games in the Champions League, their best run since March 1997, and they have not lost in their latest five visits to England in this competition.

Liverpool, who need a point to progress, could do with Sadio Mane finding form. The forward has scored only once at home in his previous 10 appearances in this tournament, going 426 minutes without finding the net in that run.

 

Other fixtures:

Lokomotiv Moscow v Salzburg

20 – Of the 20 shots attempted between these sides in their matchday-one meeting – which ended in a 2-2 draw - 15 of them were by Salzburg. Indeed, Lokomotiv Moscow scored twice from just three shots on target in the game.

50 – Since the start of last season, Salzburg's 10 games in the Champions League group stages have seen 50 goals scored (23 for, 27 against), the most of any club. Salzburg have won just two of those 10 games (D2 L6).

 

Atalanta v Midtjylland

3 – Midtjylland have lost all three of their previous games against Italian opponents in European competition, conceding 13 goals and scoring just one in reply.

1 – Atalanta have only failed to score in one of their last 12 games in the Champions League (25 goals in total), although this did come in their most recent home game in the competition, losing by five goals to Liverpool.

 

Marseille v Olympiacos

13 – Marseille have lost their last 13 Champions League matches – a competition record – scoring just six goals and conceding 29.

10 – The Ligue 1 side (six) and Olympiacos (eight) are the only two teams in the Champions League in 2020-21 yet to attempt at least 10 shots on target, with the Greek team managing just one across their previous two matches against Man City.

Thiago Alcantara is still suffering from the knee injury sustained against Everton and is a "few weeks" from returning for Liverpool, manager Jurgen Klopp confirmed.

The Spain international has not featured for the Reds since the 2-2 draw in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on October 17.

Thiago has only played twice for Liverpool since arriving from Bayern Munich in a deal that could reportedly cost up to £25million.

Still, his performances against Everton and Chelsea highlight the impact of his absence. Thiago has attempted (107) and completed (98) more passes per 90 minutes than any other Liverpool midfielder this season.

Significantly, the former Barcelona man attempted 21 passes into the attacking third on average in those two games, at least eight more than any other Reds midfielder in 2020-21.

Liverpool enjoyed a five-game winning streak in all competitions after the draw with the Toffees, but Klopp's side have since won only once in four matches, a run that includes a 2-0 home defeat to Atalanta in their previous Champions League match.

They therefore head into Tuesday's game with Ajax knowing they require a draw to guarantee their place in the last 16 before matchday six.

While captain Jordan Henderson is fit to start, James Milner (hamstring) is set to miss out and Thiago will certainly not be involved.

 "Thiago we have to maybe clarify it a little bit," Klopp told reporters on Monday.

"On that day when Thiago got injured in that challenge in the Everton game, there was another bad injury [to Virgil van Dijk] and after the scans it was like one was really bad news and the other one was really good news because nothing was broken, nothing was ruptured and stuff like this.

"But, as we realise now, it was still a massive impact on the knee. The problem is in a situation like that, nothing is ruptured and nothing is broken and that means everybody thinks, 'Okay, you can go after a few days', but the impact on the leg was that big that it is still not okay.

"It is not massive and he trains from time to time, not in the moment because we just have to realise that we have to go a few further steps. I can't say exactly when he will be fine, but it will take a few weeks still with Thiago."

Klopp was involved in a heated exchange with BT Sport reporter Des Kelly after Saturday's 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion, offering the broadcaster "congratulations" after Milner's injury.

The Liverpool boss has spoken often of the risk to players' welfare during the packed 2020-21 schedule, which has seen his side play three times in seven days since the international break.

Speaking to UEFA.com, Klopp reiterated his concern about the mental and physical state of players attempting to be at their best every three days.

"For the players, it's incredibly intense what we are doing," he said. "We're all happy and it's without any alternative that we play. It's great – love it, fantastic – but it's all on the backs of the players.

"They have to deliver. You watch the game and if they don't play well, you still think: 'That's not really good!' You don't think about what they go through in the week, because we all have normal lives, obviously, left and right of the games we play.

"And that's pretty much the same for all of us, where you cannot see friends, you cannot see your family, and all these things. Recovery is not only sleep, it's not only treatment. It's really giving yourself a bit of freedom to think about things you want to think about and not what you have to think about.

"In the world out there at the moment, the biggest problem is that we don't have this time often enough and it keeps us quite tense. That doesn't help if then you have a game to play every three days at 110 per cent, in the best way."

Arsenal are reportedly lining up a move for Isco in January, while Barcelona and Liverpool are also eyeing a defender.

Isco is seemingly getting close to a Real Madrid exit as he struggles for minutes with the LaLiga champions.

The playmaker's next move could see him in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL WANT ISCO

Arsenal want to sign Real Madrid midfielder Isco on loan in January before buying him ahead of 2021-22, according to Defensa Central.

Isco has been at Madrid since 2013, but is linked with a move as he seeks more game time.

Previously linked to Everton, Isco is wanted by Arsenal and the report says Mikel Arteta has already asked for the 28-year-old to be signed.

 

ROUND-UP

- Facing injury problems in defence, Barcelona and Liverpool could be set to make signings in January. Sport reports former Valencia and Madrid defender Ezequiel Garay, a free agent, has been offered to both clubs.

- Impressing at Milan, Hakan Calhanoglu is out of contract at season's end. Sport Bild reports the midfielder is almost certain to join Manchester United ahead of next term.

- In red-hot form for Borussia Dortmund, Erling Haaland's future continues to be a talking point. AS says the striker – who has scored 17 goals in 13 games this season – is considered a luxury item for Real Madrid, who will fight half of Europe to sign him. It says Haaland's value is growing and is already at €100million.

- Linked with Chelsea and Manchester City, Nicolas Tagliafico has agreed to extend his contract with Ajax until 2023, according to De Telegraaf. The report says the defender will finish the season with the Eredivisie giants and he can then pursue his dream of playing for a top club.

- Yet to make a Premier League start this season, Christian Benteke is out of contract at Crystal Palace at the end of the campaign. But the Evening Standard reports the striker has been offered a contract extension at Selhurst Park.

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