Alejandro Gomez's seven-year association with Atalanta is over after their former captain completed a move to Sevilla.

Gomez, 32, joined Atalanta from Metalist Kharkiv in 2014 and was a key factor in the club's rise from mid-table also-rans to regular top-four challengers.

He became captain in 2017 after a personal-best haul of 16 Serie A goals in 2016-17 and then skippered the club to their highest-ever top-flight finish of third in 2018-19.

They repeated the feat in 2019-20 and Gomez, whose 16 assists was the most by any player in a single Serie A season this century, was named the league's best midfielder in the end-of-season awards.

But Gomez and coach Gian Piero Gasperini reportedly fell out earlier this season, with Italian media claiming the player had refused to carry out the manager's orders in the 1-1 Champions League draw with Midtjylland.

Speculation was rife throughout December about whether the pair would be able to repair their relationship or if Gomez was on his way out, with Inter initially thought to be his likeliest of options.

But more recently Italian publications suggested Atalanta were keen to offload him to a foreign team, and Sevilla – whom Gomez had previously suggested were his favourite Spanish team – made their move.

The talented attacker, who can play on the left flank or behind the striker, signed a contract until June 2024 on Tuesday.

He is an Argentina team-mate of current Sevilla players Lucas Ocampos and Marcos Acuna, and was given his Albiceleste bow by the club's former coach Jorge Sampaoli.

Sevilla will hope Gomez can serve them as effectively he did Atalanta in the main – from the start of 2018-19 until December 16, when he last featured in Serie A for the Bergamo side, no player across Europe's big five leagues played more key passes than his 233.

Similarly, his 29 assists across the same period was bettered by only Thomas Muller (36), Lionel Messi (34) and Jadon Sancho (33). There were also only five players to create more Opta-defined "big chances" than his 40 in that time.

Will Paul Pogba return to Turin?

Pogba's future at Manchester United is in doubt, with the World Cup-winning Frenchman reportedly looking to leave the Theatre of Dreams.

Juventus are keen to re-sign Pogba – who initially left United for the Italian giants in 2012 before returning to Manchester four years later.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE WANT POGBA REUNION

Signing Manchester United star Paul Pogba remains the dream for Juventus, according to Calciomercato.

Pogba is eyeing an Old Trafford exit amid growing links to former club Juve and LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

Juve are keen on reuniting with Pogba, though Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli, Lyon star Houssem Aouar, Udinese midfielder Rodrigo De Paul and Roma sensation Nicolo Zaniolo are alternatives.

 

ROUND-UP

The past 12 months saw another Juventus title in Serie A, but 2020 comes to a close with Milan back in the trophy hunt at the top of the table.

Although the Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011, they lead the way through 14 matches heading into the new year.

Rivals Inter are a point further back, while Juve are back in sixth after losing their unbeaten record last time out against Fiorentina.

To mark the end of an intriguing year, Opta calculated a 'Top XI' for Serie A in 2020, including a host of big names - but notably missing one superstar.

GOALKEEPER: MARCO SILVESTRI

Hellas Verona have conceded just 14 goals so far this season and, across the year as a whole, Silvestri saved 74 per cent of the shots he faced, trailing only Juan Musso among keepers with at least 10 appearances.

DEFENDER: JUAN CUADRADO

Juventus' converted winger Cuadrado continues to display his attacking qualities from right-back. Among all defenders in 2020, he played the most passes into the opposition half (1,044) and trailed only Cristiano Biraghi (eight) for assists with a haul of seven.

DEFENDER: MATTHIJS DE LIGT

Lining up next to his Bianconeri team-mate, De Ligt has played a huge role in Juve's continued success. They won 65 per cent of their Serie A matches and conceded 1.0 goals per game with the Dutchman in the side in 2020, coming out on top just 36 per cent of the time while conceding 1.4 goals on average when he was missing.

DEFENDER: FRANCESCO ACERBI

Lazio's form has fallen away a little this season, but Acerbi is certainly not to blame. He recovered the ball 177 times in the league in 2020; Rafael Toloi (179) was the only centre-back to do so on more occasions.

DEFENDER: THEO HERNANDEZ

The first Milan entry unsurprisingly belongs to left-back Hernandez. He was directly involved in 11 goals (six goals, five assists) in 2020 and also completed the most successful dribbles in the competition (57).

MIDFIELDER: RODRIGO DE PAUL

De Paul has been linked with a host of clubs, including Inter, where another player in this list would surely thrive on his service. The Udinese midfielder played more accurate crosses (36) than anyone else in Serie A this year.

MIDFIELDER: FRANCK KESSIE

A key part of Milan's climb up the table, Kessie has been a dominant force in the middle of midfield. He recovered the ball 246 times in 2020, the most of any outfield player in the league.

MIDFIELDER: HAKAN CALHANOGLU

Once Kessie wins the ball, it is over to Calhanoglu to get Milan on the attack. He created 99 chances and provided 14 assists in 2020, both league highs.

FORWARD: ALEJANDRO GOMEZ

Talisman Papu Gomez looks set to leave Atalanta in January but starred again in what may prove to be his final full year in Bergamo. Complementing his creative talents, he led the press by winning possession 28 times in the final third of the pitch - ranking third in this regard.

FORWARD: ROMELU LUKAKU

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been outstanding back at Milan, but he does not make the cut. Nor does Ciro Immobile. It is Inter striker Lukaku who leads the line after scoring 22 times in 2020, the most of any player to attempt fewer than 100 shots. Sixteen were from open play, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Immobile (both 17).

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Who else? Aged 35, Ronaldo scored 33 times in the league for Juve in 2020. Only Felice Borel (41 in 1933) and Gunnar Nordahl (36 in 1950) have ever topped that mark in Serie A.

Not content just to lead the Italian top flight, Ronaldo has the edge over Robert Lewandowski (32) across Europe's 'top five' leagues heading into the final matches of 2020. He scored the most goals across the continent in five calendar years between 2011 and 2019.

It has been a year like no other, but football eventually managed to continue amid the coronavirus pandemic and give fans across the world something positive to focus on.

Ligue 1 was curtailed and a streamlined version of the Champions League knockout rounds took place in Lisbon in August, before a new season got under way.

There have still been plenty of performances to savour, though, and Stats Perform News has used Opta data to calculate a Team of the Year from the top five European leagues.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi made the grade in 2020 but the same could not be said of Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, while Kylian Mbappe earned a spot that his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar could not.

Supporters of Premier League clubs may not be rejoicing about the selections, which were made based solely on data.

 

Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)

Atletico lead the way in LaLiga on goal difference and have two games in hand on nearest rivals Real Madrid. Diego Simeone's side owe much of their success to Oblak, who has kept 17 clean sheets in 33 LaLiga appearances this year – the most of any keeper in the division during the same period.

Right-back: Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)

Juve won a ninth straight Scudetto this year and Cuadrado has played an important role throughout 2020, creating 45 chances (including seven assists) for the Bianconeri in Serie A – only Paulo Dybala (56) supplied more key passes for the club.

Centre-back: Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)

Bayern Munich may be the dominant force in the Bundesliga, but Hummels has continued to show his worth since returning to Dortmund. He made the most interceptions (57) and completed the most passes (2,056) of any Bundesliga defender in 2020.

Centre-back: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)

France international Upamecano is one of the hottest properties in European football and has been linked with a host of elite clubs. He shows great coolness in possession – as evidenced by him completing 24 of the 33 dribbles he attempted for a success rate of 73 per cent, the best of any Bundesliga defender to try at least 30.

Left-back: Theo Hernandez (Milan)

While Upamecano has established himself with Les Bleus, Hernandez's continued absence from the France set-up despite stellar showings for a resurgent Milan remains a source of much debate. The Rossoneri will end the year top of Serie A and Hernandez has been directly involved in 102 shots (46 chances created, 56 attempts on goal) in the league in 2020. That is more than any other defender in the same period.

Centre midfield: Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)

Kimmich's looping goal against Dortmund at the back end of last season was pivotal to Bayern retaining their German league title, which came as part of a treble. It has been the Germany international's distribution that has stood out this year, though. He completed an average of 75 passes per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga in 2020, the most of any midfielder in the competition to feature for at least 1,000 minutes.

Centre midfield: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Madrid regained the title in LaLiga in 2020, with Kroos a central figure in Zinedine Zidane's midfield. Of all players who attempted at least 1,000 passes in the opposition half in the Spanish top flight this year, Kroos was the only one who had a completion rate higher than 90 per cent.

Right wing: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

This year may have proved to be terminal to Messi's tight relationship with Barcelona, and while he was not quite up to his previous goalscoring exploits he still proved massively influential in the final third. He was the only player in LaLiga in 2020 to both score at least 15 goals and register as many assists.

Attacking midfield: Alejandro 'Papu' Gomez (Atalanta)

His time with Atalanta may seemingly be coming to an end after a falling-out with Gian Piero Gasperini, but Gomez has been one of the club's most important players. He had more assists (12) and created more chances (81) in Serie A this year than any of his team-mates.

Left wing: Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG were crowned Ligue 1 champions despite the season being cut short in April, meaning they have played just 26 games this year. Mbappe only featured in 21 of those, but he was still directly involved in 24 goals (19 scored, five assisted) which was more than any other player in the competition in 2020.

Striker: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

It was no surprise to see Lewandowski named The Best FIFA Men's Player after an incredible campaign with Bayern. He scored 32 Bundesliga goals in 26 appearances this year and only five of them were spot-kicks. His tally of 27 non-penalty goals was the most of any player in the top five European leagues.

Antonio Conte focused on Inter's consistency, rather than an unspectacular performance, after a 2-1 victory over Spezia saw them extend their winning run to six in Serie A. 

Inter struggled to get going at San Siro and created precious few opportunities in a first half that saw promoted Spezia actually have a greater share of the possession. 

But Achraf Hakimi struck to cap off a fine move early in the second half and Romelu Lukaku's penalty left Spezia with too much to do, even with a late consolation deep into stoppage time. 

It is the first time Inter have won four successive Serie A home games under Conte, while their 18 points from the previous six league matchdays is at least four more than any other team. 

Conte is grateful Inter are finally finding stability and dismissed the importance of the display as the Nerazzurri remained just a point behind leaders Milan. 

"We are at the sixth victory in a row and these wins are welcome, because by giving consistency you remain at [near] the top of the standings," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We knew it would be complicated, Spezia are an organised team that has closed all the spaces, they have physically strong players. In the first half we did not create a lot. 

"It's a good win, considering that we play every three days and there is a bit of tiredness. It's useless to hide, now let's grit our teeth and try to finish this block [of fixtures] in the best way. We must have courage, without being fearful." 

Attention quickly turned to Atalanta star Alejandro Gomez, whose future remains a source of speculation after a reported row with coach Gian Piero Gasperini. 

Inter have been linked with the Argentinian, though Conte was unwilling to discuss the player. 

"I have too much respect for my players to talk about that," he said. "After Hellas Verona, we will also understand what the club expected from the team. 

"It will be right to make some assessments with the club, in an intelligent and serene way, to understand a little what can be done and what not." 

Is Lionel Messi set to swap Spain for France?

Paris Saint-Germain have been among the clubs linked with Messi.

And rumours suggest PSG believe they will land the Barcelona superstar.

 

TOP STORY – PSG POISED TO SIGN MESSI?

Paris Saint-Germain are preparing to announce the signing of Lionel Messi, according to FootballTransfers.

Messi, who is out of contract at the end of the season, tried to leave Barcelona at the start of 2020-21 but the six-time Ballon d'Or winner opted to remain at Camp Nou.

Now, Ligue 1 champions PSG are growing increasingly confident of luring Messi to Paris on a free transfer, having told their stores around the French capital to brace themselves for a high demand of shirt sales.

The Daily Star, however, claims Pep Guardiola's Manchester City remain optimistic of signing Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

- Premier League champions Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new blockbuster five-year contract, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Bayern Munich are in pole position to sign RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano but the Bundesliga champions are still undecided on outlaying such a significant sum amid the coronavirus pandemic, says Sport Bild. Upamecano has been heavily linked with Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.

- According to Corriere della Sera, Inter and Milan are the main contenders to sign Atalanta star Papu Gomez. The captain and Atalanta head coach Gian Piero Gasperini have fallen out, leading to widespread reports Gomez will leave in January. Inter are the favourites to sign Gomez as they could reportedly offer Christian Eriksen in exchange. The likes of PSG, Lazio and Napoli have also emerged as possible destinations.

Hakan Calhanoglu is set to stay at Milan, reports Calciomercato. United have been linked with a move for the soon-to-be free agent.

- Romano says Sergio Ramos is likely to continue at Madrid beyond the 2020-21 season. Los Blancos captain Ramos is nearing the end of his contract, leading to links with the likes of PSG, Juventus and United.

Paulo Dybala has been named Serie A MVP for the 2019-20 season after playing a starring role in Juventus' successful title defence - but Cristiano Ronaldo missed out in the list of individual honours. 

Dybala scored 11 goals and provided six assists in the league as the Bianconeri were crowned champions in Italy for a ninth successive year. 

The Argentina international came out on top of the rankings, according to Stats Perform statistical surveys aided by tracking data. Information was collected from Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana games, as well as Serie A. 

Ronaldo scored 31 goals for Juve but the Portuguese was pipped to the best forward award by Ciro Immobile, who equalled Gonzalo Higuain's competition record for goals in a single season with 36 for Lazio. 

There was further success for the champions, however, as Wojciech Szczesny was named best goalkeeper, with Inter's Stefan de Vrij the top defender. 

Alejandro Gomez was rewarded for helping Atalanta finish third for a second successive season, the Argentine playmaker announced as the leading midfielder.  

Dejan Kulusevski, meanwhile, was named young player of the season after impressing on loan at Parma. 

The 20-year-old Swede was signed by Juventus from Atalanta in the January window, though remained at the Ennio Tardini for the remainder of the campaign.

"It was a difficult year, but these players have proven their talents in all the matches they played with great performances," Luigi De Siervo, CEO of Serie A, said in a statement announcing the winners.

"We want to thank all the athletes for their professionalism, commitment and sacrifice."

There was a predictable champion at the end of the 2019-20 Serie A campaign as Juventus clinched a ninth successive Scudetto, and their success is reflected in Opta's Team of the Season. 

Although Juve finished 2019-20 just a point ahead of second-placed Inter, they had wrapped up the title with two games to go – beating Sampdoria 2-0 on July 26.

Cristiano Ronaldo was unsurprisingly key, finishing as his team's top scorer, but for much of the season there were a few sides that looked like they might push Juve all the way.

Inter, Atalanta and Lazio all had their moments where they were able to dream and they each had individuals who impressed.

Following the conclusion on the campaign on Sunday, we teamed up with Opta to outline the Serie A Team of the Season.

OPTA'S SERIE A TEAM OF THE SEASON

GK: Wojciech Szczesny, Juventus

Poland international Szczesny has come a long way since struggling in the latter part of his Arsenal career. He was once again a dependable option between the posts, remaining first choice despite the return of Gianluigi Buffon. He ended the season with a 74.4 per cent save success rate, the best of the Serie A goalkeepers to have played 20 or more times.

RB: Juan Cuadrado, Juventus

Hardly the most convincing of defenders, granted, but Cuadrado boasts the versatility to play in a few roles down the right flank and he became an important figure for Maurizio Sarri – his 28 Serie A starts is just one fewer than he managed in the previous two seasons combined. The Colombian was certainly influential, too, as he was involved in more open-play sequences that ended with a shot made by someone else (132) than any other player this term. He also chipped in with two goals and five assists.

CB: Stefan de Vrij, Inter

No team conceded fewer goals in Serie A this season than an Inter side that Antonio Conte ensured was well-drilled. Netherlands centre-back De Vrij played a major role in that as he featured 34 times – though his efforts were not notable just for his defensive effectiveness. The former Feyenoord man scored three goals and also set up another three, making him the most productive centre-back in the league in this regard.

CB: Francesco Acerbi, Lazio

After Inter, the next-best defensive unit in Serie A was Lazio, who let in 42 (six more than Conte's men). Acerbi missed just two games all season and his form at the start of the season also saw him make three starts for Italy. The 32-year-old has proven himself to be one of Serie A's best stoppers, as evidenced by the fact he was dribbled past just six times this term. No other outfield player with more than 35 appearances did better than that.

LB: Theo Hernandez, Milan

Former France youth international Hernandez has rediscovered the early promise he showed during a fine loan spell at Deportivo Alaves in 2016-17. While question marks remain over his defensive abilities, the Atletico Madrid youth product has excited with his attacking tendencies in 2019-20. No defender completed more dribbles (57) than him, while he also had a hand in nine goals (six goals, three assists).

CM: Luis Alberto, Lazio

Since leaving Liverpool for Rome in 2016, Luis Alberto has arguably developed into one of the world's best creative midfielders. The Spain international sees passes few others can and he has put that to particularly good use in 2019-20, with his 106 chances created being a Serie A high. Similarly, his 15 assists was second only to Alejandro Gomez (16), as he helped Simone Inzaghi's men mount a title challenge. Often linked with a return home to Sevilla, Lazio will surely be doing everything they can to keep Luis Alberto at Stadio Olimpico.

CM: Fabian Ruiz, Napoli

The other half of a Seville-centric midfield, Real Betis product Fabian probably hasn't impressed quite as much as he did in 2018-19, but he has nevertheless continued to show plenty of promise. Still only 24, Fabian attempted the most passes (2,331) of any player in the league this season, while he had a hand in nine goals, the same amount as in the previous campaign.

AM: Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta

Like a fine wine, 'Papu' Gomez just seems to get better with age. Now 32, the Argentinian has enjoyed a fantastic season for the often-exhilarating Atalanta. He scored seven goals for a second successive season, but his haul of 16 assists is five more than 2018-19. That figure is the highest since Opta records began in 2004-05.

FWD: Paulo Dybala, Juventus

The Sarri-Juventus combination continues to puzzle many, but if there's one thing he has got right, it's helping Dybala get back to something resembling his best. He had been strongly linked with a move away last year, but Dybala was involved in 17 Serie A goals this term (11 goals, six assists) and managed to coexist with Ronaldo more effectively. Of his 11 strikes, eight (73 per cent) were the opening goals of matches, the biggest quantity among players with 10 or more.

FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

Considering there being murmurs of discontent between himself and Sarri, and suggestions the coach hasn't been able to get the best out of the Portugal great, Ronaldo's had a pretty effective year. With 31 league goals, it's been his best goal-scoring campaign domestically since getting 35 with Real Madrid in 2015-16, while his goals have secured 24 points, more than any other player.

FWD: Ciro Immobile, Lazio

What a season Immobile has had. With 36 league goals, the Italy international equalled Gonzalo Higuain's record for a single campaign, while that haul also won him the coveted European Golden Shoe. On top of that, his record of nine assists was bettered by only Gomez, Luis Alberto and Domenico Berardi. If he can keep it up, Lazio will surely fancy themselves of challenging Juve again next term.

Juventus were 2-0 up and coasting at Milan on Tuesday before collapsing in utterly abject fashion.

Three goals in five minutes turned the game on its head before Ante Rebic completed a 4-2 triumph for the Rossoneri.

A seven-point lead with seven games remaining means Maurizio Sarri's men remain on course for the Scudetto.

But up next are fourth-placed Atalanta, themselves nine points from the summit. After their San Siro ordeal, a showdown with one of the most exciting and dangerous teams in European football might be the last thing Juve need.


PERFECT SINCE LOCKDOWN

Saturday's match at the Allianz Stadium brings together two attacking ideologues. Sarri's high-pressing, high-possession approach became so ingrained during his celebrated spell at Napoli that it was given its own nickname.

But Sarrismo has a more than worthy adversary in Gian Piero Gasperini's thrilling, fearless setup.

Atalanta's expansive 3-4-1-2 system, in which central midfielders, wing-backs and forwards freely exchange positions to repeatedly overload opponents in wide areas, has produced goals by the truckload this season.

They head to Turin in prime form, buoyed by a run of nine Serie A wins in succession – the club's longest ever such tally in the top flight.

Along with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid – both potential Champions League final opponents in these heady days for Atalanta – they are one of three teams in Europe's top five leagues to have won all their games since lockdown.

Overall, La Dea have 20 victories this term, which is one shy of the single season record Gasperini set during his first campaign at the helm in 2016-17.


GOALS, GOALS, GOALS

While Gasperini's masterpiece is one of collective ingenuity, there are also some very impressive individual numbers.

If Duvan Zapata manages one more league goal, Atalanta will be the first side to have three players with 15 or more to their name in a Serie A season since Juventus in 1951-52, when Ermes Muccinelli, Giampiero Boniperti and John Hansen accomplished the feat

Luis Muriel and Josip Ilicic have 17 and 15 respectively, with Muriel's feat all the more impressive when considering he typically begins matches on the bench.

Indeed, the Colombia international is only the second player to score double figures in a single season via substitute appearances across the top five leagues, after Paco Alcacer did likewise at Borussia Dortmund in 2018-19.

The dazzling firecracker at the creative centre of this explosive attack is Alejandro 'Papu' Gomez, who is set to make his 300th Serie A appearance against Juventus.

The 32-year-old Argentinian playmaker enjoys free rein as Gasperini's number 10 and has racked up 15 assists this term – the highest single-season figure since Opta started collecting such data in 2004-05.

Gomez has provided at least 10 Serie A assists in each of his four seasons under Gasperini and the former Catania man has 128 goal involvements in Italy's top flight overall (61 goals and 67 assists).


GATECRASHING EUROPE'S ELITE

A rampaging last-16 win over Valencia booked Atalanta's place in the Champions League quarter-finals, where they will take on Paris Saint-Germain when Europe's elite club competition lands in Lisbon for its concluding mini-tournament next month.

Their performances truly are among the very best on the continent

Only Bayern (100) and Manchester City (86) have scored more league goals than Atalanta's 85 in 2019-20.

That amounts to an average of 2.74 per game, again the third best in Europe. Dominant Bundesliga winners Bayern edged up to 2.94 per game, while PSG averaged 2.78 across the truncated Ligue 1 season.

Along with City and Barcelona, Atalanta have scored five or more goals in five separate matches. That can only be bettered in the Bundesliga, where Bayern and Dortmund each did it six times.

Things are also looking pleasingly tight at the back. In 2020, La Dea have five Serie A clean sheets, edged in the calendar year so far by Juventus and Milan with six apiece.

Juve certainly should not bank on adding to that number when they host Gasperini's great entertainers. If Atalanta manage to storm Turin, it will be 10 wins in a row and the gap will be six points with six games to play.

They can't... can they?

Passing the ball can sometimes look like the easiest thing in the world to do. At least, it does when these guys do it.

Our latest dive into the data of 2019-20 sees us look at the best playmakers in Europe's top-five leagues before the season was called to a halt.

We've deliberately broadened our approach to what constitutes a playmaker here – Gerard Pique doesn't often appear as a number 10, unless Barca are in real trouble – as the idea is to offer a wider consideration of those players who generally use the ball better than most when in possession.

To that end, we've looked at 12 different metrics to come up with the top performers of the campaign, again from among those to make at least 10 league appearances.

While some stars are not exactly strange to see in the list below, there is a handful of more surprising names, too...

 

THE TOP PLAYMAKERS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most successful passes: Sven Bender (1,766)
Highest passing accuracy: Axel Witsel (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Joshua Kimmich (873)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Axel Witsel (92.2)
Most passes ending in final third: Jadon Sancho (576)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Axel Witsel (88.4 per cent)
Most chances created: Christopher Nkunku (65)
Most big chances created: Thomas Muller (24)
Most assists: Thomas Muller (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Dennis Geiger (50 per cent)

LALIGA:

Most successful passes: Gerard Pique (1,688)
Highest passing accuracy: Toni Kroos (93.6 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Sergio Busquets (957)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Toni Kroos (92.4)
Most passes ending in final third: Lionel Messi (698)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Toni Kroos (90.3)
Most chances created: Jose Campana (58)
Most big chances created: Lionel Messi (22)
Most assists: Lionel Messi (12)
Most assists from open play: Portu and Lionel Messi (8)
Most crosses/corners successful: Jesus Navas (43)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

LIGUE 1:

Most successful passes: Marco Verratti (1,581)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Marco Verratti (956)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Thiago Silva (92.8 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Angel Di Maria (543)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Colin Dagba (86 per cent)
Most chances created: Dimitri Payet (87)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Angel Di Maria (14)
Most assists from open play: Angel Di Maria (10)
Most crosses/corners successful: Dimitri Payet (63)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Marco Verratti (54.6 per cent)

 

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: John Stones (94 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (23)
Most assists: Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Kevin De Bruyne (14)
Most crosses/corners successful: Kevin De Bruyne (69)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Christian Atsu (47.1 per cent)

 

SERIE A:

Most successful passes: Fabian Ruiz (1,488)
Highest passing accuracy: Marlon Santos (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Fabian Ruiz (932)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: Eljif Elmas (91.5 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Luis Alberto (723)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Walace (89.7 per cent)
Most chances created: Luis Alberto (75)
Most big chances created: Luis Alberto (16)
Most assists: Luis Alberto (12)
Most assists from open play: Luis Alberto and Alejandro Gomez (9)
Most crosses/corners successful: Erick Pulgar (46)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Armando Izzo (54.6 per cent)

 

AND THE TOP 12:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Thomas Muller and Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

 

Valencia's scattered defenders looked like a collection of punch-drunk strangers after Atalanta wing-back Hans Hateboer tore gleefully down their vacant left flank and smashed home his second goal of the match.

With just over an hour played, Gian Piero Gasperini's blue and black wrecking machine were 4-0 up in the club's first ever Champions League knockout tie.

Blistering long-range strikes from Josip Ilicic and Remo Freuler sparked scenes of delirium in the stands at San Siro - Milan's celebrated football coliseum and temporary home to Atalanta's European home matches, with more than 40,000 fans making the pilgrimage from Bergamo for the most significant night in their club's 112-year history.

The other standout victory in the last-16 of Europe's top competition, of those ties completed, came via very different means. There is something irresistibly Machiavellian about Diego Simeone's iron-willed Atletico Madrid teams when they are pushing all the right buttons at just the wrong time as far as illustrious opponents, such as reigning champions Liverpool, are concerned.

Simeone yelping with outstretched arms as he cavorted towards the Anfield Road End after Alvaro Morata's tie-sealing goal was an image ripe for any best of Champions League compilation. Only now it is burned onto our collective consciousness with an underlying unease.

A day before Atleti's Merseyside heist, Atlanta continued their artful disembowelment of Valencia, winning 4-3 at the Mestalla to seal a remarkable 8-4 aggregate triumph. Only there were no fans present to witness Ilicic's four-goal masterclass. Coronavirus had its grip on the continent and pulling down the shutters on football would soon tumble down most people's list of priorities.

"Bergamo, this is for you. Never give up," read the slogan on a t-shirt the Atalanta players held up to a television camera after their eerie victory in Spain. Their home city was already dealing with a mounting death toll.

Professor Fabiano Di Marco, head of pulmonology at Bergamo's Pope John XXIII Hospital told Corriere della Sera the initial match at San Siro, with all of its accompanying travel and social interaction had been a "biological bomb" – a description with which mayor Giorgio Gori concurred.

“It was not the right decision to stage the match," Liverpool City Council's newly installed director of public health Matthew Ashton said of the Atletico game, where 3,000 travelling supporters attended against the backdrop of an increasingly grave situation in Madrid. "People don’t make bad decisions on purpose – perhaps the seriousness of the situation wasn’t being understood across government at that time."


Atalanta are Bergamo and Bergamo is Atalanta – you can't have one without the other.

Atalanta's transformation into Europe's great entertainers is every bit as unlikely as it is glorious.

"All the stereotypes of Italian football being 0-0, 0-0, 0-0 – that's Edy Reja's dream. He doesn't ever want a goal to be scored in a football match," said Conor Clancy, editor-in-chief at the Forza Italian Football website, when discussing Gasperini's immediate predecessor.

"It was some of the most turgid football I have ever seen in my life, the last season before Gasperini came in. So when he came along you wondered how it was going to work – a team of cloggers who probably can't pass the ball five yards and Papu Gomez being the only footballer in the group.

"But he just improved everybody. I don’t really know how he's done it."

Progress since under a coach who was best known for a swiftly aborted five-game spell in charge of Inter in 2011 has been staggering.

Atalanta's best points total in Serie A was 52 upon Gasperini's arrival. In 2016-17, they amassed 72 and have never been below their previous best. They have finished fourth, seventh and third in his completed campaigns, fired by a freewheeling attack in which the talismanic Gomez and mercurial Ilicic have a prolific ally in Duvan Zapata.

Last term they were Serie A's top scorers with 77 goals and already have 70 after 25 matches in 2019-20 – the reward for an audacious and bold tactical setup, where industrious central midfield duo Freuler and Marten de Roon operate in front of a ball-playing back three, while interchanging with a pair of adventurous wing-backs and a creative forward trident.

When everything clicks, opponents are utterly overwhelmed. In between the Valencia matches, Atalanta scored seven times in a Serie A match for the third time this season when they hammered Lecce 7-2. Either side of the mid-season break, Milan and Parma were each dispatched 5-0. Zapata, Ilicic and Luis Muriel are all into double figures for the league season.

They are an easy side to adore for a fervent fanbase. Gasperini has expressed an ambition to be seen as Atalanta's Alex Ferguson and has, along with Gomez, been granted the freedom of Bergamo.

"Papu is the symbol of this club and an environment made of many carefully selected players," the club's former defender Guglielmo Stendardo told Stats Perform at the end of last month.

"He is the symbol of Atalanta and I hope he can go on like this for many seasons. He is still super fit, he performs having fun. This is the spirit of the complete sportsman.

"Players like Zapata, Ilicic and Gomez show Atalanta is an arrival point for footballers, whereas before it was more of a springboard for young talents. Now this is a club consistently top ranking in Italy and in Europe."

Club president Antonio Percassi appeared equal parts bemused and delighted when he was able to rebuff Inter's €50million approach for Zapata last year. It was a sign his squad drawn from a vast global scouting operation, pulling would-be stars and misfits from Argentina, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ukraine and beyond, are now dining at the top table.

For all this emphatic progress, the showdown with Valencia – reached despite losing their opening three Champions League group games before drawing the fourth against Manchester City, who finished with Kyle Walker in goal at San Siro – came with the enticing promise of being able to display the Gasperini project, in all its glory, to the world.

"The whole city shut down for that game," said Clancy, who also counts himself as an ardent Atalanta supporter. "There was a driving school, which was closed for the day because the owners went down to Milan for the match.

"Just a lot of little things where people were putting signs up all over the city saying we're closed for today because it's a huge day in the history of the city, the football club, the people, everything.

"That set the scene before the game even kicked off. After that game, I'm in a few Atalanta forums and Facebook pages, and I've never seen anything like it. The emotion was just phenomenal. Being at San Siro as well was pretty special.

"That connection has always been there. Atalanta are Bergamo and Bergamo is Atalanta – you can't have one without the other.

"If you go to any city in Italy and ask people what they're doing on Sunday, they'll say 'I'm going to the stadium'. In Bergamo they say 'I'm going to Atalanta'. There's no mention of a sport, no mention of a place. It's just Atalanta."


Cholo is a leader, a fighter, the emblem and the mirror of what Atleti itself is.

Undiluted passion, common purpose between players and supporters and an unflinching commitment to a tactical idea are traits Atalanta hold in common with Atletico, even if the realisation on the field could scarcely be more different.

A Copa del Rey and LaLiga winner during his playing days at the Vicente Calderon, Simeone returned in 2011 to take charge of a club with a reputation for burning through head coaches. He promptly won the Europa League and then set about pestering Spanish football's duopoly.

Champions League final losses to Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016 stung horribly, but steering a course to LaLiga glory in 2013-14 remains a crowning achievement for one of this era's giants of the dugout.

"Regarding what Cholo means to us, the supporters, it is everything," said Atletico fan Oscar Medina Ochoa, who made the trip to Anfield. "He is a leader, a fighter, the emblem and the mirror of what Atleti itself is.

"A motto of the club, the lyrics of our anthem, is "'courage and heart'. That is what he represents, from his time as a player and now as a coach.

"His way of understanding the club and teaching values ​​has made many people believe a [certain] way. It is true that there are people who no longer follow his philosophy and the press criticise him for the tactics, the financial outlay... but the truth is that since he has been there, the team has an identity of yesteryear - of a winning team."

Jurgen Klopp unequivocally added his name to that list of non-believers after his Anfield ordeal.

Atletico soaked up waves of pressure with something approaching masochistic delight, before springing from their shackles to score three times in extra time for a 3-2 win on the night and a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

The first of Marcos Llorente's crisply struck brace was timed for maximum torment, coming within three minutes of Roberto Firmino giving Liverpool the lead in the tie for the first and only time.

"I am completely happy with the performance. It's so difficult to play a side like this," Klopp told BT Sport.

"I don't understand with the quality they have the football they play. They could play proper football but they stand deep and have counter-attacks.

"We accept it, of course, but it doesn't feel right tonight. I realise I am a really bad loser, especially when the boys put such an effort in against world-class players on the other side who defend with two rows of four."

Atletico right-back Kieran Trippier told the same UK broadcaster that Simeone reprises his histrionic touchline persona in training every day – a frankly startling prospect.

"I’ve been here seven months and I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest," the England international said.

"Starting from Diego Simeone – everyone feeds off him – he's an unbelievable manager. I can’t really explain how good it is here, it is just an unbelievable feeling and I’m proud to be part of this team."

The work ethic in which Trippier and others delight aligns Atletico with the club's traditionally working-class roots and Simeone has made this quality a non-negotiable when it comes to frequently bloodying the noses of Europe's aristocrats.

This week, the Champions League quarter-finals were due to commence and there would have been no more compelling tie than Atalanta versus Atletico Madrid.

How would Simeone, whose team have scored a paltry 31 times during an uneven LaLiga campaign, plot a path to outgun Gasperini's trigger-happy mavericks? How would the free-spirited Italian entertainers avoid succumbing to what former Australia cricket captain Steve Waugh (a man very much cut from the same sporting cloth as Simeone) termed "mental disintegration"?

And yet, two sets of players and fanatical fanbases in thrall to two radically different footballing visions must instead reckon with a reality where there is no comfort in hypotheticals.


If they had known the consequences, it is clear that everything would have been cancelled

"It is true that no-one prohibited the visit, there were simply the recommendations of the club," said Medina Ochoa, who spent the afternoon before Liverpool v Atletico at the city's famous Cavern Club, where fans draped an Atleti scarf over the statue of John Lennon on Matthew Street.

"If they had known the consequences, it is clear that everything would have been cancelled."

That March midweek developed queasily, with a sense that events were moving a step faster than any response.

On the day of the Liverpool-Atleti game, the Spanish government issued revised guidance to declare non-essential travel outside Madrid to be "irresponsible", while visiting fans were already in or en route to the UK.

Liverpool were given the go-ahead to allow fans in. Premier League games were scheduled that weekend. Then, on the Thursday, Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta tested positive for COVID-19. England's top flight joined the vast majority of elite European leagues in being postponed that weekend. None have returned due to tightening lockdown measures and a climate of unprecedented uncertainty.

As of April 4, Bergamo had 2,245 declared deaths. An investigation by local newspaper Eco di Bergamo estimated the virus killed around 4,500 in March. Lombardy, which includes Bergamo, has confirmed 9,722 deaths and 15,147 recoveries form 53,414 cases, making it the most affected region in Italy.

The Community of Madrid counts 5,800 deaths from 43,877 cases, with 21,121 sufferers recovered. Unfortunately, Atleti great Jose Luis Capon, former title-winning boss Raddy Antic and youth team player Christian Minchola will not be counted among the latter number.

"In this very moment of worldwide emergency, we all have to feel a bit Bergamaschi," Stendardo said.

"I have lived for five and a half years in a fantastic town like Bergamo, I realise how hard it is to fight back against the problems this virus has created.

"I am so devastated right now as I know Bergamo's citizens are rooted in their territory, have a strong sense of duty and incomparable work ethics. They don't deserve all this."

The work ethic Stendardo alluded to is evident among Atalanta's ultras, whose community spirit has been a visible part of the response.

Starting with a plea for fans to stay home after the Valencia triumph – traditionally any significant Atalanta win on the road is followed by fans greeting them with banners, flares and songs upon their return – the Curva Nord group donated a combined €40,000 that would have been spent on travelling to Spain to local hospitals.

A further €10,000 has been donated via a PayPal appeal since, while Curva Nord members also documented their efforts volunteering to build a temporary hospital in Bergamo.

While Ilicic has donated his hat-trick ball from the Mestalla to the Pope John XXIII Hospital, Atletico players have also been playing a part in Madrid – most notably in accepting 70 per cent pay cuts to ensure non-playing staff receive their full wages during the crisis.

Members of Simeone's squad have been conducting video calls with fans young and old, with Koke's conversation with the club's socio number one Pedro Palermo particularly touching.

All of these acts, big and small, show two clubs woven through the fabric of their frayed communities, becalmed but promising better days.

Italy marked one month in lockdown this week, a moment when in a parallel existence we would have been pouring over the fallout from an Atletico v Atalanta first leg and building up to next week's intriguing second instalment.

For now football belongs in the background, sustained in the hopes, dreams and memories of fans in Madrid, Bergamo and beyond. It feels like a comfortably fitting waiting spot for two inspirational teams.

 

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

Josip Ilicic scored twice as Atalanta outclassed a sorry Milan with a 5-0 rout in Bergamo on Sunday.

The hosts were rewarded for a dominant opening with a wonderful solo goal from Alejandro Gomez and ex-Rossoneri midfielder Mario Pasalic doubled the lead shortly after the hour.

Ilicic drilled home in the 63rd minute and soon had a second with an exquisite effort as Atalanta - who completed the thrashing through substitute Luis Muriel - were rewarded for a display full of enterprise and invention with a result that sees them head into Serie A's mid-season break in fifth.

Milan, who were unbeaten in four prior to the game, and coach Stefano Pioli will need to do some soul searching over the next fortnight, though, after a woeful away performance.

Ilicic had already tested Gianluigi Donnarumma by the time Gomez opened the scoring with a sublime piece of skill after 10 minutes.

The forward nutmegged Andrea Conti on the left wing and drove inside before hammering high into the far corner.

Pasalic also rattled the crossbar and a ramshackle Milan, whose best first-half effort was a long-ranger from Ricardo Rodriguez, were fortunate Mateo Musacchio's elbow on Gomez only drew a yellow card.

Ruslan Malinovskiy placed a 20-yard effort just past the right post but a quickfire double had Atalanta in control.

Pasalic touched in Robin Gosens' strike from the left of the area, with Conti again beaten easily, before Ilicic turned Davide Calabria and rifled past a helpless Donnarumma less than two minutes later.

The best was still to come, though, with Ilicic jinking and weaving before cutting onto his left from 20 yards and bending a fine strike into the top-left corner.

Muriel, who replaced the brilliant Ilicic, made it five in the 83rd minute after racing onto a long ball and rounding the onrushing Donnarumma to tap into the open goal.


What does it mean? Woe in Bergamo for Milan

There were signs Milan were on the road to recovery after taking eight points from the previous four Serie A matches, but this was as hapless a showing the Rossoneri have produced during an underwhelming season. Isolated in attack, light in midfield and disorganised at the back, Pioli has much to ponder.

Ilicic the guide for fluent Atalanta

By contrast there was much to admire about Atalanta, whose front three caused Milan all manner of trouble. At the heart of it was Ilicic, who had forced Donnarumma into action twice before his goals. Gomez also impressed and had Conti on toast for his wonderful opener, while Pasalic – who did not celebrate against his former club – was always a creative outlet.

Conti emblematic of Milan's misery

Not many in a Milan shirt came out with much credit here, but Conti had a particularly torrid time and was culpable for Atalanta's opening two goals.

What's next?

Atalanta resume after the mid-season break with a home fixture against Parma on January 6, the same day Milan welcome Sampdoria.

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