'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.


There had already been murmurings of a potential superstar coming through Manchester United's academy, but in December 2018, the noise around Mason Greenwood became that bit louder.

Chelsea had been unbeaten in the FA Youth Cup since 2013 before Greenwood was unleashed on them, the then-17-year-old netting a hat-trick in a 4-3 win.

That treble showcased much of what is deemed special about Greenwood. For his first, he chased down the goalkeeper, forced an error and then showed composure to fire past him and a defender on the line.

He doubled his tally from just inside the area, racing on to a throughball and coolly placing a right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after creating space with a stepover.

His hat-trick was completed with another fine effort. After beating a defender to an underhit pass, he ran at the centre-back, darted to his left and picking out the far corner with his left foot.

Work-rate, close control, exceptional finishing and remarkable ability on either foot – it was all evidence of a complete centre-forward in-the-making.

Fittingly, Greenwood's dazzling display came the day after Jose Mourinho's final match in charge of the first-team – the teenager's promise a hopeful ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy period for the club.

Matic in awe of teenager

Fast-forward 19 months, Greenwood has played 42 times for United in 2019-20, while his recent form has led to suggestions he will surely be in England's squad for the delayed European Championships next year.

Not only has Greenwood made a strong impression on fans and pundits, but his team-mates are also well aware of his prodigious talents. Nemanja Matic has seen a particularly significant development in him this year alone.

Matic told Stats Perform News: "There are not many players his age of that level – he has this natural instinct for goals.

"There is a big difference from now from to six months ago. He is young and he is changing, and his approach to training and to everything is different. He's a great person, great for the changing room.

"He is quiet, I have to say, but the boy is always very positive and we are happy to have him in the team."

Mourinho's ousting and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had previously coached young players at the club, was seen as a potentially critical moment for the next generation coming through at Old Trafford.

While it's impossible to know how Greenwood's career would have progressed with Mourinho, it is fair to suggest he wouldn't have given him his first-team debut in a Champions League knockout clash away to Paris Saint-Germain with United chasing a goal to secure an historic turnaround.

Greenwood then made his first start on the final day of the 2018-19 season. Although United suffered a dire 2-0 home defeat to relegated Cardiff City, the teenager was comfortably the best player on the pitch.

From that point, it almost seemed a certainty Greenwood was to become a regular squad member this term, and he's finally cemented a place on the right side of the attack since football's resumption.

The new Van Persie? Or Robben?

Greenwood's build, running style and technique have drawn understandable comparisons with former United star Robin van Persie, though he reminds Matic more of another Dutchman.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on the lad, but if I had to say someone [Greenwood reminds me of], it would be [Arjen] Robben," Matic said.

However, some might argue Greenwood is poised to become even more of a nuisance to defenders given his unpredictable skillset – after all, much has been said about Greenwood's ambipedal abilities, and in the United youth teams he was known to take free-kicks and penalties with either foot.

While being "two-footed" is by no means a rare concept, Greenwood does appear to be a special case. His recent goals against Bournemouth and Aston Villa are proof of that, with the England Under-21 international hitting two ferocious efforts into the net with his supposedly weaker right foot.

Such unpredictability can only help Greenwood, while Matic also feels having someone like Marcus Rashford in the team will give the teenager a good example to follow.

"I think that when he has seen players who came through the academy, he has seen Marcus as a role model and he has tried to follow those steps, it was easier too for him to see that someone can achieve big things coming from the academy, so I am happy for him," he added.

Best and Rooney in touching distance

"It is important to have players from the academy," continued Matic, a firm believer of giving opportunities to youngsters. "They are making big players, good people, it's important they are good people for the changing room."

But the Serbian stressed the need for those players to be ready for the opportunities, adding: "The expectation from our fans is high and they have to be ready to play at the highest level."

It's fair to say no one is doubting Greenwood's credentials anymore, and the data highlights his impressive early impact.

With 16 goals, he is United's third-highest scorer this term behind Rashford and Anthony Martial, both of whom have 20, but Greenwood nets with a more impressive frequency at one every 129 minutes (Rashford – 142 mins, Martial – 147).

His conversion rate of 22 percent is identical to Martial's and an improvement on Rashford's 17 per cent, but it's in the expected goals (xG) metric where Greenwood's finishing abilities are best highlighted.

From the chances that have fallen to him, Greenwood would ordinarily be expected to have scored eight times this season, but his actual goals haul is double that.

By comparison, Martial's xG is five under his actual total at 15 and Rashford's is 23, three higher than the 20 he has scored.

Add to that, he is just two goals shy of setting a new record for goals scored by a teenager for United in a single season (George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney all got 17).

"The players that have come through, Marcus and Mason, they have come with a lot of qualities and are ready at the highest level and [this] shows the academy can work well."

Matic's assessment appears to be on the money – as does Greenwood.

Paul Pogba is relishing playing alongside Bruno Fernandes and Manchester United's in-form attackers, with their "beautiful" link-up play a joy to behold for the Frenchman.

United have extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches across all competitions since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break last month and their forwards have played a significant role in that.

Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have scored eight goals between them already, while Fernandes has added another four and also grabbed a pair of assists.

Pogba, too, has impressed since the resumption, coming back into the side after missing the majority of the first part of the campaign through injury, and now there is talk of a possible contract extension for the Real Madrid-linked midfielder.

While his long-term future remains a little uncertain for the time being, there is no doubt Pogba is enjoying life at United, with his slightly deeper role giving him the opportunity to look on and savour the attacking talents at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's disposal.

"From behind I just enjoy it. I'm enjoying just watching Bruno, Rashford, Martial and Mason, who all played the last game, and seeing them score goals," he told United's official website ahead of Thursday's trip to Aston Villa.

"You just keep applauding, it's beautiful. They make me enjoy football every time!

"As well though, there is the defensive work that people don't talk about – they do it. The pressing - they do it. That's what you maybe don't see that much.

"Football fans who know football see that and that's the difference that we have and it's great to see them at their best.

"I think it's about the mentality – the attacking and defending that they do every time – that helps us, it helps the midfielders and the defenders and obviously the talent speaks for itself - the goals and the action and the football, everything."

Pogba believes Fernandes and United's frontline all have the desire to keep pushing themselves for more – a trait which makes them even more dangerous.

"For example, Martial scored three goals, his first hat-trick, then he goes again, you have to carry on. He wants to take another ball home, you know," Pogba continued.

"You have to have this mentality, score a goal and do it again and again… Bruno, Rashy [Rashford], Mason. If you've got two goals, great, but go for three, why not? You have to keep this mentality, keep a clean sheet too. We want to keep working on this and we have the mentality to do it.

"That's also the mentality of this club, it's always been like that. We're never satisfied with one trophy or one game we win or two games or 10 games, you want more, you always want more. That's what makes Manchester United the biggest club, for me, in England."

Victory for United on Thursday will take them to within a point of fourth-placed Leicester City, who Solskjaer's men will face on the final day of the Premier League season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted it is too early to compare Mason Greenwood to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo following the teenage forward's brace in Manchester United's 5-2 win over Bournemouth.

Greenwood further enhanced his reputation with clinical finishes in either half in Saturday's clash at Old Trafford to take him to eight league goals for United this term and 15 in all competitions.

He is the youngest player to reach that tally for the club since Rooney but Solskjaer was unwilling to put the 18-year-old in the same category as United's all-time leading scorer and fellow star Ronaldo.

"I have seen Wayne Rooney at the same age and Mason is a specialist finisher and specialist goalscorer," Solskjaer said at his post-match news conference. "He knows exactly what to do with the ball when he's on the pitch.

"If he shoots, he will score. He is going to get better and his general play has improved. But I don't want to compare Mason to Rooney or Cristiano – I don't think that's fair.

"The boy will create his own career and he is doing it his own way and they've had fantastic careers, both of them, and I'm sure if Mason keeps on doing the right things, making good decisions, he will have a fantastic career as well."

Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were also on target against Bournemouth, with the latter scoring from the penalty spot.

United's front three of Greenwood, Martial and Rashford now have 55 goals in all competitions this term – four more than Liverpool's triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

But Solskjaer warned United's Premier League rivals that his side – fourth in the table ahead of Chelsea's game in hand against Watford later on Saturday – are only going to get better over time.

"Every day and every game and every session is a chance to improve," he said.

"We've seen improvement in Marcus, Mason and Anthony all season, so we will keep on improving the ones we've got but we will never stand still – we are always on the lookout for anything that is possible.

"You cannot think we've cracked it, as Gary [Neville] said, and the emphasis is just on improving the team all the time.

"They will improve, and we've seen that all season they have improved a lot this season, different parts of their game, maturity. We will work with these.

"Marcus is on course for his best season, Anthony the same but they can still improve and there are things they know I want them to keep improving on.

"Mason is in his first season, fantastic, but we've always known that there's a special kid there."

Solskjaer named the same starting line-up for the third league game running on Saturday, United winning each of those matches to make it their best-such run since January 2019.

But the Norwegian talked up the importance of his entire squad during their 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that stretches back to January.

"I wouldn't say that you could call it a first XI," he said. "We know we have to use the squad; we've had players who've played and really contributed.

"I can't say this is like the XI that's always going to play, no. Because Eric [Bailly] came on today, he's important for us; Scott [McTominay] and Fred have been exceptional all season. It's not easy leaving Dan James out either but we have started doing well."

Manchester United moved into the top four as Mason Greenwood struck a brilliant brace in a 5-2 victory over relegation-threatened Bournemouth.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side went above Chelsea ahead of the Blues' game against Watford with a win that extended their unbeaten run to 16 games in all competitions.

They fell behind to Junior Stanislas' opener, but led at the break through first-half efforts from Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Joshua King's penalty reduced the deficit, yet Greenwood's second stunning strike was added to by Bruno Fernandes' free-kick as United marched on.

The Cherries took a shock 16th-minute lead when Stanislas followed up his initial blocked effort and nutmegged Harry Maguire on the byline before beating David de Gea at his near post.

It was the first time United had conceded in 500 minutes in all competitions, but they soon roared back when Greenwood blasted in a venomous left-footed drive having been found by Fernandes.

And six minutes later, United were ahead. Adam Smith needlessly handled the ball following Martial's downward header and Rashford stuck the resulting penalty into the bottom-right corner of the net.

That put Rashford ahead of Martial in their personal goals duel, though the Frenchman also moved onto 20 for the campaign in emphatic fashion, cutting in off the left flank and rifling into the top corner with a brilliant right-footed strike.

Bournemouth were handed a route back into the match when United made a sloppy start to the second half.

De Gea had already saved from Lewis Cook and Arnaut Danjuma hit the post after Maguire gave the ball away before Eric Bailly handled trying to control Nemanja Matic's pass.

King converted the penalty against his old club, only for Greenwood to again deliver an emphatic response six minutes later, this time with his right foot.

Fernandes, with two assists to his name already, then got in on the act as United scored five at Old Trafford in a Premier League game for the first time since 2011.

 

What does it mean? Five-star United show resilience

This was not a vintage United display – certainly at the back – but they responded brilliantly on the two occasions Bournemouth scored when in the past they may have crumbled after conceding.

The Cherries, who sit 19th, climbed three places above United when they won the reverse fixture back in November, and the two teams have certainly been on opposite trajectories since.

Greenwood's golden finishing

Solskjaer says he wants another striker, but he will struggle to find one that can finish like 18-year-old Greenwood.

He was clinical with his left foot, then his right, and has already moved onto eight Premier League goals this term.

Dave doesn't save... again

Roy Keane's scathing criticism of United's number one last month was probably still ringing in De Gea's ears when he let Stanislas' effort beat him at his near post.

It did not cost United on the day, but the Spaniard's growing collection of mistakes must be factors when the club decide what to do with Sheffield United loanee Dean Henderson next season.

What's next?

United visit another side fighting to stay in the division when they travel to Aston Villa on Thursday, while Bournemouth host Tottenham on the same day.

Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic lauded star team-mate Anthony Martial following his first senior hat-trick.

Martial scored his maiden treble as United outclassed Sheffield United 3-0 at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Wednesday.

A first-half brace set the tone before Martial became the first United player to celebrate a Premier League hat-trick since Robin van Persie in 2013.

Martial has scored a career-high 14 Premier League goals and 19 across all competitions this season as Matic hailed the French forward.

"I think it was very important for him to score goals, for every striker it's important, for his confidence," Matic told MUTV.

"I'm happy that our strikers are in good condition, tonight Anthony was man of the match, every chance he had went in.

"Let's see in the future what he can do for us. But I'm happy for him. Congratulations to him."

Matic also produced an impressive performance alongside Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes in midfield as United kept their Champions League bid on track.

Fernandes and Pogba started together for the first time for United, who extended their unbeaten run to 13 matches in all competitions, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men fifth in the table – two points behind Chelsea and six adrift of stuttering third-placed Leicester City.

Matic said: "I think it's always good play with top players. Not only them, we're lucky we have top players in every position.

"So tonight I played with Bruno and Paul, I think we did well, it was good there, I'm sure in the future we can improve a lot together, and also with Scott [McTominay] and Fred, whoever plays with us; I'm happy with the team performance and the way we controlled the game.

"I think we had control during all 90 minutes, of course we knew they were going to have some dangerous counter-attacks because tactically they play well.

"We analysed them very well, we treated them with respect, I'm so happy with the team performance, 3-0 against a team who creates problems for every team in the Premier League."

Anthony Martial toasted a special moment in his career after his fine hat-trick guided Manchester United to a 3-0 Premier League win over Sheffield United.

Martial showed sharp poaching instincts to net twice in the first half, before claiming the matchball with a wonderful chipped finish 16 minutes from time at Old Trafford.

It was the France international's maiden treble in senior football, while he was also the first United player to score a Premier League hat-trick since Robin van Persie in April 2013.

"It's special for me because it's my first one and I hope it's not the last one," he told Sky Sports.

"It was a long time with nobody scoring three goals [for United].

"It was an important win against a team who are just behind us, so it is important for us to keep going and win the next one."

United are fifth, two points behind Chelsea, whose game in hand comes against Manchester City on Thursday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enjoyed a clinical display from Martial, who played at the centre of an attacking front three where he was flanked by Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.

"I'm very happy for him," Solskjaer told Sky Sports after his side made it 13 games unbeaten in all competitions.

"The first two he is in the box, ready from crosses. We've worked a lot with Anto on his movement in there, [telling him to] be patient in there.

"He's a quality player who can drop out of the box and get some touches, but that's where you score the goals. And the last one is, of course, very nice combination play and a great finish."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to see Manchester United be more clinical despite Anthony Martial's hat-trick sealing a commanding 3-0 win over Sheffield United.

Martial's first treble in senior football - also the first by any United player in the Premier League since Robin van Persie more than seven years ago - was just reward for a fine showing from the hosts, as the Blades laboured in the Manchester heat.

It could have been a more commanding margin of victory, with Marcus Rashford culpable for a pair of glaring first-half misses, and it was this area of his side's performance that drew Solskjaer's attention as much as Martial's brilliance.

"The build-up into the last pass or finish was good, but we need to do better with all the spaces we created," he told Sky Sports, keen to take nothing for granted despite United keeping the pressure on fourth-placed Chelsea and extending their unbeaten run in all competitions to 13 matches.

"I do expect them to take those moments. It didn't cost us today. We know we played well but we can do so much better.

"There's been games where we have dominated and not taken our chances, so we need to take our chances – that's what I'm saying.

"We created enough to win by more and in other games we've created enough to win them but not taken them.

"We need to take the chances and on the last pass be aggressive and progressive enough with our passing."

Aaron Wan-Bissaka assuaged doubts over the attacking side of his game with a superb assist for Martial's second in the 44th minute – a pivotal moment in the contest given Sheffield United had resumed brightly from the first-half drinks break.

"He's a former winger, he had another couple of great crosses as well. We need to be on the end of those," Solskjaer said, reprising a theme.

"Aaron is developing all the time. He's not played full-back many years and he'll only get better."

Paul Pogba turned in a polished performance on his first start since September, operating alongside Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic in a United midfield three that appeared ideally balanced.

"Paul was quality out there. He settled us, good decision making, good passing, hard to take the ball off him," Solskjaer added.

"I'm very pleased that we can get more minutes into him and let's see what we do in the weeks coming."

Anthony Martial scored Manchester United's first Premier League hat-trick for more than seven years as he monopolised the scoring in a 3-0 win over Sheffield United.

Martial revelled in his role at the centre of an attack featuring Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, with the latter claiming the first of two assists in the seventh minute.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka made a mockery of questions over his attacking capabilities from right-back as he tormented Enda Stevens to set up Martial's second a minute before half-time.

A clever chip completed his treble – becoming the first United player to do so in England's top flight since Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in April 2013.

Anthony Martial ended Manchester United's seven-year wait for a Premier League hat-trick against Sheffield United.

The France forward struck twice in the first half against Chris Wilder's men before wrapping up the first hat-trick of his career with a fine goal 16 minutes from time.

Martial is the first United player to score three times in a league match since Robin van Persie did so against Aston Villa in 2013.

That 3-0 win, which featured a spectacular Van Persie volley from a raking Wayne Rooney pass, secured the title for the Red Devils in Alex Ferguson's final season in charge.

Since then, United have failed to win the top-flight title, coming closest in 2017-18 under Jose Mourinho when they finished second behind runaway champions Manchester City.

A total of 21 Premier League teams have scored hat-tricks since the start of the 2013-14 season, including Sunderland - who are now in England's third tier - twice.

Martial's hat-trick took him to 19 goals in all competitions in 2019-20, two more than his previous best haul for the club.

Paul Pogba is ready to play his best football for Manchester United and "shut down the critics", says former Red Devils striker Louis Saha.

France World Cup winner Pogba has struggled to deliver on the expectations that surrounded him when he returned for a second spell at United almost four years ago.

The former United academy prospect, whose career first properly flourished after a move to Juventus in 2012, has often faced blame for United's mediocre form since his return to the Premier League.

Fellow Frenchman Saha says Pogba, who has recovered from the injuries that have disrupted his season, is now determined to contribute to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team when English football resumes this month.

The United manager has been publicly supportive of Pogba, who could pair up with eye-catching January recruit Bruno Fernandes in midfield, and Saha says he remains a gem of a footballer.

Speaking to Stats Perform News, Saha said of Pogba: "He's one of the best players in the world.

"He had a tough season plagued by injuries. He came back very motivated, that's what some of the players told me.

"When I talk to him on the phone, he's super motivated, so I really want to see not a new Pogba, but Pogba with support. I don't think he was supported.

"Now he has Bruno Fernandes next to him, who's another leader, another creator."

Saha said that at times with Pogba, shortcomings were made out to be "all his fault".

"I'm really excited about that sharing of the responsibilities, I really want to watch that team," said Saha, who won two Premier League titles at United.

Saha, a United player from 2004 to 2008, accepts Pogba will be linked with other clubs at the end of the season.

"The season is almost over and with the transfer market, his name will probably be in the box," Saha said. "But he's very motivated, he's incredibly talented, he already proved himself, but now he has a better platform to improve and shut down the critics, sometimes justified."

Another French player at United, Anthony Martial, has linked up well with Fernandes already, with their interplay earning plaudits this week from manager Solskjaer.

Saha praised Martial's development this season, in which he has become a regular scorer for United.

"I'm a real fan of Anthony," Saha said. "I was frustrated maybe a year ago because I knew his potential but, on the pitch, I saw him lost left or right. The guy, he can do anything, he's got huge potential."

Ander Herrera believes Manchester United have three players who can be ranked alongside the world's best in Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

While the debate around United is often based on who their next star signing will be, their former midfielder Herrera feels a trio already in the squad can lead them to Premier League glory.

He feels France star Pogba has the quality to be classed as the world's best midfielder, while forwards Rashford and Martial can also be considered among the top five or 10 players in the game.

"I give you my opinion: I don't know what other players say but he is a midfielder that has everything," Herrera said of Pogba in an interview with The Athletic.

"An NBA athlete with Brazilian feet and the combinations of a Spanish midfielder. He can combine really well – he can do one-two, very quick at high speed. He does have a good attitude.

"If you see other midfielders in the world, they may have some qualities control of the ball, long shots, passes, tackles, box-to-box.

"But Paul can do all of this, plus head the ball, score goals, make recoveries, one against one – everything. But of course, if you want to become the best midfielder in the world, it is about consistency. 

"You have to do it day in, day out. He is a good guy. He wants to do it. He does train well. He has to do it every day."

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Herrera, who left United in 2019, was similarly positive about his former team-mates Rashford and Martial.

"They have the quality to be among the top 10 in the world," he said of United's young forwards.

"Why do we admire Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, or [Eden] Hazard, who I also think is one of the best in the world? We admire them because they keep that form for a long time.

"If they do it, they will become, maybe not Messi or Cristiano – because they are unique in the history of football – but they can be top five or top 10.

"But they have to do it for a long time and keep it up. It is the same for Paul.

"Rashford is on his way to doing it and Paul can be the best midfielder in the world if he keeps playing those games where we are all amazed by him. 

"But to keep it at that level is the most difficult thing in football. To keep at it Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday, every time.

"If those three can do that, Manchester United will win the Premier League soon, for sure."

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes will "take the Premier League by storm" when he settles, according to team-mate Odion Ighalo.

Fernandes had made an impressive start to his United career by scoring twice and providing three assists in five Premier League games before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Signed for a deal worth up to £67.6million (€80m) from Sporting CP in January, Fernandes can still go to another level, according to Ighalo.

"He is intelligent, he has foresight, he has vision. He sees what he wants to do with the ball before it comes to him," the forward told United Hangout on Sunday.

"You can see the understanding between him and [Anthony] Martial, you can see the understanding between me and him, so he's a very good player. And he's not even settled down yet.

"He comes from a very different place to the Premier League. When that guy has settled down, he's going to take the Premier League by storm."

Another player Ighalo has been impressed by is Anthony Martial, who has already matched his best haul of 11 Premier League goals in a season in 2019-20.

Ighalo lauded the France international's ability, saying: "Anthony, since I came, he's been scoring goals and doing so well, fighting a lot. He is a great player, he has great technique.

"He can do anything with the ball and he's been doing fantastically well. I just hope he keeps going and scoring more goals and we end the season very well.

"Watching it from outside it's different. You only watch games every weekend and see how skilful he is. But I train with this guy every day, you understand? Every blessed day I train with him, and it's incredible what he does in training, do you understand? He does it so easy, you know?

"Sometimes in games it's difficult to do it, sometimes you face a tougher opponent but this is someone who every day you see in training and say wow, he's a good player."

Lautaro Martinez has been tipped to leave Inter at the end of the coronavirus-interrupted 2019-20 season.

His exploits in Italy have reportedly alerted Barcelona, who are determined to sign a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

And Martinez is apparently ready to swap the San Siro for Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – MARTINEZ WANTS BARCA MOVE

Inter star Lautaro Martinez has chosen to join Barcelona and will press for a move if necessary, according to Marca.

While Barcelona remain interested in re-signing Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar, Martinez is the club's primary transfer objective.

Real Madrid and Manchester City have also been linked to Martinez, but the former have turned their attention to Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, while the latter are reportedly happy with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could another star leave Inter? Premier League leaders and Champions League holders Liverpool want to sign Marcelo Brozovic, claims Calciomercato. The Nerazzurri could be tempted by a €60million (£52m) offer.

- Calciomercarto reports Juventus and PSG are in discussions over Mauro Icardi. The Argentina forward is on loan at PSG from Inter, with the Ligue 1 champions having the option to sign Icardi permanently. Icardi has been tipped to return to Serie A and the story claims PSG could sign the Argentinian from Inter before selling him straight to Juve. A possible deal could involve the likes of Mattia De Sciglio, Miralem Pjanic, Douglas Costa and Alex Sandro.

- The Telegraph says Ajax have placed a €40m (£35m) price tag on goalkeeper Andre Onana, who has been linked to Chelsea, PSG and Barca.

Jadon Sancho will only move to Old Trafford if Manchester United secure Champions League football, says the Athletic. The Dortmund sensation has also been linked to Chelsea, Liverpool, former club City and Madrid.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter have a list of potential replacements for Barca target Martinez. RB Leipzig's Timo Werner is the first name on the list, which also includes Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, United forward Anthony Martial, Madrid striker Luka Jovic and Victor Osimhen of Lille.

The pause in the football calendar (except in Belarus, of course) gives players across Europe plenty of time to reflect on their efforts so far this season.

While some have a few things to work on when matches return, there are others for whom 2019-20 has been a showcase of the very best they have to offer.

In the latest piece in our series, we look at the best-performing forwards in the Bundesliga, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Premier League and Serie A.

Goals might be the most obvious (and fundamentally important) of metrics for these players, but the number of times the ball crosses that white line is not the only measure of their quality.

To that end, we have also examined seven other parameters: minutes-per-goal rate, shots on target, shooting accuracy, shot conversion rate, big chance conversion rate, dribbles completed and dribble success rate. And these are for those players to make at least 10 league appearances this season, to avoid any unfair imbalance in the results (we're looking at you, Florin Andone).

Without further ado, we present the most ruthless forwards elite-level football in Europe has to offer...

THE MOST RUTHLESS FORWARDS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

 

BUNDESLIGA:

Most goals scored: Robert Lewandowski (25)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Robert Lewandowski (81.7)
Most shots on target: Robert Lewandowski (55)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Marcus Thuram (76.3 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Paco Alcacer (35.7 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Rouwen Hennings (71.4 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Marcus Thuram (57)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Lucas Alario (83.3 per cent)

LALIGA:

Most goals scored: Lionel Messi (19)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Lionel Messi (99.5)
Most shots on target: Lionel Messi (55)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Lionel Messi (68.9 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Lucas Perez (40.7 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Charles (83.3 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Lionel Messi (118)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Pione Sisto (76.9 per cent)

LIGUE 1:

Most goals scored: Kylian Mbappe and Wissam Ben Yedder (18)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Kylian Mbappe (84.1)
Most shots on target: Kylian Mbappe (49)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Kasper Dolberg (78.1 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Mauro Icardi (37.5 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Moussa Dembele (72.2 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Neymar (90)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Zaydou Youssouf (85.7 per cent)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most goals scored: Jamie Vardy (19)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Sergio Aguero (87.6)
Most shots on target: Mohamed Salah (43)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Anthony Martial (68.2 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (36.2 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Harry Kane (70 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Adama Traore (144)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Billy Sharp (86.7 per cent)

SERIE A:

Most goals scored: Ciro Immobile (27)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Luis Muriel (70.2)
Most shots on target: Cristiano Ronaldo (53)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Romelu Lukaku (65.5 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Ante Rebic (42.9 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Felipe Caicedo (85.7 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Jeremie Boga (106)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Sergio Floccari (72.2 per cent)

AND THE TOP EIGHT:

Most goals scored: Ciro Immobile (27)
Best minutes-per-goal rate (Min. five goals scored): Luis Muriel (70.2)
Most shots on target: Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski (55)
Best shooting accuracy (Min. 30 shots): Kasper Dolberg (78.1 per cent)
Best shot conversion rate (Min. five goals scored): Ante Rebic (42.9 per cent)
Best big chance conversion rate (Min. five big chances): Felipe Caicedo (85.7 per cent)
Most dribbles completed: Adama Traore (144)
Best dribbles success rate (Min. 10 completed): Billy Sharp (86.7 per cent)

Anthony Martial will miss Manchester United's Europa League clash with LASK on Thursday, but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes he will be fit to face Tottenham.

Martial crashed into the post while closing down Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson during United's 2-0 derby victory at Old Trafford last Sunday.

The striker, who scored the opening goal, uploaded a picture to social media showing a nasty wound on his leg.

Having sat out training on Wednesday, Martial will also be rested for the Europa League last-16 first leg at Linz Stadion, but he could return in time for the Premier League meeting at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

"Anthony hurt himself when he slid into the post, so he is not ready for this game," Solskjaer told reporters. "Hopefully [he will be ready] for Sunday, but I'm not sure."

Solskjaer also hopes to see Paul Pogba back training with the first team next week as he continues his recovery from ankle surgery.

The France star has not played since December 26 and has only started six games in all competitions this season.

"Paul is getting closer, but not ready yet," said Solskjaer. "He hasn't trained with the team yet but, by next week, he will be ready."

With Martial and Marcus Rashford sidelined, Thursday's game could see Tahith Chong given the chance to impress in a week in which he signed a new contract until 2022, ending speculation over his future.

Solskjaer is delighted the winger signed a new deal and hopes to see Angel Gomes follow suit.

Gomes, 19, has only made six first-team appearances in 2019-20 and could leave for free at the end of the season. 

"We're very happy he can see his future here and we have a very good player here," Solskjaer said of Chong.

"It's the same with Angel: we hope we can convince him, both in the near future and the long future, that he's a Man United player."

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