Manchester United have completed the signing of teenage winger Amad Diallo from Atalanta, and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reckons he has landed a future star. 

Diallo has signed a four-and-a-half-year contract, tying him to the Premier League giants until June 2025.

United's pursuit of Diallo began in 2016 and the 18-year-old has since broken through in Serie A, playing five first-team games and scoring once for Atalanta. 

A deal had been agreed in October and now a work permit has been secured that allows the move to take place. 

United said, in a statement on their website, that Diallo would join up with them as soon as he receives a visa.

Reports have indicated the transfer will cost United £37million, but Solskjaer believes they are getting a rare talent. 

Solskjaer said: "As a club, we have followed Amad for a number of years and having watched him myself, I believe he is one of the most exciting young prospects in the game. 

"Manchester United has such a proud history of developing young players and everything is in place to enable Amad to reach his potential here. 

"It will take time for him to adapt but his speed, vision and fantastic dribbling ability will stand him in good stead to make the transition. He is a player with all of the raw attributes that are needed to be an important player for Manchester United in the years to come." 

Diallo is relishing his big chance at United, saying: "After waiting since the summer, it is finally a dream come true to complete my move to Manchester United. I am hugely ambitious and there is so much that I want to achieve in the game; when I spoke to the manager I knew that I had joined the perfect club. 

"This is a really exciting squad with so many great players, I can promise that I will work hard every day to learn from them and give everything to develop my game. The coaches have been fantastic since I signed, we have been in touch regularly and they have already given me a lot of great advice. 

"I have had time to prepare for this move, both physically and mentally, and I have worked really hard to be ready to make the step up to this amazing club."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "cannot see any obstacles" to Amad Diallo joining Manchester United from Atalanta soon.

United announced in October they had reached an agreement with the Serie A side for the future transfer of the winger in a reported £37.2million deal.

Diallo, 18, has featured just twice for Atalanta this season, and his move to United has been expected to be completed in January.

After a 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Friday, United manager Solskjaer confirmed a move was close.

"Amad, we've had all the paperwork, or rather we are waiting for all the paperwork. I can't see any obstacles really," he told a news conference.

"Hopefully not too long, he will be with us. Very excited about bringing him in. I think he's shown a few times his qualities but he has to learn to play in England. That's a different way of football, so we'll give him time to develop and impress."

United moved level on points with leaders and reigning champions Liverpool after their win over Villa.

And Solskjaer said he was not expecting too much movement from the club during the January transfer window.

"Apart from that [Diallo], I'm not really giving you too much with what we are going to do with players," he said.

"We are always working long term and any signings will be long term."

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 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.

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.

Manchester City and Manchester United are set to battle it out for the signature of Bayern Munich's star defender David Alaba.

Alaba's Bayern contract expires in June 2021 and both Manchester clubs have made approaches for the 75-cap Austria international.

Pep Guardiola coached the 28-year-old during his time in the Bundesliga, but City may face further competition for the two-time Champions League winner.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED AND CITY SET FOR TUG-OF-WAR OVER ALABA

Manchester City and Manchester United have each made formal contact with Alaba 's agent Pini Zahavi, reports Spanish media outlet AS.

Bayern's chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has accepted the European champions can do nothing to keep Alaba, despite trying "everything" to convince the nine-time German league champion to stay.

But the Manchester rivals are not the only interested parties, with Real Madrid the favourites to land Alaba, according to the Daily Mail.  Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are also in the race.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton left-back  Lucas Digne  is another player on Guardiola's wish list, say the Daily Mail. The Toffees are set to offer the France international a bumper new contract to ward off  City 's advances, according to the Times.

PSG  are lining up a bid for Atletico Madrid's wantaway goalkeeper  Jan Oblak , say the Daily Mail. The Ligue 1 champions see 27-year-old Oblak, who wants a new challenge, as the successor to 34-year-old gloveman Keylor Navas in the French capital.

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." 

Andrea Pirlo gave Cristiano Ronaldo his backing after the Juventus superstar spurned a chance to earn the Serie A champions a valuable win from the penalty spot against Atalanta.

Ronaldo saw his 61st-minute spot-kick smothered by Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini in Wednesday's 1-1 draw as Juve missed the opportunity to make up ground on unbeaten Serie A leaders Milan.

Federico Chiesa had fired Juve into a 29th-minute lead only to see his stunning long-range effort cancelled out by Remo Freuler's powerful strike to pull the visitors level approaching the hour-mark.

When Chiesa was brought down by Hans Hateboer four minutes later, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo stepped up from 12 yards and slotted the ball into a diving Gollini's arms.

Ronaldo has now failed to convert four of the 30 penalties he has taken for the Bianconeri, but Juve legend and head coach Pirlo did not hesitate to praise his forward's contribution. 

"It was not an easy game but he did well," Pirlo told reporters post-match.

"If he scored his penalty some judgments would have changed. 

"He did what he had to, maybe not brilliant as usual but he is a champion and champions miss penalties too."

Andrea Pirlo admitted Alvaro Morata's glaring miss in Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Atalanta made him "very angry" but the Juventus boss praised the forward for an otherwise "great game".

Juve were denied a fifth consecutive win in all competitions when Remo Freuler cancelled out Federico Chiesa's opener at the Allianz Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo squandered a golden opportunity to seal all three points for the champions, though, missing from the spot after Chiesa had been tripped in the area – his fourth failure from 30 penalties in all competitions for Juve. 

While Pirlo was relaxed about the Portuguese superstar's miss, he could not hide his frustration at Morata's indiscretion early in the first half. 

The Spain international, who has scored nine goals in all competitions this season, inexplicably scuffed a backheeled effort wide with the goal at his mercy after initially playing a poor pass to Ronaldo when he had been clean through.

On Ronaldo's miss, he told a media conference: "It's a pity because it would have helped us to go ahead, but these things can happen.

"Morata's miss made me very angry, it's something we cannot afford. These opportunities can channel the game in a certain way.

"One must have the lucidity to make the right choice and he didn't. Aside from that he played a great game. It happens that goals are not scored sometimes."

Juve came up against a goalkeeper in inspired form, Pierluigi Gollini saving Ronaldo's spot-kick and making excellent stops to deny Morata and Weston McKennie.

The result means they have drawn six of their first 12 league games of the season for the first time since 1984-85, when they finished in sixth.

Pirlo was pleased with his side's attitude, but said they need to show more conviction if they are to start turning draws into wins.

"We played an excellent match against a strong team, with great pace," he added.

"However, we would have won if we had shown more conviction. We created a lot, but we have not been able to close it out and when we leave the game in the balance, anything can happen.

"But we took the field with the right attitude. It was an important game in terms of intensity. Atalanta is difficult to face and we did it well."

The Bianconeri will hope to return to winning ways when they visit Parma on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty as Juventus were held to a 1-1 Serie A draw by Atalanta in Turin on Wednesday. 

Andrea Pirlo's side had looked well on their way to a fifth consecutive win in all competitions when Federico Chiesa scored his first league goal for the club since joining on loan from Fiorentina after 29 minutes. 

Remo Freuler pulled the visitors level with a sumptuous strike in the 57th minute, though, before Ronaldo's dismal spot-kick was kept out by the impressive Pierluigi Gollini four minutes later.

A point lifted the champions up to third, but they could finish the day six points behind leaders Milan should Stefano Pioli's men overcome Genoa. Atalanta, meanwhile, moved up to eighth ahead of Wednesday's late fixtures.

Juve started brightly and should have scored twice inside the opening 15 minutes, but Ronaldo blazed over from close range and Alvaro Morata inexplicably scuffed a backheeled attempt wide with the goal at his mercy. 

Chiesa made up for his team-mates' profligacy shortly before the half-hour mark, collecting Rodrigo Bentancur's pass and whipping a sublime strike into Gollini's top-left corner from 22 yards. 

Wojciech Szczesny denied Duvan Zapata and Ruslan Malinovskiy soon after as an improved Atalanta ultimately fell short of restoring parity before the interval.

Morata fired straight at Gollini immediately after the restart when clean through before Freuler thundered home a spectacular equaliser after 57 minutes, the Switzerland international firing in from 25 yards for his first goal of the season. 

Ronaldo then squandered a golden opportunity to restore Juve's lead, clipping a tame penalty into the arms of Gollini after Chiesa had been fouled in the area, while the Atalanta goalkeeper did wonderfully to deny Morata shortly after.

Szczesny pawed away Cristian Romero's header and Gollini kept out Weston McKennie's powerful drive late on as both sides had to settle for a point. 

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.

Andrea Pirlo acknowledges Juventus are facing a "strange" season in Serie A but believes the impact of coronavirus on the schedule has restored balance across European football.

Italian champions Juve are fourth in the table after 11 matches, four points off leaders Milan, but they are not the only top side struggling to match the high standards of previous campaigns.

Liverpool, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain – all reigning champions – are being kept off the top of their respective divisions.

Indeed, each of the leaders in Europe's top five leagues – Tottenham, Real Sociedad, Bayer Leverkusen, Milan and Lille – are playing in the Europa League in 2020-21, rather than joining Juve in the Champions League.

"It's a strange championship but it's like all the other European championships," Pirlo told Juventus TV.

"With COVID and the matches close together, everything has balanced out a bit and therefore you have to face every game with the right mentality.

"There are no more 'materasso' teams; there are strong teams who think about playing and not just defending themselves.

"You have to face them all with a certain mentality otherwise you risk facing nasty surprises."

Juve's fortunes have improved in recent weeks, however, winning their past four matches in all competitions.

They face Atalanta on Wednesday and could win five consecutive games for the first time since January.

"More than results, it is the attitude and concentration in facing all matches in the same way, both in the Champions League and in the league," Pirlo said.

"When you have the right attitude and the spirit of wanting to play the game, the results are on your side."

Juve are unbeaten in 23 home Serie A games against Atalanta, a run stretching back to 1989, while they are the only side Gian Piero Gasperini has faced more than once in the league without defeating since taking charge in Bergamo.

But Pirlo is wary of the threat of the eighth-place team, who have had 11 different scorers in Serie A this term – more than any other side.

"I expect a difficult match against a very strong team," the Bianconeri coach said. "They have been a reality for several years now. We have seen that not only in the Italian league but also at European level.

"It will be a tough game to play given their attitude. We will have to face it as a top team."

Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain will do battle in a repeat of their memorable Champions League last-16 tie from three years ago, while holders Bayern Munich were drawn against Lazio in Nyon on Monday.

LaLiga giants Barca became the first team in the competition's history to overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit when they famously defeated PSG 6-1 in the return tie at the same stage in the 2016-17 season.

Neymar scored twice and assisted Sergi Roberto's last-gasp winner on that occasion but his status to face his former club with PSG may be in doubt after the Brazil superstar sustained a serious-looking ankle injury in Sunday's 1-0 loss at Lyon.

Barca also defeated PSG in the quarter-finals en route to treble glory in 2014-15 and in the last eight in the 2012-13 campaign.

PSG were runners-up in a competition delayed by the coronavirus pandemic last term, and their conquerors Bayern were paired against Serie A side Lazio.

Barcelona may face competition from Paris Saint-Germain for Memphis Depay.

Depay, 26, has been heavily linked with a move to the LaLiga giants, where his former Netherlands head coach Ronald Koeman is in charge.

But his impressive displays for Lyon have unsurprisingly caught the eye of their Ligue 1 rivals.

 

TOP STORY – PSG INTERESTED IN BARCELONA TARGET DEPAY

PSG are interested in Lyon star and Barcelona target Depay, according to Le Parisien.

The report says Depay is appreciated by PSG's players, particularly stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Depay, who has scored six goals in 14 games for Lyon this season, is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at PSG and they could seemingly also compete for the signature of another Lyon star. RMC Sport reports PSG are still interested in midfielder Houssem Aouar, who has been heavily linked to Arsenal.

- Isco's future looks to be away from Real Madrid. Marca claims the LaLiga giants are pushing the midfielder, who is contracted until 2022, out amid links to Arsenal and Everton.

- Everton are also linked to Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli. The Daily Star reports they are ready to make a loan move for Alli – who has struggled for game time this season – in January.

- After being thrashed by Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund sacked coach Lucien Favre. Gianluca Di Marzio reports the Bundesliga club already have an agreement in principle with Borussia Monchengladbach boss Marco Rose to take over ahead of 2021-22.

- Papu Gomez's Atalanta career appears to be over. Sky Sport reports the attacker, who has been at the club since 2014, could leave in January amid a tense relationship with coach Gian Piero Gasperini.

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