So, 19 games in and the big three are exactly where you would expect them to be in the LaLiga table.

Saturday saw all three teams in action following the resumption of top-flight action in Spain, with leaders Barcelona conceding late to lowly Espanyol as they were held to a 2-2 draw in an entertaining derby.

While Barca remain on top, Real Madrid are now level on points with their rivals after a 3-0 triumph away at Getafe. As for Atletico Madrid, they overcame Levante 2-1 at home to make it four wins on the spin in all competitions, keeping them in touch with the top two ahead of what could be an intriguing battle (after all, Sevilla are level on points with Atleti, too).

There has not been a genuine title race in the competition since Real Madrid were crowned champions in 2016-17. After processions in the previous two seasons, Barca look to have a fight on their hands to retain the trophy.

We take a look at the state of play for all three of Spain's big guns as they prepare to halt league duties temporarily again at the halfway stage, this time to take part in the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia.

 

1. BARCELONA (40 PTS)

Positives: Lionel Messi, of course. The Argentina forward has, not for the first time, dragged his team-mates along in games. Luis Suarez continues to be productive – he brilliantly made one goal and scored the other against Espanyol – and Barca are comfortably the competition's leading scorers, even if Antoine Griezmann has, so far, failed to fully deliver since his big-money move to Camp Nou. The development of Ansu Fati, whose meteoric rise has helped cover for Ousmane Dembele's absences, has been an undoubted plus, too.

Negatives: What difference has Valverde really made to the team he inherited from Luis Enrique in 2017? Back-to-back league titles is an impressive achievement, obviously, but stunning Champions League exits to Roma and Liverpool in the previous two seasons weigh heavily on his shoulders. As for the team itself, the strong spine that has been a characteristic of Barca for many seasons is starting to feel the strain. Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are no longer at the peak of their powers and they have already shipped 23 league goals. Valverde also needs to work out his best combination in midfield, though he may have to wait until Arthur is fit to settle on an ideal line-up.

2. REAL MADRID (40 PTS)

Positives:  It has not been plain sailing for Zidane in his second spell in charge, with the first half of the campaign including a hammering against Paris Saint-Germain in Europe and a humbling at the hands of Real Mallorca. Still, he has built from the back, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois regaining his form to back up a defence that has conceded just 12 times in LaLiga. At the other end, Karim Benzema continues to lead the way, scoring 12 times and also providing five assists, while Federico Valverde has developed into such a consistently strong midfielder that talk of signing Paul Pogba has quietened, if only a little.

Negatives: Benzema cannot be relied on to do all the heavy lifting. Eden Hazard has only been able to show flashes of his talent since joining from Chelsea, the Belgium forward hampered by injuries, while Gareth Bale has been in and out of the team. Rodrygo Goes has shown flashes of promise, seeing him overtake fellow Brazilian Vinicius Junior in the pecking order. It feels as if an era will soon come to an end at Madrid, but an ageing squad knows how to prevail in the big moments. This could well be the last hurrah for some big names in the Spanish capital – do they have the stamina to go the distance and finish as champions?


3. ATLETICO MADRID (35 PTS)

Positives: No matter who they buy, and no matter what happens in friendlies (remember Atleti stuck seven past Real Madrid in a pre-season fixture last July), this still has all the trademarks of a Diego Simeone side. Some of the familiar old faces may have gone but they remain solid in defence and workmanlike going forward. Simeone builds his teams from the back – and this current version have only given up 12 goals, even while bedding in new players. Alvaro Morata has stepped up in the absence of Diego Costa, who appeared to be in a state of decline prior to his current injury, and they do have a plethora of hard-working midfielders to rotate down the stretch.

Negatives: Goals. Well, a lack of them actually. Morata is their leading scorer in the league with nine, ahead of Angel Correa on three, and next on the list is Joao Felix with two, but the Portuguese forward has started 2020 stuck in a drought. Atleti have managed to find the net 22 times in 19 games, which perhaps explains why they have been linked with moves for Edinson Cavani and Paco Alcacer during the January window. Plus, for all their focus on keeping clean sheets, they still have to lean on the outstanding Jan Oblak at times to make key saves. The goalkeeper demonstrated as much against Levante, twice denying the visitors in the closing stages to preserve a slender lead at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Barcelona failed to regain their two-point lead at the top of LaLiga after Wu Lei scored a late equaliser for Espanyol in a 2-2 derby draw that saw Frenkie de Jong sent off for the visitors.

The champions fell behind 23 minutes into a contest they dominated but in which their best football was rarely in evidence against the division's bottom club.

Thankfully for Ernesto Valverde, Luis Suarez was at his lethal best, instinctively making it 1-1 shortly before he brilliantly teed up Arturo Vidal for Barcelona's second.

But after De Jong was shown a second yellow card, Espanyol ramped up the pressure and Wu clinched a precious point for LaLiga's bottom club as he became the first Chinese player to score against Barca in a competitive game.

The result leaves the champions level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table at the midway point of the season.

Real Madrid are said to be close to signing yet another rising Brazilian star.

Zinedine Zidane's side have reportedly agreed a fee for Flamengo's Reinier, who could move to Spain this month.

Chelsea, meanwhile, may have to wait until after the season has finished until their top targets become available.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID TO SIGN REINIER FOR €30M

According to widespread reports, Real Madrid are close to finalising a deal to sign Flamengo's Reinier.

The 17-year-old could move to the Spanish capital in January and spend the rest of the season with Raul's Castilla team.

Reinier, who turns 18 on January 19 and will therefore become an easier deal to complete, will apparently cost €30m plus potential add-ons.

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 - Chelsea want to sign Jadon Sancho and Timo Werner, but the Premier League club know they are likely to have to wait until the end of the season to complete the deals, according to Goal.

- Elsewhere in London, Sky Sports say West Ham have held talks with Benfica midfielder Gedson Fernandes, a reported target for Manchester United. David Moyes said of the club's interest: "He is a name mentioned alongside many."

Inter are the latest team to be interested in Christian Eriksen, say Tuttomercatoweb. Directors Giuseppe Marotta and Piero Ausilio want to close the deal quickly but Tottenham's £30m asking price is a problem.

Nikola Kalinic has been offered to Newcastle United as he has struggled for football since joining Roma on loan from Atletico Madrid, say Marca.

- Still with Marca, Real Madrid have apparently earmarked three Lille players as potential signings for 2020: Boubakary Soumare, Victor Osimhen and Gabriel.

- Sky Sports claim Jan Vertonghen is now more likely to join Napoli from Tottenham this month, as Ajax have apparently cooled their interest in their former defender.

- David Beckham's Inter Miami are set to appoint a new coach in the form of Anthony Pulis, the son of ex-Stoke City boss Tony. Pulis will work as assistant to Diego Alonso, say The Telegraph.

Barcelona will be without Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Arthur and Ousmane Dembele for Saturday's LaLiga derby with Espanyol.

All three players have been left out of the 18-man squad for the clash with Abelardo's side.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde confirmed earlier on Friday that goalkeeper Ter Stegen would be unavailable due to a knee tendon injury that also makes him a doubt for the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia.

Midfielder Arthur is expected to be out for three weeks with a groin problem, while forward Dembele has not yet recovered from his latest thigh muscle injury.

There is also no room in the squad for defender Jean-Clair Todibo, who has been linked with moves to Milan and Everton this month.

The good news for Barca is that Ansu Fati has been given the all-clear to travel, while Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal - who only trained for the first time since the holidays on Thursday - are included.

Barca head into 2020 with a two-point lead at the top of LaLiga.

Ernesto Valverde has admitted he admires Dani Olmo as Barcelona continue to be linked with a big-money move for the Dinamo Zagreb winger.

Olmo has caught the eye in Croatian domestic football and carried his form into the Champions League, with a host of Europe's top clubs scouting him.

He began his career in Barca's youth ranks but left La Masia as a 16-year-old for a surprise switch to Zagreb.

There he has blossomed to such an extent he earned a first cap for Spain in November and scored on his debut.

Now Barca are said to be piecing together a deal that would see Olmo join them at the end of this season, with reports Dinamo want over €30million for the 21-year-old.

Asked about Olmo on Friday, coach Valverde chose his words carefully but left little doubt he is a player that would be welcomed at Camp Nou.

"He is a player that has been here before. He's a good footballer but he's with another team and I don't talk about speculation. We have to be cautious," he said. 

Recent reports have claimed Barca have been knocked back with a first offer for Olmo, who has been quoted as saying he welcomed the interest from his former club.

Valverde's men make the short trip to tackle city rivals Espanyol in LaLiga on Saturday but will be without Carles Alena for the rest of the season after the midfielder moved on loan to Real Betis.

"It's true that Alena has left," Valverde said. "I didn't think it would happen so soon, but he had an option to leave because his contract said so. Now we have one player less in this position and we will see what happens.

"I'm not thinking about more departures, we'll count on what we have."

The first test of the new year sees Valverde's team take on neighbours who brought in a former Barca defender as head coach during the mid-season break.

Abelardo took over from Pablo Machin, becoming Espanyol's third boss of the season, with a remit to rescue the team from the foot of the table.

The former Barca defender could hardly have asked for a tougher first game, but Valverde said: "When you have a change of coach you always look for a reaction.

"They're wanting to start the second half of the season with a coach who has experience of these types of situations. I would like them to stay in the Primera."

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is expected to miss the derby with Espanyol and the Supercopa de Espana due to a tendon problem.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde said on Friday that the Germany international has been struggling for some time with the knee injury.

Valverde has ruled Ter Stegen out of the LaLiga trip across the city to RCDE Stadium and thinks it will be difficult for him to face Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the inaugural revamped Supercopa in Saudi Arabia.

"He's had some tendon problems for a while and at one point we considered he could be out for a little while. That moment is now," said Valverde.

"He won't be available tomorrow and we think it'll be difficult for the Supercopa."

Asked if Ter Stegen needs an operation, Valverde replied: "I don't know. We haven't talked about that. Our idea is that these discomforts go away with time."

Valverde does at least hope to see Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez fit to face Espanyol, the attacking stars and Arturo Vidal having only returned to training after the holidays on Thursday.

"Luis, like Leo and Vidal, came back okay and we'll see how they are [in training]. Based on that, we'll decide for tomorrow," he said.

Arthur, though, is expected to be sidelined for three weeks with a groin injury, something Valverde admits is deeply frustrating.

"It's a setback that he's not here. I won't deny it," he said. "I don't want it to be like last year, when he was limping. We need the player at 100 per cent."

Saturday could see Vidal play for the first time since it emerged the midfielder is taking action against Barca due to €2.4million in outstanding bonus payments.

Valverde sees no reason why the issue could affect Vidal's involvement in the team.

"I know that this has been talked about, but I think it's a difference in criteria, but I don't think it has to have an impact on the sporting side of things," he said.

"He's training well and it will have to be he who settles things with the club.

"In contractual matters, there will always be discrepancies, and this will be resolved internally. Arturo is training normally, and he has the same enthusiasm as ever."

Manchester United have identified James Maddison or Jack Grealish as their top January transfer targets.

With Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay injured, United have concerns in midfield to begin 2020.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said United were looking at "one or two" January additions, and it appears their targets are also Premier League players.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD IDENTIFY MADDISON, GREALISH AS JANUARY TARGETS

Manchester United are prioritising a move for Leicester City's Maddison or Aston Villa's Grealish, according to the Independent.

United are looking to find greater consistency in the second half of the Premier League season, although they sit fifth in the table.

Grealish has provided five assists in the Premier League this campaign, while netting six times. Maddison also has six goals.

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- Thomas Lemar is attracting interest from Tottenham. AS reports that if the midfielder joins Spurs from Atletico Madrid, the LaLiga club would be able to sign Paris Saint-Germain forward Edinson Cavani.

- Tottenham may have more pressing concerns in January. Harry Kane could be set for an extended spell on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury as Spurs await the results of a second scan, according to The Telegraph.

- Benfica are prepared to let 20-year-old midfielder Gedson Fernandes leave. A Bola reports the club are ready to negotiate for the Portugal international, who has been linked to Manchester United, Lyon and Milan.

- Arsenal are aiming to strengthen their defence with the signing of Bayern Munich centre-back Jerome Boateng, according to Sky Sports. Calum Chambers is set for a long spell on the sidelines after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, and Boateng could be set for a return to the Premier League.

- Jean-Clair Todibo is expected to leave Barcelona in January and a surprise potential destination has emerged. Bild reports Schalke are thinking about a loan move for the 20-year-old defender.

- Borussia Dortmund have set their price for forward Paco Alcacer. The Bundesliga club want €40million for the Spaniard, who has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid.

With the January transfer window open across Europe, clubs will be checking their budgets to see if they can make additions for the second half of the campaign.

January is traditionally a tough time to do business with teams generally unwilling to allow stars to leave but Erling Haaland's switch from Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund shows major deals are possible.

Unsettled players around the continent may push for a chance at a new club as squads get shuffled, but who are some of the big-name stars who could be on the move this month?

We have picked out 10 players who have been strongly linked with switching teams during the January transfer window.


PAUL POGBA (Manchester United)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's recent insistence that Pogba would not leave United this month has been undermined by the latest twist in the midfielder's ongoing saga. After he was surprisingly left out of the squad for a New Year's Day loss at Arsenal, Solskjaer indicated Pogba would be undergoing surgery in a bid to solve his injury issues. An operation could make it less likely Pogba leaves Old Trafford in January, but the links to Real Madrid will not go away. For what it is worth, Pogba's agent Mino Raiola has said his client is staying at United - for now at least.


EMRE CAN (Juventus) 

Pogba's continued absence has left a hole in United's midfield, especially with Scott McTominay also out of action. Can is among the players being linked with a switch to Old Trafford after failing to make an impact at Juventus. The Serie A champions, who are reportedly interested in bringing Pogba back, are also said to be ready to listen to offers for Adrien Rabiot and Daniele Rugani with both players not regular starters under Maurizio Sarri this season.


JADON SANCHO (Borussia Dortmund) 

The biggest move of the January transfer window could involve Sancho leaving Dortmund with the England international having struggled with off-the-field issues despite fine form on the pitch during the first half of the season. Premier League sides Manchester United and Chelsea, who signed Christian Pulisic from BVB last year, are reportedly leading the race for Sancho, but he would likely cost in excess of £100million. Dortmund, having beaten off competition from various top clubs to land Haaland, are said to be willing to listen to offers for Paco Alcacer too.


EDINSON CAVANI (Paris Saint-Germain)

Another elite forward potentially on the move this month is Cavani, with PSG's all-time leading goalscorer struggling to get into the team after the successful signing of Mauro Icardi on loan from Inter. At 32, Cavani likely has one more big deal left in him with Atletico Madrid said to be keen - a swap deal involving France winger Thomas Lemar has been mooted. PSG are also reportedly ready to cut their losses on Leandro Paredes, who has made little impact since joining from Zenit.


JAMES RODRIGUEZ (Real Madrid)

Colombia star James has been on the fringes at Madrid since returning from a loan spell with Bayern Munich, making only four starts in LaLiga this season. Arsenal, Inter and PSG have all been linked with James, who has also emerged as a shock target for Everton. New Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti coached the 28-year-old playmaker at both Madrid and Bayern.


ARTURO VIDAL (Barcelona)

Another South American midfielder who could leave LaLiga this month is Vidal, who has complained about allegedly unpaid bonuses at Barca and hinted he might be open to a return to Serie A. League leaders Inter are said to be keen with Antonio Conte having worked with Vidal at Juve, where the Chile international previously won four successive Serie A titles.


JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City)

Right-back Cancelo only joined City last August but, after failing to usurp Kyle Walker as first choice in his position, the 25-year-old could be on the move again with former club Valencia and Bayern Munich both linked. Cancelo's departure would leave City even shorter of defensive options but if they can sell the Portugal international it could allow the defending Premier League champions to bring in another body elsewhere, though Pep Guardiola has ruled out signings.


CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN (Tottenham)

Denmark midfielder Eriksen is out of contract at the end of the season and has previously made it clear he is ready for a new challenge. Eriksen has found himself on the fringes under new boss Jose Mourinho and the club's notorious negotiator Daniel Levy may opt to cash in on the 27-year-old rather than watch him leave for nothing. Spurs, though, surprisingly persuaded Toby Alderweireld to commit to a new deal and it is not impossible Eriksen follows suit if the right club does not make an offer. Inter, PSG, Juve and United have all been linked and it has even been suggested Eriksen could be included in a deal to take Gareth Bale back to Spurs from Madrid.


DANI OLMO (Dinamo Zagreb)

One of Europe's most in-demand young players, Olmo will surely leave Dinamo sooner rather than later. The 21-year-old midfielder, who has already been capped by Spain, says he has an offer from Barca but the LaLiga champions face strong competition for his signature. Olmo is one of a raft of players being linked to Chelsea after their transfer ban was reduced on appeal, while Manchester United and Manchester City are among the other clubs reportedly interested.


WILFRIED ZAHA (Crystal Palace)

Another potential Chelsea target is Zaha, who was said to be close to leaving Palace during the last transfer window only for an £80million price tag to seemingly scare off suitors. Arsenal and Everton were reportedly interested in the Ivory Coast forward, with Roy Hodgson accepting Palace would have to consider "serious" offers for the 27-year-old this month. Blues boss Frank Lampard has denied Zaha is on his radar, however.

Dani Olmo claims a formal offer has been received from Barcelona ahead of a prospective transfer from Dinamo Zagreb.

Catalan forward Olmo spent six years in the youth ranks at Barca's famed La Masia before making the surprise switch to Croatia in 2014.

The 21-year-old was named man of the match after he scored the winner in Spain Under-21s' European Championship final victory over Germany in 2019.

He brought that form into this season with a string of impressive displays during Dinamo's Champions League campaign, earning a first senior Spain cap in November – another occasion Olmo marked with a goal against Malta

Dinamo reportedly want €40million for Olmo, who hopes to arrive at Camp Nou in January rather than the end of the season if an agreement is reached.

"It makes me happy the rumours have become a formal proposal and Barca are planning my return," Olmo told L'Esportiu. "I spent six years at La Masia and they taught me values for a lifetime.

"I do not know if Barca wants me now or at the end of the season, it's something my representatives control.

"If there is an agreement between the clubs, it seems to me it is best to leave Zagreb now."

Olmo believes joining Barca in January would aid his development and boost his chances of securing a spot in Luis Enrique's Spain squad for Euro 2020.

"My goal is to go to the European Championship and it will be difficult for me in the next few months if I only play in a minor competition," he said.

"Not only for going to the European Championship, also for continuing to improve. I am prepared to take a step forward in my career."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival at Milan boosts the quality and personality in the squad, according to Fabio Capello.

Milan brought Ibrahimovic back for a second stint – the Swede having won Serie A and the Supercoppa Italiana with the Rossoneri in 2011 – on a free transfer following the expiration of his contract with MLS side LA Galaxy.

Stefano Pioli's side went into the mid-season break in 11th following a 5-0 loss to Atalanta that represented the club's worst league defeat in 21 years.

The wisdom of offering the 38-year-old a six-month deal with the option for another year was questioned by some, but Capello, who led Milan to four Scudetti and Champions League success during a defining five-year spell at San Siro in the 1990s, has no doubt the move is a positive one.

"Zlatan's return to Milan is positive in two respects: for what he can still offer as a player and for the contribution of personality," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The stories of the poor US championship are bleak. It is not at the level of the best European leagues.

"Ibrahimovic will need a few games to settle, but then he will become decisive. Milan have little personality. Zlatan will shake the team.

"However, the transfer window cannot end here. We need a reinforcement in defence."

Milan have reportedly agreed to sign Barcelona defender Jean-Clair Todibo on loan with an option to buy but Capello suggested his age means he may not be the right solution.

"I don't know him very well, but he's 20 years old, he's from the French school and has already made his debut in the Champions League with Barcelona. It's a good CV, even if the last word is always what is shown on the pitch," said Capello.

"It is not always easy to adapt to our league; I expected something more from [Aaron] Ramsey and [Adrien] Rabiot, for example."

Neymar is reportedly preparing a fresh strategy in his bid to return to Barcelona.

The Paris Saint-Germain star was linked heavily with a move back to Camp Nou during the close season but ended up staying with the Ligue 1 giants.

However, Neymar seemingly still has his eyes set on a return to LaLiga's reigning champions.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR PREPARES FRESH BARCELONA RETURN BID

Neymar is preparing a legal strategy to return to Barcelona, according to Sport.

The 27-year-old wants to make the move and let FIFA impose the compensation he will have to pay to PSG to be released, the report says.

Neymar has scored nine goals in 12 games this season, having struggled with injuries.

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- Christian Eriksen is wanted by several European heavyweights. Inter have expressed an interest in the Tottenham midfielder, according to the Daily Mail. Manchester United, PSG and Juventus have also been linked to the Denmark international, who is out of contract at season's end.

- Staying at Spurs, Napoli and Ajax are preparing to move for Jan Vertonghen, according to The Telegraph. Vertonghen is also out of contract at the end of the season.

- After missing out on Dejan Kulusevski to Juventus, Inter are setting up to land two major transfers ahead of 2020-21. La Gazzetta dello Sport believes the Nerazzurri  will try to sign Fiorentina star Federico Chiesa and Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali.

- While they are eyeing Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal, Inter will try to make Stefano Sensi's move from Sassuolo a permanent one in January, reports CalcioMercato. Sensi arrived on loan in July last year with an option to buy at the end of the season.

- Daniel Sturridge could be set for a return to the Premier League. The Sun claims Aston Villa could be set to offer the former Liverpool forward, who is playing for Trabzonspor, a return to England.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been rewriting the football history books for over a decade, and as the pair head into 2020, they are on the verge of racking up a stack of new milestones.

The iconic duo are hoping to propel their respective teams to Champions League glory this season while contesting for domestic honours in Italy and Spain, and there are new records to be set at club and international level for both players too.

Messi's Barcelona are top of LaLiga by two points and he has scored 11 goals in his last 10 games to step into the new year in optimistic mood, while Ronaldo is in a similar hot streak for Juventus after netting five in his last four Serie A outings.

At 32, Messi is two years Ronaldo's junior, but try telling the Juventus talisman that his career is nearing its end and he'll answer you with performances with all the pace, power and intensity of a player in his prime.

As two of the game's greatest embark upon what will doubtless be another year filled with glorious moments, here are the records they stand to smash along the way.

RONALDO: Most European Cup wins

Ronaldo won his fifth Champions League when Real Madrid beat Liverpool in the 2018 final and if he can inspire Juventus to glory in 2020 he will have won Europe's top competition as many times as current record holder Francisco Gento, who won six between 1956 and 1966 for Real Madrid.

MESSI: Top goal-scorer for a single team

Messi is 26 goals away from eclipsing Pele's club goals record of 643, which the Brazil legend is said to have scored for Santos. Record-keeping has become more accurate since Pele's day, and Messi is set to hit a new high that will take some beating.

RONALDO: All-time top European Championship goal-scorer

Ronaldo has scored nine goals for Portugal at the four European Championships where he has represented his country, putting him level with Michel Platini as the competition's leading scorer. If he can find the net in 2020's tournament, he will become the leading Euros marksman of all time.

MESSI AND RONALDO: Most Champions League hat-tricks

Messi and Ronaldo have scored eight hat-tricks each in the Champions League - more than any other player to have graced the competition - and if either can notch another in 2020 they could claim bragging rights for some time to come.

RONALDO: First player to be top scorer in English, Spanish and Italian top flights

Ronaldo is currently joint-fourth in the Serie A scoring charts with 10 goals, behind Joao Pedro (11), Romelu Lukaku (12) and Ciro Immobile (17), but if he can storm his way to the top in 2020 he will become the first player in history to have been top goal-scorer in the English, Spanish and Italian top flights.

MESSI: Seven Ballon d'Or wins

Ronaldo did not attend the Ballon d'Or awards ceremony in 2019 to see Messi claim a record sixth gong, and if the Barca star wins again in 2020 it is hard to see Ronaldo, who has won the award five times, ever catching him.

RONALDO: All-time international top-scorer

Ronaldo will be going all guns blazing for Portugal this year as he attempts to add to his 99 international goals and succeed Ali Daei, who scored 109 for Iran, as the top international marksman of all time.

MESSI: Four consecutive Golden Shoe awards

Messi has been the top goal-scorer in Europe for the last three consecutive seasons and he currently leads the LaLiga scoring charts with 13 goals. He was the first player to win the Golden Shoe, awarded to Europe's leading goal-scorer in league matches, three times in a row and could set another new record by doing it four times on the bounce.

Wolves winger Adama Traore would have no problem forgetting his ties to Barcelona if a move to Real Madrid presented itself, though a return to Camp Nou appeals more.

Traore, 23, spent most of his formative years in Barca's academy and had been considered one of La Masia's crown jewels for a long time.

The rapid forward even made his first-team debut in LaLiga as a 17-year-old in November 2013, playing seven minutes in a 4-0 win over Granada.

Barca allowed him to leave for Aston Villa in 2015, with Traore revealing the following year he had become frustrated with a lack of development at the Catalan club, as they kept him in the second team instead of helping him push on.

Concerns over his footballing mindset and end product became apparent at Villa and persisted after moves to Middlesbrough and Wolves, but this season he has taken on a key role at Molineux, even earning a Spain call-up.

As such, talk of a move to a bigger club has surfaced in recent times, and he would not close the door on a potential switch to Madrid, even though it is not a priority.

"If I do not have the option of Barca and I have to go to Real Madrid, I do not close any doors," he said on La Sexta show Jugones, before hinting at a previous issue with La Blaugrana.

"There was a misunderstanding with Barca. Something happened that I didn't like, but I prefer to keep it for myself."

And while Traore is open to returning to Spain, he has a goal to achieve in the Premier League first.

"Yes, why not [return to Spain]," he said. "But I made a promise to become one of the best in England."

Luis Suarez is confident he and Barcelona will come to an agreement regarding a new contract as he eyes second place in the club's list of record goalscorers.

Suarez joined Barca from Liverpool in 2014 and has gone on to enjoy a wonderful spell at Camp Nou, both in terms of individual accomplishments and success with the club.

In that time, he has scored 190 goals and won every trophy possible, including a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble in 2014-15.

Now 32, Suarez has shown signs of decline in the past year or so, with recent media reports suggesting Barca want to replace him with Inter's Lautaro Martinez, despite the former Ajax star boasting a commendable tally of 10 in 16 LaLiga games this term.

But the Uruguay international appears set for a few more years at the club, as he is seemingly expecting to agree an extension to his current deal, which runs out in 2021.

"I'm very happy at the club," he told Sport. "I have always given myself to the fullest. The statistics and the numbers back that up.

"I think I am up to the task and when it comes to [contract] talks, we will arrive at a good conclusion."

Suarez's haul of 190 goals means he is just four behind Barca great Laszlo Kubala – but the main target he has his eyes on is Cesar Rodriguez.

Cesar netted 232 times from 1942 to 1955 and is second only to Lionel Messi in Barca's list of all-time goalscorers, though Suarez accepts catching his team-mate – who is way out in front on 618 – will be impossible.

"I always said that personal challenges have to be left aside, but in this case, when there is so little to match or overcome a historic player like Kubala and get in there [the top three], you feel very proud," he continued.

"Second place is obviously a more difficult challenge, but that does not take it out of sight.

"You always try, but it will be done over time. First place is unattainable, but it is very exciting to be able to reach Cesar's numbers."

Some of Europe's top clubs are already making signings ahead of the January transfer window, but Real Madrid's focus, at least for now, looks to be on securing the services of a current player.

Karim Benzema remains one of Madrid's key men, with 12 goals in 17 LaLiga matches this term.

Los Blancos will reportedly reward the striker's fine form with a contract renewal in the coming months, keeping him at the Santiago Bernabeu for another two seasons.

 

TOP STORY – BENZEMA TO STAY UNTIL 2022

Karim Benzema has agreed to sign a new contract with LaLiga giants Real Madrid, according to Marca.

Benzema's current deal had been set to expire in 2021, but an extension is imminent. The newspaper reports the Frenchman will be rewarded improved terms on a new contract to run until 2022 due to his outstanding form.

With Madrid enjoying a midseason break, they are said to have agreed a deal with Benzema that will be made formal at the end of the campaign.

Benzema's future is apparently a priority for Madrid, with the report suggesting the deal was only capped at an additional year as the player is determined not to outstay his welcome, leaving before his outstanding career wanes.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United reportedly have an interest in Benfica star Gedson Fernandes. Sky Sports say the 20-year-old midfielder, who has fallen out of favour with his club, could be available for £34million (€39.8m) following a loan, rather than for a loftier release clause of £102m. United are desperate to bolster their midfield, with Nemanja Matic tipped to join Inter, Milan or Atletico Madrid.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Suns says United are eyeing £50m-rated Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin after Erling Haaland signed for Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund.

- The Mirror claims Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will leave Emirates Stadium at the end of the season in pursuit of silverware. Aubameyang has 18 months remaining on his contract.

Chelsea have made enquiries about the release clause in RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner's contract, says The Telegraph. Werner has been linked to Liverpool, United and Bayern Munich.

- El Desmarque says Everton are leading the race to sign James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti worked with James during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu.

- Serie A champions Juventus lead the race to sign Dejan Kulusevski, according to Sky Sport Italia and La Gazzetta dello Sport. The 19-year-old, on loan at Parma from Atalanta, has been linked to United, Arsenal, Napoli, Inter and Liverpool. But Juve are reportedly poised to pay Atalanta €40-50m, while allowing Kulusevski to remain on loan at Parma until the end of the season.

- Calciomercato.com reports Jean-Clair Todibo has an offer from Milan. A deal is said to be done for the Barcelona defender - an initial loan, followed by a €20m fee with no buyback option - but he has not yet agreed to the transfer.

- Having already signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan must move on others in the next month. However, La Gazzetta dello Sport reports the Rossoneri are only interested in selling Ricardo Rodriguez and Suso, rather than accommodating loan deals that would suit Watford and Sevilla, respectively.

Napoli are set to announce the signing of Stanislav Lobotka for an initial €16m, according to Calciomercato.com. The midfielder will leave Celta Vigo and sign a contract with the Partenopei until 2024.

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