In a move that football purists, romanticists and aficionados of 1990s Serie A will be excited by, Gianluigi Buffon is returning to Parma after 20 years away.

Buffon came through the club's academy in the early '90s and made 220 appearances for them in all competitions, winning the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiana and UEFA Cup during a six-year spell in the first-team.

Juventus made Buffon the world's most-expensive goalkeeper at the time when they paid €52million for him in 2001 and he played 685 times for them across two spells, 20 short of Alessandro Del Piero's club record.

Nevertheless, Buffon's longevity has ensured he is the record holder for the most Serie A appearances (657) and titles (10) in the league's history.

After leaving Juve at the end of the 2020-21 season, it was unclear what would be next for Buffon, but links with Parma began to stir despite their relegation to Serie B.

And on Thursday the club confirmed Buffon is back. While the days of challenging for major honours are long gone for Parma, the goalkeeping great represents a coup and the kind of transfer that tugs at heartstrings.

In honour of Buffon's momentous return, Stats Perform takes a look at other greats who've gone back to their spiritual home to close out their career.

Arjen Robben - Groningen

Arjen Robben's retirement lasted just a single season, as the Netherlands and Bayern Munich great announced last year that he was returning to his boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign. Robben, now 37, initially brought an illustrious playing career to an end in July 2019 shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern finished. Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben – who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career – opted to retire. He then caused something of a shock as he finally went back to the place where it all began, but once again injuries blighted his season, restricting him to just seven Eredivisie appearances. It's unclear if he'll play on into 2021-22, though either way it's safe to assume Groningen will be where he retires once and for all.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt - Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement three years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez - Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last in 2019 to focus on other areas of the sport. He is expected to be taking up a youth coaching role at Barca next season.

Juan Pablo Angel - Atletico Nacional

Angel perhaps never quite lived up to the expectations he set during his early days as part of River Plate's so-called 'Fantastic Four' with Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar, having joined from Colombia's Nacional. Nevertheless, he became a fan favourite at Aston Villa in the Premier League, before spending six years in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. In 2013 he returned to Nacional for two seasons, having left them in 1997. He called it quits in late 2014, just a few days after losing to his former club River in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. "I am ending my career with a final between the two clubs I love the most," he said.

Henrik Larsson - Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move to Helsingborgs. A trophy-laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Manchester United and Manchester City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca" was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL. His third spell with Boca ended in June 2021, though it remains to be seen if he ever plays for another club.

Is Erling Haaland's future close to being resolved?

Borussia Dortmund, up until now, have been unwilling to part with their top asset.

But Chelsea are reportedly making progress to bring Haaland to London.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA CLOSING IN ON HAALAND?

Chelsea have agreed personal terms with Erling Haaland and now just need to agree a fee with Borussia Dortmund, according to the Transfer Window Podcast.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus.

But Chelsea have reportedly made a breakthrough in their pursuit to prise the Norway forward to Stamford Bridge.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport claims Madrid are targeting Inter star Nicolo Barella or Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli. Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips has also been linked. Locatelli is attracting interest this off-season, with Juventus, Arsenal, Inter, Dortmund and City reported admirers.

Arsenal are chasing Leicester City's James Maddison, according to Chris Wheatley. Chelsea and Liverpool are believed to be also tracking the England international.

- Eurosport reports Real Sociedad winger Mikel Oyarzabal is on City's radar. Pep Guardiola's side could make a move if Bernardo Silva – linked with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – or Raheem Sterling leave.

Atletico are set to sign Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese, says Fabrizio Romano. The Argentina international has been wanted by Liverpool, Juve and Leeds United.

Milan are looking to sign Stuttgart forward Sasa Kalajdzic, according to Calciomercato. Chelsea's Olivier Giroud, Torino star Andrea Belotti and Madrid outcast Luka Jokic have also been linked.

- Bild claims Bayern would be willing to sell Kingsley Coman for the right price amid interest from United and Liverpool. The Bundesliga champions are also considering the futures of Niklas Sule and Corentin Tolisso.

Is another move on the cards for Keylor Navas?

Navas felt he had little choice but to leave when Real Madrid signed Thibaut Courtois in 2019.

He is facing a similar situation at Paris Saint-Germain, who are trying to lure Gianluigi Donnarumma to the French capital.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO EYEING NAVAS

Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas is attracting interest from Manchester United, Juventus and Milan, according to Marca.

Navas' future is in doubt, with PSG reportedly poised to sign Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma on a free transfer.

This comes despite Costa Rica international Navas extending his PSG contract until 2024 in April.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports Real Madrid are prepared to offer star captain Sergio Ramos a new contract. Ramos is set to become a free agent and the Spaniard is said to have been unhappy with the club's offering of a short-term deal on a reduced salary. The 35-year-old has been linked with former club Sevilla, United and PSG among others.

- Juventus have started preliminary talks to sign Bayern Munich's Corentin Tolisso, says Sky Sport Italia. Juve are also interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

- The Telegraph reports Manchester City are now open to giving Raheem Sterling a new deal. Sterling has been linked with Arsenal and Madrid.

- Atalanta are dreaming of signing Juve defender Merih Demiral, reports Calciomercato. Lille's Sven Botman and Torino defender Lyanco are also targets amid centre-back Cristian Romero's links with United.

- Fabrizio Romano says there have been no talks between Arsenal and United regarding Donny van de Beek. The Netherlands international struggled for game time in his first season at Old Trafford.

- According to the Daily Star, United could tempt Tottenham into selling Harry Kane by offering Anthony Martial, who has also reportedly been offered to Madrid. Kane is believed to be keen on an exit amid links with City, Chelsea, Madrid, Barcelona and PSG.

Achraf Hakimi is a player in demand following his first season with Inter.

Hakimi helped Inter to Serie A glory for the first time in 10 years, but his future could be away from San Siro.

Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly determined to beat Chelsea and Bayern Munich to the full-back.

 

TOP STORY – PSG CHASING HAKIMI

Paris Saint-Germain remain interested in signing Inter star Achraf Hakimi, according to Gianluca Di Marzio.

PSG had a €60million (£51m) bid turned down by Serie A champions Inter, who are facing financial problems due to the coronavirus pandemic amid speculation over stars Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Alessandro Bastoni and Hakimi.

Ligue 1 giants PSG are still keen on Hakimi as Champions League winners Chelsea hold talks with the Morocco international's agent, while Bayern Munich have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

Bernardo Silva wants to leave Premier League champions Manchester City, reports Duncan Castles. The Portugal international has already been linked with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona after finding himself out of favour under Pep Guardiola.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Gianluigi Buffon is close to re-joining Parma. Buffon will leave Juventus in the off-season and the Italy great is reportedly on track to return to Parma, where the 43-year-old emerged from the youth team in 1995 before eventually moving to Turin in 2001. Parma were relegated from Serie A in 2020-21.

Arsenal have turned their attention to Real Betis attacker Nabil Fekir but Diario AS says the Gunners and LaLiga side remain apart in his transfer valuation.

- Calciomercato claims there are still concerns over Paulo Dybala's future at Juventus. Dybala is out of contract in 2022 and no closer to renewing after struggling for game time. The possible departure of Cristiano Ronaldo – who has been linked with PSG and Manchester United – could solidify Dybala's position in Turin.

Leicester City are the latest team to join the race for Salzburg's Patson Daka, according to the Mirror. Liverpool, Chelsea and RB Leipzig have also been linked.

- The Mirror reports Everton and Leeds United are considering moves for veteran Real Madrid star Marcelo.

The Jadon Sancho saga continues.

A move to Manchester United has long been mooted for England international Sancho.

While United and Borussia Dortmund negotiate, could Sancho's future be set to become clearer?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED HAVE OFFER REBUFFED

Manchester United have had their first offer for Jadon Sancho rejected by Borussia Dortmund, according to the BBC.

United have long been interested in Sancho, with the Premier League giants unable to prise Sancho from Dortmund before the 2020-21 season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are back again for England international Sancho, though their initial £67million (€77.9m) bid will not suffice as Dortmund hold out for at least £77.5m (€90.1m).

 

ROUND-UP

- If United miss out on Sancho, Sport1 claims the Red Devils will turn to Kingsley Coman after registering their interest in the Bayern Munich winger.

- Mundo Deportivo says Barcelona are interested in Roma and Italy midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini. The 24-year-old is out of contract in 2022 and Liverpool and Atletico Madrid are also eyeing the Italian.

United and Liverpool are set to go head-to-head for Argentina defender Cristian Romero, per Calciomercato. Romero has impressed during his loan spell with Atalanta from Juventus. Atalanta are expected to trigger a clause to sign the 23-year-old permanently as they then look to receive a big fee.

- Ronald Koeman is the key to Barca signing Memphis Depay, reports Mundo Deportivo. Depay is a free agent following the conclusion of his Lyon contract.

Barcelona have offered Antoine Griezmann to Juve, according to Calciomercato. With Cristiano Ronaldo's future in Turin uncertain, Juve could be tempted by Griezmann's availability. Juve have also been linked with Tottenham star Harry Kane, who is reportedly wanted by United, Manchester City, Chelsea, BarcaReal Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea won the Champions League last month but they are not sitting still.

Thomas Tuchel is determined to strengthen his attack as he seeks to dethrone Premier League champions Manchester City in 2021-22.

Erling Haaland is reportedly Chelsea's number one target.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA WANT HAALAND

Chelsea are "working intensely" on a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to the Telegraph.

Haaland has been linked with Real MadridManchester CityBarcelonaParis Saint-GermainManchester UnitedJuventusLiverpoolChelsea and Bayern Munich.

Tottenham's Harry Kane and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku have emerged as options for Chelsea, though the Champions League winners appear set on Haaland.

 

ROUND-UP

PSG are poised to sign Italy international goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma on a free transfer, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Out of contract at Milan, Donnarumma was also linked with Juve and Barca.

- The Times says United are moving closer to reaching an agreement with Dortmund for Jadon Sancho. The England international was heavily tipped to move to Old Trafford ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

City are chasing Spurs star Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, per ESPN. Pep Guardiola's side are willing to buy both if they are able to do so. Kane and Grealish have also been linked with Manchester neighbours United.

Atletico Madrid have offered Saul Niguez to City in exchange for Bernardo Silva, according to the Times. Unsettled at LaLiga champions Atletico, Saul has also reportedly caught the attention of United, Chelsea and Bayern.

- The Daily Mail claims Brighton and Hove Albion are looking to keep England international defender Ben White by demanding £50million amid interest from clubs such as United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Milan are eyeing Chelsea trio Olivier Giroud, Fikayo Tomori and Hakim Ziyech, claims the Gazzetta dello Sport. Ziyech has also been linked with Napoli.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter are hopeful of re-signing Nicolo Barella and Atletico Madrid target Lautaro Martinez by the end of the off-season.

- Juventus are interested in Roma veteran Edin Dzeko and are ready to offer a two-year deal, reports Corriere dello Sport.

It may be a year late, but Euro 2020 is almost upon us and the opportunity for glory is just around the corner.

The usual suspects will be undoubtedly favoured by many, with France's squad seemingly stronger than ever, Portugal possessing a seriously talented group and England looking good as they bid to end their long wait for international success.

Similarly, Italy and the Netherlands are back on the scene after missing out on tournament qualification in recent times, while Germany will be hoping to bounce back from their World Cup humiliation.

Die Mannschaft were eliminated from the group stage of a World Cup for the first time ever by South Korea three years ago, and Joachim Low will be eager to restore some dignity in what will be his final tournament in charge.

But could the trophy actually end up being lifted by one of the unfancied teams? We all remember Greece's remarkable triumph in 2004, for example.

With that in mind, Stats Perform has identified some potential dark horses ahead of the tournament.

Turkey – Group A

Key man: Burak Yilmaz
One to watch: Abdulkadir Omur

It's fair to say Turkey are a curious team in international football. They have reached the semi-finals in two – and come third on both occasions – of their past three major tournaments, which is impressive, but the caveat is that trio of qualifications spanned 2002-2018.

Euro 2020 will be only their fourth major tournament appearance out of a possible 11 this century across the European Championship and World Cup, and they disappointed at Euro 2016 as they were eliminated at the group stage.

But there are reasons for optimism this time, particularly given the encouraging amount of talent in a youthful squad – their average age of 25 years exactly is the lowest at the tournament, and it would be even lower were it not for the presence of 35-year-old Burak Yilmaz, who certainly isn't there as some kind of token 'Golden Oldie'.

 

The burly centre-forward proved plenty of doubters wrong in his debut Ligue 1 season with Lille, his 16 goals and five assists helping them to an unlikely title triumph. Those 21 direct goal involvements put him six ahead of any other Lille player, and his experience helped a Les Dogues team that was also on the young side.

Yilmaz became the first player to score at least 15 goals in his first season with Lille in Ligue 1 since Moussa Sow in 2010-11 (25), while his penalty at Angers on the final day saw him beat the record for the most goals netted by a Turkish player in a single campaign in the competition, set by Mevlut Erdinc in 2009-10.

 

Yilmaz's Lille team-mates Zeki Celik and Yusuf Yazici – the latter scored 14 club goals across all 2020-21 competitions from midfield – are also present, while Hakan Calhanoglu offers guaranteed creativity. The Milan playmaker created the most chances in Serie A (98) in 2020-21, while his nine assists came from an xA (expected assists) value of 8.5, suggesting that haul came from a place of consistency rather than luck.

But then Turkey also looked solid at the back in qualifying, their three goals conceded in 10 games was the joint-best record alongside Belgium, and Kaan Ayhan's three headed goals en route to the Euros wasn't bettered by anyone, meaning Calhanoglu's set-piece deliveries could be a real asset.

 

Senol Gunes is back at the helm having guided them to third place at the 2002 World Cup, and he may just fancy another upset 19 years on.

Ukraine – Group C

Key man: Ruslan Malinovskiy
One to watch: Illya Zabarnyi

Ukraine are long-term underachievers at this level. They've failed to score in their last five games at the European Championship, the longest goalless run in the history of the tournament.

In fact, none of Ukraine's last 67 shots have ended in the back of the net. This, coupled with the fact their coach Andrey Shevchenko is the only player to find the net for them at the Euros (a brace against Sweden in 2012) highlights their biggest issue over the past nine years: scoring goals.

While the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka – the latter of whom isn't in the squad due to injury – have good records, Ukraine have lacked a reliable goal threat in the central striker berth practically ever since Shevchenko retired.

 

However, in Gent forward Roman Yaremchuk they may have finally founded a suitable answer, with the 25-year-old heading into the tournament on the back of his best-ever season for goals, having netted 20 times in the Belgian top flight.

Those 20 strikes came from an xG (expected goals) value of 18.2 as well, so although he may have been fortunate once or twice, he would still have expected to get a good haul, which speaks to his reliability in front of goal.

 

Ruslan Malinovskiy of Atalanta is another interesting player. Something of a late bloomer, the talented central midfielder has been an important part of a wonderful Nerazzurri side this season.

While his Serie A-high 12 assists was considerably higher than his 6.7 xA, suggesting his passes benefited from particularly impressive finishing, that xA figure was still only bettered by only six players.

Similarly, his 57 key passes in open play was second only to Luis Alberto (59), yet it's worth bearing in mind Malinovskiy only actually started 22 matches. 

 

Czech Republic – Group D

Key man: Tomas Soucek
One to watch: Adam Hlozek

At Euro 2016, the Czech Republic only managed one point as they failed to get past the group stage, and there will be plenty of people expecting them to crash out in a similar manner again.

Nevertheless, they're a country with a strong history in the competition given this is their seventh successive appearance at the Euros, a streak only Germany (13) and France (eight) can better.

Group D should provide them with opportunities as well. While England will be strongly fancied to finish top, Croatia aren't generally seen as quite the same force they were at the last World Cup, and Scotland, though possessing some talented players, are inexperienced at such competitions.

An area that could prove particularly useful for the Czech Republic in what could prove to be a tight group is their set-piece prowess. Seven of their 13 goals in qualifying were scored at set-plays – that's 54 per cent, the joint-highest ratio of any side to qualify.

That's not their only weapon, however. They do have talented individuals in the squad such as Jakub Jankto and Patrik Schick, the hard-working Tomas Soucek – who won more duels and aerials than any other Premier League player in 2020-21 – and a solid goalkeeper in Tomas Vaclik.

They also have something of a wildcard in their midst: Adam Hlozek.

Despite missing a chunk of the season through injury, Sparta Prague's Hlozek still managed to plunder 15 Liga goals in just 19 matches, and in April he became the competition's youngest hat-trick scorer with his treble against Opava.

He then finished the season with an astonishing four-goal haul against Zbrojovka Brno to finish as the league's joint-top scorer, though he also had six assists to his name. The 18-year-old is a complete striker if there ever was one, and he could be a potential breakout star for Czech Republic if he overcomes a pre-tournament injury.

Poland – Group E

Key man: Robert Lewandowski
One to watch: Kacper Kozlowski

Poland's situation in terms of grouping is quite similar to the Czech Republic. Spain will be expected to top Group E, otherwise it looks difficult to call between the Polish, Sweden and Slovakia.

Further to that, the runner-up spot will secure a second-round clash with the team that finishes second in Group D, which could potentially be the Czech Republic. It's entirely plausible that either of them could get as far as the quarter-finals thanks to a relatively kind draw.

Of course, there are lots of variables to consider before than and along the way, but Poland have the advantage of boasting arguably the world's best striker in their squad.

Sure, Robert Lewandowski has scored only one goal in his last 10 games in major competitions (World Cup and Euros), netting against Portugal in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, but he heads into this tournament on the back of a remarkable season.

The Bayern Munich star's 41 Bundesliga goals broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 in a single season. The next-best tally in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21 saw Lionel Messi trailing well behind on 30.

 

Lewandowski unsurprisingly also led Europe in expected goals – with his chances worth 32.2 xG – and expected goals on target, producing shots with a value of 35.8 xGOT.

He and Poland were arguably unfortunate to not reach the semi-finals five years ago as they were the only team never to trail at any point in Euro 2016, with their elimination by eventual winners Portugal coming via a penalty shootout.

If Lewandowski manages to carry over his Bayern form a little better this time around, who's to say they can't go beyond the last eight in 2020.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has signed a new two-year contract with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. 

Choupo-Moting, 32, joined Bayern in October 2020 after spending two seasons with Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain, initially signing a one-year deal.  

The striker made 32 appearances in all competitions in his maiden season with the club – only 13 of which were starts – and scored nine goals. 

Choupo-Moting, who will play under new head coach Julien Nagelsmann next term after Hansi Flick left to take the Germany job, said: "I am proud to be here. FC Bayern is a very special club; the number one club in Germany and also one of the best clubs in the world. 

"My first year here was great. On the pitch, but also off the pitch, we had a lot of fun together. I want to continue to have success with the team. I'd like to reach the DFB-Pokal final in Berlin and ideally win the Champions League." 

Board member for sport Hasan Salihamidzic added: "We are happy that Maxim will stay with us for another two years. 

"He is a very important player for us, performing strongly last season and scoring many goals. Maxim can be used in several positions, has very good technique, a lot of experience and is a goal threat. 

"Aside from his sporting quality, Maxim is also important for our team as a person. He will help us achieve our goals in the next two years."

After a year's delay, Euro 2020 will finally get under way when Italy take on Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11.

Some of the world's top talents will be on display in the month-long tournament, including the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane.

But away from the elite players, there are a clutch of others looking to overshadow those aforementioned names and leave their own mark on the pan-European competition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform picks out eight under-the-radar stars – those that would not necessarily be considered as one of the favourites for individual honours before a ball is kicked – ahead of the tournament.

 

Federico Chiesa (Italy and Juventus)

Juventus may have endured one of their worst campaigns in recent memory last time out, but Chiesa can hold his head up high after impressing in his first year at the Allianz Stadium.

He was the man for the big occasions, scoring a couple of goals in January's league victory over Milan and the winner in Juve's Coppa Italia triumph against Atalanta.

The 23-year-old was a regular threat down both flanks ​– only Benevento forward Riccardo Improta (77, 29.87 per cent) had more open-play crosses in Serie A last season with a higher success rate than Chiesa (69, 27.54 per cent).

That ability to both create and score goals, plus his never-say-die spirit – best embodied by his three goals in two legs of the Champions League last-16 knockout defeat to Porto – means he is already a fan favourite in Turin.

"He tries to ignite the fans at home on the couch to let them feel the game like the players in the pitch," former Juve striker Fabrizio Ravanelli told Stats Perform. 

"He always sends a strong message to Juventus fans, the true DNA of Juventus of never giving up like it says in the motto: 'Till the end'."

 

Alexander Isak (Sweden and Real Sociedad)

Whisper it quietly, but Sweden may have a new superstar forward emerging to rival the legendary figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Isak's 17 strikes in 34 league appearances for Real Sociedad last season saw him become the Swede with the most goals in a single LaLiga campaign, surpassing Ibrahimovic's 16 for Barcelona in 2009-10.

He may be tall and blessed with great technical ability, but Isak is a lot different to Ibrahimovic – ruled out of Euro 2020 with a knee injury – in terms of his playing style.

And with clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City reportedly keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old, it may well be one day that other youngsters from the Scandinavian country are described as 'the next Isak'.

 

Unai Simon (Spain and Athletic Bilbao)

Luis Enrique has not shied away from putting his faith in youth at the expense of those who have been there and done it, with veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos arguably the most high-profile omission from any squad at Euro 2020.

That is also true between the sticks, where 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao stopper Simon has usurped David de Gea to take control of the number-one spot.

Unlike Manchester United keeper De Gea and Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has not made the cut for Spain, Simon played regularly for his club side in 2020-21.

Indeed, the only Spanish goalkeepers to play more minutes last term in Europe's top five leagues than Simon (3,330) were Alex Remiro and Fernando Pacheco of Real Sociedad and Deportivo Alaves respectively.

Simon saved 63.3 per cent of the shots he faced in LaLiga in 2020-21, compared to 65.22 per cent for De Gea in 26 Premier League games, and the six-cap keeper will need to be at his best if Spain are to banish their demons from the 2018 World Cup.

 

Jamal Musiala (Germany and Bayern Munich)

Musiala switched international allegiance from England to Germany four months ago in the same week he became Bayern's youngest Champions League goalscorer at the age of 17 years and 363 days.

Despite strong competition for places, Musiala featured regularly for the German champions last season with 35 appearances in all competitions, albeit the majority of those outings being as a substitute.

The former Chelsea product made his first two appearances for Germany in March's World Cup qualifiers and only adds to a plethora of options available to Joachim Low in the final third.

Musiala may not be considered a regular just yet, but the stats suggest Low should perhaps consider using the youngster from the beginning of games.

Bayern's win rate increased from 62.5 per cent without Musiala in their side in the Bundesliga last term to 73.1 per cent with him, while their average goals for climbed from 2.5 to 3.0, and their passing accuracy in the final third went from 72.4 to 74.1.

Not so much a lucky omen, but a player who is clearly already good enough to make a telling impact on even the biggest sides.

 

Marcus Thuram (France and Borussia Monchengladbach)

No nation boasts a collection of forwards quite like France, who can call upon Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Wissam Ben Yedder, Thomas Lemar, Kingsley Coman, Olivier Giroud and the returning Karim Benzema.

What chance does Borussia Monchengladbach forward Thuram have, then, of ousting any of those players from the side?

While the 23-year-old may not be used as a regular starter, he will provide an intriguing option for spoiled-for-choice head coach Didier Deschamps to choose from off the bench for group games against Germany, Portugal and Hungary.

Thuram, the son of World Cup winner Lilian, certainly knows how to make the most of his minutes on the field and has the ability to score via a range of different ways.

All eight of his Bundesliga goals last term were scored inside the box, but they were shared between his right foot (three), left foot (two), head (two) and other means (one).

In fact, he was one of just nine forwards to start 20 games or fewer in Europe's top five leagues last season and still score more than once with his right foot.

 

Aleksandr Golovin (Russia and Monaco)

Monaco midfielder Golovin was plagued by injuries and illness in 2020-21 but still played a starring role in Monaco's unlikely Ligue 1 title bid that went down to the final game.

The 25-year-old found the net five times and set up nine more in 21 appearances, three of those goals coming in one game against Nimes in early February.

That made Golovin the first Russian to score a hat-trick in Europe's top five leagues since ex-Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in 2012.

He is undoubtedly the key creative talent in the Russia squad and, in a group that contains a defensively-strong Denmark and Belgium, plus Finland, it will likely be the Monaco man that holds the key to his side's hopes of progression.

His effectiveness with set-piece deliveries could be particularly vital.

 

 

Yusuf Yazici (Turkey and Lille)

Lille's incredible Ligue 1 triumph was down to a collective effort, but a few players certainly stood out for the shock title winners.

Look no further than breakthrough star Yazici, whose return of a goal every 153.71 minutes was the fourth best of any midfielder with at least five goals in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, trailing just Joe Willock, Lars Stindl and Musiala.

The 24-year-old scored seven league goals in total and netted the same amount in the Europa League, where Lille made it to the knockout stages before being eliminated by Ajax.

That includes a couple of three-goal hauls in the group stage as he became the first player to score an away hat-trick against Milan in all competitions since Rivaldo in October 2000 for Barcelona.

With experience of scoring in big matches and winning silverware with rank outsiders, Yazici will now be looking to guide many people's dark horses Turkey deep into Euro 2020.

 

Ryan Gravenberch (Netherlands and Ajax)

A member of the Netherlands' Under-17s European Championship-winning squad in 2018, Gravenberch has gone from strength to strength in the three years since and is now a regular in Ajax's central midfield.

Gravenberch also has two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Cups to his name to go with that age-grade continental triumph, all before he even turned 19 last month.

The teenage talent, another product of Ajax's fabled academy, made his senior international debut earlier this year and has a chance of starting – or at least playing a prominent part in – the Oranje's quest for a second European Championship crown.

If nothing else, Gravenberch will certainly bring a level of calmness to the Dutch midfield.

He had a pass accuracy rate of 87.21 per cent in the Eredivisie last season – the only midfielders younger in Europe's top five leagues to play 20 or more times with a better return were Pedri (87.66) and Lucas Gourna-Douath (87.29). 

Julian Nagelsmann will have "a lot of fun" with the quality at his disposal as Bayern Munich coach, according to his predecessor Hansi Flick.

Nagelsmann will replace Flick at Bayern ahead of next season, after two encouraging years at RB Leipzig.

Flick confirmed his impending departure from Bayern in April. He took over from Niko Kovac – initially on an interim basis – in November 2019 and will leave the club having won two Bundesliga titles, the Champions League, the DFL-Supercup, the DFB Pokal, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

The 56-year-old's next position will be as head coach of the German national team; he will succeed Joachim Low after Euro 2020.

And Flick promised his successor at Bayern will have much joy taking charge of such a talented squad.

"I think Julian Nagelsmann will have a lot of fun with this team because it is of enormous quality and a great attitude," Flick told Bayern's official media channels.

"I wrote that to him too. It's a top team that knows what's important. And here you have to support them as a trainer."

It is not just Flick who will be leaving Bayern.

There is something of a changing of the guard ahead of next season, with CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and club stalwarts Javi Martinez, Jerome Boateng and David Alaba also departing – the latter having agreed to join Real Madrid.

Nagelsmann will have to contend with the fact Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski – who broke Gerd Muller's long-standing Bundesliga record of 40 goals in a single season – and Manuel Neuer are approaching the twilight of their respective careers, yet Flick hailed the performances of the three Bayern greats.

"Thomas [Muller] is a phenomenon for me," Flick said.

"He doesn't always get everything right in the game, but he brings you as a coach significantly more moments of joy than those in which you are upset about him – for example, when he goes out to the corner again, where he shouldn't be, loses the ball, and then a counter-attack emerges. 

"Sometimes I almost had to laugh and had the feeling that he was doing this on purpose to annoy me a little and get the adrenaline going again. But he means so much for the team and this club, someone like him will never be around again. What he has achieved in his career is unique."

Muller, along with Lewandowski, Neuer, Alaba and Joshua Kimmich, who has developed into a world class central midfielder, were five players Flick could always count on.

"For me and for all coaches, the central axis is the decisive element," he added. "And there has been nothing better in the world in the past two years. 

"I never really want to single someone out of my team because we can only achieve our goals together, but I could always rely on these five players 100 per cent, it was pure joy."

Bayern played 86 games under Flick, winning 70 and losing just seven, while only one of their nine draws finished goalless.

Flick's Bayern kept 34 clean sheets and scored 255 goals, averaging one every 30.4 minutes and outscoring their expected goals tally of 215.95, racking up 1,545 shots – the third-highest total in all competitions by a team from Europe's top five leagues, behind Manchester City (1,694) and Manchester United (1,557), though both of those Premier League sides played at least 17 more matches over the time in question.

Indeed, Bayern's goal tally under Flick makes them the top scorers from Europe's top five divisions in all competitions since he took charge, with Pep Guardiola's City (229) some way behind in second.

Serge Gnabry believes he could be the answer to Germany's goalscoring problem at Euro 2020.

The Bayern Munich forward has spent most of his career in wide roles, but coach Joachim Low – who will step down after the tournament – has selected just two strikers in his squad.

That suggests the coach is looking for others to make themselves available for central attacking duties, and the likes of Gnabry and Kai Havertz could be made for the job.

Havertz's Chelsea team-mate Timo Werner and Monaco forward Kevin Volland are the two frontline strikers at Low's disposal.

Germany were thrashed 6-0 by Spain last November in the Nations League, and although they began their World Cup qualifying campaign in March with wins over Iceland and Romania, a subsequent defeat to North Macedonia pointed to shortcomings.

On Wednesday they will tackle Denmark in a friendly in Innsbruck, a penultimate game before Germany launch their Euro 2020 campaign with a June 15 clash against France in Munich.

"I don't know yet whether I'll play on the wing or in the middle," Gnabry said in a pre-game news conference. "I haven't had a concrete conversation with the national coach.

"I'll do my best when I play in the centre and imitate the striker. But we have so much potential on the offensive that it doesn't really matter who is up front."

Gnabry suggested he enjoyed the central role because it inflated his chances of personal glory.

"Because you're closer to the goal, that's the only reason," Gnabry said. "I just love to score goals."

The former Arsenal player warned, however: "I'm not a [Robert] Lewandowski or [Erling] Haaland."

Gnabry scored just 11 goals for Bayern in the season just ended, after a 23-goal campaign in 2019-20, while Werner netted 12 for Chelsea and Volland hit the back of the net 18 times.

Gnabry's goals came at a healthy rate of one every 216.55 minutes, behind Volland (one every 177.11 minutes) but well ahead of Werner (one every 318.83 minutes).

Germany's Champions League finalists are not available for the Denmark game, meaning Low must get by without Havertz, Werner, Antonio Rudiger and Ilkay Gundogan.

Toni Kroos, Jamal Musiala and Leon Goretzka are also expected to be absent, the coach seeing his 26-man squad depleted.

Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels should win their first caps since November 2018, having been frozen out over the last two and a half years as Low attempted to give his team a younger look.

The coach went cap in hand to both recently, beckoning them back into his squad, and the experienced pair accepted the invitation.

Asked about Bayern team-mate Muller, Gnabry said: "He absolutely deserves it. He is incredibly effective and particularly valuable in terms of motivation. It's good to have him here."

Muller was one of only five players from Europe's top five leagues to score at least 15 goals and have at least 15 assists across all competitions in the 2020-21 season.

He scored 15 times and set up 19 goals, with the others in that exclusive club being Tottenham's Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes and Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho.

Hummels also had a stellar season in defence for Dortmund. He is 32 and Muller is 31, and Gnabry sees their experience and leadership qualities as being a major boon for Die Mannschaft.

"It's always good to have leaders on your team," Gnabry said. "If we all pull together, we will be successful."

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will retire as Bayern Munich chief executive and Oliver Kahn will replace him on July 1.

Bayern and Germany legend Rummenigge spent 10 years with the Bundesliga champions as a player and was appointed as a vice president of the Bavarian giants back in 1991.

Rummenigge took over as chairman in 2002 and oversaw a hugely successful spell in the history of one of the biggest clubs in the world.

The 65-year-old was contracted until the end of the year, but has decided to step down and former Bayern goalkeeper Kahn will be his successor.

Rummenigge told the club's official website: "It is the strategically most sensible and logical point in time. It's the end of the financial year, and a new section begins with a new team of coaches. 

"Oliver Kahn as the new CEO should be responsible for the new season right from the start – also in the interests of the people involved and thus in the interests of the future of FC Bayern. 

"I said two years ago that we were planning a prudent transition, and that is now finally being made. That's how it should be."

Bayern president and supervisory board chairman Herbert Hainer paid tribute to the long-serving Rummenigge.

He said: "I would like to thank Karl-Heinz Rummenigge from the bottom of my heart on behalf of the association and the supervisory board.

"Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had a major impact on FC Bayern, already as a striker, but above all after the end of his active career, initially as vice president and from 2002 as chairman of the Board. 

"Together with Uli Hoeness, he made FC Bayern one of the best addresses in top international football - both athletically and economically. It was a pleasure and honour for me and all of us to have worked with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. 

"As soon as the Corona situation allows, we will officially say goodbye to him at FC Bayern. The name Karl-Heinz Rummenigge will always be closely associated with FC Bayern."

Hainer is in no doubt Kahn is the right man to replace Rummenigge.

He said: "Oliver Kahn will take over responsibility at the head of FC Bayern München AG as early as July 1st. 

"After his extremely successful professional career and his time as an entrepreneur, he has now been intensively involved in the board of directors of FC Bayern München AG for a year and a half. 

"He was already involved in the decisive decisions for the future of FC Bayern and set the course for the next few years with the FC Bayern AHEAD strategy project. We are all convinced that Oliver Kahn is the right man to successfully shape the future of FC Bayern Munchen AG. "

Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge?

Lukaku's first taste of English football was with Chelsea between 2011-14.

He could be set for a Chelsea return amid doubts over his Inter future.

 

TOP STORY – TUCHEL WANTS LUKAKU

Chelsea are planning a move for Inter star Romelu Lukaku, according to The Guardian.

Lukaku, who joined the Blues in 2011 before leaving in 2014, is reportedly considering his future after Antonio Conte quit Inter amid the Serie A champions' troubled financial situation.

Inter quartet Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Achraf Hakimi – linked with Paris Saint-Germain – and Alessandro Bastoni could be sold by the Nerazzurri.

Chelsea are now eyeing a reunion with Real Madrid and Barcelona target Lukaku after winning the Champions League, while Tottenham's Harry Kane and Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland are also on their radar.

 

ROUND-UP

Gianluigi Donnarumma is prepared to join Juventus on a worse contract than he rejected at Milan, reports Corriere dello Sport. Donnarumma is available on a free transfer and the Italy international has been linked with Barca, Manchester United and PSG. Mundo Deportivo says Barca consider Donnarumma a good market opportunity.

- Bild reports Florian Neuhaus will remain at Borussia Monchengladbach, despite interest from Bayern Munich.

Olivier Giroud will join Milan as a free agent from Chelsea, claims Calciomercato. Giroud is available after his contract was not renewed at Stamford Bridge.

- Lille's Christophe Galtier is the latest candidate to replace head coach Simone Inzaghi at Lazio, joining Maurizio Sarri, Andre Villas-Boas and Sinisa Mihajlovic, according to Tuttomercato. Inzaghi is poised to succeed Conte at Inter.

What does the future hold for Achraf Hakimi?

In his first season with Inter, the Morocco international claimed the Scudetto.

However, his time in Milan could already be coming to an end.

 

TOP STORY – HAKIMI TO PSG?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign star Inter full-back Achraf Hakimi, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Inter won the Serie A in 2020-21 but find themselves in a tough financial situation due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with head coach Antonio Conte already opting to depart.

Hakimi, Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Alessandro Bastoni could reportedly be sold to ease some of the economic pressure at San Siro.

PSG are believed to be interested, though Inter are demanding more than €60million for the 22-year-old, who only joined from Real Madrid at the start of the season.

Madrid have the right of first refusal and can match any offer for their former defender, while Bayern Munich and Chelsea have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail claims Arsenal are plotting a shock bid for Manchester City star Raheem Sterling. The England international found himself out of Pep Guardiola's starting XI at times in 2020-21. Madrid and Barca have been previously linked.

Paul Pogba remains a dream signing for Juventus, reports Calciomercato. Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli and Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez have emerged as targets for Juve, though the Bianconeri are still keen on Manchester United star Pogba, though Udinese's Rodrigo De Paul is an alternative.

- Romano says Barca are open to selling Philippe Coutinho, though Arsenal are not interested in the former Liverpool attacker.

Lionel Messi's contract extension is a priority for Barca before any new signings are made, according to the front page of Saturday's Mundo Deportivo. Barca have been tipped to bring in Lyon captain Memphis Depay, Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia on free transfers. Gianluigi Donnarumma – another free agent option as his Milan contract expires – is also a possible recruit.

- According to Romano and widespread reports in Italy, Luciano Spalletti has agreed to replace Gennaro Gattuso as Napoli head coach.

David Alaba is eagerly awaiting his Real Madrid debut after swapping Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for Los Blancos.

Madrid – looking for a new head coach following Zinedine Zidane's departure – confirmed the arrival of Alaba on a free transfer upon the expiry of his Bayern contract, the Austria star signing a five-year deal at the LaLiga giants.

Following Friday's confirmation, Alaba took to social media to talk up his move from Munich to the Spanish capital after winning 27 trophies with Bayern.

"I leave one special club for another," the 28-year-old Austria international Alaba wrote via Twitter.

"After so many years in Munich, I'll take on this new challenge and do my best to continue the history of this special club.

"I can't wait to play my first game in this legendary white shirt, in front of all of you, the Real Madrid fans.

"I'm convinced that this experience will be full of success."

Alaba made his debut in a DFB-Pokal meeting with Greuther Furth in February 2010, becoming the club's youngest player in history at the time and setting up a goal for Franck Ribery within a minute of coming on.

The Austrian was 17 years, seven months and 18 days old when he made his debut, but Jamal Musiala is now Bayern's youngest debutant.

Alaba has gone on to make 448 appearances for the Bavarian giants, scoring 35 goals and supplying 47 assists in all competitions. 

He has won 27 trophies with Bayern, lifting the Bundesliga title 10 times and winning the Champions League twice – both of those European successes forming part of trebles.  

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