Kalidou Koulibaly's future remains a talking point and Liverpool are reportedly in "pole position" to sign the Napoli defender.

Koulibaly, 28, has been linked with a move amid reported interest from several of Europe's biggest clubs.

And it seems a Koulibaly-Virgil van Dijk central defensive pairing is getting closer at Anfield.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL IN 'POLE POSITION' TO SIGN KOULIBALY

Liverpool are in pole position to sign Koulibaly after Paris Saint-Germain withdrew their interest, according to Le 10 Sport.

With Manchester United having also reportedly withdrawn from the race, Jurgen Klopp's side and Newcastle United – pending takeover – could land the defender.

Koulibaly is contracted at Napoli until 2023 and it will reportedly take an offer of £88.4million (€100m) to land the defender.

ROUND-UP

- PSG do seemingly want to hold onto Mauro Icardi beyond the end of his loan from Inter. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports PSG are willing to offer Julian Draxler as part of a deal for Icardi, who joined with a €70m purchase option.

- Staying at PSG and the Ligue 1 giants are looking to sign Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali, according to Le 10 Sport. Tonali has been linked heavily with a move to Juventus.

- t seemed Barcelona and Juventus were preparing for a swap deal. But Goal reports an exchange involving Barca midfielder Arthur and Juventus' Miralem Pjanic is off, with the LaLiga giants also wanting money for the 23-year-old Brazil international.

- Dries Mertens is drawing plenty of attention with his contract at Napoli expiring at the end of the season. Mundo Deportivo reports PSG have joined Atletico Madrid, Inter and Chelsea in a fight for the forward.

- Also with Inter, the Serie A club are still considering forward Jonathan David, according to CalcioMercato. David, 20, has scored 23 goals in 40 games for Gent this season.

- With his loan deal at Roma ending, Chris Smalling looks set to return to Manchester United. Corriere dello Sport reports Roma are considering Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren and Barcelona's Jean-Clair Todibo, who is on loan at Schalke, to replace Smalling.

Former Juventus, Milan and Italy striker Alessandro Matri has announced his retirement from professional football.

Matri, 35, last September joined Brescia on loan from Sassuolo for their first season back in Serie A but made just eight appearances – all as a substitute – before the deal was terminated by mutual consent in January.

Sassuolo released the veteran striker from his contract following the disappointing stint at Brescia, and with a lack of interesting offers thereafter he has decided to hang up his boots.

"I can say that I made my dreams come true. When I started this sport, I didn't think I would have a career like I did and would win three league titles," Matri told Sky Sport Italia.

"I can't complain about how it went, but now I'm at the end of the road. I made the decision after seeing how the first six months went with Brescia.

"I lost some motivation and didn't feel good on the pitch. I no longer felt like playing football and it's not in my character to stay at a club where I cannot give what is needed.

"After I was released, I didn't receive many offers and I wasn't convinced by them.

"I preferred avoiding making a fool of myself. I will miss my life as a footballer, but only a big offer could get me going again."

Matri made his Serie A debut as an 18-year-old at Milan in May 2003 and spent seasons on loan at third-tier sides Prato and Lumezzane before a year at Rimini in Serie B.

He left San Siro for Cagliari in 2007 and was signed by Juve after an impressive start to the 2010-11 season saw him score 11 times in 22 league outings.

Matri found the back of the net in Serie A on 10 occasions in 2011-12 as Juve won their first Scudetto since the Calciopoli scandal and their consequent relegation to Serie B.

It was the first of three league titles Matri won at Juve, where he also lifted the Supercoppa Italiana twice and scored an extra-time winner in the 2014-15 Coppa Italia final against Lazio.

The Coppa triumph came while back in Turin on loan from Milan, who he struggled to make an impact with upon his return to San Siro in 2013.

He also had loan spells at Fiorentina, Genoa and Lazio before joining Sassuolo in 2016.

Matri made seven appearances for Italy – all in friendlies – and scored one goal.

Francesco Totti backed Sandro Tonali to become one of the world's best midfielders similar to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Daniele De Rossi.

Brescia midfielder Tonali, 19, is linked with some of Europe's biggest clubs, having made his Italy debut late last year.

Barcelona, Juventus, Inter and Milan are reportedly interested in the midfielder, who has been compared to Italy great Andrea Pirlo.

Totti, an Italy and Roma great, believes Tonali will develop into one of the world's best.

"He will become one of the strongest central midfielders in the world, like Gerrard, De Rossi or Lampard," he told TV presenter Paolo Bonolis during an Instagram Live chat on Thursday.

"He's a mix between Pirlo and [Gennaro] Gattuso too. He has everything a player can have.

"He has an incredible change of pace, he's technically good and he's always calm, both in important games and in easy games."

Timo Werner does not have a shortage of suitors.

The RB Leipzig forward and Germany international is reportedly wanted in his homeland, England, Spain and Italy.

However, Werner reportedly only has his eyes on one team in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – WERNER WANTS TO JOIN LIVERPOOL

Timo Werner is not interested in joining Bayern Munich as the RB Leipzig star wants to team up with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, according to BILD.

Werner is wanted by Bundesliga champions Bayern, who have targeted the Germany international previously.

But Werner – also linked to Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter – is prioritising a Liverpool transfer.

ROUND-UP

United have offered Jadon Sancho the famous number seven jersey as they try to prise the Borussia Dortmund sensation to Old Trafford, reports The Mirror. Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid have also been linked to the England international.

- Calciomercato says Juventus and Barca are continuing to negotiate a deal that would see Miralem Pjanic and Arthur swap clubs.

Barca and Manchester City are in advanced talks over a swap deal. SPORT says the two clubs are close to reaching an agreement that would see Nelson Semedo join City, with Joao Cancelo moving in the opposite direction.

Milan are dreaming of signing Brescia star Sandro Tonali, according to Calciomercato. With Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura set to leave, the Rossoneri are eyeing Tonali – who has been linked to the likes of Barca, United, City, Juve and Inter. Rennes midfielder and Madrid target Eduardo Camavinga and Arsenal's Lucas Torreira are also on the list.

- Will Lautaro Martinez make the move to Barca? SportMediaset claims Inter want €90million plus two players – Arturo Vidal permanently and Antoine Griezmann on loan.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Sebastian Giovinco and Alex Teixeira are among the potential signings being targeted by Vasco da Gama presidential candidate Luiz Roberto Leven Siano.

High-profile additions to the playing staff are among a number of ambitious proposals Leven, who hopes to gain control of the club at elections planned for November, has put forward to turn around the fortunes of a club that has struggled to pay wages this year.

As part of the 'Somamos' project he also hopes to bring in US$400million in six years, redevelop the Sao Januario and raise the capacity to 55,000, increase the membership base to record-breaking levels and purchase clubs in Europe and China to expand the Vasco brand.

Leven claims to have been working with Italian businessman and sporting director Fabio Cordella as well as agent Mino Raiola, whose clients include Ibrahimovic and Balotelli.

"We are negotiating, trying to make the Vasco of our dreams," Leven said in an interview with FOXSports.com.br.

"Balotelli and Ibrahimovic have the same agent. Ibrahimovic would be a more daring project.

"But you don't have to think about which great player will be hired, but that we will bring in great players. If it's not one, it will be another."

Former Manchester City and Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure was linked with a switch to Botafogo that did not come to fruition, but Leven suggested Vasco stand a chance of securing a deal for the former Ivory Coast international.

"In football there are no coincidences. If [Toure] didn't go to Botafogo, it was because someone stopped him. Maybe he's close to me," he said.

A move to return Jiangsu Suning forward Teixeira to Vasco reportedly hit a stumbling block, while Al Hilal's Giovinco is understood to be another target for the club.

Leven has also promised to bring Brazil international Souza back to the club.

"If we have players at the level of Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Giovinco, Alex Teixeira and Souza, we are a competitive team," added Leven.

Aside from in the Bundesliga, the resumption of football in Europe's top five leagues still appears some way off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Players have had plenty of time to analyse their performances this season and we have previously used Opta data to examine some of the best attacking and passing numbers from 2019-20. Now it's the turn of the defence.

We have analysed nine metrics for defenders to have featured in at least 10 league games this season, thereby giving us a good summary of those who have led the way at the back.

The metrics include success rates in duels, tackling and aerial challenges, and for these we have only included players who have completed 20 actions in each category, which accounts to two per game.

The below therefore provides a good indication of who has been excelling in defence. There are some familiar names, but also others you might not be expecting...

THE BEST DEFENDING STATS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most tackles won: Kingsley Ehizibue (47)
Best tackle success: Rafael Czichos (90.63 per cent)
Most duels won: Christopher Lenz (180)
Best duel success: Salif Sane (73.08 per cent)
Most aerials won: Robin Koch (88)
Best aerial success: Salif Sane (87.76 per cent)
Most clearances: Dedryck Boyata (120)
Most interceptions: Nico Elvedi (58)
Most blocks: Dedryck Boyata (24)

LALIGA:

Most tackles won: Marc Cucurella (41)
Best tackle success: Jaume Costa (84 per cent)
Most duels won: Pervis Estupinan (181)
Best duel success: Jose Gimenez (72.5 per cent)
Most aerials won: David Garcia (109)
Best aerial success: David Garcia (77.3 per cent)
Most clearances: Mohammed Salisu (136)
Most interceptions: Kiko Olivas and Unai Bustinza (48)
Most blocks: Gabriel Paulista (26)

LIGUE 1:

Most tackles won: Issiaga Sylla and Fabien Centonze (49)
Best tackle success: Bafode Diakite (82.61 per cent)
Most duels won: Issiaga Sylla (207)
Best duel success: Presnel Kimpembe (68.85 per cent)
Most aerials won: Pablo (114)
Best aerial success: Leo Dubois (76.92 per cent)
Most clearances: Damien da Silva (138)
Most interceptions: Issiaga Sylla (67)
Most blocks: Jason Denayer (29)

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most tackles won: Ricardo Pereira (68)
Best tackle success: Serge Aurier (78.38 per cent)
Most duels won: Ricardo Pereira (256)
Best duel success: Virgil van Dijk (74.9 per cent)
Most aerials won: James Tarkowski (145)
Best aerial success: Bernardo (83.33 per cent)
Most clearances: Jan Bednarek (158)
Most interceptions: Diego Rico (62)
Most blocks: James Tarkowski and Tyrone Mings (37)

SERIE A:

Most tackles won: Stefano Sabelli (36)
Best tackle success: Samir (80 per cent)
Most duels won: Stefano Sabelli (176)
Best duel success: Bruno Alves (78.38 per cent)
Most aerials won: Amir Rrahmani (145)
Best aerial success: Bruno Alves (87.18 per cent)
Most clearances: Jhon Chancellor (134)
Most interceptions: Armando Izzo (58)
Most blocks: Andrea Cistana (34)

AND THE TOP NINE:

Most tackles won: Ricardo Pereira (68)
Best tackle success: Rafael Czichos (90.63 per cent)
Most duels won: Ricardo Pereira (256)
Best duel success: Bruno Alves (78.38 per cent)
Most aerials won: James Tarkowski and Amir Rrahmani (145)
Best aerial success: Salif Sane (87.76 per cent)
Most clearances: Jan Bednarek (158)
Most interceptions: Issiaga Sylla (67)
Most blocks: James Tarkowski and Tyrone Mings (37)

After months and months of speculation, Jadon Sancho's future could be resolved.

The 20-year-old attacker has been tipped to return to England, having left Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017.

And City's neighbours are reportedly set to snap up the in-demand sensation.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED THINK THEY'VE WON SANCHO RACE

Borussia Dortmund's Sancho to Manchester United is a done deal, according to The Sun.

England star Sancho has been heavily linked to United, as well as Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid following his exploits for Dortmund.

However, United believe they have won the race for Sancho after months of secret talks, with just an agreement of a fee with Dortmund remaining.

ROUND-UP

- Sport reports Paris Saint-Germain are ready to offer Neymar a salary worth €38million if he stays at the Ligue 1 champions amid links to former club Barcelona.

Sandro Tonali is a real target for Milan, claims Calciomercato. The Brescia star has attracted interest from Serie A champions Juventus, Inter, PSG, Manchester City and others. But Tonali is Milan's big transfer goal as the Rossoneri board tries to rebuild around the 19-year-old.

Mauro Icardi to Napoli and Arkadiusz Milik to Juve? FCInterNews.it says Napoli are back in the hunt to sign Icardi, who is on loan at PSG from Inter. The Argentina forward has been heavily linked to Juve but he could join Napoli if Milik moves to Turin. The front page of Tuttosport also claims Federico Bernardeschi leaving Juve for Napoli could be the key in Milik's future.

Inter are interested in signing RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner if Lautaro Martinez swaps the Nerazzurri for Barca, reports Calciomercato. Liverpool and Bayern Munich have also been linked to Werner.

- AS Diario says Real Madrid are ready to sell Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. Colombian midfielder James has been linked to United and Juve. Madrid are also prepared to part with Lucas Vazquez, Mariano Diaz, Alvaro Odriozola and Nacho Fernandez.

Arsenal and United have set their sights on Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele, according to Sport. Dembele has struggled for form and fitness at Camp Nou and the Frenchman has reportedly asked Anthony Martial about playing for United.

Brescia president Massimo Cellino confirmed he has tested positive for coronavirus.

Italy has been hit particularly seriously by the COVID-19 pandemic, recording almost 176,000 positive tests and 23,227 deaths, which is second only to the United States.

The Lombardy region, where Brescia is situated, was at the centre of the outbreak in Italy and swiftly put on lockdown, but the virus has continued to wreak havoc.

Testing in Lombardy over the past few weeks had been ramped up and results appeared to show many people contracted the virus without showing symptoms.

Media reports on Saturday suggested Cellino had been one of those to test positive and he later confirmed this to be case.

"After two weeks in quarantine in Cagliari, I went to the hospital to check [if I had the virus]," he is quoted as telling La Repubblica.

"It turned out my daughter had the virus, but my son did not, and then I had it instead. I felt excessive fatigue and severe pain in my bones."

Italian football remains on hiatus indefinitely, though May 4 has been suggested as a potential date for teams to begin training, with the government banning a return before then.

Brescia president Massimo Cellino would like to see Sandro Tonali join Roma or Napoli but will be happy as long as he stays in Serie A.

Described by Andrea Pirlo as the best midfielder in Serie A, 19-year-old Tonali has been linked with a host of major clubs since breaking into the Brescia team in Serie B.

Juventus and Inter have been linked with moves for the player, who already has three senior caps for Italy despite playing just 23 times in the top-flight.

Cellino insists he will not stand in Tonali's way if he says he wants to leave and even suggested a transfer could have been arranged were it not for the chaos brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, before which Brescia looked destined to be relegated.

He told Tuttosport: "In January, a very important team came to me telling me they wanted Tonali. I didn't get into numbers, but just one question: 'Would you let him play straight away in the Champions League?'

"[They said] 'We'd leave him in Brescia until the end of the season'. I said to them, 'Thanks, but I'll keep him and we'll talk about it in July'.

"In February, I received another very important request and I didn't tell Tonali anything, with the intention of giving him a nice surprise in June. I can't say the name of the team. Unfortunately, coronavirus has changed everything."

He continued: "My dream would be to keep Tonali. I'd jump through hoops, but I have a deal with Sandro, who's a great boy. He knows that, when he asks me to leave, I'll let him go.

"I won't make it about the price – it's important he chooses from the heart. And it's only he who decides.

"Tonali is a cold, northern boy, but inside he's sentimental. That's why, as I'm a romantic, I'd like to see him at Roma or Napoli. But it'll be difficult for that to happen.

"I'd prefer him to stay in Italy, anyway."

When pressed on whether he could go to either Juventus or Inter, Cellino added: "It will depend on Tonali. He'll choose.

"But I hope he stays in Italy and gets to play. He should become an [Andres] Iniesta."

Brescia forward Mario Balotelli revealed he would love to play for Serie A side Napoli.

Balotelli joined hometown club Brescia in August last year, but was linked with a move to Napoli.

The former AC Milan, Inter and Liverpool forward said he tried to join Napoli and suggested he would still like a move to the Stadio San Paolo.

"I tried it [to join Napoli]," Balotelli told Fabio Cannavaro during an Instagram Live chat on Monday.

"I would have a great time in Naples. I would make my daughter head ultra. She supports Napoli.

"I sing to her, 'Brescia, Brescia', but she continues to support Napoli. She was very happy when I took her to the San Paolo, she was hypnotised.

"It is always a good emotion to enter San Paolo, although in my opinion the most beautiful stadium is San Siro."

Balotelli had scored five goals in 19 Serie A games this season when the campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A 36-time Italy international, Balotelli, 29, last played for the national team in 2018 and said while he wanted a return, he respected coach Roberto Mancini.

"I have a special relationship with him," he said.

"I am happy if you feel you don't have to call me up for the national team because I know that if you were to call me up, you wouldn't do it to make me sit on the bench.

"It is right that you call who deserves it the most. The day I deserve it, I will be there and play."

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

It was in the modest surroundings of Avellino's Stadio Partenio-Adriano Lombardi that the next great hope of Italian football was introduced to professional football in August 2017.

The 17-year-old Sandro Tonali emerged as a second-half substitute for Brescia, coming into the side to help shore up the midfield a few minutes after Emanuele Ndoj was sent off.

Brescia were 1-0 up when he came on in the 70th minute. They went on to lose 2-1 – a "half disaster", he called it.

Tonali wasn't seen again in Brescia's first team until January, but since then he has barely been out of the side and established himself as one of Europe's most talked-about teenagers.

Now an Italy international – having first been called up before even playing in Serie A – Tonali looks destined to move on this year, with Brescia facing relegation back to Serie B.

After the coronavirus pandemic passes, 2020 could be the year that makes or breaks this silky midfielder's chances of reaching the top.

"A 50-year-old's brain"

Many young players can be very eager to accelerate their careers too quickly. That big leap to an elite club is sometimes taken too soon and the consequences can have ramifications for the rest of the player's career.

Tonali was a regular in the Brescia team at 17. After missing out on promotion in that first season, he stayed and enjoyed a full campaign of first team football in Serie B, establishing himself and developing as the team won promotion.

Again, the urge to join a bigger club might have proven too great for many, but Tonali stayed put and will have a season of top-level football under his belt by the time 2020-21 rolls around. It's unlikely he'll move down a division again, so, finally, it may well be the right time to take the next step.

Maturity. This is a label many have attached to Tonali, and that attitude is visible on the pitch as well, possessing great awareness and composure – you will rarely see petulance.

"The impressive thing, which I have not seen in other children, was his way of acting as an adult: very serious, taciturn, introverted," a former teacher of his once told Sky Italia.

Roberto Boscaglia, the coach who gave Tonali his debut, had a similar appraisal of the teenager in 2018, telling Radio Lo Sport: "He was a boy with a personality and a strength in fearful legs, and above all with a brain of a 50-year-old in the body of an 18-year-old."

The 'next Pirlo'?

"Blame the hair, I should cut it," Tonali said to Gazzetta dello Sport last year when asked about the comparisons to Andrea Pirlo that have become synonymous with him. "Andrea is unreachable. Like [Steven] Gerrard, the most dynamic, or [Luka] Modric, unique in style. I see myself in [Gennaro] Gattuso."

Long-locked, blessed with wonderful technique, a central midfielder and schooled at Brescia – it's easy to see how the Pirlo comparisons started.

But he is seemingly wise to distance himself from such comments. After all, that tag has rarely helped any of the midfielders it was previously reserved for, whether that's Luca Cigarini, Andrea Poli or Manuel Locatelli.

While the comparison is obvious in theory, it's clear how Tonali differs from Pirlo, who was an out-and-out playmaker and conducted almost everything his teams did.

Perhaps that's where his career will end up, but at the moment Tonali is no Pirlo, despite what the romanticists want.

Pirlo v Tonali

While it's obviously important to remember Tonali's data is collected over a much shorter period, at the same time it helps highlight just how good Pirlo was.

He was an era-defining playmaker and dictated matches unlike almost any other player on the planet during his career – perhaps bar Xavi.

Between the start of 2004-05 – when Opta records began – and when he left Juventus in 2015, Pirlo had 94 touches and 75 passes per Serie A match on average. This season, Tonali is averaging 60 touches and 39 passes.

The teams Pirlo played in generally dominated possession, whereas Brescia cannot do that – Tonali is generally tasked with aiding his side in transitions and with more direct passes, springing counters.

This potentially explains why his pass accuracy in his own half is 82 per cent and in the opposing half it is 68. By comparison, Pirlo's respective figures are 95 per cent and 82 per cent, significantly better than Tonali's.

Pirlo's accuracy with passes ending in the final third (74 per cent) is also much higher than his potential heir (64 per cent).

But don't let such facts trick you into suggesting Pirlo's excellent passing accuracy means he just played the ball simply all the time – he averaged 2.3 chances created per match in the qualifying time period, showing he dictated and crafted. Putting that into context, Tonali is averaging 2.1 every game this season, his total 48 chances created being the ninth highest in Serie A.

Where Tonali does come out on top, however, is dribbling. He has remarkable ability with the ball at his feet, beating his man with 76 per cent success this term. Only Ismael Bennacer (81 per cent) has a better completion rate of players with more than 35 attempts – Pirlo's average was 62 per cent.

There's no doubt Tonali is a fine prospect and still very young, but the data supports those who insist he's a significantly different player to Pirlo at the moment. A move to a better team, where he will be supported by higher-quality players, could elevate Tonali to another level, and maybe he'll adapt to a more orchestrative role. But to suggest he will and also reach Pirlo's level would be widely speculative at this point.

Brescia president Massimo Cellino has criticised Lazio counterpart Claudio Lotito's desire to resume the Serie A campaign – reiterating his stance that he will not let his team play again this season.

Serie A is on hiatus as Italy remains on lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Italian government has extended its current strict restrictions on movement and outdoor activities until May 3, although reports in the country this week suggested some clubs are keen to return to training, resume playing by the end of the month and conclude 2019-20 in July.

Brescia's Lombardy region is the hardest hit in Italy by COVID-19 and Cellino threatened to forfeit games earlier this month when the prospect of his club resuming their fixtures was mooted.

Lazio are a point behind champions Juventus having launched a surprise title challenge but Cellino urged Lotito – who has declared Simone Inzaghi's squad to be "ready and waiting" to play - to look at the bigger picture.

"I see too much selfishness and too many people trying to take advantage of this situation," he told Giornale di Brescia.

"Lotito wants to get back on the pitch? I listen only to those who deserve to be listened to. I don't even know if Lotito represents Lazio, since he is only president of their board of directors.

"Seriously, let them take a walk around Brescia and see what’s happening here. I don't want any advantages and I'm not afraid of relegation, because I know the club won’t go bankrupt and we’ll earn our place back in Serie A."

Cellino added: "I reiterate that if there are games again, Brescia will not play.

"This is not a provocation. They can dock points if they want, I take all responsibility."

Brescia lie bottom of Serie A, nine points from safety having won four and lost 18 of 26 matches.

Harry Kane's future continues to make headlines.

Since saying he would not stay at Tottenham "for the sake of it" in his pursuit of silverware, Kane has been linked to Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Now, Spurs have reportedly named their fee for the England international.

 

TOP STORY – TOTTENHAM SET KANE PRICE

Tottenham will allow star striker Harry Kane to leave for £200million, according to the Daily Mail.

Kane has been heavily linked to Premier League rivals Manchester United and LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

Spurs are reportedly keen on some extra funds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ROUND-UP

Lautaro Martinez to Barcelona? Not necessarily. The Sun claims Manchester City are favourites to sign the Inter forward, despite the Argentina international being tipped to move to Camp Nou.

- Fabrizio Romano says Juventus will consider moving for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic if they are unsuccessful in their pursuit of United star Paul Pogba. Brescia's Sandro Tonali and Gaetano Castrovilli of Fiorentina are also on the list.

Barca are desperate to strengthen their squad. Martinez is the priority up front for the LaLiga champions, but Mundo Deportivo says they want more. Barca are eyeing a midfielder, with Napoli star Fabian Ruiz and Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele being considered. The Catalan giants are also looking for a central defender and have been linked to City centre-back Aymeric Laporte, Dayot Upamecano of Leipzig and Sevilla's Diego Carlos.

Inter are interested in Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, reports Calciomercato. The Frenchman is also being followed by United and Arsenal.

- Signing Mauro Icardi remains the main objective for Juve, according to Calciomercato. The Serie A champions are keen to sign a striker amid links to Inter's Icardi, who is on loan at Paris Saint-Germain. Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, Timo Werner of RB Leipzig, City forward Gabriel Jesus, Arkadiusz Milik of Napoli, Lyon's Moussa Dembele and Kane are also on Juve's radar.

Could Lionel Messi swap Barcelona for Inter?

Messi has been linked to Inter since ex-president Massimo Moratti said the six-time Ballon d'Or winner joining the Serie A club was not a "forbidden dream".

The 32-year-old's future at Camp Nou has made headlines throughout the 2019-20 season.

 

TOP STORY – INTER WANT MESSI

Inter are seriously working on trying to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to TNT Sports.

Former Inter president Massimo Moratti said the Nerazzurri luring Messi – contracted until 2021 – to San Siro was not impossible and speculation has intensified since those comments.

TNT Sports says Inter are ready to push through negotiations for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, while boyhood club Newell's Old Boys have also made an offer.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS Diario claims Manchester United and Juventus are both chasing Real Madrid outcast James Rodriguez. Napoli and Everton have also been linked to the Colombia international.

Philippe Coutinho is close to returning to the Premier League. Sport reports the former Liverpool star is nearing a loan switch to Chelsea from Barcelona. The Brazilian has spent the 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

Milan are interested in signing in-demand Brescia star Sandro Tonali, according to Calciomercato. The Italian has been linked to the likes of Juve, Inter and United.

- Juve star Paulo Dybala is set to sign a new contract with the Serie A champions, says Calciomercato. Meanwhile, the same outlet reports that Juve are interested in Roma midfielder Bryan Cristante.

- Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is chasing Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, says AS Diario. The Frenchman wants to sign the 17-year-old if Madrid are unable to lure Paul Pogba from United.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham are among the clubs battling for Achraf Hakimi. The Moroccan full-back has spent the past two seasons on loan at Borussia Dortmund from Madrid. Juve, Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain are also reportedly interested.

Much of the world has been forced to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, with most professional sport consequently on hold for the foreseeable future.

With the outbreak occurring at a particularly inopportune moment for top-level football in Europe, the situation has bred uncertainty across most leagues – including Italy's Serie A.

Once normality returns, should finishing the season be the priority, regardless of the impact it might have on future campaigns?

At the moment, concluding the 2019-20 campaign appears the most likely option. However, even with Euro 2020 pushed back by 12 months, clubs and leagues are still having to work to tight schedules, with UEFA requesting seasons finish by the end of June.

Other views have been aired, with Italian Footballers' Association (AIC) president Damiano Tommasi suggesting the 2019-20 season could already be over, but while the debate rages on during the hiatus, the Stats Perform AI team have crunched the numbers behind the scenes.

With all 20 teams having either 12 or 13 league matches still to play, their goal was to simulate how the rest of the season would pan out if the games were played now to produce a predicted 2019-20 table.

 

The statistical model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality.

Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly.

All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table.

 

JUVENTUS ARE CHAMPIONS... AGAIN

The results in our model see Juventus retain the Scudetto, accumulating 87 points.

Undoubtedly the story of the season in Italy has been the rise of Lazio, who have mounted a genuine title challenge and went into the forced hiatus just one point adrift of the summit.

With Ciro Immobile's goals and Luis Alberto's creativity in midfield, Simone Inzaghi's men have excelled and delighted neutrals with their entertaining football.

But, in our model, Juventus see them off in the title race, with Maurizio Sarri picking up where Massimiliano Allegri left off last term and guiding them to a ninth successive Serie A title.

However, their points haul is their worst since getting the same amount in 2014-15.

INTER SETTLE FOR THIRD

For much of the first half of the season, Inter looked destined to push Juve all the way in the title race.

Under Antonio Conte and with Romelu Lukaku leading the attack following his move from Manchester United, Inter appeared invigorated.

But their form since the turn of the year has dipped, leaving them nine points off the top when the season was put on hold, though they had a game in hand.

In the simulation they did not recover to overtake either of the top two, finishing third on 79 points. 

Nevertheless, this would still represent an improvement on last season, when they only amassed 69 points and finished fourth.

 

MILAN SCRAPE EUROPA LEAGUE PLACE

It has been a difficult few years for Milan, and this season has not been much better.

Stefano Pioli's appointment as coach late last year has seen them improve somewhat, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival also giving the team a boost.

But there remains a lot to fix with the Rossoneri, with the squad lacking in quality and the hierarchy at odds with each other.

The simulation has Milan finishing seventh and that would be enough to scrape a Europa League spot, as the other three teams left in the Coppa Italia semi-finals with them are all predicted to end the season higher than Pioli's men in Serie A, therefore qualifying for Europe already.

Roma and Napoli take fifth and sixth, with Atalanta rounding off the Champions League spots in our model thanks to a five-point advantage over the Giallorossi.

SAMPDORIA AVOID THE DROP, RIVALS GENOA NOT SO LUCKY

Only one of the current bottom three escapes relegation in the simulation, with Lecce preserving their top-flight status at the expense of Genoa.

Il Grifone and bitter rivals Sampdoria sit just above the drop zone in reality, but our predicted table sees Genoa drop to Serie B for the first time since 2006-07 – last season they only guaranteed their survival on the final day.

The model has Genoa eventually reaching 36 points, but Samp and Lecce manage to climb to 41, giving them both a healthy five-point cushion.

Brescia unsurprisingly prop up the predicted table, given they are nine points from safety in the real standings. Our AI team give Brescia a 1.8 per cent chance of avoiding relegation.

Also going down in our predicted table are SPAL, whose haul of 29 points - one more than Brescia in this experiment - leaves them well adrift of safety.

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