Klaas Jan Huntelaar is heading back to Schalke for one last mission in his career after leaving Ajax to join a battle to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

The 37-year-old former Milan and Real Madrid striker recently announced he would retire at the end of this season, and Huntelaar now says he wants to "play my part" in saving lowly Schalke.

He previously played for Schalke from 2010 until 2017, scoring 126 goals for the Royal Blues before heading to Ajax, and he departs the Dutch giants to join a team now coached by Christian Gross.

Schalke sit bottom of the Bundesliga with seven points from 16 games, having won only once in the league this season.

Huntelaar told Schalke's website: "We need to win games and score goals to climb up the table. I want to play my part in the club staying up. Schalke belongs in the Bundesliga and it's our responsibility to make sure that we stay here."

The moves means Huntelaar's Ajax playing career is over after a second spell in Amsterdam, having first caught the eye there from 2006-08, opening the door to his San Siro and Santiago Bernabeu stints and a career in the Netherlands national team.

In all, Huntelaar scored 158 goals in 257 official games for Ajax. He won an Eredivisie title in the 2018-19 season.

Marc Overmars, director of football at Ajax, said it was the honourable thing to do to let Huntelaar ride to the rescue of his old team.

"It was Klaas Jan's wish to help Schalke avoid relegation in the last four months of his career," Overmars told Ajax's website.

"We thought it was important for him to let this move go through and fill his shoes internally with Lassina Traore and Brian Brobbey. We wish the best for Klaas Jan with this transfer and thank him very much for everything he has done for Ajax."

Real Madrid have reportedly agreed a deal with Bayern Munich defender David Alaba.

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Alaba, 28, has been linked with Europe's biggest clubs.

And the Austria international looks set for the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – ALABA AGREES FOUR-YEAR DEAL WITH MADRID

Alaba has agreed a four-year deal with Real Madrid, according to Marca.

The Bayern defender will make the move to the LaLiga giants ahead of 2021-22, the report says.

Alaba was also linked to the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Real Madrid and the news is not so good when it comes to Lucas Vazquez. AS reports the midfielder has rejected the club's first contract offer, with his current deal expiring at the end of the season.

- Dele Alli is wanted by Paris Saint-Germain. The Sun reports the Tottenham midfielder is confident of getting a loan move to the Ligue 1 giants in January.

- Jesse Lingard's future at Manchester United is uncertain. ESPN reports the midfielder wants regular game time but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is eager to keep him at the Premier League club. Lingard has made just three appearances in all competitions this season.

- After leaving the club in 2017, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar looks set to return to Schalke. SPORT1 reports the Ajax striker has undergone a medical ahead of a return to Schalke, who are bidding to avoid relegation from the Bundesliga.

After nine and a half years, three first-team appearances and loan spells at seven different clubs, Lucas Piazon's time at Chelsea has finally come to an end.

Piazon, 26, on Thursday put pen to paper on a four-and-a-half-year contract with Primeira Liga side Braga, whose coach Carlos Carvalhal he played under at Rio Ave last season.

His name has been linked to Chelsea for so long, since signing as a promising 17-year-old in 2011, but few fans could tell you what he has done during his career.

With the help of Opta data, we look back at Piazon's loan spells to analyse an unusual career that finally appears set for some normality.

MALAGA

Piazon's first loan switch saw him head to Malaga in January 2013 and he began well, setting up two goals across his first three starts. However, he only started one more game and did not register another goal involvement.

VITESSE

Things ramped up a few gears the next season at Vitesse, where Piazon found the back of the net 11 times in his first 1,331 minutes for Vitesse. He scored or assisted a goal every 73 minutes before the mid-season break but did not have a single goal involvement in 727 minutes across the second half of the season as they slipped from second – level on points with leaders Ajax – to a sixth-place finish.

EINTRACHT FRANKFURT

Piazon spent the 2014-15 season with Frankfurt and only scored twice, though one was an incredible free-kick winner against Hamburg, across 22 appearances and 11 starts in the Bundesliga. However, he created 1.7 chances per 90 minutes in Germany's top flight, second only to Takashi Inui (2.3) among Frankfurt players.

READING

A return to England followed and the first of three years in the Championship. Piazon had three goals and two assists in 23 league appearances for Reading. Among players to feature for the club at least 10 times, he ranked second for passing accuracy (84.3 per cent) and fifth for chances created per 90 (1.9).

FULHAM

Piazon spent the next two seasons down the road from Stamford Bridge at Craven Cottage. In his first season with Fulham he had 2.2 chances created per 90 minutes, behind only Tom Cairney (2.7) and Stefan Johansen (2.3) among players to feature at least 10 times.

In 2017-18 he scored five goals and four assists as the Cottagers secured promotion to the top flight. His 18 goal involvements (10 goals, eight assists) across his two seasons with Fulham was the fifth most for the club during that time frame.

CHIEVO

A first venture in Serie A followed in the second half of 2018-19, but Piazon only played 81 minutes across four appearances for Chievo. He created one chance and hit the target with his only shot.

RIO AVE

Piazon became an important squad player during an 18-month loan at Rio Ave, contributing two goals and an assist as they qualified for the preliminary stages of the Europa League by finishing fifth in the 2019-20 Primeira Liga. His two goals from seven shots (including blocks) in the top flight this season gave him a team-high conversion rate of 28.57. Among Primeira Liga players to have taken at least as many shots as Piazon this season, only five have a better conversion rate.

West Ham record signing Sebastien Haller has completed a move to Ajax for a cut-price fee of £20.3million (€22.5m).

The striker has agreed a four-and-a-half-year contract with the Eredivisie giants, having previously enjoyed a spell in the Dutch top flight with Utrecht.

West Ham spent a reported £45m to bring Haller to England in July 2019 after he starred for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, scoring 19 goals in all competitions in 2018-19 as part of a formidable forward partnership with Luka Jovic.

However, his time in the Premier League proved largely disappointing, the 26-year-old scoring 14 times in 50 appearances in all competitions.

The Ivory Coast international was usurped by Michail Antonio as first-choice centre-forward under David Moyes and did not start a league match this season until October 31, when Antonio was struggling with injury.

"West Ham United would like to thank Sebastien for his contribution to the club and wish him all the best for his future career," the Hammers said.

According to reports, West Ham are interested in signing Lyon striker Moussa Dembele to bolster their attack, although the former Celtic forward is said to have little interest in a move to London Stadium.

Finally, 2020 is history - there won't be many people who aren't happy to see the back of a difficult year.

While the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of making a swift exit, the turn of the year at least gives us the chance to look forward, and the same is true in the world of sport.

2020 saw many promising young players make the step up, some undoubtedly down to the absences caused by coronavirus or the packed schedule that the pandemic has led to.

We've picked out 21 under-21 players to keep an eye on in 2021 - and while you may already be familiar with some of them, there's good reason to give them your attention this year...

 

Illan Meslier, 20 - Leeds United

Few goalkeepers can come away from a 6-2 defeat having impressed, but Meslier did so against Manchester United recently. His eight saves prevented Leeds' crushing loss from getting even more embarrassing, while only three goalkeepers have produced more in a single Premier League match this term. His total of 63 is also the second most in the division – the France Under-21 talent, who joined on a permanent deal from Lorient last year, appears to have a big future ahead of him.

Kristoffer Klaesson, 20 - Valerenga

Goalkeepers tend to break through a little later than outfield players, but Norway youth international Klaesson has already been first-choice at Valerenga for the best part of 16 months – he only turned 20 in November. Coincidentally, he could have become a team-mate of Meslier's in 2020 as Leeds were reportedly interested, but he remains in Norway for the time being.

William Saliba, 19 - Arsenal

Saliba is certainly one of the most recognisable names on this list – after all, he has been owned by Arsenal for getting on for two years. Unfortunately, he has not been afforded much of a chance by Mikel Arteta this term, which makes him an interesting prospect to watch in 2021. Either he'll eventually get an opportunity at the Gunners, or a loan move will provide him with a crack at first-team football. After a tricky 2020, he'll want to get his career back on track.

Perr Schuurs, 21 - Ajax

Given his appearance, playing style and the fact he has come through Ajax's academy, comparisons between Schuurs and Matthijs de Ligt were to be expected. He may not reach the Juventus star's level, but he has certainly shown real promise that is reportedly interesting Liverpool. Schuurs is one of the five youngest players to have featured for at least 500 minutes in this season's Champions League, while his 47 ball recoveries was the sixth highest of any player in the group stage.

Ethan Laird, 19 - Manchester United

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was supposed to fix Man United's issues at right-back, but this season his defensive positioning has been concerning and he appears to have become even less effective in attack – his chances created and open-play crosses per 90 minutes have decreased significantly. Laird has long been considered a fine prospect at United and boasts the technical abilities to be a threat in attack. If he can stay fit, chances could be in the offing.

Tariq Lamptey, 20 - Brighton and Hove Albion

Having joined Brighton last January from Chelsea, Lamptey has quickly made a name for himself as an exciting wing-back. Last year saw the diminutive talent enjoy something of a breakthrough, but in 2021 he'll be looking to truly establish himself and potentially break into the England squad. There are few more exhilarating full-backs in the Premier League – his 3.8 dribbles per game is the third most among defenders to have featured more than twice.

Nuno Mendes, 18 - Sporting CP

Sporting have a wealth of talent coming through at the moment and left-back Mendes is arguably chief among them. Blessed with fine technical abilities, the 18-year-old is apparently a target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Already a regular having started 10 of the Primeira Liga leaders' 11 games this term, Mendes' 10 completed dribbles is the fourth-highest among defenders in the division, while his 28 interceptions is second only to team-mate Luis Neto.

Gabriel Menino, 20 - Palmeiras

An intriguing player with a well-rounded skillset, Menino has already transitioned from centre-back to defensive midfield to right-back despite his young age. It is in the latter position where he impressed enough to earn a first Brazil call-up last year and only two players have provided more than his five assists in the 2020 Brazilian Serie A.

Moises Caicedo, 19 - Independiente del Valle

The past month or so has seen Caicedo brought to the attention of a wider audience – or, more specifically, Manchester United fans. The all-action midfielder was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Billy Gilmour, 19 - Chelsea

Scottish talent Gilmour had shown real promise during his 11 Chelsea appearances last season before a knee injury in July laid him low. He returned to action last month with a few cameos off the bench, and there will be plenty hoping he can return to his previous level quickly. A loan move might be on the cards, but Frank Lampard has high hopes for the crafty midfielder.

Yunus Musah, 18 - Valencia

Valencia are going through another difficult spell, with off-field matters often overshadowing on-pitch performances. Nevertheless, in United States international Musah, they appear to have a reason for optimism. Another tricky winger, Musah's 38 dribbles is the second most among Los Che players this term and he became their youngest LaLiga goalscorer (17 years, 338 days) this century when netting back in November. He's one that got away from Arsenal.

Ander Barrenetxea, 18 - Real Sociedad

A nimble right-footed left-winger, Barrenetxea broke into La Real's senior side last season with 17 appearances in LaLiga. His eight starts this term is already an increase of five on the entirety of 2019-20 and he has been using that extra time on the pitch to excite. He has attempted 41 dribbles in LaLiga, and his 56 per cent completion rate is bettered by only seven players – all of whom are much older – among those to have tried at least 40.

Bryan Gil, 19 - Eibar (on loan from Sevilla)

If Barrenetxea embodies the modern 'inverted winger' style, then Bryan is very much a wide midfielder of the classic variety. A direct touchline-hugger, the left-winger's aim is almost always to beat his man and get a cross into the box, and he is catching the eye on loan at Eibar this term. Only five wingers in LaLiga can better Bryan's 49 open-play deliveries, though his 22.5 per cent accuracy is better than all but one of those with more cross attempts. He's also tried 44 dribbles, his 52.3 per cent completion putting him close to Barrenetxea.

Jaminton Campaz, 20 - Deportes Tolima

Campaz may not be a household name yet, but a move to Europe or one of South America's leading leagues is surely not far away. The attacker, who can play wide or through the middle, is an explosive player but also productive. No younger player had more goal involvements (five goals and four assists) and chances created (32) in Colombia's top division than Campaz.

Amad Diallo, 18 - Manchester United

Although United splashed a reported £19million on Diallo, the young Ivorian remains something of an unknown quantity. A left-footed right-winger, he has only been given a handful of opportunities in Atalanta's senior side – though he has often caught the eye with his ability on the ball. Given United's lack of options on the right flank, he might just establish himself sooner than some expect – either way, he will be one to monitor.

Pedri, 18 - Barcelona

As each week passes, more and more Pedri looks to be settling into the role as Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona, but whether he's ready to take up such a mantle as early as this year is another matter. Messi's contract ends in June and so he could well depart – taking on his creative burden would be an unenviable task for a teenager, though Pedri is proving effective. He is creating a chance every 45 minutes on average in the league this term, the third most frequent in the squad among those to have played at least five times.

Talles Magno, 18 - Vasco da Gama

Are you really a Brazilian 'wonderkid' if you've not been linked with every major European club? Talles Magno fits the bill there and it's easy to see why there's interest. His end product still needs work, but his ability to excite is considerable – the 18-year-old has completed more than twice as many dribbles (106) as any other teenager in Brazil's Serie A between 2019 and 2020.

Karim Adeyemi, 18 - Salzburg

There has been a buzz around Adeyemi for a few years now as has previously impressed scouts with Germany's youth sides and during a fruitful loan spell at Liefering. Now back at Salzburg, he looks destined to be another serious talent off the club's impressive conveyor belt. Adeyemi is the only player to have been involved in four goals in a single Austrian Bundesliga this term, scoring and getting a hat-trick of assists in the 8-2 victory over St. Polten, while he set up a goal on his league debut for the club in June. A thrilling talent with great vision and dribbling abilities, Adeyemi may get even greater responsibility in 2021 following the departure of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Marcos Leonardo, 17 - Santos

It's still early days for Marcos Leonardo, though Santos clearly rate him highly – the striker's release clause is €100m. He's already the underage player with the most minutes played (296) and goals (one) in Brazil's top division this season, while he became the sixth youngest player to net in the Copa Libertadores (17y, 173d) when scoring a winner against Defensa y Justicia.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 - Borussia Dortmund

There's not much that hasn't already been said about Moukoko. He became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player in November when making his debut a day after his 16th birthday, before then also setting a new record for the league's youngest goalscorer in December. New coach Edin Terzic has already given him two starts – his next target will be to break records on the international stage with Germany. He couldn't get into their Euros squad, could he?

Matias Arezo, 18 - River Plate (URU)

Stocky, technically gifted and already proving decisive in front of goal with seven goal involvements (five goals, two assists) in 15 league matches, Arezo has a lot going in his favour. Whether he has the mentality or focus to not let the 'new Luis Suarez' labels distract him remains to be seen, but he's already the youngest Uruguayan (17y, 349d) to ever score a brace in the Copa Sudamericana having done so against Atletico Nacional in November.

It appears that, if Lionel Messi has his way, he will be playing for a new club before long.

The Barcelona captain and talisman told his employers he wanted to leave and, although the club won the battle in the previous transfer window, they may end up losing the war.

Messi is now entering the final six months of his contract and, unless a new deal is agreed soon, he could become perhaps the most sensational free transfer of all time in 2021.

Of course, tempting Messi away from Barca is by no means straightforward. His basic salary is said to be roughly €71million and, when you add in bonuses and other possible commitments, that represents a huge outlay on a player who turns 34 next June. Only a handful of clubs are even capable of pulling off such a deal, particularly in a financial landscape changed by COVID-19.

But what if, just for a minute, we imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

 

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea. Perhaps Luis Suarez could join him at his old club when the Uruguay star decides his time in LaLiga is over.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but it seems likely he will move on in January after a falling-out with his head coach.

Imagine if they signed Messi to replace him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne have gone through some tricky times but Markus Gisdol has done a good job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023. However, with another relegation battle looking likely this season, they could do with a decisive signing or two to boost their survival chances.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the big boys in the Bundesliga, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League and have become the division's great entertainers, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

NAPOLI

The Serie A move that would capture the imagination the most would be joining Napoli.

Not only would Messi's arrival get one over on long-standing rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who would no longer be the solo big ticket in Serie A, it would give him the chance dispel some other demons.

For much of his career, Messi has contended with people saying he's not at the level of Diego Maradona, the man who made Napoli kings of Italy.

Now that El Pibe de Oro has passed on, the sight of Messi leading Napoli to Scudetto glory at the stadium now bearing the name of his compatriot would be truly unforgettable.

Nicolas Tagliafico has signed a new contract that will keep him at Ajax until 2023. 

The 28-year-old left-back's previous deal was due to expire in 2022, thus the extension seemingly secures his value to Ajax for a further season. 

However, media reports suggest the contract includes a clause that will allow the defender to leave the club next year should a major foreign side show an interest. 

Tagliafico has been linked with a host of big clubs in recent years, including Manchester United, Inter, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Hakim Ziyech, now at Chelsea, was said to have had a similar agreement written into his contract before he left Ajax for Stamford Bridge earlier this year. 

Tagliafico joined Ajax in January 2018 from Argentina's Independiente and helped them to reach the Champions League semi-finals against the odds in his first full season. 

Since the start of that campaign, 2018-19, only five defenders have featured more regularly in Europe's premier club competition than Tagliafico (21), while Juan Bernat and Raphael Guerreiro (five each) are the only two to have more goals than the Ajax defender (four). 

But he has also proven himself shrewd defensively.

His total of 39 successful tackles is second only to team-mate Noussair Mazraoui (40), while Mats Hummels (50) is the sole defender with more than Tagliafico's 45 interceptions. 

The Argentina international comes out on top for overall duels (286) and duels won (165), however, highlighting the fearlessness Ajax would lose were he to leave. 

Nevertheless, Friday's news should at least ensure Ajax secure a healthy profit if he does depart in 2021.

Arsenal and Tottenham are reportedly lining up moves for Salzburg star Dominik Szoboszlai, while three Premier League giants are monitoring Ben White.

Szoboszlai, 20, has been linked with a move from Salzburg after starring for the Austrian club.

And several European heavyweights are eyeing the Hungary international.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL, TOTTENHAM PUSH FOR SZOBOSZLAI

Arsenal and Tottenham are ready to push to sign Salzburg star Szoboszlai, according to Eurosport.

But the report says RB Leipzig look likely to win the battle to sign the star, despite interest also coming from Milan and Atletico Madrid.

Contracted until 2022, an offer of around €20million will reportedly be enough.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea are monitoring Brighton and Hove Albion defender White, according to Sky Sports. Liverpool have also been linked with the 23-year-old previously.

- Eyeing a defender in January amid an injury crisis, Barcelona have two targets in the Premier League. Mundo Deportivo reports Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi and Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger are among the players on Barca's list.

- After starring for Inter, Milan Skriniar is linked with a move. Football Insider reports Tottenham are still keeping tabs on the defender.

- Other Premier League giants could also be set for a transfer fight. The Daily Star reports Manchester United and Chelsea are facing a battle with Manchester City to sign Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria.

- Set to re-sign with Ajax, Nicolas Tagliafico could still be on the move. The Daily Mail reports the Manchester City and Leicester City target will still be allowed to leave the Eredivisie giants if a suitable offer arrives, despite re-signing.

- Catching the eye with Cagliari, Nahitan Nandez is being targeted by Roma and Napoli, according to CalcioMercato.

Lautaro Martinez's future continues to dominate headlines.

Martinez was tipped to leave Inter for Barcelona at the start of the season, but a move did not materialise amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Manchester City are emerging as a serious suitor.

 

TOP STORY – CITY WANT LAUTARO

Manchester City are continuing their pursuit of Inter star Lautaro Martinez, according to the Mirror.

Martinez has been heavily linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona, as well as Real Madrid and City, where Pep Guardiola is eyeing a long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero.

The Argentina international has made his demands clear to Inter, who are hoping to re-sign Martinez.

 

ROUND-UP

Barca are open to the idea of selling Ousmane Dembele, says Mundo Deportivo. Dembele was wanted by Manchester United prior to the previous transfer window closing and Barca are reportedly aware of contacts between the France international and the Premier League side.

Arsenal are ready to part with club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, reports the Daily Star. Unconvinced about the Ivory Coast international, the Gunners are even reportedly open to a loan move amid links to Milan.

- The Sun claims Leeds United want Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui once fan favourite Marcelo Bielsa leaves Elland Road.

- The Mirror claims United want to sign former defender Jonny Evans from Leicester City. Evans – who won three Premier League titles at Old Trafford – left United for West Brom in 2015 before joining Leicester in 2018.

- Barca have offered Philippe Coutinho to Juventus, according to Calciomercato. Barca need to raise funds as they look to recruit Lyon captain Memphis Depay and City defender Eric Garcia.

Arsenal are reportedly lining up a move for Isco in January, while Barcelona and Liverpool are also eyeing a defender.

Isco is seemingly getting close to a Real Madrid exit as he struggles for minutes with the LaLiga champions.

The playmaker's next move could see him in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL WANT ISCO

Arsenal want to sign Real Madrid midfielder Isco on loan in January before buying him ahead of 2021-22, according to Defensa Central.

Isco has been at Madrid since 2013, but is linked with a move as he seeks more game time.

Previously linked to Everton, Isco is wanted by Arsenal and the report says Mikel Arteta has already asked for the 28-year-old to be signed.

 

ROUND-UP

- Facing injury problems in defence, Barcelona and Liverpool could be set to make signings in January. Sport reports former Valencia and Madrid defender Ezequiel Garay, a free agent, has been offered to both clubs.

- Impressing at Milan, Hakan Calhanoglu is out of contract at season's end. Sport Bild reports the midfielder is almost certain to join Manchester United ahead of next term.

- In red-hot form for Borussia Dortmund, Erling Haaland's future continues to be a talking point. AS says the striker – who has scored 17 goals in 13 games this season – is considered a luxury item for Real Madrid, who will fight half of Europe to sign him. It says Haaland's value is growing and is already at €100million.

- Linked with Chelsea and Manchester City, Nicolas Tagliafico has agreed to extend his contract with Ajax until 2023, according to De Telegraaf. The report says the defender will finish the season with the Eredivisie giants and he can then pursue his dream of playing for a top club.

- Yet to make a Premier League start this season, Christian Benteke is out of contract at Crystal Palace at the end of the campaign. But the Evening Standard reports the striker has been offered a contract extension at Selhurst Park.

Is a Manchester United reunion on the cards for Cristiano Ronaldo?

Ronaldo's future at Juventus has dominated headlines this season.

But returning to Old Trafford is reportedly not in the pipeline.

 

TOP STORY – NO UNITED REUNION FOR RONALDO

Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will not be returning to Manchester United, according to journalist Fabrizio Romano.

A report earlier this month claimed United were looking to re-sign Ronaldo, who won three Premier League titles and the Champions League in six years at Old Trafford before joining Real Madrid in 2009.

But Romano says United are focusing on different players and not Ronaldo – also a reported target for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are monitoring Hoffenheim centre-back Melayro Bogarde, claims Sky Italia. The 18-year-old has also captured the attention of Milan.

- Calciomercato reports Milan want to sign Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez at the end of the season. Vazquez is out of contract following the 2020-21 campaign.

Everton are in pole position to sign Juventus outcast Sami Khedira, says Calciomercato. The German midfielder looks set to leave the Serie A champions. Carlo Ancelotti's Everton have also been linked with Madrid midfielder Isco. It comes as Football Insider claims the Toffees are eyeing Tottenham trio Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Paulo Gazzaniga.

- The Express reports Liverpool could sell duo Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri in January. Origi and Shaqiri have struggled for regular game time at Anfield, where the Reds are desperate to bolster their defence amid an injury crisis. Liverpool have been linked with Schalke centre-back Ozan Kabak and Ajax's Perr Schuurs.

- Estadio Deportivo claims Real Betis are eyeing Madrid winger Takefusa Kubo, who has struggled for game time on loan at Villarreal.

Milan are a "serious candidate" to sign Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe, reports Milan Live. The Rossoneri are considering an initial loan offer.

What does the future hold for Manchester United star Paul Pogba?

Out of form and out of favour, Pogba has found himself out of the starting line-up this season and the Frenchman is not happy.

Could Pogba be prepared to wait for his perfect move away?

 

TOP STORY – POGBA EYEING EXIT

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba could leave Old Trafford on a free transfer, according to The Athletic.

Pogba left United for Juventus on a free transfer in 2012 before returning to Manchester for a then-world record €105million (£89.3m) in 2016.

But the France international is unhappy at the Theatre of Dreams, where he is contracted until 2022, amid links with former club Juve and LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport says Juve have turned their attention from Pogba to his countryman and Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga. The 18-year-old has been tipped to join Madrid, while Paris Saint-Germain are also reportedly interested.

- Bayern Munich centre-back Niklas Sule is dreaming of a move to United, claims Bild. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are believed to be pursuing a defensive partner for Harry Maguire, with Madrid's Raphael Varane and RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano reported targets.

Isco is ready to leave Madrid in January, reports Marca. The attacking midfielder has been linked with Everton, following previous links to Juve and Manchester City.

- Liverpool Echo claims Liverpool have been quoted £26.7million (€29.8m) to sign Ajax defender Perr Schuurs. The 20-year-old is also reportedly wanted by Milan.

Arsenal are working on a structured payment plan to sign Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai, says the Mirror.

Juve are targeting Sporting CP defender Nuno Mendes, A Bola reports. The 18-year-old has also been linked with Milan, Arsenal, Manchester United and Wolves.

Inter and Antonio Conte have reached an agreement over a new contract but Corriere dello Sport says there will be no contract extensions during the season. Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez is the most problematic case for the Nerazzurri.

Lionel Messi first represented Barcelona's senior side 17 years ago, on November 16, 2003. It's difficult to adequately describe the impact and influence he's since gone on to have on one of the world's most illustrious clubs.

A six-time Ballon d'Or winner and long-established as Barca's all-time leading scorer, virtually every major decision that is made at the club ultimately appears to be taken with Messi in mind.

Perhaps the reality is different, but the way the Barca soap opera is played out in Spanish and Catalan media, one comes to assume it isn't just on the pitch that Messi pulls the strings.

It was this situation that made the pre-season tug of war between Messi and the club all the more damaging – while the player was adamant he could leave for free, then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu seemingly reneged on a previous agreement and stood firm.

Seventeen years on from his first appearance in the Barca team, during a friendly with Porto, it seems an opportune time to consider where Messi might go next if he allows his contract to expire next year.

So, just for a minute, let's imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses. What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea, and there is even the faint prospect of Luis Suarez going back to his old club to join him one day.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but imagine if Messi were doing it alongside him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne are going through some tricky times. Markus Gisdol did a brilliant job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga last season and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023, though they're struggling in the bottom three this term.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. As unlikely as it would be in any scenario, if Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous football export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League at last, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

Is Kylian Mbappe's future in Paris?

Mbappe has long been linked with a move to Real Madrid, while Liverpool have also emerged as a possible destination.

But Mbappe could extend his Paris Saint-Germain contract under one condition.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE READY TO RENEW IN PARIS

Kylian Mbappe will re-sign with Paris Saint-Germain but there is a catch, according to Diario AS.

Mbappe has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 champions PSG for LaLiga holders Real Madrid, while Liverpool are another possible destination.

The France star has reportedly rejected three contract offers from PSG, though he could be prepared to renew if a minimum-fee release clause was inserted in the deal.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS also says Madrid and Sergio Ramos are set to provide an update on his contract situation. The Los Blancos captain is out of contract at the end of the season. El Chiringuito claims Juventus, PSG, Manchester United and Manchester City have made approaches.

- Sport, meanwhile, claims Madrid are eyeing potential replacements if Ramos does not extend his deal in the Spanish capital. Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and City's Eric Garcia are reportedly being considered by Zinedine Zidane.

Alaba has also been linked with a move to Serie A champions Juventus, reports Tuttosport. The front page of the newspaper adds that Juve are also targeting midfielders, with Lyon star Houssem Aouar atop the list, while Ajax's Ryan Gravenberch is wanted in Turin. Aouar has also been heavily linked with Arsenal, Barcelona and City.

- The Express says Premier League champions Liverpool are prepared to splash the cash on a centre-back in January. It comes after Joe Gomez joined Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines through injury.

- Inter star and Barca target Lautaro Martinez will reject a renewal with the Serie A side if they remove his release clause, according to Sport.

Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch has been handed a first call-up to the Netherlands squad.

Gravenberch was promoted from the Under-21 squad after Tonny Vilhena was ruled out of the upcoming internationals due to a positive coronavirus test.

The 18-year-old will not be in the squad for Wednesday's friendly against Spain but could earn his maiden cap in the Nations League against Bosnia-Herzegovina or Poland.

Head coach Ronald de Boer will consequently have 24 players available to him for the crunch Nations League fixtures on Sunday and Wednesday.

Gravenberch has featured six times in the Eredivisie this season and supplied two assists. He is also the second-youngest player yet to miss a minute of action in the 2020-21 Champions League, after Illia Zabarnyi of Dynamo Kiev.

Only Dusan Tadic (71) and Daley Blind (68) have completed more passes in the opposition half for Ajax in their Group D campaign than Gravenberch (62), who was won more duels in the competition that any of his team-mates (21).

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