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.

Dominik Szoboszlai is the latest highly rated player to make the move from Salzburg to one of Europe's major leagues.

RB Leipzig – not for the first time, given their links to the Austrian side – are the beneficiaries, with the Hungary playmaker, who has starred for both club and country this season, joining the Bundesliga team on a four-and-a-half deal.

The 20-year-old had long been tipped to leave Salzburg following his exploits for the Austrian champions, with a host of Serie A clubs, Real Madrid and Arsenal all linked with a move for the midfielder, who could make his Leipzig debut against Borussia Dortmund on January 9.

Szoboszlai has scored four goals and created six more across 11 appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga this season for Salzburg, and is another star name to come off the club's production line of talent, which has included the likes of Erling Haaland, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.

Indeed, Haaland was the focus of much attention this time last year as he elected to switch Salzburg for Dortmund, where he has gone from strength to strength.

Providing players with regular Champions League football to showcase their talents, Salzburg, with an extensive scouting network and a clear pathway to one of Europe's biggest leagues, are quickly becoming one of the most attractive clubs for youngsters to learn their trade.

Using Opta data, we have looked at how some of the biggest names to have had stints at Salzburg have fared after moving on.

Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

It has been some breakthrough for Norway striker Haaland, who joined Salzburg from Molde in 2018. He made just two league appearances for his new team in 2018-19, scoring once, but last term he transformed into a goalscoring machine.

Haaland netted 28 times in 26 appearances across all competitions, with Dortmund fending off interest from Manchester United to secure his signature last year. The move has paid off, and then some, with Haaland scoring 23 Bundesliga goals from as many games in Germany's top flight. That tally is bettered only by Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski (30) in the same timeframe, with Haaland averaging a goal every 74.5 minutes.

Sadio Mane (Southampton, Liverpool)

Mane's path from Salzburg to a Champions League and Premier League winner came via Southampton. Having joined Salzburg from Metz, the Senegal star moved to England in 2014 when he reportedly forced his way out of the club by refusing to attend training or matches.

Southampton paid a reported £11.8million fee for the winger, who thrived under now-Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman, scoring 21 goals and providing a further nine assists in 67 Premier League games. Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool paid big money to sign him in 2016, but Mane has become one of the leading forwards in world football, netting 67 league goals for the Reds (with 66 coming inside the area) and creating 215 chances.

Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)

Like Szoboszlai, several other players have switched straight from Salzburg to Leipzig, including Dayot Upamecano, who has asserted himself as one of the most promising defenders in Europe.

The France international is rapid and strong, while his ability on the ball has been a huge facet to Leipzig's play under Julian Nagelsmann. This season, he has a tackle success rate of 91.7 per cent in the Bundesliga, winning 11 of 12 attempted. The 22-year-old may not be at the club much longer, but any transfer will bring a significant fee for the Germans.

Naby Keita (RB Leipzig, Liverpool)

Another to end up at Liverpool is Naby Keita. The all-action midfielder was one of the most dynamic players in the Bundesliga during his debut season in 2016-17, scoring eight league goals and making the team of the season.

It prompted Liverpool to pay a reported £48m, with Keita joining a year later, though he has so far been unable to stay consistently fit for Jurgen Klopp's team. The Reds' number eight has managed just four goals and four assists from 49 Premier League appearances, while his tackle success rate of 41.4 per cent is nothing to shout about.

Takumi Minamino (Liverpool)

Liverpool elected to cut out the middleman when they went for Minamino last January, bringing in the Japan forward for a modest £7.25m due to a release clause in his Salzburg contract. Signed as versatile cover for Liverpool's front three, Minamino is still yet to find his feet on Merseyside and is has not scored or got an assist in the Premier League.

The stunning start to Diogo Jota's Liverpool career has made things even more difficult, though with the Portugal forward out injured, Minamino may now have the chance to stake his claim at Anfield.

RB Leipzig have confirmed the signing of Dominik Szoboszlai from sister club Salzburg on a four-and-a-half-year contract.

The 20-year-old had long been tipped to leave Salzburg following his exploits for the Austrian champions, with Napoli, Milan, Inter, Lazio and Arsenal all linked with a move for the Hungary international.

He has chosen to join Bundesliga side Leipzig, however, and will be available for their game against Borussia Dortmund after the mid-season break on January 9.

Szoboszlai has impressed for Salzburg this season, scoring four goals and setting up another six across 11 league appearances. 

Szoboszlai, who has also scored three goals in 12 appearances for his country, told Leipzig's official website: "I'm very pleased that this transfer has been completed. The club has developed fantastically.

"It is among the best teams in the Bundesliga and is also doing well in the Champions League.

"This step is perfect for my development. I'm coming to Leipzig to work under a top coach and in an extremely ambitious team that is very young but also has a lot of experience and has been able to celebrate success.

"Here, I'll be able to continue my development incredibly and I want to help the club to continue its success in 2021."

Szoboszlai becomes the latest in a long line of talent to make the move between the two Red Bull-owned clubs.

 

Paul Pogba may be about to experience a case of deja vu as he drifts towards the Manchester United exit door.

When the mercurial midfielder waved goodbye to Old Trafford in 2012, the Frenchman headed to the bright lights of Turin to make his name at Juventus.

Fast forward eight years and it seems the 27-year-old Pogba is edging closer towards retracing his own footsteps in an attempt to relaunch his career.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS 'OPEN TALKS' WITH POGBA'S AGENT

Manchester United star Paul Pogba is a "top target" for Juventus in 2021, according to journalist Carlo Garganese.

Serie A champions Juve have already began talks with Pogba's agent Mino Raiola, and a deal could be done as soon as January.

Raiola claimed Pogba's United career was over in an interview with Italian outlet Tuttosport last week, prompting links to Juve, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

If an agreement cannot be reached in January, the player United paid £89million for four years ago could be set for a Serie A return in the off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- United will have to wait until the end of the season to bring in any new recruits, according to the Manchester Evening News. But reports from Todo Fichajes in Spain suggest the Red Devils are set to reignite their interest in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez as a potential Pogba replacement. United are said to be preparing a £63m (€70m) offer for the Spaniard.

- With Liverpool and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum still yet to come to agreement on the terms of a new contract, Le10Sport reports that the Reds are lining up Lille's former Bayern Munich and Swansea man Renato Sanches to come in and fill the Dutchman's shoes.

- Liverpool are shopping for centre-back reinforcements after losing Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to long-term injuries. Barcelona seemed primed to sign Manchester City fringe player Eric Garcia but Spanish outlet Diario AS says Liverpool are ready to swoop for the summer free agent.

- Arsenal are eying a move for Porto midfielder Fabio Viera, who has a £27m (€29.9m) release fee in his contract, according to Record. Meanwhile, Defensa Central are reporting that Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has put Lyon's Houssem Aouar and Madrid's Isco on his January wish list.

- One of Europe's brightest young prospects, Hungarian attacker Dominik Szoboszlai, will complete his move from Salzburg to RB Leipzig after a medical on Thursday, Fabrizio Romano reports. Arsenal, Madrid and Bayern Munich had shown interest in the 20-year-old.

Erling Haaland continues to dominate headlines.

Haaland's exploits for Borussia Dortmund has reportedly attracted interest from Europe's elite.

Will he decide between the two Manchester giants?

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND WANTED IN MANCHESTER

Manchester United and neighbours Manchester City are set to go head-to-head to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland , according to the Daily Mail.

Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, linked with Real Madrid , Liverpool , Barcelona , Bayern Munich , City and United.

The Norway international snubbed United for Dortmund in January but the Red Devils remain interested, while City view Haaland as a long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero .

 

ROUND-UP

- The Guardian reports Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai  is poised to join sister club RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Arsenal , Milan , Inter and Napoli have all been linked to the 20-year-old, but Leipzig are set to pay his €25million release clause in January.

Inter are interested in Udinese duo Rodrigo De Paul and Juan Musso , claims Calciomercato. Musso is seen a long-term replacement for Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, while the Nerazzurri must raise funds if they are to prise De Paul from Udinese.

- Marca says Bayern star David Alaba is edging closer to a move to Madrid . Alaba is out of contract at season's end, with the likes of Barca , City , Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain targeting the Austria international.

- Bild reports United midfielder Paul Pogba is putting pressure on agent Mino Raiola to find a new club, otherwise he will seek a new representative. Former club Juventus are reportedly favourites to lure Pogba back to Turin amid speculation of a swap deal involving either Paulo Dybala or Cristiano Ronaldo . Madrid are also a possible destination.

Diego Simeone understands the angry reaction of Luis Suarez and Saul Niguez to being substituted during Atletico Madrid's clash with Salzburg, saying he would have done the same.

Both players were taken off a little over an hour into Wednesday's Champions League game with Atleti 1-0 ahead thanks to Mario Hermoso's first goal for the club.

Yannick Carrasco went on to add a late second for the visitors as they sealed a place in the last 16 but the big talking point was the anger of Suarez and Saul.

Suarez was making his second appearance for Atleti since recovering from coronavirus and had just one touch of the ball in the opposition box, failing to register a single shot.

Central midfielder Saul, meanwhile, was unable to get too involved in a game that saw Salzburg constantly get at Atletico and register 18 attempts in total.

Simeone would also have had Saturday's local derby with Real Madrid in mind but believes the pair were justified to react the way they did.

"It is entirely logical," he told Movistar+. "I would have also been angry to leave the field. These are the games where you want to play the full 90 minutes.

"When you are taken off the pitch for someone else, it is understandable they leave the field angry."

A point was all Atletico needed to finish second to Bayern Munich in Group A and advance through to the last 16 for a seventh time in eight seasons under Simeone.

Despite being regulars in the knockouts, and twice reaching the final in the past seven seasons, Simeone insists he does not take group-stage progression for granted.

"I look back at the times we have made it out of the group stage and am joyful," he said. "It is important for us to be among the best year after year.

"For many it is entirely normal that we qualify, but for me that is not the case."

Salzburg required a victory to overtake Atletico in second place on the final matchday and twice hit the post, while Dominik Szoboszlai wasted a glorious chance at 1-0.

The Austrian side bow out with four points from six matches but Simeone always knew his side would be given a run for their money at the Red Bull Arena.

"At no time did we think this game would be simple," he said. "We've seen them play with a very high intensity in the past.

"It was tough for us to find our rhythm in the first half because there were lots of fouls that broke up our play. 

"We had to look for space and in the second half we managed to play with a higher pace."

Carrasco was the key man for Atletico, both scoring and assisting in a Champions League game for the first time in what was his 41st appearance.

He delivered a flat inswinging free-kick for Hermoso's opener and then rounded off a swift counter with a back-post volley from Angel Correa's cross for the second.

"His second-half performance was fantastic," Simeone said. "He must continue with this type of work rate and rhythm. He is clearly an important player for us."

Atletico Madrid battled to a 2-0 win against Salzburg thanks to a goal in each half from Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco to secure a place in the Champions League knockout stages.

Diego Simeone's side beat Salzburg 3-2 in the reverse fixture - their only Group A win prior to Wednesday - and needed just a point from the trip to Austria to advance.

Salzburg started strongly as they went in pursuit of the win needed to progress at Atleti's expense, but Hermoso's header against the run of play proved the game's big moment.

Mergim Berisha and Enock Mwepu hit the post either side of that effort, while Dominik Szoboszlai squandered a glorious chance, but Carrasco volleyed in a late second to ensure Atleti will join Bayern Munich in Monday's last-16 draw.

Berisha cut inside Stefan Savic and curled a low shot against the base of the post 113 seconds into the game as Simeone's men survived a number of early scares.

Sekou Koita was played in behind but failed to beat Jan Oblak with his weak attempt, and the visiting goalkeeper did well to turn Szoboszlai's precise shot past the post.

The chances kept on falling Salzburg's way, with Patson Daka firing over at the end of a counter, but Atletico soon grew into the game and led after 39 minutes.

Carrasco sent in a flat inswinger and Hermoso flicked the ball on, the final touch coming off the defender's shoulder for his first goal since March 2019 when still an Espanyol player.

A Salzburg leveller would have made for a tense finale but Szoboszlai placed the ball wide of the post after being played clean through on goal and Mwepu hit the upright from a long way out, the visitors restricted to shots from range by that point.

Atleti then wrapped things up with four minutes to go as Angel Correa picked out Carrasco at the back post on the counter to fire a crisp first-time shot away from Cican Stankovic.

While Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Porto have already secured their place in the Champions League knockout stages, some big names are in danger of a shock elimination.

After making history by leading Real Madrid to three straight Champions League titles during his first stint as head coach, Zinedine Zidane is on the verge of another first that could well place his future at the club in serious jeopardy.

Inter are also fighting for their future in the competition, as are Atletico Madrid and semi-finalists from the past two campaigns Ajax and Atalanta.

Ahead of what is sure to be a thrilling finale to the group stage, we take a look at the best stats courtesy of Opta.

 

Midtjylland v Liverpool: A first in reach for Reds

Jurgen Klopp's men are already guaranteed to finish top of Group D but victory over bottom side Midtjylland will see them register five wins in a single Champions League group stage for the first time.

Their form on matchday six in the competition is strong too. They have triumphed in each of their past three final group stage matches by an aggregate score of 10-0.

Taking three points would see the Reds become just the third Premier League side, after Chelsea in 2003-04 and Manchester United in 2010-11, to win all three of their away games in the group stage.

Should Caoimhin Kelleher be given another opportunity between the posts, he could become the first Liverpool goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in their first two Champions League starts.

Salzburg v Atletico Madrid: Shoot-out for progression

Atletico will be looking to avoid just a second exit at this stage in their eighth campaign in the competition under Diego Simeone.

They will need to be wary of Salzburg forward Mergim Berisha, who has scored four goals in as many Champions League starts for the club this season – only Erling Haaland (eight in 2019-20) has scored more for the Austrian side in a single campaign in Europe's premier club competition.

Enock Mwepu will be another threat for the visitors, having attempted six shots and created four chances in Salzburg's 3-1 win over Lokomotiv Moscow last time out.

Ahead of matchday six, only two players had been directly involved in more shots in a Champions League game this season – Lionel Messi and Munir El Haddad played a part in 11 against Ferencvaros and Krasnodar respectively.

Real Madrid v Borussia Monchengladbach: Blancos on the brink

A win will see Zidane's struggling Madrid into the knockout rounds and avoid the ignominy of suffering their first Champions League group stage exit after 28 consecutive progressions.

The drop-off this season can be seen in the fact their defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk last time out was Madrid's fourth in their past seven matches in the competition – they only lost five of their first 39 Champions League games under Zidane (W25 D9).

Goals should be expected at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, with the previous five meetings between the teams seeing 20 goals scored with 10 apiece.

Gladbach just need to avoid defeat to advance and some game time for Alassane Plea would likely help them achieve that; he has been directly involved in eight goals (five scored, three assisted) in his five Champions League appearances at an average of one every 45 minutes.

Inter v Shakhtar Donetsk: Conte's San Siro woe

Failure to win against high-flying Shakhtar at San Siro will see Inter bow out at the group stage for a third consecutive season. Before this run, they had advanced from 11 of their 12 pool appearances (including the second group stage) in the competition.

Shakhtar may have beaten Madrid twice but they have a goal difference of minus seven; the only teams to have advanced with such a record after five games are Galatasaray in 2013-14 and Atalanta in 2019-20.

Inter will therefore be hoping Romelu Lukaku can help get them over the line. The Belgium striker has played a role in 17 goals in his 15 European matches for the Nerazzurri, including scoring a double in a 5-0 success over the Ukrainian side in last season's Europa League semi-final.

A strong performance from Lukaku would go a significant way to ensuring Antonio Conte does not become the first Inter coach to oversee a Champions League group stage campaign without a home win.

Other fixtures:

Ajax v Atalanta

2 - Ajax are unbeaten in their last seven games against Italian opponents in the Champions League, but five of these have ended in draws. They must win to reach the last 16.

4 - Atalanta went winless at home in the Champions League group stage this season (D2 L1), yet will qualify for the knockout rounds if they avoid defeat here. It will be just the fourth time a team has picked up as little as two points at home in a group stage and still qualified for the next round, after Roma in 2002-03 and Milan in both 2009-10 and 2012-13.

Bayern Munich v Lokomotiv Moscow

13 - Bayern drew 1-1 against Atletico in their most recent Champions League outing – the first time they failed to win in the competition under Hansi Flick after he oversaw 12 straight victories.

1 - Lokomotiv have drawn both of their away games in the Champions League this season and have never previously gone unbeaten away from home in a single season in the competition.

Manchester City v Marseille

16 – If City beat Marseille they will have accrued 16 points in the Champions League group stage this season, the joint-most of any English side in a single campaign along with Arsenal in 2005-06 (finalists), Manchester United in 2007-08 (winners), and Tottenham in 2017-18 (last 16).

8 - Marseille have lost each of their past seven away games in the Champions League and another defeat here would see them record their worst ever losing run on the road in the competition.

Olympiacos v Porto

100 - Olympiacos have won all three of their home Champions League matches against Porto, in three successive seasons between 1997 and 1999 – it is their best 100 per cent record on their own patch against any side in the competition.

4 - Porto have kept a clean sheet in four consecutive Champions League matches since conceding three goals away to Manchester City in October – the last side to record five or more consecutive shutouts in the competition was Juventus in 2016-17. Manchester City are also on a run of four.

Diego Simeone expects a "brave" Salzburg to take Atletico Madrid out of their comfort zone in Wednesday's crunch Champions League clash.

Atleti, two-time finalists under Simeone, have drawn each of their past three group matches, including being pegged back to 1-1 by a late Thomas Muller penalty for Bayern Munich last time out.

A fourth consecutive stalemate in Salzburg will seal qualification for the knockout stages at their Austrian opponents' expense, but Simeone knows Jesse Marsch's expansive side needing victory makes them particularly dangerous.

"This game is a bit like when you play in a knockout game and you're away from home in the second leg," said Simeone, with Atleti having won a thriller between the sides 3-2 at the Wanda Metropolitano in October.

"The opponent always needs to go for the game, they've got a very good side and it will be difficult for us.

"We will try and do them damage; in the first meeting with them there were goals and it might well be similar."

Despite their contrasting tactical approaches, Simeone is full of admiration for opposite number Marsch.

"Salzburg are a brave side with a great coach, who force you into losing possession," he explained.

"They try and break in numbers, at pace and with good football.

"Against Lokomotiv Moscow they were very close to winning, and also they were close to beating Bayern until 80 or so minutes in.

"They're doing a very good job and everyone can see that."

Atletico will again be without Diego Costa but Simeone reported encouraging progress in the striker's recovery from deep vein thrombosis.

"It is better if the doctor explains it," he added. "He is training and it is a good sign.

"From then on we are excited and the doctor will clarify his situation. We will be here waiting for him."

Paul Pogba's time with Manchester United appears to be coming to an end.

Agent Mino Raiola said Pogba – who re-joined the Red Devils from Juventus in 2016, having left in 2012 – is unhappy at United amid growing speculation over his future in Manchester.

Does a move to Real Madrid await the France international?

 

TOP STORY – POGBA EYEING MADRID

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba wants to join Real Madrid, according to Eurosport.

Pogba appears set for an Old Trafford exit after his agent Mino Raiola said his time at United is "over".

The World Cup-winning France international has since been linked with LaLiga champions Madrid, former club Juventus and Ligue 1 holders Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

Cristiano Ronaldo could return to United, reports Auto Esporte. The Juventus superstar has been linked to former club United and PSG, but Red Devils sponsor Chevrolet are willing to help finance a transfer.

- RMC Sport claims PSG star Kylian Mbappe will spurn a move to Madrid in favour of remaining with the Ligue 1 holders. Mbappe has been tipped to swap PSG for Madrid, though the France international has also been linked to Liverpool.

Barcelona sent scouts to watch Benfica forward Darwin Nunez, says Sport. The 21-year-old has impressed since arriving from Almeria at the start of the season.

- Premier League clubs Arsenal and Tottenham are battling to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, reports Calciomercato.

Eduardo Camavinga has notified his new agent that he wants to leave Rennes, claims Diario AS. The France sensation has been linked to Madrid, United and PSG.

RB Leipzig are in pole position to sign Salzburg's Dominik Szoboszlai but Calciomercato says Milan remain in contact.

Atletico Madrid have not revealed the full extent of the thigh injury Jose Gimenez suffered against Bayern Munich amid reports the defender may not play again in 2020. 

The centre-back was substituted in the 68th minute of the Champions League fixture on Tuesday, during which an understrength Bayern scored a late penalty to grab a 1-1 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano. 

Gimenez has since undergone a scan and while the LaLiga club confirmed a thigh issue, a potential return date has not been announced. 

However, Spanish media have suggested the Uruguay international is unlikely to feature for Diego Simeone's side again during a busy December. 

Atleti have Real Valladolid next at home in the league, followed by a huge derby fixture against neighbours Real Madrid on December 12. 

Sandwiched in between those domestic games is a pivotal Champions League clash with Salzburg, as they must avoid defeat in Austria to seal their progression through to the knockout stages of the competition. 

Gimenez has played seven games so far in the 2020-21 campaign, having missed the early stages due to a positive coronavirus test. 

The 25-year-old has started four times in the league, all victories. Atletico have only conceded once in those fixtures, while he was also part of a defensive unit that shut out Lokomotiv Moscow in European action at the end of November. 

If unavailable for the remainder of 2020, Gimenez will also miss the start of his club's Copa del Rey campaign, as well as the LaLiga trip to Real Sociedad, which is currently scheduled for December 22.

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.

Matchday five of the Champions League could mean qualification for the last 16 for some - and spell trouble for others.

Bayern Munich and Manchester City are already through, but their respective opponents, Atletico Madrid and Porto, could do with positive results.

Real Madrid recorded a valuable win at Inter last time out but must do better against Shakhtar Donetsk than they did on matchday one, while the Nerazzurri themselves know nothing but a victory at Borussia Monchengladbach will do.

Liverpool need just a point at home to Ajax to progress, but with injury problems mounting and a 2-0 home loss to Atalanta last week, their progress no longer looks to be such plain sailing.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Real Madrid: Zidane's men aim to qualify against goal-shy opponents

Shakhtar's 3-2 win at Madrid was a serious shock, one that became more apparent as they lost their latest two games by four or more goals without scoring. Only Malmo and Red Star Belgrade have ever done so in three consecutive matches.

Indeed, Shakhtar have failed to score with each of their 23 shots since netting their third in the Spanish capital.

Madrid know a victory will guarantee their place in the knockouts for the 24th season in a row, a competition record. Their form might be inconsistent, but they have lost only one of their previous seven away games against Ukrainian opponents – a 2-0 defeat to Dynamo Kiev – since March 1999.

 

Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich: Holders could match club record – but without Lewandowski

Bayern Munich will match a club-record seven away wins in a row in the Champions League with victory at Atletico Madrid. They have won their previous six by an aggregate score of 27-7.

Diego Simeone has lost three of his five meetings with Bayern in this competition, but Atleti have only been beaten once at home in Europe in their previous 24 games.

Robert Lewandowski needs just one goal to surpass Raul in the all-time goalscoring list in the tournament, having reached 71 against Salzburg. However, with the striker missing this contest, Atleti may fancy their chances of beating Bayern at home for the third time in a row.

Borussia Monchengladbach v Inter: Can Conte fix his Champions League woes?

Since losing the first meeting in 1971, Borussia Monchengladbach have gone four games unbeaten against Inter.

This season marks the first occasion Inter have ever failed to win any of their opening four Champions League matches, and they are at risk of losing three in a row in the group stage for the first time.

Indeed, Antonio Conte has won only 20 per cent of his Champions League games in charge of the Nerazzurri, the lowest ratio of any of his predecessors over at least five games in the competition. Fail to win in Germany, and Inter are out.

 

Porto v Manchester City: Imperious defence meets clinical attack

Porto have lost three games in a row against Manchester City 9-2 on aggregate and are winless in five previous meetings with English opponents.

Pep Guardiola's side have already kept three clean sheets this term, one more than they managed in nine Champions League matches in 2019-20.

Porto, however, have scored with 25.8 per cent of their shots this season, a tally only bettered by Gladbach (28.6 per cent).

Liverpool v Ajax: Mane must find magic touch

Ajax and Liverpool have not met at Anfield since 1966-67, when the Eredivisie side won the tie 7-3 on aggregate. That was the last occasion the Reds lost to a Dutch side (they have played 14 such games since).

Ajax are unbeaten in 11 away games in the Champions League, their best run since March 1997, and they have not lost in their latest five visits to England in this competition.

Liverpool, who need a point to progress, could do with Sadio Mane finding form. The forward has scored only once at home in his previous 10 appearances in this tournament, going 426 minutes without finding the net in that run.

 

Other fixtures:

Lokomotiv Moscow v Salzburg

20 – Of the 20 shots attempted between these sides in their matchday-one meeting – which ended in a 2-2 draw - 15 of them were by Salzburg. Indeed, Lokomotiv Moscow scored twice from just three shots on target in the game.

50 – Since the start of last season, Salzburg's 10 games in the Champions League group stages have seen 50 goals scored (23 for, 27 against), the most of any club. Salzburg have won just two of those 10 games (D2 L6).

 

Atalanta v Midtjylland

3 – Midtjylland have lost all three of their previous games against Italian opponents in European competition, conceding 13 goals and scoring just one in reply.

1 – Atalanta have only failed to score in one of their last 12 games in the Champions League (25 goals in total), although this did come in their most recent home game in the competition, losing by five goals to Liverpool.

 

Marseille v Olympiacos

13 – Marseille have lost their last 13 Champions League matches – a competition record – scoring just six goals and conceding 29.

10 – The Ligue 1 side (six) and Olympiacos (eight) are the only two teams in the Champions League in 2020-21 yet to attempt at least 10 shots on target, with the Greek team managing just one across their previous two matches against Man City.

Is Donny van de Beek already heading for an Old Trafford exit?

Van de Beek made the move from Ajax to Manchester United at the start of the season.

But he is reportedly wanted by Juventus in Italy.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DE BEEK WANTED IN TURIN

Juventus are plotting a move for Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek, according to Calciomercato.

Van de Beek only swapped Eredivisie powerhouse Ajax for United at the start of the season, but he has struggled to cement a spot in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's XI.

Serie A champions are reportedly trying to reunite Van de Beek with former Ajax team-mate Matthijs de Ligt in Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- Corriere dello Sport report Liverpool have submitted a bid for Ajax centre-back Perr Schuurs. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez are injured at Anfield.

Chelsea are eyeing a move for Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez ahead of a 2021 transfer, says the Here We Go Podcast.

- TodoFichajes claims Marseille star Florian Thauvin has agreed to join Milan on a free transfer.

United have joined Premier League champions Liverpool in the race for Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze, according to La Razon. The 21-year-old has also impressed Chelsea.

- Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu wants to join United, reports Bild journalist Christian Falk. The Turkey international is out of contract at the end of the season. Juve, Atletico and Inter have all been linked.

- Football Insider says Arsenal are interested in signing Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai on loan in January and loaning him back to the Austrian champions.

Hansi Flick has described Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as an "insane professional" after his superb display in Wednesday's 3-1 Champions League win over Salzburg. 

Robert Lewandowski, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane netted for Bayern, who had Marc Roca sent off midway through the second half, while Mergim Berisha pulled one back for the visitors with 17 minutes of normal time remaining.

The result helped Bayern to a fourth win out of four in Group A and sealed their progression to the last 16 as group winners with two games remaining. 

It could have been a different outcome had it not been for the heroics of Neuer, though – the Germany international making 10 saves to deny the Austrians, with his finest moment coming in the form of a superb double stop to deny Berisha and Enock Mwepu.

It was the latest in a string of impressive displays from Neuer, with head coach Flick quick to hail the 34-year-old's dedication to his craft. 

"Manu has been playing sensationally for over a year," he told Sky Sport. "With him, the goal for the striker is getting smaller and smaller. 

"He is in the form of his life. He is an insane professional and very focused on his job."

Bayern never hit the heights of their 6-2 drubbing of Salzburg in the reverse fixture three weeks ago, allowing their opponents 19 attempts on goal in a display characterised by sloppy defending. 

Flick was not impressed by his side's inability to keep hold of the ball but he refused to be too hard on his players, who he says improved after the interval. 

"We made our way a little difficult because we lost a lot of balls," he added. "The ball losses must not happen like this. That is insecurity and recklessness. Of course, we have personnel problems at the moment.

"It got better in the second half. I'm satisfied with the efficiency and, of course, we have a world-class goalkeeper at the back."

Neuer agreed with Flick's assessment that Bayern lost possession too easily, but he believes it is important to remember they achieved their objective of qualifying for the last 16.

"We have conceded too many goals recently," he said. "It was, of course, also down to the opponents. We played against a strong team. We lost the ball too easily and that hurt us. 

"For me, it is important that we won today and are group winners. You do what you can."

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