Manchester City's pursuit of a new striker is well known.

Sergio Aguero's exit has left a void for the Premier League champions.

City have been linked with a host of big names including Erling Haaland and Harry Kane.

 

TOP STORY - MAN CITY MONITORING LEWANDOWSKI

Manchester City are monitoring the status of Bundesliga top scorer Robert Lewandowski, according to the Daily Mail.

Lewandowski has two years remaining on his Bayern Munich deal but has previously indicated he may be open to a move elsewhere.

The report claims City are worried they may not succeed in their pursuit of Kane and see 32-year-old Lewandowski as an option given his quality and potentially lower asking price.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool is readying a £60million (€70m) bid for Inter and Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella according to La Repubblica. However, Fabrizio Romano claims Inter will not sell him.

- Everton have submitted a £30m (€35m) bid for Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, but the Italian club have told the Toffees to double the offer, claims Calciomercato.

- The Telegraph reports that England full-back Kieran Trippier is desperate to return to the Premier League as he waits on a move from Atletico Madrid to Manchester United.

- The Telegraph also claims that Joe Willock will spend time on loan again at Newcastle from Arsenal. He will join the Magpies on a season-long deal.

- SPORT claims that Chelsea are tracking Sevilla's Jules Kounde after he recently rejected interest from Tottenham.

- Chelsea are looking to utilise Tammy Abraham as a sweetener in any deal to land Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, reports The Mirror.

- West Bromwich have turned down West Ham's offer for goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, claims The Athletic.

Gareth Southgate insists Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips will not be fazed about going up against Italy's much-lauded midfield, pointing out they coped well despite their relative inexperience against two modern greats in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Italy have enjoyed almost universal acclaim for their performances at Euro 2020, with their run to Sunday's final seeing them extend their unbeaten run to 33 matches, a national record.

A lot of the praise has been centred around their midfield trio of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti, the latter two in particular.

Jorginho carries out an important function as their deep-lying playmaker, and his influence is highlighted by the fact he has completed more passes (390) and had more touches of the ball (503) than any of his team-mates, while his 38 instances of regaining possession and instigating passing sequences is 10 more than anyone else in the tournament.

As for Verratti, the Paris Saint-Germain star's 12 key passes is bettered by only Kevin De Bruyne and he leads the way in terms of involvements in open-play sequences that end in a shot, averaging 9.2 every 90 minutes (players with at least 165 mins played), which paints a picture of not only great creativity but also significant impact generally in Italy's build-up play.

 

Yet Italy struggled in that area against Spain and were subsequently overrun at times, their 0.8 xG to La Roja's 1.5 proof they were somewhat fortunate to get past Luis Enrique's side via a penalty shoot-out.

As such, Spain essentially highlighted that to dull Italy's strengths they need to win the midfield battle, and Southgate feels his players in that area are up to the challenge.

"I think when you're coaching a team, you watch everything and you have to decide the most important information for players, not flood them with too much, adapt the game to our strengths and highlight potential weaknesses," Southgate told reporters ahead of England's first major final in 55 years.

 

"Of course there are fantastic players all through the Italy team, they've a good tactical plan, an experienced coach and an amazing record over last 30 games or so, we are very aware of that.

"But players like our two midfielders [Rice and Phillips], they've played beyond their experience in this tournament and they've already played against Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, so they've had to adapt to these midfield players with great European experience and they've done that brilliantly.

"We're different, we have our own strengths, own style of play, which is geared towards the strengths of our players.

"That's the beauty of football, every team has different strengths, we've tried to play to ours and adapt to our strengths and we need to do the same [on Sunday]."

Another Italian double act that has been showered with praise is centre-back pairing Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose combined 33 European Championship appearances is four more than England's entire back five that started the semi-final against Denmark.

While they may not possess the same ball-carrying ease as England's Harry Maguire and John Stones, Chiellini remains a formidable scrapper even at the age of 36, with his 71.4 duels success bettered by only six defenders (involved in 10 or more duels). And Bonucci continues to read the game well, his haul of 12 interceptions being the most of all defenders at Euro 2020.

Together, there is not much they do not possess, and Harry Kane is relishing the chance to go up against them.

"They're two amazing defenders with great experience over their careers of big matches," Kane said.

"I've been fortunate to play against them before, and as a striker I want to play against the best and they're definitely up there."

 

Kane himself has had an intriguing tournament given he was widely criticised for a slow start that saw him fail to score until the knockout phase, yet he now has four heading into the final.

It is a curious change from his performance at the 2018 World Cup, when he scored five in the group and only one in the knockouts, and he suggested that may be by design.

"Obviously don't get me wrong, I'd have loved to have scored three or four in the group and got off to fantastic start and gone from there, but it was more about the energy," he said.

"I felt in the World Cup, it was such an amazing start, scoring in the last minute against Tunisia, a lot of energy after that game was used in terms of the emotion, and then against Panama it was the same, because it was an amazing game and I got a hat-trick.

"Again, there's a lot of talk and mental energy [expended] – Colombia was the same. Not just physically but mentally I felt I just lost a little towards the latter stages, so going into this one with a bit more experience it's about not getting too carried away, whether I score or not.

"Thankfully it's worked out pretty well, but I guess that's part of the learning curve and gaining that experience, hopefully I've enough left to finish the job."

There was a sense of justice and vindication about Italy reaching the final of Euro 2020. They had been arguably the most entertaining side at the tournament and attracted near-universal levels of acclaim for their performances.

Added to that, there was an inspiring narrative that followed their every step, how they'd recovered from the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, started from scratch with a new coach and philosophy, and seen it all come together at their first major tournament since.

But they were fortunate to get beyond Spain in the semi-finals, eventually coming through on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

La Roja did more than enough to win the match, their 1.5 xG almost double the 0.8 that Italy recorded, highlighting the greater quality chances created by Luis Enrique's men.

Although Spain's almost trademark – at this tournament, anyway – wastefulness eventually caught up with them, they at least did Gareth Southgate and England a service in pinpointing ways to hurt Italy.

 

Thinking outside of the box

The chief alteration Luis Enrique made to his side from Spain's previous matches at Euro 2020 was the decision to disregard Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno for that central striker berth.

Now, some might have suggested it was about time, given they were two of the three players with the worst xG underperformance ahead of the semi-finals – Morata had two goals from 3.95 xG, Moreno had no goals from 3.27 xG.

But the reason for their absence, and the presence of Dani Olmo as a false nine, quickly became apparent. The RB Leipzig attacking midfielder withdrew into deeper positions so as to not directly engage Giorgio Chiellini or Leonardo Bonucci in physical duels, but at the same time this helped create midfield overloads in Spain's favour.

This was obvious on numerous occasions, but one of the most notable saw Olmo actually drop in front of Jorginho, a clever flick in the centre-circle seeing him release Pedri into space as Spain cleverly picked through the Italian midfield.

Granted, it didn't necessarily lead to a goal that time, but it highlighted how uncomfortable Italy sometimes found themselves, and the fact Olmo's combined total of seven shots and key passes (five attempts, two chances created) was the most of any player against Italy at this tournament cannot be a coincidence.

Morata's equaliser off the bench came from a situation not too dissimilar to the previous one as well. This time it was he who picked the ball up in a deep position, before charging straight through the Italy midfield and playing a one-two with Olmo, leaving him with a simple finish. Although he might've missed a few of those already in this tournament, he finished with aplomb on that occasion.

 

The blueprint

You know how in some video games there are unusually fearsome enemies who only unleash their wrath upon the player if they don't keep their distance? Well, that seemed to be how Luis Enrique saw Chiellini and Bonucci, and maybe he has a point.

Ahead of the final, Chiellini's 71.4 per cent duels success has been bettered by only six defenders (involved in 10 or more duels), while Bonucci's 12 interceptions is the best of all of them. Together, there's not much they don't possess.

That's why playing around them, rather than through them, seems to be the way to go.

While England don't possess a midfield that's as capable – in almost any sense – as Spain's, mirroring their set-up could at least make things trickier for Italy's core: that centre-back pairing and the three-man midfield.

Jorginho, Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti have been largely excellent at Euro 2020, but at Wembley on Tuesday they were overrun.

 

Jorginho found it particularly tough going, the Chelsea man completing just 26 passes and only five of those were in the Spain half. To put that into context, his previous match low for accurate passes at the Euros was 50, and he'd not gone below 29 in the opponent's half of the pitch.

 

Verratti and Barella also recorded tournament lows in the same metrics, but it was Jorginho's lack of influence that was most notable and, given he is generally the deepest-lying of the Italian midfield, it lends further credence to the idea that Olmo operating slightly deeper ensured the former Napoli star was uncomfortable and unable to truly dictate.

Instead, that was done by Sergio Busquets and – to a slightly lesser extent, but no less impressively – Pedri, while Koke spent much of his time marshalling Verratti in something of a man-marking role.

Of course, an important distinction to make is that Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount aren't Busquets, Pedri and Koke, but if England are to limit the influence of the Italian midfield, all three will need to play the games of their lives.

Kane holds the key

If Phillips and Rice can establish some form of control, the second key factor for England will be the role played by Harry Kane.

While Kane is undoubtedly capable of causing Bonucci and Chiellini problems, mimicking Olmo's performance could be a smart move, and there are few strikers in world football more capable than the Tottenham man at dropping deep and impacting the match in withdrawn spaces.

Jose Mourinho would know all about that, given it was under the Portuguese coach in 2020-21 that Kane enjoyed his best season creatively, reaching double figures for Premier League assists for the first time.

Mourinho told talkSPORT: "[Spain] was the only team that managed to unbalance that Italy midfield, because they had three and Spain had three plus Olmo, almost in a diamond. It was really difficult for Italy to cope with it. I can see Harry Kane doing that a lot. I can see Harry dropping and being away from Bonucci and Chiellini.

 

"For Bonucci and Chilellini, to have a target man in there is what they want. By not having a target man there, it's an extra midfielder, Harry Kane does that better than anyone."

Kane's 14 assists (12 in open play) in 2020-21 came from 3.6 xA (expected assists). Granted, that 10.4 over-performance – which was by far the best across the top five leagues – suggests a hint of fortune or that he was helped by good finishing from team-mates, but the idea he got lucky on every single occasion is far-fetched. He is clearly a fine link-up player.

Seven of those assists came from deeper positions, and the role Raheem Sterling plays for England isn't too dissimilar to that of Son Heung-min at Spurs, and we all know about Kane and Son's on-pitch relationship.

Italy's midfield is their strength, but all three of their regulars are players who want the ball – none of them are destroyers, and Spain have provided England with the blueprint to dull their impact.

Whether the Three Lions are up to the challenge will define if 55 years of hurt finally end on Sunday.

 

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

Mbappe is wanted by Real Madrid as Paris Saint-Germain try to retain the France international.

However, Liverpool are also believed to be circling…

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL POISED TO POUNCE

Liverpool are the leading contenders to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to RMC.

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and he has been tipped to join LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

PSG remain determined to re-sign Mbappe but should the France international not renew in Paris, Liverpool are ready to pounce.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport claims Barcelona will not be afforded an increased salary cap to re-sign superstar Lionel Messi, who is out of contract at Camp Nou and linked with PSG and Manchester City. Barca must reduce their wage bill in order to keep the captain. It comes as Goal says Barca have offered to release Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti from their contracts to free up space in the club's budget. Pjanic has been linked to Juventus, Inter, MilanTottenham and Manchester United.

Cristiano Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes is pushing to extend the superstar's Juve deal until 2023, per Gazzetta dello Sport. The 36-year-old, who is contracted until 2022, has been linked with United and PSG.

United are progressing in their pursuit to sign Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, according to Fabrizio Romano. A long-term target of United, the 18-year-old France international – who will become a free agent after 2021-22 – has also been linked with PSG, Madrid, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

- Calciomercato reports Liverpool have enquired about Inter and Italy star Nicolo Barella. Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool are eyeing a replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum, who joined PSG.

- Juve are due to meet with Sassuolo to discuss a move for Manuel Locatelli, says Calciomercato. The Italy international is also reportedly wanted by Arsenal among others.

Spain greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta are inspirational figures for Italy's Nicolo Barella, although the Azzurri midfielder does not try to replicate their skill sets.

Barcelona legends Xavi and Iniesta formed a key part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 – in which they thrashed Italy in the final – either side of lifting the 2010 World Cup.

While the Barca duo were more renowned for their creativity than goalscoring exploits, albeit Iniesta got the crucial strike in Spain's World Cup triumph in South Africa, Barella has established himself as a real goal threat for both Inter and Italy.

Indeed, the former Cagliari man opened the scoring in Italy's 2-1 quarter-final win over Belgium with a fantastic finish, teed up by some excellent footwork.

And while Barella is inspired by the Spain greats of the past, he finds it hard to compare his own game with theirs. 

"They had great champions who inspired everyone, like Xavi and Iniesta," Barella told a news conference. 

"It's easy to say that we were inspired, but all those who love football are. I have different characteristics, seeing me in them is difficult.

"The Spain side that won the Euros in 2012 had an incredible midfield. There were amazing champions there, here there are great players, but we hope we can reach their level and possibly do even better."

Italy inflicted a 2-0 defeat in the last 16 of Euro 2016 to gain revenge for their 4-0 loss in Kyiv nine years ago, and a final against either England or Denmark is the prize for the victor at Wembley on Tuesday.

"[Sergio] Busquets has been one of the best midfielders in the world for many years," Barella continued.

"Then they have Pedri and Koke. It will be a nice game, we'll try to beat their midfield and beat Spain.

"It will be a tough game, we are similar as we both want to dominate the possession. I hope it will be a nice game, we want to enjoy it in a fantastic stadium."

Italy did suffer a blow in the win over Belgium, with influential left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"It was strange not to celebrate because one of my team-mates had suffered a serious injury," Barella said when asked about Spinazzola, who has travelled to Finland for surgery.

"It was the first time I didn't celebrate a win at the end of the game, all we can do is to make Spinazzola proud and celebrate for him."

Only three defenders – Andrew Robertson (nine), David Alaba (10) and Jordi Alba (11) – have created more chances than Spinazzola (eight) so far at Euro 2020, though Barella is confident that Chelsea's Emerson, who is set to replace the stricken Roma full-back, will prove an able deputy.

"Emerson and Spina have different characteristics, they are two great players and nobody is worried," he said.

"[Emerson] won the Champions League and he will help us as he's always done. He's played many games for us and we all trust him."

Italy's superb Euro 2020 campaign continued on Friday as they edged past Belgium 2-1 in Munich to set up a semi-final clash with Spain.

Superb strikes from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Lukaku went close in the second period, yet Roberto Mancini's side held firm in the first knockout meeting between the sides at a major tournament. 

The Azzurri will now play Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday after Luis Enrique's side overcame Switzerland on penalties earlier in the day.

Italy thought they had opened the scoring in the 13th minute, but Leonardo Bonucci's bundled finish from Insigne's free-kick was ruled out for offside following a VAR review. 

Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku in quick succession midway through the first half, before the Azzurri went ahead in the 31st minute when Barella superbly lashed across Thibaut Courtois for his sixth international goal.

Italy doubled their advantage a minute before half-time when Insigne powered towards the penalty area and whipped into Courtois' top-left corner from 25 yards. 

Belgium halved the deficit in first-half stoppage time, however, Lukaku stroking home from the spot after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had pushed Jeremy Doku in the area. 

Inter striker Lukaku had a glorious opportunity to draw the Red Devils level on the hour mark, but his close-range effort hit Leonardo Spinazzola with Donnarumma beaten. 

Doku blazed over after a mazy run late on as Roberto Martinez’s side, who only had one shot on target in the second half, ultimately saw their Euro 2020 campaign end with a whimper.
 

 

Is Erling Haaland's future close to being resolved?

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

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

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA CLOSING IN ON HAALAND?

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

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

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

 

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erling Haaland is reportedly Chelsea's number one target.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA WANT HAALAND

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

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

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

 

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy extended their impressive unbeaten run to 27 matches as they completed their Euro 2020 preparations with a 4-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Friday.

Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Barella grabbed first-half goals in the friendly fixture at the Renato Dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna, though both benefited from seeing their attempts take crucial deflections to beat Jiri Pavlenka.

Lorenzo Insigne required no help to add a third in the 66th minute and then set up Domenico Berardi for the final goal as the Czechs were easily bounced, producing a worrying performance ahead of their involvement in the European Championship.

In contrast, the Azzurri head into the delayed tournament having not been beaten since a 1-0 reverse against Portugal in a Nations League fixture back in September 2018.

Not long after an injury scare for Leonardo Bonucci that saw the Juventus centre-back require treatment on his right knee, Immobile opened the scoring when his close-range shot clipped Ondrej Celustka to wrong-foot goalkeeper Pavlenka.

If that goal was somewhat unfortunate for the Czech Republic, the second they conceded was just plain bizarre.

Barella was allowed to carry the ball when in possession before taking aim from just outside the penalty area, his effort hitting not one but two defenders before ending up in the net.

Jan Boril's bid to make a block on the Inter midfielder only sent the ball onto compatriot Jakub Brabec, who – with his back turned – ended up sending the ball looping up and over the luckless Pavlenka.

Immobile's clever throughball allowed Insigne to curl a right-footed attempt into the net, while the scorer of Italy's third turned provider to set up Berardi for a cheeky finish, with an initial dummy fooling Pavlenka to allow the Sassuolo player to flick in with his left foot.

Roberto Mancini handed Berardi's club colleague Giacomo Raspadori a debut off the bench, but the forward – a surprise selection in the final 26-man squad announced on Monday – could not mark the memorable occasion by adding his name to the list of scorers.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku headlined the list of Serie A's MVP winners for the 2020-21 season.

Ronaldo finished the campaign as the leading scorer in the competition, netting 29 times across 33 appearances for Juventus to be named the most valuable forward.

Lukaku ranked second in the scorer's list with 24 goals from 36 outings, though the Belgium striker did provide 11 assists compared to Ronaldo's tally of three as he was named "the best overall" MVP.

Both forwards only netted one goal from outside the area and scored six penalties apiece, while Lukaku had a better shot conversion rate than Ronaldo – 25 per cent compared to 17.26 - as he helped Inter finish as champions.

 

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Donnarumma – whose future remains unclear as his contract at Milan nears an end – was selected as the top goalkeeper.

No other keeper played more games than the 22-year-old (37), while his tally of 14 clean sheets was level with Inter's Samir Handanovic for most in the league.

Cristian Romero was named as the best defender after a fine season with Atalanta, while Inter's Italy international Nicolo Barella scooped the midfield MVP honour.

Barella played 36 times for Antonio Conte's champions, scoring three goals and setting a further up seven. On average, he created 1.46 chances per 90 minutes.

There was also recognition for Dusan Vlahovic, named the best player under the age of 23 in Serie A after netting 21 league goals for Fiorentina.

Where will Kylian Mbappe be playing next season is a question being asked across Europe.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Should Mbappe depart Paris, PSG are reportedly drawing up a list of replacements.

 

TOP STORY – KANE AND SALAH WANTED IN PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain have set their sights on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as possible replacements for Kylian Mbappe, according to Telefoot.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though PSG remain in negotiations over a contract extension.

While PSG are still hopeful, the Ligue 1 holders are eyeing the Premier League should Mbappe leave the French capital.

Kane is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Manchester City, while Salah has previously been linked with Madrid and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are chasing Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. The Sun adds Chelsea are also interested in the Italy star.

Juventus and PSG could exchange Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in a swap deal, says Corriere dello Sport. Icardi's future is up in the air, despite only joining PSG permanently from Inter last year, while countryman Dybala is reportedly nearing an exit.

- AS Diario claims United are keeping tabs on Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, who has also been linked with neighbours City. United have also been credited with interest in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig's Liverpool target Ibrahima Konate as well as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane.

- Eintracht Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter is set to replace outgoing boss Marco Rose at Borussia Monchengladbach, reports Kicker. Rose is poised to take charge of Borussia Dortmund.

Nicolo Barella said he is inspired by Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and former NBA MVP Allen Iverson as the Inter midfielder discussed his love of basketball.

Barella has established himself as one of the best midfielders in Serie A and Europe amid Inter's Scudetto charge this season.

The 24-year-old Inter and Italy star has scored three Serie A goals and supplied five assists for the Nerazzurri, who are nine points clear atop the table.

Barella revealed he wears the number 23 jersey because of four-time NBA champion James, while also highlighting his admiration for Philadelphia 76ers great Iverson.

"I played basketball for four years. There was a lot of competition in my family, but my cousins are better than me," Barella told Sky Sport Basketball Conversation.

"I discuss basketball with Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi and Lautaro Martinez. We follow NBA. When I join the national team, I talk about it with Davide Calabria, Mattia Perin and Giorgio Chiellini.

"Allen Iverson's jersey was one of the first ones I bought. Seeing someone like him dominating among the giants was an important source of inspiration for me. In addition to his technical skills, his attitude impressed me.

"I wear the number 23 shirt, because LeBron James also inspires me. I used to have the number 24 because it's the day when my daughter was born. I had a little argument with my wife for this change, but in the end, she understood.

"What impresses me about LeBron is the fact that he manages to change a team, bringing all his team-mates to the highest level.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is the LeBron James of football. He has talent, desire to work hard, and longevity and he brings his desire to win in every team.

"Winning the NBA is like winning the Champions League, it's more important than a Scudetto, even if I hope I can win one sooner or later."

Sunday's Milan derby will be unlike any seen for much of the past decade: a battle between two genuine Scudetto contenders.

Inter head into the game, the 174th league meeting with their city rivals, at the top of Serie A. They are just a point above Milan, with 16 rounds remaining, after a run of 12 wins in 15 games.

The last time these sides met in the top flight while occupying the top two positions in the table was back in April 2011, when a 3-0 win for the Rossoneri helped propel them to their most recent title.

Much of the focus will be on star strikers Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They scored all three goals in Milan's win in the reverse fixture and clashed on the pitch in the Nerazzurri's more recent Coppa Italia triumph.

However, according to esteemed former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi, the real star of the show might be found in Inter's midfield.

"Those looking for the prototype of the modern footballer should look at Nicolo Barella and they will be satisfied," Sacchi said in his column for La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The Inter player plays for the team and with the team, he attacks and defends, attacks with courage and fights to win the ball back.

"I've been following Barella since he was a kid. He came into Italy's youth teams when I was the Azzurri's technical director. He was not a phenomenon, he was physically frail, he did not have an incredible technique, yet he managed to reach very high levels.

"This shows that at the base of any successful career there is always hard work, training, the spirit of sacrifice and the desire to improve day after day."

For Sacchi, Barella represents the paragon of the modern player. But what makes him so effective?

BOX-TO-BOX BRILLIANCE

Barella is enjoying the best season of his career in terms of goal involvements, with three scored and eight assisted in 32 games in all competitions. Only five Serie A midfielders have been directly involved in more goals.

The 24-year-old has created 42 chances from open play across all competitions this term, only Milan playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu (44) has more among players in Italy's top flight, while Barella has also completed 469 passes ending in the final third, the highest number of any midfield player among Italy's top-tier sides.

Of course, as part of a three-man central midfield under Antonio Conte, creating opportunities is not enough (just ask Christian Eriksen). And, as Sacchi pointed out, Barella's impact is equally impressive when it comes to keeping the opposition away from your own goal.

He is third among Serie A midfielders for tackles won in 2020-21 (35, behind Adrien Rabiot and Marten de Roon), and third for duels won (175, behind Juraj Kucka and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic). That's a continuation of combative play honed at Cagliari, where, in his final two seasons, he was top of the league's midfield rankings with 480 duels won.

 

"COURAGE"

Sacchi spoke glowingly of Barella's bravery, of how an unassuming youngster developed into Serie A's most influential midfielder so early in his career.

He's right – there's a boldness to Barella's play that sets him apart.

In Serie A this season, he has completed 87 progressive carries in which the ball was moved between five and 10 metres up the pitch, which is the most of any attacking midfielder in the league. Twelve of his carries have ended in a chance being created, the fourth-best tally among players in his position.

These kinds of plays help Inter keep possession and limit the risk of losing the ball in dangerous areas. Indeed, Conte's side have faced only 18 shot-ending high turnovers of possession in Serie A this term, the lowest figure in the league, while only Napoli (230) and Juventus (212) have faced fewer pressed sequences than the Nerazzurri (232).

Once in more promising positions, Barella is still the man pulling the strings. His tally of shot build-up involvements – a measure of a player's involvement in sequences ending in a team-mate's shot on goal or chance created – stands at 60, the most of any attacking midfielder in the league.

Looking at sequences where players are involved in the build-up and also create the chance at the end, Barella is third in the division for his position with eight, just two behind Lorenzo Insigne and Ruslan Malinovskiy.

 

CONTE'S LIEUTENANT

Barella's eagerness to be at the heart of matters on the pitch extends to when Inter don't have the ball – at both ends of the pitch.

As well as being third among midfielders this term for tackles and duels won, Barella is fifth for regaining possession, having done so 168 times. When it comes to winning back the ball in the final third, he is top of the pile with 26 (both across all comps).

This, too, helps to set the tone for Inter's approach. In Serie A in 2020-21, they have made 190 high turnovers, a tally bettered only by Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta pressing machine (251). Plus, only Atalanta (129) and Juve (128) have had fewer high turnovers against them than Inter (130). It's an impressive combination, and Barella is integral to it.

As Sacchi said: "A detail that is far from negligible is the desire to put the group at the top of one's thoughts and, in this way self-centeredness, a disease of modern football, is fought and defeated.

"Barella is proving to be a driving force."

 

Inter assistant coach Cristian Stellini has challenged Nicolo Barella to take the next step in his career by adding more goals to his game after scoring in Friday's 2-0 win at Fiorentina.

The Italy international curled in a delightful opener after 31 minutes at Stadio Artemio Franchi and Ivan Perisic added a second as Inter moved top of Serie A.

Barella, who was earlier denied by a fine Bartlomiej Dragowski save, now has three goals and five assists in 21 league outings this term.

That makes 2020-21 the midfielder's best Serie A season in terms of goal involvements, though he did net six times for Cagliari in the 2017-18 season.

Stellini, who was filling in for suspended head coach Antonio Conte against Fiorentina, hopes to see Barella build on those figures in the remainder of the season.

"He is still growing, like Lautaro [Martinez] and many other young players in the squad," he told Sky Sport Italia. "The next step is a few more goals."

Barella's two other goals this season came from inside the penalty area, the 23-year-old having converted just one of his four Opta-defined big chances.

"I was missing them before, but now the goals are starting to come," Barella said. "Today I could have done better, but I am putting myself in good positions."

Perisic also impressed in the routine victory in Florence before leaving the pitch with a knock 10 minutes from time.

The 32-year-old, linked with an exit in January, was on target for just the second time in 19 league outings this term and Stellini was impressed with the winger's display.

"He adapts well and sacrifices a lot," Stellini said. "Before he was a protagonist in the opposition's half, while today he also helped at the other end.

"He is a precious player for us because he is very physical and can cover the whole wing very well. We are convinced and satisfied with what he is doing."

Victory for Inter was their first away at Fiorentina in the league in seven attempts since 2014 and marked the first time they have won successive Serie A matches in 2021.

The Nerazzurri, beaten 2-1 by Juventus in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final earlier this week, are now a point above Milan ahead of their bitter rivals' game in hand against bottom side Crotone on Sunday.

Romelu Lukaku wasted a couple of opportunities and had a goal ruled out, while Dragowski produced four saves in total, but Stellini had no complaints with his side's profligacy.

"We are satisfied with the chances created," he said. "Our forwards have worked well in partnerships, creating several opportunities to score.

"Our players are very generous and sometimes can lose control, but today they were tidy and precise. It wasn't easy so I congratulate the team.

"We don't think about other sides, only our own path. After the game three days ago, it was not easy to come here on a difficult surface."

Fiorentina had won their previous two home league matches and were unfortunate not to be on level terms at half-time as Giacomo Bonaventura struck the crossbar.

However, head coach Cesare Prandelli accepted that his side were second best and did not deserve anything from the game.

"We reacted well to Inter's goal but then opened ourselves up too much," he said. "They were superior to us, but I don't blame my players for anything.

"When you face a team with players that Inter have, who punish you with speed, it can be hard. It's sometimes easier to just give credit to your opponent."

Inter moved top of the Serie A table with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Fiorentina in Friday's clash at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The Nerazzurri had failed to win at Fiorentina in the league in six attempts since 2014 but goals from Nicolo Barella and Ivan Perisic put an end to that run.

Barella's sublime opener after 31 minutes was added to by Perisic's close-range finish in the second half, but only after Giacomo Bonaventura had struck the crossbar for the mid-table hosts.

That proved enough as Inter, who were without suspended head coach Antonio Conte, moved a point above Milan - having played a game more than their bitter rivals.

An off-balance Barella was denied by a superb Bartlomiej Dragowski reaction early on but the midfielder found the back of the net from his next attempt.

Inter worked a short corner and Alexis Sanchez set up Barella, who curled an unstoppable shot into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

Fiorentina would have been level before half-time if not for Samir Handanovic, who tipped Bonaventura's angled drive onto the bar and saved Cristiano Biraghi's follow-up effort.

Inter doubled their lead when Perisic tapped into an empty net seven minutes into the second half after Achraf Hakimi raced in behind and squared the ball.

Romelu Lukaku, making his 50th start in Serie A, had a goal chalked off soon after, as Perisic was deemed to be offside in the build-up.

Dragowski was then called into action twice in the space of two minutes to save Perisic's drive and substitute Roberto Gagliardini's header from close range.

Inter could not add to their tally but it mattered little as they completed a league double in this fixture for the first time since 2013-14.

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