It wasn't so long ago that Raheem Sterling's long-term future at Manchester City was shrouded in doubt.

The England forward has long since been linked to LaLiga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid.

However, it appears Sterling may now be in line to commit his future to the reigning Premier League champions.


TOP STORY – PEP WANTS NEW DEAL FOR STERLING

City boss Pep Guardiola has reportedly given the green light on awarding Sterling a new contract, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Sterling, who has 13 goals and four assists across all competitions for City this season, had been linked with a move to Barca as recently as the January transfer window.

But having played his way back into the team, City want to renew his deal – though the club want a swift decision with Sterling's present contract due to expire in 2023.


ROUND-UP

- Alvaro Morata is a man in demand. Barca were thought to be keen on signing the Spain striker in January, but Arsenal remain interested in the Atletico Madrid forward – who is on loan at Juventus – according to the Boot Room .

- Memphis Depay 's future at Camp Nou was hurt by the departure of Ronald Koeman. Sport reports that Serie A trio Inter , Milan and Juventus are interested in the Netherlands star.

- Stefan de Vrij could be on the move at the end of the season. InterLive says the centre-back could be reunited with Antonio Conte at Tottenham .

- Lucas Vazquez wants to make Spain's World Cup squad and El Nacional says the 30-year-old winger is prepared to leave Real Madrid in order to do so.

Simone Inzaghi was left "very angry" with Inter's approach in their 2-0 defeat against Sassuolo and warned his side to buck up their ideas if they want to retain the Serie A title.

Early goals from Giacomo Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca made it a third straight league game without a win for the Nerazzurri, who also lost the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie to Liverpool in midweek.

Inter consequently failed to reach the summit of the table despite leaders Milan being held by Salernitana on Saturday, though only three points separate the top three in the table. Inter sit two points adrift of Milan, with Napoli in third.

Sassuolo have now clocked up away wins against both Milan sides and Juventus this term, with head coach Inzaghi left frustrated by his team's poor application.

"I am very angry with the approach, because we had three days since Wednesday's game. We talked about the fact Sassuolo beat Juve and Milan away, they play great football and we had to be wary," Inzaghi said.

"We tried to do everything in the second half, created so many chances and were unlucky, but the fact remains we should have had a different approach.

"Sassuolo had great technical quality, they were fresher physically and it showed.

"We will analyse the situation, we know there are 13 games to go, we are all up there and want to keep going forward.

"The fact is a team that wants to win the Scudetto cannot get the approach as wrong as we did today."

Lautaro Martinez drew a blank for a seventh straight game, while Opta data shows that since the resumption of the league after the mid-season break Inter have recorded 100 shots (36 on target) but managed only six goals.

They remain the top scorers in Serie A, though, and Inzaghi is sure his side will soon start finding the net with more regularity.

"I don't think there is anxiety, the great champions are accustomed to these games. I think there was a lack of sharpness, there was some fatigue, both physical and mental," Inzaghi added.

"My staff and I tried to focus the players this week, but we conceded two early goals that we usually don't allow.

"We remain the most prolific side in Serie A this season and will get back to scoring goals soon. When you are a striker and don't score, you just have to stay calm, the goal will come."

Matteo Darmian and Roberto Gagliardini were hauled off at half-time for Denzel Dumfries and Edin Dzeko, and Inzaghi would have liked to have made more alterations.

"I would have happily changed more than two at half-time," he said. "We lost some of our organisation, we tried to open it up again, but we have to analyse what went wrong today.

"There's another match in [five] days [against Genoa], we know that we play continually and need to be stronger than absences, bans, injuries, setbacks, everything.

"We're all in there and will see what happens at the end of the season."

Inter confirmed three-year contract extensions for key directors Giuseppe Marotta, Piero Ausilio and Dario Baccin on Friday.

Sporting chief executive Marotta, chief sport officer Ausilio and his deputy officer Baccin were set to see their previous deals expire at the end of the season.

The trio will continue to operate under president Steven Zhang until at least June 2025 after the technical team agreed fresh terms, having overseen a period of success on the pitch.

Inter secured their first Scudetto in 10 years last season as head coach Antonio Conte guided the Nerazzurri to a dominant Serie A title triumph.

His successor, Simone Inzaghi, has Inter second in Serie A this season, a point behind local rivals Milan, who have played a game more.

Reports in Italy suggest a new deal for midfielder Marcelo Brozovic could soon follow the announcements of new contracts for the three directors, with the Croatia midfielder set to sign new terms to keep him at the club until June 2026.

Inter next face Sassuolo in the league on Sunday as they look to step up their pursuit of leaders Milan.

Four more teams begin their Champions League knockout-stage campaigns on Wednesday when Inter host Liverpool and Bayern Munich travel to Salzburg for the first leg of their last-16 ties.

The clash between European heavyweights Inter and Liverpool at San Siro could potentially be a landmark one for Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, who is one short of becoming the eighth coach – and the first German – to reach 50 wins in the competition.

Salzburg's meeting with Bayern will be a special occasion regardless as the Austrian Bundesliga champions are competing at this stage of the competition for the first time ever.

Bayern are unbeaten in their last 21 away games in the Champions League since September 2017 – the longest-such run in European Cup history – and they beat Salzburg by a combined 9-3 scoreline in last term's group-stage meetings.

With the help of Opta, Stats Perform picks out some of the best of the numbers ahead of Wednesday's pair of last-16 ties.

Inter v Liverpool

Each of the four previous encounters between Inter and Liverpool have come in the knockout rounds of the European Cup and Champions League. Inter advanced over two legs in the 1964-65 semi-finals en route to being crowned the kings of Europe, while Liverpool emerged victorious at this very stage in 2007-08.

Liverpool have won their last two away games against Italian opposition in European competition – just one win fewer than they managed in their previous 14 such encounters – after beating Atalanta in 2020-21 and Milan earlier this season 

Inter have been eliminated from two of their three two-legged knockout ties against English opponents since the Champions League changed format in 2003-04, losing to Liverpool in 2007-08 and Manchester United in 2008-09, before eliminating Chelsea in 2009-10.

The Nerazzurri have won their last two Champions League home matches, which is one more than they managed in their previous nine between November 2018 and September 2021. However, not since between December 2009 and November 2010 – a run of seven victories – have they won three in a row in San Siro in the competition.

Mohamed Salah is in line to make his 50th Champions League appearance for Liverpool. The Egypt international has scored 32 goals in 49 games to date – only Cristiano Ronaldo (51 for Real Madrid) and Robert Lewandowski (36 for Bayern Munich) have ever netted more as of their 50th game for a single club.

Inter will hope Edin Dzeko can continue his good record against Liverpool, having netted in each of his past three meetings with them, scoring once for Manchester City in 2015 and twice for Roma in the semi-finals of this competition in 2017-18. 

Salzburg v Bayern Munich

Bayern are facing Austrian opposition in the knockout stages of a European competition for the fourth time. The German giants have advanced on each of the previous three occasions – against Rapid Vienna in the 1966-67 Cup Winners' Cup and Austria Vienna in successive European Cup campaigns in 1985-86 and 1986-87.

That does not bode well for Salzburg, who have won only one of their last six games against German teams in European competition, conceding 18 goals at an average of three per match. However, that solitary win did come in their most-recent home match – a 3-1 win over Wolfsburg in the group stage.

Julian Nagelsmann's side are one of only three teams with a 100 per cent record in the Champions League this term, along with Liverpool and Ajax. Only three sides prior to this campaign have ever won their first seven games of a Champions League campaign, with Bayern the most recent to do so three seasons ago.

Salzburg will be hoping to follow Atalanta, RB Leipzig (both in 2019-20) and Wolfsburg (2015-16) as only the fourth team to win their first game in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Robert Lewandowski is set to make his 50th away appearance in UEFA's showpiece competition. The Bayern striker has scored 37 goals to date in those games, which is already the most of any player to have reached that landmark, three more than next-best Lionel Messi.

Lewandowski's 11 direct goal involvements in the group stage were the second-most of any player, behind Ajax's Sebastien Haller (12). Next on the list is team-mate Leroy Sane, who scored five and assisted four more in six appearances.

Inter assistant Massimiliano Farris praised his team's mentality and fitness levels after they came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw at title rivals Napoli.

Nerazzurri coach Simone Inzaghi served a touchline ban in Naples after both he and defender Alessandro Bastoni were shown red cards in the aftermath of the defending champions' 2-1 derby defeat to Milan last week.

Lorenzo Insigne's first-half penalty gave Napoli a deserved half-time lead and left Inter staring at consecutive defeats to their main Scudetto rivals, but Edin Dzeko's equalising goal ensured the visitors escaped Naples with a point.

And Farris was pleased with how they responded to going behind.

"The second-half performance says a great deal about the quality of this squad," he told DAZN in the aftermath of the stalemate.

"We had some regrets at half-time, but in the second half [we] showed a great reaction and mental strength in a fiery atmosphere. 

"We smothered Napoli’s enthusiasm and we could've won it at the end, but we're content with a point here."

Inter managed just three shots worth a mere 0.17 combined expected goals before the break, but an improved second half display ensured the Nerazzurri earned a valuable draw, and they have now won 17 points from losing positions in Serie A this season, more than any other team in the division.

Farris, who accompanied Inzaghi during his five-year stint as Lazio boss before joining him at San Siro, put Inter's ability to rescue points from difficult situations down to their fitness levels.

"Napoli changed tactics to a [back] five and that was a sign of them backing off, [but] we still had fuel in the tank, despite coming off the derby and a Coppa Italia match, whereas Napoli had all week to prepare for this game," he said.

"The team was controlling the situation well [in the second half]. It's all a positive sign."

Despite seeing their 440-minute stretch without conceding an away goal in Serie A come to an end, Inter maintained their one-point lead over Luciano Spalletti's Napoli at the Serie A summit with the draw, although cross-city rivals Milan could leapfrog the Nerazzurri by beating Sampdoria on Sunday.

There may still be three months of the 2021-22 campaign to play, but Manchester United will already have one eye on next season.

Not only is there a question mark over who will be in charge, but United must also freshen up a squad that has once again underperformed this time around.

If reports are accurate, it may well be that two of United's long-term targets end up reuniting at Old Trafford.
 

TOP STORY – POCHETTINO WANTS KANE TO JOIN HIM AT UNITED

Mauricio Pochettino has long been considered the favourite to take over from Ralf Rangnick should the interim manager, as expected, step aside at the end of the season.

According to the Telegraph, Pochettino wants assurances that he will be financially backed if he leaves Paris Saint-Germain, with Tottenham striker Harry Kane reported to be on his radar.

Kane and Pochettino previously worked together for five and a half years at Tottenham and are said to still remain in contact.

However, Spurs resisted big-money interest from Manchester City for their star player last year and are not expected to budge too much on their valuation in the next window.


ROUND-UP

- Gareth Bale looks increasingly likely to leave Real Madrid when his contract expires later this year. According to one report, from Tuttomercatoweb, the Wales international has reached an agreement to return to Tottenham, where he spent last season on loan.

- Sport claims that Frenkie de Jong has no intention of leaving Barcelona in the next transfer window. The Ajax academy product is rumoured to be a target for Liverpool and Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

- Real Madrid have added Arsenal full-back Kieran Tierney to their list of transfer targets, Spanish outlet El Espanol reports. Los Blancos are seeking a replacement for Marcelo, who turns 34 in May and is soon to become a free agent.

- According to transfer expert Ekrem Konur, Brazilian side Flamengo remain in talks to sign Neto from Barcelona on a free contract. The once-capped Brazil international has played second-fiddle to Marc-Andre ter Stegen for the past three seasons.

- Inter midfielder Arturo Vidal is a man in demand ahead of becoming a free agent in July. Calciomercato suggests that Premier League sides Aston Villa and Tottenham, as well as Marseille and Galatasaray, are set to battle it out for his signature.

Manchester United remain on the lookout for a full-time manager, three months on from sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ralf Rangnick has taken interim charge until at least the end of the campaign, but some mixed results have hampered his hopes of landing the job permanently.

A number of names have been linked with one of football's most prestigious positions, though one candidate is seemingly favoured by the players.

 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED STARS FAVOUR POCH APPOINTMENT

Mauricio Pochettino remains the favourite to succeed Solskjaer as United's next permanent boss and, according to The Express, that is an appointment that will go down well.

The Red Devils' first-team stars are said to have made clear that Pochettino, who is under pressure a year into his time with Paris Saint-Germain, is their preferred option.

Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag is another candidate to lead United forward from next season, but there are concerns over his lack of experience in English football.

 

ROUND-UP

- While there is uncertainty over who will be in charge at United next season, the Premier League heavyweights are pushing ahead with transfer plans. Sport1 reports that Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji is one of those being targeted.

- Memphis Depay could be on his way out of Barcelona less than a year after arriving at Camp Nou. Sport claims that Barca have other attacking options in mind, with Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland still on their radar.

- Inter remain in talks with Ivan Perisic over a new contract at San Siro. According to Nicolo Schira, the Croatia international is close to putting pen to paper on an extension that will run through until July 2024.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan are planning talks with the representatives of Lille centre-back Sven Botman. The highly rated defender has been touted as a target for numerous clubs across Europe, most notably Newcastle United.

- Chelsea have not given up hope of tying Antonio Rudiger down to a new deal, according to Goal. It is claimed that the Germany international has been offered close to £200,000 a week to turn down interest from Real Madrid and PSG.

Simone Inzaghi bemoaned Inter's 2-1 loss to fierce rivals Milan and admitted his players learned a "tough lesson" as the Scudetto title race was blown wide open.

Inter were heading seven points clear at the top of Serie A with a game in hand after Ivan Perisic's first-half volley put them in control of Saturday's Derby della Madonnina.

The Nerazzurri continued to dominate for large parts of the match and would have been further ahead if not for Mike Maignan, who pulled off four big saves in the first half.

However, Inter were punished for failing to kill off the contest when Olivier Giroud scored a quickfire double at San Siro in his first taste of this famous fixture.

Giroud slid in at the back post to level up the game on 75 minutes and added a second three minutes later, becoming the first Frenchman to score twice against Inter in Serie A.

After falling to a barely believable first home league loss since October 2020 – also against Milan – Inzaghi was left to wonder just how his side chucked away the points.

"This is football. We dominated in every way but weren't sharp at the end. They were lucky on the first goal and were smart on the second," he said.

"I saw a derby with one-way traffic for 60 minutes. In the final 25 minutes, we weren't as sharp or as in control, and the game was more open to individual incidents. 

"We know it's a defeat that hurts, but strong teams must be able to analyse their errors.

"If we played it again 10 times, we might lose it once. We all know how important the derby is; we didn't deserve to lose, but that is football.

"Until the equaliser, we had allowed Milan practically nothing. It's a tough lesson, but a valuable one to make us more determined to kill off games so this doesn't happen again."

 

Inter's players were unhappy that Giroud's first goal was allowed to stand as they felt that he barged into former Arsenal team-mate Alexis Sanchez earlier in the attack.

But Inzaghi accepted Inter only had themselves to blame after falling to just a second league loss to Milan – who lost Theo Hernandez to a late red card – in their last 12 meetings.

"The lads got irritated at the equaliser, as there was probably a clear foul on Alexis Sanchez and we lost our focus," he said.

"We should've scored the second goal, while Alexis Sanchez was barged off the pitch practically by Giroud on the goal.

"But the fact remains if we had taken more of our chances, [the Giroud incident] wouldn’t have mattered. It's not a problem, it was a challenge. 

"If you think it's fair, that's fine. It's not the issue – the lads lost their focus a bit after that incident and that's the problem. The referee let a lot go."

Saturday's defeat was Inter's first to Milan in the league after leading in the game since February 2004 and leaves them just one point clear, albeit with a game in hand.

Samir Handanovic, whose 30 Serie A appearances against Milan is the most of any current player against another in the competition, echoed the thoughts of his head coach.

"Today we did everything. We had the game under control and played well," he told Inter TV. "But then we lost a few too many balls and were punished. 

"There are many more games and the mistakes have to be reviewed. It must be understood why we managed the last 15 minutes like we did. 

"Sometimes you take risks and you are not punished; today we took risks and were punished."

Olivier Giroud scored a quickfire late double to earn Milan a dramatic 2-1 win over Inter at San Siro that moves his side within a point of the Serie A leaders.

Milan had taken just one point from their previous two matches and were on the verge of losing again as Ivan Perisic's first-half volley had Inter firmly in control of Saturday's clash.

But Mike Maignan ensured the designated visitors were not out of the game and, from pretty much out of nowhere, Milan caught Inter cold thanks to Giroud's double. 

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blot a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

Denzel Dumfries had an early goal ruled out for offside and was later denied from a one-on-one by Maignan, who was also equal to Marcelo Brozovic's deflected drive.

Samir Handanovic was also needed to deny Sandro Tonali, but the breakthrough arrived in the 38th minute when Perisic volleyed in ex-Milan winger Calhanoglu's corner.

Stefano Pioli turned to Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz in the second half but Milan continued to pose little attacking threat until a dramatic final quarter to the game.

Giroud slid in to convert Diaz's deflected shot, though Inter were unhappy the goal was allowed to stand as the goalscorer clattered into Alexis Sanchez at the start of the move.

Inter failed to compose themselves and conceded another almost instantly as Giroud held off Stefan de Vrij and fired in a shot that squirmed under the hand of Handanovic.

Theo Hernandez was dismissed deep into added time for a rash challenge on Dumfries, though Milan saw out a huge win that keeps the Scudetto race wide open.

As Serie A returns this weekend, the standout fixture is the Milan derby. And this isn't just any Milan derby.

Champions Inter are setting the pace, with 16 wins and just one defeat in 22 games. They are the top scorers in the division, with 53; they have the most points, with 53. The league's second-best goalscorers are their city rivals, who are only four points behind, albeit having played a game more.

With Juventus having slipped from their perch, Milan and Inter have become Italy's trendsetters once more. They are the leading exponents of Serie A's modern trend: that of shunning catenaccio in favour of front-foot, attacking football. And, with all due respect to second-place Napoli, they are undoubtedly the favourites to occupy the top two places come the end of the season.

All this means Saturday's clash at San Siro should be one to savour...

 

'BORING, BORING SERIE A...'

Matchday 21 of Serie A saw 39 goals scored across only 10 matches. In Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22, only matchday 14 of the Bundesliga (41 goals) and matchday nine of the Premier League (40) produced more goals across a set of fixtures.

That was no aberration, either. Of the 10 highest-scoring matchdays in Europe's big five leagues this term, five have come from Italy. Indeed, Serie A has been averaging over three goals a game for the past three seasons, a rate last seen 70 years ago.

It follows that the two teams best embracing that trend are competing for the Scudetto. Not only have Inter (53) and Milan (47) scored the most Serie A goals in 2021-22, but they have embraced a style that lends itself to creating as many opportunities as possible.

Milan (eight) and Inter (seven) are the teams with the most goals after an open-play sequence of 10 or more passes. When it comes to open-play shots, the Nerazzurri are second (274) and the Rossoneri fourth (265) in the division.

Interestingly, while Inter are top for expected goals (excluding penalties) with 40.9, Milan are down in eighth on 31.3. That means Stefano Pioli's men are outperforming their non-penalty xG total by almost 11 goals (when own goals are included), a tally bettered only by Lazio (16.6). There's a ruthlessness about them this season that's keeping them on Inter's coattails.

 

RELEASE THE HAKAN

Speaking of ruthless... boy, would Zlatan love to be involved in this.

A Scudetto winner with each club, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has great history in this fixture, with eight goals in league derbies (six for Milan and two for Inter). In the history of the fixture, only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more.

The 40-year-old scored twice in Milan's 2-1 derby victory in October 2020, the only one of the past 11 in the league in which the Rossoneri have come out on top. Unfortunately for them, injury has denied Ibrahimovic the chance of dealing further damage to his old employers.

Instead, the sub-plot burden falls on Hakan Calhanoglu, who made an acrimonious free transfer to Inter from Milan at the end of last season. His 32 goals and 42 assists in 174 appearances for Milan – he was top of the charts for both in his time at the club – made his move particularly painful to bear for supporters.

It was Calhanoglu who scored Inter's goal in the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture this season, meaning Milan could become the third side, after Chievo and Fiorentina, against whom the Turkey star has scored in his first two Serie A meetings.

Among Serie A midfielders this season, only Antonio Candreva (59) has created more chances than Calhanoglu (50), while his 13 direct goal involvements are second only to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (15). Not that Milan needed any reminders about his threat.

 

DERBY DAZE

Inter have won more games (67) and scored more goals (247) against Milan than any other team in Serie A history. They are also enjoying a run of six wins and only one defeat in the past 11 derbies, in which time their rivals have kept just a single clean sheet.

Since that loss to Milan in October 2020, Simone Inzaghi's side have gone 28 home league matches without defeat. This is their longest such run in the competition since a 46-match streak between April 2008 and November 2010, which was ended by a defeat in the derby courtesy of a goal from, yep, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Form, as well as recent history, is on Inter's side. Since the beginning of last season, they have lost only four of 60 Serie A matches – fewer than half the number of any other team (Atalanta are next best, with nine). In a league table of that time frame, Inter would sit top on 144 points, 16 clear of Milan in second.

 

HALF-MEASURES

Each of these teams is averaging more than two goals per game this season, they have both scored in 21 different league matches and they have each won by two goals on six different occasions. Again, it's safe to expect some attacking football.

If you want specifics, we would suggest not going anywhere midway through the first half. The average times at which Inter and Milan have scored and conceded the first goal in a game this season are between the 27th and 38th minutes. Best wait until the break before grabbing that espresso.

Jesse Lingard remained at Manchester United beyond the January transfer window, but the England international's long-term future at Old Trafford is far from certain.

After struggling for appearances this term under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then Ralf Rangnick, Lingard's time at United may be reaching its natural conclusion.

A number of teams have been tipped to move for the 29-year-old at the end of the campaign, at which point he will officially become a free agent.


TOP STORY - LINGARD ON JUVE'S RADAR

Juventus have been unable to agree fresh terms with Paulo Dybala and, according to Calciomercato, plans are already in place to bring in a replacement in the next window.

The report claims that Juve are big fans of Lingard, despite his limited playing time this season, and will attempt to see off competition for his signature.

Newcastle United and West Ham, where Lingard spent a successful period on loan in 2020-21, have also been tipped to move for the United academy product.


ROUND-UP

- Barcelona have taken the first steps towards signing soon-to-be free agent Marcelo Brozovic from Inter at the end of the season, according to Calciomercato. 

- Transfer expert Ekrem Konur claims that Manchester City are confident of agreeing fresh terms with Ilkay Gundogan amid interest from England, Spain and Germany.

- Juve have recently been tipped to move for Nicolo Zaniolo, and Calciomercato suggests that Roma will allow the midfielder to leave should his €40million valuation be met.

- Marco Asensio is open to extending his contract with Real Madrid beyond the end of next season, despite not being first choice. That is according to Goal.

- Douglas Costa has agreed to join Los Angeles Galaxy from Juventus on an initial 18-month contract, claims Fabrizio Romano, with a deal set to be confirmed early next week.

Christian Eriksen has signed for Brentford as he completes a remarkable return to the Premier League after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020.

The Denmark international collapsed during a clash with Finland last June and subsequently required surgery to fit an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) to his heart.

Rules in Italy prevent players from playing after having such a device fitted, so the 29-year-old's time with Inter came to an end.

However, it is not illegal to play professional sport in England with an ICD, nor in the Netherlands – where Daley Blind could continue playing fo Ajax after having the device fitted.

Eriksen had been training at his former club Odense to build up his fitness, while he also recently joined Ajax's training sessions with the Eredivisie leaders' reserve side.

Fellow Dane Thomas Frank has now acted by signing the former Tottenham man, who he coached when the midfielder was in Denmark's Under-17s side, on a deal until the end of the season.

"I am looking forward to working with Christian again," Bees boss Frank told the club's official website. "It has been a while since I last coached him, and a lot has happened since then.

"Christian was 16 at the time and has become one of the best midfield players to appear in the Premier League. He has also won trophies all over Europe and become the star of the Danish national team.

“We have taken an unbelievable opportunity to bring a World Class player to Brentford. He hasn’t trained with a team for seven months but has done a lot of work on his own. He is fit but we will need to get him match fit and I am looking forward to seeing him work with the players and staff to get back towards his highest level.

“At his best, Christian has the ability to dictate games of football. He can find the right passes and is a goal threat. He also has very, very good set-piece delivery, both from corners and direct free-kicks.

"He is a player you can find with the ball, and he will come up with a solution to the problem in front of him. Christian will also bring experience of top level football to the Club. I expect him to have an impact in the dressing room and at the training ground."

Eriksen appeared 226 times in the English top flight for Spurs, scoring 56 times and assisting 62.

The playmaker still holds the club record at Spurs for most assists in a single Premier League campaign, recording 15 during the 2016-17 season.

He joined Inter on a four-and-a-half-year deal in January 2020 and was a part of Antonio Conte's title-winning team that ended a 10-year wait for the Scudetto last season.

Brentford have lost their past four Premier League games, leaving them 14th in the table. They are next in action in the FA Cup against Everton on Saturday.

It wasn't so long ago that the notion of Juventus hoovering up talent from Serie A rivals would have been seen in a negative light by most Italian football fans.

But while their domination of Italy's top division only really ended last season when Inter brought the Bianconeri's nine-year subjugation of Serie A to a halt, their current situation would make you think it was far longer since they were a challenger.

When the season resumes after this international break, Juve will go into their next fixture at least 11 points off the top, down in fifth. For years their recruitment has been muddled and misguided, with Aaron Ramsey's fringe squad status the perfect embodiment of that.

But Dusan Vlahovic's arrival shows there is life in the Old Lady yet, and given the striker's rise to prominence, this move is also potentially massive for Serie A in general.

Fiorentina hadn't been shy about their desire to cash in on the Serbian, who turned 22 on Friday. They have been very public about how they simply could not afford to lose out on a transfer fee, a situation that was quickly threatening to become a real issue given his contract was due to expire in 2023.

Pretty much all of Europe's biggest clubs were linked with Vlahovic at some point over the past 12 months, and for a while most people's money would have been on him moving to England.

"Oh, another emerging talent scurrying off to chase the big bucks of the Premier League, how predictable," many 'calcio' fans were presumably muttering to themselves as… *checks notes*… Arsenal and Tottenham circled.

As the story reportedly went, Vlahovic's agent didn't seriously consider those two in the end. Whether it might have been a different story for Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United or even Chelsea is unclear, but a coup it remains for Juve.

Vlahovic's impact on Italian football, particularly over the past 18 months, has been significant. Some have suggested he's Serie A's answer to Erling Haaland – perhaps a slight exaggeration, but there's a reason Juve are investing in a guy who in 2021, let's not forget, became only the second player in the past 60 years to net 33 Serie A goals over a single calendar year.

Juve's attraction to him makes absolute sense when you consider a metric as reductive – yet, crucial – as goals. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit last year, the Bianconeri were left with a gaping maw in terms of finishing ability. The faith placed in Alvaro Morata to pick up the slack was as optimistic as it was naive, as the Spaniard has five in 22 Serie A games.

Vlahovic should, in theory, provide them with a number nine who is dedicated to goals. As Fiorentina's focal point this term, he has recorded 87 shots (second-most among Serie A players) and scored 15 non-penalty goals across all competitions.

Some might point to the fact those 15 strikes are a considerable increase on his non-penalty xG (expected goals) of 10.2, and there's obviously a chance he won't prove to be quite so clinical for Juve, but it clearly shows they are buying a player brimming with belief.

Similarly, being surrounded by better players in Turin may mean Vlahovic doesn't have to try as many low-xG shots. A quick look at his shot map in Serie A this season shows a significant variation in goal distances, which obviously has an impact on his xG per shot, which is 0.11 (excluding penalties).

That may not mean anything in isolation, but when you compare that to Tammy Abraham's 0.18, there's quite a gulf. The England striker seems to be better at getting into clear-cut goalscoring situations, but if Vlahovic is already proving this deadly from worse positions, imagine what he could do if he improves.

It's worth noting that by no means does Vlahovic only have eyes for goal. In fact, among 'conventional' strikers in Serie A this season, only four – and Paulo Dybala, nominally a creator anyway – have had more involvements in shot-ending sequences without taking the shot (45).

That speaks to Vlahovic's link-up play and his effectiveness at knitting attacks together in the final third, a skill that is not to every striker's liking. Yet he manages to fulfil this function without it being to the detriment of his goals output.

At Juve, assuming he links up in attack with Dybala, there may be less need for him to get as involved and that could potentially be how he improves his record of getting into higher xG situations.

It's fair to assume Juve would see that pay dividends on the goals front, given he already only averages 2.2 touches per shot inside the box – that's only fractionally more than Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo and Haaland (all 2.0), showing how he's more of an instinctive finisher than the likes of Mohamed Salah (3.1) and Kylian Mbappe (3.3), who are more about dribbling and beating defenders.

The fact is, Vlahovic still has elements to his game that could still improve, yet he's already performing at a high level. He may be young, but Juve have signed a player who can go straight into the team, which will presumably start being built around him.

Whether Massimiliano Allegri is the right coach for this new Juventus is another debate, but the acquisition of Vlahovic could be a game-changer.

At the very least, it's a genuine boost for Serie A to keep arguably its finest young player in the league despite the Premier League waving its vast sums in his direction.

With Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku gone, Vlahovic is surely primed to be Serie A's new poster boy.

Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who are in the same position once again after La Viola sold star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus in a €70million deal.

Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

 

Roberto Baggio

Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

Gabriel Batistuta

There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

Rui Costa

The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

Federico Chiesa

Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

 

There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

Robin Gosens has completed a move to Inter from Atalanta on loan with an obligation to buy for a reported €25million.

Gosens signed for Atalanta in 2017 from Dutch outfit Heracles for just over €1m and made over 150 appearances for the Bergamo club in all competitions, scoring 29 goals and assisting 20.

The Germany international is believed to have already agreed a four-and-a-half year deal with the Nerazzurri, and told the club's official website that he is eager to get going.

"I'm so proud to have joined one of the biggest clubs in Europe. I'm thrilled to be here and can't wait to get started."

 

The 27-year-old also mentioned his connection to Alessandro Bastoni, who he is reunited with once against having previously played with him at Atalanta.

"We've been speaking almost every day, not just now," Gosens added. "Even two or three years ago, he told me it was a great club and how proud you feel to play for Inter.

"It wasn't a difficult decision for me. I didn't need any convincing because I also know it's a huge club. He told me about the club's history, the team, the way you work here and I'm pleased to have spoken to him."

Gosens has spent a large part of this season on the sidelines with a muscle injury, but scored 11 times in Serie A last season despite playing the majority of games at left wing-back.

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