Massimiliano Allegri declared Juventus are on the "right path" after a difficult season as they edge closer to securing Champions League qualification.

Juve are eight points clear of fifth-placed Roma with four games left to play in Serie A as the Bianconeri prepare to host Venezia on Sunday.

Coach Allegri returned to Turin for the 2021-22 season and endured a difficult start to the campaign, but recovered with a 16-game unbeaten league run that ended in a 1-0 defeat to Inter earlier in April.

That undefeated streak somewhat eased the pressure on Allegri and Juve, who crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage following a dismal second-leg performance against Villarreal.

Juve president Andrea Agnelli expressed his support on Thursday for the long-term plan under Allegri, who was grateful for the backing of the Bianconeri chief.

"We had a difficult start this season, then we adjusted," Allegri told reporters on Saturday at a pre-match news conference ahead of the Venezia clash.

"We have several players out, we need to try to finish well, to start next season in the best possible way. There could be room for a few youngsters, let's see.

"The president's words pleased me. Juventus have won a lot in the last 10 years and have done well in Europe; we need to try to win as soon as possible, we have laid a good foundation this year.

"In Italy there is a tendency to 'knock down' the coaches quickly, in England there is a different mentality, then it is clear that in the end results count.

"However, this year we have set up ourselves well. We're on the right path.

"When you don't win, you have regrets. As the president rightly said, it has been a difficult season. But we also see the positive side: from the way we started, we have since done many good things, especially lately.

"Third place would be important, especially considering our position in January or even earlier. We made good thereafter, however, we must now consolidate our qualification for the Champions League."

Allegri also outlined his regrets for how Juve performed against Villarreal in the Champions League, and is eyeing redemption in the Coppa Italia final against Inter on Wednesday, May 11.

"If I have to choose a game I would like to replay, I would say the Champions League," he added.

"We will analyse everything at the end of the season, to see what went well and what didn't. In the meantime let's think about our Champions League qualification and the Italian Cup."

Toni Kroos future at the Santiago Bernabeu has suddenly become precarious, with the relationship between the player and Real Madrid disintegrating.

The 32-year-old's dramatic drop in form has called into question whether he will see out his contract, which expires at the end of next season in 2023.

With that in mind, there are reports Real Madrid will look to both replace him and bolster their midfield in the same transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID EYE POGBA AND TCHOUAMENI FOR KROOS

Real Madrid are seeking to replace Toni Kroos and strengthen their midfield, with the intent to sign both Paul Pogba and Aurelien Tchouameni, El Nacional is reporting.

The highly rated Tchouameni has long been a transfer target for Madrid, while the expiration of Pogba's contract at the end of this season makes them both attainable.

Kroos' position in Real Madrid's starting midfield has become vulnerable with the form of Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde, while this transpires amid the backdrop of Luka Modric's contract extension. 

It was reported that Kroos sought to extend for another season and retire in 2024, but that possibility now seems unlikely.

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich are eyeing Luka Jovic as a potential replacement in the event of Robert Lewandowski's departure for Barcelona, Sport is reporting.

- Incoming Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag wants to sign outgoing Juventus attacker Paulo Dybala, according to the Corriere dello Sport.

- The Red Devils have also indicated to Napoli they are willing to pay £84million (€99.8m) for striker Victor Osimhen, La Repubblica reports.

- Arsenal have expressed interest in signing Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, per Football Insider.

Bruno Guimaraes gambled on a move to Newcastle United despite interest from Juventus as he "couldn't wait" in a World Cup year, his agent says.

Midfielder Guimaraes is set to play for Brazil at Qatar 2022, having scored one goal and assisted three more in just 173 minutes across six qualifying matches.

The 24-year-old maintained that form despite requiring time to settle in England following a £35million (€42.1m) January move from Lyon.

Guimaraes was linked with Juventus and Arsenal among other top sides but instead joined Premier League strugglers Newcastle and had to wait until his sixth appearance for the club to be named in the starting XI.

It is a transfer that looks to have worked out for both Guimaraes and Newcastle, though, as he has subsequently scored four goals and assisted another to lead the Magpies into the top half of the table.

Since his first Premier League start, only three players – Cristiano Ronaldo (seven), Son Heung-min (six) and Gabriel Jesus (five) – have found the net on as many occasions.

Yet Guimaraes is just as comfortable engaging in the more combative side of the game, ranking second over that period for tackles (26), duels (123) and duels won (67).

Rival clubs may wonder how the breakout Selecao star ended up in a relegation battle, but agent Alexis Malavolta explained only Newcastle were willing to strike a deal in January.

In an interview with TuttoJuve.com, Malavolta said: "There was some contact with Juventus, I can confirm that.

"[But] January is a quick window to enter into negotiations, so we couldn't go too long. We had to wait halfway through the month to see some concrete movements.

"Newcastle arrived, and they were serious. Bruno couldn't wait another six months to decide his future in a World Cup year."

Malavolta added Juve were "already interested" in 2020, with Guimaraes part of the Lyon team to eliminate them from the Champions League, but the French club asked at the time for €70m.

Instead, Guimaraes is plotting his future with Newcastle, who spent 150 days in the relegation zone this season but are now up to ninth.

In 2022, only Liverpool have earned more points (38) than Eddie Howe's side (32), encouraging optimism for a potential European push next term.

"His goal was clear from the start: to help the team get out of the relegation zone and take them to the Champions League next season," Guimaraes' agent said.

"And why not try to win the Premier League?

"He has already made it clear in his interviews that he went to Newcastle to be a legend like Alan Shearer. He wants to leave his name in the history of the club.

Giorgio Chiellini says his "love affair" with Juventus will never come to an end, but admits he is unsure on his next steps after confirming his international retirement.

The Italy captain announced that June's Finalissima encounter with Argentina at Wembley will be his last game for the Azzurri, a year on from success at Euro 2020.

The veteran centre-back oversaw a second successive failure by the national team to qualify for the World Cup earlier this year, ensuring their absence at Qatar 2022.

While his future on the global stage will come to a close, Chiellini says he will take time to consider his club career – but added he will always carry a torch for the Bianconeri.

"My love affair with Juventus is not ending," he stated after Juventus' win over Sassuolo on Monday in Serie A. "It will never end.

"The love is so strong that as far as I am concerned, but also I think it will never end.

"Of course, from now to the end of the season I do have to evaluate everything, talk to my family about what is best.

"Let’s reach fourth place first and win the Coppa Italia, then we’ll sit down with my two families – at home and Juventus – to figure out what is best for everyone.

"It was the same last summer. I took time and didn’t sign the new contract until after the Euros. At my age, you can’t look too far into the long-term, but that’s only natural, it’s all fine.

"I hope you can see that I am happy, relaxed and want to keep enjoying myself with my team-mates, then we'll see."

Since joining the Bianconeri in 2004, Chiellini has established himself as a central figure in Italian football, and helped the club to nine successive Scudetto titles between 2011 and 2020.

But it will likely be his efforts at Euro 2020 last year, when he steered Italy to a penalty shoot-out triumph over England at Wembley, that will stand as his defining achievement.

The joint-fourth most-capped player in Azzurri history, Chiellini added that he hopes to be available for the game with South American champions Argentina – and that it will be a fitting occasion for his farewell.

"If I'm fine, I'll play and say goodbye to the national team at Wembley, where I reached the peak of my career," he added.

"It would be great to say goodbye to the Azzurri shirt with a celebratory match like the one with Argentina. For the national team, it will be the last time."

Massimiliano Allegri has his sights set on a third-placed finish in Serie A after Juventus came from behind to beat Sassuolo 2-1.

The Bianconeri snatched all three points at MAPEI Stadium – Citta del Tricolore on Monday to take a big stride towards qualifying for the Champions League after Giacomo Raspadori opened the scoring.

Paulo Dybala equalised just before half-time and Moise Kean came off the bench to win it in the 88th minute.

Victory for Juve moved them eight points ahead of fifth-placed Roma with four games to play and just a point adrift of third-placed Napoli.

Defeat was harsh on Sassuolo, who posed a big threat going forward with Domenico Berardi, who has now assisted 12 goals in Serie A, the most of any forward in the competition in a single campaign since Ronaldinho in 2009-10, a constant menace.

Juve boss Allegri, who brought Dusan Vlahovic and Giorgio Chiellini on early in the second half but left Matthijs de Ligt on the bench as he has been suffering with illness, says there can be no let-up from his players in their remaining fixtures.

He said: "We have Napoli one point ahead of us. We hope to play well and try to overcome them, as we hoped to fight after the many positive results to be closer to those in the lead but we didn't succeed.

"Now we have to do the best we can from now to the end."

Juve had a tough start to the season, but Allegri is pleased with the strides they have made early in his second spell with the club, having seen his team win 16 points from losing positions in Serie A this season – with only Inter (19) having earned more.

He said: "We are doing a good job. I think Juve have laid a good foundation for the future and I think there are players with room for improvement, there are those who arrived in January.

"We need to understand that Juve are working in a certain way and I think there is a good basis.

"How we work every day, we know it inside and we are trying to do a good job every day, the seasons sometimes are born in one way, they end in another, there are situations like injuries, now we have five.

"[Federico] Chiesa has been out for so long, [Weston] McKennie the same, they have characteristics that we needed, I think the team is doing well. The team is adapting and doing well, maybe at the beginning of this race we would have lost this game and tonight the boys won it, there are also positive signs."

Moise Kean came off the bench to score a late winner as Juventus took a big stride towards securing a Champions League place with a 2-1 victory at Sassuolo.

Sassuolo were much the better side in the first half of the Serie A clash at MAPEI Stadium – Citta del Tricolore on Monday and they were rewarded when Giacomo Raspadori put them in front.

Paulo Dybala equalised on the stroke of half-time, though, and substitute Kean's first goal for two months in the 88th minute snatched a huge win for the Bianconeri.

Juve remain in fourth place with four games to play, eight points better off than Roma in fifth spot and just one behind Napoli.

 

Paris Saint-Germain secured a record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 title with a 1-1 draw at home to Lens on Saturday, but that may not be enough to keep Mauricio Pochettino in a job.

The Argentine may not be heading for Old Trafford after Manchester United confirmed the appointment of Erik ten Hag last week, but he could still be going out the exit door after a demoralising campaign.

With PSG crashing out of the Champions League in calamitous fashion to Real Madrid in March, reports have suggested Pochettino could be replaced by the boss of his former club Tottenham, Antonio Conte.

With Conte overseeing an improvement in Spurs' fortunes since taking the job and possessing experience of managing big egos at former clubs Juventus, Chelsea, and Inter, could the Italian be the man to get the best out of the star-studded Parisians?

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to compare the managerial duo.

Pochettino in Paris: Domestic dominance remains, but so does European fragility 

Many saw the decision to appoint Pochettino as prudent after he made 70 appearances in a two-year playing spell in Paris, before his relationship with compatriot Lionel Messi aided the legendary forward's arrival.

It has not, however, been plain sailing for the former Tottenham boss. PSG beat Monaco to lift the Coupe de France last May but missed out on the league title to surprise package Lille last season.

Lille led PSG by a point when Pochettino arrived and pipped the Parisians to the title by that margin as Pochettino became just the second PSG boss (after Unai Emery) to fail to win the Ligue 1 title since 2012.

While PSG rebounded to win the league in dominant fashion this term, moving level with Saint-Etienne as the most successful club in Ligue 1 history, their 34 matches required to secure the title is the most they have needed since 2014-15, when they wrapped up top spot on matchday 37.

The team's reliance on Kylian Mbappe, who has contributed to 36 of the team's 76 league goals this term (22 goals, 14 assists), could also prove a huge issue next term with the 22-year-old heavily linked with a move to Madrid at the end of his contract in June.

Although the star trio of Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe have recorded 37 goals and 32 assists in the league between them this term, they could not inspire Champions League success.

If Pochettino is to depart, March's humiliating 3-2 aggregate loss to a Karim Benzema-inspired Madrid will be remembered as the decisive moment of his time in Paris.

Having beaten the Spanish giants 1-0 at home, PSG have now been eliminated in four of their nine Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg.

Fixing their fragility on the big occasions will be their foremost aim ahead of next season, which is why the appointment of a manager with one of Europe's most impressive track records has been speculated.

The case for Conte: Title wins and handling big names

Having won five league titles (four in Serie A, one in the Premier League), Conte is always mentioned when a vacancy at an elite European club comes around.

With current club Tottenham battling to ensure Champions League qualification for next season, however, could Conte be tempted to follow in Pochettino's footsteps if he departs PSG?

Conte has overseen a dramatic improvement since taking the Spurs job; before falling to a 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion and drawing 0-0 with Brentford, Spurs had plundered 25 goals in their previous seven league games, having scored just nine in 10 league matches under predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo earlier this season.

Star duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have also been rejuvenated by Conte's arrival, breaking Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba's record of 36 direct Premier League goal combinations in February.

Conte's previous role at Italian giants Inter, however, might prove more relevant to what he could expect at PSG: the Italian excelled under huge expectations to deliver their first Scudetto in over a decade last season, ending a nine-year period of Juventus dominance he began by leading the Bianconeri to an unbeaten season in 2011-12.

Like Kane and Son, Romelu Lukaku – who recorded 24 goals and 11 assists in Serie A last season – profited from a direct style that saw Inter net a remarkable 89 league goals in their title-winning campaign, and has struggled to replicate that form since following Conte out of San Siro.

As well as his title wins, Conte's work with Lukaku, Kane, Son, and other big names certainly suggests he could have what it takes to manage the sizeable egos of PSG's attacking stars if he makes the move.

However, with Conte failing to progress beyond the Champions League last-eight in his career, the Italian would need to improve his European record in order to satisfy the ambitions of continental glory.

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned his players of the technical ability of Sassuolo, saying they will suffer metaphorical "broken bones" if they do not match them.

The Bianconeri are in a strong position to seal Champions League qualification, and could cement their place in the top four further on Monday.

Juve sit in fourth place in Serie A, five points ahead of Roma in fifth having played a game fewer, with the Giallorossi losing 3-1 at league leaders Inter on Saturday.

Speaking at a media conference on Sunday, Allegri said: "Tomorrow it will be difficult because Sassuolo is a technical team, in an excellent position in the table and comes from a defeat.

"We will need a serious technical game, otherwise we risk going out with broken bones."

In the 17 previous Serie A games between Sassuolo and Juventus, there have been 12 wins for the Old Lady, three draws and two defeats, including in the reverse fixture this season in Turin.

Only in one season (two draws in 2019-20) have Sassuolo managed to remain unbeaten in both league meetings against Juve.

While not literally referring to injuries with that "broken bones" comment, Allegri did later provide updates on the fitness of some of his players, giving hope for Weston McKennie and Arthur, but seeming to cast doubt on whether Manuel Locatelli will play again this season.

"Today, after training, I will make the decisions on the midfield and beyond," he told reporters. "Arthur does not recover, we hope he is available for the Venezia game.

"As for Weston McKennie, yesterday he took his first running steps. He is improving. Manuel Locatelli, finally, is behind and I don't know if he will return before the end of the season. 

"[Matthijs] De Ligt will certainly play in defence, while I will choose one between [Leonardo] Bonucci and [Giorgio] Chiellini. Up front, I will also evaluate [Alvaro] Morata, we will see."

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus could now face sanctions from UEFA after precautionary measures against such punishments were lifted by a Madrid court.

Madrid, Barca and Juve are the three clubs still committed to the European Super League project, which was launched last year and sought to break away from UEFA's Champions League.

Nine other clubs, including six from the Premier League, backed out of the competition soon after it was announced amid fan pressure.

UEFA was initially prevented from sanctioning those involved, but these measures have now been lifted by judge Sofia Gil Garcia of Madrid's Mercantile Court No. 17.

"It is up to these disciplinary bodies and to the independent arbitrators of the CAS to decide on the possible sanctions against the clubs," the court said via a statement reported in French publication L'Equipe.

A UEFA spokesperson said: "UEFA has today received the order of the Madrid court, lifting the precautionary measures in their entirety.

"UEFA welcomes this decision and is considering its implications. UEFA will not be making any further comment for the time being."

Tic tac, tic tac, as it goes in the Spanish media. Real Madrid's courting of Kylian Mbappe has long avoided subtlety and discretion, but he remains their primary target.

The Paris Saint-Germain attacker has just about become the world's best footballer in the meantime, contributing an extraordinary 33 goals and 18 assists in 41 appearances across all competitions this term.

A move to the Spanish capital at the end of the season remains a possibility, and reports suggest Real Madrid will go all out to make it happen.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE REMAINS MADRID'S PRIMARY TARGET

Real Madrid are confident they will sign Kylian Mbappe amid the increasing likelihood of Erling Haaland joining Manchester City, according to the Daily Mail.

With the end of the season and the subsequent expiration of the 23-year-old's contract nearing, Madrid and Mbappe have yet to sign a pre-contractual agreement as a means of not disrespecting PSG.

While the club are playing the waiting game, they remain confident for the sole fact a new deal with PSG has not yet been signed and confirmed.

Mbappe has reportedly remained the club's first preference despite interest in Haaland, who appears set to join Manchester City.

ROUND-UP

 Anthony Martial appears set to return to Manchester United with Sevilla not interested in making his loan deal permanent, claims Fabrizio Romano.

Dejan Kulusevski will join Tottenham from Juventus on a permanent basis despite another season left on his 18-month loan, reports the Evening Standard.

– According to Tuttosport, Spurs director of football Fabio Paratici has also identified Torino defensive pair Gleison Bremer and Wilfried Singo as potential targets.

Real Madrid are also keen on signing Jude Bellingham but Borussia Dortmund are intent on keeping the 18-year-old and are prepared to increase his standing at the club, Bild is reporting.

Massimiliano Allegri says he could not ask for any more from his Juventus players after they booked their Coppa Italia final spot with a 3-0 aggregate victory over Fiorentina on Wednesday. 

The Bianconeri claimed a 1-0 win in the first leg last month, and Federico Bernardeschi doubled their advantage in the tie with a fine finish shortly after the half-hour mark in the return fixture. 

Danilo added a second deep into stoppage time at the end of the game as Juve reached their 21st Coppa Italia final – at least five more than any other side in the competition's history. 

They will play Inter in the final at the Stadio Olimpico on May 11 after Simone Inzaghi's side overcame Milan in their last-four tie.  

Juve did not have it all their own way, with Fiorentina taking 17 shots and enjoying 68.3 per cent possession, but Allegri was pleased with how his side bounced back from the disappointing 1-1 draw with Bologna at the weekend. 

"I could not ask for more from these players, as for the last four months it's basically been the same players all the time. They're giving it everything out there," he told Mediaset. 

"We should congratulate the lads, as reaching the final was an objective for the season. It had been a tough few days after the draw with Bologna, when we failed to make the most of many chances. 

"Fiorentina are dangerous with their passing and pace if you give them a chance to run at you, but we did well to create those spaces in attack and defend well. 

"This is football, we suffered and won. Those who came off the bench all did really well, we had a team spirit to reach this final. 

"Now we must prepare for the next game in Serie A and try to recover some players." 

 

Allegri's position as Juve boss has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, with some supporters unimpressed by the club's failure to challenge for the Serie A title. 

While Allegri shares that frustration, he says he has every intention of being in the dugout as they look to launch a title bid next season. 

"Juventus must always challenge to win," he added. "The thing that most disappoints me is losing the head-to-head with Inter, because that is the result that decided the league. 

"Being five games from the end and not being in the Scudetto race does annoy me. It can be motivation for next season, we can learn from that experience and also realise that in football and life you can't always win." 

Juve are next in action on Monday when they visit Sassuolo in Serie A. 

Holders Juventus reached the Coppa Italia final after a 2-0 victory over Fiorentina in their semi-final second leg on Wednesday.

The Bianconeri claimed a 1-0 win in the first leg last month, and they had to work hard to seal their place in next month's final against a Fiorentina side that dominated possession and had almost twice as many shots.

Federico Bernardeschi got them on their way shortly after the half-hour mark, before Danilo added a second deep into stoppage time at the end of the game. 

Massimiliano Allegri's men will face Inter in the final on May 11 at the Stadio Olimpico after the Nerazzurri overcame Milan in their last-four tie.

The best chance of a cagey opening 20 minutes was Dusan Vlahovic's shot from inside the penalty area, which was pawed away by Bartlomiej Dragowski.

The Juve striker should have scored shortly before the half-hour mark, yet Dragowski stood firm to block his attempted chip after he had been played clean through.

Dragowski was at fault for the opener in the 32nd minute, the goalkeeper completely misjudging Alvaro Morata's cross to allow Bernardeschi to volley home from 15 yards after Cristiano Biraghi's header had fallen kindly to him.

Fiorentina finished the first half strongly and they should have gone in at the break level, but Arthur Cabral's powerful drive was straight at Mattia Perin.

Perin kept out Lucas Martinez Quarta's deflected header early in the second half, while at the other end Denis Zakaria cracked an effort against the outside of the post. 

Adrien Rabiot saw a goal ruled out by VAR for offside, although it mattered little in the end as Danilo swept home Juan Cuadrado's cross late on to add gloss to the victory. 

What does it mean? Fiorentina fail to punish Juve

Given they carved out 17 shots to Juve's eight and enjoyed a whopping 68.3 per cent possession, Fiorentina will be bitterly disappointed they did not turn their dominance into goals.

As it is, Juve have now progressed from their last seven Coppa Italia semi-finals, with their last elimination coming in the 2012-13 season against Lazio.

Bernardeschi proves decisive

It was only Bernardeschi's second goal of the season across all competitions, yet that is as many as he had in total across the previous two campaigns for Juve. The forward was also denied a superb assist when Rabiot's late effort from his fine cross was ruled out.

Shot-shy Morata

He did play two key passes before his substitution for Paulo Dybala in the 66th minute, yet Morata left the pitch having failed to take a single shot. The Spain international will need to do more if he is to convince Allegri he should start up front alongside Vlahovic.

What's next?

Juve travel to Sassuolo in Serie A on Monday, a day after Fiorentina visit Salernitana.

Massimiliano Allegri says Juventus do not need to change their style to see the best of Dusan Vlahovic, as the striker prepares to face former club Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

However, Allegri did acknowledge the Bianconeri must improve their attacking returns after seeing nine Serie A outfits outscore them this season.

After winning the first leg 1-0 in Florence, Juventus, who have progressed from each of their last six Coppa Italia semi-finals, remain among the favourites for a sixth domestic cup triumph in eight seasons, having lifted the trophy in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021.

The Bianconeri are, though, just the 10th-highest scorers in Serie A despite Vlahovic netting seven goals in 14 appearances in all competitions since his January arrival, having scored 20 in 24 games for his previous employers this term.

Ahead of the Old Lady's decisive cup meeting with Vlahovic's former club, Allegri was adamant Juve did not need to change to accommodate the Serb, but acknowledged improvements were needed.

"Absolutely not," he replied when asked if changes might benefit Vlahovic. "Vlahovic has played 14 games and scored seven goals.

"Right now, we can't play like we did in November or December, because the games weigh more. There is no chance to recover.

"We need to improve the tenth place in the ranking of goals scored, we need to be more concrete.

"In football there is one thing that remains old, but it still counts: the goal difference, which then leads you to win or lose the championships."

Allegri has reached the Coppa Italia final four times as Juventus manager, already more than any other Bianconeri manager in history. His only elimination before the competition's final came in 2018-19's quarter-finals, a 3-0 loss to Atalanta.

The 54-year-old lifted Italy's domestic cup on all four occasions where he reached the final, and says Juve's strong run will count for nothing if they fall short of winning the trophy.

Although he also emphasised the importance of a top-four league finish and said a semi-final win would not "turn around" the season, he noted that reaching a final was a "good goal".

"The Coppa Italia only counts if you win it," he added. "If you lose it, you have failed completely. As for the championship, Juve must now think about finishing in the top four. 

"In early January, no one would have expected Juventus to be five points clear of fifth [Roma] with five games to go. Now we have to be good at defending [against] them.

"We haven't won games in which we played well, we lacked that little bit more to make the leap forward. We have to work on this, and the next year will surely be better.

"Tomorrow's game does not make the season turn around, but it will allow us to go to the final and it would be a good goal."

Juventus have lost only one of their last 25 home games in the Coppa Italia (winning 20 and drawing four). Coincidentally, this was a defeat against Fiorentina in the 2014-15 semi-finals, when Mohamed Salah netted a brace for the Viola and Fernando Llorente scored for the Bianconeri.

The joined actions of some of the most powerful figures in modern football unwittingly created an ever mightier alliance on April 18, 2021.

The announcement of a new European Super League united Manchester, with fans and players of United and City joining those invested in the fortunes of Liverpool and the three London giants of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in opposition.

Although the reaction in Italy and Spain may not have been quite as damning, the protests that followed over the course of an extraordinary few days were enough to derail the plans.

A year on, Stats Perform looks back on one of the most controversial proposals in the sport's history and where it stands now.

What is/was the European Super League?

The past week has shown exactly what makes the Champions League great, whether Villarreal's upset of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid withstanding Chelsea's fightback, a thriller between Liverpool and Benfica in a tie widely considered over or the blood and thunder of Manchester City's defeat of Atletico Madrid.

But Arsenal and Tottenham did not qualify for the Champions League this season, while Barcelona and Milan failed to make it beyond the group stage.

In another season, another superpower – the clubs whose names and riches have made the Champions League what it is – might miss out on these great games.

That was the fear of a dozen leading sides, anyway. Barca had a prominent role, along with Real Madrid and Juventus, as the European Super League was launched.

The competition was to be backed by United States-based investment bank JP Morgan and managed by the owners of the founding clubs, who would be guaranteed entry to the competition.

Three clubs were hoped to join the initial 12, followed by five others qualifying each year to form a 20-team tournament, which would be split into two 10-team leagues prior to a knockout stage.

The idea was for the Super League to replace the lucrative Champions League, rather than domestic leagues – hence its inception on the eve of Champions League reforms. The interested parties even claimed the money raised would benefit "the wider football pyramid".

But the reception was widely critical, while there were notable absentees in the form of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, the previous campaign's Champions League finalists.

PSG had spent too much time – and, of course, money – establishing themselves among European football's elite to risk it all in the breakaway.

Meanwhile, Bayern, like most German clubs, are partly fan-owned. And it would soon become clear football fans in general were not enthused by the prospect of seeing Europe's best teams slog it out in a closed-shop tournament.

Then what?

The 12 clubs must have imagined some sort of response, but what followed appeared to stun those involved.

Their own players and coaches announced opposition, with many frustrated these plans had provided such a distraction at a key stage in the season. Notably, Jurgen Klopp fumed when Leeds United, Liverpool's next opponents, told the six-time European champions to "earn it" if they wanted to play in the Champions League.

The rest of football appeared united against those who had sought to cut loose, as former Manchester United captain Gary Neville called for the Old Trafford club to be relegated along with Liverpool and Arsenal.

Unsurprisingly, UEFA, FIFA and even the UK government railed against the Super League, too.

But most importantly, the fans – particularly in England – made clear they would not stand for this apparent betrayal of the sport and its roots.

Chelsea were the first team to back out of the European Super League while Petr Cech attempted to negotiate with furious supporters blocking the team's entrance to Stamford Bridge prior to a drab goalless draw against Brighton and Hove Albion.

With protests following at stadiums up and down the country, the Premier League clubs soon quit the breakaway competition, and they were joined by Inter, Milan and Atletico Madrid, as the Super League was declared dead mere hours after its birth.

Football had won, it was widely acknowledged.

And they all lived happily ever after?

Well, not quite. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus have continued to pursue the European Super League, their owners refusing to relent.

The huge debts racked up during the coronavirus pandemic contributed to their desperation to land this lucrative deal, with Barca since forced to let club legend Lionel Messi leave on a free transfer due to their inability to afford a new contract for the 34-year-old.

Those who backed out of the controversial plans have at least returned to the European Club Association, in which PSG were huge beneficiaries of their reluctance to follow their elite rivals. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president, now leads the ECA in a role that previously belonged to Juve chief Andrea Agnelli.

But even Barca, Madrid and Juve have been able to continue playing in UEFA competitions – those they have qualified for, anyway. Madrid have made the Champions League semi-finals as they bid for a record-extending 14th European crown.

And sceptics could be forgiven for wondering if the new Champions League format sounds a little 'European Super Leaguey'.

As of 2024-25, the group stages will be no more, replaced by – yes – a league. And although the competition is increasing in size to 36 teams, two of the additional four slots are reserved for clubs who have the highest UEFA coefficients but have qualified only for one of the organisation's lesser competitions.

Barca, who toiled in the early stages of this season, or Juve, facing a fight for a top-four finish in Serie A, would have to slump significantly not to be assured of a seat at the time.

The Super League is dead... but long live the Super League?

Lautaro Martinez was very close to joining Barcelona from Inter Milan two years ago.

The Blaugrana and the Argentina international had reached a personal agreement, but the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered any possibility for the former to make any transfer happen.

As ever, though, circumstances in football change and according to reports, they have changed in a way that would allow Barca to finally get the Martinez deal over the line.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA IN FRAME FOR LAUTARO

Barcelona are back in the running to sign Inter's Lautaro Martinez, according to reports from Sport.

The 24-year-old is increasingly likely to leave the reigning Serie A champions, but it appears the club would be willing to lower their asking price in exchange for players as part of a package deal.

Inter have shown interest in Miralem Pjanic and Memphis Depay, two players who appear to be surplus to requirements in a rebuild under Xavi at the Catalan giants.

Martinez, who has provided 15 goals and three assists in 28 league appearances this season, is seen as a more affordable alternative to Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

 

ROUND-UP

– Liverpool are eyeing Aberdeen right-back Calvin Ramsey to provide depth for Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Sun reports.

Paris Saint-Germain are ready to part ways with Mauricio Pochettino in order to hire Zinedine Zidane as their head coach, per Le Parisien.

– Corriere dello Sport is reporting Roma would consider an offer of €60million (£49.6m) for highly-rated 22-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo, as interest from Serie A and Premier League clubs looms.

– Juventus are prepared to offer for Chelsea's Jorginho, with the Turin giants seeking to bolster their midfield next season, according to Tuttosport.

– Chelsea are willing to let 28-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku go with Inter and PSG interested, per 90Min.

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