Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta said star duo Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez will extend their contracts with the Serie A champions, while he hit out at former striker Romelu Lukaku.

Barella is contracted to Inter until 2024 amid links with Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, and the Nerazzurri have been determined to tie the Italy international down to a new long-term deal.

Martinez – long linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona – and his current deal does not expire until 2023.

Marotta addressed the futures of Barella and Martinez ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia against rivals Juventus, while highlighting the time needed to re-sign midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, who is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Barca.

"Barella and Lautaro will extend their contract with a pay rise, we are close," Marotta told Il Corriere della Sera.

"Brozovic's contract is expiring, it will take more time, but I am confident."

Marotta, meanwhile, said there is not much difference between Inter's Edin Dzeko and former star Lukaku – who he claims left San Siro for more money.

After leading Inter to the Scudetto last season, Lukaku re-joined Chelsea in a club-record £97.5million (€115m) deal.

Dzeko was brought in from Roma as a replacement for Lukaku ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

"Lukaku was sold for €115m and we bought Dzeko for free. On the pitch, there isn't much difference,” Marotta said. "Lukaku left to double his salary, in Italy these figures can't exist.

"Today, we can't make important investments, I wouldn't be allowed to sign Lukaku for €75m. We need reduced and specific investments."

Barella and Arturo Vidal netted in the last home Serie A match against Juventus – the last Inter midfielder to score in consecutive league seasons against the Bianconeri at San Siro was Lothar Matthaus (in 1989-90 and 1990-91).

Among the 13 teams he has faced at least 10 times in Serie A, Juventus are one of the two against which Dzeko has been involved in the fewest goals (alongside Torino) – only three (two goals and one assist).

Inter have scored 78 goals (in 32 games) in 2021 in Serie A. In the big five European leagues, only Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have netted more (89 in 29 games) this calendar year; Juventus have scored 64 goals in 33 matches.

Replacing Romelu Lukaku was never going to be easy, though, in Edin Dzeko, Inter may have gone some way to doing just that.

The 2021-22 campaign may still be in its infancy, but 35-year-old Dzeko has made a fantastic start as Inter look to defend the Serie A title that Lukaku's goals propelled them towards last season.

Dzeko took his tally for the season to seven with a sublime volley against Sheriff in the Champions League on Tuesday. Inter were pegged back, but the former Roma man turned from scorer to provider to tee up Arturo Vidal and swing the match back in the Nerazzurri's favour.

Heading into the first Derby d'Italia of the season, Simone Inzaghi's Inter sit three points above Juventus, who themselves have had to contend with the loss of a superstar forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo beat Lukaku in the Serie A scoring charts in 2020-21, yet while Inter, spearheaded by Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez, lead the way for goals scored so far this season with 23, Juve are lagging some 11 behind.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses how the two giants of Italian football have adapted – and are still adapting – to the attackers at their disposal, and if that could prove the difference on Sunday.

Replacing Rom

Chelsea broke their transfer record to re-sign Lukaku in August for a whopping £97.5million (€115m). The cash was needed by Inter, who had already sold Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain and lost their title-winning coach Antonio Conte as well. Lukaku had initially been happy to stay on under Inzaghi, but the pull of a return to Stamford Bridge ultimately proved too strong to turn down.

Across his two seasons with Inter, Lukaku scored 64 goals in 95 games across all competitions. Last season he scored 24 goals and set up a further 11, putting the suggestion he was merely a penalty box poacher firmly to bed. Indeed, Lukaku's tally of seven secondary assists (the pass before the assist) ranked joint-highest in Italy's top flight.

Lukaku refined his game and has returned to the Premier League a better player, leaving Inter with a huge void to fill. Dzeko represented a prudent option.

Having spent the last six seasons at Roma, Dzeko needed no adaptation to the league. He scored 85 Serie A goals during his spell in the capital, having previously played a huge role in Manchester City's Premier League title successes in 2012 and 2014.

Since his move to Wolfsburg in 2007, Dzeko has only scored under 10 goals in all competitions in three seasons, while he missed only 22 league matches during his stint with Roma. Reliable, experienced and a proven goalscorer. With Inter's financial restraints, it was a no-brainer.

Joaquin Correa, capable of playing anywhere across the frontline, has also come in to boost Inter's ranks, though the start Dzeko has made may have even exceeded the club's expectations. 

Dzeko is averaging just under a goal per game in Serie A, having netted six times across eight appearances, with an impressive shot conversion rate of 35.29 per cent and scoring five of the six big chances that have come his way.

He has also picked up where Lukaku left off in terms of creativity, crafting 15 chances so far across his 11 appearances in all competitions, registering two assists.

 

Partners in crime

Lukaku's departure also left Inter needing to find a suitable partner for Martinez. The duo combined for eight Serie A goals last season, more than any other pairing, albeit the first of those did not arrive until matchday eight in November.

In total, Lukaku found Martinez on 68 occasions in Serie A last term (at an average of 1.9 per game), with 16 of those being key passes, and five resulting in assists.

A brilliant example of their stellar combination in action came in a pivotal 3-1 win over Lazio in February; Lukaku – on a hat-trick at the time – charging clear of a desperate defender before coolly sliding it across for the waiting Martinez to tap in.

Martinez picked out Lukaku 52 times, providing three assists and creating a total of 13 chances for his strike partner. They played 36 league matches together, accumulating 2,069 minutes.

Dzeko too, however, has been able to link up well with Martinez. On average over the seven matches they have played in, he passes to his team-mate 1.7 times per game, with the Bosnia-Herzegovina forward creating two chances for his Argentine counterpart.

Across the 357 minutes played together, the duo have found each other 22 times, though Martinez is yet to craft a chance from those passes.

Inter, who have scored 78 goals across 32 Serie A games in 2021 (only Bayern Munich have managed more across the big five European leagues), would be extremely fortunate if this partnership proves as profitable as the Lukaku-Martinez axis did, though there are certainly bright signs.

 

Replacing Ron

Inter might have struck gold with Dzeko, but Juve have struggled in attack early in Massimiliano Allegri's second spell in charge.

With Ronaldo gone, the onus is on Paulo Dybala. He scored against Udinese in the opening game of 2021-22 and found the net against Sampdoria last month, only to succumb to an injury that has since kept him out.

Only four players across Europe's top five leagues managed more goals in all competitions than Ronaldo did last season (36), while Alvaro Morata (20) and Federico Chiesa (14) were the only other Juve players to get into double figures.

Dybala's injury issues have derailed his last few campaigns, leaving Morata as Juve's main goal threat.

The Spain international enjoyed an impressive partnership with Ronaldo, providing four assists and creating 15 chances in 2020-21, though the favour was not returned – Morata only receiving four key passes from Ronaldo in 27 league matches.

 

Yet if Juve can keep Dybala fit, there may be something for Allegri to build on, with Morata playing more passes to the Argentina forward than he has done to any other team-mate so far this season (12), albeit that has only resulted in one goalscoring opportunity.

Sunday's showdown at San Siro comes too early in the season to be truly decisive, though a second successive home win over Juve would be a huge boost.

In Dzeko and Martinez, Inzaghi has a functioning strike force that has already contributed 12 goals to Inter's cause. Allegri's two central forwards, meanwhile, have only managed six between them. 

Argentina captain Lionel Messi hit out at the referee, despite the in-form Copa America champions' 1-0 win against Peru in World Cup qualifying.

Lautaro Martinez's header two minutes before half-time settled Thursday's contest in Buenos Aires, where La Albiceleste extended their unbeaten streak to 25 matches across all competitions.

Peru wasted a chance to salvage a point when Yoshimar Yotun's penalty cannoned off the crossbar with 25 minutes remaining.

Messi reacted to Argentina remaining undefeated on the road to Qatar 2022 through 11 CONMEBOL fixtures, though it remains to be seen what he was referring to when mentioning the referee after Martinez had also gone down inside the area in the first half.

"Difficult match, difficult to play. A lot of wind, they were playing deep, leaving little space for us," Messi wrote via Instagram.

"The referee always does this when he referee's us, as if he does it on purpose. But well, three important points and we're close to our objective."

Martinez scored his 17th international goal and the Inter star is Argentina's top scorer in the Lionel Scaloni era, two ahead of Messi.

"The play against Uruguay was more fluid, there was more space. It got complicated for us a little but we always tried to have a solution and today, we knew how to find that," Martinez said.

"Every time we go out on the pitch, we try to give our all because this shirt deserves respect and responsibility. All of this is exciting, my family saw me play again after a long time. Today, they're here again. I hope that the people have enjoyed the win."

Argentina head coach Scaloni became the second coach in the history of the national team to go 25 games unbeaten in all competitions, after Alfio Basile.

"Today we felt a bit tired. Playing a triple date in South America is wearisome," added Scaloni. "We took it forward and got the three points, which is what we wanted.

"It was a very important game and there was tension for that. I do not think that Argentina was satisfied with the result. Peru plays well, it is a very difficult opponent. Beyond the penalty play, I think the game was controlled."

Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 25 matches after Lautaro Martinez secured a 1-0 victory over Peru in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Lautaro Martinez's 43rd-minute header settled the contest as Argentina stayed undefeated on the road to Qatar 2022 on Thursday.

Peru had the chance to snatch a point away from home, but Yoshimar Yotun's 65th-minute penalty cannoned off the woodwork in Buenos Aires.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina – second in the standings – temporarily moved within three points of leaders Brazil through 11 qualifying fixtures.

Argentina made a bright start to proceedings at the Monumental, with Rodrigo De Paul in the thick of the action as the hosts saw two shots flash across goal inside four minutes.

Gianluca Lapadula's free-kick forced in-form Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez into an early save, while La Albiceleste found the back of the net in the ninth minute, but Cristian Romero's header was ruled offside following a lengthy VAR review.

In a team headlined by Lionel Messi, De Paul continued to pull the strings with some wonderful passing and he was the centre of Argentina's opener prior to half-time.

De Paul played a neat one-two with Nahuel Molina and the latter picked out Lautaro Martinez, whose wonderful header beat Pedro Gallese two minutes before the break.

Jefferson Farfan came off the bench to make his 100th international appearance – the 36-year-old becoming the sixth Peru player to reach the century club.

He made an immediate impact, earning a penalty after being brought down by Emiliano Martinez but Yotun rattled the crossbar with his spot-kick.

Messi was largely subdued by Peru, though his free-kick 20 minutes from the end forced a save from Gallese.

What does it mean? Argentina go from strength to strength

Argentina were on their knees when Scaloni took charge of the embattled South American giants. Now Copa America champions, Argentina have not lost since July 2019.

De Paul enhances reputation

The Atletico Madrid midfielder has quickly become a key part of Scaloni's XI. De Paul dazzled in the first half with 63 touches of the ball – the most among both teams. He also earned four fouls while completing 36 passes and four crosses in the opening 45 minutes.

Peru's drought continues

Peru have not gone 17 matches without winning against Argentina in World Cup qualifiers, dating back to 1985. The result condemned Peru to back-to-back defeats as they fight to qualify for next year's showpiece.

What's next?

Argentina will be back in action next month when they travel to Uruguay on November 10, while Peru welcome Bolivia on the same day.

Lionel Messi added to his record international tally as Argentina eased past rivals Uruguay 3-0 in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Messi – who eclipsed Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation during the previous international break – scored his 80th goal in an Argentina jersey on Sunday.

Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer saw his attempted outside-of-the-boot pass find the back of the net in the 38th minute before Rodrigo de Paul doubled the lead six minutes later, while Lautaro Martinez sealed the victory in the 62nd minute.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina remain unbeaten through 10 qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022 – six points behind leaders Brazil as they extended their undefeated run to 24 games across all competitions.

Uruguay entered the match without a win against Argentina since 2013, while La Albiceleste had never lost a home World Cup qualifier to La Celeste amid a run of five consecutive victories.

But Uruguay made a bright start in Buenos Aires, where talisman Luis Suarez was in the thick of the action.

Suarez and Uruguay were unfortunate to not score at least twice in the first half, with Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez proving an unbeatable object.

Martinez thwarted Suarez twice with two big saves, while the latter saw his acrobatic volley cannon off the post on the half-hour mark.

Argentina went close to breaking the deadlock in the 33rd minute following a swift counter-attack, however, Giovani Lo Celso's effort struck the crossbar.

The opener did come via Messi, albeit in fortuitous circumstances, after his attempted pass ended up in the back of the net seven minutes prior to half-time.

Argentina took a 2-0 lead into the interval when De Paul tucked away a rebound a minute before the break.

Uruguay introduced Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez at half-time in attempt to spark a comeback but Argentina could not be stopped as space opened up.

Lautaro Martinez – back in the starting line-up – made it 3-0 just past the hour after finding himself unmarked at the back post following De Paul's low ball across the six-yard box.

Argentina almost had a fourth with 22 minutes remaining, however, Fernando Muslera got down well to save Joaquin Correa's close-range shot and the Uruguay goalkeeper was on hand again to thwart Angel Di Maria six minutes later.

What does it mean? No stopping Scaloni's men

Bouncing back from their goalless draw away to Paraguay last time out, Copa America champions Argentina have not lost since 2019.

Magical Messi

Even when Messi assists, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner scores. He has scored four goals in his last three games for Argentina. Messi now has six goals during this World Cup qualifying campaign, level with Brazil's Neymar and two behind leading scorer Moreno Martinez of Bolivia.

Uruguay's drought continues

Oscar Tabarez's Uruguay are still searching for their first World Cup qualifying win away to Argentina. Despite boasting Suarez, Cavani and Nunez, Uruguay have now failed to score in back-to-back games while they have only managed one from their past three. In total, Uruguay have scored 13 goals and conceded as many on the roar to Qatar 2022.

What's next?

Argentina will conclude this international window with the visit of Peru on Thursday as Uruguay travel to Brazil on the same day.

Lautaro Martinez's agent is "really confident" the striker will sign a new deal with Inter as negotiations continue.

Martinez, who is contracted to the Serie A champions until 2023, was linked with the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Barcelona during the last transfer window but remained at San Siro.

Inter chief executive Beppe Marotta stated in August that the Argentina international had turned down "lucrative offers" to stay at the club.

Martinez has made a great start to the season, scoring five goals in six Serie A games for the Nerazzurri.

The 24-year-old's representative, Alejandro Camano, suggested progress is being made with talks over a new contract.

He told Radio Kiss Kiss Napoli: "I can say that he is happy in Italy, and he really likes Italian football.

 

"We have been discussing the renewal for some time with Inter, and I am really confident, the path we have taken is the right one.

"Serie A is an important and different championship compared to that of a few years ago.

"Lautaro is very happy to play with high quality players such as Edin Dzeko and Joaquin Correa. All three are terrible strikers for opposing defences."

Dusan Vlahovic decision not to extend his Fiorentina contract is set to spark a bidding war.

Fiorentina had been hopeful of re-signing their star forward.

Now, Europe's elite are reportedly queuing up to sign the Serbia international.

 

TOP STORY – VLAHOVIC EYEING JUVE MOVE

Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic is dreaming of a move to Juventus, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Vlahovic's future is a hot topic after Fiorentina announced the Serbia international will not re-sign in Florence.

Contracted to Fiorentina until 2023, Vlahovic has been tipped to make the move to Juve like former Viola team-mate Federico Chiesa, while Manchester City, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Inter and Arsenal have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport says City forward Raheem Sterling is open to a loan move to Barcelona in January. Sterling has found himself out of favour under Pep Guardiola in Manchester.

Manchester United are prioritising a new right-back in January to provide competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, reports 90min. Rangers' Nathan Patterson and Max Aarons of Norwich City have been linked.

- It is only a matter of weeks before Lautaro Martinez extends his Inter contract, per Fabrizio Romano. Inter are also set to open talks with midfielder Marcelo Brozovic.

- Roma have re-opened talks to sign Denis Zakaria from Borussia Monchengladbach, claims Gianluca Di Marzio. Zakaria is out of contract at the end of the season, though Roma are set to try to bring in the Gladbach star in January. 

- The Daily Mail claims Tottenham are eyeing Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger. The Germany international is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juve, Real Madrid and Atletico.

Milan are monitoring Salzburg trio Luka Sucic, Brenden Aaronson and Maurtis Kjaergaard, according to Calciomercato.

Simone Inzaghi expressed his relief after Inter crushed Bologna 6-1 on Saturday to move top of Serie A. 

The Nerazzurri have now won 18 home successive league games but they did suffer late heartbreak at San Siro in the Champions League in midweek, going down to a late goal against Real Madrid. 

Inzaghi admitted that result left him concerned ahead of the visit of Bologna, though any such worries quickly subsided when Lautaro Martinez opened the scoring in the sixth minute. 

Substitute Edin Dzeko scored a second-half double as the reigning champions cut loose to make it three wins in a row against their opponents, a feat they had not managed when facing Bologna since Jose Mourinho was in charge.

"I was afraid of this match after the night against Real Madrid but the guys approached the match in the best way," Inzaghi told DAZN after the resounding triumph. 

"It was important, we knew the importance of the match. We came from an excellent performance with Madrid, in which only the result was missing. We asked the boys to put the anger that would be needed to win. 

"Today at the first opportunity we were good at unlocking it [the Bologna defence], it immediately went downhill even though we were facing a good team. Then it happens that you shoot 18 times against Real Madrid and you don't score a goal." 

Marcelo Brozovic was central to the team's performance against Bologna, completing the second-most passes in the game (61), two less than Nicolo Barella. 

And Inzaghi claimed there is a reason why the Croatia midfielder remains an integral part of Inter's side whoever is in charge, as well as praising forward Martinez. 

"Brozovic is irreplaceable, there will be a reason if he has played with all the coaches who have passed from Inter," the former Lazio head coach said. 

"I only knew him [Lautaro Martinez] as an opponent, I knew he was a very important player and when I was lucky enough to coach him I understood the importance. I'm sorry he couldn't score another goal."

Edin Dzeko scored twice as impressive Inter crushed Bologna 6-1 to move top of Serie A on Saturday. 

Lautaro Martinez's fourth goal in four top-flight games put Simone Inzaghi's side ahead, making it 23 consecutive league games that Inter have scored in, only managing a longer run way back in 1950. 

Milan Skriniar and Nicolo Barella inflicted further damage in the first half, with Matias Vecino and Dzeko's double completing the rout after the interval. 

Arthur Theate headed a late consolation goal for the visitors but Inter made it four league games unbeaten to sit at the summit, albeit their nearest rivals in the table are still to play. 

Martinez had gone five Serie A games without a goal against Bologna but ended that barren run when he ghosted in to poke home Denzel Dumfries' low delivery. 

Samir Handanovic kept his side's slender lead intact with a magnificent save to deny Roberto Soriano's drive, after which Nicola Sansone volleyed wide. 

Instead it was Inter who fired in a second, Skriniar towering above goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski to nod in from inside the six-yard area following Federico Dimarco's inviting corner. 

Just four minutes later and Lorenzo De Silvestri's failed clearance fortuitously fell to Barella, who finished emphatically from close range. 

Martinez almost scored his second early in the second half but was denied by the crossbar, while he also wildly lashed over moments later. 

Vecino did manage to grab a fourth goal for his team with a simple tap-in at the back post after Dimarco's deflected cross had evaded the incoming Dumfries. 

Substitute Dzeko joined in on the act just after the hour-mark, prodding into the corner after Martinez's intelligent dummy before smashing his second into the roof of the net from a tight angle. 

Bologna did finally beat Handanovic when Theate nodded in at a corner, but that did not spoil what was a memorable victory for the hosts at San Siro. 

Could Jurgen Klopp and Robert Lewandowski be set to work together again?

The pair enjoyed a successful partnership at Borussia Dortmund.

Now, Klopp is reportedly trying to lure the Bayern Munich forward to Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – KLOPP WANTS LEWANDOWSKI REUNION

Liverpool are targeting Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, according to Fichajes.

Lewandowski worked with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund before joining Bundesliga rivals Bayern in 2014.

There has been talk Lewandowski could be ready for a new challenge amid links to Real Madrid and Manchester City, though Klopp is reportedly determined to reunite with the Poland international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild claims Dortmund have identified Chelsea forward Timo Werner as a possible option to replace Erling Haaland. Club are queueing up to sign Haaland, with City, Manchester United, Bayern, Liverpool, Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all reportedly interested. Should Haaland leave Dortmund, the Bundesliga outfit reportedly see former RB Leipzig star Werner as a potential successor.

- Fabrizio Romano says Inter forward Lautaro Martinez is nearing a contract extension at San Siro. He has reportedly turned down offers from Tottenham and Atletico Madrid.

Bayern, Inter, Real Madrid and Tottenham are interested in Borussia Monchengladbach defender Matthias Ginter, reports Calciomercato.

Chelsea are looking to sign Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen to new contracts, according to Romano.

Kylian Mbappe remained at Paris Saint-Germain beyond the end of the transfer window, but his long-term future may not lie in the French capital.

The World Cup winner is a free agent at the end of the season and is reportedly ready to move.

Real Madrid, who bid for Mbappe at the start of this campaign, appear his most likely destination, but far less predictable is his potential replacement at PSG.

The Ligue 1 giants have months to plan their next move, so Stats Perform breaks down the possible options to fill Mbappe's big boots.

 

ERLING HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund remained firm in their stance of keeping hold of Haaland in the most recent transfer window, despite some heavyweight clubs reportedly showing an interest as deadline day approached. That interest will only increase in 2022 as the Norwegian has a widely reported €75million release clause that comes into effect at the end of the season. 

Landing Haaland would mean PSG replacing one of the world's best young goal-getters with another player of equivalent standing, the 21-year-old having scored 63 goals in 64 games since his Dortmund debut in January 2020, compared to 54 in 66 matches for Mbappe in all competitions.

HARRY KANE

Following Manchester City's failed pursuit of his signature, Kane announced towards the end of the transfer window he was staying put at Tottenham. City's loss – assuming they are not prepared to go back in for the England captain, as Pep Guardiola recently hinted at – could be PSG's gain.

A reunion with his former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino in Paris would appear to make a lot of sense, if PSG could stump up the huge fee that Tottenham would still insist upon next year. Having finished as Premier League top scorer in three separate campaigns – one of only three players to do so along with Thierry Henry (four times) and Alan Shearer – he will feel he deserves his move to an elite club that can challenge for major honours.

 

LAUTARO MARTINEZ

Lionel Messi and Pochettino will know all about the qualities of their fellow Argentinian, who has shone brighter by the season for Inter over the past three years. At the age of 24 and having been linked with the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham and Man City, Martinez is reportedly on the brink of signing a new deal with the reigning Serie A champions, which could make PSG's life a lot more difficult when it comes to any negotiations.

Whether he is quite of the level to take the place of Mbappe is debatable, and this year should prove telling, with Martinez facing a greater onus to score heavily after Romelu Lukaku's departure from Inter. He has one goal in one appearance this term, a goal-per-game return he will be looking to maintain over the course of 2021-22.

ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

While the likes of Messi, Lukaku, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann all changed clubs during the transfer window, Lewandowski stayed put at Bayern Munich despite suggestions he was seeking a new challenge elsewhere. With Bayern under no pressure to sell, and the prolific striker having two seasons to run on his contract, a move away this year never seemed a realistic prospect.

But it will be a different matter in nine months' time and PSG could do a lot worse than go all out for the Poland international, even if he is now 33 years of age. Having last term scored 41 times in the Bundesliga – breaking Gerd Muller's single-season record – Lewandowski has maintained his lofty standards in the opening weeks of the new campaign with 10 goals in his first six matches for club and country, going a long way to strengthening his argument of being the best out-and-out striker around.

MOHAMED SALAH

Salah is in an identical position to Lewandowski insofar as the Egypt forward will be about to enter the final 12 months of his contract come the end of the campaign. After previously flirting with LaLiga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, PSG have their work cut out persuading Salah to make the move to Ligue 1 instead.

Should they manage that, though, they will have one of Europe's top attacking talents from the past four years. Indeed, since joining Liverpool from Roma ahead of the 2017-18 season, the 29-year-old's tally of 97 goals has been bettered by only four players in Europe's top five leagues: Ciro Immobile (104), Ronaldo (107), Messi (125) and Lewandowski (131).

 

DUSAN VLAHOVIC

The 21-year-old Serbian came of age in Serie A in the 2020-21 campaign, scoring 21 of Fiorentina's 47 goals to finish fourth in the league's scoring charts and earn the division's Under-23 MVP award.

While not quite in the same category as some of the others on this list, Vlahovic may well be the hottest property around come next June as he already has three goals in three appearances for his club in all competitions this term. 

RICHARLISON

Neymar's Brazil strike partner is another who has been touted for a move to Paris since Madrid launched their Mbappe offensive last month. Everton made clear that they were not interested in selling Richarlison in August, but that may change should PSG be prepared to spend big once again.

Now into his fourth season at Goodison Park, Richarlison has yet to score more than 15 Premier League goals in a campaign for the Toffees, but at the age of 24, he has gained huge experience and was a key member of Brazil's recent Olympic gold medal-winning squad in Tokyo. 

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni urged his team not to "rest on our laurels" after the in-form Copa America champions set up a mouth-watering top-of-the-table World Cup qualifying showdown with rivals Brazil.

Lautaro Martinez, Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa were on target as Argentina extended their unbeaten streak to 21 matches by downing 10-man Venezuela 3-1 in CONMEBOL qualifying on Thursday.

After first-half substitute Luis Martinez was sent off for a horrifying challenge on Lionel Messi in the 32nd minute, Argentina – playing for the first time since July's drought-ending Copa triumph over Brazil, their first title in 28 years – took control of proceedings.

Argentina are second and unbeaten through seven qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022, six points behind Brazil, while they have not tasted defeat since November 2019.

As Argentina turn their attention to Sunday's blockbuster in Sao Paulo, where Brazil will put their perfect record on the line, Scaloni told reporters post-game: "It's special for the players to have the patch of champions on their chest, they fought so hard to win the Copa America.

"The important thing is to not rest on our laurels."

The complexion of the match changed when Luis Martinez – who replaced Jose Velazquez earlier in the half – saw red.

Messi went to ground after receiving a high foot to the shin and the challenge, initially a yellow card, was upgraded to red after the referee consulted the pitch-side monitor following a VAR review.

Lautaro Martinez then opened the scoring in the second minute of first-half stoppage time, the Inter star scoring his third goal in qualifying after being played through by Giovani Lo Celso.

Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa struck within three minutes – the 71st and 74th minute – to put the result beyond doubt, though Yeferson Soteldo's last-gasp spot-kick gave the home crowd something to celebrate.

Looking ahead to the Copa America final rematch with Brazil, Scaloni added: "We will have time to analyse how the players are. It will be a different game and everyone is available.

"We have things to improve, surely, but I'm not going to say them. We always have to improve, when you win or lose. We will try to do our best."

Lautaro Martinez added: "The three points are very important. Venezuela is a very complicated opponent. In South America, they're all difficult but we had a great first half.

"We created chances and after the goal we were able to work with more peace of mind. We brought home three important points. I think we had a great first half today, beyond the fact that they were down a man.

"For a striker, it's important to score but the most important thing is that the Argentina national team win. You always have to think about the group."

Argentina maintained their unbeaten start to CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 victory over 10-man Venezuela.

Lionel Messi and Argentina were playing for the first time since their drought-ending Copa America triumph on July 10 – La Albiceleste upstaged rivals Brazil for their first title since 1993.

Lautaro Martinez, Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa were on target for Argentina on Thursday, guiding Lionel Scaloni's side to their fourth win in seven qualifiers on the road to Qatar 2022.

Venezuela played with 10 men from the 32nd minute after substitute Luis Martinez was sent off for a horror challenge on Messi and Argentina made the most of their numerical advantage – Lautaro Martinez breaking the deadlock in the second minute of first-half stoppage time before Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa completed the scoring in second period.

Yeferson Soteldo converted a 94th-minute penalty but it was a mere consolation for hosts Venezuela.

Argentina are second in the South American standings, provisionally three points off the pace, with Brazil in action against Chile, after extending their unbeaten streak to 21 matches.

Messi's miscued shot found the feet of Angel Di Maria in the 14th minute, but he was unable to clear his feet in time as his scooped effort was dealt with by Venezuela goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez, while Rodrigo De Paul hit the crossbar.

Di Maria found himself in space seven minutes later after Jose Velazquez slipped and had to be withdrawn due to injury, however the Argentina winger wasted the opportunity, his outside-of-the-boot pass overhit and out of Lautaro Martinez's reach at the back post.

The complexion of the match changed approaching the half-hour mark when Luis Martinez – who replaced Velazquez seven minutes earlier – was sent off.

Messi went to ground after receiving a high foot to the shin and the challenge, initially a yellow card, was upgraded to red after the referee consulted the pitch-side monitor following a VAR review.

Argentina – who enjoyed 82 per cent possession after Luis Martinez's dismissal – opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time with Lautaro Martinez tucking the ball past Farinez, having been played through by Giovani Lo Celso.

Venezuela pushed numbers forward and started to trouble Argentina's defence, Soteldo's deflected effort leaving Emiliano Martinez scrambling in the 68th minute as the shot flashed just wide of the post.

But Venezuela's hopes of a point were dashed when substitutes Joaquin Correa and Angel Correa struck within three minutes – the 71st and 74th minute – to put the result beyond doubt, though Soteldo's last-gasp spot-kick gave the home crowd something to celebrate.

 

What does it mean? 

After their memorable Copa success, Argentina continued where they left off on Thursday. Scaloni's men have not lost since July 2019 as they continue to build towards next year's World Cup.

Lautaro's away delights

Argentina forward Lautaro Martinez scored his third goal of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. All of his goals have come away from home, with the South American giants winning all three of those games.

Venezuela's drought goes on

It was always going to be tough playing with a man less against Argentina. Now, Venezuela have gone seven matches without a win. Not since November 2020 have Venezuela celebrated a victory.

What's next?

Next up for Argentina is a mouth-watering Copa America final rematch against Brazil in a top-of-the-table clash in Sao Paulo on Sunday, while Venezuela travel to Peru on the same day.

What does the future hold for Juventus post-Cristiano Ronaldo?

Moise Kean arrived following Ronaldo's return to Manchester United but it was a relatively quiet transfer window in terms of incomings.

Juve, though, are reportedly planning for 2022 already and they are targeting a pair of forward stars.

 

TOP STORY – DUO EYED BY JUVE

Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic or Paris Saint-Germain's Mauro Icardi are in Juventus' plans for 2022, according to the front page of Wednesday's Gazzetta dello Sport.

Juve had a quiet end to the transfer window after Cristiano Ronaldo left Turin for Manchester United.

But Juve are reportedly set to target either Vlahovic – also linked with Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Inter – or Icardi at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

– Staying in Turin and Tuttosport says Juve will do everything to re-sign star Paulo Dybala. He has been linked with United, Tottenham and PSG previously.

 Lyon are expected to complete the signing of former Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng on a free transfer, claims Fabrizio Romano.

– Sky Sport Italia reports free agent Franck Ribery is in negotiations with Hellas Verona. Ribery is without a club since leaving Fiorentina at the end of 2020-21.

 Lautaro Martinez will sign a new deal with Inter until 2025 worth €6million per year, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Barcelona, City and Tottenham have been linked.

Kylian Mbappe is dominating headlines amid Real Madrid's pursuit.

Madrid are keen to prise Mbappe to the LaLiga club, though Paris Saint-Germain are in no hurry to part with the soon-to-be free agent.

Due to PSG's tough stance, Madrid could back out of negotiations.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID GIVE PSG ULTIMATUM

Real Madrid could walk away from their pursuit of Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to Le Parisien.

While Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season, Madrid have been attempting to prise the Frenchman from PSG before the transfer window shuts.

The report claims Madrid will walk away from negotiations if a deal is not completed by Sunday.

There has been talk that PSG could target Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland as a replacement for Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

Lautaro Martinez has agreed to sign a new contract with Inter, per Gianluca Di Marzio. Out of contract in 2023, the Argentina international – linked with the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United – will re-sign for four to five years at €6million per season.

Willian will join Corinthians on a free transfer after Arsenal granted his release, says Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also claims Feyenoord are close to bringing United sensation Amad Diallo to the Eredivisie club on loan.

- Widespread reports say Moise Kean is set to undergo a medical at Juventus as he gears up to join from Everton. It comes as Cristiano Ronaldo prepares to return to United. Juve are also eyeing PSG forward Mauro Icardi.

Dortmund are working on a loan deal for Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi, according to Sky Germany. Hudson-Odoi has long been coveted by Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. Dortmund are also looking to bring in United full-back Diogo Dalot.

Chelsea are nearing a transfer that will see Jules Kounde arrive from Sevilla after Kurt Zouma departed for West Ham, reports Goal. Chelsea are also reportedly still targeting Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez, who is wanted by United.

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