Matthijs de Ligt will watch from the sidelines as both the Netherlands and Ukraine aim to end miserable runs in their Euro 2020 opener on Sunday.

De Ligt missed the Oranje's final warm-up friendly due to a groin issue and will not recover in time to face Ukraine in Amsterdam.

Coach Frank de Boer said: "The game comes a little too early. We don't want to take any chances. We've got two more group games.

"If it had been very important, he could have played. He's very close to it."

It is a blow to a Netherlands side who have not won at the European Championship since the 2008 group stage.

The Dutch were quickly beaten in the knockout phase of that competition, lost all three matches at Euro 2012 and then failed to qualify four years later.

Centre-back is suddenly a potential area of weakness, with Virgil van Dijk missing the tournament, while De Boer only confirmed the identity of his starting goalkeeper – 38-year-old Maarten Stekelenburg – on Saturday.

Regular number one Jasper Cillessen, cut from the squad following a positive coronavirus test, was the only ever-present in qualifying besides De Ligt.

Ukraine might make for accommodating opponents for Stekelenburg, though, having themselves lost five in a row at the Euros and failed to score in each defeat.

Andrey Shevchenko, now their coach, is the only player to have ever scored for Ukraine at the finals, as they have failed with 67 shots since his 2012 brace against Sweden.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Netherlands – Memphis Depay

Even with De Boer switching to an unpopular 5-3-2 formation, Depay will be the chief threat in attack. Although Georginio Wijnaldum (eight) outscored his team-mate in qualifying, Depay was involved in a goal every 38 minutes (six goals and seven assists in 495 minutes) – the best rate of any player involved in five or more.

Ukraine – Andriy Pyatov

If Depay is as involved as the Netherlands hope, that will mean another busy outing for Pyatov. The Ukraine goalkeeper saved 88.6 per cent of the shots he faced in qualifying (31 of 35), which was the best rate of any keeper to appear in six or more games.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– This is the first meeting between the Netherlands and Ukraine at a major tournament (World Cup or European Championship). The Dutch are unbeaten in their two friendly encounters – winning 3-0 in Rotterdam in May 2008 and drawing 1-1 in Donetsk in August 2010.
– The Netherlands are playing their first major tournament game at the Johan Cruyff Arena since the Euro 2000 semi-final against Italy, a game in which the Dutch failed to score despite having 31 shots and 71 per cent possession (0-0 after extra time, 1-3 on penalties).
– Since and including 1988, only Germany (six) have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship more often than the Netherlands (four). However, the Netherlands have not made the final four since 2004 and they have not won a game in the tournament since 2008.
– After winning their first game at the European Championship (2-1 v Sweden, 11 June 2012), Ukraine have subsequently lost their past five. In fact, only Yugoslavia have had a longer losing run in the history of the tournament (six in a row, from Euro 1968 to Euro 1984).

The 12-month delay to Euro 2020 has provided an easy angle for debate ahead of the finals this week.

Which teams might have benefited from the postponement? Italy are back in the groove, Spain were surely buoyed by a 6-0 win over Germany, and England continue to develop exciting young talents.

It works both ways, though, as Germany might have preferred the tournament to go ahead in 2020, prior to their heaviest competitive defeat and before Joachim Low confirmed his exit plans.

Meanwhile, neither situation necessarily suits the Netherlands.

The Oranje have a youthful, talented, newly settled side, but there is the suspicion they have already peaked.

Ronald Koeman, appointed in February 2018, had the Netherlands playing some thrilling, effective football in his first 18 months in charge, narrowly losing the showpiece match at the Nations League Finals while easing to Euros qualification.

Since then, the coach has departed, a number of his young charges have seen their careers stall somewhat and Virgil van Dijk, the team's standout star, has been ruled out by injury.

It means there is plenty of scepticism as Frank de Boer leads the Dutch into their first major tournament in seven years.

 

COACH ACCUSTOMED TO CRITICISM

Koeman left the national team to be appointed by Barcelona. It is highly unlikely De Boer could walk into such a role regardless of his success with the Netherlands.

Since leaving Ajax as a four-time Eredivisie champion in 2016, the coach has endured short, miserable stints with Inter, Crystal Palace and Atlanta United.

De Boer won just 36.4 per cent of his Serie A games, the second-worst rate of an Inter boss this century.

Only Gian Piero Gasperini was less impressive as he went winless, an unfortunate feat De Boer would repeat at Palace as the Eagles did not even score or earn a point in his four Premier League outings.

Atlanta faded from MLS Cup champions to also-rans under De Boer, too, before he was handed an unlikely Oranje opportunity, only to go four without a win at the start of his tenure.

The Netherlands' fortunes have since improved, winning five of seven – albeit while losing a key World Cup qualifier in Turkey and scraping to a friendly draw against Scotland.

Off-field faux pas have also persisted, including media conference mix-ups involving Queensy Menig and Donny van de Beek while Jasper Cillessen was controversially cut from the Euros squad following a positive COVID-19 test.

"It seems clear that things need to get better," De Boer acknowledged after the Scotland game, although he was more optimistic in the aftermath of a subsequent 3-0 win against Georgia.

Having made only two changes to his 5-3-2 line-up – one in goal, the other enforced by injury – De Boer declared: "We're ready."

 

YOUNG STARS' STUNTED PROGRESS

Six players who started the Nations League Finals matches should make De Boer's XI for the Ukraine game, but these stars are not necessarily in the same shape as they were in 2019.

Matthijs de Ligt, Daley Blind and Frenkie de Jong were all coming off an outstanding campaign with Ajax in which they reached the Champions League last four, swatting aside Real Madrid and Juventus on their way before coming within seconds of the final.

Van de Beek, called from the bench against England, was also part of that superb club side.

While Blind remains in Amsterdam and will surely now only start if De Ligt is injured – as he was against Georgia – the other three, who should fit well within De Boer's fluid formation, moved on with mixed success.

De Ligt's first season with Juve was tough, including two errors that led to shots (including one to a goal) and three penalties conceded, before he improved in 2020-21.

De Jong followed a similar path of slow progress at Barca, the highlight of his Camp Nou career so far – now under Koeman – a goal and two assists in April's Copa del Rey final.

That single-game contribution matched Van de Beek's meagre haul for his entire debut season at Manchester United, concerningly. A year behind his two younger international team-mates, the midfielder joined United in 2020 and his three goal involvements came across 36 games but just 15 starts.

Van de Beek's season has ended in miserable fashion, forced to withdraw from the Euros squad this week. Far from a regular at international level, too, this might be a bigger setback for the player than for the Netherlands.

 

DETERMINED TO MAKE THEIR MARK

The absence of Van Dijk means the other Ajax graduates unquestionably maintain key roles in the defensive third, but the Netherlands are relying on older heads in attack, even if they are without the sort of superstar Dutch forward of years past.

This country once had Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy born on the same day; now they rely on a midfielder and a converted winger for their goals.

It was effective in qualifying, though. Georginio Wijnaldum, 30, was their leading marksman with eight, while Memphis Depay, 27, either scored or assisted every 38 minutes – six goals and seven assists in 495 minutes the best rate among the 54 players to have five or more goal involvements.

Depay netted twice against Scotland and once against Georgia, along with an assist, and will be eager to establish himself on the European stage.

The Barca-linked Lyon forward was an under-19 international when the Netherlands last appeared at the European Championship in 2012, while he made only a single start at the World Cup two years later.

Wijnaldum was at least a regular at Brazil 2014, scoring in the third-place play-off, but both he and Depay have been robbed of a huge chunk of their major tournament careers by the team's failings.

Even with a kind group-stage draw, as they chase a first Euros win since the first round in 2008, the Oranje will need Wijnaldum and Depay to deliver. Neither should be lacking motivation.

A stunning move for Cristiano Ronaldo could be in the works.

The Portugal captain may end up back with a former club in a swap deal.

The price for Manchester United would be high.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO SWAP DEAL RUMOURED

If Manchester United want to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, they may have to surrender Paul Pogba.

La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Juventus would consider using the 36-year-old forward in a swap deal for Pogba, who has a year left on his contract.

The question is whether United would part with the 28-year-old France midfielder in return.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City could land Harry Kane via a cash-plus-swap deal that sends Gabriel Jesus to Tottenham, the Daily Star reports. 

- Arsenal are interested in Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde and Bayer Leverkusen's Edmond Tapsoba, according to The Athletic. 

- Barcelona have not given up in their attempts to sign Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus, Marca reports.

- Lazio have joined Roma as suitors for veteran centre-back Jerome Boateng with the Germany international set to leave Bayern Munich. 

- Granit Xhaka is a target for Jose Mourinho's Roma, and Arsenal have said they want £17million for the midfielder, La Gazzetta dello Sport reports. 

- Pedrinho will leave Benfica before next season, ESPN reports, with Shakhtar Donetsk the likely destination for the 23-year-old Brazilian. 

- Crystal Palace will speak to former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo about replacing Roy Hodgson, The Sun reports. 

Matthijs de Ligt says he has had no contact with Barcelona and is happy at Juventus as he feels like a "fish in water" in Turin.

De Ligt endured a difficult second season at Juve, suffering injuries and spending time on the sidelines after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Netherlands centre-back has been linked with a move after the Bianconeri could only finish fourth in Serie A, resulting in head coach Andrea Pirlo being replaced by Massimiliano Allegri.

Barca are among the clubs reported to keen on De Ligt, but the 21-year-old is not seeking pastures new.

He told ESPN Netherlands: "I am very happy at Juve. I feel like a fish in water.

"Despite the team performances not being as good, I feel good on the field and appreciated. Would they want to let me go? There are plenty of clubs that have money problems, but you should ask the club."

Asked if Barca could be his next club, the former Ajax man said: "I don't know."

He added: "That makes no sense now. It is not important to me. Nobody has contacted me."

De Ligt said in the same interview he had opted against taking a COVID-19 vaccine as he wants to be "in charge" of his body.

He then took to social media on Saturday to state that he will be taking the jab.

He tweeted: "In my recent interview, I was not clear with my response. In order to clear any doubts: I am absolutely in favour of the COVID-19 vaccination and will take it as soon as possible."

In my recent interview, I was not clear with my response. In order to clear any doubts: I am absolutely in favour of the COVID-19 vaccination and will take it as soon as possible.

— Matthijs de Ligt (@mdeligt_04) May 29, 2021

Netherlands head coach Frank de Boer agrees with Virgil van Dijk's decision to sit out Euro 2020 and expects Georginio Wijnaldum and Matthijs de Ligt to fill the leadership void.

Dutch skipper Van Dijk confirmed two weeks ago that he will miss the tournament to focus on getting fully fit for the start of pre-season with Liverpool.

The 29-year-old missed the majority of the 2020-21 campaign due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained against Everton in October, though he is now back in individual training.

De Boer accepts Van Dijk will be a big loss for Oranje in their quest to win a second European Championship title, but understands the decision taken by the centre-back.

"Virgil made the decision himself," De Boer said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I think that's the way it should be. 

"We all hoped that he would have been able to join us, that he would have had the same scenario as Daley Blind, that he would have been able to play one or two games. 

"If we would reach the final, he would have been fit to play, that's what he said himself. In the end, it's been a very well thought out choice of his, even though it sucks for us. 

"We hope we'll reach the World Cup, too, which will be played pretty soon. He doesn't want to miss two big tournaments and he also wants to be important for his club next season. 

"We have all seen how big of an impact his absence has had on us and on Liverpool."

Wijnaldum took over captaincy duties from club-mate Van Dijk last November and will wear the armband at the delayed Euro 2020 finals.

De Boer can also call upon the likes of Inter's Stefan de Vrij and Juventus defender De Ligt, who became the youngest captain in Ajax's history in 2017.

Asked who in his squad will spur the players on, De Boer said: "At this point, it's our captain [Wijnaldum]. 

"But there's different types of leaders: some are charismatic, some are very vocal. That's why you're asking this.

"I think Virgil van Dijk has everything: he has charisma, he's vocal and he looks like a true leader. Now we need to find others. 

"Matthijs de Ligt was captaining Ajax at 19. He is also a similar leader. Stefan de Vrij has proven to be able to do so as well in his recent years at the highest level at Inter. 

"It's something that has to grow within the squad. Daley Blind might not be a very physical leader, but he's very vocal and clear about what he wants others to do – a big plus for us.

"I don't think we have one single leader that has all of those qualities, but it's now time for multiple leaders to stand up and work as one, both on and off the pitch."

De Boer was speaking after naming his finalised 26-man squad for the Euros on Wednesday.

Tottenham forward Steven Bergwijn was the biggest casualty of the eight players cut from the initial 34-man group.

Anwar El Ghazi, Hans Hateboer, Rick Karsdorp, Marco Bizot, Jeremiah St. Juste, Kenny Tete and Tonny Vilhena were the other players omitted by De Boer.

The Netherlands begin their Group C campaign against Ukraine in Amsterdam on June 13, before facing Austria and North Macedonia.

 

Netherlands squad in full:

Jasper Cillessen (Valencia), Tim Krul (Norwich City), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax); Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Stefan de Vrij (Inter), Denzel Dumfries (PSV), Jurrien Timber (Ajax), Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Joel Veltman (Brighton and Hove Albion), Owen Wijndal (AZ); Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (AZ), Donny van de Beek (Manchester United), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool); Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Luuk de Jong (Sevilla), Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyonnais), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Donyell Malen (PSV), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow), Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg).

Manchester United wanted Jadon Sancho ahead of the 2020-21 season.

But, United were unable to prise Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.

United, though, are reportedly still pursuing the England international.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT SANCHO

Manchester United are lining up a bid for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Star.

United were heavily linked with Sancho at the start of the season but a move did not materialise, while the Red Devils have since been mentioned as suitors for fellow Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

But United have reportedly cooled their interest in Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich target Haaland as they make Sancho their top transfer priority.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS claims Juventus have rejected a renewed effort from Barca to sign Netherlands centre-back Matthijs de Ligt.

- Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso, City defender Nathan Ake and RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer are on Jose Mourinho's list of targets as he prepares to take charge of Roma, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. Corriere dello Sport also claims Lille midfielder Renato Sanches is wanted by Mourinho.

- Mundo Deportivo says Barca are continuing to chase Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravernberch. Barca have also been linked with Liverpool's soon-to-be free agent Georginio Wijnaldum, who has since emerged as a reported target for Bayern.

Chelsea are frontrunners to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham according to Football Insider. Kane has been linked with United, City, Barca, Paris Saint-Germain and Madrid, while Chelsea have also emerged as a possible destination for Bayern forward Robert Lewandowski.

Will Lionel Messi commit to Barcelona or move on? 

The Argentine is out of contract in June and suitors are swirling. 

Paris Saint-Germain appear poised to make a bid. 

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MESSI BID

PSG are prepared to offer Messi an "unbeatable" contract to make a sensational move from Barca, according to a report from TNT Sports. 

The report claims the Ligue 1 outfit will offer Messi a two-year deal with an option for a third year. 

The club will attempt to convince Messi that joining PSG will give him more chances to win titles. 

 

ROUND-UP 

- Jurgen Klopp could turn to his former club for a boost if Mohamed Salah leaves Liverpool, as Bild reports a bid for Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho a possibility for the Reds. Manchester United also are eyeing Sancho after a failed move for him last year.

- United also remain interested in reuniting Erling Haaland with Ole Gunner Solskjaer, according to the Telegraph. Haaland, now with Dortmund, played for Solskjaer as a teenager at Molde. 

- Tottenham are looking at a pair of options in the shape of Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro and Fulham centre-back Joachim Andersen, according to the Daily Mail. 

- Juventus centre back Mathhijs de Ligt could be headed to Barcelona, reports Sport, which also says Villarreal goalkeeper Marc Vidal is a possibility for the Camp Nou club. 

Alex Sandro inspired Juventus to a 3-1 comeback win against Parma in Wednesday's Serie A clash as Andrea Pirlo's men put continuing European Super League drama aside.

Juve chairman Andrea Agnelli was one of the chief architects of the breakaway plans, which are now in tatters after the vast majority of the 12 clubs involved withdrew their support.

Qualifying for next season's Champions League is now the Bianconeri's immediate aim - assuming they are not banned - and they dug deep to avoid the ignominy of losing to the league's second-bottom side at the Allianz Stadium.

Left-back Alex Sandro struck either side of half-time after Gaston Brugman had opened the scoring for Parma from a free-kick and Matthijs de Ligt added a third as Juve strengthened their top-four hopes.

Cristiano Ronaldo was back in Juve's line-up after missing Sunday's 1-0 loss to Atalanta through injury and he tested Simone Colombi inside the opening eight minutes.

But it was the visitors who took the lead through Brugman's swirling free-kick from 25 yards that left stand-in Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon rooted to the spot.

Parma have lost more points from winning positions in 2021 than any side in Europe's top five leagues and they were pegged back just before half-time in Turin.

De Ligt nodded the ball down to Alex Sandro, who used his first touch to flick the ball into the air and his second to blast it away from Colombi on the half-volley.

Alex Sandro added a second 92 seconds into the second half when heading in a Juan Cuadrado cross intended for Paulo Dybala that made it all the way to the back post.

Giuseppe Pezzella went close to levelling with a header that was stopped in front of goal by Arthur - a big moment in the game as De Ligt powered in a header of his own four minutes later.

That set up a serene conclusion to the match for Pirlo's side as they made it four league wins in a row in this fixture for the first time ever.

Virgil van Dijk will ultimately make the decision on his participation at the upcoming Euros, according to his Netherlands defensive partner Matthijs de Ligt.

Liverpool star Van Dijk has been out since October, with the centre-back having sustained a serious knee injury after a challenge from Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Jurgen Klopp has consistently stressed caution over the return of Van Dijk, who stepped up his rehabilitation at a facility in Dubai before heading back to Merseyside.

It remains to be seen whether the 29-year-old will be fit to play again before the season is out, and as such his participation in the Euros is doubtful.

Netherlands boss Frank de Boer claimed in the build-up to Wednesday's defeat to Turkey that Van Dijk had another eight weeks left on his recovery, with the Oranje coach claiming he was not relying on the former Southampton and Celtic man to return in time for the tournament.

De Ligt, however, was less pessimistic, with the Juventus defender revealing Van Dijk is in good spirits, and will return when he feels the time is right.

"We had a meeting yesterday, [Van Dijk] was there too," De Ligt said on Friday.

"He looked very good, he seemed very fresh and free. Of course, I don't know how he feels physically, he doesn't really want to put any pressure on himself either.

"He has a clear mind and looks at it day by day. He is calm and wants to see where he's at, at moment the Euros are starting. I think it's important for him to be calm, and to be able to recuperate from his injury without any pressure from us or from the country.

"He will decide if he will be at the Euros. If he's there, he’s there. If he's not there, other guys will have to fill his shoes. But yesterday he looked well."

With Inter's Stefan de Vrij having contracted coronavirus, De Ligt's former Ajax team-mate Daley Blind partnered the 21-year-old in defence against Turkey.

It was neither of the duo's finest performances, with Burak Yilmaz scoring a hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Netherlands' World Cup qualification rivals.

Asked who he would prefer to have next to him should Van Dijk fail to make the Euros, De Ligt replied: "That's a question that’s not really relevant to me.

"In the end, it's the manager who decides who plays, what we need. In possession, Daley is one of the best defenders I have ever played with.

"Stefan plays in Italy, is more physical and is stronger than Daley. So it might also depend on our opponents. We also have Nathan Ake and other guys. There are enough options.

"I might not even be playing. That's something the manager decides, that depends on the game. We simply have to respect the manager's decisions."

Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world's best defenders.

Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.

His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club's youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.

Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.

Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United - linked again more recently - have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world's best defender.

"Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United]," De Ligt told the Telegraph.

"It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus."

While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.

Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.

His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.

"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he continued. "I'm where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.

"I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm."

Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.

He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero's record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.

"Well, he could be my father!" De Ligt quipped. "It's funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don't think he's twice my age and that's also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old."

Matthijs de Ligt was linked with Manchester United before his move to Juventus in 2019.

United have reportedly renewed their interest in the 21-year-old Dutch defender.

Could he end up in Manchester?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT DE LIGT

Manchester United are set to target Juventus centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, according to TodoFichajes.

United were heavily linked with De Ligt before the Netherlands international swapped Ajax for Serie A champions Juve in 2019.

With United reportedly not advancing in their pursuit of Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, the Red Devils are eyeing De Ligt.

United have also been linked with RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla defender Jules Kounde and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Paris Saint-Germain are poised to offer David Alaba a €25million-per year deal in an attempt to prise the Bayern Munich star to the French capital. Out of contract at season's end, Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid. Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City have also been linked.

United have been left alone in the fight to sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims TodoFichajes. Unwilling to match Villa's valuation, City have reportedly exited the race for Grealish. The report also says United could sell Marcus Rashford to fund the move.

- Madrid stars Lucas Vazquez and Isco are wanted by Everton, according to Calciomercato. After prising James Rodriguez from the LaLiga champions, Everton are targeting another two players from the Spanish capital, though Milan and Juve are also keen.

- Diario AS reports Madrid are prioritising a move for in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. Chelsea, United, City, Juve, PSG, Barca and Bayern have all been linked but Madrid are reportedly shifting their attention from Kylian Mbappe to Haaland.

Andrea Pirlo insists Juventus remain determined to push for glory on all fronts despite not being at 100 per cent, with the club heading into a pivotal stage of the season.

The reigning champions find themselves in a battle to remain in touch with Inter in the Serie A title race; they trail the leaders by 10 points, albeit with a game in hand. 

They host Lazio on Saturday in league action, then have a crucial Champions League clash with Porto to follow on Tuesday, the Bianconeri needing to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit to make it through to the quarter-finals.

With a Coppa Italia final to come later in the year, Pirlo appreciates he will have to manage his squad carefully in the coming weeks, though insists his focus will not switch away from the Scudetto while there is still a chance of winning it for a 10th successive season. 

"All the matches are decisive for Juventus. The next game is tomorrow's match and we will concentrate on it with all our strength to win and only then will we think about Porto," Pirlo told the media on Friday. 

"We are still in the race on all fronts and as long as there is hope we will give our all to try to win the league. 

"The enthusiasm is there because we are going through a period of tough and important games. Tomorrow's match is also important for the standings and where we are is the same as last week. We can't make mistakes in case those in front of us do so."

He added: "We must play an intelligent game tomorrow, knowing that we are in a delicate period and we are not at 100 per cent.  

"It will be important to manage every situation and every play well, because you won't be able to go to 100 miles per hour for 90 minutes."

Pirlo is hampered in his preparations by injuries within the first-team squad, while Rodrigo Bentancur is isolating away from the group after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Alvaro Morata is nearing a return to action; the striker's recent absence has increased the reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in Juve's past three games. 

"When you play a lot of games, a day or two of rest is good," Pirlo said. "It also applies to Cristiano. 

"Now that we are short up front, he has gritted his teeth and will do it for as long as we need it. He has shown and continues to demonstrate his great professionalism."

Pirlo revealed Leonardo Bonucci has been able to take part in some sessions, though fellow defender Matthijs de Ligt is yet to resume training. Morata, meanwhile, is "getting better every day". 

There was also good news regarding Arthur, with the midfielder sidelined since early February but potentially close to a comeback.

"Arthur's medical check-up went well yesterday, the pain is reducing," the Juve boss revealed. "We hope he can give us a hand in the next few matches, it will depend on the pain when he resumes training with the team.

"Aaron Ramsey is fine and could play tomorrow. He can be an extra resource and we might need him."

Matthijs de Ligt has been cleared to join up with his Juventus team-mates after recovering from COVID-19.

The centre-back tested positive on January 8 and went into isolation, meaning he missed the Serie A games against Sassuolo and Inter, as well as the Supercoppa Italiana clash with Napoli.

However, having returned two clear swab tests, De Ligt will be included in Andrea Pirlo's squad for Sunday's home fixture with Bologna.

"Matthijs de Ligt carried out, as per protocol, two controls of molecular test (swab) for Covid-19 with negative results," a statement from the club read. 

"Therefore, the player has recovered and is no longer subjected to the isolation regime.

"He will join the team at the J Hotel for the retreat this evening and will be included in the squad list for tomorrow's match."

De Ligt has started 12 games in all competitions so far in the 2020-21 season; Juve have only lost once when the defender has played in Serie A, a 3-0 home reverse to Fiorentina.

The Netherlands international missed the start of the campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery in August, returning to action in late November.

Juventus are chasing a 10th straight league title in Italy, though have found the going tough in Pirlo's first season in charge and go into the game with Bologna outside the top four in the table.

Andrea Pirlo says Antonio Conte is the person who inspired him to move into coaching and is fully aware of the mind games being used by the Inter boss ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia.

Midfield great Pirlo worked under Conte for Juventus and Italy during his illustrious playing career before retiring in 2017 and taking up his first managerial role with Juve last August.

Pirlo has made an inconsistent start to life in the Allianz Stadium dugout, but his side have won their last three league games to move to within four points of second-place Inter with a game in hand.

Despite being a further three points behind leaders Milan, Conte suggested ahead of Juve's trip to San Siro that the reigning champions remain the Scudetto favourites given they have won it nine years in a row.

The first of those title wins came with Conte in charge and Pirlo a regular in midfield, and the latter is not reading too much into the comments of his former head coach, who he still admires greatly.

"He likes to do this, I know him well," Pirlo said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "He tries to take the pressure off his team and put it on us. 

"We have no problems, we are Juventus, we have been winning for nine years and it is normal that we have more pressure. 

"But they too have been built to win, and they are no less than us. It will be a great match between two teams that have the same ambition."

Pirlo previously described Conte as "the best coach he has ever worked with" and has opened up on the part the 51-year-old has played in his career.

He said: "Antonio was the first one who made me think about studying as a coach. I am grateful to him because he taught me so much as a player and from there I thought about a future as a manager. 

"He is making a career of the highest level and has a great human depth but tomorrow we will be opponents. We have two different characters and maybe that's why we get along.

"There is still great esteem and great affection. He gave me a lot and made history at Juventus."

Juve are the only team against which Conte has always lost as manager in Serie A (three out of three), with the Bianconeri unbeaten in nine of their last 10 away league meetings in this fixture.

However, Inter have won five in a row on home soil in the league - the last time they won six on the spin was in December 2018 - and Pirlo is anticipating a tough match against an expensively-assembled side.

"Initially I expect an aggressive Inter who will want to give rhythm to the match," he said. "We have prepared ourselves for this must not be afraid, even in such an important match. It will be a tactical match but we must also be free of our heads. 

"A victory can give us an important boost because it is Inter-Juventus. It is a game that goes beyond three points. It is not only important for the championship standings but for everything else. 

"There is great attention and great concentration because we compete against a great team with great champions. They have strengthened during the summer, while we have made a journey towards the future.

"They have put players in the team for the present. We are two teams that will fight until the end for the victory of the championship."

Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado will play no part after recently testing positive for coronavirus but Aaron Ramsey, Giorgio Chiellini and Weston McKennie are all in contention to start.

Juve have yet to lose a league game in which De Ligt has not started this term, drawing four and winning three, and Pirlo is happy with the options available to him at the back.

"De Ligt is important but let's remember that we also have other champions behind us," he said. "We will field players of great depth who have been at this level for many years. 

"This is certainly an absence that we would have done less willingly but we feel even stronger with the return of Chiellini and with [Leonardo] Bonucci."

Matthijs de Ligt has tested positive for coronavirus, Juventus have confirmed.

Juve were without Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro against Milan on Wednesday due to positive COVID-19 tests and the Netherlands international has also entered self-isolation.

The Bianconeri face Sassuolo on Sunday before taking on Genoa and Inter in the following week.

A club statement read: "Juventus Football Club announces that, during the checks provided for by the protocol in force, Matthijs de Ligt has emerged positive with COVID-19.

"The player has already been placed in self-isolation."

De Ligt missed the start of the 2020-21 season after undergoing shoulder surgery in August but has started 12 straight games in all competitions since returning to action on November 21.

Page 2 of 2
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.