Brazil duo Neymar and Vinicius Jr could thrive in the same starting XI, despite both forwards preferring to play in the same position, according to Juninho.

While Neymar is out injured, Vinicius has been called up for Brazil's World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay over the coming week.

Vinicius has only made nine appearances for Brazil and is yet to score for his country, only starting twice – against Chile in September and Argentina in November respectively.

Up until this season, the Real Madrid winger had struggled for consistency, but under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti, he has thrived for Los Blancos.

Only Karim Benzema (33) has more direct goal contributions for Madrid in all competitions than Vinicius, who has scored 15 times and provided eight assists.

 

Neymar, meanwhile, has had another stuttering season with Paris Saint-Germain, making just 14 appearances in all competitions and completing 90 minutes only nine times.

However, should he be fit, Neymar will no doubt be Brazil's main man heading to Qatar in November.

With Vinicius in such fine form, though, his place in Tite's squad also seems a certainty, and asked if the attackers - who both play predominantly from the left wing in a 4-3-3 formation - could feature together, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) director Juninho believes there is no reason why not.

"The two of them can play together," Juninho told Spanish radio show El Larguero.

"Vinicius shows his quality at Madrid and is beginning to show it for the national team now.

"He's improving every game. Now he's been playing very well for a while.

"Like [Philippe] Coutinho or [Lucas] Paqueta, they can also play together."

Juninho may be convinced Neymar and Vinicius fit into the same side, but neither would be suited to playing in a central role in Tite's preferred 4-3-3 system, while both are at their best when given the freedom to drift inside from the left, rather than the right.

 

Neymar is having a poor season in terms of end product. He has only scored three goals (and one of those was a penalty) and provided as many assists, while he has also underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 4.3, suggesting his finishing has been below par.

Vinicius, on the other hand, has outperformed his xG (12), averaging a goal every 169 minutes for Madrid.

The 21-year-old has also created 64 chances in comparison to Neymar's 28. However, when assessed per 90 minutes, the former Barcelona star crafts 2.1 opportunities, which is not far behind Vinicius' 2.3.

Neymar is also a more proficient dribbler, completing 3.6 dribbles per 90 minutes in comparison to Vinicius' 3.4, while he also creates 0.5 big chances per 90, as opposed to the Madrid man's 1.6.

Rodrygo has his sights set on World Cup glory with Brazil later this year following his call-up to the squad.

The Real Madrid winger has been selected by Tite for his nation's qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay this week.

The Selecao, who sit top of the CONMEBOL qualifying table, are already guaranteed a place in Qatar having collected 35 points from their opening 13 matches. 

Rodrygo has three senior caps to his name and knows the upcoming games present an opportunity for him to stake his claim to appear at the finals, and helping Brazil claim a sixth World Cup triumph – and first since 2002 – tops his priority list for this calendar year.

"It is very important for me to be [back in the] Brazil [squad]," he said in quotes reported on Marca via TNT Brazil.

"It was a goal to return to [the] Brazil [squad]. I think these games can define things, and I hope to play and settle in the national team.

"All Brazilians want to be in Qatar. I'm going to work to try to be there. If I play well, I have a chance [to go].

"[If I had to choose a title to win in 2022, I'd say] the World Cup."

Rodrygo has made 17 appearances for Madrid in LaLiga this season, with 11 of those coming as a substitute – the same as Luka Jovic – with none of his team-mates appearing from the bench more often. 

He has had more joy in the Champions League however, scoring in victories over Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk.

The 21-year-old has attempted 16 dribbles in Europe's premier competition this term, with Vinicius Junior (36) the only Los Blancos player to top that.

Rodrygo will hope to be involved again as Carlo Ancelotti's side face Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16, and he is excited by the prospect of lining up against one of his compatriots.

"This game could have come a bit later [in the competition]," he added.

"They have some of the best players in the world. We know it's difficult, but it's a collective effort that will give us the chance to go through.

"Playing against Neymar will be special. I hope Real Madrid win."

Sergio Ramos hopes his maiden Paris Saint-Germain goal will be the first of many after opening his account for the club.

The defender was on target in the second half at the Parc des Princes as the runaway Ligue 1 leaders enjoyed a commanding 4-0 victory over Reims.

Ramos was making only his second league start for PSG, with injury problems meaning he has endured a challenging start to life in the French capital since making the switch from Real Madrid.

The 35-year-old was thrilled to mark his return to the starting line-up with a goal and 90 minutes under his belt.

"I am very happy for this victory and for my first goal with this team," Ramos told Amazon Prime Video. "I'm glad I played 90 minutes. I like to have the support of the fans. It's good to have taken the three points.

"This is my first goal with PSG and I hope there will be many more. The important thing is to improve physically day after day and show the best version of myself to the team."

Mauricio Pochettino, whose side extended their unbeaten home run in Ligue 1 to 14 matches, also expressed his delight for Ramos.

"I'm happy for him. It's important for him to finish a game," the head coach said. "In addition, with his goal, he validated all this. We will still work on his physical form.

"We didn't play the way we wanted to do in the first half. Then we made a lot of mistakes.

"In the second [half], we played better – with more pressure and presence. We found spaces, we scored, and continue to move forward."

Sergio Ramos scored his first Paris Saint-Germain goal as the Ligue 1 leaders cruised to a 4-0 victory over Reims.

The defender, who has endured a challenging start to life in the French capital since his switch from Real Madrid, opened his account for Mauricio Pochettino's side with a close-range second-half finish at the Parc des Princes.

Marco Verratti began the scoring with his first league goal in just under five years, while Wout Faes' own goal and a Danilo Pereira strike sealed the points as the hosts moved 11 points clear at the top of the table.

PSG, who also welcomed back Lionel Messi following his absence due to COVID-19, have now won the last four Ligue 1 meetings between these sides, keeping a clean sheet on each occasion.

Unbeaten in 13 home league games, PSG quickly took control of proceedings. Pereira headed over from a corner, while Kylian Mbappe shot straight at Predrag Rajkovic.

The hosts broke through just before half-time; Icardi's blocked effort ricocheting for Verratti, who beat Rajkovic with a sweetly struck shot.

Seeking only a third win from 15 away matches, Reims almost found a leveller after the break. Nathanael Mbuku drew a smart save out of Keylor Navas, before Hugo Ekitike sent the rebound over.

However, it was PSG who doubled their lead in the 62nd minute as Ramos prodded home at the second attempt after his initial strike following a corner was parried by Rajkovic.

Five minutes later, two became three with Verratti's strike taking two deflections – the latter off Faes – before nestling in the far corner.

Mauro Icardi was denied shortly afterwards before Pereira got in on the act with a quarter of an hour remaining, latching onto Mbappe's centre before his deflected shot flew past Rajkovic.

Lionel Messi has found an unlikely ally in Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who believes those criticising the Argentinian's form at Paris Saint-Germain know nothing about football.

Messi joined PSG on a shock free transfer from Barcelona in August after the Blaugrana came to the realisation they simply could not afford to pay his wages in line with their reduced salary cap.

The move was seen as another big step for PSG in their quest to finally win the Champions League, as he was joining a team that already boasted Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in attack.

But Messi is yet to truly take off in Paris. While his haul of five goals in as many Champions League games is a good return, in Ligue 1 it has been a different story, netting just once in 11 appearances.

Unless he has an incredible second half to the season, Messi will fall well short of the 38 goals he scored across all competitions for Barca last term.

As for his creativity, Messi ranks third in the PSG squad for chances created (32) and his assists total of four is rather less than many would expect of him, particularly when Mbappe has 12 to his name.

But there have been extenuating circumstances given he did not have much of a pre-season, he has suffered with injuries and illness, and he is settling into new surroundings for the first time in his senior career.

As such, Benzema feels criticism of Messi – who could make his first appearance of 2022 on Sunday after a bout of coronavirus – is unfair.

Asked if Messi will be a success at PSG, Benzema told TF1: "How won't he succeed?

"It is just a period of adaptation, because he is not scoring a lot of goals. But watch what he does on the pitch.

"In any case you can't criticise a player like that. In fact, he who criticises Messi, knows nothing about football."

Messi claimed his record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or last year, an award that many had tipped Benzema to win over the course of the year.

Ultimately the Frenchman finished fourth in the running, also behind Robert Lewandowski and Jorginho, which was seemingly a source of frustration for him.

Winning the prize remains a goal of Benzema's, though he does not think he could have done any more than he did over 2021.

"Fourth, third or second is the same as 30th," he said. "The main thing is to win it.

"I was told that I hadn't won enough trophies, but I couldn't do more. It remains a goal and each season I will try to do better than what I did last season."

Everything points to the 34-year-old being in contention again at the end of 2022 as he sits atop LaLiga's goalscoring chart with 17, five more than anyone else in the division.

That haul has helped him to 303 goals for Madrid, which leaves Benzema just five behind club great Alfredo Di Stefano in third, while Raul (323) is not much further ahead in second – Cristiano Ronaldo (450) is way out in front.

Benzema never expected to get anywhere near Di Stefano's haul, which makes the achievement even more satisfying.

"It's a source of pride but I want to continue," Benzema added. "When I arrived, I saw [Di Stefano's record] so far away.

"I did not see these records as an objective, but today to be close to these legends is exceptional.

"When we arrive at Madrid, we don't tell ourselves that we will stay 10 or 15 years, we just want to win titles."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed he urged Kylian Mbappe to leave his comfort zone and join Real Madrid after being approached for advice by the Paris Saint-Germain forward. 

Mbappe was the subject of two big-money bids from Madrid in the last transfer window and recently revealed he asked PSG to grant him a move away.

The France international is out of contract at the end of the season and continues to be linked with a free transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu.

He has spent five seasons with PSG, the first of those on an initial loan from fellow Ligue 1 side Monaco, whom he represented for two campaigns.

More than six years after bursting onto the scene, former PSG striker Ibrahimovic believes it is time for Mbappe to test himself in a new league.

"Only Kylian can answer you about where he has to go. It depends on what he wants, what he thinks," Ibrahimovic told L'Equipe.

"Me, I would have gone. But if I am PSG, I would try to keep him. It's him who will decide. PSG want to keep him, obviously, but does he want to stay?

"I also think that there are other clubs that want him: if you are a manager, and you have the means and you do not want to take Mbappe, you are in the wrong business. 

"He asked me [for advice], yes, and I told him: 'If I were you, I would go to Real'.

"I had the chance to play in different teams, different countries, with different champions, and that's how I learned and grew. 

"Playing at home all your career is easier, in my opinion. Whereas if you pack your bags and go to other places, it's an adventure."

Ibrahimovic himself spent four seasons with PSG and scored 156 goals, a tally bettered only by Edinson Cavani (200) in the club's list of all-time goalscorers.

Mbappe is fast closing in on Ibrahimovic in that regard as he has 151 goals in 198 appearances for the Parisians in all competitions since his debut in September 2017.

That is the fourth-most of any player from Europe's top five leagues across that period, behind Cristiano Ronaldo (158), Lionel Messi (168) and Robert Lewandowski (212).

 

While Mbappe is a guaranteed starter for PSG when available, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has struggled to hold down a place in the side since joining from Milan.

Donnarumma played a key part in Italy's Euro 2020 triumph and impressed across six years at San Siro, but he has had to share goalkeeping duties with Keylor Navas this term.

That has come as a shock to Milan striker Ibrahimovic, who spent two and a half years playing in the same side as the Italian stopper.

"I am very surprised. But I know it's not easy for the coach, and I know Navas is a great goalkeeper too," he said.

"They have two phenomena in goal. In my world, Donnarumma is the number one today.

"I don't know if it's good to alternate goalkeepers, or if it's more of a favour you do to one of them. I'm used to having a goalkeeper who is number one and is always the same. 

"And about Donnarumma there is no question: he is the best in the world, and that's that. I played with him, I know what I'm talking about."

Mauricio Pochettino declared Paris Saint-Germain are ready to do business before the transfer window closes – but refused to discuss Tanguy Ndombele.

Tottenham midfielder Ndombele is thought to be a target for the Ligue 1 leaders, with reports that a loan deal is being discussed between the clubs.

Pochettino brought Ndombele to Spurs in 2019 and thinks highly of the former Lyon playmaker, but a move back to France is not yet a formality.

The Argentine head coach declined to explain PSG's apparent interest in the 25-year-old when his name was mentioned in a news conference on Saturday.

"I don't like speaking about rumours or players who are at other clubs," said Pochettino. "We have a squad with enormous quality. The club made a huge effort in the summer to put together the best possible squad with the right balance.

"The transfer window is open now. It also depends on the players who are not getting many chances here. Or for whatever reasons it is that they want to leave.

"The window is open, and the club is always open. Not just to listen but also to see what is happening in the transfer market. I am pleased with the squad that I have. We will deal with individual matters as they come up."

Lionel Messi is poised for his first appearance of the year as Pochettino's team tackle Reims on Sunday, with Kylian Mbappe also set to feature after recovering from an adductor problem.

Messi made his PSG debut as a substitute when PSG and Reims met in August, with a double from Mbappe earning a 2-0 away win amid a whirlwind of global interest in the game.

"It will definitely be a different match to the first one we played against them," Pochettino said.

Messi is fit after a brush with COVID-19, and Pochettino added: "Leo Messi has trained this week. We are pleased with how he is coming along. He is going to be in the squad tomorrow.

"It is always good news when players who have been out for a while are able to return and be back in the squad to help the team."

Mbappe scored in last weekend's 2-0 win against Brest, before a midweek medical bulletin pointed to an injury.

"We are happy to see the way that his problem has evolved," Pochettino said. "He trained with us in the last two sessions. He is going to be in the squad tomorrow. We will decide tomorrow if he starts or is on the bench."

Messi has not scored in his last five domestic matches for PSG and has just six goals across all competitions since arriving from Barcelona.

He has hit the woodwork more than anybody in the French top flight this season (six) – more times than the entire Reims squad (five).

PSG have won each of their last three meetings with Reims in Ligue 1 without conceding a goal, achieving as many clean sheets in this sequence as in the first 11 between the two clubs in the 21st century.

Reims will clearly do well to take anything from Sunday's game, having not scored in their last two Ligue 1 games and with PSG having won 12 and drawn one of their last 13 home games in the competition.

Ousmane Dembele's future with Barcelona has been unclear for months.

The 24-year-old has snubbed a fresh contract extension offer at Barca.

On Thursday, it was confirmed the Blaugrana have subsequently put him up for sale in January.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA READY FOR DEMBELE MOVE

Chelsea are ready to make a January move for Barcelona's Dembele, claims The Sun.

France winger Dembele is out of contract at the end of this season and Barca now want him to leave this month.

Chelsea have interest in Dembele, although it is unclear if they want to sign him on loan or permanently.

 

ROUND-UP

- Roma are prepared to offer Jordan Veretout in exchange for Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Goal and The Athletic claim that Paris Saint-Germain  are in talks with Spurs and Ndombele over a loan move.

- The Telegraph claims Tottenham are ready to make a January swoop for Milan's Franck Kessie, whose contract expires at the end of this season.

- Sevilla are still keen to sign Manchester United forward Anthony Martial on loan, according to Marca. The Spanish club had an initial offer rejected and could move for Lyon's Moussa Dembele as an alternative.

- Real Betis want to sign Manchester City full-back Oleksandr Zinchenko this month, with the lure of regular football, claims The Sun.

- Crystal Palace have pulled out of the race to sign Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, reports the Daily Mail. Ramsey has had interest from Newcastle United, Wolves and Burnley.

Ousmane Dembele's Barcelona career appears to be drawing to a close, with the club's director of football Mateu Alemany confirming on Thursday that he is up for sale.

Dembele's representatives have been in talks with Barca since July over a new contract for a player that arrived at Camp Nou in 2017 in the wake of Neymar's departure to Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca splashed the cash – €105million, to be exact – to bring the winger in from Borussia Dortmund, where he had enjoyed a wonderful campaign in 2016-17 after a move from Rennes.

Despite Xavi wanting to keep the player, an agreement between the club and Dembele's camp has not been reached and the stand-off has now resulted in Alemany publicly stating the France international will no longer play for Barca now he has turned down their latest offer.

 

Dembele has struggled to establish himself as a key player at Barca due to injuries and some reported attitude issues, albeit he has hardly been at Camp Nou during the most stable period.

He has managed 31 goals and 22 assists in 129 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.63 goals per 90 minutes, but he has played in just 52 per cent of Barca's LaLiga matches in that time.

Barca's plan is to move Dembele on now but, with his contract up at the end of the season, potential suitors may wish to bide their time and sign the attacker on a free transfer.

Stats Perform explores some possible destinations.

Liverpool

Could a move to Anfield be on the cards for Dembele? He has often been linked with Liverpool in the past, and Jurgen Klopp's direct approach could well suit a player that performed so well in the Bundesliga – a competition renowned for aggressive pressing and counter-attacks, which the Reds have down to a tee in the Premier League.

There is the small matter, of course, of Mohamed Salah. Arguably the best player in the world at the moment, the Egypt star plays predominantly from the right, in Dembele's preferred position. However, there is uncertainty over Salah's future, with a new contract not yet agreed. His deal runs out in 2023 and Dembele could present an ideal rotation option and eventual successor. Klopp would surely back himself to get the best out of the 24-year-old.

 

PSG

A team reported to hold a firm interest is Ligue 1 giants PSG. It would be ironic should Dembele – the man signed by Barca to replace Neymar – ended up playing alongside the Brazil star in Paris.

PSG already, of course, have a star-studded attack. But with Kylian Mbappe expected to leave at the end of the season and Lionel Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria not getting any younger, Dembele could provide a relatively cost-effective replacement, and a return to France might reignite his career.

Bayern Munich

Or could a move back to the Bundesliga be the trick for Dembele? Bayern Munich have plenty of top-quality wing options, with Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Kingsley Coman, who has just signed a new long-term deal, complimented by youngster Jamal Musiala. Yet in all competitions this season, Dembele has created 2.4 chances per 90 minutes played, and that is better than any of Bayern's current wingers other than Sane (2.6).

His 6.7 dribbles attempted per 90 ranks behind only Musiala (7.8) and he leads the way in shots (4.5). Most important, perhaps, is Dembele's tendency to cross. He has delivered 6.7 open-play crosses per 90 in 2021-22, exactly two more than Bayern's best wide player in this metric (Coman - 4.7), something that Robert Lewandowski would surely relish.

Borussia Dortmund

This may seem an unlikely move, but what about heading back to Dortmund? Dembele was a superstar at Signal Iduna Park in his first spell there, although fans did not take kindly to his wish to leave, and that may well mean this would not get off the ground.

But, putting any negative emotions to one side, Dortmund have a vibrant attack under Marco Rose, though are likely to lose Erling Haaland in the close-season. While Dembele's wages might be an issue right now, should he remain at Barca for the rest of the season, could Dortmund use funds generated from a possible Haaland sale to bring back a player who played a direct hand in 30 goals (10 goals, 20 assists) and created 100 chances across all competitions in 2016-17.

 

Juventus

Another elite club that could provide a new lease of life for Dembele is Juve. The Serie A giants are not involved in the title race this season, at least according to their coach Massimiliano Allegri, though he will know the Bianconeri nevertheless must challenge for silverware in Europe or in the Coppa Italia. 

Dembele could provide the spark that is missing in Juve's attack, especially with Federico Chiesa expected to miss at least six months with a serious knee injury, while Dejan Kulusevski has been rumoured to be on the transfer list.

Newcastle United

One of these clubs is not like the others but, given their new-found wealth – and, perhaps, the need to make a real statement signing – maybe it would be foolish to discount Newcastle.

Whether Dembele would fancy swapping Barcelona for the north east of England and a Premier League relegation battle in January is of course up for debate, though what would not be up for debate is Newcastle, with their Saudi Arabia-backed ownership, having the funds to pull such a signing off.

Dembele would represent a step up in quality and would surely be an instant fans' favourite at St James' Park and alongside Allan Saint-Maximin on the other flank, provide some added star power to help Newcastle survive and, possibly, thrive in future seasons.

Lionel Messi has not been included in Lionel Scaloni's latest Argentina squad as he continues to recover from coronavirus.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has not played a match in almost a month, with the 1-1 Ligue 1 draw at Lorient on December 22 being his most recent outing.

He contracted COVID-19 while back home in Argentina during the mid-season break, forcing him to return to France later than initially planned.

Messi seemed all set to return to action against Lyon on January 9, but PSG said he needed to continue his recovery and then he also missed the 2-0 win over Brest on Saturday.

While he said last week that "I have almost recovered", Messi did reveal on social media that getting over the illness took "longer than I thought".

Given his situation, Argentina have seemingly deemed it pointless risking Messi or further disrupting his recovery given they have already secured qualification for this year's World Cup.

Argentina travel to Chile on Thursday before hosting Colombia five days later, with both opponents still desperately fighting for the right to play at Qatar 2022.

La Albiceleste's other remaining qualifiers are against Venezuela and surprise-package Ecuador in March.

 

Luis Suarez's future at Atletico Madrid is unclear with his contract to expire at the end of the season.

Suarez helped Atleti win LaLiga last term with 21 goals.

The Uruguayan joined Atletico from top-flight rivals Barcelona in 2020 on a two-year deal.

TOP STORY – SUAREZ WANTS GERRARD REUNION AT VILLA

Suarez wants a reunion with former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa, reports Gerard Romero.

The Atletico Madrid forward's contract expires at the end of this season and has been sounded out by numerous Brazilian clubs.

Suarez has had offers from Palmeiras, Corinthians and Atletico Mineiro but wants to link up with Gerrard who took over at Villa in January.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN claims Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Milan's Franck Kessie, as part of their effort to convince Kylian Mbappe to stay in the French capital amid interest from Real Madrid.

- Juventus have made an enquiry for Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria according to 90min as they prepare for Arthur Melo to join Arsenal .

- Arsenal's bid to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic looks to have hit a roadblock with the Serbian only interested in joining Juventus, reports the Mail.

- Milan want to bolster their backline and are interested in a loan deal for Tottenham's Japhet Tanganga, claims Fabrizio Romano.

- Leicester City and Newcastle United may rival Brentford to sign Inter's Christian Eriksen, reports the Times.

The futures of Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, arguably the two most sought-after players in world football, could be determined by the end of the January transfer window.

While the forwards look set to stay at Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain respectively this month, moves away at the end of the campaign look increasingly likely.

And despite intense competition from fellow heavyweight clubs, Real Madrid are determined to win the race for both players.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID TO PUT ASIDE €350m FOR HAALAND

Madrid had two bids knocked back for Mbappe last year but, according to Marca, they remain in pole position to sign the France international in six months' time.

Landing Haaland could prove to be a little more complicated, though, given he will still have two years to run on his contract at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

However, the Spanish publication reports that Madrid are willing to spend big on the prolific striker, who is thought to have a €75million release clause in his deal.

On top of triggering that, it is claimed that Los Blancos will have to set aside cash for Haaland's father, agent Mino Raiola and a hefty salary for the player himself, which could total around €350m.

 

ROUND-UP

- Madrid may be considered the frontrunners to sign Mbappe and Haaland, but they already have a back-up plan in place should either of those moves fail to materialise. According to El Nacional, Fiorentina's in-demand Dusan Vlahovic is also on the Spanish giants' radar.

- CalcioMercato reports that Milan have joined the queue to sign Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen. Christensen, who comes out of contract at the end of this season, is being chased by Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona.

- Newcastle United could beat Manchester United in the race for RB Leipzig's Amadou Haidara, with The Mirror reporting that the newly-rich Magpies are set to make an offer.

- The Everton board got together on Saturday to discuss manager Rafael Benitez's future in the job, according to Sky Sports. Everton have won one of their past 13 league games and lost to bottom club Norwich City 2-1 on Saturday.

- PSG, Bayern and Madrid are among Kalvin Phillips' suitors. El Nacional reports that Leeds United have a battle on their hands fending off interest in the midfielder, who has been capped 19 times by England.

- The Mirror reports that Chelsea are considering a move for Inter's Ivan Perisic. The Blues are in the market for a versatile player who can play at left-back while Ben Chilwell recovers from a long-term injury.

 

Kylian Mbappe and Thilo Kehrer were on target as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 2-0 Ligue 1 win over Brest at Parc des Princes.

Mauricio Pochettino's side headed into Saturday's meeting on an 11-game unbeaten league run, albeit with four draws in their last five, and were ahead when Mbappe struck in the 32nd minute.

That strike was the 23-year-old's 10th in Ligue 1 this term, meaning he has hit double figures in six straight seasons – in the same period, no other player has done so more than three times.

Kehrer extended PSG's advantage after the interval as the hosts coasted to three points to move 11 clear of second-placed Nice at the summit.

Irvin Cardona twice forced smart stops from Gianluigi Donnarumma in the opening stages, while Mbappe drilled narrowly wide at the other end.

But there was no stopping Mbappe after 32 minutes when he fired through Brendan Chardonnet's legs and into the bottom-left corner, before Mauro Icardi saw his header disallowed for an apparent foul on Marco Bizot.

Marco Verratti almost added a second immediately after the break, only to be denied by the post, though the hosts doubled their lead soon after.

Nuno Mendes danced past Ronael Pierre-Gabriel to find Kehrer, who applied a first-time finish into the top-right corner from near the penalty spot.

Bizot then denied Marquinhos with a fantastic reflex save before making two fine stops from Mbappe to keep the scoreline respectable for Brest.

Lionel Messi has revealed that it took him longer than he expected to recover after recently testing positive for COVID-19.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward tested positive for COVID-19 while back home in Argentina during the mid-season break and subsequently missed his team's 4-0 victory over Vannes in the Coupe de France.

However, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner returned a negative test last week and was set to be available to face Lyon, only for the Ligue 1 leaders to confirm that he would "continue his post-COVID individual recovery protocol for the next few days."

Addressing his 300 million followers on Instagram, Messi issued his appreciation for the support during his recovery, and hopes it will not be long until he returns to action.

He posted: "Good afternoon! As you know I had COVID and I wanted to thank you for all the messages I received and to tell you that it took me longer than I thought to be well, but I have almost recovered, and I am really looking forward to getting back on the pitch. 

"I have been training these days to put myself at 100 per cent, very nice challenges are coming this year and I hope we can meet again very soon. Thanks!!!"

Messi has been directly involved in 10 goals in 16 appearances across all competitions since his switch from Barcelona, scoring six and assisting four. He has created 32 chances for his team-mates, and averaged a goal every 219 minutes.

However, he has only found the net once in 11 Ligue 1 games so far under Mauricio Pochettino.

 

Mikel Arteta may be confident that his side can still recruit any player in the world, but Arsenal may have to wait if they are to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The in-demand Serbia international is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Europe's top five leagues this term and is wanted by an array of clubs across the continent.

While a January move has been touted, however, Fiorentina appear to be playing hardball when it comes to the future of the 21-year-old striker.


TOP STORY – FIORENTINA DEMANDS PREVENTING ARSENAL'S VLAHOVIC PURSUIT

Arsenal are reportedly willing to match Fiorentina's €75million (£62.62m) asking price for Vlahovic, which would make him the second-most expensive player in their history.

However, The Independent reports that the Serie A side want the majority of that money paid upfront, whereas Arsenal intend to spread the cost over the next four years.

The Gunners may therefore have to wait until the end of the campaign, at which point Vlahovic will have a year to run on his contract, before renegotiating with Fiorentina.

 


ROUND-UP

– It is shaping up to be a busy conclusion to the January window for Arsenal as Goal reports that the Premier League side have made contact with Juventus over a loan move for midfielder Arthur Melo, while Leicester City's Youri Tielemans is another potential target.

– L'Equipe claims that Paul Pogba remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain as he nears the end of his Manchester United contract. The midfielder has not featured since November due to injury and is not expected to return until next month.

– According to The Mail, Man Utd are eyeing a move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey as an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is said to be a big fan of the right-sided player's versatility.

– Sticking with Rangnick and United, the German coach has put Ajax boss Erik ten Hag's name forward as the best option to replace him when his interim spell at Old Trafford ends in June. That is according to Le Parisien, with the French outlet also suggesting PSG's Mauricio Pochettino still remains in the frame.

– Ambitious Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier this month and more players look set to follow. Tuttomercato suggests that Roma's Chris Smalling could be lured to St James' Park as the Magpies desperately attempt to strengthen at centre-back.

Freiburg's Nico Schlotterbeck is attracting plenty of interest this month, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among those being linked. Bayern appear to be leading that particular race if reports from Spain are anything to go by, with the defender supposedly keen to stay in the Bundesliga.

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