The race for Erling Haaland's signature will be a huge story in 2022.

The 21-year-old sensation has interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Haaland has netted 63 goals in the past 18 months for Borussia Dortmund.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD GIVE UP ON HAALAND

Manchester United have pulled out of the race to sign Dortmund's Haaland, according to ESPN.

The Red Devils will focus on alternative attacking options with uncertainty around Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo's futures at the club while Haaland is favouring a move to Real Madrid.

United have had a long-standing interest in the Norwegian, who has a €75 million (£62m) release clause on his Dortmund contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are closing in on a deal for River Plate's 21-year-old Argentina international Julian Alvarez, claims The Telegraph. As part of the imminent deal, Alvarez – who has interest from Milan, Inter and Juventus – will remain with River until June. The fee is expected to be no less than £20m.

- Liverpool have joined the race to sign Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria, according to ESPN. The Reds will rival Dortmund and Bayern Munich who are both keen on the Swiss midfielder.

- Ajax's Mexico international Edson Alvarez is attracting interest from Premier League trio Chelsea, Leicester City and Crystal Palace, reports Football Insider.

- Leeds United have opened contract talks with Brazilian superstar Raphinha,  according to the Daily Star, amid interest from Chelsea and Liverpool .

- French club Nice are set to offer Tottenham's Bryan Gil a loan deal, according to L'Equipe. The Spaniard has struggled for impact since his move to England.

- Diario AS claims that Valencia are working on a January deal for Athletic Bilbao defender Unai Nunez .

2021 is dead – long live 2022.

It's a new year, and while the one changing to a two literally overnight may seem arbitrary, it gives us an excuse to look ahead and what's on the horizon.

Of course, we're now into a World Cup year – 12 months from now, we'll have newly crowned world champions and, who knows, maybe a new superstar or two will have emerged.

While there's no guarantee about a player's trajectory, Stats Perform have at least put together a list of 22 under-22 players who could be worth keeping an eye out for in 2022.

GOALKEEPERS

Etienne Green, 21, English – Saint-Etienne

Honestly, he's not included just because of the perfection of a player called Etienne Green playing for Les Verts, Saint-Etienne – though that certainly warrants a mention. Colchester-born Green has played 23 times in Ligue 1 for the club, making Leeds United's Ilan Meslier the only goalkeeper born after 2000 to play more often (53) across the top five leagues. In April he became the fourth Ligue 1 keeper since Opta records began (2006-07) to save a penalty on his debut and he's since gone on to nail down a starting spot. Having recently declared for England over France, Green could be an outside bet for Gareth Southgate's squad at Qatar 2022.

Maarten Vandevoordt, 19, Belgian – Genk

In 2019, Vandevoordt became the Champions League's youngest ever goalkeeper at 17 years and 287 days old – it proved to be a bit of a nightmare as Genk lost 4-0, with youngster at fault for two goals. It would've been enough to shatter the confidence of most young players, but Vandevoordt's since gone on to become first-choice, playing 16 league games in 2020-21 and all 21 this term.

DEFENDERS

Kaiky, 17, Brazilian – Santos

If there's any area of the pitch that one might consider to be the hardest to establish yourself in as a young player, most would say centre-back. Yet, despite not turning 18 until January 12, Kaiky has racked up an impressive number of appearances there for Santos. He played more minutes in the 2021 Brasileirao (1,334 minutes) and the Libertadores (495) than any other under-19 player and has impressed with his comfort in possession, aerial ability and demonstrable appetite for defending. He has a long way to go, but he sure has made a promising start.

Becir Omeragic, 19, Swiss – FC Zurich

Omeragic is among the most highly rated young centre-backs in Europe and was in Switzerland's Euro 2020 squad – despite still being only 19, he's already played 71 Swiss Super League games for Zurich. This season he ranks highly in numerous metrics among defenders, such as tackle attempts (29, fifth-highest), interceptions (26, seventh-highest) and possession won (105, fifth-highest), while he offers good progression on the ball, his carry progress of 1,796.6m upfield being the fourth-best among all defenders – two of those are full-backs. Expect to see him in one of Europe's biggest leagues fairly soon.

Ilya Zabarnyi, 19, Ukrainian – Dynamo Kiev

Previously linked with Chelsea, among other major clubs, Zabarnyi caught the eye at Euro 2020 with some mature displays. Despite being the joint-youngest player in the squad, Zabarnyi was one of the five players to play every minute for Ukraine, and among those to feature for at least 100 minutes, he ranked in the top three for touches (72.8) and passes (60.6) on a per-90 basis. Similarly, only four played more passes into the final third than him (4.7), and three of those were midfielders. A move to a bigger league will give us a better idea of just how good Zabarnyi is, but the promise is there.

Ethan Laird, 20, English – Swansea City (on loan from Manchester United)

Manchester United have rated right-back Laird highly for a while – he actually made his senior debut for them as far back as November 2019 in the Europa League. Since then, he showed great promise at Milton Keynes Dons and then followed coach Russell Martin in making the jump to the Championship with Swansea City, where he's continued to impress. Only three defenders in the division have created more chances than him in open play (23), while his five big chances created is the second-most in the Swans squad. With Aaron Wan-Bissaka seemingly unable to kick on at United, Laird's opportunity may arrive in 2022.

Alex Balde, 18, Spanish – Barcelona

Barcelona have seemingly once again become great trusters of youth – not that their situation has given them much of a choice. Balde's not yet one of those to become a regular, and you'd think he will struggle to dislodge Jordi Alba at left-back, but in his four LaLiga appearances the 18-year-old has shown real promise with his ability on the ball and pace. Given his skillset and Xavi's desire to play with classic wingers, he may find himself used further up the pitch – either way, he's definitely one to watch.

George Bello, 19, American – Atlanta United

Nigeria-born Bello may not be 20 until late January, but he's already made a strong impression in MLS, so much so that he became a regular part of the USA's senior side in 2021. Added to that, his 2,433 minutes played was the most of any MLS player to end the season as a teenager. An attack-minded left-back, Bello is excellent on the ball and possesses great pace, and he may well be on the move soon given his contract expires at the end of 2022. If anyone takes a punt, they could be rewarded handsomely.

MIDFIELDERS

Yacine Adli, 21, French – Bordeaux (on loan from Milan)

Milan fans have every reason to be excited about Adli. The kind of silky playmaker that makes almost everything look effortless, he has created more chances after a carry (11) than any other midfielder in Ligue 1 this term. He may not be a great goal threat himself, but his six assists is the second-most among the same group of players (Dimitri Payet has seven) – all of Adli's were from open play, however, which is the most the league's midfielders. Whether he can keep that up at Milan is unclear, but if he can, they'll have a real asset on their hands.

Unai Vencedor, 21, Spanish – Athletic Bilbao

Athletic are one of LaLiga's stranger teams in that they don't win, lose, score or concede very often, yet that's not stopping Vencedor from thriving. A controlling presence with satisfying calmness on the ball in centre midfield, Vencedor is mature for his age and already has significant influence over Athletic's play. Just Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams have been involved in more open-play shot-ending sequences than Vencedor (47) among Athletic players, while the former (eight) is the only one with more instances of being involved in build-up and taking the shot (five) at the end, highlighting his importance to not only keeping them on the ball but also posing an attacking threat.

Nicolo Rovella, 20, Italian – Genoa (on loan from Juventus)

Granted, Rovella's hardly a hidden gem given Juve signed him in a deal potentially worth €20m last January, but he's still not quite a household name. Nevertheless, he looks a real prospect. A deep-lying midfielder, Rovella is elegant on the ball, hard-working without it and excellent at set-pieces. For struggling Genoa this season, his 4.0 possession wins every 90 minutes in the middle third is the 15th highest among Serie A midfielders (min. 500 minutes played), as is his 1.4 successful tackles – though only four players from the same group who have attempted at least 20 boast a better success rate than him (71.4). There's talk he could be recalled by Juve in January, which highlights the impression he's making.

Caden Clark, 18, American – RB Leipzig

With goals against Atlanta United and then Toronto four days later in October 2020, Clark became the youngest player MLS history to score in each of his first two games – the second was an absolute scorcher as well. The 18-year-old agreed a move from New York Red Bulls to RB Leipzig in 2021 and he officially makes the switch in January, with no return loan planned. The technically gifted midfielder has his chance to make it in the big-time, and the Bundesliga has previously been a good next step for MLS stars.

Hannibal Mejbri, 18, Tunisian – Manchester United

Some United fans are disappointed Hannibal didn't get more opportunities under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and he's been restricted with Ralf Rangnick because of his involvement in the Arab Cup and the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations. But when he returns, there's every indication he may get more chances, or at least that's what Rangnick recently intimated. A silky and creative midfielder, but one who has a tendency to lose his head, Hannibal might be able to provide the extra injection of craft often missing from United's midfield.

WINGERS

Kayky, 18, Brazilian – Manchester City

There's every chance Kayky and Angelo could be challenging each other for a spot in the senior Brazil team one day. Now at Manchester City after joining from Fluminense in a deal apparently worth an initial £8.4million, Kayky's development is going to be fascinating to watch. With Flu, the talented winger became the club's youngest player and goalscorer in the Libertadores before making the switch to England in pre-season. He was on the bench for the Boxing Day win over Leicester City, and with COVID-19 cases proving an issue across the Premier League, there's every chance we may see a bit more of Kayky in the near future.

Angelo Gabriel, 17, Brazilian – Santos

Every year it seems there's a new Brazilian teenager causing a stir and subsequently being linked with a big move to Europe – the latest is Angelo Gabriel. The newest 'new Neymar', Angelo is actually a left-footed right winger but the similarities in style of play are at least comparable in that he's a good dribbler, skilful and likes to cut inside off the flank. Angelo's made the jump up to the first team a little earlier than Neymar, though – he only turned 17 in December but already has 51 first-team appearances to his name. In April, he became the Copa Libertadores' youngest-ever scorer (16 years, 105 days old) and was also the only under-17 player to feature in the 2021 Brasileirao.

Alan Velasco, 19, Argentinian – Independiente

Showing quality in Argentina's domestic league isn't always a guarantee of future greatness, but doing well as a tricky youngster does speak to a certain degree of bravery and resilience given the brutal reputation of the top flight. Velasco is among the league's most-promising young players, a skilful, quick and dangerous left winger. His 62 chances created this season is the fifth most in the division, while no player can better his 198 dribbles completed. Could he be a wildcard choice for Argentina at the World Cup? Don't rule it out.

Rayan Cherki, 18, French – Lyon

It feels like 2022 could be a massive year for Cherki. The versatile attacker is still nowhere near being a regular at Lyon, despite many feeling Peter Bosz's appointment might prove a boost to the teenager – after all, he played an important role in developing Kai Havertz and Florian Wirtz. Yet, the raw ability is undoubtedly there for Cherki – whether he'll be able to harness that properly at Lyon remains to be seen, with suggestions growing that he might seek a move away in the next year.

FORWARDS

Yuri Alberto, 20, Brazilian – Internacional

Yuri Alberto looks likely to be 'one who got away' for Santos. He left for Internacional in 2020 after initially showing promise at Vila Belmiro and has been a shrewd acquisition, scoring 22 times in 56 Brasileirao appearances, the most of any player currently 24 or younger. His 12 in the 2021 season was only bettered by four players and he scored more hat-tricks than anyone else (three) during the calendar year – one of those being netted in the late-finishing 2020 campaign.

Mohamed-Ali Cho, 17, French – Angers

A dynamic, exciting forward who is most comfortable out wide at the moment, Cho may only be 17 but he already has 39 Ligue 1 appearances under his belt. Where France seem to have lost out to England with Green, Les Bleus look to be winning the battle for Cho, who spent five years at Everton until 2020. Now a France Under-21 international, Cho is the youngest player to have scored in Ligue 1 this season having netted against Rennes back in August when he was aged 17 years and 222 days.

Ricardo Pepi, 18, American – FC Dallas

Yes, another American. While Clark may not make it into the United States' World Cup squad, Pepi almost certainly will. A very well-rounded striker who is tall, agile and hard-working, Pepi has also – perhaps most importantly – proven an able finisher, with his 13 MLS goals in the 2021 season being the joint-most ever managed by a teenager in the competition. Similarly, he's also the youngest player to ever score in consecutive World Cup qualifiers for the USA. He has a long-term contract at Dallas, but no one would be surprised to see him leave for Europe in 2022, with Germany a likely destination. Expect him to fetch the largest ever fee for an American leaving MLS.

Matias Arezo, 19, Uruguayan – River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo. He scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he surpassed that haul with 15 from six fewer appearances in 2021. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe. A well-built striker, he's definitely one to watch ahead of the World Cup – assuming Uruguay get there.

Julian Alvarez, 21, Argentinian – River Plate

A sensational last couple of months in 2021 elevated Alvarez to a new level, one which has seen him mentioned regularly in transfer gossip columns – United are apparently especially keen. The striker, now an Argentina international, scored a total of 24 club goals across 2021, while also setting up a further 12 in the league, showing both his ability to finish chances and create them. A move abroad seems highly probable – where that takes him and how he does will be intriguing to watch, particularly ahead of the World Cup.

Ousmane Dembele could become the face of a new Barcelona but his future remains unclear.

Xavi has made it clear how much he rates the France international, but his contract expires at the end of the season.

Barca are keen to extend his stay, though it appears their chances have suffered a setback.

 

TOP STORY - DEMBELE TALKS HIT PROBLEM

Barca's latest meeting with Dembele's agents did not have the "expected end", with "tension" rising in negotiations, according to Sport.

While the Catalan daily claims Barca are still confident of reaching an agreement, with Dembele having previously given the green light over a renewal, the forward will be able to open discussions with other clubs over a free transfer from January 1.

Sky Sport Italia reports Manchester United and Newcastle United, the latter of whom are expected to have plenty to spend in January, have already registered an interest.

ROUND-UP

- River Plate's highly-rated forward Julian Alvarez seems poised to leave sooner rather than later. TyC Sports suggests Man Utd have requested a meeting with his agent to understand what it would cost to sign the 21-year-old.

- Many players are likely to be linked with Newcastle over the coming weeks but Atletico Madrid and England right-back Kieran Trippier appears one of the likeliest to join them. Fabrizio Romano claims the Magpies are "still working" on the deal, though Los Colchoneros are yet to receive a bid.

- Borussia Dortmund have not given up hope of retaining Erling Haaland. The Norway sensation has been linked with most of Europe's biggest clubs, but Bild says BVB are willing to make him their highest-paid player of all time.

- Barcelona want to solve their issues in the striker role by bringing Alvaro Morata back to LaLiga from Juventus, according to AS, though there is an acceptance the deal will be a complicated one to pull off due to the fact he is on loan from Atletico.

Matthijs de Ligt's agent Mina Raiola is ready to find the defender a new club.

The outspoken representative suggested he could join Barcelona, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain.

He also indicated the Premier League was of interest to the Juventus centre-back.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA FRONTRUNNERS TO LAND DE LIGT

Chelsea are leading the race to sign Juventus defender De Ligt, claims The Sun.

Raiola has indicated the 22-year-old is ready to leave Juve, who are off the Serie A title pace this term.

Chelsea are expected to lose a host of defenders and eager to make a move for De Ligt.

 

ROUND-UP

- Cashed-up Newcastle United have an eye on Inter forward Edin Dzeko as well as a loan deal for Manchester United's Anthony Martial, reports The Sun.

Manchester United have been in touch with River Plate about 21-year-old Argentinean forward Julian Alvarez, claims Ole.

United are also set to win the race to sign Olympique Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara according to FourFourTwo.

- Gerard Romero claims that Tottenham will make another move for Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet after missing out on him last transfer window.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that Jonathan Ikone's move from Lille to Fiorentina is agreed with only the paperwork left to be signed on a five-year deal with a €15m fee.

Jesse Lingard's future does not appear to be with current club Manchester United.

Contract talks between Lingard and United have reportedly broken down.

The England international has only played eight times in all competitions this season, starting just once.

 

TOP STORY –  LINGARD SET FOR JANUARY SWITCH

Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard will make a £10million move to West Ham in January, according to The Sun.

The Red Devils are said to be looking to cash in on the 28-year-old England international before he is out of contract at the end of this season.

Lingard impressed during a six-month loan spell with the Hammers in the second half of last season, with nine goals and four assists.

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham are also interested in signing Lingard on a free transfer in the off-season, according to the Daily Express.

- United are prepared to sell Diogo Dalot to Roma in order to facilitate a deal for Atletico Madrid's England full-back Kieran Trippier, claims the Manchester Evening News.

- Marca claims that Real Madrid are ramping up their pursuit of Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger, who is out of contract at the end of this season. Bayern Munich are also said to be tracking the Germany international.

- Promising young Argentina international Julian Alvarez is being monitored by Italian powerhouse pair Juventus and Milan, reports Calciomercato. Alvarez, who has four Argentina caps, is currently with River Plate who will wait until December to evaluate any offers.

Xavi has his work cut out at Camp Nou following his appointment as Barcelona head coach.

Barca have struggled on the pitch amid off-field turmoil and financial problems.

But Xavi wants to make Barca great again and he reportedly has his eyes on some players across Europe.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYE TRIO

RB Leipzig star Dani Olmo and Manchester City pair Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling are transfer options for Barcelona, according to Thursday's Mundo Deportivo.

Xavi is now at the helm of Barca and the club great is tasked with restoring the fortunes of the embattled LaLiga giants.

The Barca head coach is keen to reinforce his squad in either January or at the end of the season.

Barca have also been linked with Chelsea forward Timo Werner and Manchester United veteran Edinson Cavani.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Paul Pogba is set to leave United and Juventus are trying to re-sign the Frenchman, though his salary is proving problematic. Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and he has been linked with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

Inter are pressing Marcelo Brozovic to sign a new contract by Christmas, claims Gazzetta dello Sport. The Croatia international is reportedly wanted by Barca, Liverpool, PSG and United.

Steven Gerrard is expected to join Aston Villa as their new manager, reports Fabrizio Romano. The Rangers boss is set to be joined by his backroom staff at Villa.

Fiorentina are trying to sign River Plate striker Julian Alvarez as Dusan Vlahovic prepares to leave but Juve are also interested, according to Corriere dello Sport. Vlahovic has no plans to renew in Florence and the Serbia international has been linked with City, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juve and Inter.

- The Mirror says United are confident of landing Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers as their new manager. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under mounting pressure at United and former Liverpool boss Rodgers has emerged as a target for the struggling Red Devils due to a release clause in his contract.

Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic is winning plenty of admirers.

The 21-year-old Serbian has netted 10 times in 12 appearances at club level this season.

Vlahovic is currently under contract until June 23, although La Viola want him to sign an extension.

TOP STORY – PSG TO ENTER VLAHOVIC RACE

Paris Saint-Germain will enter the race to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic, claims Le10Sports.

The Parisians are lining up the Serbian striker as a potential successor to Kylian Mbappe should he exit the club when his contract expires at the end of this season, with Real Madrid circling.

Hot property Vlahovic is being pursued by JuventusLiverpool and Tottenham.

ROUND-UP

- Unai Emery will not be the first permanent manager in Newcastle United's new era, BBC Sport journalist and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague understands. The Basque coach is set to stay at Villarreal for now, though his job there is under threat amid a poor start to 2021-22.

- The Sun reports Antonio Conte's arrival at Tottenham has seen Harry Kane abandon any plans he had to quit the club. Kane apparently wished to join Manchester City during the most recent transfer window.

- New Spurs boss Conte wants to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, according to Metro. Conte also has Inter defender Stefan de Vrij in his sights, claims Football Insider.

Milan are in the race to sign talented River Plate star Julian Alvarez in the off-season, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Fiorentina have also shown interest in 21-year-old Alvarez, who has four caps for Argentina.

Norwich City are considering a move to replace embattled manager Daniel Farke with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, claims the Daily Mail. The Canaries have only two points from 10 games following their return to the Premier League. Howe has also been linked with the vacant Newcastle job.

Newcastle want to make Inter's Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic their first major signing in January, says The Sun. Brozovic is out of contract at the end of the season.

Lazio are looking to convince Luiz Felipe to ink a new deal with the club amid interest from BarcelonaSevilla and Real Betis, reports CalcioMercato. The Brazilian centre-back's contract expires at the end of this season.

Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic is winning plenty of admirers.

The 21-year-old Serbian has netted 10 times in 12 appearances at club level this season.

Vlahovic is currently under contract until June 23, although La Viola want him to sign an extension.

TOP STORY – PSG TO ENTER VLAHOVIC RACE

Paris Saint-Germain will enter the race to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic, claims Le10Sports.

The Parisians are lining up the Serbian striker as a potential successor to Kylian Mbappe should he exit the club when his contract expires at the end of this season, with Real Madrid circling.

Hot property Vlahovic is being pursued by JuventusLiverpool and Tottenham.

ROUND-UP

- Unai Emery will not be the first permanent manager in Newcastle United's new era, BBC Sport journalist and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague understands. The Basque coach is set to stay at Villarreal for now, though his job there is under threat amid a poor start to 2021-22.

- The Sun reports Antonio Conte's arrival at Tottenham has seen Harry Kane abandon any plans he had to quit the club. Kane apparently wished to join Manchester City during the most recent transfer window.

- New Spurs boss Conte wants to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, according to Metro. Conte also has Inter defender Stefan de Vrij in his sights, claims Football Insider.

Milan are in the race to sign talented River Plate star Julian Alvarez in the off-season, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Fiorentina have also shown interest in 21-year-old Alvarez, who has four caps for Argentina.

Norwich City are considering a move to replace embattled manager Daniel Farke with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, claims the Daily Mail. The Canaries have only two points from 10 games following their return to the Premier League. Howe has also been linked with the vacant Newcastle job.

Newcastle want to make Inter's Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic their first major signing in January, says The Sun. Brozovic is out of contract at the end of the season.

Lazio are looking to convince Luiz Felipe to ink a new deal with the club amid interest from BarcelonaSevilla and Real Betis, reports CalcioMercato. The Brazilian centre-back's contract expires at the end of this season.

Ronald Koeman has been sacked as head coach of Barcelona following a poor start to the club's first season without Lionel Messi in 17 years. 

Financial difficulties saw the six-time Ballon d'Or winner leave for Paris Saint-Germain and, in his absence, Koeman's side have struggled. 

The Dutchman replaced Quique Setien at Camp Nou in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, although they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao. 

A shock 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday was the final straw and with the club in turmoil, it is imperative that Koeman's successor is chosen with great care. Stats Perform takes a look at the leading contenders who have been linked with the position. 

Xavi

With Koeman dismissed, Barcelona could turn to another club legend in Xavi, hoping the La Masia graduate can succeed where his predecessor failed with an unbalanced squad of ageing regulars and young talent. The former Spain international has presided over Qatari side Al Sadd since his retirement in 2019, leading them to a league title and six domestic cups.

Turning to a young coach who does not have any experience in Europe amid a time of upheaval could be viewed as a huge risk, however. Plus, will Xavi see this as the right time to return? The opportunity to manage Barca is likely to come around again at some stage.

Andrea Pirlo

Another candidate who enjoyed a glittering career as a central midfielder in his playing days, Pirlo replaced Maurizio Sarri at Juventus in August 2020 and won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana, but was sacked at the end of his debut season following a fourth-placed Serie A finish and another disappointing European exit, this time against Porto.

While Pirlo has experience of coaching in a top-five league, his stint in Turin hardly demonstrated the Italian has the credentials at this stage of his career to rescue an ailing Barcelona side.

Roberto Martinez

Martinez has a greater coaching pedigree, although the highest level he has managed at has come on the international stage with Belgium — a job he still holds. The 48-year-old guided the Red Devils to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and took them to number one in the FIFA world rankings, though a major trophy continues to elude them.

At club level, however, he has managed Everton and Wigan Athletic in the Premier League, winning the FA Cup but also suffering relegation with the latter, and also Swansea City below the top tier — rather different jobs to the one that faces the newcomer at Barcelona.

Erik ten Hag

Could Barca turn to another Dutchman to try to turn their on-field fortunes around? Ten Hag has built his reputation at Ajax, having previously worked at Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles, as well as a stint with Bayern Munich's second string. He has twice won the Eredivisie title, while he appeared set to reach the Champions League final in 2019, only for Tottenham to produce a stunning comeback in Amsterdam.

Barcelona, who know what it is like to be on the wrong end of a second-leg turnaround in Europe, have well-documented financial problems at the moment, potentially raising an issue if they want to try to lure away a coach under contract elsewhere.

Antonio Conte

Conte is out of work, at least meaning Barca would not have to pay any compensation to appoint him. However, that does not mean the Italian comes cheaply, considering he has a hugely impressive resume. The former Juve boss made a quick impact at his previous two jobs, having returned to club duties after a spell in charge of the Azzurri.

He won the Premier League title in his first season at Chelsea, during which they produced an impressive 13-game winning streak, then ended Inter's Scudetto wait last term, leading the Nerazzurri to a first championship since 2010. His San Siro departure amid Inter's financial cutbacks does raise questions over whether he would want to go anywhere near Camp Nou right now, particularly with Manchester United also reportedly interested.

Marcelo Gallardo

A name strongly linked with the post, Gallardo started out his coaching career with Nacional in Uruguay. However, he has been in charge of River Plate — a club he had three stints at during his playing career — since 2014, winning the Copa Libertadores twice among an impressive list of honours at Los Millonarios.

The last Argentinian coach to take the top job at Barca did not last too long: Gerardo Martino had just one season at the helm. Gallardo would have to cut short his River journey to do so, a move he suggested was not likely after revealing he plans to see out a contract that runs until the end of 2021.

Any hopes of Paul Pogba remaining at Old Trafford appear to be fading. 

The Manchester United stalwart has halted contract talks with the club. 

Multiple European clubs are said to be interested in the 28-year-old. 

 

TOP STORY – POGBA ENDS MAN UTD TALKS

Paul Pogba has ended talks over a potential new contract at Manchester United amid an apparent row with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, The Sun reports. 

The France international will be out of contract in June and appears likely to move on. 

The Sun reports he apologised to his team-mates but did not speak to Solskjaer after being sent off 15 minutes after coming on as a substitute in Sunday's 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool. 

His former club Juventus could be an option, while Paris Saint-GermainReal Madrid and Barcelona are also said to have shown interest. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona would prefer to have Jurgen Klopp take over whenever they sack Ronald Koeman, says Sport. Klopp is under contract with Liverpool through 2024. 

- Newcastle United are prepared to offer Alex Ten Hag £6million a year after taxes if he leaves Ajax for St. James' Park, reports the Mail. 

- Arsenal and Manchester City are interested in Barcelona's Spain international Sergi Roberto, says Fichajes. 

- Inter have had talks with Sampdoria midfielder Morten Thorsby's agent over a potential move, claims Calciomercato. 

- River Plate forward Julian Alvarez is drawing interest from Milan, Bayer Leverkusen and Aston Villa, says Calciomercato. 

Paul Pogba's future with Manchester United has been a constant point of speculation for the past few years.

The 2018 World Cup winner is into the last season of a five-year deal with the Red Devils.

Pogba has been on United's books since returning from Juventus in 2016.

TOP STORY – POGBA TO PEN BUMPER NEW DEAL

Paul Pogba has decided he wants to extend his stay with Manchester United, claims L'Equipe.

The French midfielder has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford, with interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, as well as return to Juventus.

Pogba's renewal is expected to command one of the highest salaries in Premier League history.

ROUND-UP

- AS reports that Borussia Dortmund will double Erling Haaland's salary in a bid to ward off interest from Spanish pair Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Manchester City and Chelsea. Dortmund will bump the Norwegian's wages up from €8million to €15m in order to keep him, with the release clause in his contract to activate next off-season.

- Former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey is to be put up for sale by Juventus, according to the Daily Mail. Juve are ready to listen to offers for the Wales midfielder, who has fallen out of favour in Turin.

- Liverpool have entered the race to sign Fiorentina's Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic, according to the Mirror. Vlahovic's contract talks with Fiorentina have collapsed.

- Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks is willing to make a January loan move away from Spurs and is open to moving abroad, claims The Times.

- Calciomercato reports that River Plate's 21-year-old Argentina international Julian Alvarez is drawing attention from city rivals Inter and Milan .

- French defender Samuel Umtiti will be made available in January by financially-embattled Barcelona, reports Sport. Umtiti has not played in LaLiga this season.

Marcelo Gallardo has made clear he plans to see out his contract with River Plate amid links to Barcelona.

Ronald Koeman is the head coach at Camp Nou but his time in charge could be coming to an end, despite Barca being unbeaten in LaLiga so far this season.

Wednesday's 3-0 defeat away to Benfica in the Champions League means the Spanish club have lost back-to-back group games in the competition in the same campaign for the first time in 21 years.

Koeman also has a fractured relationship with Barca president Joan Laporta, leading to speculation the Dutchman is on his way out. Gallardo is one of those seen as a potential candidate to take over, though the former Argentina international responded to the rumour on Friday.

Speaking to the media ahead of the huge game against Boca Juniors on Sunday, Gallardo said: "I am focused on the Superclasico and also everyone knows that my thought and my decision is to fulfill the contract with River.

"I have no reason to be distracted by other things and thoughts of others. I have a contract and a commitment to River.

“I want to continue connected with what it means to be River's coach and it never crossed my mind to leave the club."

Gallardo's deal with his current employers expires at the end of the year. Reports in Spain suggested he had already been contacted by Barcelona, though he refused to confirm or deny such speculation.

"If they contacted me or not, what's the point of revealing it," he added.

"The only thing I can say is that my goal is to end the contract with the club. Then we will see, but my focus is on the game against Boca."

Koeman is set to take charge as Barca visit reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid on Saturday, though the Catalan club do not then play again until October 17 due to the upcoming international window.

As well as Gallardo, Belgium national team boss Roberto Martinez and Barcelona legend Xavi have been rumoured as potential options to become the new head coach, along with Italian duo Antonio Conte and Andrea Pirlo.

Enzo Perez believes River Plate showed "the kind of people we are" as he played a full match out of position in goal on Wednesday.

Perez, an injured midfielder, had to volunteer for a place between the posts against Independiente Santa Fe, with River heading into their Copa Libertadores group-stage match with just 11 players available.

The team have been hit by a COVID-19 outbreak, which on top of a spate of injuries left River heavily depleted, with the four goalkeepers included in their Libertadores squad testing positive for the virus.

They were not allowed to call up a keeper from their academy, instead relying on 35-year-old Perez in goal while having no substitutes to call on.

Regardless, River took an early two-goal lead – Federico Angileri and Julian Alvarez scoring within the first five minutes – and conceded only once to Kelvin Osorio with 17 minutes remaining.

Perez had only four saves to make in the 2-1 win, despite Colombian side Santa Fe attempting 22 shots and bossing 69 per cent of the possession.

Jersson Gonzalez, Daniel Giraldo, Jorge Ramos and Osorio were all denied by Perez, although their 22 efforts were worth a measly 1.1 expected goals (xG) combined. River scored twice from nine chances with an xG value of 1.6.

"Unfortunately, we had to suffer the contagion issue, but we rescued everyone's heart, manhood and personality," Perez told ESPN.

"We once again demonstrated the group and the kind of people we are. I don't fall too much into everything we've been through, I tried to focus and help the team. There is going to be a lot of talk about this game.

"I was asking questions, practicing with the goalkeeping coach, listening to advice. I lost a bit, but always took the penalty spot as a reference."

River's win sees them top Group D heading into their final game, against Fluminense on Tuesday. The embattled side could still be knocked out, should they lose and third-placed Junior win, but will hope to by then have a bigger squad – and a goalkeeper – to call upon.

River Plate will be forced to play without a recognised goalkeeper in their Copa Libertadores clash with Independiente Santa Fe after a coronavirus outbreak.

The Argentinian club have seen 20 players, including all of their eligible goalkeepers, test positive for COVID-19, leaving Marcelo Gallardo with just 10 fit members of his squad for the Group D game.

CONMEBOL ensured River will have to put an outfield player in goal after the governing body rejected a request from the club to add academy goalkeepers Alan Leonardo Diaz and Agustin Gomez to the squad.

Midfielder Enzo Perez, who has a hamstring injury, appears likely to play as River's stand-in goalkeeper following a decision that angered club president Rodolfo D'Onofrio.

"We would never have thought that they could make a decision of this type," D'Onofrio told ESPN. 

"We made a presentation where we perfectly clarified why we consider that the goalkeeper can be substituted at any time during the competition. 

"There is an article [in the competition's regulations] that talks about serious injury. We consider COVID as a serious injury. 

"We have 18 outfield players and three goalkeepers. We put the 32 players with four professional goalkeepers, who were infected. What we ask is to replace them."

Of River's available players, just six have started a top-flight game for the club, though the Colombians have their own coronavirus issues, with five Santa Fe players having tested positive ahead of the game.

River are second in Group D, level on six points with another Colombian club in Junior, who have played a game more. Santa Fe are bottom with two points from four games.

Argentina has the seventh most active cases of coronavirus in the world with over 307,000. Colombia is 19th with over 114,000 as the virus continues to ravage South America.

 

Frank Lampard's appointment as Chelsea head coach was widely heralded by the club's fanbase, who were desperate for a returning hero to succeed in the dugout.

Just 18 months later and Lampard – the club's record all-time leading goalscorer who won 11 major honours at Stamford Bridge – has been sacked.

The Blues have proven in the past there is little time for sentimentality or to dwell on past successes and not even a player with the stature Lampard holds at the club has been granted extra time.

Lampard's first season in charge brought a top-four finish and an FA Cup final but a run of just two wins in eight league matches saw Chelsea wield the axe with the team ninth and 11 points off top.

A huge close-season recruitment drive that saw the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell arrive perhaps gave the Blues hierarchy itchy feet and brought about the end for Lampard.

With that in mind, we have looked at some hits and misses when players have returned to a club as boss.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping down in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint, though a slump this term has left his long-term future shrouded in doubt.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Conte is now battling to end the Bianconeri's domestic dominance as head coach of Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try to save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a relegation play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

JURY'S OUT

Mikel Arteta

Arteta served Arsenal with distinction as a player between 2011 and 2016, captaining the club and winning the FA Cup twice. Success in football's oldest cup competition followed last term, with Arteta having replaced Unai Emery in December 2019. After finishing eighth, Arsenal defeated Liverpool on penalties to win the Community Shield but eight defeats from 19 league games in this campaign have left Arsenal 11th and 13 points off top spot.

Andrea Pirlo

Lampard's opportunity at Chelsea arrived when Maurizio Sarri departed for Juventus, but his stint in charge at the Bianconeri lasted just one season despite winning the Serie A title. Pirlo won four Scudetti, the Supercoppa Italiana twice and the Coppa Italia during a four-year stint as a player in Turin and was appointed head coach just a week after being installed as Under-23 boss. So far it has been a mixed bag in Juve's hunt for a 10th straight title, with six draws and two defeats in 18 matches leaving them seven points back of league leaders Milan – albeit they do have a game in hand. Pirlo also collected a first trophy courtesy of victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana last week.

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