Simone Inzaghi believes his Inter side face '10 finals' if they hope to defend their Serie A title after they stumbled to a 1-1 draw with Torino on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri dodged defeat in Turin thanks to an injury-time equaliser from Alexis Sanchez, but nevertheless suffered another setback in their efforts to retain the Scudetto.

Though the remaining matches for all concerned remain in double-figures, Inter sit four points off leaders Milan and are mired in the midst of a tight battle with Napoli, while Juventus are closing in on the top three as well.

Speaking after the final whistle, former Lazio boss Inzaghi said his team need to approach their run-in with a knockout mentality, calling for them to change their mindset going forward.

"I am disappointed with the approach to the game," he told DAZN. "If we want to win the Scudetto, we need to have a different attitude.

"Recently, we have played a lot and lost our energy, but this must not be an alibi. We have 10 finals, plus the Coppa Italia, and we cannot go wrong."

Inzaghi further felt his side should have found an equaliser to Gleison Bremer's opener long before the final seconds.

"In the first half, we suffered from their aggression, even though they scored only on a corner, while we had two clear chances," he stated.

"In the second, we entered the field with a different spirit and we could have straightened it before the 90 minutes were up."

Inter will hope to sign off before the final international break of the season on a winning note when they play Fiorentina next weekend at San Siro.

Alexis Sanchez hit a stoppage-time leveller to earn Inter a point, but Sunday's 1-1 draw at Torino still went down as a major blow to the Nerazzurri's Scudetto defence hopes.

Chile international Sanchez came off the bench and struck in the third added minute, after Gleison Bremer's first-half finish looked to have done enough for the hosts at Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

On the back of their midweek Champions League exit to Liverpool, Simone Inzaghi's Inter missed the chance to put telling pressure on Serie A leaders Milan, trimming the difference between the city rivals to just four points after labouring against mid-table opposition.

Ivan Juric's Torino could not quite snap a six-game winless streak, but their hard-earned point at the very least likely ends any remote chance of a relegation battle in Turin this season.

Even if not quite the force they once were, Manchester United still like to show their fans their ambitions match up, especially in the transfer market.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick has the job of ensuring the Red Devils qualify for next season's Champions League and is currently on course, with them sitting fourth in the Premier League.

However, the club supposedly remain confident of adding big names at the end of the season regardless of a top-four finish.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD WANT MORE ENGLAND STARS

Manchester United believe they can attract big names to Old Trafford at the end of the season, even if they may not have Champions League football to offer.

According to ESPN, the Premier League club have an ambitious list of targets that includes England pair Declan Rice and Harry Kane, and they believe the 2016 signing of Paul Pogba – when they were in the Europa League – is proof the name of the club is enticing enough.

It remains to be seen what that means for whomever the incoming permanent manager is by then, but they will likely not say no to additions of that calibre.

ROUND-UP

Atletico Madrid are plotting a move for Georginio Wijnaldum from Paris Saint-Germain, according to Fichajes.

- Calciomercato claims Inter wish to add Torino defender Bremer to their ranks next season and may already have an agreement with the player.

- Meanwhile, Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele is being pursued on a free transfer by both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, 90min reports.

- The Catalan giants could get one in return though as they have offered a two-year deal to Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta, according to Sport.

- Marca is reporting Tottenham are looking at Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon as a potential long-term replacement for Hugo Lloris.

Roma could reignite their interest in Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka at the end of the season, Calciomercato says.

Mauricio Pochettino's future at Paris Saint-Germain is unclear amid rumblings that he wants out.

Manchester United have been linked with the ex-Tottenham manager, who took over at PSG in January last year.

The Red Devils dismissed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November, with Ralf Rangnick taking over on an interim basis.


TOP STORY – LOS BLANCOS KEEN ON POCHETTINO

Real Madrid are set to rival Manchester United to land Pochettino this off-season, claims the Daily Mail.

The Red Devils are understood to be circling for the Argentine, who is reportedly unhappy at Paris Saint-Germain.

But the report claims Madrid have doubts over current boss Carlo Ancelotti's future and believe that Pochettino is obtainable in the off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City's Portugal midfielder Bernardo Silva is dreaming of a switch to join Real Madrid, claims Calciomercato.

- Calciomercato also reports that Inter are monitoring Gabriel Jesus' status at City, with a view to bolstering their attack.

- Nicolo Schira reports that Atalanta are keen to move for Torino's Italy international striker Andrea Belotti in the off-season when he is a free agent.

- TuttoMercatoWeb claims Arsenal, Newcastle United, Borussia Dortmund and Inter are all in the race to sign Lille's Canadian forward Jonathan David.

- GiveMeSport claims Liverpool are "seriously interested" in West Ham United's Jarrod Bowen.

- Roma are keen on signing Barcelona's USA international defender Sergino Dest according to Fichajes.

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri insisted that a 1-1 draw with Torino at Allianz Stadium on Friday continued his team's "positive streak".

The hosts took the lead through a first-half Matthijs de Ligt header, but Andrea Belotti equalised just after the hour mark and Juve struggled to create any meaningful chances in response, failing to hit the target at all in the second half.

The Old Lady remain in fourth place in Serie A, eight points behind leaders Milan having played a game more, and just three points ahead of Atalanta in fifth, who have two games in hand.

Speaking to DAZN after the game, Allegri appeared to be satisfied with both the result and performance.

"It matters because, with the point, we followed up on the positive results we've had in the last two to three months," he said. "It wasn't easy, we weren't brilliant compared to Torino, but we played a good game.

"Paradoxically, we conceded a goal in our best moment. In the first half we had two or three situations where we could have scored, but not in the second half.

"Then we weren't very clean in the second half, but I think it's a normal path, it's natural when you're playing in the league, especially when you're aiming to be in the top four, so a draw isn't to be dismissed.

"I'd say the boys played a good game in terms of commitment and intensity. They tried to win until the end, so it's a point that we take home and allows us to extend the positive streak."

Allegri also seemed unconcerned by the performance of Dusan Vlahovic, who struggled to make an impact, having just one shot all game before coming off in the 74th minute.

The Serbia striker made a January move from Fiorentina in a transfer that could be worth up to €80million. 

"He struggled because he's a very good player, but he has to learn a lot," Allegri added. "As many players have to learn. Tonight, he had to drag Bremer around the pitch and not give him any points of reference, because he is very strong on direct balls and less strong when you drag him around the pitch.

"Let's not forget that he comes from a team who are having a very good season, but he played one game a week. He's played six [here], so I think it's normal for him to grow. It amuses me because someone comes in and has to play every game.

"You have to grow, you have to get used to it, all the things you need in a great team, otherwise physically you can't manage to play a game every three days."

Daniele Rugani was withdrawn from the starting line-up ahead of the game after picking up an injury in the warm-up, while Luca Pellegrini and Paolo Dybala both came off with knocks, but Allegri did not seem concerned despite the upcoming Champions League round-of-16 first leg away at Villarreal on Tuesday.

"I'm not worried at all also because during the season there are injuries and those we have and who are fit and enlisted, will play on Tuesday against Villarreal and then we will prepare for Empoli," he said.

Italy international Andrea Belotti scored in his first start since November to deny Juventus all three points as Torino held them to a 1-1 draw at Allianz Stadium on Friday.

A first-half header from Matthijs de Ligt was cancelled out by Belotti's equaliser in the second half, leaving the Old Lady eight points behind Serie A leaders Milan having played a game more.

Belotti is out of contract at the end of the season and is expected to leave Torino, but the fans will wish him well if this proves his final contribution to the Turin derby.

Meanwhile, Massimiliano Allegri will not have been impressed with the showing from his side ahead of their Champions League round-of-16 first leg at Villarreal on Tuesday.

Juve suffered a blow before the game kicked off with Daniele Rugani injured in the warm-up and replaced at centre-back by Alex Sandro, with Luca Pellegrini starting at left-back.

Torino made a strong start and would have been ahead were it not for Wojciech Szczesny's slight touch on a Josip Brekalo cross, taking it away from a waiting Belotti.

However, it was Juve who took the lead on 13 minutes when a looping Juan Cuadrado corner was headed in at the far post by De Ligt, who arrived with a towering leap.

The visitors began the second half well, too, and were level when Brekalo – who was a thorn in Juve's right side all game – got to the byline and found Belotti, whose close-range shot squirmed under Szczesny's hand.

It was Torino who pushed for another goal until the final 10 minutes when the hosts finally came back to life, but they were unable to find a winner.

Massimiliano Allegri believes Juventus' improvement in recent weeks is simply down to greater familiarity and understanding between himself and the players.

Allegri returned to Juve last May after two years away, with Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo each spending a season at the helm during the intervening campaigns.

The experiment with Pirlo proved particularly ill-judged, while Sarri was shown the door despite guiding Juve to the title – his successor presided over a fourth-placed finish as the Bianconeri's Scudetto streak ended at nine.

Allegri's return did not usher in an immediate change in fortunes, with Juve taking just two points from their first four Serie A matches. That was their worst start to a season in 60 years and left them in the bottom three.

But their form did soon pick up, and in the past three months they have embarked on a promising run. The Bianconeri head into Friday's Derby della Mole against Torino unbeaten in 11 league games – their best such sequence since a stretch of 12 without defeat from September to December 2020 – and sitting fourth.

That run was almost ended by Atalanta last weekend, but Danilo's stoppage-time goal salvaged a 1-1 draw. Allegri is adamant he knows why Juve have climbed the table.

"Personal goals have been set aside to make yourself available to the team," Allegri told reporters of his players.

"We have been together for six or seven months now, we know each other better. Now they know my language better, too. We are more of a team, there is enthusiasm and desire to win."

On the Atalanta draw, Allegri added: "The team was doing well, then we conceded a goal when in a favourable situation.

"We look at the glass half full: it was a good point, we were left in front of them. We must continue our journey to try to finish in the top four.

"We must not be happy regardless. The draw with Atalanta [only] becomes excellent if we win the derby.

"A point is also important. You can win or lose the Scudetto by a point, enter the Champions League or not by a point, you save yourself or not by a point."

Nevertheless, Juve certainly have issues to contend with ahead of Friday's clash, particularly in the injury department.

Leonardo Bonucci will be absent, meaning only Matthijs de Ligt is set to be available from their first-choice defensive trio – Giorgio Chiellini is not expected to return from a "low-grade lesion" in his calf until next month.

"Tomorrow is complicated, I don't know if I'll line up with the three up front," he continued. "There will also be no Bonucci, he has calf fatigue. Let's see if he will be available on Tuesday [against Villarreal in the Champions League].

"Who plays centre-back? It depends. Denis Zakaria could."

Victory at the Allianz Stadium on Friday would move Juve to within four points of third-placed Napoli and six of pacesetters Milan, though the top three will all have at least one game in hand.

It's officially a World Cup year, that means footballers all over the globe will be hoping to get themselves into contention for their own shot at glory in Qatar.

Back in November, Stats Perform began their one-year countdown to the biggest show in football by identifying 11 uncapped players who could potential break into their respective national squads before Qatar 2022 got under way.

With February now upon us, we have revisited those players to see how they have been faring and whether a trip to World Cup looks any likelier…

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Granada

Having been one of LaLiga's form goalkeepers during the early stages of the season, Maximiano has been a little rocky lately. Since the start of December, he has conceded 10 times (excluding own goals) in the league despite those chances only being worth 7.9 xG – that puts him at least partly at fault for 2.1 goals, the sixth-worst over that period.

 

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Clauss continues to show his worth in Ligue 1. Since December 1, his three assists have been bettered by only Dimitri Payet and Lovro Majer. Granted, the expected assists (xA) value of those was only 1.2, so there's an element of luck or benefiting from expert finishing, but he's still proving himself a good outlet both out wide and from set plays.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Torino managed to keep Bremer in January before they extended his contract by a year to 2024 on Wednesday. Not only does that protect his value to the club, it was also a just reward for his reliable form. Since December 1, his tally of 21 interceptions is the second-highest among Serie A defenders, as is his 28 aerial wins.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Lille

Lille stood firm as Newcastle United tried to prise Botman away in January. Over the past two months, the Dutchman has continued to look an imperious presence at the back – his duel success rate (76.5 per cent) is the highest among defenders with at least 300 minutes on the pitch, while only two of those to have engaged in more than 11 aerials can better his success rate (79 per cent) in the air.

Angelino (Spain) – 25, left-back, RB Leipzig

Spain certainly aren't short of quality options in this area of the pitch, but Angelino is still a standout from an attacking sense. Since early December, his 3.0 xA is the best in the Bundesliga, while only five players have played more key passes than him (16).

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It's not looking good for Puig. It was thought Xavi's arrival might finally be the break he needed, but he has played only 158 minutes of LaLiga football in the past two months, and that was a period that saw Barca under real stress amid an injury and COVID-19 crisis. With players returning to action, including Pedri, few would be surprised to see his minutes reduce even further.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

Nkunku continues to look to be in with a great chance of forcing himself into France reckoning. Since we last checked on him, the versatile midfielder has scored four non-penalty Bundesliga goals, bettered by only four players (all out-and-out strikers), and laid on three assists. Only five players have tallied more goal involvements over the same period.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, FC Dallas

Young talents leaving South American countries for MLS is becoming a recurring them – Velasco is the latest. The young winger became Dallas' record signing on February 1, reportedly costing $7million. He has not played much in recent months due to the Argentinian football calendar, so it will be intriguing to see if he kicks on when MLS starts again at the end of the month.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

The first success story on this list! Cowell was given his international bow in December as the USA beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0. He did only feature for 12 minutes, and it was a partly experimental squad, but a cap is a cap.

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

Gouiri is another who continues to plug away to good effect. He slowed a little, and his return of five goal involvements (three assists, two goals) in the specified period is bettered by as many as eight players, though only Payet has as many as seven. The exciting forward is still doing well, though he could do with another minor boost.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 19, forward, Granada

With the Uruguayan season finishing in early December, Arezo has not played much since his form was last examined – though he did get one more goal to take his seasonal tally to 15 in 29 games for River Plate (URU). That form earned him his shot in Europe, with Granada pulling off a potentially major coup in bringing him to Spain for about €3million. He awaits a first senior cap, though Uruguay are back in an automatic qualification spot.

Milan have completed the signing of striker Marko Lazetic from Red Star Belgrade.

Lazetic, who turned 18 last week, joins the Serie A giants on a deal that runs through until the end of the 2025-26 campaign.

The Serbia youth international progressed through Red Star's academy and made his senior debut for the club in November 2020.

Following a loan spell with feeder club Graficar Beograd, Lazetic returned to Red Star at the start of this season and found the net once in 16 appearances.

Milan are reported to have paid an initial €4million to sign the youngster, who has been handed the number 22 shirt at San Siro.

Lazetic will link up with the Rossoneri's first-team squad and is effectively a replacement for Pietro Pellegri, whose loan deal was terminated earlier on Thursday.

Pellegri joined Milan from Monaco in August but featured just six times in the league in an injury-plagued campaign and will spend the rest of the season with Torino.

Il Toro have the option to sign the former Genoa striker at the end of the campaign.

Leeds United winger Raphinha is drawing plenty of attention.

The Brazilian debuted for his country in October and has scored two goals in five caps.

Raphinha joined Leeds from Rennes on a four-year deal in 2020.

And, having seen his career hit new heights since that move, he does not appear to be desperate for another switch.

TOP STORY - RAPHINHA NOT PUSHING FOR LEEDS EXIT

Brazil international Raphinha will not push for a January move away from Leeds United according to the Mirror.

Raphinha has been linked with moves to both Liverpool and Bayern Munich during the January transfer window.

The 25-year-old's agent has spoken about his ambition, but he is content at Leeds who are battling relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

Inter are angling to sign Germany international Matthias Ginter as a free agent in the middle of next year claims Fabrizio Romano. Ginter confirmed on Tuesday he would leave Borussia Monchengladbach when his contract expires at the end of this season.

- Gerard Moreno reports that Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta has reached an in-principle agreement to join Barcelona in the close-season.

Sevilla are considering a bid to sign Barcelona defender Mika Marmol, according to Diario Sport.

Everton want to land Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley on loan in January, says The Telegraph.

- Sky Sport Italia claims MLS club Toronto are in advanced talks with Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne and Torino striker Andrea Belotti.

Newcastle United are set to flex their financial muscles during the January transfer window.

The Magpies are struggling in the Premier League drop zone even after claiming a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

But following a change of ownership they have funds available to bolster their squad.
 

TOP STORY - MAGPIES KEEN ON BARCELONA'S UMTITI

Cashed-up Newcastle are considering a move for Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti according to The Sun.

The 2018 World Cup winner has fallen out of favour at Barcelona, who are looking to offload players due to their financial issues.

Eddie Howe's side have conceded a league-high 42 goals and want to shore up their backline to aid their case to avoid relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich have ramped up their bid to sign Leeds United's Raphinha, claims The Sun. Leeds remain hopeful of keeping the Brazil international.

- Chelsea have also entered the race to sign Raphinha according to the Express, who also claim they will allow Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech to depart.

- Tottenham are leading the way to secure the signature of Milan midfielder Franck Kessie with the two parties in advanced talks, reports the Express.

- Ex-Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho's preferred new home is Arsenal,  with Barcelona keen to offload the Brazil international according to Sport.

- Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina are all on high alert with Torino's Italy international striker Andrea Belotti set to exit the club when his contract expires at season's end, reports Calciomercato.

Simone Inzaghi lauded his Inter players for an outstanding first half of the Serie A season, pointing out a successful defence of the Scudetto was not always widely expected.

Inter are favourites for a second straight title heading into the second half of the campaign having created a gap at the top of the table through 19 matchweeks.

In beating Torino 1-0 on Wednesday, the Nerazzurri moved seven points clear of Napoli and Milan, who were both in action later the same day.

But Inter had to withstand a tumultuous off-season to get to this point, losing coach Antonio Conte and star players Romelu Lukaku, Achraf Hakimi and, to health issues, Christian Eriksen.

It was not necessarily a given then that the champions would maintain their form from last term, reaching the end of 2021 having scored 104 goals (the most since Milan's 120 in 1950) and won 32 matches (trailing only Juventus' 33 in 2016) in Serie A.

The Torino game, settled by Denzel Dumfries' latest strike, was not Inter's best display either but marked a sixth straight win without conceding for the first time in their top-flight history.

A delighted Inzaghi, who left Lazio to join Inter at the end of last season, told a news conference: "I immediately had great confidence when I joined and met the squad.

"Now, it is probably convenient for everyone to saw that Inter are a juggernaut and are the favourites, but I remember in July that's now what people were saying.

"The players have been good, but for us these results must be motivation to keep pushing, as a journey full of pitfalls awaits us."

Dumfries is not an obvious difference-maker in the final third, scoring twice in 30 Eredivisie games for PSV last season, but he now has three in 16 in Serie A.

Five team-mates have four goals or more, with Inter now boasting options in attack as well as an increasingly sturdy defence.

Defender Alessandro Bastoni told DAZN: "We've gone on a good run of not conceding goals after a tough start.

"It was important to re-establish a solid defence in line with what we were doing last season and we're doing great in that regard.

"Coach Simone Inzaghi's approach gives us an element of surprise which we were perhaps lacking last year. We have a great time together on the pitch and we get on great together. The new players have slotted right in.

"We're on a great winning run and we want to keep this up. We want to experience the feeling of winning the Scudetto, which we got to enjoy last season."

Inter consolidated their position at the top of Serie A with a slightly scrappy 1-0 win over Torino in their final match of 2021.

This has been a year to remember for the Nerazzurri, ending an 11-year wait for the title under Antonio Conte, but Simone Inzaghi may yet ensure the coming 12 months are equally exciting.

While Inter will surely have to be better than they were against Torino to retain their crown, another Denzel Dumfries goal was enough to secure the three points.

Victory took Inter seven clear at the summit ahead of matches later on Wednesday for challengers Napoli and Milan, able to put their feet up over the festive period before returning to a potentially season-defining sequence of fixtures.

Torino had been encouraged by a laboured Inter start but allowed the champions to break on the half-hour mark and Nerazzurri shirts flooded forward.

Edin Dzeko's square pass from the left evaded Marcelo Brozovic, only to run instead for Dumfries to aim into the bottom-left corner via the post.

Pressure from Ola Aina forced Lautaro Martinez to stab wide when he looked to have the beating of Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, and the inability to add to that lead before half-time ensured a slightly nervy final 45 minutes.

Torino's best effort saw Sasa Lukic's low free-kick parried away, though, as Inter did just enough to end the year on a high, even missing a chance for a second as Alexis Sanchez struck the post.

What does it mean? Stuttering Inter stay on track

Inter had won their previous four games against Torino and scored at least twice in each of them, aiming to extend that run to five matches for the first time in this fixture.

Inzaghi's men were far from convincing, though, only marginally outshooting Torino 14 to 12. Even the narrow margin of victory was scarcely deserved.

Free-scoring champs falter...

Having become the first team since Milan in 1950 to pass 100 Serie A goals in a calendar year last time out, more was expected of Inter than they showed here.

Neither Dzeko nor Martinez were able to aim a single shot on target, with the latter's run of netting in four straight games against Torino ended.

But Denzel delivers

Signed to replace Achraf Hakimi at the start of the season, Dumfries has really come into his own in December. After three Serie A starts up until the beginning of the month, the Netherlands international has since been named in the XI on a further five occasions.

And Dumfries has repaid Inzaghi's faith by scoring his first three Serie A goals, including this crucial winner.

What's next?

Inter face some huge fixtures in the new year but start 2022 at Bologna on January 6. Torino go to Atalanta on the same day.

And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, 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.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. 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.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

Sandro Tonali and Nicolo Zaniolo have returned to Italy's squad for their next World Cup qualifiers, while Torino midfielder Tommaso Pobega has earned a first call-up.

Roberto Mancini's men face Switzerland at Stadio Olimpico next Friday in a likely shootout for top spot in Group C, with the sides level on 14 points.

The Azzurri then round off their Qatar 2022 group qualifying campaign with a match in Northern Ireland three days later.

Milan midfielder Tonali is part of Mancini's 28-man squad for the double-header, a year on from the most recent of his four senior caps, with Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti out injured.

Zaniolo is back involved after a shorter absence from the team, meanwhile, the Roma attacker having missed out on the squad for October's Nations League Finals games.

Pobega is the only new face in the Italy contingent after impressing for Torino, where he is on a season-long loan from Milan.

The 22-year-old, yet to make a senior appearance for the Rossoneri, has two goals and an assist in nine Serie A outings this term.

Elsewhere, Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile are back from injury, but this final international window of the year has come too soon for Moise Kean to return.

Italy are back in qualifying action after their hopes of Nations League success were ended with a 2-1 loss to Spain in last month's semi-finals.

That ended the European champions' world-record run of 37 games unbeaten, but they ​bounced back with a 2-1 victory over Belgium to clinch third place.


Italy squad: Cragno (Cagliari), Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Meret (Napoli), Sirigu (Genoa); Acerbi (Lazio), Bastoni (Inter), Biraghi (Fiorentina), Bonucci (Juventus), Calabria (Milan), Chiellini (Juventus), Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Palmieri (Lyon), Mancini (Roma); Barella (Inter), Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Locatelli (Juventus), Pellegrini (Roma), Pobega (Torino), Tonali (Milan), Zaniolo (Roma); Belotti (Torino), Berardi (Sassuolo), Bernardeschi (Juventus), Chiesa (Juventus), Immobile (Lazio), Insigne (Napoli), Raspadori (Sassuolo).

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