Barcelona will face the lowest-ranked team left in the Copa del Rey after being drawn with Ceuta in the last 16.

Xavi's side will be huge favourites to reach the quarter-finals, with their next opponents propping up Group 1 of the Primera Division RFEF, Spain's third tier.

Nevertheless, Ceuta – who beat LaLiga's Elche in the round of 32 – will take encouragement from Barca's struggles in the last round ahead of welcoming the Catalans to Africa's north coast.

The top-flight leaders needed extra time to beat another third-tier side in Intercity, with Oriol Soldevila pegging them back three times to force extra time.

Ansu Fati's extra-time goal made it 4-3 and eventually sealed Barca's passage, but it was still alarmingly close to an upset for the Blaugrana.

The tie of the round will take place at Estadio de la Ceramica as Villarreal host Real Madrid.

Holders Real Betis were drawn at home to Osasuna, one of four all-LaLiga ties, while Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla were all paired with Segunda opposition.

Fixtures will take place across January 17, 18 and 19.

Copa del Rey draw in full:

Ceuta v Barcelona

Levante v Atletico Madrid

Sporting Gijon v Valencia

Deportivo Alaves v Sevilla

Real Betis v Osasuna

Villarreal v Real Madrid

Real Sociedad v Real Mallorca

Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol

The 2022 World Cup was unique for many reasons.

It was the first World Cup to be played in the Middle East, and the first one to take place in the middle of the season, as far as Europe's top clubs are concerned.

One thing that did not change, of course, was players being able to use the tournament as a platform to show what they can do on the biggest stage, and perhaps get big moves on the back of it.

While Josko Gvardiol, Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister and Jude Bellingham are among the players to possibly fall into that category, Antoine Griezmann is different.

Griezmann is not the youngster making his name, but he did shine in Qatar as, in the space of seven games, he arguably redefined his own position.

That is not to say Griezmann had not been impressive this season prior to the World Cup. Before the tournament he had directly contributed to 10 goals for Atletico Madrid, scoring five and creating as many.

Griezmann's form has come during a season in which he had to settle for a substitute role up until September 18, due to Atleti attempting to navigate a financial clause in their loan agreement with Barcelona, which would have kicked in had the 31-year-old played a certain amount of minutes.

Had that clause been activated, Atleti would have had to pay €40million to re-sign Griezmann. As it was, they paid under half of that to bring him back to the club permanently in October.

It's Barca up next for Atleti in the highlight fixture of this weekend's LaLiga matches. Going into that match, Griezmann is a player reimagined.

 

The creator in chief

Griezmann has returned from the World Cup with a vigour and verve to his play perhaps not seen since his prime years at Atleti back in 2017 to 2019.

His goal contributions stand at 13 (five more than any of his team-mates) after three assists across two appearances since Atleti's campaign restarted – one game in LaLiga and one in the Copa del Rey.

Griezmann leads the club's scoring charts along with Alvaro Morata while his tally of seven assists is four clear of next-best Joao Felix, who seems destined to leave the club this month. None of his team-mates come close to matching Griezmann's 42 chances created, and 35 of those have come from open play.

But it's Griezmann's positioning that is the truly interesting aspect of his fine form.

Didier Deschamps has often utilised Griezmann as a second striker in international football. That was the position he played in at Euro 2016, and during France's successful run at the 2018 World Cup.

Yet in Qatar, Griezmann was deployed as the most advanced of a midfield trio, and there he showed his ability to not only find space in the final third, but run games altogether.

 

Only Kylian Mbappe (49) was involved in more shot-ending attacking sequences for France at the tournament than Griezmann (30).

However, of Griezmann's 361 open-play touches, just 14 came in the opposition box, with the vast majority clustered in the middle of the park.

Not that it prevented Griezmann from wielding his influence. He provided three assists, leading the competition alongside Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes, Ivan Perisic and Lionel Messi. Unlike all of those players, however, Griezmann's expected assists (xA) of 3.6 was actually slightly underperformed. Essentially, he was creating higher quality chances for those assists than his counterparts.

 

That quality was evidenced with a sublime cross into Olivier Giroud for France's second goal in the 2-1 quarter-final victory over England, having earlier teed up Aurelien Tchouameni's strike to move ahead of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in terms of the most assists for Les Bleus. Griezmann's 28 assists rank as the most by any France player for his country in the last 50 years.

Griezmann's 22 chances created were the most at the tournament, albeit only nine of those came from open play. When it came to creativity, Griezmann was at the top of his game.

From poacher to playmaker

It was certainly a case of picking up where he left off for Griezmann when Atleti took on Elche in LaLiga on December 29. Diego Simeone's side won 2-0, and Griezmann was superb.

He set up both goals and created four chances. No player attempted more passes in the opposition half (37), or played in more crosses (five).

Despite Atleti having lined up in a 3-4-3, with Griezmann nominally positioned on the right flank, his average position was just ahead of the halfway line.

It was a similar story against Real Oviedo on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. While he was supposedly playing in a front two alongside Alvaro Morata, Griezmann's touches were centred around the halfway line, with only two coming in the opposition box.

Dovetailing with Morata in a forward line, or indeed playing as an inside forward in a 3-4-3, is in principle ideal for Griezmann to drop into a similar role as to the one he thrived in during the World Cup.

Barca best be wary

It would seem the two-man attack would provide the perfect platform for Griezmann to show what Barca never managed to unlock on a consistent basis during his two years at the club.

Not that his time at Barca was a complete failure. Griezmann scored 35 goals and assisted a further 16 across 102 appearances. But he looks like he has his mojo back now. In fact, no LaLiga player has assisted more goals in all competitions.

Morata should provide the pace and work rate to stretch Barca's backline, handing Griezmann the space to drop between the lines and pull the strings.

Griezmann is averaging 73.4 touches per 90 minutes for Atleti this term, but only 4.8 in the opposition's box. His role has been gradually developing over the course of the campaign and the World Cup proved just how effective he can be.

Barca twice gave away the lead against Intercity Sant Joan d'Alacant in their Copa del Rey tie, and as Inter and Bayern Munich displayed in the Champions League, the Blaugrana's defence can be got at, even if in LaLiga Xavi's side have conceded just six times.

If Griezmann, who at least might be easier to spot, what with his bright pink hair, can replicate the influence he had in Qatar, Barca will be hard-pressed to stop him.

Barcelona have been beaten without scoring a goal in their past two trips to Atletico Madrid and could find themselves off the top of LaLiga if they suffer more misery in the capital on Sunday.

A fiery 1-1 draw with Espanyol on New Year's Eve left Barca level on points with Real Madrid at the summit in what is shaping up to be an enthralling title race.

Xavi's side travel to the Metropolitano for their first LaLiga game of the year on the back of a Copa del Rey scare, avoiding an upset by beating third-tier Intercity 4-3 after extra time.

Fourth-placed Atleti have secured back-to-back 2-0 wins and will be looking for a third consecutive home victory over the Blaugrana in the top flight.

With Carlo Ancelotti's men travelling to Villarreal a day earlier, Barca may need a win against Atletico to go back to the top of the table and they will be without the suspended Robert Lewandowski.

Stats Perform pick out the standout Opta numbers to preview the big game.

Barca hoping for same story in New Year

This will be the fifth time Barca have faced Atleti in their first game of a calendar year.

If history is anything to go by, the Catalan giants could be heading home with all three points in the bank as they have not lost in all four of the previous such meetings.

Barca beat Atleti in their first league games in 1930, 1951 and 1989, with the other encounter ending in a draw.

If looking that far back is not for you, Barca have been in excellent recent form on the road – winning 12 of their past 14 away games in LaLiga, with just one defeat.


Griezmann to return to haunt Barca?

In-form forward Antoine Griezmann is set to face Barca for the first time since he made a permanent move from Camp Nou to Atleti in October.

The France international endured a disappointing spell with the Blaugrana, but is very much at home again under Diego Simeone.

After some outstanding World Cup displays in Qatar, Griezmann has provided three assists in two matches back on club duty – the latest being a sublime first-time cushioned pass to set up Marcos Llorente in the 2-0 Copa del Rey defeat of Real Oviedo on Wednesday.

A revitalised Griezmann has been involved in 10 LaLiga goals for the Rojiblancos this season – five goals and as many assists. That is three more than he managed from 29 appearances in the competition in the 2021-22 campaign.

 

Dembele delivering for Xavi

Ousmane Dembele continues to show why Barca were so eager to keep him after his contract expired at the end of last season.

The France winger scored his eighth goal of Xavi's reign in a thrilling cup tie against Intercity.

Dembele has racked up 20 assists since Xavi was appointed in November 2021, giving him the most goal involvements for Barca during the head coach's tenure.


Joao Felix catching the eye in shop window

Joao Felix continues to be linked with a move, Manchester United among the clubs linked with the wantaway Atletico forward.

He has clearly not been affected by uncertainty over his future, scoring in three consecutive LaLiga games for the first time during his Atleti career.

The Portugal international has found the back of the net four times in his past three LaLiga matches, while he also struck against Ghana in the World Cup.

Robert Lewandowski will miss Barcelona's LaLiga trip to Atletico Madrid on Sunday after his three-game suspension was upheld by Spain's Sports Administrative Court.

The Poland striker was issued the extended ban for a gesture made towards referee Gil Manzano after being shown two yellow cards in November's 2-1 win at Osasuna.

Barcelona appealed the Spanish Football Federation's decision and Lewandowski was allowed to play in last week's 1-1 draw with Espanyol, much to the Periquitos' anger.

Head coach Xavi said on Tuesday he was hopeful the 34-year-old, who has 18 goals in 20 games this season, would also be eligible for the showdown with Atletico.

However, it was confirmed on Wednesday that Barca were unsuccessful with their latest appeal, meaning Lewandowski will miss the match at Estadio Metropolitano.

The ban does not cover Copa del Rey or Supercopa de Espana ties, so Lewandowski will also sit out the LaLiga meetings with Getafe and Girona before the end of January.

 

Speaking last month, Lewandowski questioned the severity of the punishment and said it would be "painful" to watch three matches from the stands.

Lewandowski also insisted the gesture that landed him in trouble was in fact aimed at Xavi, not the referee.

The former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich star was not part of Barca's squad for Wednesday's Copa del Rey round-of-32 tie with Intercity.

"Lewandowski's absence on Sunday is a setback and it is unexpected," Xavi said after his side's 4-3 victory against the lower-tier opposition.

"We have no choice but to now obey it as we did when they told us he couldn't play against Espanyol."

Manchester United continue to be the centre of plenty of January transfer window speculation.

Erik ten Hag's side are likely to be active in the transfer market following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

United are in the mix for a top-four finish but want to bolster their squad in January to boost their chances.

TOP STORY – MAN UTD TO OFFER €4M FOR WANTAWAY ATLETICO STAR

Manchester United are some way from making an agreement with Atletico Madrid on a loan deal for Joao Felix, with the Red Devils prepared to offer only €4million (£3.5m), reports Relevo.

According to the report, Atleti want €12-13m (£10.6m-£11.4m) for the 23-year-old Portuguese striker.

There has been no shortage of clubs linked with Felix, including Arsenal, but United are firmly in the mix for a cut-price forward option.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea are willing to beat any offer Arsenal make for Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Mykhaylo Mudryk, according to the Independent. The Mail claims the Ukrainian club will turn down Arsenal's latest £62m offer.

 Borussia Dortmund are monitoring the availability of Real Madrid's 18-year-old Nico Paz, claims Defensa Central. Real Valladolid and Getafe are also keen on taking him on loan.

– Sky Germany reports Liverpool's Roberto Firmino is drawing interest from Saudi Arabian clubs but the Brazilian is leaning towards extending his Anfield stay.

– Sport claims Barcelona will sign Inigo Martinez from Athletic Bilbao when his contract expires in mid-year.

– Barcelona are willing to let 20-year-old midfielder Ansu Fati go out on loan during the January transfer window to make space for new signings, reports Fichajes.

– Fabrizio Romano reports that Ajax have reached full agreement with Villarreal on a deal for Argentinian goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, who will travel to Amsterdam to sign and undergo medical tests in the next 24 hours.

Manchester United have missed out on signing Borussia Monchengladbach's Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer who has reached a verbal agreement to join Bayern Munich, according to Sky Germany.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham will all reportedly attempt to sign Inter defender Denzel Dumfries after his stellar World Cup performances for the Netherlands.

Dumfries, 26, played in all five of his country's World Cup fixtures, highlighted by a stunning display against the United States in the last 16 where he scored one and assisted two in a 3-1 win.

The marauding right-back has played in all 15 of Inter's Serie A outings this season, making 13 starts, although he has only produced a full 90 minutes on four occasions.

Despite the Italian side rejecting all bids for Dumfries in the previous transfer window, he is said to no longer be viewed as indispensable, and could be pried away for a fee of €60million.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS CIRCLE DUTCH STANDOUT DUMFRIES

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Inter are willing to accept a €60m (£53m) fee, although it remains to be seen if the amount of interest drives that price up even further.

Chelsea reportedly view Dumfries as the answer to their depth issues at right-back while Reece James battles injuries, as well as being able to play as part of a back-three.

United believe he can replace Diogo Dalot, and Tottenham feel he is a superior option to Sporting's Pedro Porro, who they had been reportedly close to securing on a €35m (£31m) deal, per the Daily Star.

 

ROUND-UP

– Spanish newspaper Nacional is reporting Man Utd have made an offer for 24-year-old RB Leipzig winger Dani Olmo, who could cost as much as €66m (£58m).

– The Evening Standard is reporting Arsenal, Chelsea and United are not willing to pay the €11m (£10m) loan fee and €283,000 (£250,000)-per-week wages being demanded by Atletico Madrid for forward Joao Felix.

– According to 90min, Manchester City will sign 19-year-old Velez Sarsfield midfielder Maximo Perrone.

– Nottingham Forest will allow 25-year-old striker Emmanuel Dennis to leave the club for a fee of £10m just five months after his arrival, per The Athletic.

– The Telegraph is reporting Liverpool will investigate a potential £44m move for 24-year-old Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes at the end of the season.

Those who celebrate at this time of year will have barely had time to throw away the wrapping paper and store their strange jumpers back in the wardrobe.

Whether they got what they wanted or not, football fans develop a different kind of lust as January approaches, with transfer season opening for another month.

Some big names are already being linked with possible moves, with the most obvious being free agent Cristiano Ronaldo after his release by Manchester United.

Deals are already being put in place for January 1, with Cody Gakpo confirmed to be on his way to Liverpool from PSV.

Before the chaos of the January transfer window begins, Stats Perform has looked at some players who could be in the middle of a tug of war and end the first month of 2023 at a new club.

Cristiano Ronaldo

It seemed a strange thing for Ronaldo to do, but whether it was his intention or not, the Portugal star effectively ended his relationship with Manchester United when he decided to take public swipes at club figures, including manager Erik ten Hag, via an interview with Piers Morgan prior to the World Cup.

It led to the strange situation of seeing his great rival Lionel Messi lift the World Cup at the same time as Ronaldo did not even have a club.

In theory, there should be plenty lining up to offer him a deal, even if he does turn 38 in just over a month. Ronaldo scored 24 goals in 38 games for United last season, and left the club with only four former United players having a better overall goal per game ratio in the Premier League than his 0.44 (Ruud van Nistelrooy – 0.63, Andy Cole – 0.48, Wayne Rooney – 0.47, and Eric Cantona – 0.45).

However, with his wage demands and the likely reputational damage done by the nature of his acrimonious exit from Old Trafford, it does not seem like Europe's biggest clubs are eager to make a move, despite the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea and arguably former club Real Madrid seemingly in the market for a striker.

It therefore seems likely Saudi Arabia side Al Nassr could have an unopposed run at him with their reported mega-money offer, though Ronaldo does not need to rush any decision as his free agency status means he can complete a transfer at any time.

 

Joao Felix

Another Portuguese attacker who looks likely to be playing elsewhere by February, Joao Felix is at the other end of his career, needing to find somewhere to fulfil his early promise.

Joao Felix moved to Atletico Madrid from Benfica for a reported €127million in 2019 at the age of 19 after contributing to 22 goals in 26 Primeira Liga appearances (15 goals, seven assists) but despite brief flashes, has never really come close to living up to that giant fee in Spain.

The 23-year-old has managed 33 goals and 16 assists in 129 appearances for Atletico, but has reportedly fallen out with head coach Diego Simeone, and is now being offered around a host of clubs in England.

Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Aston Villa are supposedly among those agent Jorge Mendes has approached, and all arguably have space in their team for another attacker ahead of the second half of the season.

Wherever he ends up, Joao Felix will hope he can finally produce the promise many saw in him as a teenager and find himself a long-term home to thrive.

Enzo Fernandez

In theory, most of Europe's elite clubs should be kicking themselves right now.

Fernandez only joined Benfica from River Plate at the start of this season for a reported fee of €12m, where he has shone in performances both domestically and in the Champions League.

That earned the midfielder a place in Lionel Scaloni's Argentina squad for the World Cup, and despite starting the tournament on the bench, he forced his way in to become a key part of the team that lifted the trophy in Qatar, earning himself the Best Young Player award in the process.

Unsurprisingly, the sharks are now circling, and Fernandez – who led all players for touches (118), successful passes (77) and tackles (10) in the World Cup final – could be making a swift exit from Lisbon.

Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man Utd and Newcastle have been credited with an interest, though for Benfica to agree to do business mid-season as they sit top of the Primeira Liga and with a Champions League last 16 tie against Club Brugge to come, you would think they will want a huge fee approaching or beyond nine figures just to pick up the phone.

Mykhaylo Mudryk

As with Fernandez, Mudryk is a player who has seen his profile go up quickly in a short space of time.

Before the start of this season, the 21-year-old winger was being courted by the likes of Brentford and Everton, but his performances – particularly in the Champions League – have caught the eye of those higher up the food chain.

Mudryk scored three goals in six games in the Champions League group stage, having also recorded seven goals and six assists in 12 Ukrainian Premier League games prior to the mid-season break.

Arsenal seem to be the most interested party ahead of January, and reportedly have already lodged a bid, but the supposed demands of Shakhtar Donetsk could be what turns this into a saga.

Suggestions are that Shakhtar want up to €100m (£85m), and could try to take advantage of Arsenal's desperation as the Gunners try to maintain their Premier League title challenge after star striker Gabriel Jesus was ruled out for up to three months through injury.

 

Man Utd and any striker

It is not just players who take part in transfer sagas, clubs do as well, and few do so more often and more spectacularly than the Red Devils.

The will-they-won't-they drama appears to have already started for January as United were seemingly pipped to Gakpo by rivals Liverpool, and alternative names are already popping up in a story that could potentially drag throughout the month.

With a Ronaldo-shaped hole in the team, boss Ten Hag has already said he is seeking reinforcements, emphasising "it has to be the right one."

As well as Felix, United have been linked with moves for Goncalo Ramos, Dusan Vlahovic and even former Old Trafford man Memphis Depay.

With reports that Ten Hag could be limited to the loan market thanks to their heavy spending in the previous window and the Glazers' ongoing attempts to sell the club, perhaps United will be forced to make a move similar to the one that saw Odion Ighalo join temporarily in January 2020.

Cristiano Ronaldo finally put an end to speculation regarding his next destination on Friday as he completed his anticipated move to Saudi Pro League side Al Nassr.

Manchester United parted ways with the Portugal superstar by mutual consent in November, despite the 37-year-old having over six months to run on his contract at Old Trafford.

That move came after an explosive interview in which Ronaldo declared he felt "betrayed" by United and expressed his lack of respect for manager Erik ten Hag and former boss Ralf Rangnick.

The World Cup appeared the immediate priority for Ronaldo, but he offered little with just one group-stage strike against Ghana as Portugal failed to progress beyond the last eight. 

Despite Ronaldo unsuccessfully pushing to join a Champions League club prior to the start of the season, a return to Europe's elite competition still appeared possible with Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Sporting CP linked.

Major League Soccer was also touted as another avenue for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, though he opted for a move to the Middle East as he left Europe for the first time in his remarkable career.

Here, Stats Perform explores why some potential destinations for Ronaldo did not come to fruition.

Major League Soccer

With the MLS season recently concluding, a move to North America would have presented Ronaldo with a clean slate for 2023 and boosted the profile of the league ahead of the 2026 World Cup taking place in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Ronaldo required a Designated Player spot for any franchise looking to make a move, eliminating several clubs from the equation, but David Beckham's Inter Miami were attributed with a strong interest.

However, as speculation grows over the Herons making a move for Lionel Messi, could Beckham and Miami really afford both superstars?

 

Sporting CP

Ronaldo's return to United was not as successful as fans would have wanted, but a fairytale reunion with boyhood club Sporting was still repeatedly suggested.

The prospect of Champions League football next season may have appealed to the forward, though Ruben Amorim's side will be playing in the Europa League this term after dropping out of UEFA's premier club competition.

While a storied move home may have interested the romantics, the links became increasingly frustrating for Amorim, who angrily responded to such questions during the World Cup.

"Ronaldo was in Qatar, they had the opportunity to ask him and they didn't. I've been asked 500 times and I already answered," he said after a December 19 win over Braga.

Bayern Munich

Reports suggested Julian Nagelsmann held talks with Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes, though Bayern Munich chief executive Oliver Kahn never envisaged the former Real Madrid star moving to Germany.

"We briefly discussed Ronaldo at Bayern and Dortmund probably did too," Kahn told BILD. "We also see the big picture of the Bundesliga.

"Of course, superstars like Ronaldo are an important factor in attracting attention to the league. He is one of the greatest of the last decade. But we quickly dismissed that."

Chelsea

Chelsea were repeatedly named as contenders to snatch the attacker from Premier League rivals United in a bid to appease new owner Todd Boehly's desire for a marquee Blues signing.

Thomas Tuchel was reportedly against the proposal – though his dismissal as Chelsea head coach earlier this year could have provided the catalyst for a change of heart at Stamford Bridge.

But Graham Potter and Boehly opted against a move with a plethora of attacking talent to call upon, while the Blues also appear strong favourites to sign breakout RB Leipzig star Christopher Nkunku.

 

Napoli

Top of Serie A and heading into the World Cup break on the back of an 11-match winning run, Napoli were touted as potential suitors for Ronaldo, who dominated the Italian top flight during three years with Juventus.

Striker Victor Osimhen has been linked with a move to United, but Napoli executives want to focus on the future – despite Ronaldo's remarkable output in the Champions League.

"We wanted to invest in a young team," Napoli sporting director Cristiano Giuntoli told Corriere dello Sport.

He later added to Sky Sport Italia: "We never really talked about Ronaldo. In football you get nowhere with ifs and buts. We are happy with the squad we have, we are confident this is a competitive team."

Atletico Madrid

He couldn't have, could he? After scoring 311 times in LaLiga for Real Madrid, a move to fierce rivals Atletico would have represented one of the most memorable transfers in history.

While some at the Civitas Metropolitano may have flirted with the idea of a seismic move for their archnemesis, coach Diego Simeone was never interested.

He told Tigo Sports: "Ronaldo is an absolute benchmark for Real Madrid and I would not see [Martin] Palermo ever playing for River, just as I wouldn't see [Juan Roman] Riquelme or [Ariel] Ortega playing for Boca. There are situations that are very clear."

 

Manchester United are set to be busy in the January transfer window following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit in November.

Erik ten Hag's side are in the market to bolster their forward options, having already been linked to a host of players.

But United look set to settle for short-term loan deals with little money available for a transfer fee, limiting their options.

TOP STORY – MAN UTD INTERESTED IN EX-CHELSEA FLOP MORATA

Manchester United have turned their attention to signing Spain international forward Alvaro Morata on loan, according to ESPN.

United missed out on signing Cody Gakpo, who has joined Liverpool, while they face stiff competition to land Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix along with a reported total package worth €22million for six months.

The report claims the Red Devils are hoping Atletico are willing to listen to loan offers, with the 30-year-old having been loaned to Juventus this season.

ROUND-UP

– Media Foot claims Manchester United and Tottenham have both commenced talks with Rennes on £34m-valued striker Martin Terrier.

Chelsea are rapidly closing in on a deal for 21-year-old Monaco defender Benoit Badiashile, according to CBS' Ben Jacobs, with personal terms agreed.

– The Athletic reports that Chelsea have taken positive steps in talks with N'Golo Kante on re-committing to the club on a new deal. Kante's contract expires in June and he has been linked with several clubs in the January transfer window, including Barcelona .

Manchester City will offer Milan forward Rafael Leao a contract worth €12m per season as they bid to lure him to England in January, claims TuttoMercatoWeb.

Borussia Dortmund have joined the race to sign Juventus' United States international midfielder Weston McKennie, according to Tuttosport, with the German club viewing him as a suitable replacement for Jude Bellingham.

– PSG defender Sergio Ramos is being pursued by Saudi Arabian outfit Al Nassr, claims Marca. Al Nassr are trying to convince Cristiano Ronaldo to join the club, which is their priority move.

Alvaro Morata did not realise he had scored Atletico Madrid's second goal against Elche as they snapped a three-game winless run in LaLiga with a 2-0 victory on Thursday.

The Spain international was on hand to score for the Rojiblancos after Joao Felix had given them the lead at the Metropolitano to deliver three points for Diego Simeone's side.

But Morata did not initially believe he had finished his effort, after going to ground following a challenge as he shaped to shoot.

His finish arced over Edgar Badia and in, with the forward not realising until he saw team-mate Antoine Griezmann's celebrations.

"I was on the ground and I thought it had been a goal for Griezmann," he told Movistar. "I thought that after the rebound, he had scored.

"It was important to win. Especially in our stadium, we want the fans to have a good end to their year. We thank them for our support."

Simeone concurred on the crucial nature of his side's result, while also praising 19-year-old Pablo Barrios after the midfielder impressed on his first LaLiga start.

"We were looking to do damage," he added. "When we found our first goal, it gave us piece of mind. I'm heading home happy with the work and effort from the whole team.

"We showed desire. It is time to continue working with humility. As for Pablo, when a boy like him plays, you have to accompany him. You have to lead him in the best way, so as to not rush him. Football has no age."

Diego Simeone believes Atletico Madrid have a hugely talented squad but he as coach is letting them down.

Atletico were LaLiga champions as recently as the 2020-21 season, yet they are way off the pace in the title race this term.

Barcelona lead the way with 37 points, with Simeone's side way back on 24 points in fifth place.

But the coach thinks his squad are still capable of challenging, suggesting he is at fault for their difficult campaign.

"We have a great squad – four players in the World Cup final," Simeone said on Wednesday ahead of facing Elche.

"Maybe the one who is not giving everything is the coach. We have a great squad. I'm the one I have to improve so they can raise their level in LaLiga.

"They are more or less the same names that won LaLiga, except [Kieran] Trippier and [Luis] Suarez.

"The base of the LaLiga starters are here; there's [Angel] Correa, [Yannick] Carrasco, Joao [Felix], [Jose] Gimenez... we added [Antoine] Griezmann.

"The coach is the one who is failing more than anything else."

For this reason, Simeone is not concerned by the January transfer window, focusing instead on getting his key men fit and firing.

"When we have been on all four legs, we become strong. We need all four legs and that strength," he said. "We have proven it for many years and we will continue to."

Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias is calm about his future and is happy at the club, amid reported interest from Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone's side have already lost Matheus Cunha ahead of the mid-season transfer window and could see Joao Felix depart, with the Portugal international heavily linked with several Premier League sides.

That exit would leave Atletico short of attacking options heading into the second half of the season and it is reported Simeone is targeting the addition of a striker when the window opens for business.

Iglesias is said to have attracted Atletico's attention, having scored eight goals in 13 LaLiga appearances this term – only Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski (13) has scored more – but appeared to have little interest in that speculation.

"To this day I have nothing to talk about. I'm focused on Betis, on Thursday, on enjoying our fans again, our stadium and winning," he said, as quoted by El Chiringuito.

 

"You have to give it normality and be calm. I am happy here and if at any time there is a need to talk, I will speak. No problem. We've joked about the situation and that's it, without giving it much importance.

"I have always felt very loved. I am very happy here and I appreciate that affection. I have nothing to say about all this. I can contribute little to this situation for now."

Betis and Atletico are level on 24 points, alongside Athletic Bilbao, amid a fierce battle for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification.

Chelsea are reportedly closing in on a loan deal for Atletico Madrid club-record signing Joao Felix in January.

Felix, 23, was signed in 2019 for €126million after winning the European Golden Boy award with Benfica, shattering Atletico's previous transfer record of Thomas Lemar by over €50m.

However, despite netting 33 goals for his new club, Felix has struggled to consistently earn a spot in their starting XI, with seven of his 12 LaLiga appearances this season coming as a substitute.

Having made such a substantial investment, Atletico are not willing to sell him at a massive loss just yet, and while they have made him available for transfer, a loan move to rehabilitate his value appears far more likely.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA LOOK TO LOAN DEAL TO ADDRESS FORWARD WOES

Chelsea have been actively seeking reinforcements up front, but with significant investment also planned in defence, a cheaper loan deal could be the band-aid solution for their goalscoring issues.

The Telegraph is reporting Chelsea and Atletico are deep in discussions about a deal that would involve either an option or an obligation to turn the loan into a permanent move at the conclusion of the season.

ESPN added Atletico will also demand a loan fee in the range of €9m for the half-season rental.

It remains to be seen if Chelsea can afford to secure a quality forward option in January on a permanent basis, with Fabrizio Romano reporting they are also in the final stages of negotiations for a €35m purchase of 21-year-old Monaco centre-back Benoit Badiashile.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to CBS, Cristiano Ronaldo has a medical scheduled with Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr ahead of signing a contract that will pay him €70m per year.

– The Telegraph is reporting Arsenal have submitted a £55m bid for 21-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk.

Napoli will look to sign 26-year-old Wolves winger Adama Traore in January as he enters the final six months of his contract, per Calciomercato.

– The Daily Mail is reporting Everton are one of a number of Premier League clubs showing interest in 20-year-old Manchester United winger Anthony Elanga.

– According to journalist Ekrem Konur, Premier League teams including West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa are considering offers for 28-year-old Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Chelsea have reportedly made Monaco centre-back Benoit Badiashile their top defensive target in the January transfer window.

They have been strongly linked with RB Leipzig and Croatia standout Josko Gvardiol, but Fabrizio Romano believes Chelsea will have to break the record for the most expensive transfer fee paid for a defender to get a deal done.

Instead, the Stamford Bridge club are said to have pivoted to 21-year-old Monaco powerhouse Badiashile, who stands at six-foot-four and has racked up 106 club appearances since debuting at the age of 17.

Badiashile also earned his first senior caps for France this year, playing a full 90 minutes in UEFA Nations League fixtures in September against Austria and Denmark before ultimately missing out on the World Cup squad.

With just over 18 months remaining on his contract, Monaco will need to decide if they can tie him down up long term, otherwise it may be time to cash-in.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TARGET YOUNG MONACO TALENT

According to The Athletic, Badiashile is a player who has been on the Premier League radar for some time, noting a £22million bid from Manchester United back in 2020.

The report claims Badiashile was in no rush to leave back then as he was already a first-team regular, but he has since opened up to the idea of moving on to take the next step of his career.

Chelsea are said to be preparing a £35m offer for the man who has experience playing in a back-three, which would be less than half of the potential asking price for Gvardiol.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fichajes is reporting Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has no interest in retaining Argentinian World Cup hero Emiliano Martinez, and would prefer to replace him with Sevilla and Morocco star Yassine Bounou for a fee in the range of £40m.

Chelsea are in the best position to land 23-year-old West Ham midfielder Declan Rice as he enters the final 18 months of his contract, per The Athletic.

– Journalist Nicolo Schira is reporting Atletico Madrid have agreed to personal terms with 26-year-old Leicester City centre-back Caglar Soyuncu, and he could be allowed to join the club in January despite his contract not expiring until the end of the season.

– Atletico will allow Joao Felix to join a Premier League club on loan in January if their financial demands are met, per the Mirror.

– According to Teamtalk, Liverpool and Tottenham are included in the Premier League sides prepared to offer a contract to 27-year-old Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar for when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Matheus Cunha has completed his move from Atletico Madrid to Wolves.

Cunha, a Brazil international who joined Atleti from Hertha Berlin in 2021, is the first signing of the Julen Lopetegui era at Molineux. 

The 23-year-old has joined on loan, though the transfer will automatically become permanent should certain clauses be triggered.

Lopetegui had already confirmed the transfer on Friday, though the club made the official announcement on Sunday.

Cunha will officially join on January 1, subject to a work permit.

A member of Brazil's gold medal-winning side at the Tokyo Olympics last year, Cunha scored six goals in 29 LaLiga appearances for Atleti in the 2021-22 campaign, but has failed to find the net this season.

"He's a good player. I know him, and I think he's a good signing for us for the present and also for the future," Lopetegui said of Cunha at his pre-match press conference ahead of Wolves' trip to Everton.

"He is a very complete forward. He has a good condition, good skills, not only technically but physically. This is England, and in the Premier League you have to be a very complete forward if you want to survive.

"I think he has this profile to play here for a lot of years. Of course, we are going to help him to develop his strengths in the future."

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