Gianluigi Donnarumma stands by his decision to leave Milan for Paris Saint-Germain despite having to share goalkeeping duties with Keylor Navas since arriving in France.

Italy's Euro 2020 hero Donnarumma has only made 10 league starts since joining PSG on a free transfer last year, while Costa Rican competitor Keylor Navas has appeared between the sticks in 13 of the side's Ligue 1 outings.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Donnarumma, who made 215 Serie A appearances at Milan after coming through the Rossoneri's youth ranks, thanked his former club for their role in his development, but stressed that he was happy with life at PSG.

"I can only thank the club for what they did for me", the 22-year-old said. "I improved as a man and as a footballer in Milan.

"I think PSG was in my destiny.

"They had been following me for many years and have always made sure I knew about their interest. Everyone at the club makes me feel important, from President Al-Khelaifi to director Leonardo. I am happy and proud to be here.

When asked about his competition with Navas, Donnarumma responded: "I knew that this was the situation when I signed with PSG.

"I don't know what he [Navas] thinks, but I am okay with it because everyone here always makes me feel important.

"It's not true that we are not on good terms, there is an excellent rapport between us, he is a good guy and there are no problems."

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe remain arguably the two most sought-after players in world football.

The pair, who boast 43 goals in 50 games between them this season, have inevitably been linked with an array of Europe's top clubs ahead of the next transfer window.

And it may well be that one replaces the other at PSG in the coming months.


TOP STORY – HAALAND AMONG PSG TARGETS

L'Equipe reports that Haaland is one of a handful of players being eyed up by PSG, who are growing increasingly concerned that Mbappe will join Real Madrid on a free transfer.

However, the Ligue 1 giants are said to have made tying down Mbappe to fresh terms their main priority between now and the end of the season.

Should the World Cup winner depart, PSG would then have to see off competition from the likes of Madrid, Barcelona and several Premier League teams for Haaland's signature.

ROUND-UP

- Harry Kane failed in his attempt to force through a move from Tottenham last year, but Fabrizio Romano claims the striker is now happy to stay under Antonio Conte.

- After further enhancing his reputation by firing Senegal to Africa Cup of Nations glory, Goal reports that Sadio Mane is open to leaving Liverpool ahead of next season.

- According to Fabrizio Romano, Madrid are eager to finalise terms with Luka Modric over a new deal that will run through for an additional season until the end of 2022-23.

- Ajax are prepared to tempt Barcelona into allowing Sergino Dest to return to the club by offering Nicolas Tagliafico in exchange. That is according to reports from Spain.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan are close to agreeing a four-year extension for full-back Theo Hernandez, who is currently due to be out of contract in July 2024.

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like "a lion in a cage" in his quest to return from injury, but revealed he will not be available for Milan's Coppa Italia quarter-final showdown with Lazio.

His side's top scorer in Serie A this season with eight goals, Ibrahimovic is currently sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, having limped off during the first half of last month's stalemate with Juventus.

The 40-year-old's absence was evident for most of last weekend's derby with Inter; the Rossoneri registering just one shot on goal until Olivier Giroud's quickfire double completed a dramatic turnaround.

Milan welcome Lazio to San Siro in the last eight of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, although it comes too soon for Ibrahimovic.

But Pioli insists the striker is doing everything in his power to return as soon as possible.

"Zlatan is a lion in a cage," he told Sportmediaset. "His motivation is to help the team on the pitch. 

"Tomorrow, he won't be [available]; we'll see for the next ones."

Pioli also praised the contribution of Giroud, who has drawn criticism from some sections despite taking his tally to seven for the campaign with that derby brace, while also becoming the first Frenchman to net twice against Inter in Serie A.

When asked whether his display against the Nerazzurri deflected the criticism, the head coach said: "I don't know, the detractors are always there. What matters is the trust we have. 

"He is proving to be the footballer for whom he was purchased. [He is] a valuable player and a person of great depth who is making a great contribution to the team."

 

Karim Benzema leads the LaLiga scoring charts this term with 17 goals.

But Real Madrid are set to revamp their attacking options if transfer speculation is true.

Benzema turned 34 in December and is contracted until 2023.

TOP STORY – BENZEMA CONCERN ON MADRID FUTURE

Madrid top scorer Benzema has requested a meeting with president Florentino Perez over concerns on his future with Erling Haaland's potential addition, reports Onze.

Los Blancos are set to be bolstered by forwardKylian Mbappe's arrival in the off-season to form an attacking trio alongside Benzema and Vinicius Junior.

But Haaland's potential move from Borussia Dortmund has left Benzema fearing he may lose his spot.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is being lined up by Bayern Munich as their ideal replacement for Niklas Sule, claims Fichajes. Sule has confirmed his exit to Borussia Dortmund for next season.

- Juventus have a new plan ahead of fresh contract talks with Paulo Dybala, according to Calciomercato. Dybala is unsigned beyond this season.

- Manchester United and Brazilian giants Flamengo have agreed to a £12m fee for the permanent sale of Andreas Pereira, reports Universo.

- Atletico Madrid, who are looking to replace the departed Kieran Trippier, are set to make a €30m offer for Aston Villa full-back Matty Cash, claims Mundo Deportivo.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan still have an eye on Club Brugge's Dutch talent Noa Lang.

Sweden striker Alexander Isak's reputation continues to grow at Real Sociedad.

The 22-year-old has netted eight goals in all competitions this season after 17 strikes in LaLiga last term.

Isak is contracted with Sociedad until 2026, meaning they are under no pressure to cash him in.

However, there appears to be plenty of interest among clubs who want to test La Real's resolve to keep him.

TOP STORY – BLUES AND RED DEVILS ENTER ISAK RACE

Chelsea and Manchester United have both joined the race to sign Real Sociedad forward Alexander Isak, according to The Mirror.

Arsenal have been keen on the 22-year-old Sweden international, who has a £75million buyout clause in his contract.

United are said to view Isak as an ideal replacement for veteran forward Cristiano Ronaldo whose future at Old Trafford is unclear.

 

ROUND-UP

Juventus are bullish that they can beat Tottenham in the race to sign Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo, claims La Gazzetta dello Sport. The Bianconeri view Zaniolo as a replacement for Paulo Dybala, whose contract is running down.

Manchester United and Liverpool have joined Real Madrid and Barcelona in keeping tabs on Serge Gnabry's contract situation at Bayern Munich, reports The Mirror. According to Sky Germany, Bayern and Gnabry are having a stand-off in discussions over an extension.

Liverpool's deal to land Fulham's Fabio Carvalho is not dead, says Football Insider, with the two parties set for new talks with a view to an off-season switch. Calciomercato claims that Milan have also reached out to Carvalho's representatives.

- The Sun reports that Premier League giants Manchester United and Chelsea are monitoring 16-year-old Blackburn Rovers defender Ashley Phillips, with Everton and Tottenham also keeping tabs on the teenager.

Olivier Giroud declared that Milan "are back" after inspiring their comeback win in the derby with Inter.

Giroud scored twice to cut Inter's lead at the top of Serie A to one point - though the Nerazzurri do have a game in hand - in a 2-1 win for the Rossoneri, who had fallen behind to Ivan Perisic's first-half volley.

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blemish a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

"As I said before the game, this was a special fixture. You win the derby, we were struggling in the first half, but after the break for 45 minutes we got back into it," Giroud told DAZN.

"I was hoping for one or two balls into the box, the first was a bit lucky, but the second was a fine [Davide] Calabria pass.

"I am so happy for my fans, I am proud of this team that never gave up.

"We score goals in the box, so it's true I was a bit isolated in the first half, but the whole team didn't play well and we knew that.

"We proved our great team spirit after the break and we are back!

"There's a long road ahead of us, we are still in the running, but there are many games to be played and Inter remain the leaders.

"So let’s win our matches and then see what Inter do."

Simone Inzaghi bemoaned Inter's 2-1 loss to fierce rivals Milan and admitted his players learned a "tough lesson" as the Scudetto title race was blown wide open.

Inter were heading seven points clear at the top of Serie A with a game in hand after Ivan Perisic's first-half volley put them in control of Saturday's Derby della Madonnina.

The Nerazzurri continued to dominate for large parts of the match and would have been further ahead if not for Mike Maignan, who pulled off four big saves in the first half.

However, Inter were punished for failing to kill off the contest when Olivier Giroud scored a quickfire double at San Siro in his first taste of this famous fixture.

Giroud slid in at the back post to level up the game on 75 minutes and added a second three minutes later, becoming the first Frenchman to score twice against Inter in Serie A.

After falling to a barely believable first home league loss since October 2020 – also against Milan – Inzaghi was left to wonder just how his side chucked away the points.

"This is football. We dominated in every way but weren't sharp at the end. They were lucky on the first goal and were smart on the second," he said.

"I saw a derby with one-way traffic for 60 minutes. In the final 25 minutes, we weren't as sharp or as in control, and the game was more open to individual incidents. 

"We know it's a defeat that hurts, but strong teams must be able to analyse their errors.

"If we played it again 10 times, we might lose it once. We all know how important the derby is; we didn't deserve to lose, but that is football.

"Until the equaliser, we had allowed Milan practically nothing. It's a tough lesson, but a valuable one to make us more determined to kill off games so this doesn't happen again."

 

Inter's players were unhappy that Giroud's first goal was allowed to stand as they felt that he barged into former Arsenal team-mate Alexis Sanchez earlier in the attack.

But Inzaghi accepted Inter only had themselves to blame after falling to just a second league loss to Milan – who lost Theo Hernandez to a late red card – in their last 12 meetings.

"The lads got irritated at the equaliser, as there was probably a clear foul on Alexis Sanchez and we lost our focus," he said.

"We should've scored the second goal, while Alexis Sanchez was barged off the pitch practically by Giroud on the goal.

"But the fact remains if we had taken more of our chances, [the Giroud incident] wouldn’t have mattered. It's not a problem, it was a challenge. 

"If you think it's fair, that's fine. It's not the issue – the lads lost their focus a bit after that incident and that's the problem. The referee let a lot go."

Saturday's defeat was Inter's first to Milan in the league after leading in the game since February 2004 and leaves them just one point clear, albeit with a game in hand.

Samir Handanovic, whose 30 Serie A appearances against Milan is the most of any current player against another in the competition, echoed the thoughts of his head coach.

"Today we did everything. We had the game under control and played well," he told Inter TV. "But then we lost a few too many balls and were punished. 

"There are many more games and the mistakes have to be reviewed. It must be understood why we managed the last 15 minutes like we did. 

"Sometimes you take risks and you are not punished; today we took risks and were punished."

October 17, 2020. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's double proved enough for Milan to claim a derby day victory over their great rivals, with Romelu Lukaku's goal not enough to inspire a comeback.

Much has changed in the intervening period between then and now.

Inter recovered from that defeat by going on to win the Serie A title for the first time since 2010. Yet coach Antonio Conte and talisman Lukaku have both departed for pastures new – London, to be precise, with Tottenham and Chelsea respectively.

Milan, meanwhile, finished second, 12 points behind their neighbours, but they have had a relatively settled period under Stefano Pioli. And on Saturday, the Rossoneri truly ignited the 2021-22 title race by ending Inter's domestic unbeaten streak at San Siro – a run that stretched to 28 matches in total, since that day in October 2020.

There was no Ibrahimovic for Pioli to call on this time, but another veteran forward stepped up in the form of Olivier Giroud, whose quickfire double did the damage.

Having been on the verge of going seven points clear, the incredible turnaround leaves Inter just one point above Milan, as the title battle between the two northern powerhouses looks set to go down to the wire.

Giroud brings the Z factor

Ibrahimovic is a big miss in any game, but in particular, a derby with title hopes resting on it.

The 40-year-old has scored eight Serie A goals in Milan Derbies (six for AC Milan, two for Inter) – only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more times in this fixture in the history of the competition.

For much of Saturday's clash – 75 minutes, in fact – the void in Milan's attack was evident, the Rossoneri having managed just one attempt on target, from Sandro Tonali in the first half.

But Giroud turned that on its head, first showing his poacher's instinct to prod in from Brahim Diaz's shot-cross, before holding off his marker and drilling in a low strike on the turn three minutes later.

Samir Handanovic should have done better to prevent Milan's winner, mind. Perhaps the Inter goalkeeper had been caught unawares, given his lack of action prior to the late red-and-black charge.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud said of Ibrahimovic in a recent interview.

"It's an opportunity to have him as my partner, to learn something more. He's an example for many strikers and when I was young I loved him, both on the pitch and for his strong character, and for the fact that he's demanding every day.  It's a healthy competition between us."

Giroud proved an old dog can still learn new tricks (from an older dog, that is) with his match-winning turn. The former Chelsea forward converted both of his two attempts, which came from two of his four touches in the penalty area, and a combined expected goals (xG) value of 0.8, as he became the first French player to score twice against Inter in a Serie A match.

All seven of Giroud's Serie A goals this season have come at San Siro, with those strikes coming only when he has started games (eight starts in total).

 

Inter's charge hits its first hurdle?

There has been a pretty seamless transition for Inter since Simone Inzaghi replaced Antonio Conte.

Edin Dzeko has come in for Lukaku, and Lautaro Martinez is still brilliant. Indeed, Inter are scoring at a similar rate to last season, netting on average every 38 minutes in the league.

Yet they more than met their match in the form of Milan, who earned a thrilling 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in November.

Inter had less possession (46 per cent) and won fewer duels (42 compared to 57), yet still created more chances (nine to seven) and had more attempts (11 to 10). They were unable to make the most of going ahead, though.

 

Ivan Perisic's goal – his 50th for the club – had the Nerazzurri in front by half-time but Inter have now failed to win three of their last four derby clashes, while Milan came from behind to beat them in Serie A for the first time since February 2004.

This result can hardly be considered as putting Inter into anything resembling a crisis. They have lost just two of their last 12 Serie A derbies and are still top, with a game in hand on their title rivals, though the manner of the defeat may take some coming back from.

Since the turn of the year, Inter have taken seven of the 12 points on offer and, in a title race with such fine margins (Napoli are only four points back in third), that has enabled the challengers to gain ground.

One positive for Inter, however, was a late red card for Theo Hernandez, who will face a suspension after lunging in recklessly on Denzel Dumfries.

Hernandez is one of Milan's best players, and his absence may just mean that, even though Inter lost the battle, they could go on to win the war provided they bounce back quickly.

Olivier Giroud scored a quickfire late double to earn Milan a dramatic 2-1 win over Inter at San Siro that moves his side within a point of the Serie A leaders.

Milan had taken just one point from their previous two matches and were on the verge of losing again as Ivan Perisic's first-half volley had Inter firmly in control of Saturday's clash.

But Mike Maignan ensured the designated visitors were not out of the game and, from pretty much out of nowhere, Milan caught Inter cold thanks to Giroud's double. 

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blot a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

Denzel Dumfries had an early goal ruled out for offside and was later denied from a one-on-one by Maignan, who was also equal to Marcelo Brozovic's deflected drive.

Samir Handanovic was also needed to deny Sandro Tonali, but the breakthrough arrived in the 38th minute when Perisic volleyed in ex-Milan winger Calhanoglu's corner.

Stefano Pioli turned to Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz in the second half but Milan continued to pose little attacking threat until a dramatic final quarter to the game.

Giroud slid in to convert Diaz's deflected shot, though Inter were unhappy the goal was allowed to stand as the goalscorer clattered into Alexis Sanchez at the start of the move.

Inter failed to compose themselves and conceded another almost instantly as Giroud held off Stefan de Vrij and fired in a shot that squirmed under the hand of Handanovic.

Theo Hernandez was dismissed deep into added time for a rash challenge on Dumfries, though Milan saw out a huge win that keeps the Scudetto race wide open.

Simone Inzaghi scoffed at the idea Inter might kill off Milan's title hopes in Saturday's derby, as he claimed even Juventus remain in the Scudetto hunt.

A victory for Inter would move them seven points clear of Milan, while also having the advantage of a game in hand.

Inzaghi's Inter will be the home side at the San Siro stadium the teams share, and the Nerazzurri lead the way at the top of Serie A after losing just one of their opening 22 games.

It would be hard to see Milan coming back from defeat to their great rivals, but Inzaghi is not discounting the prospect.

Asked if three points for Inter would count out Milan, Inzaghi said: "I don't think so. There are another 15 matches to go and we all saw what happened in the first half of the season. We were seven points behind and drew the derby and still managed to close the gap."

Milan made a flying start to the season but were reeled in, with 2021-22 carrying distinct echoes of how the 2020-21 campaign panned out.

Then, it was Antonio Conte pulling the strings as Inter charged through to capture the title, and now it is Inzaghi's turn, with a first Scudetto of his coaching career beckoning.

He triumphed in Serie A as a player with Sven-Goran Eriksson's double-winning Lazio in 1999-2000, and is not getting ahead of himself this time.

"It's an important game and we know how much it means to the fans," Inzaghi said of derby day. "But there are 45 points and a lot of football to play before we can draw any conclusions.

"I played in lots of derbies and there's never a favourite. Tomorrow will be no different: it's a game that will be won by fine margins. It will come down to our motivation."

Inter have lost only one of their last 11 Serie A meetings against Milan. That defeat was a 2-1 setback in October 2020, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring twice in the opening 16 minutes. Inter have won six and drawn four of those 11 games, with Milan keeping a clean sheet just once.

Most signs point to Inter giving up no ground to their city rivals this weekend. Their last Serie A home defeat was that 2020 loss to Milan, and they are undefeated in 28 games since in the competition when hosting.

Inzaghi won just three of 10 Serie A games against Milan while serving as head coach at Lazio, and his Inter side drew 1-1 with Stefano Pioli's Rossoneri earlier this season.

For obvious reasons, Inzaghi would dearly love a win this time. Napoli and Milan both enter the weekend as Inter's closest challengers, four points back and having played one game more than Inzaghi's men.

Despite this position of strength, Inzaghi said the title race was "all still open".

"Besides Milan and Napoli, there's Atalanta and Juventus, who are very good teams," Inzaghi told a news conference, according to Inter's website.

"Juventus have been doing really well in the last two months and they've made some great signings. All of the teams down to Juventus could win the Scudetto."

Juventus raided Fiorentina last week to sign Dusan Vlahovic, the exciting Serbian forward who hit 33 goals in Serie A in 2021, and that should fortify Massimiliano Allegri's fifth-placed Bianconeri for a push into the Champions League places.

Juve are 11 points off the top, also having played 23 games to Inter's 22. Atalanta are a point better off than Juve, occupying fourth spot.

As Serie A returns this weekend, the standout fixture is the Milan derby. And this isn't just any Milan derby.

Champions Inter are setting the pace, with 16 wins and just one defeat in 22 games. They are the top scorers in the division, with 53; they have the most points, with 53. The league's second-best goalscorers are their city rivals, who are only four points behind, albeit having played a game more.

With Juventus having slipped from their perch, Milan and Inter have become Italy's trendsetters once more. They are the leading exponents of Serie A's modern trend: that of shunning catenaccio in favour of front-foot, attacking football. And, with all due respect to second-place Napoli, they are undoubtedly the favourites to occupy the top two places come the end of the season.

All this means Saturday's clash at San Siro should be one to savour...

 

'BORING, BORING SERIE A...'

Matchday 21 of Serie A saw 39 goals scored across only 10 matches. In Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22, only matchday 14 of the Bundesliga (41 goals) and matchday nine of the Premier League (40) produced more goals across a set of fixtures.

That was no aberration, either. Of the 10 highest-scoring matchdays in Europe's big five leagues this term, five have come from Italy. Indeed, Serie A has been averaging over three goals a game for the past three seasons, a rate last seen 70 years ago.

It follows that the two teams best embracing that trend are competing for the Scudetto. Not only have Inter (53) and Milan (47) scored the most Serie A goals in 2021-22, but they have embraced a style that lends itself to creating as many opportunities as possible.

Milan (eight) and Inter (seven) are the teams with the most goals after an open-play sequence of 10 or more passes. When it comes to open-play shots, the Nerazzurri are second (274) and the Rossoneri fourth (265) in the division.

Interestingly, while Inter are top for expected goals (excluding penalties) with 40.9, Milan are down in eighth on 31.3. That means Stefano Pioli's men are outperforming their non-penalty xG total by almost 11 goals (when own goals are included), a tally bettered only by Lazio (16.6). There's a ruthlessness about them this season that's keeping them on Inter's coattails.

 

RELEASE THE HAKAN

Speaking of ruthless... boy, would Zlatan love to be involved in this.

A Scudetto winner with each club, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has great history in this fixture, with eight goals in league derbies (six for Milan and two for Inter). In the history of the fixture, only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more.

The 40-year-old scored twice in Milan's 2-1 derby victory in October 2020, the only one of the past 11 in the league in which the Rossoneri have come out on top. Unfortunately for them, injury has denied Ibrahimovic the chance of dealing further damage to his old employers.

Instead, the sub-plot burden falls on Hakan Calhanoglu, who made an acrimonious free transfer to Inter from Milan at the end of last season. His 32 goals and 42 assists in 174 appearances for Milan – he was top of the charts for both in his time at the club – made his move particularly painful to bear for supporters.

It was Calhanoglu who scored Inter's goal in the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture this season, meaning Milan could become the third side, after Chievo and Fiorentina, against whom the Turkey star has scored in his first two Serie A meetings.

Among Serie A midfielders this season, only Antonio Candreva (59) has created more chances than Calhanoglu (50), while his 13 direct goal involvements are second only to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (15). Not that Milan needed any reminders about his threat.

 

DERBY DAZE

Inter have won more games (67) and scored more goals (247) against Milan than any other team in Serie A history. They are also enjoying a run of six wins and only one defeat in the past 11 derbies, in which time their rivals have kept just a single clean sheet.

Since that loss to Milan in October 2020, Simone Inzaghi's side have gone 28 home league matches without defeat. This is their longest such run in the competition since a 46-match streak between April 2008 and November 2010, which was ended by a defeat in the derby courtesy of a goal from, yep, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Form, as well as recent history, is on Inter's side. Since the beginning of last season, they have lost only four of 60 Serie A matches – fewer than half the number of any other team (Atalanta are next best, with nine). In a league table of that time frame, Inter would sit top on 144 points, 16 clear of Milan in second.

 

HALF-MEASURES

Each of these teams is averaging more than two goals per game this season, they have both scored in 21 different league matches and they have each won by two goals on six different occasions. Again, it's safe to expect some attacking football.

If you want specifics, we would suggest not going anywhere midway through the first half. The average times at which Inter and Milan have scored and conceded the first goal in a game this season are between the 27th and 38th minutes. Best wait until the break before grabbing that espresso.

Manchester United's search for a new full-time manager continues.

Ralf Rangnick has been in interim charge at Old Trafford since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's dismissal in November.

English powerhouse United have failed to win any silverware since 2017

 

TOP STORY - MAN UTD CONFIDENT ON LANDING POCHETTINO

Manchester United have renewed confidence that they will land Paris Saint-Germain head coach Pochettino as their new boss, claims The Mirror.

The Argentine is understood to be United's number one candidate for the permanent role.

Footmercato claims Pochettino is tired of the constant criticism he has received at PSG and will not stay beyond this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are on verge of tabling an offer to Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland to make him one of the highest paid players in the Premier League, according to Todofichajes.

- The Sun reports that Arsenal are planning for a £180 million off-season spend, with Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak, Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Wolves' Ruben Neves among their targets. However, this is dependent on Arsenal finishing top four.

- Chelsea will open pre-contract agreement talks with Barcelona's Ousmane Dembele after he failed to make a deadline day move, claims Sky Sports. 

- Chelsea are also eyeing a move for Real Madrid defender Eder Militao as they plan for the departures of Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger, according to AS.

- Juventus and Milan are leading the race to land Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo reports Sky Italia. Roma are looking to cash in Zaniolo in the off-season, with Tottenham also interested.

 

Ousmane Dembele's future at Barcelona has been uncertain for months.

The 24-year-old has stalled on a new deal with the Catalans.

Dembele has attracted interest from several top clubs, meaning his signature looms for deadline day.

TOP STORY – MAN UTD TO HIJACK PSG'S DEMBELE MOVE

Manchester United are set to make a deadline-day move for Barcelona's Dembele, according to Footmercato.

The Red Devils could hijack Paris Saint-Germain's plans, with the Ligue 1 club having already verbally agreed to a deal with the French winger.

United are ready to move, with Anthony Martial loaned out and Donny van de Beek and Jesse Lingard also set to exit.

 

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal outcast Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has agreed to a deal to join Barcelona, according to Sport, but Dembele must exit the Catalans to enable the move to be completed.

- Real Madrid have opted against a January move for Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, claims Diario Sport, due to their €80m asking price.

- Talksport claims that Tottenham's Giovani Lo Celso will join Spanish club Villarreal on loan for the rest of the season. Lyon were also interested in the Argentina international.

- Portuguese midfielder Renato Sanches has opted against a €25 million move from Lille to Milan, according to Calciomercato.

- Newcastle United's January spending is not over as the club eyes deadline-day deals for Aston Villa's Matt Targett and Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah, reports The Telegraph.

- Newcastle are set to land Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson on loan, claims Talksport.

- Struggling Spanish club Getafe are interested in free agent Diego Costa, according to Marca.

- Dele Alli could join Milan on loan from Tottenham, reports Gazzetta dello Sport.

Olivier Giroud is enjoying his "healthy competition" with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and says his Milan team-mate is pushing him to become a better player.

Ibrahimovic has made a big impact in his second spell with Milan since returning to the club in January 2020, scoring 36 goals in 66 appearances in all competitions.

That includes a return of 33 goals in 52 Serie A outings, which is the eighth-most of any player in the division over that period.

He has been restricted to just 12 starts in all competitions this campaign, but he has again proved his worth by finding the net eight times.

With his strike against Udinese in December, Ibrahimovic joined Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in scoring 300 career league goals across Europe's top five divisions.

Amid reports in Italy that Milan are prepared to offer him another contract until the end of next season, Giroud is grateful he has the chance to learn from the 40-year-old.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud told the Colinterview - Oh my Goal YouTube channel. 

"It's an opportunity to have him as my partner, to learn something more. 

"He's an example for many strikers and when I was young I loved him, both on the pitch and for his strong character, and for the fact that he's demanding every day. 

"It's a healthy competition between us."

 

Giroud has made a steady enough start to life at San Siro after joining from Chelsea last July with six goals and one assist in his first 20 appearances, 11 of those being starts.

Those six goals have come at a rate of 0.46 per 90 minutes, a tally bettered only by Ibrahimovic (0.67) among Milan players.

The former Chelsea striker has spent various spells on the sidelines through injury and illness but now feels ready to start contributing more as Milan target a Scudetto success.

"I had some unusual physical problems. I got COVID in September after what was a good start, and then I had back problems," he said. 

"I forced it too hard and got hurt after testing negative. I was in the squad for Liverpool, played and got hurt. The pain lasted six weeks and I didn't play for a while. 

"After that, I had ankle and ischium problems for a month. In the meantime, I did everything to keep fit, I took all preventive measures.

"But now I feel very good and have the possibility to play without pain. That is a luxury when you are a professional player and above all, when you're 35."

Every league seems to have those teams that just produce talent on an apparently non-stop basis, before those players inevitably get picked off by the bigger boys.

In Germany, you can't move for former Schalke or Stuttgart players. There's Lyon and Monaco in France, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia in Spain, Southampton and Aston Villa in England.

In Italy, that team is probably Fiorentina, who are in the same position once again after La Viola sold star striker Dusan Vlahovic to Juventus in a €70million deal.

Stats Perform takes a look at some of the biggest names in Italian football who made a name for themselves with the team from Tuscany, and what they went on to achieve in the game.

 

Roberto Baggio

Having begun his career at Vicenza, The Divine Ponytail's move to Fiorentina saw his star rise as he spent five impressive years in the purple shirt.

However, after he helped Fiorentina to the 1990 UEFA Cup final, only to be defeated over two ill-tempered legs by their great rivals Juventus, salt was very much rubbed into the fans' wounds as the Bianconeri paid a then world-record fee to take Baggio.

Reports claimed that fans hurled bricks, chains and Molotov cocktails at Fiorentina's headquarters, and for the two days after the transfer was announced, club president Flavio Pontello took shelter in the stadium, with 50 injuries and nine arrests recorded.

Baggio would only improve his reputation further at Juve, winning the UEFA Cup in 1993, before securing a league and cup double two years later, scoring 115 goals in 200 games across five seasons before moving to Milan, where he won another Scudetto in his first year.

After being dismissed by Fabio Capello at San Siro in 1997, Baggio had an impressive season at Bologna where he scored a personal best 22 league goals, before moving back to the city of Milan with Inter.

Things did not work out at the Nerazzurri but he still went on to enjoy four final seasons in Serie A with Brescia, where he reached double figures in each campaign before retiring in 2004.

Gabriel Batistuta

There is arguably no more iconic player in Fiorentina history. A striker who football fans of a certain vintage remember banging in goals on Sunday afternoons during the nineties.

Unlike most of the players on this list, Batistuta actually spent the majority of his career at Fiorentina, staying for nine years before his big-money move to Roma.

The man affectionately known as 'Batigol' remains the club's record goalscorer with 159 goals in 198 games, though it does help his record that people like Vlahovic are usually sold before they can get anywhere near that total.

Though he had won a Coppa Italia, Batistuta wanted a Scudetto and moved to Roma in 2000 in order to get it. It was the highest fee ever paid for a player over the age of 30, a record which stood until Leonardo Bonucci moved to Milan from Juventus in 2017.

It seemed like a justified move when Batistuta scored 20 goals, including netting against his former club, on the way to winning the title in his first season in the Italian capital, but was unable to reach those heights again, scoring just 11 over the following season and a half before a loan move to Inter.

Rui Costa

The Portuguese maestro had made a name for himself at Benfica before moving to Italy in 1994 and making 230 appearances in seven years with La Viola, winning two Coppa Italia titles.

However, like Batistuta, Rui Costa was moved on for big money to try and help the club's finances, ending up at Milan for a then club-record fee of around £35m.

Rui Costa spent five years at San Siro where he won six trophies, including the Champions League in 2003 and Scudetto a year later. He moved back to Benfica in 2006 after the emergence of Kaka saw his minutes reduced.

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi came through the youth ranks at Fiorentina, with big things expected of him as he burst onto the scene after an impressive loan at Crotone in Serie B in the 2013-14 season.

During three years in the first team, Bernardeschi scored 23 goals in 93 games and registered 11 assists, which unfortunately for Viola fans saw old enemies Juve come swooping in again.

He has claimed three Serie A titles and two Coppa Italia trophies in Turin, as well as being a part of the Italy squad that won the rescheduled Euro 2020 last year.

Bernardeschi, who has scored just 11 times in 170 games for Juve, largely remains a squad player under Massimiliano Allegri, in part because of this next man...

Federico Chiesa

Another Fiorentina youth product, Chiesa had all eyes on him as soon as he broke through due to being the son of former Viola and Italy striker Enrico Chiesa.

Chiesa Jr made his first-team debut, somewhat ironically, against Juve at the age of 18, and over the next couple of years began to establish himself as the potential future of the club.

More suited to playing out wide than his father, who was a traditional central striker, Chiesa's managed 34 goals and 19 assists in 153 games at Fiorentina but it his tenacity, pace and skill that sets him apart.

That was enough to tempt – yes, you guessed it – Juve to come along and take him on a two-year loan, with an obligation to make it permanent at the end of the current campaign.

Chiesa had an impressive first season at Juve, including scoring the winning goal in the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta, before starring for Italy in their successful Euro 2020 campaign, scoring twice in seven appearances and making the team of the tournament.

He started 2021-22 in sharp form, only for a serious knee injury to end his season early.

 

There also must be honourable mentions for the likes of Luca Toni, whose emergence at Fiorentina earned him a lucrative move to Bayern Munich, and Francesco Toldo - he was sold to Inter at the same time that Costa was packed off to Milan to ease club debts.

Juan Cuadrado (now at Juventus) and Marcos Alonso were both sold to Chelsea for decent money two years apart, while Felipe Melo (Juventus), Stevan Jovetic (Manchester City) and Matias Vecino (Inter) continued Fiorentina's philosophy of buying low and selling high.

The path well-trodden out of the Stadio Artemio Franchi has often led to bigger and better things, and that bodes well for Vlahovic now that it appears he will be the next in line.

He seems to have all the tools to be the star striker this current, rather dour, edition of the Bianconeri require. Indeed, Vlahovic's 33 goals in Serie A last season matched the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in 2020.

It might be tough to take (again) for Viola fans, but if history is anything to go by, their next hero won't be far away.

Of course, he'll probably also sign for Juve eventually, but that will just be a case of crossing the Ponte Vecchio when they come to it.

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