Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon believes retiring now would rob himself of the "beautiful emotions" that remain ahead in his record-breaking career.

Buffon drew level with Paolo Maldini at the top of Serie A's list of all-time appearances when he deputised for the injured Wojciech Szczesny in a 2-1 win at Sampdoria on Wednesday.

The match was his 647th in Italy's top flight and his 479th at that level for Juve, one more than previous club record holder Alessandro Del Piero.

Now 41, Buffon has not been mistake-free since returning from a single-season spell with Paris Saint-Germain.

But the ex-Italy goalkeeper believes he has plenty left to experience and offer in his third decade as a professional.

"The reason why I keep playing is that, together with my team-mates and the club, I can still give myself many beautiful emotions, which are worth living," Buffon told Sky Sport Italia.

"The thing that interests me most, more than the games I play, is the role I think I can play here at Juve.

"As for the future, I let life show me the way.

"Right now, I would be doing myself wrong if I thought about stopping because I feel like a point of reference regardless of the matches I'm playing."

Juve clawed their way back to the top of the table with the midweek victory at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, secured courtesy of excellent first-half goals from Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"The most important thing was to win and try to finish year at the top, at least in the league," Buffon said.

Maurizio Sarri's men meet Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, their final match before the mid-season break.

Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri was stunned by Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo's goals against Sampdoria, saying "wow does not describe" either strike.

Dybala scored a tremendous volley and Ronaldo an incredible header in a 2-1 victory that sent Juve back to the top of Serie A on Wednesday.

Sarri lauded both goals as he hailed his forwards, Ronaldo's 45th-minute header proving the match-winner after Gianluca Caprari – later sent off – had cancelled out Dybala's effort.

"When Ronaldo scored I thought the same as the Dybala one – 'f***, wow," he told a news conference.

"'But wow does not describe it all. They both scored two outstanding goals.

"[Dybala] chose a left-footed volley in a situation where 99 players out of 100 would stop the ball and then shoot.

"The [Ronaldo] one, I think the amount of time he spent in the air before the header was incredibly long – a wonderful, physical and technical action."

One forward not on the scoresheet was Gonzalo Higuain, who was replaced by Aaron Ramsey in the 69th minute.

But asked about Higuain being upset following the substitution, Sarri was unfazed.

"I don't care. Players always complain if substituted. Better to stay away, but I don't care," he said.

"Higuain is playing a lot lately and he seemed very tired in the second half and I changed him.

"Angry? There will be a time when someone will start from the bench because of physical issues and the strikers will be different than today. Everything is normal."

Cristiano Ronaldo added to his highlight reel with a leap out of the NBA playbook and a stunning header that helped Juventus sink Sampdoria.

Maurizio Sarri's side were 2-1 winners at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa on Wednesday, with Ronaldo grabbing what proved to be the winner just before half-time.

He produced a phenomenally athletic jump - described as like the leap of an NBA player by Sampdoria boss Claudio Ranieri - to meet a left-wing cross from Alex Sandro and power a back-post header past Emil Audero.

It was a second stunning goal from the visitors in the first half, after Paulo Dybala volleyed in another Alex Sandro cross.

Gianluca Caprari briefly brought Sampdoria level, but his night ended in a late red card for two bookable offences while Juventus closed out victory.

Ronaldo told Sky Sport Italia: "I'm very happy with the result. It's been a very difficult match against a Sampdoria team who played well. We managed to do even better and deservedly got this victory.

"The team played with a great attitude. The goal was great, especially because it was decisive for winning the three points. I didn't know I was up [in the air] so long."

Ronaldo and Juventus now turn their focus to taking on Lazio in the Supercoppa Italiana on Sunday in Saudi Arabia.

"A final always starts at 50-50," Ronaldo said. "Lazio have an excellent team, but I'm convinced that Juve can win the match."

Ranieri's Sampdoria side lack firepower and sit 16th in a table that is topped by Juventus.

Despite their troubles in front of goal, Samp were competitive for long stretches, but rarely looked capable of finding a second equaliser.

Speaking to Sky Sport Italia, Ranieri said: "I'm very satisfied with the performance of the boys.

"When they [Juventus] scored goals like this, we just have to admire them as two masterpieces.

"Ronaldo scored in NBA style - he was up there for an hour and a half."

Ranieri acknowledged the lack of a clinical touch in attack, saying the team's next challenge was "finding the goal, because currently that's our worry".

"I hope we get to score more often," he added. "Little by little there is more serenity."

It was a night where Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon matched Paolo Maldini's record of 647 Serie A appearances, and Ranieri, a former Juve boss, praised the achievement.

"We spent two years working together," Ranieri said. "I congratulated him on the Serie A record and wished him happy holidays."

Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala put Juventus back on top of Serie A as records fell in a 2-1 victory at Sampdoria.

Brazilian defender Alex Sandro had a hand in both goals for Juventus, a thumping header from Ronaldo after a spectacular leap and a brilliant volley by Dybala, with the Turin giants pulling three points clear of Inter.

Inter, who face Genoa on Saturday, can reclaim first place going into the mid-season break, but this was a night to savour for Juventus.

Gianluigi Buffon could not keep a clean sheet, but the veteran goalkeeper matched Paolo Maldini's all-time record of 647 Serie A appearances, and a 479th outing in the division for Juve meant he broke Alessandro Del Piero's top-flight mark for the Bianconeri.

In Juve's final league game before a near three-week interval, Maurizio Sarri secured his 100th Serie A victory as a coach in what was just his 169th match. No coach has reached that mark in as few games in Italy's top flight so far this century.

Sarri selected a front three again, evidently not as reluctant as he had intimated to field Ronaldo, Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain together.

The breakthrough arrived in the 19th minute, with Alex Sandro's out-swinging delivery from the left reaching Dybala on the right side of the penalty area.

Without hesitation, he took the ball on the volley with his left foot and sent a 15-yard shot skidding across goal and into the far corner.

Sampdoria's leveller came after 35 minutes when Gianluca Caprari drilled home from close to the penalty spot after Alex Sandro gave away the ball to Gaston Ramirez on the hosts' right.

Ronaldo restored Juventus’ lead in the 45th minute, rising majestically at the far post to power home another Alex Sandro cross, the Brazilian involved in a third goal of the half.

Portugal superstar Ronaldo was denied what looked a certain third Juve goal early in the second half when Blaise Matuidi inexplicably stepped in front of the talisman to meet a Dybala cross, delivering a clumsy finish that was more of a clearance. Ronaldo looked exasperated.

If anyone was a spare part in the Juventus side, it was Higuain, so it made sense for Sarri to replace him with Aaron Ramsey midway through the second half, fortifying the midfield.

Ronaldo was thwarted late on by an offside flag and then shot a whisker wide, while Sampdoria had Caprari sent off at the death for a second infringement.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon matched Paolo Maldini’s Serie A appearance record after he was selected to play a 647th top-flight game in Wednesday's match against Sampdoria.

The veteran former Italy number one kept his place, with the injured Wojciech Szczesny ruled out of the line-up at Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

Buffon, who began his career at Parma, also took an outright club record as he passed Alessandro Del Piero's mark of 478 Serie A appearances, playing his 479th game in the division for the Bianconeri.

The 41-year-old was an Italy team-mate of former Milan defender Maldini, who retired in 2009 at the age of 40, and played for many years for club and country with Del Piero.

Buffon's Serie A debut came for Parma in 1995 when he shut out Milan in a 0-0 draw against the team that would go on to win the title.

He went on to join Juve in 2001 in a £32.6million deal, making him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It proved to be money well invested as he spent 17 years in a first spell with the Turin giants, staying at the club following relegation amid Italian football's Calciopoli scandal and helping Juventus reel off seven successive Scudetti before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2018.

After a year in France, Buffon returned to Juventus in July, since when he has competed with Szczesny for the starting role in Maurizio Sarri’s team.

There was another milestone within reach in Genoa as Sarri attempted to achieve his 100th victory as a head coach in Serie A, in what was his 169th match.

Among coaches who made their debut in Serie A from 1994-95 onwards, no manager has accumulated 100 wins before their 185th game, which was the point at which Carlo Ancelotti brought up his century of victories.

Paul Pogba remains on the sideline but not the outer at Manchester United.

The rumoured Real Madrid target reportedly hopes to leave Old Trafford in January after missing out on a move before the season started.

But it seems the Red Devils will resist all interest in their record signing when the transfer window opens.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BLOCK POGBA'S EXIT PATH

Five months after Mino Raiola confirmed his client's desire to depart, United remain resolute in their determination to keep star midfielder Pogba.

The 26-year-old failed to engineer a close-season exit and the Red Devils will again stand in the former Juventus star's way if he asks for a move in January, reports the Daily Mail.

Pogba has not played since September due to an ankle injury and will miss Wednesday's EFL Cup quarter-final against Colchester United because of illness.

LaLiga leaders Barcelona and Serie A champions Juve, where he spent four seasons, have been linked with Pogba since his return to United, while Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is known to admire the World Cup winner.

ROUND-UP

- Mikel Arteta is on the verge of taking charge at Arsenal and plans to appoint fellow Manchester City assistant Rodolfo Borrell as his number two in north London, reports the Mirror.

- Though the Gunners are in talks with Arteta, The Athletic claims Arsenal's former captain, Nice boss Patrick Vieira, remains an outside chance to win the job.

- Has Jerome Boateng played his final game for Bayern Munich? Suddeutsche Zeitung suggests the centre-back's agent Fali Ramadani recently met with Hasan Salihamidzic to discuss a January transfer, though the prospect of a mid-season move is complicated by Bayern's injuries at the back. 

- In brighter news for the Bundesliga giants, Bild says Leroy Sane has decided he wants to join Bayern in January. The Manchester City star was heavily linked with a switch from the Premier League to his native Germany prior to suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

- Diego Simeone wants to strengthen Atletico Madrid's defence with the signing of AC Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli, according to CalcioMercato.

- Chelsea could be left frustrated in their pursuit of Wilfried Zaha. The Daily Mail claims Crystal Palace will not budge on their £80million valuation of the 27-year-old winger.

Mauro Icardi will not be joining Juventus next year, his agent and wife Wanda Nara said.

Icardi, 26, is enjoying a fine spell at Paris Saint-Germain, where he is on loan from Inter, scoring 13 goals in 16 games in all competitions.

But amid talk he could join Juve in the future, Nara denied Icardi would head to the Serie A champions next year.

"No, no. The present of Mauro is in Paris, he is very well there and is realising some crazy goals as he always did," she told Rete 4.

"The only thing that interests me is his happiness and he is very happy at PSG."

Icardi starred across six seasons for Inter, where he is contracted until June 2022.

Nara paid tribute to the Serie A giants, saying he decided to join PSG as to not betray Inter.

"I have wonderful memories of San Siro and the Interisti. And as I always say, the real heartfelt Interisti know that we have always been on the team's side," she said.

"And this choice to go to Paris was also made so as not to betray the Nerazzurri.

"We left each other without betrayal, Mauro went to a club that he couldn't say no to and even for Inter it went well."

Cristiano Ronaldo is happy at Juventus and could finish his career with the Serie A giants, according to agent Jorge Mendes.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner arrived at Juve from Real Madrid in July last year and is contracted until 2022.

Despite some speculation over his future, the 34-year-old may retire at Juve, according to Mendes.

"At Juve, he is happy, there is a great coach [Maurizio Sarri]," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"Yes, he could end his career at Juventus. He has signed a contract."

Ronaldo has scored 39 goals in 62 games since arriving at Juve, including 11 in 19 this season.

Juventus visit Sampdoria in Serie A on Wednesday.

Gianluigi Buffon is set to equal Paolo Maldini's all-time Serie A appearance record when Juventus face Sampdoria on Wednesday with Wojciech Szczesny unlikely to feature.

Szczesny missed Juve's 3-1 win over Udinese because of a right shoulder problem and head coach Maurizio Sarri confirmed in his pre-match media conference that the Poland international is still not fit to play.

Juve legend Buffon, who returned in the close-season after a sole campaign with Paris Saint-Germain, has made 646 Serie A appearances. Milan great Maldini finished his career with 647.

"Szczesny will probably not play as he is still not ready," Sarri said. "We are evaluating him day by day."

Juve are second in the table, level on points with leaders Inter, going into the clash at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

Sampdoria are down in 16th but Claudio Ranieri's men are coming off a dramatic late 1-0 win over city rivals Genoa on Saturday.

"It will be a difficult game. They are recovering and have the enthusiasm of the derby victory," Sarri added. 

"Ranieri's teams are always difficult to deal with. A high level performance will be needed."

Juve have been drawn against Lyon in the last 16 of the Champions League. Sarri's men dropped just two points en route to topping Group D while Lyon qualified on the final matchday thanks to a 2-2 draw at RB Leipzig.

However, Sarri was reticent to make any judgments about the tie with Rudi Garcia's side.​

He added: "At this moment, it makes no sense to analyse it because there is still a lot time left until the matches and situations will change."

 

Cristiano Ronaldo would have won the Ballon d'Or if he played for Real Madrid, according to the Juventus superstar's agent Jorge Mendes.

Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner – has not claimed the individual award since leaving Madrid for Juve in 2018, with Luka Modric and Lionel Messi honoured in back-to-back seasons.

Messi received a record sixth Ballon d'Or this month as Portugal international Ronaldo finished third behind the Barcelona captain and Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

"Cristiano deserved to win the Ballon d'Or at least once in the last two years," Mendes said. "If he had played at Real Madrid, he would have won it, but next year I think he can win it again.

"For me it is an injustice [that Cristiano hasn't won the Ballon d'Or]. He won the Nations League and he is a champion.

"But he knows what he should do and then we will see what happens in 2020."

Ronaldo has enjoyed an illustrious career, winning five Champions League trophies, Euro 2016, the Premier League, Serie A, LaLiga and the Nations League among others.

On the 34-year-old forward, Mendes added: "Cristiano for me is the best player in the history of world football.

"Portugal before Cristiano had won nothing. With Cristiano they have won the European Championship and Nations League, [while] in 2004 they were a finalist in the European Championship too.

"He transformed world football. We are talking about Portugal, a small country that has changed a lot thanks to Cristiano."

Ronaldo has scored 11 goals across all competitions for Italian champions Juventus this season, nine of those coming in Serie A.

Juventus vice president Pavel Nedved is backing Cristiano Ronaldo to spearhead their Champions League challenge now the forward has regained full fitness.

Ronaldo scored twice in Sunday's 3-1 win over Udinese as the Serie A champions ended the weekend level on points with Inter at the top of the table.

The 34-year-old had failed to net in four Juve games in November amid injury problems and a rumoured unhappiness with coach Maurizio Sarri, who substituted him against Lokomotiv Moscow and Milan.

Nedved now thinks the former Real Madrid star is back to full form and fitness, as evidenced by his performance against Udinese, in which he combined with Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain to impressive effect.

And Nedved hopes Ronaldo can make the difference when Juve face Lyon in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2020.

"He is a champion and when he's needed, he's always there," Nedved said of Ronaldo after Monday's draw. "He had some physical problems and is now back in good form.

"It's nice to see Cristiano, Dybala and Higuain all playing together, and they can all be on the pitch at once if all three run and sacrifice themselves like they did yesterday against Udinese.

"The coach naturally evaluates the state of form of each one when he makes his choices and, at the moment, they are all in form and you can see it."

Nedved believes the draw was a positive one for Juve, although he acknowledges Sarri's side must not allow their form to drop in the run-up to the Lyon tie, with the first leg taking place in France on February 26.

"We can't complain, considering that last year we drew Atletico [Madrid], but if you're not in form when the Champions League comes back around between February and March, there is little that you can do," he said.

"The precedents are favourable to us, but they do not count for anything - only the form in the moment counts.

"The Champions League must not be an obsession but a concrete goal. We, like other teams, want to win the final, but in the Champions League, one mistake can send you out."

Pep Guardiola will renew rivalries with Real Madrid after Manchester City were drawn to face Los Blancos in a blockbuster Champions League last-16 tie.

With City 14 points adrift of leaders Liverpool in the Premier League, success in Europe is likely to be Guardiola's main priority this season.

But their hopes of glory in the continent's premier club competition were not helped by a daunting clash with LaLiga giants Madrid, who have triumphed in four of the past six editions.

Guardiola is no stranger to Madrid having spent four years in charge of their fierce Clasico rivals Barcelona, while he was Bayern Munich coach when they were defeated 5-0 over two legs in the 2013-14 Champions League semi-finals.

Madrid have previous against City in the competition, too, coming out on top in a last-four clash in the 2015-16 campaign.

Holders Liverpool face Atletico Madrid – runners-up in 2013-14 and 2015-16 – in a return to the Wanda Metropolitano, the scene of the Reds' 2-0 win over Tottenham in last season's final as they became European champions for a sixth time.

Jurgen Klopp's side finished top of Group E by a solitary point from Napoli, who have the unenvious task of facing LaLiga champions Barcelona – aiming to get their hands on European football's most coveted prize for the first time since 2014-15.

In a draw brimming with sub-plots, Thomas Tuchel will return to Borussia Dortmund with his Paris Saint-Germain side, while Chelsea and Bayern Munich – the only team to win all six of their group-stage games – face off in what is a rematch of the 2011-2012 final.

Tottenham, aiming to beat their runners-up finish last term, go head-to-head with an RB Leipzig side playing in the knockout stages for the first time.

Juventus will start as favourites in their tie against Lyon, while fellow Serie A side Atalanta – who made the last 16 in their first endeavour into the Champions League – go up against Valencia for a place in the quarter-finals.

The first-leg matches will take place on February 18, 19, 25 and 26, with the return fixtures played on March 10, 11, 17 and 18.

Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and now Donny van de Beek?

Ajax lost stars De Jong and De Ligt in the off-season and Van de Beek is now reportedly nearing an Amsterdam exit.

It may be the case that the midfielder can choose between the two Spanish powerhouse clubs.

 

TOP STORY –  BARCA & MADRID WANT VAN DE BEEK

LaLiga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are battling to sign Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek, according to reports.

Van de Beek was heavily linked to Madrid as an alternative to Manchester United star Paul Pogba during the previous transfer window.

Now, Sport claims Van de Beek could be available for between €50-60million.

 

ROUND-UP

Bayer Leverkusen are poised to sign River Plate's Exequiel Palacios, says Kicker. Palacios – previously tipped to join Madrid – is set to move to Bundesliga outfit Leverkusen in January in a €22m deal.

- Mundo Deportivo and Calciomercarto claim Barca and Milan have met to discuss the future of defender Jean-Clair Todibo. LaLiga champions Barca are reportedly happy to part with the 19-year-old.

- According to 90min, Liverpool are set to beat Manchester City and Chelsea to Coventry City left-back Sam McCallum.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has walked away from negotiations with Milan, reports Calciomercato. A free agent after leaving LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic has been linked with a return to Milan, as well as Napoli. But the 38-year-old is reportedly not moving back to San Siro after failing to reach an agreement.

- Valencia teenager Ferran Torres is high on the agenda of Madrid, according to AS. The 19-year-old is attracting interest from across Europe, including Liverpool and Juventus.

- Keen to provide competition for Tammy Abraham, 90min says Chelsea are considering a January bid for Bordeaux forward Josh Maja.

Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri reaped the benefits of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain playing together - then warned it may not happen often.

The front three, who also impressed against Bayer Leverkusen in midweek when Dybala came off the bench, were finally fielded as a starting combination for the first time in Serie A.

The selection paid off, Ronaldo scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Udinese with one of his goals being set up by Higuain. Temporarily at least, the result moved Juve back to the top of the league standings.

However, Sarri suggested it was only due to Udinese's conservative style of play that he decided to start the three forwards together, with the frontline just one possible option for the former Napoli and Chelsea coach.

"It's the first time that we've managed to really attack the game after a Champions League fixture. We played at a high level for a good 60 minutes," Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.

"At this moment, those three are in good shape and we were facing an Udinese side that doesn't really keep possession, they like to try long balls.

"I therefore thought this was a situation where we could afford to have them. As soon as Udinese started passing it around more, we struggled, so it is a valuable option for us, but one we cannot use all the time.

"Our forwards also worked hard to help the defence and press the opposition for the first 60 minutes. In attack, they did what I asked, which was quick exchanges and passing.

"If we are in a game where the opposition will have 50-50 possession, then it becomes more complicated. They were very organised and focused today.

"Against Leverkusen, I saw they were getting tired and struggling to keep up the intensity, so I introduced the trident for that reason. Udinese play in a different way, they are not so focused on passing."

Ronaldo, meanwhile, believes Juventus have found a good way of incorporating all three forwards into the line-up.

"The most important thing was to win, although we could've had more goals," Ronaldo told Sky Sport Italia.

"I think this is a good way of playing and it's important we must play with confidence. It's not about individual performances, but how we work as a collective."

Cristiano Ronaldo passed the 10-goal mark for a 15th successive season on Sunday, making him the only player across Europe's top five leagues to accomplish the feat in the same period.

The Juventus star got a brace as the Old Lady comfortable brushed Udinese aside 3-1 in Turin, returning them to the Serie A summit for at least a few hours.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the ninth minute, blasting home from just inside the area after the ball dropped kindly for him.

He then doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark, steering in following Gonzalo Higuain's incisive pass.

The goals took his tally to 11 for the campaign across all competitions.

Portugal star Ronaldo began his double-figure scoring streak in 2005-06 when he netted 12 across all fronts for Manchester United, following that up with hauls of 23, 42 and 26 before heading to Real Madrid in 2009.

With Los Blancos, the fewest goals he managed in a single season was 33 in his first year at the club.

In every other campaign at Madrid he scored 42 or more, with his best being a remarkable record of 61 in 2014-15.

Last term he got 28 in 43 matches for Juventus in his first campaign with the Italian side.

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