Maurizio Sarri has defended his decision to leave Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic out of Juventus' Champions League squad.

The pair were surprise omissions from the Italian champions' selection for the group stage of the competition, which begins next week with a trip to Atletico Madrid.

Can admitted to being "furious" and "shocked" at Sarri's selection call and said he was not given an explanation as to why he was overlooked.

Sarri has previously expressed concern about the size of his bloated squad and insisted at Friday's news conference that he made the "necessary" decision in leaving out Can and Mandzukic.

"It wasn't easy or pleasing to make the choices I had to for the Champions League list, but it was necessary," he said.

"I'm sorry because two important players were left out. However, these difficulties demonstrate the strength of our squad."

Asked if he expected the reaction from Can, Sarri said: "It's normal that when a player suffers from a strong and impactful choice that there's an emotional aspect involved. 

"We must give him the opportunity to let out how he is feeling. I'm of the right age to understand these kinds of reactions."

Can played the final five minutes of Germany's 2-0 win against Northern Ireland on Monday, having been an unused sub for the loss to Netherlands, and he may get the nod to start Juve's trip to Fiorentina on Saturday.

Juventus are back in action four days later when travelling to Atletico in the Champions League and Sarri is ready to make full use of his big squad.

"At this moment our attention must be on the league," he said. "Then we will think about the cup. 

"We are in a moment in which the team must take its own identity. We must fight the difficulty that is having many players who have played very little in the last period."

Among those pushing for inclusion is midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has not featured in a competitive game since arriving from Arsenal during the close season because of a muscle injury.

"A few weeks ago he was far behind his team-mates from the physical point of view," Sarri said. 

"In the last 10 days I have seen progress in training. He is not yet at his best but if his evolution continues he can soon return to a high level."

Massimiliano Allegri lauded the mentality of Cristiano Ronaldo, while the former Juventus head coach believes Inter can win the Scudetto.

Ronaldo should be in the twilight of his career, but the 34-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down after joining Juve from LaLiga giants Real Madrid in 2018-19.

Allegri was in charge when Juve prised Ronaldo to Turin in a stunning €112million deal last season – the five-time Ballon d'Or winner scoring 21 Serie A goals and 28 in all competitions as the Italian champions claimed their eighth consecutive Scudetto.

Asked about Ronaldo – who netted four goals in Portugal's 5-1 rout of Lithuania to become the highest scoring player in European Championship qualifying history – Allegri hailed the veteran superstar.

"His strength is on a mental level," said Allegri. "He is 34 years old, he has won Championships, European titles and Golden Balls but he continues to give himself important stimuli that make the difference.

"The technique is fundamental to stay at high levels for many years, but the difference is made by the head and the professionalism. If I prefer to coach Ronaldo or a young talent? Ronaldo, without a doubt."

Allegri worked with Ronaldo last season before the Italian coach and Juve parted ways following his fifth successive league title.

Juve reportedly turned to Maurizio Sarri in pursuit of European glory after their Champions League quarter-final exit – the Old Lady managing two runners-up medals under Allegri in 2015 and 2017.

Reflecting on his exit, Allegri said: "I have absolutely not regretted the choice made with Juventus, things must not be forced. After five years it was time to take a break, perhaps the president had understood it before me."

There is a touch of Juve at Inter this season, with former Bianconeri coach Antonio Conte joining chief executive Giuseppe Marotta in Milan.

Allegri won four straight Serie A title under Marotta's leadership before the 62-year-old moved to Inter in 2018 and the Nerazzurri are now one of the favourites to dethrone Juve.

"At Juve I won both with him [Marotta] and without him," Allegri added. "At Inter he built a strong team and with Conte he made a choice of weight on the bench. They can win the scudetto."

Gonzalo Higuain says he is determined to prove his worth to Juventus after being handed another chance at the club.

Higuain, 31, struggled to make an impact during loan spells at AC Milan and Chelsea during the 2018-19 campaign.

Chelsea opted against triggering a purchase option in Higuain's loan and he therefore returned to Serie A and reunited with new Juve head coach Maurizio Sarri.

He was not expected to be given opportunities to start, with Juve boasting forward options including Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic.

However, Higuain has started both Serie A games this term, while he scored a brilliant goal as Juve beat his old club Napoli - where he thrived under Sarri - before the international break.

"I am here to prove my worth," Higuain said on Thursday ahead of this weekend's trip to Fiorentina.

"I wanted to stay from the first day I returned. I am happy to be at Juve, at a big club with a great team and a big fanbase, in a city that I know.

"I don't think about the past, I only have the present and the future in mind. It will be an important season, last year was difficult for me but I still went into double figures and won a Europa League title.

"Now I only think of our season: I have good memories against Fiorentina, I made my Juve debut against them.

"It's never easy at the Franchi, but we must be strong as we know we are and take home the victory. I'm back on the same team as Cris [Ronaldo] after a few years and he's even stronger, more complete and ambitious, I'm happy to play with him again."

Higuain has switched shirt number this term and he believes the move to 21 is helping him turn his fortunes around.

"This is a decision that I made," the attacker added.

"I decided to swap from number nine, although it was available, with the day in which my daughter was born, to take her with me in every game - a choice of the heart, which is bringing me luck."

Lionel Messi insists he has no issue with Cristiano Ronaldo and would accept a dinner invitation from his long-time awards rival.

The pair crossed paths at a recent ceremony to crown the UEFA Men's Player of the Year for 2018-19, which Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk won.

Barcelona captain Messi and Juventus star Ronaldo finished second and third respectively, but the event gave the former Real Madrid forward the chance to publicly reflect on their "battle in Spain" and the time they have spent at the pinnacle of the game.

Ronaldo floated the prospect of a private dinner in future, an idea welcomed by his fellow five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"Yes, I don't have any problem with that," Messi told SPORT.

"I've always said that I don't have any issue with him. We might not be friends because we've never shared a dressing room together, but I always see him at award shows and there's no problem.

"We actually spoke with each other for quite a long time at the most recent show.

"I don't know if there will be a dinner because I don't know if our paths will cross for obvious reasons, each one of us has our own life and our own commitments. But obviously I would accept the invitation."

Messi has missed the early weeks of the new season because of a calf injury suffered before Barca's pre-season tour to the United States.

The 32-year-old ruled himself out of Saturday's clash with Valencia and remains unsure whether he will be available for next week's Champions League date with Borussia Dortmund.

"I feel better," he said. "It [the injury] was really bad because it happened on my first day back [after the Copa America] and it originally looked to be something minor but, in reality, I have been out of action for the past 15 days.

"Now I know what it is and I feel more at ease. I will return when I feel I have fully recovered.

"I've spent a long time on the sidelines. As soon as I started this happened to me and I can’t wait to return."

Barca have struggled in their skipper's absence, winning one of their opening three LaLiga games.

When it came to Paul Pogba during the transfer window, Real Madrid and Juventus were the teams on everyone's lips.

Manchester United star Pogba was reportedly keen to leave Old Trafford in search of a new challenge.

However, another team were apparently poised to lure Pogba from the Theatre of Dreams…

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR STOPPED PSG FROM SIGNING POGBA

Neymar prevented Manchester United midfielder Pogba from moving to Paris Saint-Germain, according to Calciomercato.it.

PSG and United reportedly had an agreement in place for the transfer of Pogba, however, the Ligue 1 champions and their inability to offload Barcelona target Neymar stopped the deal.

The report says PSG were ready to pay €150million (£134m) for Pogba, who joined United from Juventus in 2016 for a then-record fee of €105m (£89m).

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid have an agreement with Chelsea for midfielder N'Golo Kante. DefensaCentral claims Los Blancos have the first chance to buy the France star should he be made available at Stamford Bridge.

- In-demand Dinamo Zagreb star Dani Olmo wants to leave the Croatian club in January or at the end of the season, according to Fichajes.net. The 21-year-old was linked with Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Valencia during the transfer window.

Juventus have not given up on signing Fiorentina and Italy forward Federico Chiesa, according to Calciomercato.it. The Serie A champions were keen to bring in Chiesa during the off-season but were unable to lure him from Florence.

- Sport says Paris Saint-Germain are beginning their remodelling job, with Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani facing uncertain futures. Silva and Cavani – who has been linked to incoming MLS outfit Inter Miami – are out of contract at the end of the season and are no guarantees to renew their contracts. Eric Maxim Choupo-MotingThomas Meunier and Layvin Kurzawa are available at the right price in January.

- Juventus forward Mario Mandzukic has turned down a move to Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Mandzukic was linked to Manchester United prior to the transfer window closing.

David Beckham and Inter Miami have set their sights on Lionel Messi.

Messi, 32, has regularly been linked with one day switching to MLS and it appears Inter are making their move.

Beckham seems to be trying his best to land the Barcelona superstar.

 

TOP STORY – BECKHAM IN TALKS WITH MESSI OVER INTER MIAMI MOVE

Beckham has spoken to Messi about joining Inter Miami, according to Catalunya Radio.

It comes in the wake of reports the forward can leave Barcelona at the end of any season, regardless of when his contract runs until.

The economic bid for Messi would be "brutal", the report said, as Inter look to sign the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

ROUND-UP

- Inter Miami may not stop there. The MLS club, due to begin playing in 2020, are also eyeing Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane, according to AS. Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti has previously said he is open to coaching Inter Miami.

- After the latest transfer saga ended with Neymar staying at Paris Saint-Germain, it is set to come back to life in January. PSG sporting director Leonardo wants the Brazil international to leave the Ligue 1 champions, according to Tuttosport, and a move could happen in January, with Barcelona and Real Madrid sure to again be linked.

- Barcelona are already looking ahead and are set to track Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz throughout this season, Mundo Deportivo reports. Fabian joined the Serie A side from Real Betis for a reported €30million in July last year.

- Expecting their transfer ban to be cut, Chelsea have identified Nice defender Youcef Atal as a target, according to The Sun. The Algeria international is also wanted by Valencia, Calciomercato.com reports.

- AC Milan have identified Stade Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga as a player to follow, according to Calciomercato.com. The 16-year-old made seven Ligue 1 appearances last season.

- Gonzalo Higuain is continuing to turn around his career at Juventus. Calciomercato.com says the forward – linked with a move away throughout the close season – will start alongside Cristiano Ronaldo when the Serie A champions face Fiorentina on Saturday.

"This is the clear and irrevocable proof that he is the best player in the world." That was the message from Portugal head coach Fernando Santos after Cristiano Ronaldo's four-goal display.

Ronaldo became the all-time leading scorer in European Championship qualifiers with 25 goals after leading Portugal past Lithuania 5-1 on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old superstar was unstoppable in the Euro 2020 Group B qualifying clash in Vilnius, where he celebrated his eighth Portugal hat-trick while improving his international tally to 93 goals.

A five-time Ballon d'Or winner among numerous other honours in a remarkable career, Ronaldo's standing in the game is often debated alongside Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

But Portugal boss Santos has no doubt as to who the best player in the world is following another memorable Ronaldo display.

"This is the clear and irrevocable proof that he is the best player in the world," Santos said following the Euro 2020 qualifying rout away from home.

"There is no stadium in the world where Ronaldo is not applauded," Santos added. "He is the best in the world.

"We went to Paris in my first game, and the hotel in France was just across the street. There were a thousand people at our door."

Santos continued: "I think it's strange when he doesn't score. They say it is ending ... Nothing is ending. You have to be careful because it never ends."

Cristiano Ronaldo said he does not live thinking about individual prizes after being asked about the Ballon d'Or following his stunning four-goal haul for Portugal in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Ronaldo made history as his four goals led European champions Portugal to a 5-1 rout of Lithuania in Tuesday's Group B clash in Vilnius.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner became the all-time leading scorer in European Championship qualifiers after improving his tally to 25 goals, surpassing Robbie Keane.

Juventus superstar Ronaldo also took his international record to 93 goals after scoring his eighth hat-trick for Fernando Santos' Portugal.

Ronaldo – who is on the final shortlist for FIFA's The Best award – was asked about his chances of winning a sixth Ballon d'Or and the 34-year-old said: "As I always say, I don't live thinking about individual prizes.

"This is a consequence of what we collectively won. But it's good, I won't lie. The important thing was to help the team.

"I scored a goal against Serbia and four here and I'm very happy We have to dismiss this moment and what I want most is to continue like this."

Ronaldo scored 21 Serie A goals last season – and 28 in all competitions – as Juventus won an eighth consecutive Scudetto.

This season, Ronaldo has already scored once for Juventus, who are level on points with Inter and Torino atop the Serie A table.

The European Club Association (ECA) has confirmed Andrea Agnelli has been re-elected as chairman for the next four years.

Agnelli, also chairman of Juventus, was first installed in 2017 and his continuation in the role until 2023 was confirmed on Tuesday.

The ECA also announced its executive board has been expanded from 15 to 24 full members.

"I am honoured to have been re-elected to lead this organisation over the next four years and would like to place on record my strong appreciation to my fellow board members for the trust they have placed in me," Agnelli said in a statement. 

"The coming years will be key as we look to reach decisions to ensure the long-term viability and well-being of the game in Europe.

"I believe the ECA is in a strong position to meet this challenge with the mix of club leaders that will sit beside me on the executive board and look forward to the months ahead as we continue our work in shaping club football."

Fernando Llorente expects new club Napoli to have a successful season but insists the title pressure remains firmly on former employers Juventus.

Spanish striker Llorente signed on at Stadio San Paolo two months after the end of his contract at Tottenham.

The 34-year-old has prior experience in Italy, having scored 23 Serie A goals in a two-season stint with Juve.

Llorente won the Scudetto twice during his time in Turin and knows toppling the Bianconeri is a tough ask.

"It's not easy. When I was at Sevilla we beat them 1-0 [in 2015], with me scoring," Llorente said.

"I've beaten them before but it's one thing to do it in a single game and another thing to do so over the course of a season.

"As I've said, I'm confident and I believe we can have a good season.

"There's a desire to win a trophy, but we can't put pressure on ourselves. Juventus are the ones with all the pressure. They have a very strong bench.

"We have a very talented group with young players who will develop. I'm sure that we'll have a team of top players in the future."

Napoli have scored seven goals in their two games this season, including three in a thrilling defeat to Juventus, with the diminutive Dries Mertens at the point of attack.

Llorente presents an entirely different option and while playing time might not be immediately forthcoming, the former Athletic Bilbao striker is no less enthused about working with esteemed head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"It’s a great feeling when a coach like Ancelotti calls you," he said.

"I was already keen on coming to Napoli, but when there’s such a successful coach involved you have no doubt that you’re making the right decision.

"Napoli is a big club with a great coach. I really wanted to work with Carlo so I’m delighted to be here."

Christian Eriksen – the name that will not go away, even with the transfer window closed.

Eriksen wanted to leave Tottenham for a new challenge as Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Inter reportedly circled.

A move did not materialise, much to his disappointment, but a transfer could be on the horizon.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID LOOK TO ERIKSEN AMID POGBA DOUBTS

Sky Sports News claims Real Madrid will make a move for Tottenham star Christian Eriksen at the end of the season if Paul Pogba extends his Manchester United deal.

Zinedine Zidane has made no secret of his desire to reinforce his midfield, with Tottenham's Eriksen, Pogba and Ajax sensation Donny van de Beek linked to the Santiago Bernabeu.

While Los Blancos remain keen on Pogba, they are eyeing a move for Eriksen – whose contract expires at the end of the campaign.

 

ROUND-UP:

- According to Tuttosport, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham are set to go head-to-head for Juventus attacker Paulo Dybala in January. Both clubs were reportedly interested in signing Dybala prior to the transfer deadline, and with Dybala set to struggle for regular game time PSG and Spurs are poised to fight it out.

- Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea is close to finally signing a new £290,000-a-week contract at Old Trafford, claims The Guardian.

Inter are keeping tabs on Borussia Dortmund attacker Mario Gotze, says Welt. Gotze is out of contract at the end of the season and negotiations over a new deal are reportedly not progressing.

- The Serie A side, meanwhile, will not sell star defender Milan Skriniar in January. That is according to Tuttosport amid growing speculation Manchester City are targeting the Inter centre-back.

- According to Sky Sports News, Wolves are still interested in signing AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie. Wolves tried to prise Kessie from Milan before the transfer window shut, but the 22-year-old knocked back the move.

Arsenal could make another attempt to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco from Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, reports The Sun. The Gunners have long been linked with Carrasco and Dalian's supposed interest in Napoli star Dries Mertens could make a deal possible.

Juventus star Douglas Costa branded links with Manchester United as "baseless" after an agent claimed the Premier League club tried to sign him.

An English newspaper published an interview with agent Giovanni Branchini on Monday, in which he claimed United had held "strong" interest in Costa but Maurizio Sarri did not want to sell him.

But in response to the reports, Costa has issued a strong rebuttal and insisted Branchini, who worked as an intermediary in Costa's move to Juve, is not a representative of his anymore.

Writing on his official Instagram, Costa said: "I'm writing to deny the baseless news published today, which said I was in negotiations with some clubs during the last transfer window.

"Since the start of this season, I've been clear that I wanted to stay here to win trophies and give blood for the Juve jersey.

"Junior Mendoza is my only agent and the only person authorised to speak on my behalf."

Manchester United held a "strong interest" in Juventus winger Douglas Costa but Maurizio Sarri was adamant he would not be sold, according to the Brazilian's agent.

Costa, 28, only played a bit-part role under Massimiliano Allegri last season, starting seven times in Serie A as injuries hampered him.

The Brazil international had been linked with a move away from the club due to his decrease in playing time and his agent revealed United were interested in bringing him to Old Trafford.

United have been linked with Costa numerous times over the course of the winger's career, but Sarri was unwilling to see him depart, with the former Bayern Munich attacker starting both of Juve's first two games of the season.

"I sincerely say that Allegri and Sarri have never thought of letting him go," agent Giovanni Branchini told the Daily Mail.

"The interest of Manchester United was strong, a club that has always been interested in him. They were not the only club, but in England they were certainly the most active team on the trail of Douglas Costa.

"He had countless health problems. Last season he was very often injured. He is wanting to recover with great professionalism after standing still. Juventus never intended to sell him despite the big pressure from United."

While Costa is in no rush to leave Turin, his agent does not rule anything out in future, convinced the player can adapt to any surroundings.

"Douglas is a 'cool' professional in the best sense of the word," Branchini said. "He is able to adapt to everything. Just think of how well he did in Ukraine, in a country totally different from Brazil.

"He loves Juventus but is able to adapt to every reality. The Premier League is a beautiful championship, but for now United have failed in all their attempts to convince Juventus to sell him. The player remained in Turin and is a champion."

EA Sports has revealed the 10 highest-rated players on FIFA 20 ahead of the game's release later this month, with Lionel Messi back on top after Cristiano Ronaldo ranked first last year.

Messi enjoyed another stellar campaign for Barcelona in 2018-19, scoring 36 goals in 34 LaLiga matches, inspiring the club's title defence and run to the Champions League semi-finals.

Ronaldo's first season at Juventus – who will be known as Piemonte Calcio on FIFA 20 – went as smoothly as might have been expected, with the forward finishing as the club's top-scorer as they claimed an eighth successive Scudetto, though that was not enough to retain his crown as FIFA's highest-rated player.

Neither Ronaldo nor Messi were able to win the Champions League, however, with that honour falling to Liverpool, who have two representatives in the top 10.

Find out who they are and which other players join Messi and Ronaldo in the 10 below.

10. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona – 90

Germany international Ter Stegen has developed into one of the globe's most well-rounded goalkeepers after an initially slow start to life at Camp Nou. He is one of three players with a rating of 90, making him the second best keeper on the game.

9. Luka Modric, Real Madrid – 90

Last year's Ballon d'Or winner, Modric's 2019 has not been particularly outstanding, as he has found himself out of the Madrid team a little more due to suspect form. He may be down one rating point from FIFA 19, but he still reaches 90.

8. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool – 90

A crucial part of Liverpool's Champions League winning side, Salah has truly established himself as one the world's primary stars over the last couple of years. He was not even in the top 20 in FIFA 19, however.

7. Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool – 91

The most important player in Liverpool's Champions League success? Until recently the most expensive defender ever, Van Dijk's influence on the Reds is undeniable. That is reflected in the fact he will be FIFA 20's best defender.

6. Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid – 91

Widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world for his quality and consistency, Oblak replaces David de Gea – who had a shaky 2018-19 – as the top-ranked keeper on FIFA.

5. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City – 91

Even though injuries have plagued De Bruyne in recent times, robbing him of a chunk of last season, the Belgium star remains one of most highly regarded players on the game, with the City star beginning 2019-20 in ominous fashion.

4. Eden Hazard, Real Madrid – 91

After helping Chelsea to Europa League success, enjoying a generally fine individual campaign as the Premier League's most creative player with 15 assists, he earned his dream move to Real Madrid. He's yet to feature due to injury, but he'll be hopeful of elevating himself to the next level now.

3. Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain – 92

Perhaps a controversial choice to some, Neymar missed a big part of last season through injury and only won Ligue 1 and the Trophee des Champions, as he was also absent for Brazil's Copa America success. Nevertheless, his skill is undoubtable and he comes in at number three.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Piemonte Calcio (Juventus) – 93

The best-ranked player on FIFA 19, Ronaldo's rating drops one to 93 despite enjoying a solid season in Serie A. Cynics might suggest Juve's exclusivity deal with FIFA rival Pro Evolution Soccer has something to do with it.

1.Lionel Messi, Barcelona – 94

The world's best player comes in at number one with a rating of 94 after he enjoyed another spell-binding season on all fronts, impressing even though Barca failed in the Champions League.

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