Arsenal appear to have strengthened their interest in Nuno Espirito Santo.

Just over two weeks after dismissing Unai Emery, the Gunners are reportedly ready to hold talks with one of the top contenders to take over at Emirates Stadium.

But the Portuguese is not alone when it comes to candidates with Premier League experience.

 

TOP STORY – GUNNERS STEP UP NUNO CHASE

Arsenal will ask Wolves for permission to conduct formal discussions with Nuno next week, according to the Daily Mail.

The north Londoners are reportedly ready to "set to accelerate their interest" in the 45-year-old former Valencia and Porto head coach.

Belgium boss Robert Martinez is also said to have been approached, while Mauricio Pochettino, Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira continue to be linked.

Freddie Ljungberg has overseen two draws, a defeat and a solitary victory since taking charge on an interim basis.

ROUND-UP

- Like his former employers, ex-Arsenal boss Emery will not be rushed into a decision on his next move. Marca says the Spaniard has turned down the chance to speak to two Chinese clubs and managerless Everton since becoming a free agent on November 29.

- Premier League champions Manchester City hope to bring wantaway winger Jadon Sancho back to the Etihad Stadium after losing him to Borussia Dortmund in 2017, reports the Daily Mail.

- On the outer at Chelsea, Olivier Giroud appears to be moving closer to the Stamford Bridge exit door. L'Equipe claims the France striker is close to agreeing personal terms on a January switch to Inter, where he would reunite with Antonio Conte.

- Serie A side Milan will be offered the chance to sign Luka Jovic on loan from Real Madrid in January, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

- Barcelona will listen to offers of €10million for teenage defender Jean-Clair Todibo, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Spanish newspaper claims Bayer Leverkusen, Milan, Monaco, Southampton and Watford have submitted bids.

- Real Betis have sealed a deal to sign former Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Carrasco from Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, according to Deportes Cuatro.

Ernesto Valverde has described Pedro as an "historic" Barcelona player after the Chelsea winger claimed he would like to return to Camp Nou.

Pedro told Ser Catalunya this week that he would love to go back to the club where he won 20 major trophies, including five LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues, between 2008 and 2015.

The 32-year-old has only played four times in the Premier League under Frank Lampard this season and, with his contract expiring at the end of the season, it has been suggested the Spain international could be allowed to leave next month.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Barca coach Valverde said of Pedro: "He's an historic Barca player - let's not kid ourselves. He's one of the players to win the most titles with this club, but he plays for another club now.

"We have to respect players at other clubs. We'll see what might happen in the future."

The futures of two Barca midfielders are also uncertain ahead of the opening of the transfer window, with Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal each linked with moves to Serie A.

Rakitic struggled for game time early in the season and even admitted his situation was causing him to fall out of love with football, although he has impressed in the recent run of victories over Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Real Mallorca and Inter.

"He's playing well, as is everybody else," Valverde said of the Croatia midfielder. "We're in a clinical time of the season and we've found some good form.

"When it's the summer window, people start asking what happens, then you get to breathe a bit and then it's the winter market.

"We have to deal with the challenges we have with the players we have. Rakitic has missed lots of games but he's playing more games now, and if he's doing that, it's because he's playing well."

Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta confirmed after his side's defeat to Barca that Vidal was of interest to them, but Valverde was vague on his plans for the player.

"How can I respond to information that comes or doesn't come from us? This information came from Inter. They will know," he added.

"In our case, the market has not yet opened. Arturo is our player and we'll need him if we think it convenient."

Lionel Messi can certainly be considered the best player of his era but Brazil great and former Barcelona team-mate Ronaldinho does not think he is the greatest of all time.

Messi won a record sixth Ballon d'Or earlier this month, taking him ahead of long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

While the Juventus star has shown signs of decline over the past year or so at 34, Messi – two years his junior – continues to sparkle in LaLiga with Barca.

Despite missing a chunk of the early-season action through injury, Messi already leads the scoring charts in Spain's top flight with 12 goals from just nine starts – Karim Benzema has 11 from 14.

The Argentina star's form has been particularly impressive over the past six weeks, netting 13 times in 10 games for club and country, most recently hitting a hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 triumph over Real Mallorca.

But Ronaldinho, who spent the best part of four years as Messi's team-mate, is uneasy about suggestions the forward is the greatest to ever play the sport.

Speaking at a charity event in Mexico, Ronaldinho said: "I'm glad for Messi because he's a friend, aside from the fact he's been a leader of Barcelona.

"I don't like comparisons because it's hard to identify who is the best in history. There's Diego Maradona, Pele, Ronaldo.

"I can't say that Messi is the best ever, but he is the best in his time."

Neymar's ongoing legal action against Barcelona has not harmed his relationship with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, according to the player's father.

Ex-Barca star Neymar initiated a lawsuit against his former employers soon after joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

The dispute over a €26million unpaid loyalty bonus remains before the courts but, on Thursday, Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo claimed the 27-year-old had filed a new €3.5m claim.

Neymar Sr addressed the matter in a radio interview and said it was "nothing new" as he expressed confidence a settlement would be reached.

"It's a thing from the past, when Neymar left Barcelona," he told COPE. "We always want to reach an agreement, it is better for everyone. Barcelona are not worried about this and neither are we."

The legal friction further complicated Neymar's recent attempt to secure a move back to Camp Nou, which failed to materialise.

Lionel Messi admitted some at the club opposed the attacker's return but Neymar Sr insisted there was no bad blood between the Selecao star and Bartomeu, who has since ruled out a January approach.

"We have never had a bad relationship with Bartomeu," Neymar Sr said, before adding: "We don't know anything about the future.

"Neymar has a contract with the PSG. He is happy."

Neymar is in his third season with Ligue 1 side PSG, having spent four at LaLiga champions Barca following his arrival in Spain from Santos.

Murmurs about Pep Guardiola's potential departure from Manchester City are not going away.

Recent reports have suggested the successful Catalan could look to leave the Etihad Stadium at the end of the season.

It now appears Guardiola has the power to make that happen.

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA'S ESCAPE ROUTE

An exit clause in the contract Guardiola signed last year gives the two-time Premier League winner the chance to leave City at the conclusion of the campaign, reports the Daily Mail.

Guardiola's deal, which he renewed in May 2018, runs through to 2021, but it seems he will have a decision to make when the club's title defence comes to a close.

City have formulated contingency plans, according to the report, and are "known to be admirers" of former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Guardiola, 48, has been linked with a return to Bayern Munich but last month said he was "open" to signing another contract extension with City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United missed out on Liverpool-bound Takumi Minamino because the Old Trafford club were unaware of a £7.25million exit clause in the winger's Salzburg contract, says the Mirror.

- Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund want to keep Jadon Sancho in January but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are confident of pushing through a transfer for the England international, claims the Mirror.

- Inter are monitoring Argentine attacking midfielder Rodrigo De Paul but are not prepared to meet Udinese's €35m asking price, according to CalcioMercato.

- Carlo Ancelotti is set to fly to London for talks with Everton as the managerless Merseysiders look to beat Arsenal to the ex-Napoli boss, says the Sun.

- Ivan Rakitic appears set to stay at Barcelona after all. The midfielder wants to continue at Camp Nou after breaking back into the starting XI over the past four matches, reports Marca.

Liverpool lead the way with 10 nominations for the EA Sports FIFA Team of the Year.

Ashley Cole hopes the day will come when a defender wins the Ballon d'Or again but admits it is hard to envisage in the era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi this year won a record sixth Ballon d'Or – edging him ahead of the five awards Ronaldo holds – when he saw off competition from Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk.

Dutchman Van Dijk has been inspirational for the Reds since he joined from Southampton midway through 2017-18, and he played a key role in their Champions League success last season.

Former England left-back Cole would have liked to see a fellow defender win the coveted trophy - awarded to the world's top player - for the first time since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.

However, he believes Barcelona's Messi and Juventus forward Ronaldo remain clearly the best players in world football.

"It's tough," Cole told Omnisport. "You want different positions maybe being credited with how good they've played in that season, but to be honest I don't think you can look outside of Messi and Ronaldo.

"What Messi does week in, week out is not normal. Again, the same with Ronaldo. It wasn't a surprise that Messi won it but one day, yeah, we probably would like a defender to win it."

One left-back who has impressed Cole in the Premier League this season is Ben Chilwell, who has been in fine form for high-flying Leicester City.

"I think, for me, him and [Liverpool's Andy] Robertson are the best two left-backs in the Premier League at the minute," Cole said, speaking on behalf of Nissan.

Chilwell looks set to become the regular starter for England heading into Euro 2020.

"He's playing in a good Leicester team, suiting his game at the minute where he can attack and he's got protection behind him," Cole said.

"Whether he starts for England? That's probably a question for Gareth [Southgate]. I'd like to see him start because I think when he has played for England he's played very well.

"He looks accomplished there. I'd like to see him start but that's down to the manager."

Nissan are proud partners of the UEFA Champions League. UEFA ambassador Ashley Cole was at the Chelsea FC v LOSC Lille match on Tuesday 10th December, along with the UEFA Champions League Trophy, which is being driven around the UK by the next generation Nissan Juke.

Dani Carvajal would like Kylian Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid as he believes the world's best players should be at the Santiago Bernabeu.

France star Mbappe continues to be linked with a future move to Madrid and has reportedly stalled on the idea of a new PSG contract in order to make a transfer more likely.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the 20-year-old forward, whose relationship with PSG boss Thomas Tuchel has shown signs of strain lately, not least when Mbappe ignored him after being substituted against Montpellier last weekend.

Carvajal would certainly not be against Mbappe moving to the Spanish capital, telling reporters on Thursday: "What we've seen is obvious. He's one of the greats and it would be good [to play with him] because the best have to be here."

Madrid defender Carvajal was speaking ahead of a difficult week for Madrid, who face Valencia at Mestalla on Sunday before next Wednesday's Clasico with Barcelona at Camp Nou.

That fixture was due to take place in October but was rearranged after concern about political unrest in Catalonia.

Security issues remain a concern ahead of the game, while it is expected that a large banner encouraging dialogue over the issue of Catalan independence will be displayed by a protest group in the stands.

Carvajal is keen for authorities to ensure the match goes ahead safely, but he insists he is only concerned with getting three points.

"We're calm. We want it to be played with the maximum guarantees of security. We don't know if it was a mistake to rearrange it," said the full-back.

"I want to go to Camp Nou and win. The rest doesn't bother me.

"It's a very important, beautiful week for us and we're going to try to make it three [wins] from three.

"We have fewer hours of rest than Barcelona and after a demanding game like at Mestalla, it can show in your legs."

Europe's top five leagues have monopolised the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in the competition's history.

With Atalanta's 3-0 defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk, the Serie A side ensured only nations from Italy, England, France, Germany and Spain would complete the last-16 line up prior to the final group fixtures on Wednesday.

Atalanta's win left only one place in the last 16 to be decided, with Atletico Madrid's 2-0 triumph over Lokomotiv Moscow – combined with a 2-0 loss for Bayer Leverkusen at home to Juventus – enough to send Diego Simeone's men through.

It is the first time only teams from the top-tier nations in European football have been included in the draw for the knockout stage, which will take place on Monday.

England – Premier League: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham

Chelsea and Liverpool had the biggest scares of the group stage when it came to the English sides, though both ultimately qualified.

Current holders Liverpool put in a clinical second-half display to dispatch Salzburg 2-0 in their final Group E match, with Frank Lampard's side progressing from Group H thanks to a 2-1 win over Lille – last season's semi-finalists Ajax dropping into the Europa League despite amassing 10 points

Tottenham were on the wrong end of a 7-2 hammering by Bayern Munich in October, but three successive victories sent them through prior to their second meeting with the German champions, while Manchester City qualified as Group C winners.

France – Ligue 1: Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain

Paris Saint-Germain look like they mean business this season and, after ensuring their place in the next round with a 2-2 comeback draw away at Real Madrid, capped off their Group A campaign in style with a 5-0 thrashing of lowly Galatasaray.

Neymar starred on Wednesday, with Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani all scoring too – with their star-studded forward line in such form, Thomas Tuchel's side should be some force in the knockouts.

Memphis Depay was the hero for Lyon, meanwhile, as his 82nd-minute equaliser against RB Leipzig sent Rudi Garcia's side from bottom up to second.

Germany – Bundesliga: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig

Along with PSG, Bayern were the standout performers of the group stage – their haul of 18 points and a goal difference of +19 making them the best group winner in Champions League history.

Leipzig made history when they secured their first participation in the knockout stage thanks to Emil Forsberg's double against Benfica on matchday five in Group G, though Borussia Dortmund had to see off Slavia Prague 2-1 in their final Group F game – and rely on Barcelona to defeat Inter.

Italy – Serie A: Atalanta, Juventus, Napoli

Atalanta seemed on the brink after three straight defeats to start their Group C campaign, yet Gian Piero Gasperini's side battled back – a draw with City and wins over Dinamo Zagreb and Shakhtar continuing their Champions League adventure, becoming the first side to go through after losing their opening three matches.

Juventus' tally of 16 points in Group D saw them equal their own record – set in 1996-97 and matched in 2004-05 – while Napoli hammered Genk 4-0 on Tuesday to book their last-16 berth, though it was not enough to keep Carlo Ancelotti in his job.

There will be no place in the last 16 for Serie A leaders Inter, though, with Antonio Conte's side dropping into the Europa League.

Spain – LaLiga: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia

LaLiga, like the Premier League, will have four representatives in the knockout stage. Barca were unconvincing at times in Group F, but had enough to seal their spot with a game to spare before ending Inter's hopes.

Atleti needed to overcome Lokomotiv on matchday six, but did so easily enough thanks to Joao Felix and Felipe – though Kieran Trippier missed an early penalty – and their city rivals Real Madrid ultimately easily progressed from Group A despite a chastening defeat to PSG in their opening match.

Valencia were involved in a mighty tussle with Chelsea and Ajax, who beat them 3-0 in their first home match, but eventually topped Group H thanks to a 1-0 win over the Eredivisie champions on Tuesday.

The race to sign Erling Haaland has taken another turn.

According to reports, the in-demand striker flew to Germany on Wednesday to hold talks with Borussia Dortmund.

Haaland has become one of Europe's hottest properties following a prolific run of form for Salzburg.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND MEETS WITH DORTMUND

Could talented teenager Haaland be the next bright young forward to join Bundesliga side Dortmund?

Local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten and Radio 91.2 claim the Norwegian and his high-profile agent Mino Raiola arrived at Dortmund Airport and were met by a BVB official the day after Salzburg's Champions League loss to Liverpool.

Haaland played 75 minutes against the holders but was unable to add to his impressive eight-goal haul in Europe this season.

Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid are among the other heavyweights reportedly showing interest in the 19-year-old.

 

ROUND-UP

- Salzburg could be about to part with more than one highly-rated attacker. The Telegraph says Premier League outfit Wolves are preparing to make a move for Hwang Hee-chan, who could cost around £21million (€25m).

- Roma will allow Alessandro Florenzi to leave for €25m in January, claims CalcioMercato. Inter are said to be his strongest suitors, with fellow Serie A sides Napoli and Fiorentina also in contention.

- Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara is unhappy with his reduced role under interim boss Hansi Flick and is thinking of returning to Spain, reports Bild.

- Spain Under-21 international Carles Alena is set to join Real Betis on loan from LaLiga leaders Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- ESPN reporter Julien Laurens believes this season will be Thomas Tuchel's last in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Tuchel has been heavily linked to Bundesliga champions Bayern.

Lionel Messi acknowledged Barcelona are still smarting from the manner of their past two Champions League exits but must "start from scratch" this season.

Barca were eliminated on away goals in April 2018 after squandering a 4-1 aggregate lead over Roma, losing 3-0 in the second leg of their quarter-final tie at the Stadio Olimpico.

Liverpool then overturned a three-goal deficit to the Blaugrana at the semi-final stage last season courtesy of a dramatic 4-0 victory at Anfield, with Messi admitting the pain of those galling eliminations remains strong.

Having emerged top of the pile from a tricky Group F that included Borussia Dortmund, Inter and Slavia Prague this term, Messi is urging them to forget about what happened in the past when the knockout stages commence in February.

"To be honest, it's always there," the six-time Ballon d'Or winner said of the painful Champions League eliminations at an Adidas event on Wednesday.

"But we have to start from scratch. It's a new year, a new competition. Obviously we have to learn from mistakes, but to think of the present and the future.

"We must forget what happened last year and the year before, it would be a mistake to think of that."

Lionel Messi believes the gap between Barcelona, Real Madrid and the rest of LaLiga has closed.

Barcelona lead Madrid on goal difference at the top of the table on 34 points, with Sevilla three points back in third.

However, just three points separate fourth-place Real Sociedad on 27 points and Granada in ninth.

Barcelona have lost three and drawn one of their 15 games this season, while Madrid have drawn four and lost one.

Messi thinks it displays that the strength of the teams across the league has improved.

"Everything is becoming more and more even," the Argentina forward said at an Adidas media event on Wednesday.

"They have been for several years and we notice that there is more equality, that any team beats any other team, which is increasingly difficult to play as an away team.

"The teams have become stronger at home because they know that in order to achieve their goals they must do it well at home.

"This makes everything more equal and more complicated."

Messi has one eye on El Clasico with Madrid on December 18 and has no doubt the fixture will once again be pivotal in the title race.

"I expect a very strong Real Madrid," Messi added. "They have shown it in the last matches, in LaLiga and in the Champions League.

"Barca v Madrid and Madrid v Barca are always special matches. It doesn't matter how the teams arrive, although it's true that we both go into it at a good time."

Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham would relish the challenge of playing a team like Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Abraham opened the scoring as Chelsea finished their Group H campaign with a 2-1 victory over Lille at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, but Valencia's 1-0 win at Ajax meant the Blues had to settle for second place.

Frank Lampard's side will consequently take on a team that topped their section in the first knockout round.

England international Abraham is keen to test himself somewhere new, with Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barca and RB Leipzig their potential opponents in the last 16.

"This is exciting, very exciting. We're never ones to back down from a challenge. We want to play against the best teams in the world and play in the best stadiums in the world," said Abraham.

"No fear. We're ready for anyone. I would love it if it is playing at the Nou Camp or somewhere I've never played before."

He added: "From our first game in the competition we realised how big it was. It's a massive achievement for us to be through to the last 16.

"And it means the world to me: it's a dream come true to have watched the Champions League as a young kid growing up and now to be playing in it myself.

"But now it's also about knuckling down and focusing on the Premier League until the new year."

Chelsea sit fourth in the Premier League, five points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United and 17 adrift of leaders Liverpool.

The Royal Spanish Football Federation says it is not responsible for security during El Clasico and warned it could impose sporting sanctions if political demonstrations lead to trouble at next week's Camp Nou match.

Barcelona are due to host bitter rivals Real Madrid on December 18 in the fixture that was initially due to take place in October.

The original contest was postponed due to political tension that led to violent scenes in Catalonia after nine Catalan political leaders received long prison sentences for their roles in the region's 2017 referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

A rally had been called for October 26 – the first date set for the Clasico – and it was decided to rearrange the match for security reasons.

But the Tsunami Democratic protest group – formed of Catalan independence activists – says it has called on its supporters to head to four meeting points near Camp Nou at 4pm local time on the day of the Clasico. Tsunami Democratic says more than 18,000 are due to join its protest.

The football federation (RFEF) has since made the decision to remind Barcelona the federation is not responsible for the organising of security, while also warning of sanctions if "the application of sports discipline is necessary".

A statement from the RFEF read: "In relation to the game on December 18 at the Camp Nou between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the RFEF states that, exactly as in all meetings of official competitions and being a public event, it does not hold responsibility in security matters.

"The RFEF will apply the regulations in force both before and during and after the game if there are situations of force majeure or circumstances in which the application of sports discipline is necessary.

"Similarly, as usual, the RFEF is in contact with the security forces to coordinate the arrival of the refereeing team at the Camp Nou facilities according to established protocols."

Everton are set to make the first move for Carlo Ancelotti.

The Toffees will reportedly begin talks with the Italian following his departure from Napoli on Tuesday.

Ancelotti was sacked three hours after a 4-0 win over Genk, which confirmed the Serie A club's place in the Champions League knockout rounds.

 

TOP STORY – EVERTON TO RIVAL ARSENAL FOR ANCELOTTI

Everton will waste no time in opening contract talks with free agent Ancelotti in the wake of his Napoli exit, according to Sky Sports.

Managerless Arsenal are also said to be considering the 60-year-old former Chelsea, Milan and Real Madrid boss as a possible replacement for Unai Emery.

But the Toffees could get the jump on their Premier League rivals after Shanghai SIPG's Vitor Pereira pulled out of the race to succeed Marco Silva, although David Moyes reportedly remains an option to take charge on an interim basis.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League three times as a coach and secured league titles in England, France, Germany and Italy.

ROUND-UP

- Napoli could announce the appointment of Gennaro Gattuso on a short-term contract as soon as Wednesday, according to CalcioMercato.

- Ex-Everton manager Moyes and former Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton are in line to replace Manuel Pellegrini at West Ham if the Hammers lose to Southampton on Saturday, says The Mirror.

- Manchester United are considering Ajax's Donny van de Beek and Saul Niguez of Atletico Madrid as they prepare for Paul Pogba's end-of-season exit, reports the Daily Mail.

- The Daily Mail also claims Leicester City have opened contract talks with rumoured Manchester City target Caglar Soyuncu, who has been in good form this season.

- Barcelona have cooled their interest in Lautaro Martinez due to Inter's demand for €100million, according to ESPN.

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