The past 12 months saw another Juventus title in Serie A, but 2020 comes to a close with Milan back in the trophy hunt at the top of the table.

Although the Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011, they lead the way through 14 matches heading into the new year.

Rivals Inter are a point further back, while Juve are back in sixth after losing their unbeaten record last time out against Fiorentina.

To mark the end of an intriguing year, Opta calculated a 'Top XI' for Serie A in 2020, including a host of big names - but notably missing one superstar.

GOALKEEPER: MARCO SILVESTRI

Hellas Verona have conceded just 14 goals so far this season and, across the year as a whole, Silvestri saved 74 per cent of the shots he faced, trailing only Juan Musso among keepers with at least 10 appearances.

DEFENDER: JUAN CUADRADO

Juventus' converted winger Cuadrado continues to display his attacking qualities from right-back. Among all defenders in 2020, he played the most passes into the opposition half (1,044) and trailed only Cristiano Biraghi (eight) for assists with a haul of seven.

DEFENDER: MATTHIJS DE LIGT

Lining up next to his Bianconeri team-mate, De Ligt has played a huge role in Juve's continued success. They won 65 per cent of their Serie A matches and conceded 1.0 goals per game with the Dutchman in the side in 2020, coming out on top just 36 per cent of the time while conceding 1.4 goals on average when he was missing.

DEFENDER: FRANCESCO ACERBI

Lazio's form has fallen away a little this season, but Acerbi is certainly not to blame. He recovered the ball 177 times in the league in 2020; Rafael Toloi (179) was the only centre-back to do so on more occasions.

DEFENDER: THEO HERNANDEZ

The first Milan entry unsurprisingly belongs to left-back Hernandez. He was directly involved in 11 goals (six goals, five assists) in 2020 and also completed the most successful dribbles in the competition (57).

MIDFIELDER: RODRIGO DE PAUL

De Paul has been linked with a host of clubs, including Inter, where another player in this list would surely thrive on his service. The Udinese midfielder played more accurate crosses (36) than anyone else in Serie A this year.

MIDFIELDER: FRANCK KESSIE

A key part of Milan's climb up the table, Kessie has been a dominant force in the middle of midfield. He recovered the ball 246 times in 2020, the most of any outfield player in the league.

MIDFIELDER: HAKAN CALHANOGLU

Once Kessie wins the ball, it is over to Calhanoglu to get Milan on the attack. He created 99 chances and provided 14 assists in 2020, both league highs.

FORWARD: ALEJANDRO GOMEZ

Talisman Papu Gomez looks set to leave Atalanta in January but starred again in what may prove to be his final full year in Bergamo. Complementing his creative talents, he led the press by winning possession 28 times in the final third of the pitch - ranking third in this regard.

FORWARD: ROMELU LUKAKU

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been outstanding back at Milan, but he does not make the cut. Nor does Ciro Immobile. It is Inter striker Lukaku who leads the line after scoring 22 times in 2020, the most of any player to attempt fewer than 100 shots. Sixteen were from open play, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Immobile (both 17).

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Who else? Aged 35, Ronaldo scored 33 times in the league for Juve in 2020. Only Felice Borel (41 in 1933) and Gunnar Nordahl (36 in 1950) have ever topped that mark in Serie A.

Not content just to lead the Italian top flight, Ronaldo has the edge over Robert Lewandowski (32) across Europe's 'top five' leagues heading into the final matches of 2020. He scored the most goals across the continent in five calendar years between 2011 and 2019.

Milan Skriniar bailed out goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and maintained Inter's winning run in a 2-1 victory at Hellas Verona to keep the pressure on title rivals Milan.

The Nerazzurri were made to work for their seventh straight Serie A success - a result that took them two points above their city neighbours, at least until the Rossoneri hosted Lazio later on Wednesday.

Skriniar's 69th-minute header proved decisive after Handanovic had gifted an equaliser to Ivan Ilic, cancelling out Lautaro Martinez's second-half opener.

The defender's first Serie A goal since February 2018 brought to a close a promising first section of the season for Antonio Conte's side, able to take in the Milan match and enjoy Christmas regardless, firmly back in the Scudetto hunt.

A stale first half did not produce a chance of note until the 26th minute when Federico Dimarco got in on the left but found Handanovic to be his equal from a tight angle.

Giangiacomo Magnani enjoyed his physical battle with Romelu Lukaku, but a slack pass set Inter away and the striker squared for Martinez to stab goalwards and draw a sharp save from Marco Silvestri.

Verona could not keep the Argentina international at bay again six minutes after half-time as he ran across Matteo Lovato to meet Achraf Hakimi's cross and aim a volley beyond the goalkeeper and in off the post.

An inexplicable error let the home side back into the match, however, as Handanovic dropped a simple Marco Faraoni centre and Ilic was alert enough to beat Skriniar to the loose ball inside the six-yard box.

If Handanovic looked to his centre-back to share the blame, Skriniar responded in impressive fashion with a towering header that left Silvestri rooted and restored an Inter lead they this time would not relinquish.

Paolo Rossi's home was reportedly burgled during the Italy legend's funeral on Saturday.

Azzurri great Rossi died at the age of 64 on Wednesday following a long illness.

Rossi's 1982 World Cup winning team-mates carried his coffin into the Santa Maria Annunciata Cathedral for his funeral and thousands gathered on the streets of Vicenza to pay their respects.

Reports emerged in Italy later in the day that Federica Cappelletti, Rossi's wife, had returned to their house near the Tuscan village of Bucine to discover thieves had broken in.

La Gazzetta dello Sport said several jewels and a Rolex watch belonging to former Juventus, Milan and Vicenza striker Rossi had been taken.

It was reported that none of Rossi's medals were stolen.

Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence, tweeted on Sunday: "A more vile and disgusting act than this is truly unthinkable.

"The police must do everything possible to find those responsible. All my solidarity and closeness to the #PaoloRossi family."

Rossi was the leading scorer and best player in the tournament in the Azzurri's 1982 World Cup triumph in Spain.

 

 

Paolo Rossi's World Cup winning team-mates carried his coffin into the cathedral for his funeral and thousands gathered on the streets of Vicenza to pay tribute to the Italy legend on Saturday.

Rossi, the leading scorer and best player in the tournament in the Azzurri's 1982 World Cup triumph, died this week at the age of 64 following a long illness.

Thousands flocked to Vicenza's Stadio Romeo Menti, where Rossi's coffin could be seen by the public, on Friday to pay their respects.

Many lined the streets as the former Juventus, Milan, Vicenza and Hellas Verona striker's body was transported to the Santa Maria Annunciata Cathedral.

There was applause from those who gathered outside before Marco Tardelli, Alessandro Altobelli, Antonio Cabrini and Giampiero Marini were among those to carry the coffin into the cathedral.

Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio were also among the mourners on an emotional day.

Rossi's son Alessandro carried the coffin - which had an Italy shirt with the number 20 and Rossi's name on the back, along with a Vicenza scarf, draped on top of it - out of the cathedral with members of the 1982 World Cup squad following the ceremony.

The funeral was also shown live on television in Italy.

A new deal for Bruno Fernandes already?

Manchester United brought Fernandes to Old Trafford in January, and he has taken the Premier League by storm.

With reported interest from Spain, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side want to reward Fernandes.

 

TOP STORY – FERNANDES SET FOR NEW DEAL

Manchester United are set to offer Bruno Fernandes a new bumper deal to fend off interest from Barcelona and LaLiga champions Real Madrid, according to the Mirror.

Fernandes has been a revelation since joining United from Portuguese giants Sporting CP in January – the star midfielder has been directly involved in 36 goals in 38 games across all competitions, five more than any other Premier league player in this period.

With Fernandes dominating, United are prepared to double the Portugal international's wages at Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Manchester City could sign both Lionel Messi and Neymar. Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar wants to reunite with Messi, while the Barcelona superstar is unhappy at Camp Nou. PSG have also been linked to Messi and any move would impact the future of Kylian Mbappe, who is reportedly wanted by Madrid and Liverpool.

- Calciomercato claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba will cost Juventus around €15million. Alaba is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and he has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barca, PSG, Chelsea and City.

Milan are chasing Hellas Verona centre-back Matteo Lovato, says Calciomercato. Inter and Juve have also been credited with interest in the 20-year-old.

Could Cristiano Ronaldo's time in Turin be coming to an end?

Ronaldo is contracted to Juventus until 2022 but the Italian giants are believed to be willing to part with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Neymar could be his direct replacement.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO OUT, NEYMAR IN?

Juventus are keen to swap Cristiano Ronaldo for Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar, according to TuttoMercatoWeb.

Ronaldo has been linked with a move away from Serie A champions Juve, while Neymar's future has often dominated headlines amid speculation over a Barcelona return.

But the superstar pair could be involved in a blockbuster swap deal as both players are on similar contracts.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca claims Athletic Bilbao are eyeing former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, with the future of current head coach Gaizka Garitano uncertain. Pochettino has been linked to Manchester United.

Milan are targeting a January move for Schalke defender and Liverpool target Ozan Kabak, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. Hellas Verona's Matteo Lovato is an alternative, while the Rossoneri are also eyeing Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram. The French forward has been linked to the likes of Juve, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City.

- Zinedine Zidane remains determined to bring Eduardo Camavinga to Madrid, however, Mundo Deportivo says the France sensation will not leave Rennes for below €100million.

- According to Manchester Evening News, United could rekindle their interest in Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish amid his dazzling form. Grealish and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho were both linked with Old Trafford moves during the previous transfer window.

Napoli have indicated they intend to take legal action after their challenge against the 3-0 forfeit defeat to Juventus was rejected by the Italian Football Federation's (FIGC) court of appeal.

Gennaro Gattuso's men did not turn up for the game in Turin last month and were also docked a point by Lega Serie A for failing to fulfil their fixture obligations.

Napoli argued they were banned from travelling by local health authorities as Piotr Zielinski, Eljif Elmas and a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

Juventus themselves reported two positive cases among staff a day before the game but made clear they intended to play the match at the Allianz Stadium.

Andrea Pirlo named a starting XI but the game did not go ahead as scheduled because of Napoli's absence and was officially cancelled.

However, the FIGC ruled Napoli ignored the coronavirus protocols in place, which states a team must fulfil any fixture if they have 13 available players, including at least one goalkeeper.

The court ruled "Napoli's behaviour was effectively creating an alibi for themselves not to play", and they "deserve the sanction because it was not at all impossible for them to take part in the match."

The verdict also concluded that "Napoli's conduct in the days leading up to the match was already aimed towards not playing, with clear violation of the fundamental principles that sporting justice is based on, namely fairness, decency and probity."

In response to the appeal rejection, Napoli released a statement on their official website on Tuesday to confirm they will take the matter to the Collegio di Garanzia dello Sport - the highest Italian sports authority.

The statement added: "The club totally disagrees with the sentence, which casts unacceptable aspersions on the conduct of the club, ignoring very clear documentation in its favour and delegitimising the authority of the regional health associations.

"Napoli has always sought to defend the values of fairness and sporting merit, so in this case too we will follow every legal avenue to ensure justice for its conduct, which respected public health and asked that the pitch be the only judge to decide the result of a football match."

The FIGC also upheld the league's decision to punish Roma with a 3-0 loss for fielding an ineligible player against Hellas Verona in their opening game of 2020-21.

Roma were found to have registered Amadou Diawara as an Under-23 player in their squad list when the midfielder had already turned 23.

The game at the Marc'Antonio Bentegodi finished goalless but Roma returned to zero points for the season following their sanction.

The Giallorossi also had their appeal rejected on Tuesday and CEO Guido Fienga told ANSA: "With all due respect, I cannot help but express my unhappiness at a sentence that I consider to be profoundly unjust.

"We have all missed an opportunity to intervene and modify an evident loophole in the rules, but above all there was no desire to avoid a punishment that is clearly disproportionate to the situation.

"We did everything we could by proposing a course of action in the appeal that would allow for equity on this rule, which currently does not recognise whether an error was in good faith or not."

Alessandro Bastoni, Gian Marco Ferrari and Mattia Zaccagni have been added to Italy's squad for their upcoming triple-header of fixtures.

Centre-backs Bastoni and Ferrari will provide cover for Angelo Ogbonna and Alessio Romagnoli, who both picked up injuries for their club sides over the weekend.

Bastoni was initially named as part of the Under-21s squad but has now linked up with the senior group ahead of Wednesday's friendly with Estonia.

It is the Inter defender's second call-up, having also been included for August's fixtures, while Hellas Verona midfielder Zaccagni is named in the senior squad for the first time.

Zaccagni impressed in Sunday's 2-2 draw with Milan at San Siro, with no Verona player managing more touches (57), completing more passes (23) or contesting more duels (18).

Ferrari, yet to be capped for Italy, will arrive at the Coverciano training centre on Tuesday once he and his Sassuolo team-mates have completed a period of isolation.

The Azzurri are awaiting permission from the relevant health authorities over the availability of 16 of their players due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Roberto Mancini last week tested positive for COVID-19 and will reportedly not be in the dugout against Estonia, which comes ahead of Nations League clashes with Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

He named a bumper 41-man squad last week that included uncapped attacker Pietro Pellegri after two years away, while Davide Calabria and Matteo Pessina have also been called up for the first time.

Italy enter their latest batch of fixtures unbeaten in 16 successive games, their second-longest run after going 17 without a loss between June 1997 and June 1999.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will use the forthcoming international break to restore his usual "sharpness and determination" in front of goal following an action-packed contribution to Milan's 2-2 with Hellas Verona on Sunday.

The 39-year-old salvaged a point for the Serie A leaders with a stoppage-time header after an own goal from Giangiacomo Magnani had halved the deficit following Antonin Barak and Mattia Zaccagni's early goals for Verona. 

Prior to his equaliser, Ibrahimovic missed his third penalty of the season and was adjudged to have handled in the build-up to a Davide Calabria effort that was ruled out.

The former LA Galaxy forward managed just three shots on target from a huge total of 14 and, with a mooted Sweden return not coming to pass, will now use the next fortnight to his benefit.

"I am angry, obviously, because a draw today is not good enough," Ibrahimovic told Sky Italia, as Milan moved two points clear of second-placed Sassuolo at the Serie A summit.

"We had so many chances. I missed a penalty and I think I'm leaving the next one to [Franck] Kessie! That would be better.

"We go forward and the important thing is not to lose our confidence. Considering the way the table is now, we want to win every game.

"There are many games now and, when you get tired, you are not always at 100 per cent. Fortunately, the international break is here, because I need rest.

"I didn't have the sharpness and usual determination I have in front of goal. I just felt like I wasn't all there."

Ibrahimovic's late goal took his tally to eight in just five Serie A appearances this season, while he became the first Rossoneri player to score in seven consecutive top-flight appearances since the league's change to three points for a win in 1994-95.

He rejected suggestions the league has become easier, though, insisting it is the toughest he has played in.

"I see more teams now that are fighting for higher up the table and it isn't sides like Atalanta in the past," he added. "I've played in many countries and I can confirm Italy is the toughest for strikers.

"There are many teams challenging for the top and there are some that haven't reached their peak yet. It's a packed schedule, so the side in the best shape will eventually win the Scudetto."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic recovered from another missed penalty to score in stoppage time and salvage a 2-2 draw for Milan against Hellas Verona on Sunday. 

Antonin Barak and Mattia Zaccagni put Ivan Juric's visitors 2-0 up inside 20 minutes before an own goal from Giangiacomo Magnani gave the hosts hope.

Ibrahimovic then failed from 12 yards for the third time this season - his fourth miss in six attempts going back to last term - and Davide Calabria saw an effort ruled out in the first minute of second-half stoppage time after the Swede had handled in the build-up.

Milan's talisman had the final say, however, heading home Brahim Diaz's cross two minutes later to snatch a draw that moves Stefano Pioli's side two points clear of second-placed Sassuolo at the Serie A summit.

 

Stefano Pioli has claimed the praise and criticism aimed at his Milan side has been excessive this season.

Milan top Serie A after a fantastic start to their campaign, dropping points just once in a frantic 3-3 draw with Roma.

The Rossoneri's long unbeaten run in all competitions came to a shuddering halt on Thursday, however, as they suffered their first defeat in 242 days, going down 3-0 to Lille in the Europa League.

Milan have scored 14 times in the league this term – behind only Inter (15), Atalanta (17) and Sassuolo (18) – while Pioli's side have conceded only five goals, tied with Juventus for the second-fewest in the division. Sunday's opponents Hellas Verona have the league's best defence, conceding just three times.

However, after finishing sixth last season, Pioli believes the plaudits Milan had received prior to their defeat to Lille were over the top, although he claimed the same can also be said of the subsequent criticism of his players, with Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez coming under particular scrutiny. 

"We create our own pressure and are very tough on ourselves, because we want to be ambitious," Pioli told reporters.

"We're not interested in what the pundits say. The important thing is to concentrate and try to win games.

"Criticism and praise are always excessive in football, so I am not remotely worried about Romagnoli, Hernandez or anyone else who is singled out.

"Our problem against Lille was that we weren’t sharp enough in our choices, didn't read the spaces they left for us, but we can analyse this and learn from it.

"We lowered the level of our performance against the wrong opponent, so we must be ready to step it back up again. [Sunday] is another opportunity to prove what we can do and show what level we are at.

"An off-day was bound to happen, we've played 10 games in 21 days, so we have to be ready to deal with that both mentally and physically. Against Lille, we found an opponent in great physical shape."

Milan have never lost a home league game against Verona, who have not won away in the league since January.

Stefano Pioli has claimed the praise and criticism aimed at his Milan side has been excessive this season.

Milan top Serie A after a fantastic start to their campaign, dropping points just once in a frantic 3-3 draw with Roma.

The Rossoneri's long unbeaten run in all competitions came to a shuddering halt on Thursday, however, as they suffered their first defeat in 242 days, going down 3-0 to Lille in the Europa League.

Milan have scored 14 times in the league this term – behind only Inter (15), Atalanta (17) and Sassuolo (18) – while Pioli's side have conceded only five goals, tied with Juventus for the second-fewest in the division. Sunday's opponents Hellas Verona have the league's best defence, conceding just three times.

However, after finishing sixth last season, Pioli believes the plaudits Milan had received prior to their defeat to Lille were over the top, although he claimed the same can also be said of the subsequent criticism of his players, with Alessio Romagnoli and Theo Hernandez coming under particular scrutiny. 

"We create our own pressure and are very tough on ourselves, because we want to be ambitious," Pioli told reporters.

"We're not interested in what the pundits say. The important thing is to concentrate and try to win games.

"Criticism and praise are always excessive in football, so I am not remotely worried about Romagnoli, Hernandez or anyone else who is singled out.

"Our problem against Lille was that we weren’t sharp enough in our choices, didn't read the spaces they left for us, but we can analyse this and learn from it.

"We lowered the level of our performance against the wrong opponent, so we must be ready to step it back up again. [Sunday] is another opportunity to prove what we can do and show what level we are at.

"An off-day was bound to happen, we've played 10 games in 21 days, so we have to be ready to deal with that both mentally and physically. Against Lille, we found an opponent in great physical shape."

Milan have never lost a home league game against Verona, who have not won away in the league since January.

Dayot Upamecano is a player in demand following his exploits for RB Leipzig.

Upamecano attracted plenty of interest before re-signing at Bundesliga side Leipzig in July.

Manchester United have been linked previously and are reportedly plotting another move.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT UPAMECANO

Manchester United will pursue a cut-price deal for RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano, according to The Times.

United have been keen to bolster their defence and the Red Devils were previously linked to France centre-back Upamecano, who has also caught the eye of the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Upamecano signed a new deal in July, though the contract reportedly includes a release clause of around £38million (€42m) at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild reports a third round of negotiations regarding a new contract for Bayern star David Alaba failed. Alaba will become a free agent at the end of the season. Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Barca are believed to be interested.

Milan are interested in Schalke centre-back Ozan Kabak and Hellas Verona's Matteo Lovato, claims Gazzetta dello Sport. Kabak has also been linked to Premier League champions Liverpool.

- Tuttosport reports Barca and Juventus could be involved in another swap deal. After exchanging Miralem Pjanic and Arthur at the start of the season, Juve's Federico Bernardeschi and Barca forward Ousmane Dembele could also move in opposite directions.

Barca could raid PSV for Donyell Malen as an alternative to Lyon captain Memphis Depay, according to Mundo Deportivo. Barca tried to sign Depay in the previous transfer window but a move did not material as his contract expires at season's end.

Andrea Pirlo insisted he was unworried about Barcelona after Juventus were held to another draw in Serie A.

Juve needed a 77th-minute equaliser from Dejan Kulusevski to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Hellas Verona, who went ahead through Andrea Favilli on Sunday.

The Serie A champions are winless in two consecutive league games against Verona for the first time since 1989 as Juve moved onto nine points through five games.

Juve host Barca in the Champions League on Wednesday, but Pirlo was unfazed, saying he expected a different type of game.

"No, I am not worried ahead of Barcelona, because they're two completely different games, with two different styles of play," the Juve head coach told a news conference.

"As I said earlier, Atalanta like Verona play in a completely different way compared to Barcelona, therefore when you play against this kind of team it's a kind of game of its own.

"You have to try and do certain things, which we tried to do during the game."

The result left Juve three points behind leaders Milan, who host Roma on Monday.

But Pirlo, who only took charge in August, is remaining upbeat about the direction his side are heading in.

"No, I am not worried [about the draws] because we are under construction," he said.

"Of course, we're sorry we're dropping points along the way, but we're on the right path and we are building a long-term project.

"It's only the fifth game we play together and for our future I can only see positive things."

Juventus head coach Andrea Pirlo was frustrated his Juventus side only started playing with intensity after they had fallen behind in their 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona on Sunday. 

Having had just one shot on target in an insipid first half, Serie A champions Juve fell behind on the hour-mark when Verona's Andrea Favilli slotted home from 15 yards. 

Juve – winless in two consecutive Serie A games against Verona for the first time since 1989 – stormed back through substitute Dejan Kulusevski's equaliser 13 minutes from time and created a number of excellent opportunities in the closing stages without converting.

Pirlo's Juve ended the game having had 22 shots but the Italian boss was not impressed that the hosts needed a "slap in the face" to start carving out chances.

"Our first half wasn't aggressive enough. We waited for them and yet we created the best chances," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We reacted well after they took the lead, but we shouldn't need a slap in the face to wake up and play with intensity. When you play against Verona or Atalanta, it's difficult because they take you one-on-one all over the field and create many duels. 

"We worked to avoid their high press and that worked better in the second half. It's tough against them, but we could've done better."

The result moves Juve up to fifth – three points behind leaders Milan, who have played a game fewer – while Verona remain in eighth position.

Juve host LaLiga giants Barcelona in a mouth-watering Champions League clash on Wednesday before travelling to Spezia in Serie A on Sunday.

 

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