Frank Lampard's position as Chelsea head coach is under threat, while Tottenham have started talks to extend Harry Kane's deal.

Lampard is under increasing pressure at Stamford Bridge after just one win in their past six Premier League games.

Sunday's 3-1 loss to Manchester City has only put further pressure on the Chelsea boss.

 

TOP STORY – LAMPARD'S POSITION AS CHELSEA BOSS UNDER THREAT

Lampard's job as Chelsea head coach is under serious threat, according to The Athletic.

The report says the Premier League club, who are eighth in the table, have started looking at replacements.

Lampard took charge of Chelsea in July 2019, but they sit seven points behind Liverpool and Manchester United – who have both played one game fewer – despite spending heavily in the close season.

ROUND-UP

- Kane's impressive form for Tottenham has seen him linked with the likes of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. The Independent reports Spurs have started talks with the forward, who has 10 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League this season, over a contract extension, even though his current deal runs until 2024.

- With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez sidelined with long-term injuries, Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders. But The Athletic reports the Premier League champions are not considering a move for Lille defender Sven Botman.

- Struggling for game time at Tottenham, Dele Alli is linked with a reunion with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. Foot Mercato reports Pochettino has spoken with Alli, who is open to a move.

- Staying at PSG and Sky Sports reports the Ligue 1 giants are in negotiations with Everton to sign Moise Kean on a permanent deal worth around €34.6million (£31m). Kean has scored nine goals in 16 games in all competitions on loan at PSG.

- Samuel Umtiti's Barcelona future is uncertain. Todofichajes reports Nice have a strong interest in the defender on an initial loan deal.

- Patrick Bamford has scored 10 Premier League goals this season and the Leeds United forward is out of contract next year. The Sun reports Leeds are set to reward the 27-year-old with a lucrative new deal.

Jurgen Klopp has made clear Liverpool will only be active in the January transfer window if it is the right thing to do, as they have solutions within the squad to cover for injuries in defence. 

Already missing long-term absentees Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, the reigning champions are now without Joel Matip due to a groin injury suffered against West Brom. 

Rhys Williams replaced the injured Matip in the second half of the 1-1 draw at Anfield, while Nathaniel Phillips started alongside Fabinho in the heart of the defence for the 0-0 result at Newcastle United three days later. 

Liverpool have been linked with centre-backs as potential options to strengthen the squad midway through the campaign, including Ozan Kabak at Bundesliga strugglers Schalke and Sven Botman, who has impressed this season for Ligue 1 high-flyers Lille. 

Klopp, though, insists the club will not do business just for the sake of it, particularly given the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

"We have solutions within the squad. If we can, or we will do something in the window, I don't know,” the Liverpool boss told the media.  

"It's a very difficult transfer window, as you can imagine. Not a lot of clubs have real money. Some clubs don't have money but don't need it as well.   

"Doing something makes no sense - doing the right thing does make sense, though. 

"I liked Nathan (against Newcastle). He's just an absolutely clear boy who knows about his abilities and is using them. He's just doing the job, helping us.   

"The reason he played was because if Rhys played again, Nate would not have played for five or six weeks, which makes no sense because he needs rhythm as well. 

"We have to think about these kind of things, but he did a good job."

Back-to-back draws has seen Liverpool caught at the summit, in-form Manchester United moving level on points with their rivals in the table.

Klopp's side can move clear again with a win away at Southampton on Monday - albeit they will then have played a game more than United. The German coach expects a tense title race this season with plenty of twists and turns, including the possibility of it going down to the wire.

"We wish it would not be that close, but I'm not surprised," Klopp said. "We have our situation, all the other clubs have their situations. Our season is so far, so good. Not more, not less.

"We tried to be ready for each game. I liked the reaction (against Newcastle) on the second half from West Brom, it was good. Now Southampton will ask different things - we have to be ready again.

"Then Aston Villa [in the FA Cup], then Manchester United, so this season is a tough one for the supporters.

"If you're a neutral, you will love it I'm sure, because it will go to the wire probably. It's tough for all of us, that's why it's so close."

The festive period may not have gone quite to plan for Liverpool but the return of Thiago Alcantara provides a reason for optimism at the start of 2021.

The Spaniard came on as a second-half substitute against Newcastle United on Wednesday, having not featured since suffering an injury when caught by Richarlison in the Merseyside derby back in October, a challenge that saw the Everton forward dismissed late on in a 2-2 draw. 

Yet despite the lengthy absence, Thiago hardly showed no signs of rust at St James' Park. While unable to help Liverpool fashion a late winner as they drew for a second successive outing, his appearance off the bench provided a welcome reminder of just what the Reds have missed in recent months. 

After replacing James Milner in the 73rd minute, the midfielder had 29 touches, completed 21 of his 23 pass attempts and won all six of his duels. It was as if he had never been away. 

Having stuttered in their last two outings - they were held at home by West Brom before the 0-0 result at Newcastle - there must be a temptation to put the 29-year-old in the starting line-up at Southampton on Monday, as Liverpool aim to move clear of Manchester United at the Premier League summit.

Jurgen Klopp, though, is understandably unwilling to take any undue risks with a player who has also had to deal with testing positive for COVID-19 since moving to England.

"We will see. That he could play 20 minutes is special, I would say. He's had only two sessions with the team - that's it," the Liverpool boss said after the 0-0 result at Newcastle. 

"This game gave us an opportunity to do it, because it was mainly about creating and that's obviously his best skill.

"Honestly, the boys who did the job so far did exceptionally well. It's not that we could not survive if he cannot start the next game, but it's very good that he's fit and in contention. I like that a lot." 

Liverpool fans should like it too, considering what they have witnessed in the limited glimpses of the big-name signing from Bayern Munich so far. 

Thiago completed 75 passes of 83 attempted (90.24 per cent) against Chelsea on debut – and that was just in one half. Since Opta began collecting full passing data in 2003-04, his tally sits as the most made by a player to have played a maximum of 45 minutes. 

He was even more accurate with his passing when handed a first start against Everton, finishing up at 92.41 per cent. He also completed 80 per cent of his attempted dribbles in that game, having 99 touches in total at Goodison Park. 

Liverpool's midfield - so often without Fabinho this season, with the Brazilian having to switch to fill in for injuries at centre-back - has performed admirably so far. Yet Thiago provides something different, something a bit special.

It may well be Klopp, with his focus only on the bigger picture, leaves him in reserve once more at Southampton, but the Reds will only benefit from having the playmaker back involved again.

Jadon Sancho was once top of Manchester United 's wish list but now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to move for the Borussia Dortmund star's teammate  Erling Haaland .

Solskjaer had solidified his position at United heading into the January window following a 10-match unbeaten run and the Norwegian manager is determined to recruit his countryman.

After tracking ex-Manchester City youth product Sancho before the season, United are ready to switch their attention to Haaland, with reports suggesting he has a £70million release clause.


TOP STORY – UNITED TO SWITCH ATTENTION TO HAALAND AND CASH IN ON POGBA

The Mirror report Solskjaer is so keen on Haaland, he flew to Salzburg and attempted to hijak the goalscoring sensation’s move to Dortmund last January.

Virgil van Dijk is on track to be fit for the European Championship later this year, according to Netherlands head coach Frank de Boer.

Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk has been out since a 2-2 draw with Everton in October, when he sustained a serious knee ligament injury following a heavy challenge from Jordan Pickford.

Van Dijk's influence has since been notable in its absence for the Reds, for whom he played an integral role in ending their 30-year wait to win the English top-flight title in 2019-20.

Last season Van Dijk attempted more passes (3,255) than any other defender in the Premier League, while only two other defenders with more than 1,500 had a better completion rate than him (89.2 per cent).

On top of that, Trent Alexander-Arnold (3,664) was the sole defender to have more touches of the ball than Van Dijk (3,624), his 239 duels won was the fifth best among rearguard players and his 191 aerial wins was bettered by only James Tarkowski (199).

Van Dijk has posted a series of videos on social media recently, including one in Dubai where former Netherlands midfielder Clarence Seedorf assisted the defender with his rehabilitation.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp recently said Van Dijk still "has a long way to go" and it is uncertain if he will play for the defending champions in the rest of this campaign.

But De Boer has optimistically claimed the 29-year-old, who captains the Dutch national team, should be contention to play in the delayed Euro 2020 tournament provided he does not suffer any setbacks.

De Boer told De Telegraaf: "If Virgil doesn't get a kick-back and things go a little faster than expected, he should be able to make it for the opening European Championship match on June 13 against Ukraine.

"He is busy with so much energy. If you see what he's doing…In my time you were only allowed to kick in the swimming pool.

"He is very important for our team, on and off the field."

Van Dijk has won 38 caps for the Netherlands since he made his debut in October 2015.

Real Madrid are reportedly close to agreeing a deal with David Alaba, while Manchester United are expecting the asking price for Jadon Sancho to drop.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

The defender is free to speak to other clubs, and Madrid are making their move.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CLOSE TO ALABA SIGNING

Real Madrid are close to landing Bayern Munich defender Alaba on a four-year deal, according to Marca.

Alaba is likely to have offers from multiple clubs after establishing himself as one of Europe's leading defenders.

The Austria international has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Jadon Sancho yet to hit top form for Borussia Dortmund this season, Manchester United may be able to land the attacker later this year. 90min reports United believe they can land Sancho for less than £100million (€112.7m) after not meeting Dortmund's valuation of £107m (€120m) in the close season.

- Lionel Messi's future remains a major talking point. Sport reports the Barcelona star – who is out of contract at the end of the campaign – will wait until the end of the season to decide between the LaLiga giants, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and MLS.

- Real Madrid are apparently eyeing a replacement for Marcelo. AS reports the LaLiga giants are tracking Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes, who is also linked to Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus and PSG.

- Liverpool are also linked with centre-backs after long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, while potential exits have been mentioned. However, the Liverpool Echo reports the Premier League giants are not expecting any senior departures in January, which would mean Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi remain despite speculation over their futures.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes this season's Premier League title race will be "so tight”, though he is not getting carried away after Manchester United moved level with Liverpool at the top. 

United defeated Aston Villa 2-1 at Old Trafford on Friday, remaining second behind the defending champions only due to their inferior goal difference. 

It was a 10th straight league match without defeat for Solskjaer's side, who seized the opportunity presented to them by Liverpool's goalless draw at Newcastle United on Wednesday. 

Liverpool can pull clear again at Southampton on Monday, with United's game in hand against Burnley to come later in January, but Solskjaer is expecting plenty more twists and turns before the campaign is out. 

"We've improved, we're getting better," the manager told Sky Sports. "The league – and the season – is going to be so tight. 

"There are going to be different and difficult games, strange results, we've just got to keep working and improving as a team. 

"Since Project Restart [late last season], we've been a very consistent team. 

"Every time you win a game, you take one step further. It's three points in total, you've just got to accumulate them. 

"The first game is just as important as the last game of the season - they all count the same." 

With Anthony Martial's opener cancelled out by Bertrand Traore, it again fell to Bruno Fernandes to hit the winner from the penalty spot against Villa, who are winless in 16 league meetings with United.

The Red Devils have lost just three of their 30 league matches since the 2020 signing of Fernandes, who has been involved in 33 goals in this time (19 goals, 14 assists). 

In Premier League history, only Andrew Cole (37 involvements - 28 goals, nine assists) has had a greater impact from his first 30 games in the competition. 

But United were clinging on in the closing stages, with Eric Bailly - who made a game-high six clearances - lunging into a vital stoppage-time block in front of goal, to leave Solskjaer a little concerned about his team's inability to close out games when ahead. 

"To be fair, I didn't enjoy the last 10 minutes that much – we should have seen the game out in a better way," he said, having seen United finish with just 48.9 per cent of the possession. 

"It seemed like it was a cup final, or the last game of the season. We need to learn how to play out games better when we're in the lead. We've shown that when we're chasing a goal, we're capable of doing that. 

"We created chances. It was always going to be a physical game. We knew that they'd improved massively, and they gave us some challenges. 

"There were a few times in that box when you were a bit worried. We didn't stop the crosses well enough, because when they put crosses in, they were always dangerous. 

"But we made some fantastic blocks, some saves, so I'm delighted with the three points."

Jurgen Klopp is encouraged by videos of Virgil van Dijk training in the gym but warned the commanding Liverpool centre-back still has a long road to recovery ahead of him.

Netherlands international Van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury during the 2-2 draw against Everton in October's Merseyside derby, as a result of a robust challenge from Jordan Pickford.

Van Dijk is likely to miss the rest of the season while his status for the delayed Euro 2020 remains unclear.

This week, Reds fans would have been boosted by the sight of Van Dijk's workouts in Dubai – where Netherlands great Clarence Seedorf dropped in to work with the defender.

Klopp too is happy to see the progress being made but also ushered a cautious tone.

"Good, very good I have no problem talking about Virgil van Dijk," Klopp said when previewing Monday's Premier League clash against Van Dijk's former club Southampton. 

"It's very good but still a long way to go that's [the deal with] this kind of injury. I'm happy when I see these videos because it just shows he makes good progress but it will still take a lot of time that's how it is. 

"I'd like to say something else but these are the facts unfortunately."

This week saw two matches called off, Manchester City's clash with Everton and Tottenham's fixture with Fulham, due to coronavirus cases in the City and Fulham camps.

On Tuesday, the Premier League announced 18 positive results for COVID-19 – the highest amount since regular testing began – but there are no plans as yet for a so-called "circuit breaker".

Klopp says he trusts whatever decision is made, adding: "I'm not a specialist, you all know that, we all try to do our best to keep the competition going.

"I think it works well, we knew before that the winter will be a second wave or something however you want to call that.

"On top of that for us in society Christmas is a challenge when it's about self-isolation and stuff like this, so I'm not surprised that the numbers go up. 

"That then happens in football as well, the numbers go slightly up - it's understandable but we still all try to do everything to keep the boys as safe as possible. 

"I think the competition can go on and I think it's important as well because people want to watch it. 

"I think really we can carry on, but I'm not a specialist and I respect all the decisions made in the next few weeks."

The date of January 1 is typically the time for New Year's resolutions but for some footballers in Europe's top five leagues it signals the day they can plot a lucrative move to a new club.

A number of top players, including Barcelona's Lionel Messi, are out of contract at the end of the 2021 season and from the start of the year are free to open talks with other teams.

Messi, of course, will be the one that takes the limelight but there are some other big-name players who will be free to leave their clubs for nothing in six months.

Here's the best players (and a couple of pretty good second choices) who are out of contract in 2021 and make up a free transfers XI.

FREE TRANSFERS XI (4-3-3)

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Marko Dmitrovic)
The youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Italy – at 17 years and 189 days – has now matured into one of Serie A's most consistent performers between the sticks. The 21-year-old has been key to Milan's surge to the top of the table with four clean sheets in the league so far this season.

RB: Elseid Hysaj (Kenny Lala)
Comfortable on both the right and left flanks the versatile Albanian full-back, 26, has been a dependable, and largely unsung, part of Napoli's defence since 2015. He may lack the eye-catching assists of attacking defenders but Hysaj uses the ball intelligently in possession.

CB: Eric Garcia (Shkodran Mustafi)
A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy he joined Manchester City in 2017 where Pep Guardiola has been influential in his development. Blessed with an excellent reading of the game, and a superb positional sense, the 19-year-old has rejected a new contract at City and appears hungry for regular first-team football elsewhere.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Jerome Boateng)
The knees might be creaking at the age of 34, but the Real Madrid and Spain centre-back's mix of bloody-minded determination and charismatic leadership make him an asset to nearly any defence despite being at the back end of his career.

LB: David Alaba (Romain Saiss)
Able to operate in defence or midfield the 28-year-old Austria international has spent a decade as one of Bayern Munich's most consistent and reliable players. With nine Bundesliga and two Champions League winners' medals under his belt he has bucketloads of experience at the top level.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum (Hakan Calhanoglu)
The Dutch midfielder has been converted by Jurgen Klopp from a goalscoring attacker into an intelligent midfield workaholic integral to Liverpool's style of play. Largely unheralded, he is man for the big occasion as his two goals in Liverpool's famous 4-0 comeback win over Barcelona demonstrate.

CM: Fernandinho (Mesut Ozil)
He turns 36 next May, and may lack the bite of old, but the Brazilian still has a lot to offer either as an efficient defensive midfielder or classy centre-back. Another player whose influence and quality may only be fully appreciated by City when he has actually left the club.

CM: Luka Modric (Julian Draxler)
A cultured and experienced midfield playmaker who, despite his diminutive frame, still oozes class whenever he is on the ball. Part of the furniture at Real Madrid since 2012 the 35-year-old Croatian looks like he still has plenty of years at the top ahead of him provided injuries do not take their toll.

RF: Lionel Messi (Florian Thauvin, Lucas Vazquez)
Should he stay or should he go? The transfer saga of 2020 looks set to dominate much of 2021 as well. Barcelona's greatest ever player needs no introduction. Since his debut in October 2004, Barca have won 55.9 per cent of their LaLiga games without Messi (won 66, drawn 39 and lost 22), compared to 73.7 per cent with him in the side (won 368, drawn 83 and lost 48).

CF: Sergio Aguero (Olivier Giroud, Arkadiusz Milik, Diego Costa)
Injury problems appear to be catching up with the 32-year-old Manchester City striker. On his day, there are few better natural finishers around. Aguero has more hat-tricks (12) than anyone else in the Premier League and is the highest non-English scorer in the history of the competition with 180 goals.

LF: Memphis Depay (Angel Di Maria)
A pitiful return of just two league goals in 33 appearances saw him jettisoned by Manchester United in 2017 but since then Depay has rebuilt his career and started to flourish. The Dutch forward has a respectable 62 goals in 154 appearances for Lyon in Ligue 1 and aged 26 is about to hit his peak.

Around the globe, nations are welcoming in 2021, bidding goodbye to what has been a tumultuous year.

Much has changed in 2020, and while the coronavirus pandemic continues, football has at least returned, albeit in a vastly different way to what came before.

The Premier League was suspended for three months between March and June, but following a successful Project Restart, 2020-21 is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable campaigns in recent history.

With 2020 coming to an end, and 2021 promising signs of improvement, we use Opta data to review the Premier League year.

PASS MASTERS CITY CONFINE DEFENSIVE CONCERNS TO HISTORY?

Pep Guardiola's swashbuckling Manchester City side of 2017 to 2019 may well be a thing of the past, but so, it seems, are defensive lapses.

While often rampant in attack, City could be got at the back, as Liverpool usually managed to expose in meetings between the two title challengers.

Perhaps with the league all but sewn up in Liverpool's favour by early 2020, however, Guardiola seems to have found the tonic to City's issues in defence.

City have kept 17 clean sheets in 2020, three more than any other side. Seven of those have come this season, while the resurgence of John Stones in recent weeks has been a major success story.

Stones has made six league appearances – all of them starts – and has helped City keep five clean sheets, while forming a fine partnership with Ruben Dias, meaning Aymeric Laporte has found himself out of the side.

City's improved defence has come at something of a cost, with their goal tally falling to 69, six behind Liverpool, who netted 75 times across 2020, and a drop of 26 from their total of 95 in 2019.

However, Guardiola's team still control possession as much as they ever did, making 20,237 successful passes in 2020.

Indeed, holding midfielder Rodri completed the most passes of any player in the Premier League, while his pass completion rate of 92.4 per cent was also the highest of any midfielder.

DYNAMIC PLAYMAKERS TOP THE CHARTS

While James Rodriguez has come into the Premier League and made a strong impact at Everton, creating 25 chances – including three assists – and scoring three times in 10 appearances for Carlo Ancelotti's side, it is the playmakers with more dynamism and tenacity who have impressed the most through 2020.

Kevin De Bruyne – last season's PFA Premier League Player of the Year – was the chief creator.

He was the only player to create more than 100 chances in the Premier League in 2020, while he also led all players in chances created from open play (83). De Bruyne's tally of 15 assists was also more than twice as many as any of his City team-mates.

Another standout is Bruno Fernandes, who has seemingly transformed Manchester United's fortunes since joining in January.

Fernandes was involved in 32 Premier League goals in 29 games in 2020 (18 goals, 14 assists). The 26-year-old is one of two players to have been involved in 30 or more Premier League strikes in a calendar year, after Luis Suarez in 2013.

Topping the chances created charts for this campaign, however, is Jack Grealish. Villa's captain crafted 93 opportunities in total through the year, second only to De Bruyne, and 51 of those have come from 14 appearances this term – an average of 3.64 per game.

Grealish's 10 big chances created is level with Fernandes, while only De Bruyne (11) has made more.

The key attribute which stands Grealish out, however, is his ability to carry the ball. Having amassed 8,634.99 metres, he leads the way in the league, ahead of Harry Maguire (7,462.14m), Adama Traore (6,912.35m) and Andrew Robertson (6,882.03m).

De Bruyne and Fernandes are no strangers to picking up the ball and powering forward, though their chance creation relies more on precise crossing and slick passing.

RUN, FOREST, RUN! THE PREMIER LEAGUE'S MARATHON MEN

It is no surprise to see that Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool top the distance-covered metrics for the year. In total, the Reds ran 3,854.8 metres, 20.1 more than second-placed Sheffield United, albeit Chris Wilder's men will not get much-needed points just because they run more than the opposition.

West Ham (3820.2m), Brighton and Hove Albion (3804.1m) and Chelsea (3722.4m) complete the top five, with Southampton something of a surprise omission, as Ralph Hasenhuttl's side are renowned for their pressing system.

However, Saints captain James Ward-Prowse does lead the way for distance covered, tallying up just under 396km over the course of 3,060 minutes (the equivalent of nine-and-a-half marathons).

As well as being a tireless worker, Ward-Prowse is a set-piece specialist, scoring four free-kick goals.

Indeed, those strikes contributed to Southampton's league-leading tally of 15 goals from outside of the area, with Danny Ings netting five long-range efforts and Stuart Armstrong adding four.

While Grealish has carried the ball further than any other player, Wolves' Traore clocked up the most dribbles, amassing 142 – 46 more than anybody else.

In January, Traore completed 14 dribbles in a game against Watford – the most by a player in a Premier League game since 2003-04, when Opta began recording.

 

BRUNO AND VARDY'S PENALTY PARTY

A total of 112 penalties were awarded in 2020 – 13 of these went to Leicester City, while 10 went the way of United, Chelsea and City respectively.

Fernandes converted eight times from the spot, while Leicester's Jamie Vardy scored seven, one ahead of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah.

West Brom are the only team to have not been awarded a Premier League spot-kick, with Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Burnley – much to Sean Dyche's chagrin – winning two each.

While Leicester won the most fouls inside the area, it was Grealish who was felled the most in general, averaging at least one foul in all 32 of his appearances.

 

SUPER STRIKERS

Rounding off our review are the Premier League's leading marksmen. Salah (23) and Fernandes (18) headline the scoring charts.

Salah's 23 strikes came from 33 appearances, while Fernandes made four fewer, though more of his goals did come from penalties.

The evergreen Vardy, with 17 goals, is next on the list, tied with Tottenham star Son Heung-min, who was involved in 18 open play sequences ending in goals, more than any other player.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has enjoyed a brilliant run since Ancelotti took charge of Everton, scoring 16 times in 2020 – with 11 coming this season.

Calvert-Lewin had 93 attempts in total, which ranks second in the league, though it is 31 fewer than Salah managed, and his strikes, along with telling contributions from Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and the creative forces of Robertson (12 assists) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (seven assists), helped Liverpool to their first-ever Premier League title.

Harry Kane's seemingly telepathic partnership with Son has proved fruitful for Spurs, and the England skipper scored 16 times across the year from 25 appearances, recording 10 assists.

Will Paul Pogba return to Turin?

Pogba's future at Manchester United is in doubt, with the World Cup-winning Frenchman reportedly looking to leave the Theatre of Dreams.

Juventus are keen to re-sign Pogba – who initially left United for the Italian giants in 2012 before returning to Manchester four years later.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE WANT POGBA REUNION

Signing Manchester United star Paul Pogba remains the dream for Juventus, according to Calciomercato.

Pogba is eyeing an Old Trafford exit amid growing links to former club Juve and LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

Juve are keen on reuniting with Pogba, though Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli, Lyon star Houssem Aouar, Udinese midfielder Rodrigo De Paul and Roma sensation Nicolo Zaniolo are alternatives.

 

ROUND-UP

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp revelled in the long-awaited return of star midfielder Thiago Alcantara.

Thiago came off the bench in his first appearance since October as Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw by Newcastle United in the Premier League on Wednesday.

The former Bayern Munich man, who sustained a knee injury in a 2-2 draw with Everton on October 17, was a 73rd-minute substitute and managed to make 23 passes with 91.3 per cent accuracy midweek.

"We signed Thiago actually because we thought he was a good player, so you can imagine we would like to have him in the team. That's clear," Klopp told reporters during his post-match news conference.

"What the other boys did in the time he was not available is absolutely incredible. James Milner, for example, tonight played a super game in midfield. Really. So, yes, it's good [he is back], he is a super player. I think of the 20 minutes, 12 round about were brilliant and then he felt the intensity, but that's normal. He trained exactly twice with the team. There is still some physical work to do, still some rhythm to get.

"[Xherdan] Shaqiri is back and that's, by the way, the best news tonight – the boys are back and, as far as I know in the moment, nobody got injured tonight, which is a very important thing. That means we can probably go with the same squad to Southampton."

Back-to-back draws against West Brom and Newcastle has seen Liverpool's lead atop the table reduced to three points, with rivals and second-placed Manchester United boasting a game in hand.

Liverpool failed to score for the first time in 22 Premier League matches, while the defending champions were unable to win their final league game of a calendar year for the first time in seven years.

The Reds' only shot on target in the second half came in the 88th minute via Roberto Firmino's header. Liverpool have now managed just one attempt on target after half-time in each of their last two Premier League games.

"Look, not scoring is a concern if you don't create," Klopp said. "That's how it is. If you create, it's just momentum, it's for now. But if you keep creating then you will score, that's it. I know we will score again, that's not our problem in the moment.

"We needed to show a reaction from the second half against West Brom because in that game we lost the plot a little bit in the second half, it looked for me like we were 1-0 down not 1-0 up. Tonight it was a very good reaction on that, without getting the result. But we all know: you win this game 1-0 and everybody is over the moon. And we should have won it at least 1-0, but we didn't. That's what we have to accept.

"But I can work with this performance, that's important. I can work with the things I saw tonight. We can build on that, we don't have to now change massively in the next three or four days and say, 'OK everything is going wrong, we have to try to compete another way'. That's why I’m OK, that's it."

Joel Matip is facing around three weeks on the sidelines due to a groin injury sustained against West Brom, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has confirmed.

Matip was forced off on the hour mark against the Baggies on Sunday, with Rhys Williams coming on in his place.

The defender's absence was felt as Semi Ajayi snatched a late equaliser for West Brom, and the former Schalke man was not in the squad when Liverpool faced Newcastle United on Wednesday.

It proved to be another frustrating match for the Reds, who drew for a second successive fixture as they were held to a 0-0 stalemate – the first goalless game between Newcastle and Liverpool since 1974.

Following the draw at St James' Park, Klopp confirmed he is set to be without the centre-back for approximately three weeks.

"The normal situation with this kind of injury, [he will be out for] around about three weeks," Klopp told a news conference.

With Liverpool having lost Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to potentially season-ending knee injuries, Matip has formed a valuable partnership with the versatile Fabinho at the back.

He has made eight league appearances – just one fewer than he managed in an injury ravaged campaign last term – though he has had time out with thigh and back problems.

Matip is likely to miss Premier League matches against Southampton and Manchester United, which come either side of a trip to Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round.

On Liverpool's last visit to Villa Park they were beaten 7-2 in October.

Matip has helped Liverpool to three clean sheets in the Premier League this season, making 19 clearances – 12 with his head, ranking joint-second in the squad – and 11 tackles.

The 29-year-old has won 18 aerial battles, though that is lower than tallies managed by fellow defenders Nat Phillips (21), Gomez (21) and Fabinho (29).

Liverpool and Newcastle United produce goals.

Across 50 prior Premier League encounters ahead of Wednesday's meeting at St James' Park, the ball had found the net 159 times.

Indeed, in Premier League history, only four fixtures – Arsenal v Liverpool (166), Liverpool v Tottenham (162), Arsenal v Everton (162) and Arsenal v Tottenham (161) – have provided more goals.

With Liverpool – who claimed their biggest ever top-flight away win in their previous game on the road, thrashing Crystal Palace 7-0 – aiming to respond to a Sam Allardyce special at Anfield, and Newcastle having failed to keep a clean sheet in their past 11 home league matches, the stage seemed set for another goal-fest.

Yet on a snowy night on Tyneside, the champions were held for a second successive game, as Newcastle and Liverpool played out a goalless draw for the first time since February 1974.
 

FESTIVE WOE FOR MO

Mohamed Salah scored twice in Liverpool's rout of Palace, but the league's leading scorer has failed to carry that form into the subsequent two fixtures.

Salah – who did not get any of his three attempts on target against West Brom on Sunday – had been involved in nine goals in his past six away Premier League appearances heading into this trip.

The Egyptian had also netted in each of his previous four starts against Newcastle, but Salah was shorn of his shooting boots on Wednesday.

Having seen Karl Darlow brilliantly save a close-range attempt in the 34th minute, Salah looked all set to break the deadlock after the hour, only to drill wide when one-on-one again. It was his second, and last, attempt.

DARLOW STAKES HIS CLAIM DESPITE DUBRAVKA'S RETURN

Liverpool were denied by a fantastic stoppage-time save from Sam Johnstone last time out, and they found a goalkeeper in similarly fine form this time.

Darlow had four saves to make in total, but three were of the highest quality.

His stop from Salah in the first half showed outstanding reflexes, though it was arguably bettered in the 88th minute, with the former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper somehow keeping out Roberto Firmino's header.

Wedged between those stops was another Firmino header he palmed clear, although Darlow was grateful to have Fabian Schar on hand to clear as he and Sadio Mane scrapped for the ball in the second half.

With the returning Martin Dubravka watching on from the bench, there was another nervy moment for Darlow when he flapped at a corner, yet Firmino was unable to make him pay.

WILSON PUTS IN THE WORK, BUT ALISSON HARDLY TESTED

At the other end of the pitch for Newcastle, Callum Wilson worked tirelessly to run Liverpool's line – after all, the Reds have conceded 20 Premier League goals in 16 matches this season.

Chasing his 50th Premier League goal, Wilson had two attempts – neither on target – and created one chance. He covered 10.28 kilometres and made 22 sprints, the most in the Newcastle team.

Newcastle's problem was a lack of support for their frontman, though Ciaran Clark did send a header too close to Alisson in closing stages.

In total, Steve Bruce's team had just three attempts fewer than Liverpool (11), the visitors limited to only four shots on target, and Newcastle are now unbeaten in their past five home Premier League games against reigning champions.

THAT'S A WRAP...

Though they bossed the possession (73.2 per cent), Liverpool were once again held by a side who sat deep and looked to play on the break.

Their frustration was evidenced late on when Andrew Robertson inexplicably lashed out at Federico Fernandez for clearing a loose ball.

Jurgen Klopp became even more animated when the board was raised to signal four minutes of added time – ultimately, it felt like a night on which Liverpool could have played on for another 90 minutes and not scored.

Against the five teams Liverpool have played this season that resided in the bottom six prior to Wednesday's match, the Reds have now taken just seven points of the 15 on offer.

While 2020 has been difficult, and unprecedented, it has been a superb year for Liverpool, who clinched their first Premier League title and currently sit top of the table heading into 2021, though only by three points.

However, two draws on the bounce to teams either in the bottom half will leave something of a sour taste for the Reds, who had previously won their final league game of the calendar year six times on the spin.

Liverpool will end 2020 three points clear at the top of the Premier League but were left frustrated after a goalless draw with Newcastle United on Wednesday.

Jurgen Klopp's side monopolised possession and carved out the best opportunities at St James' Park, but against a spirited Newcastle side a winner eluded them.

Liverpool's front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all had chances, only to find Karl Darlow in inspired form in the Newcastle goal.

It was the first 0-0 between the sides since 1974 and left Liverpool three points ahead of second-placed Manchester United having played a game more.

Newcastle began brightly as Callum Wilson glanced an early header wide and then outpaced Nathaniel Phillips but saw his goalbound shot from a tight angle blocked by Fabinho.

The Reds slowly found their rhythm and Salah beat the Newcastle offside trap, yet Darlow was sharp off his line to narrow the angle and superbly push the ball wide.

The in-form Darlow produced another brilliant diving save to keep out Firmino's header on the stroke of half-time.

Mane's near-post header clipped the side netting moments after the interval, while Salah shot wide from a good position after he was released by Firmino shortly after the hour.

Klopp introduced fit-again midfielder Thiago Alcantara in the 73rd minute, but Liverpool needed goalkeeper Alisson to make a fine stretching save to claw away Ciaran Clark's header from Matt Ritchie's free-kick.

The Reds looked most likely to fine a winner late on and Fabian Schar hooked the ball off the line with Mane lurking with 10 minutes left.

However, Steve Bruce's side rolled up their sleeves and Darlow made another late stop from Firmino to end a run of five consecutive defeats against Liverpool.
 

What does it mean? Reds face title scrap

Liverpool ended 2019 with a 13-point lead at the top after 19 games, but their advantage this time around - albeit having played four fewer matches - is much more slender.

The Reds ran away with the title last season, yet results such as these emphasise the challenge they face this term.

Newcastle clearly relish playing the champions at St James' Park and are now unbeaten in their past five home Premier League games against reigning title holders (won two, drawn three).

Defiant Darlow denies Reds

Newcastle had failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their past 11 Premier League home games before this encounter. 

That they managed to shut out the Premier League champions owed much to the performance of Darlow, who made four excellent saves and was a calming presence throughout.

Sadio struggles in the Toon

Mane had been directly involved in seven goals in his previous eight away top-flight matches (six goals, one assist) but was below his best here. 

The Senegal forward failed to register a single shot on target and struggled to find his team-mates often enough, with his pass completion of 75.6 per cent the second-worst among all Liverpool players.

What's next?

Liverpool begin 2021 with a trip to Southampton next Monday, while Newcastle play the day before when Leicester City are the visitors to St James' Park.

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