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.

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

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.

Tottenham are keeping an eye on Sergio Ramos' situation at Real Madrid, while Georginio Wijnaldum is set to decide his future.

Ramos, 34, is coming out of contract at Madrid at the end of the season.

With the defender yet to re-sign, he has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – TOTTENHAM KEEPING AN EYE ON RAMOS

Tottenham are keeping an eye on Ramos' situation at Real Madrid, according to the Evening Standard.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho worked with Ramos at Madrid between 2010 and 2013.

Ramos has been at the Spanish giants since 2005, winning five LaLiga titles and three Champions League trophies among numerous other honours.

 

ROUND-UP

- Also out of contract at season's end, Wijnaldum is set to make a decision on his Liverpool future. Sky Sports reports the midfielder will decide this week whether to sign a new deal with the Premier League champions amid links to Barcelona.

- Diego Costa is set to leave Atletico Madrid, who are eyeing a replacement. Marca reports Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik is best placed to replace Costa.

- Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha is again linked with a move. The Sun reports Serie A leaders AC Milan are chasing Zaha in January.

- Arsenal look set to be busy in January. The Sun reports the Premier League club want Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan in a £32million (€35.3m) move. Meanwhile, The Athletic says Arsenal are unlikely to rekindle their interest in Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar.

- Could Marcos Alonso be returning to Spain? The Independent reports Atletico Madrid are in talks to sign full-back Alonso on loan from Chelsea in January. Alonso has played just three Premier League games for Chelsea this season.

Thomas Tuchel's tenure as Paris Saint-Germain head coach is all but over.

Tuchel will reportedly be replaced by Mauricio Pochettino, despite leading PSG to Ligue 1 glory last season and the Champions League final.

Can former PSG defender Pochettino help the French giants conquer Europe?

 

TOP STORY – POCH SET FOR PSG

Mauricio Pochettino has agreed terms to take charge of Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Thomas Tuchel's sacking is set to be announced after striking a deal with PSG to leave immediately – the compensation worth €6million, reports Bild.

Former Tottenham manager Pochettino is now poised to return to PSG, where he played between 2001 and 2003.

 

ROUND-UP

Diego Costa has requested to leave Atletico Madrid in January, claims Diario AS and Marca. If Costa is unable to depart during the next window, the veteran striker will farewell Atletico on a free transfer at season's end.

Wolves have joined the chase to sign Real Madrid outcast Luka Jovic, says The Athletic. Wolves are keen to bolster their attack following Raul Jimenez's serious injury and Jovic has emerged as a loan option for the Premier League side. Milan have also been heavily linked with the Serbia international.

Georginio Wijnaldum wants time to reflect on Liverpool's contract offer, reports Fabrizio Romano. Wijnaldum is set to become a free agent amid links to Barca.

- The Mirror reports Arsenal are circling for Brighton and Hove Albion full-back Tariq Lamptey should Hector Bellerin depart for Barcelona. Lamptey has been linked to Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Sevilla are eyeing a January swoop for Marseille star Florian Thauvin, according to Andaluz Estadio Deportivo. Milan have also been tracking the Frenchman.

- Corriere dello Sport says Juventus and Inter remain keen on signing Udinese's Rodrigo De Paul. Meanwhile, Ilbianconeri claims Juve have been offered Arsenal outcast Mesut Ozil.

Manchester United remain in contact with Moises Caicedo's agents to sign the Independiente del Valle sensation, says Romano. The 19-year-old Ecuadorian midfielder wants to move to Old Trafford.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has declared he is Santa Claus as he brings gifts to 27 children: his two in Sweden, and his 25 team-mates in Milan.

The veteran striker has helped to steer the Rossoneri back towards a Serie A title challenge since returning for a second spell at the club in January.

The only unbeaten team in Europe's top-five leagues in games played since the 2019-20 shutdown in March caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Milan sit top with 34 points from 14 matches, exactly double the tally they had at the same stage last season.

Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in just six league games in 2020-21 but, interestingly, Milan have had a better win rate without him in the team (72.7 per cent) than with him (62.5 per cent) since his first game back at the club on January 6.

Still, the 39-year-old's impact on and off the pitch has helped turn Stefano Pioli's side into genuine contenders at least for a top-four finish, the seven-time champions of Europe having not played in the Champions League since the 2013-14 season.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star feels like a gift that keeps on giving at the club where he has always been happiest.

"I never ask for anything for myself [at Christmas]," he told SportWeek. "I am Santa Claus. I am the one who brings gifts to all my 27 children: two are in Sweden and the other 25 are at Milanello.

"This year, huge congratulations for what we have done and what we're doing. We've lost very few games. I don't know if that's thanks to me, but I did do something, I brought something in.

"I've played at many clubs and have respect for all my clubs, great memories, but Milan is the club where I feel at home.

"I go to Milanello every morning and I am in no hurry to go home because I am at home. I felt like this the first time I came to Milan, in 2010.

"With [former CEO Adriano] Galliani and [former president Silvio] Berlusconi, with the team, everyone who worked there, there was a different feeling, different atmosphere. They made you feel at home.

"I liked it because I could be myself and at the same time I was playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. This is why Milan are top of the top for me."

Ibrahimovic has won 11 league titles across four different countries, not including Juventus' 2004-05 and 2005-06 Scudetti revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal, in a glittering career.

He has been acknowledged as Sweden's best footballer on 12 occasions, including this year, yet his highest finish in the Ballon d'Or standings was fourth back in 2013.

Still, Ibrahimovic claims he would not trade his 12 Guldbollen for France Football's prize as he considers his longevity to be a great achievement.

"I wouldn't swap my 12 Guldbollen for one from France Football because, for me, they mean continuity," he said.

"I have seen many who have won the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, even the Ballon d'Or, had a wonderful year, fantastic, then later they disappeared.

"But I've been in the game for 25 years. Always at the top. It's a big difference."

Explaining how he can still compete at the highest level after more than 20 years in senior football, Ibrahimovic said: "Winning is my drug.

"It's hard to explain but, when I'm on the pitch, I have to win. I have a 95 per cent winning rate in training, in practice matches. It's not a lie.

"Maybe that's understood by the team, too, like with the draw with Parma [when Milan recovered from 2-0 down]. Maybe six months ago they would have been happy, but this time they were all still p***** off the next day."

What does the future hold for Phil Foden?

Foden is highly rated at Manchester City, but he is struggling for regular game time.

Could Real Madrid prise the Englishman to the Santiago Bernabeu?

 

TOP STORY – LOS BLANCOS EYE FODEN

LaLiga champions Real Madrid are ready to pounce for Manchester City's Phil Foden, according to the Mirror.

City sensation Foden has been struggling for regular game time under manager Pep Guardiola, starting just five of his 10 Premier League appearances this season.

Madrid have emerged as serious suitors for the 20-year-old sensation and there is a growing belief that he could be prised to the Spanish capital.

 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal are considering a move for Borussia Dortmund winger Julian Brandt, reports The Athletic. Out of favour at Dortmund this season, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is reportedly keen to reinforce his struggling side in January.

Manchester United could send Donny van de Beek to Inter on loan as they look to bring in Christian Eriksen from the Serie A side, claims Calciomercato. Eriksen is set to leave Inter in January and the Danish midfielder has been linked to Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain.

- As question marks grow over Samir Handanovic, Calciomercato says Inter are considering Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso as a successor to the long-serving Nerazzurri star.

Madrid are confident of re-signing veteran star Luka Modric, according to Fabrizio Romano. It comes as Madrid still try to negotiate a new contract with captain and soon-to-be free agent Sergio Ramos, who has been linked to the likes of Juventus, PSG, United and City. Modric has previously been a target for Inter and Milan.

Luka Jovic would not be against a return to Eintracht Frankfurt but the out-of-favour Madrid forward is eyeing Milan, reports Calciomercato.

It has been a year like no other, but football eventually managed to continue amid the coronavirus pandemic and give fans across the world something positive to focus on.

Ligue 1 was curtailed and a streamlined version of the Champions League knockout rounds took place in Lisbon in August, before a new season got under way.

There have still been plenty of performances to savour, though, and Stats Perform News has used Opta data to calculate a Team of the Year from the top five European leagues.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi made the grade in 2020 but the same could not be said of Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, while Kylian Mbappe earned a spot that his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar could not.

Supporters of Premier League clubs may not be rejoicing about the selections, which were made based solely on data.

 

Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)

Atletico lead the way in LaLiga on goal difference and have two games in hand on nearest rivals Real Madrid. Diego Simeone's side owe much of their success to Oblak, who has kept 17 clean sheets in 33 LaLiga appearances this year – the most of any keeper in the division during the same period.

Right-back: Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)

Juve won a ninth straight Scudetto this year and Cuadrado has played an important role throughout 2020, creating 45 chances (including seven assists) for the Bianconeri in Serie A – only Paulo Dybala (56) supplied more key passes for the club.

Centre-back: Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)

Bayern Munich may be the dominant force in the Bundesliga, but Hummels has continued to show his worth since returning to Dortmund. He made the most interceptions (57) and completed the most passes (2,056) of any Bundesliga defender in 2020.

Centre-back: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)

France international Upamecano is one of the hottest properties in European football and has been linked with a host of elite clubs. He shows great coolness in possession – as evidenced by him completing 24 of the 33 dribbles he attempted for a success rate of 73 per cent, the best of any Bundesliga defender to try at least 30.

Left-back: Theo Hernandez (Milan)

While Upamecano has established himself with Les Bleus, Hernandez's continued absence from the France set-up despite stellar showings for a resurgent Milan remains a source of much debate. The Rossoneri will end the year top of Serie A and Hernandez has been directly involved in 102 shots (46 chances created, 56 attempts on goal) in the league in 2020. That is more than any other defender in the same period.

Centre midfield: Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)

Kimmich's looping goal against Dortmund at the back end of last season was pivotal to Bayern retaining their German league title, which came as part of a treble. It has been the Germany international's distribution that has stood out this year, though. He completed an average of 75 passes per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga in 2020, the most of any midfielder in the competition to feature for at least 1,000 minutes.

Centre midfield: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)

Madrid regained the title in LaLiga in 2020, with Kroos a central figure in Zinedine Zidane's midfield. Of all players who attempted at least 1,000 passes in the opposition half in the Spanish top flight this year, Kroos was the only one who had a completion rate higher than 90 per cent.

Right wing: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

This year may have proved to be terminal to Messi's tight relationship with Barcelona, and while he was not quite up to his previous goalscoring exploits he still proved massively influential in the final third. He was the only player in LaLiga in 2020 to both score at least 15 goals and register as many assists.

Attacking midfield: Alejandro 'Papu' Gomez (Atalanta)

His time with Atalanta may seemingly be coming to an end after a falling-out with Gian Piero Gasperini, but Gomez has been one of the club's most important players. He had more assists (12) and created more chances (81) in Serie A this year than any of his team-mates.

Left wing: Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG were crowned Ligue 1 champions despite the season being cut short in April, meaning they have played just 26 games this year. Mbappe only featured in 21 of those, but he was still directly involved in 24 goals (19 scored, five assisted) which was more than any other player in the competition in 2020.

Striker: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

It was no surprise to see Lewandowski named The Best FIFA Men's Player after an incredible campaign with Bayern. He scored 32 Bundesliga goals in 26 appearances this year and only five of them were spot-kicks. His tally of 27 non-penalty goals was the most of any player in the top five European leagues.

Chelsea have reportedly joined the race for Erling Haaland as Manchester United consider their options.

Haaland, 20, has been heavily linked with a move after starring for Borussia Dortmund.

Europe's biggest clubs are lining up to sign the forward, and Chelsea are apparently among them, while United may look elsewhere.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA JOIN RACE FOR HAALAND

Chelsea are ready to enter the race for Dortmund star Haaland, according to 90min.

Manchester City are also reportedly heavily interested in the Norway international, who has also been linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Haaland has scored 33 goals in 32 games for Dortmund since arriving at the Bundesliga club from Salzburg in January.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United, meanwhile, may look elsewhere. The Mirror reports the Premier League giants may be unable to sign Haaland due to their "sour relationship" with his agent, Mino Raiola. The report says United see Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin as an alternative.

- With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez still sidelined, Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders. Todofichajes.com reports the Premier League leaders are interested in Real Madrid centre-back Eder Militao. Meanwhile, the Liverpool Echo says the club are in talks with Celta Vigo over 16-year-old defender Stefan Bajcetic.

- Struggling in the Premier League, Arsenal are expected to strengthen in January. The Daily Star reports the Gunners are considering a loan move for Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior next month.

- After just one Premier League appearance for Chelsea this season, Antonio Rudiger has been linked with a move away. Le Parisien reports Paris Saint-Germain want the defender in January.

- Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard is apparently attracting interest from elsewhere. CalcioMercato reports Juventus and Milan are interested in the 22-year-old.

- Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig is set to leave Camp Nou following repeated criticism from Blaugrana boss Ronald Koeman. Manchester City and Bayern Munich are both keen on the 21-year-old, according to Fichajes.

Stefano Pioli says his Milan players have a "fire burning inside" after they ensured they would end 2020 at the Serie A summit with a last-gasp 3-2 win over Lazio.

Ante Rebic's header and a penalty from Hakan Calhanoglu put the Rossoneri 2-0 up inside 17 minutes at San Siro, but the visitors roared back with goals from Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile, who had a penalty saved prior to the Spaniard's goal.

Theo Hernandez powered home a header in stoppage time, though, restoring Milan's one-point lead at the top after neighbours Inter had temporarily leapfrogged them following a 2-1 win over Hellas Verona earlier on Wednesday.

The win was the Rossoneri's 10th in 14 league games this season and Pioli does not want his side to relent when they return to action after the mid-season break.

"We'll keep the same passion and determination," he told DAZN. "There are many young players who have room for improvement.

"We have reached our targets this year, we are the league leaders. We have a fire burning inside and we need to leave it on.

"They are all aware of their qualities and I expect to see the same things in 2021. We are not perfect. There are many things we need to solve. We can't always dominate games, it's normal. When we don't do it, we must be compact and suffer.

"We always try to win games, we did it and I am really happy. I am proud of my team, they are doing something incredible.

"Lazio have great qualities and physical skills, but we had the chances to win the game and we did it.

"They were very aggressive, our midfielders played an intense game, it was what we needed in such a difficult game."

The result means Lazio have won just once in their past 31 away games versus Milan, with boss Simone Inzaghi left frustrated by his side's inability to hold on for at least a point.

"The result is not fair, I am angry," he said. "We came here with some problems, we had a few players out of action. We deserved more. It must serve as a lesson for the future.

"We are sorry for the result. We controlled the game.

"After the equaliser, we should have paid more attention. There must be a reason why Milan haven't lost a game for a long time. The guys must take the positive aspects of this game, not the result, but we dominated.

"We should have done more to avoid Theo's goal. Luis Alberto left him too much space. I am sorry for the guys, they didn't deserve to lose."

Milan maintained ensured they will end 2020 atop Serie A as Theo Hernandez's stoppage-time goal secured a 3-2 win over Lazio at San Siro on Wednesday.

Stefano Pioli's side wasted little time stamping their authority on the game, racing into a two-goal lead inside 17 minutes courtesy of Ante Rebic's header and Hakan Calhanoglu's penalty.

Luis Alberto and Ciro Immobile – who had a spot-kick saved prior to the Spaniard's goal – restored parity by finding the net either side of the interval, but Hernandez powered home from a corner in the 92nd minute to dramatically seal the three points for the Rossoneri.

The result restored Milan's one-point lead at the Serie A summit after neighbours Inter had temporarily leapfrogged them following a 2-1 win over Hellas Verona earlier in the day.

 

Erling Haaland is Chelsea's number one transfer target, while a pair of Premier League giants are lining up January bids for Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.

Borussia Dortmund star Haaland has netted 23 goals in 23 games since moving to the Bundesliga in January, leading to him reportedly being installed as Frank Lampard's top target for the off-season.

Will Haaland make the move to Chelsea?


TOP STORIES – CHELSEA WANT HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland has been identified as Chelsea's top transfer target along with West Ham's Declan Rice, according to Sky Sports journalist Angelo Mangiante.

Haaland has been linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.

But Haaland is wanted in London as Chelsea prepare for a clear-out, with seven players being made available – Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Jorginho, Marcos Alonso, Ross Barkley, Danny Drinkwater and Victor Moses.

Stefano Pioli insisted there is still more to come from his Milan side as he targeted a winning end to an impressive 2020.

Milan enter their final fixture of the year against Lazio sitting top of the Serie A standings, one point better off than bitter rivals Inter and four in front of reigning champions Juventus.

The Rossoneri are the only unbeaten side in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, winning nine and drawing four of their 13 matches.

Going further back, meanwhile, no team in Serie A has accrued more wins (22) or lost fewer games than Milan (two) this calendar year.

Another victory for Milan at home to Lazio on Wednesday will make certain of top spot at Christmas and Pioli is desperate to end 2020 on a high.

"It's important that we give our all to win this game, without thinking about the standings and where we currently are," he said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

"We have to play for 95 minutes with absolute conviction. We still have room for improvement and are not focused on others like Juve and Inter."

Milan's extraordinary year, albeit one that will end without a trophy to show for their efforts, is in stark contrast to a dire 2019 that ended with a crushing 5-0 loss to Atalanta.

That was Milan's heaviest defeat for more than 21 years and Pioli considers that to be a turning point, a transition helped by the arrival of free signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic the following month.

"Sometimes defeats teach you more than victories," he said. "It was a humiliating defeat for everyone involved, but that was the first stone on which we build this Milan.

"From that point on we understood what was needed, and in January the club made some excellent purchases."

While Ibrahimovic has been key to Milan's form over the past 12 months with 20 goals - only Cristiano Ronaldo (33), Ciro Immobile (27) and Romelu Lukaku (22) have scored more - others have also stepped up at important times.

Rafael Leao has benefited from Ibrahimovic's recent spell on the sidelines, starting seven league games this term and scoring Serie A's quickest ever goal inside six seconds in last weekend's 2-1 win over Sassuolo. 

He is the youngest player in the top five European leagues to have scored at least three times in the last three seasons, but Pioli has told the 21-year-old to add more goals to his game.

"Nobody at the age of 21 can think they have reached full football maturity," Pioli said. "Leao has to think more about scoring goals and do more as a forward.

"All young players can still improve. That goes for all the squad - a talented group that can grow a lot. They are taking steps forward and it is important to continue like that."

Alexis Saelemaekers was also on target last time to double his goals tally for the Serie A campaign in a game that saw Pioli field a team with an average age of 22 years and 313 days - Milan's second youngest line-up since 2004-05.

"He is a player who is working every day to grow and improve," Pioli said. "He is learning to be less frenetic when he is on the ball in full swing. 

"I didn't previously know about him as a player but his name was suggested by the scouts and we then watched him together.

"The performances of all my players make me understand that I have a strong and youthful squad. Now I hope to have more players back from the treatment room when we return."

Antonio Conte has no explanation for Alexis Sanchez's fitness issues but is frustrated by the Inter forward's "constant" injuries.

Sanchez has been out of action since just his sixth Serie A start of the season - five of which have ended with a win - against Cagliari on December 13.

The former Manchester United flop has featured in nine of Inter's 13 league games this term, scoring two goals and providing two assists in 538 minutes on the field.

Chile team-mate Arturo Vidal, who has started eight times, returned from his own injury in the final 24 minutes of Sunday's win over Spezia.

Coach Conte was asked on Tuesday, speaking ahead of the trip to Hellas Verona the following day, if the national team had contributed to the pair's problems.

Reinaldo Rueda, the Chile coach, clashed with the Nerazzurri during the November international break as both players were called up for World Cup qualifiers.

"I don't know if it's a problem for the national team or the player," Conte told a news conference. "But the constant fact is that Sanchez is often injured."

Sanchez was signed on a free transfer from United in August following an initial loan spell and attention is now turning to what business Inter can do in the January window.

Reports in Italy suggest there will need to be departures - notably Christian Eriksen - if Conte is to be able to bring in attacking reinforcements such as Alejandro Gomez or Gervinho.

But the former Italy boss was reluctant to discuss plans ahead of a meeting with the club's board.

"My evaluation is not important now," he said. "What is important is what the club has done in these four months in which we have worked.

"We will meet in the days after the match against Verona, during the Christmas period.

"It is right to have a follow-up to the meeting in August after decisions were made that were accepted by everyone. It is right to sit down and understand what solutions we have in mind and whether we want to face them."

Inter will be top of the table at Christmas should they better rivals Milan's result against Lazio on Wednesday.

However, Conte is pleased for league-leading Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli - previously at Inter - and recognises there is work still to do for his own side.

"[Milan] are doing very well; I'm happy for Pioli," Conte said. "At a football level, we are trying to make a path that will lead to Inter at the top of the table.

"It is a path that has begun and is continuing, a path made of work, alongside a parallel corporate one, about which you would have to ask the club."

Stefano Pioli is looking forward to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return, but the Milan coach was pleased with Rafael Leao's performance against Sassuolo.

Leao scored the fastest goal in Serie A history – after just six seconds – as Milan recorded a 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Sunday.

Milan returned to winning ways after back-to-back draws, and they are a point clear of rivals Inter atop the table.

Pioli's men have managed to stay unbeaten in Serie A through 13 games despite being without Ibrahimovic since the end of November, the striker – who has scored 11 goals this season – set to miss another month after suffering a calf injury in training.

Despite his side's form without the 39-year-old star, Pioli is keen to welcome Ibrahimovic back.

"First of all, with Ibra we are a stronger team. He is a champion and with him the team improved under many aspects," he told a news conference.

"Thanks to his work many players have improved their performances. I hope he can come back as soon as possible because we need him and with him we are a better team."

Leao, 21, is the youngest player with three-plus goals in the top five European leagues in each of the past three seasons.

Alexis Saelemaekers doubled Milan's lead after the early opener and they saw out a win despite Domenico Berardi's late strike.

"I'm very happy for Leao because sometimes I ask him more in terms of determination and consistency during the game," Pioli said.

"I never judge a performance by the goal but today despite scoring he had a good approach to the game and he worked a lot also when we were defending and was able to help the team a lot.

"He did all these things and with his individual qualities if he shows this mentality he can become a very important player if he plays like he did [against Sassuolo]."

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