Chelsea have reportedly already conducted a medical for RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku with the aim of signing him at the end of this season.

It has long been thought Nkunku's time at Leipzig was coming to an end, but the Bundesliga club retained his services in the most recent transfer window, potentially setting him up for a 2023 departure.

Nkunku is off to a terrific start to the Bundesliga season, netting four goals from seven games, and while the interest in him is expected to be wide-ranging, Chelsea have used their relationship with Leipzig in an effort to jump to the front of the queue.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA COMPLETE SECRET NKUNKU MEDICAL, PREPARE TO TRIGGER RELEASE CLAUSE

According to Bild, Nkunku has a release clause in his contract set at €60million, and Chelsea are prepared to trigger it at the conclusion of this campaign.

Chelsea and Leipzig have done plenty of business together previously, including sales of Timo Werner in either direction and advanced negotiations around young centre-back Josko Gvardiol. It appears Nkunku was also discussed at length, and the German club were willing to let Chelsea take a closer look at the in-demand attacker ahead of any official bids being made.

With Gvardiol also remaining a potential target for new Chelsea coach Graham Potter – with his price tag set at a huge €90m – this could turn into one of the most expensive package deals ever.

ROUND-UP

– According to the Daily Star, Erling Haaland weighed up a potential move to Liverpool before eventually choosing Manchester City, but he categorically ruled out Manchester United.

– Football Insider is reporting Aston Villa are considering Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery for their next manager if Steven Gerrard is fired.

– Football Insider also claims Leicester City's James Maddison is "very keen" on a move to Tottenham after reports they are keeping tabs on the 25-year-old midfielder.

Chelsea will give Christian Pulisic a chance to prove his value before making a decision on his future, per 90min.

– Sport is reporting Juventus are planning a January move for Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba.

France midfielder Boubacar Kamara will be out of action until after the World Cup due to knee ligament damage, Aston Villa head coach Steven Gerrard has confirmed.

Kamara has been capped three times by France and was called up for their latest round of Nations League matches this month.

However, the 22-year-old had to withdraw from the squad after injuring his knee during Villa's 1-0 win against Southampton on September 16.

It was revealed last week Kamara had suffered ligament damage, and Gerrard announced on Friday the former Marseille player will not recover in time for Qatar 2022.

"Boubacar will be missing until after the World Cup, unfortunately, so that is a huge blow," Gerrard said at his pre-match press conference ahead of facing Leeds United.

"It's not ideal. We have had better days on the injury front."

Villa have also lost fellow marquee signing Diego Carlos, who ruptured his Achilles on just his second outing after joining from Sevilla.

Kamara's international team-mate Lucas Digne sustained a heel injury while away with his country and "will be unavailable in the coming weeks".

Real Madrid were among the contenders chasing Erling Haaland's signature over the off-season.

Los Blancos, along with Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, were keen on the former Borussia Dortmund forward.

Ultimately, the Norwegian decided to join Manchester City, starting on fire with 14 goals in 10 games in all competitions, but Madrid are keeping an eye on him.

TOP STORY – MADRID PLANNING LONG-TERM MOVES FOR CITY DUO

Spanish giants Real Madrid are plotting moves to sign Manchester City pair Joao Cancelo and Erling Haaland, reports AS.

Madrid will attempt to sign the 28-year-old Portuguese full-back in mid-2023, with Cancelo contracted until 2027, although the report claims he will cost around €40-50million (£35-44m).

The Spanish champions are planning a swoop for Haaland but not until 2024, with Karim Benzema in the twilight of his career.

Haaland reportedly has a termination clause in his City contract worth €180m (£158m) up until 2024.

ROUND-UP

– The Daily Star reports that Manchester United and David De Gea are set for key talks on his future, with the goalkeeper's contract expiring in mid-2023. United hold an option to extend his stay.

Manchester United may struggle in their bid to sign Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, with the Villans to turn down any offer for him in January, claims Football Insider.

Barcelona are keen to sign Wolves 25-year-old midfielder Ruben Neves as a long-term replacement for 34-year-old Sergio Busquets, reports Sport. Neves will be the Blaugrana's top target at the end of this season.

Gerard Pique is not interested in joining Atletico Madrid in January, claims Sport. The defender has fallen out of favour at Barcelona, but he is determined to fight for his spot.

– Calciomercato claims that Chelsea are interested in Inter wing-back Denzel Dumfries. The Italian club may be willing to part with the Dutchman for approximately £44m.

– Colombian forward Luis Muriel is ready to leave Atalanta, with a move to Fiorentina on the cards, according to Calciomercato.

– PSV striker Cody Gakpo is likely to have more offers in January with Manchester United, Southampton and Everton all still interested, claims Football Transfers.

Thomas Tuchel is Real Madrid 's preferred replacement for Carlo Ancelotti, according to El Nacional. The Italian has told the club he does not intend to manage Madrid beyond this season.

Jude Bellingham is attracting plenty of admirers with his impressive performances for Borussia Dortmund and England.

The 19-year-old midfielder joined Dortmund from Birmingham City in 2020.

Bellingham is contracted until 2025, but clubs are queueing up to sign the young prospect.

TOP STORY – BLUES JOIN QUEUE FOR BELLINGHAM

Chelsea are the latest club to join the race to sign Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, reports the Telegraph.

Fabrizio Romano claims that Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Manchester United along with the Blues are all pursuing a deal for the teenager.

Romano reports that Dortmund are not in talks with any clubs yet, instead deferring any discussions and decision on a price tag until after the 2022 World Cup. The Telegraph claims that Bellingham will cost around £130 million (€145m).

ROUND-UP

– The Daily Mail reports Manchester City want assurances from Bernardo Silva that he will not push for a move at the end of this season following links with Barcelona during the last transfer window. City are said to be planning talks with Silva in the coming months.

– Barcelona are interested in Ilkay Gundogan, who has less than a year remaining on his Manchester City contract, reports Sport. The German midfielder, who turns 32 in October, has been with City since 2016.

– Karim Benzema and Real Madrid are close to agreeing to an extension on his contract, locking him down at the club until 2024, reports Italian journalist Nicolo Schira.

– Tuttosport claims Milan have offered Rafael Leao an improved contract worth €6million per season plus bonuses, as they attempt to fend off interest from Chelsea and Manchester City.

– The Sun claims Arsenal will make a January move for Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz after failing in an attempt to sign him on deadline day.

– Socceroos 18-year-old forward Garang Kuol has flown to England to sign with Newcastle United having reached an agreement with his Australian club Central Coast, claims Fabrizio Romano. Sky Sports reports that Kuol will be loaned out in January.

Former Manchester City and England midfielder Fabian Delph has announced his retirement from football at the age of 32.

The ex-Everton player, who began his career with Leeds United and also spent time with Aston Villa, had been without a club since his contract with the Toffees expired in June.

He has now revealed he will hang up his boots, penning a farewell statement on social media.

"So today I announce my retirement with nothing but happiness and gratitude for what this beautiful game has given me," Delph wrote.

"[A] massive shout out to my family, friends, players and staff from the amazing clubs I have been fortunate enough to represent as well as the support I have had from the fans."

Across a 16-year career, Delph was a two-time Premier League winner with City, while he was a runner-up in the FA Cup and EFL Cup with Villa.

Capped 20 times for the Three Lions, he was a surprise recall for Gareth Southgate after three years away from the international game in 2018, before being part of the squad that came fourth at Russia 2018.

Juventus have reportedly made contact with Christian Pulisic's camp as they begin the process of putting together a January offer for the out-of-favour Chelsea winger.

Pulisic, 24, has only started one game this season in all club competitions, and he was subbed off in the 60th minute. He also has made five appearances as a substitute, but the longest has lasted 26 minutes.

The United States international, who was signed from Borussia Dortmund for a £58million fee in January 2019, now finds himself on the outside looking in, and long-time admirers Juventus are seeking to capitalise on the potentially depreciated asset.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS CONTACT PULISIC ABOUT SERIE A MOVE

According to Calciomercato, Pulisic has been "very fond of the Juventus management for some time" and he plans on leaving at the end of the season when he has one year remaining on his contract and more leverage.

While Pulisic may wish to see out the remainder of the season and give things a go with new boss Graham Potter, Chelsea are said to have set his price at a reasonable figure of £31m. If the Italian side view that as a fair price, and if Pulisic has not broken into a starting role by January, things could progress quicker than anticipated.

However, further Calciomercato reports claiming Juventus are eyeing moves for defenders Benoit Badiashile from Monaco and Evan Ndicka from Eintracht Frankfurt at the end of the campaign could imply they do not have the necessary funds to make any serious additions mid-season.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to iNews, Newcastle United are considering a £50m bid for Shaktar Donetsk's rising 21-year-old winger Mykhalo Mudryk

– Marca is claiming Real Madrid's "main target" at the end of the season will be Borussia Dortmund's prized English midfielder Jude Bellingham.

– Corriere dello Sport is reporting Chelsea plan to increase their previous offer of £44.5m for 26-year-old Inter defender Denzel Dumfries, and would be willing to loan him back to the Italian club for the remainder of the season if they can come to an agreement in January.

– With Manchester United reportedly ready to move on from goalkeeper David de Gea, Football Insider states they are monitoring Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez as a replacement.

– RAC1 claims Real Madrid's Marco Asensio has already signed a preliminary contract with rivals Barcelona, with his Madrid contract set to expire at the end of this season.

Rafael Leao has plenty of admirers, having scored three goals in six Serie A appearances for Milan this term.

The 23-year-old provided an assist for Portugal's first goal in Saturday's 4-0 win in the Czech Republic.

The forward was voted the Serie A Most Valuable Player last season as the Rossoneri won the Scudetto.


TOP STORY – MILAN EAGER TO EXTEND RAFAEL LEAO DEAL

Milan have put forward an offer to tie down Manchester City and Chelsea target Rafael Leao on a new contract, reports Calciomercato.

The report claims that the Rossoneri are willing to increase his salary beyond the €2million he currently receives, up to €6.5m, as they look to fend off rival interest.

Milan understand that it may be difficult to convince the Portuguese to stay at the San Siro, although he is contracted until 2024.


ROUND-UP 

Barcelona will cut their losses with Antoine Griezmann on a deal to sell him back to Atletico Madrid, according to Mundo Deportivo. The initial agreement included a purchase clause of €35-40m but Atletico have avoided triggering that, creating a stand-off. The Blaugrana are now prepared to lower their asking price with Atletico set to offer €25m in January.

– The Mirror claims Atletico are considering a move to sign Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez as Jan Oblak's successor, with the Slovenian out of contract at the end of this season.

– The race for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham's signature continues, with The Sun claiming Manchester City are confident they will beat Liverpool and Manchester United to him. It is understood Dortmund are willing to sell the 19-year-old for £83m.

– Manchester United are weighing up whether to move to extend goalkeeper David de Gea's contract another year, reports the Sunday Telegraph. The Spaniard is out of contract at the end of this season.

Boubacar Kamara's hopes of making France's World Cup squad have been severely dented after Aston Villa confirmed the versatile midfielder has suffered knee ligament damage.

Kamara limped off the field during the first half of last week's 1-0 loss to Southampton and was forced to withdraw from France's squad for their games with Austria and Denmark.

Villa provided an update on the injury on their official website on Friday, though they did not offer a timeline for his recovery.

According to French outlet L'Equipe, Kamara – who joined Villa on a free transfer from Marseille in the recent window – is expected to face two months on the sidelines.

Should that be the case, the 22-year-old is almost certain to miss out on the France squad for the World Cup, which begins on November 20.

Kamara has been capped three times by France since earning his first call-up at the end of last season.

Villa are also awaiting news on the injury sustained by full-back Lucas Digne while away on international duty with Didier Deschamps' side.

Boubacar Kamara's hopes of making France's World Cup squad have been severely dented after Aston Villa confirmed the versatile midfielder has suffered knee ligament damage.

Kamara limped off the field during the first half of last week's 1-0 loss to Southampton and was forced to withdraw from France's squad for their games with Austria and Denmark.

Villa provided an update on the injury on their official website on Friday, though they did not offer a timeline for his recovery.

According to French outlet L'Equipe, Kamara – who joined Villa on a free transfer from Marseille in the recent window – is expected to face two months on the sidelines.

Should that be the case, the 22-year-old is almost certain to miss out on the France squad for the World Cup, which begins on November 20.

Kamara has been capped three times by France since earning his first call-up at the end of last season.

Villa are also awaiting news on the injury sustained by full-back Lucas Digne while away on international duty with Didier Deschamps' side.

Marcus Rashford and Erik ten Hag have been nominated for the Premier League's Player and Manager of the Month awards respectively for September. 

Manchester United's upturn in form continued thanks to two wins from two this month ahead of the international break.

Rashford was directly involved in a league-high four goals in September, assisting Jadon Sancho in the 1-0 win over Leicester City before scoring twice and setting up another in the 3-1 win over Arsenal. 

The 24-year-old faces competition from Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who assisted three goals and created 10 chances – both league-high tallies – in his side's two fixtures.

Belgium international De Bruyne has now been involved in 150 goals across 217 Premier League appearances, scoring 58 and assisting 92.

Phillip Billing, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Jacob Ramsey, of Bournemouth, Tottenham and Aston Villa respectively, are also in the running for the award, as is Alex Iwobi after impressing in a deeper central-midfield role for Everton.

In the Manager of the Month category, Ten Hag is up against Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte and Bournemouth interim manager Gary O'Neil.

O'Neill steadied the ship by helping Bournemouth go unbeaten in their three games this month, collecting five points in the process on the back of last month's 9-0 loss to Liverpool that led to the departure of Scott Parker.

Like Ten Hag's United, Tottenham took a maximum six points in September to match their best ever start to a Premier League season.

The winners of the awards will be announced next week. 

France continue to be blighted by injury setbacks after Lucas Digne became the latest player to withdraw from their squad for this week's Nations League matches with Austria and Denmark.

Coach Didier Deschamps was already having to cope without Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Lucas Hernandez and Kingsley Coman before Hugo Lloris and Theo Hernandez joined them on the sidelines on Monday.

Now Digne, who was drafted in as Theo Hernandez's replacement, has been ruled out after the Aston Villa defender suffered an ankle problem.

Rennes' Adrien Truffert has been called up in his place with a view to earning his first cap.

France have posted two draws and two defeats in their opening four Group A1 matches and are battling relegation from the top tier. They face Austria on Thursday, and Denmark on Sunday.

Injured in his right ankle, Lucas Digne drops out and is replaced by Adrien Truffert! pic.twitter.com/MRcOvSDVSC

— French Team  (@FrenchTeam) September 20, 2022

Hugo Lloris and Theo Hernandez have withdrawn from the France squad for this week's Nations League matches with Austria and Denmark.

France are already without a number of key players for the double-header, with Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante, Karim Benzema, Lucas Hernandez and Kingsley Coman all sidelined.

Adrien Rabiot withdrew from the squad last week and Didier Deschamps is now without two more players for the visit of Austria on Thursday and trip to Denmark three days later.

France confirmed on Monday that Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris and Milan defender Theo Hernandez are nursing thigh and groin injuries respectively.

Nantes keeper Alban Lafont has earned a first call-up to provide cover for captain Lloris, while Aston Villa's Lucas Digne has been summoned as Theo Hernandez's replacement.

France have posted two draws and two defeats in their opening four Group A1 matches and are battling relegation from the top tier.

Aston Villa received a pre-match message from Prince William before their much-needed 1-0 win over Southampton in the Premier League.

Jacob Ramsey's first-half strike was enough to give Villa the home victory on Friday, and manager Steven Gerrard said his players had received a royal message.

Former Liverpool midfielder Gerrard revealed the Prince, who is a fan of the Midlands clubs, had said he would have liked to have been present at Villa Park, but was understandably busy following the recent passing of his grandmother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Speaking at his post-match press conference, Gerrard said: "He messaged in the week, to the club, and that shows everything about what he thinks of this club. For us to reward that with a result and clean sheet, I'm sure he will be proud.

"It was along the lines of 'would love to be there'. He is consistently in touch. He is very supportive of the boys individually, he loves them. It's really impressive, his knowledge, and how much he is in to it.

"It certainly took me back. He is very much involved in Villa. For him to message in the situation he is in is really impressive."

The win in the largely forgettable contest was just Villa's second of the season, moving them up to 13th in the Premier League table.

"Where we were before the game, in terms of our league position, it was about the result," Gerrard added. "It wasn't pretty or stylish, but was all about resilience, guts, character and owning the pitch."

Aston Villa midfielder Boubacar Kamara has been summoned by France boss Didier Deschamps after Adrien Rabiot was ruled out of next week's Nations League games.

Already without a number of key midfield figures including Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante, the injury to Rabiot deprives Deschamps of another experienced player.

Rabiot has not fully recovered from a left calf muscle injury, the French Football Federation (FFF) said on its website, and has been ruled out of Juventus' Serie A match against Monza this weekend.

Deschamps decided it was sensible, as a precautionary measure, to withdraw Rabiot from his group and promote a player more likely to be available for full squad activities when the group gather at the Clairefontaine training base on Monday.

Kamara made his France debut against Croatia in June, shortly after it was announced he would be leaving Marseille to join Villa.

France have recorded two draws and two defeats in their first four games in Group A1 of the Nations League, leaving the world champions battling relegation from the competition's top tier. They host Austria on September 22 and travel to face Denmark three days later.

Todd Boehly's suggestion for the creation of a Premier League 'All-Star' game attracted plenty of ridicule, but he certainly can't be accused of a lack of vision or creativity.

The new Chelsea co-owner – and chairman and interim sporting director – was speaking at a conference on Tuesday when he proposed the Premier League 'Americanised' (or should that be 'Americanized'?) itself a bit.

A relegation play-off tournament between the bottom four teams was one idea; but the other, which attracted most of the headlines, was for a North v South 'All-Star' game, pointing out Major League Baseball (MLB) in his native United States made $200million from such an event this year.

A potential Premier League 'All-Stars' game was the talk of football media on Tuesday, so at Stats Perform we decided to have a look at who might line up for the North and South.

It was decided the north-south cut-off point would see Nottingham Forest qualify for the North, ensuring each All-Stars team had 10 clubs to select from.

First up, we have unrestricted squads, so essentially the very best teams possible; then, we have squads that are limited to three players from each club and every single Premier League must have at least a single player selected. So, without any further ado, let's see who made the cut…

NORTH ALL-STARS (unrestricted)

4-3-3: Ederson (Manchester City); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool); Rodri (Manchester City), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Phil Foden (Manchester City); Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Erling Haaland (Manchester City), Luis Diaz (Liverpool).

SUBS: Alisson (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Joao Cancelo (Manchester City), Raphael Varane (Manchester United), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Fabinho (Liverpool), Casemiro (Manchester United), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United).

You knew the starting XI was going to look like that even before reading, didn't you? Manchester City and Liverpool obviously dominated the first team here, but it feels difficult to argue with almost any selection here.

The goalkeeper choice was probably the toughest, but only because Ederson and Alisson are both so strong and simultaneously significantly better than any other eligible shot stoppers in terms of their all-round game – Ederson ultimately got the nod owing to 13 more clean sheets over the past three-and-a-bit years, but either could've got the gig.

Similarly in defence, many of the North's options pick themselves. The centre-backs, Van Dijk and Dias, have each won the Premier League Player of the Season award in the past four years, while Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have at least 12 most assists than any other defender since the start of the 2019-20 season.

While the defence had a distinctively Liverpool look to it, City dominate the midfield because… well, they tend to dominate the midfield. Rodri provides the control and defensive protection, while Foden and De Bruyne can wreak havoc going forward and towards the flanks.

Salah and Haaland were obvious picks in attack. The Egyptian has been involved in 96 goals (66 scored, 30 assisted) since the start of the 2019-20 season, more than anyone else, while Haaland is arguably the most in-form striker in world football, having already netted 12 times in seven games for City.

Luis Diaz was perhaps the most uncertain one, but he's quickly become a key figure at Liverpool. His ability to cut inside or head for the byline makes him an unpredictable asset, and he's something of a double threat in terms of goals and creativity.

Cristiano Ronaldo's appearance on the bench owes much to his solid goal-scoring form last season.

SOUTHERN ALL-STARS (unrestricted)

4-2-3-1: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham); Reece James (Chelsea), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal); Declan Rice (West Ham), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea); Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Son Heung-min (Tottenham); Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal).

SUBS: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Marc Cucurella (Chelsea), Jorginho (Chelsea), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Martin Odegaard (Arsenal), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Ivan Toney (Brentford).

This team has it all. A World Cup-winning goalkeeper, a defence with an ideal blend of youth and experience, a combative midfield and four world-class attackers.

Lloris gets the nod in net. He's been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the league since his arrival from Lyon 10 years ago, and based on Opta's expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded metric, Lloris has prevented 3.8 goals since the start of the 2020-21 season, significantly better than his South All-Stars back-up, Chelsea's Edouard Mendy (-3.8).

Chelsea star James is the right-back, with his 16 goal contributions (six goals, 10 assists) since the start of last season topping the charts for a defender. Koulibaly and Romero are a formidable centre-back pairing, while Zinchenko has four Premier League titles to his name from his time at Manchester City.

James and Zinchenko are brilliant attacking full-backs, but the defence will need screening, and that is where Kante and Rice come into their own. Both super ball-winners, Kante's relentless energy will be complemented by Rice's ability on the ball, as he has demonstrated at West Ham.

That midfield protection will be needed, with a four-pronged attack ready to lay waste to the North's defence.

Sterling might not have made a flying start at Chelsea but is the best pick on the right wing, with Son – who shared the league's golden boot award last season – on the opposite wing. Kane will play a slightly deeper role, behind Jesus, who has had more touches in the opposition box (66), attempted more dribbles (34), more dribbles in the box (8) and won more fouls (21) than any other player in the Premier League this season.

NORTHERN ALL-STARS (restricted)

4-2-3-1: Jordan Pickford (Jordan Pickford); Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Vigil van Dijk (Liverpool), Ruben Dias (Manchester City), Andrew Robertson (Liverpool); Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle United), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City); Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Pedro Neto (Wolves); Erling Haaland (Manchester City).

SUBS: Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Diego Carlos (Aston Villa), Lisandro Martinez (Manchester United), Renan Lodi (Nottingham Forest), James Maddison (Leicester City), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Jack Harrison (Leeds United), Antony Gordon (Everton), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United).

Our self-imposed restrictions of no more than three players from a given team gives the North All-Stars a distinctly different feel – nevertheless, Van Dijk, Dias, Robertson, De Bruyne, Salah and Haaland retain their places, for obvious reasons.

Probably the biggest casualty is Alexander-Arnold, but the North benefits from having another excellent forward-thinking option at right-back in Trippier, while Jordan Pickford starts between the posts – David de Gea was another option here, but the England international is better with his feet.

Bruno Guimaraes comes into the midfield, offering a valuable combination of bite and craft, while Fernandes will take up the number 10 position with De Bruyne dropping a little deeper – this shouldn't stifle the team's creativity too much given the Belgian is the only player with more chances created (239) than Fernandes (224) since the latter's Premier League debut.

The other new face in attack is Pedro Neto. Perhaps a wildcard choice, but the Portugal international is an exciting winger with lots of pace and trickery. While Salah will cut in off the opposite flank, Neto looks to get crosses into the box, and that could be an effective route to goal knowing the predatory instincts Haaland has.

Again, Ronaldo is held back in reserve.

SOUTHERN ALL-STARS (restricted)

4-3-3: Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion); Reece James (Chelsea), Cristian Romero (Tottenham), Joachim Andersen (Crystal Palace), Oleksandr Zinchenko (Arsenal); James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Declan Rice (West Ham), Mason Mount (Chelsea); Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Son Heung-min (Tottenham).

SUBS: Neto (Bournemouth), Ben Mee (Brentford), Tariq Lamptey (Brighton and Hove Albion), Joao Palhinha (Fulham), Lucas Paqueta (West Ham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), Gabriel Jesus (Arsenal), Ivan Toney (Brentford).

Robert Sanchez has been a standout performer for Brighton under the now Chelsea boss Graham Potter, and he replaces Lloris now the restrictions have come into play. He has kept 24 league clean sheets since making his debut in November 2020, which trails only four other goalkeepers.

James, Romero and Zinchenko all keep their places in defence, though Koulibaly does not. He makes way for Joachim Andersen, who has been excellent since signing for Crystal Palace in 2021.

We have switched to a midfield three for this side, with Rice staying in the team but playing a deeper, anchoring role. Alongside him are two new faces in the form of England team-mates Ward-Prowse and Mount. Both provide energy and creativity in abundance.

Ward-Prowse's set-piece quality – no midfielder has scored more goals or created more chances from set plays since the start of last season as the Southampton captain – is a huge threat, while Mount has contributed to 21 league goals since the beginning of 2021-22.

Jesus is the unlucky striker to drop out of the starting XI, though he is on the bench, with Sterling, Kane and Son leading the line.

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