Romelu Lukaku cast his Chelsea future in doubt with a recent interview – and the unsettled striker may now be offered a route out of Stamford Bridge by Paris Saint-Germain.

The 28-year-old revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea and questioned boss Thomas Tuchel's tactics, leading to him being dropped for the 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Lukaku has returned for the Blues' two matches since, but doubts remain over whether he will still be a Chelsea player come the start of next season.

TOP STORY – LUKAKU LINED UP AS MBAPPE REPLACEMENT?

PSG look certain to lose Kylian Mbappe at the end of the campaign as the Real Madrid target fast approaches the end of his contract at the Parc des Princes.

The Ligue 1 giants are on the lookout for possible replacements and, according to El Nacional, Lukaku is one of those being considered by the club's wealthy backers.

The report suggests PSG are willing to pay €90million (£75.1m) to persuade Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to part ways with the club's all-time record signing.

Lukaku, who apologised for giving the explosive interview in December, has scored eight goals in 20 appearances since returning to west London five months ago.

ROUND-UP

– Tottenham have decided to sell Steven Bergwijn this month amid interest from several clubs, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ajax are said to be among the sides to have already made an offer for the Netherlands international.

– Anthony Martial wants to leave Manchester United and has been touted as a possible target for Barcelona. But Spanish outlet Sport claims that, while Barca are eager to strengthen in the final third, Martial is not on their radar in this window.

– Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is wanted by a number of Europe's heavyweight clubs. According to Foot Mercato, PSG are prepared to pay more than the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, but the latter remains the Germany international's preferred choice.

– A rumoured target for Chelsea and Bayern, Sergino Dest's Barcelona future may become clearer in the coming days. El Nacional claims the defender's representatives are set to hold talks with the Catalan giants.

– After being jeered off the pitch by his own supporters in Tottenham's 3-1 FA Cup win over Morecambe on Sunday, The Athletic reports that club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele is hopeful of ending his tumultuous spell in north London this month.

– The Athletic also reports Aston Villa are now the favourites to sign Everton full-back Lucas Digne, despite previous interest from Chelsea. Newcastle United have also been linked, but Digne is apparently not considering a move to the relegation-threatened side.

Bayern Munich were beaten for just the third time in the Bundesliga this season as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Borussia Monchengladbach as German football returned from its mid-season break.

First-half goals from Florian Neuhaus and Stefan Lainer cancelled out Robert Lewandowski's opener at the Allianz Arena, and Julian Nagelsmann's men were unable to find a way back into the game in the second period.

The defending champions had been hit by numerous positive COVID-19 cases in the build-up and were missing several key players including Manuel Neuer, Dayot Upamecano, Kingsley Coman, Alphonso Davies and Leroy Sane.

However, in a game behind closed doors with the snow falling in Munich, a nonetheless strong Bayern starting line-up was unable to avenge their 5-0 humbling by Gladbach in the DFB-Pokal this season.

Yann Sommer made two big saves early on from Serge Gnabry and Lewandowski, but the Poland star was never likely to be denied for long and he had Bayern in front on 18 minutes when he collected a Thomas Muller pass, before turning his marker and firing in at Sommer's near post with the usual precise venom.

Entirely against the run of play, Gladbach were level just nine minutes later. With the first real attack from the visitors, a cross was poorly cleared by Joshua Kimmich and the alert Neuhaus fired the ball in under Sven Ulreich.

That sparked Adi Hutter's team into life and they were ahead just after the half-hour mark when a Luca Netz corner was headed in well by Lainer.

Gladbach were the ones pressing for another as they started to dominate the hosts, with Neuhaus and Breel Embolo both coming close to getting a third, before Lewandowski hit the post from a tight angle just before half-time.

Sommer saved well from Jamal Musiala early in the second half while Lewandowski hit the woodwork again, but despite a late push for an equaliser, the league leaders were kept at bay.

Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah have been announced as the three finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Player Award.

The attacking trio were named on a shortlist for the prize in November that also included Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Karim Benzema, Jorginho and N'Golo Kante.

Lewandowski, Messi and Salah are the final nominees chosen following a public vote that closed on December 10. Jennifer Hermoso, Sam Kerr and Alexia Putellas are the finalists for the women's award for 2021.

The final three up for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award, confirmed on Thursday, are Pep Guardiola, Roberto Mancini and Thomas Tuchel. Lluis Cortes, Emma Hayes and Sarina Wiegman are the finalists for the women's coaching prize.

The player awards will now be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website. The winners will be announced on January 17.

Lewandowski, who won the 2020 prize after firing Bayern Munich to the treble, scored 41 times in the Bundesliga last season to break Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals in a single season. He ended 2021 with 48 goals in all competitions.

Messi, who won the 2021 Ballon d'Or to extend his record to seven trophies, helped Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey in what proved to be his final season at the club. He then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with four goals and five assists helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Liverpool star Salah scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player. He is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota on 10.

Alphonso Davies has become the latest Bayern Munich player to test positive for coronavirus.

Bayern revealed on Wednesday that Canada left-back Davies had contracted COVID-19

It comes a day after Leroy Sane and Dayot Upamecano tested positive as the Bundesliga leaders prepare to face Borussia Monchengladbach in their first game after the winter break on Friday.

Lucas Hernandez and Tanguy Nianzou also returned positive tests this week.

Manuel Neuer, Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso and Omar Richards were also unable to report for training after they tested positive. 

Bayern's assistant coach Dino Toppmoller is another absent due to coronavirus.

The Bavarian giants won seven consecutive games prior to the break and hold a nine-point lead over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga.

Barcelona want to sign Alvaro Morata and it would appear the Juventus striker wishes to join Xavi's team.

After bringing in Ferran Torres, Xavi would reportedly like to add experienced Spain international Morata to his ranks at Camp Nou.

Morata has scored five Serie A goals for the Bianconeri this season.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS WANT MORATA REPLACEMENT BEFORE AUTHORISING BARCA SWITCH

According to Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona target Morata has informed Juve of his desire to leave the club in January.

Massimiliano Allegri met with the 29-year-old on Monday, with the upshot being that Juve will only grant Morata his move should they be able to find a replacement.

Paris Saint-Germain striker Mauro Icardi is seen as a possible option for the Bianconeri, who are having a poor season in Serie A, sitting 12 points off the summit.

However, further complicating matters in Morata's potential switch to Barca is that he is on loan at Juve from Atletico Madrid, who would need to authorise any transfer.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland , who has been holidaying in Marbella, has told people close to him that he sees his next destination being Spain, with Real Madrid and Barcelona on high alert. That is according to Marca.

- Sky Sports believe that Romelu Lukaku will stay at Chelsea after holding talks with Thomas Tuchel following his comments in an interview with Sky Italia, which resulted in the striker missing Sunday's clash with Liverpool.

- The Daily Mail, citing Gianluca Di Marzio, claim that Barcelona are monitoring the situation of Lukaku's Chelsea team-mate Andreas Christensen, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Another Chelsea defender into the last six months of his deal is Antonio Rudiger, with Sky Sports reporting Real Madrid , Bayern Munich , PSG and Juve have all entered talks with the Germany international's representatives. 

- According to The Daily Mail, Newcastle United are aiming to sign Zenit striker Sardar Azmoun. The Iran forward has agreed personal terms with Ligue 1 club Lyon, but the French side may be unable to match Zenit's asking price for the 27-year-old.

Lucas Hernandez and Tanguy Nianzou have tested positive for COVID-19, Bayern Munich have confirmed.

The club said in a statement that the pair have entered isolation and are "both well".

They will miss Bayern's Bundesliga clash with Borussia Monchengladbach on Friday – the champions' first match after the mid-season break.

France international Hernandez has made 19 appearances across all competitions this season, while teenager Nianzou has featured in 13 games, although just four of those have been starts.

Bayern also revealed that Leroy Sane, Dayot Upamecano and Josip Stanisic returned inconclusive results.

Julian Nagelsmann's side resume Bundesliga action with a nine-point advantage over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table.

Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Cuisance has joined Venezia for a reported €4.5million fee.

Cuisance, 22, impressed in his debut season with Borussia Monchengladbach, in which he became their youngest player to start a Bundesliga match, before making the switch to Bayern in August 2019.

However, he failed to make his mark on the Bundesliga champions, playing just 333 minutes across 11 appearances in the top flight.

A loan spell at Marseille last season then offered the midfielder more regular game time as he managed 23 outings in Ligue 1, along with featuring six times in the Champions League.

Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann has now opted to allow Cuisance to move on as the former France youth international leaves for Venezia on a three-and-a-half-year contract.

Upon his departure, Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said: We would like to thank Michael Cuisance for his commitment in the FC Bayern shirt and wish him all the best for his future at Venezia FC."

Venezia sit 16th in Serie A, six points clear of the relegation zone, ahead of their visit to strugglers Salernitana on Thursday.

Romelu Lukaku has revealed he rejected a move to Manchester City in 2020 and only joined Chelsea a year later after Inter decided against offering him a new contract.

The Belgium international returned to Stamford Bridge in August for a reported club-record fee of £97.5million (€115m) on the back of firing Inter to a first Scudetto in 11 years.

Speaking in September, Lukaku said he asked Inter boss Simone Inzaghi to grant his return to Chelsea in the close-season after the Premier League side's first two offers had been rejected.

He has scored seven goals in 18 appearances since re-joining the Blues in a first half to the campaign that has been hampered by injuries and illness.

In an interview with Sky Sport Italia conducted earlier in December and first aired on Thursday, Lukaku admitted he is "not happy" with his situation at Chelsea and outlined his desire to return to San Siro in future.

In the second part of the interview released on Friday, Lukaku insisted he never initially wanted to depart Inter and even turned down interest from City out of loyalty.

"At the end of the first year with Inter, I turned down an offer from Manchester City, which was higher than Chelsea's this summer," the ex-Manchester United striker said.

"I did it because it had only been a year, it wasn't the right time to leave and I didn't want to. I wanted to do something good for Inter, because I have to say that Inter saved my career to some extent.

"I was in a deep hole at Manchester United, things weren't going well. I was a big investment for Inter but we did great things together. So, the second year after we won the Scudetto, I went to speak with club chiefs and asked for a new contract.

"I told myself, I'm 28 years old, my family feels great in Milan, I still have my flat there, my mother and my son could come and live there and we would all feel comfortable. But they didn't want to extend my contract, the possibility wasn't there.

"It was tough for me to accept, because in my head I told myself that I would be able to do a few more years in Milan."

Amid Inter's much-publicised financial difficulties, Lukaku was linked with an array of Europe's top clubs after an impressive second season in Italy.

The Anderlecht academy product was directly involved in 35 goals in 36 league games last season – 24 of his own and 11 assists – which was the most of any player in Serie A.

In doing so, he became the first player to score at least 20 goals and reach double figures for assists in a Serie A season since Opta started to collect such data in 2004-05.

Between his Inter debut in August 2019 and his final game in April 2021, Lukaku played a direct part in 76 goals in 87 games for the Nerazzurri in all competitions.

Across that period, only Cristiano Ronaldo (79), Kylian Mbappe (82), Lionel Messi (96) and Robert Lewandowski (108) were involved in more goals among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Despite interest from elsewhere, Lukaku's priority was to remain an Inter player for the 2021-22 campaign.

"In my opinion, there are three absolute top teams in football – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Every player dreams of playing for one of these teams one day," he said.

"So, I thought if I ever had that possibility, I would sign a new contract with Inter and then go there. But it didn't happen, so I told myself that there is only one team where I could possibly see myself – Chelsea.

"I wasn't thinking about going there, but at one point they came in for me and I asked Inzaghi to leave. The fact that they didn't try to make me sign a new contract bothered me a bit, it hurt me even. If Inter offered me a new contract, I would have stayed 100 per cent. That goes without saying.

"Also, the fact that I hadn't won anything in England in eight years there bothered me a lot. So, it was hard to turn down the chance to come back here with the team I have supported since I was a child."

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Borussia Monchengladbach have confirmed Denis Zakaria will leave the club at the end of the season.

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after Germany international Matthias Ginter revealed on Instagram that he will be letting his contract expire in 2022.

Switzerland international Zakaria has been with the club since joining from Young Boys in 2017 and has largely been a regular throughout his time with Die Fohlen.

The 25-year-old defensive midfielder, who can also play at centre-back, has been linked with several of the world's biggest clubs, such as fellow Bundesliga side Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Barcelona and Juventus.

While no club has yet emerged as the favourite to land Zakaria, he has at least provided clarity to Gladbach as he prepares to enter the final six months of his contract.

A statement on Gladbach's website read: "Denis Zakaria… has informed Borussia that he would like to leave the club after five years in the summer."

Sporting director Max Eberl expressed his satisfaction with having matters resolved ahead of the second half of the season, with Gladbach languishing just two points above the bottom three at the halfway stage.

"I told the boys in no uncertain terms that I would like everything that has nothing to do with Borussia and the second half of the season to be clarified by the end of this year," Eberl said.

"I want everyone to focus on the club, the second half of the season and this situation. The players should use the next few days to clarify their concerns left and right, and we will also make a few decisions so that we can start preparing for the second half of the season cleanly and clearly."

Like Ginter, Zakaria will be able to begin negotiating with other clubs once he enters the final six months of his contract – which expires on June 30 – later this week.

Whoever lands Zakaria will be adding a potentially formidable option to their midfield.

 

Nominally a defensive midfielder, Zakaria sees plenty of the ball and is good with his distribution: he averages 52.3 passes every 90 minutes and 47.1 successful ones, the latter being the ninth-most this season among Bundesliga midfielders with at least 500 minutes played.

He is just as comfortable carrying the ball, however.

Among the same group of players, only seven average more than his two successful dribbles every 90 minutes – all of those are more attack-minded players, such as Jamal Musiala, Christopher Nkunku, Jude Bellingham and Florian Wirtz.

When compared only with players who generally occupy central or defensive midfield roles, Zakaria comes out on top for total carries (208), and is well clear in terms of carry distance, his 2,407.3 metres being 400 metres more than anyone else.

He has also progressed the ball further up the pitch (1,227m) than any other comparable player, with Suat Serdar the only other similar midfielder to surpass 1,000m, highlighting his importance to getting Gladbach on the front foot.

While Zakaria is helped in these metrics by the fact he has played at centre-back this season, that does only account for a short amount of time in the grand scheme.

Gladbach are having a poor season, but Zakaria is managing to show his strengths.

Leeds United winger Raphinha is drawing plenty of attention.

The Brazilian debuted for his country in October and has scored two goals in five caps.

Raphinha joined Leeds from Rennes on a four-year deal in 2020.

And, having seen his career hit new heights since that move, he does not appear to be desperate for another switch.

TOP STORY - RAPHINHA NOT PUSHING FOR LEEDS EXIT

Brazil international Raphinha will not push for a January move away from Leeds United according to the Mirror.

Raphinha has been linked with moves to both Liverpool and Bayern Munich during the January transfer window.

The 25-year-old's agent has spoken about his ambition, but he is content at Leeds who are battling relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

Inter are angling to sign Germany international Matthias Ginter as a free agent in the middle of next year claims Fabrizio Romano. Ginter confirmed on Tuesday he would leave Borussia Monchengladbach when his contract expires at the end of this season.

- Gerard Moreno reports that Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta has reached an in-principle agreement to join Barcelona in the close-season.

Sevilla are considering a bid to sign Barcelona defender Mika Marmol, according to Diario Sport.

Everton want to land Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley on loan in January, says The Telegraph.

- Sky Sport Italia claims MLS club Toronto are in advanced talks with Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne and Torino striker Andrea Belotti.

Newcastle United are set to flex their financial muscles during the January transfer window.

The Magpies are struggling in the Premier League drop zone even after claiming a 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

But following a change of ownership they have funds available to bolster their squad.
 

TOP STORY - MAGPIES KEEN ON BARCELONA'S UMTITI

Cashed-up Newcastle are considering a move for Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti according to The Sun.

The 2018 World Cup winner has fallen out of favour at Barcelona, who are looking to offload players due to their financial issues.

Eddie Howe's side have conceded a league-high 42 goals and want to shore up their backline to aid their case to avoid relegation.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich have ramped up their bid to sign Leeds United's Raphinha, claims The Sun. Leeds remain hopeful of keeping the Brazil international.

- Chelsea have also entered the race to sign Raphinha according to the Express, who also claim they will allow Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech to depart.

- Tottenham are leading the way to secure the signature of Milan midfielder Franck Kessie with the two parties in advanced talks, reports the Express.

- Ex-Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho's preferred new home is Arsenal,  with Barcelona keen to offload the Brazil international according to Sport.

- Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina are all on high alert with Torino's Italy international striker Andrea Belotti set to exit the club when his contract expires at season's end, reports Calciomercato.

Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski have expressed concerns about the lack of rest players will get if plans for a biennial World Cup come to fruition.

FIFA's proposal to host the tournament every two years instead of four has largely been met with scepticism.

Both Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski are not in favour of the change, with the former suggesting that the quality of the spectacle would suffer if the health of players is not taken into account. 

"We like to play but it's too much," Mbappe said in Dubai, where he was named men's player of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards. "If people want to see quality, we have to take a break.

"Playing the World Cup every two years would make this competition 'normal' and that shouldn't be the case. The World Cup, the Nations League... we love to play but it's too much.

"If people want to see quality, I think we have to take a break."

Lewandowski echoed the France international's sentiments, stating that the schedule is already congested even without the added burden of an increased number of World Cups.

"We have a lot of games in the year, very dense weeks," Lewandowski said at the same event. "If you want to give the fans something different, you need a break.

"We have to look into the future, if we want to play a World Cup every two years, the level will drop. It's impossible for the body and the mind to perform at the same level."

Matthijs de Ligt's future at Juventus is unclear following comments from his agent Mino Raiola.

The Netherlands international has been with the Bianconeri since July 2019 but could be set to move on.

Juventus are off the pace in the Serie A title race this season and Raiola said his client was "ready for a new step".

 

TOP STORY – BARCA CONSIDER DE LIGT MOVE

Barcelona are considering making a move for Juventus defender De Ligt, reports Gerard Romero.

The Blaugrana would need to offload the salaries of Samuel Umtiti and Philippe Coutinho to enable the transfer.

De Ligt has been linked with a switch away from Juventus, with Chelsea also interested.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham and Manchester United will rival Newcastle United in pursuit of Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier, claims 90min. Trippier is keen to return to England after two and a half years in Spain.

- Real Madrid are interested in Lille forward Jonathan David at the end of this season, claims Marca. Arsenal and West Ham are also monitoring the Canadian.

- Gerard Romero is reporting that Bayern Munich are considering a move for Barcelona's USA international full-back Sergino Dest.

- ESPN claims Arsenal are ready to listen to offers for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he was stripped of the Gunners captaincy last week.

Julian Nagelsmann expressed his satisfaction with Bayern Munich as the Bavarians head into the mid-season Bundesliga break top of the table.

Bayern cruised to a 4-0 victory on Friday over Wolfsburg, with Thomas Muller – who was making his 400th league appearance for the reigning champions – scoring the first and assisting Dayot Upamecano's second.

Leroy Sane soon added a curling third before Robert Lewandowski sealed victory as the Poland striker netted his 43rd top-flight goal of 2021, surpassing Gerd Muller's long-standing calendar-year record for Bundesliga goals, set in 1972 (42).

Bayern boast a nine-point lead over second-placed Borussia Dortmund, who play their game in hand against Hertha Berlin on Saturday, and former RB Leipzig head coach Nagelsmann has been pleased with his side's efforts to date.

In the three points-for-a-win era, Bayern have won the title in 14 of the 15 seasons they have topped the league at the halfway point.

"I'm very satisfied with our first half of the season," Nagelsmann told reporters. "It's not simple to score this many goals against such a compact defence. 

"We had very good control and pressed even better in the second half. The key was counter-pressing: we won the ball high and closed all gaps.

"I'm very happy with the performance. We played a lot of games recently; the first half was more difficult. The initial phase was good, then we slowed down a bit. Then [Wout] Weghorst had a chance, we were lucky, or we had a good goalkeeper, maybe a mixture of both.

"The way we played in the second half was great. The goals were outstanding."

On Lewandowski's landmark strike, Nagelsmann added: "I was very happy that he scored. It was a wonderful goal – Lewy played a great game."

Nagelsmann also reserved praise for Upamecano, who made a staggering 103 passes in Wolfsburg's half – a game-leading figure – while also leading Bayern for tackles made (five) and possession won (14 times).

"He scored a goal, which is great," the Bayern head coach continued. "We know how important it is to have goalscoring defenders when the opponent sits very deep. 

"He was very focused today. Overall, he's having a good season, except for a couple of games. We shouldn't forget he's young, he isn't 28."

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