Carlo Ancelotti does not believe he deserves credit for Vinicius Junior's improvement, while the Real Madrid coach is backing Eden Hazard to find his best level again this season.

Karim Benzema has undoubtedly been Madrid's standout player this season, with the Frenchman's 19 goal involvements across all competitions bettered by only Mohamed Salah (20) in Europe's top five leagues, but Vinicius' form has also provided a real positive.

In each of his previous three seasons at Madrid, Vinicius had underperformed in relation to his expected goals (xG) value, backing up the idea he was wasteful and lacked the ability to be decisive.

This season, however, Vinicius has seven goals across all competitions from an xG value of 5.2, suggesting he is proving more reliable when presented with chances and also sniffing out greater opportunities in the first place.

With 10 goal involvements, Vinicius has already reached his total from last season and is just two behind his personal best of 12 for an entire campaign (2018-19).

Many have praised Ancelotti's influence for this, but the Italian insists he has not done "anything special".

"What I like the most is that he tries," Ancelotti told reporters ahead of Wednesday's clash with Osasuna. "He tries, whenever he can, and he does it with intensity.

"Regardless of quality, he works a lot. He has to improve without the ball, but he's humble, and he likes to work.

"What I do is work on motivation and less on the offensive aspect of his game, where I leave a lot to creativity. What stands out is his creativity with the ball.

"He is focused as a player. He's young, and at times he loses concentration with the fans – I tell him that he has to focus on the game and not on the surroundings.

"It is not a father-son relationship, I already have two children! It is the relationship you want to have with all the players. I try to keep him motivated, focused, but I don't do anything special."

 

On the other hand, one Madrid wide player who is not thriving currently is Eden Hazard.

The Belgium forward's Madrid career has been devastated by injuries so far and, although he has mostly stayed fit this season, he has a lot of work on his hands to convince Ancelotti.

Hazard has made four LaLiga starts this term, but none of those have come in the past month, and he was an unused substitute for the weekend's Clasico win over Barcelona.

Ancelotti insists the former Chelsea star can get back to his best, however.

Asked if Hazard still had "star status", the coach replied: "He does not have this status because he has had many injuries. Little by little, he will have his best version.

"I am sure that this season we will see his best version and that he will play more than he is doing now. Hazard has it, everything: quality, motivation... He just has to wait. What happens is that sometimes the coach prefers other players.

"He can play 4-3-3 on the left, or 4-4-2 he can play wide, or behind the striker. He is ready to play, but the problem is that there is a coach who is betting on other players."

Gareth Bale will increase the competition for Hazard when he returns, though the Wales winger is still a couple of weeks away from making his comeback, as Ancelotti has earmarked the visit of Rayo Vallecano on November 6.

"Gareth Bale was discharged yesterday and I think that in a week he will be able to train with the team," Ancelotti said. "Maybe he can be involved against Rayo Vallecano."

Superstar 22-year-old Kylian Mbappe is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of this season.

Real Madrid have long courted the France international and are expected to secure his signature.

PSG remain hopeful of Mbappe extending his contract but there could be another twist in the transfer saga.

Madrid's LaLiga rivals Barcelona appear ready to make a surprise move.

TOP STORY – BARCELONA READY FOR MBAPPE MOVE

Barcelona believe they can outspend Madrid and land Mbappe from PSG, according to AS.

Despite their financial challenges, the Catalans intend to hijack their rivals' move for Mbappe, who will be a free agent in mid-2022.

Barcelona's salary cap will increase by then and vice president Eduard Romeu reportedly wants to make one major signing.

ROUND-UP

- ESPN reports that Erling Haaland will demand a salary of £30million (€35m) per year for his expected transfer from Borussia Dortmund next year. Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich are among those chasing the Norwegian.

- Eden Hazard could return to Chelsea with the Blues interested in a deal for the Real Madrid midfielder, claims El Nacional.

- Everton have set their sights on a January deal for Manchester United's Jesse Lingard, according to Football Insider.

- Marca claims that Newcastle are ready to splash out £67m (€80m) to sign Porto's Colombian striker Luis Diaz.

- Manchester City are set to enter the race for Ajax's 21-year-od Brazil international Antony alongside Barcelona, according to El Nacional.

 

Carlo Ancelotti claimed nobody is more frustrated with Eden Hazard's injury problems than the Belgium international himself.

Hazard joined Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2019 for a reported €100million (£88.5m), but the former Blues star has endured persistent physical issues since his arrival in the Spanish capital.

He has managed a full 90 minutes on just four occasions in all competitions for Madrid, scoring just five times in 51 matches, prompting supporters and local media to vent their frustrations with the 30-year-old.

Hazard, though, has registered five starts this term – making eight appearances in total for his 382 minutes – but that short-term recovery has stuttered again as Ancelotti confirmed he would be without the attacker for the trip to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Despite the unavailability of the former Lille man, Ancelotti insisted Hazard is the most frustrated by the continuous injury problems after the forward returned from international duty with muscle fatigue.

"Hazard is tired of having these problems, he isn't injured but he has an overload," Ancelotti said at Monday's pre-match news conference.

"Nobody is more frustrated than Hazard. I think he will be available against Barcelona or Osasuna."

Hazard has only recorded one goal and one assist in 799 minutes for Madrid in the Champions League (12 appearances).

At former club Chelsea, he averaged a goal or assist in the competition every 183 minutes, scoring eight goals and setting up a team-mate eight times in his 38 appearances.

Ancelotti – without Hazard for Tuesday's visit to Ukraine – will have to rely on his other stars, with young prospects Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde impressing recently to place pressure on Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

The former Milan head coach, however, insisted his experienced trio remain an integral part of his plans as Madrid search for domestic and European glory.

"I think they [Kroos, Casemiro and Modric] are players who continue to compete at the top level," Ancelotti continued.

"Then we have a squad with young players like [Antonio] Blanco, Camavinga and Valverde who are pushing them a lot.

"I have to take into account everyone's age and their experience. We have a midfield that can compete against anyone."

Eden Hazard is "medically perfect" but there is concern about the Belgium star's injury problems, according to national team boss Roberto Martinez.

The playmaker has endured a miserable time in Spain due to persistent physical issues since his move from Chelsea in 2019 for a reported €100million (£88.5m).

Hazard has only completed four matches for Los Blancos in all competitions, scoring just five goals in 51 appearances in total, as patience over his lack of availability runs thin among fans and local media.

The 30-year-old impressed in the first half of the Nations League semi-final against France last week, as Belgium took a 2-0 lead into half-time, but he was taken off in the 74th minute as Martinez's side went on to lose 3-2 to the world champions.

Hazard sat out the 2-1 third-place play-off defeat to Italy, Martinez saying he was suffering from "muscle fatigue" but adding he did not know how long the former Lille star would need to recover.

Indeed, Martinez has found it difficult to determine why Hazard, a player he believes can still challenge for the Ballon d'Or, has endured so many injuries since his move to Spain two years ago.

"It's certainly true that Eden is not now in a physical situation to be at 100 per cent for 90 minutes," Martinez told El Larguero. "What's important now is to have patience, to work well and try to get Hazard, bit by bit, to get back to that level he's always had.

 

"His situation in Spain is very atypical. He found a situation that's new for him, because he was never injured and suddenly finds himself over the course of two years with no explanation for so many injuries.

"We're all worried and I'm sure Real Madrid are as well. He's a player who needs the ball, needs to dribble, and in order to reach his maximum physical level, he needs to play games.

"What I've seen is that he is medically perfect. The first 45 minutes [against France] were really enjoyable. We hope that, between Real Madrid and the national team, we can help him so he can get the minutes he needs. If he's at the level of those 45 minutes against France, I'm sure he'll bring a lot of success to Belgium, but especially to Real Madrid."

Martinez's future has come under scrutiny in recent weeks following reports he was a prime candidate to take over from Ronald Koeman as Barcelona head coach.

That was until Barca president Joan Laporta insisted he would give Koeman time to turn things around amid a run of just two wins in eight matches in all competitions.

Regardless, Martinez says he has not spoken to the club and has not yet decided if he will commit to the Belgium job beyond next year's World Cup in Qatar.

"It's been a difficult period because it seems like you don't want to answer, but the truth is they've not had any contact with me," he said.

"You know how rumours with coaches work. It's nothing more than an anecdote that helps me start the day with a smile.

"I still haven't decided [if I will stay after the World Cup]. Whenever I talk about my future, I don't usually clarify it.

"We're continuing a really beautiful, ambitious project and you have to think day by day. I've learned that the emotional side of a national team is on another level to what happens at a club."

Is there a more reliable way of making sure a football team fails to live up to expectations than to label them the 'Golden Generation'?

Okay, maybe that's a little reductive as 'living up to expectations' is of course entirely dependent on context – the Czech Republic's 'Golden Generation' from 1996-2006 finished second and third at two out of three European Championship appearances. While not successful in the literal sense, most would agree it was a commendable achievement.

But for Belgium's plentiful crop, a lot more was expected than what they've achieved. While perhaps less of a disappointment than England's own 'Golden Generation', third place at a World Cup isn't going to be much of a legacy given some of the talent the Red Devils have had.

Roberto Martinez's side fell at the quarter-final hurdle in Euro 2020, with eventual winners Italy emerging 2-1 victors and Belgium left to watch the latter stages of another tournament pass them by.

At the very least, this week does offer them a chance at a first international trophy. They face France in Turin on Thursday in the second of the 2021 Nations League semi-finals.

But down the line when their best talents have retired, would the Nations League – which probably has a limited shelf-life itself if certain people at FIFA get their way over proposals for biennial World Cups – really suffice as the pinnacle of their achievements?

Red Devils awaiting replenishment

Of course, Belgium do still have time – the next World Cup is only 13 months away.

But how many would realistically consider them among the favourites? Concerns over the age of their squad are valid and, while 13 months isn't necessarily a long time, elite football has a tendency to expose and exacerbate even the slightest weakness, of which age can be an example.

Reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-final was the closest Belgium have come to winning the biggest prize in football, as they got to the last four before ultimately losing to Thursday's opponents France.

 

Martinez's starting XI in that game was the oldest (28 years, 356 days) of all of Belgium's line-ups during the 2018 World Cup. While that may not necessarily be shockingly old in itself, some might suggest that was evidence of them being at the peak of their powers.

Since Russia 2018, Belgium have only got older. Now, you might be inclined to say, "Yeah, that's how aging works, genius", but football is obviously cyclical. Teams don't just age for eternity, they are refreshed and replenished.

It's difficult to say that's happening on a consistent basis with Belgium, though.

Young Lions setting the example

Gareth Southgate's England got just as far as Belgium in Russia and their squad was already rather young (26.0 years), with only Nigeria (25.9) having a younger group of players at the tournament.

The third-place play-off – when fringe players were given opportunities – aside, England's starting XI's average age only dipped below 26 once, and that was their third group game (also against Belgium) having already secured a spot in the next round.

But there were clear signs of further refreshment to Southgate's team after the tournament, with their first XI's average age not reaching 26 again for more than two years (November 2020).

 

Between the start of the last World Cup and the present day, Belgium have named a starting XI with an average age of 29 years or more nine times – seven of those have been in 2021 alone. Their oldest average age in that time, 30 years and 148, was during the 1-0 win over Portugal at Euro 2020.

Of course, it didn't work out too badly on that occasion, and their collective age isn't necessarily a barrier in a given game, but it does suggest Martinez has to be reliant on his older players because the next generation isn't of the same calibre.

The starting XI selected against Portugal at the Euros was the second-oldest named by any team at the tournament after Slovakia.

While key players such as Romelu Lukaku, Yannick Carrasco, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois haven't reached 30, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eden Hazard have.

So, what of the next generation?

Belgium's next hopefuls

Belgium's youngest team of 2021 – and fourth-youngest since the start of the last World Cup – was named last month (26 years, 364 days) in the 1-0 win away to Belarus.

Among the 15 players who featured, only three were 24 or younger: Dodi Lukebakio, Tielemans and Alexis Saelemaekers, who at 22 was the youngest. Zinho Vanheusden (also 22), Yari Verschaeren and Charles De Ketelaere (both 20) were unused substitutes.

Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga (21) had been in the squad, while Jeremy Doku impressed with his pace and trickery at Euro 2020 despite only turning 19 in May. These, for the time being, appear to be Belgium's next biggest hopes.

Lokonga looks set to be an interesting option in midfield. Athletic and a hard worker, his 62.2 per cent duel success was the 15th highest among outfield players in the Belgian Pro League last season, but he's also an assuring presence in possession.

 

Of the Pro League players to attempt at least 30 dribbles last term, Lokonga (41) ranked third in terms of completion percentage (72.1), while no midfielder or winger recorded more ball carries (627) than him. Among the same group, only three – two of whom were wingers – carried the ball further upfield over the course of the campaign than Lokonga (3,356.9 metres).

His former Anderlecht team-mate Verschaeren has been around for a few years now, with this impressively his fourth season in the club's first team. Last term saw him progress as a goal threat, improving from two the season before to six, but early suggestions he could be the 'next Eden Hazard' haven't really been on the money.

While Hazard has always been renowned for his dribbling, Verschaeren is a rather less conventional winger in that sense given he only attempted 1.8 per 90 minutes in 2020-21. Instead, his strength lies in link-up play, with just six players among forwards and midfielders (at least 900 minutes played) bettering his 83.5 per cent pass completion in the attacking half of the pitch.

Although his shot-ending sequence involvement average of 4.1 per 90 minutes was unspectacular, it was above average, whereas his goal-ending sequence involvement of 0.8 each game was bettered only seven.

But where Verschaeren's stock may not have risen as quickly as some expected a couple of years ago, De Ketelaere does appear to be on a good trajectory.

Capable of playing as a striker, winger or No.10, De Ketelaere has often been deemed lightweight despite his height and easily knocked off the ball. His duel success has improved to 54.6 per cent this term from 44.3 – among the worst – last season, a consequence of him bulking up somewhat, and although he continues to lack presence aerially (36.8 per cent aerial success), De Ketelaere can get by because he's a good technician.

He was important as an associative player in attack in 2020-21, as demonstrated by the fact he was involved in shot-ending sequences with a total xG (expected goals) value of 21.8, the seventh-highest in the Pro League, while he's already matched last season's goals output of four.

 

Doku is seemingly the outstanding one of the bunch in terms of flair, at the very least. He attempted (184) and completed (110) the fifth-most dribbles across the top five European leagues last season, encouraging proof of his confidence and technique.

Currently injured, Doku still has plenty to work on in terms of his end product, but the raw minerals are there, and he didn't look out of place at Euro 2020.

Are these youngsters enough to carry the burden of expectation that's been cultivated by Belgium's 'Golden Generation', though? At the moment it's difficult to say the new kids on the block are generally of the same quality on an individual level, because Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard et al have just been so good over the years.

While Nations League success may not cut it as a satisfactory legacy for this Belgium team, winning the title in Italy might just give them the nudge their collective mentality needs ahead of what looks likely to be a last realistic tilt at the World Cup for a while.

Eden Hazard did not make it onto the pitch in Real Madrid's win over Inter and Carlo Ancelotti explained why he sent match-winner Rodrygo on ahead of the Belgium winger. 

Madrid had to withstand a barrage of pressure in the first half, with Thibaut Courtois doing well to deny Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez in the Champions League Group D encounter. 

Rodrygo replaced Lucas Vazquez in the 65th minute with Los Blancos getting more of a foothold in the game and the Brazilian popped up with a late winner in a 1-0 success. 

Asked why Hazard, who played 66 minutes in the 5-2 LaLiga win against Celta Vigo at the weekend, did not feature in Milan, Ancelotti said: "I thought about putting him on in the second half, but Inter closed the centre of the pitch well. 

"I wanted to open up the game from the wings, which is why I put Rodrygo on." 

Rodrygo is yet to start a game under Ancelotti, but he has now scored in two of his three Champions League appearances against Inter - both of his strikes representing a winning goal,

Ancelotti has attempted to stop the 20-year-old worrying about the number of minutes he gets and instead get him focused on performing at the highest level when he is selected. 

"I told him it's not important how many minutes he plays, but how he plays them," Ancelotti told Movistar+.

"He helped [Dani] Carvajal a lot and then in front of goal he is very cool and scores goals. 

"With his introduction we played more on the wing and found the solution. I liked the game because he had to suffer and be compact. The team not only has quality, but it also has commitment." 

Rodrygo said: "Of course, I always want to play. When I'm on the pitch, I can do something for the team. 

"I want to play, but I respect the coach's decisions and I'm going to work hard to be able to be there. At Real Madrid it's always difficult." 

Manchester City top FIFA's list of the biggest spenders on internationals transfers in the past decade.

The world governing body on Monday revealed $48.5billion worth of player trading was done between 2011 and 2020.

Premier League champions City have spent big on the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Ruben Dias during that period, so it is no surprise they top the list.

Chelsea and Barcelona are second and third respectively on the list - which does not state how much each club spent in total.

Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid make up the top five, while 12 of the top 30 clubs, who alone have spent €19.3billion in the time period, are from England.

Neymar's move from Barcelona to PSG was for a world record fee of €222m, while Madrid brought in Eden Hazard from Chelsea for a deal that could reportedly climb to €175m (£150m).

Barcelona have the next two largest transfers, with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele joining from Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund respectively.

Argentina forward Angel Di Maria also holds two slots in the top 10 of the highest individual transfers, his deal to join Manchester United from Madrid in 10th with his subsequent move to PSG a place higher.

Players of 204 different nationalities have been transferred since 2010-11, Brazil way out in front with 15,128 moves.

Agents have played a hugely increasing role in international transfers, with their involvement growing 69.1 per cent from 2011 to 2020.

From €131.1m worth of commissions in 2011 to €640.5m in 2019, a total of €3.5bn was paid for agents' commissions in international transfers over the course of the decade. 

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said the potential signing of Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe is "a matter for the club".

According to widespread reports, Madrid have offered €170million plus €10million in add-ons to bring the 22-year-old to the Bernabeu.

Mbappe has one year remaining on his contract with PSG, for whom he has scored 133 times in 174 games – at a rate of one goal every 102.46 minutes.

But Ancelotti insisted he was not the right person to speak about a potential deal when asked about it ahead of Madrid's LaLiga clash with Real Betis.

"It's a matter for the club, I understand that it is of interest, but I can't say more," he said. "If I say that Mbappe is a great player, I tell the truth. I try to get the best quality in my squad.

"My squad is fantastic, I'm focused on that. It can compete against everyone in the world. 

"I'm happy with the squad but if it improves, then better for everyone."

 

While Mbappe could arrive, Madrid's last big-money signing – Eden Hazard – has been linked with a move away.

A seemingly constant battle with injuries has prevented the Belgium forward from truly kicking on at Madrid since his move from Chelsea in 2019.

In the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Juventus, with a return to Manchester United having been agreed, Hazard has been linked with a switch to the Bianconeri. 

However, Hazard has started each of Los Blancos' opening two matches of the new LaLiga season and Ancelotti emphasised the 30-year-old's importance. 

"Hazard is a very important player, everyone knows that," Ancelotti added. "He's played the first two games coming back from injury, he's doing well.

"He's got good motivation and he's a very, very important player for us."

Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard is confident he can push on this season after an injury-hit first two years in LaLiga.

Hazard signed for Madrid from Chelsea for a reported fee of an initial €100million (£89m), though there was potential for the deal to rise significantly due to additional bonus payments.

However, the Belgium attacker has hardly made an impact in the Spanish capital and is reportedly one of the players Madrid are open to selling as they look to ease their financial difficulties in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Niggling injuries have derailed Hazard's Madrid career, restricting him to just 43 appearances in total across all competitions over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns, with 31 of these being starts.

Yet the 30-year-old, who featured for Belgium at Euro 2020 after overcoming an ankle problem, looked sharp as Madrid thrashed Deportivo Alaves in Carlo Ancelotti's first game back in LaLiga on Saturday, his deft flick teeing up Karim Benzema for Los Blancos' opener in the 4-1 win.

That assist was one of a game-leading three chances created by Hazard, who lasted 66 minutes before being replaced by Vinicius Junior.

"I have nothing but good feelings for me and for the team," Hazard told Movistar+. 

"The feelings are good, I'm feeling good, we want to win LaLiga this season.

"My ankle injury is a thing of the past, it's already out of my head. I am going to give everything this season."

Hazard started in a front three alongside Gareth Bale and Benzema, who the Belgian found six times in total on Saturday, with only Luka Modric (13), David Alaba and Federico Valverde (both eight) picking out the France striker on more occasions.

"I enjoy playing with Benzema, we know each other very well and it's easy to play with him," Hazard added.

A trip to Levante is next up for Madrid in a week's time.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti insists Martin Odegaard could still have a future at the club amid reported renewed interest from Arsenal.

The Norway international is expected to be left out of Madrid's matchday squad for their LaLiga opener against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

After the news emerged in Spain, reports surfaced in England that Arsenal had opened talks with Los Blancos over the prospect of signing Odegaard before the transfer window closes.

The 22-year-old, said to be valued in the region of €40million, made 14 Premier League appearances during a loan spell with the Gunners last season.

However, Ancelotti does not appear to have made a decision on Odegaard's future, or that of fellow fringe players Jesus Vallejo and Dani Ceballos.

"The fact they've not been named in the squad is down just to technical issues," he said on Friday. "The final list [for the 2021-22 season] doesn't have to be confirmed until September 2.

"Odegaard has done well. We had a chat and of course, there is a lot of competition in midfield. We have eight very good midfielders.

"He hasn't been dropped, nor has Ceballos, nor Vallejo."

 

Madrid kick-start their campaign in what will be Ancelotti's first competitive match in charge since he returned to the club from Everton.

Gareth Bale is expected to be involved, having also gone back to the Santiago Bernabeu after spending last season on loan with Tottenham, with previous Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane deeming him surplus to requirements.

Ancelotti now wants to see Bale prove his worth to the club on the pitch.

"He's a great player, perhaps he quite hasn't lived up to expectations in recent times but I've seen him train every day with great enthusiasm and we have to see how he plays. The talking has to be done on the pitch," Ancelotti added.

"There's competition for places – if players don't play well, there are other players. This is good, it's extra motivation. But he's been very good during this first month back, but we'll see how he performs out on the pitch."

Ancelotti is also hoping for a strong start to the season from Eden Hazard, whose career in LaLiga has been blighted by injuries.

The Belgium star has scored just four goals in 21 league starts since his reported €100m transfer from Chelsea in 2019 and did not once complete a full match in the top flight in 2020-21.

"He's been training with the team for about 10 days, he's fit and ready to play," Ancelotti said. "He's a key player in this team and I'm confident we'll see the best Eden Hazard this season. "

Eden Hazard has struggled for impact at Real Madrid two years into his five-year deal.

The 30-year-old signed with Madrid for a reported €100 million (£86m) from Chelsea in 2019.

Hazard has battled against injuries and poor form in Spain, making 43 appearances and scoring five goals in two seasons.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA WEIGH UP SHOCK HAZARD RETURN

Eden Hazard could make a sensational return to Chelsea and end his underwhelming spell with Real Madrid, reports AS.

Chelsea are weighing up a shock move for the Belgium attacking midfielder, who spent seven years with the Blues.

The report did not disclose any financial details but cited Hazard's strong connection with Chelsea's squad and desire to re-discover his best football.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun claims Manchester United are plotting a cut-price move for Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka as a replacement for Paul Pogba, who has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain in recent days.

- Tottenham's swap deal for Bryan Gil from Sevilla in exchange for Erik Lamela will soon be finalized according to Sky Sports. Spurs will also pay £21.6 million (€25m) for the winger.

- Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowsk is "interested" in a contract offer from Chelsea after his agent spoke to the Blues, claims Bild. Lewandowski is seen as Chelsea's alternative option should they fail to land Erling Haaland.

- Switzerland international Xherdan Shaqiri could be among those sold by Liverpool in an off-season clear-out, according to the Liverpool Echo. Divock Origi and Nat Phillips were also mentioned in the report.

- talkSPORT reports that Arsenal are preparing a £30m bid to sign Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale . The Times claims the Gunners have been told to raise their offer.

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez refused to comment on his future after the country's Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of Italy, insisting the situation is "too raw".

Italy booked their spot in the semi-finals against Spain after overcoming Martinez's Belgium 2-1 in Munich on Friday.

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Despite going close, Belgium – one of the pre-tournament favourites – were unable to find an equaliser against red-hot Italy as the Red Devils lost in the quarter-finals of the European Championship like they did in 2016.

Attention swiftly turned to Martinez, who is contracted through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but has been linked with a return to club management.

"Well, obviously, this is a moment that is very, very difficult to speak anything else than the defeat and that we are out of the Euros," Martinez said. "As I say, at the moment, it's still too raw. And I do not want to say anything that it could be [seen as] emotional.

"At the moment, all I want to do is look back into this tournament and I would say that the players have done nothing wrong. It is the opposite.

"They did everything they could to get us as far as we can [at Euro 2020]. And now is the time to analyse and to assess. But, at the moment, the feelings of disappointment and sadness, unfortunately, is what is in my head now."

Belgium have faced Italy more times at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros) without winning than any other side (five).

No Belgium player has scored more goals than Lukaku at either the European Championship (six) or the World Cup (five, level with Marc Wilmots).

Lukaku has scored 24 goals in his last 23 appearances for Belgium, including 22 in his last 19 competitive internationals.

"The feelings are what you can imagine, really - sadness and disappointment - because I do not think these players deserve to be out of this tournament," said Martinez. "They have done an incredible job to be prepared to be ready to go step-by-step every day, from the beginning of the tournament. And unfortunately, today [Friday], we faced a very good side [Italy]. I thought it was two very good teams in this knockout phase. And, unfortunately, the margins did not go in our favour."

Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne played despite carrying an ankle knock, though captain Eden Hazard watched from the stands due to a hamstring injury.

"The situation with Axel [Witsel] and Kevin [De Bruyne] and Eden [Hazard] going into the tournament, I think we managed it very, very well and you could see the attitude of those players," Martinez added. "They started to grow into the tournament and they have been a real bonus. They really helped us from the moment that they could be on the pitch.

"Obviously, injuries happen and it is unfortunate that Eden could not be on the pitch with us [against Italy]. But it was exemplary to see Kevin De Bruyne getting through whatever he would, to get 90 minutes with his national team and showing that he was ready to help the group.

"So, I think, for every 'Red Devil' fan, there is a real pride and understanding that these players did everything they could to try to get what we wanted to get. And unfortunately today, we faced a very good team [Italy] and, with two good teams, the small margins went for them. And that is a small difference and that happens in football."

Roberto Martinez will decide on Friday whether Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will play any part in Belgium's Euro 2020 quarter-final tie with Italy.

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half of Sunday's 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal with an ankle problem, while Hazard damaged his hamstring later in the same game.

Both players have travelled to Munich for Friday's showdown with Italy, though neither took part in Belgium's final training session ahead of the match.

Martinez admitted on Monday it was unlikely either De Bruyne or Hazard would be fully recovered in time, and the Spaniard still remains unsure if either player will make the squad.

"As you know they have not been able to train today," he said at Thursday's pre-match news conference. 

"There is still another 24 hours to go and they are positive they can recover. It is now a race against time to make a decision.

"We won't make a decision until the last minute. At the moment it's impossible to say whether they will get fit."

Asked if he is playing mind games by making Italy guess as to the pair's availability, Martinez said: "We are trying to get them fit. It has nothing to do with games or arrogance.

"We are in tournament mode. If they are not available tomorrow, we hope to have them available later."

Injury-plagued forward Hazard has struggled for fitness over the past couple of seasons and Martinez appeared to suggest the Real Madrid man has less of a chance of being fit.

"For Eden, it's difficult as it's a muscle injury," he said. "For Kevin, it's another type of injury. It's a decision for the medical staff. We will then make a decision when we hear back."

 

The winners of Friday's match at the Allianz Arena will face either Switzerland or Spain for a place in the final.

Italy needed extra time to overcome Austria in the last round, with that 2-1 victory extending the Azzurri's unbeaten run to a new national record of 31 matches.

Roberto Mancini's side have conceded more than once in only one of their last 18 games at major tournaments, conceding just 13 times in total across that sequence.

Martinez got the better of Mancini in the 2013 FA Cup final, with Wigan Athletic stunning Manchester City, but the Spaniard is full of praise for what his opposite number has achieved.

"Italy are a great team," he said. "They press with many players and are very dynamic, with many players able to counter-attack.

"If I have to mention one quality in particular it is the synchrony. That is credit to Mancini and that is why they are unbeaten for so long.

"Italy and Belgium are statistically the best teams in the European Championship, and the teams that have won the most games since qualifying.

"It's a pity we're meeting them already, just like we faced Portugal too early."

Against no side have Belgium played more games at major tournaments without winning than Italy (four, level with France and Germany).

The only European nations Italy have faced more often at the same tournaments without losing, meanwhile, are Germany (nine) and Austria (five).

However, the Red Devils have won seven of their last eight matches at the European Championships – the exception being a 3-1 loss to Wales in the 2016 quarter-finals.

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini hopes Belgium duo Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will feature in Friday's Euro 2020 quarter-final clash despite Red Devils boss Roberto Martinez suggesting they will not be fit. 

De Bruyne was forced off early in the second half during his side's 1-0 win over Portugal on Sunday.

The Manchester City midfielder was seen with ice on his left ankle while watching on from the sideline, where he was later joined by Hazard after the Real Madrid winger damaged his hamstring late in proceedings.

Martinez revealed on the eve of the game – the first ever between Italy and Belgium in a knockout tie at a major tournament – that it is "impossible" to predict whether the pair will be available to play a part in Munich.

Mancini, however, said the best players deserve to play in the biggest games and would have no issues should they recover in time. 

"It's always nice for the fans to see all the best players on the pitch; that's what makes football special," he told a media conference.

"We face the best team in Europe along with France, maybe the best in the world. They are on top of the ranking, but we'll try to win. 

"I respect Belgium, but we'll need to play as we know, we are aware of our qualities. Belgium are preparing for an important game and the same goes for us."

 

So impressive in the group stage, the Azzurri had to be patient before landing the decisive blows against Austria in a last-16 clash at Wembley that went to extra time.

Mancini's side prevailed 2-1 in the end, setting a new national record in the process as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games.

"We knew Austria could create trouble for us and we knew it could have been the most difficult game because it was the first one in the knockout phase," Mancini explained.

"Every game can make you stronger if you improve. We suffered against Austria, but we had 27 shots. It was a tough game, but we deserved to win. There are no easy games, that's what the Euros are teaching us."

This is Italy's fourth consecutive appearance in the quarter-final stage of the European Championship.

Each of those previous three appearances have been decided by a penalty shootout, with the Italians eliminated by Spain in 2008 and Germany in 2016 while progressing past England in 2012.

Indeed, that accounts for three of Italy's five European Championship penalty shootouts – more than any other nation prior to the 2020 edition.

Page 1 of 5
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.