Paul Pogba insists he and his fellow France players have no problem with head coach Didier Deschamps but were "disgusted" by the team's failure at Euro 2020

Draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine in World Cup qualifying have followed France's wretched European mission.

Despite going into Euro 2020 as many people's favourites, France were knocked out on penalties by Switzerland in the second round, with Pogba seen in a lively discussion with Deschamps after the game.

Deschamps has been boss of France since 2012 and is set to lead his reigning world champions into next year's World Cup, assuming they qualify.

Manchester United midfielder Pogba looks set to face Finland on Tuesday as France attempt to end a run of five successive draws – including the 3-3 thriller with the Swiss that was followed by the spot-kick sucker punch.

France had never before drawn five consecutive games, and they perhaps need a win to lift spirits.

Speaking about his post-Switzerland talks with Deschamps, Pogba told TF1 on Sunday: "It wasn't hard-nosed. It was a discussion with frustration. But it was just that. There is nothing at all. It's going very well with the coach."

Pogba added: "We were disgusted with the Euro. But we want to get over that and move on. It really hurt us. When you think back to that match against Switzerland, nobody would have imagined that. We are the ones who lost the game. It was not Switzerland that won it."

France led 3-1 against the Swiss but folded in the closing stages of normal time, and Pogba said: "If we replayed the game it wouldn't be the same. We would certainly have changed the way we entered the field."

Against Finland, Deschamps will be determined his team avoid another slow start.

France have surprisingly conceded the opening goal in each of their last five games, their longest such run since another run of five from November 2009 to June 2010, during Raymond Domenech's reign as national coach.

They sit top of Group D but Finland, four points behind in second place, have two games in hand, making Tuesday's clash in Lyon a significant game in how the campaign pans out.

England's tactics are similar to those of Liverpool and European champions Chelsea, so says Gareth Southgate.

The Three Lions reached the final of Euro 2020, only to lose on penalties to Italy after a 1-1 draw at Wembley after extra time.

With a squad packed with attacking talent at his disposal, Southgate often faced clamour to find a way to fit as many of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden into his starting XI as possible.

While all those players played their part, Southgate started every game with a holding pivot of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in midfield, with England lining up in a back three in the final itself.

England, who had the tightest defence at Euro 2020, conceding just two goals, were outshot by 19 to six in that match, with Luke Shaw's early goal their only attempt until Harry Kane headed over in the 58th minute.

Southgate's team are back in action on Thursday, facing Hungary in World Cup Qualifying Group I - England sit top with nine points from their three games so far.

Asked once again if he feels he has at times been too conservative with his approach, Southgate told a news conference: "I'm always looking at Chelsea who are the Champions League winners who play three attacking players.

"Liverpool play three attacking players normally. So what is required to win football matches at the very highest level? Most teams will get four in if they played two wide players, a 10 and a nine, or three forwards and an attacking eight.

"I don't see too many teams in world football who win things playing with five attacking players who have no tactical discipline or who have no balance to the team, so of course I understand people want to see exciting players. I get that. I think our goalscoring record is pretty strong compared to other nations.

"The teams that have won tournaments in the past were averaging 12 goals in those tournaments. We had 11, Italy got 13. We weren't far away on that. I think we play good football.

"I think we build the game. We retain possession of the ball. We need to do that better in the biggest matches when we are pressed intensely, without a doubt. But we can't get every attacking player on the pitch and some of them still have a long way to go to being the finished article.

"We have got some big players who have got us to a semi-final and a final, who have proved themselves in the biggest games on the biggest stage.

"We've got lots of guys with good reputations who haven't as yet necessarily won things with their clubs and who still have a lot to prove. That's going to be interesting to watch all those journeys this year, with us and with their clubs."

How did England perform in attack at Euro 2020?

While Southgate will rightly point to reaching a World Cup semi-final and then taking England to their first major tournament final since 1966 as evidence of the outstanding progress made, some questioning of his attacking plan does seem justified, however, based on the numbers from Euro 2020.

England did indeed score only two goals less than Italy at Euro 2020, with the Azzurri joint-top in that regard alongside semi-finalists Spain.

In terms of total chances created, England ranked fifth with 48, way behind leaders Italy (104), with Spain (86), Denmark (71) and Switzerland (52) also ahead of Southgate's team.

However, only Spain created more big chances – those defined by Opta as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score – than England's tally of 16, with the Three Lions converting half of these opportunities.

A total of 189 passes or crosses into the area also ranked England behind the other three teams to make it to the semi-finals. 

Italy, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland all had more shots than England, despite there of them playing fewer matches, while nine teams scored at a faster rate (England managed a goal every 57.27 minutes, whereas tournament leaders Spain recorded a strike every 41.54 minutes).

Only Belgium recorded a better shot conversion rate than England, though.

Another record went tumbling on Wednesday as Cristiano Ronaldo became the leading goalscorer in the history of international men's football.

Ronaldo, who completed a remarkable move to Manchester United this week, surpassed the tally of 109 set by Iran great Ali Daei.

The 36-year-old pulled level with Daei during the recent Euro 2020 tournament, but he reached 111 with a dramatic late double during the World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at Estadio Algarve.

To mark the Portuguese superstar’s latest record, Stats Perform looked back at some of the milestone goals of his incredible career...

 

GOAL 100 – MANCHESTER UNITED 3-1 Tottenham (FA Cup, January 2008)

The first century of goals was completed in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, with a 22-year-old Ronaldo doubling his tally for the match with a deflected effort that squirmed under the body of goalkeeper Radek Cerny.

GOAL 200 – REAL MADRID 2-0 Valencia (LaLiga, December 2010)

Again, Ronaldo was on target twice in this match but it was his first strike – a measured left-footed finish from Mesut Ozil's assist – that took him onto 200 career goals.  

GOAL 300 – Granada 1-2 REAL MADRID (LaLiga, May 2012)

Madrid were behind in this game with only five minutes gone but levelled late on when Ronaldo converted a penalty that he had won. There was still time for title-winning Madrid to seal all three points courtesy of an own goal.

GOAL 400 – REAL MADRID 3-0 Celta Vigo (LaLiga, January 2014)

At the double once more, it was his second goal in injury time that brought up a quadruple century for the irrepressible Ronaldo, who turned home a fine cross from Gareth Bale. 

GOAL 500 – Malmo 0-2 REAL MADRID (Champions League, September 2015)

The first of two goals on an otherwise uneventful night in Sweden was the one that took Ronaldo to a tally of 500. Through one-on-one, the outcome was never in doubt as he confidently chipped the ball over Johan Wiland.

GOAL 600 – REAL MADRID 4-1 Juventus (Champions League, June 2017)

What a stage on which to make history, the Champions League final. Having already opened the scoring, Ronaldo struck again when he turned in Luka Modric's near-post delivery on a glorious night in Wales for Madrid. 

GOAL 700 – Ukraine 2-1 PORTUGAL (Euro 2020 Qualifying, October 2019)

The first of his landmark goals that has failed to help his side to victory, but an astonishing personal achievement nonetheless, Ronaldo slotted home his penalty and probably started thinking about reaching 800 soon after.

Jorginho has not yet received a contract offer to extend his stay at Chelsea as he targets playing for as long as possible.

The midfielder won the Champions League with Thomas Tuchel's side last term and then Euro 2020 with Italy, leading him to be named UEFA Men's Player of the Year.

His club and country double saw him become just the 10th player to achieve the feat of winning both competitions in the same year, though his long-term future at Chelsea remains unclear with two years left on his current deal.

"One thing at a time and in the end they come to terms," Jorginho told reporters on Tuesday, as he prepares to face Bulgaria, when asked if he could possibly see out his career at Stamford Bridge.

"On the contract, I say that I didn't have any offer and now I don't even think about it, honestly.

"But at 29 you already talk to me about finishing my career, but I want to play until 40. If they make me a ten-year contract, then yes."

Jorginho insisted his focus was on one game at a time, with Bulgaria, Switzerland and Lithuania all to come in World Cup qualifiers.

The 29-year-old was a standout performer for Italy at Euro 2020, leading the charts for recoveries (48) and interceptions (25) after carrying his Champions League form into June and July.

Jorginho's 484 successful passes were bettered only by Spain's Aymeric Laporte (644), as he created seven chances for his team-mates. Only international colleague Lorenzo Insigne (40) was involved in more shot-ending sequences than his 38.

With one individual award already under his belt, the former Napoli midfielder refused to be drawn on the Ballon d'Or race while also insisting Italy will now face a different challenge in the aftermath of their European Championship success.

"Now [it] becomes difficult, Italy is no longer a surprise," he continued. "It is in the place it deserves to be and all those who come to play against us will do it in a different way.

"After what we have done we are happy, but we must always remain humble.

"On the Ballon d'Or, I let you speak, I try to live in the moment. There are still a few months left for that decision and I think about the present, I want to enjoy this moment with those around me. We'll see what happens."

Jorginho has been crowned UEFA Men's Player of the Year for the 2020-21 campaign following a stellar year for club and country.

The 29-year-old helped Chelsea to Champions League success in May and followed that up by winning Euro 2020 with Italy six weeks later.

He started every game for Italy and missed just one match for the Blues in their run to continental glory as he became the 10th player to win both competitions in the same year.

Former Napoli midfielder Jorginho edged out Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante and Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne for the award at Thursday's ceremony in Istanbul.

It is the first time in the award's 11-year history that the top three was comprised exclusively of midfielders.

Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Erling Haaland were notable absentees from the three-man shortlist.

The award, which is based on performances at club and international level over the course of a season, was last year won by Lewandowski.

Jorginho's memorable campaign

The role Jorginho played in Italy's triumphant Euro 2020 campaign likely cemented the award, the deep-lying playmaker leading the way in a number of areas.

Jorginho topped the list for interceptions (25), recoveries (48) and fouls won (19), rightly earning himself a spot in the official Team of the Tournament.

He was just as important to Chelsea's second ever Champions League triumph, with no midfielder intercepting the ball more times (26), while only four players in his position completed more than his 662 passes.

Despite an underwhelming Premier League campaign on the whole for the Blues last time out, Jorginho topped the scoring charts with seven goals in total, each of those coming from the penalty spot.

Simon Kjaer and the medical team who acted rapidly to tend to Christian Eriksen following a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 have been recognised with the 2021 UEFA President's Award.

Eriksen collapsed during Denmark's opener against Finland in June, with Kjaer the first on the scene to place his team-mate in the recovery position before leading his side to form a protective screen while the Inter man received treatment.

The 29-year-old was subsequently taken to hospital, where he was fitted with a pacemaker before returning home, though it remains unclear if he will ever play again, despite visiting Inter's training ground in August.

For Kjaer's exemplary leadership, the centre-back – along with eight medics – have been hailed as the "true heroes of Euro 2020" and presented with the award by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

"This year, the President’s Award transcends football," Ceferin said.

"It serves as an important and eternal reminder of just how precious life is and puts everything in our lives into the clearest perspective.

"I would also like to send my very best wishes to Christian Eriksen and his family as he continues his recovery."

After Kjaer had performed the initial CPR, the medical team responded quickly, resuscitating Eriksen before taking him off the pitch on a stretcher to rush him to hospital.

"We rushed to the field to help [Christian] and to do our job," said Mogens Kreutzfeldt, chief medical officer for Euro 2020 in Copenhagen.

"We did what we should, what we were taught, what we were trained to do.

"Everybody knew their role, everybody knew what to do.

"We were not emotional at the scene. Afterwards, we were, of course, like everybody. We're very happy and proud of the outcome."

Jorginho and Roberto Mancini could cap a golden year for Italy by landing UEFA honours after both were shortlisted for top awards on Thursday, though Manchester City duo Kevin De Bruyne and Pep Guardiola could spoil the Azzurri's party.

Azzurri midfielder Jorginho won the Champions League with Chelsea and followed that by helping his country to Euro 2020 glory, under the leadership of coach Mancini.

Jorginho, 29, is joined on the three-man shortlist for UEFA Men's Player of the Year by Chelsea team-mate N'Golo Kante, a standout in the Champions League final, and by City playmaker De Bruyne.

Kante played for France at Euro 2020 and De Bruyne featured for Belgium, but neither side made the progress many anticipated, with Les Bleus eliminated in the last 16 and the Red Devils bowing out to Italy in the quarter-finals.

The three players received the most votes from a panel consisting of the 24 head coaches at Euro 2020, the 80 coaches from the Champions League and Europa League group stages, and journalists from each of UEFA's 55 member associations.

The Men's Coach of the Year shortlist consists of the two coaches from the Champions League final, Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel and City's Guardiola, plus Italy boss Mancini.

It means there is no place for Gareth Southgate, who guided England to their first major men's final since the 1966 World Cup. He finished seventh in voting, UEFA announced, behind Villarreal's Europa League winning boss Unai Emery, Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone and former Inter coach Antonio Conte.

Like Guardiola, both Simeone and Conte led their club sides to domestic league title success.

The winner of each award will be announced at UEFA's Champions League group stage draw on August 26 in Istanbul.

Barcelona had a clean sweep of the players shortlisted for the Women's Player of the Year prize, following their Spanish league and cup and Champions League treble.

The Spanish duo of Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas were joined on the list by Dutch club-mate Lieke Martens.

UEFA's women's awards stem from votes from each of the coaches in the Champions League last 16 and the leading 12 coaches according to UEFA's national team rankings, plus a pool of 20 journalists.

Former Barcelona boss Lluis Cortes is joined on that list by Chelsea's Emma Hayes and Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson.

Simon Kjaer insisted he is "not a hero" for his quick-thinking actions to save Christian Eriksen, who collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest in Denmark's Euro 2020 opener.

In concerning scenes in Copenhagen against Finland in June, Eriksen received CPR on the pitch with his team-mates forming a protective screen around him.

The Denmark midfielder has subsequently been fitted with a pacemaker and encouragingly returned to Inter's training ground in August – Eriksen's health being "the only thing that matters" to Kjaer.

Kjaer was one of the first to the scene and prevented Eriksen from swallowing his own tongue as he placed his team-mate into the recovery position.

The centre-back was hailed as a saviour but he told Corriere della Sera: "I'm not a hero, I just did what I had to do, without thinking, like anyone else would.

"Then what happened, happened. I was ready to remain lucid, like all my team-mates. It was a team effort, obviously we would have done the same if he had been an opponent.

"Instinct guided me, and I did what I had to, automatically. It was the first time this happened to me, I hope it’s the last, too.

"That’s all. The only thing that matters is that Christian is fine now. That's the only important thing. I did it without thinking."

It remains unclear if Eriksen will be able to play in Italy again due to the national restrictions on people playing with ICDs – a device connected to the heart to regulate abnormal rhythms.

However, Eriksen could feature in other European countries, as seen by the example of Daley Blind, who still features for Ajax despite an ICD fitting in 2019.

Kjaer's focus remains firmly on Serie A with Milan and, after Stefano Pioli credited the Denmark international as a leader, the Rossoneri fans want the defender to take the armband.

"We already have a captain and his name is [Alessandro] Romagnoli," the 32-year-old responded to questions over the captaincy.

"There is great harmony and sportiness between us. I don't care about the armband. I do my best always and in any case.

"There is harmony, unity [at Milan]. But above all there is a desire to work. Because without work, there is no improvement.

"A team like Milan has the duty to aim for the maximum. This is the only way to grow. I've never won a championship and I'd like to do it with Milan. [It] would be a dream."

Paris Saint-Germain's new goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma believes he needed to move away from Milan to grow as a player.

Donnarumma left Milan upon the expiration of his contract at the end of June, subsequently joining Ligue 1 giants PSG on a free transfer.

The 22-year-old – who made his Milan debut at the age of 16 in 2015 – is one of five star recruits PSG have made this transfer window, with Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldium and, of course, Lionel Messi also arriving at the Parc des Princes to bolster an already remarkable squad.

After making 30 Serie A appearances in 2015-16, Donnarumma missed just five league games for Milan over the past five campaigns, establishing himself as one of the world's best goalkeepers.

He only helped his reputation at Euro 2020, playing a starring role as Italy won the competition – indeed, Donnarumma made two saves in the penalty shoot-out victory over England in the final on July 11.

While he awaits his PSG debut having only just resumed training following an extended break, Donnarumma revealed his reasons for leaving Milan.

"I spent eight years at Milan, it was my home, I experienced wonderful moments there," he told Corriere dello Sport.

"Milan still excites me today, I have great respect for the people who work there and for the fans. But life is made up of choices, we had different ambitions.

"I will always be a fan of Milan. Eight years are not forgotten, but I needed to change to grow, to improve and become the strongest. I felt the need for new spaces, for a new reality."

Donnarumma also insisted the decision to leave the Rossoneri was his alone, with agent Mino Raiola having little influence.

"There are decisions that have a maturity. I have always made my career choices alone, my family has always left me free and supported me," Donnarumma continued.

"Mino did the same. He respects the wishes of his clients 100 per cent, then of course he does everything to satisfy their requests. I left Milan and I had no contact with other teams, I swear, but I was sure that with a good Euros, someone would show up."

With three of their new additions, along with star names such as Marco Verratti, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos, yet to feature, PSG have nevertheless made a winning start to their first full Ligue 1 campaign under Mauricio Pochettino, though they did lose the Trophee des Champions to Lille, who won the top flight last term.

Donnarumma, though, knows PSG's true goal comes in the form of European glory.

"Last season, the team did not win Ligue 1 but the real objective is different – the Champions League," he said.

Donnarumma's switch to Paris does raise some questions, as PSG already had a superb goalkeeper in the form of Keylor Navas.

Both played 45 games in all competitions for their clubs last term, though Navas conceded 36 goals, 14 fewer than Donnarumma's tally of 50.

Donnarumma did face more shots (561 compared to 503), yet Navas' save percentage was still noticeably better – the former Real Madrid shot-stopper keeping out 79.55 per cent of the attempts he faced, in contrast to a rate of 68.55 from his new team-mate.

Navas saved three penalties, with Donnarumma making one save from a spot-kick, while the Italy international also made two errors leading to goals – his Costa Rican counterpart, on the other hand, made none.

In terms of distribution, the players are similar, with Donnarumma tallying up more passes (1,310) though with a slightly lower accuracy (79.08 per cent compared to Navas' 80.23 from 1,123 attempts).

On the subject of competing with such a high-quality goalkeeper for the number one shirt, Donnarumma said: "It's an additional motivation, something that fascinates me."

Denzel Dumfries is relishing the chance to impress at Inter after the right-back joined the Serie A champions from PSV.

Inter confirmed the signing of Dumfries shortly after revealing striker Edin Dzeko had completed his switch from domestic rivals Roma.

Dumfries, who was impressive for the Netherlands at Euro 2020, scoring twice during the tournament, is believed to have been purchased for a fee of €12.5million plus add ons.

The 25-year-old has signed a four-year deal with the Nerazzurri.

Dumfries appears set to be the like-for-like replacement for Achraf Hakimi, who was sold to Paris Saint-Germain earlier in the transfer window.

Hakimi's sale was required as Inter looked to ease financial difficulties. The club have also seen star striker Romelu Lukaku depart to Chelsea for a reported £97.5m (€115m).

"The feeling is amazing," Dumfries told Inter TV. "I'm very happy to join the champions of Italy. It's a big opportunity for me and I'm happy to be here.

"I'm a wide defender and I like to attack a lot. I think I'll fit in at Inter as they play with five at the back, as I have done with the Netherlands.

"I know which Dutch players have played here before. It's an honour to join them on the list.

"I hope we can have a great season, maybe win another league title and do well in the Champions League. I can't wait to get started."

Dumfries excelled for Frank de Boer's Netherlands team at Euro 2020, despite the Oranje's disappointing exit to the Czech Republic in the round of 16.

Playing as a wing-back, Dumfries started all four of his country's matches, playing 315 minutes in total.

Inter look set to continue with a back three under new boss Simone Inzaghi, who used a similar system at Lazio, meaning Dumfries will likely slot straight into the role that Hakimi occupied last term.

Dumfries has big shoes to fill, though. Hakimi played in 37 league matches in 2020-21, with only Lautaro Martinez (38) featuring more in the top flight under Antonio Conte during the campaign.

Hakimi scored seven times, a total only bettered in Inter's ranks by Martinez (17) and Lukaku (24), while he also provided eight assists.

His crossing was a particular threat, registering an accuracy of 25.52 per cent from 145 crosses from open play. Based on Euro 2020, this is something that Dumfries will need to improve, given none of his six crosses were classed as successful.

However, his presence in the area was often enough to help the Netherlands break down defences, and only Memphis Depay (24) had more touches in the opposition box than Dumfries.

Dumfries also contested (58) and won (28) more duels than any other Dutch player at Euro 2020, recording a success rate of 48.28 per cent, a figure that is not dissimilar to Hakimi's rate of 50.05 per cent from 333 duels in Serie A last season.

Phil Foden could miss the opening month of Manchester City's Premier League title defence with the foot injury that ruled him out of the Euro 2020 final and left him in tears.

England playmaker Foden was laid low during the build-up to the Wembley showdown with Italy, having impressed in an extra-time cameo against Denmark in the semi-finals.

Roberto Mancini's Azzurri prevailed on penalties as the 21-year-old was restricted to a watching brief and, with City beginning their top-flight campaign at Tottenham on Sunday, he will be out of action once more.

Back-to-back home games against newly promoted Norwich City and Arsenal will also come too soon, with a September 11 trip to Leicester City after the international break or the following weekend's game against Southampton representing possible return dates.

"It's still a little bit sore. It was such a shame to do it just before the Euro final, it was really unfortunate," Foden told Sky Sports News.

"I'm working hard in the gym. Hopefully I can get back as soon as possible. I would say around three to four weeks more.

"Hopefully it flies by and I can get back on the pitch."

Foden was named PFA Young Player of the Year, scoring 16 goals and laying on 10 assists across all competitions as Pep Guardiola's side won a fourth consecutive EFL Cup and their third league title in four seasons.

Nevertheless, there were also moments of bitter disappointment, as Chelsea claimed a 1-0 win over their Premier League counterparts in the Champions League final before a crestfallen Foden discussed being ruled out of the Euros showpiece with England boss Gareth Southgate.

"I remember speaking to the manager when I got injured and I just burst out crying with tears, with devastation that I was injured,” he revealed.

"I was just praying on that day that the team won and unfortunately we didn't. But we're proud of what we did, we created history in getting to the final and I think next time we go into a major tournament it's going to help us.

"It was so good to see in the changing room how together everyone was. It was a special moment to share with the team.

"Come the [2022] World Cup, I feel like those experiences can only help us."

Alongside Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and John Stones, another member of that England dressing room is now a club colleague.

Jack Grealish joined City for a British record £100million from Aston Villa last week and Foden is relishing lining up alongside him.

"We're close. When I first went to England we got on really well on and off the pitch," he said of Grealish.

"I'm really glad he's signed here and hopefully I can get back playing with him and enjoy my football.

"He's fearless on the ball, he can change a game on his own. I believe he's a really special player for us this year and he's going to be key for us."

Xavi feels sympathy for Lionel Messi and his former club Barcelona following the superstar forward's switch to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi held a tearful news conference on Sunday to confirm the end of his 21-year stay at Camp Nou ahead of completing a move to PSG on Tuesday.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner revealed both he and Barcelona did everything possible to agree a new deal, but it was made impossible by "financial and structural obstacles".

Xavi, who won 24 trophies playing in the same side as Messi prior to departing Barca in 2015, is upset that the Argentina international was effectively forced out of the door.

"I'm just so sad for Leo," Xavi, who is now managing Qatari club Al Sadd, told The Times. "It's a pity to see he and the club couldn't find a solution.

"I know that Leo wanted to stay, but in the end it could not be sorted.

"The only thing I can say now is that I will miss him a lot. It's even hard for me to picture Messi with a shirt other than Barca's. 

"It's sad for Leo, especially for how I saw him emotionally at the Camp Nou the other day, but for FC Barcelona as well."

 

As Barcelona get set to begin a new season without Messi for the first time since 2003, there will be plenty of onus on others in Ronald Koeman's squad stepping up.

One of those who has already made big strides in his first full campaign at Camp Nou is young midfielder Pedri, who also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympics.

He played more passes in the opposition half (461) than any player at Euro 2020.

Pedri's 421 successful passes was bettered by only four players, with the 18-year-old completing 65 of the 66 attempted in the semi-final loss to Italy – that one misplaced pass coming in extra time.

And Xavi can see similarities between Pedri and another Barcelona icon in Andres Iniesta, who spent 16 years in Barcelona's first team.

"Pedri is unbelievable. The kid has Iniesta's profile of a player, for sure," Xavi said.

"Watching him play at his age, doing what he does, leaves you with the only answer: he'll be great. Actually, he already is so impressive, but he can be even better."

While Spain's campaign ended at the last four stage, England reached the final on home soil before suffering a cruel defeat to Italy on penalties.

Xavi was impressed by what he saw from Gareth Southgate's side and in particular a couple of their midfielders.

"I've seen England at a fantastic level. They have absolutely everything in the squad. Well, actually they were not champions just because of a penalty," he said.

"This generation is young, physically strong but also great technically. With this group of players, they'll always be competitive.

"I can see them fighting for the World Cup, without a shadow of a doubt. They are almost there.

"I think that sooner rather than later they'll have this spark of luck you need to win trophies.

"I have also been hugely impressed by the two midfielders, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. I did not know them that well, but they were superb.

"You can see a centre-back like John Stones and how he plays the ball out from the defence.

"Next to him there's [Harry] Maguire, who drives up the ball to split the opponent's pressing. 

"How the full-backs and wing-backs behave for the team . . . there are details that speak volumes of Southgate's work."

 

Euro 2020 was a rather mixed tournament for Phil Foden, who started England's first two matches but struggled to make an impact and was largely overlooked from that point on.

"I think he is an unreal talent for a lot of reasons," Xavi said of the Manchester City midfielder. "He has an amazing work rate, but also his decision-making is ace. 

"He's strong, quick, has a sense of goal, great passer and shooter... There's everything in the pack.

"I would have loved to see more game time for Foden. When you have this number of talented players, all I can think of is putting them on the pitch. 

"I understand it's very tough to make changes with the squad Southgate had. There were a lot of options in his hands and only eleven could play. 

"But it's a pity to see so many special talents with not much playing time."

Leeds United view Jack Grealish's transfer as a warning sign as they look to keep Kalvin Phillips at Elland Road, according to Leeds' chief executive Angus Kinnear.

Grealish made Premier League history when he joined Manchester City last week for a record-breaking fee, Aston Villa unable to keep their captain with a release clause triggered by the reigning champions.

But Leeds remain adamant they will not suffer a similar fate with their key asset Phillips, who impressed in his debut Premier League campaign and subsequently for England at Euro 2020.

"The lure of Champions League and playing for a team that's going to win trophies turned the player's [Jack Grealish] head," Kinnear told the Square Ball podcast.

"I know Aston Villa didn't have to sell him, even at that value, and they wanted to keep him, but when the player wants to go, you have a problem.

"Our job is making sure all the players feel wanted and valued and they can grow at Leeds United. Kalvin is a long-term pillar for the club. We'll work with him and his representatives to make sure he feels valued and motivated and wants to be at Leeds United."

Phillips starred for Leeds on their return to the Premier League, ranking fifth at the club for duels won and fourth for recoveries last term, while his 1189 passes also placed him fifth – despite missing nine top-flight fixtures.

However, it was at Euro 2020 where he hit the headlines, partnering with Declan Rice in midfield to form a remarkable pairing as England reached their first major final in 55 years.

The 25-year-old recovered possession a team-high 45 times, while only three England players completed more than his 293 successful passes.

Phillips was the subject of transfer interest from Grealish's former club in 2019, prompting him to sign a new five-year deal, but Kinnear insisted Leeds will not be rushed into offering further improved terms.

"At the moment he's got three years on his contract," the chief executive said. "It's a healthy contract and we don't need to rush into any of these things. But we defend interest in our players very vigorously in the market place.

"This summer we've received a number of firm expressions of interest and some offers for players that would be perceived as our marquee talent.

"None of them have been entertained, no discussions or negotiations have taken place."

On August 9, 2016, Manchester United completed a deal that was expected to transform them back into title regulars.

Paul Pogba – who had left United in 2012 – arrived in an £89.3million (€105m) deal from Juventus, a then-world record transfer fee.

Five years on, Pogba seems to be at something of a crossroads in not just his United career, but as a player altogether.

Like in 2016, Pogba heads into the 2021-22 season on the back of an impressive European Championship with France.

Unlike in 2016, Les Bleus failed to go deep in the competition, dropping out in the last 16 stage to Switzerland.

That game in June perhaps provided the perfect summary of Pogba the player. A global superstar in his own right, the 28-year-old has perhaps never hit the heights his talent suggested, or at least not on a consistent basis.

An exquisite long-range strike put France 3-1 up against Switzerland, yet it was Pogba who dawdled on the ball and was robbed of possession as Les Bleus contributed to their own downfall in Bucharest.

But just how has Pogba fared in the five years since he arrived back at Old Trafford, and what could come next?

 

HIS UNITED RECORD

Pogba has made 199 appearances in all competitions for United in his second spell at the club, with Marcus Rashford (252), David de Gea (216) and Anthony Martial (208) playing more games in that time.

Indeed, only De Gea and Rashford have played more minutes than Pogba's 15,708. While he has struggled at times with niggling injuries, he has more often than not been consistently available throughout his time at Old Trafford, with De Gea and Rashford the two players to start more games than the former Juve star (174).

Pogba has played 134 times in the Premier League since 2016, helping United to 73 victories –  a win percentage of 54.5 per cent.

He has missed 56 league games, with United's win percentage dropping down to 50 per cent in those matches, underlying that he is perhaps more crucial than some of his critics would suggest.

It has to be said, however, that Bruno Fernandes' arrival in 2020 did see Pogba take a back seat.

The Portugal playmaker has already netted more goals (40) in all competitions than Pogba (38), in 119 fewer appearances, though 21 of Fernandes' goals have come from the penalty spot.

Rashford, with 39, is the only United player to record more assists than Pogba, who has teed up as many as he has scored, while the Frenchman's 301 chances created is a team-high, 66 clear of second-placed Rashford.

Pogba ranks in the top three for dribbles attempted (624), with 393 of these being successful, displaying his ability to carry the ball through the thirds, and his total of 11,723 passes is way clear of Nemanja Matic in second (9,849).

 

PARIS FOR PAUL?

With just 12 months left on his contract, talks of a move away for the Frenchman at the end of his deal continue – Paris Saint-Germain his most likely destination, given their reported interest last year.

PSG already have a wealth of midfield options, though, including former team-mate Ander Herrera, Euro 2020 winner Marco Verratti and Leandro Paredes.

Pogba completed 1595 passes last term, yet the PSG trio, along with Idrissa Gueye, averaged out at 2126 successful attempts – perhaps aided by their domination on the ball in Ligue 1.

Despite this, only Paredes (322) completed more passes in the final third than the United midfielder's 282, suggesting a different dimension Pogba could bring to Mauricio Pochettino's midfield.

Pogba also won 255 duels, recovering possession 242 times when doing his defensive duties for Solskjaer. Idrissa Gueye, PSG's best performer in this area, only managed 201 successful duels and 208 recoveries in two games more.

However, Verratti, who featured in 11 fewer games than Pogba, was victorious in 233 duels and made 174 recoveries  – could the pair form Pochettino's pivot next season?

While Pochettino now also has Georginio Wijnaldum, who made 262 recoveries albeit in six more games for Liverpool last year, to call upon, Pogba would add undoubted quality to the French giants in every midfield aspect.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit and raring to go as Liverpool prepare for their Premier League opener against Norwich City on Saturday.

The right-back, who signed a new long-term contract at Anfield in July, suffered a thigh injury in June, forcing him to pull out of England's Euro 2020 squad.

Alexander-Arnold has been eased back into pre-season action and finally completed a full 90-minute outing in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao.

"Yes, definitely," the 22-year-old responded when asked if he was 100 per cent ready. "I’ve started pre-season quite well, in training I've been putting the work in, got the all-clear from the medical staff early doors in pre-season and have been able to push on, get fit and get the full 90 under my belt today.

"I think we've timed it well and it gives us a good couple of days to recover and then go on to Norwich next week."

Jurgen Klopp provided Alexander-Arnold his opportunity down the right flank and the wing-back has appeared in over 40 games a season for the last three campaigns – in which time the Reds have won the Champions League and the Premier League.

Since the start of 2018-19, no Liverpool player has created more chances than Alexander Arnold's 212, while he also leads the assist charts with 32 in that period.

Despite failing to recreate his best form from the 2019-20 season which saw him net four times and provided 13 assists, Alexander-Arnold still managed 34 starts and two goals last campaign but was part of a defence hampered by the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez as Liverpool failed to retain their top-flight crown.

But Klopp has potential problems ahead of the Norwich opener on the other flank, with Andrew Robertson sustaining a suspected ankle injury in Sunday's outing against Bilbao.

"No, I haven't seen him, to be fair, but I think you know it’s going to be quite bad if Robbo has to come off," Alexander-Arnold said after being asked if he had spoken to his full-back partner.

"It's not something that he normally does so it’s disappointing to see, but I’m sure he will bounce back as soon as he can."

With or without Robertson, after a taste of the Anfield crowd returning for the Bilbao friendly, Alexander-Arnold is excited to perform in front of them during the 2021-22 term.

"This is the moment we’ve been waiting for," he added on seeing a near-full Anfield. "Obviously last season it was very quiet in here but to have the fans back today was special for us all. We've all been waiting for this moment."

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