Chelsea have spent plenty of money on recruitment during the January transfer window, landing Mykhaylo Mudryk, Noni Madueka, Andrey Santos, David Datro Fofana and Benoit Badiashile.

But the Blues may not be done with transfer activity before Tuesday's window closure.

Chelsea are still eager to bolster their midfield options, having missed out on a few key targets.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TO MOVE FOR EVERTON MIDFIELDER

Chelsea will move to sign unsettled Everton defensive midfielder Amadou Onana, according to The Times.

The Blues will divert their attention to the Senegal-born Belgium international after missing out on Benfica's Enzo Fernandez and Brighton and Hove Albion's Moises Caicedo.

Onana was given a leave of absence from Everton training earlier this week and is unhappy given the club's plight with Frank Lampard sacked as manager this week.

 

ROUND-UP

Ferran Torres could be sold by Barcelona in the off-season, despite only joining the Blaugrana in January last year, reports Sport. Barca have ignored offers for the forward in January, despite some clubs wanting him on loan while the report links Atletico Madrid with the 22-year-old.

Milan are monitoring the status of Manchester City full-back Joao Cancelo, according to The Sun. The Portuguese has struggled for games since the World Cup and could be open to a move.

Tottenham are getting closer to completing a deal for Sporting full-back Pedro Porro, reports The Guardian. Sporting are determined to recoup his buyout clause of €45 million (£39.7m), with talks, ongoing since the start of the month, getting towards a conclusion.

– Fabrizio Romano claims Weston McKennie has agreed personal terms with Leeds United however the move hinges on negotiations with Juventus about the transfer fee. Leeds' opening bid was €28m, but the Bianconeri want €35m.

– Everton are plotting a shock £25m move to sign Chelsea's Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech, claims Sky Sports. Roma are also interested in the 29-year-old too, while PSG are keeping tabs on him, according to Media Foot.

Nottingham Forest are weighing up a bid to sign 28-year-old Italian midfielder Roberto Gagliardini from Inter, claims Calciomercato.

Declan Rice appears certain to leave West Ham at the end of this season, with the ambition to test himself in the Champions League.

The 24-year-old midfielder is contracted with the Hammers until 2024, with the Hammers having the option of an additional year.

West Ham reportedly want more than £100million for the England international, but may settle for around £80m.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL CONFIDENT OF WINNING RICE RACE

Arsenal are winning the chase to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, who favours a move to the Gunners, according to The Guardian.

Rice has also drawn interest from Premier League heavyweights Chelsea and Manchester United.

The London-born defensive midfielder is excited by the prospect of working with Mikel Arteta, according to the report, and Arsenal's manager has plans to integrate Rice into his starting XI.

 

ROUND-UP

–  Milan are monitoring Nicolo Zaniolo's situation, with Fabrizio Romano claiming that Tottenham are only offering an initial loan with a buy option, with Roma wanting a €35/40m (£30.7m/35m) guaranteed fee. Zaniolo is keen to join Antonio Conte's Spurs.

– Football Insider claims that Tottenham have offered Spanish winger Bryan Gil to Roma as part of their proposed Zaniolo deal. The report claims he is one of three players Spurs have presented to the Italian club.

– The Sun reports Roma are also in talks with Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech about a move to the Italian capital. The Moroccan has also been linked with Barcelona.

Inter want to sign Roma's English centre-back Chris Smalling on a free transfer, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Smalling's contract expires at the end of this season, although he has the option to extend for another year.

Marseille want to sign Hellas Verona defensive midfielder Ivan Ilic, according to Sky Sport Italia, though OM would leave the 21-year-old on loan at Verona for the rest of the season.

– The Daily Telegraph claims Everton have held talks on the future of manager Frank Lampard, following reports he would be sacked on Sunday.

Dusan Vlahovic only joined Juventus from Fiorentina last January on a four-year deal, but he could be on the move already.

That is part of the immediate fallout from the Serie A giants' 15-point deduction for alleged financial irregularities and false accounting.

Juventus will appeal the court decision but it does leave them in a major battle to remain in European contention, slipping to 10th already, and reports suggest they will have a tough task on their hands to keep hold of some of their key players.

 

TOP STORY – VLAHOVIC OFFERED TO MAN UTD

Juventus forward Dusan Vlahovic has been offered to Manchester United according to 90min, amid the fallout from the Bianconeri's 15-point deduction.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have also been alerted to his availability.

Playing Champions League football is key for the Serbian striker, who has 16 goals in 36 games for Juventus, and the club understands the player's position and could sell in January or at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Jude Bellingham is set to turn down a new Borussia Dortmund contract offer, with Manchester City confident they are in the box seat to land him, reports the Star. Liverpool and Real Madrid are also interested in the England midfielder.

Arsenal have commenced discussions with Ivan Fresneda as they look to sign the Real Valladolid right-back, according to Fabrizio Romano.

– Sport reports that Chelsea are willing to exchange Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech for Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie.

Roma are set to move for Udinese forward Gerard Deulofeu should they sell Nicolo Zaniolo, claims Calciomercato.

– The Athletic reports Manchester City are discussing a contract extension with Ilkay Gundogan amid interest from Barcelona.

– The Daily Mail claims that Frank Lampard is on the verge of being sacked as Everton manager following Saturday's 2-0 loss to West Ham.

Newcastle United have reportedly pushed Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the top of their extended transfer wish-list.

Calvert-Lewin, 25, is in his seventh season with Everton, which has been highlighted by a pair of terrific seasons in 2019-20 and 2020-21 where he combined for 29 of his 46 total Premier League goals.

He missed three months this past campaign due to a fractured toe, and spent the first two months of the current season on the sideline nursing a knee injury, resulting in only one league goal since May.

Despite his lack of production in recent months, Calvert-Lewin already has 11 senior international caps for England under his belt, and could be viewed as a depreciating asset due to Everton's struggle in the relegation zone.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE IDENTIFY CALVERT-LEWIN AS TOP FORWARD TARGET

According to The Sun, Newcastle want to secure Calvert-Lewin this month as he is "right at the top" of their list of targets.

The report states he is valued at £35million, and Everton are bracing themselves for bids as they sit 19th after just three wins from 19 matches.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph adds Newcastle are in discussions to send striker Chris Wood on loan to Nottingham Forest, as well as listing a number of players the club have expressed interest in.

They include Calvert-Lewin's team-mate Anthony Gordon, Chelsea trio Conor Gallagher, Hakim Ziyech and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Manchester United's Scott McTominay.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Athletic are reporting Brighton and Hove Albion have rejected a £55m bid from Chelsea for 21-year-old midfielder Moises Caicedo.

– According to AS, Barcelona would like to sign 26-year-old Wolves forward Goncalo Guedes on a loan with a mandatory buy clause, but Italian journalist Matteo Moretto is reporting Guedes is in Portugal ahead of completing a loan move to Benfica.

Everton are in talks with Rennes about a loan with an option to buy 20-year-old winger Kamaldeen Sulemana, although the Ghana international is expected to cost in the range of £40m (€45m), per GiveMeSport.

– Bild are reporting highly rated 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund forward Youssoufa Moukoko – who had interest from Chelsea and Barcelona as he entered the final six months of his contract – is in the final stages of signing a three-year extension with the German club.

Leicester City have offered £10m for 24-year-old Stoke City centre-back Harry Souttar, who was a standout for Australia at the World Cup, per GianlucaDimarzio.com.

Premier League heavyweights Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United are reportedly preparing to target Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, who may leave the Serie A leaders at the end of the season.

Osimhen, 24, became Napoli's club-record signing when he arrived at the club for €70million in July 2020, and he has met all expectations.

After scoring 14 goals in 27 league appearances last season, Osimhen has raised the bar, finding the back of the net 12 times with four assists during his 14 league fixtures in 2022-23.

With Napoli nine points clear at the Serie A summit and seeking their first title since the 1989-90 season, a January sale is off the table, but talks are expected to heat up at the end of the campaign.

 

TOP STORY – NAPOLI SLAP €150M PRICE TAG ON PREMIER LEAGUE TARGET OSIMHEN

According to Il Mattino, Napoli believe that if Chelsea new-boy Mykhaylo Mudryk is worth €100m (£88.5m), then Osimhen is worth €150m (£133m).

The Nigerian international's contract ties him to the Italian side until 2025, giving I Partenopei enough leverage to hold firm at what they believe is a fair valuation, but they will be forced to listen to offers at the end of the season if he shows no indication of signing an extension.

The report states Arsenal, United and Newcastle have already made their interest clear, although Arsenal specifically appear to be weighing up a number of expensive options after opting against meeting Mudryk's asking price.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Times is reporting Arsenal have made 24-year-old West Ham midfielder Declan Rice their top priority in the post-season transfer window, and the England international could cost £80m.

– According to The Telegraph, Newcastle have enquired about Chelsea trio Conor Gallagher, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Hakim Ziyech.

Newcastle have also reportedly joined Leicester City in the pursuit of 24-year-old Fiorentina forward Nico Gonzalez, who will cost at least €45m (£40m), per TuttoMercatoWeb.

– 90min is reporting Leeds United have increased their bid for 22-year-old Angers midfielder and Morocco standout Azzedine Ounahi to £22.2m (€25m).

– The agent of 25-year-old Villarreal winger Arnaut Danjuma has reached out to Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham in an effort to organise a move to the Premier League this month, per Relevo.

Graham Potter was delighted to see Hakim Ziyech show his quality at the World Cup, but the Chelsea head coach says there will always be talented players out of favour at Stamford Bridge.

Ziyech was one of the stars of the tournament as Morocco became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar, playing a prominent role in several devastating counter-attacking displays from the Atlas Lions.

However, the tricky winger has enjoyed limited time on the field in the Premier League this season, featuring for a total of just 148 minutes and only starting one game. 

Ziyech's strong performances in Qatar have led to suggestions he could leave Chelsea in search of regular game time, but Potter remains hopeful he will excel at Stamford Bridge.

"Where he was at when we first came in, he was away from the first XI, but he has been involved in the games," Potter said on Friday. 

"We know his qualities, we like him as a player. He plays between the lines and has fantastic quality, and we saw that at the World Cup.

"At Chelsea, there are always good players that aren't in the starting XI, and they have to be patient. 

"I'm delighted for him that he helped his team; I kept in touch with him throughout the World Cup."

Ziyech's Morocco lost out to Mateo Kovacic's Croatia in the third-place play-off, and both players will sit out Chelsea's Premier League meeting with Bournemouth on Tuesday. 

"It's a real mix in terms of when they got knocked out and how much they played. They've dripped back in according to their own circumstances," Potter said of his returning World Cup stars.

"They've come back in a really good way. We're still waiting on Hakim and Mateo. Obviously, they went the distance with the third-place play-off.

"It's a big demand for those two, so it was important to give them a bit of time. They won't be available for the game. Everyone else has been back and had a few days of training."

Morocco's celebrations said it all. Having done what many deemed the impossible against Spain, the Atlas Lions went one better by beating Portugal 1-0 in 90 minutes.

They only qualified for the World Cup semi-finals, so to some their jubilation might have even looked over the top.

But the significance of the win was not lost on Morocco's players.

Family members were on the pitch at full-time: goalkeeper Yassine Bounou brought his young son out to have a kickabout on the grass while the toddler adorably ran around wearing his dad's comically large gloves; Sofiane Boufal shared a heart-warming embrace with his mum, who subsequently joined him out on the turf; captain Romain Saiss held his son aloft; coach Walid Regragui was engulfed by a group of relatives in the stands.

These genuinely were comparable to celebrations that would be seen after winning the World Cup, and why not? After all, this is the closest any African team has ever come to lifting the famous trophy, with Wednesday's clash against France the first World Cup semi-final to include a CAF country.

While few would have picked them out as semi-finalists before the tournament, this run has been defined by tirelessness, spirit, and quality, with some perhaps surprised by how much of the latter they possess.

But who have been their standout performers to this point?

Bono's beautiful day

Any team that goes deep into a World Cup needs a dependable goalkeeper; when you look at the first-choice numbers ones in the semi-finals – Emiliano Martinez, Dominik Livakovic, Hugo Lloris and Yassine Bounou – the evidence is all there to see.

Bounou, or 'Bono' as he wears on his shirt, was named player of the match against Portugal. While he only made three saves, two of those were crucial stops near the end, and he was also just a generally assuring presence, swatting away high deliveries effectively.

The Sevilla goalkeeper, who was born in Canada, made his 50th appearance for Morocco on Saturday and became the first keeper to record three clean sheets at a single World Cup for an African team.

But he was also vital to Morocco's progression to the last eight, saving two spot-kicks in the penalty shoot-out that saw them past Spain.

If the Atlas Lions get past France, he'll have surely played a key role again.

Hakimi living up to his reputation

If there's one player in the Morocco squad who needs no introduction...

Paris Saint-Germain right-back Achraf Hakimi has been exceptional for Regragui's men. Some might have expected more from him in attack, but defensively he's really shown his class and work ethic.

 

No defender left in the tournament has contested (62) or won (35) more duels than Hakimi, while he also tops the charts for tackles (19) and tackles won (13).

Morocco haven't been scored against by an opposition player at the 2022 World Cup, with their only goal conceded coming via an own goal against Canada. They've kept four clean sheets, with the last two sides to record five in a single edition going on to lift the trophy (Spain 2010, Italy 2006).

Hakimi's certainly played his part.

Amrabat and Ounahi: the engine room

Sofyan Amrabat was by no means an unknown quantity coming into the tournament given he's had a bright start to the season with Fiorentina.

Azzedine Ounahi will have been much less familiar to many, but he'll leave Qatar with his reputation massively enhanced.

The 22-year-old Angers midfielder is a very satisfying player to watch. Elegant on the ball and a competitor without it, Ounahi has really stood out as a midfield all-rounder.

No other central midfielder can better his four carries leading to a key pass, while he has completed seven of 10 dribble attempts.

 

This elegance is matched by his guile, with just five midfielders winning more duels than Ounahi (26). With him alongside Amrabat, Morocco possess a legitimately excellent central pairing.

Amrabat can match Ounahi's combativeness, with his eight tackles won the fourth-highest among midfielders, but he also has a fine understanding of how to read the game, as demonstrated by his tournament-leading 41 recoveries.

 

The X-factor

There's rarely a dull moment when Boufal or Hakim Ziyech have the ball.

Of course, Ziyech came into the tournament with something of a point to prove after falling out with the previous coach.

He undoubtedly brings the capability to do something special out of nothing, though he also works extremely hard, with his 61 duels contested the joint-best among all midfielders in the tournament.

 

While that may not be what Ziyech is best known for, Hakimi will undoubtedly be happy for the help against Kylian Mbappe next time out.

Boufal on the other flank has been similarly tireless. Classed as a forward by Opta, only two other forwards have been in more duels (63) than the mercurial winger.

Additionally, his 22 take-on attempts has been bettered by only six players in the whole tournament, and his 54 per cent take-on success is the third best among players to attempt at least 12.

There's never been any doubt about Boufal's natural ability; he has just tended to frustrate. In Qatar, his talent on the ball has been key in helping Morocco turn defence into attack.

 

En-Nesyri out to silence the doubters

It's been a difficult 18 months or so for Youssef En-Nesyri, who is a team-mate of Bounou's at club level with Sevilla.

Injuries have disrupted his progress, and he's struggled to recapture his best form after a promising first full season at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Nevertheless, he's got two goals now at this World Cup – that's two more than he has in LaLiga this term – and the second of those highlighted the striker's biggest strength: his aerial ability.

While that goal against Portugal went down as a Diogo Costa error, En-Nesyri's leap was remarkable. Counting it as a goalkeeping mistake arguably does the forward a disservice.

 

Regardless, he capitalised to become Morocco's all-time leading scorer at the World Cup, with his two in Qatar adding to the one he netted against Spain in 2018.

Whatever happens on Wednesday, Morocco will have two more matches, with a final or a third-place game to come. One more goal for En-Nesyri and he becomes just the fourth African player to score three or more at one tournament after Roger Milla in 1990 (four), Papa Bouba Diop in 2002 (three) and Asamoah Gyan in 2010 (three).

Judging by Morocco's giant-slaying narrative so far, however, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if one of their two remaining games is for the title.

Alexis Mac Allister has impressed with Argentina during the World Cup, with his side qualifying for the semi-finals with Friday's penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands.

The 23-year-old midfielder is contracted with Brighton and Hove Albion until mid-2025.

The Argentine penned a new deal with the Seagulls in October, securing him for the next two-and-a-half seasons, with the option of an additional one year.

 

TOP STORY – EUROPEAN GIANTS CIRCLE FOR MAC ALLISTER

Tottenham, Juventus, Inter and Atletico Madrid are all interested in Alexis Mac Allister, reports Fichajes.

Inter are particularly interested, viewing Mac Allister as a long-term replacement for Marcelo Brozovic, while Spurs boss Antonio Conte wants to add creativity to his midfield.

Juventus have been scouting numerous players at the World Cup, while Atletico are eager to add quality to their midfield, with Rodrigo de Paul drawing interest too.

 

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato claims that Newcastle United are in contention to sign Inter defender Milan Skriniar, amid interest from Paris Saint-Germain too. Skriniar is yet to sign a new deal with Inter, with his contract expiring at the end of this season.

– South Korea centre-back Kim Min-Jae has interest from Manchester United , according to the Sunday Mirror. United have competition from Real Madrid for the Napoli defender who has a £38m release clause.

Barcelona are eager to complete a deal for Chelsea's French midfielder N'Golo Kante, reports Sport. Kante is out of contract at season's end.

Hakim Ziyech's wage demands may scupper Milan's pursuit of the Chelsea midfielder, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

– Inter defender Stefan de Vrij is being chased by Tottenham, who may swoop in January, reports Football Insider.

– Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard is considering a move to the MLS, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Hakim Ziyech needs a "change of air" and should join Manchester United from Chelsea, former Morocco international Mustapha El Haddaoui has told Stats Perform.

The 29-year-old has fallen out of favour at Stamford Bridge, with just one start and five appearances in the Premier League this season.

A major U-turn occurred at international level, however, with Ziyech back in the fold for Morocco following Vahid Halilhodzic's exit and the arrival of Walid Regragui.

Ziyech has played a key part in the side's stellar performances at the World Cup, with the Atlas Lions reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history and becoming the first African side to reach the last eight since Ghana in 2010.

El Haddaoui is now calling for a similar turnaround at club level, as he wants to see a move across the Premier League to reunite with Erik ten Hag, who Ziyech played under at Ajax.

"He has to change of air because over there, [Chelsea] don't trust him. Now he is coming back very strong," he said.

"His problem with Vahid, who didn't want to call him, disturbed him. In the national team, when there is a FIFA date, everyone joins their selections. He stays there [in London] and it went around in his head.

"He sees that among the others who are with him at Chelsea, who go to the national team, he is of the same level, even superior, and he has lost a little bit of confidence.

"The coach who was there or the one who arrived afterwards didn't have much confidence in him.

"Afterwards, when you don't play, you lack playing time, you lack motivation, and you lack timing in the match. Now we see his potential, we see what he is capable of, but he has many offers.

"He has to move from Chelsea or go to Manchester United because the Ajax coach wanted him, he had him in his team. But he will bounce back. But now he has to leave during the transfer window."

Morocco's performances at the World Cup have inspired hope across the African continent, though El Haddaoui was always optimistic about the Atlas Lions.

"It's not just a pleasure, it's an exceptional joy, given what this team has shown, this Moroccan team," he added.

"I believed in it from the start. When the draw was made, I told myself that Morocco had a chance and that they would go through to the second round with another country. I knew that this generation had potential.

"Moreover, with the change of coach, the arrival of Walid Regragui has given new life to this team and the players. He made a call for the return of Ziyech and [Noussair] Mazraoui.

"How can we do without this world-class player? I hope we will go all the way. We were dreaming about it, but now it's starting to happen."

Portugal stand in the way in Morocco's bid to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, with a meeting set for Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium.

Hakim Ziyech needs a "change of air" and should join Manchester United from Chelsea, former Morocco international Mustapha El Haddaoui has told Stats Perform.

The 29-year-old has fallen out of favour at Stamford Bridge, with just one start and five appearances in the Premier League this season.

A major U-turn occurred at international level, however, with Ziyech back in the fold for Morocco following Vahid Halilhodzic's exit and the arrival of Walid Regragui.

Ziyech has played a key part in the side's stellar performances at the World Cup, with the Atlas Lions reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history and becoming the first African side to reach the last eight since Ghana in 2010.

El Haddaoui is now calling for a similar turnaround at club level, as he wants to see a move across the Premier League to reunite with Erik ten Hag, who Ziyech played under at Ajax.

"He has to change of air because over there, [Chelsea] don't trust him. Now he is coming back very strong," he said.

"His problem with Vahid, who didn't want to call him, disturbed him. In the national team, when there is a FIFA date, everyone joins their selections. He stays there [in London] and it went around in his head.

"He sees that among the others who are with him at Chelsea, who go to the national team, he is of the same level, even superior, and he has lost a little bit of confidence.

"The coach who was there or the one who arrived afterwards didn't have much confidence in him.

"Afterwards, when you don't play, you lack playing time, you lack motivation, and you lack timing in the match. Now we see his potential, we see what he is capable of, but he has many offers.

"He has to move from Chelsea or go to Manchester United because the Ajax coach wanted him, he had him in his team. But he will bounce back. But now he has to leave during the transfer window."

Morocco's performances at the World Cup have inspired hope across the African continent, though El Haddaoui was always optimistic about the Atlas Lions.

"It's not just a pleasure, it's an exceptional joy, given what this team has shown, this Moroccan team," he added.

"I believed in it from the start. When the draw was made, I told myself that Morocco had a chance and that they would go through to the second round with another country. I knew that this generation had potential.

"Moreover, with the change of coach, the arrival of Walid Regragui has given new life to this team and the players. He made a call for the return of Ziyech and [Noussair] Mazraoui.

"How can we do without this world-class player? I hope we will go all the way. We were dreaming about it, but now it's starting to happen."

Portugal stand in the way in Morocco's bid to become the first African nation to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, with a meeting set for Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium.

Gavi is retaining faith in Spain's style of player even if the impressive teenage star knows La Rojo must learn from the mistakes made against Japan when they face Morocco in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Spain were on course to top Group E when Alvaro Morata headed an early opener on Wednesday, but goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka helped the Samurai Blue leapfrog their opponents in stunning fashion.

For three incredible minutes, Spain even looked set to join Germany in making an early exit as Costa Rica briefly occupied second place.

Spain ultimately survived despite seeing their seven-match unbeaten run (excluding shoot-outs) at the World Cup halted, and Gavi says Tuesday's game represents a chance to right some wrongs.

"The match against Japan has to serve as a lesson for what is to come. Luckily, that defeat has been resolved and we are clear about what we have to do," Gavi told Marca.

"We are in the round of 16 and there are some very good teams that haven't been able to do it. That's why we have to really think that pressure is a privilege."

Spain completed 2,489 passes in their group-stage campaign, their most at a single tournament on record (since 1966), while their tally of 969 passes against Japan was a record for a losing team at the tournament.

While Morocco showed their counter-attacking quality to claim four points from games against Croatia and Belgium, Gavi believes Spain must stick to their principles.

"We are not going to lose focus on the goal, which is to win the World Cup," he added. 

"We are going to look for it by being faithful to what we have been doing all these years. It would be a mistake to give up everything we believe in."

Morocco are featuring in the knockout stages of a World Cup for just the second time, having been beaten at this stage by West Germany in 1986.

The Atlas Lions are chasing a slice of history on Tuesday, when they could match the longest unbeaten run managed by an African side at the World Cup – currently Cameroon's five-game sequence between 1982 and 1990.

After a 2-1 win over Canada ensured Morocco topped Group F, coach Walid Regragui called for his side to aim high.

"We didn't come just to say 'oh, we almost got close'," he said. "We need to get the results as all the European or South American teams do. We need to emulate them."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Morocco – Hakim Ziyech 

While Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd are likely to be busy in the Morocco backline, Regragui's men will carry a threat at the other end – chiefly through Chelsea creator Ziyech.

Ziyech has played more passes into the box (17) and created more chances (4) than any other Morocco player at the World Cup, as well as leading his team-mates for ball carries (43) and combined distance carried (477.6 metres).

While Ziyech's counter-attacking prowess is clear, he also scored his first World Cup goal last time out, and the 29-year-old could be a thorn in Spain's side.

Spain – Alvaro Morata

While Barcelona playmakers Gavi and Pedri have stolen the headlines for Spain in Qatar, fine margins can often decide knockout games – and Morata's contribution could be key. 

Though maligned by some, Morata has been consistent in front of goal at this tournament, hitting the net on each of his three appearances despite playing a total of just 126 minutes.

Morata started two of Spain's three knockout games at Euro 2020 last year, and if he can reward Luis Enrique's faith with another goal, he will join David Villa as just the second Spanish player to score in four consecutive World Cup matches.

PREDICTION

Spain have never lost in their three previous meetings with Morocco (W2 D1), and Opta's prediction model makes them strong favourites to advance to the last eight, giving them a 61.3 per cent chance of victory.

However, Morocco did claim a 2-2 draw in the teams' only previous World Cup contest in 2018, and a repeat – which would mean extra-time and potentially penalties – is given a 24 per cent chance. 

The Atlas Lions have provided one of the great underdog stories of this tournament, but their chances of an historic victory are rated at just 14.7 per cent, making them big outsiders.

Atletico Madrid are reportedly ready to part ways with their club-record signing, setting a €100million asking price for Portuguese forward Joao Felix.

Felix, 23, was purchased from Benfica back in 2019 for a fee of €126m – shattering their transfer record by more than €50m.

He helped Atletico to a LaLiga title in the 2020-21 season, before being named the club's Player of the Season for the 2021-22 campaign, but he has now fallen out of favour, starting just five of his side's 14 league games.

Felix has been able to put himself in the shop window during his two starts to begin Portugal's World Cup group stage, including a goal against Ghana, and now Champions League contenders are expected to come calling in January.

 

TOP STORY – PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN NAMED AS ONE OF THREE SUITORS FOR FELIX

Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Manchester United have been named the main interested parties by Spanish publication AS.

The report states Felix's relationship with head coach Diego Simeone has become too strained to continue persisting, and includes a claim that Atletico rejected a €130m offer from United before the season.

With his contract tying him to the club until 2026, there will be no need to settle for an offer deemed unsatisfactory, but AS believes anything approaching that €100m figure – including bonuses – will be enough to get a deal done.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sport is reporting Barcelona view 32-year-old Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan as a potential replacement for Sergio Busquets when the German international's contract expires after the season.

– According to Express, Saudi Arabian clubs Al Hilal and Al-Nassr are considered the leading candidates to fight it out for ex-United superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Paris Saint-Germain will offer Lionel Messi a new contract at the conclusion of the World Cup, according to Goal.

Chelsea and Newcastle United are competing to land 18-year-old Vasco da Gama midfielder Andrey Santos, per 90min.

– Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting Milan would like to bring in Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech on a loan deal with the option to make it permanent, but the Moroccan's contract demands could be too expensive.

Hakim Ziyech says Morocco found it "easier" to face Belgium than Croatia after they moved top of World Cup Group F with a 2-0 win over the Red Devils.

Belgium were favourites to secure what would have been a record ninth consecutive victory in a World Cup group game at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Morocco were worthy winners, though, following up a goalless draw with Croatia by taking all three points in Doha.

Romain Saiss got on the end of Abdelhamid Sabiri's set-piece to open the scoring and Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed a famous victory for the Atlas Lions in stoppage time.

Ziyech was named man of the match after having a first-half goal disallowed for offside and providing an assist for Aboukhlal in the closing stages.

The Chelsea winger said: "The first game was more difficult for us. We couldn't play our game, Croatia played a very good game. This one was perhaps easier, especially in midfield. They may have made more mistakes than the Croats.

"We played a very strong, robust game, especially in defence. We were waiting for their mistakes and I think we took the lead from that and scored at the right time."

Ziyech added: "I don't deserve this player of the match trophy. It's a collective effort, everyone was behind me, it's a collective work."

The former Ajax man felt Morocco's vociferous fans played a big part in a huge win in the battle for a place in the round of 16.

He said: "After 60-70 minutes some were tired and when we scored that goal they rallied behind us. It gave us more power, more power. The crowd helped us, they were behind us and I think that really boosted us."

Morocco’s victory over Belgium was their first in five World Cup matches and put their fate in their own hands heading into a final group game against Canada next Thursday.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez conceded his team "lacked joy" in their play after succumbing to a miserable 2-0 defeat to Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils went down to goals from Romain Saiss – adjudged to have got the slightest touch on a dangerous Abdelhamid Sabiri free-kick after 73 minutes – and Zakaria Aboukhlal in stoppage time.

It left Belgium, third-place finishers in 2018, teetering on the brink of an early elimination and knowing they will likely have to get something against Croatia in their final Group F game on Thursday to stand any chance of going through.

Belgium have looked disjointed so far in Qatar and Martinez feels they are perhaps struggling with the thought of a final shot at glory for the nation's 'golden generation'.

He said: "I don't see us enjoying it, we have lacked that joy. It may be due to the weight we are carrying on our shoulders. In the last game, we have to play it to win it. We've played the last two like we have something to lose.

"Now we have something to win. If we beat Croatia, we will qualify. The talent is there and the quality in front of goal is always there."

Martinez claimed to be unaware of an interview given by Kevin De Bruyne in which the Manchester City midfielder suggested this Belgium team are weaker than the 2018 group, but he defended the 31-year-old after another subdued display.

Asked why fans have yet to see the best De Bruyne at the World Cup, Martinez replied: "We haven't seen the best Belgium yet, we haven't been at our best.

"Until the goal, the performance was a step forward from the Canada game, and we have never lost the desire to get results, but the team haven't been themselves, not just Kevin.

"We've played with too much responsibility, we need to find that freedom. Football is a team sport but, if we do that, every individual can find a higher level."

Morocco coach Walid Regragui was delighted with his side's display, although he wants them to finish the job and secure a place in the knockout phase. This result followed a draw against 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia.

"We have four points, that's extraordinary for Morocco," he said. "We played against one of the best teams in the world, with big players. We knew that if we didn't give 100 per cent it's impossible to win, but with these fans, these players, this spirit...

"We are a very difficult team to beat. This is a good win, but we haven't qualified yet. We have four points, but I want more than that. It will be difficult if we get through to the knockout phase but so far we have matched two of the best teams in the world."

Regragui reserved special praise for man of the match Hakim Ziyech.

"He is incredible," he said of the Chelsea winger. "A lot of people talk about him, say he is a crazy guy, he is difficult to manage, he can't help the team. What I see is when you give him love and confidence, he will die for you. That's what I give him. He has my confidence and the confidence of the fans."

Roberto Martinez will expect a vast improvement from his Belgium side when they go in search of a record-breaking World Cup win over Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils were fortunate to beat Canada 1-0 in their first match of the tournament on Wednesday courtesy of a clinical finish from Michy Batshuayi.

Canada were the better side and Alphonso Davies had a penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois before Batshuayi secured all three points.

Belgium looked shaky at the back and got away with a lacklustre performance, Canada failing to find the back of the net with 22 attempts in the opening match of only their second World Cup.

But if Belgium beat Morocco, they will become the first team in World Cup history to win nine consecutive group games.

Morocco held Croatia to a goalless draw in their first Group F match and are plotting to spring a surprise at Al Thumama Stadium this weekend.

The Atlas Lions have injury concerns over Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui for the encounter in Doha.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has been back in training as he works his way back from a thigh injury, with head coach Martinez having stated no timeframe has been set on when he might return

Kevin De Bruyne says even if the Red Devils' all-time record goalscorer is only able to take his place on the bench, that would give the squad a lift.

The inspirational midfielder said: "I don’t know how he is, he has been training with us and also apart these days.

"I must admit that he is a player who helps the team a lot, you can feel his presence on the pitch. 

"I don't even know if he will be there against Morocco, but if he were to start from the bench he would be an extra weapon in the game."

Belgium are unbeaten in their four World Cup meetings with African teams and came out on top when the two nations met at the 1994 showpiece, Marc Degryse scoring the only goal of the game.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium - Michy Batshuayi

In the absence of Lukaku, Batshuayi stepped up to get Belgium off to a winning start as they rode their luck in midweek.

He had five of Belgium’s nine shots and was the only player to register an attempt on goal for the Red Devils before being replaced in the 78th minute.

If Belgium can exert more control on the game, Batshuayi is capable of rewarding them as he should be full of confidence after his decisive strike.

Morocco - Hakim Ziyech

A lack of goals has been a big issue for Morocco in World Cup matches, with the stalemate versus Croatia being the ninth time in 17 games they have failed to find the back of the net.

Hakim Ziyech is one of the players who is capable of getting them firing in Qatar, where he had two shots and created as many chances against Croatia.

The Chelsea winger has shown he can has the quality to produce moments of magic with his wand of a left foot, which Belgium will be wary of.

PREDICTION

Belgium will be expected to make it two wins out of two despite an uninspiring start.

According to Stats Perform's AI model, Martinez's men have a 48.7 per cent chance of securing a record-breaking victory.

Morocco will have seen weaknesses to exploit in that Belgium display against the Canadians and they are rated as having a 26 per cent chance of pulling off a shock victory, with the draw at 25.3 per cent.

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