Manchester United's search for a new manager continues after axing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November.

The Red Devils are taking their time with the appointment, with Ralf Rangnick in an interim role until the end of the season.

United hope the next man in can turn their fortunes around, having struggled to be Premier League contenders since Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013.

TOP STORY – UNITED SHORTLIST HASENHUTTL

Manchester United have added Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl to their shortlist, according to The Mirror.

PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag remain the front-runners, but United face a battle to persuade either to head to Old Trafford.

Current United interim manager Ralf Rangnick worked with Hasenhuttl at RB Leipzig and the club are admirers of the Austrian.

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- Atletico Madrid are considering making a move for Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, reports Mundo Deportivo. Wijnaldum is weighing up his future at PSG despite moving to France only last year.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea's Andreas Christensen has turned down offers from other Premier League clubs and is on the verge of agreeing to a deal with Barcelona.

Lazio could make a loan move for Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, with manager Maurizio Sarri keen to be reunited with the Spain international, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are plotting a move for Lille's 20-year-old midfielder Amadou Onana, who is valued at £20m by the French club.

Crystal Palace have joined the pursuit for Marseille's out-of-contract midfielder Boubacar Kamara, alongside Newcastle United and West Ham, according to the Sun.

Luciano Spalletti was delighted to have quietened Napoli's critics after Fabian Ruiz's 94th-minute strike saw off Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico and propelled the visitors to the Serie A summit.

After Lorenzo Insigne had opened the scoring, Pedro's superb late volley looked to have denied Napoli a crucial victory, only for Fabian to curl in a brilliant last-gasp winner to put Spalletti's men ahead in an enthralling title race.

Napoli's return of 18 points from their eight league matches in 2022 is the best in Serie A, as they bid for a first Scudetto since the Diego Maradona era, while the late goal condemned Lazio to just their second home defeat of the league campaign.

Spalletti, who joined in with his players' wild celebrations after the goal, said after the contest Napoli deserved the victory, but he seemed more concerned with quietening those who have criticised his men.

"I think overall the team deserved the victory," he told DAZN.

"I want to underline that everyone keeps moaning that this team doesn't have character, it's soft, it's sluggish; I want to hear them say that now.

"This team definitely has character. We lost to Barcelona [4-2 in Naples] after getting a result at Camp Nou, it was my fault because I told them to take that approach.

"I see an ugly atmosphere around this team, people trying to say we lack character. I want to see them say that now.

"We got knocked down, we got straight back on our feet again and poured forward to find the winner. I don’t think it's a bad thing to say this was a deserved victory." 

Fabian has now scored the most goals from outside the box in this Serie A this season, with all six of his strikes coming from range. Moreover, the midfielder has now netted as many goals this term as he did in the 2019-20 and the 2020-21 campaigns combined.

Rafael Leao says Milan's sights are firmly set on lifting the Coppa Italia following their thumping quarter-final win over Lazio.

The Rossoneri reached the semi-finals of the competition after putting the Biancocelesti to the sword 4-0 in San Siro.

Leao and Franck Kessie were on target either side of an Olivier Giroud double as Stefano Pioli’s side built on the momentum from their Derby della Madonnina victory over Inter on Saturday.

Milan subsequently set up a rematch with their neighbours in the last four of the Coppa Italia, in which they have now won 13 of their last 18 home games.

And Leao, who also assisted the first of Giroud’s brace, says he and his team-mates have high expectations after the Portugal international found the net for the second successive round.

"After the derby – a very important game for us – we arrived for tonight fired up, and I thought we had an extraordinary performance. It was the right result," he told Sport Mediaset.

"Now we're in the semi-final, the Coppa Italia is a competition Milan wants to win. 

"I am always ready to help my team with goals or assists, but the most important thing is that the team got into the semi-final."

Pioli also heaped praise on the performance of Milan, who are full of confidence having now won six of their last eight matches – including the extra-time success over Genoa in the previous round of the Coppa – in all competitions.

"We made the most of the derby victory to give ourselves even more energy, belief and conviction," the head coach added.

"The whole atmosphere is very positive, we were focused and in control for the full 90 minutes.

"These are always special games to prepare and very stimulating. The Coppa Italia is a competition both clubs want to win, so we will try to give our best against opponents we know are very strong."

Olivier Giroud scored twice as Milan cruised into the Coppa Italia semi-finals with a commanding 4-0 victory over Lazio.

The France international took his tally for the season into double figures, with all 10 of his strikes coming in San Siro.

Giroud netted twice in quick succession just before half-time after Rafael Leao had opened the scoring for the Rossoneri in the 24th minute, while Franck Kessie completed the rout 11 minutes from time.

The reward for Stefano Pioli's side is a mouth-watering clash with rivals Inter in the last four next month.

Milan had won just once in their nine previous Coppa Italia showdowns with Lazio, failing to score in the last five, but they ended that drought midway through the first half.

Leao raced onto Alessio Romagnoli's well-timed throughball before neatly slotting past former Rossoneri goalkeeper Pepe Reina from a tight angle.

The Portugal international then turned provider four minutes before the break, squaring for Giroud to round off a quickfire Milan counter.

Giroud, who netted a match-winning brace against Inter on Saturday, was also in the right place on the stroke of half-time, peeling away at the far post to turn home Theo Hernandez's low cross.

Lazio arrived at San Siro on a four-match unbeaten streak since a 2-1 defeat by Inter on their last visit to Milan.

But things got worse for them midway through the second half when talisman Ciro Immobile, who had been involved in five goals in as many appearances against Milan, limped off injured.

And the hosts put the icing on the cake in the 79th minute; a deep free-kick into the box was only cleared as far as Kessie, who drilled past Reina.

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like "a lion in a cage" in his quest to return from injury, but revealed he will not be available for Milan's Coppa Italia quarter-final showdown with Lazio.

His side's top scorer in Serie A this season with eight goals, Ibrahimovic is currently sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, having limped off during the first half of last month's stalemate with Juventus.

The 40-year-old's absence was evident for most of last weekend's derby with Inter; the Rossoneri registering just one shot on goal until Olivier Giroud's quickfire double completed a dramatic turnaround.

Milan welcome Lazio to San Siro in the last eight of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, although it comes too soon for Ibrahimovic.

But Pioli insists the striker is doing everything in his power to return as soon as possible.

"Zlatan is a lion in a cage," he told Sportmediaset. "His motivation is to help the team on the pitch. 

"Tomorrow, he won't be [available]; we'll see for the next ones."

Pioli also praised the contribution of Giroud, who has drawn criticism from some sections despite taking his tally to seven for the campaign with that derby brace, while also becoming the first Frenchman to net twice against Inter in Serie A.

When asked whether his display against the Nerazzurri deflected the criticism, the head coach said: "I don't know, the detractors are always there. What matters is the trust we have. 

"He is proving to be the footballer for whom he was purchased. [He is] a valuable player and a person of great depth who is making a great contribution to the team."

 

Simone Inzaghi says his Inter side must maintain the high standards they have set after the champions beat Lazio 2-1 to return to the top of Serie A.

Milan had taken over at the summit with a 3-0 win at Venezia on Sunday, but the Nerazzurri responded with an eighth consecutive Serie A victory in their first game since the winter break later in the day.

Alessandro Bastoni put them in front with a brilliant long-range strike - his first goal since June 2020 - but Ciro Immobile's 18th goal of the season drew Lazio level in the first half.

Bastoni turned provider for Milan Skriniar to secure all three points in the second half, whipping in an inviting cross that his fellow defender headed in off the crossbar.

Inter are unbeaten in 12 top-flight matches since a 3-1 loss when head coach Inzaghi made a miserable return to his former club Lazio in October.

They lead fierce rivals Milan by a point with a game in hand, but Inzaghi knows they cannot rest on their laurels in the title race.

3 - In 18 appearances in this #SerieA season, Milan Skriniar has scored three goals (all header), as many as those scored in 32 games played in the last season. Giant.#InterLazio

— OptaPaolo  (@OptaPaolo) January 9, 2022

He told DAZN: "I am fortunate to have important players and I am very happy. We must continue like this because the championship does not stop, all the antagonists have won.

"We just have to win, after the break we had the postponement with Bologna [on Thursday due to Bologna's COVID-19 outbreak] and we returned against a team that could have been more on the ball, having played on Thursday.

"The boys were very good and I congratulated them."

Lautaro Martínez had a goal disallowed when the VAR adjudged the striker to have been marginally offside as he raced to get on the end of Alexis Sanchez's defence-splitting pass before Bastoni opened the scoring.

Inter were good value for their victory after conceding for the first time in seven Serie A matches and now turn their attention to a Supercoppa Italiana showdown with Juventus on Wednesday.

Inzaghi added: "It wasn't easy because Lazio have quality. Our victory is well deserved, we made an excellent return. I'm happy, we have another great match on Wednesday, it's a final and we have prepared ourselves in the best way possible."

Alessandro Bastoni scored one goal and set another up for Milan Skriniar as Inter returned to the top of Serie A with a 2-1 win over Lazio.

Bastoni found the back of the net for the first time since June 2020 to put the Nerazzurri in front at San Siro on Sunday, but Ciro Immobile equalised in the first half with his 18th goal of the season.

Inter were not to be denied an eighth consecutive Serie A win, with Bastoni setting up fellow defender Skriniar for the winner midway through the second half.

Victory for Simone Inzaghi's side against his former club in their first game after the winter break moved them a point above Milan at the summit.

Lautaro Martinez looked to have given Inter a deserved 16th-minute lead when he raced onto a defence-splitting pass from Alexis Sanchez and fired beyond Thomas Strakosha, but the VAR ruled he was marginally offside.

Strakosha produced a great reflex save to keep out Martinez's rasping volley, but the champions were in front on the half-hour mark when Bastoni bent a brilliant left-foot strike into the bottom-left corner of the net from 25 yards out.

Lazio had not posed much of a threat until the lethal Immobile capitalised on a mix-up between Stefan de Vrij and Skriniar to nip in and level 10 minutes before half-time with a poacher's finish.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic spurned a good chance to put Lazio in front when he timed his run into the box to perfection, but failed to make a clean contact on Felipe Anderson's pinpoint cross.

Luiz Felipe's crucial block prevented Ivan Perisic from finding the back of the net after Strakosha denied Denzel Dumfries, but the Nerazzurri were back in front midway through the second half.

Bastoni turned provider for Skriniar, whipping in a cross that the centre-back met with a towering header that went in off the crossbar.

There was drama when referee Luca Pairetto showed Stefan Radu a red card before realising that the defender was only guilty of one bookable offence, correcting his mistake by also cautioning Mattia Zaccagni.

Lazio head coach Maurizio Sarri is keen to avoid a return to Serie A matches being played behind closed doors, insisting it cannot only be football that is locked down amid rising COVID-19 cases in Italy.

Like much of Europe, Italy is now in the midst of another wave of coronavirus infections.

Games in some regions of Germany have been played behind closed doors since late last year, while Scotland has also introduced similar measures to limit social interaction.

So far, matches in Europe's other major leagues apart from the Bundesliga have been able to be played in front of crowds.

Italy's spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached unprecedented levels in the country, with 219,430 new cases confirmed on Friday, surpassing records set on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has reportedly expressed his concerns to Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina, with the government worried about a lack of adhering to safety and social distancing measures within stadiums.

According to widespread reports in Italy, Serie A chiefs will be meeting this weekend to discuss their options, with Corriere dello Sport reporting that the issue will then be discussed in Wednesday's meeting between the FIGC and the government.

Sarri, however, believes it would be unfair to play matches behind closed doors once again, suggesting that if the situation in the country is so serious, then the entire nation must be once again placed into lockdown, not just football.

"COVID affects everyone's life, not just sport. If this pandemic is dangerous there should be a total lockdown, otherwise it will be downgraded to a flu and people will stay at home with a fever," he told a news conference ahead of Sunday's meeting with Inter, who had their game against Bologna postponed at the last minute on Thursday due to a decision by local health authorities.

"I just hope that we don't end up with a closed stadium – it makes people who are as passionate as I am lose the desire to go on the pitch."

Sarri's side are eighth in Serie A following Thursday's 3-3 draw with his former club Empoli. 

Lazio's meeting with Inter represents the second time they have gone up against their ex-coach Simone Inzaghi this season, with Sarri's team having come out on top 3-1 in October.

Aaron Ramsey has not had the best of times since moving to Juventus.

The Wales midfielder joined Juve from Arsenal in 2019 on a four-year deal.

Ramsey has only managed 70 appearances in an injury hit two and a half years with Juventus.

 

TOP STORY – RAMSEY TO LEAVE JUVENTUS IN JANUARY

Aaron Ramsey is set to exit Juventus in the January transfer window, reports Sky Sports.

Italian transfer supremo Gianluca Di Marzio claimed that Ramsey is likely to return to the Premier League, having already turned down an offer from Burnley .

Newcastle United have been linked with Ramsey, along with Everton.

 

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- Bayern Munich will consider swapping Kingsley Coman with Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele in the off-season, reports L'Equipe. Coman's contract expires in 2023 and negotiations on a new deal have stalled.

- Sky Sports have reported that Newcastle are contemplating a bid for Lucas Digne. The full-back is set to leave Everton this month after a falling out with Rafael Benitez, though supposedly prefers a move to London, with Chelsea and West Ham also said to be interested.

- Everton, meanwhile, hold an interest in Newcastle midfielder Sean Longstaff and have already made a bid, according to the Daily Mail and Sky Sports.

- Paris Saint-Germain may look to sign Lyon's Lucas Paqueta next off-season, so say L'Equipe.

- Manchester United are determined to secure Wolves' Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves in January, according to The Sun.

- Lazio have opened talks with Liverpool on a deal for Belgium international forward Divock Origi, claims LazioNews24.

- According to Sky Sports, five Premier League clubs have held talks with Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho.

The race for Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is on.

Haaland is reportedly being chased by several top clubs, including Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.

Each club will be looking for an edge in the race for the Norwegian.


TOP STORY – BARCELONA NOT KEEN ON POGBA-HAALAND PACKAGE

Barcelona are unlikely to bring in both Haaland and Paul Pogba, reports SPORT.

Agent Mino Raiola, who represents both players, is reported to have recently met with Barca president Joan Laporta.

Young striker Haaland is unmistakably an appealing player to Barcelona, but they would need to find the funds to buy him from Borussia Dortmund. Barcelona, who have major financial issues, are said to be wary of taking on Manchester United star Pogba's wages, and he may not be an ideal technical fit for coach Xavi. Pogba's United contract is due to expire at the end of this season.

Manchester City are also readying themselves to chase Haaland but will not over-spend, reports the Manchester Evening News.

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- Cashed-up Newcastle United are bullish about their prospects of signing Atletico Madrid's England defender Kieran Trippier in January, according to Football Insider. Talks between the Magpies and Trippier are reportedly already under way.

- Premier League trio Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United could be all set to make a move to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic after he rejected a bumper extension offer, reports Talksport.

- Paris Saint-Germain have joined the queue of clubs hoping to sign out-of-favour Juventus midfielder Arthur Melo, reports Calciomercato. Arthur has also been linked with Lazio.

- Fenerbahce are set to swoop for Luuk de Jong, who is on loan at Barcelona from Sevilla, claims Mundo Deportivo. Barca are eager to let him leave from his loan.

- Barcelona have set an asking price of €90million (£77m) for Frenkie de Jong according to Fichajes, amid interest from Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Leonardo Bonucci scored two penalties as Juventus beat Lazio 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday and insists that it does not matter where the goals come from as long as the Bianconeri win.

The centre-back's brace means he is now Juventus' joint-top scorer in Serie A this term, joining Paulo Dybala on three league goals for the season, and has the highest expected goals total in the squad (4.04).

It is indicative of the Bianconeri's struggles to score that the 34-year-old defender ranks so highly in those metrics, managing just 18 Serie A goals as a team so far - only good enough for joint-10th in the division.

Bonucci is unconcerned with where his side's goals come from, however, with Juventus desperate for a run of good results to lift them from seventh in the league.

"We must give our all to take Juventus back to battling for every objective," Bonucci said to DAZN. "We created a few important situations today with the strikers, such as Alvaro Morata in the first half and Moise Kean in the second.

"The important thing is to bring home the three points, it doesn’t matter who gets the goals. I believe we will bring home better results with more determination and self-belief as the season goes on.

"When you are Juve and have the start to the season we did, criticism is natural and we need to take that, but we saw that with the right spirit, we can make the difference.

"It was a fundamental victory, as it's always tough after the break for international duty. We know with this spirit of sacrifice, the games depend on us. We really did well to limit Lazio, allow them nothing and score two goals of our own."

Bonucci's success from the spot prompted questions as to why he was not on penalty duty for Italy, with Jorginho sending the ball over the bar in the 90th minute of a 1-1 draw with Switzerland on November 12 that contributed to the European champions' slide into the World Cup qualifying play-offs.

"A week ago, Jorginho was the penalty specialist and it was only right that he take it," Bonucci continued. "If I had been asked to take the penalty, it would not have been a problem."

Juventus travel to London to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Tuesday before hosting Atalanta the following Saturday.

Juventus eased to a 2-0 win against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to move up to sixth place in Serie A.

A Leonardo Bonucci penalty in each half proved enough for Massimiliano Allegri's side, making it back-to-back wins in the league after they beat Fiorentina 1-0 before the international break.

Lazio were without star striker Ciro Immobile and it showed as the Biancocelesti struggled to create much in the way of chances.

Maurizio Sarri would have been hoping to do better against his former club, with his team now having won just twice in their last seven games in all competitions.

Danilo was forced off with an injury for the visitors after 15 minutes following a strong challenge from Elseid Hysaj, with Dejan Kulusevski replacing the Brazilian.

Juventus had their first penalty in the 22nd minute after Danilo Cataldi was judged to have fouled Alvaro Morata in the box following a VAR review, which Bonucci coolly dispatched past Pepe Reina.

Morata should have made it two just before half-time when Juan Cuadrado lifted a delicate ball into the box, only for the Spain striker's scissor-kick to fly over the bar.

Juve had their second penalty with ten minutes to go after Federico Chiesa rounded Reina, only to be hacked down by the goalkeeper before he could score, and Bonucci made no mistake to seal the win.


What does it mean? Juve back on track

Shortly before the international break there was slight talk of crisis at Juventus. Back-to-back defeats against Sassuolo and Verona saw the Old Lady sitting in ninth place, 16 points off the top of the table.

After victory here, they are temporarily at least up to sixth and have cut Napoli and Milan's lead at the top to 11 points, albeit with both still yet to play this weekend.

They will hope to build on three wins in a row in all competitions when they travel to Chelsea for matchday five of the Champions League in midweek, where a win will confirm them as winners of Group H.

Better week for Bonucci

Bonucci and the rest of his Italian team-mates had an international break to forget, with draws against Switzerland and Northern Ireland meaning that the Azzurri must now go through the play-offs if they are to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

However, Bonucci's penalties against Lazio not only won the game, but also mean he has scored more Serie A goals than any other defender since the beginning of the last decade (27).

Lazio lack mobility without Immobile

Immobile is one of only four players already with at least 10 goals in the big five European leagues this season, along with Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema and Mohamed Salah.

Lazio unsurprisingly missed their talisman here, with only one of their eight shots at goal hitting the target.

What's next?

Lazio face Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia in the Europa League on Thursday, while Juventus travel to Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Massimiliano Allegri is convinced Italy will make it to the World Cup – but that is the least of his worries as he looks to guide Juventus back into the Scudetto picture.

Juve head coach Allegri takes his side to Lazio on Saturday for what already feels like a highly important game in the context of the season.

Defeats to Sassuolo and Hellas Verona in late October look to have almost scrubbed Juve out of the title frame, and they sit eighth heading into the weekend, already 14 points behind Napoli and Milan. It will take a sharp upturn for them to trouble the early pace-setters.

Lazio are three points better off than Juventus too, and their boss is former Juve head coach Maurizio Sarri, the man who was given the flick by the Turin giants in August 2020 after just one season.

Sarri won the Serie A title in that campaign, but a lack of European success cost him dearly. His successor, Andrea Pirlo, delivered neither, which is why Allegri was summoned to return to the Allianz Stadium top job, having won five league championships in his previous stint.

Italy is consumed by the travails of the Azzurri, with Roberto Mancini's team falling to Earth with a bump after their Euro 2020 success as they failed to earn automatic qualification for the World Cup, with Jorginho's costly missed penalty against Switzerland followed by a draw with Northern Ireland.

They still have a play-off to fall back on, so may well still feature at Qatar 2022, and Allegri spoke about Italy while addressing the focus on putting points on the board.

"Football is good because you can have opinions, you can talk, but in the end it all boils down to the results," he told a news conference on Friday.

"For a missed penalty, they've been massacring them for a week now. We need balance, there are unforeseen events that must be managed, and I believe that in the end they will go to the World Cup."

He is waiting to learn whether Paulo Dybala is available for the trip to Rome, with the Argentine keen to be involved after international duty. Allegri described the forward's calf as "problematic" but did not rule him out.

"It's a nice challenge, two teams that are floating on the edge of fourth place," Allegri said. "It will be a difficult match."

A sketchy 1-0 victory over Fiorentina, secured by Juan Cuadrado's stoppage-time goal after their visitors were reduced to 10 men, sent Juventus into the international break with a win.

 

"Right now, here you just have to do and not think. We are behind in the standings, talking is of no use at all," Allegri added.

"We just have to think about what to do to try slowly to improve in the attacking and defensive phases, as well as in the standings."

Juve have lost only two of their last 33 Serie A games against Lazio, both since 2017 (W24 D7).

Lazio have conceded at least once in their last 16 Serie A home games against the Bianconceri, their longest streak without a clean sheet at home against a single opponent in the top flight.

Sarri has previously spoken of his difficulty in bringing new elements to Juventus' play during his short tenure, but Allegri feels the current crop are malleable enough.

"Maurizio is an excellent coach and here he won a championship," Allegri said. "You'd have to ask him, he said it and not me. For me the teams are all trainable, it depends on the players you have."

Paul Pogba's future continues to make headlines.

With his contract expiring, it remains to be seen whether he will remain at Manchester United.

United are believed to be ready to move on as Real Madrid lurk.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID READY TO POUNCE FOR POGBA

Manchester United have given up on keeping Pogba and Real Madrid have a "great opportunity" to sign the Frenchman, according to the front page of Thursday's Marca.

Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and the United star is no closer to a renewal at Old Trafford.

Madrid are continuing to circle Pogba, who has also been linked with former club Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Sport claims Barca are eyeing moves for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech and Bayern Munich star Kingsley Coman. Out-of-favour Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo have also been linked.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will extend his contract at Milan until 2023, reports Gazzetta dello Sport.

Chelsea are interested in signing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, says Foot Mercato. The 20-year-old is yet to play this season due to a serious leg injury.

- El Nacional reports Madrid and Chelsea will go head-to-head to land Monaco star Aurelien Tchouameni. The France international is also reportedly wanted by Juve, City, United, Liverpool, Bayern and Newcastle United.

Newcastle are eyeing Inter duo Stefan de Vrij and Marcelo Brozovic and Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, per The Times.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has called up Atalanta's Matteo Pessina and Lazio midfielder Danilo Cataldi to his latest squad after losing Roma duo Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo to injury.

The European champions face Switzerland and Northern Ireland in their final two qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and currently sit top of Group C on goal difference, level on 14 points with the Swiss ahead of their crucial encounter in Rome on Friday.

Mancini, who is already without Marco Verratti due to a hip injury, confirmed earlier on Monday at a media conference that Pellegrini (knee) and Zaniolo (calf) will return to their club.

"Zaniolo was a bit unlucky because he suffered two serious injuries. He is young and he has the qualities to get over it," he said.

"It could have been an important game for him, but he has a problem and we can't take any risk. I don't think he needs my advice, he has the quality and he can improve in everything.

"We will surely replace them [Pellegrini and Zaniolo] because we also need to assess [Nicolo] Barella. We didn't call Pessina because he is not ready."

Despite this, Mancini ultimately did decide to turn to Pessina, as well as Cataldi, who receives his first senior call-up since 2017 after a solid start to the season at Lazio.

The former Manchester City manager did have better news about his defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci appearing to be fit to play despite missing Juventus' 1-0 win against Fiorentina at the weekend.

"They feel well, we have a training session today. We'll see how everyone feels." 

Can Cataldi step up for the Azzurri?

While Mancini is suffering from something of a midfield crisis, having players with the quality of Pessina and Cataldi to call on is not a bad problem to have.

It may be the first call-up for Cataldi in over four years, but he has achieved it off the back of some eye-catching performances at club level for Maurizio Sarri's men.

When measured against Pellegrini, whose role he will fill, Cataldi leads the way in pass success percentage (91.2), albeit the 27-year-old has only started four of his 10 league appearances, while the Roma captain has started 11.

Cataldi also has a superior pass completion rate in the opposition half, with 84.7 per cent compared to Pellegrini's 79.7, so his numbers do not appear to be indicative of him only playing easy passes.

Whether Cataldi gets an opportunity to win only his second cap remains to be seen, but he has clearly caught the eye of Mancini at least.

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