Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has won plenty of admirers with 13 goals and 15 assists for runaway Serie A leaders Napoli this season.

The 22-year-old Georgian joined Napoli in July 2022, penning a contract until 2027 for a for a reported fee of €10–12 million from Dinamo Batumi.

Kvaratskhelia has helped Napoli into the Champions League quarter-finals, while winning the Serie A's Player of the Month twice.

 

TOP STORY – PSG TO TABLE LUCRATIVE OFFER FOR NAPOLI STAR

Paris Saint-Germain are ready to go all-out and offer Khvicha Kvaratskhelia a whopping €180m deal, claims Le10Sport.

Real Madrid are also reportedly monitoring the winger's status although he has previously shown no interest in exiting Napoli. It has been claimed Napoli would not accept anything below €100m for their emerging star.

The lucrative deal is plausible given PSG hold the record for the two most expensive transfers in world football, signing Neymar for €222m in 2017 and Kylian Mbappe for €180m in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

– Mundo Deportivo reports Borussia Dortmund have placed a bumper €125m (£110m) minimum price tag on midfielder Jude Bellingham as a long list of clubs chase his signature including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Manchester United are willing to pay the €50m (£44m) release clause in Ousmane Dembele's Barcelona contract as they look to sign the French winger, reports Fichajes. The report claims the Blaugrana may be open to that as they look to sort their financial challenges.

Chelsea are interested in an off-season move for Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier, reports Football Insider. The report claims Blues boss Graham Potter wants a new stopper, with Meslier seen as a cheaper option if Leeds go down. Fichajes claims Chelsea are keen on Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana to take over from Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Newcastle United have revived their interest in Bayer Leverkusen pair Moussa Diaby and Mitchel Bakker claims 90min. Arsenal have been linked with Diaby in the past, with the French winger reportedly worth €70m (£62m).

Juventus are still pushing to sign Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante as a free agent despite reports he will re-sign with the Blues, according to Calciomercato.

– The Mirror reports Manchester United are set to hand manager Erik ten Hag a new three-year extension, despite the ongoing uncertainty around the sale of the club.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was "proud" to become Serie A's oldest goalscorer, but it was little consolation after Milan were beaten 3-1 at Udinese.

Aged 41 years and 166 days, Ibrahimovic's penalty in first-half stoppage time at Stadio Friuli saw him overtake former Milan defender Alessandro Costacurta (41 years and 25 days – May 2007).

Ibrahimovic – who captained Milan – slammed his spot-kick down the middle of the goal after being fortunately allowed to retake it, having seen his initial effort saved by Marco Silvestri before the VAR ordered it to be taken again after Udinese's Beto had encroached.

That equalised Roberto Pereyra's ninth-minute strike, but Beto restored Udinese's lead just two minutes after Milan levelled, before Kingsley Ehizibue wrapped things up in the second half.

"It would have been much better if Costacurta had kept this record," Ibrahimovic said to Sky Sport Italia after the game. "I am proud to enter the history of this club which is a great club where many great players have passed and that means a lot to me.

"This goal didn't bring three points in my first as captain and unfortunately the game didn't go as we wanted. I felt very well, I haven't played in the starting line-up for 14 months, the important thing is to feel good and if I'm as good as today, I can play, I have no doubts about that."

The Rossoneri have suffered seven defeats in the league, five of which have come in their last nine games, having lost just four on their way to winning the Scudetto last season.

Ibrahimovic suggested that teams have been putting a bit more effort in against Milan this season as the defending champions.

"Playing as the Italian champions means that each team faces you as if it were a final, it's different from last year," he said. "This year we have more pressure in all matches, it's normal but you have to be ready because everyone wants to beat you.

"This team doesn't have the experience of playing as champions of Italy, we can't have the same high performance in all the games, but that's not an excuse, it's just an explanation to understand the situation."

Stefano Pioli says Milan will do what is necessary to rediscover their form, but admitted his team "started badly and ended worse" as they were beaten 3-1 at Udinese on Saturday.

The Rossoneri fell behind early to a Roberto Pereyra goal at Stadio Friuli, before a twice-taken Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty pulled them level as the 41-year-old became Serie A's oldest ever goalscorer.

However, Beto restored Udinese's lead just two minutes later and Kingsley Ehizibue added a third in the second half to give the Friulani their first home win in the league since beating Inter in September.

It made it three league games without a win for Milan, and five defeats in their last nine to leave the defending champions 20 points behind league leaders Napoli having played a game more.

"We will do what is necessary to return to playing the football that suits us best and that we are capable of playing," Pioli said after the game. "... There were no signs of a drop in intensity, instead we started badly and ended up worse.

"This is the reality, we have to work. Of course, we can't win the Scudetto but we can win the mini-championship of those fighting for the Champions League, we will be able to analyse and return to play as we know how."

 

The 57-year-old lamented his team for not being "aggressive, intense, precise, attentive", saying that meant he had "worked badly, making a mistake preparation. We have fallen too far below our means."

Defeat leaves them just a place and a point ahead of fifth-placed Roma, who have a game in hand, but questions were asked whether this season's Champions League campaign has proved to be a distraction.

Milan reached the quarter-finals after beating Tottenham and were drawn to face Napoli in the last eight on Friday.

"It's not like that, it would be serious if we were already thinking about the Champions League," Pioli insisted. "Getting in the first four places is too important.

"The levels of the last performances are not good, if we are less technical and organised, we play games like this. I am disappointed with our work, we have achieved too little in the last three games.

"There is always concern, now we have to take advantage of the [international] break to raise the level of play, attention, determination."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's landmark Serie A goal was the only highlight of a poor display for Milan as they were beaten 3-1 at Udinese on Saturday.

On his first start since January 2022 following his recovery from a knee injury, Ibrahimovic became the oldest goalscorer in Serie A history, overtaking Milan legend Alessandro Costacurta.

The 41-year-old converted a penalty at the second attempt in first-half stoppage time, cancelling out Roberto Pereyra's opener at Stadio Friuli, yet Udinese nevertheless went into the break with the lead thanks to Beto's effort two minutes later.

Kingsley Ehizibue added a third in the 70th minute, sealing eighth-placed Udinese's first home league win since they defeated Inter in September.

Udinese took the lead after just nine minutes when Ismael Bennacer's pass was intercepted after Fikayo Tomori was caught napping - Lazar Samardzic teeing up Pereyra, who rolled the ball into the far corner.

Milan were given a golden chance to equalise just before half-time though when Jaka Bijol was judged to have handled the ball in as he tried to dispossess Rafael Leao in Udinese's area.

Marco Silvestri initially saved well from Ibrahimovic's penalty down to his left, but Beto's encroachment handed the Sweden forward another chance, and he duly smashed straight down the middle.

Beto swiftly made amends, though, benefiting from Isaac Success' fine work to restore the hosts' lead.

Milan's comeback hopes were dented further when Ehizibue turned the ball in from Destiny Udogie's mishit shot.

Rade Krunic lashed over from Milan's best subsequent chance, as their rough form continued.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic became the oldest goalscorer in Serie A history amid scenes of high drama as the 41-year-old netted a twice-taken penalty in Saturday's clash with Udinese.

At the age of 41 years and 166 days, the veteran Sweden international beat a record previously held by Alessandro Costacurta, the former Milan defender, who was 41 years and 25 days old when he scored, also against Udinese, in May 2007.

Ibrahimovic was making his first start in the Italian top flight since January 23, 2022, having undergone career-extending knee surgery at the end of last season's Scudetto campaign.

His goal was an equaliser for Stefano Pioli's team shortly before half-time at Stadio Friuli, with Jaka Bijol ruled to have handled the ball in the penalty area as he tried to tackle Rafael Leao.

Marco Silvestri saved well from Ibrahimovic's spot-kick, going down to his left, but encroachment from Udinese striker Beto meant the spot-kick had to be re-taken.

Udinese were furious, with head coach Andrea Sottil sent off for his protestations, but this time Ibrahimovic was clinical, smashing his kick straight down the centre.

Two minutes later, in the sixth minute of stoppage time, Milan slipped 2-1 behind when Beto made up for his encroachment offence by finishing past Mike Maignan from an Isaac Success cross.

Massimiliano Allegri paid no attention to Juventus' Serie A points deduction as he declared his side will be facing Inter on Sunday to "defend second place".

The Bianconeri were served with a 15-point deduction in January for financial irregularities, sending them tumbling down the standings and facing a fierce fight to secure Champions League qualification for next season.

Juventus sit seventh in the table, 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Milan, but Allegri sees things differently and considers the clash with Inter to be a fight for the runners-up spot.

His team would sit second but for their punishment, three points ahead of Inter but still 15 points behind runaway leaders Napoli.

"We go to San Siro to defend second place," Allegri told a press conference. "I will repeat it until exhaustion. We are second with three points more than Inter, five ahead of Milan, four ahead of Lazio and six ahead of Roma.

"If at the end of the year the team net of penalties will be sixth or fifth in the standings, then it means that we will not have done well.

"We'll take stock at the end of the season. There are definitely positives. We've got five youngsters playing. We're still in the cups and need to get into the top four in the league. We also need to assess what we've done on the field."

Allegri is under no illusions regarding the challenge of Sunday's clash at San Siro, however, and wants improvements from Thursday's Europa League display, when Juventus won 2-0 against 10-man Freiburg.

"The team must do better than the second half on Thursday night against Freiburg. We must be aware that we are going to play against a team that does well at home," Allegri said.

"We have to do our best – it's a tough challenge tomorrow. We need to try to come out on top in these contests with direct rivals. It'll be tough to close the gap in the league, but we must remember that on the field we've picked up 53 points."

Simone Inzaghi has congratulated Milan and Napoli on joining Inter in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and says it is "a huge step" for Serie A.

Italy's top flight will have three representatives in the last eight of the competition for the first time since the 2005-06 campaign.

With Juventus and Roma also through in the Europa League and Fiorentina progressing in the Europa Conference League, six Italian clubs are through to the quarters of UEFA competitions for the third time ever after the 1998-99 and 1990-91 seasons.

Inzaghi, whose Inter side will face Benfica over two legs in the next round, believes it can only be a good thing for Italian football when their teams hold their own on the continent.

"We all played great games," he said at a press conference on Saturday. "I have to congratulate Milan and Napoli – they deserved it like us. So too did Roma, Juventus and Fiorentina.

"There are six teams through, which is a huge step. Now we must all continue, because the more we go on, the better it is for our country."

 

Two of Serie A's European representatives face off at San Siro on Sunday in a game that could potentially have huge repercussions in the top-four race.

Second-place Inter are 12 points better off than Juventus in seventh, but the Bianconeri are said to be optimistic about overturning a 15-point deduction imposed on them in January.

That could change the complexion of the higher echelons of Serie A, and Inzaghi hopes a decision is soon made by the authorities one way or another.

"I look at the standings, but we are aware there are legal proceedings ongoing," Inzaghi said. "I hope that we find out soon because the teams need clarity."

Inter have lost three of their past six Serie A matches after their Champions League games, including their last two against Bologna and Juventus in the reverse match.

Juventus, by comparison, have won each of their last six league games after European matches.

"We are thinking only of tomorrow's game," Inzaghi said. "Now that we have obtained qualification, we have this final game of an intense period.

"The players are feeling fatigued and we have injuries, but we intend to not look back and think only of the next game."

Inter lost the reverse fixture against Juve 2-0 and are aiming to avoid losing both games against their Derby d'Italia rivals for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

Luciano Spalletti sees no reason why Napoli's remarkable campaign has to be their peak as he urged the team to make every season a "once-in-a-lifetime year".

Napoli face Torino in Turin on Sunday in what is their final match of the month, with the upcoming international window providing a brief break to the domestic season.

If results elsewhere go their way and they beat Torino, Napoli could head into the break with a 21-point lead at the Serie A summit, a surely insurmountable gap with only 11 matches to go.

Either way, the Partenopei are enjoying a sensational season, with their relentless surge for a first Scudetto in 33 years coupled with progression to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time.

But rather than focusing on what they are achieving, Spalletti can see their potential and hopes to inspire a quest for non-stop improvement.

"The once-in-a-lifetime year, as far as I'm concerned, will be the one after this, and then it will be the one after that, and it can go on and on," he told reporters.

"What happens to us now is real and must always be used to improve.

 

"The best is always what you want to go and discover. You must never stop, you must dig deeper to get the most out of something."

At 64, Spalletti is something of a stalwart of management in Italian football, having coached Udinese, Roma, Inter and now Napoli, among others, in Serie A.

If he does guide Napoli to the title, it will be his first league crown in Italy – even in the lower divisions, with Empoli, he did not win a championship, attaining back-to-back promotions by other means.

Nevertheless, Spalletti recognises the significance of his previous experiences and is now driven by a desire to make the most of the time he has left in the game.

"I try to optimise the time that passes, because one day we will be judged for the professionalism and seriousness shown in dealing with everything," he added.

"I know that I have to value all the opportunities that pass before me, because as a coach I don't have a lot of time, what with being 64 years old.

"And I am willing to do anything for Napoli to be able to enhance the events ahead of us."

Top Premier League clubs Manchester United, Newcastle United and Chelsea are said to be monitoring Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele ahead of his release clause activating.

Dembele is in his sixth season with Barcelona, having racked up a total of 40 goals in his 178 appearances.

He remained a first-team regular to start this campaign, with 14 starts from his 18 LaLiga appearances, before suffering a serious hamstring injury in late January.

The France international is yet to return nearly two months later, but despite his troubling physical problems, England's elite believe he could represent terrific value due to his contract situation.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA'S DEMBELE AVAILABLE AT A DISCOUNT

Dembele was purchased from Borussia Dortmund for €105million plus add-ons back in 2017, but according to Calciomercato he will be available for just €50m (£44m) in the upcoming transfer window.

His contract is set to expire after one more season, and if the club do not secure a long-term extension, Dembele will have his release clause activated.

The €50m figure is said to be more than enticing to England's wealthy clubs, as it is considered a bargain compared to the going rate for other world-class wingers.

Serie A giants Juventus and Inter are also said to be fans of Dembele's, but the price tag is too rich for their current financial situation unless they sell some players to raise funds.

 

ROUND-UP

– Foot Mercato is reporting Paris Saint-Germain superstar Lionel Messi is considering a move back to Barcelona next season, with his father said to be in regular communication with the club.

Real Madrid are monitoring 29-year-old Tottenham striker Harry Kane as a potential successor to Karim Benzema, per the Daily Mail.

– According to Calciomercato, Barcelona and Tottenham are both fans of 26-year-old Fiorentina midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, who is expected to leave the club in the upcoming transfer window.

– Goal is reporting Brighton and Hove Albion are prepared to make 25-year-old winger Kaoru Mitoma the highest earner in club history, in order to fend off interest from Real Madrid, Manchester City and Arsenal.

– Former player Jose Enrique revealed on his live stream that Liverpool have agreed to terms for 20-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, who Enrique shares an agent with.

Roberto Mancini selected a trio of debutants and handed an international comeback to Inter defender Matteo Darmian in his latest Italy squad.

Darmian was named in the 30-man selection for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against England and Malta, marking his first call-up since March 2018, when he failed to appear from the substitutes' bench in friendlies with Argentina and England.

He last played for Italy in November 2017, when the Azzurri lost to Sweden and subsequently failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Mancini has also handed an opportunity to Lecce goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone, Torino defender Alessandro Buongiorno and Tigre forward Mateo Retegui.

However, there are notable absentees with Nicolo Zaniolo, Gianluca Mancini, Manuel Locatelli and Mattia Zaccagni missing out, while Alessandro Bastoni, Giacomo Raspadori and Guglielmo Vicario are absent due to injury.

Italy's qualification for Euro 2024 begins with a rematch of the 2020 final against England on March 23, before then travelling to face Malta three days later.

Italy squad: Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG), Wladimiro Falcone (Lecce), Alex Meret (Napoli), Ivan Provedel (Lazio); Francesco Acerbi (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Alessandro Buongiorno (Torino), Matteo Darmian (Inter), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Federico Dimarco (Inter), Alessio Romagnoli (Lazio), Giorgio Scalvini (Atalanta), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta); Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo), Jorginho (Arsenal), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Monza), Sandro Tonali (Milan), Marco Verratti (PSG); Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Wilfried Gnonto (Leeds United), Vincenzo Grifo (Freiburg), Simone Pafundi (Udinese), Matteo Politano (Napoli), Mateo Retegui (Club Atletico Tigre), Gianluca Scamacca (West Ham).

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in contention to start for Milan against Udinese on Saturday as the 41-year-old looks to lift Stefano Pioli's' struggling champions.

The striker, recalled by Sweden this week, has recovered from major knee surgery and come through three substitute appearances.

Now the veteran is a prime contender to line up from the first whistle as Milan are forced to cope without the suspended Olivier Giroud in their last game before the international break.

Ibrahimovic is already the oldest player to feature for Milan in a Serie A game during the three-points-for-a-win era (since 1994-95), and Pioli would have no doubts about his readiness.

"Zlatan is calm; he wants to play and win every game," Pioli said on Friday. "He's feeling good, but I don't think he's got 90 minutes in him. He could start, as could Divock [Origi] and Ante [Rebic]."

Ibrahimovic has been involved in five goals in his last four games against Udinese in Serie A (3 goals, 2 assists) and is looking to start a game in Serie A for the first time since January 23, 2022, when he faced Juventus.

Winger Rafael Leao should keep his place despite what Pioli described as a "strange situation" on Monday, when the Portugal international put in a flat performance in the 1-1 draw with Salernitana, a result that followed defeat to Fiorentina in Milan's previous league game.

Coach Pioli is surprised by how little impact Leao is having at times, but he expects him to come good.

"Rafa is training really well. He's very motivated and determined, and he remains an important figure in our attack because, even if he's not scoring, he keeps opposition defences occupied," Pioli said.

"My advice to him would be to stay close to those who care deeply for him and want to help him grow. Goals and decisive pieces of play are expected from him, but, as previously mentioned, he's dangerous even when he doesn't score."

Ibrahimovic was left off Milan's Champions League squad list, so Pioli must plan without him for the quarter-final against runaway Serie A leaders Napoli.

That was the match-up that came out of Friday's draw, and it is not one that intimidates the Rossoneri, who have won Europe's premier club competition seven times.

Quoted on Milan's official website, Pioli said: "Napoli are enjoying a great league campaign, but the Champions League is the Champions League and AC Milan are AC Milan. It's exciting and fascinating and our opponents are very strong, but we're deservedly part of it and have plenty of motivation and ambition.

"We'll play with the aim of making it through. We'll have time to talk about the Champions League, which is certainly an objective of ours, but, right now, doing well in our next three league games is crucial."

Milan sit fourth in Serie A, a point ahead of Roma who have a derby against third-placed Lazio coming up on Sunday.

Dropping points to mid-table Udinese would be a jarring way to enter the international break for the San Siro giants.

"It's not the break itself that will be important but how we head into it," said Pioli, "meaning tomorrow's result will be vital."

Though neither has hope of winning the Scudetto this season, history will be made at San Siro when Inter and Juventus meet in one of the Italian football's most famous fixtures.

Eighteen points behind Napoli, second-placed Inter are looking over their shoulders at those behind them in a tight fight for the Champions League places.

Had they not been deducted 15 points, Juve would be above Inter and firmly in that battle.

As it is, victory here is critical for Juve's slim chances of climbing into the top four — they are 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Milan — with both sides hoping the Rossoneri slip up at Udinese and Lazio and Roma play out a draw.

And, as Stats Perform explains in a look at the standout Opta numbers ahead of the Derby d'Italia, history is on the side of Juve keeping themselves in the hunt.

Juve dominance

Inter and Juve are set to face off for the 180th time in the top flight, making it the fixture with the most matches in Serie A history.

Juve have dominated this great rivalry, winning 86 matches compared to 48 for Inter, with 45 games finishing as a draw.

The hosts have long since struggled in this fixture when it has been played in the second half of the season. They are winless against Juve at home in Serie A in such games since April 2010.

On top of that, since winning the treble 13 years ago, Inter have prevailed in just two their 12 total home league games against the Bianconeri (D5 L5).

Key to improving that record may be Lautaro Martinez, who has scored four home goals in Serie A in 2023, a tally only Adrien Rabiot and Victor Osimhen can match.

However, the World Cup winner has only scored one goal in nine top-flight games against Juventus and has a goal average of one every 586 minutes against the Bianconeri: his worst in Serie A against any opponent versus whom he has found the net.

Bianconeri back at their best

From an Inter perspective, Juve head into this game in worryingly good form.

Indeed, the Bianconeri are playing at a level not far away from that of runaway leaders Napoli.

Only Napoli (23) have scored more goals than Juventus (20) in Serie A in 2023, while Partenopei are the sole team to have claimed more wins (9) than Massimiliano Allegri's side in this calendar year.

Perhaps of even more concern for Inter is the contrast in form between the two sides in the match immediately after a European contest.

Another Champions League hangover?

Inter got the job done in Porto in midweek and, through to a quarter-final with another Portuguese opponent in Benfica, can have hope of a first Champions League final appearance since their triumph in 2010.

But the Nerazzurri have struggled of late in games following Champions League tussles. Inter have lost three of their last six Serie A matches after their Champions League games, including their last two (against Bologna and Juventus in the reverse match).

Juve are competing in the Europa League after failing to make it out of the Champions League group stage, but they have won each of their last such six league games after Continental encounters.

If Juve repeat the feat from the reverse fixture and defeat Inter without conceding, it will mark the first time they have won both games in this fixture to nil since the 1976-77 season.

It's fair to say Serie A sides have enjoyed themselves on the continental stage this season, with six Italian clubs reaching major European quarter-finals for the first time this century.

Three of those teams have been making waves in the Champions League, for which Luciano Spalletti's Napoli have been touted as genuine contenders after outscoring every other team in the competition.

Meanwhile, rivals Milan and Inter went about their last-16 assignments in quietly impressive fashion, seeing off Tottenham and Porto respectively, both winning 1-0 on aggregate.

With three of Italy's finest reaching the last eight, a first all-Italian Champions League meeting since 2005 was always highly probable, and so it proved with Milan and Napoli paired together.

With the winner of that tie set to face either Inter or Benfica in the semi-finals, the prospect of a first Italian Champions League winner since Inter's class of 2009-10 has perhaps never appeared more realistic.

Ahead of a blockbuster tie between last season's Serie A winners and their likely successors, Stats Perform looks back at the Champions League's previous all-Italian tussles.

Shevchenko decisive in tight derby double-header

Given the remarkable European pedigree enjoyed by seven-time European Cup/Champions League winners Milan, the fact that the Rossoneri have featured in all five previous all-Italian games in the competition is perhaps unsurprising. 

The first two of those came at the semi-final stage in the 2002-03 campaign, when Milan and Inter faced off in a tense double-header ultimately decided by a Rossoneri great.

Milan had reached the last four courtesy of Jon Dahl Tomasson's last-gasp strike against Ajax, while the Nerazzurri edged out Valencia on away goals.

Hector Cuper's men had less luck with that rule against their rivals, with Andriy Shevchenko's 'away' goal deciding a tie which ended 1-1 on aggregate – despite, of course, both legs being held at San Siro.

Inter's Obafemi Martins set up a tense finish after coming on as a substitute, but Carlo Ancelotti's team held on to reach a first final since 1995 – where they would face another domestic rival.

Dida wins battle of the goalkeepers at Old Trafford

Italian football's reputation for being risk-averse has not always been warranted, but given the way 2003's Champions League final between Milan and Juventus played out, that tag is perhaps understandable. 

Juve had already edged out both Milan giants to win Serie A by the time they faced the Rossoneri at Old Trafford, for what represented Marcello Lippi's fourth Champions League final with the Bianconeri (winning in 1996, losing in 1997, 1998 and 2003).

Both defences were on top throughout a nail-biting affair, with Shevchenko seeing a goal ruled out for offside and Antonio Conte rattling the crossbar as the game went to a penalty shoot-out.

With both goalkeepers clearly advancing off the goal line for each spot-kick, Gianluigi Buffon saved from Clarence Seedorf and Kakha Kaladze – only for Dida to go one better by denying David Trezeguet, Marcelo Zalayeta and Paolo Montero as Milan won their sixth European crown.

 

Dida in the spotlight again as violent scenes mar San Siro clash

Dida was again in the spotlight when two Italian sides last squared off in the Champions League – this time for all the wrong reasons.

The 2004-05 quarter-finals featured another heavyweight derby clash between Milan and Inter – who, as was the case two years earlier – finished the Serie A season in second and third respectively as Juventus triumphed.

Milan have always been Italy's European kings, however, and goals from Jaap Stam and Shevchenko put them in the ascendency as Ancelotti's men won the 'home' leg 2-0.

When Shevchenko's first-half effort put the Rossoneri ahead in the return game and Inter – now requiring four goals – saw an Esteban Cambiasso strike ruled out for a foul, the Nerazzurri supporters reacted furiously.

Flares rained down from the stands onto the San Siro pitch, with Dida struck on the shoulder and left requiring treatment for a burn.

Referee Markus Merk attempted to restart the game after a lengthy delay, but when Christian Abbiati was targeted with further missiles, the game was abandoned and Milan were awarded a 3-0 win, making it 5-0 on aggregate and leading to condemnation from across the continent. 

From a Milan point of view, the less said about their subsequent trip to Istanbul for the 2005 final against Liverpool, the better.

Borussia Dortmund are reportedly fighting to keep hold of forward Julian Brandt amid interest from England and Italy's biggest clubs.

Brandt, 26, is enjoying arguably his best season in the yellow and black, with nine goals in all competitions tying his best return since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

The Germany international, with 39 senior caps to his name, has capitalised on the extra eyes pointed towards Dortmund this season, delivering strong performances alongside super prospects Jude Bellingham and Youssoufa Moukoko.

A slew of Champions League clubs are said to have enquired about the availability of Brandt, although Dortmund are reportedly desperate to keep him at the club long-term.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE AND SERIE A LEADERS LOOK TO BRANDT

According to Football Insider, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Newcastle United, Napoli and Inter have all been closely monitoring Brandt as he nears the final 12 months of his contract.

The report states Dortmund feel confident they will be able to retain their in-form talent, despite the rising interest, but they could be forced into a move if Brandt does not indicate he will remain with the club beyond next season.

With an enormous windfall on the horizon due to Bellingham's expected sale, the club are likely under no financial pressure to move on from Brandt earlier than they would like.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fichajes.net is reporting that Real Madrid are surprise suitors for Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, who is not expected to return to Stamford Bridge when his current loan at Inter ends.

– According to The I, Newcastle will make 26-year-old Leicester City midfielder James Maddison a priority signing at the end of the season, and the interest will be mutual if the Magpies can make the Champions League.

Barcelona are planning a €100million double move to secure both 25-year-old Villarreal right-back Juan Foyth and 18-year-old Athletico Paranaense forward Vitor Roque, per Fichajes.net.

– 90min is reporting Manchester United, City, Newcastle, Brighton and Hove Albion, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Brentford are all scouting breakout 20-year-old Celta Vigo midfielder Gabri Veiga, who has a £35m (€40m) release clause.

– According to journalist Florian Plettenberg, 24-year-old Napoli striker Victor Osimhen dreams of one day playing in the Premier League, and would be open to a move to either England or Bayern Munich.

There is uncertainty at Paris Saint-Germain due to fears over further financial fair play sanctions, leading to speculation of numerous players being sold or offloaded.

L'Equipe claimed earlier this week that PSG had put on hold contract negotiations with Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi.

Messi is contracted with PSG until the end of this season, although he reportedly had come to a verbal agreement with the club in December.

Back in September, the Ligue 1 leaders were hit with a €10million fine for FFP violations after the 2020-21 season with a further €45m suspended for any future infringements.

TOP STORY – MESSI'S OFFER TO ECLIPSE RONALDO'S RECORD

Marca reports Lionel Messi is set to receive a world-record €220million (£193m) per year offer from an unnamed Saudi Arabian club.

Messi's contemporary rival Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr in January in a deal worth €200m, the highest football salary in history.

The Mirror claims the unnamed club is Al Hilal. The Argentinian has constantly been linked with the MLS too.

ROUND-UP

–  Barcelona head coach Xavi has been in touch with Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan about a move, with his contract running out at the end of this season, claims AS.

– Calciomercato claims Marco Verratti is weighing up a move away from Paris Saint-Germain following recent criticism. Verratti penned a contract extension until 2026 recently.

Manchester United are pondering tabling a £105m offer for Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani, per Sport Bild.

– Mundo Deportivo claims Manchester United are interested in Barcelona's Franck Kessie as a midfield partner for Casemiro, while Tottenham and Chelsea are also circling for him.

Arsenal are interested in Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard who may be available for a cut price with his current deal due to expire in 2024, reports Fichajes.

Paul Pogba is eager to remain at Juventus despite battling injuries throughout this season, claims 90min.

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