Sunday's Milan derby will be unlike any seen for much of the past decade: a battle between two genuine Scudetto contenders.

Inter head into the game, the 174th league meeting with their city rivals, at the top of Serie A. They are just a point above Milan, with 16 rounds remaining, after a run of 12 wins in 15 games.

The last time these sides met in the top flight while occupying the top two positions in the table was back in April 2011, when a 3-0 win for the Rossoneri helped propel them to their most recent title.

Much of the focus will be on star strikers Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. They scored all three goals in Milan's win in the reverse fixture and clashed on the pitch in the Nerazzurri's more recent Coppa Italia triumph.

However, according to esteemed former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi, the real star of the show might be found in Inter's midfield.

"Those looking for the prototype of the modern footballer should look at Nicolo Barella and they will be satisfied," Sacchi said in his column for La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The Inter player plays for the team and with the team, he attacks and defends, attacks with courage and fights to win the ball back.

"I've been following Barella since he was a kid. He came into Italy's youth teams when I was the Azzurri's technical director. He was not a phenomenon, he was physically frail, he did not have an incredible technique, yet he managed to reach very high levels.

"This shows that at the base of any successful career there is always hard work, training, the spirit of sacrifice and the desire to improve day after day."

For Sacchi, Barella represents the paragon of the modern player. But what makes him so effective?

BOX-TO-BOX BRILLIANCE

Barella is enjoying the best season of his career in terms of goal involvements, with three scored and eight assisted in 32 games in all competitions. Only five Serie A midfielders have been directly involved in more goals.

The 24-year-old has created 42 chances from open play across all competitions this term, only Milan playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu (44) has more among players in Italy's top flight, while Barella has also completed 469 passes ending in the final third, the highest number of any midfield player among Italy's top-tier sides.

Of course, as part of a three-man central midfield under Antonio Conte, creating opportunities is not enough (just ask Christian Eriksen). And, as Sacchi pointed out, Barella's impact is equally impressive when it comes to keeping the opposition away from your own goal.

He is third among Serie A midfielders for tackles won in 2020-21 (35, behind Adrien Rabiot and Marten de Roon), and third for duels won (175, behind Juraj Kucka and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic). That's a continuation of combative play honed at Cagliari, where, in his final two seasons, he was top of the league's midfield rankings with 480 duels won.

 

"COURAGE"

Sacchi spoke glowingly of Barella's bravery, of how an unassuming youngster developed into Serie A's most influential midfielder so early in his career.

He's right – there's a boldness to Barella's play that sets him apart.

In Serie A this season, he has completed 87 progressive carries in which the ball was moved between five and 10 metres up the pitch, which is the most of any attacking midfielder in the league. Twelve of his carries have ended in a chance being created, the fourth-best tally among players in his position.

These kinds of plays help Inter keep possession and limit the risk of losing the ball in dangerous areas. Indeed, Conte's side have faced only 18 shot-ending high turnovers of possession in Serie A this term, the lowest figure in the league, while only Napoli (230) and Juventus (212) have faced fewer pressed sequences than the Nerazzurri (232).

Once in more promising positions, Barella is still the man pulling the strings. His tally of shot build-up involvements – a measure of a player's involvement in sequences ending in a team-mate's shot on goal or chance created – stands at 60, the most of any attacking midfielder in the league.

Looking at sequences where players are involved in the build-up and also create the chance at the end, Barella is third in the division for his position with eight, just two behind Lorenzo Insigne and Ruslan Malinovskiy.

 

CONTE'S LIEUTENANT

Barella's eagerness to be at the heart of matters on the pitch extends to when Inter don't have the ball – at both ends of the pitch.

As well as being third among midfielders this term for tackles and duels won, Barella is fifth for regaining possession, having done so 168 times. When it comes to winning back the ball in the final third, he is top of the pile with 26 (both across all comps).

This, too, helps to set the tone for Inter's approach. In Serie A in 2020-21, they have made 190 high turnovers, a tally bettered only by Gian Piero Gasperini's Atalanta pressing machine (251). Plus, only Atalanta (129) and Juve (128) have had fewer high turnovers against them than Inter (130). It's an impressive combination, and Barella is integral to it.

As Sacchi said: "A detail that is far from negligible is the desire to put the group at the top of one's thoughts and, in this way self-centeredness, a disease of modern football, is fought and defeated.

"Barella is proving to be a driving force."

 

Club Brugge's midfield prodigy Charles De Ketelaere has been linked with Milan and Lazio and admits he dreams of testing himself in a foreign league.

De Ketelaere broke into Brugge's first team in 2019-20 and was named the 2020 Belgian Promising Talent of the Year last December, one month after making his senior international debut.

The 19-year-old also finished fifth in the voting for the Belgian Golden Shoe, which is awarded to the best player in the country's top flight.

De Ketelaere has a contract with Brugge until June 2023 and is interested in challenging himself abroad, though he is no rush to leave Belgium.

"Honestly, I do dream of an adventure abroad, but I don't have to right now," he told Krant van West-Vlaanderen.

"I will always make a healthy choice. Only sporting ambitious count. You always want to improve.

"There is no concrete career plan. A few foreign clubs were interested, but if I say that I want to stay at Club Brugge for another three years I would be very happy with that."

 

Brugge sit top of the Belgian Pro League and 13 points clear of second-placed Royal Antwerp.

The impressive De Ketelaere has only started 15 of their 26 league fixtures this season, but he has certainly made his impact felt.

De Ketelaere has supplied 35 key passes, which is the most of any player under the age of 21, and just under half of those have come following a carry.

His tally of 16 carries with a chance created is bettered only by Stef Peeters (18), Francis Amuzu (18) and Xavier Mercier (19).

The teenager is averaging two key passes per 90 minutes in the Pro League this season, as well as one interception, 4.8 recoveries and 1.9 tackles.

Sinisa Mihajlovic has hinted he could be tempted by a Premier League job when he leaves Bologna.

The former Milan head coach recovered from being diagnosed in 2019 with acute leukaemia and has returned to work in Serie A, with his ambitions not limited to Italian football.

Former Yugoslavia international Mihajlovic has a contract until 2023 with Bologna and is in no hurry to move on.

But he is open-minded and, as he prepared to turn 52 on Saturday, the Serbian signalled he was ready to see where fate takes him.

"I live as if I have to stay here 10 years and I work as if I have to leave tomorrow," Mihajlovic said.

"It is not a problem of contracts. I'm fine in Bologna, sometimes I get angry about the results, but I'm fine.

Quoted by Gazzetta dello Sport, he said: "I'd like to see what goals the club has. We have always agreed on everything, I think we will be agreed in the future too, but you never know.

"Do I like the Premier League? I am someone who wherever he goes I want to do my best. Of course, I would like to experience different cultures but I'm not forced to leave. I am used to achieving my dreams when I want."

He added: "There are other things and I would have to live 150 years to accomplish them, and I thought I was dying at 51."

Manchester City are counting the cost of the current financial climate and have slashed the budget assigned to lure Lionel Messi away from Barcelona.

The 33-year-old Barca captain could depart his boyhood team in the 2021 off-season after publicly trying, and failing, to force an exit from the Catalan club last August.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has been the subject of much speculation, but Messi may have to compromise to make the move happen as the Premier League leaders' bargaining power has taken a hit.

 

TOP STORY – CITY FORCED TO LOWER MESSI CONTRACT OFFER

City had already tabled a five-year contract designed to tempt Messi to switch LaLiga for the Premier League – but the numbers have now changed, reports The Sun.

A package worth £600million (€693m) had reportedly been prepared in order to tie the six-time Ballon d'Or winner down for the rest of his career, should he opt to leave Barca at the end of the season.

But The Sun says City will now not match the terms set in August, and the offer has dropped to £430million (€496m), potentially opening the door for Paris Saint-Germain to swoop.

ROUND-UP

Chelsea have already made contact with winger Jonas Hofmann, according to Bild, as the Borussia Monchengladbach exodus threatens to begin following the news that coach Marco Rose is leaving for Borussia Dortmund next season. Hofmann played for Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund.

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie is also in Tuchel's sights, and the Blues could offer Fikayo Tomori to the Serie A giants on a permanent deal as part of a player-plus-cash exchange, reports Il Milanista.

- Everton loanee Moise Kean has netted 14 goals in 25 games for PSG and his parent club will not part with the Italy international for any less than £60m, says Fabrizio Romano, while Juventus want to bring the striker back to Turin, according to Le 10 Sport.

 

Everton 'will demand £70m for Moise Kean transfer' after impressing at PSG https://t.co/3PvjhBQ1rf

— Sun Sport (@SunSport) February 18, 2021

- 'If there are opportunities, I will have a look at them,' is what Wilfried Zaha told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit, reports The Sun. The Crystal Palace winger has been previously linked with Arsenal and Tottenham.

- Gunners midfielder Lucas Torreira, currently on the fringes while on loan at Atletico Madrid, is close to securing a move to Fiorentina for next season, claims Gazzetta Dello Sport.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been fined €5,000 but avoided a suspension after using a "blasphemous expression" during Juventus' 4-0 win at Parma in December.

The 43-year-old was caught on camera committing the offence when shouting instructions to team-mate Manolo Portanova.

The FIGC opened disciplinary proceedings against Buffon and the veteran keeper risked a one-man ban for his comment.

However, the National Federal Court only "partially accepted" the FIGC's referral at Thursday's hearing and former Italy international Buffon escaped with just a fine.

Buffon has served as back-up to Wojciech Szczesny since returning to Turin from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 and has made nine appearances in all competitions this season.

Giorgio Chiellini will be monitored on a daily basis after scans revealed the Juventus defender suffered no muscle damage to his right calf against Porto. 

Chiellini was forced off in the first half of Juve's 2-1 Champions League defeat away in Portugal on Wednesday, Merih Demiral taking his place in the 35th minute. 

The Serie A side were already one goal down at that stage, while Moussa Marega added a second for Porto soon after the break. However, Federico Chiesa halved the deficit with a potentially crucial late away goal in the first leg of the last-16 tie. 

Porto will travel to Turin for the return fixture on March 9 and, having avoided any serious injury, Chiellini could be fit to feature on home soil. 

"Giorgio Chiellini underwent radiological examinations this morning at the J | Medical that excluded muscle injuries to his right calf. His condition will be monitored day by day," a statement from the club read. 

Andrea Pirlo's squad underwent a recovery session on Thursday as they turn their focus back to league matters. 

The reigning champions are next in Serie A action on Monday, when they host bottom club Crotone at the Allianz Stadium. 

Chiellini – who has helped the Bianconeri win nine straight top-flight titles in Italy – has made 15 appearances in all competitions this season, Pirlo's first in charge.

Kylian Mbappe's future is in his own hands after showing the world what he is capable of while scoring a hat-trick in Paris Saint-Germain's 4-1 Champions League demolition of Barcelona.

With his contract in the French capital set to expire in June 2022, Mbappe ultimately has the choice of either signing a new deal or leaving his hometown team – and the World Cup winner has been non-committal so far.

Should the 22-year-old sensation decide to take his career abroad, there will be no shortage of suitors, with four European giants ready to swoop.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER CITY, REAL MADRID, JUVENTUS EYE IN-DEMAND MBAPPE

If PSG cannot persuade Mbappe to sign a long-term extension, they will not want to lose a world-class talent without a fee, so the Ligue 1 champions have placed a €200million (£173m) tag on his head, according to Le Parisien.

Le Parisien reports the price may not deter the Frenchman's admirers, who include Premier League rivals Manchester City and LiverpoolReal Madrid and Juventus.

While those clubs may want him, it is unclear if all of them would be able to afford Mbappe, who is set to make more than €30m per year gross on his next contract. Reports claim PSG will aim to price their Champions League rivals out of a deal.

Stefano Pioli insists Milan are focusing only on the first leg of their Europa League tie with Red Star Belgrade, despite a huge derby with Inter coming up this weekend.

The Rossoneri have slipped off top spot in Serie A, with Saturday's surprise loss away to Spezia allowing their city rivals to take over at the summit. 

Next up in the league is a showdown with Inter at San Siro on Sunday, though not before Milan travel to Belgrade to continue a European campaign that began way back in mid-September of last year. 

Milan had to come through qualifying in the Europa League, needing a penalty shoot-out success over Rio Ave to make it to the group stage, and Pioli is determined to extend their run beyond the last 32. 

"No one can ever forget all the joy and emotions brought by the win against Rio Ave, so we have to put on the pitch this joy and these emotions on Thursday," Pioli told the media ahead of Thursday's game against Red Star.

"We want to amaze in this competition too.  

"We have lots of games ahead, all even more important and decisive, with the two legs of the last-32 tie being a knockout round.   

"The coming Serie A games will be equally important with 16 games to go until the end of the league, plus, hopefully, we have 8-10 games left to play in the Europa League.  

"Now is the moment to prove we're up to the task – but we have the quality to do so, with the desire to go to the end of both competitions."

Even with the setback against Spezia, Milan are on course to achieve their target of securing Champions League qualification through a top-four finish in Serie A.

The Europa League also offers an alternative route, so Pioli has no plans to prioritise one competition over the other at this stage of a demanding campaign.

"We're a team with a young average age and we need at certain stages to show our qualities, to grow and better understand situations that are different," he said.

"Even (technical director and club legend) Paolo Maldini not long ago stated that Milan needs two consecutive seasons in the Champions League to get back to its high standards. This is our objective. 

"To achieve that, we can either win the Europa League or finish in the top four of the league. This is what we are focused on – and we will fight until the end to achieve it."

Demonstrating his commitment to the tie, Pioli has included Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the squad to travel to Belgrade, while Ante Rebic is also included after missing the Spezia defeat through injury.

Milan are looking to win three consecutive matches in a major UEFA European competition for the first time since a four-game streak between September and November 2008.

Manchester United are making plans for Paul Pogba's departure and may have already identified the Frenchman's replacement in Real Madrid's Federico Valverde.

The 22-year-old has struggled with injuries this season, while veteran midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have been in vintage form for LaLiga's champions.

Valverde has only started 12 games in all competitions this season, but the Uruguayan has impressed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enough for United to step up their efforts to bring him to Old Trafford this off-season.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED EYE VALVERDE TO PLUG MIDFIELD

Valverde has shown his class while featuring in 89 games during his three seasons in the Spanish capital and has turned heads at United.

The Red Devils are said to admire his energy and box-to-box qualities as they seek a long-term solution to lock down a place in the centre of Solskjaer's midfield, according to The Sun.

One snag in the recruitment drive could be the Uruguay international's buy-out clause of a staggering £148million, though United can offer him a major improvement on his current £120,000 per week wage.

With Lionel Messi's future far from certain at the end of the season, his former team-mate Neymar has apparently reached out to the Barcelona captain about a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazilian superstar Neymar played alongside the six-time Ballon d'Or winner for four LaLiga seasons between 2013 and 2017, before sealing a world-record transfer to Ligue 1 giants

It is understood Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are ready to make a play to bring Messi to the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino's PSG appear to be taking the direct approach.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR PUTS IN A CALL TO MESSI

Lionel Messi's contract at his boyhood club expires in the off-season, less than a year after the Barcelona superstar sensationally tried to leave Camp Nou but found his exit plans blocked.

According to L'Equipe, Neymar – who is set to miss the Champions League trip to the Barcelona on Tuesday – has put in a call to convince Messi to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi will lead out Barca in the first leg of the last-16 tie, having stated he will wait until the end of the current campaign before making a decision on where he will play in 2021-2022.

ROUND-UP

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe has decided to stay put this off-season but is not planning on extending his current contract, which expires in 2022, claims ESPN.

Liverpool are looking for defensive reinforcements and they are monitoring Aston Villa's England Under-21 international Ezri Konsa, according to The Athletic.

- Bayern Munich's free-agent defender David Alaba has already agreed to join Real Madrid at season's end, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Real Madrid are reportedly planning a €90million move for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland ahead of next season.

Haaland, 20, is being targeted by Europe's biggest clubs after starring for the Bundesliga outfit.

Madrid are ready to make a move for Haaland ahead of 2021-22.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID PLAN €90M HAALAND MOVE

Real Madrid are plotting a €90m move for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to ABC.

The report says the LaLiga giants will attempt to get Luka Jovic, who is on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt, or Mariano Diaz to be part of the deal.

Haaland has scored 23 goals in as many games for Dortmund this season.

ROUND-UP

- After landing Dayot Upamecano, Bayern Munich have other targets in mind. Bild reports the Bundesliga giants are also interested in Norwich City full-back Max Aarons, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Florian Neuhaus, Rennes' Eduardo Camavinga and Lucien Agoume, who is on loan at Spezia from Inter. The Daily Mail also says Bayern are stepping up their pursuit of Aarons.

- David Luiz looks set to extend his Arsenal stay. The Independent claims the Premier League side are set to offer the defender another extension, with his deal expiring at season's end.

- Staying at Arsenal and Alexandre Lacazette's future at the club seems uncertain. The Daily Express reports Arsenal have been told they can sign Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard for just £15m.

- Without a club since leaving Trabzonspor in March last year, Daniel Sturridge has been offered to Newcastle United, according to 90min. West Brom and Sheffield United are also reportedly interested in Sturridge.

Romelu Lukaku answered any recent criticism aimed in his direction against Lazio and Christian Eriksen is starting to understand what Inter require of him, says Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte.

Inter bowed out of the Coppa Italia at the semi-final stage after a goalless draw at Juventus ensured a 2-1 aggregate defeat, but a 3-1 triumph over Lazio on Sunday saw Conte's side leapfrog rivals Milan at the top of Serie A.

Lukaku scored twice in the first half to move on to 300 career goals, and Lautaro Martinez was on target after Gonzalo Escalante had replied for the visitors at San Siro.

Speaking about the Belgium striker's showing, Conte told Sky Sport: "Romelu, like the whole team, gave a great response. Lautaro did, so did Ivan Perisic, the defenders, Marcelo Brozovic. They all stepped up.

"Some were starting to murmur about Lukaku after the Coppa Italia and a few lacklustre performances, suggesting he had some psychological blowback from that, but there are moments when you are not at 100 per cent.

"He came back firing on all cylinders and we need this Romelu. We need this determination and passion from everyone in the team."

Eriksen signed from Tottenham amid much fanfare in January 2020 but struggled to hit the ground running and was heavily linked with an exit last month.

However, the Denmark playmaker stayed put and has since impressed, something Conte puts down to becoming familiar with the requirements of Italian football.

"I think Christian had a few problems settling in, understanding Italian football, which is very difficult and tactical compared to the Premier League. There is also a far greater intensity now than in previous years here," Conte added.

"We tried in every way to settle him in, even changing tactical system. I think now he has made a step towards us, is starting to understand Italian, which is an important development too. He is understanding what we need.

"Eriksen was very focused when defending as well as attacking. He has a different power to his leg now after the fitness work.

"He's an extra option for us and I am more comfortable relying on him now."

Next up for Inter is a huge derby clash with Milan, a match that is sure to have huge ramifications on the outcome of the Scudetto.

Conte is relishing the challenge after seeing off a Lazio side that had won six straight league games.

"This was an objective we'd been chasing for a long time, to get to the top of the table, we achieved it after a game against a very strong team," he added.

"I congratulate Lazio and Simone Inzaghi, as they are tough, organised and with a lot of quality.

"The fact they were coming off six consecutive victories shows their strength, but at the same time it shows our mental strength.

"I am happy for the lads, inevitably this must be a starting point for us and not the finish line. We know the next game is the derby with Milan, going into it ahead is obviously much better.

"It's going to be a fascinating game between two teams who have strong ambitions."

Romelu Lukaku scored twice and assisted another to help Inter to a 3-1 win over Lazio that lifted Antonio Conte's men above bitter rivals Milan to the top of Serie A.

Milan's shock 2-0 loss to Spezia on Saturday opened the door for Inter and they pounced at San Siro on Sunday, taking a one-point lead into next weekend's huge Derby della Madonnina.

Lazio were furious with the awarding of Inter's 22nd-minute penalty as replays appeared to show Wesley Hoedt, drafted in after Stefan Radu was injured in the warm-up, got some of the ball before taking out Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku converted and added a second ahead of half-time with the assistance of VAR, before teeing up Martinez to seal the points after Gonzalo Escalante had given Lazio some temporary hope.

There had been little between the sides prior to the controversial penalty call, with the VAR standing by referee Michael Fabbri's decision to point to the spot for Hoedt's challenge on Martinez.

Lukaku sent Pepe Reina the wrong way to extend his perfect penalty record in Serie A to 10 from 10, and the Belgium international did not have to wait long for the landmark 300th career goal for club and country.

It had an element of fortune about it as Marcelo Brozovic slid in on Manuel Lazzari and the ball ricocheted into the striker's path, though it took a lengthy VAR check to ascertain that Lukaku was level with the last man when the initial pass was played.

Lazio had found the net in each of their past 17 league outings, however, and they kept that run going when Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's free-kick heavily deflected off substitute Escalante and beat Samir Handanovic on his 500th Serie A appearance.

But just when the visitors had some momentum on their side, Lukaku charged down the right, held off Marco Parolo and unselfishly squared the ball for Martinez to tap into an empty net.

Reina denied Lukaku a hat-trick with a good save down low but Inter, knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Juventus in midweek, retained their two-goal cushion to move to the summit.

Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the first half of Inter's Serie A clash with Lazio on Sunday to bring up the 300th goal of his career.

The Belgium striker opened the scoring from the penalty spot at San Siro and added a second late in the opening period - the goal allowed to stand after initially being ruled out for offside.

Lukaku moved onto 56 goals for Inter in all competitions since joining from Manchester United in August 2019, 16 of those coming in the league this season.

That is one fewer than the 27-year-old has scored for his national side at senior level, though he still has some way to go before equalling the 87 netted for Everton between 2013 and 2017.

Lukaku's other goals were scored for United (42), Anderlecht (41) and West Brom (17). He failed to register for Chelsea, despite spending three years on the London club's books - two of those out on loan - and making 15 appearances.

Dayot Upamecano will be a Bayern Munich player in 2021-22, meaning Liverpool and Chelsea must go back to the drawing board.

The Premier League rivals had each been linked with a move for the RB Leipzig centre-back as they look to add to their options at heart of defence.

Now they each must look to different targets come the end of the season, with injuries and poor play at the back having derailed the Reds' hopes of winning a second successive league title.

But which centre-backs could be part of Liverpool and Chelsea's plans to pose a more serious challenge to Manchester City next season?

Here we look at four players who could be playing their football at Liverpool or Stamford Bridge next season.

Bremer

The Torino defender is reported to be Liverpool's top close-season target after an impressive season in Serie A.

His 75 clearances are the second-most in the Italian top flight among defenders, while Bremer has also excelled at making recoveries.

Indeed, he has tallied 114, putting him 11th among defenders to have played at least 10 league games. Only four defenders have won more aerial duels than Bremer's 47.

David Alaba

Chelsea have been linked with the man Upamecano is seemingly set to replace, though Alaba’s wage structure may reportedly be a sticking point for the Blues.

Alaba's versatility to play across the back four and in midfield would certainly appeal to Chelsea and former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Austria international has consistently demonstrated his prowess in attack as well as at the back.

He has created at least 17 chances in every season since 2010-11 and has crafted 10 in 19 league appearances this season.

Ibrahima Konate

Could Leipzig be raided again? Both Chelsea and Liverpool have been linked with Konate, the France Under-21 international signed from Sochaux in 2017.

Injuries have been a problem for Konate, who has played only 15 league games since the start of last season.

However, when he has played extensively, he has shown his quality. 

Konate featured 28 times in the Bundesliga in 2018-19 and was sixth in the league with 100 aerial duels won, contributing to 12 clean sheets, a tally only bettered by two players – his Leipzig team-mates Marcel Halstenberg (15) and Willi Orban (13).

Jules Kounde

Liverpool are thought to be keen on Kounde, but they will likely face competition from across Europe for the Sevilla defender's services.

Kounde has emerged as one of the finest young defenders in European football is again excelling this season.

With 106 recoveries in 2020-21, Kounde – who has also previously been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City – has proven a reliable presence in the heart of defence, while he can also start attacks.

His 136 successful passes into the final third are more than Barca's Clement Lenglet (132) and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (128).

Ramos (84.77) and Lenglet (80.49) have a higher accuracy percentage on those passes than Kounde's 76.84, but at just 22 he has the time and the talent to develop into one of the world's top centre-backs.

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