The English Football Association warned a European Super League would hurt football "at all levels" and said it was ready to take legal action as a clutch of elite clubs appeared poised to announce their involvement.

Twelve of Europe's biggest clubs are reported to have agreed to take part in the controversial breakaway competition, with six from England's Premier League said to have given it the thumbs-up.

The news emerged a day ahead of UEFA's executive committee meeting, at which plans for future 36-team Champions League competitions were expected to be confirmed by European football's governing body.

UEFA issued a statement on Sunday in conjunction with major domestic bodies such as the Football Association (FA) and the Premier League, and their Italian and Spanish counterparts.

The FA also issued its own firm rejection of the Super League concept, saying any closed-shop competition would go against the sacrosanct, long-standing principles of the game.

Aware of "certain English clubs" joining the project, the FA said: "It is clear that this would be damaging to English and European football at all levels and will attack the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are fundamental to competitive sport.

"For new competitions to be formed involving clubs from different associations, approval would be required from the relevant national associations, confederation and/or FIFA. We would not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football, and will take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary to protect the broader interests of the game.

"We note FIFA confirmed earlier this year that they and the six confederations would not recognise any such competition and, as such, any player or club involved may not be permitted to participate in any official competition which falls within the auspices of FIFA or their respective confederation."

It was reported that confirmation of the new league being launched could come as soon as Sunday evening in Europe.

The FA said it would "continue to work with UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League to seek to ensure that nothing is approved that has the potential to damage English football".

It added that it would also work with the players' and managers' unions - the PFA and LMA - along with the English Football League and Premier League, motivated by the objective "to defend the integrity and future prospects of English football in the best interests of the game".

The UK Government's culture secretary Oliver Dowden said clubs signing up for any such project would be neglecting their duty to supporters by taking away their say.

"Football supporters are the heartbeat of our national sport and any major decisions made should have their backing," Dowden said.

"With many fans, we are concerned that this plan could create a closed shop at the very top of our national game. Sustainability, integrity and fair competition are absolutely paramount and anything that undermines this is deeply troubling and damaging for football.

"We have a football pyramid where funds from the globally successful Premier League flow down the leagues and into local communities. I would be bitterly disappointed to see any action that destroys that."

Andrea Pirlo claimed Juventus will qualify for next season's Champions League "no problem" as he lamented Cristiano Ronaldo's absence in a damaging Serie A defeat to Atalanta.

Pirlo's side suffered a 1-0 loss at the Gewiss Stadium on Sunday as they again struggled without the influential presence of Portugal forward Ronaldo.

Juventus have drawn three and lost one of the four games Ronaldo has missed in Serie A this season.

The Bianconeri's lack of cutting edge up front was emphasised by the fact they managed to register 11 shots in the contest but only one of them was on target.

Atalanta's victory, secured by Ruslan Malinovskiy's late goal, was their first win over the Bianconeri in Serie A since 2001 and saw them leapfrog the Scudetto holders into third place.

"If we play with this spirit and desire to bring home the result, I am convinced there will be no problem achieving our objective," Pirlo told Sky Italia.

"We played the match we needed to, then they were lucky with the late goal, but we played with great determination and aggression. It's disappointing, we could've brought home at least a point

"We have not faced all our games with the same attitude and determination.

"It's a completely different team when we have those elements, but despite me pointing it out, we have dropped too many points by not having the right attitude in the smaller fixtures.

"We knew Atalanta would make it a duel all over the field, so that's how we prepared it. We kept good possession, covered the spaces, Atalanta can force you to play differently to other situations, but we did well."

Ronaldo has scored 25 goals and provided three assists in Serie A this season. 

The 36-year-old missed the match with a thigh injury but is expected to be fit enough for Juve's Serie A clash with Parma on Wednesday.

Pirlo acknowledged he would have been ideal for a tight match against Gian Piero Gasperini's side.

He said: "It’s no coincidence Ronaldo scored 25 goals this season and he was excellent in the first game with Atalanta too. 

"He suits these games well and is our main finisher. When missing the killer instinct in the box, it's slightly different.

"Cristiano wasn't available, but whoever went on the pitch did what he had to do. I'm satisfied with the performance.

"We didn't take advantage of the chances that happened to us in the first half. But we knew it would be an intense match. I have nothing to blame my players for."

Pirlo was asked if he felt under pressure given Juve's difficult season and speculation about his job, but added: "I've been used to it since I was a player. I let them talk."

Europe's top leagues and UEFA have vowed to do everything in their power to block a so-called European Super League and urged others to boycott what they describe as a "cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs".

In an emphatic response to media reports, UEFA together with the English Football Association (the FA), Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), LaLiga, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Serie A have joined forces in attempt to quell the Super League.

They reiterated a pledge to ban teams from other competitions if they take part in the Super League, while FIFA's threat of barring players from the World Cup was also alluded to.

French and German clubs were also thanked for refusing to sign up to the tournament, meaning neither of last season's Champions League finalists – Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain – are set to be involved.

The statement read: "UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.

"If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations - will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.

"We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.

"As previously announced by FIFA and the six federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.

"We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough."

Europe's top leagues and UEFA have vowed to do everything in their power to block a so-called European Super League and urged others to boycott what they describe as a "cynical project founded on the self-interest of a few clubs".

The creation of a European Super League took a step closer to reality on Sunday as 12 leading clubs agreed plans for a new competition, according to widespread reports.

It is thought that up to six English clubs, three Italian sides and three Spanish teams have joined forces, with an announcement expected this weekend.

No clubs from Germany or France are involved, meaning reigning European champions Bayern Munich and last season's Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain are not included, though reports state the plan is for the competition to be expanded to 16-18 teams.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal are the Premier League teams said to have signed up, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid representing LaLiga.

Juventus, Milan and their city rivals Inter are the Serie A clubs in the fold.

It has also been suggested PSG refused an invitation to the new competition, while one of the counter-threats supposedly put forward by UEFA was said to be the exclusion of the 12 teams from its competitions.

The news of this move by some of Europe's biggest clubs comes just before UEFA is set to confirm its intentions to alter the format of the Champions League.

According to reports in The Daily Mail, the Super League is being financed by United States-based investment bank JP Morgan.

The Mail also claim Madrid president Florentino Perez will likely act as chairman of the competition, with the American owners of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal – John W Henry, Joel Glazer and Stan Kroenke – acting as vice-chairmen. Juve chief Andrea Agnelli is to act as the fourth vice-chairman.

Ruslan Malinovskiy's late effort consigned Juventus to a 1-0 defeat at Atalanta and struck a blow to their chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Only four minutes remained of Sunday's Serie A contest when Malinovskiy's effort deflected past Wojciech Szczesny to secure the points for Atalanta, who leapfrog Juve into third place in the table.

The Bianconeri were without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and his absence was acutely felt as Andrea Pirlo's side lacked a cutting edge in attack.

Juve have now drawn three and lost one of their games in Serie A this season where Ronaldo has been absent.

Milan kept some pressure on Serie A leaders Inter as they cut the gap at the top of the table to eight points with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Genoa.

Ante Rebic's superb 13th-minute opener appeared to put Milan on course for a routine win, but they made heavy weather of things thereafter.

Former Milan loanee Mattia Destro levelled before half-time and the Rossoneri required an own goal from Gianluca Scamacca to claim maximum points.

Inter can stretch their lead at the top back to 11 points by beating Napoli later on Sunday, but Milan's slim hopes are still alive, while this result is another step towards making sure of Champions League qualification.

Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin had not been tested in the opening 12 minutes but he was left with no chance when Rebic unleashed a stunning volley on the turn to find the bottom-right corner in style after the visitors failed to clear having initially blocked Theo Hernandez's effort from a free-kick.

But Milan were unable to build on their lead and saw it eradicated by an excellent header from Destro eight minutes before half-time as he lost his marker to meet Miha Zajc's corner.

Rebic spurned a golden chance to restore Milan's advantage but could only blaze over from point-blank range after excellent work from Pierre Kalulu.

Marko Pjaca threatened to complete the turnaround for Genoa as he came off the bench and shot narrowly wide and Simon Kjaer should have done better with a header at the other end.

However, Milan were given a helping hand by Scamacca, who inadvertently diverted Hakan Calhanoglu's corner into his own net in the 68th minute.

They required late defensive heroics from Kjaer and Fiyako Tomori to stay in front as they each produced goal-line clearances to deny Andrea Masiello and Valon Behrami and keep Milan hanging on Inter's coattails.

 

Raheem Sterling has lost his place in the Manchester City starting line-up prompting fresh speculation.

Phil Foden has taken Sterling's role with devastating effect, including scoring the winner in their midweek Champions League triumph over Borussia Dortmund.

Sterling's contract talks have also been shelved for the season, fuelling the rumours.

 

TOP STORY - REAL REIGNITE RAHEEM INTEREST

Real Madrid have reignited their interest in Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling according to the Daily Star.

Sterling is contracted with City for another two seasons, putting them in a strong position to hang on to the England international with a reported £80million price tag.

But regular football and the lure of Madrid could be compelling for Sterling who joined City from Liverpool in 2015 for £44m.

 

ROUND-UP

-The Daily Star reports that Paul Pogba's agent Mino Raiola has informed Manchester United that he will only re-sign for a mammoth £500,000-a-week contract. Interested clubs Juventus, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain have also been informed of his wage demands.

-Adama Traore will be offloaded by Wolverhampton as they seek to raise funds for their off-season recruitment reports Football Insider.

-Mundo Deportivo claims that Tottenham are keen to sign Real Betis defender Emerson, having shown interest last off-season.

-Manchester United are homing in on 18-year-old Metz midfielder Pape Sarr according to The Sun although they will face plenty of competition.

Cristiano Ronaldo will miss Juventus' Serie A clash with Atalanta on Sunday because of a thigh problem as head coach Andrea Pirlo blamed the player's workload.

The Portugal forward has been struggling with the injury sustained in Juve's 3-1 win over Genoa last Sunday and has not taken a full part in training this week, with Paulo Dybala set to start instead.

Juventus have drawn all three of the Serie A games Ronaldo has missed in this campaign, scoring just three goals in the process.

In the league fixtures where Ronaldo has played a part this season, Juve have a win percentage of 66.7 per cent from 27 games (18 wins, five draws and four losses) and have scored an average of 2.1 goals per game.

Pirlo lamented Ronaldo's absence and acknowledged the number of games the 36-year-old has played for club and country in a short timeframe have taken a toll on his fitness.

"Ronaldo will not be in for the match tomorrow," Pirlo said at a media conference on Saturday.

"In recent days he has not been able to recover from the flexor problem after last Sunday's game, he does not feel able to push it and would have risked it too much. 

"We have decided to leave him at rest and we will try to recover him for Wednesday's match [against Parma]. This problem arose already on Monday after the game. He tried and went out with the team [in training] but couldn't push as he wanted.

"It was too risky to push it. The many matches, even those with the national team, influenced him and so many games did not allow him to recover.

"He has always been in good condition, then the matches in the national team accumulated. He too told me that he shouldn't have played the third game, but then that goal [against Serbia] was cancelled and they didn't get six points. 

"They forced him to play the third as well, otherwise he would have returned to Juventus before the third."

Atalanta’s last win against Juventus in Serie A came back in February 2001 and since then the Bianconeri have won 24 of the 32 league games between the two sides, drawing eight.

However, Juve have won only one of their last six games against Atalanta (D4 L1) when all competitions are taking into account, getting that victory in November 2019 in Bergamo.

Defending champions Juve are third in Serie A heading into Sunday's games – sitting 12 points behind leaders Inter, and a point ahead of Atalanta in fourth.

Pirlo added: "We have focused ourselves on a new goal, which is not the one suitable for Juventus who have always fought to win the championship.

"But unfortunately the points are a bit distant and the goal must be to finish the season well and reach the final goal [of Champions League qualification].

"We have worked well during the week knowing that Atalanta are a team with particular characteristics.

"They play a different football than the other teams and therefore we tried moves to counter their fierce pressure. We worked intensely during the week and I'm happy and confident for the game."

Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the top three defenders in the world, according to Antonio Conte, who wanted to sign him during his time at Chelsea.

Conte was keen to take Napoli centre-back Koulibaly to Stamford Bridge during his two seasons at the helm in west London, with a reported €58million offer turned down in 2016.

The 29-year-old has remained a key part of the set-up at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona and will hope to lead Napoli to a positive result against Serie A leaders Inter on Sunday.

Since making his Serie A debut in 2014-15, Koulibaly ranks first among defenders in the competition for clean sheets (76), tackles won (315), recoveries (1,526), successful passes (12,852) and successful passes in the opposition half (5,291).

He will need to call on all that experience when he goes up against Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, whose haul of 21 league goals this season is only bettered by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Asked about Koulibaly, Conte told a news conference: "He is one of the best two or three defenders in the world and I wanted to bring him to Chelsea.

"He's actually improved since then. Lukaku has improved a great deal too. It'll be an interesting duel, but both sides will have to work as teams to create goalscoring opportunities."

Inter are on track for a first Scudetto since 2010, heading into this weekend 11 points clear of second-placed Milan with eight games remaining.

The Nerazzurri have been criticised for a defensive, counter-attacking style despite their healthy advantage, but Conte believes he is the target of the negativity rather than his team.

"I realised that it's all about me. That's the basic problem. I don't mind that, as long as they don't touch Inter," said Conte.

"There are still many points up for grabs and we'll go to Napoli for the victory. We cannot start calculating or holding back because my experience tells me it's counter-productive.

"We mustn't fall into the trap of taking the Scudetto for granted because it hasn't been decided yet. We know the sacrifices we've made to reach this position, but must be humble to realise there are still some steps to go before we can make that dream come true."

Cristiano Ronaldo is happy at Juventus and looks primed to stay at the club for multiple years, according to his former Real Madrid and Portugal team-mate Pepe.

The forward has 25 goals in 27 Serie A matches this season, topping the league's scoring charts, four clear of nearest rival Romelu Lukaku.

Ronaldo has been prolific since signing for Juve from Real Madrid in 2018 and continues to be so at the age of 36, now three goals away from reaching 100 for the Italian club in all competitions.

However, his future was thrown into the spotlight after Juventus once again failed to reach the latter stages of the Champions League this season, with Pepe and Porto knocking them out in the last 16.

Domestically, Inter look poised to end Juve's run of nine straight Scudetto successes and Ronaldo has been linked with a move away amid speculation over Juve's financial situation and direction of their project.

But Pepe thinks Ronaldo's accomplishments are being underestimated and sees him remaining at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

Pepe was asked if Ronaldo would contemplate a return to playing in Portugal, where he started his career with Sporting CP.

He told Novo: "Honestly, given how I know him, I don't know if he would tolerate the way many people talk about football in Portugal.

"I think he is happy in Turin. He is the leading goalscorer in Serie A. Those who criticise him don’t know how difficult it is to score more than 30 goals every year.

"What Cristiano can do is incredible. And I hope he will stay there for more years, giving joy to football lovers and representing Portugal very well, as he has always done."

Ronaldo - defended by head coach Andrea Pirlo last week for throwing his shirt after failing to score in a win over Genoa - is under contract with Juve until June 2022, while at international level he has Euro 2020 and the World Cup coming up for his country before the end of next year.

Juventus are away to Atalanta on Sunday, a team they have beaten only once in their last six meetings across all competitions.

However, Ronaldo will be buoyed that Juve have scored at least two goals in each of their last seven away games against Atalanta in Serie A.

Former Manchester United star Chris Smalling has spoken of the "harm and distress" his family felt after an armed burglary at their home in Rome.

Now playing for Roma, who will face United in the Europa League semi-finals, the 31-cap England international had his home raided in the early hours of Friday.

According to reports in Italy, Smalling handed over three Rolex watches, jewellery and money to the three men who entered the property in the Appia Antica district of Italy's capital.

Police were called after the terrifying incident, and 31-year-old Smalling wrote on Twitter on Saturday: "I'd like to thank everyone for your well wishes and support! My family although very shaken up are luckily unharmed!

"Hoping these people can find a more meaningful way to live their lives without causing such harm and distress to others."

Former United team-mate Marcus Rashford sent a message of support to Smalling on Friday, saying he was "so sorry" to hear of the break-in.

Rashford added: "Thinking about you @ChrisSmalling and your lovely family. Can’t imagine how you're feeling but I hope you're ok."

Smalling has been injured recently and did not play on Thursday when Roma edged past Ajax to reach the Europa League last four.

A new defender appears to be at the forefront of Manchester United's planning.

The Premier League giants have been linked with a host of centre-backs.

But they could turn to a familiar club to bolster their defence.

 

TOP STORY – ANOTHER LEICESTER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are eyeing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, according to Foot Mercato.

United are targeting a new partner for former Leicester star Harry Maguire – the world's most expensive centre-back – amid links to RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Fofana only joined Leicester from Saint-Etienne at the start of the season and is contracted until 2025.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says Konate remains one of Liverpool's top transfer targets. Liverpool are reportedly preparing a five-year contract.

Arsenal are targeting Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga, reports Marca. The 18-year-old midfielder, who has already rejected a contract extension, has been linked with Madrid, United and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Inter's Martin Satriano is attracting interest from Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Leipzig, claims the Daily Mail.

- Tottenham are considering a move for Barcelona's Emerson, says Mundo Deportivo. The 22-year-old is currently on loan at Real Betis amid links with Inter and PSG.

Atletico Madrid are eyeing Juventus sensation Nicolo Rovella and Udinese's Nahuel Molina, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Milan have enquired about Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan as the Serie A side consider alternatives to Gianluigi Donnarumma should he fail to sign a contract extension. Meanwhile, SportItalia says Milan have offered Inter full-back Danilo D'Ambrosio a two-year deal. The Italian is out of contract at season's end.

Marcus Rashford sent his support to Chris Smalling after the former Manchester United defender was reportedly a victim of an armed burglary.

Smalling and his family were said to have been at home in the Appia Antica district of Rome when three men with guns broke into the property and demanded a safe be opened.

The burglars reportedly fled with Rolex watches and jewellery and a small sum of cash.

La Gazzetta dello Sport said that a call to police was made by Smalling's wife at around 05:00 local time (04:00 GMT) on Friday, with an investigation subsequently launched.

United striker Rashford sent a message to his former club-mate, writing on Twitter: "Thinking about you @ChrisSmalling and your lovely family. So sorry to wake up to the news this morning. Can’t imagine how you're feeling but I hope you're ok."

Smalling has been injured recently and did not play on Thursday when Roma edged past Ajax to reach the Europa League semi-finals, with United awaiting them in the last four.

Cristiano Ronaldo's future beyond this season has been a hot topic of discussion.

The 36-year-old Portuguese forward appears set to exit Juventus after three seasons in Turin, despite being contracted for another year.

Ronaldo has been linked with former club Real Madrid and a switch to the United States, but there may be another option.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO IN UTD-JUVE SWAP DEAL

Manchester United want to sign Cristiano Ronaldo this off-season and would consider a swap deal with Juventus for Paul Pogba, according to Calciomercato.

Ronaldo played for United from 2003 to 2009 in the earlier part of his career, making almost 300 appearances for the Red Devils before his blockbuster move to Real Madrid.

Pogba, who spent time at Juventus from 2012 to 2016, has also been the subject of transfer speculation.

Juventus have this week been linked with a mega swap deal with United as they look for a transfer shake-up this off-season.

ROUND-UP

- The Independent reports Harry Kane's preference, if he was to leave Tottenham, is to remain in England and join either United or Manchester City.

- Juve forward Paulo Dybala has attracted interest from Premier League pair United and Chelsea, claims Tuttosport.

- United are also keen on an off-season move for Madrid defender Raphael Varane, according to The Mail. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United have also been linked with Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla star Jules Kounde and Villarreal defender Pau Torres.

- The Daily Mail reports Bayern Munich are bullish they can sign Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland as Robert Lewandowski's heir if he remains in Germany for one more season amid widespread interest this upcoming off-season. Haaland has been heavily linked with City, United, Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira is wanted by Argentine giants Boca Juniors, reports TyC Sports. Torreira is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid.

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