Kylian Mbappe is widely expected to join Real Madrid as a free agent at the end of this season.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has stalled on signing a new deal with the French giants.

Madrid have long courted Mbappe with a view to signing him, but PSG remain determined to keep their man.

TOP STORY – PSG RE-ENTER TALKS WITH MBAPPE

PSG have launched a determined attempt to retain Mbappe after making the France frontman a new contract offer, claims Telefoot.

The Parisians are said to have offered Mbappe a massive two-year deal to fight off attempts to woo him by Real Madrid.

Mbappe is reported to be unwilling to make a decision yet and could let his contract expire. It runs only until the end of June.

 

ROUND-UP

- La Repubblica reports Arsenal are closing in on a deal for Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic, with Fiorentina said to be considering accepting a £58million offer from the Gunners.

- Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano claims both Barcelona and Bayern Munich are keen to sign Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen at the season's end.

- Manchester United are interested in Inter head coach Simone Inzaghi taking over as their manager next season, according to Corriere dello Sport.

- Southampton have contacted Manchester United about signing goalkeeper Dean Henderson, reports Football Insider. Saints also want to sign Chelsea's Armando Broja permanently but will stiff competition, claims Sky Sports.

- Lille are pursuing former Newcastle United winger Hatem Ben Arfa, reports L'Equipe. Ben Arfa left Bordeaux at the end of last season.

Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies is unable to take part in training due to a mild inflammation of the heart.

The 21-year-old has not featured for Bayern since December 17 after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

Davies had been due to return to action for the German champions this week, but routine medical checks discovered another medical issue.

Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann confirmed at a news conference previewing Saturday's trip to Cologne that the Canada international will be out of action indefinitely.

"When we did our follow-up examination we do with every player that has had COVID-19, we detected signs of mild myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle," he said.

"He'll sit out training until further notice. He won't be available, also in the coming weeks. 

"The ultrasound shows this myocarditis isn't so dramatic, but it's a sign of myocarditis. Still, it has to heal and that will definitely take some time."

Davies has started 22 of Bayern's 27 matches this season – only Manuel Neuer (25), Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski (both 26) have started more regularly.

He has made 16 appearances in the Bundesliga this term and leads the way in the division for dribbles attempted (97) and completed (61).

Davies' lay-off is also bad news for Canada as they have two crucial World Cup qualifiers at the end of this month.

While the left-back will sit out Bayern's clash with Cologne, Bayern will welcome back six others from last week's shock 2-1 home loss to Borussia Monchengladbach.

But Nagelsmann will not take any risks when it comes to the fitness of Manuel Neuer, Dayot Upamecano, Omar Richards, Leroy Sane, Corentin Tolisso and Tanguy Nianzou 

"None of them are 100 per cent fit," he said. "Some of them had coronavirus symptoms. They're back in the squad, but none except Manu are ready to start or play for long.

Asked about Tolisso's availability, Nagelsmann said: "He had no symptoms and has come back the fittest. We have to see, but he'll be involved."

Leon Goretzka, Kingsley Coman and Lucas Hernandez will miss out this weekend, while Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bouna Sarr are on Africa Cup of Nations duties.

Bayern have won each of their last eight Bundesliga games against Cologne and are unbeaten against them in their last 15 league games (W14 D1).

Steffen Baumgart's sixth-placed side have won their last three league games, however, which is as many as they managed in the previous 14 combined.

There is nothing quite like an individual football award to create debate and there is sure to be plenty when one of Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski or Mohamed Salah is named this year's men's FIFA Best winner on January 17.

While team trophies will always be the end game for most players, the few who are good enough to be in contention for individual accolades put such importance on being recognised that they have been known to move clubs specifically to improve their chances of collecting silverware in a tuxedo rather than just in a dirty kit. Neymar, anyone?

The Ballon d'Or is broadly seen as football's version of the Oscars, but the annual FIFA Best award is also becoming one of the more sought-after honours and the latest men and women's winners will be crowned on Monday at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich.

The awards will be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website.

Stats Perform has taken a look at the data of the three nominees for the men's prize to try and decipher who is likeliest to come away with the prize.

The Best... at scoring goals

It is a harsh truth that scoring goals will almost always win over stopping them when it comes to the top awards, so it makes sense that Messi, Lewandowski and Salah are the nominees for this year.

The trio scored 129 goals between them in 145 collective games across 2021, which includes 21 overall in this season's Champions League group stage, over seven per cent of the total amount scored in the competition (297).

However, there is no doubt which of the star trio stood out for finding the net time and time again.

Lewandowski, last year's winner, was frankly ridiculous in front of goal, netting 43 in the Bundesliga in a calendar year, breaking Gerd Muller's record from 1972, and 58 in all competitions in just 47 outings.

Salah had a mixed year at Liverpool, with the Reds' poor form at the start of 2021 almost costing them a place in the Premier League's top four. However, thanks in part to the Egypt forwards' 15 goals in 28 games between the turn of the year and end of the campaign, Liverpool reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finished third in the league, ahead of European champions Chelsea.

His nomination is mostly down to his form in the second half of the year, though, with Salah scoring 22 goals in 25 games in all competitions. He scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player, and is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, well ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota in second place on 10.

For Messi, it is probably the other way round. The legendary Argentine has managed only six goals in 16 appearances since his sensational move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season.

However, his 28 goals in 29 games for Barca between New Year's Day and his emotional departure was Messi at his effervescent best, even if the rest of the team was lagging behind him, and he followed that up with four at the Copa America for Argentina.

Consistency and underlying numbers

While it has been mostly impressive from all three, Lewandowski's consistency puts him above the other two, with a 55.17 big chance conversion percentage across 2021, compared to Messi's 45.95 and Salah's 45.90, and an overall shot conversion rate of 28.02 against Salah's 19.37 and Messi's 15.74.

Unsurprisingly, this also led to a significantly better minutes per goal rate, with Lewandowski averaging a goal roughly every 68 minutes, while Messi bagged one every 116 minutes and Salah every 122 minutes.

While all three scored plenty of penalties that could potentially skew the numbers, Lewandowski again dominated in expected goals (xG) without spot kicks, with a 2021 xG excluding penalties of 43.86, compared with Salah's 29.6 and Messi's 24.37.

Not all scorers have to be selfish

Of course, while goals make the headlines, someone has to create them or nothing will happen. This is where Salah and Messi start to claw it back.

Lewandowski managed seven assists in 2021 in all competitions and created 61 chances for team-mates. Quite respectable for any number nine.

However, despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being "selfish", Salah recorded 11 assists and created 88 chances, while Messi had 13 assists to his name and created exactly 100 opportunities.

In terms of big chances (which Opta define as an opportunity from which a player would be expected to score), it is a bit closer, with Lewandowski crafting 16, Salah 18 and Messi 24, though with the Pole usually playing higher up the pitch it makes sense that the opportunities he creates would come in a dangerous area.

Show us your medals

While it is not entirely without merit, it does seem a bit counter-intuitive to base how much credit an individual player deserves on what his team has achieved. There are plenty of world-class players who did not always play in teams capable of winning much silverware, just like there have been numerous average players who were simply members of squads that won a lot, whether they had much to do with it or not.

It usually comes into consideration when the big awards are handed out though and is likely the ultimate reason that Messi pipped Lewandowski to last year's Ballon d'Or.

Messi helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey last season and then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with his nine direct goal involvements helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament. He still managed to score three goals in as many games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

He did win the Bundesliga title again with Bayern, but after claiming a remarkable treble the year before, it may rather harshly look like a bit of a regression.

Unfortunately for Salah, this is probably where his chance to finish above the other two falls down, as arguably proven by his astonishingly low seventh place in the Ballon d'Or voting.

The 29-year-old did not have an opportunity for national team success in 2021, and he is currently aiming to help Egypt recover from an opening game defeat to Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, but he also did not win any trophies at club level.

It is possibly a bit too early for Salah, but his form has been electric this season and if he can continue it through the rest of the campaign, ideally for Liverpool collecting a trophy or two along the way, he will certainly be in the conversation for next year's honours.

The question will be the same as it was for the Ballon d'Or; will those with voting power be more impressed by Lewandowski's goalscoring exploits, or by Messi's final six months at Barca followed by a successful Copa America, or could Salah's explosive form in the second half of the year see him sneak it?

Whatever the outcome, you would be hard-pressed to argue that the trio are not currently the three best footballers on the planet, though if you take a look on social media when the winner is announced, you'll find plenty of people willing to try.

Mikel Arteta may be confident that his side can still recruit any player in the world, but Arsenal may have to wait if they are to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The in-demand Serbia international is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Europe's top five leagues this term and is wanted by an array of clubs across the continent.

While a January move has been touted, however, Fiorentina appear to be playing hardball when it comes to the future of the 21-year-old striker.


TOP STORY – FIORENTINA DEMANDS PREVENTING ARSENAL'S VLAHOVIC PURSUIT

Arsenal are reportedly willing to match Fiorentina's €75million (£62.62m) asking price for Vlahovic, which would make him the second-most expensive player in their history.

However, The Independent reports that the Serie A side want the majority of that money paid upfront, whereas Arsenal intend to spread the cost over the next four years.

The Gunners may therefore have to wait until the end of the campaign, at which point Vlahovic will have a year to run on his contract, before renegotiating with Fiorentina.

 


ROUND-UP

– It is shaping up to be a busy conclusion to the January window for Arsenal as Goal reports that the Premier League side have made contact with Juventus over a loan move for midfielder Arthur Melo, while Leicester City's Youri Tielemans is another potential target.

– L'Equipe claims that Paul Pogba remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain as he nears the end of his Manchester United contract. The midfielder has not featured since November due to injury and is not expected to return until next month.

– According to The Mail, Man Utd are eyeing a move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey as an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is said to be a big fan of the right-sided player's versatility.

– Sticking with Rangnick and United, the German coach has put Ajax boss Erik ten Hag's name forward as the best option to replace him when his interim spell at Old Trafford ends in June. That is according to Le Parisien, with the French outlet also suggesting PSG's Mauricio Pochettino still remains in the frame.

– Ambitious Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier this month and more players look set to follow. Tuttomercato suggests that Roma's Chris Smalling could be lured to St James' Park as the Magpies desperately attempt to strengthen at centre-back.

Freiburg's Nico Schlotterbeck is attracting plenty of interest this month, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among those being linked. Bayern appear to be leading that particular race if reports from Spain are anything to go by, with the defender supposedly keen to stay in the Bundesliga.

Kingsley Coman signed a new long-term deal with Bayern Munich on Wednesday, keeping the winger at the Allianz Arena until the end of the 2026-27 campaign.

The France international has been one of Bayern's most consistent performers across his six-and-a-half years with the club, during which time he has made 217 appearances, even though he has struggled with injuries.

Coman wrote his name in club folklore with the winner in the 2019-20 Champions League final against former side Paris Saint-Germain, one of 17 trophies he has won with Bayern.

Following confirmation of Coman's new contract, Stats Perform picks out some of the standout numbers from the 25-year-old's time in Bavaria.

 

– Only Manuel Neuer (255), David Alaba (259), Joshua Kimmich (280), Thomas Muller (304) and Robert Lewandowski (306) have made more appearances in all competition's than Coman's 217 since he joined Bayern in 2015.

– The PSG academy product has been directly involved in 88 goals across that period – 46 of his own and 42 assists – a tally bettered by only Kimmich (102), Muller (215) and Lewandowski (346) among Bayern players.

– The 37 chances created by Coman following a take-on since the start of 2015-16 is more than twice as many as any other player in Bundesliga. Julian Brandt ranks second with 18.

– Coman equalled the Bundesliga record by assisting five successive goals for his side in December 2020, something previously only achieved by RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku earlier the same year, since Opta began recording such data.

– That included three assists in a single game against Leipzig, which he also managed in 2016 against Werder Bremen. Only Franck Ribery has recorded three assists in a single game on more occasions for Bayern (four).

– Coman provided at least one assist in four straight Bundesliga matches – six assists in total – between November and December 2020. Only team-mate Muller has ever had a longer-such run for Bayern (seven games this season).

Erling Haaland is the hottest property in football right now.

It is expected that Haaland will leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of this season although that is not confirmed.

The 21-year-old Norwegian forward is being chased by several big clubs.

TOP STORY – HAALAND SET TO DECIDE ON CLUB FUTURE

AS claims that Haaland is set to make a definitive call on his future as several top clubs circle for his signature.

Borussia Dortmund are set to meet with Haaland's representatives next week to discuss his plans according to Marca.

Haaland is being pursued by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City.

ROUND-UP

- Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has reached out to Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele about a potential switch to Italy, claims Telefoot. Mourinho worked with Ndombele during his time at Spurs.

- Football Insider reports PSG midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has no interest in a move to cashed-up Newcastle United having been linked with his former club.

- The Telegraph reports that Burnley's New Zealand international forward Chris Wood will undergo a medical with Newcastle on Wednesday ahead of a move to the Magpies.

- Tottenham have contacted Jesse Lingard's representatives to discuss a free agency move in the off-season from Manchester United, claims Football London.

- Sevilla's interest in signing Manchester United's Anthony Martial is fading given the Red Devils' demands for the French forward, reports Marca.

- The Mail claims that Marcus Rashford and Manchester United are set to open talks before the end of the season on a new contract.

Romelu Lukaku cast his Chelsea future in doubt with a recent interview – and the unsettled striker may now be offered a route out of Stamford Bridge by Paris Saint-Germain.

The 28-year-old revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea and questioned boss Thomas Tuchel's tactics, leading to him being dropped for the 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Lukaku has returned for the Blues' two matches since, but doubts remain over whether he will still be a Chelsea player come the start of next season.

TOP STORY – LUKAKU LINED UP AS MBAPPE REPLACEMENT?

PSG look certain to lose Kylian Mbappe at the end of the campaign as the Real Madrid target fast approaches the end of his contract at the Parc des Princes.

The Ligue 1 giants are on the lookout for possible replacements and, according to El Nacional, Lukaku is one of those being considered by the club's wealthy backers.

The report suggests PSG are willing to pay €90million (£75.1m) to persuade Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to part ways with the club's all-time record signing.

Lukaku, who apologised for giving the explosive interview in December, has scored eight goals in 20 appearances since returning to west London five months ago.

ROUND-UP

– Tottenham have decided to sell Steven Bergwijn this month amid interest from several clubs, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ajax are said to be among the sides to have already made an offer for the Netherlands international.

– Anthony Martial wants to leave Manchester United and has been touted as a possible target for Barcelona. But Spanish outlet Sport claims that, while Barca are eager to strengthen in the final third, Martial is not on their radar in this window.

– Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is wanted by a number of Europe's heavyweight clubs. According to Foot Mercato, PSG are prepared to pay more than the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, but the latter remains the Germany international's preferred choice.

– A rumoured target for Chelsea and Bayern, Sergino Dest's Barcelona future may become clearer in the coming days. El Nacional claims the defender's representatives are set to hold talks with the Catalan giants.

– After being jeered off the pitch by his own supporters in Tottenham's 3-1 FA Cup win over Morecambe on Sunday, The Athletic reports that club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele is hopeful of ending his tumultuous spell in north London this month.

– The Athletic also reports Aston Villa are now the favourites to sign Everton full-back Lucas Digne, despite previous interest from Chelsea. Newcastle United have also been linked, but Digne is apparently not considering a move to the relegation-threatened side.

Bayern Munich were beaten for just the third time in the Bundesliga this season as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Borussia Monchengladbach as German football returned from its mid-season break.

First-half goals from Florian Neuhaus and Stefan Lainer cancelled out Robert Lewandowski's opener at the Allianz Arena, and Julian Nagelsmann's men were unable to find a way back into the game in the second period.

The defending champions had been hit by numerous positive COVID-19 cases in the build-up and were missing several key players including Manuel Neuer, Dayot Upamecano, Kingsley Coman, Alphonso Davies and Leroy Sane.

However, in a game behind closed doors with the snow falling in Munich, a nonetheless strong Bayern starting line-up was unable to avenge their 5-0 humbling by Gladbach in the DFB-Pokal this season.

Yann Sommer made two big saves early on from Serge Gnabry and Lewandowski, but the Poland star was never likely to be denied for long and he had Bayern in front on 18 minutes when he collected a Thomas Muller pass, before turning his marker and firing in at Sommer's near post with the usual precise venom.

Entirely against the run of play, Gladbach were level just nine minutes later. With the first real attack from the visitors, a cross was poorly cleared by Joshua Kimmich and the alert Neuhaus fired the ball in under Sven Ulreich.

That sparked Adi Hutter's team into life and they were ahead just after the half-hour mark when a Luca Netz corner was headed in well by Lainer.

Gladbach were the ones pressing for another as they started to dominate the hosts, with Neuhaus and Breel Embolo both coming close to getting a third, before Lewandowski hit the post from a tight angle just before half-time.

Sommer saved well from Jamal Musiala early in the second half while Lewandowski hit the woodwork again, but despite a late push for an equaliser, the league leaders were kept at bay.

Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah have been announced as the three finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Player Award.

The attacking trio were named on a shortlist for the prize in November that also included Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Karim Benzema, Jorginho and N'Golo Kante.

Lewandowski, Messi and Salah are the final nominees chosen following a public vote that closed on December 10. Jennifer Hermoso, Sam Kerr and Alexia Putellas are the finalists for the women's award for 2021.

The final three up for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award, confirmed on Thursday, are Pep Guardiola, Roberto Mancini and Thomas Tuchel. Lluis Cortes, Emma Hayes and Sarina Wiegman are the finalists for the women's coaching prize.

The player awards will now be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website. The winners will be announced on January 17.

Lewandowski, who won the 2020 prize after firing Bayern Munich to the treble, scored 41 times in the Bundesliga last season to break Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals in a single season. He ended 2021 with 48 goals in all competitions.

Messi, who won the 2021 Ballon d'Or to extend his record to seven trophies, helped Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey in what proved to be his final season at the club. He then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with four goals and five assists helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Liverpool star Salah scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player. He is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota on 10.

Alphonso Davies has become the latest Bayern Munich player to test positive for coronavirus.

Bayern revealed on Wednesday that Canada left-back Davies had contracted COVID-19

It comes a day after Leroy Sane and Dayot Upamecano tested positive as the Bundesliga leaders prepare to face Borussia Monchengladbach in their first game after the winter break on Friday.

Lucas Hernandez and Tanguy Nianzou also returned positive tests this week.

Manuel Neuer, Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso and Omar Richards were also unable to report for training after they tested positive. 

Bayern's assistant coach Dino Toppmoller is another absent due to coronavirus.

The Bavarian giants won seven consecutive games prior to the break and hold a nine-point lead over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga.

Barcelona want to sign Alvaro Morata and it would appear the Juventus striker wishes to join Xavi's team.

After bringing in Ferran Torres, Xavi would reportedly like to add experienced Spain international Morata to his ranks at Camp Nou.

Morata has scored five Serie A goals for the Bianconeri this season.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS WANT MORATA REPLACEMENT BEFORE AUTHORISING BARCA SWITCH

According to Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona target Morata has informed Juve of his desire to leave the club in January.

Massimiliano Allegri met with the 29-year-old on Monday, with the upshot being that Juve will only grant Morata his move should they be able to find a replacement.

Paris Saint-Germain striker Mauro Icardi is seen as a possible option for the Bianconeri, who are having a poor season in Serie A, sitting 12 points off the summit.

However, further complicating matters in Morata's potential switch to Barca is that he is on loan at Juve from Atletico Madrid, who would need to authorise any transfer.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland , who has been holidaying in Marbella, has told people close to him that he sees his next destination being Spain, with Real Madrid and Barcelona on high alert. That is according to Marca.

- Sky Sports believe that Romelu Lukaku will stay at Chelsea after holding talks with Thomas Tuchel following his comments in an interview with Sky Italia, which resulted in the striker missing Sunday's clash with Liverpool.

- The Daily Mail, citing Gianluca Di Marzio, claim that Barcelona are monitoring the situation of Lukaku's Chelsea team-mate Andreas Christensen, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Another Chelsea defender into the last six months of his deal is Antonio Rudiger, with Sky Sports reporting Real Madrid , Bayern Munich , PSG and Juve have all entered talks with the Germany international's representatives. 

- According to The Daily Mail, Newcastle United are aiming to sign Zenit striker Sardar Azmoun. The Iran forward has agreed personal terms with Ligue 1 club Lyon, but the French side may be unable to match Zenit's asking price for the 27-year-old.

Lucas Hernandez and Tanguy Nianzou have tested positive for COVID-19, Bayern Munich have confirmed.

The club said in a statement that the pair have entered isolation and are "both well".

They will miss Bayern's Bundesliga clash with Borussia Monchengladbach on Friday – the champions' first match after the mid-season break.

France international Hernandez has made 19 appearances across all competitions this season, while teenager Nianzou has featured in 13 games, although just four of those have been starts.

Bayern also revealed that Leroy Sane, Dayot Upamecano and Josip Stanisic returned inconclusive results.

Julian Nagelsmann's side resume Bundesliga action with a nine-point advantage over Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table.

Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Cuisance has joined Venezia for a reported €4.5million fee.

Cuisance, 22, impressed in his debut season with Borussia Monchengladbach, in which he became their youngest player to start a Bundesliga match, before making the switch to Bayern in August 2019.

However, he failed to make his mark on the Bundesliga champions, playing just 333 minutes across 11 appearances in the top flight.

A loan spell at Marseille last season then offered the midfielder more regular game time as he managed 23 outings in Ligue 1, along with featuring six times in the Champions League.

Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann has now opted to allow Cuisance to move on as the former France youth international leaves for Venezia on a three-and-a-half-year contract.

Upon his departure, Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said: We would like to thank Michael Cuisance for his commitment in the FC Bayern shirt and wish him all the best for his future at Venezia FC."

Venezia sit 16th in Serie A, six points clear of the relegation zone, ahead of their visit to strugglers Salernitana on Thursday.

Romelu Lukaku has revealed he rejected a move to Manchester City in 2020 and only joined Chelsea a year later after Inter decided against offering him a new contract.

The Belgium international returned to Stamford Bridge in August for a reported club-record fee of £97.5million (€115m) on the back of firing Inter to a first Scudetto in 11 years.

Speaking in September, Lukaku said he asked Inter boss Simone Inzaghi to grant his return to Chelsea in the close-season after the Premier League side's first two offers had been rejected.

He has scored seven goals in 18 appearances since re-joining the Blues in a first half to the campaign that has been hampered by injuries and illness.

In an interview with Sky Sport Italia conducted earlier in December and first aired on Thursday, Lukaku admitted he is "not happy" with his situation at Chelsea and outlined his desire to return to San Siro in future.

In the second part of the interview released on Friday, Lukaku insisted he never initially wanted to depart Inter and even turned down interest from City out of loyalty.

"At the end of the first year with Inter, I turned down an offer from Manchester City, which was higher than Chelsea's this summer," the ex-Manchester United striker said.

"I did it because it had only been a year, it wasn't the right time to leave and I didn't want to. I wanted to do something good for Inter, because I have to say that Inter saved my career to some extent.

"I was in a deep hole at Manchester United, things weren't going well. I was a big investment for Inter but we did great things together. So, the second year after we won the Scudetto, I went to speak with club chiefs and asked for a new contract.

"I told myself, I'm 28 years old, my family feels great in Milan, I still have my flat there, my mother and my son could come and live there and we would all feel comfortable. But they didn't want to extend my contract, the possibility wasn't there.

"It was tough for me to accept, because in my head I told myself that I would be able to do a few more years in Milan."

Amid Inter's much-publicised financial difficulties, Lukaku was linked with an array of Europe's top clubs after an impressive second season in Italy.

The Anderlecht academy product was directly involved in 35 goals in 36 league games last season – 24 of his own and 11 assists – which was the most of any player in Serie A.

In doing so, he became the first player to score at least 20 goals and reach double figures for assists in a Serie A season since Opta started to collect such data in 2004-05.

Between his Inter debut in August 2019 and his final game in April 2021, Lukaku played a direct part in 76 goals in 87 games for the Nerazzurri in all competitions.

Across that period, only Cristiano Ronaldo (79), Kylian Mbappe (82), Lionel Messi (96) and Robert Lewandowski (108) were involved in more goals among players from Europe's top five leagues.

Despite interest from elsewhere, Lukaku's priority was to remain an Inter player for the 2021-22 campaign.

"In my opinion, there are three absolute top teams in football – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Every player dreams of playing for one of these teams one day," he said.

"So, I thought if I ever had that possibility, I would sign a new contract with Inter and then go there. But it didn't happen, so I told myself that there is only one team where I could possibly see myself – Chelsea.

"I wasn't thinking about going there, but at one point they came in for me and I asked Inzaghi to leave. The fact that they didn't try to make me sign a new contract bothered me a bit, it hurt me even. If Inter offered me a new contract, I would have stayed 100 per cent. That goes without saying.

"Also, the fact that I hadn't won anything in England in eight years there bothered me a lot. So, it was hard to turn down the chance to come back here with the team I have supported since I was a child."

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.