Having been scrapped last year due to the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Ballon d'Or returns in 2021.

With Euro 2020 and the Copa America rescheduled for this year, the stars of Europe and South America have the chance to use those tournaments as a springboard towards claiming the game's top individual prize.

Following club seasons either laden with trophies or padded with statistical achievements – or, in some cases, a bit of both – a few elite-level performances could make the difference in the race to win France Football's famous award.

Stats Perform has chosen a shortlist of 14 players who could make themselves Ballon d'Or favourites should they sparkle over the next month...

 

Karim Benzema

Remarkably, Karim Benzema failed to win a trophy with Real Madrid despite registering 30 goals and nine assists in 46 games in all competitions.

That form did bring his international exile to an end, though, and if he keeps it up for France over the coming month, a Ballon d'Or challenge is not out of the question.

Kevin De Bruyne

A second successive PFA Players' Player of the Year award for Kevin De Bruyne came after another standout season for Manchester City in which he won the Premier League and EFL Cup.

Had Pep Guardiola's men finally got their hands on the Champions League trophy, the Ballon d'Or might be De Bruyne's already. Leading Belgium to Euros glory would probably do the job.

Ruben Dias

The other prime candidate for City's player of the season, Ruben Dias was a colossal performer at the heart of their defence after joining from Benfica, winning the Premier League's Player of the Season award.

Defenders' difficulties winning big individual prizes are well documented, and the last to lift the Ballon d'Or – Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 – did so after leading Italy to the World Cup.

Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes was heartbroken to lose the Europa League final on penalties as his wait for a trophy with Manchester United goes on.

However, a combined 46 direct goal involvements – the most of any Premier League player – means individual glory could be on the cards should Fernandes and Portugal shine.

Phil Foden

The PFA Young Player of the Year winner, Phil Foden blossomed in 2020-21 from prodigious talent to integral player for both City and England.

His Ballon d'Or chances are probably slimmer than those of a couple of his City team-mates, but long-awaited success for the Three Lions could put him right in the mix.

Harry Kane

Another star performer in 2020-21 to end the season empty-handed, Harry Kane finished top for goals (23) and assists (14) in the Premier League despite Tottenham finishing seventh.

Winner of the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, Kane is England's undisputed star going into Euro 2020 and has every chance of topping the scoring charts again.

N'Golo Kante

Arguably the popular choice for the award, N'Golo Kante won the Champions League with Chelsea after being named man of the match in both legs of the semi-final and the final against City.

France are most observers' favourites to win the Euros and, if they do, Kante will surely be facing short odds to win the ultimate individual trophy – even if it's one in which he has little interest.

Robert Lewandowski

It's widely accepted that, had the award been handed out last year, it would have gone to Robert Lewandowksi, the man whose 55 goals in 47 games delivered Bayern the treble.

How do you follow that? Well, he scored 41 times in the Bundesliga alone in 2020-21, breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old single-season record. Winning the Euros with Poland might be a stretch, but finishing as top goalscorer is certainly achievable.

Romelu Lukaku

The best player in Serie A as Inter ended an 11-year wait to win the title, Romelu Lukaku enjoyed the best season of his career, with 41 direct goal involvements in 44 appearances.

With eight goals in his past nine games for Belgium, the 28-year-old could well be the man to fire Roberto Martinez's side to glory, which would make him very hard to overlook.

Kylian Mbappe

Paris Saint-Germain lost their Ligue 1 title to Lille and could not reach back-to-back Champions League finals, which seems incredible given Kylian Mbappe managed 42 goals and 11 assists in just 47 appearances.

Departing Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick this year said there was no question Mbappe would win the Ballon d'Or one day. The Euros could be his ticket to glory in 2021.

Lionel Messi

The winner of the previous award in 2019 – the sixth of his astonishing career – Lionel Messi amazingly plundered 28 goals and had nine assists for Barcelona from January 1 onwards.

It wasn't enough to win Barca the LaLiga title, but it does put him right in the mix. If he can finally win the Copa America with Argentina, Ballon d'Or number seven may well follow.

Neymar

Even Neymar would admit he has only an outside chance of winning this year's Ballon d'Or, his 17 goals and eight assists in 2020-21 a modest return for the world's most expensive footballer.

He typically produces in a Brazil shirt, though, and winning the Copa America would propel him right back into the mix for the individual prize he supposedly craves above all others.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Juventus may have lost their grip on Serie A, but Cristiano Ronaldo still finished as top goalscorer (with 29), and they won the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia.

Ronaldo won his fourth of five Ballons d'Or after Portugal triumphed at Euro 2016, and there's little doubt he would be vying for a sixth if they defend that trophy.

Luis Suarez

Discarded by Barcelona for being past his usefulness, Luis Suarez responded with 21 goals in 32 games to propel Atletico Madrid to a first league title since 2013-14.

Should Uruguay upset the odds at the Copa America, you can bet Suarez will be in the running for the Ballon d'Or. Quite what Barca fans would make of that is hard to say.

Manchester City's ambitions are showing no end after missing out on the Champions League title.

City have been linked with star England pair Harry Kane and Jack Grealish to further bolster the Premier League champions.

But the price tags on the duo from Tottenham and Aston Villa may be their stumbling blocks.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SALE TO FUND KANE AND GREALISH MOVES

Manchester City will offload several fringe players to raise £70million in order to fund their moves for Tottenham star Harry Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims the Daily Mail.

With Sergio Aguero departed, City manager Pep Guardiola wants a frontline striker and those surplus to requirements will reportedly be let go.

First-team players Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez all have admirers and could move on.

But also fringe talent like Yangel Herrera, Ivan Ilic, Jack Harrison, Pedro Porro and Lukas Nmecha, who have had loan spells elsewhere, could be cashed in.

Bernardo Silva has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid in exchange for Saul Niguez, while Juventus are reportedly eyeing Gundogan.

 

ROUND-UP

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are both keen on Inter's Achraf Hakimi and have lodged €60m (£52m) offers, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Inter's asking price may be higher, while Chelsea may utilise Emerson Palmieri or Andreas Christensen as part of a swap deal.

- Bild says Borussia Dortmund will sell Jadon Sancho to United if they receive a suitable offer by the end of July. Sancho has long been tipped to swap Dortmund for United.

- Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin is being linked with LaLiga champions Atletico and Real Betis by CBS Sport, while Sport have also claimed Juve are interested in the Spaniard, utilising Aaron Ramsey in a swap deal.

Liverpool are looking to replace Georginio Wijnaldum, lining up Roma skipper Lorenzo Pellegrini, according to Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are ready this month to step up their bid to sign Jesse Lingard permanently from Manchester United after his excellent loan spell.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Arsenal are set to finalise the details on a new contract for young talent Emile Smith Rowe.

Crystal Palace are closed to appointing former Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager to replace Roy Hodgson, claims The Telegraph.

Chelsea won the Champions League last month but they are not sitting still.

Thomas Tuchel is determined to strengthen his attack as he seeks to dethrone Premier League champions Manchester City in 2021-22.

Erling Haaland is reportedly Chelsea's number one target.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA WANT HAALAND

Chelsea are "working intensely" on a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to the Telegraph.

Haaland has been linked with Real MadridManchester CityBarcelonaParis Saint-GermainManchester UnitedJuventusLiverpoolChelsea and Bayern Munich.

Tottenham's Harry Kane and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku have emerged as options for Chelsea, though the Champions League winners appear set on Haaland.

 

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PSG are poised to sign Italy international goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma on a free transfer, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. Out of contract at Milan, Donnarumma was also linked with Juve and Barca.

- The Times says United are moving closer to reaching an agreement with Dortmund for Jadon Sancho. The England international was heavily tipped to move to Old Trafford ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

City are chasing Spurs star Kane and Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, per ESPN. Pep Guardiola's side are willing to buy both if they are able to do so. Kane and Grealish have also been linked with Manchester neighbours United.

Atletico Madrid have offered Saul Niguez to City in exchange for Bernardo Silva, according to the Times. Unsettled at LaLiga champions Atletico, Saul has also reportedly caught the attention of United, Chelsea and Bayern.

- The Daily Mail claims Brighton and Hove Albion are looking to keep England international defender Ben White by demanding £50million amid interest from clubs such as United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Milan are eyeing Chelsea trio Olivier Giroud, Fikayo Tomori and Hakim Ziyech, claims the Gazzetta dello Sport. Ziyech has also been linked with Napoli.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter are hopeful of re-signing Nicolo Barella and Atletico Madrid target Lautaro Martinez by the end of the off-season.

- Juventus are interested in Roma veteran Edin Dzeko and are ready to offer a two-year deal, reports Corriere dello Sport.

Rio Ferdinand has questioned Gareth Southgate's decision to include Harry Maguire in England's Euro 2020 squad and says Marcus Rashford should not be considered for a starting spot.

Maguire was this week named as part of England's final 26-man squad for the tournament, despite missing Manchester United's final five games of the season – including the Europa League final loss to Villarreal – with ankle ligament damage.

He has yet to take part in training since linking up with his Three Lions team-mates, with Southgate admitting on Tuesday he is unsure if the defender will be ready for the Group D opener against Croatia on June 13.

With fears Maguire may not be fit enough to play any part in the group phase, former United centre-back Ferdinand does not believe Maguire should have been selected at the expense of another defender.

"Harry is important from set-pieces, as he showed at the World Cup. But I have to be honest, I wouldn't take players that are 50 per cent fit," said Ferdinand, who was speaking to Stats Perform on behalf of Heineken, an official UEFA Euro 2020 partner. 

"If I'm worried about a player being able to make 90 minutes, I wouldn't take them. Too much energy goes into talking about it and worrying about it, that it takes the focus off what you are there for as a team."

Who to play alongside John Stones in the heart of defence should Maguire fail to win his fitness battle is not the only big selection call Southgate has to make ahead of Euro 2020 getting under way next week.

The England boss is spoiled for choice in the final third, with Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all battling for starting spots alongside captain Harry Kane.

Rashford has scored four goals in his last five appearances for England, but he struggled with a niggling injury issue towards the end of last season and Ferdinand would hold off from using the versatile forward until later in the tournament.

"If you're looking at form, I think Marcus probably doesn't deserve to start," Ferdinand said. "I think of the players around him in that position, Sancho and Foden should be picked in terms of form.

"I don't know much about Gareth's relationship with them players and what they've done in the past for him, and his confidence in certain players. Also, tactically how the game looks, who he is going to play. 

"In terms of form, I think he's scored one in nine or 10 games at the end of the season [for United]. I think he's a bit fatigued and I think he's been carrying a few injuries. I'd like to see him recuperating in this little period of time off, and then come into it fresh."

Of those eight players vying for a starting role in the final third, Aston Villa playmaker Grealish and Borussia Dortmund's Sancho lead the way in terms of big chances created in the league during the 2020-21 campaign with 14 each.

Despite missing 12 matches, Grealish was by far and away the most fouled player in the Premier League last season (110 fouls won), while his 2.68 dribbles completed per 90 minutes was bettered by just six players to have played at least 20 times.

Only Belgium (40) scored more goals than England's 37 in qualifying for Euro 2020 and Ferdinand is particularly excited by the attacking options available to choose from.

"In terms of wide players, we must have some of the biggest talent," he said. "We've got Foden, Sterling, Rashford, Grealish, Sancho, and Mount can play there as well – so six of the most talented, impactful players that are playing at the moment. 

"You look at Sancho, over the last three years has got 30 goal involvements every year, which is astounding for a kid who had been 21 and under. 

"Jack Grealish has been one of the hardest to combat players in the Premier League when he's fit. Phil Foden is deciding games in Champions League knockout stages, for one so young, and Man City are dominating in midfield. 

"It's crazy. You've also got Sterling, with what he's done over the last three years, his trophy haul that he's building at the moment is up there with the best. Those young players, it's mouthwatering."

While a number of positions are up for debate, it is certain that captain Kane – who topped the scoring charts in qualifying – will lead the line for the Three Lions.

Kane won his third Golden Boot after scoring 23 times in 2020-21, becoming the third player after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer to achieve such a feat.

He also set up 14 goals to become just the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

The Tottenham striker's future is a hot topic of debate heading into the tournament after recently admitting he is at a "crossroads" in his career, but Ferdinand does not expect that to have any sort of impact on his performances.

"It happens to the best players," he said. "These players we're talking about with speculation, like Sancho and Kane, they have this every day of the week. This is normal for them, they are just in a tournament, that's the only difference.

"I think Harry has shown he enjoys wearing the armband. He enjoys the responsibility, some players grow with it. This tournament, I'd like to see that."

 

Ferdinand was speaking as part of Heineken's 'Enjoy the Rivalry' campaign, which encourages fans to watch Euro 2020 matches alongside their rivals.

The United legend was pranked by fellow former pro Robbie Savage as part of the initiative, culminating in the ex-England international having his portrait draped in a flag of rivals Wales.

"I was a bit surprised, I've got to be honest," he said. "I was probably being a bit too polite because there were two young ladies in front of me and I didn't want to be... well I saw the Welsh flag and I thought what are these people playing at?

"They don't understand the rivalry that we have with Wales and all of a sudden they drape me in a Welsh flag. It was weird.

"I think 'finally together again to be rivals', is a perfect strapline. I think everyone's waited for this opportunity, to have some sort of rivalry with teams, with people, with individuals."

Is Cristiano Ronaldo's time in Turin coming to an end?

Juventus reportedly feel the end could be nigh.

Paris Saint-Germain are waiting in the wings…

 

TOP STORY –  RONALDO HEADING FOR EXIT?

Juventus are convinced Cristiano Ronaldo is considering his future with the Serie A giants, according to Goal.

Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Juve amid growing speculation, with Diario AS reporting Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with the superstar.

Juve and Ronaldo – also linked with his former clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid – reportedly met on Thursday following the return of head coach Massimiliano Allegri, who has replaced Andrea Pirlo.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester City are the team most interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane, says Fabrizio Romano. Kane is reportedly looking to leave Spurs and the England striker has been linked with Premier League champions City, United, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona. City are eyeing a replacement for Barca recruit Sergio Aguero, with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and Eintracht Frankfurt forward Andre Silva also targets.

Tottenham are in talks with Son Heung-min over a contract extension, reports Romano.

- BBC Sport claims Alisson is set to hold contract talks with Liverpool. The Brazil international goalkeeper's current deal does not expire until 2024.

- Football Insider reports Everton's Richarlison is on Madrid's radar following the appointment of ex-Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti. Madrid have long been tipped to prise Kylian Mbappe from PSG.

Juventus and PSG are in the race to sign Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. City and Inter have also been linked.

Memphis Depay is on the verge of completing a move to Barca on a three-year deal, per Diario Sport. Depay is available on a free transfer, with his Lyon contract expiring.

- The Yorkshire Evening Post claims Liverpool are among the teams interested in Leeds United's Raphinha. Manchester United and City are also believed to be among the possible suitors.

Son Heung-min is not worried about talk linking Harry Kane with a move away from Tottenham and is instead focusing on his own future with the Premier League club.

Kane admitted last month he feels at a "crossroads" in his career following another trophyless campaign with Tottenham, where he has spent the past 17 years.

The prolific striker, who is currently away on international duty with England, has been linked with Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Son formed an almost-telepathic partnership with Kane last term, the pair assisting one another 14 times to surpass Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton's long-standing record of 13 for Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95.

However, amid growing rumours over his attack partner's future, South Korea international Son is not getting caught up in the transfer talk.

"Nothing is decided. Rather than worrying about his transfer, I am doing my best at Tottenham," Son told reporters when asked about Kane's next move.

"I want to focus on the national team and Tottenham. Maybe Kane is doing the same. He is busy preparing for the Euros with England."

The intense speculation regarding Kane's future comes on the back of a campaign that saw him earn his third Golden Boot after scoring 23 times in 2020-21.  

The 27-year-old is only the third player – after Thierry Henry (four) and Shearer – to achieve such a feat.

Kane also set up 14 goals to become just the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

Those 37 goals involvements were his most across a league campaign in his career, while his 14 assists doubled a previous high of seven in 2016-17.

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain star is a long-term target of Real Madrid.

With speculation over Cristiano Ronaldo's future, the two players could impact each other.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, RONALDO IN AT PSG?

Kylian Mbappe potentially joining Real Madrid could see Cristiano Ronaldo swap Juventus for Paris Saint-Germain, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Mbappe has long been linked with LaLiga giants Madrid and a blockbuster move could impact Juve superstar Ronaldo.

If Ronaldo – also linked with Madrid and Manchester United – joins Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG, it could see Mauro Icardi leave Paris and land at Juve.

 

ROUND-UP

- Former Inter and Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte is in talks with Tottenham over a move to London, reports Gazzetta dello Sport and other media outlets. Conte is available after leaving Inter following their Serie A-winning season. Spurs have been linked with ex-coach and current PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino, but they appear keen on Conte. Tottenham are also reportedly close to appointing former Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici.

- The Telegraph claims Manchester City are willing to sell Bernardo Silva. It comes as City look to raise funds to bolster their attack after Sergio Aguero's exit amid strong links with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Tottenham forward Harry Kane. Eintracht Frankfurt's Andre Silva has also emerged as a target, though Atletico Madrid and United have also been linked.

- Miralem Pjanic could return to Italy via former club Juve or Inter, says Sport. Pjanic has struggled for game time under Ronald Koeman at Barca.

United remain interested in signing Atletico and England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to the Daily Mail. The Red Devils are also working on a deal for Madrid defender Raphael Varane and are still targeting Jadon Sancho of Dortmund.

- Football Insider claims Celtic have finalised a deal for Yokohama F.Marinos boss Ange Postecoglou to take charge of the Scottish giants.

Manchester City have four players in the running for the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Men's Footballer of the Year award.

City cruised to Premier League success this term, with Ruben Dias, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne all key to their triumph.

All four have been named on the PFA's six-man shortlist for the prize, which is voted for by the players.

Portugal centre-back Dias – winner of the Football Writers' Association gong – is seen as arguably the favourite after a stellar first campaign at City following his move from Benfica last year.

While City only conceded three goals fewer (32) than in 2019-20 (35) when they finished second to Liverpool, many have compared his quick adaptation and influence to that of Virgil van Dijk after he joined the Reds from Southampton.

Admirers have also credited Dias' steadying of the City backline with playing a major role in the improvement of John Stones alongside him, the England international finally reaching a level many suspected he may never find despite his potential.

For a while earlier in the season Gundogan looked as though he would probably be the frontrunner for end-of-season prizes, as he embarked on a remarkable scoring run that ultimately helped him finish with 13 in 28 Premier League appearances – more than double his previous best for a domestic season.

Only Bruno Fernandes (18) can better that among midfielders, though nine of his were penalties – none of Gundogan's were, with the German deployed in a more advanced role as City largely played without an out-and-out striker.

De Bruyne's nomination did not come as a surprise either, the Belgian having laid on 12 assists this term, a haul bettered by only Harry Kane (14).

Foden is the youngest of the six nominees and it is likely to be the first of many for him, with the 21-year-old having a hand in 14 goals (nine scored, five assisted) in what was a breakthrough season – his 1,611 minutes played not far off double the 892 he managed in 2019-20.

Fernandes and Kane are the two non-City representatives up for the award – they are also the two players with the most goal involvements in the 2020-21 season.

Tottenham star Kane took home the Golden Boot thanks to his tally of 23, while he also topped the assist charts.

Fernandes netted 18 times for Manchester United and equalled De Bruyne's assists haul of 12.

They are two of just nine players across the top five European leagues to reach double figures for assists and goals in 2020-21.

Foden is also up for the Young Player of the Year award with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Greenwood, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka – an all-English shortlist.

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has made a statement of intent ahead of a big transfer window for the Premier League champions, insisting it is "time to send a message".

City's hopes of a treble were dashed on Saturday, as Pep Guardiola's side lost to Chelsea in the club's first appearance in a Champions League final.

Speculation has been rife in recent weeks that City will be in the market for a striker ahead of next season.

Sergio Aguero's departure on a free transfer – the Argentine having joined Barcelona – has left City, who played with a false nine to great success for most of 2020-21, with just one recognised senior striker in Gabriel Jesus.

Erling Haaland and Harry Kane have been the primary targets reported, while Inter's Romelu Lukaku has also been linked with Guardiola previously declaring he wants to bring in a 30-goal per season forward. Kylian Mbappe, meanwhile, has still not penned a new contract with Paris Saint-Germain.

Premier League golden boot winner Kane finished the season with 28 goals and 16 assists in all competitions for Tottenham, averaging a strike every 135 minutes.

Haaland, meanwhile, netted 41 times in as many appearances for Borussia Dortmund. The 20-year-old sensation averaged a goal every 86 minutes, scoring three penalties – Kane netted four times from the spot.

Kane's creativity may make him a more attractive proposition to Guardiola, however. The England captain led the way in the Premier League for assists (14) from 49 chances created. 

And in an interview on City's official media channels released on Tuesday, Al Mubarak hinted at some major movement, stating his confidence in finding the right replacement for Aguero.

"One of the things I've learned over the years is, you need to constantly bring in talent into the team, refresh and particularly when you are at a high level and when you're on the top," he said.

"Having won the league, it is not the time to sit back and be content. That would be your biggest mistake.

"This is the time to send a strong message, that there's no contentment, that you're not satisfied with just winning the league.

"That's great, but you want to win it again and you are committed and you are bringing more talent that is going to compete, not for the squad, but for the starting XI.

"We lose a very important legend in Sergio Aguero. They are very hard shoes to fill, but I'm confident that we will find the right player to fill those shoes."

Reports emerged this week suggesting a number of City players may agitate for a move this off-season, with some rumoured to be unhappy with their roles this season.

Al Mubarak believes firmly in the world class quality at Guardiola's disposal, however, and noted City's business would prioritise adding more high-calibre players, rather than stacking the squad further.

"There are other areas within the group, within the team that obviously need investment. Not too many. It's not about numbers, it's about quality," he continued.

"I think the squad is a phenomenal squad. You don't win the Premier League and you don't reach the Champions League final if you don't have an incredible squad and we have that.

"We will bring quality into the squad in a couple of key positions."

Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge?

Lukaku's first taste of English football was with Chelsea between 2011-14.

He could be set for a Chelsea return amid doubts over his Inter future.

 

TOP STORY – TUCHEL WANTS LUKAKU

Chelsea are planning a move for Inter star Romelu Lukaku, according to The Guardian.

Lukaku, who joined the Blues in 2011 before leaving in 2014, is reportedly considering his future after Antonio Conte quit Inter amid the Serie A champions' troubled financial situation.

Inter quartet Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez, Achraf Hakimi – linked with Paris Saint-Germain – and Alessandro Bastoni could be sold by the Nerazzurri.

Chelsea are now eyeing a reunion with Real Madrid and Barcelona target Lukaku after winning the Champions League, while Tottenham's Harry Kane and Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland are also on their radar.

 

ROUND-UP

Gianluigi Donnarumma is prepared to join Juventus on a worse contract than he rejected at Milan, reports Corriere dello Sport. Donnarumma is available on a free transfer and the Italy international has been linked with Barca, Manchester United and PSG. Mundo Deportivo says Barca consider Donnarumma a good market opportunity.

- Bild reports Florian Neuhaus will remain at Borussia Monchengladbach, despite interest from Bayern Munich.

Olivier Giroud will join Milan as a free agent from Chelsea, claims Calciomercato. Giroud is available after his contract was not renewed at Stamford Bridge.

- Lille's Christophe Galtier is the latest candidate to replace head coach Simone Inzaghi at Lazio, joining Maurizio Sarri, Andre Villas-Boas and Sinisa Mihajlovic, according to Tuttomercato. Inzaghi is poised to succeed Conte at Inter.

Is David de Gea's time at Manchester United coming to an end?

De Gea has spent a decade with the Red Devils but his form has been scrutinised in recent years.

A swap involving Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak could solve United's problems.

 

TOP STORY – DE GEA OUT, OBLAK IN?

Manchester United are lining up a swap deal involving star goalkeeper David de Gea and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak, according to The Sun.

De Gea's future has been uncertain since Dean Henderson signed a long-term contract extension at United, who remain uncertain about the pair.

Spain international De Gea joined United from Atletico in 2011 and the Red Devils are prepared to offer the LaLiga giants a reunion in exchange for star Oblak.

 

ROUND-UP

- TV3 reports Barcelona have offered Lionel Messi a new contract. Messi's current deal is due to expire on June 30 and the superstar captain has been linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

Saul Niguez is adamant he wants to leave LaLiga champions Atletico and Juventus lead the race to sign the Spaniard, claims Marca. United – long-term admirers – Bayern Munich and PSG are also interested.

- PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, says the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo. Zidane has announced his departure. Former Inter boss Antonio Conte, Castilla coach and club great Raul and Xabi Alonso – currently in charge of Real Sociedad's reserve side – are also on the list. Pochettino has also been linked with a sensational return to Tottenham.

Barca have held talks regarding goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, according to Fabrizio Romano. Donnarumma's Milan contract is due to expire and his departure is already confirmed. After talking with agent Mino Raiola, Barca are set to decide whether to sign Donnarumma, who has also been linked with Juve and United.

- Premier League champions City are looking to smash their transfer record to bring in £100million-rated Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, reports the Daily Mail. City are also interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane – a target for rivals United, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

- The Telegraph says United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to sign a new three-year contract in Manchester. Solskjaer guided United to a second-placed finish in the Premier League, while the club were stunned by Villarreal in the Europa League final this season.

Barca are close to completing free transfers for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon star Memphis Depay, according to Mundo Deportivo. Ronald Koeman's men are also eyeing City's free agent pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

- FootMercato reports PSG have made an approach for star Milan full-back Theo Hernandez.

Chelsea and Tottenham both have strong interest in Borussia Monchengladbach attacker Jonas Hofmann, claims Sport1.

Former Tottenham favourite Jurgen Klinsmann has sympathy for Harry Kane as he attempts to plot a move away from the club.

Widespread reports claim Kane is looking for a way out of Spurs after an underwhelming 2020-21 campaign for the team. Tottenham – who sacked Jose Mourinho late in the season – finished seventh in the Premier League, only enough for Europa Conference League qualification, and lost the EFL Cup final.

This was despite Kane scoring 23 goals and providing 14 assists, making him only the second player in the Premier League era to lead the division in both categories (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

Indeed, only Klinsmann, in 1994-95, had previously provided 20 goals and 10 assists for Spurs in a single season in the competition.

Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have all been suggested as possible destinations for the three-time Golden Boot winner, and Klinsmann, while keen for Kane to stay, understands his motivations.

The German compared the situation to his own departure in 1995, when he left seventh-placed Tottenham for Bayern Munich and scored 31 goals in 65 Bundesliga games across two seasons.

"I feel sympathy for both sides, especially Harry, who has been the flag of the club for so many years," Klinsmann told Sky Sports. "He's done so much for them.

"The market is out there for him. Teams would grab him right away and they'd probably put down a lot of money.

"I personally hope he stays at Spurs but I also can understand him. I was in that situation in 1995. I badly wanted silverware and it worked out that way. I went to Bayern Munch and won the UEFA Cup and German championship.

"If Harry leaves then you have a problem because maybe Son [Heung-min] says: 'Hang on, I might move on as well then.'

"The most important path now is to sit down with Harry, discuss the situation and lay out how he can continue his career with Spurs, how the roster will look for next season to make the squad even stronger.

"The quality is there. It needs a bit of fixing up but the key figure in all this is definitely Harry Kane. You've got to do everything possible to keep him."

Klinsmann, who later returned to White Hart Lane and ended his Premier League career with 29 goals – one every 169 minutes – in 56 games, went into coaching following his retirement.

He has led Germany, Bayern, the United States and Hertha Berlin but is now available as Tottenham look for their next manager.

"Definitely you'd entertain it, no doubt," Klinsmann said when asked if he would consider a call from Spurs. "[Daniel Levy] has my number, he can call me anytime. Spurs is something that you'd always consider.

"I'm always in touch and doing stuff with Spurs is always something special. I had the best time of my life there during my two spells.

"In the football world, things happen so fast. I never thought I'd coach Germany or the United States, so you have to have an open mind. You have to always think about new challenges, so why not Spurs?"

Gareth Southgate does not expect any transfer involving Harry Kane to progress during Euro 2020.

England captain Kane was named in Southgate's provisional 33-man Three Lions squad on Tuesday.

The Tottenham striker is expected to be the subject of intense speculation this close-season after widespread reports revealed his desire to leave the club.

Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea are among the clubs said to be interested in Kane, who finished 2020-21 as the Premier League's top goalscorer.

Kane earned his third Golden Boot, becoming only the third player – after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer – to achieve such a feat.

The 27-year-old, the leading marksman at the 2018 World Cup, had 23 goals and 14 assists, making him only the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts in both categories (also Andy Cole in 1993-94).

Clubs keen to sign Kane may have to wait until after the European Championship finals, though, according to Southgate.

"I don't ever need to have a conversation with Harry about focus or professioanlism," Southgate said.

"He's got one goal with us and that's to win a European Championship. That's his goal at this time.

"What's going on at his club is between him and Spurs. He's made statements, but in many ways that's out of the way now. It's very unlikely that we have transfers while we're away.

"It's different in September, often on that [transfer] deadline.

"I'm realistic about those things, we're not going to stop phones ringing, we can't control conversations in private. But most moves are done after tournaments or in the week before.

"I would expect anything across the board with our players to be after the tournament."

Kane's 37 goal involvements were his most across a league season in his career, his 14 assists doubling a previous high of seven in 2016-17.

That improvement has come as a result of Kane dropping into a deeper role, a position Southgate has always believed him capable of playing.

"Harry has always had that capability as a player, always been able to play at nine or 10," the manager said.

"It's clearly more pronounced this year in terms of the numbers, with certain games like at Southampton where he created four for Son [Heung-min]. There are clear patterns that have created goals for them.

"He's always done that for us. For a centre-forward with such an outstanding goalscoring record, he's got a fantastic range of passing as well."

The Premier League race is run. A season that has seemingly been a never-ending story finally concluded on Sunday with the focus centred on the top four.

Chelsea lost but still ended up securing Champions League qualification, Liverpool won to astonishingly end an eventful campaign in third and poor Leicester City missed out after a crazy game at home to Tottenham as Harry Kane clinched the Golden Boot.

West Ham finish above Spurs in sixth to make the Europa League, while Manchester United ruined Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Wolves. There was yet another goal for Joe Willock, while David McGoldrick made sure he will no doubt be the subject of a pub quiz question in years to come.

Manchester City had clinched the title long ago, but a home game with Everton offered a chance for their returning fans to say farewell to a club legend.


Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea: Tuchel slips up on the road as Blues lose

Thomas Tuchel's side held on to their top-four spot thanks to the result at the King Power Stadium, with the German coach able to celebrate despite suffering his first away defeat in the league since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.

Bertrand Traore scored the opener for Villa, in the process becoming the 25th different player to manage a Premier League goal against Chelsea having previously been at the Blues. Anwar El Ghazi doubled the lead with the 100th penalty scored in the competition this season, the first time a campaign has reached triple figures.

On the subject of penalties, Jorginho finished with the most goals for Chelsea in the league with seven – all from the spot. It is the lowest number for the club’s leading scorer in a top-flight season since 1974-75, when Ian Hutchinson also managed seven.

Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace: Mane helps Reds prosper at Anfield

Jurgen Klopp has now finished in the top four at the end of the five full seasons he has had in charge of the Reds, who handed their former boss Roy Hodgson a 2-0 defeat in his Palace swansong.

Sadio Mane got both goals, the second with the aid of a huge deflection. He has scored 10 or more in all seven of his Premier League campaigns, including his two with Southampton before moving to Anfield in June 2016.

Liverpool won their meetings with Palace by a combined 9-0 score; only against Ipswich in 2001-02 (11-0) have they enjoyed a bigger aggregate margin across two Premier League games in the same season. While he had no need to conjure up another last-gasp goal this time, Alisson Becker did manage to keep a clean sheet on his 100th league outing for Klopp's side.

Leicester City 2-4 Tottenham: Foxes run into trouble against Bale and Kane

Leicester spent 242 days in the Premier League's top four this term, only to end the final one sitting in fifth place. For a second successive year, a late loss of form has cost them a Champions League place.

A sixth defeat in 13 matches did not appear on the cards when they twice led against Spurs thanks to Jamie Vardy, who scored two penalties in a match for a third time this season. However, a Kasper Schmeichel own goal – his second in the top tier – levelled matters, with the visitors then moving clear in a frantic finish.

Gareth Bale scored twice late on in potentially his final game for Tottenham, but will Kane still be there when the transfer window shuts? The striker's 41st-minute effort lifted him to 23 for this term as he became only the third player to win the Golden Boot award as many as three times, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer (also three).

Aguero at the double, Willock matches Shearer (yes, really)

In scoring twice after coming on as a substitute, Aguero ended his City career as he had started it – with a brace off the bench (he had done just the same on debut against Swansea City, way back in August 2011). His double takes his final tally to 184 Premier League goals, in the process surpassing Wayne Rooney (183) for the most by a player for a single club.

As for Manchester United, a 2-1 triumph at Wolves sees them become just the fourth side to remain unbeaten away across an entire top-tier season, a feat most recently achieved by Arsenal in 2003-04. The current-day Gunners beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0, though still finished eighth for a second year in a row.

At Fulham, Willock was on target once more in a 2-0 win for Newcastle United. It means the on-loan Arsenal midfielder becomes only the second Newcastle player to score in seven consecutive Premier League appearances, after hall-of-famer Shearer in 1996.

West Ham secured a top-six finish for only the second time in the Premier League era thanks to a 3-0 win over a Southampton team who do not prosper on their travels – they ended up losing 10 of their 11 away fixtures in 2021, during which they leaked 33 goals and scored just seven times.

There was a win for Leeds United at home to West Brom, taking them up to 59 points – the most by a promoted club since Ipswich Town (66) in 2000-01. Sheffield United finished bottom, but at least signed off on a winning note. Striker McGoldrick grabbed the only goal against Burnley to earn his own place in history: it was the 1,000th scored in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season.

Ryan Mason conceded it is "disappointing" Tottenham will only play in the new Europa Conference League next season. 

Spurs secured seventh place in the Premier League on Sunday with a 4-2 win over Leicester City, who agonisingly missed out on a top-four spot by one point. 

Jamie Vardy put the Foxes ahead from the penalty spot, but Harry Kane – in what could prove to be his final game for the club amid rumours he wants to leave – pulled Spurs level before the interval with a goal that secured this season's Golden Boot ahead of Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. 

Another Vardy spot-kick restored Leicester's lead, but there was late heartache for the hosts as a Kasper Schmeichel own goal and two strikes from Gareth Bale sealed victory for Spurs. 

The result meant Tottenham finished a point ahead of north London rivals Arsenal and will compete in the inaugural Europa Conference League – a competition designed to give clubs from countries that struggle to secure spots in the Champions League and Europa League a taste of European competition. 

While interim manager Mason acknowledged it is important for Tottenham to have European football, he said the Europa Conference League is not where they want to be.

"First of all, we wanted to be in the Champions League," he told a media conference. 

"I've said all along, it's disappointing where we are at this moment. It's very disappointing for the football club. 

"It's important we're in Europe; not the European competition we'd want to be in. Wednesday night was a massive dent for us [a 2-1 home defeat to Aston Villa], I said that after the game.

"The most important thing to do today was to come and win at a very, very difficult place. And I thought we came here and not only won, I thought we deservedly won. 

"I felt like we were the better team. I felt like we were in control, and like I said, we had some real moments of quality.

"So, it was important we finished today with a win, for many different reasons. Yes, it's not the competition we want to be in next year, but it's a European competition, and we will respect it, that's for sure."

A 23rd goal of the season sealed a third Golden Boot for Kane, the England captain becoming only the third player to win the award as many as three times, after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer (three). 

With 14 assists to his name, Kane also recorded his best-ever Premier League season for goal involvements (37), overtaking his 36 from 2016-17 – and became just the second player to lead the way for both goals and assists in the competition, after Andy Cole in 1993-94.

Mason – who played with Kane at Spurs before moving to Hull City in 2016 – was pleased his former team-mate topped the scoring charts again and described him as the Premier League's best player. 

"Harry Kane deservedly won the Golden Boot today," he added. "Like I said, all along I think he's been the best player in the Premier League. Most goals and most assists, it says it all.

"I feel very honoured to have played with him and we had some amazing experiences together, coming through the ranks, and I've been very fortunate in these past five weeks to have coached him, to have managed him and he turned up again today.

"He scored important goals in important moments and showed moments of brilliance. So, from an individual point of view I'm very pleased Harry has got another Golden Boot to add to the collection."

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