Palmeiras midfielder Danilo has been granted his first call-up to the Brazil squad, while Tite selected Fabinho for the upcoming friendlies in June despite injury concerns over the Liverpool star.

Brazil announced a 27-man squad on Wednesday for friendlies against Korea Republic, Japan and South American rivals Argentina next month.

Fabinho is one of 13 Premier League players called up, despite the midfielder limping off in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Tuesday after suffering a muscle injury.

Reports suggest Fabinho will miss the upcoming FA Cup final against Chelsea, along with league games against Wolves and Southampton, as he faces a race against the clock to feature in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28 as Liverpool hunt an unprecedented quadruple.

Fellow midfielder Danilo was the other notable inclusion by Tite, with the Palmeiras man earning his maiden call-up after impressing at the Club World Cup, where his side were defeated in the final by Chelsea.

On Danilo's inclusion, Tite told reporters: "Danilo is one of those players that we have been following, we are always attentive to players that are emerging. 

"Danilo played well at the Club World Cup in games that we followed live and made visits to the club. We were looking at a series of things on how he performs so we could justify his selection."

Fabinho's Liverpool team-mate Alisson also made the list, along with fellow goalkeeper Ederson, while Manchester United duo Alex Telles and Fred were named alongside Arsenal's Gabriel Magalhaes.

Newcastle United's Bruno Guimaraes was again selected by Tite and will look to add to his six caps, but there was no room for Magpies team-mate Joelinton, who has impressed since dropping into midfield under Eddie Howe.

Casemiro could partner Guimaraes in the middle alongside Lyon's Lucas Paqueta, while Weverton and Guilherme Arana were the only other two players to feature from Brazil's domestic league.

Tite will have vast experience in the backline to call upon as well, with the likes of Alex Sandro, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos to select from.

Up top, Gabriel Jesus will look to carry over his scoring form from his exploits with Manchester City, with Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Real Madrid's Champions League hero Rodrygo part of a star-studded attacking line-up.

The upcoming friendlies are part of Brazil's penultimate preparations for the 2022 World Cup, where Tite's side are placed in Group G alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.

Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City), Weverton (Palmeiras); Alex Sandro (Juventus), Alex Telles (Manchester United), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Danilo (Juventus), Guilherme Arana (Atletico-MG), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Gabriel Magalhaes (Arsenal), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain) and Thiago Silva (Chelsea); Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle United), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Danilo (Palmeiras), Fabinho (Liverpool), Fred (Manchester United), Lucas Paqueta (Lyon) and Philippe Coutinho (Aston Villa); Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal), Matheus Cunha (Atletico Madrid), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphinha (Leeds), Richarlison (Everton), Rodrygo (Real Madrid) and Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid).

River Plate left it late to claim their third successive win in this season's Copa Libertadores group stage, defeating Colo Colo 2-1 in Santiago.

Matias Suarez and Esequiel Barco scored in the final 10 minutes for the four-time Libertadores winners in an overall cagey 90 minutes at the Monumental David Arellano.

Los Albos had an apparent penalty waved away in first-half injury time, when Paulo Diaz brought down Juan Lucero as he was cutting back onto his right foot to shoot.

Diaz would be prominent again with Matias Suarez breaking the deadlock for River in the 83rd minute, though. The Chile international and former Colo Colo player quickly won back possession before playing through Marcelo Herrera, whose cross was not dealt with, and Suarez was on hand to punish.

Returning from injury, Esequiel Barco played a full match and doubled the margin in the 88th minute, rifling home from just outside the penalty area, before Lucero scored a consolation in the second minute of injury time.

Palmeiras make it three from three

Palmeiras took control of Group A and secured their third win of this season's group stage, with the 2021 Libertadores winners defeating Emelec 3-1 in Guayaquil.

The Verdao have not struggled for goals despite a middling start to the Serie A season, and they opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 19th minute. 

Following Mayke's cross-field pass, Rony headed in Wesley's first-time delivery back across the penalty area, with the ball not touching the ground in that sequence.

Gabriel Veron made it 2-0 six minutes later, cutting through the Emelec defence in transition, before calmly slotting home past Pedro Ortiz. Joao Rojas scored for the hosts in the 61st, but Breno Lopes eventually restored the two-goal margin.

Pikachu gets two assists as Fortaleza relieve pressure

In the other Group F result, Fortaleza claimed their first-ever win in the Libertadores, defeating Alianza Lima 2-1 at home on Wednesday.

After two respective defeats to begin their Serie A and Libertadores campaigns, Silvio Romero put Fortaleza ahead five minutes after the restart.

Alianza claimed an equaliser in the 70th minute with Pablo Lavandeira getting on the end of Yordi Vilchez's cross, but Yago Pikachu got his second assist of the night, setting Hercules up for the winner nine minutes later.

Thomas Tuchel felt Chelsea were deserving Club World Cup winners and has challenged his "relentless" side to keep adding to their growing collection of titles in the remainder of the season.

Kai Havertz converted an extra-time penalty to secure a 2-1 win against Copa Libertadores holders Palmeiras, as Chelsea added success in FIFA's showpiece club tournament to the Champions League and Super Cup titles they lifted last year.

Tuchel, who missed his team's semi-final win over Al Hilal after testing positive for COVID-19 but was able to travel to the United Arab Emirates for the final, was full of praise for his charges after the contest.

While admitting Chelsea needed a little luck to avoid a shoot-out, the beaming former Paris Saint-German boss considered this a deserved victory.

"You need luck to score late on, but we were relentless, and we did not stop trying", Tuchel told Channel 4, having seen Romelu Lukaku's opener cancelled out by Raphael Veiga's spot-kick.

"We did not give in. We had the lead, then lost it, but never stopped. It was deserved, but it's also lucky when you score so late.

"The penalty [from Havertz] did not look nervous but for sure he was. 

"You cannot not be nervous in this situation. We trusted the statistics, and I'm happy for him."

Kai Havertz converted a penalty deep into extra time to clinch Club World Cup glory for Chelsea with a 2-1 win over Palmeiras.

The game appeared destined for a penalty shoot-out after a drab extra period, but the Blues got the opportunity to go in front again and they took it.

Romelu Lukaku initially put Chelsea ahead with an excellent header just before the hour, but Palmeiras levelled nine minutes later through a Raphael Veiga spot-kick.

Havertz then kept his cool from the spot in the 117th minute as Chelsea were crowned world champions for the first time.

Chelsea are eager to fly out Thomas Tuchel to the Club World Cup final, as Jorginho said the head coach could make all the difference.

Tuchel tested positive for COVID-19 in the lead-up to the trip to the United Arab Emirates, with Chelsea announcing that blow to their preparations last Saturday.

The Champions League winners beat Al-Hilal 1-0 in the semi-finals without Tuchel on the touchline, thanks to a Romelu Lukaku goal, and now they are preparing to face Palmeiras in the final.

Brazilian giants Palmeiras, holders of the Copa Libertadores, were 2-0 winners against Al Ahly and will present tough opposition for Chelsea.

Saturday's trophy match is one that Tuchel would want to attend, and Chelsea reportedly have a private jet on standby, but he needs negative test results before he can be cleared to travel to Abu Dhabi.

Asked about preparing for the game without Tuchel, Jorginho said: "Of course it's different. His energy helps a lot, but he's not here now and the staff is trying to do their best. We can feel that.

"We feel sorry Thomas is not here with us, but he's involved all the time, in touch with the staff and team. We can feel the staff, all of them, are doing their best."

It would help, however, if Tuchel can be present in person, rather than making plans from afar.

"Of course it gives you more," Jorginho said. "There's more energy in the changing room. It'll be really important for us if he could be here. That's what we hope but at the moment we just don't know. We can hope."

Chelsea assistant boss Zsolt Low, set to lead the team if Tuchel cannot make the trip, added: "We still hope he can come and enjoy the group and the final as soon as possible.

"He is following the rules and getting tested. There is a lot of time. Any test he does could be negative. We hope this happens in the next hours. Thomas absolutely thinks he can be there, and the team and the whole staff want him to come for the final.

"We hope he can come, but if he cannot, we are still well prepared. We have had a lot of meetings. We had a video conference after the first game analysing it, and seeing what we can do better and what problems we had. We are absolutely clear what happened in the first game and what we have to do better in the second game."

Chelsea have yet to decide whether goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, back from helping Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations, should come back into the team in place of Kepa Arrizabalaga.

"We have to take this decision tonight or latest tomorrow," said Low. "We talk to Thomas about it, we talk with the goalkeeper coaches, and we will make the final decision tomorrow, some hours before the game.

"Whoever sits on the bench has nothing to be worried or sad about. Both goalkeepers have had big performances in the last weeks, and that's why it's just a decision for this game."

Jorginho will be targeting another major trophy, after his Champions League win with Chelsea and Euro 2020 triumph with Italy last year.

"It's an important trophy. It's February. It's so much. We really want it. We're not thinking about the Premier League right now, we're thinking about tomorrow," Jorginho said. "That's the important thing right now."

This will be the fourth Club World Cup final between an English and a Brazilian side, making it the most commonly contested final by teams from two specific nations.

Brazilian sides have won three of their four games against English opposition at the tournament, the exception being a 1-0 defeat for Flamengo against Liverpool in the 2019 final.

Chelsea lost to Corinthians in the 2012 final, and Palmeiras are bidding to become the fifth Brazilian winners of the competition.

Palmeiras certainly head into the final in strong form, having achieved a 10-game unbeaten run across all competitions (W7 D3), with their last defeat coming back in November against Fortaleza in the league.

Raphael Veiga and Dudu recorded a goal and an assist each as Palmeiras eased past Al Ahly 2-0 in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals at Al Nahyan Stadium.

After losing to Tigres UANL in last year's semi-final before being beaten on penalties by Al Ahly in the third-place game, it will be a relief to Palmeiras to have reached the final.

Veiga opened the scoring six minutes before half-time, and turned provider for Dudu to double the Copa Libertadores' champions lead early in the second half. Chelsea or Al-Hilal await Palmeiras.

Al Ahly were missing some key players, though started Egypt international Amr Al Soleya despite the midfielder playing an hour of the Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday.

He had two attempts during the first half but both came after Dudu had set Veiga away in the 39th minute, with the latter finishing well across Aly Lotfi.

Veiga returned the favour when he played in Dudu four minutes after the restart – the winger racing down the right before firing high into the net.

Another disappointed AFCON finalist, Hamdi Fathi, came on as part of a triple substitution following the second goal, and Al Ahly finally stepped up their intensity, having three times as many shots in the first 15 minutes of the second half (six) than they had in the entire first period.

Mohamed Sherif had the ball in the net in the 72nd minute when he followed up a shot that was spilled by Weverton, but it was disallowed for offside.

Salt was rubbed into Al Ahly wounds further with 10 minutes to go when VAR deemed Ayman Ashraf's reckless challenge on Rony worthy of a red card.

What does it mean? Palmeiras improve on last time out

It is a rare occurrence for the CONMEBOL representative to fail to make the Club World Cup final, so losing to Mexican side Tigres last year was a big blow for Palmeiras, as was only finishing fourth after defeat to Al Ahly.

Abel Ferreira's men always looked relatively comfortable here though, despite Al Ahly hitting the crossbar late on. Palmeiras are now the eighth different Brazilian side to reach the final of the Club World Cup, with Flamengo in 2019 the last team from the country to progress to the competition’s showcase.

Palmeiras on a roll

Palmeiras may have been expected to dominate their opponents with flair and skill, and in the first half they mostly did just that, but the second half was a solid example of keeping the opposition at arm's length to close out the win, ideal for knockout tournament football.

They are now unbeaten in their last 10 games across all competitions (W7 D3), since a 1-0 league defeat to Fortaleza back in November.

Another semi-final defeat for Al Ahly

Al Ahly are making their seventh appearance at the Club World Cup, but are yet to reach the final of the competition having now lost each of their previous four semi-final appearances (2006, 2012, 2021 and 2022).

What’s next?

Palmeiras will play the winner of Chelsea and Al-Hilal in Saturday's final, while Al Ahly will face the loser of that game in the third-place playoff earlier that same day.

Luis Suarez's future at Atletico Madrid is unclear with his contract to expire at the end of the season.

Suarez helped Atleti win LaLiga last term with 21 goals.

The Uruguayan joined Atletico from top-flight rivals Barcelona in 2020 on a two-year deal.

TOP STORY – SUAREZ WANTS GERRARD REUNION AT VILLA

Suarez wants a reunion with former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa, reports Gerard Romero.

The Atletico Madrid forward's contract expires at the end of this season and has been sounded out by numerous Brazilian clubs.

Suarez has had offers from Palmeiras, Corinthians and Atletico Mineiro but wants to link up with Gerrard who took over at Villa in January.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN claims Paris Saint-Germain have opened talks with Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Milan's Franck Kessie, as part of their effort to convince Kylian Mbappe to stay in the French capital amid interest from Real Madrid.

- Juventus have made an enquiry for Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria according to 90min as they prepare for Arthur Melo to join Arsenal .

- Arsenal's bid to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic looks to have hit a roadblock with the Serbian only interested in joining Juventus, reports the Mail.

- Milan want to bolster their backline and are interested in a loan deal for Tottenham's Japhet Tanganga, claims Fabrizio Romano.

- Leicester City and Newcastle United may rival Brentford to sign Inter's Christian Eriksen, reports the Times.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future is unclear having become frozen out.

The Gabon striker was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy last month and dropped by the club for disciplinary reasons and has not played since.

Aubameyang's future is a hot topic as the January transfer window opens.

TOP STORY - NEWCASTLE IN FOR JANUARY AUBA MOVE

Big-spending Newcastle have got in touch with Arsenal about a loan deal for outcast striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claims The Mirror.

The Magpies want to sign 32-year-old Aubameyang on loan for the remainder of the season.

Newcastle would also look to sign Aubameyang, who is away at the African Cup of Nations, on a £20million off-season permanent deal.

 

ROUND-UP

- Teenage US international Ricardo Pepi is on the verge of joining Bundesliga club Augsburg claims Fabrizio Di Romano. The 18-year-old netted 13 goals for Dallas in the 2021 MLS season and is set for a medical on Sunday.

- Eddie Nketiah is being pursued by Bayer Leverkusen on a free transfer from Arsenal when his contract expires at the end of this season, reports The Sun.

- Sport reports that Brazilian giants Palmeiras are not interested in signing forward Philippe Coutinho as Barcelona try to shop him around in January.

- Axel Tuanzebe will join Napoli on loan from Manchester United until the end of the season, claims the Manchester Evening News. Tuanzebe is currently on loan at Aston Villa.

- The Sun claims that Manchester United's pursuit of Declan Rice has been boosted by West Ham's recent slide outside the Premier League top four.

FIFA has announced that AS Pirae from Tahiti will replace Auckland City at the Club World Cup due to COVID-19 rules in New Zealand.

Auckland were set to participate at the 18th edition of FIFA's global tournament, which is due to take place in February in the United Arab Emirates.

Champions League winners Chelsea and Copa Libertadores holders Palmeiras are the headline teams as UEFA and CONMEBOL's respective entries, though FIFA has been forced into a late change with Pirae nominated as the OFC's representative following Auckland's withdrawal.

FIFA announced the decision on Friday in a statement that said the "delayed reopening of the borders in New Zealand due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic" as well as the reintroduction of quarantine protocols in the country had forced Auckland to "reluctantly withdraw".

Monterrey, Al Hilal, Al Ahly, as well as UAE champions, Al Jazira, make up the rest of the entrants for the tournament, which Bayern Munich won last season.

The annual tournament featuring the champions of six global confederations was originally scheduled for Japan in 2021, but COVID-19 concerns within the country forced the competition to be moved to the UAE last October.

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.

Barcelona's financial issues mean they need to get crafty in January transfer window.

The Catalans lost Lionel Messi during the off-season and have struggled this term.

Barca were bundled out of the Champions League this week but will be keen to rescue their season.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA PLOT RASHFORD SWOOP

Barcelona are planning to swoop for Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, according to El Nacional.

The stumbling block may be United's asking price for Rashford, but the Blaugrana believe they can prise him away based on opportunity.

Rashford has been in and out of United's starting line-up and Barca plan to offer him the chance to lead their attack.

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Georginio Wijnaldum could leave Paris Saint-Germain for Inter in January as part of a swap deal involving Marcelo Brozovic. The Croatia midfielder is out of contract at the end of this season.

Joao Felix could join Manchester City from Atletico Madrid, with his agent Jorge Mendes trying to engineer the switch, Calciomercato says.

Liverpool have an eye on Leeds United's Raphinha and West Ham's Jarrod Bowen ahead of the January transfer window, according to the Liverpool Echo.

Chelsea are considering a move for Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro, reports El Nacional.

- Brazilian giants Palmeiras want to sign Real Madrid full-back Marcelo, reports Mundo Deportivo. The former Brazil international's contract with Los Blancos expires at the end of this season.

Ajax and Juventus have their eyes on Bayern Munich teenager Kenan Yildiz, according to Fanatik.

Palmeiras head coach Abel Ferreira admits he is considering his future in the role despite lifting the Copa Libertadores with Saturday's 2-1 final victory over Flamengo.

The 42-year-old Portuguese cited the hectic schedule for Palmeiras, juggling competing in Brazil's top flight along with continental competitions.

Palmeiras have played eight times this month and will back up from Saturday's final with a Brasileiro Serie A fixture against Cuiaba on Tuesday.

Ferreira, who became the first European head coach to win the Copa Libertadores twice, said the schedule was "insane" and "inhuman".

"The calendar is insane, it is inhuman," Ferreira said at the post-game news conference. "For me, I have to do a lot of thinking. The club has already demonstrated its will, I am very grateful to the club.

I can't manage with this rhythm of game, rest, game. This is not for me. I am not able to do it. I can't be at my maximum capacity, not at my maximum strength, not at my maximum energy.

"I always need to rely on the players. It's inhuman what they do here. If they want to grow, they gave to give up the round trips in cups.

"We have to have space to be able to rest and play well. I will stop, reflect and do what is best for Palmeiras."

Ferreira took over as Palmeiras boss in October 2020, having previously led PAOK and Sporting Braga.

Palmeiras successfully defended their Copa Libertadores crown as they battled to a 2-1 extra-time win over Flamengo.

The Brazilian sides were both bidding for their third Libertadores title in Montevideo on Saturday, and it was Palmeiras who came out on top to become the first side to win the tournament in successive seasons since Boca Juniors did so in 2000 and 2001.

Palmeiras made a flying start, with Raphael Veiga scoring the earliest goal in a Libertadores final since 2008, but at the stadium where they won their maiden title in 1981, Flamengo's second-half dominance was rewarded when Gabriel Barbosa restored parity.

Having scored early in regulation time, Palmeiras repeated the feat in the additional period – substitute Deyverson proving their hero.

Veiga's fifth-minute opener was wonderfully worked, with Mayke getting to the byline and cutting it back for the onrushing midfielder to finish first time.

Aiming to repeat the feat of rivals Corinthians, who are still the only team to win the title while going undefeated in the current format of the tournament, 2019 champions Flamengo would then have equalised if not for the reactions of Weverton, who denied Giorgian de Arrascaeta from point-blank range.

After squandering a golden chance to head in from close range, Gabi, Flamengo's hero in 2019, atoned for his miss with a drilled strike in the 72nd minute, catching Weverton out at his near post with unerring accuracy, becoming the first player to score 11 goals in a Libertadores campaign.

Yet a lapse in concentration from Andreas Pereira cost Flamengo five minutes into extra time. Having replaced Veiga, Deyverson pounced on the Manchester United loanee's loose touch and squeezed a finish past Diego Alves to etch Palmeiras' name on the trophy.

Flamengo head coach Renato Gaucho is dreaming of Copa Libertadores glory as defending champions Palmeiras bid to become the first team in 20 years to retain the South American crown.

Montevideo is the scene for this year's all-Brazilian Libertadores final between 2019 winners Flamengo and titleholders Palmeiras on Saturday.

Uruguay's iconic Centenario stadium brings back good memories for two-time champions Flamengo, who trumped Chile's Cobreloa in 1981 for their first Libertadores trophy 40 years ago.

Flamengo remain undefeated in the 2021 edition. They will be aiming to repeat the feat of rivals Corinthians, who are still the only team to win the title while going undefeated in the current format of the tournament, following their 2012 achievement.

Speaking ahead of the decider, Renato – the record holder for most victories as a coach in Libertadores history (50) – told reporters on Friday: "The feeling is of a dream come true for having reached another Libertadores final, because it is for few coaches and I have that privilege working with Flamengo, in the same way as Abel [Ferreira] doing with Palmeiras.

"The feeling is that of having fulfilled my job leading a wonderful group in a club with so many fans and with an immense responsibility, but we are professionals and we are prepared for this.

"I hope that Flamengo gets their third cup, we know that we have a very strong team in front of us and they also want to be champion, but we have all done what it takes to be here, the managers, the coaching staff and the players, we know the importance of this match.

"We are two great teams with players at the level of the Brazilian national team, I am sure it will be a great game, well played because we are two teams that always go to the front looking for the goal and we both arrived with our merits. As I said, I think it is going to be a game with a lot of emotions."

Not since Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors in 2000 and 2001 has a team won back-to-back Libertadores trophies.

Palmeiras continue to flourish under Portuguese head coach Abel Ferreira – the club have only lost two of the 19 Libertadores games with the 42-year-old in the dugout, while they are seven games unbeaten having eliminated Atletico Mineiro in the semis.

Abel's Palmeiras have won 13 Libertadores match – the joint-second most of any coach in the club's tournament history, alongside Vanderlei Luxemburgo and only behind Felipao (24 wins in 44 games).

"Experience tells us how difficult it is to be consistently winning and after last year if they asked everyone from Palmeiras if they thought they would be twice in a row in the final of the Copa Libertadores they would have had many doubts," Abel, who is looking to become the first European coach to win two Libertadores titles, said in a pre-game news conference.

"Last year we reached the final because of the players and this year I infected the players to be here again. We climb the mountain because we have a very clear purpose from day one: to win the final.

"This is our purpose and we are here for merit, for a lot of effort and for the help of many people and above all because of the character, courage and capacity of our players."

The Copa Libertadores is a competition like no other, just look back at the 2018 final between bitter rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors.

The second leg of the all-Argentinean decider was sensationally played at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish capital three years ago after Boca's team bus was attacked by River supporters en route to El Monumental for the initially scheduled return encounter.

River eventually prevailed 5-3 on aggregate.

Fast forward to this week – Flamengo and titleholders Palmeiras will do battle at Uruguay's iconic Centenario stadium in Montevideo. Saturday's final is only the fifth decider to feature two teams from the same country in the tournament's history. Four of those fixtures have been all-Brazilian showdowns after Palmeiras trumped rivals Santos last season.

As Palmeiras bid to become the first team to retain the Libertadores crown in 20 years – Boca were the last to do so in 2001, star goalkeeper Weverton provided an insight into the emotion-fuelled competition, which was founded in 1960.

"Really, our side here is much more passion than reason," Brazil international Weverton – who has called Palmeiras home since 2018 – told Stats Perform as he explained what it means to play in the Libertadores decider. "I say that in Europe, people go watch a show, go to have fun, they go with their family to watch a show. The Brazilian football the families go to the stadium to watch your team win. He wants his club to win, and it doesn't matter what it takes. He doesn't go to the stadium to watch a match, have fun, and take his son to wave to his favourite player. No. He goes to the match so he can see his team winning. This is the big difference from our football.

"We always want to win. We are very competitive. Sometimes we do a match here that is… Abel [Ferreira] always says that those who lose will give food to people in need. So, we have three teams and the worst one has to pay. We get very competitive on that. Nobody wants to lose. Even if it is not that much money. It is competitive. Brazilian football is all about that. We don't know how to lose; we don't accept losing. Sometimes people say that we need to accept the defeat, but it is in our Brazilian blood to compete.

"So, when you talk about Libertadores, how is the atmosphere in a Libertadores match? It looks like a war. I shouldn't associate football and war, but Libertadores brings up that competitive atmosphere, a tough match. I think that is the style of Libertadores.

"We see the Champions League as a show, but Libertadores is not like that. When you play Libertadores, you are going to the battle. I think that is the difference between South American football, the Brazilian football, from European football."

This year's Libertadores final is the first in history to feature the winners of the past two tournaments – Flamengo conquered South America in 2019 before Palmeiras got their hands on the trophy thanks to Breno Lopes' 99th-minute winner last year.

Montevideo brings back good memories for two-time champions Flamengo, who trumped Chile's Cobreloa in 1981 for their first Libertadores trophy 40 years ago.

"That is something that brings up good memories," star Flamengo defender David Luiz told Stats Perform. "Without a doubt, we must carry this and bring that to us in a totally positive way. That is a place where every 'flamenguista' was happy. Why not be happy again?"

David Luiz joined Flamengo in September following his exit from Arsenal at the end of last season.

The 34-year-old returned to his homeland 14 years after departing Vitoria for Europe, moving to the star-studded Rio de Janeiro-based outfit boasting Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa, Filipe Luis, Everton Ribeiro, Diego and loanees Kenedy (Chelsea) and Andreas Pereira (Manchester United).

"I always said that since I came here that I am privileged in this group," David Luiz said. "I arrived at the best time of the competition. I could play the semi-finals, and now it is the best part of the cake. That is playing this great final. I am anxious, I want to play it.

"It was always a dream for me to be playing in my country. I could accomplish that after I left Brazil while I was with the national team. But now I am representing America's best team. And I can be in the final of the biggest South American competition. Without a doubt, that is very, very special."

Flamengo have established themselves as one of South America's finest, setting the bar after sweeping Libertadores, Campeonato Brasileiro and Recopa Sudamericana honours under Jorge Jesus before his return to Benfica.

After back-to-back league trophies in 2019 and 2020, Flamengo turned to Renato Gaucho after the tenures of former Pep Guardiola assistant Domenec Torrent and iconic ex-goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni did not go according to plan.

With Gaucho – the record holder for most victories in Libertadores history (50) – at the helm, Flamengo are on the cusp of a third crown.

Flamengo remain undefeated in the 2021 edition. They will be aiming to repeat the feat of rivals Corinthians, who are still the only team to win the title while going undefeated in the current format of the tournament, following their 2012 achievement.

The hero in the 2019 final with a brace, Gabigol will spearhead Flamengo's efforts on the pitch – the in-form Brazil international and former Inter forward tops the goalscoring charts in this season's Libertadores (10) as he seeks to become the first player in the competition's history to score 11 goals in the 21st century.

Gabigol has outperformed his expected goals tally (xG total of 8.5), while he has supplied four assists.

A Champions League winner with Premier League giants Chelsea, David Luiz was asked to compare the two tournaments, and whether Flamengo had the quality to compete in the European edition.

"I believe and understand that when you love something in your life, you will always feel that anger to live this," David Luiz said. "When you love something, you will have this in your heart, you have anxiety, you will want to be there, you will be counting the days, you will, without a doubt, be focused on that. The same way I counted, I lived, was anxious and wanted to play when I was young and was in the Champions League final. Today also, even after a lot of years, a lot of finals, that is still happening. I still love football. I still love what I do. And, of course, I will keep having that same anger to be in a final and living it the best way I can."

On Flamengo being able to match it with teams in the Champions League, David Luiz added: "I believe that is right. Today Flamengo are the first club to be organised to give us players the opportunity to represent and do best what we have to do that is to play football the best way we can. We have an amazing structure.

"High-calibre players, players who have played in numerous places and have a lot of quality. I believe, yes, we have the quality to play a Champions League without a doubt."

Standing in Flamengo's way is Weverton and reigning Libertadores champions Palmeiras, who are captained by tenacious former Juventus and Inter midfielder Felipe Melo.

Palmeiras continue to flourish under Portuguese head coach Abel Ferreira – the club have only lost two of the 19 Libertadores games with the 42-year-old in the dugout, while they are seven games unbeaten having eliminated Atletico Mineiro in the semis.

Abel is also looking to become the first European coach to win two Libertadores titles.

Weverton has kept seven clean sheets in this season's tournament as two-time winners Palmeiras eye their third piece of silverware in their sixth trip to the final.

In total, the 33-year-old has kept 31 clean sheets in 60 Libertadores appearances, with a 51.6 per cent effectiveness.

"I believe that you try to keep what you've achieved as if you were protecting something you conquered," Weverton said when asked about the fact it has been 20 years since a team last celebrated back-to-back titles. "We conquered that last year and now we have the chance to protect it, to bring it back, and that motivates us. But it doesn't give us an advantage. It just brings us motivation to protect something that you know that feels good to achieve.

"We saw how good it is to be champions of Libertadores, on how many good things this brings to you. Recognition, prestige, history, you have your name in the club’s history, brings you the fans respect. So, we saw that there are a lot of good things around it. We want to feel it again. We know we will have to battle for that again, we know that it is going to be a great game, a big war facing a great team. We know the path, but we have to pay the price for it. It does motivate us, but we need to prepare ourselves and know that it is going to be tough, but it is doable."

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