Massimiliano Allegri called for Juventus to forget about their Champions League exit, insisting fourth place in Serie A would not define their season as a failure.

Juventus are one of two teams – Sevilla are the others – from the top five European leagues to remain unbeaten in their main domestic competition since the start of December, with no side picking up more points in the Italian top flight during that period (32).

That undefeated streak has guided the Bianconeri to fourth in the league, seven clear of fifth-placed Lazio and just seven behind leaders Milan coming into this weekend's games.

Head coach Allegri's side are also still in contention for the Coppa Italia, leading 1-0 before the return leg of their semi-final on April 21 with Fiorentina.

However, Juve crashed out of the Champions League as they were 4-1 aggregate losers to Villarreal in their last-16 clash in midweek, but Allegri insists that does not take anything away from their campaign so far.

Speaking at Saturday's news conference ahead of a clash with Salernitana, Allegri said: "Salernitana are different to the first meeting, they've done well and are playing better.

"We must immediately erase the Champions League exit and finish this period in the best possible way to try to stay three points behind Inter."

Pressed on whether Juve's 2021-22 season was a failure after elimination in Europe, he said: "I have nothing to clarify. Together with the club we're on a path, and we've laid a good foundation.

"I think we're on the right track. It doesn't take much to destroy things, so you have to be very careful. We went from a very dangerous situation in January when we were 10 points behind Atalanta, and we were good and lucky there, something that didn't happen against Villarreal.

"On Tuesday we weren't the team that could win the Champions League, on Thursday it's all over again, it's failure.

"[Reporters] have to write these things, we have to keep a clear head. It's not that Tuesday is one thing and Thursday is another.

"Of course, no one expected a 3-0 defeat [in the second leg to Villarreal], but that's football. Like what happened in Madrid with PSG. The positive thing is that after the international break we'll have all the players available, except for [Federico] Chiesa and [Weston] McKennie."

Juve will again qualify for next season's Champions League if they can finish in Italy's top four, and Allegri assured that he is committed to a long-term project at the Allianz Stadium.

"To me, those who judge know little," he added. "Together with the club I have to look at the construction of a four-year project. We've shortened the time frame a little thanks to the January transfer market, and now we'll evaluate how to improve further.

"If for you fourth place is a failure, you are right to write it down. There's an old saying in football: whoever wins is a good guy, whoever loses… You don't have to smash the atom, you have to win games based on an assessment of what you have available.

"The club and I know very well what to do, we have clear ideas and the same thoughts. But this doesn't matter now, I have these players and I'm proud of them. We have 10 games in which to do our best and then see where we are.

"But I'm not changing my evaluations, maybe we can do better one year and worse the next. Now we have to put everything aside and think about these games.

"Let's try to beat Salernitana, which isn't easy. Above all, to have the ambition of being three points behind Inter when we play them [at home on April 3]."

Is Maurizio Sarri getting the most out of Lazio? To help answer that, we arguably have to look to his coaching predecessor - Simone Inzaghi.

After five seasons of trying under Inzaghi's stewardship, the Biancocelesti finally qualified for the Champions League. There were seasons where they came agonisingly close too - particularly in 2017-18, where Inter beat them at the Stadio Olimpico on the final day of the Serie A season, to claim fourth place and the final spot in Europe's premier competition.

When they finally did qualify, last season’s 6-2 defeat on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the last-16 – and Inzaghi’s ensuing departure for Inter – was microcosmic of an overall sense the 45-year-old extracted the maximum out of the players he had at his disposal, within his system.

With Sunday's Rome derby in mind, despite the fact Lazio are currently fifth and again perceivably in the running for that last Champions League place, that's the arguable framework for how we must interpret Sarri's first season in the Italian capital.

It's not only pertinent to ask whether the 63-year-old is extracting the maximum out of this Lazio squad within his own system. Ultimately, are the players Sarri has at his disposal even compatible to that system?

One of the stronger case studies in this discussion is Luis Alberto. The Spaniard is arguably not only one of Serie A's most transformative midfielders, but in European football.

Since joining Lazio in 2016, within the framework of Inzaghi’s 3-5-2, the 29-year-old blossomed into an elite ball progressor and shot creator from a statistical standpoint. He holds five of the 10 highest ratings for passes into the penalty area per 90 minutes in Lazio's history - since Stats Perform's first recordings of the data in 2005-06.

 

Just as important as Luis Alberto's ability to create with the ball is his ability to act as a positional reference point, in order to create for others without it. His ability to drive and distribute is underpinned by an intelligent and assertive positional sense, which also compliments the likes of Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - and the latter’s particular penchant for late entry into the penalty area.

Yet along with cramping him of the half-space to move into when Lazio are in possession, Sarri's 4-3-3 setup asks more of the Spaniard defensively - exacerbating his notoriously suspect ground coverage. The more energetic Toma Basic's August transfer from Bordeaux and initial scope under the new coach, in Luis Alberto's place, was conspicuous in this respect.

This all matters because under Sarri, only Napoli have kept the ball more than them in Serie A this season. Lazio rank 12th in Europe's top-five leagues combined for touches per 90, but 60th for shots in the penalty area per 90. It would take a sizeable increase in shot quality upon previous years to make that disparity more sustainable, weighing up qualitative and quantitative aspects. That increase hasn't eventuated.

Lazio's ability to function in possession ultimately relies on Luis Alberto's skillset, and one statistic stands out - even this season, the team has averaged 9.27 shots in open play per 90 minutes with him on the pitch, and 5.97 without. In addition, his impact on Immobile is profound.

 

 

Immobile's xG per open play shot (0.14 on/0.2 off) actually increases when Luis Alberto is off the pitch, but his quantity of open-play shots also goes down (3.15 on/2.27 off). Meanwhile, playing in Sarri's 4-3-3 requires more from him as a collaborative player with his back to goal, a relatively weak area of his play that contributed to respective struggles at Sevilla, Borussia Dortmund and the Italian national team.

In Inzaghi's 3-5-2, Immobile wasn't cramped for space and could still receive the ball between the lines, but in positions where he's able to face goal and go at defenders with momentum. This season, the 32-year-old striker has completed (0.6) and attempted (1.38) fewer dribbles than in any of his six seasons at Lazio.

On top of that, despite this season being his second highest so far for touches per 90 (42.67), Immobile is also creating less chances in open play per 90 (0.78) than in any of his six seasons at the Olimpico. Six penalties for the season brings his higher xG but lower xA per 90 into context, exposing a question of net gain.

 

 

This all provides the backdrop for Lazio's sizeable xG overperformance this season. It is ultimately propelling their contention for a Champions League place and obscuring just how volatile they have been defensively – exposing Francesco Acerbi's ability to play in a four-man defence as opposed to a three-man defence.

So far this season in Serie A, Lazio have scored the second-highest amount of goals with 58 and rank eighth for xG with 42.1, but aside from Hellas Verona (14.3), are a distant first (15.9) in differential between the two statistical categories.

With this all in context, the reality that Sarri will remain faithful to this 4-3-3 will arguably be to the detriment of Lazio's most important players under Inzaghi. Whether they stay or go, as long as Sarri stays, will determine how dramatic the eventual regression to the mean will be.

Manchester United's hopes of silverware this season are officially over and focus is now turning towards the 2022-23 campaign.

The Red Devils are left focusing on their top-four battle in the Premier League following elimination to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last 16 this week.

That has surely ended Ralf Rangnick's hopes of landing the managerial position full time, though it remains to be seen who will be in the Old Trafford hot seat come next term.


TOP STORY – UNITED RAMP UP MANAGERIAL SEARCH

The likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag and Thomas Tuchel have each been touted as contenders to replace Rangnick, but another name may now be in the frame.

According to Spanish outlet Fichajes, Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui is also being considered for one of the top positions in world football.

Lopetegui has previously managed Real Madrid and the Spain national team and is in his third season with Sevilla, whom he remains under contract with until 2024.


ROUND-UP

- Newcastle United intend to splash the cash when the transfer window reopens at the end of the season and, according to Fichajes, Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar is in their sights. The Brazil international was jeered by his own supporters during last week's win against Bordeaux.

- After two years with Tottenham, Fabrizio Romano claims that left-back Sergio Reguilon could be on his way back to Spain in the coming months. Barcelona are said to be monitoring his situation, while Madrid have a buy-back clause of around €40million.

- It could be a busy transfer window for Madrid, who have also been strongly linked with PSG forward Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund's in-demand striker Erling Haaland. However, Goal reports that Los Blancos are losing hope of beating Manchester City to the signature of the latter.

- Man City midfielder Rodri has another three years to run on his contract, but The Telegraph suggests that the Premier League leaders are eager to tie the midfielder down to an even longer deal, with talks between the two parties ongoing.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Nikola Milenkovic is on the radar of Inter and Man Utd. Inter are said to have made the Fiorentina and Serbia defender one of their primary targets, while United had scouts present to watch him against Bologna last week.

Inter head coach Simone Inzaghi believes his side's performances have deserved more than their recent returns.

Reigning Serie A champions Inter have slipped to third in the table, albeit with a game in hand, four points adrift of leaders Milan heading into the weekend's fixtures.

Inter have managed just two wins in their last eight top-flight games after snatching a late 1-1 draw at Torino last time out.

The Nerazzurri were also eliminated at the Champions League last-16 stage following a 2-1 loss on aggregate to Liverpool, with Inter dominating large parts of the two-leg tie.

Inzaghi claimed the Nerazzurri's performances have not been befitting of their results ahead of Saturday's clash with Fiorentina.

"Without a doubt, there is a feeling in this period of having collected less than what we probably deserved," he told InterTV on Friday.

"But there is the right desire, the boys have worked very well, so there is a great desire to get back on the pitch."

 

With Inter out of the Champions League, Inzaghi's side now have more time to prepare for the crunch part of the Serie A season and the Nerazzurri boss is thankful for the extra days of preparation.

"Certainly being able to work more days to prepare for the match helps a lot to work on situations that did not go well and on details," he continued.

"But we are Inter. We have made progress in the Champions League, we are still in the running for the Coppa Italia. We have played more often because we have been competitive throughout the year."

Fellow Serie A title-chasers Milan and Napoli are in action on the same day when Inter host Fiorentina, who have lost 16 of their last 19 league games against the Nerazzurri.

Inter have also gained 32 points from 14 top-flight home games, more than any other team, but Inzaghi expects a tough task against's Vincenzo Italiano's men.

"We find a fit team, which is doing excellent in the league, with a coach who gives brilliant ideas and precise tactical ideas to his team," Inzaghi added.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has sparked the build-up for Sunday's Derby della Capitale remarking Lazio were "smoking cigarettes" while his side progressed in the Conference League on Thursday.

The Giallorossi edged past Dutch outfit Vitesse after Tammy Abraham's 90th-minute goal earned a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate victory at the Stadio Olimpico.

Mourinho said Roma would quickly switch their attention to Sunday's derby with his side in seventh, one point behind Maurizio Sarri's Lazio in fifth in Serie A.

"Obviously, I am not happy that we played today with many players who will also have to be there on Sunday while tonight Lazio are home smoking cigarettes with Sarri, but it’s because Vitesse are really good," Mourinho told reporters after the game.

Mourinho fielded a strong Roma outfit against Vitesse and given the situation of the tie, with Maximilian Wittek's 62nd-minute goal levelling it on aggregate, he was unable to rest any key players with a quick turnaround for Sunday's derby.

"Now Sarri is at home smoking his cigarette while I go home trying to think how we can recover from this for Sunday," Mourinho said.

He added: "We never came into this to control the result or aim for a draw to get us through. We worked with one objective, preparing to go for victory.

"It was a bad performance on a technical level, it might seem tactical, but it was technical. We defended well and showed character, but we also pushed hard at the end with El Shaarawy as a third striker, not a wing-back.

"I don’t want to say we 100 per cent deserved to go through, but over the two legs did a little more."

Cristiano Ronaldo has been heavily linked with an early exit from Manchester United this season.

The Red Devils are out of the Premier League title race and struggling to make the top four.

There is said to be tension surrounding Ronaldo due to Ralf Rangnick's appointment as interim manager.

TOP STORY - RONALDO RE-COMMITS TO MAN UTD

Ronaldo will stay with United next season with interim manager Rangnick set to depart, reports AS.

The 37-year-old forward has committed to United, whom he joined in August on a two-year deal with the option for a third season, as he is confident they will show their ambition by making a major appointment with their new permanent manager.

United were eliminated from the Champions League this week by Atletico Madrid and are struggling to reach next season's edition, sitting fifth in the Premier League.

ROUND-UP

- Jesse Lingard has been offered to Italian clubs Milan and Roma as he prepares to leave United as a free agent, reports Nicolo Schira. West Ham  and Newcastle United are also interested in the 29-year-old England international.

- Benfica have slapped a £67million price tag on striker  Darwin Nunez , who is being pursued by Manchester United , Arsenal , Liverpool and Newcastle ,   according to The Mirror.

- Foot Mercato reports  Arsenal will enter the race to sign Real Madrid winger  Eden Hazard , with Chelsea previously linked to their former player.

- Fichajes claims  Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Athletic Bilbao head coach Marcelino should Diego Simeone opt to leave the Spanish champions.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has sparked the build-up for Sunday's Derby della Capitale remarking Lazio are off "smoking cigarettes" while his side progressed in the Conference League on Thursday.

The Giallorossi edged past Dutch outfit Vitesse after Tammy Abraham's 90th-minute goal earned a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate victory.

Mourinho said Roma would quickly switch their attention to Sunday's derby with his side in seventh, one point behind Maurizio Sarri's Lazio in fifth.

"Obviously, I am not happy that we played today with many players who will also have to be there on Sunday while tonight Lazio are home smoking cigarettes with Sarri, but it’s because Vitesse are really good," Mourinho told reporters after the game.

Mourinho fielded a strong Roma outfit against Vitesse and given the situation of the tie, with Maximilian Wittek's 62nd-minute goal levelling it on aggregate, he was unable to rest any key players with a quick turnaround for Sunday's derby.

"Now Sarri is at home smoking his cigarette while I go home trying to think how we can recover from this for Sunday," Mourinho said.

He added: "We never came into this to control the result or aim for a draw to get us through. We worked with one objective, preparing to go for victory.

"It was a bad performance on a technical level, it might seem tactical, but it was technical. We defended well and showed character, but we also pushed hard at the end with El Shaarawy as a third striker, not a wing-back.

"I don’t want to say we 100 per cent deserved to go through, but over the two legs did a little more."

Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli has tested positive for COVID-19, delivering a blow to the Serie A club and the Italy national team.

The 24-year-old is set to miss the Serie A clash with Salernitana on Sunday, and depending on his recovery he could also be a doubt for next week's World Cup qualifying play-off against North Macedonia.

The test outcome was revealed on Thursday, a day after Locatelli played 83 minutes as Juventus lost 3-0 to Villarreal and tumbled out of the Champions League.

Juventus said in a statement: "Juventus Football Club announces that Manuel Locatelli's COVID-19 positivity emerged today. The player, in agreement with the local health authority, has already been placed in solitary confinement."

The Turin giants suffered huge disappointment with their European exit, conceding three times in the final 12 minutes – twice after Locatelli was replaced – to be denied a place in the quarter-finals.

Juventus sit fourth in Serie A and remain in with an outside chance of challenging for the Scudetto, sitting seven points behind leaders Milan with nine rounds of games remaining.

News of Locatelli's positive test is bound to concern Italy boss Roberto Mancini as he finalises plans for the Azzurri's upcoming quest to reach Qatar 2022.

The European champions are due to face North Macedonia on March 24 in Palermo, with the winner of that game going forward to a March 29 tussle against Portugal or Turkey, to decide who goes to the finals.

Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini has hailed Ukraine midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi's contributions to the club in recent weeks, amid the ongoing crisis unfolding back in the latter's home country.

The Ukraine international has been a key performer for the Serie A side so far this term, but has found himself thrust into the spotlight for different reasons following Russia's invasion of his home country.

Malinovskyi netted in last week's Europa League last-16 clash with Bayer Leverkusen, in which La Dea prevailed 3-2, and is expected to figure in Thursday's reverse encounter in Germany.

Speaking ahead of the trip, Gasperini offered praise for how the midfielder has responded, including a poignant gesture where he kissed a black armband in the first leg in Bergamo after scoring.

"To tell the truth, Ruslan has had a really important season, and this one has been a bit more troubled," the head coach told his pre-match news conference.

"Now he has moments in which he is in the best situation, he becomes decisive. In addition, we realise the emotional moment he is going through.

"When he manages to clean up his game, with the shot that he has, it will become important. He is a player that we have adapted to that role, he often becomes decisive.

"We hope that in the end, he is as good as possible, because we need him."

Elsewhere, Gasperini revealed that Duvan Zapata is nearing a comeback from injury, with the coach adding that he hopes to have the Colombia star back on hand as early as next month.

"He is recovering well, we hope his return is close," he added. "We will see in April, we hope it is plausible. He will have to get to match sharpness, but he is training well individually and in the gym."

Atalanta face Leverkusen on Thursday, before they wrap up their March commitments with a trip to Bologna in Serie A before the international break brings a halt to club football.

Paris Saint-Germain have reportedly opened talks with Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte, who has a clause to leave Spurs at the end of the season.

Conte's contract with the North London club runs until the end of the 2022-23 season, after replacing Nuno Espirito Santo in November last year.

However, while the specific terms of that contract are unclear, it reportedly allows for a departure pending certain circumstances. 

TOP STORY – PSG TARGET CONTE AS POCH REPLACEMENT

According to Calciomercato, Paris Saint-Germain are set to part ways with Mauricio Pochettino and are already in the process of looking for his replacement.

Their primary target appears to be Antonio Conte  - who is reportedly tempted by the contract - which is forcing Tottenham into action, to persuade him to see out his deal. 

The 52-year-old is not the only candidate according to the report, with Massimiliano Allegri and Zinedine Zidane also among the potential hires.

Tottenham accounted for Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday, but earlier last week, Conte said he would discuss his future with Spurs at the end of the season. 

ROUND-UP

- Per reports from Kicker, Robert Lewandowski is yet to extend his contract at Bayern Munich, despite Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic's public claims the club wants him to stay. With the Polish striker entering the final 18 months of his current deal, agent Pini Zahavi is looking to secure his future at Sabenerstrasse.

- According to Globo, Edinson Cavani's potential move to Botafogo has fallen through due to the Uruguayan striker's wage demands. Battling injury, Cavani's playing time at Manchester United has failed to see continuity under Ralf Rangnick.

- Nicolo Schira is reporting Milan are getting closer to signing Divock Origi from Liverpool, in order to bolster their stocks up front. Origi's representatives and Milan have met and are looking to progress discussions.

- The Mirror is reporting Lord Sebastian Coe is joining a consortium for the potential takeover of Chelsea, after Roman Abramovich's assets were frozen by the United Kingdom government.

Giorgio Chiellini credited Antonio Conte for changing Juventus' vision of football, which enabled them to dominate Italian football for much of the past decade.

Current Tottenham head coach Conte was placed in charge of the Bianconeri in 2011, following a successful career in Turin that saw captain the Juve team that lifted the 1995-96 Champions League.

The Italian boss also lifted the Serie A title five times during his playing days, and had no struggles carrying that winning mentality into management.

Conte guided Juve to their 28th Scudetto in his first season in charge, during the 2011-12 campaign, before defending the title for two straight terms - also setting the Serie A points record with 102 in 2013-14.

Veteran Chiellini is the only Juve player that played a part in all nine Scudetto triumphs between 2011 and 2019, and he believes Conte should take the credit for the Bianconeri's prolonged success.

"Conte was the first one to change, he changed our vision of football," he told Amazon Prime Video in an interview with former team-mate Claudio Marchisio.

"Before he came here I'd never thought about building from the back or making a through pass.

"Some teams tend to do that more and I think that balance is needed but in modern football, you must have control of the game and the ball. It's more and more important and it's crucial to be complete."

 

Chiellini remains a feature in Massimiliano Allegri's current Juve side, who host Villarreal in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on Wednesday.

Allegri's men are also just seven points adrift of leaders Inter in Serie A, and Chiellini is glad to see Juve turn their form around after an underwhelming start to this season.

"He is still the same, he hasn't changed," Chiellini said about Allegri. "Perhaps, he expected to find a group similar to the one he had left.

"We had changed a lot, many players left, we are younger. From November we've seen his Juventus. A solid team with their own identity.

"Dusan Vlahovic has brought enthusiasm to everyone, players, staff and fans. He shifts the balance, we missed a player with his characteristics.

"We hadn't had a centre forward like that since Mario Mandzukic's time. We had [Gonzalo] Higuain who was a fantastic player, but was slightly different.

"We had to adapt other strikers to that role. Alvaro [Morata] prefers playing with another striker and the same is true of Paulo [Dybala] and Cristiano [Ronaldo]. Now we have a new No.9 even if he has the No.7 on his shoulder. He wants to improve and become the No.1."

The 37-year-old Chiellini played an integral role in Italy's Euro 2020 success as he showed no signs of slowing up, and he hopes to make it to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar before hanging up his boots.

"I've already gone beyond what I thought, especially after my knee injury [in 2020]," he continued. 

"I could have finished last season but I wanted to continue and I live day by day. I dream of the World Cup and hopefully, we can qualify and enjoy it, then we'll see.

"I want to end my career in a decent way. This [Juventus] is my home and I don't want to become a burden.

"On paper, I'd like to become a director rather than a coach, but football is full of surprises and I'll understand with time."

Mohamed Salah is arguably the best player in the world on current form, though Liverpool have not yet tied him down to a new deal.

Talks over fresh terms for the 29-year-old have been ongoing for some time, but nothing is close to being agreed.

With his contract up in 2023, Salah could become one of the most sought-after free agents.

 

TOP STORY – MO HAPPY TO WAIT

According to Fabrizio Romano, Salah is perfectly happy at Liverpool and is not considering pushing through a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid or Barcelona.

However, there has been no further progress on the contract talks.

Salah, who has scored 28 goals already this season across all competitions, remains fully focused on Liverpool but could leave on a free transfer at the end of next season.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland will demand that a release clause is included in his contract should he sign for Manchester City, reports The Sun. The Daily Mail suggested a deal was close.

- Bundesliga reporter Jan Aage Fjortoft, however, has claimed that Haaland is of interest to Bayern Munich, who may be faced with the prospect of losing Robert Lewandowski.

- Bayern are also said to be interested in Barcelona full-back Sergino Dest. That is according to a report by Fichajes.

- Foot Mercato say that Neymar will be offered back to Barcelona, as Paris Saint-Germain prepare for a "shake up" ahead of next season.

- Juventus and Milan, meanwhile, are interested in Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos, according to Calciomercato.

Edinson Cavani's stay at Manchester United seems to be coming to an end.

Signed as a free agent from Paris Saint-Germain in 2020, Cavani has found his game-time limited this season by both injury and managerial preferences, while it has also been claimed recently he has opted out of playing.

He is out of contract at the end of the season and appears determined to find a new club.

 

TOP STORY – CAVANI WANTS LALIGA SWITCH

Fabrizio Romano has reported that Cavani's preference is to join a team in LaLiga.

The 35-year-old, who has scored two Premier League goals this season, has not yet played in LaLiga, having previously starred for Napoli in Serie A before his move to PSG in 2013.

Cavani was previously linked with a move to Atletico Madrid, prior to joining United. Romano also reports that Argentine giants River Plate have approached the Uruguay international, but that potential move does not interest the striker.

ROUND-UP 

- Barcelona want to tie up deals for Ajax full-back Noussair Mazraoui, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Milan's midfield powerhouse Franck Kessie, who are all approaching the end of their contracts, reports Romano.

- The Daily Mail, citing The Mirror, are reporting that United will consider making a move for Tottenham star Harry Kane at the end of the season.

- Aston Villa are one of the clubs monitoring Kalvin Phillips' situation at Leeds United, so say The Daily Mail.

- SPORT claim that Sergino Dest is willing to leave Barca and join Roma.

- According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Juventus and Milan are both keeping tabs on Lille midfielder Renato Sanches.

They say you should never judge a player on one good international tournament.

In fairness, when Bayern Munich splashed out a reported €35million on an 18-year-old Renato Sanches in 2016, he had already impressed at Benfica, but it was his showings at Euro 2016 for eventual winners Portugal that sped up the hype train.

Just over a year later, he was struggling to get game time during a loan move at Swansea City.

Sanches' star had fallen almost as quickly as it had risen, and after being unable to establish himself at Bayern, the midfielder made the move to Lille in 2019.

At the French side he finally settled and became a crucial part of Christophe Galtier's underdogs, who impressively beat Paris Saint-Germain to the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title.

Sanches followed up his championship medal with another comeback, standing out as one of the best players again at Euro 2020.

As football never seems to learn its lessons, hype rebuilt around Sanches following his performances for Portugal in last year's rescheduled tournament, and the 24-year-old has been linked with a transfer to one of Europe's elite pretty much ever since.

Clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been mooted as possible destinations, but recent reports suggest that Milan could be where Sanches takes the next step of his journey, and potentially where he could finally fulfil that much-discussed potential.

Although Lille have failed to come close to defending their title this season, Sanches has continued to impress when available.

He has played 25 games in all competitions (21 starts), registering one goal and five assists, three more than any other Lille midfielder.

Sanches has completed 57 dribbles, with Jonathan Ikone – more of a forward player and who moved to Fiorentina in January – completing the next most at the club this season (38), and he has created as many big chances (eight) as Ikone having played the same number of games. A big chance is defined by Opta as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score.

Comparing the same numbers to Milan's midfield, he has created twice as many big chances as the Rossoneri's most creative players (Sandro Tonali and Alexis Saelemaekers – four), and only Saelemaekers has completed more dribbles (58), albeit from more appearances. Sanches averages more completed dribbles than the Belgian per 90 minutes (3.01 to 2.51).

One assumption would be that Sanches has been earmarked to replace Franck Kessie, who appears likely to be leaving San Siro when his contract expires at the end of the season, though the two are not all that similar as players.

Kessie has six goals this season, two from the penalty spot, but just one assist, and has only created two big chances. Sanches also makes far more dribbles, attempting 91 compared to 38 from Kessie.

Sanches has made almost as many recoveries as the Ivory Coast international (146 to 158) but has attempted fewer tackles than all of Milan's midfielders (20), with the lowest tackle success rate (45 per cent).

His pass success percentage is also worse than Kessie's (81.77 to 88.73). You might think that could be down to the intent of those passes, but Kessie is even more comfortably ahead when it comes to pass success percentage in the opposition half (75.53 to 85.53).

Sanches, of course, plays in a different league, and so how do his numbers compare in this season's Champions League?

While it must be noted that Lille had an easier time of things in the group stages than Milan, who went up against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto, Sanches did seem to shine on the big stage more than Stefano Pioli's current crop.

Only Ismael Bennacer (39) made more recoveries than Sanches' 38, having played a game more, while no-one at the Serie A side attempted as many as his 209 passes, and none won possession in the opposition's final third more than him (four).

Milan suffered elimination in their group, while Lille won theirs and put up a respectable fight against Chelsea in the first leg of their round-of-16 clash at Stamford Bridge.

Sanches in particular looked good again, though he was unable to prevent the Premier League side taking a 2-0 lead over with them to the Stade Pierre-Mauroy on Wednesday, where Sanches sadly will not play after picking up a muscle injury in the 0-0 draw with Saint-Etienne on Friday.

"Renato Sanches underwent tests this morning following the injury contracted on Friday during the match between LOSC and AS Saint-Etienne," read a statement from Lille. "The midfielder has suffered an injury to the biceps femoris muscle in his left thigh.

"His unavailability is estimated at three weeks, depending on the clinical evolution of his injury."

And this is arguably the thing that has held Sanches back more than anything, his injury record.

For context, at the age of just 24, he already has two pages of injuries listed on his injury history on Transfermarkt, the vast majority of which have been muscle issues that just do not seem to go away.

In terms of what he has shown on the field in the past couple of years, Sanches seems more than ready for another shot at an elite club.

Whether he can stay fit long enough to do so is another matter.

Ciro Immobile has surpassed Silvio Piola as Lazio’s all-time top scorer in Serie A after netting a 144th league goal for the club.

Piola set the record in a nine-year stretch between 1934-1943, scoring 143 goals in 227 appearances.

After spending time with Juventus, Genoa, Torino, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, Immobile found a long-term home at Lazio in 2016.

Immobile scored his record-setting 144th goal in his 201st appearance, converting a match-winning penalty in Lazio's 1-0 win over Venezia to move up to fifth on the Serie A table.

The side against whom he has scored the most Serie A goals against for Lazio are Sampdoria, having netted 12 times in just 10 league meetings with I Blucerchiati.

Seventy-seven of his goals have come in the Stadio Olimpico, while he has netted eight times in both Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi and Stadio Luigi Ferraris.

Immobile has struck 21 goals in his first 24 games this season in Serie A, already surpassing his league tally for the 2020-21 campaign (20).

He still has a fair way to go to improve on his personal-best seasonal haul, however. He scored 36 in 37 games in 2019-20.

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