Christian Eriksen has expressed his gratitude for the support he has received during his recovery from his cardiac arrest, where he admitted that he "died for five minutes".

Eriksen collapsed during Denmark's game against Finland at Euro 2020 last June and was subsequently fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)

The 29-year-old is not permitted to play in Italian football due to regulations surrounding his ICD device, which lead to Eriksen and Inter mutually agreeing to terminate his contract.

He joined the Nerazzurri in January 2020 following seven years in the Premier League with Tottenham.

In a recent interview with Danish broadcaster DR, Eriksen made clear his gratefulness to those who have written to him or approached him with well wishes.

"It was weird, because I didn't expect people to send flowers because I'd died for five minutes," he said. "It was quite extraordinary but very nice of everyone.

"People still write to me. I've thanked people I've met in person, I've thanked the doctors, my team-mates and their families in person.

"But all the fans who've sent thousands of letters and emails and flowers, or who've come up to me in the street in Italy and Denmark, I thank them all for the support I got from all over the world that helped me through this."

Meanwhile, Eriksen's agent, Martin Schoots, has said that playing in England would feel like a homecoming for his client.

"Playing in England again would absolutely feel like coming home for Chris and his family," Schoots told the BBC.

"Christian has been treated exceptionally well by the British public, not only because of his top football skills, but also because of his human values, his modesty and altruism."

Thomas Tuchel insisted Chelsea are "trying their very best" to tie the impressive Antonio Rudiger to a new contract, while also hailing the evergreen Thiago Silva.

Rudiger joined from Roma in July 2017 and has been an integral part of the Blues' backline under Tuchel, starting the most games since the German's arrival last January (50) and ranking first for minutes played (4,575).

However, the centre-back's contract is due to expire at the end of the season, with clubs now able to negotiate with the 28-year-old should he not agree on negotiations with Chelsea.

A host of Europe's elite clubs, including Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, have been linked with the defender but Tuchel remains hopeful his international compatriot will commit his future to the Champions League winners.

Tuchel told reporters on Tuesday: "I cannot predict the future. I don't know if his representatives talk to other clubs. If you know so, or assume so, fair enough. 

"It is possible now because it is January and he has not signed yet. As I understand it, we are in communication with him. The club are in communication. He is aware of what I demand, how I appreciate to work with him. 

"The level which he is playing is still super high and outstanding. There are no doubts that the situation is a concern for that. The point is very clear, my opinion is very clear. The club is trying the very best and their communication is going on. It has not changed a lot."


Unlike his defensive partner Rudiger, Silva has already signed fresh terms at Stamford Bridge after continuing to impress following his free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, in which he made 34 appearances across all competitions.

The club exercised the option for a one-year extension last season and did so again on Monday, ensuring the 37-year-old will remain a Blue for at least one more campaign.

Silva has made 22 appearances across all competitions this season, with his total of 19 blocks the third-highest by a defender in the Premier League after West Ham's Craig Dawson (24) and Burnley's James Tarkowski (29).

Indeed, no other Chelsea defender has made more than six blocks, and Tuchel credited the Brazil international's efforts.

He added on Silva: "Benjamin Button. Thiago Button of football! I know how much work, how much professional attitude is behind that. 

"It is a miracle in a way. He came to this league, this schedule, this approach and intensity of a daily business, in the every end of his career. This was very brave. I know how much effort he puts in to stay fit. 

"Off the pitch, at home, he takes care of his recovery and sleep, of his nutrition. This is outstanding. Only because of that this is possible. We are happy because the new contract makes him calm. 

"Thiago needs to be calm because he is a very sensitive and emotional person. This makes him very precious for our team and for our dressing room. He can feel emotions, he can feel different state of emotions from others and can help so much. 

"He is calm, he has huge targets. He is a big impact, he is available how he needs to be available. When he plays he plays strong, it's a big help. Good for him and good for us."

The defensive duo are set to be in action once more in Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham, after Tuchel confirmed Trevoh Chalobah and Andreas Christensen as likely injury absentees.

Romelu Lukaku has apologised to Thomas Tuchel for a controversial interview released last week and feels a responsibility to "clean the mess up", according to the Chelsea head coach.

Lukaku was left out of Chelsea's 20-man squad for Sunday's crucial Premier League clash with Liverpool due to comments made in the Italian press.

In the wide-ranging 30-minute discussion, Lukaku said he "is not very happy with the situation" he finds himself in at Chelsea and expressed his desire to one day return to Inter.

The interview, which was conducted three weeks ago but only aired on Thursday and Friday, dominated the pre-match talk ahead of the Blues' 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Tuchel later stood by his decision to omit the Belgium international, who had scored in Chelsea's previous two games, stating that the issue "got too big and too noisy".

Speculation in the subsequent days has suggested Lukaku, who rejoined the Blues for a club-record fee in August, could be on his way out of Stamford Bridge this year.

But after holding clear-the-air talks with Lukaku on Monday, and with the 28-year-old returning to training on Tuesday, Tuchel is hoping to draw a line under the matter.

"We were happy we took the time to look calmly on it. He apologised and is back in the squad for today's training," Tuchel said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"For me, the most important thing was to understand. He did not do this intentionally to create this kind of noise in front of a big game.

"There are zero doubts about his commitment to the team and the club. Romelu is very aware of what happened and what he created.

"I never, before the interview, had the slightest doubt that he was not committed. He is an emotional guy, he does not hold back with his opinion. 

"We should not just blame him and point on the negative side of it. It created some noise that you don't want but there are zero doubts in his commitment to the team."

Lukaku has scored seven goals in 18 appearances since returning to Chelsea in a campaign blighted by an ankle injury and a positive test for coronavirus.

While Tuchel has accepted Lukaku's apology, it remains to be seen whether he will be welcomed back by Chelsea fans after he admitted his preferred choice was to stay at Inter.

Asked about what reception Lukaku can expect, Tuchel said: "He is aware of what happened and he created and feels the responsibility to clean the mess up.

"But there may still be a smell of course. We are happy that he is our player and we will protect him. If someone strongly disagrees, this is about the team with everything we do.

"Of course he should have known better but that is why we have cleared the air together."

Lukaku is now in contention to return to Chelsea's line-up for Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham, who are managed by his ex-Inter boss Antonio Conte.

The Belgian scored 47 goals in 72 league appearances with Conte at Inter – his best such tally under any manager – for a return of 0.72 goals per 90 minutes.

That compares to 0.54 goals per 90 minutes for Chelsea across his 13 games since returning, with the striker having also yet to assist a goal.

Tuchel does not believe it is down to him to get more out of Lukaku, however, but more to do with the former Manchester United man readapting to the Premier League.

"I think the players get the best out of themselves," he said. "With Romelu it is not about finding positions. He is a striker, a number nine and that is it. 

"It is about adaption to a different team, team-mates, then comes COVID. We are in a totally normal place with him."

Tottenham boss Antonio Conte believes his former side Chelsea are "more ready" to win trophies than his current employers.

Conte returned to London in early November and remains unbeaten in a club-record eight league games since his arrival, pushing Spurs up to sixth and just two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal while still boasting two games in hand.

The former Inter head coach also oversaw a 2-1 EFL Cup quarter-final win over West Ham, teeing up a double-header with Thomas Tuchel's side for a place in the final at Wembley.

Spurs have progressed from six of their last eight EFL Cup semi-final ties, failing only in 2006-07 against Arsenal and 2018-19 versus Chelsea, but Conte believes his former club are better prepared for success currently.

"I think that for everyone it's always very important to win trophies – for the club, for the players, for the managers," Conte told reporters at Monday's pre-match news conference. 

"On one hand, I have to tell you this. On the other, I think you have to build to win trophies. You can win trophies by speaking and saying you want to win. But then you have to be good and build something ready to win.

"I think at this moment, Chelsea is more ready than us to win. They won last season the Champions League. 

"I think we have a lot of space for improvement, to be a team with an aspiration to win. Then for sure, we'll do everything to reach the final of this trophy.

"But I repeat: to use this verb or word 'to win' is more simple than winning because to win you have to build something important, be solid, have an important squad. Then you're ready to win."

 

Conte enjoyed a fruitful spell in charge of Chelsea, leading the Blues to the 2016-17 Premier League title in his first season at the helm before triumphing in the FA Cup the following season.

He then joined Inter, where he again won another league title as he ended the Nerazzurri's 10-year wait for the Scudetto, before returning to England to manage Spurs.

After numerous successes across varying countries and with numerous teams, Conte feels he has nothing to prove as he prepares to return to Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the semi-final on Wednesday.

"I have to thank Chelsea because they gave me the possibility to work in England and have my first experiences in England," he added. "Now, for sure, I'm the manager of Tottenham and I want to give this club 100 per cent and more to try to improve the team. 

"It'll be good and for sure I'll have emotion to come back to Stamford Bridge. We did a really good job and I think in my position I mustn't prove anything to anyone. 

"I'm a manager that has experience and continues to have experience in my career and do important jobs at other teams."

Romelu Lukaku's club future has been thrown into the spotlight after an explosive interview.

The Belgian striker revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea in August.

Lukaku was subsequently dropped by coach Thomas Tuchel for Sunday's 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU COULD MAKE STUNNING SWITCH TO SPURS

La Gazzetta Dello Sport claims that unsettled Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku could make a cross-city switch to Tottenham to re-unite with Antonio Conte.

Lukaku and Conte worked together at Inter where they won the Serie A title last term.

The striker revealed his frustrations at Chelsea over the weekend, with Tuchel offering no guarantees about his future.

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland will not leave Borussia Dortmund during the January transfer window, reports Fabrizio Romano. Haaland has not decided his next destination yet, despite rumours of a pre-agreement with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

- Ara claims Barcelona will offer Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United as part of a swap deal for want-away forward Anthony Martial.

- Tottenham and West Ham United  are both keen to sign Wolves' Adama Traore, claims the Telegraph. Wolves want £20million for the Spanish forward.

- Olympiakos' Guinea international midfielder Aguibou Camara is attracting interest from Milan and Liverpool, claims Calciomercato.

Antonio Conte remains hopeful that Tottenham and Hugo Lloris will be able to reach an agreement over a new contract for the Frenchman.

Lloris, 35, has entered the final six months of his contract and is now able to discuss an end-of-season free transfer with foreign clubs.

One of those he has been linked with is boyhood club Nice, where Lloris came through the academy and then spent three years in the first team before making the move to Lyon in 2008.

Lloris joined Spurs in 2012, and helped the club become a regular in the Champions League under Mauricio Pochettino, who guided them to the final of that competition in 2018-19.

The shot-stopper was made Tottenham captain in 2015, while he has worn the armband for his country since 2012, leading Les Bleus to World Cup glory in 2018.

But while Lloris has previously been maligned for being error prone, he does appear to have improved in that regard in the past few seasons.

Between 2015-16 and the end the 2018-19 Premier League season, Lloris' 25 errors leading to shots equated to 0.18 per 90 minutes – among goalkeepers to play at least 3,500 minutes in that time, only Asmir Begovic averaged more errors (0.2) each game.

Since then, he's only committed three and none of those have been this season – indeed, his eight clean sheets in 2021-22 is bettered by just Ederson (11), Aaron Ramsdale and Alisson (both nine), though Lloris' five since Conte's first game in charge is not improved on by anyone.

This season, only five goalkeepers (minimum 200 minutes played) boast a better save percentage than Lloris (71.01 per cent), and Conte is convinced an agreement can be found to take him into an 11th year at the club.

Speaking after Spurs' dramatic late 1-0 win at Watford, Conte told reporters: "You can see the level of the keeper in these circumstances, when, for the whole game, [Lloris] didn't make a save, but he continued to be focused for the team.

"For me, that's very important. The 'keeper has to follow the game and not only stay on the goal line to make saves.

"Hugo showed [on Saturday] that he's top and he's always focused.

"For us, he's very important, and I'm sure that in a short time he can find a [contract] solution with the club, because he loves Tottenham and Tottenham loves him."

Lloris is already the goalkeeper with the most Premier League appearances for Spurs (316), 76 more than Ian Walker.

Manchester City picked up from where they left off in 2021 by battling to a late 2-1 win over Arsenal, extending their lead at the Premier League summit.

A Riyad Mahrez penalty and a last-gasp strike from Rodri cancelled out Bukayo Saka's first-half opener after Gabriel Magalhaes received a needless red card for the Gunners in an action-packed game – the first top-flight match of 2022.

City's 11th league win in a row means they end New Year's Day with an 11-point advantage at the top, a tally bettered by only two clubs in the competition's history on January 1 – Manchester United in 1993-94 and City themselves in 2017-18 (both 12 points).

There were also victories for Tottenham and West Ham, the London pair seeing off Watford and Crystal Palace respectively to remain in firm contention for a top-four finish.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of Opta data from Saturday's action. 

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City: Leaders recover to stretch winning run against Gunners

Saka's opening goal against City was only the second the Citizens have conceded in the first half of a Premier League game this season, and the first such goal they have shipped on their travels since May.

That was the England international's sixth league goal of the season and was the 36th goal scored by a player aged 21 or under for Arsenal in the English top flight since Mikel Arteta's first game on Boxing Day 2019 – eight more than any other team.

Mahrez converted a contentiously awarded penalty shortly before the hour mark at Emirates Stadium, the Algeria international scoring for a fifth game running in all competitions, and Gabriel's second yellow card – 78 seconds after his first – swung the game in City's favour.

That was Arsenal's 100th red card in the Premier League era, making them the first side to reach that milestone, with Everton (99), Newcastle United (90) and Chelsea (82) next on the list.

Rodri completed the turnaround with City's latest winning goal in a league game since May 2018 (92:28) as the Citizens made it 10 successive top-flight victories over the Gunners, an opponent Pep Guardiola has yet to lose against in the league in 12 encounters.

Watford 0-1 Tottenham: Sanchez stings Hornets in late Spurs win

Tottenham also left it late to overcome Watford and make it eight Premier League games without defeat under Antonio Conte, extending the longest unbeaten start by a Spurs boss in league competition.

Davinson Sanchez made the breakthrough with 95 minutes and 45 seconds played, with that the latest winning goal Spurs have scored in the top flight since Opta started recording such data from 2006-07.

Watford dug deep but could not quite hold on for a valuable point, meaning they have now lost more Premier League matches (nine) since Claudio Ranieri took charge in October than any other side in the division.

Sanchez's goal was his second in five Premier League matches for Spurs, which is more than he had netted in his first 108 in the competition (one), with the defender heading in from a Son Heung-min free-kick.

Watford boss Ranieri has now lost each of his last five Premier League games against Italian managers, whereas compatriot Conte has never lost against a fellow Italian in the competition in six meetings, winning all but one of those.

Crystal Palace 2-3 West Ham: Hammers survive Olise-inspired scare

Palace fell just short of pulling off a remarkable comeback as they lost a home league match on New Year's Day for the first time in their history, with this their 14th such match.

Michail Antonio's close-range finish and a Manuel Lanzini double gave West Ham a commanding three-goal lead, the latter having now scored 52 per cent of his 25 Premier League goals in London derbies (13) – the highest percentage of any player to have scored at least 20 times in the competition.

Michael Olise made a huge difference from the bench by setting up Odsonne Edouard and then scoring a second for Palace late on, making him the first Eagles player to score and assist as a substitute in the Premier League.

But the visitors held on to ensure boss David Moyes made it six straight away league wins against Palace as a manager, defeating a different coach on each occasion during that perfect run (Alan Smith, Iain Dowie, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce, Roy Hodgson and now Patrick Vieira).

Antonio Conte insisted Tottenham have room for improvement if they are to enjoy future success after his side edged past Watford.

Spurs have yet to lose in eight Premier League games under Conte, extending the longest unbeaten start by a Tottenham manager in league competition.

It seemed for large parts on Saturday that Spurs would have to settle for consecutive draws as Daniel Bachmann repeatedly thwarted the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min at Vicarage Road.

However, Davinson Sanchez headed home Spurs' latest ever winning Premier League goal since Opta began recording data (95:45) as he rose the highest to seal all three points for the visitors in a 1-0 win.

Victory over Claudio Ranieri's struggling side moves Spurs within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal, who have played two games more, but Conte still wants more from his side.

He told Sky Sports: "It is important to get three points. We know we have to suffer to get points. We are building a team to try to be competitive in the future but we know we have to be competitive in this season too.

"It is important to be humble, to fight and to suffer. I think everything can improve.

"It was difficult because we didn't score but created chances and when you find an opponent who is well organised it is not simple.

"But when you score the game changes and you find spaces to attack. I am happy with the commitment and effort from the players. We were a bit tired but I wish the world to my friend Claudio Ranieri the best because [Watford] deserve something."

Conte has never lost a Premier League match against an Italian manager (W5 D1), with three wins to his name against Ranieri.

The former Inter head coach expressed his satisfaction with the performance of his side as he commented on how difficult the busy festive period has been.

He added to BBC's Match of the Day: "To play so many games in a few days is not easy. This was the fifth game in 13 days and if you think we played almost with the same players, this period is busy but at the same time we try to get a result because it is very important, three points is very important.

"We have to improve the last pass, in the first half it was 29 crosses and no goals, it is important for us to improve the quality in the last pass because that gives you the possibility to score."

Before the Watford clash, Conte called for patience as he warned Champions League football will not be sealed with a couple of months of work and one transfer window.

But Conte feels the best way for Spurs to succeed in January is to keep playing the way they are doing, as opposed to focusing on various needs in the transfer market.

"Honestly, when Tottenham put me in charge, I asked for time to make my evaluation about the squad, now I did and for sure we will have a meeting with the club," he continued.

"It is important always to be honest, to understand where we are at in this moment, which is our point of start and then I will see. January is not simple, but maybe we will see what happens.

"We have to continue to work in this way and these players are giving me everything, great commitment and trust – the best buy in January is to continue this way. Then we will see what are our intentions are."

Davinson Sanchez scored a stoppage-time header as Tottenham edged out Premier League strugglers Watford 1-0 on New Year's Day.

Watford headed into Saturday's meeting at Vicarage Road on a five-game losing streak but seemed to have halted that poor run thanks in large part to the efforts of goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.

But Bachmann's heroics were ultimately in vain when Sanchez popped up in the 96th minute to secure all three points for the visitors after a medical emergency in the crowd had stopped play temporarily.

Tottenham are yet to lose since Antonio Conte's arrival and move within two points of fourth-placed Arsenal following their defeat to Manchester City.

Conte's side boasted over 70 per cent of the first-half possession but were unable to make their dominance pay.

Sergio Reguilon came close to getting Spurs ahead before the interval, with the wing-back drawing a fine diving stop out of Bachmann prior to Harry Kane curling narrowly wide following Imran Louza's lapse in concentration.

The same Spurs duo almost broke the deadlock after the break. Reguilon saw a strike deflect just off target, while Bachmann tipped over from Kane.

Joshua King then forced a magnificent save from Hugo Lloris in a rare Watford attack, with Son Heung-min nudging wide with an audacious flick at the other end.

Bachmann was then on hand once more to deny Son, though Spurs' efforts finally proved fruitful in stoppage time.

Son turned provider with a wonderful delivery from a free-kick, with Sanchez on hand to head in from point-blank range.

Antonio Conte warned Tottenham cannot expect Champions League football to be sealed with just a couple of months of work and one transfer window.

Spurs have been revitalised since Conte's arrival as the former Inter head coach became the first manager in the club's history to remain unbeaten through his first seven league games in charge.

That unbeaten streak leaves Spurs in seventh, just five points behind fourth-placed north London rivals Arsenal, though Conte's side boast two games in hand over the Gunners.

However, Conte attempted to quash the expectations on his team as he warned that Spurs' recent form, or possible transfer activity in January, does not guarantee Champions League qualification.

"Honestly, and I have been in football for many years, you get into the Champions League after years, not two or three months and one transfer window," Conte told reporters on Friday. 

"There are other teams that are doing important things and this will be very difficult. It means that someone else must fail for there to be a place. [There are] four big teams that are favourites as well as other teams. 

"[It does not take] only one transfer market and it's a switch, football is complicated and it's not just about money. 

"I am here to build something, but I know it will be difficult. Everyone asks about the Champions League, but I want to be honest with everybody, we must build something.

"But we need time and patience. I am sure after my first two months."

Conte reiterated that patience was needed ahead of the transfer window as he referenced numerous planning meetings with the Spurs board as they look to develop their squad in January.

Spurs face Watford next on Saturday as they aim to extend their seven-game unbeaten streak and make up further ground in their chase of the top four.

Conte will go up against his veteran compatriot Claudio Ranieri, whom he expressed admiration for, though he urged Spurs to respond to their poor performance in the 1-1 draw with Southampton.

"Claudio is an important manager who has shown that in his career, many experiences in many countries, which shows he is an important manager with great experience," he added.

"I have great respect for him and our families are friends, he did something wonderful with Leicester [City].

"We missed a chance in the last game to get three points, we were a bit unlucky but at the same time we can do much better when we had superiority. We need to ask more of ourselves, only in this way we can improve our level and increase the level of the team."

January 1 ushers the start of a new year and, for many, a chance for a fresh start. That is particularly true in the world of football as it signals the day the transfer window opens and some of Europe's top talents can plot a lucrative move elsewhere.

A number of the sport's top talents, including Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, are due to be out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and can therefore open talks with teams abroad in January.

While the futures of Mbappe and Pogba will be heavily discussed in the coming weeks, other big names across the continent will also become that little more attractive to buyers given their availability on a free (notwithstanding their lucrative salaries, of course!).

Stats Perform looks at the best players soon to be out of contract and therefore available to sign pre-contract agreements elsewhere from January 1.

 

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

Where better place to start than with a goalkeeper potentially seeking a new destination. Lloris has spent 10 seasons with Tottenham and has captained the side for the past six years, while also skippering the France national team since 2012.

Spurs have historically been reluctant to offer long-term deals to players in their 30s and that policy could see them lose one of European football's finest goalkeepers from the past decade. He has racked up 392 appearances for Tottenham, keeping 131 clean sheets in the process.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Martial did not quite transform into the superstar forward many were expecting upon joining United from Monaco six years ago, but neither has the France international been as big a flop as some would suggest.

Indeed, since making his Premier League debut in September 2015, only Marcus Rashford (57) has scored more goals for United than Martial's 56. Those goals have come from an expected goals (xG) return of 43, with that xG differential of 13 the largest of any player at the club in that timeframe.

 

Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)

Chelsea face the prospect of losing four defenders without receiving a fee of any sort at the end of the campaign, with Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rudiger all nearing the end of their respective contracts.

Tying down Rudiger to fresh terms should be the priority, given there has arguably been no better defender in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel first took charge of Chelsea on January 27, backed up by the centre-back's Premier League-leading 17 clean sheets over that period.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

No player has quite dominated the transfer column inches in the same manner as Pogba in recent years and, with no sign of a new contract being signed anytime soon, it now looks certain the 28-year-old will depart United for a second time.

Pogba may have struggled for consistency at Old Trafford, not helped by niggling injury issues, but he has averaged one assist per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season – a tally not matched by any player to have played more than once.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG rejected multiple offers from Real Madrid in 2020, but as it stands they are powerless to stop one of the game's leading lights departing at the end of the season.

As well as breaking a number of goalscoring records, Mbappe's 215 direct goal involvements in all competitions since making his PSG debut in September 2017 – 147 goals of his own and 68 assists – is a tally bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (242) and Lionel Messi (246).

 

Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)

Inter have so far been able to persuade Nicola Barella and Lautaro Martinez to extend their stays at San Siro, but Brozovic's future remains unclear heading into the new year.

Brozovic was a key part of Inter's Scudetto-winning side last term, featuring in 33 of their 38 games, and has started all 19 of their matches this campaign. Only Ruben Dias (1,713), Joao Cancelo (1,803) and William Saliba (1,840) have played more successful passes than the Croatia international (1,681) among players from Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22.

Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Gareth Bale and Isco are two high-profile Madrid players set to move on either in January or at the end of the season, but as well as trying to seal Mbappe's signing, Madrid's other priority might be ensuring Modric does not bring an end to his decade-long spell at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2022.

Proving that age is just a number, 36-year-old Modric has been as good as ever for LaLiga leaders Madrid this season. The six big chances created by the midfielder in 2020-21, leading to four assists, has been bettered by only four others in the division.

 

Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)

Dembele has struggled to come close to justifying his hefty transfer fee, reported to be an initial €105million, but he was recently described as having the potential to be the best attacking player in the world by head coach Xavi.

Barca president Joan Laporta is also eager to keep hold of Dembele, who has managed 30 goals and 22 assists in 126 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.6 goals per 90 minutes. For comparison, that is an identical number to Antoine Griezmann during his short-lived stint at Camp Nou.

Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Strongly touted as a target for the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Zakaria will depart Borussia Monchengladbach in 2022 after confirming to the German club that he intends to run down his contract.

The defensive midfielder averages 52.3 passes every 90 minutes and 47.1 successful ones, the latter being the ninth-most this season among Bundesliga midfielders with at least 500 minutes played. Among the same group of players, only seven average more than his two successful dribbles every 90 minutes – all of those being more attack-minded players.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Dybala has indicated that he wants to remain a Juventus player beyond this season but the longer talks over a new deal drag on, the more unlikely it appears he will still be in Turin six months from now – and that would be a major blow for the Bianconeri during an already difficult period.

The Argentina international has eight goals and four assists in 17 appearances this term, without being at what many would consider his best form – at least three more direct goal involvements than Juve's next most threatening player Alvaro Morata and double that of Federico Bernardeschi in third.

Antonio Conte is "100 per cent sure" that Tottenham must improve if they are to close the gap to the Premier League's leading teams.

Conte replaced Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach on November 2, winning six, drawing three and losing two in 11 games at the helm so far. 

Spurs are sixth in the Premier League – although they have games in hand on all the teams above them – and are into the semi-finals of the EFL Cup, with Conte's former side Chelsea their opponents.

Tottenham also crashed out of the Europa Conference League at the group stage after their final game against Rennes – in which they needed a win – could not be rescheduled after the initial fixture was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Conte knows the club will not be able to compete at the highest level if reinforcements are not brought in and believes he has worked out which players he can rely on and which need to be offloaded.

"For sure [Tottenham need new signings in January]. After only two weeks I said we needed to improve the quality of this squad and for sure we need to," said Conte. 

"I was sure after seven to 10 days about this and then I had to make the evaluation over who I can count on and who I can't.

"The gap is very large and we need to work a lot and try to build and improve our squad.

"Yes, I think [my evaluation is complete]. Not I think, I'm sure 100 per cent. I made the evaluation after two months of work with my players. For sure now the situation is more clear than before.

"I am waiting to have a meeting with the club and then also to give my opinion about the squad and what I think about our situation. For sure I am waiting for a meeting."

Spurs captain and first-choice goalkeeper Hugo Lloris' contract expires at the end of the season and Conte is hopeful the 35-year-old will choose to extend his stay in London.

"Hugo is a Tottenham player, he's the captain," Conte continued. "For sure he will talk with the club to try to find a solution.

"I think [he wants to stay]. I think Hugo wants to stay in his club, he loves the club, he stays well in Tottenham. This could be his opinion."

Following a frustrating 1-1 draw against 10-man Southampton, Spurs face Watford on New Year's Day in the hopes of closing the gap to the top four.

Liverpool suffered a major blow to their title hopes when they stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at Leicester City.

Ademola Lookman scored, netting in consecutive Premier League appearances for the first time in his career, having grabbed a goal in the 6-3 Boxing Day defeat at Manchester City.

The former Everton player's contribution, after a rare penalty miss from Mohamed Salah, means City's lead in the title race stands at six points at the halfway stage in the season.

West Ham and Crystal Palace also won on Tuesday, while Southampton battled for a point against Tottenham.

After a big result in the context of the title race, Stats Perform takes a look at the pick of Tuesday's Opta data.

Leicester City 1-0 Liverpool: Salah miss hurts as ex-Everton man Lookman sinks Reds

After converting 15 consecutive Premier League penalties, Salah missed at Leicester, and it was that kind of frustrating game for Liverpool.

It was just Salah's second ever miss from the spot in the English top flight and his first since October 2017 against Huddersfield Town. From then on, he had been immaculate, so when Kasper Schmeichel pulled off a save at the King Power Stadium it was a major surprise. Having said that, since the start of 2020, Schmeichel has saved more penalties in the Premier League than any other goalkeeper, with the latest stop his third in this period.

The result was also a major turn up, Leicester winning consecutive league matches against Liverpool for the first time since April 1999, thanks to Lookman's second-half strike.

Liverpool failed to score for the first time in 29 Premier League games and for the first time in 28 away fixtures across all competitions, as Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers celebrated a big win against one of his former clubs.

The Reds had been unbeaten in 35 December games since a 4-3 loss to Bournemouth in 2016, but their year ends on a negative note.

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham: Kane scores again but Spurs denied a winner

Tottenham's Harry Kane has made a habit of getting the better of Southampton's defence during his stellar career, but this time he had to settle for a penalty equaliser at St Mary's Stadium. By firing past Fraser Forster to level up after James Ward-Prowse's opener, Kane ensured Antonio Conte became the first Tottenham manager to go unbeaten in the first seven league games of a Spurs career.

Kane has now been directly involved in 17 goals in 12 Premier League starts against Southampton (11 goals, six assists), and he was only denied a winner by a controversial VAR offside call.

A fine early strike from Ward-Prowse gave the Saints midfielder a goal for a third successive game. The last time he scored in three straight matches was back in March 2019, and the third goal in that run also came against Spurs.

Perhaps Southampton fans were not expecting their team to hold on. After all, the last time they won their final game of a calendar year was all the way back in 2010, when they beat Huddersfield Town 4-1 in a League One fixture.

The dismissal of Mohammed Salisu, who fouled Son Heung-min to give away the penalty that Kane tucked away, certainly hurt Southampton. Indeed, since Ralph Hasenhuttl’s first Premier League game in charge of Southampton in December 2018, only Arsenal (13) have been shown more red cards in the competition than Saints (11).

Crystal Palace 3-0 Norwich: No Zaha, no Gallagher, no problem for Eagles

Wilfried Zaha was suspended and Conor Gallagher was also absent, but Palace were three goals to the good by half-time against bottom side Norwich.

It was Odsonne Edouard who stepped up to shine, scoring the home side's opening goal from the penalty spot before claiming assists as Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jeffrey Schlupp boosted the lead.

His three goal involvements followed the former Celtic striker having just four (three goals, one assist) across his previous 15 games in the Premier League.

Palace finished the day in 10th place and have impressed many under the leadership of manager Patrick Vieira, losing just once and scoring 18 goals in their 10 Premier League home games since the Frenchman came in, taking 17 points from those fixtures.

This was just Palace's fourth win in their last 25 games without star man Zaha (D3, L18), but they have not lost in their last five when he has been absent.

Norwich have conceded a league-high six penalties this season and have only scored eight goals in 19 games – the joint-lowest tally in a top-flight season after as many matches, alongside Leicester in 1977-78.

Watford 1-4 West Ham: Worrying times for Ranieri

Despite impressive wins over Everton and Manchester United early in Claudio Ranieri's reign, the Italian's Watford team are in trouble now after a fifth consecutive defeat.

An early opener here from Emmanuel Dennis was a red herring. Watford were mauled as Tomas Soucek, Said Benrahma, Mark Noble and Nikola Vlasic scored for the Hammers.

The result means West Ham won 22 Premier League games in 2021, and only in 1959 (23) have they enjoyed more top-flight league wins in a calendar year.

West Ham have also clawed back 12 points from losing positions this season, more than any other side.

Captain Noble netted the Hammers' third from the penalty spot, his first Premier League goal for 706 days since he scored in January 2020 against Leicester.

It was Noble's fifth successful penalty against Watford in the competition, with only the Premier League's record scorer Alan Shearer having put away more spot-kicks against a team in the competition, netting seven against Everton.

Franck Kessie should not think about leaving Milan for clubs that "aren’t of a higher level", according to former Rossoneri midfielder Massimo Ambrosini.

The Ivory Coast international is reportedly keen to leave Milan as a free agent when his contract at San Siro expires at the end of June.

Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are rumoured to be eyeing the midfielder, who is now into his fifth season at San Siro.

The 25-year-old has yet to agree a new deal with Milan, amid reports he is seeking a salary of around €8million.

Stefano Pioli's side are second in Serie A, four points behind reigning champions and rivals Inter after the opening 19 matches.

Ambrosini won four Scudetti and two Champions Leagues during his 18-year playing career with the club.

 

The former midfielder has urged Kessie to consider the prospect of joining a club that might not be able to compete at the same level as Milan.

"I have every respect for the professional decisions of fellow players," Ambrosini told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"All I can say is that these clubs who can offer a higher salary aren't of a higher level than Milan.

"The chance to bring home €8m rather than €6m should not be the priority if you are otherwise happy where you already are.

"He shouldn't think of Milan as a club of a secondary level."

Kessie has played 159 times for the club in Serie A since initially joining on loan from Atalanta in June 2017, with Napoli's Piotr Zielinski the only midfielder in the Italian top flight to register more appearances since then (163).

Tottenham extended their unbeaten Premier League start under Antonio Conte following a 1-1 draw with 10-man Southampton at St Mary's.

The in-form James Ward-Prowse put Saints ahead with a sweetly struck 16-yard shot in the 25th minute.

Harry Kane equalised from the penalty spot 16 minutes later after Mohammed Salisu was dismissed for a second bookable offence.

Spurs were also denied goals twice by offside rulings, as Conte became the first manager in the club's history to remain unbeaten through his first seven league games in charge.

Tottenham had lost their final league game in just one of the last 12 calendar years and thought they had taken the lead in the 14th minute, but Ben Davies' header from a Son Heung-min free-kick was ruled out for offside.

The hosts capitalised by breaking the deadlock as a long Salisu throw-in was only cleared as far as Ward-Prowse, who scored in a third consecutive Premier League match for the first time since March 2019.

But Salisu's joy at playing his part there was short-lived as he was shown a second yellow card for bringing down Son in the box, and Kane equalised with a thumping penalty for his 11th goal in 12 starts against Saints in the English top-flight.

An offside decision came to Southampton's rescue once more eight minutes after the restart, Kane fractionally straying beyond the last defender before clinically tucking away Harry Winks' throughball. A VAR decision came as the teams prepared for a restart in the centre circle.

The visitors controlled large periods of the second half, enjoying over 70 per cent of possession. They were unable to convert their numerical advantage into a winning goal, however, with Kane heading just wide in stoppage time and Bryan Gil thwarted by Fraser Forster.

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