Inter moved back to the summit of Serie A in the latest turn of an enthralling title race after they claimed a 3-1 win over Spezia.

The Nerazzurri threw down a gauntlet to rivals Milan as they deposed them at the top of the table thanks to goals from Marcelo Brozovic, Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez.

Simone Inzaghi's defending champions could well end the weekend back in second place, with their San Siro neighbours set to face Genoa later on Good Friday.

But victory at Stadio Alberto Picco at least means the Nerazzurri remain neck-and-neck, with a game in hand on the Rossoneri beyond this latest round ensuring destiny stays in their own hands.

In a game where opportunities were initially at a premium, it took almost 15 minutes for either side to register an attempt, with Denzel Dumfries heading wide.

But when Danilo D'Ambrosio headed down a looping cross near the edge of the box in the 31st minute, there was little stopping Brozovic's rasping drive into the top-left corner.

The visitors were not as clinically composed as they would have liked, however.

Nicolo Barella slid reaching for the ball past the hour to fumble a great chance for a second, while Dumfries blazed a subsequent low cross way over the crossbar.

But when Martinez flicked Ivan Perisic's cross beyond Ivan Provedel with just over a quarter-hour to play, Inter looked to be home and dry.

Giulio Maggiore fired home a response late on to set up a nervy final act, but the visitors restored the two-goal cushion in stoppage time, with Sanchez drilling a squared Martinez pass home.

 

Argentine forward Paulo Dybala is set to exit Juventus at the end of this season.

As a result, the Bianconeri are assessing their options for a replacement.

Juventus are currently fourth in Serie A after an excellent run of results which have put them into the title picture.

TOP STORY – ZANIOLO FRAMED AS DYBALA REPLACEMENT 

TuttoMercato claims Juventus have set their sights on Nicolo Zaniolo as Dybala's replacement, with the Roma attacker unlikely to renew with the Giallorossi before his contract expires in 2024.

The first domino in this instance is Dybala, whose contract expires at the end of this season. Juventus have no intention of extending according to Fabrizio Romano. Romano claims the 28-year-old will not move another club in Serie A, opening up a move to long-time suitor Tottenham.

According to TuttoMercato, Juve have chosen Zaniolo as their replacement and would be ready to make a move in the upcoming transfer window. Whether they can manoeuvre to match his current market value of €40million remains to be seen, however.

ROUND-UP

- Per Sky Sports, Manchester United have narrowed their shortlist for a permanent manager down to Ajax's Erik ten Hag, Sevilla's Julen Lopetegui, Spain boss Luis Enrique and Paris Saint-Germain's Mauricio Pochettino .

- Inter have targeted Edinson Cavani as a replacement for Alexis Sanchez, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Calciomercato reports Arsenal will make a move for Arthur in the upcoming transfer window, as contract negotiations with Juventus have broken down.

- Arsenal are also keen to tie Bukayo Saka to a long-term contract, in attempts to fend off outside interest for the 20-year-old, per The Athletic.

Alexis Sanchez hit a stoppage-time leveller to earn Inter a point, but Sunday's 1-1 draw at Torino still went down as a major blow to the Nerazzurri's Scudetto defence hopes.

Chile international Sanchez came off the bench and struck in the third added minute, after Gleison Bremer's first-half finish looked to have done enough for the hosts at Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

On the back of their midweek Champions League exit to Liverpool, Simone Inzaghi's Inter missed the chance to put telling pressure on Serie A leaders Milan, trimming the difference between the city rivals to just four points after labouring against mid-table opposition.

Ivan Juric's Torino could not quite snap a six-game winless streak, but their hard-earned point at the very least likely ends any remote chance of a relegation battle in Turin this season.

Manchester United's search for a new permanent manager continues.

The Red Devils parted ways with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last year after an underwhelming campaign despite the return of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ralf Rangnick has taken over on an interim basis, buying United time to get the right man for the job.

TOP STORY - MAN UTD 'SOUND OUT' TEN HAG

Manchester United have "sounded out" Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag through intermediaries with no formal approach yet, claims Sky Sports.

Ten Hag along with current Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino are believed to be the two lead candidates for the top job at Old Trafford.

The report claims the Dutchman would be keen to speak to United if they make a formal approach.

 

ROUND-UP

- Italian champions Inter are ready to allow Alexis Sanchez to exit the club in mid-year reports Calciomercato. The 33-year-old's contract at San Siro runs until 2023 but Inter are keen to get his hefty wages off their books.

- England international Joe Gomez will seek a move away from Liverpool at the end of this season, claims 90min, as he seeks more regular game-time, having been a bit-part player this term. Leicester City, Tottenham, Newcastle United and West Ham are all interested.

- Brighton and Hove Albion are leading the race to sign Chile international Ben Brereton Diaz from promotion hopefuls Blackburn Rovers, claims TEAMtalk. Crystal Palace, Everton, Leeds United and West Ham are also interested.

- Mundo Deportivo reports that West Ham are interested in signing former Barcelona, Milan and Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu from Udinese.

- Fichajes claims Wolves are in talks with Shakhtar Donetsk's Pedrinho about a move to England, with players from Ukrainian clubs able to seek free transfers.

Arsene Wenger has accused Liverpool midfielder Fabinho of "cheating" in order to get Alexis Sanchez sent off in Tuesday's Champions League tie with Inter.

Liverpool were beaten 1-0 by the Italian champions in the second leg at Anfield but still advanced to the quarter-finals by virtue of a 2-1 aggregate victory.

Sanchez's dismissal came at a pivotal moment in the tie, the Chile international being shown a second yellow two minutes after Lautaro Martinez had struck to give Inter hope.

The former Arsenal and Manchester United player clearly got some of the ball but followed through on Fabinho, who got back to his feet once the red card had been issued.

It was the first red card Sanchez has received in his 64 games in the Champions League, and Wenger suggested Fabinho more than played his part in the referee's decision.

"It was borderline between cheating and being clever," Wenger, who worked with Sanchez at Arsenal between 2014 and 2018, told beIN SPORTS. 

"He was cheating, he made more of it. Maybe he had pain, he was touched by Sanchez. You cannot say it was completely fake. Maybe he could have got up quicker. 

"It's one of those fouls – when it's one of your plays you say it's clever; when you're completely neutral like we're supposed to be you can say he could have made less of it.

"He didn't want to hurt him, he played the ball first."

 

Sanchez is the first Inter player to be given his marching orders in the knockout stages of the Champions League since Cristian Chivu against Schalke in April 2011.

The 33-year-old, who was credited with the assist for Martinez's strike, had earlier been cautioned for a lunge on Thiago Alcantara.

And Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp felt that challenge alone late in the first half was worthy of a straight red card for Sanchez.

"I think he was lucky he hadn't got a red card in the first half, going in so high on Thiago onto his knee," Klopp said at his post-match news conference. 

"Passion is good, absolutely good, but if it leads to these kind of things then it doesn't help."

On the red card incident, Klopp added: "If you can win the ball only [then it is acceptable] but if you endanger an opponent when you do it, then you don't win the ball. 

"If Fabinho goes in with the same intention, with the leg out, then both players get injured."

Despite victory on the night, Inter have now been eliminated from each of their last three Champions League knockout ties since beating Bayern Munich in the 2010-11 last 16.

Simone Inzaghi has "great regrets" following Inter's 2-1 aggregate defeat to Liverpool, but stands by his decision to not substitute Alexis Sanchez prior to the forward's sending off.

Inter trailed 2-0 heading into the Champions League last-16 second leg and were fortunate not to be further behind as Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah hit the frame of the goal.

However, Lautaro Martinez's superb 20-yard strike with just over an hour played changed the mood around Anfield and gave Inter serious hope of salvaging extra time.

Inter's prospects of staying in the competition were badly dented 107 seconds later, though, as Sanchez received a second yellow card for following through on Fabinho.

Former Arsenal and Manchester United forward Sanchez had been yellow carded late in the first half for a similar lunge on Thiago Alcantara.

Inter, who conceded late on to Roberto Firmino and Salah in the first leg, offered little attacking threat with 10 men and were lucky not to concede when Salah again hit the post.

Inzaghi is known for substituting players when they are at risk of being dismissed, but he did not feel the need to bring off Sanchez in what was an at times bad-tempered game.

"Absolutely not," he told Sky Sport Italia after his side's 1-0 win on the night.

"In general I am very careful, but at that moment I needed Sanchez on the field. I was not going to change him on an evening like this."

 

Sanchez is the first Inter player to see red in the knockout stages of the Champions League since Cristian Chivu against Schalke in 2011.

Inter boss Inzaghi did not comment on whether he felt the red card was harsh as he did not see the second foul, though he felt his side deserved more over the two legs.

“We feel upset about the fact we had a player sent off just when we were getting the upper hand in the game," he said of Sanchez's first dismissal in 64 games in the competition.

"There are certainly great regrets for us as we wanted to reach the last 16.

"But we were up against Liverpool, who along with Manchester City and Bayern Munich are the best team in Europe right now, and we fought them on an even keel.

"We are probably paying the price for the final 15 minutes of the first leg, because I think we had two very good games against an excellent opponent.

"I think the first 75 minutes saw us deserve far more, then we conceded on a corner, which wasn't even a good one, and the second goal really knocked us down.

"During our best period of the game and the worst for them, Alexis Sanchez was sent off, and that was bad timing.

"Over the two legs we showed we are equal to a really strong Liverpool team. We played well and I am more bitter about the game at San Siro than what happened in this game."

 

Martinez's goal was his first in the Champions League in 11 appearances since netting against Real Madrid in November 2020.

It proved to be nothing more than a consolation over the two legs, though it did earn the Italian champions a first win against Liverpool home or away since the 1964-65 season.

But at the end of 180 minutes, Martinez was left to rue Sanchez's red card at a pivotal moment in the game.

"We did what we wanted to by showing character," he said. "It was a pity to then go down to 10 men because these are the details that make the difference.

"All we can do now is look forward. We are out of the Champions League but still have the Coppa Italia and Serie A. We must learn from these mistakes."

Liverpool advanced to the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 2-1 aggregate victory over 10-man Inter, despite losing 1-0 in Tuesday's second leg at Anfield.

Late goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in last month's first leg ensured the Reds were in control of the tie heading into the return fixture.

The hosts hit the frame of the goal through Joel Matip and Salah and looked under no threat until the point Lautaro Martinez fired in a stunning goal for Inter with an hour played.  

Alexis Sanchez was sent off 107 seconds later for a second yellow card, however, and it was Liverpool who went closest to scoring the next goal when Salah struck the post.

Thiago Alcantara and Matip returned to Liverpool's line-up and the latter picked out the crossbar from the best of Liverpool's limited first-half openings.

Milan Skriniar superbly blocked Virgil van Dijk's goal-bound header moments later, while Hakan Calhanoglu tested Alisson at the other end from a low free-kick.

Liverpool slowly started to turn the screw and should have been out of sight in the tie, only for Salah to fire against the upright after Diogo Jota was denied by Samir Handanovic.

Those wasted chances came back to haunt Jurgen Klopp's side when Martinez unleashed a swerving 20-yard shot into the top-right corner.

Sanchez, who received a yellow for a challenge on Thiago late in the first half, was sent off for following through on the same opponent almost immediately after Martinez's goal.

Liverpool were further frustrated as Salah's cushioned volley came back off the upright, but the hosts protected their one-goal aggregate lead to reach the last eight.

Inter forward Alexis Sanchez served up a reminder of his talent before expressing frustration at a lack of opportunities under Simone Inzaghi this season.

Sanchez produced an inspired performance as the Nerazzurri responded to their derby defeat by Milan with a 2-0 win over Roma, advancing to the Coppa Italia semi-finals.

After Edin Dzeko opened the scoring at San Siro, Chile international Sanchez sealed victory with a ferocious 25-yard effort midway through the second half.

The former Barcelona, Manchester United and Arsenal forward also registered game-high tallies of 13 crosses and five key passes.

Sanchez was making his 23rd appearance of the season in all competitions, but only his sixth start.

While acknowledging the team must come first, he spoke of his frustration at mainly having to settle for cameos.

He said: "I always want to play. The more I play, the better I feel. I want to do the best for the team, it's difficult to play five or 10 minutes and do well."

Looking at Inter's current circumstances, Sanchez told Sport Mediaset: “We know that we played better than Milan in the derby, but we shouldn't have made those mistakes.

"We're staying calm as we're still top [of Serie A] and we want to continue down our path."

Meanwhile, Inzaghi expressed delight at his players' response to their disappointing weekend defeat at the hands of Milan.

The Inter head coach said: "The boys were very good, it was not an easy match. Roma are a quality team, with an excellent squad. We controlled the pitch very well and deserved [to reach] this semi-final.

"I congratulated the boys because to play a match with such strong personality two and a half days after the setback in the derby wasn't easy."

The only sour note for the hosts was an ankle injury sustained by defender Alessandro Bastoni during the first half.

Inzaghi hopes that any spell on the sidelines for the Italy international will be minimal.

"I hope it is nothing serious," Inzaghi said. "The doctors will do the necessary checks, we hope not to lose him for too long because he is really too important to us."

Alexis Sanchez's wonderful strike helped Inter reach the Coppa Italia semi-finals with a 2-0 victory over Roma.

Edin Dzeko opened the scoring against his old club with a neat volley inside the first two minutes at San Siro.

Then, Sanchez doubled the advantage midway through the second half with a magnificent effort from 25 yards.

It was enough to give Simone Inzaghi's side a fourth victory in five meetings with their opponents at this stage of the competition.

The third-highest scorer in Roma’s history behind Francesco Totti (307) and Roberto Pruzzo (138), Dzeko scored 119 goals in 260 appearances for the Giallorossi in all competitions between 2015 and 2021.

The Bosnia international came back to haunt his old club after just two minutes, volleying home brilliantly from Ivan Perisic's inviting cross.

Inter went close to doubling their lead as Nicolo Barella rattled the crossbar from distance, while Dzeko and Milan Skriniar saw headers saved by Rui Patricio.

At the other end, Samir Handanovic sprung into action with superb reflexes to deny Nicolo Zaniolo from the visitors' first attack.

The hosts lost Alessandro Bastoni to injury just before half-time. Along with Inzaghi and Lautaro Martinez, the defender faced disciplinary action earlier in the day for his conduct during the derby defeat by Milan at the weekend.

On returning to his former club, Jose Mourinho and his Roma side threatened to find an equaliser after the break.

Jordan Veretout's long-range effort was not too far off target, while Handanovic did brilliantly to scramble across and tip Sergio Oliveira's deflected strike over the bar.

But Inter doubled their advantage and sealed the tie in emphatic fashion in the 68th minute, with Sanchez unleashing a rasping drive into the top left corner.

Stefano Sensi scored the winner as Inter required extra-time to edge past Empoli 3-2 in the Coppa Italia last 16 on Wednesday.

Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring after just 12 minutes at the San Siro, but Empoli turned things around as substitute Nedim Bajrami equalised before the visitors fortuitously took the lead when Ionut Radu deflected into his own net.

Andrea Ranocchia produced an acrobatic stoppage-time equaliser to send the tie to extra-time and substitute Sensi delivered the decisive strike after 104 minutes. 

Victory meant Simone Inzaghi's Serie A leaders squirmed through to the quarter-finals for the 18th time in 19 seasons.

Inter deservedly took the lead when Sanchez nodded Denzel Dumfries' cross into the bottom-left corner - the forward's second goal in the competition, 4,291 days after his first for Udinese in 2010.

The same pair combined eight minutes later, but Dumfries saw his effort kept out by Jacopo Furlan before a fantastic double save from the Empoli goalkeeper denied Lautaro Martinez.

Ranocchia should have doubled the lead immediately after the interval but wastefully headed over.

Bajrami punished Ranocchia's miss as he placed a left-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after Kristjan Asllani's offload before VAR overturned a penalty decision for a Dumfries handball. 

Empoli went ahead when Radu inadvertently turned into his own net after Patrick Cutrone nodded against the woodwork, though Ranocchia equalised with an audacious volley past Furlan.

Sanchez saw a tap-in ruled out for offside at the end of normal time, but Sensi blasted the winner into the top-left corner from the edge of the area in extra time.

 

What does it mean? Familiar story as Inter need extra-time

Inter enjoyed last-minute success against Juventus in the Supercoppa final last week and required more last-gasp heroics from Ranocchia to keep them in the tie.

The centre-back's equaliser meant four of the Nerazzurri's previous eight last-16 meetings in the competition have gone to extra-time.

Sensi's late strike ensured Inter remain unbeaten against Empoli in 11 games in this competition, the club's longest run against an opponent in the cup without losing, and Inzaghi's side will be among the early favourites to lift the trophy in May.

Brilliant Bajrami

Bajrami almost single-handedly changed Empoli's fortunes after his half-time introduction, scoring the equaliser in a classy attacking display, but his efforts ultimately proved to be in vain.

The substitute created a game-leading four chances despite only playing the second half and extra-time.

Poor Pinamonti

Loanee Andrea Pinamonti was offered the unusual opportunity of starting up top against his parent club Inter but did little to impress.

The striker managed just 13 touches and won none of his five duels before his half-time removal in a timid performance.

What's next?

Inter return to league action on Saturday at home to Venezia, while Empoli host Jose Mourinho's Roma the following day.

Inter have been linked with Juventus star Paulo Dybala, but Simone Inzaghi instead focused on his delight with the recent form of Alexis Sanchez.

Dybala is out of contract at Juve at the end of the campaign and recent reports have suggested that the Nerazzurri will move to add him to their ranks ahead of next season.

But speaking at a news conference ahead of Inter's trip to Atalanta on Sunday, Inzaghi refused to comment on the possibility of moving for the Argentine, who has scored nine goals and registered four assists in 20 games in all competitions for the Old Lady this season.

"I've read and heard things but I don't like talking about players from other teams, I'm proud of the ones I have," he told reporters.

One of the players the former Lazio manager is proud of is Sanchez, who scored the winning goal in the last minute of extra time as Inter beat Juve 2-1 in the Supercoppa Italiana on Wednesday.

"Sanchez has been decisive and I am happy to coach him," Inzaghi added. "For a coach, to see the action that determined the match, with the four players who came on during the match and [Arturo] Vidal was also decisive with his entrance, is a great satisfaction.

"Sanchez is a great asset, but I'll evaluate him for the game against Atalanta.

"I've already said it, Sanchez is a champion who always wants to learn. He didn't need the goal against Juve, he's already settled down for two months."

Inzaghi also had words of praise for Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini, who once again has the Bergamo side in the top four of Serie A, three points ahead of Juve in fifth with a game in hand, with only Inter (51) and Milan (46) having scored more goals in the league than Atalanta's 44.

"Gasperini has been doing well for many years at Atalanta," he said. "Football has evolved over the years and occupying space at the right time is increasingly important.

"It's going to be a good, physical game, one to be experienced. Like the first game [2-2 at San Siro in September], with a very high tempo."

Despite being eight points behind Inter heading into the game, when asked if Sunday's opponents are a part of the race for the Scudetto, Inzaghi insisted: "Absolutely. Atalanta are in fourth place and they're improving all the time. It's a title race match."

Gavi has fast become the talk of Spanish football.

The 17-year-old is a regular for Barcelona and now an international for Luis Enrique's Spain.

His exploits have reportedly attracted interest from Europe's elite.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO CHASING GAVI

Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Manchester United are interested in Barcelona and Spain sensation Gavi, according to El Nacional.

Gavi has enjoyed a rapid rise at Camp Nou this season, while he earned his first international cap in Spain's Nations League semi-final success against Italy on Wednesday.

PSG, Liverpool and United are eyeing Gavi as Barca try to extend the 17-year-old's contract, claims Mundo Deportivo.

 

ROUND-UP

- ABC claims Liverpool have set their sights on Real Madrid attacker Marco Asensio, who is reportedly unhappy at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Juventus and Inter are eyeing Bayern Munich centre-back Niklas Sule, says Calciomercato. The Germany international, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has also been linked with Chelsea.

- Bundesliga champions Bayern are monitoring PSV winger Cody Gakpo. The 22-year-old is seen as an ideal replacement Kingsley Coman, who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Liverpool and United.

Valencia and Real Betis are battling to sign out-of-favour Inter forward Alexis Sanchez, per Calciomercato. The Chilean forward has also emerged as a target for Rayo Vallecano.

Mauro Icardi could swap PSG for Juve as the Serie A side view the former Inter captain as an alternative to Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Vlahovic is set to leave Fiorentina amid links with Manchester City, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Inter.

Is the end nigh for Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Old Trafford?
 
Wan-Bisakka joined Manchester United in a big-money deal in 2019 but the Red Devils are reportedly ready to replace the Englishman.
 
A talented RB Leipzig defender could be the team's next right-back.

 

TOP STORY – NEW RIGHT-BACK SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are eyeing RB Leipzig right-back Nordi Mukiele, according Fichajes.net.

United are reportedly keen to sign a replacement after losing patience with Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is believed to be interested in Leipzig's 23-year-old star Mukiele.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Milan and Juventus are interested in United States and Dallas sensation Ricardo Pepi. The 18-year-old has also been linked with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

- Inter are willing to let Alexis Sanchez leave the Serie A champions, reports Calciomercato. Marseille, Real Betis and Sevilla are among the possible options for the 32-year-old Chilean.

Tottenham are weighing up a move for Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins, per Fichajes. It comes amid continued uncertainty over Spurs star Harry Kane, who has been linked with Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus as well as United.

 

Before every major tournament, eyes are trained on the next generation of stars set to take the football world by storm.

This year's rescheduled Copa America is no different with the likes of Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo, Brazil right-back Emerson Royal and Colombia forward Jaminton Campaz on the scene.

But there is still no changing of the guard as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, among others, continue to dominate on the international stage.

Stats Perform looks at six players above the age of 30 and their eye-catching numbers heading into the 47th edition of the Copa America.

 

Lionel Messi, 33, Argentina

Messi enters the showpiece South American tournament on the back of another impressive club campaign. With 30 league goals in 2020-21, Barcelona superstar Messi has now recorded 25-plus goals in each his past 12 league seasons. Craving senior international silverware with La Albiceleste following runners-up appearances at the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014, Messi scored 11 LaLiga goals direct following a ball carry last season – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues. Following a third-placed finish in 2019, Messi – the country's all-time leading scorer with 72 goals, while only Javier Mascherano (147) has earned more caps than the six-time Ballon d'Or winner (144) – will be hoping this year's tournament delivers that much-coveted international prize. Argentina are in Group A alongside matchday one opponents Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Luis Suarez, 34, Uruguay

Suarez upstaged close friend Messi in 2020-21 after swapping Barca for Atletico Madrid. Having been forced out of Camp Nou amid concerns his best years were behind him, veteran forward Suarez found vindication and the ultimate revenge by leading to Atletico Madrid to LaLiga glory. His 21 goals were worth 21 points last season – the most of any player in the competition. Since 2011-12, only Messi (492) and Cristiano Ronaldo (411) have been directly involved in more goals in Europe's top-five leagues than Suarez (325 – 233 goals and 92 assists). Uruguay's all-time leading goalscorer (63), Suarez is far from a spent force as Oscar Tabarez's side – who are scheduled to open their campaign against Argentina – fight to win a first Copa America crown since 2011. Suarez has been directly involved in nine goals in 10 games at the Copa America (six goals and three assists).

Edinson Cavani, 34, Uruguay

Cavani and Suarez are the face of a generation that delivered the 2011 title, finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. Cavani joined Manchester United on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain at the beginning of 2020-21 and made an immediate impact at Old Trafford, finishing the season with 10 Premier League goals and 17 across all competitions – his minutes per goal ratio both in the Premier League and in all competitions the best among his team-mates (137 and 128). In the Europa League final loss to Villarreal, Cavani became just the third player aged 34 or above to score in a major European decider for an English club, after Gary McAllister (36) for Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final against Deportivo Alaves in 2000-01 and Didier Drogba (34) for Chelsea in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 2011-12. Only Suarez has scored more goals for Uruguay than Cavani (51 in 118 appearances), who earned a new deal in Manchester.

Alexis Sanchez, 32, Chile

Sanchez's club career had been on a steep decline since he left Arsenal for Premier League rivals United in 2018. But the Chile star has enjoyed success at Inter. Although a squad player under former Nerazzurri coach Antonio Conte, Sanchez – who joined Inter permanently last year – scored seven goals and supplied five assists in just 12 starts last term. An option in place of regular starting duo Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, Sanchez ranked better in shooting accuracy excluding blocks (69.6 per cent), passing accuracy (80.0), passing accuracy ending in the final third (73.5) and dribbled success rate (60.0) than both men. His big chance conversion rate (50.0) was only second to Lukaku, likewise his shot conversion rate (24.1). At international level, there is no disputing his role for Chile after leading La Roja to Copa America success in 2015 and 2016. Chile's most capped player (138) and leading goalscorer (46), Sanchez will once again carry the weight of his country this month.

Marcelo Martins, 33, Bolivia

The heart and soul of a nation? Look no further than Martins. The iconic forward stands alone as Bolivia's record holder for goals (25 in 83 appearances). Of those, 18 have come in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, also making Martins Bolivia's top scorer in that competition. Currently playing his football for Cruzeiro in Brazil, Martins scored three goals in the two qualifiers immediately prior to the Copa America, helping his side to earn four points. With their talisman leading the line, Bolivia – who won their only Copa America title on home soil in 1963 and lost the final when they hosted again in 1997 – are seeking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 2015. They start against Paraguay.

Paolo Guerrero, 37, Peru

Like Martins in Bolivia, Guerrero epitomises Peruvian football. The success of Peru has long been linked to the striker, who is in the history books for the most goals (38) for La Blanquirroja. Having debuted in 2004, this will be the captain's sixth Copa America appearance, having guided two-time winners Peru to third place in the 2011 and 2015 editions before securing a runners-up medal in 2019 – finishing as top scorer in all three of those tournaments. Guerrero is now the leading Copa America scorer in among active players (14) and only three shy of the all-time record (Norberto Mendez and Zizinho, both 17). While in the twilight of his career, Ricardo Gareca and Peru – who will come up against Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – will be leaning on his experience across the border in Brazil.

Thiago Silva, 36, Brazil

There were some doubts about Silva's suitability to the Premier League when he saw out his PSG contract and opted to test himself with Chelsea. But the star centre-back did not look out of place in England, despite his advancing years, ending the campaign as a Champions League winner for the first time in his career. In all competitions in 2020-21, Silva led Chelsea in passing accuracy (93.0 per cent). He became Chelsea's oldest player (36 years and 249 days) to appear in a major European final, overtaking Claude Makelele against United in the 2008 Champions League decider (35 years and 93 days) as the Blues trumped Manchester City in Porto. The Selecao captain now turns his attention to Brazil's bid to claim back-to-back Copa America trophies. They have won five of the past nine.

Lionel Messi scored as Argentina resumed their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Chile.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the football calendar, with the road to Qatar 2022 postponed due to the COVID-19 health crisis until Thursday's clash in Santiago del Estero.

Argentina hit the front behind closed doors through Messi's 24th-minute penalty after Lautaro Martinez was fouled by Guillermo Maripan.

Chilean star Alexis Sanchez equalised 12 minutes later but La Albiceleste still remain unbeaten through five games in qualifying.

While Chile had played a friendly in March, Argentina were returning to action for the first time since November last year – a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Peru.

With both nations also gearing up for the looming Copa America – scheduled to start in Brazil on June 14 – visitors Chile made a bright start in a physical opening, veteran forward Eduardo Vargas flashing a shot just wide of the post in the 15th minute.

That seemed to trigger Argentina, who went up the other end and earned a penalty. Maripan's challenge on Martinez initially went unpunished but the referee pointed to the spot after VAR recommended a review.

The outcome was predictable as Messi stepped up to convert, sending Claudio Bravo the wrong way for his 72nd international goal.

Argentina's lead lasted just 12 minutes as Chile responded through Sanchez, who made no mistake from close range after a free-kick was whipped into the back post and Gary Medel kept the ball alive by heading it across the six-yard box for his team-mate.

Messi also restored Argentina's lead in the first minute of stoppage time, but Chile goalkeeper Bravo made a fine save to thwart the superstar.

After a long domestic club campaign, the quality began to drop, though Chile looked the more threatening in the second half.

Just as Argentina looked off the pace and vulnerable defensively, Messi came within inches of putting the home side ahead after his free-kick struck the post inside the final 10 minutes.

 

What does it mean? Argentina extend streak

Not since the 2019 Copa America in July have Argentina tasted defeat. Scaloni's men are now 12 games unbeaten – dating back to the 2-0 semi-final loss to Brazil – with this year's scheduled Copa America looming on June 14.

Chile impress under new boss

Martin Lasarte replaced Reinaldo Rueda in February and his first qualifying fixture should provide optimism among Chile fans. Having only won one of their four 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Chile took the game to Argentina.

Di Maria poor

Given a starting berth by Lionel Scaloni, Angel Di Maria had a chance to stake his claim ahead of the Copa America. However, the Paris Saint-Germain star did not have much of an impact and was withdrawn just past the hour.

 

What's next?

Argentina will continue their road to Qatar 2022 at Colombia on Tuesday, while Chile host Bolivia on the same day.

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