Lionel Messi has not been included in Lionel Scaloni's latest Argentina squad as he continues to recover from coronavirus.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has not played a match in almost a month, with the 1-1 Ligue 1 draw at Lorient on December 22 being his most recent outing.

He contracted COVID-19 while back home in Argentina during the mid-season break, forcing him to return to France later than initially planned.

Messi seemed all set to return to action against Lyon on January 9, but PSG said he needed to continue his recovery and then he also missed the 2-0 win over Brest on Saturday.

While he said last week that "I have almost recovered", Messi did reveal on social media that getting over the illness took "longer than I thought".

Given his situation, Argentina have seemingly deemed it pointless risking Messi or further disrupting his recovery given they have already secured qualification for this year's World Cup.

Argentina travel to Chile on Thursday before hosting Colombia five days later, with both opponents still desperately fighting for the right to play at Qatar 2022.

La Albiceleste's other remaining qualifiers are against Venezuela and surprise-package Ecuador in March.

 

Robert Lewandowski declared he would not let it trouble him after Lionel Messi left the Bayern Munich striker off his picks for the FIFA Best Men's Player award.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi lavished Lewandowski with praise after pipping him to the Ballon d'Or award in November, saying the Poland captain would have deserved the previous year's award, which was scrapped because of the pandemic.

Yet when it came to selecting his picks for the FIFA prize, which is a right afforded to all national team captains and head coaches, Argentina skipper Messi chose PSG team-mates Neymar and Kylian Mbappe as his first and second picks respectively, putting Real Madrid's Karim Benzema in third place.

Lewandowski picked Champions League and Euro 2020 winner Jorginho as his first choice, ahead of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

In the end, Messi's voting choices did not prevent Lewandowski picking up the FIFA honour, which went his way on Monday. Messi finished second, with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah third.

"When you see what he said at the Ballon d'Or, those were nice words and it was very nice of him," Lewandowski said of Messi in a news conference on Tuesday.

"Regarding his choices, this question must go to him. I don't think he can be mad at me privately, if it's about sport. It was his decision and I have to respect that. I don't have to be mad. I definitely voted him second."

Messi and Ronaldo had held a near-duopoly over European and world football's top awards in recent times, but Lewandowski has now won the FIFA award in consecutive years.

The 33-year-old set a Bundesliga single-season scoring record last term when he hit 41 goals for champions Bayern Munich, passing Gerd Muller's 40-goal benchmark.

Once again, this season he is setting the standard across Europe's top five leagues for putting the ball in the back of the net.

Among players from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, LaLiga and Serie A, nobody comes close to matching Lewandowski's haul of 34 goals in 27 games so far across all competitions.

Benzema is second on the list with 24 goals, Mbappe has 19, while Messi has scored only six times for PSG since his dramatic move from Barcelona.

After Salah (23 goals) in third place, next among scorers is Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland (21 goals).

There has been speculation Haaland's next club could be Bayern, and Lewandowski was asked whether the strikers could play together.

"If I train with him, then after a week or two you could say something," Lewandowski said. "Erling is a different type of player than me. But he's a top player, and I'm happy that he shows how good he is in every game. For me, that means I can keep doing my job.”

Robert Lewandowski won the men's FIFA Best award for the second year running at a ceremony at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich on Monday.

The Bayern Munich striker beat fellow nominees Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah to the award, having also won it the last time it was up for grabs in December 2020.

Lewandowski scored 58 goals in 47 games in all competitions in 2021, which included breaking two long-standing records previously held by the legendary German striker Gerd Muller. He bagged 41 goals in a single Bundesliga season for Bayern, and 43 Bundesliga goals in a calendar year.

The Pole has scored 34 goals in 27 games so far this season, including nine in the Champions League group stage.

 

The 33-year-old was presented the award in Munich surrounded by Bayern's chief executive officer Oliver Kahn, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and head coach Julian Nagelsmann.

"Thank you very much. I am very honoured to win this trophy," he said upon receiving the award. "I feel very proud, very happy. This trophy also belongs to my team-mates and my coaches."

Lewandowski was also asked about breaking the records of Muller, who passed away in August last year at the age of 75.

"I never dreamed I could break [Muller's] records, to score 41 goals in 29 games, if you asked me a few years ago if this was possible I would tell you 'no'.

"But now he's not with us anymore, and these old records that I broke, I also say to him 'thank you' because he had so many records and for us, the next generation players, that was like the next step. To try to break these records and I did, so I am very honoured and very proud of this as well."

Robert Lewandowski won the men's FIFA Best award for the second year running at a ceremony at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich on Monday.

The Bayern Munich striker beat fellow nominees Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah to the award, having also won it the last time it was up for grabs in December 2020.

Lewandowski scored 58 goals in 47 games in all competitions in 2021, which included breaking two long-standing records previously held by the legendary German striker Gerd Muller. He bagged 41 goals in a single Bundesliga season for Bayern, and 43 Bundesliga goals in a calendar year.

The Pole has scored 34 goals in 27 games so far this season, including nine in the Champions League group stage.

Lionel Messi has revealed that it took him longer than he expected to recover after recently testing positive for COVID-19.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward tested positive for COVID-19 while back home in Argentina during the mid-season break and subsequently missed his team's 4-0 victory over Vannes in the Coupe de France.

However, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner returned a negative test last week and was set to be available to face Lyon, only for the Ligue 1 leaders to confirm that he would "continue his post-COVID individual recovery protocol for the next few days."

Addressing his 300 million followers on Instagram, Messi issued his appreciation for the support during his recovery, and hopes it will not be long until he returns to action.

He posted: "Good afternoon! As you know I had COVID and I wanted to thank you for all the messages I received and to tell you that it took me longer than I thought to be well, but I have almost recovered, and I am really looking forward to getting back on the pitch. 

"I have been training these days to put myself at 100 per cent, very nice challenges are coming this year and I hope we can meet again very soon. Thanks!!!"

Messi has been directly involved in 10 goals in 16 appearances across all competitions since his switch from Barcelona, scoring six and assisting four. He has created 32 chances for his team-mates, and averaged a goal every 219 minutes.

However, he has only found the net once in 11 Ligue 1 games so far under Mauricio Pochettino.

 

There is nothing quite like an individual football award to create debate and there is sure to be plenty when one of Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski or Mohamed Salah is named this year's men's FIFA Best winner on January 17.

While team trophies will always be the end game for most players, the few who are good enough to be in contention for individual accolades put such importance on being recognised that they have been known to move clubs specifically to improve their chances of collecting silverware in a tuxedo rather than just in a dirty kit. Neymar, anyone?

The Ballon d'Or is broadly seen as football's version of the Oscars, but the annual FIFA Best award is also becoming one of the more sought-after honours and the latest men and women's winners will be crowned on Monday at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich.

The awards will be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website.

Stats Perform has taken a look at the data of the three nominees for the men's prize to try and decipher who is likeliest to come away with the prize.

The Best... at scoring goals

It is a harsh truth that scoring goals will almost always win over stopping them when it comes to the top awards, so it makes sense that Messi, Lewandowski and Salah are the nominees for this year.

The trio scored 129 goals between them in 145 collective games across 2021, which includes 21 overall in this season's Champions League group stage, over seven per cent of the total amount scored in the competition (297).

However, there is no doubt which of the star trio stood out for finding the net time and time again.

Lewandowski, last year's winner, was frankly ridiculous in front of goal, netting 43 in the Bundesliga in a calendar year, breaking Gerd Muller's record from 1972, and 58 in all competitions in just 47 outings.

Salah had a mixed year at Liverpool, with the Reds' poor form at the start of 2021 almost costing them a place in the Premier League's top four. However, thanks in part to the Egypt forwards' 15 goals in 28 games between the turn of the year and end of the campaign, Liverpool reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finished third in the league, ahead of European champions Chelsea.

His nomination is mostly down to his form in the second half of the year, though, with Salah scoring 22 goals in 25 games in all competitions. He scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player, and is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, well ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota in second place on 10.

For Messi, it is probably the other way round. The legendary Argentine has managed only six goals in 16 appearances since his sensational move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season.

However, his 28 goals in 29 games for Barca between New Year's Day and his emotional departure was Messi at his effervescent best, even if the rest of the team was lagging behind him, and he followed that up with four at the Copa America for Argentina.

Consistency and underlying numbers

While it has been mostly impressive from all three, Lewandowski's consistency puts him above the other two, with a 55.17 big chance conversion percentage across 2021, compared to Messi's 45.95 and Salah's 45.90, and an overall shot conversion rate of 28.02 against Salah's 19.37 and Messi's 15.74.

Unsurprisingly, this also led to a significantly better minutes per goal rate, with Lewandowski averaging a goal roughly every 68 minutes, while Messi bagged one every 116 minutes and Salah every 122 minutes.

While all three scored plenty of penalties that could potentially skew the numbers, Lewandowski again dominated in expected goals (xG) without spot kicks, with a 2021 xG excluding penalties of 43.86, compared with Salah's 29.6 and Messi's 24.37.

Not all scorers have to be selfish

Of course, while goals make the headlines, someone has to create them or nothing will happen. This is where Salah and Messi start to claw it back.

Lewandowski managed seven assists in 2021 in all competitions and created 61 chances for team-mates. Quite respectable for any number nine.

However, despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being "selfish", Salah recorded 11 assists and created 88 chances, while Messi had 13 assists to his name and created exactly 100 opportunities.

In terms of big chances (which Opta define as an opportunity from which a player would be expected to score), it is a bit closer, with Lewandowski crafting 16, Salah 18 and Messi 24, though with the Pole usually playing higher up the pitch it makes sense that the opportunities he creates would come in a dangerous area.

Show us your medals

While it is not entirely without merit, it does seem a bit counter-intuitive to base how much credit an individual player deserves on what his team has achieved. There are plenty of world-class players who did not always play in teams capable of winning much silverware, just like there have been numerous average players who were simply members of squads that won a lot, whether they had much to do with it or not.

It usually comes into consideration when the big awards are handed out though and is likely the ultimate reason that Messi pipped Lewandowski to last year's Ballon d'Or.

Messi helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey last season and then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with his nine direct goal involvements helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament. He still managed to score three goals in as many games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

He did win the Bundesliga title again with Bayern, but after claiming a remarkable treble the year before, it may rather harshly look like a bit of a regression.

Unfortunately for Salah, this is probably where his chance to finish above the other two falls down, as arguably proven by his astonishingly low seventh place in the Ballon d'Or voting.

The 29-year-old did not have an opportunity for national team success in 2021, and he is currently aiming to help Egypt recover from an opening game defeat to Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, but he also did not win any trophies at club level.

It is possibly a bit too early for Salah, but his form has been electric this season and if he can continue it through the rest of the campaign, ideally for Liverpool collecting a trophy or two along the way, he will certainly be in the conversation for next year's honours.

The question will be the same as it was for the Ballon d'Or; will those with voting power be more impressed by Lewandowski's goalscoring exploits, or by Messi's final six months at Barca followed by a successful Copa America, or could Salah's explosive form in the second half of the year see him sneak it?

Whatever the outcome, you would be hard-pressed to argue that the trio are not currently the three best footballers on the planet, though if you take a look on social media when the winner is announced, you'll find plenty of people willing to try.

Paris Saint-Germain will be without Lionel Messi for Sunday's Ligue 1 trip to Lyon.

Messi tested positive for COVID-19 while back home in Argentina and subsequently missed PSG’s 4-0 victory over Vannes in the Coupe de France on Monday.

However, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner returned a negative test on Wednesday and was set to be available to face Lyon.

Yet Ligue 1 leaders confirmed on Saturday that the 34-year-old will "continue his post-COVID individual recovery protocol for the next few days."

 

PSG also revealed that Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, Danilo Pereira, Layvin Kurzawa and Gianluigi Donnarumma remain in isolation after recently returning positive tests.

Meanwhile, Neymar is resuming his rehabilitation and is scheduled to return to training in three weeks' time.

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino acknowledges that PSG must adapt in the absence of players, but insists that every team is in the same boat.

During his pre-match press conference, he said: "All teams have absent players; so do we. We have to adapt to everyday life. Sometimes, we have to change our plans.

"It's the same every game, we always have to make choices. We have to put the players in the best conditions."

On the prospect of facing Peter Bosz's Lyon side, he added: "They are one of the best teams in France. 

"There is a very great coach. In the end, they will be fighting for the first places.

"It will be difficult, but we are optimistic."

Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah have been announced as the three finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Player Award.

The attacking trio were named on a shortlist for the prize in November that also included Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Karim Benzema, Jorginho and N'Golo Kante.

Lewandowski, Messi and Salah are the final nominees chosen following a public vote that closed on December 10. Jennifer Hermoso, Sam Kerr and Alexia Putellas are the finalists for the women's award for 2021.

The final three up for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award, confirmed on Thursday, are Pep Guardiola, Roberto Mancini and Thomas Tuchel. Lluis Cortes, Emma Hayes and Sarina Wiegman are the finalists for the women's coaching prize.

The player awards will now be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website. The winners will be announced on January 17.

Lewandowski, who won the 2020 prize after firing Bayern Munich to the treble, scored 41 times in the Bundesliga last season to break Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals in a single season. He ended 2021 with 48 goals in all competitions.

Messi, who won the 2021 Ballon d'Or to extend his record to seven trophies, helped Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey in what proved to be his final season at the club. He then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with four goals and five assists helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Liverpool star Salah scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player. He is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota on 10.

Lionel Messi is set to return to Paris Saint-Germain after testing negative for COVID-19.

The Ligue 1 leaders announced on Sunday that the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner had returned a positive test while back home in Argentina.

Messi subsequently missed the commanding 4-0 win over Vannes in the Coupe de France on Monday, with Kylian Mbappe scoring a hat-trick at Stade de la Rabine.

But the club has revealed the Argentina international tested negative on Wednesday and could be available for this weekend’s trip to Lyon.

 

Mauricio Pochettino will be without Layvin Kurzawa, who returned a positive test and has been placed in isolation.

Messi has struggled to find his feet in Ligue 1 since making his sensational switch from Barcelona in August.

While he has been directly involved in 10 goals (six goals, four assists) from 16 appearances across all competitions, the 34-year-old has only found the net once in 11 games in the French top flight. 

Lionel Messi has tested positive for COVID-19, Paris Saint-Germain have announced.

The Argentine forward and seven-time Ballon d'Or winner will miss the Coupe de France game against Vannes on Monday as a result.

French giants PSG said Juan Bernat, Sergio Rico and Nathan Bitumazala had also tested positive.

"They are currently in isolation and are subject to the appropriate health protocol," the Ligue 1 leaders announced on their website.

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino is expected to field a young side in the domestic cup game, with Neymar also unavailable as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

PSG said Neymar would continue to be treated in Brazil for another week. "His return to training is still expected to be in about three weeks," the club said.

Pochettino said in a news conference: "We have been living with the virus for two years now, and I think we all know we need to avoid it.

"But it is a virus we have been living with for a long time and there is still a lot that we do not know about how it works.

"Leo Messi has been in regular contact with our medical team and when he has a negative test he will travel to France, and we do not know any more than that."

PSG play their first Ligue 1 game of 2022 against Lyon next Sunday, but with former Barcelona captain Messi currently in Argentina he appears to be a significant doubt for that fixture.

"I do not know if he will be involved against Lyon," Pochettino said. "Until Leo Messi gets a negative test in Argentina, he will not be able to travel to France.

"It is all down to the test in terms of when he can travel. When he does, we will assess when he is ready to play."

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Lionel Messi remains the best player in the world in Ander Herrera's eyes and the midfielder expects Kylian Mbappe to dominate world football "for many years to come".

Messi ended a glorious 21-year association with Barcelona amid well-documented financial difficulties for the Catalan club as he moved to the Parc des Princes on a free transfer in August.

The Argentina international reunited with Neymar to form a formidable frontline with Kylian Mbappe, while Mauricio Pochettino also brought in Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Paris Saint-Germain, buoyed by their new array of attacking talent, sit 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, although Messi is yet to fully fire as he continues to settle into life in France.

Messi netted 672 times in 778 appearances for his former club, but he has only found the net on six occasions for PSG across all competitions – averaging a goal every 219 minutes.

However, Herrera still believes Messi is comfortably the best player in the world and insisted Pochettino's side are learning to adapt around the forward, such is the 34-year-old's quality.

"Players of Messi's level shorten the acclimatisation time," Herrera told Mundo Deportivo. "He will play the same way in France, in Spain, in Japan or in Madagascar.

"He has won his seventh Ballon d'Or and trains and enjoys as if he were only starting to play now. No training action is taken as a joke.

"At times we have already seen the best version of Leo, as against [Manchester] City at home, but I think it is also the responsibility of all those around him. We have to put ourselves at his service to get the best out of him. Normally, regular players have to adapt to a new context. 

"Now it is the other way around because we are talking about the best footballer in history."

Mbappe has outshone Messi thus far, the France international managing 15 goals – scoring every 134 minutes – and 12 assists across all competitions this term.

Indeed, since the 23-year-old scored on his PSG debut on September 8, 2017, against Metz, only three players – Robert Lewandowski (208), Messi (168) and Cristiano Ronaldo (157) – have managed more goals across Europe's top-five leagues in all competitions than Mbappe (147).

But Herrera believes Messi still holds the edge over Mbappe, who the Spain international thinks will dominate football for years to come.

"Kylian will be the best player in the world for many years to come, but we all agree that Leo is number one," Herrera added. "No doubt. Mbappe has an immense humility and desire to learn from Leo."

A new contract for Mbappe has also been at the forefront of most discussions, with Real Madrid plotting a move for the former Monaco man, whose current contract expires at the end of the season.

Madrid had multiple advances turned down for Mbappe in the last transfer window, though they can open contract negotiations with the PSG forward in January should a new deal with his current club not be agreed.

But Herrera remains confident Mbappe will stay with Pochettino's side.

"There is scope to try to renew Mbappe," he said. "We have many examples of footballers who have done it in February, March or April. There's still time.

"He is an open, friendly, funny guy. We do not pressure each other at all about our futures. I'm not kidding you, we don't talk about anyone's contractual issues in the dressing room."

Former Clasico foes but now team-mates, Ramos also followed Messi as he ended a long-standing association with Madrid to move to Paris.

However, the centre-back has been hampered by injuries and received a red card in just his third outing for his new side against Lorient on Wednesday, but Herrera expects his compatriot to become a key figure.

"Of course [It has not been easy for him]," he said of Ramos. "He's used to feeling important, playing and leading. But he has now been training for two or three weeks at a fantastic level and we are optimistic.

"It shows in his character and in the happiness he radiates."

With Ramos and Messi among a depth of talent on PSG's books, Herrera understands there is more pressure on PSG now to win the Champions League, though he feels Madrid are favourites for their Champions League last-16 tie in early 2022.

"We want to win the Champions League and we are going to try," he added. "There's no doubt. But just because we have Messi doesn't mean we're entitled to more than everyone else.

"We understand that people expect the best from us, but in Europe there are eight or ten other teams with the same chances of winning.

"A club that has 13 Champions League titles, against one that has not yet been European champions, has to be a slight favourite."

Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe is capable of continuing his goalscoring form long into his career similarly to Cristiano Ronaldo, regardless of where he is plying his trade from next season.

That is according to Louis Saha, who also told Stats Perform that he expects Lionel Messi to blow Ligue 1 opponents away once he regains full fitness in the new year.

Mbappe is into the final six months of his existing contract at the Parc des Princes and is free to sign a pre-contract agreement with clubs outside of Ligue 1 from January.

Real Madrid had two bids turned down for the France international in the previous transfer window and remain the strong favourites to land the superstar in 2022.

Mbappe has scored 15 goals and assisted 12 more in 24 outings in all competitions this term in a star-studded attack that also contains Messi and the currently injured Neymar.

Only Mohamed Salah (31) and Robert Lewandowski (33) have been directly involved in more goals than Mbappe this campaign among players from Europe's top five leagues.

And while glad to see Mbappe remain in Ligue 1 for the 2021-22 campaign, Saha understands that his compatriot has a big decision to make on his future in the coming weeks.

"The main thing for me was for him to stay at PSG this year," Saha said. "Whatever he does next year, for me, that was logical for football in general throughout the world. 

"We wanted to see this trio of Mbappe, Messi and Neymar. It's incredible to see and today he has his destiny in his hands. He's a player who is exploding and he's reaching more milestones."

 

Mbappe recently became the youngest player in Ligue 1 history to score 100 goals for a single team with his second of the game for PSG against former club Monaco.

Since making his debut for PSG in September 2017, the 23-year-old has averaged a goal every 104.63 minutes in all competitions.

That ranks Mbappe behind only four others among Europe's elite attackers over that period and marginally ahead of Ronaldo, who averages a goal every 105.8 minutes at club level.

With Ronaldo still scoring regularly as he approaches his 37th birthday, Saha has challenged Mbappe to hit similar heights.

"If he can match Ronaldo's 40 goals a year average from the age of 20, that's something we want to keep seeing from Kylian," Saha said.

"That is not to put pressure on him. Kylian quite simply has the potential to do that."

Mbappe's 27 direct goal involvements this season is substantially more than PSG's next biggest attacking threat, with Messi second on the list with six goals and four assists.

The record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored just once in 10 Ligue 1 appearances from an expected goals (xG) return of 4.7.

To put that in some context, Mbappe's nine goals in the competition this term have come from an xG of 10.9.

 

But while Messi's PSG career has yet to truly take off, Saha can see that changing once the Barcelona legend gets some regular starts under his belt.

"You can already see players who are not necessarily in great shape like Messi – imagine when he starts to find his form again!" Saha said. "I don't know how teams will cope. 

"PSG are an extraordinary team. I prayed for Mbappe to stay at PSG to see these three exceptional players. Neymar's injury has delayed that, but they have an incredible team. 

"Don't be surprised to see them win the league by 20 or 25 points come the end of the season."

Lionel Messi's effort for Paris Saint-Germain against Manchester City has been voted the Champions League Goal of the Group Stage.

The strike was the 34-year-old's first goal for PSG after joining on a free transfer due to Barcelona's financial issues preventing them from offering him a new contract.

PSG were 1-0 up after an eighth-minute opener from midfielder Idrissa Gueye when Messi, in the 74th minute, played a neat one-two with Kylian Mbappe on the edge of the box. 

The Frenchman backheeled into Messi's path before the Argentine rifled an unstoppable left-footed effort into the top-right corner past a helpless Ederson in the City goal.

Messi garnered 22 per cent of the vote - over 200,00 were cast - beating out competition from Thiago Alcantara and Robert Lewandowski, who gained 14 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.

Thiago struck a stunning volley into the bottom-right corner for Liverpool in their 2-0 win over Porto at Anfield, while Lewandowski fired in a spectacular bicycle kick in Bayern Munich's 2-1 away victory over Dynamo Kiev.

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe said it is pointless scoring 50 goals if the French giants do not win Ligue 1 or the Champions League.

Mbappe scored 42 goals across all competitions last season, but PSG were dethroned by Lille in Ligue 1, while the capital club lost in the Champions League semi-finals.

PSG – who have never won the Champions League – are preparing for a quarter-final showdown with Real Madrid as they sit 13 points clear atop the Ligue 1 standings.

"Last year was good for me, I scored 40 goals, but we didn't win the league or the Champions League," Mbappe, who has 13 goals this term, told PSG's television station.

"In the end I wonder, what is the use of scoring 50 goals if we don't win? I would prefer to score less and win the league and Champions League.

"It was a good season but you don't enjoy it, the aim is to win titles, they are the most important things."

Mbappe – who has tallied nine goals and 14 assists in the league this term – became the youngest player in Ligue 1 history to score 100 goals for a single team with his second of the game for PSG against former club Monaco last week.

Aged just 22 years and 357 days, Mbappe is the youngest player to achieve the feat for one club in French top-flight history since Opta began recording data back in 1950-51.

"I need to feel the pressure, to seek challenges, I've always wanted to have the responsibility on my shoulders," France international Mbappe said.

"I want to be under pressure even if sometimes it ends in disappointment, it's a learning process, I never hide and it is part of the adrenaline rush.

"This is because we like to play high-pressure games, games that everyone watches, I see pressure as something positive."

PSG will face Feignies in the Coupe de France on Sunday before visiting Lorient in Ligue 1 action on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi has been involved in 43 shot-ending sequences in his last five appearances in Ligue 1, at least 14 more than any other player over that period. He has initiated nine of those sequences, also the highest tally in the top-flight.

Messi joined PSG from Barcelona at the start of the season and amid uncertainty of his own future, Madrid target Mbappe said: "It benefits you to have great players around you, I play in a team today with players who help me: Neymar, Messi, [Angel] Di Maria... it's easier."

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