Cristiano Ronaldo lost ground in his quest to claim more Ballon d'Or awards than his rival Lionel Messi, finishing sixth while the Argentine claimed a historic seventh award.

It is the first time the Portugal forward, who was not in attendance at the ceremony in Paris on Monday, has not been named in the top three since 2010, when Messi – who won his second prize that year – was joined by then Barcelona team-mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Ronaldo managed 30 goals at club level in 2021 for Juventus and Manchester United, while also becoming the all-time top scorer in men's international football.

The 36-year-old finishes above Paris Saint-Germain pair Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kylian Mbappe as well as Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah.

Salah and Mbappe both outscored Ronaldo at club level this calendar year, scoring 32 and 37 goals across all competitions, but finished seventh and ninth respectively.

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante and Real Madrid centre-forward Karim Benzema claimed the fifth and fourth spots, with Ronaldo's former team-mate enjoying a prolific year, managing 34 goals and 12 assists for Los Blancos in all competitions.

Jorginho, who won the Euros with Italy and claimed the Champions League with Chelsea, makes it into the top three behind Messi and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who finished second but won the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season, while he has netted 53 times in 2021.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballon d'Or top 10:

1. Lionel Messi (PSG and Argentina)
2. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
3. Jorginho (Chelsea and Italy)
4. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
5. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Portugal)
7. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)
8. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
9. Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)
10. Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG and Italy)

Lionel Messi has edged out Robert Lewandowski to the 2021 Ballon d'Or award, a seventh of his magnificent career.

World football's most prestigious individual accolade was back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony taking place in Paris on Monday, where Messi was announced as the winner with Lewandowski second.

The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was pipped by Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year in the running for the 2021 iteration.

Lewandowski did get the consolation prize of the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Was it the right choice, though? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses why the Argentinian may have been awarded this year's prize.

Last season: Barca swansong v Muller's record

Few anticipated that the first half of 2021 would also be the final half-season of Messi's time at Barcelona.

His sensational free transfer to PSG at the end of the campaign was forced by financial issues at the Catalan club, and he bid a tearful goodbye to the Camp Nou, but not before signing off with a few more goals.

Messi's last LaLiga campaign before heading off to France saw him bag 30 goals in 35 games, with a further five in six Champions League games.

However, team awards were scarce, with just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts. Barca finished a meek third in LaLiga, and were eliminated – somewhat ironically – by PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Something that may have counted against Lewandowski was his own lack of silverware compared to the previous year, where he and Bayern hoovered up a remarkable treble, including the Champions League. They did though still retain the Bundesliga title with relative ease, as well as clinching the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

They were eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, also by a pre-Messi PSG, though this can hardly be blamed on the Polish striker, who missed both legs of the tie through injury.

Lewandowski himself remained in outstanding form, and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 for Die Roten in just 29 league games, with a deadly shot conversion percentage across the season of 29.93.

It may have been Messi's superior creativity that helped sway the judges, creating 77 chances in his 35 league games, 22 of which were big chances, compared to 32 and nine from Lewandowski in his 29 league appearances in Germany.

The former Barca man did only manage two more assists than Lewandowski (nine to seven) but completed 159 dribbles and 1,068 successful passes ending in the final third, compared to the Pole's 22 and 237. Of course, it should be noted that Messi's role is typically a deeper one than Lewandowski's, so those latter statistics are not too surprising.

This season: New adventures v same old story

Messi's start to a new life in a new league has not exactly matched the inevitable expectations that accompanied his arrival in Paris.

The 34-year-old has just one goal in seven appearances in Ligue 1 with a shot conversion percentage of just 4.17, though he does have three in four Champions League games for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Lewandowski has continued to plunder goals against all-comers, with 25 goals in 20 games in all competitions for Bayern, including an incredible nine in five Champions League games, and his shot conversion rate is currently even better than last season at 30.86 per cent.

In all competitions, the former Borussia Dortmund striker has played almost twice as many games as Messi (20 to 11) so it is tricky to compare them too accurately in terms of output, but Lewandowski has created 26 chances to Messi's 18, with six big chances created to five, while Messi has the edge on assists (three to two), dribbles completed (22 to 20) and successful passes ending in the final third (222 to 146).

So far you would have to say it is the Pole who is impressing most in the current campaign, having also had a more productive season last time out, so where exactly did Messi win this award?

 

Internationals: Argentina v Poland

Despite being an individual award, there is no doubt that team accolades often play a big part in swaying the judges, and an eventful pre-season for Messi at club level was arguably the only thing that could possibly have overshadowed what happened at international level as he finally lifted his first trophy in an Argentina shirt.

Messi scored four goals and gave five assists as he led the Albiceleste to their first Copa America title since 1993, being involved in nine of the 12 goals scored by Argentina at the tournament.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament.

Their star striker still managed to score three goals in three games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

 

Very little creates debate in football quite like the Ballon d'Or, and on the face of it this year's trophy could have gone either way, with honourable mentions for the likes of Jorginho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Karim Benzema.

It is Messi's Ballon d'Or in 2021 though, and it seems that Copa America success is what tipped it in his favour. PSG fans will be hoping that a domestic trophy haul over the next 12 months can see him installed as favourite to secure his eighth award next year, ahead of potentially his last attempt at World Cup success with Argentina.

Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after beating Robert Lewandowski to the most sought-after individual prize in football.

The Paris Saint-Germain star may have endured a somewhat slow start to life in France this season, but before that he was electric for Barcelona and Argentina.

It was surely his long-awaited first trophy success with La Albiceleste that gave Messi the edge over Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski. 

Messi captained Argentina to Copa America success in July, ending their 28-year drought in major international competitions.

 

At the Maracana – the scene of Argentina's 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany – Messi helped Lionel Scaloni's men to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals and Copa hosts Brazil.

He had previously lost Copa finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, briefly retiring after missing his penalty in the shootout that saw the trophy slip from their grasp in the latter.

Messi may not have had the decisive impact in this year's final, but over the course of the tournament he was deemed to have been the best player, scoring four goals and setting up another five – no one bettered him in either metric.

 

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Messi's success in Brazil seemed to tip the scales in his favour, with the 34-year-old increasing his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes, the Manchester United forward now two back on five after finishing sixth in the voting this time around.

Lewandowski did, however, win the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Cristiano Ronaldo has criticised France Football after their editor-in-chief stated the Manchester United forward's priority is to retire with more Ballon d'Or awards than Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo and Messi are both on the shortlist for the prestigious award, which is returning after it was scrapped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both players have made the top 10, with the players ranked from 30th to 11th having already been confirmed. Messi is expected to vie with Robert Lewandowski for the accolade.

While Messi is bidding to win a seventh Ballon d'Or, Ronaldo has five to his name. However, earlier this week, Pascal Ferre, the editor-in-chief of France Football, the organisation that runs the award, claimed the Portugal star had told him that his ambition was to retire having won the prize on more occasions than his Argentine counterpart.

Ronaldo was not in attendance at Monday's awards ceremony and, just before the celebrations started, the 36-year-old insisted Ferre's claims were false, while also claiming the journalist had fabricated a story of Ronaldo having to isolate as to the reason why he had not made the trip to Paris.

 

"Today's outcome explains Pascal Ferre's statements last week, when he said that I confided in him that my only ambition was to finish my career with more Ballon d'Or than Lionel Messi," Ronaldo posted to his official Instagram account, possibly suggesting he already knew who the winner would be.

"Pascal Ferre lied, he used my name to promote himself and to promote the publication he works for. And he lied again today by justifying my absence from the Gala with an alleged quarantine that has no reason to exist.

"It is unacceptable that the person responsible for awarding such a prestigious prize could lie in this way, in absolute disrespect for someone who has always respected France Football and the Ballon d'Or.

"The biggest ambition of my career is to win national and international titles for the clubs I represent and for the national team in my country.

"The biggest ambition of my career is to be a good example for all those who are or want to be professional footballers.

"The biggest ambition of my career is to leave my name written in golden letters in the history of world football."

Ronaldo concluded his post by saying: "I will end by saying that my focus is already on Manchester United's next game and on everything that, together with my team-mates and our fans, we can still achieve this season. The rest? The rest is just the rest…"

Ferre and France Football have yet to respond to Ronaldo's comments.

Sergio Ramos endorsed Lionel Messi for the Ballon d'Or as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar targets a record-extending seventh crown.

Messi is among the favourites for the 2021 Ballon d'Or, which will be announced during Monday's ceremony in Paris.

Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski is expected to provide stiff competition as well as Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho, who celebrated Champions League and Euro 2020 glory.

Ramos has often backed Cristiano Ronaldo for the top gong over the years, given they were Real Madrid team-mates and rivals of former Barcelona captain Messi.

But Ramos now calls PSG home and wants ex-foe Messi to succeed once more following Argentina's drought-ending Copa America triumph.

 

"Yes, of course [I hope he wins]," Spain international defender Ramos told ESPN.

"I'm going to defend the guys in my team. I wish him all the luck in the world.

"He's in good shape, and I think he's the kind of player who really makes a difference. He's a unique player and it's a privilege to have him in the team.

"I think that bit by bit, each of us is going to bring our own quality to make Paris Saint-Germain even greater and achieve the things we want to achieve."

In Sunday's 3-1 win at Saint-Etienne, Messi delivered three assists in a single league game for the third time of his career after March 2016 against Getafe and February 2020 against Betis.

Messi became the first PSG player to achieve the feat in Ligue 1 since Blaise Matuidi against Angers in January 2016.

At 35 years and 243 days, Ramos became the oldest outfield player to make his first appearance with PSG in Ligue 1 since David Beckham (37 years and 298 days against Marseille in February 2013).

Ramos attempted 101 passes against Saint-Etienne – a game-high and the best tally for a PSG player making his Ligue 1 debut since Opta started analysing this data in 2006-07.

Angel Di Maria is open to playing in midfield for Paris Saint-Germain as he looks to secure more game time, and believes it could be his best position.

Di Maria has been a star for PSG since joining the Ligue 1 giants from Manchester United in 2015.

The attacker has made 274 appearances for PSG across all competitions, scoring 89 goals and providing a further 107 assists.

Since he joined PSG, no player has played more games than the Argentine, who has also crafted 669 chances, way ahead of Neymar, who ranks second in the squad with 350. Indeed, Di Maria is 41 assists ahead of Kylian Mbappe (66), and only three players have scored more goals in the same timeframe.

Di Maria only signed a new contract in March, he has not been able to nail down a regular starting berth so far this term.

Mauricio Pochettino has a wealth of options at his disposal, and can hardly be blamed for starting Neymar, Mbappe and Lionel Messi, who arrived from Barcelona in August, in a sensational attacking trident.

While the trio have not yet clicked to their full potential, Di Maria has often been the man left out. The 33-year-old has made just 10 appearances this season, scoring twice and setting up a further three goals.

Having started seven games, Di Maria creates 2.42 chances per 90 minutes on average, showing his playmaking abilities are still as good as ever.

In fact, despite his lack of minutes, Di Maria has only created fewer chances than Neymar (28) and Mbappe (33) in 2021-22.

With Messi, Mbappe and Neymar needing to be accommodated up front, Pochettino has often gone with a more workman-like midfield three.

However, Di Maria, who was excellent in a deeper role in his final season at Real Madrid in 2013-14, is hoping he gets the chance to show his quality in midfield.

"I think I've already shown that I can play in that position. In fact, it was my best year at Real Madrid, in 2014," Di Maria told RMC Sport.

"The manager knows I can play there, but then it's down to decisions. He's there to decide and we're there to do as best as we can on the pitch, no matter where, in midfield, up front, or elsewhere.

"Those are questions for him, the only thing I've done since I arrived at PSG has been to give it my all when on the pitch.

"It's true that I like to play with the ball at my feet. In 2014 I played in midfield and I felt very good, really happy. With quality players at PSG like Marco [Verratti], Leandro [Paredes] or Gana [Idrissa Gueye] it could work, but those are the manager's decisions."

 

Last season, Di Maria scored two goals, created 14 chances and provided three assists in Ligue 1 from attacking carries, suggesting he may be suited to playing deeper to drive with the ball and supply the attack. 

Although frustrated by a lack of regular action, Di Maria understands the reasons.

"When you have those three up front, it makes sense that the first option is to play them, they are the best on the pitch," he added.

"With what they've won, and who they are, it gives all three of them a different status. Or at least to two of them, because Messi is different to the others. He's the best player in the world and he always has to be on the pitch.

"But I'm always trying to give it 100 per cent to get into the starting XI. I know that it's not easy for me given the players in my position. That's why I'm doing as much as I can to maybe find a different option."

Robert Lewandowski can consider himself hard done by. The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, world football's most prestigious individual accolade is back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony set to take place on Monday.

Lewandowski, who scooped The Best FIFA Men's Player award for 2020 and has had another sensational year for Bayern, is among the favourites on a 30-man shortlist.

Will it finally be his time, or will old voting habits die hard to put Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in pole position? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses the credentials of the Ballon d'Or favourites.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)

Has anybody outperformed Bayern star Lewandowski in 2021?  While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of the 2019-20 campaign, he has been in astounding form and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign.

With 25 to his name already across all competitions this term, Lewandowski leads the way for goals from players in Europe's top five leagues, nine clear of anyone else. When taking the whole year so far into account, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 41 games, putting him 16 clear of nearest challengers Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Unsurprisingly, his scoring rate – a goal every 65 minutes – is comfortably the best of any player to net 10 or more in 2021.

 

Lionel Messi (PSG, Argentina)

It has been a momentous year for Messi. He finally achieved success on the international stage, leading Argentina to a Copa America triumph. Following that, he was expected to sign a fresh deal at Barcelona, but we all know how that turned out. Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the 34-year-old marked his final season in Spain with one last trophy, the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. 

Across 39 appearances in 2021 for Barca and PSG combined, Messi has 32 goals, nine assists and 81   chances created. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina that really puts him in the running for a seventh Ballon d'Or.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)

Like Messi, Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner – made a big move of his own in 2021, returning to Manchester United after three seasons at Juventus. The 36-year-old has already scored 10 goals in his second spell at Old Trafford. While the team's struggles are well known – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job after last week's dismal defeat at Watford – Ronaldo's strike against Villarreal on Tuesday took him to 799 career goals for club and country, a remarkable feat.

While it has not been the finest year at club level for Ronaldo, with Juve missing out on the Serie A title, albeit winning the Coppa Italia, he did become the record goalscorer in men's international football, scoring his 110th and 111th goals in a double against the Republic of Ireland in September to overtake Ali Daei (109); the forward now has 115. His agent, Jorge Mendes, told France Football: "All these achievements, which represent the greatest performance in football history, should be pivotal in awarding the trophy, as he continues to demonstrate that he is, without doubt, the best world football player of all time."

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)

Since Ronaldo departed Real Madrid in 2018, Benzema has stepped up to become Los Blancos' talisman. Although a LaLiga title evaded Madrid last season, it has been another fantastic year for Benzema. He earned a recall to the France squad for Euro 2020 and, despite the team's disappointing campaign, his stellar performances caught the eye, before he excelled again in World Cup qualifying and the Nations League Finals.

Indeed, Benzema's goal against Finland last week made him the first France player to score in four successive matches since he did so himself in five games between November 2013 and June 2014. There is no doubting he is a serious contender for this year's award.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)

Liverpool star Salah cannot be ignored. Jurgen Klopp has labelled the Egypt forward as the world's best player and, based on the season so far, it would be hard to argue too much with that suggestion, with Lewandowski the only player across Europe's top five leagues to be directly involved in more goals (27) than Salah (24) to this point.

Only four players have topped Salah's goals tally of 32   in 2021, although Liverpool's failure to retain their Premier League crown last season probably counts against the 29-year-old when it comes to this prize.

 

Kylian Mbappe (PSG, France)

While players in their thirties dominate the bookmakers' list of favourites, could this be the year that Mbappe steals the crown? The 22-year-old could well have left PSG in August, but the Ligue 1 giants held firm despite three bids from Madrid, who seem likely to get their man on a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

In the meantime, Mbappe is forming a formidable front three with Messi and Neymar, whose own Ballon d'Or hopes seem extremely slim. Mbappe missed the decisive penalty as France slipped out of Euro 2020, but his 37 goals from 47 appearances for PSG across all competitions in 2021 tell their own story, while his shot conversion rate of 24.3 per cent betters that of Salah, Benzema, Messi and Ronaldo.

Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)

An outsider for the award, perhaps, but nevertheless a player who has been widely tipped, Chelsea midfielder Jorginho played a pivotal role the Blues' Champions League triumph and then Italy's Euro 2020 success, although he did miss a penalty in the final shoot-out against England. In fact, he has now missed his past three spot-kicks for Italy, after having scored each of his first six taken for the Azzurri.

Jorginho has already scooped the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, and it is not too long ago that another deep-lying playmaker in Luka Modric won the Ballon d'Or, even if the competition this time around seems a little too stacked.

 

N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Might Jorginho's Chelsea midfield partner have a shout? Kante is still dominating midfields with his boundless energy five years on from his title triumph with Leicester City. He was already an elite performer before Thomas Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he seems to have gone up another level since the German coach came in.

Across all competitions in 2021, Kante boasts a tackle success rate of 63.2 per cent and has made 193 recoveries. Freed by a box-to-box role in Tuchel's system, Kante has won 151 of 277 duels and registered an impressive 42 interceptions.

Pep Guardiola felt Manchester City showed they learnt their lesson from the September defeat to Paris Saint-Germain as they defeated the Parisians 2-1 on Wednesday.

City secured top spot in Group A thanks to the victory, becoming just the second English club to win their group in five successive seasons in the competition's current format.

They had to do it the hard way as PSG took the lead through Kylian Mbappe early in the second half.

Raheem Sterling cancelled that out and then substitute Gabriel Jesus got the winner, making it the first Champions League match PSG have ever lost after opening the scoring themselves in the second half.

For a while, the match followed a very similar pattern to the two teams' first meeting of the season when PSG won 2-0 – once again City created comfortably the better chances, only to somehow be level at the break.

But while City failed to score despite racking up 1.9 expected goals (xG) in Paris and PSG netted twice from 0.46 xG, Guardiola's men saw their 1.99 xG in this one match up nicely with two strikes at the Etihad Stadium.

They were clinical, and that pleased Guardiola.

When it was put to him that the game was resembling the September meeting, Guardiola told BT Sport: "That's true, that's true. That's why it's a good lesson.

"You are losing – okay, you have to continue. It's 90 minutes, more than 90 minutes, you have to continue.

"The games are long, we knew the draw was a good result for us, but fortunately in the end we won.

"We did again a good performance like the first game. Unfortunately, in the first half we couldn't convert the chances and after the goal, we suffered, but after that, with our people [fans], thank you so much to the people for coming, it was a lovely night for us."

PSG's famed front three of Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi only mustered five shots between them, with the Parisians' overall xG total kept to a relatively low 1.1.

Of course, they hardly needed a sniff at the Parc des Princes, but Guardiola was generally pleased with how City coped this time.

"I always believe with these players that the further they are from our goal, we are safer," he added. "The closer they are, they find spaces.

"Look at the action when Neymar was through on the goalkeeper and mishit. They create from nothing.

"They are too good up front, and we had to defend as a team. If you believe one guy is going to solve the quality they have, it's impossible.

"We were there with good composure and at the end, I don't know the stats but I think we were brilliant again today and that's good for us."

Gabriel Jesus's late winner saw Manchester City come from behind to beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 on Wednesday, sealing top spot in Group A for Pep Guardiola's men.

Mauricio Pochettino, who has been linked with City's neighbours Manchester United, needed his team to avoid defeat if they were to stand a chance of winning the group, but ultimately the hosts' dominance told.

Guardiola would have been frustrated with the amount of chances City spurned in the first half, though, particularly given Kylian Mbappe then put PSG in front four minutes into the second period.

PSG had improved considerably as an attacking threat, but City upped the intensity again and deservedly levelled through Raheem Sterling, before substitute Jesus completed an impressive victory.

RB Leipzig's win at Club Brugge means PSG will qualify for the knockout phase regardless, however.

City appeared in control almost from the outset, first going close after six minutes when Rodri's glancing header was cleared off the line by Presnel Kimpembe.

Keylor Navas then denied Riyad Mahrez at full-stretch shortly after Ilkay Gundogan hit the post from the centre of the box, with PSG creating precious little at the other end.

But PSG took a rare chance early in the second half, when Mbappe drilled through Ederson's legs after Lionel Messi's cross at the end of a flowing move fell kindly at the back post.

City's equaliser 13 minutes later was similarly well-worked, though, Rodri picking out Kyle Walker at the far post, whose pass across the face of goal was nudged on by Jesus for Sterling to prod home.

Jesus then got the winner 14 minutes from time, guiding in a composed finished after being delicately teed up by Bernardo Silva.

Lionel Messi's Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Marco Verratti said it is easy to forget the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is a "perfectly normal person".

Messi's arrival at PSG garnered huge fanfare and interest and Verratti admitted players treated the Argentinean as the "king of the locker room" upon his arrival.

However, the Italy international said now he had got to know Messi, he had realised he is a "simple guy".

"We forget at times that Messi is a perfectly normal person like everyone else," Verratti told Sky Sport Italia ahead of PSG's clash with Manchester City on Wednesday.

"It was a difficult start for him, he is settling in more and more, we welcomed him like a king to the locker room and it’s a privilege to play alongside him.

"He's spectacular and enjoys himself in training too. He's a really simple guy without airs and I like people like him, because I am the same. We get along both on and off the field."

Messi scored a Barcelona club-record 672 goals across 778 appearances, and has netted four goals in nine games in all competitions for PSG since his August move.

Sergio Ramos was another big off-season addition for PSG, signing as a free agent from Real Madrid and he is homing in on his long-awaited debut after a calf injury.

PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino admitted former Madrid captain Ramos is in contention to debut against City midweek, and Verratti was excited about his potential impact.

"Sergio Ramos is a player who needs no introduction," Verratti told reporters. "He has done great things with Real Madrid for many years.

"When we played against him, it was difficult to counter him because he is a player with a great personality, who understands the game well, what he has to do.

"He is a dangerous player in attack, he is a player who defends well, he is a complete player.

"He has shown that throughout his career. We are happy that he can return to the group. It was already a pleasure to train with him during the week. I think that when he's at his best, he can help us a lot."

Lionel Messi's Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Marco Verratti says it is easy to forget the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is a "perfectly normal person".

Messi's arrival at PSG garnered huge fanfare and interest and Verratti admitted players treated the Argentinean as the "king of the locker room" upon his arrival.

However, the Italy international said now he had got to know Messi he had realised that he is a "simple guy".

"We forget at times that Messi is a perfectly normal person like everyone else," Verratti told Sky Sport Italia.

"It was a difficult start for him, he is settling in more and more, we welcomed him like a king to the locker room and it’s a privilege to play alongside him.

"He’s spectacular and enjoys himself in training too. He’s a really simple guy without airs and I like people like him, because I am the same. We get along both on and off the field."

Messi scored a Barcelona club-record 672 goals across 778 appearances, and has netted four goals in nine games in all competitions for PSG since his August move.

Sergio Ramos was another big off-season addition for PSG, signing as a free agent from Real Madrid and he is homing in on his long-awaited debut after a calf injury.

PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino has admitted that Ramos is in contention to debut against Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday and Verratti was excited about his potential impact.

"Sergio Ramos is a player who needs no introduction," Verratti added. "He has done great things with Real Madrid for many years.

"When we played against him, it was difficult to counter him because he is a player with a great personality, who understands the game well, what he has to do. He is a dangerous player in attack, he is a player who defends well, he is a complete player.

"He has shown that throughout his career. We are happy that he can return to the group. It was already a pleasure to train with him during the week. I think that when he's at his best, he can help us a lot. "

Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi is upset to see Barcelona struggle in his absence and has reiterated he would love to one day return to the club.

Messi's trophy-laden two-decade association with Barcelona came to an end in August when he joined PSG on a free transfer.

He scored a club-record 672 goals for Barca across 778 appearances, but the Catalan giants were unable to honour a contract offered to the player, due to financial restrictions.

The Argentina international's shock exit has left a huge void at Camp Nou, with Barca winning just seven of their 17 matches in all competitions this campaign.

Barca are seventh in LaLiga and have a crucial tie with Benfica on Tuesday as they aim to keep their Champions League last-16 hopes in their own hands.

Asked if his former club's form this season makes him sad, Messi said: "Yes, obviously. I always want the best for Barcelona. I'm a fan even though I'm not playing there now. 

"And I have colleagues and friends there within the team. I want them to do well. It is true that in LaLiga they've dropped many points, but there is still a lot more to play for. I have no doubt that Barcelona will get themselves back up the table."

Messi, who spent 17 seasons in Barca's first team, revealed earlier this month he is open to returning to the LaLiga club in the future in a technical secretary position.

In a wide-ranging interview published by Marca on Tuesday, Messi gave further insight into his recent departure and his future plans.

"I always said that at some point I will return to Barcelona because it is my home and because I am going to live there," he said. "And obviously if I can contribute and help the club I would love to come back.

"My exit is done. I left there and time has passed. What they told me is that they couldn't renew my contract and that I couldn't stay. You don't have to look for more culprits or look back at what happened. I'll stick with what they told me and that's it."

Barca's terrible start to their first season without Messi since 2003-04 led to the sacking of head coach Ronald Koeman in October and the subsequent appointment of Xavi.

Koeman left with a record of 28 wins from his 48 league matches in charge, but Messi believes the Dutchman was treated harshly, saying such dismissals are always "unfair" to coaches.

"When there are bad results, the easiest thing is to target the coach, to replace him and not the players," Messi said.

Messi has made a mixed start to the new chapter in his career with PSG, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner scoring four goals in nine appearances in all competitions.

He netted his first Ligue 1 goal in his sixth outing in the competition last weekend and now feels his "adaption has been pretty fast".

Messi has joined a star-studded cast at PSG that also includes Kylian Mbappe and former Barca team-mate Neymar.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the trio each rank in the top seven for goal involvements in all competitions among players from clubs in Europe's top five leagues.

Messi leads the way with a combined 377 goals and assists, with Mbappe fifth on 246 goal involvements and Neymar seventh with 231.

Despite boasting arguably the strongest attack on the continent, Messi does not believe PSG can consider themselves as firm favourites to win the Champions League.

"Everyone says that we are the big favourites and I will not deny that we are one of the candidates by name, but we still need things to become a really strong team," he said.

"We have to finish consolidating as a team and we have the advantage of having very great players to achieve it.  But we are not the only ones, there are other great teams that are candidates."

Lionel Messi has been impressed by Cristiano Ronaldo's start to life back at Manchester United and retains fond memories of their "beautiful" rivalry in LaLiga.

Portugal international Ronaldo has scored nine times in 13 appearances for United since making a sensational return to the club at the end of August.

That is a goal tally bettered by only six other players from clubs in Europe's top five leagues over the same period, with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (17) leading the way.

Despite Ronaldo's form and ability to bail out his side with late goals, United have endured a poor campaign and sacked manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Sunday.

But with less than half of the campaign played, Messi does not believe a Ronaldo-inspired United can be entirely ruled out of the Premier League title race.

"They're a very strong team with great players," he told Marca. "Cristiano already knew the club, but that was in another stage and now he has adapted in an impressive way. 

"From the beginning he has scored goals as always and had no problems adapting. In the Premier League, United have not been as good as we all thought.

"But it is a very difficult and even competition in which things take a lot of turns. After December it changes a lot and anything can happen."

 

Messi and Ronaldo have won 11 of the last 12 Ballons d'Or between them – the exception being Luka Modric's triumph in 2018 – in a period that has been dominated by the pair.

Not only have the superstar forwards fought for individual honours, they also battled it out for domestic and European team honours during nine years together in LaLiga.

While Ronaldo has long since departed Real Madrid and Messi is no longer at Barcelona, the latter believes their rivalry will live long in football folklore.

"It's been a long time since we stopped competing in the same league," Messi said. "We competed individually and as a team for the same goals. 

"It was a very beautiful period for us and also for the fans because they enjoyed it very much. It is a beautiful memory that will remain in the history of football."

With Messi aged 34 and Ronaldo approaching his 37th birthday, the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are now considered the next big talents in world football.

Mbappe is a contender for this year's Ballon d'Or after scoring and assisting a combined 50 goals in 46 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions in 2021.

Only Lewandowski (58) has been directly involved in more goals this year, but PSG risk losing Mbappe to Madrid next year when his contract expires.

Messi, now a team-mate of Mbappe's following his shock free transfer from Barca in August, is unsure whether the France forward will still a PSG player next season.

"The truth is I do not know," he said. "Only he knows what he has in his head and what he is going to do. I can only say that I am happy that he has stayed here this year.

"He is a very important player for us and to fight for the objectives we have. He is fully focused on our goals. And then he will decide what he will do when the season is over."

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah have all been nominated for the 2021 The Best FIFA Men's Player award.

Chelsea midfielders Jorginho and N'Golo Kante, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Paris Saint-Germain stars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are also on the shortlist.

Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid's Karim Benzema complete the 11-man list.

There are seven nominees for the Best FIFA Men's Coach prize, including City boss Pep Guardiola and Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who led his side to Euro 2020 glory.

Hansi Flick is nominated after significant success with Bayern before taking the Germany job, along with Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel, Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone and new Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte.

Lionel Scaloni, who guided Argentina to a Copa America triumph, completes the list.

Liverpool's Alisson, PSG's Gianluigi Donnarumma, Chelsea's Edouard Mendy, Bayern's Manuel Neuer and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City are up for the Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper award.

The shortlist for the Best FIFA Women's Player includes four Barcelona players, among them Alexia Putellas and Jennifer Hermoso.

Pernille Harder leads a four-woman Chelsea contingent, while City duo Ellen White and Lucy Bronze are nominated, as is Arsenal's Vivianne Miedema.

Barcelona's Lluis Cortes, Sweden's Peter Gerhardsson, Chelsea's Emma Hayes, Canada's Beverly Priestmann and England boss Sarina Wiegman are up for the Best FIFA Women's Coach prize.

The candidates for each category were selected by respective panels of experts for men's and women's football. A public vote will run until 23:59 CET on December 10, after which three finalists in each category will be announced ahead of the ceremony on January 17.

Lewandowski won the Men's Player prize in 2020, ahead of Ronaldo and Messi, while Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp took the Men's Coach award.

Bronze was named the Best FIFA Women's Player and Wiegman the Best FIFA Women's Coach.

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino has revealed he did not have any concerns about Lionel Messi's Ligue 1 goal drought prior to the forward opening his account in the competition against Nantes.

Messi had made five league appearances for the capital club without scoring before netting the third goal in the 3-1 victory at the Parc des Princes on Saturday with his 20th shot in Ligue 1.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored in the Champions League for PSG, however, netting three times in three games so far.

Pochettino explained that neither he nor Messi had any doubt that the goals would start to flow domestically, too, and also made a point of praising the team as a whole.

"I don't think Messi was worried about not having scored in the championship, he's a great champion, the best player in the world," Pochettino said after the game.

"He knows how to go through the most difficult times, he has patience, and it's good that he scored.

"We showed our character, but also showed the quality of the team - we played a very good first half.

"The progress of the MNM [Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe]? I always said it was about making connections, spending time together, and also playing competitive matches.

"But it was the whole team that played a good game, as a whole, to allow these talented players to often find themselves in a position to create chances. Too bad we didn't score more goals in the first half."

Messi expressed his delight at opening his Ligue 1 account, finding the back of the net with a sweet strike from outside the box after receiving the ball from Mbappe.

"I am happy with this first goal, I really wanted it," Messi said to Amazon Prime. "I had several chances before in this match and in previous matches.

"I am very happy with this first goal in the championship, I had already scored in the Champions League. There had been chances, but I had not converted, so I am very happy."

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