Diogo Jota scored twice in the first half as Liverpool romped to a comfortable 4-0 victory over Southampton at Anfield on Saturday.

The Portugal forward grabbed his first with less than two minutes played, turning Andy Robertson's low ball in before adding a second from close range after being set up by Mohamed Salah half an hour later.

Thiago Alcantara fired in a deflected third to give the Reds a commanding half-time lead before Virgil van Dijk steered a corner home to round off the scoring shortly after the restart.

The victory sees Liverpool keep the pressure up on league leaders Chelsea, moving to within a point of the Blues – although the Reds have played an extra game.

Liverpool got off to a flying start as Sadio Mane and Robertson combined on the left before the latter fizzed a low cross into the middle that Jota converted on the stretch.

A couple of chances fell Southampton's way after that, but Liverpool remained the side on top and doubled their lead in the 32nd minute as Salah squared for Jota to tap in his second after playing a neat one-two with Jordan Henderson on the right.

The Reds made it 3-0 just five minutes later as the ball fell to Thiago on the edge of the box and the midfielder advanced into the area before lashing a left-footed strike into the top-left corner via a hefty deflection off the knee of Lyanco.

Van Dijk extended Liverpool's advantage even further in the 52nd minute, volleying Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner under Alex McCarthy – who perhaps should have done better – and in.

Jota spurned a glorious chance to grab his hat-trick, diverting Robertson's cross wide of the target as Jurgen Klopp's men eased their way to the final whistle.

What does it mean? Reds put pressure on Chelsea

Liverpool's victory moves them to within one point of Thomas Tuchel's table-topping Chelsea side, with the Blues set for a heavyweight clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Salah races to Premier League goal involvement landmark

Salah has now been directly involved in 150 Premier League goals in his 171 games in the competition (108 goals, 42 assists) – only Alan Shearer (148 games) and Thierry Henry (163 games) reached as many goal involvements in fewer games than the Egypt star in the competition.

Salah has also been directly involved in 25 goals in all competitions this season (17 goals, eight assists), more than double the return of any other Premier League player.

Jota matches Wolves league tally

Jota has now scored 32 career Premier League goals, evenly split between Wolves and Liverpool (16 each).

He has reached the tally for the Reds in 36 fewer appearances, however (67 for Wolves, 31 for Liverpool) and with a better shot conversion rate (12.6 per cent with Wolves, 21.9 per cent with Liverpool).

What's next?

Liverpool's next fixture is a Merseyside derby with Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday, while Southampton host Leicester City on the same day.

Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah has reached 150 direct goal involvements in the Premier League, becoming the third-fastest player to do so.

Salah, who already had 11 league goals for the season heading into Saturday's game with Southampton at Anfield, squared for Diogo Jota to make it 2-0 to Liverpool in the 32nd minute.

It was Jota's second goal of the encounter, with the Portugal forward having put the Reds in front inside two minutes, and came after Salah himself had curled just wide, with Sadio Mane also having had a goal disallowed.

Thiago Alcantara then made it 3-0 to Liverpool before the break to put Jurgen Klopp's team in complete control.

By setting up Jota's goal, Salah moved onto 42 assists across his Premier League career, which combined with 108 goals took him to the 150 goal involvements landmark.

The Egypt forward has achieved that feat in just 171 games, with only Alan Shearer (148) and Thierry Henry (163) reaching the milestone in fewer appearances.

Salah's assist was a 25th direct goal involvement across all competitions this term (17 goals, eight assists), more than double that of any other Premier League player as it stood.

Liverpool then made it 4-0 early in the second half when Virgil van Dijk converted from Trent Alexander-Arnold's corner.

Jurgen Klopp has described Sadio Mane as "world-class" and suggested that having time to rest after last season has played a key role in his recent form.

The Liverpool forward is joint-second in the Premier League scoring charts along with Leicester City's Jamie Vardy on seven goals, only team-mate Mohammed Salah has more (11).

After four fantastic seasons at Anfield, Mane was not at his peak in 2020-21. Though he still finished on 16 goals in all competitions, that tally was his lowest since his first campaign with Liverpool (13 in 2016-17).

However, Mane now seems back to his brilliant best and, ahead of facing the Senegal forward's former club Southampton, Klopp predicted another excellent campaign for the 29-year-old as long as he can stay clear of injuries.

"I think we can judge Sadio as an individual, as a world-class player. It's not [that we judge him] against Mo Salah or whatever," the Reds' boss told reporters at Friday's news conference. 

"You see the numbers. Mo has 108 goals [overall in the Premier League] and Sadio has [102] most of them for Liverpool, but obviously some with Southampton.

"So it just shows – they are in a similar age group – what those two guys did in the last few years for us. We don't make a difference there between the two.

"Sadio is a very confident person and knew., we all felt it on the first day of pre-season, after a proper break, he was completely 100 per cent there. It was clear.

"It was obvious that if he was lucky with injuries it would be a really good season for him because that is the quality he has. And that is what he shows now.

"So I cannot say enough how important it is for these players to have a proper break - I will speak about that until the next 20 years, but the authorities will not change it.

"That is really tough for the boys. But this year Mo and Sadio had a proper break and at the moment, so far, we are getting the benefit of that."

Mane has nine goals in 17 games in all competitions for Liverpool this season, with a shot conversion rate (excluding blocks) of 31.03 per cent, which is just shy of Salah (35.42 per cent). He has created 18 chances, half that of Salah (36) but has also made 43 recoveries, just three short of the Egyptian's 46.

Klopp was also asked about recent games against Atletico Madrid and Arsenal in which he suggested the opposition targeted Mane, with the German getting particularly animated with Mikel Arteta during last week's 4-0 win against the Gunners.

"Oh yes, we have [spoken], but for sure for much longer it was a thing, even when it was not obvious to the outside," he added. "You can see it in games they go for him because they want to wind him up, even if it is not that obvious.

"He's not that emotional any more, but we all need emotions obviously and sometimes we control them better and sometimes less and yes, we've had these talks of course, but that was not about that.

"It had nothing to do with these situations, I really don’t think it had anything to do with the situation against Arsenal, it was pretty much nothing, a normal challenge.

"It was obvious and against Atletico Madrid, they had the red card [for Felipe] and you will remember directly after the next situation a player went down and made more [of the challenge] just to make sure they get our player sent off or yellow card, so that is what I was talking about.

"The headline is 'we pay back with football'. Whatever we do, we pay them back with football."

Jurgen Klopp promised Liverpool will do everything possible to ensure Thiago Alcantara stays fit enough to star throughout their Premier League title push.

Former Barcelona and Bayern Munich playmaker Thiago joined Liverpool in the wake of their 2019-20 league triumph and has endured a stop-start Anfield career.

Injuries have disrupted his progress and the 30-year-old Spain international has struggled to show his best form on a consistent basis.

A stunning Champions League goal against Porto on Wednesday was the highlight of a polished performance that followed an impressive display against Arsenal last week, though it remains to be seen whether Thiago starts on Saturday against Southampton.

Klopp wants to pace Thiago through the season rather than risk him suffering further physical woes, knowing his creative contributions could be hugely important.

"He's an incredible player for us of course, but we've found solutions when he was not available," said Klopp. "We have an incredible choice of players there [in midfield].

"Thiago has a very specific skill-set and is very helpful on the pitch when he has rhythm. The challenge we face is to make sure he can gain rhythm but not overdo it. We have that will all the players, pretty much.

"That's the challenge we face all the time, especially with all the games coming up."

Thiago arrived from Bayern with a big reputation but did not manage a single assist in 30 games last season across all competitions, although he created an average of 1.43 chances per 90 minutes played. That was down on most of his past seasons with Barcelona and Bayern, albeit it bettered his average for his final campaign at both clubs.

This season is still in its early stages, but Thiago is showing improvement in many areas of his game, with an assist already in the bag, his chances created in all competitions up to 1.82 per 90 minutes, and gains achieved in passes in the opposition half (49.67 per 90, up from 46.35), touches (102.3 per 90, up from 98.28) and ball recoveries (8.2, up from 7.47).

Klopp is enjoying having midfield options after a rash of injuries cleared up, describing it as "cool" to be in a position where his hand is not forced by limited availability.

He predicted a "proper fight" against Ralph Hasenhuttl's Southampton, although Liverpool have won seven of their last eight Premier League games against Saturday's visitors. The exception came recently: a 1-0 away loss in January last season.

Since a 1-0 win in September 2013, Southampton have gone winless in their last seven away league games against Liverpool (D2 L5), losing their last four at Anfield by an aggregate score of 12-0.

Klopp called Southampton "a proper team", "a very well drilled team", and said Liverpool, who sit third in the table going into the weekend, would need to be creatively sharp to find a way through their defence.

It is a 3pm kick-off at Anfield, and Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 25 Premier League games kicking off at that time on a Saturday (W22 D3) since a 2-0 loss at Hull in February 2017.

The Reds' last such loss at home was against West Ham in August 2015 under Brendan Rodgers (W18 D5 since at Anfield).

Southampton, for all Klopp's praise, have been pushovers on the road by most standards, though they managed a shock goalless draw at Manchester City in September. They have lost 13 of their 17 Premier League away games in 2021 (W2 D2), conceding 43 goals in this run (2.5 per game).

Ralf Rangnick's expected arrival at Manchester United is "not good news for other teams" in the Premier League, according to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

Veteran German coach Rangnick appears set to become interim boss at Old Trafford for the rest of the season.

United lost five of their last seven Premier League games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was sacked last Sunday, and Klopp is convinced Rangnick can fix their problems.

"Unfortunately a good coach is coming to England, so that's how it is, to Manchester United," Klopp said in a news conference on Friday.

"He's obviously a really experienced manager who built two clubs from nowhere to proper threats and proper forces in Germany with Hoffenheim and Leipzig.

"He did a lot of different jobs in football but his first concern was always being a coach, a manager, and that's what his best skill is.

"United will be organised, on the pitch we will have to realise that, and that's not good news for other teams.

"Like all coaches, we need time to train with our teams and Ralf will quickly realise he has no time to train because they play all the time.

"But he's a really good man, and an outstanding coach, if it happens, will come to England."

Rangnick has been working behind the scenes of Lokomotiv Moscow this season and his last job as a coach came at RB Leipzig, while he has also worked in senior leadership roles within Red Bull's group of clubs.

Klopp pointed out that his links to Rangnick go back many years, to when he was coaching Mainz and Rangnick was at Hannover in the 2001-02 season. Both were working in the second division of the Bundesliga at that point, and have crossed paths since at top-flight Bundesliga level.

The fellow German bosses now look set to clash in the Premier League, with United due to visit Anfield in March, having taken a 5-0 thumping at Liverpool's hands last month.

"They always played our opponent a week later, so he called me, the young manager of Mainz, and asked plenty of questions. I was happy that big Ralf Rangnick was calling me," Klopp said.

"They got promoted, we didn't, so he owes me still something. In the football world in Germany, he's very, very well regarded and rightly so."

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.

It has been a turbulent period for Manchester United, but they appear on the cusp of solving one issue.

With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gone, struggling United need a new manager and while Mauricio Pochettino seems to be the dream appointment, the Red Devils are reportedly closing in on a short-term solution.

Ralf Rangnick.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED TURN TO RANGNICK ON SHORT-TERM BASIS

Manchester United are set to appoint former RB Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick as interim manager, according to The Athletic, ESPN and widespread reports.

After sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United outlined their plan to install an interim boss until the end of the season amid reported long-term interest in Paris Saint-Germain's Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag.

There had been reports United could turn to Pochettino immediately but a deal to prise the former Tottenham boss from Paris proved difficult.

Instead, United have offered Rangnick a six-month contract at Old Trafford, where the 63-year-old German is set to take up a consultancy role once his interim tenure ends.

Rangnick is currently head of sports and development at Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moscow.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Chelsea are plotting a move for Italy star Federico Chiesa, who is still on loan from Fiorentina. Juventus are set to sign Chiesa permanently at the end of the season, though he is wanted by a host of clubs, including Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

- United have emerged as a possible destination for in-demand Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic, reports the Daily Mail. Vlahovic is wanted by Manchester CityAtletico Madrid, JuveInterArsenalTottenham and Bayern but the Red Devils are believed to have joined the race.

Barcelona could sell Memphis Depay to help in their efforts to prise Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, per El Nacional. Depay only joined Barca on a free transfer at the start of the season, but the financially stricken LaLiga giants are among the long list of Haaland admirers. Haaland has been linked with CityUnitedReal MadridBayernLiverpoolChelseaJuve and PSG.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Stefano Pioli will sign a new contract with Milan on Friday. The Rossoneri head coach is set to extend his deal until June 2023, with the option of a further season.

Mauricio Pochettino remains Manchester United's top target, according to reports.

It may be some time before the Paris Saint-Germain boss ends up at Old Trafford, though. 

United appear set to finish this season with an interim manager before making a permanent move for the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's long-term successor.
 

TOP STORY – UNITED FOCUSED ON INTERIM MANAGER OPTIONS

All indications are that Mauricio Pochettino will end up at Manchester United eventually, but it could take several months.

The Daily Star reports Pochettino will have to wait six months – through to the end of this season – before jumping from Paris Saint-Germain to Old Trafford.

The report says United have not made any official overtures to PSG and are focused on finding an interim boss instead, with hopes of appointing one by mid-December.

Julen Lopetegui and Ernesto Valverde are among the candidates for that role, claims the Daily Star, while the Mirror says Ralf Rangnick, Paulo Fonseca, Lucien Favre and Rudi Garcia also are in the mix, along with caretaker manager Michael Carrick.

ROUND-UP

- United and Newcastle are the top contenders to sign Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid, according to The Sun.

- Liverpool and Barcelona are eyeing a move for Christian Pulisic, reports El Nacional, but Chelsea's €50million price tag would be too much for Barca and the Blues prefer not to sell the USA international to another Premier League club.

- Chelsea are interested in adding defender Attila Szalai from Fenerbahce, says Football Insider.

- Adama Traore could be on the move in January as Wolves are prepared to listen to offers for the 25-year-old, Football Insider reports.

Jurgen Klopp marvelled over a Thiago Alcantara "thunderbolt" but felt Liverpool were somewhat fortunate to beat Porto 2-0 in the Champions League.

Klopp rung the changes for Wednesday's clash at Anfield, with the Reds already through to the round of 16 as Group B winners.

Porto had their chances and were made to pay for their profligacy when Thiago fired home a sublime long-range first-time finish in the second half before Mohamed Salah clinically took his goal tally for the season to 17.

Thiago has endured a frustrating start to his Reds career, but he showed outstanding technique to get off the mark for the season and pulled the strings in the middle of the park alongside Champions League debutant Tyler Morton.

Klopp said of the Spain international's world-class finish: "We had bigger chances in the game than that. Incredible. 

"I see that in training, I know he has the technique to do it, but you don't always hit a thunderbolt like that. We needed some moments, some luck, they had big chances on the counter-attack."

Klopp gave key men a rest with qualification already assured and the Liverpool manager expects a stronger showing against Southampton in the Premier League this weekend.

He said: "We could have lost this tonight. We were lucky in moments, yes. We have moments when we're not cool to play against, true, but I didn't expect that tonight.

"I didn't expect a ruthless pressing machine, we grew into the game and that's what I am happy about. We have to play better against Southampton as they are a machine."

The German added: "We had lots to think about, who is injured. who hasn't played, who needs a rest.

"No one felt like they needed a rest as [playing] Saturday-Wednesday the boys are used to that, but it's about the games coming up, so we needed the boys in a rhythm. It all worked out. No injuries, all good."

Liverpool have won all five Champions League matches this season, while Porto remain second ahead of a decisive final group game at home to Atletico Madrid in a fortnight.

Milan, who face Liverpool at San Siro in their last group match, and Atleti are just a point behind Porto after the Serie A side beat the LaLiga champions 1-0.

Thiago Alcantara's sublime long-range strike set Liverpool on their way to a 2-0 Champions League win over Porto at Anfield.

The Reds had already qualified as Group B winners with two matches to spare, so teenager Tyler Morton made his Champions League debut as Jurgen Klopp rung the changes.

Liverpool maintained their perfect record in Europe this season despite being without key men, Thiago scoring his first goal of the season in style with a magnificent second-half finish.

Mohamed Salah added a second as Porto were made to pay for missed opportunities, leaving them facing a decisive final group match against Atletico Madrid in the battle for a place in the round of 16 along with Liverpool.

Porto should have had an early lead when Otavio somehow failed to hit the target with the goal gaping after Luis Diaz showed great pace to burst away and unselfishly set him up.

The Primeira Liga leaders had a let-off when goalkeeper Diogo Costa's poor attempted clearance struck Sadio Mane on the head and fell nicely for Salah, but the prolific forward could not apply the finish.

Porto lost captain Pepe to an injury before Mane had a goal disallowed for offside in a first half that saw Sergio Conceicao's side pose a threat without having a cutting edge.

Mateus Uribe almost capitalised on slack Reds defending when he spun sharply in the penalty area and drilled a right-foot shot narrowly wide as Porto continued to probe after the break.

Thiago made them pay for their profligacy seven minutes into second half, firing into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards out with a stunning first-time drive after Porto failed to clear an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free-kick.

Takumi Minamino had a goal ruled out for offside, but Salah doubled Liverpool's lead when he took a pass from Jordan Henderson and surged inside before finding the bottom-right corner with his left foot to take his tally for the season to 17.

Emerging Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic has a long list of admirers.

The 21-year-old netted 21 Serie A goals last season.

Vlahovic scored a double in Fiorentina's 4-3 win over Milan last weekend too.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE STILL KEEN ON VLAHOVIC

Cashed-up Newcastle United will still pursue hot property forward Dusan Vlahovic despite Fiorentina's €80million (£67m) asking price according to Corriere Fiorentina.

The bottom-of-the-table Premier League club are determined to land the Serbian who has also attracted interest from Juventus.

Juventus want Vlahovic in January and are still front-runners to land the 21-year-old, who has already netted 12 goals this term.

 ROUND-UP

- Sky Germany reports that Borussia Dortmund are preparing a new contract offer for Erling Haaland to keep him at the club, amid interest from Real Madrid, BarcelonaChelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

- Barcelona are considering moves for either of Chelsea pair Timo Werner or Hakim Ziyech as an alternative to Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling claims ESPN.

- Liverpool, Leicester City and Newcastle are all monitoring Olympiacos' 20-year-old midfielder Aguibou Camara reports The Sun.

- Milan have entered the pursuit to sign Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette claims Calciomercato. Atletico MadridBarcelona and Newcastle are all interested.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola will be looking to seal top spot in Group A of the Champions League on Wednesday with a win against Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium, having lost the reverse fixture 2-0 in the French capital in September.

Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid will also be seeking revenge as they visit Sheriff after the Moldovan outfit famously won 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on matchday two.

After losing their first league game of the season at the weekend, Milan must find the first win of their European campaign if they are to keep their hopes of qualification alive when they travel to Atletico Madrid.

Stats Perform picks out the key Opta facts ahead of Wednesday's Champions League action.

 

Manchester City v Paris Saint-Germain: Messi aims to smite Guardiola again

Despite failing to find the net in Paris, only Bayern Munich (17) have scored more goals than Manchester City (15) in the Champions League this season. The Citizens are averaging 3.4 expected goals per game in the competition this term; since the start of 2013-14, this is the highest per-game average by a team in the group stage in a single Champions League campaign. 

PSG are winless in their past three away games in the Champions League (D2 L1), and could go without an away victory in the group stage of the competition in a single season for the first time since 2004-05. 

Lionel Messi, who fired home a brilliant second in the reverse game, has scored seven goals in seven Champions League appearances against City, the second-most by a player against an English club in the competition after his own haul of nine goals in six appearances against Arsenal.

7 - Lionel Messi has scored more UEFA Champions League goals against Man City (7) than any other player, while his seven goals against sides managed by Pep Guardiola (two vs Bayern Munich, five against Man City with him as manager) are also the most of any player. Haunting. pic.twitter.com/wPAYIZTx2R

— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 28, 2021

 

Sheriff v Real Madrid: Can Benzema keep up his form?

Real Madrid have won both of their away games in the Champions League this season without conceding a goal (1-0 v Inter and 5-0 v Shakhtar Donetsk), while they last managed this in three consecutive away games in the competition between October 2014 and February 2015, during Carlo Ancelotti’s first spell in charge of the club.

After their famous win in Spain this season, Sheriff could become just the fourth team to win their first two meetings with Madrid in European competition, after Liverpool (1981, 2009), Galatasaray (2000, 2001) and Benfica (1962, 1965).

One rather big obstacle to stop that from happening is Karim Benzema, who has scored in each of his previous three Champions League appearances (four goals), and will be looking to do so in four in succession for the first time since 2016-17. His brace against Shakhtar last time out took him to 100 direct goal involvements in the Champions League (75 goals and 25 assists). 

 

Atletico Madrid v Milan: Must-win for the Rossoneri

Stefano Pioli's side need a win to keep their slim hopes of qualification for the knockout stages alive, having amassed just one point from their four games, but the numbers do not bode well for the Rossoneri. Atletico Madrid have a 100 per cent record against Milan in European competition, winning all three of their meetings, which have all been in the Champions League – 1-0 away and 4-1 at home in 2013-14, and 2-1 away from home this season. 

Joao Felix has been directly involved in four of Atletico's previous five goals at the Wanda Metropolitano in the Champions League, scoring three times himself and providing an assist for Antoine Griezmann against Liverpool in October.

Milan have only won one of their past 16 games against Spanish opponents in the Champions League (D6 L9), beating Barcelona 2-0 at home in the round of 16 in 2012-13. Indeed, they are winless in their previous six such games (D1 L5), suffering defeats in each of the most recent four. 

 

Liverpool v Porto: Salah still a threat despite no jeopardy for Reds

Liverpool may have already sewn up top spot in Group B, but they will want to keep up their impressive record against Porto. The Reds are unbeaten in their nine meetings in European competition (W6 D3), with five of those games coming during Jurgen Klopp's reign (W4 D1). 

Since the start of 2017-18 – Mohamed Salah's first season as a Liverpool player – the Egypt star has scored 30 goals in 47 Champions League appearances. Only four of these have been penalties, with Robert Lewandowski (33) being the only player to have netted more non-penalty goals in the competition than Salah (26) during this period.

Porto defender Pepe could make his 100th career start in the Champions League in this game. In doing so, he would become just the second Portuguese player in the history of the competition to start a century of games, after Cristiano Ronaldo.


Other fixtures:

Besiktas v Ajax

5 – Besiktas have lost all five of their meetings with Ajax across all European competitions – only against Dynamo Kyiv (six) have they suffered more defeats.

4 – Ajax are one of only four teams with a 100 per cent record through the opening four matchdays of the 2021-22 Champions League. The Amsterdam side will be looking to become only the second Dutch team to win their opening five games of a European Cup/Champions League campaign, after Feyenoord in 1971-72.

Inter v Shakhtar Donetsk

0 – The previous three meetings between Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League have finished goalless, with all three coming since the start of last season. There have been 66 shots recorded in these previous three games (43 by Inter and 23 by Shakhtar), without a goal being scored.

2 – Shakhtar Donetsk have only lost two of their past six away games against Italian sides in the Champions League (W2 D2), going unbeaten in the most recent two – 2-1 versus Atalanta in October 2019 and 0-0 v Inter in December 2020.

Club Brugge v Leipzig

1 – Club Brugge have only won one of their past 15 home games in the Champions League (D6 L8), with that lone victory coming against Zenit in December 2020 (3-0). This was the only game in this run in which the Belgian side managed to score more than one goal, netting just 10 across the 15 games in total.

0 – RB Leipzig are winless in their past six Champions League games, suffering five defeats in this run (D1). The Bundesliga outfit have also conceded more goals in the competition in 2021 than any other team, shipping 17 in six games this calendar year.

Sporting CP v Borussia Dortmund

– Only Salah (3.01), Lewandowski (4.77) and Sebastien Haller (5.51) have accumulated a higher xG tally (excluding penalties) in this season's Champions League than Sporting's Paulinho (2.96), who has scored with three of his six shots on target to date.

– Without Erling Haaland, who is already ruled out of this contest through injury, Dortmund have managed just five goals in four Champions League matches (1.25 on average), compared to 20 in 12 with him in the side (1.7) since his debut for the club in February 2020.

Liverpool playmaker Thiago Alcantara has not considered a return to Barcelona, insisting he is "100 per cent' happy with his choice to move to Anfield.

Thiago has not had it easy with injuries since his transfer to Liverpool from Bayern Munich in 2020.

The Spain international contracted COVID-19 shortly after his arrival, before suffering an injury due to a tackle from Everton's Richarlison during his full debut in October last year.

He played just 24 league games last season, starting 20 of them, scoring once.

More niggling injury issues have restricted the 30-year-old to eight appearances across all competitions so far this term. However, he does seem to be rediscovering something close to his best form, at least from a creative standpoint.

Per 90 minutes played, Thiago creates on average 2.2 chances, tied with Mohamed Salah for third place in Liverpool's squad behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (3.2) and Konstantinos Tsimikas (2.7), while 305 of his 345 attempted passes have found a team-mate (an 88.4 per cent accuracy).

Following Xavi taking over from Ronald Koeman at Barca, however, there had been reports linking Thiago with a return to his former club, with the Blaugrana's new coach reportedly keen to reunite with his old team-mate.

Thiago, though, says he is perfectly happy at Anfield.

"As always, I am a guy who plays football," he told a news conference ahead of Liverpool's Champions League meeting with Porto on Wednesday.

"I am not focused on the rumours, I am focused on the duty I have with my team, the years that I have on the contract and I just want to know about this new adventure that I have here in the Premier League, trying to win all the trophies that I can with this team."

"One hundred per cent I made the right choice, the right move," he added when asked if he had any doubts over his move to the Premier League due to the amount of injuries he has sustained.

"The injuries stop the frequency to play, and to know how the team performs on the pitch.

"You can watch football and all the time it's awesome but putting it into practice is even better. It's a pity football has [injuries] but it's part of football, part of life, when we are fit we have to put in as high performances as we can.

"I think the first year was very interrupted because of the COVID situation, injury. I had a quick adaptation. We struggled last season, for many reasons.

"This year, you know much better your team-mates, the runs that they make, the way they prefer to receive the ball, the way they defend, how they attack. To me the most important thing is to try to win in the way we want to win."

Thiago has collected four LaLiga titles, seven Bundesliga crowns and three Champions League winners' medals across a glittering career, working under some of Europe's top coaches, including Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Hansi Flick and, now, Jurgen Klopp.

"First of all, I had the luck to play with great players, great teams. I remember the time with Pep was different to Ancelotti and time with Tito [Vilanova] was different to Pep also," he said when asked to compare playing under Guardiola and Klopp. 

"With these two coaches [Guardiola and Klopp] we can see, they both have the same charisma. Also, they have the group in their hands, they make them perform better. The similarities are there. 

"The difference is how the teams play. One is much more possession. It's great both are doing what they want in the greatest way football can bring."

Jurgen Klopp was adamant that his Liverpool team will not step off the gas when they face Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Liverpool host Porto in their fifth game of the Champions League campaign with top spot in Group B already secured.

The Reds have taken 12 points from 12 on offer so far, with a 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid last time out guaranteeing their position as group winners.

Porto were hammered 5-1 in the reverse fixture, though a win at Anfield could see them through should Atleti lose to Milan.

Klopp suggested he will look to rotate his side as the fixture list begins to become even more hectic, though insisted that does not mean Liverpool - who trashed Arsenal 4-0 on Saturday - will change their full-throttle approach.

"When you sign a contract for Liverpool as a manager or player you pretty much have to win all the games," he told a news conference.

"It means there's a lot of pressure on their shoulders. We don't have to win the game tomorrow but we want to win the game. I hope it gives us the freedom to play but have the desire to defend and all those kinds of things.

"In our Champions League history since I was here we always had to fight until the last second of the last game to get through the group, that's the only difference but actually it's not in my mind. I know it's a difference, but we try to win the game.

"We know that our opponent will be motivated in the highest level, for two reasons, because we won there in the other game in a way they didn't like and another is if they win they have a final against Atletico in the last match of the group, so that's what they want.

"It will be a difficult game for us, I really hope everybody at Anfield is at their best, we always show up to win the game. We never take this thing for granted, I hope nobody is doing that, we need to put a proper fight together, I'm pretty confident we can do that."

Liverpool also played in a Champions League dead rubber last season, with Klopp's decision to field a strong team backfiring when Diogo Jota sustained a serious injury.

"It's really easy to sit there and say leave him out, leave this player out," Klopp hit back when asked if he regretted that decision.

"It's very easy to sit in your chair, we have to line up a team to win the game and the Diogo situation was very unlucky and I hated it. Would I have done the same decision again? Yes.

"We need stability, we cannot play football games with one line up and then the next game change the team and then bring them back again, the players need rhythm, all these kinds of things.

"It's not fair that you bring it up this old story that a player got injured. These things happen in football and hopefully nothing happens tomorrow."

Jordan Henderson and Andrew Robertson are, according to Klopp, fit after returning from injuries, though he is unsure if either will play a part against Porto, who have never beaten Liverpool in nine competitive meetings.

One player set to feature is Takumi Minamino, who scored less than a minute after coming on from the bench against Arsenal.

Klopp said: "He played for Japan in the last few games because he's in good shape, he's in exceptional shape, we knew that.

"That's why it's important for us. He's pretty much our first option for changing five positions, that says a lot, because he can play all the different positions and when he came on it was a wonderful moment, 40 seconds on the pitch and scoring a goal.

"You can see the confidence now and how good a player he is. He will get his minutes, definitely."

Premier League football was back with a bang this weekend following the international break.

It left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feeling especially frustrated as he paid the price for another defeat, while Mikel Arteta's Arsenal were brought back to reality by Liverpool.

That win for the Reds further highlighted their excellent record in meetings with other members of the 'big six', while Rodri once again showcased his effectiveness from distance.

Below, Stats Perform looks at some of the weekend's quirkier Opta facts.

Salah's collector's item

Another weekend, another devastating performance from Mohamed Salah.

After a quiet start, the Egyptian once again proved to be extremely effective against Arsenal, even if he was only able to score once.

Salah's goal was something of a collector's item as it was with his right foot, which in itself brought to light just how much he relies on being so good with his left.

Of his 108 Premier League goals, 87 have been with his strongest foot – that equates to 80.6 per cent, which is the greatest proportion of strikes netted with the left foot among the 31 players with at least 100 goals.

Interestingly, his Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane is also in the top six (26.5 per cent) despite being predominantly right-footed.

Solskjaer has no defence

A 4-1 defeat at Watford brought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time as Manchester United manager to an end, and he could have few complaints about that.

While the Norwegian's work at United has largely been well received, as he leaves the club and squad in much better shape than when he took over from Jose Mourinho, it's fair to say the writing had been on the wall.

United have been especially poor defensively this season, not just in the Premier League, averaging 1.7 concessions every match across all competitions.

Remarkably, relegation-threatened Newcastle United (2.08) and Norwich City (2.14) have a worse record in that regard among Premier League clubs.

Whoever his interim replacement is will surely look at sorting United's ailing defence out as soon as possible.

Liverpool's big-six domination

For much of the Premier League era, Manchester United were the team to beat, and while they obviously wouldn't win every game, they seemed to rise to the biggest occasions.

But since Alex Ferguson's departure in 2013, it's Liverpool who have arguably become the best at dealing traversing contests with the other so-called 'big six'.

Liverpool's defeat of Arsenal took them to 142 points from such matches since the start of 2013-14, putting them ahead of Manchester City by a point – though the Reds have played one game less.

Granted, City boast the most victories (42 to Liverpool's 39), Liverpool have suffered eight fewer defeats.

Chelsea's 124 points is the third-most, while Man Utd are on 110 points, having lost to both City and Liverpool comprehensively in the past month.

Arsenal and Tottenham are a fair way adrift with 86 and 85 points respectively.

Acts of Rodri

Manchester City haven't been doing too badly without a recognised striker this season, with Pep Guardiola boasting plenty of midfielders who can find the net.

Defensive midfielder Rodri might not be one of those whom you'd associate with goalscoring, but he's making long-range piledrivers something of a habit.

His latest, in the defeat of Everton, was a blistering 25-yard drive.

That was his fourth goal from outside the box for City, with only Kevin De Bruyne (seven) and Riyad Mahrez managing more since Rodri joined in 2019.

Rodri's four is 57.1 per cent of his overall Premier League haul, which is the highest proportion in the City squad during that same period.

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