Jurgen Klopp has questioned what more Robert Lewandowski could have done to win the Ballon d'Or after the Bayern Munich striker missed out on the award.

Lionel Messi scooped the accolade for a seventh time on Monday, but many felt this would be Lewandowski's time to take the glory.

Klopp benefited from the brilliance of Lewandowski when both men were at Borussia Dortmund, with the Poland international scoring 103 goals before switching to Bayern.

At club level, Lewandowski has scored 53 goals already in 2021, with six assists taking him to 59 goal involvements, the most in Europe's top five leagues.

Messi sits fifth on that list (32 goals, 12 assists) but helped Argentina to win the Copa America, thereby winning one of the few trophies that had eluded him.

That likely tipped the vote his way, with Messi's form since leaving Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain in August having so far been sketchy by his mercurial standards.

Asked initially whether he was surprised there were six players who ranked higher than Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, Klopp said: "I was surprised to be honest, but it's not in my hands. If you think he should be higher up, then you'll have to convince your colleagues."

Then Klopp turned his focus to Lewandowski, a player he once described as the best he has ever coached. Lewandowski was second to Messi for the coveted Ballon d'Or, which is voted for by journalists from across the world.

The 33-year-old scored 41 Bundesliga goals last season, breaking a record for the most in the division that was previously held by Gerd Muller.

"I think that you always can give it to Lionel Messi for the career he has and the footballer he is, all these kinds of things, but if you don't give it to Robert Lewandowski this time then it's quite tricky to get it at all," said the Liverpool boss.

"And yes, Mo definitely should have been high up."

 

Lewandowski would also have been a frontrunner in 2020, only for organisers France Football to cancel the awards due to the impact of the COVID-19 enforced break in the football year.

He managed 57 goals involvements (45 goals, 12 assists) in 2020, which was 10 more than Cristiano Ronaldo (41 goals, 6 assists), who had the second-most in the elite leagues, and 12 ahead of Messi (26 goals, 19 assists).

Jurgen Klopp backed Virgil van Dijk to power through his return to Goodison Park with Liverpool but believes the Dutchman will have his emotions stirred.

Last season's Merseyside derby at Everton saw Van Dijk clattered early on by Jordan Pickford and hobble out of the game, suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended his season in October.

The Dutch defender was sorely missed as Liverpool's Premier League title defence collapsed amid a drastic set of injuries that left Klopp struggling to piece together a backline at times.

Now he has Van Dijk back and close to as good as ever, with Liverpool in great shape as they prepare to face Everton, who are under the instruction of former Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

When asked about Van Dijk ahead of Wednesday's tussle with their struggling neighbours, Klopp suggested it would be naive to expect no reaction.

"We're all human beings, so it's probably difficult to ignore something like that," Klopp said.

"It was a situation that should not happen in football and doesn't happen very often. I can't remember one since then in any other game.

"Virgil is very experienced, and he has these situations constantly since he's been back where he's in challenges and has to be completely free of all things he could have in his mind because of one issue in his past.

"So slightly more different [against Everton] because it's in the same place, but apart from that it's just a football game again."

Van Dijk has been an ever-present for Liverpool in their 13 Premier League games so far this season, and in that time he has been dribbled past only once by an opponent. No defender with 10 or more appearances has bettered that, and Klopp has been reassured by his increasingly imposing form.

"He came back brilliant. People are really quick if something's not exactly like it was before to say 'he's not the same anymore' and stuff like this, and this is of course not right," Klopp said. "These kind of judgements make absolutely no sense because everybody needs time to get back.

"He had a full pre-season which is absolutely helpful. His comeback was absolutely brilliant since he came back, it's been really good.

"If some things are not exactly as they have been, it's only a matter of time because of his quality, there's no doubt about that."

The Liverpool manager said his team would need "a cool head" for the likely raucous atmosphere awaiting them.

"We are still an emotional team, but you have to use the emotion in the right way and that's the plan for tomorrow absolutely," Klopp said.

Everton won 2-0 at Anfield in their last Premier League game against Liverpool, ending a 20-game winless run against them in the competition. Wednesday's hosts have not won back-to-back league Merseyside derbies since beating Liverpool in both meetings in the 1984-85 campaign, with Everton then on their way to winning the First Division title.

Eight of the last nine Premier League derbies at Everton have finished level, including each of the last four in a row.

Liverpool can break a long-standing record on Wednesday, which is one of numerous incentives. Klopp's team have scored at least twice in each of their last 17 games in all competitions, the joint-longest such run in history by an English top-flight side, level with Sunderland in 1927.

Benitez will be out to prevent that happening, but his Everton side are in free-fall having lost five of their last six games.

Former Liverpool managers have lost 13 of their last 14 Premier League games against the Reds, with Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City the exception, winning 3-1 in February, with Van Dijk by then on the injured list.

Klopp does not entertain the theory that form goes out of the window for a derby.

"I think previous form matters," he said. "Especially when it's good."

Denis Zakaria looms as an attractive signing, with his contract due to expire.

The Borussia Monchengladbach star is not short of admirers.

Liverpool and Barcelona are reportedly vying for his signature.

 

TOP STORY – ZAKARIA TO LIVERPOOL OR BARCA?

Liverpool lead Barcelona in the pursuit to sign Borussia Monchengladbach star Denis Zakaria, according to El Nacional.

Zakaria is available on a free transfer at the end of the season and the Switzerland international has been heavily linked with Jose Mourinho's Roma.

He has also reportedly attracted interest from Manchester United and Manchester City, however, Premier League giants Liverpool and LaLiga powerhouse Barca are believed to be set to battle it out.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Anfield and Fichajes claims Liverpool have joined the race to prise Adama Traore from Wolves. Traore has also been linked with Barca and Juventus.

Paul Pogba is unlikely to sign a pre-contract agreement with a club abroad, says The Athletic. Pogba's United contract expires at the end of the season and Frenchman has been tipped to join either Real Madrid, Juve or Paris Saint-Germain.

- Premier League champions City are working to re-sign Riyad Mahrez, per The Sun. PSG are reportedly eyeing the Algeria international, who is contracted to City until 2023.

Newcastle United are set to make a move for Donny van de Beek, according to El Nacional. Van de Beek has found his chances limited at Manchester United and Newcastle are ready to pounce.

- After appointing Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season, The Times claims United's interim manager is targeting RB Leipzig midfielder Amadou Haidara.

Liverpool were in typically ruthless form on Saturday as they brushed aside Southampton 4-0 at Anfield.

The result meant Jurgen Klopp's men became just the second English top-flight team to score two or more goals in 17 consecutive games in all competitions, after Sunderland in 1927.

Elsewhere, rock-bottom Newcastle United's winless start to the Premier League season continued as they were beaten 2-0 by Arsenal at Emirates Stadium.

Steven Gerrard secured his second consecutive win since taking over as Aston Villa boss, with his side sealing a 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace.

Brighton and Hove Albion and Leeds United played out a goalless draw at the Amex Stadium, as did Norwich City and Wolves at Carrow Road.

Here, Stats Perform looks through the pick of Saturday's Opta facts…


Liverpool 4-0 Southampton:Jota at the double for rampant Reds

Liverpool have now scored 39 goals in their 13 Premier League games this season – their highest total at this stage of a top-flight campaign.

Diogo Jota got them on the way with their earliest goal in the Premier League (one minute and 37 seconds) since Naby Keita netted against Huddersfield Town in April 2019 (15 seconds).

Another from Jota and a strike from Thiago Alcantara put Liverpool 3-0 up at the break, before Virgil van Dijk rounded off the scoring early in the second half.

Netherlands international Van Dijk's goal was created by Trent Alexander-Arnold, who earned his 40th Premier League assist. Only Wayne Rooney (22 years and 200 days) and Cesc Fabregas (21y 188d) have reached such an assists total in the competition at a younger age than the Liverpool right-back (23y 51d).

Salah reached 150 Premier League goal involvements by setting up Jota's second, reaching that total (108 goals, 42 assists) in just 171 games. Only Alan Shearer (148 games) and Thierry Henry (163) have got there in fewer games.

Southampton, meanwhile, have lost more away games (14) and conceded more away goals (47) than any other side in the Premier League side this calendar year.


 

Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle United: Gunners cruise against Howe's beleaguered men

The Gunners continued their fine home form under Mikel Arteta with a routine win against Eddie Howe's struggling side.

Since Arteta's first home game in charge in December 2019, only Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have won more points at home in the Premier League than Arsenal (67).

Bukayo Saka got them on their way before Gabriel Martinelli added a second just 93 seconds after coming on as a substitute. It was just Martinelli's second Premier League goal at the Emirates Stadium and his first since January 2020 against Sheffield United.

The Magpies, meanwhile, became the sixth different team to fail to win any of their opening 13 games to a Premier League season, with four of the previous five sides suffering relegation (only Derby County in 2000-01 survived).

Crystal Palace 1-2 Aston Villa: Gerrard's winning start continues

This victory meant former Rangers boss Gerrard became only the second manager to win his first two Premier League games in charge of Villa, after John Gregory in February-March 1998.

Matt Targett scored the opener for Villa with his first Premier League goal in his last 75 appearances in the competition, the full-back having not netted since getting a late winner against Brighton in October 2019.

John McGinn then added a second, the Scotland international already equalling his best goal tally for a full Premier League season (three in both 2020-21 and 2019-20).

Marc Guehi pulled one back in stoppage time, but it was too late to prevent the Eagles suffering a first defeat in their last eight Premier League games (W2 D5), since a 3-0 away loss to Liverpool in September.

Norwich City 0-0 Wolves: Smith maintains unbeaten start

Dean Smith followed up a win in his first game in charge of the Canaries last weekend with a hard-fought point at home.

Norwich have now taken seven points from their last three Premier League games (W2 D1), more than they had in their previous 25 in the competition (W1 D3 L21).

The Canaries have also kept two clean sheets in their last four Premier League home games – as many as in their previous 26 at Carrow Road in the competition.

It is perhaps no surprise they could not find a way past Wolves, with only Chelsea (five) and Liverpool (four) keeping more away clean sheets in the Premier League this season than Bruno Lage's men (three).

Jurgen Klopp questioned Liverpool's focus despite his side powering to a 4-0 win over Southampton, demanding they tighten up in defence.

On the face of it, that may have seemed an unexpected response to a crushing win with a clean sheet, but Klopp was right to point to Liverpool offering up golden chances to their Anfield visitors.

Goalkeeper Alisson saved well from Armando Broja and Adam Armstrong, and Liverpool were arguably flattered by their victory margin as they reached 39 goals from their opening 13 games of the Premier League campaign.

In terms of expected goals, the metric that assesses the quality of a team's chances, Liverpool finished the game with an advantage of 2.67 to Southampton's 1.34. Those numbers indicate Liverpool impressively over-performed in terms of capitalising on opportunities, while Southampton should have done better.

Liverpool have only conceded a higher expected goals against (xGA) figure in three Premier League games this season, against the unlikely trio of Manchester United (1.49), Norwich City (1.61) and Brentford (2.72). They beat United 5-0 and Norwich 3-0, and drew 3-3 in a thriller at Brentford.

"I was not happy with the chances we conceded today, to be honest," said Klopp in his post-game news conference.

"I have no problem that Ali has to make saves in a football game but these saves were too spectacular. One-on-one with the goalie should not happen twice in a game, for sure not.

"We have to really work on that. We have to be as stable, serious, ruthless defensively as somehow possible. That gives us then the platform to play football and then we can create and then we can score.

"It will not be forever like this that we score two goals per game but it happened so far. So, good. But if we win a game 1-0 then I’m happy as well."

Liverpool have now scored two or more goals in 17 consecutive games across all competitions, making them only the second ever English top-flight club to achieve this feat after Sunderland in 1927 (17).

They could set an outright record on Wednesday in the derby against former Reds boss Rafael Benitez's Everton team.

There was plenty for Klopp to enjoy, and he hailed Diogo Jota as "a perfect signing" after the Portuguese forward, acquired from Wolves in September 2020, snatched two close-range goals early in the game to put the hosts in charge.

"A good subject to talk about," Klopp said. "Diogo: exceptional player, exceptional boy. It was for us two years ago, one-and-a-half years ago, a perfect signing because he has everything that a Liverpool player in this squad needs.

"He has the technical skills, he has the physical skills and he is very smart and can learn all the tactical stuff pretty quick. On top of that, he can play all three positions; in a 4-2-3-1 he could play as the 10. So, it is very helpful.

"He has the speed, has the desire to finish situations off really good. I think his goalscoring record is pretty impressive, if I'm right. Unfortunately, he had a big injury last year and that is then never helpful. But he is back, thank God, and fits really well in this team. I'm really happy for him."

Jota is set for an increasingly important role as Liverpool prepare to lose Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah to Africa Cup of Nations duty in January.

Klopp would love Liverpool to be able to call on Mane and Salah up to and including the Premier League clash with Chelsea on January 2.

Asked whether it was known yet whether they would be available to face the current leaders, Klopp said: "Not really, it's early for that, we're still talking. Yes [we are hoping]."

Diogo Jota hailed ruthless Liverpool and declared himself a lucky man after scoring two close-range goals in a 4-0 drubbing of Southampton.

The Portuguese forward converted crosses from Andy Robertson and Mohamed Salah to give Liverpool an early two-goal lead, and Jurgen Klopp's team were later described as "on fire" by beaten Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Jota's opener just one minute and 37 seconds into the game was Liverpool's earliest in a Premier League game since Naby Keita scored after 15 seconds against Huddersfield Town in April 2019.

Thiago Alcantara's deflected shot and a strike from Virgil van Dijk completed the rout and Liverpool, armed with a four-goal lead after 52 minutes, were able to ease through to the final whistle.

Southampton's three-man defence proved hapless against Jota, Sadio Mane and Salah.

Salah's assist for Liverpool's second means he has been directly involved in 25 goals in all competitions this season (17 goals, 8 assists), more than double that of any other Premier League player.

Jota can point to impressive figures too. The former Wolves man has been directly involved in 10 goals in his last 14 starts in all competitions for Liverpool, scoring nine times in this run and adding one assist.

"In the end, it is a good game for us," Jota told Sky Sports. "I think we adapted well to their three at the back. They changed again in the second half and were slightly better.

"I think we took advantage. There were a lot of spaces in the first half. We got the result and a clean sheet, so a good performance today.

"I think it's always easier when you start well with a good team goal and go 1-0 up at home. We knew in the past we have been 2-0 up and didn't win the game, but today we did a job and that is important.

"I'm taking advantage of playing in a really good team. Fortunately for me, I'm being able to score some goals, and hopefully I can keep on doing it."

Liverpool moved one point behind leaders Chelsea, who face Manchester United on Sunday. Klopp's team have scored 39 goals in their 13 Premier League games this season, and that ranks as their highest goal total at this stage of a top-flight campaign.

For Southampton, it was an afternoon of regrets, with Hasenhuttl admitting his team's defensive shape proved a failure. In the end, the visitors were looking to limit the damage.

Hasenhuttl said: "The first half was simply not good enough to be competitive against this team.

"We tried a different way of defending... it absolutely was not working and in the second half we changed to our normal behaviours and felt a little more comfortable and could release the pressure, although in the second half they also made it a little bit calmer.

"But they are at the moment on fire. It's very tough for a defending team. It's very tough to defend against this side when they are in this shape and this is what we have seen today. It was for us today no chance to take something after the start."

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.

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