The 2022 World Cup is now just 12 months away, with qualifying entering its closing stages following a series of crunch November clashes.

Difficulties still await Italy and Portugal – the past two European champions – in the play-offs, but most of the other big names are well on their way if they have not already confirmed their place in Qatar.

So, how are the expected contenders shaping up? Stats Perform investigates.

Argentina

Having finally ended his long wait for a senior international honour at this year's Copa America, Qatar looks like Lionel Messi's last realistic chance to guide Argentina to World Cup glory. They last triumphed in 1986, in the days of Diego Maradona.

But the brilliant Barcelona form that has been the bedrock of Messi's outstanding career is no more. Since clinching the Copa, the forward has left Camp Nou for Paris Saint-Germain and played just 595 minutes across eight games at club level, scoring three goals and assisting none. Heading into this weekend, he had yet to net in Ligue 1.

At odds with the rest of his career, Messi has briefly become one of those players who performs better for country than for club, scoring four goals in seven games for Argentina in the same period, even allowing for the minutes spent regaining fitness in November. But the national team must be concerned Messi's unconvincing displays and shaky recent fitness record hint at a decline that could continue for another year before he gets an opportunity to lead a global title charge.

Although Argentina undoubtedly have other highly talented players – Messi was one of four to make the Team of the Tournament as they become South American champions – it is tough to imagine a successful Albiceleste side without the great number 10 at the heart of it.

 

Belgium

Roberto Martinez's Belgium remain the world's top-ranked team, but it feels like their window for a first major title might now have passed.

Martinez took charge after Euro 2016, where a stacked squad lost to Wales in the last eight, yet he has found a glass ceiling, finishing third at the 2018 World Cup and fourth at the 2020-21 Nations League either side of another quarter-final exit at Euro 2020. Since a disappointing performance at the Nations League Finals, Martinez has been linked to a host of club roles – albeit he is expected to stay put until Qatar.

Although Belgium's 'Golden Generation' have maintained their position at the top of the game despite an ageing defence, there are worrying signs their key attacking players could also be on the wane.

Through a combination of injuries and poor form, Eden Hazard has not looked the same player since he left Chelsea for Real Madrid. Kevin De Bruyne, also beset by fitness issues and below-par outings of late, will hope not to follow the same path. Both he and Romelu Lukaku must still be at their peak to give the Red Devils a chance.

Brazil

Brazil were outclassed by Belgium in the quarter-finals in Russia but have lost just three matches since then. One of those was in this year's Copa final against Argentina, although the Selecao also won the competition in 2019.

Unlike previous Brazil teams, Tite's side are built on the strength of their defensive record. They have kept 28 clean sheets since the 2018 World Cup, conceding just 16 times in 42 games, with 11 shutouts in 2021 alone.

However, that solidity comes at a price. Brazil are scoring at a relatively unspectacular rate of 2.0 goals per game, including netting only two in their three Copa knockout games in July and just one across two November qualifiers.

Neymar will have a key role in producing those timely moments of magic and should not be short of motivation heading to Qatar, having suggested this will be his last World Cup. The forward has excelled on the world stage before without taking Brazil all the way.

England

As so often, England have qualified with relative ease, benefiting from a kind draw, but will not face a true test until the tournament comes around.

That means a wait to see if Gareth Southgate can make the necessary tweaks to turn the Three Lions from nearly men into champions, with the midfield a key area of focus having ceded 65.4 per cent of the possession to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, 53.2 per cent to the Netherlands in the 2018-19 Nations League semi-finals and 55.5 per cent to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semis. The continued development of Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham should encourage optimism.

But England also find themselves in a position, like Argentina, where the performances of their talismanic captain are suddenly a concern – at least at club level.

Harry Kane has so far this season used the international breaks as sweet relief, quickly closing on Wayne Rooney's record goals tally by scoring in 15 consecutive qualifiers up to September and notching seven in November alone, but there is a break now before March's fixtures and the forward simply must rediscover some sort of form for Tottenham and add to his single Premier League goal in order to return to the England fold in good nick.

 

France

Welcoming Karim Benzema back into a frightening front line, France appear to have an even more impressive line-up than at the previous World Cup, where they emerged as champions.

Benzema has already directly combined for five goals with Kylian Mbappe and one with Antoine Griezmann, who has in turn linked up once with Mbappe. The trio netted nine of France's 10 goals this month, while Mbappe had assists for each of Benzema's strikes at the Nations League Finals as both players scored in both matches and Les Bleus twice came from behind to take the title.

Yet those prior deficits and the six goals conceded at the Euros hinted at the weaknesses in this France side, as Didier Deschamps is still working on his new 3-4-1-2 formation.

The composition of the midfield in that team is crucial, and N'Golo Kante was missing against Belgium and Spain before Paul Pogba suffered an injury prior to the November fixtures. France have no shortage of quality but may not head to Qatar as the most settled unit.

Germany

It was clear Joachim Low's Germany tenure was reaching its natural conclusion before he announced his departure plans in March. That the team followed up a group-stage exit at the World Cup by stumbling through their pool at the Euros before exiting to England only further illustrated that this was the right decision.

But Germany know all about recovering quickly from such setbacks; they seemed to reach rock bottom at Euro 2000 and were in the World Cup final two years later.

Now Hansi Flick, having set Bayern Munich back on course, is excelling again with the national team, becoming the first Germany coach to win his first six matches in charge – a sequence that now stands at seven and counting. The team's last longer winning run ended at 12 games in 1980.

Germany were the most aggressive pressing side in Europe during qualifying, this despite naming their oldest XI in more than 21 years in a recent qualifier against Liechtenstein. Striking this same balance between energy and experience will be key in Qatar.

Spain

Spain have come a long way since the last World Cup, where they appeared to be in crisis from start to finish, eventually exiting to hosts Russia on penalties.

Luis Enrique's subsequent work across two spells has made them contenders again, reaching the last four at the Euros – only to again fall foul of a shoot-out – and briefly leading France in the Nations League final. The emergence of Ansu Fati, Pedri and Gavi over the course of these campaigns provides a major cause for long-term optimism, too.

However, injury issues have kept that trio from ever featuring together for their country; in fact, Fati, Pedri and Gavi are yet to play a single minute together for Barcelona.

They were three of 39 players to appear for Spain in qualifying, showing the depth of talent at Luis Enrique's disposal. Within that group, however, there is not a prolific goalscorer – a major concern with 12 months to go.

Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed Sergio Ramos is closer to finally making his Paris Saint-Germain debut, four months after arriving from Real Madrid.

The Spain international signed on a free transfer in July but has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Saturday's Ligue 1 clash with Nantes, the PSG head coach said that Ramos is back in training and could be in contention to make the squad.

"Sergio Ramos has been doing well. He has trained with the squad three times and is making good progress. We are pleased and will see if he is available for tomorrow, or for an upcoming game," Pochettino said.

When asked about Ramos's mindset and frustration at not being able to play, the Argentine added: "A World Cup winner like Sergio Ramos with his competitive level and mentality is going to find it difficult to accept not playing as much as he would like.

"But he is very strong. He is working extremely hard, and we think he is making good progress. We have to be patient, as he has been. That speaks to his maturity.

"He is coping well with the [training] workload and that is an important step for him to get closer to playing."

 

A medical update from the club earlier on Friday confirmed Rafinha, Alexandre Letellier, Julian Draxler and Gianluigi Donnarumma will miss the weekend’s game, but Pochettino is expected to have Neymar, Lionel Messi and Leandro Paredes back available, with the latter two both featuring for Argentina during the international break.

On Neymar, Pochettino said: "He has trained well today. I am not certain, but I think he will be able to be in the squad for tomorrow."

The former Tottenham boss was also asked if he felt he has made his mark on this PSG team since arriving in January.

"I think there are many signs of identity that are transmitted based on who we are, and that goes for the coaching staff and the players," Pochettino added.

"Sometimes we speak about identity and philosophy without really knowing what those words mean. It is a very subjective area. I think the team is showing many positive signs. The things we like to see and what we have implemented in the team.

"When you join a club like Paris Saint-Germain as the coaching staff, some characteristics explain why the club would want you because they have seen things that you can transmit to the team. You can get the results that the team needs.

"I think the team has its identity and style of play. It has ideas, so we want to keep improving and helping the squad develop in every area of the game so that we can get the positive results we hope for."

Neymar has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 clash against Nantes on Saturday and is a doubt for next week's Champions League visit to Manchester City, according to reports.

The 29-year-old missed Brazil's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Argentina on Tuesday due to an adductor injury, which he suffered four days earlier in the 1-0 win over Colombia.

L'Equipe reported on Thursday that Neymar had undergone tests upon returning to France and was deemed not fit enough to take part in the league match against Nantes at the Parc des Princes this weekend.

The injury also puts his participation in Wednesday's mouth-watering Champions League Group A match at City in doubt.

Pep Guardiola's City lead the group with nine points, with second-placed PSG on eight – four ahead of Club Brugge in third.

It was also reported that Marco Verratti (hip) and Presnel Kimpembe (thigh) took part in full training for a second consecutive day on Thursday, and they are likely to feature at the weekend.

Former Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos has also trained successfully all week and could make his long-awaited debut against Nantes.

Neymar will miss his meeting with Lionel Messi after being ruled out of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier against Argentina due to an adductor injury, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) announced.

Brazil – already assured of a Qatar 2022 berth – will meet Argentina in San Juan on Tuesday, with a win for Messi's men all but guaranteeing World Cup qualification.

After coming off the bench against Uruguay last time out, Messi will definitely play a part for Copa America champions Argentina, according to head coach Lionel Scaloni.

However, Brazil superstar and Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar – who teed up Lucas Paqueta for the winning goal against Colombia – will not be involved because of a thigh injury.

"After training at the Palmeiras Football Academy this Monday morning, athlete Neymar Jr. complained of pain in the adductor region of his left thigh," the CBF said.

"Neymar Jr. reported insecurity with the situation and because there was not enough time to carry out complementary exams, the technical committee chose to preserve the player, who will not travel with the Brazilian team's delegation to San Juan, location of Tuesday's game against Argentina."

Brazil and Argentina will meet for the first time since September's World Cup qualifier was sensationally abandoned in Sao Paulo.

The top-of-the-table fixture was halted following an apparent breach of coronavirus regulations, Argentina naming three Premier League players in their starting line-up – Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and Tottenham pair Cristian Romero and Giovani Lo Celso – amid travel restrictions.

Despite the rulings, Martinez, Romero and Lo Celso were all starters for Argentina, with Brazilian health officials quickly acting by entering the pitch shortly after the match had started.

A subsequent melee ensued, and the visitors eventually left the field and did not return, Brazil playing out a training fixture among one another.

Looking ahead to Tuesday's showdown, Brazil head coach Tite told reporters: "It is hard to get the dimension of it. I don’t know how it was from the Argentinian side of it. Everything that happened. I am sorry about the fact that the match didn't happen.

"But now we have all the facts and understand why it didn't happen. I have all this very clear: before football, health is more important, laws exist and the correction of the facts. All these happened. I don't know how they face this situation because it is very particular.

"I can say that Brazil v Argentina is a huge match. Historically, it is huge. A lot of quality on both sides. The two best campaigns, a lot of technical quality individually from both teams."

Brazil qualified for the 2022 World Cup after Lucas Paqueta's second-half strike secured a 1-0 victory over Colombia.

Tite's Brazil knew a win on Thursday would book their spot at Qatar 2022 and the Selecao claimed the result they needed in hard-fought fashion on home soil.

Paqueta and Neymar combined for the decisive goal in the 72nd minute as CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying leaders Brazil stayed unbeaten through 12 rounds.

Brazil entered the contest having never lost a game against Colombia in all their previous 13 meetings in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying (W6 D7). However, the Selecao had only won one of their last six games in this fixture.

It was a cagey start in Sao Paulo, where Brazil star Neymar was fortunate to escape punishment after getting into the face of referee Roberto Tobar.

The first half came to life during the closing stages as both teams had chances to open the scoring – Brazil finally got in behind Colombia and Danilo's cross deflected onto the post nine minutes before half-time.

Colombia star Luis Diaz then almost curled a stunning long-range effort into the back of the net three minutes later but it flashed just wide of the post, while Brazil's Marquinhos saw his header narrowly miss the far corner of the net on the stroke of half-time.

Like the opening 45 minutes, there was not much separating the two teams until Paqueta popped up to put Brazil ahead.

After Colombia failed to clear the ball properly, Brazil capitalised with 18 minutes remaining – Neymar playing a one-touch pass through to Paqueta, who managed to find a way past David Ospina in instinctive fashion.

 

What does it mean? Brazil maintain World Cup streak

Brazil have never missed the World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930 and the five-time champions extended that run thanks to Thursday's win. The South American powerhouse have gone five games without defeat since losing the Copa America final to bitter rivals Argentina in July.

Paqueta continues to star

After a difficult end to his Milan career, Paqueta has returned to form with Lyon in Ligue 1 and it has translated onto the international stage. The 24-year-old has scored four goals for Brazil this year. Half the goals scored by Paqueta for Brazil (three of six) have been assisted by Neymar.

Toothless Colombia

Colombia cannot buy a goal at the moment. La Tricolor have gone four matches without a goal following three consecutive 0-0 draws in qualifying. Colombia last found the back of the net in September's 3-1 win over Chile.

What's next?

Brazil will be back in action against Argentina on Tuesday, while fifth-placed Colombia host Paraguay on the same day.

Mauricio Pochettino praised Neymar after his two-goal display in Paris Saint-Germain's 3-2 victory over Bordeaux in Ligue 1.

Neymar starred in the absence of Lionel Messi, scoring a brace as league leaders PSG outlasted Bordeaux away from home on Saturday.

Having not scored from open play in Ligue 1 since May, Neymar ended that run with two sublime first-half strikes.

Neymar scored only his third and fourth Ligue 1 goals from open play in 2021 (eight goals in total), while taking his tally to seven top-flight goals against Bordeaux – his favourite Ligue 1 opponent.

Kylian Mbappe was also on target for PSG – Neymar and the former have exchanged 23 assists with each other in Ligue 1 since 2017, at least six more than any other top-flight duo.

"I think Ney [Neymar] played a good game. I think that overall, also scoring two goals it is noteworthy," PSG head coach Pochettino told reporters.

"It is clear that both him and Kylian [Mbappe], who have scored the goals, it is important for our offensive players, of course, that they touch, that they were close to the goal and that they scored."

 

With one goal and two assists, Mbappe has been involved in three goals in the same Ligue 1 game for only the second time in 2021, after January against Montpellier (two goals and one assist).

Mbappe scored his first goal from open play in the top-flight since September (against Clermont), ending his longest such streak of his career in Ligue 1 (23 – five shots on target).

PSG, who led 3-0 with 27 minutes remaining before Bordeaux scored twice, are 10 points clear of Lens atop the Ligue 1 standings after 13 games entering the international break.

"The explanation is clear, we have made two mistakes and we have conceded two goals," Pochettino added. "The goals come from mistakes or the success of the opponents. In this case it was a mix of everything, the opponent's success and our mistakes.

"We must have much more strength in defending these types of situations. It is clear that with the 3-0, Bordeaux attacked, creating some chances, especially from corners, but the game was controlled. A pity that we finished 3-2 because the team had played a good game up to that point."

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe starred as Paris Saint-Germain returned to winning ways on the road in Ligue 1 with a tightly contested 3-2 victory at Bordeaux.

Lionel Messi was again absent through injury, though the other two stars of Mauricio Pochettino's deadly attacking trident combined to brilliant effect.

Neymar had not scored from open play in Ligue 1 since doing so against Lens in May, but ended that run with two sublime first-half strikes.

Mbappe – who had teed up Neymar's double – got in on the act midway through the second half to ensure late goals from Alberth Elis and M'Baye Niang were not enough for Bordeaux.

It was far from plain sailing for PSG at first, as Bordeaux had the better of the opening exchanges, regularly catching the visitors dawdling in their own half.

Yet Bordeaux were soon lamenting their failure to make PSG pay, with Neymar taking Mbappe's floated pass under his spell before drilling a wonderful finish beyond Benoit Costil.

Costil had to be at his best to prevent Mbappe making it 2-0, but could do little to prevent Neymar doubling PSG's tally before the break.

The combination with Mbappe again came to the fore, Neymar playing a slick one-two with the France star before sliding a cool effort into the bottom-left corner.

Mbappe looked set to go from provider to scorer early in the second half, only for Laurent Koscielny to make a fantastic last-ditch block.

He was not to be denied again, though, and he tucked home into a gaping goal after Ander Herrera's pass had set Georgino Wijnaldum away.

Elis' close-range finish gave Bordeaux hope, with substitute Niang then slotting in after a fantastic one-two with Jimmy Briand in stoppage time, but it was too little too late.

What does it mean? No Messi, no problem

Messi's niggling injury issues have prevented the superstar getting into full flow for PSG, at least in domestic football, but Neymar and Mbappe were more than enough to shrug aside Bordeaux.

With Nice not in action until Sunday, PSG sit clear at the top with 11 wins from 13 games. After a 2-0 defeat at Rennes and a 0-0 draw at Marseille, Saturday's result also saw the capital club avoid a run of three away games without scoring – a streak they last went on in 2010.

Neymar's happy hunting ground

Neymar has now scored seven goals against Bordeaux in Ligue 1, making them his favourite opponent in the competition.

Ahead of this much-needed performance, the 29-year-old had not scored in his previous five league matches, which was his longest drought since arriving at PSG in 2017.

More Girondins misery against PSG

Bordeaux have not won any of their last 13 Ligue 1 games against PSG (D4 L9). The Girondins have only had two longer runs without a win against a specific opponent in the top-flight: against Lyon between September 1999 and August 2006 (15) and against Reims between September 1978 and December 2020 (14).

What's next? 

PSG welcome Nantes to the Parc des Princes after the international break on November 20, while Bordeaux visit Metz a day later.

Leonardo defended Lionel Messi, Neymar and Mauricio Pochettino, among others, as he said criticism of Paris Saint-Germain has been unfair this season, even if their performances have been below par.

PSG are 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 after beating defending champions Lille on Friday – a fact sporting director Leonardo was keen to reiterate – and also lead their Champions League group.

But Pochettino's side have not quite reached the standard expected of an outfit boasting three of the best players in the world in Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

PSG had to come from behind to defeat Lille 2-1, scoring an 88th-minute winner through Angel Di Maria.

It was the fifth time in this calendar year PSG have conceded first but won in Ligue 1, tying a club record, while they have now earned eight points in the final five minutes of matches this season. No other team have collected more than three.

 

Those statistics speak to the fine margins PSG are dealing with, but Leonardo expected progress would be slow and steady after a busy off-season in which Messi arrived alongside Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, Nuno Mendes and Georginio Wijnaldum.

"That we have things to improve is obvious," Leonardo said. "But it is normal given the context. There have been players who have reached the end of their preparation, there have been significant changes.

"We are not where we want to be, but the team works a lot. This is very important."

Leonardo feels there has been too much criticism of PSG, suggesting negative press was "starting to exceed the limits".

He added: "To say that the coach does not understand anything about football, that he was born yesterday, that the great players we took suck...

"There are people who want to make their names by talking about PSG, it's a personal promotion.

"We don't play the way we want, but we have 10 wins, a draw and a loss. We are 10 points ahead.

"We don't play the way we want, okay, but we are on a path, we never lack effort, we know how to reverse scenarios. It was the fourth win in the 90th minute.

"You can't talk about Messi, Mbappe, Neymar, [Marco] Verratti, the coach, Marquinhos like that. Ramos, too? We knew Ramos had a problem. You are playing the game of the Spanish press. We knew everything. We know what is going on."

Ramos is yet to play for PSG since joining from Real Madrid in July, while Messi and Neymar have underwhelmed this term.

Messi still waits on his first Ligue 1 goal, making him the player to have had the most shots in the competition without scoring this season (15, including four on target).

 

Meanwhile, Neymar is enduring his longest Ligue 1 drought, going five games without a goal. However, his brilliant assist for Di Maria on Friday was his third in that time.

"Messi has spent more time with the national team than here," Leonardo said. "Neymar is the same thing, and he played a great game [against Lille]. They were decisive with Di Maria.

"I am not worried about anything. People think we don't know anything about the players, that the players are all partying. This does not correspond to the truth; if players do things wrong, we talk to them.

"Neymar is unfairly criticised. He played a very big game. If he's a player who parties every day, he doesn't play a game like that, it's impossible."

On Pochettino, Leonardo added: "Pochettino, before arriving here, was a top-five [coach]; now, supposedly, he doesn't understand anything anymore.

"We have changed things. Opinions will be formed at the end. We are in a hurry at PSG, it's normal. With a team like that, we want to win this year, that's for sure.

"If we're going to succeed, I don't know. That we have all the means, I am convinced. We have a coach, we have a very large squad. Why would I be worried? We can be better. If we look at what we have, why would I be worried?"

Neymar has slammed critics of him following Paris Saint-Germain's hard-fought 2-1 win over French champions Lille in Ligue 1 on Friday.

The Brazilian had a disappointing first half in PSG's come-from-behind win, playing a key role in the second half including providing the assist for Angel Di Maria's 88th-minute winner.

Neymar has not scored for PSG since netting from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win over Olympique Lyon on September 20, his only club goal of the 2021-22 season, prompting some criticism.

"The critics are normal. I've been playing football for 15 years, I don't care," Neymar told Amazon after the game.

"The most important critic is me. I know what I'm doing on the field for my team.

"Out there they don't know what's going on, what we're doing. And I don't care, I'll continue."

The chemistry between Neymar alongside new signing Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe has been questioned this term for PSG.

The Parisiens are top of Ligue 1 by 10 points, having dropped points only twice in 12 games, but expectations were for a more dominant forward line with Messi's arrival.

Neymar has started six times for PSG since scoring against Lyon, providing three assists during that goalless run.

"It was a very difficult match," Neymar about the Lille win. "They're a good opposition. We fought to the end, we scored."

Kylian Mbappe has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 clash with Lille through illness, while Lionel Messi is doubtful due to a minor injury.

Ligue 1 leaders PSG welcome reigning champions Lille to the Parc des Princes on Friday aiming to return to winning ways after last week's goalless draw with rivals Marseille.

Mauricio Pochettino's side will do so without Mbappe, who played a full part in Le Classique but has since been struck down by an ear, nose and throat infection.

Mbappe was not the only superstar forward missing from training on Thursday, with Messi also absent due to what Pochettino described as "muscle discomfort".

PSG will make a late decision on Messi's fitness and Pochettino has suggested he may field the Argentina captain through the middle, should he be fit.

"Messi missed training as a precaution," Pochettino said at his pre-match news conference. "He did an individual session instead. We will see tomorrow if he can play.

"Kylian is of course important to us. As he is absent, there are several other possibilities over who plays through the middle.

"Messi can play there, but there are other alternatives. We'll have to see what the final decision is. As Pep Guardiola says, Messi can play anywhere."

 

Since arriving at PSG from Barcelona on a shock free transfer in August, Messi has played either on the right of a 4-3-3 or behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1.

Messi is still finding his feet in the French capital, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having scored three goals in his first seven appearances in all competitions - each of those coming in the Champions League.

He is yet to score in Ligue 1, making this the first time he has failed to score in his first four league appearances of a league season since 2005-06 with Barcelona.

And with PSG failing to find the net in two of their last three league games, Pochettino was pressed on whether it is time to use Messi as the focal point of the attack.

"The tactical disposition of the team provides us with a base that can vary," he said. "We have a reference for offensive and defensive systems.

"Each player has, in principle, certain responsibilities depending on his position and that of others. Leo is a player who can play on the right, the centre or in the number 10.

"He is a player who can play anywhere. He is the best player in the world, who positions himself where the game demands it, according to the needs of the team."

PSG are also without the suspended Achraf Hakimi for the visit of Lille, while Marco Verratti will be absent for the next month and Sergio Ramos is still not ready for his debut.

However, Neymar is available after recovering from an abductor injury to play a part against Marseille.

Neymar has just one goal and two assists in eight games this season and Pochettino admits he is after more from the Brazil international.

"The circumstances are always different. The comparisons are not fair," he said when asked if Neymar is regressing from previous seasons. 

"For me, Neymar is a player with enormous talent, one of the best players in the world. 

"When we arrived at PSG, we tried to give him everything he needed. He needs to be at his best. I'm happy with him. For me, he's a player with enormous talent. 

"We always hope that he will continue to improve. But this is not enough, because we know that we must continue to do better."

Asked if it was possible Neymar could be benched, Pochettino said: "All the players can be on the bench, or on the field. There are 33 players who think they are playing. 

"If they are not playing, they are not happy. It is not only at PSG, but in the the whole football world. I couldn't give a clearer answer."

PSG have lost their last two games against 10th-place Lille in all competitions and could lose three in a row in this fixture for the first time since a run of four between March 1987 and September 1988.

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino declared himself "satisfied" with what he saw from Neymar in the Ligue 1 leaders' 0-0 draw with rivals Marseille in Le Classique.

Neymar returned to the squad after missing PSG's Champions League win over RB Leipzig on Tuesday with a groin injury and started up front alongside Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi on Sunday.

That reunion did not produce the desired effect, with the vaunted attacking trio unable to find the net away to Marseille at the Velodrome. 

PSG were forced to play with 10 men from the 57th minute, when star full-back Achraf Hakimi was sent off.

That tactical disadvantage forced Neymar to drop back into the midfield after Thilo Kehrer replaced Angel Di Maria just past the hour.

Neymar gave way himself in the 83rd minute, as Georginio Wijnaldum came on to see out the draw. 

It was the first 0-0 between Marseille and PSG at the Velodrome in Ligue 1 since November 1998, the end of a 21-match run.

"After the sending off, a choice needed to be made, and at that point, we thought we had to bring on Kehrer and bring Neymar back as a third midfielder," Pochettino told reporters.

He added: "I am very satisfied with Neymar's game, he has sacrificed a lot for the team after returning from the Brazilian national team and being inactive."

Neymar played all 90 minutes in Brazil's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers against Colombia and Uruguay during the international break, producing a goal and two assists as Brazil won the latter fixture 4-1. 

Though the Brazilian has not scored for his club since September 19, PSG have plenty of options.

PSG are unbeaten in their last nine trips to Marseille in Ligue 1 (W6 D3), and remain on a run of three clean sheets at their rivals in the top flight – a first in their history.

None of them came through on Sunday, but Pochettino sounded an upbeat note afterward. 

"There are several positive things to take from the game," he said. "The team was solid, it showed character, it was well-organised with and without the ball.

"It's a shame to have played with 10 men for nearly 40 minutes. But even in these conditions, we controlled the game.

"We don't want to celebrate the point because there's a bitter feeling with this game. But there were some good things from an attacking point of view, we just lacked in finishing. I think we were a bit better than OM, not by much, but we deserved to win."

Paris Saint-Germain will go backwards if Kylian Mbappe leaves for free, according to former midfielder Jerome Rothen. 

Mbappe's contract is due to expire at the end of the season and he has been heavily linked with a free transfer to Real Madrid, whose president Florentino Perez this month said he would have news about the 22-year-old in January. 

The World Cup-winning attacker has scored 138 goals and supplied 62 assists in 184 appearances since joining PSG in 2017, developing into one of the most exciting talents in world football. 

He scored the opening goal in the 3-2 Champions League win over RB Leipzig on Tuesday but blazed a penalty over in second-half stoppage time following a Lionel Messi double.

Still, Rothen believes it is Mbappe, not Messi or Neymar, who is essential to PSG's future.

Their win percentage in all competitions drops by 5.7 per cent to 69.8 per cent when Mbappe does not feature, while their average goals scored slips from 2.7 to 2.3 in his absence. 

"If Mbappe leaves for free, PSG will go backwards I am sure," Rothen said on RMC Sport. 

"It's a chance to have one of the best players in the world. He is the player who best represents Paris Saint-Germain today, the player who often makes the difference and makes you win the big games. 

"It must be shown to Mbappe and his entourage, that the project is around Mbappe, not anyone else. It's not around Lionel Messi or Neymar. 

"Of course, Lionel Messi remains Lionel Messi. Except that today, we see he can disappear for 20 or 30 minutes." 

Mbappe revealed this month that he asked to leave PSG in the close season so they could get money from selling him and find a replacement. 

Messi has a contract at the Parc des Princes until June 2023, with the option for another year, while Neymar's deal runs until 2025. 

Mauricio Pochettino will be without Neymar and Leandro Paredes for Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League clash with RB Leipzig on Tuesday as his list of absent players continues to grow.

Brazil star Neymar returned from the international break with an adductor issue after impressing with a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win over Uruguay.

Paredes, meanwhile, was replaced in the second half of Argentina's 1-0 victory against Peru due to a problem in his right quadriceps and will also be unavailable.

The pair join Sergio Ramos – who is still yet to make his PSG debut – on the injury list, while Angel Di Maria is suspended and Mauro Icardi is a doubt after missing training due to personal issues.

"The priority is always the health of the players," Pochettino said. "In this case, [Neymar's injury] is a small problem but we hope it is a matter of a few days before finding it."

PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe also spoke ahead of what is set to be his 14th appearance of the season against Leipzig, having played a team-high 1076 minutes across all competitions so far.

"Obviously, there is fatigue like any player, the sequence of games is not easy, but I am at the team's disposal," Kimpembe said. "If I am on the pitch, it is because I have the capacity. The coaches know that I am a competitor, a soldier. If I am called upon, I will respond.

"We play a sport that we love. Some would like to be in my shoes, so if I'm not on the pitch, I'm not going to complain."

The France international defender also made sure to highlight the qualities of his compatriot and former PSG academy graduate Christopher Nkunku, who will be lining up for the Bundesliga outfit in Paris.

The versatile 23-year-old is comfortably his side's top scorer in all competitions with nine strikes in 2021-22 – six more than anyone else – and also has two assists in 931 minutes of football.

"[Nkunku] is tremendous," Kimpembe continued. "We all know his qualities, especially me because we were trained together.

"He's been able to show that he is one of the greats now. He's showing it on the European stage.

"It's going to be a great match. I can't wait to be able to meet him again and I hope he will make his debut for France when the opportunity arises."

Raphinha declared it would be difficult to top the euphoria he felt after scoring twice in Brazil's 4-1 win over Uruguay in World Cup qualifying.

The Leeds United forward made his first start for the Selecao one to remember, netting the second and third goals of a clinical victory.

Neymar and Gabriel Barbosa also got on the scoresheet in Manaus, with Uruguay's reply coming from Luis Suarez.

Raphinha said: "Tonight will be hard to beat, it will be difficult to forget tonight, it never had to end.

"I'll go back and be focused on what made me get here, the good work in Leeds, I'll do my job well to come back other times.

"I don't think there's any way to explain the happiness I'm feeling, this match with the goals and the victory couldn't have been more striking for me."

Quoted in Globo, Raphinha added: "I'm making my childhood dream come true, not only to wear the national team's shirt, but also to represent the national team. Being able to help with goals is very gratifying."

 

Raphinha has a close family association to Brazil great Ronaldinho and was asked what he thought the former Barcelona and Milan star would have made of his impressive display.

"[He would] just congratulate me for the match, not only him but other people," said Raphinha. "The most important thing is that I'm managing to represent the community I came from, my family and friends.

"I'm from Restinga, from Porto Alegre. It is where [former Brazil international] Tinga came from and where there is a lot of lost talent, thank God I'm managing to represent the community."

Raphinha became the first Leeds United player to score for Brazil, and the 24-year-old admitted it helped to have Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar as a team-mate, to guide him through such a game.

"Playing with Ney is very easy. I'm a big fan," Raphinha said. "I'm very inspired by him, in his way of playing, in his way of attacking his opponent. I watch many videos of him. To be playing with him is a dream come true."

Brazil returned to winning ways and continued on their path to Qatar 2022 as Neymar and Raphinha dazzled in a 4-1 World Cup qualifying win over Uruguay on Thursday.

The Selecao, whose perfect qualifying record ended with Sunday's 0-0 draw in Colombia, raced to a two-goal lead within 18 minutes against a ragged Uruguay side via strikes from Neymar and Raphinha, making his first international start.

Raphinha doubled his account in the 58th minute as Brazil dominated La Celeste, with Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera prevented the score from being uglier in Manaus.

Luis Suarez's 77th minute free-kick meant Brazil, who had gone six qualifiers without conceding a goal and nine in home World Cup qualifying games, have conceded twice in their past three before Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa's rounded out the scoring four minutes from time.

Neymar netted in the 10th minute, chesting down Fred's lofted ball into the box, the superstar forward getting around Muslera and drilling home from a sharp angle past Sebastian Coates on the line.

Raphinha doubled Brazil's advantage, firing in after Neymar's shot deflected off Diego Godin and Muslera into his path to become the first Leeds United player to score for the South American giants.

Brazil should have had a third in the 34th minute when Neymar and Raphinha both took a touch too many inside the box, failing to shoot.

Muslera kept Uruguay in the game after the interval, denying Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus twice in quick succession, along with Raphinha.

Edinson Cavani, who started alongside Uruguay's all-time leading scorer Suarez, had a goal disallowed for a clear offside in the 56th minute before Brazil added a third.

Raphinha grabbed his second, capping off a swift counter-attack by firing in off the post from Neymar's release approaching the hour.

Muslera saved well to thwart substitute Barbosa twice, before Suarez rifled in a free-kick into the bottom corner for a consolation goal – his 65th international strike.

Barbosa got his goal after VAR consultation, heading in from Neymar's cross to make it two goals in his last three international appearances.

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