Rafael Nadal believes he can win a 14th French Open title despite other players arriving at Roland Garros in better condition, as he labelled the venue the "most important" place in his tennis career.

Nadal won a record 21st grand slam title when he recovered from two-sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a thrilling Australian Open final in January, and has won 13 of the last 17 editions of the year's second slam.

However, Nadal admitted he was "living with an injury" after falling to a third-round defeat to Denis Shapovalov at the Internazionali d'Italia earlier this month, and will need to overcome a tough draw to build on his fine record in Paris, with Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz both on his side of the bracket.

Ahead of his first-round clash with Australia's Jordan Thompson, Nadal insisted that while he was not the favourite to triumph at Roland Garros, he hoped to replicate his performance at the year's opening grand slam in order to give himself a chance.

"I just enjoyed all my tennis career to be where I am, and I always feel very privileged and lucky to have the chance to enjoy all the experiences that I am enjoying and I am living because of this sport," Nadal said.

"And here I am in Roland Garros, another year. It is a place I know well. It is a place that I consider the most important one in my tennis career, without a doubt, and with a lot of positive memories.

"Today, it looks difficult and there are players that are in better shape than me, without a doubt, that is true today. But you never know what can happen in the next couple of days.

"The same happened in Australia, and I put myself in a position to have a chance, and here is no different. Things can change quick, and the only thing that I can do is try to be ready if that change happens."

 

Pressed on the effects of the foot injury which troubled him in Rome, Nadal said he is feeling better, but maintained it was a case of managing, rather than curing, the pain.

"What happened in Rome is something that happened very often in my practices," he added. "I was suffering after that for a couple of days, but I feel better.

"The pain is there always. It's not going to disappear now. It's about if the pain is high and strong enough to allow me to play with real chances [of winning] or not.

"But in my case, is something that I live every day, so it's nothing new for me and is not a big surprise. 

"I am here just to play tennis and to try to make the best result possible here in Roland Garros. And if I didn't believe that this thing can happen, probably I would not be here."

Meanwhile, the stars appear to have aligned for Nadal, with his beloved Real Madrid facing Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 28 just a short journey across Paris at the Stade de France.

Nadal, a known supporter of Los Blancos who requested not to play at the same time as their semi-final win over Manchester City while competing at the Madrid Open earlier this month, revealed he has already made plans to attend the conveniently located contest. 

"Well, I am here to play Roland Garros more than anything else. But of course, I have my tickets already," he smiled.

Kylian Mbappe's mother has confirmed the forward has reached contract agreements with both Paris Saint-German and Real Madrid, and all that remains is for the 23-year-old to make a final decision.

Mbappe, who is out of contract next month, is a long-standing target of Champions League finalists Madrid, although PSG have also made their desire to keep the 2018 World Cup winner public – with head coach Mauricio Pochettino declaring on Friday he wants the France international to stay "for many more years".

He has scored 25 league goals and added 17 assists to guide PSG to their 10th Ligue 1 title this term, with his total of 42 league goal contributions the highest of all players in the big five European leagues.

Mbappe was voted Ligue 1 player of the season for a third successive time last week, before declaring at the Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionnels (UNFP) award ceremony in Paris that he would announce a decision on his future before France's Nations League fixtures in June.

The player's mother and agent Fayza Lamary has now confirmed reports that Mbappe has agreed similar terms with both PSG and Madrid. 

"There are no new sessions in order to negotiate the future of Mbappe after the expiration of his contract with Paris Saint-Germain. These sessions have ended," she told Kora Plus.

"We have an agreement with Real Madrid and another agreement with Paris Saint-Germain, and the negotiations have already ended, now Kylian has to choose.

"The two offers are equal from Real Madrid and Saint-Germain, there are no big differences between them, but we are waiting for Kylian to choose what he wants."

PSG will bring the curtain down on their Ligue 1 season when they host Metz on Saturday, with Mbappe having contributed to seven more league goals than their final-day opponents have scored this season (35).

Pep Guardiola has no intention of selling Ilkay Gundogan, even if "all the great Twitter accounts" have suggested he could leave Manchester City.

Gundogan has been at the centre of online debate following claims he had held talks with Real Madrid, seemingly focused around a reported image of the midfielder heading to the Spanish capital on a private flight.

Model Sara Benamira revealed on her Instagram she and Gundogan had actually been married in Copenhagen during his time out of the country.

Guardiola was aware of that private ceremony but had no knowledge of any desire on the part of either Gundogan or the club for a transfer.

The former Borussia Dortmund man has a year remaining on his City contract.

"He asked me permission to go to Denmark or I don't know [where] to get married," Guardiola told reporters. "I congratulate him.

"If you ask me personally, the club, I want Ilkay next season here. There is no idea, no intention that next season he cannot be here.

"After, if he wants to leave – because... I don't know, he's getting married, a new experience or whatever – as a club we don't know it.

"All the great Twitter accounts, the guys like you, said he's going to leave, so congratulations, but I didn't know it. Maybe you have more info than me or the club, but this is the situation right now."

In the more immediate future, Guardiola has been boosted by the potential return of defenders Kyle Walker and John Stones for Sunday's Premier League match against Aston Villa, where City will win the title with three points.

The England pair had previously been ruled out for the rest of the season but could now feature after a "partial" training session on Thursday.

"I have incredible doctors," a smiling Guardiola said on Friday.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti suggested Italy are falling behind in international football due to an inability to find a new generation of footballers and a failing Serie A system.

Italy lifted the Euro 2020 title last July with a penalty shoot-out victory over England in the final, the Azzurri's first European Championship since 1968, but followed that up with failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

A play-off defeat to North Macedonia in March condemned Italy to a second successive absence from the global competition, having also missed out on qualification for Russia 2018.

Roberto Mancini and the Italian football system were met with widespread criticism for their reluctance to utilise younger players, instead relying on the experience of the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Ciro Immobile.

There were also suggestions the problems were more deep-rooted in the Italian game, with a lack of opportunities granted for homegrown talents in Serie A that failed to establish a clear path to the national team.

Ancelotti, who featured for Italy as a player and has managed five Italian clubs, echoed those sentiments as he reflected on the improvements needed in his home country.

"I believe that Italian football must seek an improvement in the spectacle it offers," Ancelotti said at a forum to discuss Italian football, as quoted by Tuttomercatoweb. "It is not attractive for several reasons.

"There is the technical aspect, in the sense that there is a lack of figures to look up to in a generation of footballers that has had difficulty producing great champions after the 2006 World Cup, where there were the likes of [Francesco] Totti, [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Andrea] Pirlo, [Gennaro] Gattuso.

"Italy struggled to find a generation of new talents. It is true that the unexpected success at the European Championships arrived, but the individual quality of Italian players at the moment is not that of 15 years ago."

As for how Italy can improve, Ancelotti pointed towards the development opportunities in Serie A as a vital factor.

"In my opinion, right now young people are struggling to find chances in Serie A," he added. "Especially with the new rules, which benefit foreign players and do not allow Italians the time they need.

"In 2019 there was a youth final between Italy and Portugal: the Portuguese players included the likes of [Rafael] Leao, now they play in the top Portuguese or English leagues.

"If you look at the squad, the Italian players are much less active."

Italy will look to get back on track when they face South American champions Argentina in a match billed 'Finalissima' at Wembley on June 1.

Mauricio Pochettino has appealed to Kylian Mbappe to stay at Paris Saint-Germain and resist the temptation of Real Madrid, as a decision looms.

An announcement is thought to be imminent and the PSG head coach said it was important that it comes directly from Mbappe, whose contract expires at the end of June.

PSG, who hold a 15-point lead at the top of Ligue 1, face Metz on Saturday evening in their final game of the season.

Title celebrations are due to follow that game but could be overshadowed by news from Mbappe, who said he would confirm his intentions before the coming international break. Reports on Friday suggested clarity would come this weekend, and Pochettino hopes Mbappe decides to stay "for many more years".

It has been reported PSG have offered him a staggering financial package to remain with the French champions, but there remains little consensus on what Mbappe's decision will be.

"I don't know what it is. I don't walk to talk about it," Pochettino told a news conference on Friday. "I don't know what his decision is.

"It's a personal decision, for Kylian Mbappe linked with the club. There's a lot of information, a lot of rumours. We always respect the club and Kylian Mbappe's position. The club and the player have to speak about such topics.

"I do get information as the coach, but I'm not the right person to make a statement which isn't my responsibility. In this case, that lies with the player."

Pochettino said he had spoken to sporting director Leonardo "about many topics" and said he had "some information about what is happening" regarding player movement.

But he stressed that did not amount to being sure about what Mbappe's future would hold.

"As for what I want, I want Kylian Mbappe to be here for many years at Paris Saint-Germain," Pochettino said. "I don't know the information, I don't know what is going to happen. I am the coach of PSG and I would like him to stay here for many more years."

France striker Mbappe has been strongly linked with Madrid over the past year, with the Spanish giants making an attempt to sign him last August that was repelled by PSG.

The 23-year-old scored home and away against Madrid in the Champions League as PSG took a 2-0 aggregate lead in their last-16 tie, only for Karim Benzema's hat-trick in the final half-hour of the second leg on March 9 to guide Carlo Ancelotti's side to a comeback victory.

With 168 goals and 77 assists in 216 games for PSG, since arriving from Monaco five years ago, reigning Ligue 1 player of the season Mbappe would be sorely missed in Paris.

Pochettino's own future at PSG has been widely considered in doubt, despite delivering a landslide Ligue 1 title success.

Given the remarkable resources at his disposal, Pochettino had been expected by many to carry PSG deeper into the Champions League knockout rounds. He was linked with Manchester United recently, before Erik ten Hag was appointed boss of the Red Devils, and has also been touted in media reports as a possible candidate to coach Athletic Bilbao next season.

PSG's owners have not been shy in moving on coaches who have not met their high expectations in the past.

However, Pochettino declared he was keen to carry on working in Paris, saying on Friday: "I don't see any reason why I won't be here next season. I think the best is yet to come, hopefully.

"Everyone at Paris Saint-Germain wants to win the Champions League. That has become an obsession for the club. I hope we can achieve that."

Tick-tock, tick-tock. It appears time will finally run out on Sunday and the Kylian Mbappe transfer saga will finally be at its end.

Paris Saint-Germain have experienced another monumental blow this season with another cruel elimination in the Champions League and Real Madrid are waiting in the wings.

According to reports, the 23-year-old will finally announce his decision on Sunday.

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO CONFIRM DECISION ON SUNDAY  

Kylian Mbappe will announce whether he will play for Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid on Sunday, according to L'Equipe.

The Parisian has never hidden his admiration for LeBron James and appears set to mimic his 'The Decision' announcement from 2010.

What is for certain according to reports, Mbappe is intent on announcing the decision before the France national team meets up for camp in Clairefontaine on May 28.

While it has been recently reported a move to Real Madrid seems likelier, talks are still ongoing according to the L'Equipe report, with PSG aiming to scupper a potential move at the last minute.

ROUND-UP

– Meanwhile, France team-mate and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba had agreed personal terms with Manchester City, according to the Times, but backed out in fear of fan backlash and now appears likely to move abroad.

– Along with Pogba, Juventus are also hoping to further bolster their midfield stocks and sign Chelsea midfielder Jorginho, the Gazzetta dello Sport reports.

– Diario AS is reporting Paulo Dybala has ruled out a move to Tottenham once his contract with Juve expires at the end of the season.

– Kalidou Koulibaly has emerged as a target for Barcelona, who would be willing to add Miralem Pjanic as part of a package deal for Napoli, per Fichajes.

Gareth Bale returning to Cardiff to play for his hometown club "ticks all the boxes" according to Wales boss Robert Page.

Bale's contract at Real Madrid will expire at the end of this season, with only two games remaining for Los Blancos – Friday's home game against Real Betis to end the LaLiga season, before next Saturday's Champions League final with Liverpool.

While speculation around a potential retirement should Wales fail to qualify for the World Cup persists, he would likely need to find a new club in the event they progress past Scotland or Ukraine in June's playoff.

In response to rumours of a move to Cardiff for Bale, Page asserted that is simply feels right but respects his captain's right to make his own decisions after the playoff.

"It ticks all the boxes," he said. "Ultimately, it's Gareth's decision and Cardiff City's.

"I think he's right to say 'Let's throw full focus on to the fifth [of June]. Let's get there first and have that discussion.

"We can carry on talking about it and guess, have our opinion, and it does make sense. It makes a lot of sense. He can base himself at a training ground he's familiar with."

Bale has made a solitary appearance in LaLiga since February, coming on as a substitute late in the second half of Real Madrid's win over Getafe in April.

He has been sidelined with back problems since, with Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti even revealing it immobilised him at times.

The 32-year-old was named in Wales' 27-man squad for the June window, which includes four Nations League games, but could join camp if he is not named in Madrid's Champions League final squad.

"We will keep in touch with him," Page said. "It's common sense that if he is not going to feature at all, and Real Madrid are happy with releasing him, then of course we would like him on camp.

“They don’t have to. We don’t have the players [officially] until the 30th, so we can’t pull rank on that.

“We just have to go with what they suggest. Rightly so because he’s employed by the club, but if there’s an opportunity to get players in earlier then we would like that.”

Aaron Ramsey has the character to put his penalty miss in Rangers' Europa League final shoot-out defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt behind him, according to Wales boss Rob Page.

The on-loan Juventus midfielder, brought on in the second half of extra time, missed the only spot-kick as Frankfurt prevailed 5-4 in a game that finished level at 1-1 in Seville on Wednesday.

It marked the first time Rangers had tasted defeat on penalties in European competition since the 1999-2000 UEFA Cup when losing to Borussia Dortmund in the last 32.

Ramsey was visibly upset after Rafael Borre converted the decisive penalty for Frankfurt, who are the first German team to win the UEFA Cup or Europa League since Schalke in 1996-97.

But Page insists he has no worries about selecting the 31-year-old to take a penalty should Wales' upcoming World Cup qualifying play-off against either Scotland or Ukraine go the distance.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that if it comes to penalties that he will take one," Page said at a news conference on Thursday after naming his 27-man squad for that June 5 showdown in Cardiff.

Asked if he still has faith in Ramsey, Page said: "Absolutely, 100 per cent. It happens to the best in the world. Top players, they put themselves up.

"I am so proud of him for putting himself up [to take a penalty]. He is a world-class footballer. He had the courage and conviction to take a penalty. Top players recover from that, no problem."

Ramsey is part of Wales' latest squad, as is Gareth Bale, who will become a free agent when his Real Madrid contract expires in the coming weeks.

Bale's agent this week suggested a return to English football is the most likely option, with the forward aiming to keep fit ahead of November's World Cup should Wales qualify for the tournament for the first time in 64 years.

"I think everybody is probably thinking the same thing about his future," Page said. "It will depend on how results go with regards to what he does next season with a club.

"The only person who can answer that is Gareth. All I know is whenever he turns up for us he is first class. The full focus on himself is winning this game against Ukraine or Scotland, so he can worry about that after."

Bale has started just four games for Madrid in all competitions this season and has not been part of their matchday squad for any of their past five games because of a back problem.

The Wales skipper is back in training, however, and Page expects him to be part of Los Blancos' squad for next week's Champions League final against Liverpool in Paris.

"I think Gareth puts himself when he is fit to be available for Real Madrid like he does with us," Page said. "It is down to the manager then whether he wants to select him or not in the squad. 

"I think he is confident he will be involved and we will wait and see whether he is involved. We will then get him in camp as soon as we can."

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti insisted the ongoing Kylian Mbappe transfer saga is not on his mind as he focuses on the Champions League final against Liverpool.

Mbappe's contract with Paris Saint-Germain is due to expire at the end of the season as reports persist that the World Cup winner will move to the Spanish capital.

The France international has stated he will announce his decision before joining up with Les Bleus for international duty in June, with PSG still hopeful of keeping their talisman at the Parc des Princes.

Mbappe's 57 goal contributions in all competitions this season can only be bettered by Madrid forward and international team-mate Karim Benzema (59) among players in the top five European leagues.

Ancelotti could have the pair to call upon in his attack alongside Vinicius Junior next term, but the Italian insists he is concentrating on the European showpiece with Liverpool on May 28 in Paris.

"I spend my time in Valdebebas [Madrid's training ground], in the car at home or in a restaurant," Ancelotti said ahead of Friday's LaLiga game against Real Betis.

"Nobody asks me about Mbappe because everyone is thinking about the Champions League final.

"I don't consider the Mbappe issue; the only thing I have in mind is the Champions League final, and that leaves me very calm."

Ancelotti will continue to rotate his side against Betis on Friday with the LaLiga title already secured as Madrid eye their 14th European crown.

Meanwhile, Liverpool remain in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple, having lifted the FA Cup last Saturday against Chelsea and then beaten Southampton on Tuesday to sit one point behind Premier League leaders Manchester City with a game to go.

However, Ancelotti does not believe the contrasting schedules will make a difference when the two teams meet at the Stade de France in UEFA's premier club competition.

"Liverpool in this period have had more difficulties than us, because they have important games," he added.

"They have won the FA Cup. We have had the opportunity to think more about this game, but it will not affect the team. We will think about the game from Monday."

Ancelotti also called on Madrid to enjoy the occasion of the final.

"We must not forget the happiness of playing this game," he continued. "It is normal to have anxiety and worry about facing a strong team. I am happy to have time to prepare it.

"We are where many want to be – it is the most important game of the world football. Now we are enjoying it. After the match, there may be more happiness or a bit of sadness."

Carlo Ancelotti confirmed Gareth Bale will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires in June as he hailed the forward who remains "a part of the history" at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid wrapped up the LaLiga title with four games to spare and host Real Betis on the final matchday of the league season, with a Champions League final against Liverpool to follow on May 28 in Paris.

Bale's role in their success to this point has been extremely limited, making just seven appearances in all competitions this season, totalling only 290 minutes of action.

The Wales international, who will hope to qualify for the World Cup when his country face either Ukraine or Scotland in their play-off final on June 5, was expected to leave Madrid when his contract runs out at the end of the season, and Ancelotti confirmed that was the case on Thursday.

Bale has won four Champions League titles during his nine-year spell in the Spanish capital, scoring three final goals.

But his exit will mark the end of a turbulent stay in Madrid, with his Los Blancos commitment regularly coming under scrutiny from Madridistas and the Spanish press.

Ancelotti could not promise Bale a final farewell appearance at the Bernabeu on Friday as injury problems persist, but the Italian insisted the 32-year-old's name will be etched into Madrid's history books.

"Bale isn't 100 per cent fit, and he won't be in the squad. Tomorrow I'll choose if he's on the bench or in the stands," Ancelotti told a pre-match news conference.

Asked about his future, Ancelotti added: "The contract ends, and he will leave. It is not so important if he plays tomorrow. Bale is part of the history of this club. He will remain in the memory of all Madrid fans.

"He was important in the Decima [the club's 10th Champions League win], in Kyiv, in the Copa del Rey. He has written important pages in this club's history, and we have to take that into account."

While Bale will not feature against Betis, who are winless in their past 10 LaLiga visits to teams from the Madrid region, Ancelotti will continue to rotate his side to build fitness for the Champions League final.

"I think about giving minutes to the players who need it the most," Ancelotti continued. "Tomorrow Marcelo, [Luka] Modric... [David] Alaba will train with the group starting on Monday."

Karim Benzema has scored 27 goals in LaLiga this season and is set to become the first French player to finish a campaign as the top scorer in the competition's history, but he is expected to be rested again.

Despite fielding another heavily rotated side, Ancelotti expects an exciting game against Copa del Rey winners Betis.

"We are the two teams that have won the competitions," he added. "It will be an entertaining game because Betis plays quality football."

Quadruple-chasing Liverpool have confirmed plans for an end-of-season victory parade the day after the Champions League final.

Jurgen Klopp's Reds do not yet know how many trophies they will finish the campaign with, but they have already secured the EFL Cup and FA Cup.

The Premier League could yet be added to that haul if Manchester City slip up on the final day of the season, while European glory is the target when Liverpool take on Real Madrid in a Paris final.

That showpiece match takes place on May 28, with Liverpool now intending to return home in time to celebrate their potentially historic season on May 29.

Liverpool Women will also be involved in the parade, having won the FA Women's Championship.

City mayor Joanne Anderson said: "We're delighted that we can now confirm the club will definitely parade around the city on May 29 – and I'm pleased we will be celebrating the achievements of both the men and women’s teams.

"A huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes in preparation for an event of this size and scale, so it's fantastic that the city is now going to be able to experience this.

"Lifting the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup and the FA Women's Championship trophy is an incredible achievement that deserves to be acknowledged, and we have everything crossed that they won't be the only trophies they are lifting on the day!

"Whatever the outcome of the end of the season and the Champions League final, Liverpool FC and Liverpool FC Women have already done us proud, and we will give both teams the homecoming celebration they deserve."

With the parade set for 4pm local time, a Liverpool statement added the club would spend the morning of May 29 paying tribute to the 39 supporters who lost their lives in the Heysel Stadium disaster, of which it is the 37th anniversary.

Real Madrid target Kylian Mbappe wants a salary of €50million net and Barcelona had no interest in going that high, according to Joan Laporta. 

World Cup-winning attacker Mbappe has reportedly agreed personal terms to make a free-transfer switch to Madrid after his Paris Saint-Germain contract expires next month, though the Ligue 1 champions still hope to persuade him to stay.

The 23-year-old, who has scored 168 goals and supplied 77 assists in 216 games in all competitions for PSG, had also been linked with a switch to Barca.

However, the Catalan giants' president insists they would not have been willing or able to get anywhere near his demands.

"There are things that even if we had the money to do it, we wouldn't because it distorts our wage bill and that cannot happen again. It is something we are instilling in the club in all areas," Laporta told Catalunya Radio.

"We can't go past a certain level of spending. Mbappe is asking for 40-50 million [euros] net. He wants 50 [million euros] net. Mbappe is at the highest level but hasn't won the Champions League. That must also be taken into account.

"We will not talk about salaries of 25, 30 or 40 [million euros] net. It would be offensive to players who are expected to be a reference in world football and are just starting out at Barcelona. We are not going to do that, nor do we want to."

Barca have been tipped to sign another of European football's elite strikers in the form of Robert Lewandowski, though.

Lewandowski does not wish to extend his Bayern Munich contract, which has a year to run, and he could become available for a transfer before the start of the 2022-23 season.

Asked if the Poland international will sign for Barca, Laporta said: "Let's let the football management and technical secretariat work. I don't want to answer in detail.

"We are working to be more competitive, but it's not easy due to the economic situation. We are working to clean up the club's finances. Then we can do things.

"I hope to be able to say that in a year we have largely cleaned up the club's finances. If we manage to clean it up, all the operations we are contemplating will be able to be dealt with."

A departure for Frenkie de Jong could be one way Barca look to raise funds, but Laporta was unwilling to divulge much when asked about the Netherlands midfielder.

"There are Barcelona players who are coveted on the market and we will do what is best for Barcelona," he said.

"If we manage to clean up the club's finances, we will have fair play, cash … I don't know if there will be sales."

Real Madrid have been likened to a cat with nine lives by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin after their dramatic run to the Champions League final.

The Spanish LaLiga winners came from 2-0 behind on aggregate with a stunning comeback against Paris Saint-Germain at the last-16 stage, then resisted a Chelsea fightback in the quarter-finals.

They topped those victories, however, with their recovery against Manchester City in the semi-finals, with Ceferin admitting he thought the Spanish giants' hopes were finally dead and buried.

An all-English final in Paris was looming when City led 5-3 on aggregate going into the 90th minute at the Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, only for a Rodrygo double and Benzema's penalty in extra time to sensationally turn the tie around.

The May 28 showpiece will now feature Madrid against Liverpool, both long-time titans of the competition, with Ceferin describing that match-up as "insanely interesting".

"Already in the semi-finals I doubted that Real could eliminate Manchester City," Ceferin said, "especially after the defeat in the first game."

City won 4-3 in Manchester and led 1-0 in Madrid through Riyad Mahrez's goal, before the late flurry from the hosts.

"They obviously have nine lives like cats," Ceferin said, in an interview with Slovenian news website 24ur.com.

The UEFA boss noted the experience in the Madrid ranks, yet he questioned the strength of Carlo Ancelotti's defence, describing it as "weak".

"But they have the miraculous Karim Benzema, for whom I have said many times that in my opinion he is one of the most underrated players in the history of football," Ceferin added.

"Luka Modric, the older he is, the better he is."

 

Benzema has scored a competition-high 15 goals for Madrid in the Champions League this season, in just 11 games. Those goals have come at a rate of one every 67.7 minutes. He is an obvious threat to Liverpool's hopes of winning a third cup competition this season, having already won the FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Ceferin believes both sides have their merits, with Madrid's experience punching against the relative youth of Liverpool.

"I wouldn't dare to predict the winner, as a rule I misjudge. It's impossible to predict," he said. "This will be an insanely interesting final."

Off the field, Ceferin says he has had no recent contact with Madrid senior officials, after the club were key players behind the failed push for a European Super League.

"The time will come when these things will be cleared up, but they will certainly not be on the pitch," Ceferin said.

Jurgen Klopp is interested in signing Kylian Mbappe, but accepts Liverpool are not able to compete with Real Madrid for the Paris Saint-Germain forward's signature.

Mbappe is due to be out of contract with PSG next month and revealed last week he is close to making a decision over his future.

Madrid are the strong favourites to sign the France international, while a number of other clubs – Liverpool among them – have also been linked in the past.

According to reports from Spain this week, Liverpool made a late attempt to persuade Mbappe to make the switch to Anfield, rather than the Santiago Bernabeu.

But while Klopp is a fan of Mbappe, he insists Liverpool have no intention of attempting to sign the 23-year-old in the next window.

"Of course we're interested in Kylian. We're not blind," he said ahead of Tuesday's crucial Premier League clash with Southampton.

"I have nothing to say about [the reported contact] between Kylian and Liverpool... it's all fine.

"We like him and if you don’t like him then you have to question yourself. But we cannot be part of these battles; there must be other clubs. He's still a great player."

 

Mbappe has scored 36 goals and provided 21 assists for PSG this season, firing the Parisians to the 10th Ligue 1 title in the club's history.

His total of 57 goal contributions this season can only be bettered by international team-mate Karim Benzema (59) among players in the top-five European leagues this season.

He has been involved in 245 goals in all competitions since his PSG debut in September 2017, which is at least 98 more than any other player for the club over that period.

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