Real Madrid have announced that former star Paco Gento had died at the age of 88.

The former Spain international was considered one of his country's greatest players of the 20th century and formed part of one of the finest Madrid teams in history.

Gento scored 182 goals in 600 official matches for Los Blancos, winning a club-record 24 trophies, including 12 LaLiga titles and six European Cups. He remains the only man to have won Europe's top club competition more than five times.

He also won 44 caps for Spain and featured at the 1962 and 1966 World Cups.

"Paco Gento truly represents all the values of Real Madrid, and has been and will continue to be a reference for madridistas and for the sporting world," the club said in a statement on Tuesday announcing his passing.

"He will always be remembered by madridistas and all football fans as one of their greatest."

Francisco Gento, who began his career with regional teams in his native Cantabria, joined Racing Santander in 1953 before his transfer to Madrid, where he spent 18 hugely successful years.

A fast and skilful wide player, described by Madrid as one "many believe to be the best left-winger of all time", Gento was part of an historic side that included Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa and Hector Rial.

He was part of the team that won the first five European Cups from 1956 to 1960 before he captained an all-Spanish Madrid side – known as the 'Ye-ye' Madrid – to a sixth title in 1966. Gento played in eight finals in total, a record he shares with Milan great Paolo Maldini.

Gento also won 12 LaLiga titles between 1954 and 1969, before he took over as Castilla coach following his retirement in 1971. After spells coaching Castellon, Palencia and Granada, Gento took up an ambassadorial role with Madrid and became the club's honorary president following the death of Di Stefano in 2016.

"He was fast and he hit the ball like a cannon," Di Stefano said of his old team-mate, as per Radio Marca. "That's not something you learn, it's something you're born with. You can only teach the rest."

Carlo Ancelotti scooped the first trophy of his second reign at Real Madrid and vowed his "ugly" team would go flat out to bring more silverware to the Santiago Bernabeu.

It had been 18 months since Madrid last won a title, the 2019-20 LaLiga crown in the pandemic-hit season that went into extra time, but a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana final scratched that itch.

Last term under Zinedine Zidane proved a struggle at times, but there is more zip and panache to the Madrid that Ancelotti has fielded this season. He won four trophies in his first two-year spell at Madrid from 2013 to 2015, and obviously fancies several more this time around.

Madrid are front-runners in LaLiga, albeit with Sevilla in pursuit, they remain in the Copa del Rey and also have Champions League ambitions ahead of a tough last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain.

This trip to Saudi Arabia for the Supercopa should provide a timely lift for Madrid, heading into the business end of the season. Seeing off Barcelona in a testing semi-final was a boon, and Madrid controlled the final against Athletic until flagging in the closing stages.

"I am very pleased, happy, and we continue," Ancelotti said. "We are going to compete, but being here is lucky. It is an honour to train this team and this club. By the way, we are going to compete for the other competitions.

"We have the strength to fight for all competitions. This is a team I like to watch play. We don't have just one way of playing, but rather different ones and that is the strength of this team."

Ancelotti pointed out his personal trophy drought had also ended, after going without such success during spells with Napoli and Everton. It had been four and a half years since he last won any cup, which came at the tail end of his Bayern Munich tenure.

"I'm not tired of winning, because the last one was a [German] Super Cup with Bayern and I hadn't won for a long time," he said.

"Winning is the end of the job. Winning means you've done a good job. Sometimes it isn't. I've done a good job at Napoli or Everton and I haven't won anything."

Ancelotti spared a playful jibe for his team, who appear to have taken kindly to their Italian coach.

"When you win a lot, you think you're the most handsome, that you play the best football in the world and the sacrifice goes down a bit," Ancelotti said.

"Fortunately, the sacrifice of our players is high. I think my players are not handsome … they are very ugly."

Mauricio Pochettino believes that Paris Saint-Germain's win over Brest can give them confidence for their Champions League tie with Real Madrid.

Runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG sit 11 points clear at the summit after cruising to a 2-0 victory over Brest at Parc des Princes on Saturday.

Kylian Mbappe opened the scoring with his 10th Ligue 1 goal of the season, meaning he has now hit double figures in six straight league seasons – in that period, no other player has managed to do so more than three times – before Thilo Kehrer sealed the three points.

With Madrid to come in the Champions League last-16 in February, Pochettino insisted that his side can use the triumph as a base to build confidence.

"Every game, every competition is different," he told reporters at his post-match news conference. "But this performance, especially in the second half, gives us confidence. 

"It reaffirms certain ideas and concepts that we must work on. It's true that the team was good and did what we expected.

"We started well but then we lost a few balls and we got into trouble. In the second half we made better decisions. 

"We saw good collective play, we controlled the match. I am happy with the involvement of all the players. We had better circulation by being aggressive. Yes, I am satisfied, because it was not an easy game.

"We would have liked to win more broadly so that it corresponds to the number of chances we created. But the most important thing is to get chances. 

"We know that we have players who have the goals in their legs. If they didn't score today it will be next time."

Pochettino also had time to introduce centre-back Sergio Ramos for his home debut after the hour mark.

And the former Tottenham head coach suggested that the Spain international could offer him a different dimension with his team, with the option of playing a three-man defence.

He responded to reporters when asked about deploying three defenders: "It is an option. Everything is possible in football. We can consider it. We have already done this during the match. 

"It's not just putting in players but yes, it's an option."

It's possible that no manager in European football has had a greater transformational effect on a club this century than Diego Simeone has had at Atletico Madrid.

Of course, it's impossible to actually prove/disprove that, but when you consider his eight trophy successes is almost a quarter of all the major silverware the club have ever won, most counterarguments would dissipate.

Yet 2021-22 has been far from smooth, and they could head into Sunday's trip to Villarreal 17 points behind pacesetters Real Madrid, assuming Los Blancos beat Valencia 24 hours earlier.

Part of Atletico's problem is they seem to have lost the defensive solidity that's been a cornerstone of Simeone's tactical plan in his decade at the club.

Sunday's match will be the first since the 10-year anniversary of his bow as Atletico coach on January 7, 2012, providing the opportunity to look at how much of a challenge this season is proving to be.

11 away games, no clean sheet

Nothing is more indicative of Atletico's current malaise than their struggles to shut teams out – they're not getting battered, but we're so used to seeing them boast the shrewdest defence in LaLiga.

That's simply not the case this season.

Their 22 goals conceded is bettered by seven teams and isn't far off being twice as many as Sevilla (13), LaLiga's strongest defence this term.

Atletico's issues have been particularly prominent on the road. They've not secured an away clean sheet in LaLiga in any of their previous 11 such games, which is their worst run since December 2010 (17 matches).

No team has more away clean sheets across the top five leagues than Atletico (85) since Simeone's first match, but Manchester City (82) are closing in, fast.

Missing home comforts

The away struggles alluded to before also translates to defeats, with Atletico losing each of the three most recent matches on their travels.

It's worth remembering that two of those came to Madrid and Sevilla, first and second in the table, but typically Simeone's Atletico are solid enough that such sequences don't occur, regardless of the opposition.

In fact, prior to this run, Atletico had not conceded two or more goals in three successive away league games since January/February 2014.

If they lose to Villarreal, it will be their first streak of four consecutive defeats on the road since December 2011, the month Simeone was appointed.

Yellow Submarine on the rise

It wasn't so long ago that Unai Emery appeared to be in danger of being sacked, then he held talks with Newcastle United but ultimately rejected them.

Some might even suggest that his show of loyalty then bought him a little more time at the Ceramica.

As it turns out, Villarreal staying their hand seems to have worked out well. While they may only be as high as eighth, fourth-placed Atletico are just four points ahead of them.

Their recent run has been crucial to that as well, having won each of their past four league games, the most successive LaLiga victories they've managed under Emery.

The end is Unai?

Atletico can perhaps take confidence from the fact Emery has a dreadful record against Simeone.

He has never beaten the Argentinian in 15 matches across all competitions, the most games Emery has managed against another coach without a win in his entire career.

On the flip side, every record or streak is there to be broken – this particular one surely cannot go on forever, and this is one of the more beatable Atletico teams Emery has faced.

He will hope the end of that particular run is nigh.

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Kylian Mbappe has promised he will not leave Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid in the January transfer window.

Mbappe has just six months left to run on his contract and was the subject of a big-money bid from Los Blancos in August, but PSG rejected that interest.

The 23-year-old says he has no intention of jumping ship in mid-season, however, and is focused on winning more silverware in the French capital.

"No, I'm not joining Real Madrid in January," Mbappe told CNN. "In January it's not happening.

"I'm in Paris Saint-Germain, I'm really happy, and I will 100 per cent finish the season as a PSG player. I'll give everything to win with Paris all titles this year.

"I will give everything I have to win the Champions League, the league and the cup. And to give all the pleasure to the fans, because they deserve it.

"I'm happy to stay. It's my city too. I'm French. I want to win everything this season."

The Ligue 1 giants are hopeful France striker Mbappe will agree a contract extension but risk losing him on a free transfer should he refuse a new deal.

PSG and Madrid meet over two legs in the Champions League round of 16 and Mbappe assured fans he remains fully committed to helping his current employers overcome prospective ones.

Despite significant spending on transfer fees and wages, PSG have failed to win Europe's premier club competition, going closest in 2020 when they were beaten 1-0 by Bayern Munich in the final.

"[The only thing on my] mind is to beat Real Madrid in February and March," Mbappe said. "We have to be ready. It's time.

"It's the most important part of the season. Of course, we want to step up now. It's been two years [that we've been in the] final [or] semi-final, but now we want to win."

Mbappe also revealed the emotional pull of playing for the capital club as a Parisian, as well as expressing his delight at this season's unexpected opportunity to link up with seven-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.

"Paris is my city, it's where I was born, it's where I grew up," Mbappe said. "To play for PSG, it's an amazing feeling to play with your family and friends alongside of you.

"It's a big pleasure for me to say to my kids, to my friends, I play with [Messi]. We have to enjoy seeing him in Paris. It's an amazing moment in the history of the game."

Benfica have parted company with head coach Jorge Jesus by mutual consent.

The decision follows a 3-0 defeat against rivals Porto in the Taca de Portugal round of 16, with a league clash against the same opponents coming up on Thursday.

Jesus rejoined Benfica in August 2020 but could only guide them to a third-place finish in his first season, with the club failing to secure any silverware for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.

The team's performance in Europe was particularly disappointing, crashing out of the Champions League in qualifying and then going out of the Europa League in the round of 32.

Jesus leaves with Benfica third once more after 15 games of this season, having won 12, drawn one and lost two to sit four points behind leaders Porto.

Nelson Verissimo has been appointed as caretaker boss until the end of the season, having briefly filled the same position after the departure of Bruno Lage last year.

Lionel Messi remains the best player in the world in Ander Herrera's eyes and the midfielder expects Kylian Mbappe to dominate world football "for many years to come".

Messi ended a glorious 21-year association with Barcelona amid well-documented financial difficulties for the Catalan club as he moved to the Parc des Princes on a free transfer in August.

The Argentina international reunited with Neymar to form a formidable frontline with Kylian Mbappe, while Mauricio Pochettino also brought in Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Paris Saint-Germain, buoyed by their new array of attacking talent, sit 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, although Messi is yet to fully fire as he continues to settle into life in France.

Messi netted 672 times in 778 appearances for his former club, but he has only found the net on six occasions for PSG across all competitions – averaging a goal every 219 minutes.

However, Herrera still believes Messi is comfortably the best player in the world and insisted Pochettino's side are learning to adapt around the forward, such is the 34-year-old's quality.

"Players of Messi's level shorten the acclimatisation time," Herrera told Mundo Deportivo. "He will play the same way in France, in Spain, in Japan or in Madagascar.

"He has won his seventh Ballon d'Or and trains and enjoys as if he were only starting to play now. No training action is taken as a joke.

"At times we have already seen the best version of Leo, as against [Manchester] City at home, but I think it is also the responsibility of all those around him. We have to put ourselves at his service to get the best out of him. Normally, regular players have to adapt to a new context. 

"Now it is the other way around because we are talking about the best footballer in history."

Mbappe has outshone Messi thus far, the France international managing 15 goals – scoring every 134 minutes – and 12 assists across all competitions this term.

Indeed, since the 23-year-old scored on his PSG debut on September 8, 2017, against Metz, only three players – Robert Lewandowski (208), Messi (168) and Cristiano Ronaldo (157) – have managed more goals across Europe's top-five leagues in all competitions than Mbappe (147).

But Herrera believes Messi still holds the edge over Mbappe, who the Spain international thinks will dominate football for years to come.

"Kylian will be the best player in the world for many years to come, but we all agree that Leo is number one," Herrera added. "No doubt. Mbappe has an immense humility and desire to learn from Leo."

A new contract for Mbappe has also been at the forefront of most discussions, with Real Madrid plotting a move for the former Monaco man, whose current contract expires at the end of the season.

Madrid had multiple advances turned down for Mbappe in the last transfer window, though they can open contract negotiations with the PSG forward in January should a new deal with his current club not be agreed.

But Herrera remains confident Mbappe will stay with Pochettino's side.

"There is scope to try to renew Mbappe," he said. "We have many examples of footballers who have done it in February, March or April. There's still time.

"He is an open, friendly, funny guy. We do not pressure each other at all about our futures. I'm not kidding you, we don't talk about anyone's contractual issues in the dressing room."

Former Clasico foes but now team-mates, Ramos also followed Messi as he ended a long-standing association with Madrid to move to Paris.

However, the centre-back has been hampered by injuries and received a red card in just his third outing for his new side against Lorient on Wednesday, but Herrera expects his compatriot to become a key figure.

"Of course [It has not been easy for him]," he said of Ramos. "He's used to feeling important, playing and leading. But he has now been training for two or three weeks at a fantastic level and we are optimistic.

"It shows in his character and in the happiness he radiates."

With Ramos and Messi among a depth of talent on PSG's books, Herrera understands there is more pressure on PSG now to win the Champions League, though he feels Madrid are favourites for their Champions League last-16 tie in early 2022.

"We want to win the Champions League and we are going to try," he added. "There's no doubt. But just because we have Messi doesn't mean we're entitled to more than everyone else.

"We understand that people expect the best from us, but in Europe there are eight or ten other teams with the same chances of winning.

"A club that has 13 Champions League titles, against one that has not yet been European champions, has to be a slight favourite."

Simone Inzaghi admits Liverpool were one of the teams that Inter were aiming to avoid in the Champions League knockout stages.

The Nerazzurri have been drawn to play the six-time European champions in the last 16 of the competition; hosting the Reds at San Siro on February 16 before the return leg at Anfield three weeks later.

Group B winners Liverpool were one of three sides to progress from the first phase with a 100 per cent record intact, along with Bayern Munich and Ajax.

Meanwhile, Inter finished as Group D runners-up behind Real Madrid, who inflicted home and away defeats on the reigning Serie A champions.

"Liverpool were among the teams to avoid, along with Manchester City and Bayern Munich," Inzaghi said on Sky Sport Italia.

"But now we are in the last 16, and we will play it knowing that we meet a team that have won all six in the group and that won the Champions League two years ago."

The two sides last met at this stage of the 2007-08 competitions, with the Reds prevailing 3-0 aggregate winners.

Lionel Messi's effort for Paris Saint-Germain against Manchester City has been voted the Champions League Goal of the Group Stage.

The strike was the 34-year-old's first goal for PSG after joining on a free transfer due to Barcelona's financial issues preventing them from offering him a new contract.

PSG were 1-0 up after an eighth-minute opener from midfielder Idrissa Gueye when Messi, in the 74th minute, played a neat one-two with Kylian Mbappe on the edge of the box. 

The Frenchman backheeled into Messi's path before the Argentine rifled an unstoppable left-footed effort into the top-right corner past a helpless Ederson in the City goal.

Messi garnered 22 per cent of the vote - over 200,00 were cast - beating out competition from Thiago Alcantara and Robert Lewandowski, who gained 14 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively.

Thiago struck a stunning volley into the bottom-right corner for Liverpool in their 2-0 win over Porto at Anfield, while Lewandowski fired in a spectacular bicycle kick in Bayern Munich's 2-1 away victory over Dynamo Kiev.

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe said it is pointless scoring 50 goals if the French giants do not win Ligue 1 or the Champions League.

Mbappe scored 42 goals across all competitions last season, but PSG were dethroned by Lille in Ligue 1, while the capital club lost in the Champions League semi-finals.

PSG – who have never won the Champions League – are preparing for a quarter-final showdown with Real Madrid as they sit 13 points clear atop the Ligue 1 standings.

"Last year was good for me, I scored 40 goals, but we didn't win the league or the Champions League," Mbappe, who has 13 goals this term, told PSG's television station.

"In the end I wonder, what is the use of scoring 50 goals if we don't win? I would prefer to score less and win the league and Champions League.

"It was a good season but you don't enjoy it, the aim is to win titles, they are the most important things."

Mbappe – who has tallied nine goals and 14 assists in the league this term – became the youngest player in Ligue 1 history to score 100 goals for a single team with his second of the game for PSG against former club Monaco last week.

Aged just 22 years and 357 days, Mbappe is the youngest player to achieve the feat for one club in French top-flight history since Opta began recording data back in 1950-51.

"I need to feel the pressure, to seek challenges, I've always wanted to have the responsibility on my shoulders," France international Mbappe said.

"I want to be under pressure even if sometimes it ends in disappointment, it's a learning process, I never hide and it is part of the adrenaline rush.

"This is because we like to play high-pressure games, games that everyone watches, I see pressure as something positive."

PSG will face Feignies in the Coupe de France on Sunday before visiting Lorient in Ligue 1 action on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi has been involved in 43 shot-ending sequences in his last five appearances in Ligue 1, at least 14 more than any other player over that period. He has initiated nine of those sequences, also the highest tally in the top-flight.

Messi joined PSG from Barcelona at the start of the season and amid uncertainty of his own future, Madrid target Mbappe said: "It benefits you to have great players around you, I play in a team today with players who help me: Neymar, Messi, [Angel] Di Maria... it's easier."

Sergio Aguero confirmed his retirement on Wednesday to bring to an end a glittering career that shone most brightly during his time at Manchester City.

He spent a trophy-filled decade in Manchester, winning the Premier League title five times with a club that had never claimed the honour before his arrival.

And Aguero's goals, of which there were 260, played a huge part in that success.

On the day he revealed he had hung up his boots, Stats Perform takes a look back at 10 of the best goals Aguero scored for City.

Swansea City (H): August 15, 2011

A club-record signing following his reported £38million arrival from Atletico, Aguero announced himself with a stunning substitute cameo in City's opening game of the 2011-12 campaign. Having slid in at close range to double the advantage granted by Edin Dzeko's opener, he inventively set up David Silva's third before saving the best until last. Aguero collected Yaya Toure's flicked pass 30 yards from goal and arrowed a venomous, dipping long-range strike into the corner. It was love at first sight for the City faithful.

Norwich City (A): April 14, 2012

Carlos Tevez going AWOL for a significant chunk of Aguero's debut season in the Premier League meant a forward partnership that promised much was only viewed fleetingly. However, the dynamic Argentine duo belatedly linked up during the closing weeks of the campaign, never more effectively than in a 6-1 demolition of Norwich at Carrow Road. Tevez famously swung an imaginary golf club – in reference to his recently curtailed leisure time in Argentina – upon completing his hat-trick but the first of an Aguero double provided the game's outstanding moment. He latched on to a bouncing return backheel from Tevez, the pair's livewire movement having perplexed the Canaries defence, to thump into the top corner from the edge of the box.

QPR (H): May 13, 2012

An unforgettable moment replayed countless times, both era defining for the league and career defining for its central figure, it is easy to forget what a technically brilliant piece of centre-forward play Aguero's heroic intervention during the dying seconds of the season against QPR was. As the seeming formality of Premier League title glory slipped ever closer to the clutches of rivals Manchester United, the Argentine mimicked many of his country's great attackers by dropping into midfield. Taking possession from Nigel de Jong, an alert Aguero picked out Mario Balotelli with his back to goal. As with much before and after the eccentric Italian's time at the Etihad Stadium, what followed was not simple, but Balotelli managed to complete a return pass while on his backside. Aguero touched the ball into space beyond Taye Taiwo's lunging challenge, keeping his balance as the QPR defender clipped him. "I hit the ball as hard as I could and hoped for the best," Aguero recalled. Cue bedlam.

Liverpool (H): February 3, 2013

City's title defence the following season stuttered as their talisman grappled with fitness niggles but he was at his awe-inspiring best to snatch a draw against Liverpool. Five minutes after a trademark long-ranger from Steven Gerrard put the Reds 2-1 ahead, Aguero scampered after Gareth Barry's raking ball into the right channel and found visiting goalkeeper Pepe Reina hurtling off his line. The City man got there first and hooked home from an improbable angle out on the wing.

Manchester United (A): April 8, 2013

United were on the verge of regaining the title from their neighbours by the time City arrived at Old Trafford for the season's second derby, but Aguero served up a reminder of the misery his final-day exploits inflicted upon them 11 months earlier. There were parallels with that famous strike as he stole in front of Danny Welbeck to receive a pass from Toure and embarked upon a driving diagonal run towards the right-hand corner of the United six-yard box. Phil Jones launched a despairing lunge as his adversary superbly dug out a finish into the roof of the net.

Manchester United (H): September 22, 2013

Aguero set the tone for a rampant City derby display and a season of contrasting fortunes for the Manchester clubs, who were each under new management in the form of Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes. Samir Nasri's backheel found Aleksandar Kolarov and the overlapping left-back fizzed over a fierce cross that Aguero contorted himself brilliantly to convert with a left-footed volley. He claimed a second in a 4-1 win and City would finish the campaign as champions, with United in seventh and Moyes out of a job.

Newcastle United (H): October 3, 2015

The Buenos Aires native's insatiable appetite for goals has never been more clinically demonstrated than when he put an overmatched Newcastle to the sword. City won 6-1 and Aguero scored five of them, all in the space of 20 minutes. Half-time did at least give Steve McClaren's men respite after their tormentor cancelled out Aleksandar Mitrovic's opener, but a brutal evisceration followed. Aguero's third was his best, when he applied a delicate dinked finish on the end of an irresistible passing triangle featuring Silva, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne.

Leicester City (H): February 10, 2018

Already with the match ball in the bag, Aguero had one more thunderous trick up his sleeve in the 5-1 thrashing of Leicester in 2018. Phil Foden picked out City's penalty box animal outside his natural habitat 25 yards from goal. Nevertheless, there was only one thing on Aguero's mind as he touched the ball forward and larruped a strike past Kasper Schmeichel that crashed against the underside of the bar and bounced up into the roof of the net.

Arsenal (N): February 25, 2018

City made a nervous start at Wembley before Aguero tuned into the same wavelength as Claudio Bravo. The Chile keeper floated a goal-kick in the direction of his fellow South American, who nudged a dawdling Shkodran Mustafi, bore down on goal and lifted the bouncing ball delicately over the advancing David Ospina. The first trophy of the Pep Guardiola era was scarcely in doubt after that point.

Chelsea (H): February 10, 2019

Having earlier missed an open goal from three yards out to leave Guardiola in disbelief on the touchline, Aguero almost overcompensated with the stunning quality of his strike that set him on his way to claiming the match ball. City went on to win this game 6-0, but it was Aguero's 13th-minute thunderbolt that will live longest in the memory. He held off the attentions of two Blues defenders before rifling in a 25-yarder that left Kepa Arrizabalaga with no chance.

For football enthusiasts, watching Ajax dazzle on the international stage soothes the soul.

At a time when the world game has been taken over by the mega rich, Ajax represent football's pure and glorious past.

Ajax's most famous name – Johan Cruyff – made the club what it is, imposing the style that would become so successful for years, helping the Dutch giants to win the Champions League in 1995.

That DNA continues to flow through the veins of players and staff – Cruyff's unforgettable legacy not lost on those in Amsterdam, where Erik ten Hag's history-makers have dazzled in the Eredivisie and Champions League in 2021-22.

Continuing to stay true to Cruyff's values five years after his death, Ajax have swept all before them in Europe this season.

Ajax became the first Dutch team to win all six of their games in a single Champions League group-stage campaign, while they also celebrated six successive victories in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time in their illustrious history.

"I think he would be proud of the level of football and type of football Erik ten Hag is playing with the team," Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar – who was part of that triumphant 1995 team – told Stats Perform.

A world-renowned philosophy, the manner in which Ajax teams are built remains largely in the image of their favourite son. Cruyff's influence on the club's academy is still so ingrained.

After all these years, Ajax still seem so happily married to the romantic notions of how the game should be played thanks to Cruyff, but is there a need to adapt or modify when it comes to being faithful to his masterplan?

"Football adapts and evolves all the time," Van der Sar said. "I got a call from Johan Cruyff 10 years ago when I was still playing at Manchester United. He wanted to have players into the board of directors. He asked me the question if I was open to that. I had to think about it and speak to some guys like former United CEO David Gill – what it involves etc. I took up the job in 2012.

"Of course the philosophy of the club is quite similar. We changed some things in the youth setup and making sure to bring Ajax back to European level. Not buying players for big money and not delivering. We had to refocus on bringing our players into the team. Four or five years ago, we took a new step with the reserves we had, the scouting department. A lot of things are connected with Cruyff."

While not around to witness Ajax's reclamation, Cruyff would approve of Ten Hag and his men.

Possession and pressing have been paramount under Ten Hag's watchful eye since he moved to Amsterdam in 2017 and, heading into a Champions League last-16 date with Benfica, Ajax lead the way this term for shots after high turnover (16) and passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA – 7.9).

Title-holders Chelsea, meanwhile, are the only team to have managed more high turnovers and possession won in the final third than Dutch champions Ajax.

It is a similar story in the Eredivisie, with Ten Hag's men – a point behind leaders PSV – leading the way for high turnovers (210), possession won in the final third (126) and PPDA (8.9). De Godenzonen have scored a whopping 49 goals in 16 games, while conceding only four.

"It's always a challenge being a respectable, big club from a small country to make an impact in the football world," said former Ajax, Juventus, Manchester United and Netherlands goalkeeper Van der Sar said. "We've done that over several decades of football. To the level we're playing at the moment, in the Champions League playing six and winning six. It's great encouragement for the coach and compliment for the players and the way they're playing. It's fantastic to be the director of Ajax."

Ten Hag guided Ajax to a remarkable Champions League semi-final in 2018-19 before that team was dismantled – Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt were lured away by Barcelona and Juventus respectively. Hakim Ziyech made the move to Chelsea, while Donny van de Beek eventually joined United last year.

But the highly rated Dutchman and two-time Eredivisie winner is leading a new mini-era of success with a mix of youth and experience – spearheaded by the likes of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, Antony and Sebastien Haller, who this term became the quickest player to reach 10 goals in a Champions League career, eclipsing Erling Haaland.

Haller also became the first player to score in each of his opening six games in the competition, while the former West Ham forward is only the second Ajax player to score 10-plus goals in a single season of the premier club competition following Soren Lerby in 1979-80.

"It's fantastic if you say the 18-19 team – De Ligt or De Jong they left us after the year – and if you see now, we have Ryan Gravenberch in midfield and Jurrien Timber, both coming from our academy and slotting into those places that those two big-name players, replacing them and reaching a similar level," added Van der Sar. "Compared to the experience of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind and Antony coming in as a young Brazilian striker. The team is gelling fantastically together but of course we know in the last 16, quarter-finals, there are massive teams coming up. We're confident."

Van der Sar also underlined the club's faith in the next generation.

He said: "Promoting youth is in our DNA. We will always do that. That combination – four or five years ago we changed the approach a little bit to make sure if we want to compete or be in the Champions League, you also have to have experienced players. The desire and mentality, so in that way we changed the approach a bit. We combine it with the young players here who are getting opportunities to make their first steps on the international podium. That approach works fantastically for us."

Ten Hag's exploits have not gone unnoticed amid growing links to Premier League giants United, who are on the hunt for a new long-term manager following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season.

Since Ten Hag was named coach four years ago, Ajax this term boast their best figures in terms of high turnovers (13.0) and possession won in final third (8.0) across all competitions, highlighting their continued improvement on the 51-year-old's watch.

"You see it also with players, sometimes they think they're finished at Ajax and want to take the next step," Van der Sar said when discussing Ten Hag's future and whether the environment was key to his next club. "I've seen it myself when I went from Ajax to Juventus – it wasn't a natural fit. The level of football, the family, the expectations, it can be difficult abroad.

"But someone with the quality of Erik and the way he lets Ajax play and tick for the last four years, it's obvious there's a lot of interest in him. He is named among the big clubs in Europe. Eventually he will take the next step, but we will try to delay it as long as possible but of course, at a certain point it's up to him. But we have to challenge him and make sure he maybe sees will there be a next level – can we be even better? That's what we're working hard for to make sure the players are staying, the scouting brings new talents and the structure around him are ready for a successful period."

Recalling Ten Hag's arrival, Van der Sar added: "I remember speaking with him at Marc Overmars' house. Marc lives in the east of Holland, not as big as Australia but for Holland, it's still a drive. Came very well prepared. Knew what to expect. Talked about philosophies and things that needed to change. Taking the next step, putting the bar even higher every time. The last four years, every year he has taken the bar higher and higher.

"You also need the organisation to come up with that and that's been provided – the scouting, youth set up, commercial guys and media guys. Not only on the pitch we want to play in the Champions League, also the office. I live in two worlds – the training ground and the office I'm looking to the stadium. In both worlds, we want to play Champions League football. Being at the highest level."

Rio Ferdinand has been vocal previously regarding player signings and managerial appointments at Old Trafford. So, has Van der Sar been approached by his former team-mate when it comes to Ten Hag?

"Rio is quite vocal on his own media channels and the DMs [direct messages]," said the 51-year-old. "He is a great character and fantastic player, and pundit and business also. I respect him a lot. I texted him stop hassling me about players, coaches and directors to come over to England [smiling]."

The return of club legends Van der Sar and Marc Overmars, as CEO and director football respectively, have been key in maintaining Ajax's legacy and position among Europe's elite, despite contrasting budgets.

Van der Sar won four Eredivisie titles, the Champions League, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup among his 14 honours at Ajax in the 1990s before leaving in 1999, while former team-mate Overmars was also part of that conquering European outfit 26 years ago.

Now, the Dutch duo are embracing their Ajax roles off the pitch.

"We've had success and the money we've earned in our career, but it all started here at Ajax. We're happy to give something back to the club that gave us our first opportunity and a lot of things," Van der Sar said, having returned to the club in 2012 as marketing director before becoming CEO four years later.

The pair's work has not gone unnoticed. Overmars – who first became the director of football in 2012 – was sought after by Newcastle United before re-signing a week ago.

Van der Sar's future is now in the spotlight, linked with a return to Manchester United, where he enjoyed Premier League and Champions League success between 2005 and 2011.

However, Van der Sar is in no rush to leave his beloved Ajax.

"The last sentence was a good one – once your work at Ajax is done," Van der Sar replied when asked if he had a desire and interest to make his back way to United once his work with Ajax was done. "I think Marc and myself are enjoying it very much here at Ajax. The freedom and rewards, the level of the club is still growing. That brings joy to yourself and gives you a lot of confidence. We're easy in that way.

"For the moment I'm really happy in Amsterdam. I think we're not ready yet. We can make a step higher and that's something we're aiming for. To be really, really successful on the pitch. It's not easy, but we're going [to give it a] go."

Van der Sar and Overmars have established a successful structure at Ajax and it is something United are believed to be prepared to mirror by bringing in their former goalkeeper as Ed Woodward prepares to vacate his role as CEO.

Having not won the Premier League since 2013, United – up until this point – have been reluctant to appoint a director of football.

That reluctance and lack of a clear and unified vision in Manchester has seen the style of play and philosophy chop and change – David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have come and gone, and with them, the need for the club to constantly tailor to the needs of the next manager.

Ajax on the other hand, their philosophy remains the same and it will continue to be the case with Ten Hag and beyond.

"That is one of the things we changed 10 years ago that the structure is good for the club," Van der Sar said. "There's experience and quality, there's a desire to perform at the highest level and then the coach or maybe with assistant coach, one-two persons must fit into our system at the club. That's completely different in England. If you get a new manager, seven, eight, nine, 10 people, video, scouting, data, physios, doctors and everything.

"I don't think that is the right approach. I want to make sure the heart of the club and the knowledge of the club is there, that we know about the young players coming through, they know the young players need to adjust, what kind of sessions and training they need and then they're ready to be in the first team. That's why the assistant coaches are the guys who have been at the club – Michael Reizeger, Winston Bogarde, Richard Witschge, John Heitinga being the coach of the second team. We need that experience to make sure and aware to the coach that these players are coming through. That we don't have to buy a player, give this guy a chance and he will perform for you."

While popular in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, the director of football model is a topic that generates debate, particularly in England. Is it more helpful than obstructive for a coach in football?

"A coach is very important for the team," said 130-time Netherlands international Van der Sar. "He has a short-term future and for Marc and myself, we have to think long term about what's good for the club. But yeah, it can be difficult, difficult part of conversation with coach and director football.

"But I think at Ajax, we find an ideal solution at the moment. Marc and Erik have a fantastic working relationship together. Let's see what the future brings us for the club. First focus on the league and then look forward to the Champions League games in March. Hopefully a great team comes here to Amsterdam and hopefully we can entertain fans across the world."

Lionel Messi insisted Paris Saint-Germain's objective is to win the Champions League after being paired with Real Madrid in the round of 16.

LaLiga leaders Madrid stand in the way of PSG and the quarter-finals following a chaotic redraw due to a technical glitch on Monday.

PSG – initially drawn against Manchester United – were Champions League runners-up in 2019-20, however, the French giants have never conquered Europe.

As former Barcelona superstar Messi prepares to reunite with Madrid – the first leg will be held on February 15 – the Ballon d'Or winner reinforced PSG's ultimate pursuit.

"The objective for PSG is to win the Champions League, that's everyone's aim," Messi said at the Dubai Expo 2020 via Marca.

"The team has been very close before. It's an essential competition for all teams. We'll try to win it."

Messi swapped Barca for PSG in a blockbuster switch ahead of the 2021-22 season.

The 34-year-old was set to sign a new deal with Barca, but left Camp Nou after the Catalan giants announced that "financial and structural obstacles" had left them unable to retain his services.

Messi has scored one goal in 10 Ligue 1 appearances this season, while he has managed five goals in as many Champions League games.

"It was a very big change after so much time in the same place, so it wasn't easy," Messi said.

"But, we're all doing well in what is a spectacular city and at one of the best teams in the world."

Toni Kroos believes Real Madrid have been dealt the toughest possible Champions League last-16 tie but is relishing the chance to take on Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid were initially paired with Benfica on Monday, but a technical glitch forced a re-draw and the LaLiga leaders will now face Ligue 1 pacesetters PSG over two legs in February and March.

Record 13-time European champions Madrid finished top of Group D and could have faced either Benfica, PSG, Sporting CP, Salzburg or Chelsea.

But while the Spanish giants dodged a meeting with reigning champions Chelsea, Kroos feels his side will face an even tougher opponent in PSG, who boast the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Madrid legend Sergio Ramos in their ranks.

"We have a very interesting opponent for the next round," he said in a video posted on his Instagram page. "I think they are the toughest opponent of the five that could touch us. 

"They are the games for which we play. We look for these games, with a lot of quality on the field. Let's see what will happen – at the end of the day we are Madrid."

Madrid eliminated PSG the last time the sides met over two legs in the competition in the 2017-18 last 16, but the Parisians prevailed in their only two other previous knockout-round ties in European competition (in 1992-92 and 1993-94).

The LaLiga club have lost just one of their six Champions League encounters with PSG overall, meanwhile, when going down 3-0 at the Parc des Princes in the group stage three seasons ago.

And with his side flying high at the top of the Spanish top flight, Kroos is in positive spirits ahead of his side's blockbuster showdown with Mauricio Pochettino's men.

"We always look forward to this type of game and we are very confident about reaching the quarter-finals," Kroos said.

"We are doing very well. Our focus right now is on the league and there are many games left before the Champions League.

"The most important thing now is to continue as we are doing in the next games before Christmas, to continue scoring points that bring us closer to the goal of winning LaLiga at the end of the season.

"This is the most important thing and we have to concentrate on that and then the Champions League, but only when the time comes."

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