Kylian Mbappe has not been mishandled by Paris Saint-Germain since the World Cup and injuries are "part of the job", coach Christophe Galtier said on Friday.

Mbappe is expected to miss PSG's Champions League last-16 first leg against Bayern Munich on February 14 after suffering a hamstring injury in the win at Montpellier on Wednesday.

Facing three weeks on the sidelines, Mbappe should also sit out Ligue 1 games against Toulouse, Monaco and Lille, as well as the Coupe de France clash with Marseille.

Considering Mbappe has 25 goals in 26 appearances for PSG this season, this is a major blow at a significant stage of the campaign, with Neymar also on the injured list.

The Toulouse game comes on Saturday as PSG look to extend their five-point lead over second-placed Marseille, with Lionel Messi heading into the fixture without his fellow star attackers.

Galtier has considered whether he has played Mbappe too much since the France striker returned from Qatar 2022. His verdict is that PSG have protected Mbappe as much as possible.

"We are in a unique season, with a World Cup in the middle," Galtier said, "and I realise that at many other clubs with many internationals, there has been fatigue that has generated automatically and injuries.

"As a philosophy, I am in the habit of saying injuries are part of the job.

"We're sorry above all for Kylian. He is a competitor and always wants to be involved, but we can't have a season where we don't have physical problems, that's part of a season and part of the competition. 

"It's even more so for a club with internationals who are in demand all the time, as much with club as with country."

 

Galtier said PSG "took a lot of precautions for Kylian's return".

The striker reported for duty with the capital giants in the midweek after France's World Cup final penalty shoot-out loss to Argentina in December, illustrating his eagerness to get back into club action.

He was then allowed a holiday in January, with Mbappe travelling to the United States for that break.

"I don't think Kylian played too much," Galtier said, "and from the moment you play, there is always an element of risk."

Veteran defender Sergio Ramos, hit by a thigh problem at Montpellier, is another who will sit out the Toulouse game. The onus will fall on Messi to drive PSG to victory on Saturday, and the Argentine great scored in the 3-1 success at Montpellier.

"Leo Messi was able to take matters into his own hands against Montpellier, as soon as Kylian Mbappe and Sergio Ramos went off," said Galtier.

"He was a natural leader and the players put themselves at his service. I congratulated everyone for doing the work necessary to get this victory, which was difficult to obtain.

"The absence of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe is inevitably damaging since there were many connections between these three players. I now have to organise the team, taking into account these combined absences.

"Leo Messi will continue in his usual role. It will be up to the players who will be at his side to seize the opportunities and for everyone to raise their level of play."

Jurgen Klopp is confused over how Chelsea's transfer business is possible after the Blues brought in eight January signings.

Chelsea signed World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez from Benfica for a British record transfer fee of £106.8million (€121m) on Tuesday, pushing their January spending past £300m.

That capped a hectic window for Chelsea, who splashed out to sign Mykhaylo Mudryk, Benoit Badiashile, Andrey Santos, Noni Madueke, David Datro Fofana and Malo Gusto, who will spend the rest of the season on loan at Lyon.

Joao Felix also signed on loan from Atletico Madrid as, with Chelsea sat 10th in the Premier League, co-owner Todd Boehly gave head coach Potter an array of options with which to mount a push for the top four.

In contrast, Klopp's Liverpool, above Chelsea on goal difference in ninth, only brought in one signing, bringing in Cody Gakpo from PSV in January for a reported initial fee of around £37million (€42m).

Klopp is baffled over how Chelsea's spending is allowed in relation to Financial Fair Play regulations, telling reporters: "I don't understand this part of the business about what you can and can't do. It's a big number.

"I don't understand how it's possible with all the things around, but obviously it's not up to me to explain how it works."

When asked for his personal views on Chelsea's record-breaking January dealings, the Liverpool manager joked: "I say nothing without my lawyer."

Despite the eye-watering fees Chelsea have paid out, Klopp feels it could be money well spent with the quality of players they have signed.

"They're all really good players," Klopp said. "From that point of view, congratulations.

"The players they brought in, I didn't think once 'why did they do that?' They will play well together."

This term, Liverpool have failed to hit the high standards they have set since Klopp's arrival at the club in 2015, during which they have won both the Champions League and Premier League.

Liverpool have been hit by injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota, while some players have struggled for form.

One such example is midfielder Fabinho, who has been benched in recent games for 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic and was fortunate not get sent off for a rash tackle in Liverpool's FA Cup defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion last week.

"He knows he's not flying and that he needs to work back," Klopp said of Fabinho. "That's how it is. 

"It's really helpful we have Stefan. You need a guy who wins challenges but plays football as well. Fab did that for us for plenty of years, absolutely brilliant. Best in the position for a long time and at the moment it's not clicking, that's true as well.

"He's not the happiest person on the planet, but he understands the decision."

Julian Nagelsmann is not buying Paris Saint-Germain's claims that Kylian Mbappe will miss the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against his Bayern Munich team.

Mbappe sustained a hamstring injury in Wednesday's Ligue 1 clash with Montpellier.

PSG subsequently announced the 24-year-old is set to be sidelined for around three weeks.

If that estimated recovery time is accurate, Mbappe would be unavailable for the first leg of PSG's clash with Bundesliga champions Bayern on February 14.

However, Bayern coach Nagelsmann is not fully convinced that will be the case.

"I don't think he will be out, I don't expect anything else. I don't know what [injury] he's got, I assume [he will be] playing," Nagelsmann said at a press conference ahead of Bayern's trip to Wolfsburg on Saturday.

"I don't know what he has. It's relatively vague on the PSG website.  If it's not a structural injury, I can't imagine him missing the game, but I don't know. Of course, they can play poker.

"I am preparing for the game as if he is going to play."

While Nagelsmann does not fully believe PSG's news about Mbappe, he could be seen as playing mind games of his own, as he revealed Sadio Mane will not be fit to feature against the French champions.

Mane missed the World Cup due to an injury sustained while in action for Bayern just ahead of last year's tournament but returned to training last month.

"I am expecting him back in the middle or at the end of February," Nagelsmann said of the former Liverpool attacker.

"Things are looking good and he's pain-free. He will definitely miss the first leg against PSG."

Bayern claimed their first win of 2023 in emphatic fashion last time out, beating Mainz 4-0 in the DFB Pokal.

They have drawn their three Bundesliga matches since the season's resumption, though face a Wolfsburg team that have lost their last two games.

Making his debut following a loan move from Manchester City, Joao Cancelo impressed against Mainz, and Nagelsmann had praise for his latest recruit.

"He's a very likeable player and will help better us," he said.

"He's a fighter who likes to play as much as possible and who wants to impact the game. He adds new options to our team. He was very strong in the first half against Mainz."

Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United can only benefit from Raphael Varane retiring from international football after his distinguished France career.

The defender announced on Thursday he has pulled the plug on his time with Les Bleus, after winning 93 caps in a 10-year stint, landing World Cup glory in 2018 along the way.

The former Real Madrid centre-back, who joined United 18 months ago, featured in six of France's games at the recent World Cup in Qatar, where they were beaten on penalties by Argentina in the final.

At the age of 29, he could realistically have targeted another World Cup campaign, but Varane decided the time was right to let the new generation have its turn.

United manager Ten Hag praised his player's decision and stressed he had no input into Varane's thought process before the decision was revealed.

"For United, I think it's good news," Ten Hag told a United press conference on Friday.

"With his nation it is incredible what he achieved, big respect, and I am happy he puts all his energy and experience into the team.

"He gave me the information that he was intending to do this. I didn't discuss it with him.

"Rapha is experienced, at an age he makes his own decision about that, I can only express my deep respect for his career until now, but there is a lot to come."

Jurgen Klopp has challenged Liverpool to follow Marcus Rashford's example and roar back to match-winning form.

Klopp's side have won just one of their last six games in all competitions, with Kaoru Mitoma's stoppage-time winner for Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend ending the Reds' hopes of silverware in the FA Cup.

Out of the EFL Cup and sitting 21 points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal in ninth, Liverpool have failed to match the standards they have set for much of Klopp's time at the club.

They have won the Premier League and Champions League under the German, while finishing runners-up in those competitions a combined four times.

Liverpool's slump has coincided with rivals Manchester United enjoying a strong first campaign under new manager Erik ten Hag, with the Red Devils fourth in the league and the only team left fighting for success on four fronts.

United have been able to count on the impressive form of Rashford, who has bounced back from scoring just four league goals last season to net 18 times in 31 appearances across all competitions this term.

Klopp cited Rashford's stunning return to form as a model for Liverpool to follow in their bid to get back to winning ways, saying: "One of the best examples is Marcus Rashford, the season he had last year and this year.

"I'm sure he can't really explain it. It's not like Marcus didn't want to deliver last year. Now he's flying.

"The time in between these two extremes, you have to use, you have to work and fight through it. Self-pity is not allowed in these moments. Only one person can change this, and it's yourselves. These things can happen and will happen, but it's about limiting the time to get back on track."

Having tasted victory only eight times in 19 league games so far this season, Klopp believes his team must show they are capable of winning games again if they are to finish the season strongly.

"We love this game, the boys especially because they can play it still," Klopp said. "A big part of it is the desire to win football games. When you don't achieve that, that's the hardest moment for all footballers on the planet.

"We were much better in a lot of areas [against Brighton], but in the end when the result is not right, it overshadows everything.

"When you've won the last five games, you don't have to prove that you can win football games because everybody knows. We have to prove this point, that's clear.

"We didn't win enough football games in the last few weeks and the whole season so far, so that's what we want."

Liverpool travel to Molineux to face Wolves on Saturday, a third meeting with Julen Lopetegui's side since the turn of the year following a 2-2 draw at Anfield in an FA Cup third-round game and a 1-0 victory in the replay.

Saturday's match is the first of a run that sees them face local rivals Everton and top-four hopefuls Newcastle United, before the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid at Anfield on February 21.

Klopp is remaining calm ahead of the crucial juncture in Liverpool's season, explaining at his pre-match press conference: "I don't worry about a run of fixtures. We have to use the time we have to improve, to play the football we want to play, to work on the things we think are necessary or massively necessary.

"We have only played half the season, which is crazy but means the second half of the season we can do whatever we want in a positive direction.

"We decide how positive the outcome will be."

Erik ten Hag's full focus is on maintaining Manchester United's impressive form on the field, with the Dutchman unable to comment on Mason Greenwood's future at the club.

United forward Greenwood had all charges against him dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Thursday following the "withdrawal of key witnesses".

Greenwood was arrested in January 2022 and due to stand trial in November on accusations of attempted rape, assault and controlling and coercive behaviour.

The 21-year-old said in a widely released statement that he was "relieved" the matter is over, while United said the club will "conduct its own process" before commenting further.

Ten Hag faced the media on Friday ahead of United's Premier League meeting with Crystal Palace and was asked whether he had any comments to make on Greenwood.

"Nothing. I can't add anything. I refer to the statement of the club," Ten Hag said.

Asked if he will be part of the process that decides Greenwood's Old Trafford future, Ten Hag said: "In this moment, I can't give comment about the process."

The former Ajax boss was then questioned on whether he has ever personally met Greenwood, who has been suspended by United since his arrest a little over 12 months ago.

"I can't say anything about it. I refer to the statement of the club and at this moment I can't add anything."

Ten Hag was more willing to discuss next opponents Palace, who held United to a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park prior to the Red Devils' 3-2 loss at Arsenal last time out in the league.

"We have always to focus on the game, no matter what, it is our job," he told reporters. "Two weeks ago we had a bad performance against them.

"I wasn't happy with the performance from us. We only had 90 per cent focus and energy and we dropped two points. 

"[On Saturday] we need a better game, better focus in the game, better conduct in the way of play because we have to beat them – that's quite clear."

United have won just one of their last five league meetings with Palace and are winless in the past two – not since October 1970 have they gone three in a row without a victory in this fixture in the top flight.

However, United have won their past five Premier League home games, which is their best streak since a run of eight between May and December 2017.

Ten Hag's side have won three successive cup games since their most recent league match and bolstered their squad with the loan signing of Marcel Sabitzer this week after Christian Eriksen was ruled out for three months.

The Bayern Munich midfielder has only trained once with his new club, but Ten Hag is ready to use him against Palace on Saturday.

"You can see he's a very fit player. I didn't expect anything else coming from Bayern Munich," he said. "I think he is ready to play.

"I think he's a really smart player and I think we gave him some guidance, but he knows what to do, he knows the job."

France coach Fabien Galthie has handed a debut to winger Ethan Dumortier for Sunday's Six Nations opener against Italy.

Les Bleus head to Rome for the first game of their title defence, after they completed the Grand Slam last year.

Dumortier, 22, is Lyon's top try scorer in the Top 14 this season and his fine form has seen him make Galthie's selection in the place of Gabin Villiere, who sustained a fractured fibula.

With Jonathan Danty also injured, Gael Fickou and Yoram Moefana have been named as centres. Damian Penaud will play on the right wing, with Dumortier on the opposite flank.

Romain Ntamack and captain Antoine Dupont will be paired together in the halves, while Nolann Le Garrec could make his debut from the bench.

"We finished second twice in a row before winning it with a Grand Slam but our journey is not finished," Galthie said in a press conference on Friday.

"We are going to get better because our team has not yet reached the age of maturity."

Italy have also confirmed their starting XV. They won five Tests across 2022 – a 45 per cent win ratio, their highest in a calendar year since 2007, and their best in a non-Rugby World Cup year since 1998. That included their first ever victory over Australia.

The Azzurri took the wooden spoon in last year's Six Nations, though did end a run of 36 straight defeats in the tournament by defeating Wales.

Full-back Ange Capuozzo impressed on his Six Nations bow last year, going over twice against Scotland. 

Capuozzo went on to be named World Rugby's men's Breakthrough Player of the Year, and he gets a start against Les Bleus.

Monty Ioane's injury is a blow for coach Kieran Crowley, who has named Tommaso Menoncello and Pierre Bruno on the flanks.

Michele Lamaro will captain the side – he made 86 tackles in last year's Six Nations, 16 more than second-best Hamish Watson. 

Italy team: Ange Capuozzo, Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Menoncello, Tommaso Allan, Stephen Varney; Lorenzo Cannon, Michele Lamaro, Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Niccolo Cannon, Simone Ferrari, Giacomo Nicotera, Danilo Fischetti.

Italy replacements: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Edoardo Iachizzi, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Edoardo Padovani.

France team: Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Ethan Dumortier, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Anthony Jelonch, Paul Willemse, Thibaud Flament, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille.

France replacements: Gaetan Barlot, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Romain Taofifenua, Thomas Lavault, Sekou Macalou, Nolan Le Garrec, Matthieu Jalibert.

Giannis Antetokounmpo joked he will celebrate with "50 cheeseburgers" after his latest 50-point showing in the Milwaukee Bucks' 106-105 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The two-time MVP scored 20 of his 54 points in the fourth quarter of Thursday's contest as the Bucks recovered from a 21-point deficit to win for a sixth game in a row.

He has now reached the 50-point mark three times in his last 11 games, having hit a career-high 55 against the Washington Wizards and 50 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Antetokounmpo was filmed ordering 50 chicken nuggets when the Bucks landed their first title in 50 years in 2021, and he now plans on doing something similar.

"I think I'm going to go to Culver's tomorrow," he said. "I'll go get 50 cheeseburgers and try to eat as many as I can. The rest, I'll have my son eat them or I give them to my dog."

 

Antetokounmpo also had 18 rebounds against the Clippers as he continued his remarkable form since returning from injury last month.

The 28-year-old has helped the Bucks to a 6-0 record in that period, averaging 40.2 points per game, 14.7 rebounds per game and four assists per game.

He is the first NBA player to average 40/12/4 while going undefeated over a six-game span since Wilt Chamberlain did so in January 1964.

And Antetokounmpo has also joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in Bucks' history to have at least three 50-point games in a single season.

"It's a great compliment to be up there with Kareem," Antetokounmpo said. "I never thought I was going to score 50 in the NBA when I got drafted. It's an insane, crazy journey."

Antetokounmpo has now averaged 32.3 points per game across 41 appearances this season, a tally bettered only by Luka Doncic (33.4) and Joel Embiid (33.5).

"He's relentless," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said after his side's comeback win over the Clippers. 

"He's going to put himself in position to help us win. Whatever it takes for us to win, he's going to do it. He's fearless and relentless. That's what you saw going down the stretch."

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta wants to build around players such as Gabriel Martinelli after the forward signed a new deal at the club.

Martinelli agreed to a new long-term contract that will reportedly run until the end of the 2026-27 season.

The 21-year-old, who signed for Arsenal in July 2019, has started every Premier League game this season and scored seven times in the competition for the top-flight leaders, who head to struggling Everton on Saturday.

Bukayo Saka is another youngster thriving under Arteta, who sees plenty of scope for improvement as the Gunners aim to build a dynasty with such talents.

"It's great news. We want to build on all the talent that we have in the squad," he said in a press conference on Friday.

"It's great to see them happy and commit to the club. He's a player with enormous potential who has so much to improve.

"He can develop physically, mentally, defensively, the space he occupies, consistency."

Asked if Saka and William Saliba – who has been excellent in Arsenal's defence following loan spells at Marseille and Nice respectively – were close to signing fresh deals, Arteta added: "Part of the plan is to extend the contract of our biggest talents. We are trying to do that.

"The others will be done whenever we can. I see everybody really happy and willing to continue with the club."

Arsenal wanted to recruit two more highly rated youngsters in January but were unable to get deals for Mykhaylo Mudryk or Moises Caicedo over the line.

Mudryk joined London rivals Chelsea in a £89million (€100m) move, while Brighton and Hove Albion rebuffed two offers for Caicedo.

The Gunners did bring in Leandro Trossard, Jakub Kiwior and Jorginho, with the latter set to add vital experience in their bid to claim a first league title since 2004.

"We knew that in this market you have to adapt and be flexible and ready for inconvenience," Arteta said of Jorginho.

"We had a big one with [Mohamed Elneny's] injury and we needed a player in that position. [Jorginho] is a player that I've always admired. He's a great character who'll bring leadership and quality in that position and he's going to help us a lot."

Jorginho could make his debut against Everton, with Thomas Partey a doubt due to an injury he suffered in last week's FA Cup defeat to Manchester City.

"Let's see, that one is still a doubt," Arteta said. "Let's see how he comes in today and if he’s able to train or not. We will make a decision on that.

"He's not ruled out and it's nothing very significant, but it was significant enough to get him out of the game, which for Thomas is a bit unusual, but hopefully he'll be fine."

Arsenal have not won at Goodison Park since October 2017, when they beat the Toffees 5-2.

Saturday will be Sean Dyche's first game in charge of Everton, who sit 19th, level on 15 points with Southampton below them.

Dyche lost 10 Premier League games against Arsenal during his time in charge of Burnley, and should the Gunners win, they will become the first team in English league history to register 100 victories against a single opponent.

The Los Angeles Lakers "hardly ever discuss" LeBron James' hunt for the NBA points record, according to coach Darvin Ham.

James scored 26 points, added seven rebounds and provided seven assists as the Lakers fought back to beat the Pacers 112-111 on Thursday.

That haul moved James onto 38,325 points across his illustrious career, 62 short of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time record.

It means James is likely to break the record against the Oklahoma City Thunder next week.

Ham, however, says the Lakers do not treat it as too big of a deal.

"I think it's an amazing feat," Lakers coach Darvin Ham told reporters.

"When it happens, kudos to Bron for all his longevity and not just longevity, but longevity at the top of the list at an elite level.

"But our day-to-day, we hardly ever discuss it unless we're asked about it. For us, it's just, how can we get our team in the best position to make a run?"

James, though, did not look to downplay the importance of the record.

"I think it's one of the greatest records in sports, in general. It's like the home run record in baseball," he said.

"It's one of those records that you don't ever see or think will be broken.

"You see guys like Hank Aaron, who had [baseball's home run record] for so long. You see guys like Sammy [Sosa] and Mark McGwire and you start climbing it and it's like, 'Oh, this could really happen.'

"It's a fun thing as a sports person. It was fun watching those guys chasing it."

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 31 points and 14 rebounds, and it was his 11-foot shot with 35 seconds left put Los Angeles ahead, before he made a crucial block from Tyrese Haliburton.

Davis missed out on selection for the All-Star Game, though that was of little concern.

"I'm here to win, to try to compete for championships, not to get into All-Star Games," Davis said.

"My wife is ecstatic. She already texted me, 'So, where we going [during All-Star break]?'"

Gabriel Martinelli has signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal, the Premier League leaders have confirmed.

The 21-year-old is into his fourth season at Emirates Stadium after joining from Ituano in July 2019.

Brazil international Martinelli has made 111 appearances for Arsenal and has started all 19 of their league matches this campaign, making him one of seven ever-presents.

He was due to be out of contract at the end of next season, but terms have now been agreed on a deal that will reportedly run through until the end of the 2026-27 campaign.

Arsenal announced the news on their official website on Friday, with manager Mikel Arteta confident there is still more to come from the youngster.

"We're delighted Gabi has signed a new long-term contract," said Arteta, whose side are five points clear of Manchester City in the Premier League with a game in hand.

"Our supporters see his quality and energy every single time he puts on the shirt and he's the same every day in training, with his hard work and positive values.

"Gabi is still very young, so we know there's still much more to come from him and it's great that we'll be on this journey together. 

"We're now excited to continue to develop his huge talent and look forward to seeing him perform with Arsenal in the years to come."

Martinelli has seven goals in 27 appearances for Arsenal this season – only Eddie Nketiah (nine), Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka (both eight) have more – while assisting a further three.

The former Corinthians youth player is one of several young players Arsenal are looking to tie down, with talks also under way with William Saliba and Saka.

"It's great that Gabi has signed a new contract with us," sporting director Edu added.

"The foundations of our squad continue to be built on young talent, so it's great that Gabi has signed a new contract.

"Gabi is still just 21, and a player with big ability and personality. He is an important part of our future and we're delighted that we have agreed a new contract."

Lionel Messi insists there is no problem between himself and Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe following Argentina's World Cup final triumph over France.

Messi finally won the biggest prize of them all in Qatar last year, guiding Argentina to their first World Cup title since 1986.

Argentina appeared to be cruising to victory when 2-0 up at half-time, but a quick-fire double from Mbappe near the end of the regulation 90 minutes took the game to extra time.

Messi's second goal of the game had Argentina back in control again, but as before, Mbappe levelled to complete his hat-trick with two minutes left, forcing a penalty shoot-out.

Argentina ultimately prevailed 4-2 on penalties to spark wild celebrations, some of which bizarrely seemed to revolve around Mbappe.

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was said to have called for a moment of silence for Mbappe in the changing room afterwards, and then during Argentina's celebratory parade in Buenos Aires he was spotted carrying a doll with the PSG forward's face stuck on.

But Messi does not believe any of the controversy has impacted his relationship with his club-mate.

He told Ole: "We talked about the game, the festivities, how people experienced it in Argentina when I was on vacation, and the festivities we had. Nothing, nothing more.

"I was on the other side too, I lost a World Cup final too, and I didn't want to know anything about it, about what happened, and nothing related to the World Cup at that time.

"That's why I don't want to talk about it [to Mbappe] either, but the truth is that there is no problem with Kylian, on the contrary."

Some of Argentina's celebrations – most notably Martinez's behaviour – fed into a negative perception of the team in the eyes of some.

There was also the photo of their reaction to beating the Netherlands on penalties earlier in the tournament, with many of the Argentina players appearing to goad their opponents as they ran off to celebrate.

But Messi is adamant Argentina have been done a disservice, again explaining how their reaction to the Dutch was simply a response to apparent unsporting conduct from Louis van Gaal's team.

"It seems unfair to me that Argentina's lack of fair play was mentioned because it's not true," he continued.

"We always behaved in an exemplary manner, on and off the pitch. My team-mates were impressive.

"I think they talk because of what happened with the Netherlands, that it all started there. It was the Dutch who spoke and who wanted to destabilise our players when we were going to take the penalties.

"Everyone talks about what Argentina did after their victory but no one talks about that. It seems to me we should watch it back more carefully and see what happened, and then comment."

Moises Caicedo publicly pushed for a move to Arsenal last month because it was "the dream of his whole life", and there is now a feeling the opportunity may not be repeated.

Brighton and Hove Albion turned down two bids, reportedly of £60million and £70m, for the midfielder at the end of the January transfer window.

Arsenal were keen to add the 21-year-old to Mikel Arteta's ranks to help their Premier League title bid, but when it became apparent Brighton would not budge – despite Caicedo pleading to leave in a letter – the Gunners instead signed Jorginho from Chelsea.

Although Jorginho has only signed an 18-month deal at Emirates Stadium, and reports suggest Arsenal retain their interest in Caicedo, his agent Manuel Sierra is concerned the chance might not come around again.

He told Marca90: "The offers were received, you see what was on the table and Moises said he wanted to move forward [in his career], that it is the dream of his whole life, and an opportunity that may not be repeated in life.

"We then helped draft the statement [on social media].

"In that statement, he expressed his wish and his gratitude to the club because they gave him the chance to fulfil his dream of playing in the Premier League.

"We didn't know what would happen tomorrow, maybe he trains and gets injured. We can't know what's going to happen."

Caicedo did not train for Brighton towards the end of last week and missed the 2-1 FA Cup victory over Liverpool.

Sierra, who also claimed Caicedo asked Brighton for permission before publishing the statement, added: "Brighton understand the situation and they love him very much. It was a consensual agreement."

Caicedo has subsequently returned to training and is set to be available when Brighton face Bournemouth on Saturday.

Many onlookers might have anticipated Newcastle United would soon be contending for honours with the backing of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, but few could have imagined the rapid rate of their improvement.

Just months removed from a Premier League relegation battle, Newcastle are through to the EFL Cup final and in position for Champions League qualification.

Yet this Newcastle team have not enjoyed their relative success to this point by playing in the same manner as Kevin Keegan's open, entertaining and erratic side of the 1990s.

Eddie Howe this week described Newcastle's class of 2022-23 as working "within the Kevin framework", but their best attributes go back further to their roots.

"Fortiter defendit triumphans" – triumphing by brave defence – reads Newcastle upon Tyne's motto. So effective was Newcastle's title-winning defence in the early 1900s, marshalled by captain Bill McCracken, the team's offside trap brought about a change in the rules.

When Sean Longstaff's double took the Magpies to a first final since 1999 against Southampton, it was not the only long wait ended in Tuesday's semi-final; Che Adams' riposte was the first goal Nick Pope had conceded since November 6 – also against Southampton.

Pope's sequence of 10 consecutive clean sheets in all competitions – the longest by a Premier League goalkeeper since Edwin van der Sar's run of 12 in 2008-09 – did not stretch to an 11th match, but his 16 for the season are the most in Europe's top five leagues.

Even including three goals conceded this season by Karl Darlow and Martin Dubravka, Newcastle have shipped just 15 in 27 matches, the fewest across the continent.

The best defence in Europe has been vital to Newcastle's progress.

Balanced back line

The Magpies' defensive record is even more impressive when considering only minutes in which Howe has used what is clearly now his strongest back four.

Sven Botman started the season on the bench, while both he and Fabian Schar were rested for Newcastle's sole league loss at Liverpool.

Botman is yet to taste defeat in 18 Premier League appearances, although he did play in an FA Cup reverse at Sheffield Wednesday when Schar was absent.

Of players in the top five leagues, nobody has played more minutes in all competitions this season without losing than Schar (2,055).

When Schar and Botman have been on the pitch alongside Kieran Trippier and Dan Burn, Newcastle have conceded only seven goals in 1,878 minutes – or one every three games.

Adams' stunner was the first first-half goal Newcastle had conceded since August 28, with that staggering stingy sequence still ongoing in the Premier League. At 16 matches, it is tied for the third-longest such run in the competition's history.

That statistic explains why Newcastle have trailed for just four per cent of the time the ball has been in play in their Premier League matches this season – the lowest rate in the competition.

There is a great balance to this back four. Schar, with his 1.4 interceptions per 90, is an aggressive, front-foot defender, while Botman tidies up behind. On the left, Burn is happy to tuck in as a third centre-back, allowing Trippier to get forward on the opposite flank and average 10.5 crosses per 90.

All four are dominant in the air – even the diminutive Trippier – and a big, powerful Newcastle side have won 55.6 per cent of their aerial duels this season, trailing only Manchester City (57.0 per cent) and Real Madrid (56.4 per cent) in that regard.

'The best in the world'

If there is one area in which the Newcastle defence is lacking, it is pace – but that is where Pope comes in.

His 27 keeper sweepings – measured when a goalkeeper anticipates danger and rushes off his line to either cut out a pass or close down an opponent – are the most in Europe.

And Pope's ability to read the game is especially impressive given how little he sees of the action.

Playing behind that mean defence and rarely involved in Newcastle's build-up play, Pope averages 30.6 touches per 90 – roughly half as many as Yann Sommer's Europe-leading 60.8. He faces only 3.0 shots on target per 90.

But when those chances do come, Pope intervenes unlike any other goalkeeper across the top five leagues. His 83.8 per cent save rate is the best of all keepers to make 10 or more starts in all competitions.

In the same group, only Kepa Arrizabalaga is preventing goals at a greater rate, according to expected goals on target data. Pope's saves have prevented 6.1 goals.

Despite a costly gaffe in his most recent England outing against Germany in September, Pope is one of only five keepers across Europe to start 25 club games this term without committing an error leading to a goal.

Bruno Guimaraes' recent description of his team-mate as "the best goalkeeper right now in the world" was perhaps hyperbolic, but the data does not disagree.

Defending from the front

Pope has already earned more clean sheets this season than he ever did in a single campaign at former club Burnley, but he and his defenders have been helped hugely by the way Newcastle set up, easing the pressure that was a constant presence at Turf Moor.

Some neutrals have not been quite so enthused by Newcastle's style of play, which has yielded six goalless draws in the Premier League – twice as many as any other team.

A high-profile 0-0 at Arsenal, in which Newcastle defended doggedly, established a narrative that this team are adverse to front-foot football.

However, Mikel Arteta recognised after that stalemate: "It is not the way they play. They have not set up like this against anyone else."

Newcastle's expected goals total of 33.7 is the fourth-highest in the Premier League this season, and their attacking intent usually forces opposition teams back, crucially keeping the ball away from their own goal.

The Magpies' attacks start 42.7 metres upfield on average, deeper only than three teams, and that high line – aided by Pope's sweeping style – contributes to Newcastle allowing the fifth-fewest opposition touches in their area, 21.2 per game.

Pope is a standout performer, but this incredible defensive effort has been achieved as a team.

If it can continue, so can a club-record 15-game unbeaten top-flight run and dreams of silverware and Champions League qualification between now and the end of the season.

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