Lionel Messi's Argentina were frustrated in a goalless draw away to Paraguay in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Argentina had their chances against Paraguay in Asuncion, but the Copa America champions could not find the breakthrough on Thursday.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina, though, remain unbeaten in second position after nine matchdays on the road to Qatar 2022 and undefeated across 23 games across all competitions.

Messi was entering the contest on the back of his record-breaking exploits during the last international break after surpassing Brazil great Pele (77) as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation with his hat-trick against Bolivia.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar looked lively away to Paraguay, creating a great opportunity for Argentina to break the deadlock in the 11th minute.

Messi, who had received 437 passes in CONMEBOL qualifying – the most by any player in the campaign – weaved his way past defenders and slid a ball through to Lautaro Martinez, whose goal-bound effort was somehow cleared off the line by a scrambling Omar Alderete ahead of Angel Di Maria.

Argentina were largely in control in the opening half, though Paraguay had some moments in the attacking third.

Another chance went begging for Argentina within five minutes of the second half getting underway, Rodrigo de Paul's ball across the six-yard box somehow evading his team-mates.

Paraguay almost took a surprise lead four minutes later after Miguel Almiron's turn of pace created an opening, but Emiliano Martinez was up to the task to deny the Newcastle United star.

Di Maria picked out Joaquin Correa at the back post on the hour mark, however, some desperate defending blocked the Argentina forward's goal-bound header.

Martinez was kept rather busy in the second half, but the in-form goalkeeper continued to thwart Paraguay, who were searching for their first home World Cup qualifying win against Argentina since 2009.

Antony Silva produced a fabulous sequence to deny Argentina during the closing stages, first dealing with Guido Rodriguez's header before pushing Papu Gomez's long-range effort onto the crossbar seven minutes from the end, while Carlos Gonzalez almost snatched victory for Paraguay in the 88th minute.

 

What does it mean? Unbeaten run continues

While Argentina were unable to secure maximum points, the South American champions have not tasted defeat since 2019.

Goalkeepers flex muscles

It was a showdown between two goalkeepers at the top of their game. Martinez came up big for Argentina in the second half, while Paraguay counterpart Silva was not to be overshadowed in a strong display.

Paraguay struggling for home form

While Paraguay would have probably taken a point before the match, their home woes continue. Paraguay have only won one of their past eight World Cup qualifiers on home soil, dating back to March 2017.

What's next?

Argentina are back in action for the visit of Uruguay on Monday, while Paraguay are away to Chile on the same day.

Jose Mourinho said he wants to deliver titles to Roma as the Portuguese boss embraces the "eternal passion" in the Italian capital.

Mourinho is back in Serie A with Roma in 2021-22 following his Tottenham sacking in April.

Roma are fourth in the league standings, six points behind flawless leaders Napoli through seven rounds during the international break.

The Giallorossi have not won Serie A since 2001, while not since 2008 have they claimed silverware, something head coach Mourinho is looking to change.

"I would give Roma titles, because a club lives with titles and they fuel the passion of the fans," former Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss Mourinho told Esquire magazine.

"I immediately realised the love for Roma here goes beyond trophies, it is an eternal passion, it's in the blood and it's familial.

"However, victory is what's missing and we are building a project to get there. If it arrives with me in charge, perfect, otherwise it'll be wonderful to know I contributed to the construction of this future, which is the dream for everyone.

"I was not surprised by the passion, because I lived and worked in Italy for two years, I played against Roma many times, so the atmosphere is undeniable."

Asked how he has improved since leading Inter to the treble in 2009-10, Mourinho added: "In every way. If a coach does not improve, it's because he has lost the passion or the mentality to keep learning every day. Age or physical fitness are irrelevant in this profession, you can only improve with experience.

"I will have time to look at my trophies when I retire, but now I only want to think about the next game. I feel more like a coach now than I did 10 or even 20 years ago."

 

Belgium threw away plenty of their hard work from across the last five years in their Nations League defeat to France, says a frustrated Roberto Martinez.

First-half goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku had seemingly put Belgium well on their way to facing Spain in Sunday's final, only for Les Bleus to fight back to win 3-2.

Theo Hernandez got the winner in the final minute of normal time, just moments after Lukaku thought he had restored Belgium's lead following Karim Benzema's strike and a Kylian Mbappe penalty.

Yet VAR came to France's aid with an offside call, as they won their first game after trailing by two or more goals at half-time since May 2012 against Iceland in a friendly.

Belgium will return to Turin to face European champions Italy in a third-place play-off this weekend. Martinez, who guided the Red Devils to a semi-final at World Cup 2018 (where they lost to France) and the quarter-finals in Euro 2020, said his side had nobody but themselves to blame.

"We are very disappointed that we could not hold onto the lead," he said in post-match media duties. "We didn't have enough control in the second half. We let France get back into the game.

"When you play against someone like France, they punish all mistakes. We brought France into the game at a time when that shouldn't happen again.

"This is a competition in which we had to show our experience and all our hard work of the past five years. The disappointment is huge because the hard work and all the efforts the team has put in has been thrown away."

The match statistics back up Martinez's complaints.

In the first half, Belgium had more shots (eight compared to France's four) and controlled the possession (55.8 per cent), attempting 389 passes in contrast to 305.

Yet Didier Deschamps' side came out a different force after the restart, mustering 12 attempts in total, with Belgium only managing three, while the possession statistics were also flipped – France having 54.4 per cent of the ball as they upped the pressure and ultimately sealed their place in the final.

 

Christian McCaffrey appears likely to return to the Carolina Panthers' line-up against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Though McCaffrey was limited in practice for the second consecutive day, the running back said he "definitely" believes he has a chance to play after leaving Carolina's Week 3 win over the Houston Texans with a hamstring injury. 

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said Carolina will likely wait until Sunday to make the final call but McCaffrey is eager to return after missing 13 games last season with multiple injuries. 

"Yeah, definitely," McCaffrey told reporters. "We'll take it to Sunday and see how it goes from there. But I feel really good."

The Panthers rushed for 113 yards in McCaffrey's absence last week, slightly above their season average going in, but suffered their first loss of the season to the Dallas Cowboys. 

If McCaffrey is ruled out for Sunday, the men who replaced him against the Cowboys – Chuba Hubbard, Royce Freeman and Rodney Smith – will be ready to carry the load again. 

But getting McCaffrey back as an all-around weapon for quarterback Sam Darnold would be a significant boost. 

"Any time you have the opportunity to have 22 on the field, that changes a lot of things," said offensive co-ordinator Joe Brady.

The 2019 All-Pro selection kept his remarks about his status brief, but McCaffrey did have some thoughts when asked about being injured in a Thursday night game. 

"It's extremely frustrating," he said. "I don't prefer Thursday night games. You go through a lot in a football game. And you really get two days to recover, and one of those days is a travel day.

"You get two days to recover; you get on a plane, you go to a hotel, you're playing a football game. It's tough, but it is what it is.

"It's part of the game, but obviously frustrating."

Up until this point, it has been a season to remember for the San Francisco Giants, who are playoff-bound for the first time since 2016.

A franchise-record 107 wins and the best record in baseball saw the Giants fend off reigning World Series champions and rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League (NL) West title.

It was San Francisco's first division crown since 2012 as they ended the Dodgers' streak of eight straight NL West trophies.

San Francisco's World Series charge is being spearheaded by their golden oldies – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey – after a tough couple of years, with Gabe Kapler overseeing dramatic improvement with a stacked roster of experienced veterans.

 

From afterthoughts to contenders

As the Giants prepare for the NL Division Series (NLDS) against the aforementioned Dodgers, it is safe to say they entered the 2021 season as afterthoughts in their own division, despite missing the playoffs by just one win in last year's coronavirus-shortened campaign.

All eyes were on the star-studded Dodgers and a surging San Diego Padres franchise hot off signing Fernando Tatis Jr. to the third-richest contract in MLB history – a 14-year, $340 million deal – after both bolstered their already impressive squads. The Dodgers brought in reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and eventually future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols plus ace Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The Padres acquired frontline starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster trades.

Without a postseason berth since losing to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, the Giants needed an historic campaign to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West and hold off an exciting Padres squad.

Despite boasting the oldest roster in the majors with an average age of 30 years and 313 days, they achieved just that and became the first NL team to win more than 106 games since the 1986 New York Mets.

 

 

Rejuvenated veterans thriving under Kapler

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hired Kapler to succeed beloved San Francisco figure and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy in 2019. Kapler's two-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies left a lot to be desired. But his shortcomings have long been forgotten as the Giants and their roster reap the rewards of Zaidi's decision.

"They're a teaching staff," reliever Tony Watson said of Kapler's coaching staff, which included MLB's first full-time female assistant Alyssa Nakken. "You could see the improvement of guys throughout the roster, one through 26. It wasn't just the young guys that were coming up and still developing, you saw Buster, [Crawford], [Longoria] and Belt changing their swings and changing the way they go about their days. That's a tribute to all 14-15 staff members and being able to relay information and ideas."

Belt (33), Crawford (34) and Posey (34) were all part of San Francisco's World Series-winning team in 2014, and, despite their advancing years, have all improved under Kapler's management.

Belt enjoyed the best 162-game campaign of his career thanks to his .597 SLG, .975 OPS and 29 homers (surpassing the 18 he hit in 2015 and 2018). It was the same for Crawford (.522/.895 and a career-best 24 home runs).

Belt, Crawford and Darin Ruf (.519/.904) have all enjoyed career years in both SLG and OPS. When factoring at least 100 plate appearances and a team playing in 155 or more games, the 2021 Giants are the first franchise since the Cardinals in 2004 to have three-plus players with career years in both SLG and OPS.

Posey – who is looking to become the first NL player since Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres to win four World Series rings with the same team – boasted his best SLG (.499) and OPS (.889) since the Giants were crowned world champions in 2012. His 18 homers were his most since his 19-homer campaign six years ago.

Fellow veteran Evan Longoria also enjoyed a return to form, with the 35-year-old’s SLG (.482) and OPS (.833) numbers his best since his penultimate season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.

It is a similar theme with San Francisco's pitchers – starters Kevin Gausman (2.81), Anthony DeSclafani (3.17) and Logan Webb (3.03) finishing the regular season with career-high ERAs.

Gausman (227) heads into the postseason with a career-best 227 strikeouts, while DeSclafani (152) only managed more strikeouts in 2019 when he struck out 167 batters during his time with the Cincinnati Reds. Gausman finished the year behind only Corbin Burnes in Stats Perform's Strike+ metric, which measures which pitchers rack up both whiffs and called strikes.

 

Depth shines in the Bay Area

The Giants achieved a first in their 137-year existence, hitting 241 home runs in a season for the first time. They achieved the feat without a single 30-homer hitter on their roster – the highest number of homers without a player reaching at least 30 home runs in MLB history.

It was a collective effort. Case in point: The Giants had 17 players with at least five homers this season – an MLB record. Belt (29), Mike Yastrzemski (25), Crawford (24), Wilmer Flores (18), Posey (18), LaMonte Wade Jr. (18), Ruf (16), Alex Dickerson (13), Longoria (13) and Austin Slater (12) all reached double digits.

Rather than rely on stars like Posey, Belt and Crawford, the Giants – who hit 103 game-winning RBIs, the second highest in the majors since 1974, ended the season with six players aged 30 or older among the team's top four in home runs – the highest figure since 2014, ahead of the 2018 Giants (five).

"It's just been such a collective effort. Contributions up and down," Posey said. "We set the [franchise] record for homers [in a season] and pinch-hit homers. Those are some examples. You've got most the home runs ever for the team and nobody has 30."

 

Of San Francisco's home runs, 18 came in pinch-hit situations – a single-season MLB record, eclipsing the 2016 Cardinals.

This season's Giants are unlikely to produce an MVP or Cy Young Award winner, but their championship run is fuelled by a selfless approach.

San Francisco's quartet of Gausman, Logan Webb, Alex Wood and DeSclafani further solidified the team-first mentality – helping the Giants rank second in the majors with a 3.24 ERA in 2021. Run suppression was aided by the Giants suppressing the longball, as the team finished with an average of 0.93 homers allowed per game this season, the best in the majors.

While their NLDS opponents may have more star power, the Giants counter with one of the deepest and most talented squads in franchise history. Their opening playoff series should be an instant classic, and the Giants have proved they'll be a tough out for any team they face.

Jesse Lingard knows he needs regular club football as the Manchester United man bids to nail down a place in the England squad.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used Lingard sparingly this season, despite his remarkable performances on loan at West Ham last term.

Lingard declined to speak about the prospect of a new contract at Old Trafford, with his present deal due to expire at the end of this season.

But the attacking midfielder, whose 30th birthday will fall during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is aware his England prospects could suffer if he is not playing regularly for his club.

After narrowly missing out on a place in the Euro 2020 squad, Lingard does not want to see another major tournament pass him by.

United are stocked with attacking talent and that is holding back Lingard's prospects of being a fixture in Solskjaer's starting XI.

"The World Cup's a long way away but obviously you need regular football," Lingard said in an England news conference.

"I was so close to going to the Euros. It's a big factor; if you're playing over 20-25 games, you're knocking on the door.

"So I think it does play a big part. At the moment I'm not doing any harm and if I keep performing well and doing well you never know what might happen.

"I'll keep confident in myself and when I get time on the pitch I'll carry on doing what I'm doing."

He has made only one start for Solskjaer in 2021-22, featuring from the first minute against West Ham in an EFL Cup third-round defeat.

That is the only game where he has played for longer than 24 minutes, but Lingard has strong evidence to call on when pointing to the overall level of his performances.

In 136 minutes of United action this season, spread across six games, he has scored twice and created three chances for others, one of which resulted in a goal.

He is outperforming his expected goals (xG) score of 0.59, which reflects the quality of chances, yet he is struggling to get ahead of the likes of Anthony Martial, whose data is not as impressive at this early stage of the campaign (three starts, 245 minutes, one goal, no assists, no chances created).

Lingard could face Andorra on Saturday, having scored twice against the minnows at Wembley last month, and for now at least he is firmly in favour with England boss Gareth Southgate.

Jadon Sancho may also feature against Andorra despite Southgate last week admitting the winger only scraped into the squad.

Sancho has played 436 minutes for United since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, and he has yet to score or assist on a goal, making a slow start at Old Trafford.

Lingard is convinced the 21-year-old will come good and show the form that made him a superstar of the Bundesliga and sealed a place in Southgate's Euro 2020 squad.

"We all know Jadon is a world-class player, and he's one of the best young talents in the world at the moment," Lingard said.

"At a big club like United there is always going to be pressure. I feel like he's slowly adapting now. And you can see glimpses of that in the previous games that he's played, and now we can see that in training week in week out.

"There's no doubt that he will succeed at United, I've got full confidence in that."

Paul Pogba is not yet prepared to commit to Manchester United, insisting "let's see what happens" when it comes to his future.

The midfielder impressed on Thursday as France came from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 3-2 in a gripping Nations League semi-final at the Allianz Stadium, his old Juventus stomping ground.

Pogba has been linked persistently with a move away from United, with a return to Juve or a switch to Real Madrid deemed the most likely.

Recent reports in France had suggested he could extend his Red Devils contract, which expires at the end of the season, after the signings of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho left him more convinced of the club's ambition.

However, speaking after the thrilling victory over Belgium, Pogba told Sport Mediaset: "I always talk to my former team-mates, like Paulo [Dybala]. I'm at Manchester United, I still have a year on my contract, and then we'll see.

"I want to finish [the season] well there, and then let's see what happens."

Belgium led 2-0 at half-time in Turin through Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku before the world champions produced a stirring turnaround.

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe levelled the scores and Theo Hernandez blasted home a 90th-minute winner, as France recovered to win a match after trailing 2-0 at the break for the first time since a friendly victory over Iceland in 2012.

"We started very well: 25 minutes of quality with the ball, then, with their players, they were very good on the counter-attack," said Pogba.

"We sat back and conceded two goals very quickly, stopping playing with the ball. It was another game in the second half. We played like France.

"It was a very good match. I'm happy with the game we played. The second half was really good."

Antoine Griezmann, who won the penalty from which Mbappe equalised, said some stern half-time discussions and the efforts of France's front two were key to their revival.

"I am very proud of the players, the group and the coaches," he told TF1.

"We started well in the first 30 minutes. After that, we were too deep, we couldn't get out and at half-time, everyone had the right words and we came out in a different fashion.

"We went looking for them and Kylian and Karim had an amazing match. They did us good by scoring, by making a difference. It was a fantastic match."

A stunning goal from Theo Hernandez sent France into the Nations League final after they battled back to beat Belgium 3-2.

The Milan full-back struck in the 90th minute after Karim Benzema and a Kylian Mbappe penalty had cancelled out goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku thought he had won an enthralling contest for Belgium with 88 minutes gone, but it was ruled out for offside after a VAR check, and France made their luck count.

In an even opening to the game, Hugo Lloris made a stunning save to keep out Kevin De Bruyne's scuffed effort from close range before Mbappe went close at the other end.

With each side lining up in a 3-4-3 that cancelled out the other, the game began to drift before Carrasco collected De Bruyne's pass, drove into the box past Benjamin Pavard, cut back onto his right foot and drilled a shot in at the near post with Lloris wrong-footed.

It was 2-0 before the interval, Lukaku spinning away from the flat-footed Lucas Hernandez before side-footing high past Lloris, again at his near post.

France kept Belgium pinned back early in the second half but Antoine Griezmann got the ball stuck under his feet after a brilliant run and cut-back from Mbappe.

Mbappe was involved again when France finally capitalised on their dominance, slipping the ball to Benzema, who shot low on the turn beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois.

Seven minutes later, Mbappe – who missed in the shoot-out loss to Switzerland at Euro 2020 – swept a penalty past Courtois after a VAR check saw Youri Tielemans punished for catching Griezmann.

A rasping effort from De Bruyne was tipped over by Lloris and Aurelien Tchouameni was denied by Courtois, with VAR intervening again when Lukaku thought he had prodded in a winner against the run of play, the Chelsea striker having strayed fractionally offside to meet Carrasco's cross.

Paul Pogba's spectacular free-kick cannoned off the crossbar before France's unlikely hero found the winner, Theo Hernandez rifling left-footed into the right-hand corner after Benjamin Pavard's cross found its way to the Rossoneri star.

Eighteen former NBA players have been charged over an alleged scheme to defraud the league's health and welfare plan out of nearly $4million.

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that 19 defendants had been charged after allegedly submitting "fraudulent reimbursement claims for medical services that they never received".

One of the 18 ex-players was Tony Allen, a six-time All-Defensive Team selection who was part of the championship-winning Boston Celtics squad in 2008. His wife was also charged.

Allen's former Celtics team-mate Glen Davis, Shannon Brown – twice a champion with the Los Angeles Lakers – and Melvyn Ely, a title winner in 2007 with the San Antonio Spurs, were also named among the defendants.

FBI assistant director Michael J Driscoll said: "Today we've charged 18 former NBA players and one spouse for their alleged participation in a health care fraud scheme that resulted in nearly $2million in losses to the National Basketball Association's health and welfare benefit plan.

"The health care industry loses tens of billions of dollars a year to fraud. Thanks to the work of our dedicated FBI agents and partners alike, cases like this demonstrate our continued focus in uncovering health care fraud scams that harm both the industry and the consumers of their services."

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: "The defendants' playbook involved fraud and deception. Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement partners, their alleged scheme has been disrupted and they will have to answer for their flagrant violations of law."

New York City Police Department commissioner Dermot Shea said: "Today's federal indictment represents the NYPD's long-term commitment, working with its law enforcement partners, in making sure those accused of health care related fraud are held accountable. I commend those involved in the investigation, the FBI, and the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District in New York for its work in ensuring there is justice in this case."

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley will miss the Atlanta Falcons' showdown with the New York Jets in London for personal reasons.

The absence of Ridley is a big blow for the Falcons, as he is the team's leading wide receiver with 255 yards this season.

Atlanta are 1-3 ahead of the Week 5 game at Tottenham Stadium on Sunday and their chances of improving that record have taken a hit with Ridley unavailable.

A Falcons statement said: "Due to a personal matter, Calvin Ridley will not travel to the Falcons game in London this weekend. We are in support of Calvin during this time and will respect his privacy on the matter."

Wideout Russell Gage (ankle) and defensive end Marlon Davidson (ankle) are also out of the game against the 1-3 Jets.

Olamide Zaccheaus will be expected to step up with Ridley not making the trip to England.

Kolkata Knight Riders thrashed Rajasthan Royals by 86 runs to close in on a place in the Indian Premier League play-offs.

Shubman Gill's 56 helped Kolkata to a commanding total of 171-4 in Sharjah, where the Royals succumbed to a chastening defeat.

Shivam Mavi took four wickets, with Lockie Ferguson claiming three scalps as the Royals capitulated to 85 all out in the 17th over.

Kolkata look certain to finish in the top four, while their beaten opponents' already slim hopes went up in smoke.

Gill and Venkatesh Iyer (38) laid a solid foundation for KKR with a 79-run opening partnership, with the remainder of the order contributing double-figure scores.

By contrast, only two Royals batsmen hit double figures as Rahul Tewatia's fine 44 went unrewarded.

Mavi magic

With the Royals losing Yashasvi Jaiswal in the first over and slumping to 13-4 after only 22 deliveries, the writing was on the wall early on in their reply.

Mavi did much of the damage with the ball, his 4-21 restricting the Royals to their lowest total in this IPL season.

KKR almost there

The only team who can prevent the Knight Riders extending their campaign are reigning champions Mumbai Indians.

But the Indians, who play Sunrisers Hyderabad on Friday, must bat first and win by a record 171 runs in order to claim fourth spot on net run rate.

Lilian Thuram has declared Paris Saint-Germain cannot rely on their superstar strike force to deliver trophies – and he wishes he had the chance to face them down.

France great Thuram recognises Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe bring individual brilliance to PSG, who are tearing away at the top of Ligue 1 despite a shock weekend defeat at Rennes.

In a reputational sense, the French giants possess the most fearsome front three in world football, with Messi arriving from Barcelona in August to complement an already mighty attack, with Mauro Icardi also hoping to make an impact.

That makes them strong contenders for the Champions League, in theory, and a European triumph is the target that PSG have been striving for since Qatar Sports Investments came on board in 2011, changing the outlook of the club.

Mauricio Pochettino has seen his side capture four points from their opening two group games this season, including a statement win over Manchester City.

"The PSG squad is made of many excellent players, especially forwards. If you boast Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, it is really unbelievable," Thuram said on Thursday.

Handling that front trio, once they click together, will be a daunting prospect, but it was by taking on such opposition during his playing days that Thuram established himself as one of the world's most formidable defenders.

Whether at right-back or in the centre, Thuram was a titan for Monaco, Parma and Juventus, before seeing out his career at Barcelona, where a young Messi was making his name.

"Truthfully, if I were a centre-back now, I would love to face them," Thuram said, speaking at the Festival dello Sport.

 

Thuram, now 49, suspects he and former Juventus colleagues Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon might have drawn the best out of PSG's 'MNM' trio.

"If Fabio and Gigi, who still plays, were young, they would have put on a show against them, it would be so difficult to stop them. But it doesn't mean you win at the end," Thuram said.

"If you have Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – well no, with Cristiano you win a lot – but with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, no victory is granted.

"You need the entire team and this is what football is about. Teams win."

Mbappe has not scored in his past four Ligue 1 games, his longest drought in the French top-flight since March to May 2018 when he failed to net in six successive matches.

He hit four goals early in the campaign and has three assists, so leads their league scoring charts, but Messi and Neymar are not next on the list. Instead, second place is shared by Achraf Hakimi and Ander Herrera, both of whom have managed three goals and two assists in nine games.

With such contributions coming from defence and midfield, that may be an early indication of PSG delivering the team-wide performance this season that brings success.

Neymar, however, has just one goal from five Ligue 1 appearances in 2021-22, while Messi has yet to score or have an assist in the league in 190 minutes of action.

Including the final months of last season, Brazilian Neymar has netted just two goals from his past 41 shots attempted in open play in Ligue 1 – with only 10 of those attempts hitting the target.

Aaron Ramsey hinted at frustration with life at Juventus as he insisted his fitness is not a problem when he is "managed correctly".

The midfielder has only played four times under Massimiliano Allegri this season, last appearing as a second-half substitute in the 3-2 win over Sampdoria on September 26.

The Bianconeri said last week Ramsey was suffering from "muscle fatigue" and recent reports have indicated they are ready to listen to offers for the former Arsenal man, who joined the club in July 2019 on a contract reported to be worth upwards of €450,000 per week.

His time in Turin has been dogged by injury issues, though. Ramsey has only started 25 matches in Serie A, playing 2,238 minutes in total – just seven minutes more than Blaise Matuidi, who left for Inter Miami in August 2020.

However, the 30-year-old, who is set to captain Wales in Friday's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic, suggested a different approach to his training and recovery could see Juve get more use out of him.

"I know what I can do and with the right management I can stay fit for a long period of time and play a lot of games," he said. "I'm still feeling good when given the opportunity and managed correctly.

 

"It has been frustrating that I have picked up these little niggly injuries, which have cost me a lot of games and meant I have missed some important games for Wales in the last couple of years.

"The training philosophy and methods are different at my club than they are here. There are a number of people here who have a number of years of managing me, so they know how to get the best out of me, and so I am able to play a number of games in a row. As I showed in the Euros this year, I'm capable of doing that and producing good performances.

"My outputs in games are pretty high, and maybe I need a bit more rest and recovery throughout the week rather than being on the grass for a long period of time and carrying more fatigue into games. Recovery is a big part of that for me."

Ramsey will lead out his country in the absence of the injured Gareth Bale, with Wales knowing a win would take them above the Czech Republic and into second in Group E with a game in hand.

"It means everything to me to play for Wales," he said. "I am so proud to represent my country.

"I have been as frustrated as anybody else over the amount of game I have missed in the past few years.

"I am happy to be back involved. I am looking forward to these two games, and to lead the boys out will be that extra bit special.

"I have experienced it before, and I loved every minute of it, and I am sure it will be a very proud moment for me and my family."

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