Lionel Messi has trained well in recent days but Ernesto Valverde remains wary of rushing him back into action when Barcelona face Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

The Argentina star has not featured this season due to a calf injury sustained in pre-season but was named in the travelling squad for Barca's opening Champions League group game at Signal Iduna Park.

Valverde has been pleased with Messi's training performances but will not make a decision on whether his captain will start the match until closer to kick-off.

"We'll decide before the game," he said. "It wasn't very clear a week ago if he could come, but he was with the team in the last few training sessions, finishing well, taking the fear of pain out of his mind. We'll see what we do."

Whether or not Messi returns, Barca could well hand a Champions League debut to Ansu Fati, the 16-year-old who has taken LaLiga by storm this season.

Fati became Barca's youngest ever league goalscorer against Osasuna last month and marked his full Camp Nou debut on Saturday with a goal and an assist in the first seven minutes of the 5-2 thrashing of Valencia.

"I've not spoken with him, save for tactical matters," Valverde admitted. "I don't like the history of giving advice. Of course I will talk with him, but you have to give him some breathing space.

"What he is doing is exceptional. If he plays, it's not so he can break a record, but because of the needs of the team. We love him."

Barca have only lost one of their past 28 group-stage matches but are under huge pressure to perform this season after collapsing in the semi-finals to throw away a 3-0 first-leg lead over Liverpool.

Valverde believes Dortmund will offer a good litmus test for his side, as he looks to put the disappointment of the 4-0 loss at Anfield and the dramatic quarter-final exit to Roma the year before behind him.

"I expect a rival of the highest level, a challenger for everything in their country and in Europe, and a good yardstick for us," he said.

"It's a competition in which one bad day can knock you out, even if you have had a great competition until that moment. The two teams in the final last year [Liverpool and Tottenham] lost more games than we did. You can't neglect even 10 minutes."

Tuesday's game will see Barca come up against Paco Alcacer, who has flourished since leaving Barca initially on loan in 2018.

"Alcacer is a great player and he's showing that for Dortmund and the national team," Valverde said. "He's playing regularly with Dortmund. What we know about him is both an advantage and a disadvantage."

Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani are set to miss Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League meeting with Real Madrid on Wednesday.

The Ligue 1 champions confirmed on Monday that the attacking duo are not likely to resume first-team training until the end of this week.

Neither player has featured since suffering muscle strains in the 4-0 defeat of Toulouse last month.

It means Neymar, who scored on his return to the first team on Saturday after being left out amid the uncertainty over his future during the transfer window, and Mauro Icardi will likely lead the line at Parc des Princes.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is the other option at head coach Thomas Tuchel's disposal.

Julian Draxler, Thilo Kehrer and Colin Dagba will also miss the visit of Zinedine Zidane's side as they continue to recover from injury problems.

The 2019-20 Champions League gets under way with the usual suspects among the favourites for the title: Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and holders Liverpool.

Madrid face PSG in a blockbuster opening clash but the most interesting stories in the group stage could be bubbling under the surface, with Atalanta among the clubs making their competition debuts.

Stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah could dominate but the stage is set for many others to make their names among Europe's elite.

Omnisport picks out 10 players who may have a huge impact on this season's Champions League.


MATTHIJS DE LIGT - JUVENTUS

Juventus may have preferred to slowly integrate De Ligt into their defence after he joined from Ajax. But a long-term injury to captain Giorgio Chiellini means the Netherlands centre-back has been pressed into action already. De Ligt has made a stumbling start in Turin but his leadership helped Ajax reach the semi-finals last season, knocking Juve out along the way. If they are to recapture the Champions League title, De Ligt is set for a key role at the back.


JOAO FELIX - ATLETICO MADRID

Antoine Griezmann's move to Barcelona left Atletico with a huge hole to fill in their attack, with the Rojiblancos breaking their club record to sign Joao Felix from Benfica. There is no doubting the 19-year-old's extreme talent but whether or not he is ready to lead Atleti to Champions League glory after some perilously near misses in recent years remains to be seen.


JADON SANCHO - BORUSSIA DORTMUND

Another teenager, England star Sancho is already one of the most dangerous forwards in world football. The 19-year-old has already contributed two goals and four assists in the Bundesliga this term, while he opened his international account with a brace against Kosovo last week. Perhaps most impressive about Sancho is his decision-making in the final third where he is clinical, especially on the break. Dortmund are in a tough Group F with Barcelona, Inter and Slavia Prague.


RODRI - MANCHESTER CITY

European success continues to elude City but the capture of Rodri from Atletico could help them finally go to the next level in the Champions League. Control has been an issue for Pep Guardiola's men in the knockout rounds but Spain midfielder Rodri, seen as a successor to Sergio Busquets internationally, should enable them to dominate possession more than ever.


PHILIPPE COUTINHO - BAYERN MUNICH

Having struggled to justify his move to Barcelona, Brazil playmaker Coutinho has been given a fresh start with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. His arrival ought to help address the loss of James Rodriguez after his two-year loan from Real Madrid ended. Bayern are looking for a first European crown since 2012-13 with Coutinho needing to step up.


ERLING HAALAND - SALZBURG

One of Europe's most in-form strikers, Haaland hit eight league goals in six games for Austrian champions Salzburg before the international break. The Leeds-born 19-year-old, son of former Manchester City midfielder Alf-Inge Haaland, shot to fame when he scored nine goals in Norway's 12-0 win over Honduras at the Under-20 World Cup earlier this year.


LAUTARO MARTINEZ - INTER

Inter and Dortmund look likely to be scrapping for second spot in Group F, so Antonio Conte will want a big impact from Lautaro Martinez. The Argentina attacker should get more chances to impress after the departure of compatriot Mauro Icardi to PSG on loan and he showed he is in fine form by hitting a hat-trick in a friendly defeat of Mexico during the international break.


DANI OLMO - DINAMO ZAGREB

Having led Spain to glory at the European Under-21 Championship this year, Olmo was one of Europe's most in-demand players. Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United and Tottenham were all linked with the 21-year-old, who was retained by Dinamo instead. He offers a genuine threat in the final third, having scored eight league goals last term, and Dinamo have a real chance of qualifying from Group C behind likely winners Manchester City.


ALEJANDRO GOMEZ - ATALANTA

In the same group, along with Shakhtar Donetsk, are Champions League newcomers Atalanta, who thrilled in Serie A last term. Finally getting a chance to shine in the Champions League, Gomez may not get another opportunity to adorn this competition. One of the most consistent performers in Italy's top flight, the 31-year-old could help Atalanta become the tournament's surprise package.


MASON MOUNT - CHELSEA

A transfer ban has forced Europa League winners Chelsea to reassess their squad with new England international Mason Mount among those making the most of their chance under Blues head coach Frank Lampard. Three Premier League goals have helped the 20-year-old, who played under Lampard at Championship side Derby County on loan last season, settle in quickly. The Champions League is his next test.

Antonio Conte is committed to building a "special" Inter side but has called for patience from fans and media alike ahead of the Nerazzurri's Champions League meeting with Slavia Prague.

Inter have won all three of their opening Serie A fixtures under Conte and sit top of the table.

Head coach Conte, though, has insisted patience will be required throughout the campaign, conceding the Champions League will make it more difficult for him to pin down Inter's new style of play.

"It will be hard to play on more than one front. The more time you have the easier it is for the coach and also for the players to recover," Conte told a news conference.

"The Champions League is a great source of motivation, we all want to do well and go far for the fans too, but it is not easy for me in my goal of creating a side with an identity.

"There is real desire to create something special, we are laying solid foundations for something important.

"It is vital we keep our feet on the ground, but the enthusiasm must come from the results, from our hard work and our aims, so time and patience is needed.

"I played in three Champions League finals and coached Juventus in the Champions League too, my record there was good.

"At Chelsea too, I coached in the Champions League, this is my fourth season as a coach in the Champions League, but it takes time to win it, you need experience, you need to create a side with an identity.

"In the past I have coached sides still being built. It has not been easy for me."

The arrival of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez have boosted Inter's attack, while Conte's side have scored seven and conceded just once in their three league matches so far.

Lukaku has scored twice so far, though had to be taken off with an injury midway through the second half against Udinese on Saturday.

"Lukaku will train today," Conte said when asked if the forward was fit.

"He had a back injury against Udinese but we will see and evaluate his fitness."

Lionel Messi was named in Barcelona's squad for Tuesday's Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund and Marco Reus hopes the forward is fit to play.

Dortmund host LaLiga champions Barca in their Group F opener, with Messi in contention to make his first appearance of the season.

The Argentine superstar has missed Barca's opening four LaLiga fixtures with a calf problem but has been included in Ernesto Valverde's squad despite the coach suggesting on Friday the 32-year-old would not be ready in time. 

It remains to be seen whether Messi will be able to start, though Dortmund captain Reus is hopeful the diminutive talisman does make an appearance as the Bundesliga side aim to test themselves against the best Europe has to offer.

"We want Messi to play, but we cannot influence what tomorrow will look like," Germany international Reus told a media conference on Monday. 

"We do not want to talk that much about the opponent. Everyone knows that he is the best, but we play at home and want to win.

"A difficult game awaits us. We have to be careful and will we have to suffer a lot in the game. We have to be brave and play our game, put ourselves forward and then hope to score goals."

Paco Alcacer could be key for Dortmund as the Spain striker goes up against his former club for the first time.

Alcacer spent two seasons at Camp Nou, struggling to secure a regular spot following a move from fellow LaLiga club Valencia.

The 26-year-old enjoyed a fantastic maiden season at Dortmund, scoring 18 Bundesliga goals in 26 outings, and has netted five times in four league appearances this term.

Reus is backing the striker – who accused "many people" at Barca of treating him badly during his stint in Catalonia – to impress against his former employers.

"I've talked to him a few times. He is calm," said Reus. "Of course, he is looking forward to it because he has spent nice years there, even if he had not too much game time.

"I hope he can help us in the game. He is an important player. He plays smart on the pitch, he knows where the next man is.

"He is an ice-cold top scorer who does not need many chances, his statistics are outstanding. But even for him there is room for improvement, as with any player."

Frank Lampard has no set expectations for Tammy Abraham this season but believes the Chelsea striker has given himself every opportunity of earning an England call-up.

Abraham scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win over Wolves on Saturday, taking his tally of Premier League goals to the season for seven, with all of them coming in Chelsea's last three outings.

The forward missed out on Gareth Southgate's most recent England squad, though he has since moved level with Sergio Aguero at the top of the Premier League scoring charts.

Abraham is also eligible for Nigeria should he decide to snub an England call-up, though Lampard is certain the 21-year-old has the mentality to succeed if he is selected by Gareth Southgate.

Chelsea's head coach also insists he always had full faith in the youngster to lead the line this term regardless of their transfer ban.

"I never had clear expectations for him, only that I believed in him and trusted him," Lampard told a news conference ahead of Chelsea's Champions League meeting with Valencia on Tuesday.

"A lot has been made of the [transfer] ban giving young players the potential opportunities, but I thought the time was right to give Tammy the opportunity at this club anyway because of the quality he's got.

"I'm really delighted he's got his goals, there's more still to come. He's in a place now where he just needs to sustain and improve even more, and I think with his mentality and how he is I hope to see that.

When asked about Abraham's England chances, Lampard said: "It's not a question for me.

"I've just spoken about how I feel about Tammy. He's put himself in the bracket for England with being top scorer at this point.

"It's one for Gareth, I'd hate to step on his toes but it's clear with what Tammy is doing he's going to be wanted."

Prior to this season, Abraham had spent the past three campaigns out on loan at Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa, respectively.

Frank Lampard acknowledged he will have to prepare his youthful Chelsea side for a different challenge in the Champions League, as he set progression from the group stage as his only target for now.

Chelsea start their Champions League campaign at home against Valencia - who recently sacked their coach Marcelino and replaced him with former Real Madrid assistant Albert Celades - on Tuesday.

As well as Valencia, Chelsea line up alongside Lille and last season's semi-finalists Ajax in Group H.

The Blues head into Tuesday's encounter on the back of claiming their second Premier League win of the season in style - Tammy Abraham scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 win at Wolves - but Lampard is putting no pressure on his players.

"The target is clearly to qualify from the group," Lampard told a news conference. 

"Obviously it's a tough group but I have plenty of faith in the young players and the ones who have never played in it who are at the moment in good form and have talent that will hopefully blossom in the Champions League as we go along.

"Always as a player I thought of it as two parts, with the group part before Christmas. It's tough but if we can get through then it's up for grabs in the next part of the year. I'm confident as we should be but very aware of the dangers in a tough group.

"I haven't spoke to them in detail about that yet. We're meeting up tonight in the hotel so we'll have plenty of time to prepare and it is maybe worth a word or two on that because it is different.

 

"I would say the main thing I found as a player is your concentration and focus in every game has to be spot on, not to say you can get away with it in the Premier League.

"The higher level of player in the Champions League, the different style of game that can surprise you and teams that travel for these games can be fantastic on the counter-attack and hurt you in one second when you think you're controlling the game."

Lampard won the Champions League with Chelsea as a player in 2012, four years after losing to Manchester United in the final, and the former Derby County boss is thrilled to have the chance to take a big step in his coaching career.

"Well I'll be proud to do it because I had multiple incredible nights in the Champions League and some bad ones," he said.

"But it is the ultimate for me, in terms of club football and there's something about nights at Stamford Bridge, the Champions League music and our experiences as Chelsea people, I want to experience it on this side of the fence.

"I'll be proud to take the team out but of course I'm aware that what matters is results and starting the group well against tough opposition. I am excited."

Lampard did confirm Chelsea will be without Antonio Rudiger, N'Golo Kante and Emerson Palmieri, who are all injured, while Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James are lacking match fitness.

Lionel Messi is back in the Barcelona squad for the first time this season after recovering from a calf injury ahead of Tuesday's Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Messi suffered the injury in pre-season and has been unable to feature even as a substitute in Barca's first four LaLiga games of the 2019-20 season.

The 32-year-old returned to training last week and took part in the full session on Sunday, despite coach Ernesto Valverde suggesting prior to Saturday's 5-2 demolition of Valencia that Messi would not be fit enough to face Dortmund.

But ahead of Tuesday's Champions League opener, Messi has been named on Barca's squad list, meaning an appearance at Signal Iduna Park is a possibility.

Barca's start to the domestic season has been indifferent without Messi.

While they thrashed Valencia and Real Betis 5-2, those victories came after a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao and either side of a 2-2 draw at promoted Osasuna.

Youngsters Carles Perez and Ansu Fati have been drafted in to help alleviate Barca's injuries woes in attack during Messi's absence, and both players have impressed.

Perez has scored one goal in four outings, while 16-year-old Fati has netted twice and got an assist in just three matches.

Luis Suarez made his return to from a brief absence against Valencia and scored twice off the bench, meaning he could potentially be brought into the starting XI in Dortmund.

Once dubbed the 'German Messi', Marko Marin has found his home at boyhood club Red Star Belgrade.

Marin's European odyssey has taken him to Borussia Monchengladbach, Werder Bremen, Premier League giants Chelsea, Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht, Trabzonspor and Olympiacos.

Now, in Belgrade – less than a three-hour drive from where Marin was born in the Bosnian city of Gradiska – the 30-year-old attacker is playing a key role in restoring the global reputation of 1991 European Cup champions Red Star, having disappeared off the radar.

"Even more for me, with my childhood club because I'm a fan from a kid," Marin, a league winner with Red Star and Olympiacos, told Omnisport as he reflected on Red Star's Champions League qualification. "To play Champions League with them is even more special. It's a very nice experience to bring the Champions League back to Serbia after so many years."

Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Bosnian Serb parents in 1989, Marin – a Europa League winner with Chelsea (2013) and Sevilla (2014) moved to Germany at the age of two and 16 international caps for his new country followed.

Marin waited for calls from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia but they were not forthcoming as he opted for Germany – he was rewarded with a spot in Joachim Low's 2010 World Cup squad after impressing for Bremen.

While he represented Die Mannschaft, Marin's love for Serbian powerhouse Red Star – who snapped a 26-year drought from Europe's premier club competition last term – runs deep and a second successive season of Champions League football means a lot to the club captain.

"It's different because you play with more passion for the club," Marin said when asked about the satisfaction of qualifying. "You always give everything for the club you represent because it's your job and love football. But it's different if you play for the club you really loved as a kid.

"We have many players in the team like this. The foreign players maybe give us more quality but the main group of the team and the strength – when you grow up as a Red Star fan, many of them trained in the youth team. It's a bit different to play Champions League for Chelsea or Werder Bremen for example."

"After every game, Belgrade and Serbia is so happy and even kids outside of the country," he said. "I grew up in Germany and I was a fan of Red Star and when I went with my friends to school, you would always talk and I said that I'm a Red Star fan but they didn't really know. But now, Red Star are playing in the biggest competition in Europe. You make Red Star big again. They're getting used to it. This is a motivation.

"For sure this season, we will make some good games. Even qualifying for the group stage is a big, big success. If you compare with Manchester City, Barcelona or Real Madrid, their aim is to win the Champions League... ours is to qualify first."

Marin arrived at Red Star from Greek giants Olympiacos prior to the side's 2018-19 Champions League group-stage campaign involving eventual champions Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli.

One of the game's most promising talents a decade ago, Marin's switch from Piraeus to Belgrade last year barely made the news outside of Serbia. What could have been is a question often asked about the Bosnian-born German. But what does he think about his career?

"It's a fantastic career," Marin replied. "I played in nearly every big league for the biggest teams. When I was at Bremen, we played for the title and in the Champions League. At Chelsea, I don't have to explain how big this team is and Sevilla.

"Maybe it could be better, for sure. There are some reasons. Maybe I wasn't patient enough in some situations. Injuries didn't help to make it even bigger. But I wouldn't have this experience with Red Star if this didn't happen. I'm very happy with my career. To feel this what I feel at the moment, it's the best part of my career."

Marin, who joined Chelsea on a five-year deal from Bremen in 2012, added: "Who knows what would've happened if I stayed longer in Germany? The experience to play for Chelsea was amazing. To play alongside the best players, the professionals. [Frank] Lampard, [John] Terry – these leaders. How they train every day and the passion and quality. I saw this for the first time in Chelsea. I played before with very good players but that was another level."

Fast forward to this season and Marin's Red Star are preparing to welcome Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, 2019 Champions League runners-up Tottenham and Olympiacos to Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana – in Group B.

Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting home support in the Serbian capital, where Liverpool lost 2-0 in November – one of four defeats for last season's champions in the 2018-19 competition – as Vladan Milojevic's men eye a third-place finish.

"It's difficult for teams coming here because they don't know, they can't expect this," Marin said. "Before last season's game against Liverpool in the news conference I said you will see it's completely different. I know Anfield is amazing with a big crowd, but it's totally different to what they experienced in Belgrade. You cannot explain it.

"They go to warm-up and the stadium is already full. We were waiting to come out of this big, long tunnel that you don't have anywhere in the world. Then you go out and the stadium is exploding. It's not easy for visiting teams. We play 11 against 11 but when they feel this atmosphere, it's different.

"I hope we can challenge for third place. I'm not sure if would be a surprise if we take some points because people know us and how difficult it is to play at Marakana. Our strength is team work and it's even more so at home. Of course we have quality but the biggest strength is teamwork."

And what about the 'German Messi' tag? "I couldn't change this. It didn't come from me. We all know there's only one Messi and no one is even near him. It wasn't big pressure because I don't think they took it seriously when they compared me to Messi. He is the number one. [Cristiano] Ronaldo is another type of player. Maybe they see it as my ability maybe in one-on-one situations. I take it as a compliment but it's not a real comparison."

Real Madrid must rediscover their "hunger for success" after a disappointing 2018-19 season, according to club president Florentino Perez.

Madrid could only manage a third-place finish in LaLiga last season, as three coaches failed to provide a huge amount of inspiration.

Julen Lopetegui lasted until October, before his successor Santiago Solari was dismissed in March to allow for Zinedine Zidane's return, though they were no better under the Frenchman and finished a whopping 19 points adrift of champions Barcelona.

Madrid were also dumped out of the Champions League by Ajax in the quarter-finals having won the title for three consecutive seasons, and Perez is demanding that winning habit returns.

Speaking at Madrid's ordinary general assembly, Perez said: "This is a united club and that's our strength, the strength of 'madridismo' [Real Madrid fandom].

"We have to understand that this team had won everything there was to win in a unique and historic cycle which saw us lift 17 titles in the past nine seasons. An almost inimitable cycle.

"It's been a difficult season and we've all taken stock where necessary, because we need to turn the situation around. Don't be in any doubt that we will do just that.

"By placing great demands on ourselves, we must carry out the transformation required which will allow 'madridistas' [Madrid fans] to dream of new successes and titles.

"Our challenge is to keep winning on an international football stage which is increasingly complicated and competitive. And of course, we need to recover that hunger for success. The desire that has been a crucial factor in enjoying one of the best eras in our history."

David Alaba is set to miss the start of Bayern Munich's Champions League campaign after tearing a muscle in his left thigh.

The 27-year-old suffered the injury in the warm-up before Bayern's 1-1 draw at RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Jerome Boateng replaced him in the starting XI, with Lucas Hernandez moving to the left side of defence.

Bayern did not confirm a timeline for Alaba's return but head coach Niko Kovac will have to weigh up his options for Wednesday's home clash against Red Star Belgrade.

"Bayern will be without David Alaba for a spell after the Austria international tore a muscle in his left thigh while warming up for Saturday's top Bundesliga match away to RB Leipzig," the club confirmed in a statement.

Linked to Barcelona during the close season, Alaba started each of Bayern's opening three Bundesliga fixtures and scored in the 6-1 thrashing of Mainz last month.

The German champions remain two points behind leaders Leipzig, while Borussia Dortmund sit second.

Paco Alcacer accused "many people" of treating him badly at Barcelona ahead of a Champions League reunion with his former club.

The Spain international left Barca for Borussia Dortmund on loan at the start of last season and made the move permanent in February.

Alcacer quickly proved a hit in Germany, scoring 18 goals in his first Bundesliga campaign, and already boasts seven in all competitions this term.

That form gives the striker the chance to prove a point to those who doubted him when Barca visit Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday.

"I'll decide in the moment," Alcacer told SER Catalunya when questioned on whether he would celebrate scoring.

"I have respect for many people there. Many peopled behaved very well with me but many people behaved very badly. My team-mates and the fans treated me well.

"As in any job, if people trust you, you give your best, and if they don't trust you, you don't give it.

"It's very important for me to see those signs of trust and in the end many people did not show it."

Alcacer made 37 LaLiga appearances in his two seasons with Barca, 23 of them from the bench.

The former Valencia forward generally served as Luis Suarez's understudy in an attack containing Lionel Messi, who has yet to feature this season due to injury.

Alcacer was asked about Messi's influence at Camp Nou and said: "It's clear that a player of that level is important for the team and for the club.

"You will always ask for his opinion and listen to him.

"Hopefully he will play next weekend, against Granada, and not against us!"

Alphonse Areola is intent on making the most of his opportunity at Real Madrid as he looks to emulate his goalkeeping idol Iker Casillas.

France international Areola is on a season-long loan deal from Paris Saint-Germain to Madrid, with Keylor Navas heading in the opposite direction.

The 26-year-old is likely to back up Thibaut Courtois, who has started in Madrid's opening three LaLiga outings.

Areola acknowledged it will be a tough task to oust the Belgian as number one yet revealed the chance to join Madrid was too good to turn down, citing Los Blancos' iconic former goalkeeper Casillas as an influence on his decision.

"I have spoken to my friends and family about what it means to be number one in this side," Areola told a news conference when asked about following in Casillas' footsteps.

"Casillas was one of my idols when I was young in France, he made me want to play in goal. In fact, I've got a shirt of his from when I was young. 

"I think it's good to try and take on this responsibility to be number one and try and prove I can be number one.

"It's true, I only have one year on loan here, but I've seen the stadium, the history here and I'm going to do as much as I possibly can. 

"Of course, there's a hierarchy already but as soon as I get the chance I'm going to try and show the level I've got. 

"It was a good opportunity to come to the biggest club in the world and take advantage of that, to improve as a player and discover a new opportunity. It's a great opportunity for me."

Areola added another deciding factor in his transfer was Zinedine Zidane, with the goalkeeper honoured to be playing under a France legend.

"It is true I am coming to a club that is coached by a legend," he said. "It is an honour for me to be here with Zidane, to play under him, and I am going to do the best I can for him.

"He's given me a great welcome. My objective is to give everything I can every day in training, be ready for every game. When I have a chance to show my level, show how good I can be, I have to be strong and show what I am worth."

Areola is set to be in Zidane's squad for Saturday's meeting with Levante, before Madrid travel to Paris for a Champions League clash with his former club.

Maurizio Sarri has defended his decision to leave Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic out of Juventus' Champions League squad.

The pair were surprise omissions from the Italian champions' selection for the group stage of the competition, which begins next week with a trip to Atletico Madrid.

Can admitted to being "furious" and "shocked" at Sarri's selection call and said he was not given an explanation as to why he was overlooked.

Sarri has previously expressed concern about the size of his bloated squad and insisted at Friday's news conference that he made the "necessary" decision in leaving out Can and Mandzukic.

"It wasn't easy or pleasing to make the choices I had to for the Champions League list, but it was necessary," he said.

"I'm sorry because two important players were left out. However, these difficulties demonstrate the strength of our squad."

Asked if he expected the reaction from Can, Sarri said: "It's normal that when a player suffers from a strong and impactful choice that there's an emotional aspect involved. 

"We must give him the opportunity to let out how he is feeling. I'm of the right age to understand these kinds of reactions."

Can played the final five minutes of Germany's 2-0 win against Northern Ireland on Monday, having been an unused sub for the loss to Netherlands, and he may get the nod to start Juve's trip to Fiorentina on Saturday.

Juventus are back in action four days later when travelling to Atletico in the Champions League and Sarri is ready to make full use of his big squad.

"At this moment our attention must be on the league," he said. "Then we will think about the cup. 

"We are in a moment in which the team must take its own identity. We must fight the difficulty that is having many players who have played very little in the last period."

Among those pushing for inclusion is midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has not featured in a competitive game since arriving from Arsenal during the close season because of a muscle injury.

"A few weeks ago he was far behind his team-mates from the physical point of view," Sarri said. 

"In the last 10 days I have seen progress in training. He is not yet at his best but if his evolution continues he can soon return to a high level."

It has been a whirlwind 12 months for Milos Degenek, who played an influential role as his boyhood club Red Star Belgrade snapped a 26-year European drought last season.

Not since 1992 had Red Star qualified for Europe's premier club competition. But Degenek's looping header helped the Serbian champions to a dramatic play-off win over RB Salzburg in 2018.

In the international wilderness since soon after winning the European Cup in 1991, it awoke a sleeping giant. A memorable win over eventual champions Liverpool and an impressive draw with Napoli in a difficult group including Paris Saint-Germain whetted their appetite for Champions League football.

But after the highest of highs and bringing Red Star back to the pinnacle of European football, Degenek opted for a new challenge in January – Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al-Hilal. The 25-year-old defender played alongside Sebastian Giovinco, Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo. While it was a positive experience with one of Asia's biggest clubs in the Far East, the lure of Red Star and another Champions League campaign proved too strong.

"Playing Champions League then going to Saudi Arabia and coming back to the Champions League again, you couldn't imagine that," Degenek, who returned to Red Star on loan in July before signing a four-year contract, told Omnisport. "You dream about it and you sacrifice a lot for it to happen.

"Last year it was me that helped Red Star a lot in the qualifiers against Salzburg but it wasn't just me. It's a team effort. It's never just down to one player."

The Socceroos defender – who fled the war-torn Balkan region with his family in the 1990s, relocating to Australia – added: "I had the six months playing Champions League and then it was time for me to go to Saudi Arabia to Al Hilal, where I had a good stint. I played in the Asian Champions League and played with some unbelievable players. I had a lot of fun there, it was a good experience.

"But eventually things turned around and I ended up coming back to Red Star. I wanted European football again. I'm 25 and I believe I still have a lot to offer in Europe and I can show that to the world, that's why I'm very excited to be back. It's my home, it's the club I love."

Degenek is preparing for another Champions League campaign, this time involving Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, last season's runners-up Tottenham and Greek giants Olympiacos in Group B.

Like last season, Degenek played a big role in the play-offs. He scored a priceless goal as Red Star drew 2-2 at Young Boys before prevailing over the Swiss side on away goals last month.

"Obviously, we broke that drought last year. To do it two years in a row is something phenomenal. None of us could have dreamt that," he said. "Things like that don't come that often or easy. There was a lot of sacrifices made, a lot of difficult games and trips against big clubs. It's a testament to the club, players, fans, staff and coaching that we stuck together and achieved this unbelievable thing.

"Playing with the some of the greatest clubs in European competition with the greatest history. Obviously last season with Liverpool. Napoli and PSG don't have the greatest European tradition and history, but Liverpool does. This year again with Bayern Munich, it's something spectacular.

"Bayern are massive, Spurs are massive, Olympiacos are massive. I look forward to it. It's something I'll cherish like I did last season. Hopefully we can go one step further this season [and finish third]. With God's help and a good plan, we can achieve things. Experiences of last year can possibly help us achieve an even better run in the group stages."

"Zvezda has a rich history," Degenek added. "It's a big club, they used to be even bigger but we're getting there. We're helping the club and fans to dream again and still love the game. It's very important that we're improving every season."

Degenek and Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting support in Belgrade, where Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool lost 2-0 in November at Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana.

"It's unbelievable, [our fans] are like a 12th man on the pitch," the Australia international said of the support. "For us playing at home it's unbelievable. I don’t know if a lot of people in this world understand what it means. If you've never been out on the pitch, you never will but I guess Liverpool understood and PSG and Napoli did."

As for Stephen Warnock and the former Liverpool defender's incorrect claims that Red Star were "part-time" with "plumbers", for which he apologised after the team's Champions League qualification, Degenek is using it for motivation.

"It shows how much people don't care about us and that people think we're an unimportant team in Europe," the former 1860 Munich defender said. "That's why I'm excited and happy that we're bringing Zvezda back to the world stage. It motivates you. It's embarrassing an ex-footballer doesn't know about the 1991 European champions."

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