Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp hailed Lionel Messi as "probably the best player I have seen in my life" but thinks Virgil van Dijk should have been awarded the Ballon d'Or.

Barcelona superstar Messi the prestigious honour for a record sixth time on Monday, with organisers France Football declaring his seven-point margin over Van Dijk to be one of the narrowest in the award's 63-year history.

The Barcelona captain finished top of the count with 686 points, just ahead of Van Dijk's 679.

While recognising Messi as the greatest player of his generation, Klopp feels Van Dijk should have been rewarded with the prize for his stellar contribution to Liverpool's Champions League win last season.

He told a media conference: "The decisions are made by journalists, right? I see it slightly different. Lionel Messi is probably the best player I have seen in my life, but last season I cannot remember a more impressive season by a defender ever.

"It would have been right if Virgil had won as well. We won the Champions League and he had an outstanding season."

Van Dijk is likely to line up at the heart of Liverpool's defence for the Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield on Wednesday.

Monday's FA Cup third-round draw conjured up the exact same fixture for the first week of January, with Klopp revealing he would have preferred an easier tie to kick off their cup campaign.

"I didn't run through my living room and celebrate," he said. "It's not exactly what you wish for, but we have no problem playing Everton. It's a big game against big opponents. Obviously, we start the hard way. We cannot change that and we have time to prepare for that Everton game after this one."

Klopp confirmed Liverpool have no new injury concerns for Wednesday's game but says Joel Matip has still not recovered from a knee injury, which has kept him out since the 1-1 draw with Manchester United on October 20.

"Joel needs a bit more time," he explained. "It's healing but not exactly what we wish for."

Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham will be given "every possible chance" to make his return against Aston Villa on Wednesday, Frank Lampard has said. 

The 22-year-old came off at half-time of the Champions League draw with Valencia on November 27 with a hip injury.

As a result, he missed the 1-0 home defeat to West Ham at the weekend when the Blues failed to score in the Premier League for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.

However, they could have their top scorer back when they host Villa, the club he spent last season on loan with.

"We're giving him every possible chance to be fit," Lampard said at a pre-match news conference.

"He's still got some pain in the area of the injury, [we will] make a judgement tomorrow.

"It's painful for him, so it's a pain threshold and whether it affects his movements. So I wouldn't want to commit today.

"He was in good form and with players that are important, you want to give them as much time.

"He's keen and we're trying our best to give him time, but if he's not ready we have to go in a different route anyway."


Midfielder Ross Barkley is likely to miss out again, though, with the England international having not played for Chelsea in almost two months due to an ankle injury.

The 25-year-old's comeback has been delayed due to illness, while defender Antonio Rudiger is still not ready to return from a groin problem.

"Ross has actually been sick," Lampard added.

"He was ill Sunday night, so he was in this morning but he's not recovered enough to be ready for the game.

"Rudiger is close, he's really stepped up his training, particularly in the last week.

"So we're hoping he'll be available in the next week to 10 days."

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho anticipates a warm reception from Manchester United supporters on Wednesday but says his time at the club is a "closed chapter".

Mourinho was sacked by United in December 2018 after a two-and-a-half-year spell in which he guided the club to EFL Cup and Europa League triumphs.

The Portuguese returned to management on November 20, taking over at Tottenham just a day after Mauricio Pochettino was dismissed by the north London outfit.

He has masterminded three consecutive wins across all competitions since his appointment and takes his resurgent side to United in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Mourinho – who has returned to Old Trafford as a television pundit this season – looks back fondly on his time at the club but says his focus is now solely on Tottenham.

"This is a closed chapter for me," he told a media conference. "I left the club and took my time to process everything that happened.

"I took my time to prepare myself for the next challenge. Honestly, Manchester United for me now is in my book of experiences; it's in my history book.

"I feel good. I like to play big matches; I like to play against the best teams and that is the most important thing. Going back to Old Trafford is to go back to a place where I was happy. I can say that I was happy. I have a great relationship with Manchester United supporters.

"I went back as a pundit, which is a different perspective. I was really humbled by such a beautiful reception.

"On Wednesday, I go back as the coach of the team that is going is try to beat Manchester United and that maybe gives a different perspective."

Tottenham have confirmed goalkeepers Hugo Lloris and Michel Vorm remain out with elbow and calf injuries respectively, while Ben Davies (ankle) and Erik Lamela (hamstring) will also miss the trip to United.

Lionel Messi beat Virgil van Dijk to the 2019 Ballon d'Or by a slender seven-point margin, the award's organisers have confirmed.

France Football declared Messi's record sixth victory to be among the narrowest in the 63-year history of the prestigious prize.

The Barcelona captain finished top of the count with 686 points, just ahead of Liverpool defender Van Dijk's 679.

Third-placed Cristiano Ronaldo, who did not attend Monday's ceremony, tallied 476 points, 210 fewer than long-time rival Messi.

Sadio Mane, fourth on 347 points, was the only other player to exceed the 200-mark.

"The history of the award has had tighter scores, but the number of voting journalists - 176 this year - was [in the past] much smaller," read a post on France Football's website.

Runner-up Van Dijk praised Messi's "unnatural" ability and said he had complete respect for the 32-year-old.

When asked about five-time winner Ronaldo's absence, he joked: "Was he a candidate?"

Ronaldo's sister, singer Katia Aveiro, failed to see the funny side of the light-hearted comment, firing back at the Dutchman in a lengthy Instagram rant.

"Now, dear Virgil, where you are going, Cristiano Ronaldo has gone and has come a thousand times," she wrote.

"You see, my dear Virgil, that Cristiano Ronaldo was a three-time champion in the country where you have been playing for years and you still haven't got your hand on the trophy.

"Cristiano Ronaldo was even the best player and best scorer in the country where you play Virgil. By the way, he was even younger than you. Then, dear Virgil, Cristiano Ronaldo went to other places and became the greatest player in the history of a club... this club, with this Cristiano guy, even beat you in the Champions League final.

"Of these [Ballons d'Or], Ronaldo already has five, Virgil."

2019 Ballon d'Or points

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - 686
2. Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) - 679
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) - 476
4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) - 347
5. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) - 178
6. Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain) - 89
7. Alisson (Liverpool) - 67
8. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) - 44
9. Bernardo Silva (Manchester City) - 41
10. Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) - 33

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is confident Jose Mourinho will receive a warm reception from Manchester United supporters when he takes his Tottenham side to Old Trafford on Wednesday.

The Portuguese returns to United as a manager for the first time since being sacked by the Red Devils in December 2018.

He was appointed Tottenham boss on November 20 – just a day after Mauricio Pochettino's dismissal – and has steered his new side to three consecutive wins across all competitions.

Mourinho guided United to EFL Cup and Europa League triumphs during his two-and-a-half years in charge and Solskjaer has no doubts he will be well received on his return.

The Norwegian told a media conference: "[He will receive a] very good reception; that's just a testament to this club and these supporters.

"Of course, they remember the two-and-a-half years when he won trophies. So, for me, I'm 100 per cent sure our fans, staff and club will welcome him."

United have endured a difficult start to the campaign and are languishing in ninth after just four wins from their opening 14 games.

Solskjaer acknowledges his side must improve but does not think his players need the motivation of playing against their former boss to get back to winning ways.

"I don't think whoever the manager of the opposition team is will change [the players'] motivation," he added.

"They're motivated to do well for Manchester United, for themselves, for us as a group going forward. They also know it's about improving every day in training, but every time you step onto that pitch, it's a chance to be a part of this long-term.

"And that's always been the case at Manchester United when you put the shirt on; it doesn't matter who you play against, you've got to give it your all. The boys are a bit disappointed after Sunday [when they drew 2-2 with Aston Villa] but now it's all eyes on Wednesday."

Paul Pogba will not be fit for Manchester United's much-anticipated Premier League match against Tottenham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.

Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford on Wednesday as his improving Spurs side seek to secure a fourth successive win in all competitions.

United had hoped star midfielder Pogba would be ready for the marquee encounter but the France international has not sufficiently recovered from an ankle injury.

Scott McTominay, who also has an ankle problem, and the experienced Nemanja Matic are considered "touch and go" for the midweek fixture, which precedes Saturday's trip to the Etihad Stadium for the derby against Manchester City.

"Paul's not ready, no," Solskjaer said at his pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

"He's still a bit away but he's working hard. He's out on the grass, so let's see how long it will take."

As for McTominay and Matic, Solskjaer said: "They're touch and go. Let's get this training session out of the way. We've got more games than this one, so of course I can't look at just the one game. We have got to look at the long term.

"I don't want to talk about all the injuries we've had but when you get Scott back, when you get Paul back, we have been light in midfield with three out for such a long time and that's affected us."

Solskjaer has been unable to call on Pogba since the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the end of September.

United have won five of 12 matches in all competitions since then and none of their past three, increasing the pressure on their Norwegian manager.

Premier League bosses Unai Emery, Mauricio Pochettino and Quique Sanchez Flores have all lost their jobs in recent times but Solskjaer denied being worried about his own circumstances.

"No, it doesn't make me more concerned, I’m just focusing on my job and that's doing as well as I can, looking forward to the next game, looking long-term to plan things with the board," he said.

"It's that time of year. It's never nice to see your colleagues lose their jobs in a very short space of time... sometimes you have luck, sometimes you don’t. But it doesn't make me any more concerned that it is December."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has insisted his organisation is not blind to the scourge of racism and will implement stronger sanctions on clubs and countries.

European football has been marred by a string of ugly episodes this season, from the monkey noises aimed at Inter striker Romelu Lukaku in a Serie A game against Cagliari to the racist abuse England players suffered during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria.

Brescia striker Mario Balotelli and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Taison both resorted to kicking balls into the stands in separate incidents in Italy and Ukraine last month.

Anti-discrimination body Kick It Out characterised the €75,000 fine handed out to the Bulgarian Football Union as symptomatic of UEFA's weak deterrents and Ceferin admitted more must be done.

He told The Mirror: "I understand that the players are desperate because of the punishments and the incidents that are happening again and again.

"Of course you want say [to UEFA]: 'Go to hell!' I know. But I am not so naive to think that we've done all we can and now everything is finished. We haven't.

"We are trying and we care. We are not just some guys in Nyon sitting eating fancy food and driving Ferraris.

"We are ready to listen to criticism. Every week there is something - not just since Bulgaria, not since England, not since Cagliari. We've been listening.

"Every week we hear about some s*** happening around Europe. And we speak.

"I went recently to the European Union. We speak with governments. We are trying to do something."

Ceferin pledged to investigate avenues for tougher penalties and said UEFA will address its own imbalances.

"Our disciplinary committee and other committees should be more and more diverse," he said.

"We have to bring black members in and we have to bring in more women.

"I agree that sanctions will have to be harsher and harsher. And I'm sure we will. I cannot tell you more but we will rethink all the disciplinary regulation and diversity in the disciplinarian gravity.

"In the future, one of the governing bodies where this happens will have to have severe sanctions, I know."

But the Slovenian administrator stopped short of agreeing to competition bans, saying: "I know we have to do more. But tell me which club was thrown out of the Premier League? And you have incidents almost every week. Also in Italy.

"The media attention is their oxygen."

Real Madrid have made Fabian Ruiz their top transfer target.

According to reports, "negotiations have accelerated" as the Spanish heavyweights aim to take advantage of the disarray at Napoli.

But the midfielder also has high-profile admirers in England and France.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STEP UP FABIAN INTEREST

Napoli midfielder Fabian is a man in demand.

Madrid appear to be in pole position, with Cadena SER claiming the Spanish giants are "very serious" about taking the 23-year-old to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Negotiations over a contract extension at Napoli are said to have stopped and the Spain international is reportedly warm to the idea of joining up with Zinedine Zidane's side.

However, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain could look to force a three-way bidding war for the Spain international, who has previously been linked to Barcelona.

ROUND-UP

- Ex-Valencia head coach Marcelino has emerged as a left-field managerial candidate for Arsenal and Everton, according to the Daily Mail. The 54-year-old lost his job at the Mestalla in September following a reported falling out with owner Peter Lim.

- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fears he will be sacked if Manchester United lose their next two games against Tottenham and bitter rivals City, says The Sun.

- Former Premier League striker-turned-reporter Jan Aage Fjortoft claims Liverpool are favourites to land Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho – but the winger will cost the Premier League leaders €130million.

- Chelsea have offered little-used striker Olivier Giroud to Serie A sides Milan and Inter, according to CalcioMercato.

Barcelona are keeping tabs on 16-year-old PSG midfielder Edouard Michut, reports Le Parisien.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain believes Liverpool's mindset has been key to their Premier League dominance so far this season.

Jurgen Klopp's men are eight points clear at the top through 14 games, having won 13 and drawn one.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, 26, said Liverpool's belief made everything else easier, as they prepare for the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Wednesday.

"The mindset that I'm in when we go into a game is that I'm going into it with the mindset that we're going to win. I think that's how we all feel," the midfielder told UK media, via The Telegraph.

"We're going into the games expecting ourselves to win and anything else we're disappointed.

"There's times in my career where I definitely haven't gone into all games 100 per cent confident that the team's going to come away winning, but with this team, I have that sort of belief in us.

"If we're on our A-game that's how I think we should come out of games. Obviously it might not happen every time but when you're going into games with that sort of mindset and belief it simplifies everything else."

Liverpool are unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions ahead of the Merseyside derby, before they visit Bournemouth on Saturday.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson has said he is "honoured" to have written his name in football history after being awarded the Yachine Trophy at the 2019 Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris.

The Brazil international capped a memorable year for club and country by becoming the first person to win the accolade, given to the best keeper in the world over the past 12 months.

He won the Champions League with Liverpool in June and the Copa America with Brazil the following month, while also claiming the Golden Glove in the Premier League last season with 21 clean sheets.

Having seen off competition from Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ederson of Manchester City to come out on top, Alisson was quick to thank his team-mates for their help.

"I'm so honoured to win this prize," he told reporters. "I believe that, beyond receiving this trophy, there's the fact of being the first one in the history. 

"I guess I wrote my name in football history. Not only me but with the help of God, my family, my team-mates - this is always very important to say. I'm so honoured to be here tonight along with great players."

Alisson ranked seventh in the main Ballon d'Or award, which was won by Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi for a record sixth time.

Pep Guardiola is happy with his Manchester City squad and says he will not delve into the transfer market in January.

The reigning Premier League champions are enduring a difficult defence of their title this season and are already 11 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool after just 14 games.

Guardiola, however, says he will not be forced into bringing in new players next month, citing the refusal of clubs to part with key players midway through the season.

Speaking ahead of City's Premier League visit to Burnley on Tuesday, Guardiola said: "I don't want any players in January. When they come for an incredible opportunity in January for the next four, five or six years maybe we could think about it, but that is not possible.

"Normally, the players we think could be interesting and add something to our squad, their clubs are not going to sell."

While Guardiola looks set to keep his powder dry in January, he is likely to bring in new faces ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, with David Silva's impending departure already confirmed and Fernandinho's future yet to be resolved.

Fernandinho's contract expires at the end of the season and Guardiola says they will not make a decision on the Brazil international before then.

Asked if he would like Fernandinho to stay, Guardiola said: "I think we are going to decide at the end of the season what the situation is for the players who have finished their contracts.

"We will then decide what we have to do or what is best for the club for the next season."

Guardiola refuted suggestions that he faces a rebuilding job at the end of the campaign, suggesting the squad will instead only require some minor tweaks.

"Well, we don't have to rebuild too much," he added. "Three players [Kompany last season, Silva and Fernandinho] does not mean you rebuild the team.

"Rebuilding the team is when you have seven or eight, like we did in the second season when seven players finished their contracts. Buying two or three players is not rebuilding; it's just substituting positions."

Virgil van Dijk conceded he had to "respect greatness" after losing out on the 2019 Ballon d'Or to Lionel Messi.

Barcelona and Argentina forward Messi won the prize for a record sixth time having scored 41 times in 44 club appearances for Barcelona, with whom he won a 10th LaLiga title last season.

Success in the Champions League eluded him, though, as Van Dijk helped Liverpool oust Barcelona in the semi-finals en route to a sixth triumph in Europe's most premier club competition.

Van Dijk's performances for the Reds in that competition and with Nations League finalists Netherlands ensured he finished second in the voting for the Ballon d'Or, though he had no qualms about being pipped to the prize by Messi.

"It was amazing," Van Dijk said of his 2019.

"Unfortunately there are a couple of players like him that are a bit unnatural, I think.

"They're fantastic. Six-time Ballon d'Or [winner], you need to respect greatness as well. I was close but there was just someone a little bit better.

"I'm very proud of what I achieved last year with Liverpool, Holland and hopefully we can do that again this year.

"It's going to be tough as long as these guys are around still."

While Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who finished third in the voting, have long been considered greats, 28-year-old Van Dijk has had a slower rise to the top.

The former Groningen, Celtic and Southampton defender only won his first international cap four years ago and thinks the recognition he has recently received is a reflection of his attitude.

"I never thought that I would be up for a Ballon d'Or until I was actually nominated," Van Dijk added.

"It says a lot about how my career has been. It's never been easy. My career is just different to the winner here.

"I came late but I never gave up on my dreams. I had to work hard every step of the way. Where I am right now is something I'm very proud of."

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson has been crowned the first ever winner of the Yachine Trophy at 2019 Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris.

The 27-year-old beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ederson to be crowned the best keeper in the world.

Alisson played a crucial role in Liverpool's Champions League success and started six times for Brazil in their triumphant Copa America campaign.

He also won the Golden Glove in the Premier League last season with 21 clean sheets as the Reds fell just short of Manchester City in the title race.

Barcelona keeper Ter Stegen finished second in the voting, while Alisson's compatriot Ederson was third.

Kepa Arrizabalaga, Hugo Lloris, Jan Oblak, Samir Handanovic, Manuel Neuer, Andre Onana and Wojciech Szczesny were also in the running for the inaugural award.

Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt has been named as the winner of the 2019 Kopa Trophy at this year's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

Awarded to the best player in the world under the age of 21, De Ligt inherits the award from France and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

De Ligt has enjoyed a sensational 2019, guiding Ajax to the Eredivise title and the semi-final of the Champions League, where they ultimately suffered a last-gasp defeat to Tottenham.

His stunning form for the Dutch side led to a reported €75million move to Juventus in July, with the Serie A champions seeing off competition from a number of European rivals for his signature.

The 20-year-old has made 15 appearances across all competitions for Maurizio Sarri's side this season, scoring one goal.

Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt has been named as the winner of the 2019 Kopa Trophy at this year's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

Awarded to the best player in the world under the age of 21, De Ligt inherits the award from France and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

De Ligt has enjoyed a sensational 2019, guiding Ajax to the Eredivise title and the semi-final of the Champions League, where they ultimately suffered a last-gasp defeat to Tottenham.

His stunning form for the Dutch side led to a reported €75million move to Juventus in July, with the Serie A champions seeing off competition from a number of European rivals for his signature.

The 20-year-old has made 15 appearances across all competitions for Maurizio Sarri's side this season, scoring one goal.

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