A youthful Liverpool side played out a 1-1 draw with Wacker Innsbruck in their first 30-minute friendly in Austria before a stronger Reds side were held to the same scoreline by Stuttgart.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and new signing Ibrahima Konate were included in the line-up for the second shortened friendly against the Bundesliga side, while fit-again Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and January signing Ben Davies featured for the younger team against Innsbruck.

Alexander-Arnold returned to the playing squad for the first time since suffering a thigh injury on England duty in June against Austria, which subsequently ruled him out of the Three Lions' Euro 2020 campaign that ended in shoot-out heartbreak to Italy.

Divock Origi opened the scoring with a spot-kick in the first game as the Belgian forward profited from a handball that came from full-back Owen Beck's cross.

But Origi's penalty was swiftly cancelled out by Ronivaldo's header past Loris Karius and that meant it was honours even between Jurgen Klopp's men and the Austrian side.

In the follow-up game against Stuttgart, Philipp Forster capped a slick move off to give Pellegrino Matarazzo's men the lead as he finished past Adrian inside the opening 10 minutes.

Liverpool, though, responded through Mane, who squeezed a shot in from close range after Kostas Tsimikas had initially got on the end of James Milner's cross.

And with neither team finding a winner inside 30 minutes, the Reds had to settle for two draws in their two run-outs at their camp in Austria.

Klopp's team next face Mainz on Friday before friendlies against Hertha Berlin, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna round off their pre-season preparations.

Real Madrid's desire to sign a new forward is not a secret.

The Spanish giants missed out on silverware in 2020-21, much to their dismay.

Carlo Ancelotti has replaced Zinedine Zidane as head coach with big expectations.

 

TOP STORY - MADRID TARGET SALAH IF MBAPPE FAILS

Ancelotti has told Real Madrid president Florentino Perez he wants to sign Liverpool's Mohamed Salah , reports Fichajes.

The Italian believes Los Blancos needs another forward, with Salah seen as his back-up plan if they fail to land Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe.

Madrid's financial situation is complicated, with the club not making any major signings in 2020-21 amid the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they appear determined to land a major forward this off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- 90min reports that Manchester United's Jesse Lingard has emerged as a target for Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, having caught Diego Simeone's eye during his loan spell at West Ham United.

- Chelsea have shopped around striker Tammy Abraham and Arsenal are interested, according to The Telegraph.

- The Athletic believes Tottenham may make a move for Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini, although he has a £26m (€30m) release clause.

-  Poor relations between Spurs and Southampton, stemming from 2020's Pierre-Emile Hjobjerg deal, may scupper a proposed move for Danny Ings, according to Standard Sport.

- Newly promoted Brentford are set to splash a club record transfer fee of £13.5m to land Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer, claims The Telegraph.

The Premier League fixture release for the 2021-22 has thrown up some intriguing opening-day clashes.

Champions Manchester City head to Tottenham, with the future of Harry Kane and speculation over which club he might be representing by August 14 still up in the air.

Arsenal are at newly promoted Brentford, while there is a familiar feel to Liverpool travelling to Championship winners Norwich City.

Manchester United v Leeds United is very much in the conversation when it comes to what might be the pick of the initial games, while Chelsea's quest to add domestic dominance to European glory begins against Crystal Palace.

Here, with help from Opta, Stats Perform looks at some of the landmark numbers thrown up by the big kick-off and who might be gunning for a piece of history this time around.

Chelsea to soar against the Eagles?

Still without a manager and facing a close season of extensive squad turnover, Palace certainly have a daunting assignment in prospect at Stamford Bridge against Thomas Tuchel's Champions League winners.

Chelsea boast the biggest opening-day win in Premier League history, a 6-0 thrashing of West Brom in August 2010.

That result replaced the previous most emphatic triumph by Liverpool, who won 6-1 away from home back in 1994. Their opponents? Crystal Palace.

Klopp and Salah send out another welcome party

For a third consecutive season, Liverpool will face a promoted team in their first match of the campaign, having thumped Norwich 4-1 at Anfield in 2019-20 before sharing a 4-3 thriller with Leeds last time around.

Mohamed Salah fired a hat-trick against Marcelo Bielsa's men – the ninth opening-day treble in the competition – and was also on target versus the Canaries.

Salah's six goals on the first weekend place him joint third in the Premier League's all-time standings, level with Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer (eight) have more matchday one goals than any other player.

Rooney's five assists leave him out in front on 13 goal involvements, ahead of Shearer and Teddy Sheringham (10).

More capital punishment from Sterling?

Alongside Salah, Raheem Sterling is the only other active Premier League star to have an opening-day hat-trick to his name, having claimed the matchball in Manchester City's 5-0 win at West Ham in 2019.

Overall, the England winger has five goals and two assists on matchday one, and Pep Guardiola's side will be looking to continue a habit of making flying starts.

City have won all of their opening day fixtures in Guardiola's previous five seasons in charge. Indeed, they have won each of their past 10 games on the opening weekend, dating back to a 4-0 triumph over newly promoted Swansea City in 2011.

However, the last time they failed to take an initial three points was in a 0-0 draw at Spurs in 2010. Additionally, in three visits to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions since its 2019 opening, City have suffered three defeats and failed to score a goal.

Gunners must keep cool to avoid Bees sting

History is to repeat itself on a historic day for Brentford. Arsenal's visit will be their first top-flight game for 74 years, since a 1-0 defeat to the Gunners in May 1947.

Thomas Frank might be able to count on ill-discipline afflicting Mikel Arteta's side if Arsenal's previous efforts are anything to go by.

No team in Premier League history has collected as many as the north London club's six opening-day red cards, one more than Charlton Athletic – a fairly remarkable return given the Addicks were relegated in 2007 and are yet to return.

Harry Kane has won the Premier League Golden Boot award for the third time in his career after edging out Mohamed Salah.

The Tottenham forward netted in the dramatic 4-2 win over Leicester City on Sunday, while Salah did not find the scoresheet as Liverpool defeated Crystal Palace 2-0.

That meant Kane emerged triumphant from a season-long battle, both players having gone into the final weekend locked on 22 goals.

Kane, who finishes the season with 23 goals from 35 games, also won the Golden boot in 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns.

Salah had won the award in 2017-18 and shared it the following season with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane.

But he falls just short of another triumph after netting 22 times from 36 top-flight matches this season.

Jamie Vardy was last season's winner but it was Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes who finished third with 18 goals.

Another Tottenham star, Son Heung-min, shares fourth place with Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford on 17.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin (16), Vardy (15), Ollie Watkins (14), Ilkay Gundogan and Alexandre Lacazette (both 13) round out the top 10.

Kane's accomplishment comes amid huge speculation over his future after he reportedly asked to leave Spurs at the end of the season.

The England captain is now one away from the record of four Golden Boots held by Arsenal great Thierry Henry, with Alan Shearer the only other player to have won it three times in the Premier League era.

Kane also had 14 assists in a fine individual season, giving him 37 total goal involvements, his best-ever return.

Liverpool's late-season charge continued as they moved into the Premier League's top four thanks to a 3-0 win away at Burnley.

The Reds claimed a fourth successive win to further boost their hopes of sealing Champions League qualification, Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Phillips getting goals either side of halt-time at Turf Moor.

Jurgen Klopp's side had needed a last-gasp winner from goalkeeper Alisson to beat West Brom on Sunday, but there was no need for any late drama this time, substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain firing in a late third.

The hard-fought result sees them leapfrog Leicester City on goal difference and means a victory on the final day at Anfield on Sunday against Crystal Palace will see them in Europe's premier club competition next season.

Liverpool had been wasteful in a first half that appeared set to end scoreless until Firmino popped up in the 43rd minute, providing the finishing touch to Andy Robertson's cut-back cross.

The Brazilian was one of those to miss a clear opportunity as the visitors too often failed to trouble full debutant Will Norris in the Burnley goal. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah were also guilty of failing to hit the target, while Thiago Alcantara dragged wide.

Phillips had seemingly missed his chance to score a maiden goal for the club when blazing over before the break, but he made no mistake when getting his head on the end of Mane's inviting cross seven minutes into the second half.

The defender used his head to good effect inside his own penalty area as Burnley pushed hard for a response, retreating onto the line to prevent James Tarkowski's set-piece header going in.

Instead, it was Liverpool who grabbed the third goal of the game, Oxlade-Chamberlain thrashing in a left-footed drive just seven minutes after coming on as Norris was beaten at the near post.

Champions League qualification is all that is left to be settled in the Premier League, and there was another huge twist on Sunday.

With Liverpool heading for what could have been a costly draw at relegated West Brom, an unlikely hero cropped up in the form of goalkeeper Alisson.

Before Alisson's heroics at the Hawthorns, Crystal Palace overcame Aston Villa, Tottenham kept on their push for a European finish by beating Wolves, while Everton's dismal home form continued with what Carlo Ancelotti labelled an "embarrassing" defeat to lowly Sheffield United in the late game.

Using Opta data, we take a look at the best facts from across Sunday's games.

Crystal Palace 3-2 Aston Villa: Mitchell completes Eagles comeback

Sunday kicked-off with what turned out to be a five-goal thriller – Palace coming from behind twice to win 3-2. Villa have lost four of their last seven Premier League matches when scoring first (W1 D2). Prior to this, they had won 12 of their first 13 league matches this season after netting the game's opening goal.

Palace scored three goals in a Premier League match for the first time since their 5-1 win over West Brom in December, while they did so at Selhurst Park for the first time since beating Leeds United 4-1 in November.

There were 42 attempts at goal in this match (23 for Palace, 19 for Villa), with only Manchester United's 6-2 defeat of Leeds seeing more in a Premier League game this season (43).

Tyrick Mitchell became Palace's youngest top-flight scorer (21y 257d) since Clinton Morrison in May 1998 against Sheffield Wednesday (18y 361d), while he is the youngest to score and assist in a Premier League game for the club since George Ndah in January 1995 against Leicester (20y 22d).

Mitchell scored the winner after teeing up Christian Benteke – only Olivier Giroud (32) has scored more headed Premier League goals than the Belgian (31) since the start of 2012-13.

John McGinn and Anwar El Ghazi netted for Villa, but Wilfried Zaha's 11th goal of the season, his most in a single top-flight campaign, levelled the scores before Mitchell's winner.

Tottenham 2-0 Wolves: Kane keeps on golden boot charge as Spurs aim for Europe

Harry Kane struck as Tottenham moved into the top six with a 2-0 win over Wolves. Kane has now scored 22 goals and provided 13 assists in the league this season – the only players who can better his 35 goal involvements in Europe's top five leagues are Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi.

Kane has also hit the woodwork nine times in the Premier League this season, the most since Kevin De Bruyne in 2016-17 (also nine). Since full shot data is available for the Premier League (2003-04), the only player to hit the woodwork more in a season is Robin van Persie in 2011-12 (10).

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg set up Kane's opener and then got Spurs' second just after the hour, scoring and assisting in a Premier League game for the first time in his 145th appearance.

Tottenham have now won each of their first three home league matches under Ryan Mason, making him the first Spurs boss to do so since Harry Redknapp in November 2008.

Meanwhile, since winning three of their first five away games in the Premier League in 2020-21, Wolves have only won two of 13 on the road in the competition (D5 L6).

West Brom 1-2 Liverpool: Alisson makes Reds history

Liverpool's Champions League chances were hanging by a thread as they won a late corner at the Hawthorns, but the most unlikely hero rescued three points.

In Liverpool's entire history since they were founded in 1892, Alisson is the first goalkeeper to ever score a competitive goal for the club, after he headed in Trent Alexander-Arnold's delivery.

His goal was Liverpool's latest Premier League away winner (94:18) since Benteke vs Crystal Palace in March 2016 (95:10), while the Brazilian scored the very first headed goal by a goalkeeper since the formation of the competition in 1992.

Hal Robson-Kanu put West Brom ahead with his first Premier League goal since November 2017, the Welshman having last started a top-flight game in December of that year.

Mohamed Salah equalised with an excellent first-time finish, his 125th goal for Liverpool in all competitions, and he is still level with Spurs' Kane in the race for the golden boot.

Liverpool have now won six of their last eight Premier League games (D2), the same number as they registered in their 19 top-flight games beforehand (W6 D5 L8), and with Chelsea and Leicester City meeting this week, the Reds are in a strong position to snatch a Champions League spot.

Everton 0-1 Sheffield United: Toffees' European hopes fall flat

European qualification may be finally beyond Everton now after they suffered their ninth home defeat of the campaign – their joint-worst total in a league season, alongside 1912-13, 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1993-94.

Bottom club Sheffield United picked up only a second win from their past 24 away league outings (D3 L19), and ended a run of seven straight Premier League defeats on the road since beating Manchester United 2-1 in January.

Only Fulham (four) have earned fewer home points in the Premier League in 2021 so far than Everton's tally of six (P11 W1 D3 L7), with the Toffees' one win the joint-fewest on home soil in the competition this calendar year (level with Burnley and Fulham).

Daniel Jebbison (17y 309d) marked his full Premier League debut with the winner, the teenager becoming the youngest player to ever score on his first start in the competition, breaking Danny Cadamarteri's (17y 343d) record set for Everton against Barnsley in September 1997, which was also scored at Goodison Park.

Jebbison is also the youngest player to score a match-winning goal in a Premier League game since Federico Macheda (17y 232d) in April 2009.

Manchester City will have to wait to get their hands on a third Premier League title in four years after they fell to a 2-1 home defeat against Chelsea on Saturday.

Sergio Aguero in particular will want to forget the game in a hurry after a failed Panenka attempt, which he later apologised for on social media.

Liverpool kept their first home clean sheet in nine top-flight games as they overcame Southampton 2-0, while Leeds United cruised past Tottenham 3-1 at Elland Road.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, Crystal Palace inflicted yet more misery on Sheffield United, running out 2-0 winners at Bramall Lane.

Stats Perform News uses Opta data to take a look at the best facts from the four games.


Manchester City 1-2 Chelsea: Aguer-woe for leaders as Blues hit back

City suffered more penalty woe as they missed the chance to be crowned Premier League champions.

It had started well for the hosts, however, with Raheem Sterling giving them the lead with his 10th Premier League goal of the campaign. The England international has now reached that total in four successive seasons, with only Aguero (nine) hitting double figures more regularly in the competition for City.

Aguero should have doubled their advantage before the interval, but his woeful Panenka attempt from the spot was comfortably gathered by Edouard Mendy. City have now failed to score more penalties (four) than any other side in the Premier League this season, while they are the first to miss at least four spot-kicks in consecutive top-flight seasons since Tottenham in 1993-94 and 1994-95.

Hakim Ziyech made the most of that reprieve, levelling with his first Premier League goal in 18 appearances since scoring against Burnley in October.

There was worse to come for Pep Guardiola, who has now lost four home league games this season – twice as many as he had lost in any other campaign in his managerial career.

At 91 minutes and 54 seconds, Marcos Alonso's scuffed finish was the latest winning goal scored by the visitors in a Premier League game at City since Paul Scholes for Manchester United in April 2010 (92:41).

Liverpool 2-0 Southampton: Mane helps sink former employers

Liverpool kept their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League alive with victory at Anfield in the late kick-off.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring in the first half with his second goal in three Premier League games, having found the net just once in his previous 14 outings in the competition before that.

He was teed up by Mohamed Salah, marking the first time the pair have combined for a top-flight goal this season.

Thiago Alcantara added a second in the 90th minute to become the 140th player to score a Premier League goal for Liverpool, though the first to get off the mark for the Reds from outside the box since Divock Origi in December 2015.

Southampton, meanwhile, have now earned just 11 points from their 18 Premier League games in 2021, fewer than any other side this calendar year.

Leeds United 3-1 Tottenham: VAR bars Kane as Spurs suffer

Leeds' superb record against the Premier League's 'big six' continued.

Marcelo Bielsa's side became the first to remain unbeaten at home in the top flight against each of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs in a season since West Ham in 2015-16, and only the third newly promoted team to do so, after Ipswich Town in 2000-01 and Birmingham City in 2009-10.

Stuart Dallas broke the deadlock to become the first Northern Ireland player to score as many as eight Premier League goals in a season since Chris Brunt in 2008-09.

Son Heung-min equalised for the visitors, but Patrick Bamford restored Leeds' advantage to move onto 22 Premier League goal involvements this term (15 goals, seven assists). Harry Kane is the only Englishman to have been involved in more (34).

Rodrigo then added a third late on as Spurs suffered a fifth defeat in 10 top-flight away games in 2021 – more than they experienced in the entirety of 2020.

Sheffield United 0-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke helps Eagles deal with blunt Blades

After a run of three consecutive defeats, Palace could not have wished for more accommodating opponents than the already relegated Blades.

Christian Benteke opened the scoring after just 66 seconds, registering the club’s earliest Premier League goal since James McArthur's strike against Everton in November 2017 (51 seconds).

Benteke has now scored more goals this season (seven in 27 appearances) than he managed in his previous three Premier League campaigns combined (six in 71).

Eberechi Eze continued his impressive season with a second late on. Only Wilfried Zaha (12) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals for Palace this season than Eze (four goals, five assists), while no Eagles player has laid on more goals than the former Queens Park Rangers man.

The result meant United have failed to score in 20 matches within a single league season for the first time in their history, while in terms of the Premier League, only Derby County in 2007-08 (22), Leeds United in 1996-97 (21) and Huddersfield Town in 2017-18 (21) have failed to score in more games in a single campaign.

Neymar's long-term commitment to Paris Saint-Germain has been in question at times. 

A return to Barcelona had been rumoured. 

Now the Brazil international is set to stay in the French capital.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR TO FINALISE PSG EXTENSION

Neymar is set to sign a new contract with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain this weekend, L'Equipe reports.

The four-year extension will be worth €30million (£26m) per season and run through 2026, nearly a decade after he arrived from Camp Nou for a record €220m fee. 

The signing would come days after a report that Barcelona approached PSG about Neymar, but the French club insisted he was not for sale. 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea are casting a wide net to bolster their attack, with Bild reporting Mohamed Salah is on Thomas Tuchel's shortlist along with Erling Haaland and Romelu Lukaku

- Zinedine Zidane may return to Juventus as head coach after Real Madrid's Champions League exit, Tuttosport reports, adding that the Real Madrid boss also is considering taking some time away from the sport. 

Georginio Wijnaldum's Liverpool deal expires in June and the midfielder could be on the way to Bayern Munich, Sport1 reports. 

- Memphis Depay remains a top target for Barcelona, but the Spanish giants could turn to Donyell Malen of PSV if they cannot land the Lyon star. 

- Marca claims Eden Hazard is on the way out at Real Madrid, with Los Blancos ready to listen to offers for the forward. 

- Jan Oblak could be moving to the Premier League this summer, with ESPN saying Manchester United are among the potential destinations for the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper. 

- Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard will sign for Leicester City, Teamtalk reported. The 23-year-old also has drawn inquiries from West Ham and Liverpool

- Aston Villa will offer £15million for Burnley's Dwight McNeil, Football Insider reported. McNeil is under contract through 2024. 

As we head into the decisive matchdays in the Premier League season, match-winners will become worth their weight in gold to all 20 sides in the division.

With that in mind, our latest suggestions for fantasy football enthusiasts include a good number of forwards who will be expected to chip in with goals.

There are also two of the league's most in-form defenders and a goalkeeper who might just have won himself the number one spot.

Our tips for this week – powered by Opta, as always – are below...
 

DEAN HENDERSON

Since taking over Premier League duties while David de Gea was in Spain for the birth of his daughter, Dean Henderson has made it clear he does not intend to relinquish the Manchester United starting spot.

The former Sheffield United loanee has the best save percentage (82.4) in the competition this season, while he has conceded just 0.6 goals per game on average – the best rate of any keeper to play at least 200 minutes.

Henderson will likely keep his spot for the trip to Aston Villa, a team who have beaten United just once in their previous 44 Premier League meetings.

BEN CHILWELL

Fresh from celebrating reaching the Champions League final, Ben Chilwell will be looking to keep up his strong league form for Chelsea.

The left-back has been directly involved in seven goals this season (two scored, five assisted) – no defender in the competition has been involved in more.

Expect him to provide his customary threat on the break when Chelsea take on Manchester City.

AARON WAN-BISSAKA

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer challenged Aaron Wan-Bissaka to improve his attacking output, and the tough-tackling right-back appears to have heeded the call.

Three of his four goal involvements (75 per cent) and 21 of his 26 chances created (81 per cent) have come since the turn of the year.

The United man also boasts 13 Premier League clean sheets this season; among defenders, he is behind only Ruben Dias and Matt Targett (14).

MOHAMED SALAH

Liverpool might have struggled for consistency this season, but Mohamed Salah's goal output has remained impressively high; he has 20 in the league, behind only Harry Kane (21).

On Saturday, he will meet some of his favourite opposition in Southampton, a team against whom he has scored seven goals in seven league appearances, including five in three at Anfield.

Saints have also lost their past three league games away to Liverpool by an aggregate score of 10-0.

GARETH BALE

With a hat-trick against relegated Sheffield United, Gareth Bale proved he could still be a vital asset in Tottenham's European chase.

Bale has scored nine goals in 727 minutes in the division this season, averaging a goal every 81 minutes, which is the best record in the competition in 2020-21.

Should he take his tally to 10 against Leeds United, Bale will set a new record for the longest gap between 10-goal seasons in Premier League history (eight), overtaking Paul Scholes and Nwankwo Kanu (seven).

MASON GREENWOOD

Mason Greenwood has recaptured some of his better form in recent weeks to help United... well, if not catch Manchester City, at least consolidate second place.

The forward has four goals and one assist in his most recent four league games, which is more direct goal involvements than he managed in his previous 28 appearances.

Solskjaer will likely have to rotate given the hectic week ahead, but expect Greenwood to be involved at Villa Park, even if it's as a substitute.

KELECHI IHEANACHO

Speaking of rediscovering form, nobody in the league has done so quite as spectacularly in recent weeks as Kelechi Iheanacho.

The Leicester City striker has scored nine goals and assisted two in his most recent eight league appearances – that's one more direct goal involvement than he managed in his previous 57 league games.

The Foxes are also on a run of eight wins in 10 league games against Friday's opponents Newcastle United.

Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka have earned the top 2021 prizes at the Laureus World Sports Awards, while Patrick Mahomes, Lewis Hamilton and Mohamed Salah were all also recognised.

Tennis dominated the individual honours as Nadal collected a fourth award, named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for the second time.

The Spaniard, who has also previously taken the 2006 Breakthrough Award and the 2014 Comeback Award, was selected after winning the French Open to tie Roger Federer's record of 20 grand slam titles.

Nadal, who said he "can't be happier", added: "Winning the French Open and equalling the 20th grand slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment.

"It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It's something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court."

Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Osaka, the 2019 Breakthrough winner, claimed a second US Open triumph while supporting the 'Black Lives Matter' movement.

"I think it is important to use my voice, because, for me, I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it," the Japanese superstar said.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Mahomes won the Super Bowl last year and played in the big game again earlier in 2021, making him the latest Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award winner.

He and Formula One great Hamilton both joined Osaka in demonstrations against racial inequality.

Two-time Laureus winner Hamilton got his hands on the Athlete Advocate of the Year Award and said: "This past year has been incredibly difficult for so many, but it has also been heartening to see the power of our collective voices spark new conversations and change.

"The impact of each and every one of you who have stood up, is so inspiring, so I want to thank you. Please keep fighting, keep shining your light."

Liverpool's Salah supported a number of causes and led the Reds to Premier League glory, receiving the Laureus Sporting Inspiration Award, but Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga were the World Team of the Year for the second time.

Nadal and Osaka were not the only tennis stars to have their name called, as Billie Jean King took the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award.

Will Lionel Messi commit to Barcelona or move on? 

The Argentine is out of contract in June and suitors are swirling. 

Paris Saint-Germain appear poised to make a bid. 

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MESSI BID

PSG are prepared to offer Messi an "unbeatable" contract to make a sensational move from Barca, according to a report from TNT Sports. 

The report claims the Ligue 1 outfit will offer Messi a two-year deal with an option for a third year. 

The club will attempt to convince Messi that joining PSG will give him more chances to win titles. 

 

ROUND-UP 

- Jurgen Klopp could turn to his former club for a boost if Mohamed Salah leaves Liverpool, as Bild reports a bid for Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho a possibility for the Reds. Manchester United also are eyeing Sancho after a failed move for him last year.

- United also remain interested in reuniting Erling Haaland with Ole Gunner Solskjaer, according to the Telegraph. Haaland, now with Dortmund, played for Solskjaer as a teenager at Molde. 

- Tottenham are looking at a pair of options in the shape of Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro and Fulham centre-back Joachim Andersen, according to the Daily Mail. 

- Juventus centre back Mathhijs de Ligt could be headed to Barcelona, reports Sport, which also says Villarreal goalkeeper Marc Vidal is a possibility for the Camp Nou club. 

Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund are preparing for home quarter-final legs knowing only victories will give them a chance of reaching the Champions League last four.

Jurgen Klopp's side were beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the Spanish capital last week, the scoreline matching that of the 2018 final, when Zinedine Zidane won the trophy for the third year running.

Of course, the Reds have history of famous Anfield comebacks, most notably two years ago when Barcelona were stunned on Merseyside after winning the semi-final first leg 3-0.

Dortmund are also in need of a spirited display. Marco Reus' away goal gave them a foothold in the tie against Manchester City, but a late winner from Phil Foden at the Etihad Stadium means the Premier League leaders have the advantage.

Still, if Dortmund repeat the result of the last time they hosted City in this competition, they will be going through...

 

Liverpool v Real Madrid (1-3 on aggregate): History on Zidane's side

Liverpool's unforgettable 4-0 win over Barcelona was one of two instances out of a possible 11 where they have progressed in a knockout tie after losing the first leg by two or more goals.

They beat Madrid by the same scoreline in March 2009 at Anfield, but Los Blancos' most recent visit to Merseyside ended in a 3-0 win in October 2014. They are now on a run of four consecutive wins over Liverpool.

Given Madrid have scored in each of their previous 23 Champions League knockout games, and the fact they have won 15 of the past 16 ties where they won the first leg by at least two goals, they would appear to be in a very strong position.

If Liverpool are to produce another turnaround, Mohamed Salah will almost certainly be key. His goal in the first leg means he has scored in each of his previous four appearances in the competition, and he could become only the second Liverpool player – after Steven Gerrard in 2007-08 – to do so in five.

Luka Modric is also chasing a small slice of history. The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner has provided an assist in three Champions League games in a row; since at least 2003-04, no Madrid player has ever managed to set up a goal in four consecutive games in this competition.

Borussia Dortmund v Manchester City (1-2 on aggregate): Haaland the main threat to Guardiola's record

Pep Guardiola lost three of his first five meetings with Borussia Dortmund but is unbeaten in his most recent seven, while City have only failed to progress twice in 15 European knockout ties after winning the first leg.

However, Guardiola endured the most recent of those eliminations, with Monaco upsetting City in his first season in charge in 2016-17. In fact, in Champions League history, the team to win the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated (15 times) more often than they have progressed (12).

It really could be a game of fine margins. If Dortmund repeat the scoreline from their only previous home game against City in December 2012 (1-0), that will be enough to send them through. However, City have kept clean sheets in four consecutive away games in the competition; another on Wednesday will guarantee their semi-final spot and see them become the first side to record shutouts in five games in a row since Manchester United a decade ago.

Inevitably, all eyes will be on Erling Haaland. The Norway star has only failed to score in three of his 15 Champions League appearances and has never drawn a blank at home for Dortmund, hitting seven in just four games.

Haaland has been tipped to replace Sergio Aguero at City next season, but this could be a chance for the Argentina striker to underline his legacy: a goal here will take him to 37 in the competition, the most of any player for a Premier League club. Aguero likes Bundesliga opposition, too: 11 of his 36 goals have come against sides from Germany, more than he has managed against teams from any other nation.

Where will Kylian Mbappe be playing next season is a question being asked across Europe.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Should Mbappe depart Paris, PSG are reportedly drawing up a list of replacements.

 

TOP STORY – KANE AND SALAH WANTED IN PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain have set their sights on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as possible replacements for Kylian Mbappe, according to Telefoot.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though PSG remain in negotiations over a contract extension.

While PSG are still hopeful, the Ligue 1 holders are eyeing the Premier League should Mbappe leave the French capital.

Kane is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Manchester City, while Salah has previously been linked with Madrid and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are chasing Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. The Sun adds Chelsea are also interested in the Italy star.

Juventus and PSG could exchange Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in a swap deal, says Corriere dello Sport. Icardi's future is up in the air, despite only joining PSG permanently from Inter last year, while countryman Dybala is reportedly nearing an exit.

- AS Diario claims United are keeping tabs on Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, who has also been linked with neighbours City. United have also been credited with interest in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig's Liverpool target Ibrahima Konate as well as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane.

- Eintracht Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter is set to replace outgoing boss Marco Rose at Borussia Monchengladbach, reports Kicker. Rose is poised to take charge of Borussia Dortmund.

Liverpool left it late to secure a first Premier League win at home in 2021, with Trent Alexander-Arnold's superb stoppage-time strike downing Aston Villa 2-1 at Anfield.

The Reds rallied from a goal down to secure three crucial points in terms of the top-four battle, while the result is also a timely boost with a Champions League second leg against Real Madrid coming up in midweek.

Ollie Watkins – who scored a hat-trick in a stunning 7-2 win for his side when Liverpool visited Villa Park early in the season - gave the visitors a half-time advantage on Merseyside, his left-footed shot squeezing underneath Alisson.

Roberto Firmino had a potential equaliser ruled out by the video assistant referee before the interval, but Mohamed Salah scored the Reds' first home goal from open play in the league in 765 minutes to level early in the second half.

Liverpool had a let-off when Trezeguet hit the post but, with England boss Gareth Southgate watching on, Alexander-Arnold collected a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and curled in a late winner.

It's June 25, 2020. Thousands of Liverpool fans have ignored government advice as they gather at Anfield for a very special occasion – the celebration of a first league title in 30 years.

Despite it looking a certainty for months, many Reds fans hadn't allowed themselves to be drawn in by the hysteria too early for fear of more heartache, but Chelsea's 2-1 win over Manchester City in London meant they had to wait no longer.

In the period between their two most recent top-flight titles – the last one coming even before the establishment of the Premier League – bitter rivals Manchester United lifted the trophy no fewer than 13 times.

But the title win was made even more significant by the manner of it, their dominance leaving everyone else well behind in the dust. Clinching the trophy with seven games to spare was a new record.

As fans clambered over the gates outside the Kop End and set off fireworks near the stadium, many – supporter or not – will have looked at those scenes and felt it was an image the rest would have to get used to, such had been Liverpool's consistency over the previous two years.

Yet, here we are in April 2021, approaching the Premier League's final straight with the defending champions looking hard-pressed to even finish in the top four.

A foreshadowing?

When Jurgen Klopp announced his decision to leave Borussia Dortmund in 2015, there was an initial sense of shock that was soon offset by the feeling it was perhaps to be expected. It was a testing season, and although a late upturn after the announcement saw them qualify for Europe, there was no getting away from the fact they had under-achieved.

While it was certainly not the only problem, one major issue for Klopp that season was injuries – at the time, it was estimated Dortmund's first-team players missed over 1,600 days due to injuries or illness.

As a base for comparison, Sky Sports claimed in early March that Liverpool players had lost just over 1,000 days to illness or injury this term. Granted, such data is difficult to nail down because exact timeframes aren't always confirmed by the clubs, however it does at least highlight a similarity.

Of course, another key component with regards to 2014-15 at Dortmund was the fact they lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich. Not only did he score 20 Bundesliga goals the previous season, the Poland striker helped knit their play together in the final third. Without him, so much changed in their attack.

Four Dortmund players scored nine or more Bundesliga goals in 2013-14, but only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – tasked with stepping up in Lewandowski's absence – managed this in 2014-15. Even then, his haul of 16 was only a personal improvement of three.

With key players frequently missing and new arrivals, such as Ciro Immobile, struggling to fit in, it's perhaps no wonder Dortmund's conversion rate dropped from 13 per cent to 8.3 – the only occasion it went below 11 per cent for Klopp at the club.

A common theory for his demise at Dortmund was the idea that Klopp had run the team into the ground after several years of playing high-intensity football, which subsequently led to more muscular injuries.

Dortmund engaged in 14.4 pressed sequences – defined as instances where the opponent has three or fewer passes in a sequence and it ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game in each of Klopp's final two seasons, but his Liverpool side this term averages 18.9 each match, up slightly from 18 in 2019-20. This highlights the quality of the Reds' pressing style, but it also shows a significant increase in intensity even from his Dortmund days.

Although the correlation is difficult to prove conclusively, links between high-intensity football styles and muscle injuries are nothing new. If this was partly to blame for Dortmund's increased absences list, then Liverpool's situation – given their even greater intensity – appears comparable.

But while it's impossible to ignore Liverpool's injury situation, to suggest that's where their issues end would seemingly be false.

Below the usual standards

Of course, as Klopp has pointed out before, unplanned absences can have significant knock-on effects throughout the team.

So, the fact Virgil van Dijk has been out since October won't have just impacted Liverpool's defensive solidity, but it will have changed how they play out from the back and subsequently affected the midfield because the likes of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have had to fill in away from their usual roles.

However, where Liverpool seem to have had the most issues in 2020-21 compared to last season is actually in attack, with their goals-per-game average decreasing from 2.2 to 1.65.

Having converted 14.4 per cent of their shots in 2019-20, they are now netting at a rate of 11.1 percent – only in Klopp's first season at Anfield have the Reds recorded worse in a full campaign (10.8).

It's not as if Liverpool are having significantly fewer shots either, as they are averaging 15 every 90 minutes as opposed to 15.5 last term, however, some potential explainers do appear when you look a little closer at those shots.

Liverpool are trying their luck from outside the box more often (5.1 per game, up from 4.6) and getting fewer away inside the area than before (9.9, down from 11). On top of this, they have had just nine (0.31 per game) shots from fast breaks in 2020-21, less than half as often as either 2019-20 (0.73) and 2018-19 (0.63).

This all suggests the opposition is sitting deeper against Liverpool than before, restricting space better and limiting the options of Klopp's men in attack – the fact they're having more long-range attempts could be a sign of collective frustration, or a lack of invention.

Supporting the idea teams are sitting off Liverpool a little more is the fact they are averaging 191.7 passes in the final third each game. This figure was 180.9 in 2019-20 and 173.8 the year before – opponents are seemingly happier to absorb pressure, more confident that Klopp's side are unable to break them down.

This potentially goes some way to explaining why Sadio Mane has had a less fruitful season in front of goal, as his xG maps for this term and last show he's not having as much of an impact in the six-yard box.

He has only scored one Premier League goal in this part of the area during 2020-21, whereas last season he scored four, suggesting he possessed something of a poacher's instinct as well as a knack for the spectacular.

While his haul of seven goals is by no means dreadful, it's 3.3 lower than his xG value, showing he's missing good-quality chances on a more regular basis than he'd be expected. By comparison, in 2020-21 he overperformed his xG by 4.3 (18 goals, 13.7 xG) and the year before he boasted a 6.9 xG differential (22 goals, 15.1 xG).

This means that, while he was living up to his abilities as an elite-level chance-taker for the past two years, this term he appears to be struggling to adapt to his surroundings, with defences packed a little tighter.

With Mohamed Salah, however, there's been a slight change in the other direction in that his non-penalty xG of nine is actually less than the 11 non-penalty goals he's scored – in 2019-20 he had a negative 0.8 xG differential (16 goals, 16.8 xG).

As such, Salah appears to be handling the changes better than Mane despite opposition setups also causing him to think differently about his shots. Again, xG maps show the Egyptian isn't able to get as many high-xG shots off from the centre of the area, instead being forced slightly more towards the right, yet he's still netting with fine frequency.

Working smarter to restore pride

Whether Salah's outperforming of xG is sustainable or not is another matter, and one only time can tell, though Liverpool will likely need even more from him to prevent their season finishing with a whimper.

Similarly, Mane rediscovering his best form would be a major boost, and that appears to hinge on him dealing better with less space or getting on the end of more deliveries into the danger zone.

Liverpool's lengthy injury list has undoubtedly had some impact in 2020-21, yet it also seems clear they could work smarter in light of opponents approaching their fixtures slightly differently.

Upcoming games against Arsenal and Real Madrid could potentially provide the tonic given neither is likely to set up particularly defensively, and this might play into the hands of Mane.

A make-or-break week is on the horizon – defeat to the Gunners could leave the Reds eight points adrift of fourth, while losing in Madrid will likely ruin their Champions League hopes.

As people clamour to proclaim Liverpool the worst Premier League champions ever, it's time to restore a little dignity.

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