Thibaut Courtois does not believe he is given enough recognition for his performances at Real Madrid in comparison to his time at Atletico Madrid.

After a difficult start to his Madrid career upon joining from Chelsea in 2018, Courtois has been one of Los Blancos' most consistent performers over the past two seasons.

He has kept 11 clean sheets in LaLiga this term – only Atletico's Jan Oblak has more with 12 – while no keeper has more shutouts (29) in the competition since the start of 2019-20, level with Oblak.

Courtois has been regularly praised by boss Zinedine Zidane for his game-saving heroics, but the 28-year-old does not believe his achievements are fully appreciated by everyone, particularly in his homeland.

The Belgium international, who spent three seasons with Atletico before joining Chelsea and then Madrid, told HLN: "I had three fantastic years at Atletico. I received praise from all over Belgium. I became Sportsman of the Year and I thought it was good.

"Today I have the feeling that everything I do has become normal. My performance in that game against Real Valladolid, I think, seemed like it didn't exist.

"It seems that continuing to play at a high level at the biggest club in the world is no longer worth the effort."

Courtois initially struggled to hold down a place in Madrid's starting line-up amid repeated criticism in his debut campaign at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But he helped Los Blancos to the LaLiga title last season and produced a number of fine saves in his side's penalty shoot-out win against Atletico in the Supercopa de Espana final.

However, Courtois was pipped to HNL's prestigious 'Best Belgian Player Abroad' award in 2019-20 by Inter striker Romelu Lukaku – a decision he admits was difficult to accept.

"When you see where I've come from at Real Madrid... I survived a tsunami there," said Courtois, who is expected to start for Madrid against former side Atleti on Sunday.

"In 2020 I won the Supercopa with a decisive save in the shoot-out. And then I read from analysts: 'Courtois deserves the Belgian of the Year trophy less than Lukaku, because he was always with the national team while Courtois withdrew a few times'.

"I can understand that Lukaku was given the award for Best Belgian Abroad, but I also deserved it. I was also not nominated for Athlete of the Year. 

"It's ridiculous. In fact, I feel more appreciation in Spain, and also outside of Spain, than in Belgium."

Jadon Sancho can be compared to Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi with his performances for Borussia Dortmund, according to former Germany international goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

After a slow start to the campaign amid talk of a move to Manchester United falling through, Sancho's form has picked up of late and he is on course to hit double figures for goals and assists for the third Bundesliga season running.

The England international last week registered his 50th assist in the German top flight, becoming the youngest ever player to do so in what was his 99th appearance in the competition.

Sancho has now been directly involved in 12 Bundesliga goals in 2021 - six goals and six assists - which is behind only Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski (11 goals and two assists).

In Europe's top five leagues, Barcelona forward Messi (15) is the only other player to have been directly involved in more goals this calendar year than Sancho, who is level with Atalanta's Luis Muriel.

Lehmann has been impressed by the 20-year-old's form and has backed the youngster, as well as compatriot and BVB team-mate Jude Bellingham, to remain in the Bundesliga, despite ongoing talk of a possible move to the Premier League.

"He's done very well," Lehmann told the Daily Star. "Right now his stats can be compared to Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski, and I think the third best in the whole of Europe. It's fantastic for English football."

Asked about the future of Sancho and Bellingham, Lehmann said: "Right now, I think they're staying. Most of the big clubs have full squads anyway.

"You'd have to be really, really outstanding if a bigger club tries to get you. But if you can imagine a club like Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City, there is already 30 or 35 players plus the players on loan.

"It's not that easy to make a decision for guys like Bellingham and Sancho at this early stage in their careers. Would they add something? We're not sure, but first of all they need to decrease their own squad size."

Sancho, who scored the winning goal for Dortmund in their DFB-Pokal win at Borussia Monchengladbach on Tuesday, is a major doubt for this weekend's Der Klassiker showdown with Bayern due to a leg injury.

Karim Benzema has revealed how Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has allowed him to take on a different role in Real Madrid's attack.

The Frenchman has scored a goal every 1.7 games across all competitions in the two-and-a-half seasons since Ronaldo made a €100million switch to Juventus.

But in their nine campaigns together at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benzema was instead finding the back of the net once every 2.2 games.

And the 33-year-old has now acknowledged that he had to sacrifice certain parts of his game for Ronaldo's benefit - not that he has any regrets over the matter.

"Cristiano's departure allowed me to play a different role. He scored 50 goals every year and you had to adapt to his game," he told El Pais.

"He is one of the best in the world and I was happy by his side."

Nine of the 18 trophies Benzema has won in his 12 years in Madrid have come during the two separate managerial stints of Zinedine Zidane.

Of his compatriot, he added: "He is an older brother for me, he is always there to advise me."

In a wide-ranging interview, Benzema also opened up on his boyhood sporting heroes, explaining: "In football, it's Ronaldo, the Brazilian. 

"I admire [Mike] Tyson because we both came from the bottom and we went up little by little. We never had it easy, nor did they give us anything."

He also discussed his upbringing, adding: "I come from a neighbourhood where things were difficult. When I saw older boys well-dressed and with nice cars, what I wanted was to be like them.

"Money makes things a lot easier, but you don't need millions to be happy."

Ansu Fati has been advised to stay humble by Barcelona great Lionel Messi, who the teenager would love to see alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in a five-a-side dream team.

Spain international Fati has made a huge impact at Camp Nou since bursting onto the scene in August 2019, setting a number of records along the way before being struck down by a knee injury that has ruled him out since November.

Fati is Barca's youngest ever goalscorer, the youngest player to score and provide an assist in a single LaLiga game, the youngest Camp Nou goalscorer and the youngest player to score in a Champions League game.

Many have compared the 18-year-old's rise to stardom as being similar to that of Messi, who has gone on to win a record six Ballons d'Or across his 17 seasons in Barca's first team.

And La Masia product Fati, who has been nominated for the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year award, has been given guidance by Messi over the past 18 months.

"What advice has he given me? I try to transmit the same humility as he does. Despite all he has done, he is a very simple man, and the advice he gives is always about keeping your feet on the ground," Fati said, talking to Barcelona's official website.

"It is a dream to play with the best player in the world and learn from him in training."

Fati did not name Messi as his role model - that honour instead went to brother Braima - but he did pick the Argentina international in his fantasy side, along with a group of former Barca stars and ex-Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Asked to select five players, Fati said: "That would be Víctor Valdes, [Carles] Puyol, Xavi or Iniesta, Messi and Cristiano."

Fati is not expected to return for Barcelona until the start of next season, at which point he may be joined by fellow academy product Eric Garcia, who looks set to return to the club from Manchester City.

Garcia spent close to a decade in the Catalan giants' academy set-up and Fati has named the 20-year-old centre-back as his best team-mate.

"We have grown up together from a young age," Fati said. "We've played together and he helped me get better.

"He was very hard to dribble past, and we've been 'at war' since we were kids. We've also played together for Spain - we were always dreaming of this as kids."

Ronald Koeman insists he was not sending a message to Antoine Griezmann by leaving the misfiring forward on the bench for Barcelona's 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Griezmann has gone six games without a goal in all competitions and was named among the Barca substitutes for the second match running on Saturday.

Unlike in the 3-0 win over Elche in midweek, the France international was not brought on as Koeman instead turned to Martin Braithwaite with the game poised at 1-0.

Explaining his decision to bring on Braithwaite instead of Griezmann for the final eight minutes, Koeman said: "It's not a message, no. 

"We decided to change the system and, to be able to get in behind, we put Dembele up top. 

"With the first goal, we said that we needed someone quicker than Griezmann on [Lionel] Messi's side. It's not a punishment."

Dembele opened the scoring just short of the half-hour mark at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan and Messi sealed the victory with his 30th goal against Sevilla in LaLiga - his best return against any opponent.

Barca's win was their ninth in 10 LaLiga outings and leaves them two points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a couple of games in hand.

The Catalan giants face Sevilla again on Wednesday at Camp Nou, where they will be looking to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie.

And after overcoming the Europa League winners in the league, Koeman is hopeful of a repeat scoreline when the teams reconvene in Catalonia.

"Of course we believe," he said. "That's our mentality, but Wednesday's game will be different because they will analyse the mistakes they made. 

"But yes, of course, we have a chance. I don't want to give more importance to the Copa game. We have to win and we have to fight. We will try to stay in all competitions until the end."

The victory may have come at a cost for Barcelona, however, as Gerard Pique and replacement Ronald Araujo - only just back from an ankle injury - both sustained knocks.

Pedri also left the field in the final 20 minutes after injuring his leg and will be assessed on Sunday, with all three players now doubtful for the cup tie against Sevilla.

"We have to wait and see about the injuries, we still don't know," Koeman said. 

"But despite the changes we had to make we kept the same rhythm because we have a deep squad that doesn't get annoyed [when not playing]."

Diego Simeone made no excuses after Atletico Madrid slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Levante and urged his side to respond to a first home loss since December 2019.

Atleti could have gone nine points clear at the top of LaLiga with a victory, but their 22-match unbeaten top-flight run at the Wanda Metropolitano was brought to a halt on Saturday.

A deflected first-half strike from Jose Luis Morales put Levante in front and Jorge de Frutos sealed a shock win right at the end when he found an empty net from long range with Jan Oblak up for a corner.

Real Madrid can cut their city rivals' advantage to only three points, albeit having played a game more, in the title race if they beat Real Valladolid later in the day.

Atleti had been held to a 1-1 draw at Levante three days earlier and endured more frustration at the hands of the same opponents, with Luis Suarez hitting the post with a stunning free-kick and Lucas Torreira having a goal ruled out.

Simeone says there is no need to reach for the panic button after watching his side lose in LaLiga for only the second time this season.

The Atleti boss said: "I'm not looking for excuses. Coaches have to find solutions. In the second half we did it and we have to be the ones who help the players who are out there.

"Championships are always the same, everyone has moments of difficulties. Those who are strong in the bad moments are the one who achieve their goals."

The former Argentina midfielder added: "When you look for a goal it is important to get there, it is wonderful.

"There are obstacles. It is logical to find obstacles and then when you achieve the goal you enjoy it much more."

There were positives for Simeone, as Moussa Dembele made his debut off the bench and Thomas Lemar returned after recovering from coronavirus.

However, Jose Gimenez was withdrawn with a muscular injury three days before Atleti face Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Jose Luis Morales and Jorge de Frutos were on target as Levante consigned LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid to a first home defeat since December 2019 in a shock 2-0 win on Saturday.

Atleti were held to a 1-1 draw at Levante in midweek and their title hopes suffered a big setback against the same opponents three days later.

Morales' 12th goal of the season in the first half and Frutos' effort on the counter-attack at the death ended the leaders' run of 22 LaLiga games without defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano, giving second-placed Real Madrid the chance to reduce their advantage to only three points by beating Real Valladolid later on Saturday.

Luis Suarez struck the post with a stunning free-kick and Lucas Torreira had a goal ruled out as Diego Simeone's side raised their game in the second half, but suffered only a second loss of the season in the top flight.

Morales wasted a glorious chance to give Levante an early lead when he put a left-footed finish just wide of the far post after racing clear.

Suarez stung the palms of Levante goalkeeper Daniel Cardenas, but Atleti were punished for some slack defending when they fell behind on the half-hour mark.

Geoffrey Kondogbia was too casual when attempting to get hold of a loose ball in the penalty area and Morales capitalised, finding the back of the net with a right-footed strike that deflected off Mario Hermoso to give Jan Oblak no chance.

Ruben Rochina could have laid on a second for Morales, but his poor pass let a vulnerable looking Atleti defence off the hook before the break.

Thomas Lemar made his return early in the second half after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Jose Gimenez, before Suarez rattled the post with a magnificent long-range free-kick.

Atleti were throwing everything at Levante and Cardenas denied Joao Felix from close range before Torreira had a goal ruled out due to a push from Suarez.

Joao Felix's rasping drive was straight at Cardenas as Simeone's men continued to knock at the door.

Lemar’s left-footed volley was superbly saved by Cardenas and Suarez blazed high and wide before de Frutos rubbed salt in Atleti’s wounds right at the end, surging down the right wing and finding an empty net from a long way out with Oblak up in search of an equaliser.

Lyon have confirmed that Moussa Dembele has joined Atletico Madrid on loan with a view to a permanent move and the Ligue 1 leaders have signed Islam Slimani from Leicester City on a free transfer. 

The former France Under-21 international has joined the LaLiga leaders for a fee of €1.5million until the end of the season, when Atletico will have the option to buy him outright for an initial €33.5m.

Atletico are said to have concentrated all efforts on Dembele after having a bid rejected for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik, with Diego Costa's mutual contract termination at the end of December leaving space for another striker.

Dembele has long been linked with some of Europe's biggest clubs and will supplement Atletico's already formidable attacking options that include Luis Suarez and Joao Felix.

Algeria striker Slimani arrived at Lyon on Wednesday on an 18-month contract to bolster their forward line as they battle for the Ligue 1 title.

Dembele came through the ranks at Fulham after leaving Paris Saint-Germain as a teenager, and his form there secured him a move to Celtic.

He scored 26 league goals across two seasons in Scotland and won six trophies, before leaving for Lyon in a reported €22m deal in 2018.

He hit double figures for goals in each of his first two Ligue 1 campaigns, while his 24 in 46 across all competitions in 2019-20 made him comfortably their leading goalscorer with nine more than Memphis Depay, though the Dutchman missed a chunk of the season through injury.

However, 2020-21 has been a tough one for Dembele, who scored just once in 16 league games for Lyon, with Depay, Karl Toko Ekambi and Tino Kadewere proving more dependable for Rudi Garcia.

While Dembele's shooting accuracy has only seen a slight dip this term from 52 per cent to 47.6, his conversion rate has slumped dramatically.

In the 2019-20 Ligue 1 season, the striker converted 32 per cent of his shots attempted (excluding blocks), a figure only Mauro Icardi (37.5), Wissam Ben Yedder (35.3) and Kasper Dolberg (34.4) could better among players to record at least 30 shots.

 

He has already missed more Opta-defined 'big chances' (eight) than he did across the entirety the previous top-flight campaign (five) as well, averaging just over one per 90 minutes – his worst across a season for Lyon was 0.7 each game in 2018-19.

Real Madrid prospect Takefusa Kubo has joined Getafe on loan until the end of the season after ending a similar deal with Villarreal.

The 19-year-old was expected to spend the entire 2020-21 campaign with the Yellow Submarine after signing a season-long deal in August.

However, he had made just two La Liga starts by the turn of the year - a fact that, according to Villarreal coach Unai Emery, contributed to the Japan international instigating an early end to the clubs' temporary agreement.

The Spanish champions have now looked to ensure Kubo gets adequate playing time between now and the season's end by agreeing a new loan deal with neighbours Getafe.

Jose Bordalas' side sit in a perilous position in the Spanish top-flight, with just one point separating them from the relegation zone.

It will be hoped that Kubo, who enjoyed a more productive loan spell at Real Mallorca last term, can prove the catalyst for a move up the table.

His fine form in 2019-20 was ultimately insufficient in this regard as Mallorca suffered relegation despite Kubo chipping in with four goals and four assists.

He impressed with his brave and direct play on the ball, which was reflected by the fact he attempted 140 dribbles in LaLiga, a number bettered by only four players including Lionel Messi.

Kubo has at least tried to bring a similar quality to Villarreal, with his 5.6 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes the 14th highest figure among all players to have featured at least seven times this term.

But his efforts did not translate into regular starts for Unai Emery's men.

Rudi Garcia says it is vital Lyon replace Moussa Dembele if the striker joins Atletico Madrid.

LaLiga leaders Atleti are reportedly closing in on signing Dembele on loan for the rest of the season following Diego Costa's departure.

The former Celtic frontman scored 24 goals last season but has found the back of the net just once in the current Ligue 1 campaign and is currently sidelined after suffering a broken arm last month.

Lyon head coach Garcia does not want the 24-year-old to leave the Ligue 1 club, but expects to be given the green light to go into the transfer market if he does move to the Spanish capital.

Garcia said: "He is an important player. We prefer to keep him, but we would need to replace players who leave, Moussa included if that is the case. It is logical."

Although Dembele was expected to be out until February, Garcia says he may be cleared to return earlier.

"Usually the type of injury he had means he could not play for six weeks. I think it was on the 22nd of December before we played Nantes [when he suffered the injury], so there is still time," he said.

"It is always all about what the doctor says and also the surgeon who performed surgery on him. Let's see if it could be less. We will see how Moussa reacts."

Barcelona midfielder Carles Alena has joined Getafe on loan for the remainder of the campaign.

The Barca academy product spent the second half of 2019-20 on loan with Real Betis and has struggled to establish himself under Ronald Koeman since returning ahead of this season.

Alena has made five appearances in LaLiga and the Champions League this term, just one of those coming from the start.

Koeman confirmed on Tuesday that Alena was close to departing Camp Nou on a temporary basis after Getafe president Angel Torres had revealed his side's interest.

Barca announced on their official website on Wednesday that the deal had gone through, with Getafe to pick up the player's wages in full until he returns to Catalonia.

Alena has played 43 times for Barcelona in total since making his first-team debut in the 2016-17 campaign.

Including his spell on loan with Betis last season, the 23-year-old has three goals and zero assists across 43 LaLiga outings, the first of those coming against Granada on April 2, 2017.

He may only have created one big chance for team-mates in that time, but the Spain Under-21s international ranks highly in terms of passes in the opposition half, averaging 47.45 per 90 minutes.

That places him behind only eight players who have featured at least 16 times across that period.

Lionel Messi will make his 500th LaLiga appearance for Barcelona in Sunday's meeting with Huesca after returning to Ronald Koeman's starting line-up.

Messi missed Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Eibar after he was given an extended break over Christmas to nurse an ankle problem.

However, Koeman confirmed on Saturday that the 33-year-old had trained on December 30 and 31, and Messi has subsequently returned to Barca's starting XI for a landmark outing at Estadio El Alcoraz.

Messi's 500 league appearances for Barca is five short of the club-record held by Xavi, who also holds the record for all-time appearances for the Blaugrana with 767. 

Xavi's total is 17 more than Messi's current tally of 750, including Sunday's game.

The record for the most matches ever played in LaLiga is held by former goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, with 662 games under his belt for Athletic Club, Barca and Valencia.

Barca make the trip to Huesca unbeaten in five league matches, but they have drawn two of their last three and enter the game 13 points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid.

Messi was directly involved in four goals in his only previous LaLiga game against Huesca, scoring twice and providing two assists in September 2018.

Lionel Messi's wages are not sustainable but the superstar forward can be persuaded to stay at Barcelona with a sporting project that appeals to him, according to presidential candidate Emili Rousaud.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was unsuccessful in his attempt to leave Camp Nou ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, but he is now free to discuss an end-of-season transfer with clubs after entering the final six months of his contract.

He was strongly tipped to reunite with former boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, while Inter and Paris Saint-Germain – now coached by fellow Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino – have also been linked.

But while reiterating Messi will have to take a pay cut if he is to stay on at Barca beyond this season, Rousaud has outlined his plan to tempt the one-club man to put pen to paper on fresh terms.

"He did not want to leave the club for economic reasons. It was down to the lack of a sports project," Rousaud told Sport.

"I will look him in the eyes and say: 'Your salary is unsustainable, the club cannot pay you. But we are going to launch a project to surround you with young talent'.

Despite Barca's financial concerns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Rousaud has previously outlined his intention to bring in prolific striker Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund if he succeeds Josep Maria Bartomeu in this month's elections.

Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe is another possible target and Rousaud believes the prestige of playing for Barcelona could give the LaLiga giants an advantage in the transfer market.

"The market prices in which the players move now are not those of two years ago," he said. "In addition, Barca has something very important: a shirt that has a lot of weight in the world. But off course, we will not stretch the arm more than the sleeve.

"My advisor Josep Maria Minguella has spoken with [Haaland's agent] Mino Raiola to find out the conditions in which he would come and we have started talking. 

"For a player like him, being in a club like ours would give him a great showcase worldwide."

Rousaud has also vowed to attempt to bring Neymar back to Catalonia should he be elected, despite the Brazilian forward leaving Barca for PSG under a cloud that has since seen him embroiled in a court battle over an alleged breach of contract.

However, rather than condemning Neymar for leaving the club for a record €222million fee in 2017, Rousaud feels Barca only have themselves to blame for wasting the money on two players who have been blighted by injury problems.

"The money left by Neymar was invested in two players: [Philippe] Coutinho and [Ousmane] Dembele, who have not given the expected sporting result," he said. 

"And since they didn't work, we signed others. And since we no longer have cash, we started to get into debt.

"They say that Neymar humiliated us. I respect that opinion, but it left us €222million. If with that money we had signed Mbappe, maybe we wouldn't talk about Neymar anymore."

Kieran Trippier's 10-week suspension for betting offences has been put on hold by FIFA following an appeal by Atletico Madrid.

The defender was issued a ban and a fine of £70,000 on December 23 after the Football Association found him guilty of four of seven alleged breaches of rule E8(1)(b).

The regulation states: "Where a participant provides to any other person any information relating to football which the participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time, the participant shall be in breach of this rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting."

Trippier, who denied the charges, was facing the prospect of missing 14 Atletico games up until February 28, a run that includes the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea.

However, the 30-year-old England international will be free to play again while the appeal process continues.

A FIFA spokesperson confirmed on Sunday: "Following the appeal and, specifically, the request for provisional measures lodged by the club Atletico Madrid, the FIFA Appeal Committee has approved to stay the extension of the suspension against Kieran Trippier until the procedure is over before the FIFA Appeal Committee."

Trippier will miss Sunday's game between Atleti and Deportivo Alaves after being left out of the squad.

The former Tottenham man has played in 19 matches in all competitions this season for the LaLiga title-hopefuls, who are a point behind Real Madrid at the top of the table but with three games in hand.

The date of January 1 is typically the time for New Year's resolutions but for some footballers in Europe's top five leagues it signals the day they can plot a lucrative move to a new club.

A number of top players, including Barcelona's Lionel Messi, are out of contract at the end of the 2021 season and from the start of the year are free to open talks with other teams.

Messi, of course, will be the one that takes the limelight but there are some other big-name players who will be free to leave their clubs for nothing in six months.

Here's the best players (and a couple of pretty good second choices) who are out of contract in 2021 and make up a free transfers XI.

FREE TRANSFERS XI (4-3-3)

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Marko Dmitrovic)
The youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Italy – at 17 years and 189 days – has now matured into one of Serie A's most consistent performers between the sticks. The 21-year-old has been key to Milan's surge to the top of the table with four clean sheets in the league so far this season.

RB: Elseid Hysaj (Kenny Lala)
Comfortable on both the right and left flanks the versatile Albanian full-back, 26, has been a dependable, and largely unsung, part of Napoli's defence since 2015. He may lack the eye-catching assists of attacking defenders but Hysaj uses the ball intelligently in possession.

CB: Eric Garcia (Shkodran Mustafi)
A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy he joined Manchester City in 2017 where Pep Guardiola has been influential in his development. Blessed with an excellent reading of the game, and a superb positional sense, the 19-year-old has rejected a new contract at City and appears hungry for regular first-team football elsewhere.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Jerome Boateng)
The knees might be creaking at the age of 34, but the Real Madrid and Spain centre-back's mix of bloody-minded determination and charismatic leadership make him an asset to nearly any defence despite being at the back end of his career.

LB: David Alaba (Romain Saiss)
Able to operate in defence or midfield the 28-year-old Austria international has spent a decade as one of Bayern Munich's most consistent and reliable players. With nine Bundesliga and two Champions League winners' medals under his belt he has bucketloads of experience at the top level.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum (Hakan Calhanoglu)
The Dutch midfielder has been converted by Jurgen Klopp from a goalscoring attacker into an intelligent midfield workaholic integral to Liverpool's style of play. Largely unheralded, he is man for the big occasion as his two goals in Liverpool's famous 4-0 comeback win over Barcelona demonstrate.

CM: Fernandinho (Mesut Ozil)
He turns 36 next May, and may lack the bite of old, but the Brazilian still has a lot to offer either as an efficient defensive midfielder or classy centre-back. Another player whose influence and quality may only be fully appreciated by City when he has actually left the club.

CM: Luka Modric (Julian Draxler)
A cultured and experienced midfield playmaker who, despite his diminutive frame, still oozes class whenever he is on the ball. Part of the furniture at Real Madrid since 2012 the 35-year-old Croatian looks like he still has plenty of years at the top ahead of him provided injuries do not take their toll.

RF: Lionel Messi (Florian Thauvin, Lucas Vazquez)
Should he stay or should he go? The transfer saga of 2020 looks set to dominate much of 2021 as well. Barcelona's greatest ever player needs no introduction. Since his debut in October 2004, Barca have won 55.9 per cent of their LaLiga games without Messi (won 66, drawn 39 and lost 22), compared to 73.7 per cent with him in the side (won 368, drawn 83 and lost 48).

CF: Sergio Aguero (Olivier Giroud, Arkadiusz Milik, Diego Costa)
Injury problems appear to be catching up with the 32-year-old Manchester City striker. On his day, there are few better natural finishers around. Aguero has more hat-tricks (12) than anyone else in the Premier League and is the highest non-English scorer in the history of the competition with 180 goals.

LF: Memphis Depay (Angel Di Maria)
A pitiful return of just two league goals in 33 appearances saw him jettisoned by Manchester United in 2017 but since then Depay has rebuilt his career and started to flourish. The Dutch forward has a respectable 62 goals in 154 appearances for Lyon in Ligue 1 and aged 26 is about to hit his peak.

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