Kylian Mbappe claimed it is a "big lie" to say players do not care about winning the Ballon d'Or as he named Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane as his main rivals for this year's award.

Mbappe was named on a 30-man shortlist to be named the best player in the world on Friday, having scored 39 goals in all competitions as Paris Saint-Germain won the Ligue 1 title last season.

No player across the top five European leagues matched Mbappe's total of 60 goal contributions across the 2021-22 campaign, although his France team-mate Benzema is the clear favourite after helping Real Madrid to the Champions League and LaLiga trophies. 

In an interview with France Football, Mbappe, who has previously backed Benzema to win the award, acknowledged he was desperate to be named the world's best.

"I've always wanted to do it early, without limiting my dreams. I want to win it and I don't mind admitting it," he said.

"I am convinced that lifting the first one is the most complicated. Once you have officially entered that select group, it will be easier to revalidate it.

"It is a big lie that a footballer is not interested in the Ballon d'Or. It is hypocritical to say that. 

"We all think about that. We talk about a team, and a collective, because in some way it serves to camouflage our ambition, but it is honest to admit that we care. 

"For two years I have been a more real candidate for the award. Before, I was content to be in the top 10. Now, on the other hand, I am among the four or five most regular.

"We don't talk about the Ballon d'Or in January, but we make comments when the lists appear. Later, as the ceremony draws near, it's obviously a topic of conversation in the group. We make our bets, we debate our opinions."

Asked for his own top three, the striker said: "I think Benzema, Mane and me."

 

Mbappe's first Ballon d'Or nomination came in 2017, when then-Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo beat Lionel Messi and Neymar to the award.

And the 23-year-old said being among the hopefuls early on in his career gave him confidence that he would make it at an elite level.

"Frankly, it was an honour," he recalled. "I was barely of legal age and I was already associated with those great names. It may seem trivial, but it was something important. A real step forward in my career. 

"Somehow it was a message that served to say that I was among the best. I accredited myself as an elite footballer in the eyes of the world, and it was significant to belong to that list at only 18 years old."

Meanwhile, the headline omission from 2022's list of nominees is seven-time winner and current holder Lionel Messi, who last failed to be nominated in 2005 – when Ronaldinho edged out Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the voting.

As Mbappe recalled his PSG team-mate's victory last year, he said the Argentina star's nervousness on the eve of the gala demonstrated that his desire to be the best remains strong.

"The morning of the last gala he was nervous because a few hours later he was going to collect a seventh Ballon d'Or. Maybe he was thinking about what he was going to say, how he was going to lift the trophy," Mbappe said.

"I told him it is not possible to be restless after having been there six other times. I would have gone with a cigarette in my mouth! 

"But that shows that he retains the soul of a child and that he is still excited to choose to be the best. He has not tired."

 

Carlo Ancelotti hopes Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos stay at Real Madrid but says Los Blancos will "adapt" if they decide to move on.

Winger Asensio and midfielder Ceballos are in the final year of their contracts with the European and LaLiga champions.

Asensio has been linked with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, while Ceballos is reportedly a target for his former club Real Betis.

Madrid boss Ancelotti knows there are no guarantees the duo will still be at the Santiago Bernabeu when the transfer window closes on September 1.

The Italian told reporters on Saturday: "They are here and working fine. Each one can comment on their future, but I focus on the squad I have with both.

"Until the 31st, it is like that. If something changes in their heads, we will adapt."

The champions start the defence of their LaLiga title at Almeria on Sunday, and Ancelotti is as hungry as ever for more trophies after a magnificent 2021-22 season.

"I have always said that I am passionate about this game," he said. "I'm working for the best club in the world, and that's where the motivation comes from.

"I wake up in the morning, I enjoy my day, and I'm enjoying my life here at Real Madrid. I know it won't be forever, but there's still a hunger, and I'm delighted to be the manager of Real Madrid."

Madrid face a hectic schedule ahead of the World Cup, but Ancelotti expects the bigger challenges to come after the tournament in Qatar.

He said: "Until the World Cup, we won't have many problems. The players will want to go in good condition, and they will prepare well, enjoying the games beforehand. 

"The big question we have is after the World Cup: how the players will return? After the World Cup, they usually go on vacation, and this year, they will return to enter the important moment of the season. 

"You have to assess fatigue, think about giving rest... These are things that we doubt today."

Barcelona midfielder Nico Gonzalez has completed a season-long loan move to LaLiga rivals Valencia.

The 20-year-old broke into Barca's first team last season, scoring two goals and providing as many assists in 37 appearances.

With Franck Kessie among the Blaugrana's new signings and Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva reportedly a target, Nico informed Xavi he wanted to move on in order to be given more playing time.

Valencia on Saturday confirmed Nico will spend the 2022-23 campaign at the Mestalla Stadium.

Barca's head coach Xavi on Friday stated that he had mixed feelings over Nico's temporary switch.

He said: "[Nico] came to me three weeks ago. I insisted that he continue because he would have minutes. I like Nico.

"But a few days ago he came back and told me that there was a team where he would play. He has been brave and is going to Valencia.

"I hope he comes back more mature because it must be important for the future of Barca. For the midfield we have [Sergio] Busquets, [Miralem] Pjanic, Kessie, Frenkie [de Jong], Sergi Roberto, and even [Andreas] Christensen, who can play there."

Valencia start their season at home to newly promoted Girona on Sunday, while Barca face Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Manchester United's transfer market activity appears to be getting increasingly desperate.

The English giants have added only Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez to their first team in this window.

United have been linked with a host of other players but missed out, including Benjamin Sesko, while no deal has transpired despite their attempts to sign Frenkie de Jong.

TOP STORY – MAN UTD BOSS TEN HAG KEEN ON ZIYECH

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has identified Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech as a target, according to the Manchester Evening News.

However, United's hierarchy are not convinced and have offered resistance to the Dutchman's plans to sign the Moroccan, whom he worked with previously at Ajax.

United have been priced out of their move for Ajax's Antony, and Ten Hag views Ziyech as a good alternative.

ROUND-UP

– SPORT1 claims Bayern Munich will attempt to bring Kai Havertz to the club from Chelsea. The Germany international, who moved to Chelsea from Bayer Leverkusen two years ago, is seen as someone who can offset Robert Lewandowski's departure.

– Juventus are still keen on Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Leandro Paredes, according to Fabrizio Romano. The Bianconeri are ready to swoop once Adrien Rabiot's move to Manchester United is sealed.

– The Athletic reports Newcastle United may target Chelsea's United States international Christian Pulisic.

– West Ham have entered the race for Barcelona's Memphis Depay, submitting a "big-money" offer to the Blaugrana, according to Football Insider.

Jules Kounde is the only one of Barcelona's new signings who was not registered on the eve of the LaLiga season.

Barca head coach Xavi on Friday revealed the club were "very optimistic" that their new recruits would be registered, but all five may not be given the green light for their first match of the LaLiga campaign against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

It later emerged that Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie have been registered along with Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto, who signed new contracts

Centre-back Kounde's registration has not been sanctioned by LaLiga despite Barca having activated a fourth economic lever on Friday.

It had been reported that Kounde may be the last of the five new recruits the Catalan giants have brought in to be registered, given the big-money signing from Sevilla underwent surgery to repair a minor pelvis injury in June.

Barca have been busy raising funds to try and meet LaLiga's salary limits and sold a further 24.5 per cent of their production company for €100million, having also agreed a hugely lucrative sponsorship deal with Spotify and sold a percentage of broadcast rights.

The Blaugrana have lowered their wage bill by offloading players and could also sell Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who have both been linked with Chelsea.

Blaugrana head coach Xavi said in a press conference on Friday he was prepared for the possibility that some of his new men may not be eligible to play this weekend.

He told reporters: "We are working hard and everyone at the club is very positive. Maybe not 100 per cent [of the players will be registered], but we are optimistic. We'll see. The club has signed very well, I am very excited about the players we have signed. We have time until tomorrow and now we are very optimistic."

Barca are expected to make Chelsea full-back Marcos Alonso their next signing and they continue to be linked with Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva.

Villarreal boss Unai Emery has acknowledged the Yellow Submarine may be forced to sell young winger Yeremi Pino, amid reports linking him with a move to Arsenal.

The Gunners have reportedly been in the market for another versatile attacker since top target Raphinha opted to join Barcelona earlier in the transfer window, while the Spanish press has also touted Liverpool as potential suitors for Yeremi.

The 19-year-old played a key role as Villarreal made the Champions League semi-finals last season, making 40 appearances for Emery's team in all competitions.

Yeremi recorded seven goals and four assists in a strong campaign, also creating 32 chances for LaLiga's seventh-placed finishers.

But Emery told reporters on Friday the club may be powerless to keep him in the face of Premier League interest, acknowledging: "If an offer arrives for players like Yeremi Pino, then he will have to leave.

"We have a responsibility with the club. It is what it is."

Villarreal go to Real Valladolid for their first outing of the 2022-23 LaLiga season on Saturday.

Villarreal boss Unai Emery has acknowledged the Yellow Submarine may be forced to sell young winger Yeremi Pino, amid reports linking him with a move to Arsenal.

The Gunners have reportedly been in the market for another versatile attacker since top target Raphinha opted to join Barcelona earlier in the transfer window, while the Spanish press has also touted Liverpool as potential suitors for Yeremi.

The 19-year-old played a key role as Villarreal made the Champions League semi-finals last season, making 40 appearances for Emery's team in all competitions.

Yeremi recorded seven goals and four assists in a strong campaign, also creating 32 chances for LaLiga's seventh-placed finishers.

But Emery told reporters on Friday the club may be powerless to keep him in the face of Premier League interest, acknowledging: "If an offer arrives for players like Yeremi Pino, then he will have to leave.

"We have a responsibility with the club. It is what it is."

Villarreal go to Real Valladolid for their first outing of the 2022-23 LaLiga season on Saturday.

Barcelona coach Xavi refused to rule out exits for Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the eve of their LaLiga opener, acknowledging "anything can happen".

Manchester United's interest in De Jong has evolved into one of the longest-running sagas of the transfer window, while Chelsea are being strongly linked with both the Netherlands midfielder and Barca striker Aubameyang.

Although Xavi and president Joan Laporta have expressed confidence Barca will overcome their financial woes to register a host of new acquisitions ahead of Saturday's fixture against Rayo Vallecano, they are trying to offload players and reduce the wage bill.

While Xavi still considers both men key players, he made it clear they may depart before the transfer window closes.

"From here until August 31 a lot can happen, but I like Aubameyang a lot," Xavi told a news conference on Friday.

"He helped us a lot, he's an important player for me, he arrived here with a lot of humility, a good work ethic, so we'll see what happens."

On De Jong's future, the Blaugrana boss added: "It's the same as Aubameyang, he's an important player and he's part of the squad. 

"If I can use him, great. From now until the 31st we will see what possibilities there are and where we are with regards to our participation in the market. 

"From now until August 31, anything can happen with Frenkie and with any players in the squad."

Reports have suggested tensions are high between De Jong and the club after he appeared to be jeered by a group of supporters while arriving at training earlier this week.

But Xavi denies there is any ill-feeling towards De Jong, who joined from Ajax for a reported fee of €75million in 2019.

"I didn't hear whistles, I heard applause," Xavi claimed. "People are able to express how and when they want, I'm here to try to improve the squad and make a cohesive unit. 

"It depends on how you perform on the pitch whether they support you or whistle. I think Frenkie can help the squad very well, he's helped the club also and I have no complaints."

 

One player who is set to leave Barcelona is young midfielder Nico Gonzalez, who declared on Wednesday he would be joining Valencia on a season-long loan.

Nico made 37 appearances for Barca last season – although only 17 were starts – and Xavi revealed the 20-year-old asked to leave.

"He came to me three weeks ago. I insisted that he continue because he would have minutes. I like Nico," Xavi said. "But a few days ago, he came back and told me that there was a team where he would play. 

"He has been brave and is going to Valencia. I hope he comes back more mature because it will be important for the future of Barca. 

"For the midfield we have Busquets, [Miralem] Pjanic, [Franck] Kessie, Frenkie, Sergi Roberto, and even [Andreas] Christensen who can play there."

Xavi says Barcelona are "very optimistic" that their new signings will be registered, but they may not all be given the green light for their first match of the LaLiga season against Rayo Vallecano.

Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie have arrived at Camp Nou since the end of last season, but there is uncertainty over whether they will be able to make their competitive debuts on Saturday.

The Catalan giants have been busy trying to raise funds in order to meet LaLiga's salary limits ahead of the season and activated a fourth economic lever on Friday.

Barca sold a further 24.5 per cent of their production company for €100million, having also agreed a hugely lucrative sponsorship deal with Spotify and sold a percentage of LaLiga broadcast rights, 

They have been able to lower their wage bill by offloading players and more could follow, with Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reportedly targets for Chelsea.

Blaugrana head coach Xavi says he is prepared for the possibility that some of his new men may not be eligible to play this weekend.

He told reporters: "We are working hard and everyone at the club is very positive. Maybe not 100 per cent, but we are optimistic. We'll see. The club has signed very well, I am very excited about the players we have signed. We have time until tomorrow and now we are very optimistic."

Xavi maintained his plans for the opening match of the season have not been badly disrupted by being unsure over who will be available.

He said: "It has little influence, as at the end of the day we work on different systems, different variants. Either one or the other players, very few things change.

"We pretty much have two players for each position. We work the same, we don't have a different system with the way we play in attack. Not a lot varies and I insist that right now we are very optimistic of registering the players."

Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva and Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso continue to be linked with Barca, with just under three weeks before the transfer window closes.

A deal to sign Alonso is reported to have been agreed and Xavi made it clear he is eager to do further business.

"We are still planning ahead, that's a reality," the former Spain midfielder said. "We are going to see what we are going to do until August 31.

"Of course, we need to have players leave in order for others to come, but the transfer market is open until the 31st and there is work to be done for all of us. We'll see."

Xavi also revealed he wanted Nico Gonzalez to stay rather than join Valencia on loan for the season, adding: "[Nico] came to me three weeks ago. I insisted that he continue because he would have minutes. I like Nico.

"But a few days ago he came back and told me that there was a team where he would play. He has been brave and is going to Valencia.

"I hope he comes back more mature because it must be important for the future of Barca. For the midfield we have [Sergio] Busquets, [Miralem] Pjanic, Kessie, Frenkie, Sergi Roberto, and even Christensen, who can play there."

Barcelona have activated a fourth economic lever in a bid to ensure their new signings can be registered for LaLiga, announcing the sale of a further 24.5 per cent of their production company for €100million.

The Catalan giants, who have signed the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie despite ongoing financial troubles, have reportedly failed to register their new acquisitions for the upcoming league campaign.

President Joan Laporta has been working to raise funds to allow Barca to meet LaLiga's salary limits ahead of the season, and said last week the club had made a "great effort" to do so. 

Last month, 24.5 per cent of Barca Studios was sold to the company Socios.com for €100million, while the Blaugrana have also sold 10 per cent of their LaLiga broadcasting rights to American investment firm Sixth Street, among other measures.

But with reports suggesting the club were still struggling to meet LaLiga's rules, they have announced a second deal for an equivalent stake in Barca Studios.

"FC Barcelona announces the sale of 24.5 per cent of Barca Studios to the company Orpheus Media, managed by Mr Jaume Roures, an audiovisual production company with a long history of producing content, for 100 million euros," read a club statement.

"The agreement complements the one signed on 29 July with Socios.com and will help to accelerate the growth of the club's digital, NFT and Web.3 strategy.

"With this investment the strategic partners in Barca Studios show confidence in the value of the project and the future of digital content in the world of sport."

Reports suggest that while Barca are prioritising the registration of their new signings, they are still eyeing a move for Chelsea's Marcos Alonso, while Manchester City's Bernardo Silva has been touted as another target.

Barca begin their LaLiga campaign when they host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, though it remains to be seen how many of their new stars can feature.

Barcelona have activated a fourth economic lever in a bid to ensure their new signings can be registered for LaLiga, announcing the sale of a further 24.5 per cent of their production company for €100million.

The Catalan giants, who have signed the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie despite ongoing financial troubles, have reportedly failed to register their new acquisitions for the upcoming league campaign.

President Joan Laporta has been working to raise funds to allow Barca to meet LaLiga's salary limits ahead of the season, and said last week the club had made a "great effort" to do so. 

Last month, 24.5 per cent of Barca Studios was sold to the company Socios.com for €100million, while the Blaugrana have also sold 10 per cent of their LaLiga broadcasting rights to American investment firm Sixth Street, among other measures.

But with reports suggesting the club were still struggling to meet LaLiga's rules, they have announced a second deal for an equivalent stake in Barca Studios.

"FC Barcelona announces the sale of 24.5 per cent of Barca Studios to the company Orpheus Media, managed by Mr Jaume Roures, an audiovisual production company with a long history of producing content, for 100 million euros," read a club statement.

"The agreement complements the one signed on 29 July with Socios.com and will help to accelerate the growth of the club's digital, NFT and Web.3 strategy.

"With this investment the strategic partners in Barca Studios show confidence in the value of the project and the future of digital content in the world of sport."

Reports suggest that while Barca are prioritising the registration of their new signings, they are still eyeing a move for Chelsea's Marcos Alonso, while Manchester City's Bernardo Silva has been touted as another target.

Barca begin their LaLiga campaign when they host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, though it remains to be seen how many of their new stars can feature.

Barcelona fans may have completely forgotten there will be actual football to play very soon.

So chaotic and draining has the off-season been for Barca supporters that they'd be forgiven for thinking they were stuck in some form of purgatory, where the club's finances are discussed and debated endlessly.

In fairness, even those who don't necessarily support Barca may have similar feelings. If you've been following the soap opera in recent weeks and months, you'll already be sick to death of the word palanca, or 'lever'.

Of course, those proverbial levers are what president Joan Laporta has been pulling to inject capital. Barca were expected to work within another measly LaLiga salary limit this season before selling off some of their TV rights at the end of the last financial year, which meant they actually turned a profit.

With the other 'levers' Laporta has activated, he claims the club has brought in €860million in two months, but obviously the deals involved will result in reduced long-term income, hence the widespread suggestions Barca are "mortgaging their future".

It's probably an understatement to say there has been a lot to take in, and that's before we even mention the Frenkie de Jong sideshow, the signings and the latest concerns about whether their new players can even be registered.

In the background, Xavi continues to plug away and drown out all the nonsense surrounding the club, and on the pitch, there are genuine reasons for optimism at Camp Nou.

A platform of rapid improvement

There was a time last season – even after Xavi's November appointment – when Barca's campaign looked to be heading for embarrassment.

After a 1-0 defeat to Real Betis in December, Barca had 23 points from their first 16 matches of the league season, their worst total at that stage since 2002-03.

But the same team – plus a few January additions – claimed more points (45) in LaLiga than any other club after the turn of the year. Sure, Real Madrid played one game less over the same period, but even if they had contested an extra match and won, Los Blancos would still have been two points shy.

Of course, Madrid's focus towards the end was on the Champions League as they never looked likely to throw the title away, so it's probably not the perfect comparison, but it does at least highlight the results Xavi was getting and the degree of the turnaround he has already overseen at Camp Nou.

 

Similarly, there were signs of classic Barca in their performances. Their 9.4 high turnovers per game was a LaLiga high after Xavi's appointment, while they also boasted the greatest average share of possession (64 per cent).

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Barca's promise under Xavi was the 4-0 hammering of Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in March's Clasico. They had lost their previous five such clashes, including four in the league, making it the Blaugrana's worst run against their bitter rivals since the 1960s.

Barca were electric going forward, carving through Madrid almost at will, while they also looked solid defensively, with Xavi's decision to play Ronald Araujo at right-back proving wise as he kept Vinicius Junior in check.

Gerard Pique responded by declaring: "We are back."

Playing the part

The improvement Xavi instigated last season was made even more impressive by the fact certain players didn't have an especially prominent role.

Pedri made just 12 appearances in the league, while Ansu Fati recorded 10. Both were hampered by serious injuries but will in all likelihood – assuming they stay fit – be key players this season.

Pedri will be the vital midfield conductor, keeping the build-up play ticking over, while Fati can provide both goals and creativity from out wide on the left. As clichéd as it sounds, the Spain forward will feel every bit a new signing if he can stay out of the medical room.

 

But it's also fair to say there are several players whose reputations have been enhanced lately – or at the very least restored.

Ronald Araujo really stepped up last season and matured into a colossus of a centre-back. Athletic, composed on the ball and uncompromising in defence, the Uruguayan looks cut out for a long career at the heart of Barca's backline.

While some might've had concerns about his ability to get Barca on the front foot, with his passing range hardly that of a young Pique, the arrival of Jules Kounde should offset those worries given the France international's reputation as an excellent progressor of the ball.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the Xavi era so far, however, has been Ousmane Dembele.

 

Almost perennially injured or underwhelming at Barca, Dembele became essential for Xavi's men in the second half of last season.

Between January 1 and the end of the campaign, Dembele's assists count of 11 was four more than anyone else in the league despite the Frenchman not even playing 1,100 minutes. Vinicius, for example, registered six from 1,182 minutes.

Granted, Dembele's assists tally outstripped his expected assists (xA), though his 7.3 xA was still comfortably better than everyone else over the same period – Vinicius was second with 4.5 xA.

Until he has an extended period without injury, Dembele's fitness and reliability will always be a concern, but Xavi has made it clear the winger is key to his plans, and the 25-year-old has certainly shown his commitment by signing a new contract on reduced terms. He wants to be a success at Barca.

New blood

Now, obviously this part comes with an asterix. Barca have made some impressive additions to their squad, but it remains to be seen whether they can register them in time for the opening weekend. They can only do that if LaLiga are happy their finances are in order and the club adhere to their salary limit.

But assuming Laporta finds a way to get the green light before the transfer window closes, the new faces should be considered statement signings.

The headline arrival is obviously Robert Lewandowski. Barca didn't necessarily have a problem scoring goals last season, but they were short of reliable options in the centre of attack, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often occupying spaces out on the left.

 

Ferran Torres simply isn't a 'killer' in front of goal, Lewandowski is, and you don't need to go into any great detail to explain precisely what he'll offer; his 161 top-flight goals over the past five years is 30 more than any other player in the top five leagues (Lionel Messi is second with 131).

Among those charged with laying on chances for Lewandowski will be Raphinha, whose dynamism and exceptional creativity made him one of the standout Premier League wingers at Leeds United.

His ability to come inside onto his left foot will give Barca greater invention in central areas as well, potentially key against packed defences, and he's demonstrably a wonderful creator, with his 13.0 xA over two seasons in the Premier League bettered only by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Bruno Fernandes, Mohamed Salah, Mason Mount and Kevin De Bruyne – not bad for a player who was embroiled in a relegation battle last term.

 

Then you've got Kounde, who has not only marked himself out as one of LaLiga's best defenders in three seasons at Sevilla, but many consider him an archetypal Barca centre-back – in fact, his ability on the ball was best exemplified against the Catalans in the Copa del Rey last season, when he embarked on a brilliant solo run from defence before applying a cool finish.

 

Add Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen to the mix as well, and Barca have themselves an impressive array of signings who all appear well-suited to the club's particular brand of football.

When they'll all be able to play is still a mystery, but clearly Barca will be a force when they can.

 

The European domestic season is now back up and running, meaning we are officially into a World Cup campaign.

For some players, the main focus over the next few months will be remaining fit with the hope of entering Qatar 2022 in peak condition for their respective nations.

For others, the first part of the 2022-23 season will provide an opportunity to play themselves into contention for a squad place ahead of the biggest tournament of them all.

That includes an array of talented stars who have yet to represent their countries at senior level, but who could be given the chance to showcase their talent on the global stage.

With the big kick-off now just 100 days away, Stats Perform has identified five uncapped players who still have an outside shot of glory in Qatar.


Gleison Bremer (Brazil) – 25, centre-back, Juventus

If Bremer was not on the radar of Brazil head coach Tite ahead of the 2021-22 season, the 25-year-old certainly will be now. He ranked first among Serie A defenders last term for duels contested (451) and also led the way for headed clearances (75), showing that he can be relied upon at the back.

Indeed, Bremer's form last time out led to Juventus splashing out a reported €50million to sign him from Torino during the close season. Brazil must be quick, though, as the Italian top-flight's best defender last season is also eligible to represent the Azzurri.

 

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Lazio

Goalkeeper Maximiano is another who moved to a club of bigger stature just a few months out from the World Cup beginning after swapping relegated Granada, where he impressed in his only campaign, for Serie A side Lazio. The 23-year-old certainly had a chance to showcase his shot-stopping abilities last season, with his 127 saves the most of any keeper in LaLiga, and the fifth-most of anyone in Europe's top five leagues.

Following the departure of long-serving Thomas Strakosha, Maximiano will be installed as first choice at Stadio Olimpico, where Portugal boss Fernando Santos may make a visit or two in the coming months.



Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Newcastle United

Despite catching the eye in Ligue 1 with Lille, particularly in 2020-21 when starting 37 of the 38 matches played in their stunning title-winning campaign, Botman has remained on the periphery of the Netherlands squad. He has been a regular for the Oranje at Under-21 level, but after joining Newcastle in a £31.8m (€37m) transfer last month, he is surely now in serious consideration for a place in the senior squad.

Having led the way among Lille players last time out per 90 minutes for successful passes (53.4), blocks (0.84) and headed clearances (2.2), the Dutchman will hope to hit the ground running in another new league.

 

Benjamin Bourigeaud (France) – 28, attacking midfielder, Rennes

Reigning world champions France are blessed with world-class talent right across the pitch, but could there be room for a wild card in the form of Bourigeaud? The versatile attacking midfielder can play in a number of positions, though was predominantly used out on the right in what was a career-best season last time out in Ligue 1.

While France are hardly crying out for another player to slot into the final third, Bourigeaud's 23 direct goal involvements for Rennes last season is a tally bettered by only four others, while his David Beckham-esque deliveries from wide can provide something a little different for Didier Deschamps' men.

 

Inaki Williams (Ghana) – 28, forward, Athletic Bilbao

Ghana's squad has been completely transformed since booking their place in Qatar, having persuaded six players to switch allegiance and represent them at the World Cup. Patric Pfeiffer, Stephen Ambrosius and Ransford-Yeboah Konigsdorffer are all available for selection, as are Inaki Williams, Tariq Lamptey and Mohammed Salisu.

Each of those players will enhance Otto Addo's squad, with Williams – capped once by Spain in a friendly – possibly a game-changing option in attack. He is someone who can be replied upon, too, having appeared in each of Athletic's past 233 LaLiga matches, a run spanning back to April 2016. 

Paris Saint-Germain have been open about wanting three more new signings before the transfer window closes.

PSG head coach Christophe Galtier also explained that among those was the desire to bring in a forward.

The French champions have already sealed the services of Renato Sanches, Nordi Mukiele, Hugo Ekitike, Vitinha and Nuno Mendes during the off-season.

TOP STORY – PSG IN TALKS WITH MAN UTD'S RASHFORD

PSG have opened talks with Marcus Rashford's representatives about joining the Ligue 1 club from Manchester United, according to L'Equipe.

The England international striker is contracted with United until 2023, having signed a four-year deal in 2019 with the option to extend by a further year.

Sky Sports, however, claims that PSG are unlikely to follow up on their initial interest, having first enquired about Rashford last week.

ROUND-UP

Manchester City are targeting Atletico Madrid's Brazilian Renan Lodi as they look to add a new left-back, according to The Telegraph. City want to bolster their options in the position following Oleksandr Zinchenko's departure for Arsenal. City are also considering Arsenal left-back Kieran Tierney, claims 90min.

– Foot Mercato reports that Italian champions Inter are looking at Nice defender Jean-Clair Todibo as a possible replacement for Martin Skriniar, should he leave. Todibo also has interest from PSG and Chelsea . Inter have also been linked to Borussia Dortmund's Swiss defender Manuel Akanji along with Lazio veteran Francesco Acerbi.

– Chelsea's Emerson Palmieri is drawing interest from both Nottingham Forest and Atalanta, according to the Evening Standard. The 28-year-old left-back is being squeezed out at Stamford Bridge following Marc Cucurella's arrival.

Napoli and Argentina international forward Giovanni Simeone have reached a verbal agreement, reports Sky Sport Italia. Simeone is set to join Napoli on loan from Hellas Verona, but Sky Sport Italia claims Juventus are prepared to poach him at the last minute.

Sergio Aguero would be surprised if Bernardo Silva leaves Manchester City for Barcelona, but believes the midfielder could play a key role in Xavi's rebuild if a move goes through.

Barca have signed Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie during a busy transfer window.

With Frenkie de Jong expected to leave Camp Nou, reports have suggested Portugal international Silva is Xavi's next target.

Silva made 50 appearances for City in all competitions last season, a tally only bettered only by Joao Cancelo (52), scoring 13 goals and providing seven assists.

Only Kevin de Bruyne (129) and Jack Grealish (78) created more chances for City than Silva's 76 last term, but he could be on the moving after stating the Premier League champions "know what I want" this week.

 

Aguero – a team-mate of Silva's before leaving City for Barcelona in 2021 – is unsure whether a move will materialise but believes the 28-year-old would suit Xavi's new-look side perfectly. 

"Bernardo is a great player. He carries the ball, he sacrifices, has quality to assist and score goals and he can play in different positions," Aguero told Stake.

"It would surprise me if City let him go. He is a player who contributes a lot every season, but everything is possible.

"If he finally arrives at Barca, then he will be someone who can be key to the possession game that Xavi likes."

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