Eden Hazard has not been included in Real Madrid's 21-man squad for Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool.

The Belgium international has been plagued by injuries during his first two seasons in Madrid, restricting him to just 36 appearances and 29 starts across all competitions.

Hazard missed Los Blancos' last-16 second leg against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor and played no part for Belgium in their three World Cup qualifiers at the end of March.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane had increased hope of a midweek return following Saturday's win over Eibar but said on Monday he would not select the winger unless he could prove he was 100 per cent fit.

And Madrid subsequently confirmed Hazard will play no part against the Premier League champions, having been omitted from the squad for the game at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Captain Sergio Ramos' absence had already been all but confirmed after he sustained a calf injury on international duty with Spain last week.

Madrid have lost seven of the 10 Champions League games Ramos has missed since the end of 2017-18 when they were last crowned European champions.

Fellow defender Dani Carvajal also remains out, but midfielder Federico Valverde has recovered from a muscular injury that kept him out of the Eibar game.

Tuesday's clash will be the first between Madrid and Liverpool since the 2018 final, which Los Blancos won 3-1 to seal a third successive Champions League trophy.

Eden Hazard will not be rushed back for Real Madrid's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Liverpool on Tuesday, insists Zinedine Zidane. 

Hazard has been plagued by injuries since joining Madrid from Chelsea for €100million in June 2019.

He has made just 36 appearances and 29 starts across all competitions in that time, scoring only four times. 

The 30-year-old returned from injury in March but then missed the Champions League last-16 second leg against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor – a development Zidane described as "inexplicable". 

That injury kept him out of the Belgium squad for the recent international break and Zidane says he has no intention of playing Hazard against Premier League champions Liverpool if he is not 100 per cent fit. 

"Eden has to be calm," the Madrid boss told a media conference on Monday. "We never risk the return of a player if he is not well. 

"We will do things little by little and we will see when he will be with us. At the moment it is like that.

"I need all my players to be available and fit. I like my players to be fit and in good health. I don't like seeing players out injured. We have had a lot of players out injured this season.

"I hope to have Eden back soon. I hope to have a fully fit squad come the end of the season."

Tuesday's clash will be the first between the sides since the 2018 final, which Madrid won 3-1 to seal a third consecutive Champions League trophy.

Los Blancos have won the first leg in eight of their last nine Champions League knockout ties, while they have claimed victories in their last three matches against the Reds in the competition. 

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, however, has won each of his last five games at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, including all four of his games at this stage while in charge of the Reds. 

Zidane is an admirer of what Klopp has achieved at Anfield, but says he is not interested in copying the German's methods. 

"Klopp is a great manager, he has been coaching for a long time," he added. "He's got a great CV and has done superbly at Liverpool. 

"I don't have to look at what he does and copy him. Everyone has their way of going about things but I look at all the managers.

"I looked and learned when I was going to be a manager and, of course, I analysed Klopp."

Liverpool will need to be particularly wary of Madrid talisman Karim Benzema, who has scored four goals in his three Champions League appearances against them.

He is level with Didier Drogba as the player to have scored the most against the Reds in the competition. 

Benzema should lead the line on Tuesday and Zidane has attributed his success to the understanding he has developed with his team-mates.

"All the players who are here know how to play and have earned the right to be in this squad, they are the best," he explained. "They all understand Karim well and Karim the others. There is a lot of chemistry between them."

It was hardly the sort of entrance that said "I'm here to save the day". Luka Modric was still putting his headband on as he rather leisurely entered the Old Trafford pitch just a few moments after Nani's controversial sending off in the Champions League last-16 second leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Los Blancos were down 2-1 on aggregate after a Sergio Ramos own goal had put United in the driving seat a short while earlier, but with the hosts a man light, Jose Mourinho sent Modric on as Madrid looked to suffocate Alex Ferguson's men.

Alongside Xabi Alonso, Modric was swiftly into the thick of it as Madrid tried to pull United this way and that, and he soon took matters into his own hands with Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo unable to break through.

Allowed space just outside the United area, Modric's motioning for a shot lured Michael Carrick out of position and the Croatian easily breezed past him before lashing an unstoppable effort in off the right-hand post just seven minutes after coming on.

It was only his second goal for the club, but as it spurred Madrid on to seal a 2-1 win and a spot in the next round thanks, Modric has regarded that match as the turning point in his career at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A perfect storm

It's easy to forget how disappointing Modric's first season at Madrid was deemed to be. After all, before Christmas, he was voted as the worst signing of the campaign in a Marca poll, beating Alex Song of Barcelona to top the charts.

Two years Modric's junior, Song has been playing his football in Djibouti this season; Modric remains, at the ripe old age of 35, arguably the finest midfielder in Spain.

There are certainly comparisons to be made with Thiago Alcantara's first season in England, with Liverpool struggling to even maintain a challenge for the top four, let alone defend their title.

Thiago was seen as the missing piece of the puzzle, the sort of central midfielder that balanced flair with genuine playmaking abilities, unlike anyone already in the squad. It was said his arrival would enable to Liverpool to play with greater flexibility, but the reality has been a little different.

Teams are playing deeper against Liverpool, as evidenced by the fact their shots outside the area per game is up from 4.6 per game to 5.2, while they are being allowed 190.4 passes in the final third each match, up from 180.9. Opponents are more confident they can keep Liverpool out if they defend deep.

Of course, Liverpool's issues this term are plentiful – injuries have been particularly frequent, and Thiago himself has lost a significant chunk of the season in this regard.

But even when he has been fit, it's difficult to say the Spain international has transformed the Reds. In fact, they have a better league win percentage (57.1) when he doesn't play than when he does (37.5), while they tend to score more goals (2.4 per game, compared to 1.1 when he is playing).

One theory for Thiago's struggles has been his apparent lack of comfort with Liverpool's intense pressing style, but the data suggests that to be a red herring.

Granted, Liverpool do engage in 18.9 pressed sequences – instances where the opposition have three or fewer passes in a move, which ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game, with their total of 567 the most in the Premier League this term.

But Bayern averaged 16.9 per game in 2019-20 and led the way in the Bundesliga in this regard. Meanwhile, they allowed 9.8 opposition passes per defensive action, with Liverpool's PPDA this term 10.7, showing the Bayern side Thiago played in wasn't too dissimilar.

So, why would Liverpool's off-the-ball intensity impact him so much? It seems far more likely the issue is simply that he's in the middle of a perfect storm of settling into new surroundings and a new team during an injury crisis that has impacted him as well.

Changing perception

Fans can forget that players are people first and foremost. Upheaval off the pitch can have a demonstrable effect on it – of course it can, just like life at home can impact the job performance of average Joe.

This was a key element for Modric, who explained how he found it difficult to settle in initially at Real Madrid, not only because as a club they are an entirely different beast to Tottenham but also as he didn't have a pre-season and gaining fitness was always likely to be a struggle when playing catch-up.

As for fan expectations, perhaps there was also a degree of misunderstanding from Madrid supporters. Maybe they were initially expecting something more than Modric.

After all, in his final season at Spurs, Modric was a key creator. His 96 key passes in 2011-12 was bettered by only two midfielders in the Premier League (David Silva – 104, Juan Mata – 103), evidence that much of the creative burden was on his shoulders.

So, perhaps the fact his creative ingenuity wasn't being so frequently displayed at Madrid coloured opinion.

Granted, his 17 key passes in 13 league appearances between the start of the season and January 1 left a lot to be desired, but his end-of-season record of 56 was the third-highest in the Madrid squad.

Time, patience and trust were seemingly key to Modric establishing himself, but to suggest he's played the same way at Madrid as in his best season at Spurs would be incorrect – the closest he's ever got to that 96 key passes haul since was 61 in 2015-16.

In fact, when you consider a whole range of his key metrics such as passes, pass completion, chance creation, touches of the ball and defensive areas, there hasn't been drastic fluctuation between 2012-13 and now.

Certainly, his 62.6 successful passes per 90 is up from 55 in 2012-13, while his touches have improved from 80 to 86.7, but those differences certainly aren't major. The fact is his figures have been pretty steady throughout his time in LaLiga.

But at 35, he has still played in 28 of Madrid's 29 league matches this term. He's arguably more important to them than ever before.

Coming back from being a target of ridicule to becoming a club great and winning the Ballon d'Or speaks to Modric's attitude and talent, but also serves as inspiration for Thiago.

While the Spaniard has not had to contend with quite the same level of criticism, there are certainly those unconvinced by him.

With a full pre-season under his belt and allowed to gel into a settled team that isn't constantly being chopped and changed due to injuries, Thiago can surely enjoy a sparkling second season at Liverpool. After all, the data proves the Reds' pressing shouldn't be a long-term issue for him given how Bayern played.

A 25-yard strike of his own against Manchester United would go down very well right now, although a similarly decisive impact against Madrid would surely be a nice compromise for the Barcelona product.

Romelu Lukaku has starred for Inter since arriving from Manchester United in 2019.

Lukaku is spearheading Inter's quest for a Serie A title, with Antonio Conte's side clear atop the table.

His exploits, however, have not gone unnoticed in Europe.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU HAPPY AT INTER

Inter star Romelu Lukaku is flattered by Barcelona's interest but is not looking to leave the Nerazzurri, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Lukaku has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid and former club Chelsea following his exploits for Inter, who are closing in on the Scudetto.

But Lukaku is happy at Inter, with the Belgium international only possibly leaving San Siro should the Italian powerhouse seek to raise funds.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport reports Cristiano Ronaldo wants to see out his Juventus contract, which runs until June 2022. Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Turin, where Juve are struggling under Andrea Pirlo this season. Former clubs Madrid and United have emerged as possible destinations, as well as Paris Saint-Germain. However, Ronaldo is keen to continue at the club, should they qualify for the Champions League.

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe remains a priority signing for Madrid, claims Diario AS. Mbappe has been a long-term target in the Spanish capital, though the economic fallout following the coronavirus pandemic appears to have derailed Madrid's pursuit. But Los Blancos – also linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland – are still determined to prise Mbappe from Paris.

- Record reports United are ready to make a move for Sporting CP star Nuno Mendes, who has also been linked with Manchester City and Liverpool. United could reportedly use Alex Telles in a deal to sign the Portuguese full-back.

- Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli is eyeing a new deal amid interest from Barca and Chelsea, according to Calciomercato. Romagnoli is contracted to the Rossoneri until 2022. Barca's reported pursuit comes as they eye the likes of Bayern Munich star David Alaba, City duo Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero, Lyon forward Memphis Depay and Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

Can Borussia Dortmund keep a hold of Erling Haaland for another season?

Europe's elite are queuing up to sign the Norway sensation.

Dortmund's disappointing season could be about to force their hand.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND TRYING TO RETAIN HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund will try to keep Erling Haaland for another season but their hopes are fading amid the club's struggles to finish in the Bundesliga's top four, according to Fabrizio Romano.

As it stands, Dortmund are set to miss out on Champions League qualification, with the German side fifth and seven points adrift of fourth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt following Saturday's loss.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror reports United are set to part with star goalkeeper David de Gea. The Red Devils are reportedly prepared to pay a large chunk of De Gea's remaining contract, with Dean Henderson pushing to become the club's first choice.

Haaland is ahead of Lionel Messi on City's transfer list, claims The Mirror. Pep Guardiola's City have been heavily linked with Barcelona superstar Messi, who is out of contract at season's end. But City now appear determined to prise Haaland from Dortmund as Sergio Aguero prepares to leave. Aguero has been linked with the likes of Chelsea, InterBarca, PSG and Juventus on a free transfer.

Neymar has put contract talks with PSG on hold, according to Ara, which claims he is willing to return to Barca.

- It comes as Marca says PSG are eyeing Madrid forward Vinicius Junior amid Kylian Mbappe's links with the LaLiga champions.

Mikel Arteta said Arsenal's dire display against Liverpool had left him "in shock" after the Gunners surrendered 3-0 at home.

The seething manager attempted to take the blame for the performance, but disdain for the effort of his players was all too clear in the Spaniard's verdict.

Substitute Diogo Jota scored twice and Mohamed Salah also netted as Liverpool ran riot in the final half hour at Emirates Stadium.

Until then, Arsenal had been holding on, while never looking capable of going on to win the game. The home side had three attempts at goal, while Liverpool had 16 efforts on the way to winning by their biggest ever margin in an away league game at Arsenal.

Arteta told Sky Sports: "We completely deserved to lose the game. They were better in every department.

"They deserved to win the game with the margin that they have, or more. It was unacceptable from our side, the way we played.

"They won every duel, every second ball, every challenge. They were brave when they had the ball, they made the right decisions; we didn't.

"It was my fault. I had to set the team to play in a different way and perform in a different way. Congratulations to Liverpool because I think they were exceptional.

"We saw the difference today between the two teams, that when we perform at that level the margin is incredibly high.

"The standard has to be much higher from this football club and my job is to get them to perform at that level. We could not put three passes together. There were too many things that were not done right.

"At the moment I'm in shock. I didn't expect that, with the way the team trained, the way the team tries, but it happened. That is the reality."

Arsenal tackle Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals of the Europa League on Thursday. Arteta knows there must be a major response from his players.

He said: "If you have courage and you have big balls and you represent a club like this, you have to stand up in the next game and take it."

Jurgen Klopp insisted he was not intending to prompt "another funny discussion" about Trent Alexander-Arnold after Liverpool's win at Arsenal but could not resist highlighting the right-back's performance.

Klopp had discussed Alexander-Arnold's absence from Gareth Southgate's England squad at length ahead of Saturday's match.

The Reds manager defended the performances of the 22-year-old, who had provided a relatively underwhelming five assists in all competitions this season heading into the weekend - down from 15 in each of his previous two campaigns.

Indeed, Klopp said Alexander-Arnold's form "cannot be the reason" for his England snub and described him as "the standout right-back in world football".

The 12-cap Three Lions star responded to his club boss's backing in impressive fashion at Emirates Stadium, adding a sixth assist of the campaign in a 3-0 win.

Alexander-Arnold created a game-high four chances, including the cross for Diogo Jota's opener.

And discussing Liverpool's improvement after introducing Jota from the bench, Klopp turned the conversation to his defender.

He told Sky Sports: "We scored these wonderful goals - and Trent Alexander-Arnold showed his class... again."

But Klopp added: "Look, I don't want to make another funny discussion about Trent - it's not like that.

"I said it: it's Gareth's decision. And he's pretty much blessed with the choice he has in that position especially.

"But Trent is in a good shape, and if somebody says he's not, I have to say that's wrong. That's all.

"Apart from that, Gareth makes his decisions and I do not. I'm not responsible for his decisions."

Alexander-Arnold shared the spotlight with Jota, who netted just over three minutes after arriving as a substitute and later completed the scoring following Mohamed Salah's strike.

That second-half flurry gave Liverpool their biggest ever away league win at Arsenal and moved Klopp's side to within two points of Chelsea in the top four.

"Great, great," Klopp said. "We don't look at Chelsea or whatever or West Ham or Leicester - I don't know who's around there - because we have to win our own games.

"But in our situation, other teams have to lose games as well. We cannot do it ourselves. We don't play Chelsea any more, we don't play Leicester any more, and all these kind of things.

"We have enough games. We have a tough programme. We don't have to start dreaming, we have to keep working and that's what we do.

"But it's a nice sign. We are still there. Even in the games we lost some, we were not bad, but tonight the package was extremely good. That's what you need."

Jota has a Premier League-high four goals from the bench this season and four career strikes against Arsenal in the competition, a personal best.

The Portugal forward scores more often than any other player in the entire division, his eight goals arriving every 91.3 minutes on average.

Although Arsenal were level until Jota's intervention, the hosts were poor and Liverpool's two-goal star was surprised by their passive approach, the visitors having over 64 per cent of the ball.

"To be honest, I was expecting a bit more possession from the Arsenal team," he said. "They're used to that.

"But that showed that we pressed really well, that we didn't allow them to have that possession. In the end, we controlled the game with the ball and with the goals."

It's all in the timing, the control of the ball and the precision swing. Like a glorious golf shot, the perfect cross in football is beyond many players, but Trent Alexander-Arnold strikes the football with such pace, whip and dip that it's no wonder he celebrated Liverpool's opener against Arsenal as though he had headed the ball into the goal himself.

It's The Masters next week at Augusta.

This Emirates Stadium clash was a reminder of last season's Premier League masters in full flow, or at least that was the case for the final half an hour, because the first 60 minutes was so drab the tape should be wiped forthwith and we'll never discuss it again. Arsenal's players, thumped 3-0, would want the whole game deleted from memory, given they were abject from first whistle to last.

Alexander-Arnold had been lively enough before the breakthrough came, and James Milner owed him a better finish from the precise cutback that reached the veteran Liverpool midfielder in the 35th minute. Milner shot wide of the left post.

But in a game between two sides whose seasons have fallen well short of expectations, it was a flash of wonder that reminded the visitors how they became champions with 99 points last term. Gareth Southgate dropped Alexander-Arnold from his England squad a fortnight ago, so this will inevitably be interpreted as some sort of response.

But really it was just Alexander-Arnold doing Alexander-Arnold things. He makes chances and he makes goals, handy attributes for a right-back. And when there is very little actual defending to be done, as was the case against a dreadful Arsenal side, Alexander-Arnold is a world beater.

Diogo Jota, the player on the end of that game-changing cross on Saturday, later described the delivery as "unreal". Jurgen Klopp, who was stunned by the full-back's international omission, said that he "showed his class again".

When all is not going to plan for the 22-year-old, possessing strong defensive cover can paper over his weaknesses, and with Liverpool having hit upon an injury crisis at the back this season, Alexander-Arnold has been unable to count on Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip or Joe Gomez getting him out of trouble.

So the impact of his handful of errors has been magnified, and the scrutiny reached its apex when Southgate decided he should miss those opening World Cup qualifiers.

Since the beginning of last season, Alexander-Arnold has created 172 chances across all club competitions and had 21 assists. On each count, those are the highest number among defenders in Europe's top five leagues. In the same period, he has made four errors that have led to shots and two that have cost Liverpool goals. Some would accept that ratio.

Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about being on the end of crosses for England, believes Southgate got it wrong in dropping Alexander-Arnold.

"The perfect response from @TrentAA to his bizarre omission from the @England squad," Lineker wrote on Twitter on Saturday night. "He's been brilliant tonight. Can't be left at home in the summer. Just can't be."

The Euro 2020 finals surely do beckon for Alexander-Arnold, with England's group rivals Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland certain to be delighted if he stays at home.

Jota gave Alexander-Arnold a target after coming off the bench just after the hour mark, and the sublime cross from the right that found the striker on the edge of the six-yard box was a striker's dream.

Liverpool are still chasing fourth place, with Chelsea's defeat to West Brom earlier in the day a major boon to the Reds.

Mohamed Salah and Jota, with his second, finished off a lousy Arsenal who had just three goal attempts across the 90 minutes, and Mikel Arteta's men can now be counted out of the race for Champions League places.

Gary Neville, commentating for Sky Sports, condemned a "real flaky performance" by Arsenal, adding: "It's the worst I've seen them for a bit."

Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard all started for the hosts, and Pepe was the only one of the quartet to manage a shot.

Former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp said Arsenal's display was "putrid", and Arteta would probably agree. This was their heaviest defeat at home against Liverpool in the league.

On the day Liverpool's reign as Premier League champions effectively ended – they cannot possibly catch Manchester City now this season – this was a reminder of how Klopp's men can roll over feeble opposition.

On they go now, to face Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday. The Spanish champions will know all about Alexander-Arnold, who would have made a phenomenal complement to Roberto Carlos back in the day. Now they simply have to stop him.

Diogo Jota had a big impact from the bench as his brace set Liverpool on their way to a precious 3-0 win at Arsenal on Saturday.

The defending Premier League champions closed to within two points of the top four with victory after Chelsea were remarkably thrashed 5-2 at home by West Brom earlier in the day.

It was a huge opportunity that looked like passing Liverpool by as they lacked imagination in the final third for the first hour.

But with Arsenal providing uninspiring opposition, Jurgen Klopp turned to his bench and Jota required just over three minutes after coming on to forge the breakthrough with a thumping header.

A swift second followed from Mohamed Salah and Jota was on target again for the third, ensuring the Reds moved firmly back into the race for Champions League qualification.

Liverpool had dominated from the outset but were restricted to shots from distance until the 35th minute when James Milner passed up a glaring opportunity.

Trent Alexander-Arnold reached the byline and cut a ball back to the unmarked stand-in Liverpool skipper, who pulled a firmly struck effort wide with Bernd Leno seemingly beaten.

A difficult first half for Arsenal ended with Kieran Tierney departing through injury, before the second period brought only marginal improvement in the home ranks.

Klopp sensed the opportunity, made an attacking change - replacing Andy Robertson with Jota - and was quickly rewarded as the substitute beat two defenders to a sublime Alexander-Arnold cross.

Salah, stifled until then, suddenly found space down the right and advanced to roll a finish under Leno to take the game away from Arsenal.

Leno produced a right-handed save from the same man soon afterwards, but an awful Gabriel Magalhaes pass let the visitors in again and Jota blasted past the goalkeeper.

Zinedine Zidane is waiting to learn if Eden Hazard will be fit to return for Real Madrid against Liverpool on Tuesday.

Madrid face a huge week in their season with the home leg of their Champions League quarter-final before a Clasico with Barcelona in LaLiga.

But head coach Zidane is hoping his side will receive a boost ahead of the first meeting with the Reds.

Hazard returned from injury shortly before the international break but then missed the European tie against Atalanta with a damaged hip flexor and was unable to go away with Belgium.

Red Devils boss Roberto Martinez could not even guarantee the €100million winger would make Euro 2020, although he was "very positive".

Hazard might be back in action as soon as Tuesday, with Madrid also looking to again bring Federico Valverde into the fold.

"Hopefully we can get Valverde and Hazard back," Zidane said on Saturday. "We will see tomorrow and the day after.

"Today it was not possible but I hope that on Tuesday they can be with us."

Hazard scored six goals against Liverpool in 16 games while with Chelsea.

But he has made just 36 appearances and 29 starts for Madrid since his signing in June 2019, scoring only four times and providing five assists from 38 chances created.

Hazard certainly was not missed as Los Blancos swept aside Eibar 2-0 at a stormy Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema scored in either half, while the Spain forward also hit the crossbar, opposing goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic made six saves and three of Madrid's four offsides saw goals disallowed.

"The first half, in general, was complete, with good feelings," Zidane said. "It's what I told the players.

"Then, with the storm, there were 20 difficult minutes to start the second.

"We have to recover well because we have a week with important games in the Champions League and the league. They will be entertaining.

"We must continue like this. There was a difficult moment in the season and now we have to take advantage of the current one, which is good."

Ahead of league leaders Atletico Madrid and fellow challengers Barca playing this weekend, Madrid moved up to second, three points off the summit.

That promising position means Zidane will prioritise neither domestic action nor their European exploits.

"We do not look at that," he said. "We are in the day-to-day. We are thinking about today's game, which we did very well.

"We are not going to think about one competition or the other; we are alive in both. Now you have to enjoy the moment. We have done nothing - we have to continue."

Thibaut Courtois, required to make four saves against Eibar but only really tested by an awkward Lucas Vazquez backpass, added: "We've fought all season to get to April, where everything is played for.

"Winning today put pressure on Atletico and Barcelona.

"In April, everything is played for and everything is decided; hopefully we will keep winning."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has urged his side to "squeeze something out of this season" as they attempt to finish 2020-21 in strong fashion.

The Premier League champions are seventh in the table on 46 points, a remarkable 36 fewer than they had amassed after the same number of matches last term.

With nine games to go, the race is on for the Reds as they attempt to close the five-point gap to the top four, starting with Saturday's clash with ninth-place Arsenal.

Liverpool claimed back-to-back wins over Wolves and RB Leipzig in the Champions League prior to the international break, a positive change after a run of nine defeats and just five wins in 17 games in all competitions.

Klopp is now targeting a strong 'mini-season' to give his side the best chance of a successful end to a difficult campaign.

"There's a lot to go for," he told Sky Sports. "We're not in the best position to fight for the Champions League spots but it's clear we'll fight for it and if not then for the other European spots.

"It's our job and that's what we want. We want to be as successful as possible. At the beginning of the season, we had different targets which is normal but we're now here in our reality and the position is not as bad as it could've been so we're going to try everything to squeeze something out of this season.

"There are other teams in better positions, so we have to make sure that we can chase them but whether that's possible or not will be decided in the specific games, like on Saturday against Arsenal. We don't have many points to waste anymore and a tough programme coming up. When you're in the situation we're in, you've not got a lot to lose as well so let's go for it."

Klopp hopes to see something of the old Liverpool against Arsenal, who have lost just one of their past nine home league matches and claimed a 2-1 victory in this fixture at Emirates Stadium last season.

"Arsenal are a good team," he said. "They've had good runs this season and other times when it's not been going so well. But they have now found their way and Martin Odegaard is playing well.

"With [Granit] Xhaka and Thomas Partey in midfield, that's a proper double six, they have a last line full of experience and full-backs with desire to go. They're a good football team so we're going to have to defend at the highest level.

"If we do that, then we can create and we can score. But we must again be the team that nobody wants to play against. I believe we can be that."

Mikel Arteta wants to help Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rediscover his best form as Arsenal plan to treat every game as a final for the remainder of the season.

With the international break over, the Gunners resume their campaign on Saturday when Liverpool visit Emirates Stadium.

Both teams are desperately in need of points with just nine games remaining in the Premier League, or else run the risk of missing out on qualifying for Europe via the domestic route.

While Liverpool still have their sights set on a top-four finish, Arsenal go into the fixture well off the pace having won just three of their previous nine in the competition.

Like the team itself, Aubameyang has struggled for consistency in the competition. The Gabon international scored 22 league goals in each of the previous two seasons but has yet to reach double figures in 2020-21.

"We talked for months about the ratio of goals we need him to score to give us the best possible chance of being at the top," Arteta told the media ahead of the Liverpool game.

"He's not been what he has been in recent years, a factor that is contributed by a lot of other things that the team has to do on the pitch – it's not just his thing.

"Obviously, we need Auba in different form in the next games to give us the best chance to finish where we want to finish this season, that is clear."

Aubameyang could point to playing regularly in a wider attacking role as a reason behind the decrease in his productivity, with a nine-goal haul still one behind the total he managed in his first 13 league appearances after signing from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.

His position in the team may also explain why his average of 2.28 shots per 90 minutes is comfortably lower than in previous seasons at the club, along with a shot conversion rate of 18.37 per cent (which is still better than Harry Kane's number of 16.67 per cent).

Yet when it comes to converting big chances – those Opta define as a situation where a player is expected to score – the 31-year-old sits at a healthy 45.4 per cent, well above his 2018-19 total of 36.1 per cent when he finished tied with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah for the Golden Boot. He is slightly outperforming his expected goals tally of 6.8 this term too, managing seven non-penalty goals from 47 shots.

Arteta recognises it is not necessarily all down to the player himself, with the Gunners manager asking for different requirements from his captain while instilling a more controlled approach to proceedings, laying the foundations for what he hopes will be long-term success under his guidance.

"He can play off the left, off the right, in the middle. He has done it, it's nothing new," Arteta replied when asked about Aubameyang's best position.

"When you look at his stats from the past, there is no difference. But it does depend [on] how we play, how much we provide for him and how efficient he is when he has these chances.

"When he has got this form of confidence, well, he is unstoppable. It is dependent on many factors."

The north London club rewarded Aubameyang for his previous exploits – including two goals to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final last August – with a bumper new contract.

With the goals drying up since signing to stay for a further three years, questions have been raised over his commitment to the cause. He was also dropped from the starting XI prior to the derby with Tottenham in March for disciplinary reasons, though Arteta quickly drew a line under the issue in the aftermath of a much-needed 2-1 victory.

Arteta has no doubt Aubameyang remains ambitious, stating: "It's easy to connect things when they relate to it like that, but I'm not suspicious about that.

"We have had many conversations about what he wanted to do from last year's point of view with his future in the next three years. He was very ambitious with that, but to maintain that level is really complicated. He is trying hard and that's what he is aiming to do."

Arsenal could do with their captain leading from the front during the run-in, starting against Liverpool in what is the highest-scoring fixture in Premier League history.

"It's like a final every game," Arteta said ahead of the final stretch. "Three points mean a lot in the table and we need to go for them, we need to win as many games as possible. We know that."

Arsenal rising stars Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe face late fitness tests and David Luiz has been ruled out of the clash with Liverpool on Saturday evening.

Brazilian centre-back David Luiz must miss the Premier League game at Emirates Stadium, with Arsenal stating the 33-year-old has encountered "discomfort" in his right knee.

How serious that discomfort proves to be remains to be seen, with Arsenal saying the problem would continue to be examined.

Arsenal have a 36.8 per cent win rate in the 19 Premier League games that have featured David Luiz this season, compared with 50 per cent in the 10 games for which he has been absent.

They have collected an average of 1.4 points when he has played and 1.6 when he has not, with Arsenal heading into the weekend in ninth place, four points adrift of Liverpool who sit seventh.

In an injury update issued on the club website, Arsenal indicated winger Saka's right hamstring problem remained under observation.

The injury forced Saka out of England's three World Cup qualifiers in the past fortnight and although Arsenal posted a picture on Twitter of the 19-year-old in training, they said he "will be assessed ahead of Saturday's match regarding his availability".

The same applies for Smith Rowe, who suffered tightness in his right quad on England Under-21 duty, with Arsenal prepared to leave final decisions until closer to the game.

Manager Mikel Arteta faces a further wait to learn whether former captain Granit Xhaka is ready for the game, with the Swiss midfielder having missed training on Friday due to feeling unwell on his return from international duty.

Willian is available to Arteta, however, with the former Chelsea midfielder fully recovered from a left calf injury.

The 32-year-old has had the most assists (7) of all Arsenal players this season, across all competitions, with Smith Rowe and Saka (both 6) just behind the Brazilian.

Arsenal have lost just two of their last 20 Premier League home games against Liverpool (D9 W9).

Liverpool will welcome Roberto Firmino back from injury for Saturday's key Premier League match against Arsenal.

Firmino has been out of action for a month due to a knee injury, last playing in the home defeat against Chelsea on March 3.

The champions sit seventh going into the away clash with Arsenal, five points adrift of the top four, though they hope a win at Wolves prior to the international break will prove a turning point after a miserable run of results.

"Bobby [Firmino] is back," Klopp said at his pre-match news conference on Friday, when he was also asked about other injured players such as Jordan Henderson and Virgil van Dijk.

"All the others not and I have no idea about the Euros. Nothing has changed.

"They are all in the place they should be at the moment. I don’t have bad news or brilliant news. If they are ready then they are ready. They are in rehab process.

"Jordan is not here at the moment, he cannot train. He will train in the next days or weeks, for sure."

In the absence of Firmino, Diogo Jota recovered from his own injury to score against Wolves and help the Reds to secure Champions League progression against RB Leipzig.

He followed up that form with three goals in two caps for Portugal.

"Diogo is in a good moment," said Klopp. "It's good. These are the real benefits of an international break. 

"Shaq [Xherdan Shaqiri] played well for Switzerland. Thiago played a good role in the Spanish games.

"So there are benefits, but not a lot. Scotland played well, Wales surprise three points - a lot of things were going on. 

"I will speak to [Curtis Jones after his red card for England Under-21s].

"You don't want to see these things after a game but we all know in a moment when you lose a game, and it meant a lot to Curtis, who played really good game - if the other team didn't do anything there would be no reaction.

"We have a tough programme, it is always a challenge coming back from international break. You have one session to bring it all together. There is no guarantee that it always works. 

"We were here, they are back, train again and go again."

Arsenal won this fixture 2-1 last season and are looking to beat Liverpool in consecutive home league games for the first time since April 2015.

The Reds have won just two of their last 20 Premier League away games against Arsenal (D9 L9), while the Gunners have lost only one of their last eight home Premier League encounters.

Arsenal, though, have gone eight top-flight matches without a clean sheet and have conceded the first goal in four of their last five league games.

Unusually, Liverpool have fared better on their travels than at Anfield for much of this season, with their last five league victories all coming on the road.

Klopp added: "Let’s go for it and have a look at the end. We don’t have a lot of points to waste any more. We will not hesitate and we will just go for it.

"We are not living in dreamland, but if you ask me what do I wish for, let's go with all we have.

"Whoever plays away at Arsenal should never expect the points, but whatever we want, we only get if we win football games.

"Arsenal is a quality side, they have a lot of potential, quality, experience, youth, really exciting team. 

"The Premier League is a tough league. If you are not at the top level, you get punished. 

"It’s a tough one, but should be tough for Arsenal as well. Our only intention is to be exactly the opponent Arsenal doesn't want."

Premier League stars have returned to their clubs after international duty and now we enter perhaps the most intense stretch of the season.

Will your fantasy league players last the distance or are some showing signs of flagging already? Perhaps the World Cup qualifiers gave you an idea of which stars could deliver for their clubs in the race for those top-four places.

Can Timo Werner rally after his awful miss in Germany's defeat to North Macedonia, or should you look elsewhere for Chelsea players after the Blues' stunning start under Thomas Tuchel.

Our Opta-powered fantasy picks should provide some food for thought ahead of the 30th round of games this weekend.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea, who play West Brom, have shipped just two goals in 10 Premier League games since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel arrived, with the German boss making the London side come good on the potential they showed fleetingly during Frank Lampard's reign.

Goalkeeper Mendy had already looked a shrewd addition and he owns the best save percentage (77.4 per cent) among Premier League goalkeepers in 2021. Only Manchester City's Ederson has conceded fewer goals per game this year among keepers with a minimum of 300 minutes of action. Mendy has conceded seven in 12 games at an average of 0.58, while Ederson has been beaten eight times in 15 matches for a 0.53 average since the turn of the year.

LUKE SHAW

Impressed by Luke Shaw's return to England favour? Wait until you hear what he's been achieving at club level. Shaw's Manchester United form has been a sensational second coming for the player who first caught the eye as a teenager with club and country, and he will look to impress against Brighton on Sunday.

The former Southampton left-back has been directly involved in more goals (one goal, four assists) in 2021 than any other Premier League defender, with his 36 chances created making Shaw a clear leader in that field too. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (24 chances created) sits a distant second on the list.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Already emerging as a favourite of Tuchel, Azpilicueta has played his part in nine clean sheets with Chelsea in 12 Premier League appearances since the start of the year. That is more than any other defender has managed in the competition across that period of time.

The 31-year-old club captain is leading by example and West Brom's attackers will have their work cut out against the former Marseille defender this weekend. Team-mate Antonio Rudiger, who has played 11 league games in 2021, is one of four players in the top flight to have played a part in eight clean sheets this year.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Leicester City know all about Mahrez and his wily ways on the wing, but whether they can stop the Manchester City star on Saturday is perhaps another matter.

The Algerian, who was a Premier League winner with the Foxes, has been involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts (eight goals, three assists). Across his last three league games against Leicester, he has managed two goals and two assists.

SADIO MANE

Could the international break prove to be just the interruption that last year's flagging champions Liverpool needed? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co will hope to resume on a positive note when Jurgen Klopp's men tackle Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Five of Mane's seven Premier League goals for Liverpool this season have come away from home, with four of those coming in London – this is his only Premier League campaign so far where he has scored more goals away than at home. The Senegalese has also scored seven Premier League goals against Arsenal, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10). Two of those have come away at Arsenal, including one in a 2-1 defeat last July.

HARRY KANE

In need of a fix of guaranteed points? Tough, they don't exist. But Kane would be close to the top of any all-time list of the Premier League's most reliable scorers, and he already has 17 goals and 13 assists for Tottenham in the competition this season.

Across all competitions, Kane has been involved in 43 goals in 40 games this term (27 goals, 16 assists), and in terms of involvements that haul is just two short of his best ever season in his senior career (41 goals and four assists in 2017-18). Tottenham go to Newcastle on Sunday, with Kane looking to add to the three league goals he has previously bagged at St James' Park.

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