Robert Lewandowski declared he would not let it trouble him after Lionel Messi left the Bayern Munich striker off his picks for the FIFA Best Men's Player award.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi lavished Lewandowski with praise after pipping him to the Ballon d'Or award in November, saying the Poland captain would have deserved the previous year's award, which was scrapped because of the pandemic.

Yet when it came to selecting his picks for the FIFA prize, which is a right afforded to all national team captains and head coaches, Argentina skipper Messi chose PSG team-mates Neymar and Kylian Mbappe as his first and second picks respectively, putting Real Madrid's Karim Benzema in third place.

Lewandowski picked Champions League and Euro 2020 winner Jorginho as his first choice, ahead of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

In the end, Messi's voting choices did not prevent Lewandowski picking up the FIFA honour, which went his way on Monday. Messi finished second, with Liverpool's Mohamed Salah third.

"When you see what he said at the Ballon d'Or, those were nice words and it was very nice of him," Lewandowski said of Messi in a news conference on Tuesday.

"Regarding his choices, this question must go to him. I don't think he can be mad at me privately, if it's about sport. It was his decision and I have to respect that. I don't have to be mad. I definitely voted him second."

Messi and Ronaldo had held a near-duopoly over European and world football's top awards in recent times, but Lewandowski has now won the FIFA award in consecutive years.

The 33-year-old set a Bundesliga single-season scoring record last term when he hit 41 goals for champions Bayern Munich, passing Gerd Muller's 40-goal benchmark.

Once again, this season he is setting the standard across Europe's top five leagues for putting the ball in the back of the net.

Among players from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, LaLiga and Serie A, nobody comes close to matching Lewandowski's haul of 34 goals in 27 games so far across all competitions.

Benzema is second on the list with 24 goals, Mbappe has 19, while Messi has scored only six times for PSG since his dramatic move from Barcelona.

After Salah (23 goals) in third place, next among scorers is Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland (21 goals).

There has been speculation Haaland's next club could be Bayern, and Lewandowski was asked whether the strikers could play together.

"If I train with him, then after a week or two you could say something," Lewandowski said. "Erling is a different type of player than me. But he's a top player, and I'm happy that he shows how good he is in every game. For me, that means I can keep doing my job.”

The FIFA Best Awards were conducted on Monday, with Chelsea taking three prizes.

While Robert Lewandowski and Alexia Putellas, who won the women's Ballon d'Or last year, took home the prizes for Best Men's and Women's player respectively, the Blues had winners in the form of Thomas Tuchel, Emma Hayes and Edouard Mendy.

Tuchel, who guided Chelsea to Champions League success last season, scooped the Best Men's Coach award, while Hayes was named Best Women's Coach.

Hayes' team won the Women's FA Cup and Premier League in 2020-21, while also finishing as runners-up in the Women's Champions League to Barcelona, who Putellas plays for.

Mendy, meanwhile, won the Best Men's Goalkeeper award. However, he did not make the Men's XI, with Italy and Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma preferred.

Tuchel's triumph also means that a German coach has won the Men's award for the last three years, after Jurgen Klopp in 2020 and 2019.

The Denmark national team won the Fair Play Award for their actions in helping to save Christian Eriksen's life after the midfielder collapsed on the pitch in Copenhagen at Euro 2020.

Erik Lamela won the Puskas Award for his incredible rabona finish in the north London derby.

Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, was given a Special Award for his career achievements.

FIFA Best Awards 2021 winners:

Robert Lewandowski (Best Men's Player)
Thomas Tuchel (Best Men's Coach)
Edouard Mendy (Best Men's Goalkeeper)
Alexia Putellas (Best Women's Player)
Emma Hayes (Best Women's Coach)
Christiane Endler (Best Women's Goalkeeper)
Denmark men's national team (FIFA Fair Play Award)
Erik Lamela (Puskas Award)
Denmark and Finland fans (FIFA Fan Award)
Cristiano Ronaldo (FIFA Special Award)
Christine Sinclair (FIFA Special Award)

Robert Lewandowski won the men's FIFA Best award for the second year running at a ceremony at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich on Monday.

The Bayern Munich striker beat fellow nominees Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah to the award, having also won it the last time it was up for grabs in December 2020.

Lewandowski scored 58 goals in 47 games in all competitions in 2021, which included breaking two long-standing records previously held by the legendary German striker Gerd Muller. He bagged 41 goals in a single Bundesliga season for Bayern, and 43 Bundesliga goals in a calendar year.

The Pole has scored 34 goals in 27 games so far this season, including nine in the Champions League group stage.

 

The 33-year-old was presented the award in Munich surrounded by Bayern's chief executive officer Oliver Kahn, sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and head coach Julian Nagelsmann.

"Thank you very much. I am very honoured to win this trophy," he said upon receiving the award. "I feel very proud, very happy. This trophy also belongs to my team-mates and my coaches."

Lewandowski was also asked about breaking the records of Muller, who passed away in August last year at the age of 75.

"I never dreamed I could break [Muller's] records, to score 41 goals in 29 games, if you asked me a few years ago if this was possible I would tell you 'no'.

"But now he's not with us anymore, and these old records that I broke, I also say to him 'thank you' because he had so many records and for us, the next generation players, that was like the next step. To try to break these records and I did, so I am very honoured and very proud of this as well."

Robert Lewandowski won the men's FIFA Best award for the second year running at a ceremony at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich on Monday.

The Bayern Munich striker beat fellow nominees Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah to the award, having also won it the last time it was up for grabs in December 2020.

Lewandowski scored 58 goals in 47 games in all competitions in 2021, which included breaking two long-standing records previously held by the legendary German striker Gerd Muller. He bagged 41 goals in a single Bundesliga season for Bayern, and 43 Bundesliga goals in a calendar year.

The Pole has scored 34 goals in 27 games so far this season, including nine in the Champions League group stage.

Manuel Neuer described Robert Lewandowski as a "machine" after the striker reached 300 Bundesliga goals with a hat-trick in Bayern Munich's 4-0 win over Cologne.

The Poland star broke the deadlock on Saturday as Bayern became the first team in the history of the competition to score in 66 consecutive matches.

After Corentin Tolisso struck a fine second, Lewandowski delivered two more precise finishes following Leroy Sane throughballs to move the leaders six points clear.

The 33-year-old is just the second player in Bundesliga history to reach a treble century of goals, after Gerd Muller, who scored a record 365.

Last season, Lewandowski scored 42 times to break Muller's record for goals in a single Bundesliga season, and he could now have the outright leading tally in his sights.

"After the defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach, it was just important for us to get our first points of the year, and that's what we did," Neuer told Sky Sport.

"We're happy and grateful that we have Robert. He's a machine up front."

 

There was a curious moment after the match, when Neuer exchanged his shirt for the flat cap of Cologne head coach Steffen Baumgart.

"His cap is legendary!" he said.

The game was Bayern's first since it was confirmed that full-back Alphonso Davies will have to sit out training after being diagnosed with inflammation of the heart.

Coach Julian Nagelsmann said the Canada international will be out of action for at least the next month.

"It could be that it goes away quickly, but it's at least four weeks – and everything is possible for an indefinite amount of time," he said prior to the match.

"If you suffer from something like this, you usually don't notice it. You only notice that you're not 100 per cent when you move.

"[It is important] that we do the examinations meticulously, and that's how we diagnosed it. It's important for him to heal, but it's a shape because Alphonso had just come back."

Robert Lewandowski hit a hat-trick as Bayern Munich set a Bundesliga record in Saturday's 4-0 away win over Cologne.

The Poland striker's ninth-minute opener meant the champions scored in a record 66 consecutive league games, a feat never before achieved in Germany's top tier.

Corentin Tolisso scored a fine second before two more Lewandowski goals in the second half secured a ninth league win in a row over Steffen Baumgart's side.

Fittingly, it was Lewandowski who set Bayern's latest goalscoring record, the striker side-footing past Marvin Schwabe from Thomas Muller's pass and a VAR check overruling the offside call.

The visitors doubled their lead in spectacular fashion, Tolisso controlling Muller's lay-off before rifling left-footed into the top-right corner from the edge of the box.

Cologne thought they had pulled a goal back through Mark Uth, but another VAR check showed an offside, and the hosts finished the half without another shot on target.

Marcel Sabitzer had an effort saved and Jamal Musiala's turn and shot clipped the outside of the post as Bayern stepped up their pressure after the interval.

Cologne offered a slight threat of a comeback with a good period of pressure, but it was promptly Lewandowski quelled 62 minutes in, Lewandowski drilling home his 22nd Bundesliga goal of the season after being played through by Leroy Sane.

The pair combined again for Bayern's fourth, Muller releasing Sane on a zig-zagging run before he prodded through for Lewandowski to finish with aplomb.

 

What does it mean? Bayern respond to Dortmund pressure

You have to go back to February 9, 2020, and a goalless draw with RB Leipzig, to find the last occasion in which Bayern played a league game without scoring a goal.

Their latest two helped them to a comfortable win that stretched their lead at the top back to six points, Borussia Dortmund having closed the gap with a 5-1 thumping of Freiburg on Friday.

Cologne sit eighth in the table, but just two points off the top four.

 

Magnificent Muller

Lewandowski's goalscoring exploits can often overshadow Muller, but two assists and four chances created here were a reminder of his importance to Bayern.

The Germany star has now directly set up 150 Bundesliga goals since his debut back in August 2008. In that time, only Lionel Messi (180) has made more assists in Europe's top five leagues.

No sniff of a Cologne goal

Cologne managed only one shot on target throughout and starting strikers Uth and Anthony Modeste were substituted even before Lewandowski netted Bayern's fourth.

They had promising moments in the final third but this was a surprisingly toothless performance from a side whose 28 points from their first 18 games was their second-best return this century.

What's next?

Bayern are back in action next Sunday away to Hertha Berlin. Cologne host Hamburg in the DFB-Pokal on Tuesday before resuming league duties at Bochum four days later.

There is nothing quite like an individual football award to create debate and there is sure to be plenty when one of Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski or Mohamed Salah is named this year's men's FIFA Best winner on January 17.

While team trophies will always be the end game for most players, the few who are good enough to be in contention for individual accolades put such importance on being recognised that they have been known to move clubs specifically to improve their chances of collecting silverware in a tuxedo rather than just in a dirty kit. Neymar, anyone?

The Ballon d'Or is broadly seen as football's version of the Oscars, but the annual FIFA Best award is also becoming one of the more sought-after honours and the latest men and women's winners will be crowned on Monday at FIFA's headquarters in Zurich.

The awards will be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website.

Stats Perform has taken a look at the data of the three nominees for the men's prize to try and decipher who is likeliest to come away with the prize.

The Best... at scoring goals

It is a harsh truth that scoring goals will almost always win over stopping them when it comes to the top awards, so it makes sense that Messi, Lewandowski and Salah are the nominees for this year.

The trio scored 129 goals between them in 145 collective games across 2021, which includes 21 overall in this season's Champions League group stage, over seven per cent of the total amount scored in the competition (297).

However, there is no doubt which of the star trio stood out for finding the net time and time again.

Lewandowski, last year's winner, was frankly ridiculous in front of goal, netting 43 in the Bundesliga in a calendar year, breaking Gerd Muller's record from 1972, and 58 in all competitions in just 47 outings.

Salah had a mixed year at Liverpool, with the Reds' poor form at the start of 2021 almost costing them a place in the Premier League's top four. However, thanks in part to the Egypt forwards' 15 goals in 28 games between the turn of the year and end of the campaign, Liverpool reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finished third in the league, ahead of European champions Chelsea.

His nomination is mostly down to his form in the second half of the year, though, with Salah scoring 22 goals in 25 games in all competitions. He scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player, and is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, well ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota in second place on 10.

For Messi, it is probably the other way round. The legendary Argentine has managed only six goals in 16 appearances since his sensational move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season.

However, his 28 goals in 29 games for Barca between New Year's Day and his emotional departure was Messi at his effervescent best, even if the rest of the team was lagging behind him, and he followed that up with four at the Copa America for Argentina.

Consistency and underlying numbers

While it has been mostly impressive from all three, Lewandowski's consistency puts him above the other two, with a 55.17 big chance conversion percentage across 2021, compared to Messi's 45.95 and Salah's 45.90, and an overall shot conversion rate of 28.02 against Salah's 19.37 and Messi's 15.74.

Unsurprisingly, this also led to a significantly better minutes per goal rate, with Lewandowski averaging a goal roughly every 68 minutes, while Messi bagged one every 116 minutes and Salah every 122 minutes.

While all three scored plenty of penalties that could potentially skew the numbers, Lewandowski again dominated in expected goals (xG) without spot kicks, with a 2021 xG excluding penalties of 43.86, compared with Salah's 29.6 and Messi's 24.37.

Not all scorers have to be selfish

Of course, while goals make the headlines, someone has to create them or nothing will happen. This is where Salah and Messi start to claw it back.

Lewandowski managed seven assists in 2021 in all competitions and created 61 chances for team-mates. Quite respectable for any number nine.

However, despite a perhaps unfair reputation for being "selfish", Salah recorded 11 assists and created 88 chances, while Messi had 13 assists to his name and created exactly 100 opportunities.

In terms of big chances (which Opta define as an opportunity from which a player would be expected to score), it is a bit closer, with Lewandowski crafting 16, Salah 18 and Messi 24, though with the Pole usually playing higher up the pitch it makes sense that the opportunities he creates would come in a dangerous area.

Show us your medals

While it is not entirely without merit, it does seem a bit counter-intuitive to base how much credit an individual player deserves on what his team has achieved. There are plenty of world-class players who did not always play in teams capable of winning much silverware, just like there have been numerous average players who were simply members of squads that won a lot, whether they had much to do with it or not.

It usually comes into consideration when the big awards are handed out though and is likely the ultimate reason that Messi pipped Lewandowski to last year's Ballon d'Or.

Messi helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey last season and then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with his nine direct goal involvements helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament. He still managed to score three goals in as many games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

He did win the Bundesliga title again with Bayern, but after claiming a remarkable treble the year before, it may rather harshly look like a bit of a regression.

Unfortunately for Salah, this is probably where his chance to finish above the other two falls down, as arguably proven by his astonishingly low seventh place in the Ballon d'Or voting.

The 29-year-old did not have an opportunity for national team success in 2021, and he is currently aiming to help Egypt recover from an opening game defeat to Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, but he also did not win any trophies at club level.

It is possibly a bit too early for Salah, but his form has been electric this season and if he can continue it through the rest of the campaign, ideally for Liverpool collecting a trophy or two along the way, he will certainly be in the conversation for next year's honours.

The question will be the same as it was for the Ballon d'Or; will those with voting power be more impressed by Lewandowski's goalscoring exploits, or by Messi's final six months at Barca followed by a successful Copa America, or could Salah's explosive form in the second half of the year see him sneak it?

Whatever the outcome, you would be hard-pressed to argue that the trio are not currently the three best footballers on the planet, though if you take a look on social media when the winner is announced, you'll find plenty of people willing to try.

Julian Nagelsmann was pleased with his team's efforts despite Bayern Munich losing 2-1 at home to Borussia Monchengladbach in the first Bundesliga game after the winter break.

A superb opener from Robert Lewandowski - who was nominated for the Best FIFA Men's Player 2021 award earlier on Friday - was cancelled out before half-time by Foals duo Florian Neuhaus and Stefan Lainer, with the league leaders unable to respond in the second half.

Bayern were without a number of key players through COVID-19 and injuries, including Manuel Neuer, Lucas Hernandez, Dayot Upamecano, Leon Goretzka, Alphonso Davies, Kingsley Coman and Leroy Sane, but Nagelsmann still believed his team deserved something from the game.

Speaking after the defeat, the 34-year-old told reporters: "We were actually closer to winning than Gladbach were.

"Considering the situation, we did very well in the first 25 minutes, we should have been up by more. The way we conceded the equaliser was complete madness, I don't know why we wanted to do that in the box like that, and then we conceded from another set-piece.

"In the second half we played decently and had lots of chances. Unlike in the cup game, we didn't deserve to lose today."

Although Nagelsmann was still able to name a relatively strong starting line-up, Bayern's bench was practically unrecognisable, filled with youngsters, including the debuting Paul Wanner.

Aged 16 years and 15 days, Wanner's 75th-minute introduction saw him become the second-youngest player in Bundesliga history, behind only Borussia Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko (16 years, 1 day), and Nagelsmann was effusive in his praise of the teenager.

"He's an unbelievable talent, very quick and very brave," the former Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig coach said. "He immediately took on [Breel] Embolo and went on dribbling in his first action. Physically he's not bad either. But he has to remain grounded and clear in his head, then the doors will be open for him."

Bayern were thrashed 5-0 by Gladbach in the DFB-Pokal earlier in the season, and Nagelsmann had expressed a desire for revenge ahead of the game, but instead Adi Hutter only increased his impressive record against the young German coach.

Hutter and Nagelsmann have now met eight times as opposition coaches in the Bundesliga, and nobody has won as often in the top flight against Nagelsmann as the Gladbach boss (W4 D3 L1).

The former Eintracht Frankfurt coach praised the intensity of his team, saying after the win: "Huge compliments to the team for coming back like that and getting the win in Munich. When the intensity is high, you have a good chance of winning, and that's what we showed today.

"Of course Bayern could have equalised, but my team played well. They implemented what we trained."

Bayern Munich were beaten for just the third time in the Bundesliga this season as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Borussia Monchengladbach as German football returned from its mid-season break.

First-half goals from Florian Neuhaus and Stefan Lainer cancelled out Robert Lewandowski's opener at the Allianz Arena, and Julian Nagelsmann's men were unable to find a way back into the game in the second period.

The defending champions had been hit by numerous positive COVID-19 cases in the build-up and were missing several key players including Manuel Neuer, Dayot Upamecano, Kingsley Coman, Alphonso Davies and Leroy Sane.

However, in a game behind closed doors with the snow falling in Munich, a nonetheless strong Bayern starting line-up was unable to avenge their 5-0 humbling by Gladbach in the DFB-Pokal this season.

Yann Sommer made two big saves early on from Serge Gnabry and Lewandowski, but the Poland star was never likely to be denied for long and he had Bayern in front on 18 minutes when he collected a Thomas Muller pass, before turning his marker and firing in at Sommer's near post with the usual precise venom.

Entirely against the run of play, Gladbach were level just nine minutes later. With the first real attack from the visitors, a cross was poorly cleared by Joshua Kimmich and the alert Neuhaus fired the ball in under Sven Ulreich.

That sparked Adi Hutter's team into life and they were ahead just after the half-hour mark when a Luca Netz corner was headed in well by Lainer.

Gladbach were the ones pressing for another as they started to dominate the hosts, with Neuhaus and Breel Embolo both coming close to getting a third, before Lewandowski hit the post from a tight angle just before half-time.

Sommer saved well from Jamal Musiala early in the second half while Lewandowski hit the woodwork again, but despite a late push for an equaliser, the league leaders were kept at bay.

Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah have been announced as the three finalists for The Best FIFA Men's Player Award.

The attacking trio were named on a shortlist for the prize in November that also included Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Karim Benzema, Jorginho and N'Golo Kante.

Lewandowski, Messi and Salah are the final nominees chosen following a public vote that closed on December 10. Jennifer Hermoso, Sam Kerr and Alexia Putellas are the finalists for the women's award for 2021.

The final three up for The Best FIFA Men's Coach award, confirmed on Thursday, are Pep Guardiola, Roberto Mancini and Thomas Tuchel. Lluis Cortes, Emma Hayes and Sarina Wiegman are the finalists for the women's coaching prize.

The player awards will now be decided by an international jury comprising national team coaches and captains, a selected journalist from each territory represented by a national side, and fans registered with FIFA's website. The winners will be announced on January 17.

Lewandowski, who won the 2020 prize after firing Bayern Munich to the treble, scored 41 times in the Bundesliga last season to break Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals in a single season. He ended 2021 with 48 goals in all competitions.

Messi, who won the 2021 Ballon d'Or to extend his record to seven trophies, helped Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey in what proved to be his final season at the club. He then inspired Argentina to glory at the Copa America, with four goals and five assists helping them to win the trophy for the first time since 1993.

Liverpool star Salah scored 37 times in all competitions in 2021, at least 15 more than any other Premier League player. He is top of the scoring charts for 2021-22 in England's top flight with 16, ahead of team-mate Diogo Jota on 10.

As football concludes for 2021, you'd be forgiven for wondering if the past year even happened at all.

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing, the climate crisis continues unabated, Donald Trump is crying election fraud and everyone is talking about cryptocurrency without really knowing why. If Bill Murray appeared on television to tell you we're stuck in a 2020 time loop, you'd barely even blink.

Well, 2021 really did happen, and we have the data to prove it. Here, Stats Perform presents a selection of the biggest footballing moments of the year, and the numbers that help to make them unforgettable – even if you can't remember what day it is...

Tuchel your fancy

Expectations are pretty high for Chelsea coaches, but winning the Champions League before you've been in the job for half a year – after replacing club legend Frank Lampard, no less – isn't a bad way to impress the owner! No but seriously, Thomas Tuchel is brilliant.

The Blues beat Atletico Madrid, Porto, Real Madrid and Manchester City in the knockouts as they became kings of Europe for the second time. They only conceded twice in those matches; in fact, Edouard Mendy became the first goalkeeper to keep as many as nine clean sheets in his debut season in the competition.

From Tuchel's first match in charge until the end of 2020-21, no Premier League team lost fewer games (five), conceded fewer goals (16) or kept more clean sheets (19) across all competitions than Chelsea. It's worth remembering that, Thomas, if you really do think your title hopes are already over at the halfway stage of the season.

Live and let Daei

Football's greatest-of-all-time debate is likely to drag on until humanity has long since gone extinct, with nothing left of civilisation except decaying ruins and NFTs of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, most likely dressed as goats, stored on a giant blockchain server at the centre of the Earth (no, we don't understand it all, either).

We can at least agree on one non-fungible Ronaldo record, though: as of 2021, he is the leading international goalscorer in the history of men's football.

A brace against the Republic of Ireland on September 1 took him to 111 for Portugal, two more than previous record-holder Ali Daei of Iran. Ronaldo will start the World Cup year on 115 goals in 184 international appearances – but without the Ballon d'Or on his mantelpiece...

Gerd lord, another record

With practically the final kick of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, Robert Lewandowski pounced on a loose ball to score his 41st league goal and break Gerd Muller's previous single-season record of 40, which had stood since 1972.

Not satisfied with the greatest goalscoring effort in Germany's top flight for nearly half a century, Lewandowski ended 2021 with 43 goals for the calendar year (in only 34 games), again surpassing a previous best tally set by Muller. During that run, he became the first player in the competition to score in 13 consecutive home matches, beating the 12-game runs of Jupp Heynckes and, yes, Muller. The late Bayern great's record of a goal in 16 Bundesliga games in a row still stands, though, Lewandowski having been stopped from matching it by the crossbar in a 3-1 win at Greuther Furth in September.

This year also saw the Bayern Munich striker reach 120 away goals in the Bundesliga, which is, you guessed it, another record. At least this one was previously held by a different name: Klaus Fischer, on 117. Muller is third on 115, for what it's worth.

Let's talk about six, baby 

Liverpool started the year boasting the second-longest unbeaten home run in the history of England's top division: they had gone 68 games without defeat after losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace in April 2017, a streak only bettered by Chelsea (86 games ending in October 2008).

Then, they lost 1-0 to Burnley at Anfield. Then, 1-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at Anfield. After that came a 4-1 battering by Manchester City, an almost unthinkable 2-0 loss to Everton, and then another pair of 1-0 defeats, this time to Chelsea and Fulham... and all at Anfield.

Six consecutive home defeats: something never endured by any Liverpool team before, nor any reigning champion of England's top flight.

Pep-pered with records

City were top of the Premier League on Christmas Day for the third time in their history. They won the league on the previous two occasions (in 2011 and 2017), so the omens are positive for 2021-22 – not that they need much divine intervention right now.

The reigning champions, boasting a 10-match winning streak, broke the record for the most victories in a calendar year in England's top flight with their 34th of 2021 against Newcastle United this month. The previous best was 33 set by Bob Paisley's Liverpool in 1982.

In the process, Pep Guardiola's men also set a new top-tier record of 18 away wins in a single year, beating the previous best of 17 set by Bill Nicholson's famous Tottenham side of 1960-61. Oh, and their 112 goals scored in 2021 is the best such calendar-year return in the Premier League era.

An Argentine tango – and a Messi divorce

Lionel Messi ends 2021 with 23 goals and eight assists in LaLiga, the most direct goal involvements of any player aside from Karim Benzema (41). And he hasn't played in the competition since May.

Messi's tearful departure from Barcelona, who decided they simply couldn't afford to keep the player they previously couldn't afford to lose, heralded the end of an era in Spanish football. It hasn't gone particularly well for either party, either: Barca, who sacked Ronald Koeman in November, sit seventh in LaLiga, while Messi has scored one goal in 11 Ligue 1 games for Paris Saint-Germain.

Club football might have been more of a nightmare than a dream for Messi this year, but the same cannot be said for his international exploits. He was the joint-top goalscorer and the tournament's best player as Argentina finally ended their long wait for silverware, defeating Brazil 1-0 in the final of the Copa America. It was enough to secure Messi a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, even though he seemed to think Lewandowski actually deserved to win (and, let's be honest, a lot of us did).

It's a Lille bit funny...

Last season, Paris Saint-Germain replaced Tuchel with Mauricio Pochettino ostensibly so they might win the Champions League. Instead, while Tuchel took Chelsea to European glory within just five months, Pochettino's PSG could not even keep hold of their Ligue 1 crown.

Lille won the French top flight for the fourth time in their history, becoming only the fourth side to win it at least twice since the turn of the century (the others being PSG, of course, Monaco and Lyon). Their triumph was inspired by the late-career renaissance of Burak Yilmaz: his 16 league goals were the most scored by anyone over the age of 35 in Europe's top five leagues last season, with the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo (29).

While their title defence isn't going too swimmingly – Lille are eighth in the table after 19 games, 18 points behind leaders PSG – they managed to win their Champions League group for the first time in seven attempts. They also boast the top scorer in Ligue 1 this term: Jonathan David, who was an 11-year-old playing for Ottawa Gloucester Hornets when Lille won their third league title in 2011, has scored 12 times already.

Get Inter the spirit

This year saw Inter end their decade-long wait for the Scudetto and bring about the end of Juventus' recent stranglehold on Serie A.

Inspired by Antonio Conte – who started Juve's nine-year title streak back in 2012 – and league MVP Romelu Lukaku, the Nerazzurri finished 12 points clear at the top as their coach became the man with the best points-per-game ratio (2.26) in the modern history of Italy's top flight.

Despite a close-season of upheaval in which Conte walked, Lukaku returned to Chelsea and Achraf Hakimi went to PSG, Inter go into next year with a four-point advantage at the top and just one defeat in 19 league games, having scored over 100 league goals in a calendar year for the first time in their history.

Mancini's miracle

Italy's second European Championship trophy, secured courtesy of a penalty shoot-out win over England at Wembley, was the pinnacle of a quite remarkable run of results under Roberto Mancini.

The Azzurri would go on to set a new world record in men's international football of 37 matches without defeat, during which they won 30, scored 93 goals and conceded only 12. The run ended when they lost 2-1 to Spain in the Nations League semi-finals in Milan, marking their first competitive home defeat since 1999.

In the first 33 of those matches, starting from a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in October 2018, they were behind for only 44 minutes. At Euro 2020, they had five players who scored at least twice, they ended the tournament with a joint-high 13 goals and conceded only four. And yet, in 2022, they must navigate the play-offs – and potentially a meeting with Portugal – if they are to avoid failing to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row.

Palmeiras pull off the unbeliev-Abel

The Copa Libertadores final is not something Andreas Pereira will want to remember: it was the Manchester United loanee's error that allowed substitute Deyverson to win it for Palmeiras in extra time.

This was a historic result, though. Not only were Palmeiras the first team since Boca Juniors 20 years ago to win back-to-back Libertadores trophies, but Abel Ferreira became the only European coach to win the competition twice.

Before his time in Brazil, arguably Abel's finest achievement in his post-playing career was helping PAOK reach 51 league games unbeaten – although he was only actually in charge for 17 of those matches, including the 4-2 loss to Aris that brought the streak to an end.

Robert Lewandowski says he is paying no attention to speculation over his future as he eyes more glory for Bayern Munich.

The Poland striker, who has scored 30 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions this season, is contracted to the Bundesliga champions until June 2023

Appearing at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai on Monday, Lewandowski stated that he will not be distracted by "rumours" that he could look to leave Bayern.

"In my football life, I have always done what I have chosen," the 33-year-old said. "I can play for many more years.

"I haven't thought about the future in a few years. Maybe I can do it but now everything is going well, I'm focused on the season, on the next games, on what I want this season.

"Every year there are rumours, for me it's nothing new. I'm focused on the field, on training. It's difficult, if you hear all these voices.

"The important thing is to be happy where you are."

Lewandowski recently scored his 43rd league goal of 2021, beating the record set by the legendary Gerd Muller for most goals in the German top flight in a calendar year (42 goals in 1972).

However, the former Borussia Dortmund man was pipped to the main award in Dubai, just as he was when finishing runner-up to Lionel Messi in the voting for the Ballon d'Or last month.

The Globe Soccer men's player of the year award for 2021 instead went to Messi's Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe.

Lewandowski did win the fans' player of the year award, as well as the Maradona award for the best goalscorer.

Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski have expressed concerns about the lack of rest players will get if plans for a biennial World Cup come to fruition.

FIFA's proposal to host the tournament every two years instead of four has largely been met with scepticism.

Both Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski are not in favour of the change, with the former suggesting that the quality of the spectacle would suffer if the health of players is not taken into account. 

"We like to play but it's too much," Mbappe said in Dubai, where he was named men's player of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards. "If people want to see quality, we have to take a break.

"Playing the World Cup every two years would make this competition 'normal' and that shouldn't be the case. The World Cup, the Nations League... we love to play but it's too much.

"If people want to see quality, I think we have to take a break."

Lewandowski echoed the France international's sentiments, stating that the schedule is already congested even without the added burden of an increased number of World Cups.

"We have a lot of games in the year, very dense weeks," Lewandowski said at the same event. "If you want to give the fans something different, you need a break.

"We have to look into the future, if we want to play a World Cup every two years, the level will drop. It's impossible for the body and the mind to perform at the same level."

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski surpassed Gerd Muller's long-standing Bundesliga calendar-year scoring record with his second-half finish against Wolfsburg.

Muller found the net 42 times in the German top flight in 1972, but Lewandowski set a new record with his 43rd league goal of 2021.

Thomas Muller opened the scoring for Bayern after just seven minutes on Friday, while Lewandowski volleyed over as he searched for the landmark goal.

Dayot Upamecano and Leroy Sane netted the second and third goals for Julian Nagelsmann’s side, before Lewandowski’s milestone strike eventually arrived in the 87th minute when he smashed into the roof of the net following Jamal Musiala's header.

The Poland international has now scored 24 goals in 21 Bundesliga games against Wolfsburg, including a five-goal haul against them back in September 2015 in a 5-1 victory for the Bavarians.

Yet another landmark for Lewandowski caps a fantastic year in which the former Borussia Dortmund star won France Football's inaugural Striker of the Year award, after finishing second to Lionel Messi in the 2021 Ballon d'Or reckoning.

Lewandowski may have felt hard done by, given he has managed 58 goals in 2021 across all competitions – 15 more than any other player across Europe's top-five leagues, with Dortmund's Erling Haaland occupying second (43).

The Bayern talisman also leads the scoring charts across Europe this campaign, with 30 goals to his name in all competitions. Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is the next best with 22.

Worryingly for Wolfsburg, the 33-year-old may now eye another record for most goals against a single opponent in the Bundesliga, also held by Muller, who netted 27 times against Hamburg.

Julian Nagelsmann's side boast a healthy advantage over Dortmund at the top of the table heading into the mid-season break.

Thomas Muller starred on a milestone appearance and Robert Lewandowski broke a long-standing Gerd Muller record as Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich cruised to a 4-0 victory over Wolfsburg on Friday.

Muller marked his 400th top-flight outing for Bayern with the opening goal after seven minutes at the Allianz Arena, before the Germany international teed up Dayot Upamecano for a second after the interval.

Leroy Sane added a third for Julian Nagelsmann's side and Lewandowski was able to find a record 43rd league goal in 2021 to surpass Bayern legend's Gerd Muller's long-standing Bundesliga calendar-year scoring record as the hosts cruised to victory.
 
Leaders Bayern hold a nine-point advantage at the summit, with Dortmund – who play Hertha Berlin on Saturday – sat in second heading into the mid-season break.

Bayern were soon ahead when Muller poked home from close range after Koen Casteels had parried Serge Gnabry's strike, before Manuel Neuer thwarted Wout Weghorst at the other end.

Jamal Musiala almost doubled Bayern's lead but dragged wide, while Casteels denied Lewandowski's header from point-blank range.

Muller delicately chipped for Upamecano to head into the bottom-left corner after the interval, with Sane expertly curling in via the left post just two minutes later.

Lewandowski then had two opportunities to break Gerd Muller's benchmark, but wastefully prodded over with the first before an excellent Casteels save denied him from the second.

The Poland striker eventually managed his landmark finish when Musiala selflessly headed across goal for the Poland striker to volley in as Bayern eased to victory.


What does it mean? Bayern title favourites again heading into mid-season break

Bayern, who have not lost any of their last 25 home league matches against Wolfsburg, once again head into the mid-season break top of the Bundesliga – this time leading by at least six points, with Dortmund set to play their game in hand against Hertha Berlin on Saturday.

In the three points-per-win era, the Bavarians have won the title in 14 of the 15 seasons when they have been at the summit at the halfway point. By contrast, Wolfsburg have now lost seven consecutive competitive matches.

Gnabry the Great

Muller and Lewandowski seemingly steal the plaudits most weeks, but Gnabry's dominant performance should not go under the radar.

The Germany winger not only provided an assist but also laid on a team-leading three chances – along with full-back Alphonso Davies and Musiala – as he ensured a torrid game for Yannick Gerhardt at left wing-back.

Woeful Weghorst

Weghorst wasted a glorious opportunity to equalise immediately after Muller's opener and that set the tone for a frustrating performance from the striker.

The Netherlands international cut an isolated figure up top, winning just over a third of his 14 duels, while relinquishing possession a team-high 18 times.

What's next?

The Bundesliga now takes a break until 2022. Bayern return to action at home to Borussia Monchengladbach on January 7, while Wolfsburg visit Bochum two days later. 

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