Paris Saint-Germain captain Marquinhos is convinced Kylian Mbappe will be at ease with the prospect of facing Real Madrid amid the backdrop of intense speculation linking him with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Mbappe has been a long-term target of Madrid's and was the subject of more than one huge bids last year, but PSG held firm, adamant they could persuade him to sign a new deal.

Half a year on and Mbappe is into the final six months of his PSG contract, with everything pointing towards a likely free transfer to Madrid at the end of the season.

As such, all eyes will be on the France star as PSG take on Madrid in their upcoming last-16 tie in the Champions League.

Madrid visit Paris on Tuesday looking to get the upper hand, but Marquinhos has no doubts about Mbappe's state of mind.

Asked on Monday if beating Madrid over the two legs could convince Mbappe to stay at PSG, Marquinhos replied: "That is not the goal. The goal is to play well because even though it's over two legs, we know the home leg is particularly important.

"We are at home, and we will try to get a good result, play well and win. We want to score goals as that is important.

"We want Kylian to be as comfortable and happy as possible. He is still quite young and very strong mentally.

"He knows how to navigate the moments he is living through. He is confident, and we can see how he is doing on the pitch.

"He is at ease with the situation, happy to play with us, and we will make the most of that so he can be decisive for us. I hope he does that with us tomorrow, and he has his choices to make."

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino is thought to be under significant pressure heading into this tie, with recent reports claiming he could be dismissed if they fail to reach the quarter-finals.

Yet he does not think there is greater pressure on PSG to prevail, suggesting they remain "pretenders" in a competition they have not yet won.

"I don't think there's more pressure on one side than the other," he said. "We respect Madrid given the history and trophies – they have won the most Champions League titles, 13, which shows that it's not just about players or coaching staff, but the strength within the structure internally at the club.

"Whenever you win trophies, it's down to a combination of factors where clubs can show their power, even more so in the Champions League.

"I don't think there is a favourite. It's a tie that could be a final, given the names, players and quality. Madrid have been winning this competition for 50 years – PSG are the pretenders.

"And now we are trying to get closer to that dream. I have total confidence in my team and players, and the supporters who give us energy."

N'Golo Kante has insisted Chelsea "will go for every trophy" and is still hungry for success after winning the Club World Cup.

The Blues defeated Palmeiras 2-1 to win the competition for the first time in their history, having qualified after winning their second Champions League title last season.

Chelsea were fancied to push Manchester City and Liverpool all the way in the Premier League title race, though a top-flight charge now looks unlikely.

However, they have an EFL Cup final coming up against Liverpool at the end of February, while Thomas Tuchel's team remain in the FA Cup and the Champions League. They will face Luton Town and Lille respectively in the next rounds of those competitions.

With a first trophy of the season under Chelsea's belt, Kante – who also counts two Premier League titles and the World Cup among his honours – is eager for more.

"We know there are many more important games coming with the final of the Carabao Cup, we're still in the Champions League, we have to do well in the Premier League and the FA Cup is coming," Kante told reporters.

"So many great things are ahead of us. We hope we will enjoy many more nights like these. I don't know what we can achieve, but what we want is to get the best out of our team so we compete for everything. We will go for every trophy."

Kante also believes Chelsea proved how much the Club World Cup success meant to them by playing a strong team, despite the tournament being played mid-season.

"We took it very seriously," Kante continued. "For many of the players, we've never played this tournament, the club had never won it and to have the privilege to play it and win it is very special. It's a very nice feeling.

"It's the first time for the club and we're happy to be part of that, to have done it. Also, for us, it is the following of the success of the Champions League.

"This is special. It's a nice moment, we're all together and it's another trophy."

Despite the success this Chelsea squad has achieved over the past year, Callum Hudson-Odoi explained that, for young players like himself, there is still much to accomplish before he or his team-mates can be considered as club greats.

"I don't feel like a legend at all," Hudson-Odoi said. "At the end of the day I'm young, I've got a long way to go.

"I'm delighted to win trophies. When you win trophies it is a big feeling. You keep adding and adding to the cabinet and it's nice but you can't say you're a legend at 21.

"It is too, too early to say that. There is a lot more to come, hopefully. We keep pushing and keep going and at the end of the day we keep creating more history for the club and enjoy it while we can."

Clubs who make it to the finals of UEFA's competitions will have extra tickets allocated their way, which must be offered to supporters, not sponsors.

UEFA confirmed on Monday that it would release 30,000 free tickets for the finals of the Champions League, Europa League, Europa Conference League and the women's Champions League.

Of those tickets, 6,000 have been allocated to each of the women's Champions League final and the Europa Conference final, with 8,000 to the Europa League and 10,000 to the Champions League showpiece.

UEFA has insisted that clubs must allocate these tickets to "their most loyal supporters", such as season ticket holders, but that they must not be given to officials, sponsors or partners.

Prices for category four and three tickets have also been frozen at €70 and €180 respectively for the next three men's Champions League finals, from 2022 to 2024.

Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA president, said: "Football fans are the lifeblood of the game and we thought it would be a nice way to recognise the difficulties they have experienced over the last two years and how they nevertheless still managed to support their teams and live their passion even when away from the stadiums.

"Fans are playing an integral part in the development of football, and we must ensure that loyal travelling supporters can attend historical moments for their cherished teams at affordable prices."

A UEFA statement detailed that the governing body would cover the costs related to what was described as a "unique one-off initiative", and that the cap of the Champions League final ticket prices was in order to mitigate the impact of prices having undergone "significant hikes" over recent years.

"By deciding to cap these prices for these prestigious games for at least three seasons, UEFA wishes to send a strong signal to fans and ensure that access is affordable to all," the statement concluded.

This season's Champions League final will take place in St Petersburg. The 2023 final will be in Istanbul, which was due to host last season's showdown between Chelsea and Manchester City, but that match was moved to Porto in order to allow fans to attend the game amid coronavirus travel restrictions. The 2024 final will be played in London at Wembley.

This year's Europa League final will take place at Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, with the Europa Conference League showpiece to be held in Tirana, the capital of Albania. This campaign's women's Champions League final is scheduled for May 22, in Turin.

When the Champions League last-16 draw took place in December, Paris Saint-Germain versus Manchester United looked set to be the headline fixture.

However, a technical fault resulted in a re-draw, dashing hopes – at least at this stage – of seeing Lionel Messi take on Cristiano Ronaldo.

Instead, we get to take in Messi vs Real Madrid. All in all, it's not a bad trade-off.

There are plenty of side stories to assess heading into Tuesday's first leg in Paris. Will Neymar be back fit in time? What will Sergio Ramos think if he has to sit out the game injured? How about Kylian Mbappe going up against the side for whom he seems destined to sign at the end of the season?

Messi, though, is used to making headlines against Madrid, of course, and the Barcelona great will surely be relishing the chance to renew these particular hostilities.

Clasico rivalry reignited 

It would be fair to say Messi has had something of a stuttering start to his PSG career, with the fearsome trio of the 34-year-old, Mbappe and Neymar having not quite clicked into full gear – indeed, the latter has missed a good chunk of the season through injury while Messi has had spells out and has also contracted COVID-19.

Messi netted 38 goals and contributed 12 assists in 47 games in his final season at Barcelona, striking every 110 minutes on average.

So far at PSG, he has only scored two Ligue 1 goals (one every 536 minutes), while his shot conversion rate is a measly 3.9 per cent from 51 attempts in total. His other five strikes have all come in the Champions League, at a rate of one every 90 minutes.

The Argentina star has provided seven assists from 44 chances created in the French top flight, with his creativity still evident even if he is playing in a slightly different role to that which he fulfilled in his final seasons at Barca.

But, what of Messi's record against Madrid?

He scored 672 goals in 778 matches across all competitions for the Blaugrana, and 26 (roughly four per cent) of those came in Clasicos. Of his 266 assists, 13 were provided against Madrid.

In total, Messi has played 45 times against Los Blancos, accumulating 3,940 minutes, directly contributing to a goal every 101 minutes.

Messi has celebrated victory on 19 occasions, tasted defeat 15 times and scored two hat-tricks. However, he failed to find the net in any of his final five Clasico appearances.

Magic moments

One of Messi's hat-tricks came in a thrilling Clasico in March 2014. With their title hopes on the line, Barca came from behind twice before finally prevailing 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Messi, then 26, assisted Andres Iniesta's opener before scoring once from open play and twice from the penalty spot (indeed, Messi has converted all six of the penalties he has taken against Los Blancos) after Karim Benzema and Ronaldo had netted for Madrid.

His first hat-trick came in 2006-07 when, at the age of 19, he salvaged a 3-3 draw with an injury-time equaliser.

Other highlights include a stunning free-kick in the 2012 Supercopa de Espana, though it was ultimately fruitless as Madrid went on to claim victory. Later that year, Messi scored twice in a 2-2 draw, dispatching another wonderful free-kick, with Ronaldo grabbing both of Madrid's goals as that rivalry headed into its peak years.

In 2008-09, Messi scored twice and set up another in a 6-2 rout of Madrid, one of Pep Guardiola's finest moments as his Barca side stormed to six trophies in a year, while in 2010-11, Messi directly contributed to all five of the Blaugrana's goals across two legs in a Supercopa triumph.

He scored a supreme solo goal in a 2-0 Champions League victory in April 2011, with Barca going on to win the trophy that season and six years later, Messi netted twice in a 3-2 victory in LaLiga.

His second, a dramatic winner with the final kick of the game, was his 500th Barca goal and resulted in one of the most famous celebrations of all time, with Messi holding up his shirt to taunt Madrid's fans.

While the 2021-22 vintage of Messi has not yet hit – and indeed is unlikely ever to hit – the same heights of his Barca prime, Tuesday's fixture is another chance for him to haunt Madrid


Pep Guardiola admits he does not know whether Raheem Sterling will sign a new contract with Manchester City, but he would love him to stay.

Sterling netted a 'perfect' hat-trick in City's 4-0 win over Norwich on Saturday, as finishes with his left foot, right foot and head took his tally to 10 league goals for the season.

The England man has 18 months left to run on his current deal at the Etihad Stadium, and has previously spoken about an interest in playing abroad in the future.

Ahead of City's Champions League trip to Portuguese giants Sporting, Guardiola praised Sterling's contribution but stressed others at the club will handle discussions with the forward.

"What I want is the best for the players," Guardiola said. "I'm pleased if they're happy, but the contract is not my business. I've never been involved.

"I've known Raheem for six seasons. This season, he has been outstanding with goals and assists, and in his contribution to the team.

"During any period there are highs and lows, there are problems, this is part of life. This is not a honeymoon. There are always problems that you have to try to solve.

"Nobody doubts how important it is [to keep Sterling]. If we count the amount of games he played since we have been together, it's a lot, he has been a key player.

"In the future, I don’t know what is going to happen, because the club decides, all the time. About extending contracts for players, I give my opinion of course, but the club decides."

Sterling's 10 Premier League goals have been scored from chances amounting to 9.37 expected goals, meaning it is a solid return, and the 27-year-old has started 15 of City's 25 Premier League matches this term as Guardiola continues to rotate his squad.

The 51-year-old City manager was also keen to stress none of his attackers were guaranteed to start when Champions League football resumes in midweek, and that nobody at the club was "untouchable".

"They know nobody has a guarantee [of starting matches], even if they play good, because I have to try to handle the squad in the best way possible," Guardiola said.

"Nobody here is untouchable, not even me. The club is above and beyond all of us."

Karim Benzema trained with Real Madrid on Sunday and could make a dramatic return in the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

The France international, who is one of Madrid's club captains, has been absent since suffering a hamstring injury on January 23 against Elche.

However, he has been named in Carlo Ancelotti's 26-man squad for the trip to Paris, where the first leg of the last-16 tie takes place on Tuesday.

Benzema has scored 24 times for Madrid already in 2021-22, and without him the goals have dried up.

The team have managed just one goal in their three full games since Benzema joined the injured list, drawing a blank most recently on Sunday as they drew 0-0 at Villarreal.

Gareth Bale was deployed as a central striker in that game, and after a slow start he became the chief attacking threat, having a game-high six shots and drawing three fine saves from goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.

That came as a pleasant surprise to Ancelotti, who nonetheless indicated Bale was only one of several options for the role against PSG, and he remained hopeful Benzema could be involved.

The fact Madrid were able to send 34-year-old Benzema onto the training pitch with team-mates on Sunday augured well for his prospects, and Ancelotti will now closely monitor the former Lyon frontman ahead of the game at the Parc des Princes.

Speaking on Friday, Ancelotti had been positive about Benzema's prospects, although the fact he played no part against Villarreal indicated Madrid are being ultra careful about his fitness.

Ancelotti said on Friday: "We have good feelings, he is having good feelings. The most important thing is the player's health. If there is a risk, we are not going to take it. We have to evaluate but if he plays on Tuesday, it is because there is no risk."

The match offers the tantalising possibility of Benzema and France team-mate Kylian Mbappe leading the respective attacks.

Mbappe is a known transfer target for Madrid, who failed with a big-money move for the PSG forward in August but could land him on a free transfer at the end of this season, meaning he and Benzema may soon be club-mates as well as colleagues with Les Bleus.

Carlo Ancelotti is considering throwing Gareth Bale into the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain after the forward showed he still has plenty to offer Real Madrid.

Bale made a vexingly quiet start to Saturday's LaLiga game at Villarreal before springing to life and proving the biggest goal threat on the pitch.

The Wales international had a game-high six shots and was denied by three smart saves from Geronimo Rulli in the goalless draw, Madrid's fifth successive away draw at Villarreal. From one of those opportunities, goalkeeper Rulli flicked a Bale strike against the crossbar.

Considering it was Bale's first game since August for Madrid, after an injury lay-off, what started off inauspiciously turned into a statement performance.

Now Bale could be thrust into the same role, as a central striker, when Madrid travel to take on PSG at Parc des Princes in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday.

There might be a chance of Karim Benzema being back from his hamstring injury for that game, while Luka Jovic is another option after he almost grabbed a last-gasp winner against Villarreal, hitting the bar with a chip after replacing Bale.

Ancelotti is being non-committal for now, but Bale is in the conversation, and that is a tribute to how well he performed in this comeback game.

Asked if Bale might lead the attack in Paris, Ancelotti said: "I don't know, we have to wait and see what happens in the next few days. Hopefully we can get everyone back.

"He has had the opportunity and he has delivered. He could have scored, he was dangerous. [He has done] everything we ask of him."

Bale had only nine touches in the first half and 19 in all, before he was substituted in the 74th minute. When he got on the ball, however, there was a reassuring quality about his play.

"He had a major injury in September, when he had already started playing," said Ancelotti, who took charge of his 100th LaLiga game as Madrid boss.

"Then it was difficult for him to pick up the pace to avoid problems. Today he has shown that he can be with us, that he is committed."

Madrid have scored just once in their past three games, which is a worry heading into the tussle with PSG, who won 1-0 against Rennes on Friday.

"We need more effectiveness," said Ancelotti, "but I was more worried about the team in the first half when they were not very committed.

"It's clear what we were missing. In the first half, we had a low block, almost too low. We weren't aggressive enough in duels and one-on-one situations.

"That's why Villarreal had more control. In the second half, we were more aggressive without the ball. That was key."

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino remains hopeful Neymar will return from injury in time to face Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Neymar sprained the ligaments in his ankle during a 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne on November 28 and has not played since.

The Brazil international, who was initially due to miss between six and eight weeks, has been absent for PSG's past 13 matches but returned to training on Thursday.

The former Barcelona star was unavailable for his side's 1-0 win over Rennes on Friday, with Pochettino's men next set to face a huge Champions League last-16 clash against Madrid.

Speaking after the victory over Rennes, Pochettino provided another update as Neymar hopes to be involved against Carlo Ancelotti's side.

"Neymar's development is very good," Pochettino said. "I hope he will be in the group [for Madrid], he is an important player for us."

It will be the fourth time that PSG and Madrid have met in the knockout stages of a European competition, with the Spanish side progressing from the most recent Champions League last-16 tie in 2017-18.

However, the Ligue 1 outfit were 3-0 victors the last time they hosted Madrid in Europe's premier tournament, with that triumph coming in September 2019.

Neymar's return would provide an obvious boost for PSG, even if the 30-year-old has been slightly below his usual standards this season after returning three goals and three assists from 14 appearances across all competitions.

Carlo Ancelotti said "everyone's feelings are positive" regarding Karim Benzema's availability for Real Madrid's Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain next week.

Benzema has missed Madrid's last two games after picking up a muscle injury against Elche last month, and remains a doubt for Saturday's LaLiga trip to Villarreal.

However, speaking at a media conference ahead of that game, Ancelotti indicated that the 34-year-old – who has scored 24 goals in 28 games in all competitions this season – could be fit for Tuesday's clash in the Parc des Princes.

"We have good feelings, he is having good feelings," he said. "We will see if he will train on Sunday or Monday with the team. Everyone's feelings are positive, but it will be decided on Sunday or Monday.

"The most important thing is the player's health. If there is a risk, we are not going to take it. We have to evaluate but if he plays on Tuesday, it is because there is no risk."

Ancelotti also said he hopes PSG star Neymar will be fit for the Champions League fixture, adding: "I hope Benzema and Neymar can be there, the best players. If the best are there, we'll have the most entertaining game possible."

The former PSG boss was also asked about Gareth Bale. The Wales international has played just three times this season after returning from a loan move from Tottenham, and has not featured since playing in a 1-0 win at Real Betis in August.

"We have a very good working relationship," Ancelotti explained. 

"He's training hard. He's committed to the cause. He has not been playing of late, but seeing him in training I can confirm he is ready to play, and I do know that when he gets that opportunity, he will produce the goods.

"I'll be asked now 'why hasn't he played?' Looking back, he's had some trouble to be fully match fit after having picked up an injury. But these last 15 days or so the intensity has increased and I'm sure he's ready to play. Obviously it is my call to decide when."

Neymar took part in Paris Saint-Germain training on Thursday and has a chance of featuring in next week's Champions League last-16 first leg with Real Madrid.

Brazil international Neymar has not played for PSG since November 28 after spraining the ligaments in his left ankle during the 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne.

The 30-year-old, who was initially due to miss between six and eight weeks, has sat out the Parisians' past 12 matches.

However, he has stepped up his recovery programme by playing a small part in group training on the eve of PSG's Ligue 1 meeting with Rennes. 

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino has ruled Neymar out of Friday's game, but a decision on whether he can play any part against Madrid in five days' time will be made next week.

"He's a great player who wants to play in the big games," Pochettino said at a pre-match news conference. "But he's an experienced player who has had injuries before. 

"He has the maturity to be able to handle these types of situations and use these situations to bring out the best in himself.

"We will wait and decide in the next few days if he will be there for Tuesday."

Neymar struggled for top form prior to his spell on the sidelines, managing three goals and three assists in 14 appearances in all competitions this season.

Real Madrid great Sergio Ramos, meanwhile, also still has a chance of playing against his former side in next week's first leg at Parc des Princes.

Ramos sustained another calf injury two week ago and has missed PSG's previous two games, but he started running again on Thursday and will be evaluated in the next 48 hours.

The Spain international has played just five times for Pochettino's side in all competitions since arriving in July, totalling 284 minutes of action on the field.

Indeed, he played just eight matches in all competitions at club level in 2021, while his last appearance for Spain was against Kosovo last March.

The Ligue 1 leaders also announced ahead of their meeting with Rennes that Ander Herrera is on course to return to training on Sunday.

While PSG's injury issues are clearing up, Madrid are still unsure whether star striker Karim Benzema will be available after missing Madrid's most recent two games.

Benzema has scored in his past four Champions League appearances, netting five times in total, but faces a race against time to be fit.

"If he is not there, it would be a big loss for Madrid," Pochettino said. "He's one of the best strikers in the world. 

"He's a great player who shows his talent in a club like Real year after year. But I'm not saying that it will benefit PSG because Real have a very large squad."

Bayern Munich have announced that midfielder Jamal Musiala has tested positive for coronavirus.

The 18-year-old was absent from training on Tuesday and it was confirmed by Bayern on Wednesday he has contracted the virus.

Musiala will serve a period of self-isolation and is set to sit out Saturday's Bundesliga trip to Bochum, as well as next week's Champions League last-16 first leg with Salzburg.

That is a blow for Julian Nagelsmann as Musiala has played in 27 of Bayern's 30 matches in all competitions this season – only five others have featured more regularly.

The Germany international has been directly involved in 10 goals – six of his own and four assists – which is the sixth-most of any Bayern player in 2021-22.

Musiala's 53 dribbles completed this season, meanwhile, is behind only Leroy Sane (71) and Alphonso Davies (83).

Nagelsmann is well accustomed to dealing with player absentees through COVID-19, however, having had to make do without nine first-teamers at the start of the year.

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini is set to miss the first leg of the Bianconeri's Champions League last-16 tie with a Villarreal after sustaining a calf injury that will reportedly sideline him for a month.

Chiellini, 37, suffered the issue in Juve's 2-0 win over Hellas Verona on Sunday and a statement on Tuesday confirmed it was a calf strain.

The statement read: "Giorgio Chiellini underwent radiological scans at J Medical today, which revealed a low-grade lesion of the deep musculature of the left calf."

While Juve have not put a specific timeframe on his recovery, reports across the Italian media suggest he is likely to miss the rest of February.

As such, he is likely to miss five matches, starting with Thursday's Coppa Italia clash with Sassuolo.

Juve are also due to face Atalanta, Torino and Empoli in Serie A before the end of the month, while they go to Villarreal for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 22.

However, Chiellini should be able to feature in the return leg on March 16, while Roberto Mancini can still expect to select his captain at the crucial end of their World Cup qualification campaign.

European champions Italy did not secure automatic World Cup qualification, meaning they must face North Macedonia in the play-off semi-finals – Portugal or Turkey await in the play-off finals.

If Italy do not reach Qatar 2022, it will be the first time in history the Azzurri have failed to qualify for successive World Cups.

Kylian Mbappe has denied he has already decided to join Real Madrid at the end of the season.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker spoke about what the future might hold after his fine strike put the seal on a 5-1 win over Lille in Ligue 1 on Sunday.

German newspaper Bild recently reported Mbappe and Madrid had reached an agreement that would see the France international move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Mbappe's contract at PSG is due to expire at the end of the season, and although the French club are keen for him to sign an extension, it is unclear whether that is under consideration. Madrid's interest is no secret, after they tried to sign Mbappe in August.

The 23-year-old Mbappe would be able to leave on a free transfer, but the fact PSG have drawn Madrid in the Champions League last-16 stage appears to have held up any direct talks.

The European giants will go head to head in Paris on February 15 and in Madrid on March 9, with Mbappe steadfast that he wants to help PSG win that tie.

Asked whether he has already decided his next step, or whether the Madrid game could influence his choice of club, Mbappe told Amazon Prime Sport Video: "No, my decision hasn't been taken.

"The fact we play against Real Madrid, that changes a lot of things. Even if I'm free to do what I want at the moment, I'm not going to go and talk with the opposition or do this sort of thing.

"I'm concentrated on winning against Real Madrid, to try to make the difference. And after that, we'll see what will happen."

Mbappe and Lionel Messi are striking up a strong on-pitch relationship, with Messi looking to find Mbappe 12 times during the win at Lille and Mbappe playing eight passes to the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, only seeking out Marco Verratti more often (10 passes).

Messi scored his second Ligue 1 goal and his first since November, ending a six-game drought in the competition, delivering a performance that might cause concern in Madrid.

He also played a more central role than has often been the case, and Mbappe, who took his league haul to a team-high 11 goals for the campaign, liked what he saw from the former Barcelona star.

"I'm not a coach. But Leo, he's a player who needs to touch the ball, to feel the game and the match, to be involved too," Mbappe said.

"So I think it's a good position for him. He's free, he can move, pick up the ball, he is close to the goal. I think that for him, it's a good position."

Mbappe is starting on the left of a front three, with the only worry from Sunday's match being that Angel Di Maria, who began on the right, was substituted shortly before half-time, having seemed uncomfortable.

Neymar will soon be back from injury, and Mbappe said: "We will also have to configure with Ney, because he is also an important player. He changes our team, so we'll see when he comes back. We hope he comes back as soon as possible."

Manuel Neuer will miss at least the first leg of Bayern Munich's Champions League last-16 clash with Salzburg after undergoing knee surgery.

Bayern said their long-serving goalkeeper would be sidelined for several weeks, with the Bundesliga leaders disclosing the unexpected news on Sunday evening.

In a statement, Bayern said: "Manuel Neuer underwent successful surgery on his right knee joint on Sunday. FC Bayern will therefore have to do without their captain for the coming weeks."

Hasan Salihamidzic, the Bayern sporting director, said: "All of us in the club and the team wish Manuel a good and speedy recovery, and we're sure he'll be back to full fitness with us soon."

Sven Ulreich has been Neuer's deputy and is expected to step in while the 35-year-old regular number one rehabilitates.

Bayern are next due in action when they face Bochum in the Bundesliga next Saturday, before they travel to Salzburg for the first leg of their European tie on the following Wednesday.

The second leg of that tie is due to take place on March 8, and it remains to be seen whether Neuer will be passed fit for that game. Neuer has already indicated he is hopeful he will be available to head coach Julian Nagelsmann by then.

Neuer wrote on Instagram: "Hey guys, I had a little surgery on my knee this afternoon. Everything went fine, so I'll be able to start rehabilitation training soon. Keep your fingers crossed that I'll be back on the pitch in a couple of weeks."

On Saturday, Neuer helped Bayern earn a 3-2 home win over Leipzig, as he matched Oliver Kahn's all-time record of 310 Bundesliga wins by a player. He achieved the first 77 wins with Schalke, before joining Bayern in 2011.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is in favour of introducing a new 'final four' format in the Champions League from the 2024-25 season.

Under the current format, teams play home and away in the semi-finals for the right to meet in the final.

However, a 'final eight' event was trialled in 2020 out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with each quarter-final and semi-final played over one leg in host city Lisbon, which also staged the final.

Bayern Munich went on to win the tournament and the experiment was considered a hit, with big audience figures recorded for the seven matches.

Ceferin previously indicated he would be open to reverting to that format permanently, and the Slovenian has now confirmed he has already consulted various club presidents.

"We haven't yet discussed this properly because of the pandemic, which has taken up our day-to-day focus," he told French outlet Le Journal Du Dimanche.

"But my opinion is that it would be great. It should be more competitive and more interesting for the fans.

"I have discussed it with some club presidents, such as [Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser] Al-Khelaifi, and they are in agreement.

"It's a simple equation to solve – we would just need to compensate clubs for the revenue they would lose from hosting the semi-final matches. That is possible.

"It would come in for the 2024-25 season at the earliest. But I doubt it could be done that quickly."

However, while Ceferin is open to change in UEFA's flagship club competition, he reiterated FIFA's proposed plans to make the World Cup a biennial competition make no sense.

"I'm sure that won't happen because it's a complete nonsense," he said.

"It's a populist project that would destroy football. It goes against all the principles of our sport, and those of the Olympic Games.

"It's incredible that a football organisation can propose that their players – on top of an already heavy schedule – should play a month-long tournament every summer.

"And just imagine how it would eat into women's football. Alongside South America, we have said that it won't work. Without us, it would no longer be a World Cup."

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