June 30, 2002, Yokohama. Ronaldo pounces on Rivaldo's dummy to side-foot past Germany's Oliver Kahn, becoming just the ninth man to score twice in a World Cup final and making Brazil champions of the world.

That moment, the pinnacle of the legendary forward's career, remains unmatched to this day for the Selecao, with Brazil failing to add to their five World Cup crowns in the subsequent two decades.

Should Brazil fall short of glory in Qatar later this year, that drought will stretch to at least 24 years, matching their longest wait for World Cup glory since their maiden title in 1958 (also between 1970 and 1994).

For a country whose hopes have been entrusted to such footballing icons as Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar in subsequent years, such a drought seems inexplicable, with three quarter-final exits and one historic semi-final humiliation the sum of their efforts since 2002. 

Exactly 20 years on from Brazil's triumph in Japan and South Korea, Stats Perform looks back on that momentous success, questions why it is yet to be repeated, and asks whether Tite's class of 2022 are equipped to bring glory to one of the world's most football-mad nations.

2002: Irresistible Ronaldo fires Selecao to glory in Japan and South Korea

It is no exaggeration to say Brazil's last World Cup win was one of the most impressive triumphs in the competition's history.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's men went from strength to strength after requiring a late Rivaldo penalty to edge a tense opener against eventual third-placed finishers Turkey, winning all seven of their games by an aggregate score of 18-4.

The class of 2002 thus hold the record for the most games won by a nation at a single World Cup, with Ronaldo – coming off an injury-blighted four seasons at Inter in which he managed just 36 Serie A appearances – the star of the show.

Partnering Rivaldo and supplied by Paris Saint-Germain's breakout star Ronaldinho, O Fenomeno netted eight goals across the tournament, the joint-most of any Brazilian at a single World Cup and the highest tally of anyone since West Germany's Gerd Muller struck 10 times in 1970.

 

Ronaldo's 19 shots on target in the tournament has not been matched in any subsequent World Cup, while his total of 34 attempts was more than five different nations managed. 

Quarter-final opponents England, vanquished when Ronaldinho audaciously (perhaps fortuitously) lobbed David Seaman from long-range, were the only side to keep Ronaldo out as he took the competition by storm.

A 25-year-old Ronaldo's final double against Germany represented his 44th and 45th international goals in just his 64th Brazil appearance. He managed just 17 further strikes in the famous yellow shirt during his career.

There was nothing in the 2002 squad's make-up to suggest a long wait for further tournament success was imminent: The experienced Cafu (31 in 2002) and Roberto Carlos (29) were still around in 2006, while future Ballon d'Or winners Ronaldinho (22) and Kaka (20) had their whole careers ahead of them.

How, then, did one of the greatest sides in modern international history contrive to fall so far short in subsequent World Cups?

 

2006-2010: Zidane and Sneijder sparkle as drab Brazil fall short

Brazil looked set for another shot at glory in Germany in 2006. Ronaldinho was crowned the world's best player in 2005; Kaka was to follow in his footsteps in 2007; and Ronaldo had hit a century of goals in his first four seasons with Real Madrid.

Brazil conceded just once in group-stage clashes with Croatia, Australia and Japan before crushing Ghana 3-0 in the last 16, but with Carlos Alberto Parreira cramming his three attacking stars into a rigid 4-4-2 shape, it was France who more closely resembled the Brazil sides of old in the last eight. 

Zinedine Zidane's performance in Frankfurt stands as one of the finest in the competition's history, as he tormented the defending champions' flat midfield before assisting Thierry Henry's winner.

It was the first of two masterful midfield displays to end the World Cup hopes of drab Brazil teams, with Wesley Sneijder assuming Zidane's role as the Netherlands vanquished Dunga's men in South Africa in 2010.

Progressing from the group stages has not been an issue for Brazil. Astonishingly, they are unbeaten in their last 15 group games, last suffering a first-stage defeat against Norway in 1998.

A lack of tactical nous against the world's best, however, has been a legitimate charge, and an understandable one given the identities of some of their head coaches.

Parreira's one Brazilian top-flight title was won way back in 1984, while Dunga's only club-level experience remains, to this day, a dire 2013 campaign with Internacional.

In that context, the return of Scolari, the emergence of Neymar and a home World Cup lifted expectations to monumental levels by 2014, when Brazilian dreams were to be shattered in the most incredible manner imaginable.

2014-2018: Home humiliation and Neymar reliance see Brazilian woes continue

The 2014 World Cup was billed as a festival of football, lit up by jubilant Brazilian crowds and thrilling football – the 171 goals scored across the tournament are the joint-most on record, alongside 1998.

Sadly for Brazil, eventual winners Germany provided 18 of those, with seven coming in a scarcely believable semi-final rout at the Mineirao.

Having gone 5-0 down within 29 minutes in the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva, Scolari's men collapsed to arguably the greatest humiliation in World Cup history and, as almost goes without saying, the heaviest semi-final defeat the tournament has ever seen.

Only when Yugoslavia faced Zaire in 1974 had a side previously been 5-0 up after 29 minutes at a World Cup, but for all the excitement building around the host nation, Brazil's class of 2014 always appeared flawed.

An over-reliance on Neymar – cruelly sidelined by a dreadful quarter-final challenge from Colombia's Juan Camilo Zuniga – was clear in both 2014 and 2018, when Brazil fell to a 2-1 defeat to a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Belgium in Russia.

 

Across those two tournaments, Neymar's six goals and two assists saw him directly involved in 42 per cent of Brazil's goals.

Fluminense striker Fred, ridiculed by many for his performances in 2014, wasn't exactly up to the task of replacing his goal threat, while Gabriel Jesus failed to find the net despite starting every match under Tite in 2018.

Indeed, coming into the 2018 tournament, Neymar – with 55 goals in 85 caps, was the only player in the Brazil squad to have scored more than 12 international goals.

Having achieved the rare feat of holding onto his job after leading Brazil at a World Cup, Tite will hope the emergence of several other stars lessens the burden on his number 10 this time around.

The road to Qatar: Can the class of 2022 end World Cup drought? 

Assuming he remains in charge when they face Serbia on November 24, Tite will become the first coach to lead Brazil at back-to-back World Cups since Tele Santana in 1982 and 1986.

While neither of Santana's campaigns ended in glory, the current boss – a Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup winner – will hope his six years moulding the side will prove invaluable in Qatar.

Brazil have already ended one mini trophy drought under his watch, winning a first Copa America title in 12 years on home soil in 2019 before finishing as runners-up to Argentina two years later.

Most impressively, Brazil triumphed without the injured Neymar in 2019 as Everton Soares top-scored, and the form of a series of Selecao stars has given Tite enviable squad depth.

In Allison and Ederson, he can choose between arguably the top two goalkeepers in the Premier League, while Fabinho was crucial as Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool fell narrowly short of a historic quadruple last term.

Casemiro, who won his fifth Champions League title with Madrid in May, could partner him in a fearsome midfield duo, but most of the excitement is centred on his club team-mate Vinicius Junior, whose 22 goals and 16 assists for Los Blancos last term suggest he can be the man to dovetail with Neymar.

 

After landing an appealing group-stage draw alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon, the excitement around Brazil is building once more.

With the Selecao topping the FIFA World Rankings, having fairly recent a Copa America win under their belts and possessing some of European football's most-effective players, 2022 seems as good a time as any for Brazil to end 20 years of disappointment and bring 'o Jogo Bonito' to the world once more.

Vinicius Junior announced his desire to stay at Real Madrid, claiming they are the most "united" since he arrived in 2018.

The 21-year-old Brazilian enjoyed a breakthrough year this past season, providing 17 goals and 13 assists in Real Madrid's LaLiga title triumph, before scoring in the final to claim the club's 14th Champions League.

He has two years left on his contract but is expected to extend until 2026, turning down reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain.

In anticipation of a contract renewal, Vinicius cited the atmosphere at the Santiago Bernabeu as a critical factor in his growth.

"I will continue in the biggest team in the world," he told Sport TV. "It's the most united team since I arrived. The celebrations were different this year. We all felt something special. 

"Younger people arrived with Rodrygo, [Eder] Militao, [Eduardo] Camavinga and me. Everyone likes each other and that's important.

"It's the best atmosphere in the world. Everybody wants to be there. The most experienced give us peace of mind and freedom to do what they want."

In the meantime, Vinicius has become a more regular figure for the Brazil national team, playing in seven of the Selecao's final 11 World Cup qualifiers and starting in five of them.

Despite his own burgeoning status, the 21-year-old revealed he will still be looking to defer to the talismanic Neymar later in the year in Qatar, as Brazil seek a sixth World Cup title.

"He is our best player," Vinicius said. "The rivals always focus more on him and he asks us to run into space because he has great quality to find us. He does everything for me, he is a great friend.

"The pressure is greater for him being older. He calls it responsibility. He also takes it away from us, from those who are arriving. Playing for the national team is a lot of pressure, but we're getting used to it."

The midfield appears to be the primary business agenda for Manchester United this off-season amid Erik ten Hag's rebuild.

With Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata already leaving Old Trafford this off-season, incoming transfers in the centre of the park appear a certainty.

As such, Ten Hag reportedly has his eyes on midfielders who are known quantities to him.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD NOT VEERING FROM DE JONG PLANS

Frenkie de Jong appears to be Manchester United's primary transfer target, according to the Daily Mail.

While Donny van de Beek is set to return and others are linked to Old Trafford, it is understood talks are continuing between the Red Devils and Barcelona.

Though no formal bid has placed for the 25-year-old, he is rated at £70million (€80.4m) despite failing to provide a return on investment at the Camp Nou.

While De Jong appears intent to stay in Barcelona, he might have to be sacrificed to allow the cash-strapped club room to manoeuvre.

ROUND-UP

– Meanwhile, the Red Devils have made an offer to sign Christian Eriksen, according to the Athletic.

– Bayern Munich are preparing another offer for Sadio Mane after Liverpool rejected their previous two, Bild reports.

Richarlison has turned down an approach from Arsenal, with Tottenham and Chelsea his preferred destinations, per UOL Esporte.

Real Madrid are close to agreeing a new contract with Vinicius Junior, Goal is reporting.

Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Junior and Erling Haaland are the three most valuable players in world football, according to research group CIES Football Observatory.

Mbappe comes in as the most valuable having had a stellar season with Paris Saint-Germain, with 60 goal involvements (39 goals, 21 assists) in 46 games in all competitions.

Vinicius won the LaLiga and Champions League double with Real Madrid, while Haaland is soon to make a lucrative move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester City after scoring 86 goals in 89 games during his time in Germany.

Mbappe turned down a move to Madrid to sign a new three-year deal with PSG last month, and the France international and World Cup winner is valued at an estimated €205.6million (£175.7m) by the CIES.

 

Vinicius is second at €185.5m (£158.3m), while Haaland supposedly has a value of €152.9m (£130.4m) despite costing City just €60m (£51m) thanks to a release clause.

The rest of the top 10 includes Barcelona trio Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ferran Torres, City's Phil Foden and Ruben Dias, Dortmund's Jude Bellingham and Liverpool's Luis Diaz.

CIES' research is based on a range of measures such as age, value of club, level of player performance and inflation.

The CIES report states: "The statistical model to estimate the transfer values for players from teams of the five major European leagues was built from a sample of 1,790 paid transfers carried out between July 2012 and January 2020.

"The correlation between the sums paid and estimated is greater than 80 per cent. This shows that the variables taken into account explain more than four-fifths of the gaps in the level of fees paid for transfers included in the model."

 

Top 10 valued players in world football (according to CIES Football Observatory)
1. Kylian Mbappe (PSG) - €205.6m (£175.7m)
2. Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid) - €185.5m (£158.3m)
3. Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) - €152.9m (£130.4m)
4. Pedri (Barcelona) - €135.1m (£115.4m)
5. Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) - €133.7m (£114.2m)
6. Phil Foden (Man City) - €124.0m (£105.9m)
7. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) - €112.5m (£96.1m)
8. Luis Diaz (Liverpool) - €110.1m (£94.0m)
9. Ruben Dias (Man City) - €109.6m (£93.6m)
10. Ferran Torres (Barcelona) - €109.5m (£93.5m)

Karim Benzema has been named the 2021-22 Champions League Player of the Season after helping Real Madrid to a 14th European crown.

Benzema also won the competition's Goal of the Season honour for a supreme header against Chelsea in the quarter-finals, while team-mate Vinicius Junior has been named Young Player of the Season.

The duo were instrumental in Madrid's defying run to Saturday's final in Paris, where Vinicius' finish was enough to earn a 1-0 victory over Liverpool.

With 15 goals across the season, Benzema topped the scoring charts in Europe, with a joint-record ten of those goals in the knockout stage.

The attacker, a heavy favourite for the Ballon d'Or this season, was at the centre of dramatic comeback wins against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Vinicius meanwhile delivered four goals and six assists throughout, with the latter tally only bettered by Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes.

Both Madrid players were named to the Champions League Team of the Season, alongside club-mates Thibaut Courtois and Luka Modric.

Courtois made nine saves in the final to keep Liverpool at bay. He finished the Champions League campaign having faced 72 shots on target, conceding 14 goals. According to expected goals data, the Belgium international prevented 4.7 goals.

 

Beaten finalists Liverpool also contributed four players, with Fabinho, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson featuring.

Kylian Mbappe, who scored six goals in eight Champions League matches, was named alongside Benzema and Vinicius in attack – an attacking trio that might have been lining up for Los Blancos next season had the France forward not decided to stay at PSG.

City playmaker De Bruyne also made the XI, as did Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger, who is set to join Madrid on a free transfer.

2021-22 UEFA Champions League Team of the Season: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Andy Robertson (Liverpool); Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Fabinho (Liverpool), Luka Modric (Real Madrid); Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid).

And so at the end of a gruelling 63-game season, mentality monsters Liverpool met their match against the miracle men of Real Madrid.

For the best part of an hour in Paris, Carlo Ancelotti's side looked off the pace and seemingly in need of some inspiration. Yet Madrid did what Madrid do. 

Just ask Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City exactly how that feels.

Unlike in the previous three rounds, no comeback was required on Saturday thanks to Vinicius Junior's 59th-minute strike and a string of incredible Thibaut Courtois saves.

The pair, who along with Karim Benzema have been key in Los Blancos' run to the final, will now forever be synonymous with their side's 14th continental triumph.

That is double the number of European Cups or Champions Leagues won by the next most successful side, with Milan on seven and Liverpool just behind, still stuck on six.

Back in the city of the first of their triumphs, you can be sure that this will not be the last for the true kings of Europe.

 

Not for the first time this season, Ancelotti's men were slow getting out of the blocks, perhaps not helped by a delay to kick-off of more than 30 minutes.

That was down to crowd congestion, as UEFA put it, with one half of the ground swathed in white 45 minutes before the scheduled start time and the Liverpool end a patchy red.

Those Liverpool fans who didn't make it into the ground on time would have missed a dominant first-half display from their side.

The Reds had more shots on target in the first 22 minutes than they did in the entire of the 2019 final, which ended in victory against Tottenham.

Madrid had not even registered a shot or a touch in the Liverpool box by that point, and the Premier League side's dominance only grew as the warmth in the Paris air turned to a slight chill.

By half-time, Jurgen Klopp's side had aimed as many shots on target as in their previous two finals combined, including the defeat to Madrid four years ago in Kyiv.

Crucially, though, Courtois had kept out each of them, including a fine stop from Sadio Mane, helping his shot onto the post.

That was the seventh time Liverpool had hit the woodwork in the Champions League this season – the most of any side – yet the first signs of the tide turning arrived just before the break.

Benzema, kept quiet for large parts, fired the ball in after a mix-up between Alisson and Ibrahima Konate, only for the officials to deem the France striker to be offside.

It was a hugely contentious call, one that took three minutes for VAR to review, although it will now represent a mere footnote when looking back at this game in years to come.

 

Vinicius – and Courtois – ultimately proved the difference, despite Liverpool throwing all they had at their opponents. The Belgium international made the most Champions League final saves (nine) of any goalkeeper on record (since 2003-04).

And so, for the eighth final running, the side that scored first went on to win, a run stretching back to Madrid's comeback victory against Atletico Madrid in 2014.

Digging deep is nothing new for Madrid, then, and again in Paris – albeit perhaps not quite to the same extent as witnessed in previous rounds – their grit and character was on show.

A side who had trailed for 178 minutes in the semi-final, and 243 minutes in total in this campaign (21 per cent of their minutes played), came through this most difficult of runs.

Let it not be forgotten that the LaLiga winners saw off the champions of France, the champions of England and the erstwhile champions of Europe en route even before facing Liverpool and toppling them, too.

It will be particularly special for Ancelotti, who becomes an outright record four-time winner of the Champions League, but this success was about a team who refused to be beaten and again had the ability to grind out a victory just when required.

Never has a Champions League triumph been so hard-fought and yet so deserved.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been impressed by Vinicius Junior in Real Madrid's run to the Champions League final, but says Liverpool have a plan to deal with the Brazilian.

Vinicius has been directly involved in 37 goals for Madrid in all competitions this season, a tally that includes three goals and six assists in the Champions League.

With those nine goal contributions, Vinicius is one short of becoming the first South American player 21 or under to be involved in 10 or more since Lionel Messi in the 2008-09 campaign.

While it may be Karim Benzema who is at the centre of much of the pre-match focus in Paris, Alexander-Arnold will be tasked with dealing directly with Vinicius down Madrid's left.

Asked ahead of Saturday's showpiece at the Stade de France how he intends to go about stopping Vinicius, Alexander-Arnold said: "You expect to come up against the best.

"There will be battles all over the pitch; we have game plans for everyone we face.

"As for Vinicius, he's an exciting player to watch, but we have a job to do as a collective and as individuals. There are individual battles, but it's the team that wins."

Alexander-Arnold is set to start his third Champions League final, which would see him surpass the record for the youngest to do so, held by Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller (23y, 245d). Alexander-Arnold will be 23 years and 233 days old on Saturday.

The England international has started 46 games for Liverpool this season – only Virgil van Dijk (50) and Alisson (53) have been used from the beginning more often.

 

 

The most recent of Alexander-Arnold's starts came in last Sunday's 3-1 win against Wolves, which was not enough to prevent Manchester City from pipping the Reds to the Premier League title.

Despite the dream of a quadruple being ended, Alexander-Arnold insists that loss will not linger over Liverpool in the French capital.

"Not at all. We've put that behind us," he said. "We have the experience this season to focus on the competition we have ahead of us.

"For us, we've found it useful to ignore other competitions. Whatever has happened before last week, yes it was disappointing and hard to take, but you put it behind you.

"We have a Champions League final to prepare for and what better way to make up for it by coming to Paris and an amazing venue to win the best competition in the world."

Andy Robertson will almost certainly be selected on the opposite flank to Alexander-Arnold, with the left-back himself playing a huge part in the Reds' latest European run.

Liverpool are playing their 63rd game of the season – no side in Europe's top five leagues will have played more – having gone all the way in winning the FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Indeed, the last side from across the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and Bundesliga to play more times in all competitions were Manchester United in 2016-17 (64 games).

Madrid have played 55 matches, meanwhile, and sealed the LaLiga title with four matches to spare, allowing Carlo Ancelotti to heavily rotate in recent weeks.

But Robertson is adamant that fatigue will not be an issue for his side against the Spanish champions.

"They've obviously had a bit more relaxed preparation and wrapped up their league two or three weeks ago," Robertson said.

"They've maybe not played as many games and at a high tempo. We knew how hard our run was going to be on our bodies, but we're in the best possible shape.

"We've come through a lot and yes we've had injuries and problems, but the lads are fully fit. It's important we take the competitive nature of a tough season into the last game.

"Real have had a fantastic season winning the league and being in incredible games in the Champions League, they've been a joy to watch.

"We have to stand in their way. Our fans demand a lot this season and we want to win it for them."

Karim Benzema moved level with Raul as Real Madrid's second-highest all-time top goalscorer and Vinicius Junior scored a hat-trick as the LaLiga champions relegated Levante with a 6-0 hammering.

Ferland Mendy got Carlo Ancelotti's side, who were crowned champions a fortnight ago, on their way early on, before Benzema joined Madrid icon Raul on 323 goals soon after.

Rodrygo and Vinicius added further goals before the interval, with the latter completing his treble in the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday.

While the rout restored Madrid's 12-point advantage over Barcelona at the summit, it condemned Levante drop with two games to play.

Any hopes Levante had of causing an upset were dispelled in the 13th minute when Mendy powered into the penalty area and slotted past Daniel Cardenas.

Federico Valverde then steered a volley against the post, before Benzema doubled his side's advantage with a close-range header from Vinicius' cross after 19 minutes.

Rodrygo slid home Luka Modric's cross to make it three in the 34th minute, while Cardenas twice pushed Valverde drives onto the crossbar as Madrid dominated.

They made it four in the 45th minute, when Vinicius collected Modric's pass and curled past Cardenas from a tight angle.

Cardenas pawed away Modric's whipped effort and Vinicius saw an effort ruled out for offside after the interval. 

The Brazil international was not to be denied in the 68th minute, though, tapping into an empty net after Benzema had rounded Cardenas.

He had his hat-trick seven minutes from full-time courtesy of a cool finish from 10 yards out after breaking through Levante's dispirited backline. 

Palmeiras midfielder Danilo has been granted his first call-up to the Brazil squad, while Tite selected Fabinho for the upcoming friendlies in June despite injury concerns over the Liverpool star.

Brazil announced a 27-man squad on Wednesday for friendlies against Korea Republic, Japan and South American rivals Argentina next month.

Fabinho is one of 13 Premier League players called up, despite the midfielder limping off in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Aston Villa on Tuesday after suffering a muscle injury.

Reports suggest Fabinho will miss the upcoming FA Cup final against Chelsea, along with league games against Wolves and Southampton, as he faces a race against the clock to feature in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on May 28 as Liverpool hunt an unprecedented quadruple.

Fellow midfielder Danilo was the other notable inclusion by Tite, with the Palmeiras man earning his maiden call-up after impressing at the Club World Cup, where his side were defeated in the final by Chelsea.

On Danilo's inclusion, Tite told reporters: "Danilo is one of those players that we have been following, we are always attentive to players that are emerging. 

"Danilo played well at the Club World Cup in games that we followed live and made visits to the club. We were looking at a series of things on how he performs so we could justify his selection."

Fabinho's Liverpool team-mate Alisson also made the list, along with fellow goalkeeper Ederson, while Manchester United duo Alex Telles and Fred were named alongside Arsenal's Gabriel Magalhaes.

Newcastle United's Bruno Guimaraes was again selected by Tite and will look to add to his six caps, but there was no room for Magpies team-mate Joelinton, who has impressed since dropping into midfield under Eddie Howe.

Casemiro could partner Guimaraes in the middle alongside Lyon's Lucas Paqueta, while Weverton and Guilherme Arana were the only other two players to feature from Brazil's domestic league.

Tite will have vast experience in the backline to call upon as well, with the likes of Alex Sandro, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and Marquinhos to select from.

Up top, Gabriel Jesus will look to carry over his scoring form from his exploits with Manchester City, with Neymar, Vinicius Junior and Real Madrid's Champions League hero Rodrygo part of a star-studded attacking line-up.

The upcoming friendlies are part of Brazil's penultimate preparations for the 2022 World Cup, where Tite's side are placed in Group G alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon.

Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City), Weverton (Palmeiras); Alex Sandro (Juventus), Alex Telles (Manchester United), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Danilo (Juventus), Guilherme Arana (Atletico-MG), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Gabriel Magalhaes (Arsenal), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain) and Thiago Silva (Chelsea); Bruno Guimaraes (Newcastle United), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Danilo (Palmeiras), Fabinho (Liverpool), Fred (Manchester United), Lucas Paqueta (Lyon) and Philippe Coutinho (Aston Villa); Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal), Matheus Cunha (Atletico Madrid), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Raphinha (Leeds), Richarlison (Everton), Rodrygo (Real Madrid) and Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid).

Despite wrapping up their 35th LaLiga title and retaining a chance of winning the Champions League this term, Real Madrid find themselves at something of a crossroads.

The individual brilliance of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior may have fired Los Blancos to a dominant triumph in LaLiga, but attention will soon turn to Madrid's attempts to defend the title for the first time since 2007-08.

With the potential arrival of a true global superstar and one of the Premier League's best defenders, as well as the matter of refreshing a brilliant but ageing midfield, it promises to be an interesting few months at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here, Stats Perform analyses what Carlo Ancelotti's men could do to fend off the potential challenge of an improved Barcelona next season.

 

The Mbappe conundrum: How would the superstar fit in?

For months, if not years, Real Madrid's plans for 2022 seem to have revolved around one name: Kylian Mbappe.

While recent reports have suggested the 23-year-old could yet remain at the Parc des Princes, a move for the talismanic attacker – who will be a free agent in June – cannot yet be ruled out.

Having scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists in 43 appearances in all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe would clearly be an asset to any team in European football, but the question remains as to how Mbappe will complement another free-scoring Frenchman in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has become just the fifth Madrid player in history to score 40+ goals in a single season for the club (after Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano and Hugo Sanchez), and is being touted for the Ballon d'Or after driving Madrid's Champions League run. Benzema has scored 14 goals in 10 European appearances this term, averaging a goal every 65.1 minutes in a stunning campaign.

Mbappe and Benzema are no strangers to playing together, but the PSG forward failed to score and only provided one assist when doing so during France's disappointing Euro 2020 campaign. The Madrid man, meanwhile, finished just one goal short of the golden boot after netting four times.

Matters are complicated further when taking into account the form of Vinicius, who has formed a lethal partnership with Benzema this season, registering 33 goal involvements of his own in all competitions (18 goals, 15 assists), and Mbappe's preference to play from the left could infringe on Vinicius. 

However, Mbappe's development into a more well-rounded attacking talent should ensure he at least provides a threat, whichever flank he starts from. 

As well as improving on his 11 assists from last season, Mbappe has completed more dribbles (138) at a higher success rate (50.74 per cent) than Vinicius this term (130, 41.4 per cent), and could join him in playing a more creative role supporting Benzema.

Upgrading in defence: The arrival of Antonio Rudiger

Having announced his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of his contract, Antonio Rudiger is another player strongly linked with a move to the Bernabeu ahead of next season.

The German defender has been one of the Blues' outstanding players under Thomas Tuchel, starring in their Champions League triumph last year and enjoying another fine campaign this season.

Rudiger has been a key component in the Premier League's third-best defence this season, with Chelsea keeping 15 clean sheets and conceding just 28 goals despite falling out of title contention after a promising start.

The 29-year-old appears to be an upgrade on Madrid's current defensive options after last year's departures of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, offering more physicality than David Alaba and greater defensive steel than Eder Militao, a partnership that was frequently exposed by Manchester City recently.

Rudiger would also offer a threat at the other end of the pitch, with his three league goals this season bettered by just one other Premier League centre-back (Jan Bednarek, four), and his ability to step out of defence was on display when he scored a 39-yard stunner against Brentford in early April – Chelsea's longest-range Premier League goal since January 2007

However, Rudiger has been accustomed to playing in a back three at Chelsea and would be most likely to play as a right-sided centre-back in a back four for Madrid, unless Ancelotti opts to shift Alaba to left-back.

Rudiger would likely have to curb his attacking enthusiasm if paired with the naturally forward-thinking Alaba, but he appears a smart choice to further solidify a defence that has been the second-strongest in LaLiga this term (only Sevilla have conceded fewer goals).

The case for Camavinga: Time to look to the future?

The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will go down in Madrid history: they started together in three consecutive Champions League final wins between 2016 and 2018, with the Croatian also starring in 2014's victory.

Nobody can question their quality or longevity. All three have made at least 35 starts this season, while Modric in particular has produced several sumptuous contributions in big games that have helped him to an assist haul of nine, six more than any other Madrid midfielder.

 

However, given they occasionally appear to lack a certain dynamism when out of possession, could Madrid benefit from some extra mobility in the engine room?

The signing of Eduardo Camavinga, who has made 35 appearances this term, was clearly made with such a move in mind, but the French youngster has only started 14 times in all competitions and would benefit from more playing time next season as he looks to improve his all-round game.

However, neither Camavinga nor Federico Valverde possess the kind of metronomic abilities of Modric or Kroos, and the younger pair also average fewer passes into the final third per 90 minutes than their more experienced peers (6.25 and 6.1, respectively).

As such, with the rumoured arrivals of Mbappe and Rudiger involving no transfer fees, Madrid could yet benefit from dipping into the market to acquire another young, progressive midfielder in a move that might also help to prolong the excellence of Modric and Kroos.

After a third successive Champions League title, Cristiano Ronaldo's departure for Juventus was meant to signal the end for a team that had scaled the heights of European football.

The annus horribilis of the 2018-19 season seemed to reaffirm such sentiment, but with Real Madrid now claiming a second LaLiga title and sitting another hair's breadth from the Champions League final since that departure, it seems even more irrational in hindsight.

How have Madrid been able to sustain their level among the best in European football and keep fighting for silverware on multiple fronts despite such a seemingly transformative absence? How have they won this season's LaLiga title with such ease?

Despite a severely weakened Barcelona and a supposed closing of the gap to the rest, Madrid can still reach 90 points this season.

 

In reality, their three successive Champions League triumphs during Zinedine Zidane's first spell in charge were largely due to the ideal balance of their midfield, comprising of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric.

To use but one example, bring into perspective how could they nullify Liverpool's ability to press in both the 2017-18 final and then again in the 2020-21 quarter-final over two legs, with Zidane in charge for a second time.

It bears repeating. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp – a great pressing team that squeezes the opposition into submission, consistently forces errors and is tactically transforming football before our eyes – were eventually rendered inert on multiple occasions.

At Madrid's core though, the collective did and continues to flourish via the creative and incorporative link between Modric and Karim Benzema, both with and without the ball. In a burgeoning era of automation and systems, they are the system.

 

The thing that maximises the duo's technical proficiency is their ability to improvise and embrace risk in the exploitation of space. If automation was football's equivalent to the legend of developing a pen in space, the link between Modric and Benzema is the comparative pencil – just as effective, far more practical.

Granted, that reliance on them creates volatility. When the two are on the pitch, they give Los Blancos a distinct flexibility. When they're not together, the collective is without a reference point and their relationship between defence and attack is compromised – as it was in their thumping in El Clasico in March or even going back to the 2016-17 season and their Copa del Rey elimination in the quarter-final over two legs to Celta Vigo.

 

Viewing Madrid through this prism makes a lot of other aspects relating to them clearer – the ability to feasibly play Lucas Vazquez at right-back in Dani Carvajal's absence, the varying shifts in form from the likes of Vinicius Junior and Kroos this season, or the differing fates of Eduardo Camavinga and Martin Odegaard upon attempting to integrate them into the midfield.

On that latter point, within this context, Camavinga earning more scope at Kroos' expense instead of Modric does not become much of a surprise – because while Benzema has elite comparisons in the form of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane in terms of profile, Modric has always been one of a kind.

Midfielders as complete as Modric, possessing the effortless ability to blur the line between the elegant and the practical, simply did not exist before him – at least as a deep-lying player and not deployed higher up the pitch.

At the incomprehensible age of 36, the Croatia international is still unique, still elite. Ahead of Saturday's match, he led Madrid's midfielders in all competitions this season for chances created in open play per 90 minutes (1.1), expected assists (0.17) and trailed only Camavinga (1.5) for dribbles completed (1.4).

Only Kroos (12.5) bettered Modric (9.5) for passes into the final third per 90 in all competitions, but the German's passing represents an increasingly singular role in Madrid's midfield. He is a world-class distributor, but it is maximised as a result of the spaces that Benzema and Modric create.

No player is more relevant in this regard, however, than Vinicius. His own progression has also accelerated upon that basis. Benzema and Modric's ability to collapse opposition defences leaves the opposition full-back on Vinicius' side isolated, and the 21-year-old can be destructive when he has momentum to dribble.

This all matters because it creates a cumulative impact on how Madrid score their goals. In all competitions ahead of Saturday's game, Vinicius topped the team for dribbles completed per 90 (3.0), chances created from open play (2.3) and expected assists (0.23). 

This goes some way to explaining Benzema's dramatic increase in rate of goal scoring, especially comparing 25 goals in 29 league appearances heading into the weekend to his tally of five LaLiga goals in 2017-18.

Much like Modric, 34-year-old Benzema has the capacity to be flexible as that central striker, and to do what the game requires of him in any given moment. 

 

The reference point Benzema and Modric provide has been the primary dynamic in this season's title win – Carlo Ancelotti's first LaLiga success. They can win games in an instant but collectively, the consequent ability to manage games and keep applying pressure from either winning or losing positions, on the back of both territorial and positional superiority, has been critical.

Ultimately, intelligent footballers gravitate towards one another and it is one of most profound and beautiful aspects of the sport. While Madrid will eventually go on without Benzema and Modric, their interaction and how it has built a worthy title winner this season has only underlined that.

Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus said he is a "big fan" of compatriot Vinicius Junior ahead of facing the Real Madrid winger in Tuesday's Champions League semi-final first leg.

Jesus, who became the first Brazilian to score four goals in a Premier League match during City's 5-1 demolition of struggling Watford on Saturday, is aiming to help Pep Guardiola's men to a first Champions League title after losing last season's final to Chelsea.

Jesus' international team-mate Vinicius has recorded 31 goal involvements for Real Madrid in all competitions this season (17 goals, 14 assists), as Carlo Ancelotti's men bid for a 14th European title.

Recalling City's last Champions League tie with Madrid in the 2019-20 last 16, in which he netted in both legs of a 4-2 aggregate triumph, Jesus said the emergence of players like Vinicius meant Tuesday's encounter represented a different prospect.

"It was very difficult and tense, as always when you play at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid," Jesus told Marca of City's trip to Madrid in March 2020. "We won, but they could have. I was happy to help my team, but now it will be different, with other players. 

"Vinicius will be playing, who was playing then but is now much more mature. He is the same player, but is now more mature. 

"I am a big fan of his, I hope he can continue to get better and better in the future. I wish him good luck, but not against me!

"It is difficult because you arrive as a young player at a club of Real Madrid's size, you play, you have opportunities, and it doesn't go well because of a lack of experience, of maturity. 

"Criticism comes and goes. I am happy for him, because of the quality he has. Everyone knew that he was as good as this. Football is like that, with highs and low. I hope that he keeps this level up to be happy in his football."

Vinicius has made the most 10-yard progressive carries of any player in the Champions League this season (62), and no player in the competition has been generated a shot following a carry (moving five or more metres with the ball) more often than the 21-year-old (21 – 10 shots, 11 chances created).

 

City are undefeated in their last three home Champions League matches against Los Blancos, winning one and drawing two, and City boss Guardiola could become the first manager to eliminate the Spanish giants from three separate Champions League knockout ties.

Jesus, meanwhile, has been linked with a move away from the Premier League leaders after making just 17 league starts for Guardiola's men this season. However, the striker says he will not make any decisions on his future until the season is over, stressing the "need" for City to win a first European crown.

"I have been here for five years and a bit. When I arrived I was very young, only 19, and both the club and the players have won many trophies," he added. 

"We need to win the Champions League, as we were so close last year and this year we are in the semi-finals. 

"I am focused on the rest of the season, on these games, which are all decisive. Then we will see what happens in terms of renewing my contract or ending a cycle."

The Champions League quarter-final second legs are here, and the competition's two most recent winners must overcome first-leg deficits to reach the final four on Tuesday.

Defending champions Chelsea were downed by a stunning Karim Benzema hat-trick at home to Real Madrid, who are bidding to be crowned European champions for a 14th time.

Bayern Munich, meanwhile, suffered a shock reverse at Unai Emery's Villarreal, who will surely require a remarkable defensive performance to keep the free-scoring Bundesliga leaders at bay in Bavaria.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the data from Tuesday's crucial European ties. 

Real Madrid v Chelsea: Benzema brilliance puts hosts in driving seat

Benzema's Stamford Bridge hat-trick has put Los Blancos on the brink of a semi-final spot, and he will be looking to continue his incredible European campaign when Chelsea try to overcome a 3-1 deficit in Spain.

After hitting consecutive European trebles, Benzema's tally of 11 goals is a new record for the most strikes by a French player in a single edition of the competition, and matches his record across the last two editions combined (he scored six goals in 2020-21 and five in 2019-20).

The 34-year-old's understanding with Vinicius Junior caused Chelsea all sorts of problems in London, and the duo have now assisted each other a combined five times in the Champions League this term (Vinicius providing four assists, Benzema one), the most of any two team-mates in the competition.

Carlo Ancelotti will qualify for the semi-finals for a record eighth time if Madrid can maintain their advantage against his former employers, equalling Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are making their first trip to the Santiago Bernabeu in European competition, and must become the first English side to win a Champions League game there by more than one goal to have any chance of progressing.

Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy's costly mistake at Stamford Bridge has left the Blues on the brink of an exit, with his dire pass to Benzema representing his first error leading directly to a goal in 20 appearances in the competition.

Chelsea may be encouraged by the fact they have not lost both legs of a Champions League tie since going down to Bayern Munich in 2019-20's last 16, and have won three and drawn two of their last six meetings with Los Blancos.

However, with Madrid progressing from nine of their previous 10 ties after winning an away first leg (the exception being a 5-3 aggregate loss to Ajax in 2019), Chelsea look unlikely to revive their title defence.

 

Bayern Munich v Villarreal: Emery eyes landmark success against Bavarian giants

Elsewhere, Bayern Munich are looking to avoid consecutive last-eight eliminations when they host Villarreal, with Arnaut Danjuma giving Unai Emery's men a precious 1-0 first-leg lead.

Danjuma has six Champions League goals this term, with only Robert Lewandowski (12), Benzema (11), and Mohamed Salah (eight) managing more, and could prove the visitors' best outlet on the counter-attack.

Indeed, Villarreal will certainly require a resolute defensive performance in Munich, having conceded 22 shots in their surprising home triumph.

However, Julian Nagelsmann's side were uncharacteristically wasteful in Spain, and their four shots on target last Wednesday marked the lowest such tally managed by a team to attempt over 20 shots in the competition this season.

 

Bayern unquestionably have what it takes to turn the contest around, however, and haven't gone consecutive Champions League games without scoring since a 5-0 aggregate loss to Real Madrid in 2013-14's semi-final tie.

Lewandowski will carry the burden of rescuing the Bavarian giants, having already scored two European hat-tricks in Munich this season (against Benfica and RB Salzburg). Only Cristiano Ronaldo (for Real Madrid in 2015-16) has ever managed three trebles in one Champions League campaign.

If the Yellow Submarine can pull off a remarkable success at the Allianz Arena, Emery will progress beyond the competition's quarter-finals for the first time in his career.

But the omens do not make for great reading for the Spaniard. The only previous time a side of his won an opening leg in the competition's knockout stages (Paris Saint-Germain's 4-0 win over Barcelona in 2017), they became the first team to be eliminated after winning a first leg by four goals, falling to an incredible 6-1 away loss. 

Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema were the difference once again as Real Madrid beat Real Mallorca 3-0 on Monday to take full advantage of Sevilla's latest slip-up and go 10 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Carlo Ancelotti's men were aiming for a fourth league win in a row and, although they rode their luck at times, Los Blancos got the job done to see their points cushion at the summit reach double figures.

Mallorca arguably created the better chances in the first half, though Vinicius was more ruthless soon after the restart, even if there was a hint of controversy around it.

It set Madrid on their way and Benzema put the game beyond Mallorca from the spot before nodding in his second of the day late on, though Ancelotti will be worried that he failed to complete the game.

Amid a busy start, Madrid were fortunate to not fall behind in the 11th minute, as Vedat Muriqi steered a close-range volley off target from Brian Olivan's excellent cross.

They got even luckier just past the half-hour mark when Pablo Maffeo scuffed wide from 10 yards with only Thibaut Courtois to beat.

Predictably, Mallorca were made to pay.

Referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez refused to penalise Federico Valverde for tripping Iddrisu Baba just outside the hosts' box, and Benzema fed Vinicius into the area for a straightforward finish.

Mallorca's response was lacking and Madrid finished them off 13 minutes from time, Benzema slotting home a penalty after Vinicius was nudged over while trying to reach a pass from his partner.

Benzema added another with a well-placed header from a Marcelo cross, but he was then withdrawn with an apparent calf strain in what could be a major blow ahead of the Clasico.

Brazil duo Neymar and Vinicius Jr could thrive in the same starting XI, despite both forwards preferring to play in the same position, according to Juninho.

While Neymar is out injured, Vinicius has been called up for Brazil's World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Paraguay over the coming week.

Vinicius has only made nine appearances for Brazil and is yet to score for his country, only starting twice – against Chile in September and Argentina in November respectively.

Up until this season, the Real Madrid winger had struggled for consistency, but under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti, he has thrived for Los Blancos.

Only Karim Benzema (33) has more direct goal contributions for Madrid in all competitions than Vinicius, who has scored 15 times and provided eight assists.

 

Neymar, meanwhile, has had another stuttering season with Paris Saint-Germain, making just 14 appearances in all competitions and completing 90 minutes only nine times.

However, should he be fit, Neymar will no doubt be Brazil's main man heading to Qatar in November.

With Vinicius in such fine form, though, his place in Tite's squad also seems a certainty, and asked if the attackers - who both play predominantly from the left wing in a 4-3-3 formation - could feature together, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) director Juninho believes there is no reason why not.

"The two of them can play together," Juninho told Spanish radio show El Larguero.

"Vinicius shows his quality at Madrid and is beginning to show it for the national team now.

"He's improving every game. Now he's been playing very well for a while.

"Like [Philippe] Coutinho or [Lucas] Paqueta, they can also play together."

Juninho may be convinced Neymar and Vinicius fit into the same side, but neither would be suited to playing in a central role in Tite's preferred 4-3-3 system, while both are at their best when given the freedom to drift inside from the left, rather than the right.

 

Neymar is having a poor season in terms of end product. He has only scored three goals (and one of those was a penalty) and provided as many assists, while he has also underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 4.3, suggesting his finishing has been below par.

Vinicius, on the other hand, has outperformed his xG (12), averaging a goal every 169 minutes for Madrid.

The 21-year-old has also created 64 chances in comparison to Neymar's 28. However, when assessed per 90 minutes, the former Barcelona star crafts 2.1 opportunities, which is not far behind Vinicius' 2.3.

Neymar is also a more proficient dribbler, completing 3.6 dribbles per 90 minutes in comparison to Vinicius' 3.4, while he also creates 0.5 big chances per 90, as opposed to the Madrid man's 1.6.

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