Euro round-up: Sancho scores in Dortmund win

Jadon Sancho scored his first Bundesliga goal of the season as Borussia Dortmund returned from the winter break with a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg.

Sancho only made sure of the result on a counter-attack in injury time, shrugging off defender Paulo Otvios challenge before firing inside the right post when he just had the goalkeeper to beat.

It was the England forward’s first goal in his 12th league appearance this season, a marked decline from last season when he had 17.

Sancho got his sixth assist of this season though when he sent in the corner for Manuel Akanjis breakthrough in the 66th minute, but it had been a frustrating game for Dortmund despite star striker Erling Haaland’s return from a month out with a muscle injury.

Bayern Munich survived a scare from lowly Mainz before returning to the top of the Bundesliga with a 5-2 win in the late game.

The defending champions were stunned to be 2-0 down at the break, though perhaps it was no surprise as it marked the eighth consecutive game in which Bayern conceded first.

Jonathan Burkardt shrugged off Jerome Boateng’s meek challenge before opening the scoring in the 32nd minute and Alexander Hack headed in Daniel Brosinskis free-kick after Boateng had fouled Burkardt.

Mainz captain Danny Latza hit the post after the break, and then Bayern struck back.

Lewandowski set up Joshua Kimmich in the 50th, six minutes before Kimmich laid the ball off for Leroy Sane to equalize.

Robin Quaison rattled the crossbar for Mainz before Bayern was celebrating again when Alphonso Davies forced an own goal from Leandro Barreiro.

VAR provided the visitors some respite after finding Davies was marginally offside, but there nothing wrong with Niklas Sles goal for Bayern in the 70th. Lewandowski added a penalty six minutes later, then scored his 19th goal of the season to wrap it up.

La Liga: Barca win, Suarez strikes late for Atletico

Frenkie De Jong scored Barcelona's only goal at Huesca
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Frenkie De Jong scored Barcelona’s only goal at Huesca

Barcelona edged La Liga’s basement club Huesca 1-0 on Sunday courtesy of a Frenkie de Jong goal made by Lionel Messi in the Argentine’s 500th league appearance for the club.

Dutch midfielder De Jong arrived at the far post to meet a Messi cross and score on the volley in the 27th minute to give the visitors a deserved lead after a rampant start.

But Ronald Koeman’s side failed to take their many other chances and in the end were made to sweat for all three points.

Huesca could have levelled in the second half when the ball trickled across Barca’s area and striker Rafa Mir directed a backheel at goal but the shot lacked power and keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made the save despite seeing the ball late.

The win took Barca above Sevilla and into fifth place in the standings on 28 points, 10 behind leaders Atletico Madrid.

Luis Suarez scored a 90th-minute winner as Atletico Madrid defeated Alaves 2-1 to retake the Spanish league lead.

Suarez scored from close range completing a cross by Joao Felix after Atletico had conceded an equalizer in the 84th minute.

Suarez had helped Atletico take the lead with a 41st-minute assist to Marcos Llorente, who cleared three defenders outside the area before firing a low shot that deflected off a defender before finding the net.

Alaves lost defender Victor Laguardia with a straight red card determined by video review for a hard foul on Thomas Lemar. The hosts equalized when Atletico defender Felipe found his own net while trying to clear a cross inside the area.

The win gave Atletico a two-point lead over second-place Real Madrid.

Iker Muniain scored a 25th-minute winner as Athletic Bilbao defeated struggling Elche 1-0 at home.

The win left Athletic in ninth place, while Elche stayed 17th, just outside the relegation zone.

Serie A: Ronaldo helps Juve to win, Milan back on top

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and created another goal as Juventus got back to winning ways in Serie A with a 4-1 victory over Udinese in Turin on Sunday, moving the champions up to fifth.

Ronaldo opened the scoring with a trademark drive, after latching on to Aaron Ramsey’s pass, in the 31st minute, before threading a perfect through ball into the path of Federico Chiesa to score Juve’s second goal four minutes into the second half.

The VAR had a busy evening in Turin. First, the referee was asked to consult the pitch-side monitor before ruling out what Udinese thought was the opener for a handball early on, before Aaron Ramsey suffered the same fate when he was penalised for handball, after a second look.

Ronaldo’s second goal put the result beyond any doubt as he took his goal tally to 14 league goals for the season – two more than anyone else in Serie A – in the 70th minute, with Marvin Zeegelaar scoring an injury-time consolation for Udinese.

There was still time for Paulo Dybala to score another goal for Juventus as Andrea Pirlo’s side moved 10 points behind leaders AC Milan, with a game in hand, while Udinese drop to 13th and are without a win in their last four games.

Ronaldo celebrates with Paulo Dybala after breaking the deadlock
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Ronaldo celebrates with Paulo Dybala after breaking the deadlock

A goal in each half earned 10-man AC Milan a 2-0 victory at Benevento in Serie A which propelled them back to the top of the standings on Sunday.

City rivals Inter Milan had thrashed Crotone 6-2 to go top earlier on Sunday but Milan soon found themselves in front in Campania thanks to Franck Kessie’s 15th-minute penalty.

Milan’s task was made more difficult after Sandro Tonali was sent off in the 33rd minute following a VAR review. The referee had initially shown the midfielder a yellow card for a dangerous tackle but changed it to red after consulting the pitch-side monitor.

Rafael Leao made it 2-0 four minutes into the second half, while the hosts missed a penalty. Milan remain unbeaten and have 37 points from 15 games, one point ahead of Inter, while Benevento stay 10th.

Lautaro Martinez netted a hat-trick to help Inter Milan beat relegation-threatened Crotone 6-2. Martinez could have had four if his second attempt had not gone down as an own goal by Crotone defender Luca Marrone.

Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi also scored in a strong second-half performance from the Nerazzurri. Duvan Zapata scored twice as Atalanta beat Sassuolo 5-1 to close in on its opponent in the battle for the top four.

Sassuolo slipped to fifth, two points behind fourth-place Napoli after Gennaro Gattuso’s side won 4-1 at Cagliari despite playing 18 minutes with 10 men after Piotr Zielinski was sent off following two yellow cards.

Edin Dzeko scored the only goal as Roma beat Sampdoria 1-0 to remain third, six points behind Inter.

At the other end of the table, Torino moved off bottom spot and out of the relegation zone with a 3-0 win at Parma.

Spezia slipped into the bottom three after losing 1-0 at home to Hellas Verona. Genoa, the other team in the relegation zone, managed to draw 1-1 against Lazio. Fiorentina drew 0-0 against Bologna.

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Coutinho set to miss three months after knee surgery

Philippe Coutinho is set to be out for three months following “successful” knee surgery, Barcelona has confirmed.

The Brazilian international had his left meniscus operated on after sustaining an injury during Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Eibar on December 29.

Coutinho started the game on the bench and came on in the second half, but limped off the pitch during stoppage time as Barcelona finished the match with 10 men having made all their substitutions.

Coutinho, who returned to Barca this season after a successful loan spell with Bayern Munich, has three goals and two assists in all competitions. He joins a growing injury list which already includes Gerard Pique, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto.



Lionel Messi came close to leaving the Nou Camp earlier this year




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Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman says Mauricio Pochettino’s talks over taking charge at Paris Saint-Germain will have no bearing on the future of Lionel Messi.

Barcelona have endured a torrid start to their La Liga campaign and sit sixth in the La Liga standings on 25 points from 15 games, seven behind leaders Atletico Madrid who have two games in hand.

Koeman: La Liga title race ‘complicated’

Barcelona suffered without injured Lionel Messi as they drew 1-1 at home to struggling Eibar, with manager Ronald Koeman admitting the La Liga title race is “complicated”.

Koeman conceded the title appears to be beyond Barcelona this season and admitted after the game his side were not up to speed.

“If I’m realistic, the title is very complicated,” he said. “Nothing is impossible, but you have to recognise the distance.

“Atletico seem to me to be very good, very strong. They don’t concede many goals.”

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Barca’s Coutinho to have knee surgery

Philippe Coutinho is set to undergo knee surgery after sustaining an injury during Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Eibar, the Spanish club said on Wednesday.

Coutinho, 28, started the game on the bench and came on in the second half, but limped off the pitch during stoppage time as Barcelona finished the game with 10 men having made all their substitutions.

“The tests carried out on the first team player Philippe Coutinho have shown that the midfielder has an injury to the lateral meniscus in his left knee,” the club said in a statement.

“Treatment will necessitate arthroscopic surgery which will take place in the coming days.”

The club did not give a timeframe on his return.

Coutinho, who returned to Barca this season after a successful loan spell with Bayern Munich, has three goals and two assists in all competitions. He joins a growing injury list which already includes Gerard Pique, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto.

Barcelona have endured a torrid start to their La Liga campaign and sit sixth in the La Liga standings on 25 points from 15 games, seven behind leaders Atletico Madrid who have two games in hand.

Koeman: La Liga title race ‘complicated’

Barcelona suffered without injured Lionel Messi as they drew 1-1 at home to struggling Eibar, with manager Ronald Koeman admitting the La Liga title race is “complicated”.

Koeman conceded the title appears to be beyond Barcelona this season and admitted after the game his side were not up to speed.

“If I’m realistic, the title is very complicated,” he said. “Nothing is impossible, but you have to recognise the distance.

“Atletico seem to me to be very good, very strong. They don’t concede many goals.”

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Barca held as injured Messi watches on

Barcelona suffered without injured Lionel Messi as they drew 1-1 at home to struggling Eibar in La Liga on Tuesday.

Eibar, who went into the game sitting one place above the relegation zone, took a shock lead in the 57th minute through striker Kike Garcia before Barca substitute Ousmane Dembele levelled 10 minutes later.

It might have been different had Martin Braithwaite not missed a penalty in the first half.

The Dane endured a miserable evening as he also had a goal ruled offside by VAR and was denied what seemed a sure winner from point-blank range when the ball bounced off his chest on the rebound and squirmed wide.

Messi had returned to Barcelona from Argentina earlier on Tuesday but watched from the stands as he is still recovering from an ankle problem, and his team-mates lacked cutting edge.

Barcelona midfielder Philippe Coutinho might have dealt Ronald Koeman a further injury blow after leaving the field late on with what appeared to be a left knee problem.

Koeman’s side slip to sixth in the table, seven points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who have played two fewer games.

Sevilla climbed to fourth after a 2-0 win over Villarreal just below them in the standings.

Lucas Ocampos opened the scoring from the spot with just eight minutes gone and Youssef En-Nesyri struck eight minutes after the interval as Unai Emery’s side’s 18-game unbeaten run finally came to an end.

More to follow…

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Messi: I’ll decide future in summer, I’m keen on MLS

Lionel Messi has revealed he will make a decision over his Barcelona future at the end of the season.

Messi came close to departing the Nou Camp after handing in a transfer request in the summer but he reluctantly decided to stay at the club. Barcelona’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted that Messi’s €700m release clause had to be met for him to leave.

His comments, given in an interview with Spanish TV station La Sexta, could alert Manchester City, who were heavily linked with a move for the player during his summer of uncertainty.

Messi said: “Nothing will be crystal clear before the end of the year. I’ll wait until the season is over.

“What matters now is thinking about the team, finishing the year well and not being distracted by other things.

“I don’t know what will happen. I’m focused on what we have here and battling for whatever we can.

“I’m not thinking about how the year will end. As of today, it wouldn’t be wise for me to say what I’m going to do because I don’t know.”

While he refused to be drawn on his potential next destination, Messi did speak of his close friendship with Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar, and said he would one day like to play in Major League Soccer.



Lionel Messi




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Manchester City would be at the ‘front of the queue’ to sign Lionel Messi if the he decides to leave Barcelona, according to Goal reporter Jonathan Smith

“I’ve always had the dream of playing in another league, in the United States,” he added. “Maybe it will happen, doesn’t have to be right away. Today I am just focused on these next six months.”

Regarding a potential reunion with Neymar at Barcelona, Messi said: “It’ll be difficult to bring in players because the funds aren’t there. We’ll have to bring in plenty of top players to get us competing on all fronts again and they come at a price. Neymar would be extremely expensive.

“How would the club pay PSG for the transfer (of Neymar)? The situation will be tough for the new president, who will have to be intelligent and get everything in order. Changes will be needed for him to do well.



Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his side's second goal from the penalty spot during the UEFA Champions League Group G stage match between Juventus and FC Barcelona




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Joan Laporta launched his bid for a second spell as Barcelona president on Monday, in which he stressed the importance of keeping Lionel Messi at the club

“I don’t know if Neymar said that (that the two would play together next year). You’d have to ask him about what he said. We do chat sometimes and we are in touch.”

Messi also commented on the sale by Barcelona of Luis Suarez to Athletico Madrid, saying he did not understand how the club could allow the striker to move to one of their main rivals.

He said: “What they did seemed crazy to me, because of how he left. He left for free, paying him his contract and a team that fights for the same thing as us.”

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Messi: I was lucky to work under ‘special’ Pep

Lionel Messi considers himself lucky to have worked under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona and says the current Manchester City manager offers “something special” as a coach.

Messi was a mainstay of Guardiola’s Barcelona side that won 14 major titles between 2008 and 2012 and has been linked with a switch to City, most recently during the summer transfer window.

The 33-year-old is into the final few months of his current contract with the Catalan giants and speculation continues about whether the pair could eventually be reunited.

“He (Guardiola) has something special about him. I don’t know,” Messi told Spanish television channel La Sexta.

“He makes you see things in a certain way in terms of how he prepares for games, both defensively and going forward.

“He could tell you exactly how the match is going and how you have to attack to win.”

Talk of Messi and Guardiola joining forces again was also fuelled by Guardiola’s new deal that ties him to City until the end of the 2022/23 season.



Pep Guardiola with Lionel Messi in 2011




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Pep Guardiola says he wants to see Lionel Messi finish his career at Barcelona because of his own strong bond with the Spanish club

But Guardiola has said he would like Messi to finish his career at Barcelona, the club where the Argentine has spent his whole career, recently scoring a world record-breaking 644th goal for the club.

Messi, whose long-term future at the Nou Camp remains uncertain, credits Guardiola and Luis Enrique, who coached Barcelona from 2014 to 2017, with improving him as a player.

“I was unlucky enough to be coached by Guardiola and Luis Enrique for such a long time – the two best coaches,” Messi added in an ironic tone.

“Having them so close together made me improve so much in a footballing sense and in terms of tactical awareness.”

Messi and Guardiola enjoyed a successful partnership at Barcelona where they won 14 major titles
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Messi and Guardiola enjoyed a successful partnership at Barcelona where they won 14 major titles together

Barcelona currently sit fifth in La Liga under first-year coach Ronald Koeman, with the team undergoing a transition.

Messi will be absent when Barcelona face Eibar on Tuesday after being granted extra time off by the club over the Christmas period.

The forward returned to Argentina last week and has been given permission to remain in his homeland for a few more days.

Barcelona have said he will return to training after the Eibar game and will be available for their La Liga trip to Huesca.

It will be the third game Messi has been rested for in the last month. He also sat out their trips to Dynamo Kiev and Ferencvaros in the Champions League.

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Messi hails Oblak as ‘one of best keepers’

Lionel Messi has responded to Jan Oblak’s admiration for him – exclusive to Sky Sports – with some high praise of his own.

The Barcelona star believes the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper is one of the best in the world today and says he relishes their battles in La Liga.

“It’s nice to face one another,” he said. “He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world at the moment, and it’s always good to fight against the best ones.

“It’s an extra motivation to be able to, or to try to, score a goal, with what it means and how hard it is, as he proves in every game he plays.

“So it’s nice to see him outside but also face him in the games. It makes them more exciting.”

Lionel Messi
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Lionel Messi scored his 644th goal for Barcelona on Tuesday

Oblak spoke exclusively to Sky Sports about what makes Messi such a formidable foe after the Argentina star broke Pele’s all-time single club goal-scoring record this week with his 644th for Barcelona.

The Slovenia No 1 was speaking not long after his team’s 1-0 win over Barcelona, their first against Messi and the rest in La Liga for over a decade.

Oblak won that one but there have too many defeats, too many late Messi goals, for him to be anything other than humble. “He is still the best player in the world,” he insisted.

Filipe Luis, #3 of Atletico de Madrid and Lionel Messi, #10 of FC Barcelona and Jan Oblak, #13 of Atletico de Madrid during The La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Barcelona - La Liga at Vicente Calderon on February 26, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.
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Jan Oblak hailed Lionel Messi’s abilities in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports

In all competitions, there have been three clean sheets, including a 2-0 win in a Champions League quarter-final. “For sure, that was my best memory against him,” he said. But that was one game among 17; ten of them have seen a Messi shot find its way beyond Oblak.

“He has scored many goals against me. Too many!” He said. “But he is a great player, an amazing player, the best player.

“There are many times that he scores a goal and you have this feeling that you cannot understand how he has scored so easily. You are not even close. Sometimes it feels like he has just passed the ball into the goal, it is not even a shot.”

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Messi scores 644th Barca goal to break Pele’s scoring record

Lionel Messi eclipsed Pele’s long-standing record of goals for a single club with his 644th strike for Barcelona in the 3-0 La Liga win at Real Valladolid.

Messi’s second-half goal saw him overtake the mark which the Brazil great had amassed over 19 seasons for Santos.

Clement Lenglet’s header from Messi’s cross had given Barcelona the lead after 21 minutes, with Martin Braithwaite, given a start ahead of Antoine Griezmann, knocking in a second before half-time.

Ronald Koeman’s men closed out for a first away La Liga win since the start of October to sit fifth in the table, eight points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who had earlier won at third-placed Real Sociedad.

How Messi broke Pele’s long-standing record…

Barcelona players celebrate with Lionel Messi
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Barcelona players celebrate with Lionel Messi

Messi eyed an early chance to break the record during the opening exchanges at Estadio Jose Zorrilla, his curling shot from the edge of the penalty area dropping just wide. The Argentina playmaker saw another effort tipped over by Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip before Barcelona took the lead in the 21st minute.

Messi was the creator this time, floating a cross into the centre of the penalty area, where Lenglet powered a header into the net.

The Barca players used the goal celebration by holding up a shirt to pay tribute to right-back Moussa Wague, the 22-year-old having suffered a serious knee injury while playing on loan at Greek club PAOK.

Before Valladolid could regroup, the home side found themselves 2-0 down after 25 minutes.

Messi held off three opposition players before feeding the ball down the right for Serginho Dest and his low cross was slid past Masip by Braithwaite.

Barcelona maintained their momentum at the start of the second half, as Braithwaite stabbed an early chance wide.

At the other end, Pablo Hervias’ angled free-kick was just off target of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s goal.

Masip then denied Messi again as the hour mark approached with another decent reaction save.

Barcelona’s talisman, though, got his record-breaking goal after 65 minutes when played in by a neat backheel from Pedri.

Despite the scoreline, Valladolid came to life again as substitutes Fabian Orellana and Kike Perez both forced Ter Stegen into action.

Barca substitute Philippe Coutinho drilled a low, 20-yard effort against the base of the post. Valladolid were again saved by the woodwork in stoppage time when Messi charged through, only to see his angled shot come back of the upright.

The Argentina playmaker looked determined to increase his record tally, but Masip produced another fine save to keep the scoreline down.

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What makes Messi so good? Oblak explains

“He watches my legs,” Jan Oblak tells Sky Sports. “If I make one step, he will see it and shoot to the other side. This is why he is the best. This is why he is so difficult. He does not show it but he is always looking. He is always watching you. His eyes are on the ball but he sees you.

“He sees everything, I think.”

Oblak, perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world, is in the comfort of his Madrid apartment describing in detail the challenge of facing Lionel Messi, perhaps the best footballer there has ever been. There are times when it is as if he is describing the bogeyman himself.

The Atletico Madrid goalkeeper is speaking not long after his team’s 1-0 win over Barcelona, their first against Messi and the rest in La Liga for over a decade. Oblak won that one but there have too many defeats, too many late Messi goals, for him to be anything other than humble. “He is still the best player in the world,” he insists.

In all competitions, there have been three clean sheets, including a 2-0 win in a Champions League quarter-final. “For sure, that was my best memory against him.” But that was one game among 17. 10 of them have seen a Messi shot find its way beyond Oblak.

“He has scored many goals against me. Too many! But he is a great player, an amazing player, the best player. There are many times that he scores a goal and you have this feeling that you cannot understand how he has scored so easily. You are not even close. Sometimes it feels like he has just passed the ball into the goal, it is not even a shot.”

Oblak is honouring Messi’s achievement, completed against Valladolid on Tuesday, of scoring 644 goals for one club, breaking the record set by Pele with Santos. Budweiser are marking the historic moment with 644 specially created bottles, individually numbered to represent each goal, and recognising the role that every single one of them has played in pushing Messi towards greatness.

A little reluctantly, Oblak has had to claim responsibility for 10 of them. “It is always difficult to talk about because goalkeepers do not like conceding goals.” But it is revealing.

So much has been written about Messi over the years but little of it from the perspective of the victim. The goalkeeper. The last line of defence. The man out to stop him.

Filipe Luis, #3 of Atletico de Madrid and Lionel Messi, #10 of FC Barcelona and Jan Oblak, #13 of Atletico de Madrid during The La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid v FC Barcelona - La Liga at Vicente Calderon on February 26, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.

Oblak’s insight suggests that the contest between the two is tactical and technical, physical and mental. An examination of mind and body that requires concentration at all times.

Nothing illustrates this as clearly as Messi’s record of having scored an 86th-minute goal against Atletico on three different occasions. Just when the job is almost done, it isn’t.

“It is strange,” says Oblak. “Sometimes you think you are controlling them, you are controlling him. But in a second, he changes the game, he scores a goal, and Barcelona win.

“Sometimes you do not see him. Maybe you are thinking it is not dangerous. And then he scores. This happened to us last season. You need to be 100 per cent concentrated.”

The tactics against Messi

Diego Simeone demands that concentration from his players and certainly from the man who he has described as the Messi of goalkeeping. “If your coach says that it can only means good things,” says Oblak. But does the Atletico boss have specific plans for Messi?

Oblak argues that there is only so much that can be done.

Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak (R) watches as Atletico Madrid's Spanish midfielder Saul Niguez (L) marks Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi (C) during the Spanish Super Cup semi final between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid on January 9, 2020, at the King Abdullah Sport City in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah

“Normally, goalkeepers, we are shouting all the time to help the defenders but I know it is difficult when Messi is on the other side. The defenders do their best but it is difficult to do anything tactically to stop Messi because you never know what he is going to do.

“All you can do is play hard and when you see him don’t leave him. Try to steal the ball but don’t give a foul close to the goal because he is great at free-kicks. He is great at everything.

“If you are too close he will go past you. If you are too far he will shoot. It is not easy to decide how you will defend against him because of his unpredictability. It is impossible.”

Where does Messi shoot?

Oblak returns time and again to this issue of unpredictability and with good reason. The stats suggest Messi puts the ball either side of the goalkeeper with almost equal regularity.

His trademark finish is to the goalkeeper’s right – the one that Oblak refers to as a pass – but any attempt to anticipate such a strike will be punished with a whipped finish into the opposite corner, as he famously did in the final of the 2015 Copa del Rey against Athletic.

“That is the problem of Messi for goalkeepers,” says Oblak.

Lionel Messi's shot placement for Barcelona in the Champions League since the 2017/18 season

“Anticipation depends on the player because there are some players who you can easily predict. There are some players who it is more difficult to predict. Then there is Messi. He is impossible to predict. Not many players have the possibilities that he has on the ball.

“You can never predict where he is going to shoot and you can never predict when he is going to shoot. When it comes to Messi, you can never predict anything. Ever.”

When does Messi shoot?

This issue of when Messi will shoot is an added complication. Goalkeepers must be prepared for the early shot that might catch them unawares but they must also appreciate that he is capable of delaying the shot or even threading a pass through for someone else.

Lionel Messi's shot locations for Barcelona in the Champions League since the 2017/18 season

“Many times, this is a problem against him. Maybe two or three defenders will go towards him to steal the ball from him but then he will pass to another player and they score.

“You are not just waiting for the shot, you are waiting for the pass. You are waiting for all kinds of things. Will he shoot? Will he pass? Will he dribble? I repeat, it is impossible.”

One-on-one with Messi

Sometimes, when the defence has been breached and all else has failed, the shot is inevitable. One-on-one against Messi is the worst case scenario for the goalkeeper.

Oblak found himself in that situation during the first half of Atletico’s recent win over Barcelona, albeit from a narrow angle, and managed to keep out the shot. He has a strategy.

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal by penalty against Goalkeeper Jan Oblak of Atletico Madrid during the Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on June 30, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain

“If you go down, he will chip you,” he explains. “If you stand up, he will go through your legs. If you go right, he will shoot left. If you go left, he will shoot right. But, in one-on-one situations, the most important thing is to wait until the last second.

“Do not speed things up. You need to watch the ball and to wait.”

Wait, and hope that Messi makes a mistake?

“Then, you need a lot of luck.”

Mental challenge of Messi

Acceptance that Messi cannot always be controlled might seem like an admission of defeat but it is an important psychological tool for a goalkeeper. The ball is in the net and there was nothing that could be done. Deal with it and move on. Control the controllables.

Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalkeeper Jan Oblak tries to stop a goal by Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on February 26, 2017

“When you play against the best, you know you are going to have to be at your best to stop them,” adds Oblak. “But you also know that when such a good player is playing against you there is always the possibility that he will score. If he does what he can do, it is impossible.

“If he has his day, if he is in great shape, it really does not matter if you are at 100 per cent. His talent is too much.

“Most of the time, you must accept it is going to depend on him.”

What is Messi’s future?

This latest record-breaking feat comes at a time when Messi’s form has been under greater scrutiny than ever before. At the age of 33, those questions are likely to form a constant backdrop now. But Messi has the backing of a certain Slovenian, his long-time opponent.

“Some good players from Barcelona went out, some new players came in,” says Oblak. “It is not easy for them, it is not easy for him. But he will show that he is still the best, I am sure. Even if he does not play so good in one or two games, at any moment he could show again that he is the best. He has been showing that every season for the past 15 years.

“Barcelona should be very pleased he is there. He has shown this with the titles that he has won and how many goals he has scored. Barcelona without Messi are totally different.”

Football without Messi would be totally different too.

HOLD FOR PRESS RELEASE: Lionel Messi promoting Budweiser

“I am sure that he is going to score many more than just 644, even though it is already a lot,” he adds. “It is a really special achievement. I can only say the best words about him because he is the best. He has shown it for so many years and I can only congratulate him, wish him all the best, and hope that he scores many more goals.

“Just not against me.”

Jan Oblak spoke as a LaLiga ambassador, as part of Budweiser’s celebration of Lionel Messi’s record breaking 644th goal. For more info visit youtube.com/Budweiser

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‘Salah left door open for Barcelona, Real Madrid’

Mohamed Salah has left the door open for a future move to Barcelona or Real Madrid after describing the La Liga giants as “two top clubs”, according to Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero.

The Liverpool forward, whose current contract runs until 2023, expressed his admiration for both Spanish clubs in a recent interview – fuelling speculation around his long-term future.

“I think Madrid and Barcelona are two top clubs,” Salah told Spanish newspaper AS.

“Who knows what will happen in the future, but right now I am focused on winning the Premier League and the Champions League with Liverpool again.”

When pressed, Salah added: “That’s a tough question, but right now I can say that everything is in the hands of the club.


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Vinny O’Connor reports on claims that Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah may be unhappy at Anfield

“Of course I want to break records here and, I repeat, all the club records, but everything is in the hands of the club.”

Montero believes Salah is open to the possibility of leaving Liverpool but says it is “almost impossible” for Real Madrid to afford the Egypt international in the current financial climate.

“Here in Spain we see this as a way of Salah not closing the door for Barcelona and even Real Madrid,” Montero told Sky Sports News.



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“It is very well known that [Barcelona manager] Ronald Koeman needs some players. For example, he has asked for [Manchester City defender] Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay from Lyon.

“In the case of Real Madrid, it is a difficult situation right now economically because, although Mo Salah is an extremely good player and of course Real Madrid will need his goals with Karim Benzema, it is almost impossible.

“For instance, yesterday Real Madrid held their annual assembly. They’ve recognised that they’ve lost 107m euros because of the coronavirus crisis and after taxes, they finished the year with only 313,000 euros, which is of course a little amount of money when you count that Real Madrid’s budget every single year is over 800-850m euros.”

‘Real Madrid thinking about Mbappe, Haaland’

Montero says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez remains keen to sign Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, with the club also interested in Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland.

Mbappe has been repeatedly linked with a move to the Bernabeu, with Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane once claiming to be “in love” with the France international.

Kylian Mbappe
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Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero says Real Madrid remain keen to sign PSG forward Kylian Mbappe

Montero believes Real Madrid could attempt to sign the World Cup winner, once the club has recovered the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would say that it is almost impossible for Real Madrid to try to buy a player in the next market,” Montero added.

“Let’s see what happens next summer. Real Madrid are thinking about Erling Haaland and, especially Florentino Perez, Kylian Mbappe.”

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