The Premier League table already looks to be taking shape, with a thrilling title race potentially in store.

And fantasy leagues are no different, with the best players quickly racking up early-season points to pull clear.

Want to avoid being left behind? Why not take a look at our Opta-powered picks for matchday five...

 

ALISSON (Liverpool v Crystal Palace)

Liverpool have started the season in fine form and Alisson has been central to their defensive solidarity, which has seen them keep three clean sheets in four games.

Since the start of last season, only Hugo Lloris (7.7) has prevented more goals than the Brazil goalkeeper (6.2) according to expected goals on target data, while only two can boast a better save percentage than his 74.2.

Crystal Palace may have cruised past Tottenham last time out but beating Alisson will provide a different challenge and the Liverpool man could be a guarantee for much-needed clean sheet points.

JAMES TARKOWSKI (Burnley v Arsenal)

Burnley are winless this term, but James Tarkowski remains a wonderful bargain option for your shaky backline.

While the Clarets may concede against Arsenal, Tarkowski offers returns at the other end of the pitch and boasts the highest xG (4.3) among Premier League defenders since the start of last term.

Only the more expensive Andrew Robertson, Joao Cancelo and Trent-Alexander Arnold have had more touches in the opposition box in that time period, too, meaning the centre-back could prove an alternate option on matchday five.

VIRGIL VAN DIJK (Liverpool v Crystal Palace)

From one end of the budget to the other, Virgil van Dijk may set you back but he has been the Premier League's most dangerous defender so far.

The centre-back has produced nine shots, with only Cancelo (13) and Alexander-Arnold (11) managing more opposition-box touches among defenders than Van Dijk's 11.

Given Liverpool look likely a good bet for a clean sheet as well – conceding only five goals in eight straight wins against Palace – Van Dijk could provide a perfect double threat despite the off-putting outlay for the Netherlands captain.

ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE (Aston Villa v  Everton)

Abdoulaye Doucoure may not be your typical fantasy midfielder in the ilk of Mohamed Salah, Bruno Fernandes or Paul Pogba.

However, the Everton midfielder is in fine form and provides a wonderful budget option, having been involved in four goals in his past four games in the competition for the Toffees.

Aston Villa have managed just two shutouts in their past 16, too, so Doucoure's box-to-box prowess could cause carnage once more at Villa Park.

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG (Burnley v  Arsenal)

Some fantasy players may have given up hope with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he repaid the faith of those loyal to him with a goal against Norwich City last Saturday.

The Gabon forward, who many discounted after a poor last campaign, will be central to Mikel Arteta's revival and he has netted eight times in seven top-flight matches against Burnley.

Given Burnley have not kept a clean sheet in their past seven and Arsenal attempted 30 shots last time out, Aubameyang could provide more returns at Turf Moor.

SADIO MANE (Liverpool  v Crystal Palace)

Salah appears the obvious option as always for the visit of Crystal Palace; however, Sadio Mane offers an alternate differential at Anfield.

Liverpool have fired in 100 shots already this term – just the second side to register a century in their opening four Premier League games since 2003-04 – and Mane has accounted for 22 of those.

The Senegal star has also scored in each of his past eight against Palace, making him one of the best picks for matchday five.

DANNY INGS (Aston Villa v Everton)

Danny Ings has been a fantasy favourite from the start of the season but has not delivered as of yet with Aston Villa.

That could change against Everton, however, as the Toffees are his favourite opponent having scored five top-flight goals against them.

The omens are in Ings' favour, too, given he has managed to score against Everton with all three of his previous Premier League clubs – could he make it a fourth with Villa?

Could Jurgen Klopp and Robert Lewandowski be set to work together again?

The pair enjoyed a successful partnership at Borussia Dortmund.

Now, Klopp is reportedly trying to lure the Bayern Munich forward to Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – KLOPP WANTS LEWANDOWSKI REUNION

Liverpool are targeting Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, according to Fichajes.

Lewandowski worked with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund before joining Bundesliga rivals Bayern in 2014.

There has been talk Lewandowski could be ready for a new challenge amid links to Real Madrid and Manchester City, though Klopp is reportedly determined to reunite with the Poland international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild claims Dortmund have identified Chelsea forward Timo Werner as a possible option to replace Erling Haaland. Club are queueing up to sign Haaland, with City, Manchester United, Bayern, Liverpool, Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all reportedly interested. Should Haaland leave Dortmund, the Bundesliga outfit reportedly see former RB Leipzig star Werner as a potential successor.

- Fabrizio Romano says Inter forward Lautaro Martinez is nearing a contract extension at San Siro. He has reportedly turned down offers from Tottenham and Atletico Madrid.

Bayern, Inter, Real Madrid and Tottenham are interested in Borussia Monchengladbach defender Matthias Ginter, reports Calciomercato.

Chelsea are looking to sign Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen to new contracts, according to Romano.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insisted Divock Origi will be remembered as a club legend, lauding the forward following Wednesday's thrilling Champions League victory over Milan.

Origi has often taken a backseat to Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino but the Belgian started and impressed in Liverpool's 3-2 win against Milan at Anfield midweek.

In his first start since January, Origi teed up Salah's equaliser as Liverpool kicked off their Group B opener with maximum points on Merseyside, where Jordan Henderson settled the contest.

Klopp hailed Origi, who only started six matches last season after Liverpool braced for the 26-year-old's exit in 2021-22.

"Divock is a great guy, that's how it is, and in 10 years' time when we look back he will be a Liverpool legend, but he is too young to be already seen as a legend now so he has to play football," Klopp told reporters.

"To be 100 per cent honest, of course I thought he would maybe leave in the summer, but the football world is a crazy place and people obviously forgot how good he is.

"I said it, it is really difficult to get into this team. That's just how it is and I have to decide about different positions, who I bring on, how I want to react before a game. That's why Div was not in, he did nothing wrong. He trains, he gives everything and sometimes you still don't make it into the squad.

"That really can happen, especially when everybody is fit. But for tonight he was the right player to do it and he did really well. He was not injured, he had cramps, that's normal and so now let's see. It's just nice, I'm really happy I could give him the opportunity and that he used it like he did."

Liverpool have won their opening home game in seven of their last eight Champions League campaigns (D1), last losing such a match in October 2007 (1-0 against Marseille).

Under Klopp, Liverpool have only lost one of their 13 group-stage games in the Champions League at Anfield (W10 D2) – 2-0 against Atalanta last season.

Liverpool have averaged 2.5 goals per home game in the group stage since the German took charge (33 goals).

Stefano Pioli insisted Milan learnt a "valuable lesson" following their entertaining 3-2 defeat to Liverpool upon the club's return to the Champions League.

Milan were featuring in the Champions League for the first time since 2014 and the seven-time winners threatened an upset at Anfield, where the visitors surprisingly claimed a 2-1 half-time lead.

Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz both scored within two minutes of each other on the stroke of half-time to stun Liverpool, who had Mohamed Salah's penalty saved by Mike Maignan following Fiyako Tomori's ninth-minute own goal.

But Salah redeemed himself with an equaliser three minutes into the second half before Jordan Henderson's first Champions League goal in seven years settled the Group B thriller on Merseyside.

Despite leaving England empty-handed, Milan head coach Pioli – whose Rossoneri have won their opening three Serie A games this season – was relatively upbeat post-match.

"This was a valuable lesson that will help us going forward. The team was motivated, we expected Liverpool to start strong, but were a bit too static and couldn't get past their first press. When you don't have the ball, you run into danger," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"It was a very good game of football, it's a pity we lost the game, because a strong start here would've been very important.

"I leave Anfield aware this team can grow more and we still need that extra step up in terms of details, because those are what make the difference in the Champions League.

"We lost because on a set play we cleared the ball to the edge of the box and that is not what we ought to be doing."

Rebic became the seventh Croatian to score on his Champions League debut and the first since Miroslav Orsic for Dinamo Zagreb in September 2019.

Meanwhile, team-mate Diaz (22 years and 43 days) is the youngest player to score on his Champions League bow for Milan since Yoann Gourcuff in September 2006 (20 years and 64 days against AEK Athens).

"Liverpool deserve credit for their intensity and quality, above all in the first 25 minutes," Pioli said. "We had been able to turn it around and the real regrets are the two goals we conceded in the second half. Along with Liverpool's quality, we also made mistakes on those two goals.

"Hopefully, in future we'll face teams with slightly less quality and won't concede in those situations."

Milan are winless in their past nine European away games against English opposition (D4 L5), since a 1-0 victory against Manchester United in February 2005.

Pioli – whose Milan visit rivals Juventus on Sunday – added: "What disappoints me and we must work on is that we can do better, because we allowed Liverpool some give-and-go situations that we usually defend better against.

"We could've created a lot more problems for the Liverpool forwards and made it more difficult for them."

Jurgen Klopp felt Liverpool "got carried away by our own football" as they let a lead slip against Milan before recovering to win 3-2 in their Champions League opener.

An own goal from Fikayo Tomori gave Liverpool the lead in the ninth minute at Anfield before Mohamed Salah saw a penalty saved by Mike Maignan.

Two goals in the space of 110 seconds turned the game on its head, however, with Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz putting Milan, playing their first Champions League game since 2014, 2-1 up at half-time.

However, Salah atoned for his penalty miss three minutes after the restart and a superb long-range effort from Jordan Henderson, his first goal in the competition for 2,485 days, settled matters for Liverpool to send them top of Group B.

Klopp made four changes from the Premier League win over Leeds United, with Joe Gomez starting in defence and Divock Origi up front.

And he felt the alterations had an impact on Liverpool losing control of the match for a brief period.

He told BT Sport: "We started incredibly well. We played a super, super game. An intense game but football-wise as well. We played in all the spaces we had to play and didn't give them anything until... I'm not sure exactly. We got punished for it in the last few minutes of the first half but it started earlier.

"We got carried away by our own football. We didn't keep it simple anymore, offensively and defensively we were not organised anymore.

"When we are organised, Fabinho is incredible and he can pick up all the challenges we need him for. When the spaces are too big, even he cannot solve it anymore.

"They played in between and scored two goals. But it did not feel like we cannot come back. It was clear that we had to immediately get back to how we started and then we scored wonderful goals, to be honest. Both were incredible.

"It is deserved but we had 10 minutes where Milan nearly changed the whole tie.

"It is the football I want to see in most moments. We are experienced in the competition, or should be. It was a little bit the changes as well that we just weren't compact anymore.

"Now we won I can say that the changes was the right thing to do because playing every three days is just not possible with the same guys. The guys who came on did incredibly well.

"That is our pick from pot four. AC Milan in a really good moment. It is a tough group. That is why it is important we won this game. It does not decide anything but it gave us a winning start."

Jordan Henderson's long-range strike gave Liverpool a winning start to their Champions League campaign as they beat AC Milan 3-2 in a Group B thriller.

Liverpool appeared set for a comfortable victory when Fiyako Tomori inadvertently put through his own net in the ninth minute of Milan's first Champions League match since 2014.

However, the Rossoneri are a much-improved team under Stefano Pioli and, after Mike Maignan saved a Mohamed Salah penalty, they took the lead through quickfire goals from Ante Rebic and Brahim Diaz late in the first half.

Salah, though, atoned for his failure from 12 yards by equalising three minutes into the second half and Henderson's first Champions League goal for seven years ensured they took maximum points from an enthralling clash.

Liverpool were rewarded for a fast start that saw Divock Origi and Diogo Jota go close when Trent Alexander-Arnold played a neat one-two with Salah and his cross-cum-shot deflected past Maignan by Tomori.

While there was little he could do to prevent the opener, Maignan kept Milan in the game when he dived to his right to keep out Salah's spot-kick and then to deny Jota on the rebound after Ismael Bennacer was deemed to have handled in the area.

The Reds' dominance eventually dissipated and their failure to extend the lead was punished with two goals in the space of as many minutes that turned the game on its head.

Rebic levelled matters with a composed finish at the end of an intricate move, finding the bottom-right corner, and Diaz then tapped into an empty net after Theo Hernandez had seen his shot cleared off the line by Andrew Robertson following great work from Rafael Leao.

Milan had the ball in the net again soon after the restart but Simon Kjaer's effort was rightly ruled out for offside in the build-up. Salah, by contrast, was able to stay in line with the last defender and meet Origi's clever lofted ball with an improvised side-foot finish to restore parity.

And an enthralling clash swung back Liverpool's way once more as Milan could only clear a corner as far as Henderson, whose magnificent half-volley left Maignan with no chance.

Pioli's men could not find a reply this time, with Kjaer's near-post flick-on from a corner the only scare as a Liverpool side that looked fragile for much of the night shut up shop effectively.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp paid tribute to Simon Kjaer ahead of Wednesday's clash with Milan, saluting the defender for his composure and humanity in response to Christian Eriksen collapsing at Euro 2020.

Eriksen collapsed during Denmark's European Championship opener against Finland in June, with Kjaer the first on the scene to place his team-mate in the recovery position before leading the rest of the team in the formation of a protective shield around the Inter man as he received treatment.

The 29-year-old midfielder was subsequently taken to hospital and it was later confirmed he had suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch, but medics were able to resuscitate him.

Eriksen was fitted with a pacemaker before returning home, though it remains unclear if he will ever play again.

Kjaer received widespread praise for his quick-thinking at such a crucial juncture, with he and the eight medics involved hailed the "true heroes of Euro 2020" and presented with the 2021 UEFA President's Award by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin last month.

Kjaer is expected to be in the Milan team that will play the club's first Champions League match in seven-and-a-half years at Anfield, and Klopp hopes Liverpool fans recognise the defender's exploits.

"I am usually more keen to focus on my own players rather than an opponent, but tonight I must make an exception," Klopp wrote in his programme notes.

"This evening it is possible that Simon Kjaer will line up against us and this is a person who I think has the respect of the entire football and sporting world.

"You recognise true leadership in a crisis. I think the world acknowledges this now more than ever with everything that goes on around us.

"Like millions of others, I was rocked by the scenes that unfolded at the European Championship in the summer when Christian Eriksen fell ill during Denmark's opening group game.

"There were many heroes that night, not least of all the remarkable medical professionals for the Danish national team, in the stadium and subsequently at the hospital. But Simon shone that traumatic day for his own conduct.

"The image of the Danish players shielding their team-mate as he was cared for will, in my opinion, forever be one of the most iconic in sporting history. It showed the best of humanity. Compassion, care and love for their friend.

"Honestly, I have no idea how he managed to not only keep his own composure in that situation, but to have the clarity of mind to make the decisions he did in that moment. His conduct humbles us all.

"I'm told that Simon's dad is an LFC fan – and if that is the case, he must be bursting with pride that his boy is now recognised worldwide as the epitome of our anthem, 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

"I know our supporters are knowledgeable and generous of spirit and therefore I am sure Simon will feel the gratitude of the home crowd tonight, but for the 90-plus minutes of the game he is again the opponent."

Wednesday's contest will be Liverpool's first Champions League match in front of a home crowd since March 11, 2020, when the Reds lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid after extra-time and were dumped out of the competition at the last-16 stage.

Klopp feels Liverpool were always lacking something in the absence of supporters through the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but in his opinion that was always exemplified during Champions League games.

"It will be so cool just before kick-off to hear that Champions League anthem and see the players lined up in front of a full Anfield," he continued. "We missed supporters for every second of every game during the pandemic, but I must admit it was most acute on the European nights.

"Let's have all the noise, all the colour, all the positive energy and all the passion and intensity that is our trademark. Let's give this fixture the stage it deserves. I honestly cannot wait."

Wednesday's match will be the first meeting between the two historic clubs that is not a European final, with their only prior clashes being in the Champions League deciders in 2005 and 2007, winning once each.

Pascal Struijk will serve a three-match ban after Leeds United were unsuccessful in their appeal against the red card shown following a tackle that left Liverpool's Harvey Elliott with a dislocated ankle.

Dutch defender Struijk was sent off in the second half of Leeds' 3-0 Premier League defeat on Sunday after 18-year-old Elliott suffered a nasty injury.

Elliott attempted to lead Liverpool on a counterattack but Struijk halted the move, lunging in and hooking the ball away.

While the tackle initially appeared to be a clean one, with referee Craig Pawson not even awarding a foul, Elliott could quickly be seen clutching his left ankle after his left tangled awkwardly with Struijk's.

The nearby Mohamed Salah desperately ushered medical staff on to the pitch before play was stopped, the Egyptian then recoiling and walking away seemingly in a state of shock.

Teenager Elliott required lengthy medical attention before being carried off on a stretcher and then taken to hospital.

Elliott acknowledged later in an Instagram comment that the injury was a "freak accident" and the tackle was undeserving of a red card, while Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani suggested even a yellow would have been harsh on Struijk.

Yet, Leeds confirmed on Wednesday their appeal has been unsuccessful, meaning Struijk will miss Premier League clashes with Newcastle United and West Ham either side of an EFL Cup game against Fulham.

Lionel Messi is in line to make his 150th Champions League appearance and his first with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Mauricio Pochettino's men travel to Club Brugge and Messi is about to partake in his first European campaign without Barcelona, while Manchester City host RB Leipzig.

Liverpool and Milan renew rivalries in the competition for just the second time since the 2004-05 final between the pair but the Serie A side have a woeful record against English teams.

Inter have a similarly poor record against Spanish teams and they face Real Madrid, with Karim Benzema edging towards another goalscoring landmark.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta data ahead of Wednesday's fixtures.

Inter v Real Madrid: Benzema looks to edge past former Galactico Raul 

Inter have lost four of their last five against Real Madrid but Los Blancos have only won one of their previous eight away games against Wednesday's opponents as they prepare for a replay of last year's group stage outing.

However, Inter have not won against a Spanish team in Europe's premier competition since 2010 and Madrid have been victorious in 12 of their last 13 against Serie A outfits.

Carlo Ancelotti has Karim Benzema among his ranks and the forward will appear in his 17th consecutive campaign as he looks for his 72nd goal to move ahead of Raul (71) into fourth in the all-time scoring list.

 

Manchester City v RB Leipzig: Guardiola's group stage dominance

Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 17 group-stage ties and, since Pep Guardiola was appointed, they have lost just three of 30 at this stage of the competition.

The hosts are eyeing their 50th win in their 91st game as they look to become the second fastest to the half-century, while RB Leipzig have lost three of their last four against English opposition.

City's attacking riches could thrive at Etihad Stadium, too, Ferran Torres has scored four in his last six appearances in Europe - a goal every 90 minutes - and Riyad Mahrez has been involved in 22 goals in 28 starts for Leicester City and his current side in the Champions League.

 

Liverpool v Milan: Istanbul replay ends Rossoneri's seven-year wait

Milan will appear in their first Champions League since 2014, their first fixture a replay of the memorable 2004-05 final that saw Liverpool triumph.

Stefano Pioli's men have won just one of their last 13 against English opponents in European competition, while the Reds have lost just one of their last 12 group-stage games at Anfield in Europe under Jurgen Klopp.

Mohamed Salah (25) is one of two Liverpool players – along with Steven Gerrard (21) – to score 20+ times in the competition but Sadio Mane (19) could join them with a goal on Wednesday to become the fourth African to the 20-goal mark.

 

Club Brugge v Paris Saint-Germain: Pochettino's attacking riches

Paris Saint-Germain have netted 21 goals across six games against Belgian opposition – winning five and drawing once – while Club Brugge have only won one of their six opening games.

Lionel Messi – the second all-time leading scorer in the competition – could make his first PSG continental appearance, having scored 120 goals and provided 35 assists in 149 games for Barcelona against teams from 17 nations.

The visitors also boast half of the six players to be involved in 30+ goals in the competition in the last four seasons, with Kylian Mbappe (37), Messi (36) and Neymar (31) all doing so.

Other fixtures:

Atletico Madrid v Porto:

41 – Diego Simeone has won 41 of the 79 Champions League fixtures he has managed since 2013-14, with only Pep Guardiola (56) picking up more wins in this period.

4 – Porto have won four of their last five away games in the competition, their only loss coming against eventual runners-up Manchester City last term.

Besiktas v Borussia Dortmund:

1 – Besiktas have only collected one win in their last 10 home games in the Champions League and two of four defeats in that run have come against Bundesliga sides.

100 – Borussia Dortmund have a 100 per cent record against Turkish opposition in the Champions League, though all four wins have come against Galatasaray.

Sheriff Tiraspol v Shakhtar Donetsk:

1 – Sheriff Tiraspol are the first ever Moldovan team to feature in the Champions League proper. They are unbeaten in their last nine in European competition.

3 – Shakhtar Donetsk have only been beaten three times in their last 11 games as they went unbeaten against Real Madrid and Inter in the group stages last season.

Sporting CP v Ajax:

36 – Aged just 36, Ruben Amorim becomes the second youngest Portuguese manager in the competition's history, after former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas (33) in 2011.

2 – Ajax have only lost two of 10 games against Portuguese opponents since the inaugural European Cup. However, just two of these games have taken place this century.

Harry Kane's attempt to leave Tottenham did not go according to plan before the transfer window closed.

Despite interest from Manchester City, Kane remains in London with Spurs.

Kane could be prepared to sign another contract at Tottenham…

 

TOP STORY – NEW DEAL FOR KANE?

Tottenham star Harry Kane is open to a contract extension if the offer includes a release clause, according to Eurosport.

Kane wanted to leave Tottenham in the off-season, but a move did not materialise, despite interest from Premier League champions Manchester City.

The England striker, though, could be willing to re-sign on one condition.

Paris Saint-Germain, JuventusReal Madrid and Barcelona have previously been linked with Kane.

 

ROUND-UP

Juventus could face competition from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for City forward Gabriel Jesus, reports Calciomercato. Juve are keen to bolster their attack following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit but face a battle should Robert Lewandowski leave Bayern. Lewandowski has been linked with the likes of City and Madrid.

- Fabrizio Romano claims United are planning to offer Luke Shaw a new contract at Old Trafford. However, United are prioritising new deals for Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.

Liverpool are among the contenders to sign Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland, says 90min. Haaland has been linked with United, City, Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Juve and PSG but 90min claims Liverpool have held talks with his agent Mino Raiola.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Milan's Champions League clash at Liverpool after suffering an injury setback.

The 39-year-old former Manchester United striker made a goalscoring return for Milan as a substitute against Lazio on Sunday, coming on to tap in the second goal in a 2-0 Serie A victory.

That followed a four-month knee injury lay-off, and the Swedish frontman has now reportedly suffered discomfort in an Achilles, forcing him out of plans for Wednesday's Anfield tussle.

That means coach Stefano Pioli will name Ante Rebic or former Arsenal and Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud as his attacking spearhead when he selects his side to face Jurgen Klopp's Reds.

Pioli stated Giroud would not be able to play a full 90 minutes, having returned from a spell on the sidelines after testing positive for COVID-19.

Speaking in a news conference on Tuesday, Pioli said: "Zlatan has had an inflammation; he gave it a go this morning but it's useless to take risks at this point of the season.

"I see AC Milan with Zlatan and I absolutely think we'll have him back soon. Absences are a part of football; I'll need to choose between Ante and Olivier but we have the cover."

Ibrahimovic has abundant Champions League experience, scoring 48 goals in the competition from 120 games, with nine of those coming for Milan between 2010 and 2012 in a previous spell with the Rossoneri.

The Swede has scored for more teams in the Champions League than any other player (six – Paris Saint-Germain, Milan, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona).

He arrived from LA Galaxy midway through the 2019-20 season and helped Pioli take Milan into the Champions League for the first time in eight years with last term's second-placed finish in Serie A. 

They last featured in the competition in the 2013-14 campaign, a worrying drought for the club that have won the European Cup or Champions League on seven occasions.

"Our growth over the past year is clear for all to see," Pioli said. "Our experiences have helped us to grow and improve, and the beginning of this season has shown that this team knows how to play and how to approach games.

"The level is higher now; it's what we wanted and it's a chance for us to show that we can mix it with the best."

Milan have won just one of their last 13 games against English opponents in European competition (D4 L8), with that lone victory a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal at San Siro in the Champions League in February 2012.

Pioli, quoted on Milan's official website, said: "Many of us have never played in the Champions League, but football is football. We know what to do and how to try and play against a really strong side.

"We've prepared really well for this game. There are no easy fixtures in this group; our opponents are all highly competitive and have been playing European football for a while. It's a chance for us to start writing our own history; we have a lot of belief in our own quality."

Jurgen Klopp was one of many viewers who considered stopping watching Liverpool's 2005 Champions League final win over Milan at half-time but knows his side won't be able to switch off in a difficult group this season.

Liverpool have been pitted against Milan, Atletico Madrid, who knocked the Reds out two seasons ago, and Porto in Group B.

They welcome the Rossoneri to Anfield on Wednesday in a rematch of the final in Istanbul where Liverpool fought back from 3-0 at half-time to defeat Milan on penalties.

And Klopp is sure to have substantially more interest in this encounter than he did during the interval of Liverpool's most famous European triumph, with his side set to play a Champions League clash in front of fans for the first time since their loss to Atletico back in 2020.

Asked about his experience watching the 2005 showpiece, Klopp told a media conference: "I was thinking about not watching the second half because everybody in the world that thought this game might be decided.

"What I remember is some incredible saves of [Jerzy] Dudek, he had to keep them in the game, Milan could have scored more.

"It became one of the biggest football sensations ever. I was really glad I didn't switch the telly off."

After years of prolonged struggle, Milan are back competing for top honours in Italian football under Stefano Pioli.

They finished second to Inter in Serie A last season having led for much of the campaign and boast three wins from three to start the new season.

Porto are Champions League regulars who knocked out Juventus in the last 16 in 2020-21 while Atletico will be hoping to finally add the continent's top prize to the LaLiga title they won last term, having taken 10 points from four games to start their defence.

On the task facing his side in the group, Klopp said: "It is a difficult group. I don't think when we saw it one of us said it was a great group. It's tough, come on. Atletico, Porto, usually champions in Portugal. Milan, big history in the best moment for years, that's proper Champions League.

"We worked really hard for being part of that and that's what we get. It's a long time ago that we had a Champions League game at home, we now have an opportunity to experience the atmosphere Anfield is able to produce. We spoke a lot in the past about European nights at Anfield and I can't wait to experience that.

"This group will be exciting from the first second to the last second. In between these games we have a very important competition but it's exactly what we wanted. Unbelievable stadiums, great crowd, all that kind of stuff. It's exactly how we want football."

Liverpool will be without Harvey Elliott for the long term after he suffered a serious ankle injury in Sunday's win at Leeds United, with Klopp confirming he will have surgery on Tuesday.

"I spoke to him after the game, he was in the best possible place. He knew would out for a while," said Klopp. "Today he is in London and will have the surgery today. That is the next step and we wait for news on that."

Milan president Paolo Scaroni insisted the Rossoneri are committed to a long-term project as they attempt to follow a blueprint similar to that of Liverpool.

The Serie A outfit are readying themselves for their first Champions League appearance since March 2014 on Wednesday against Jurgen Klopp's men, who have lost just one of their last 12 group-stage clashes at Anfield.

Head coach Stefano Pioli's preparations have been perfect so far, winning all three Serie A games to sit joint-top with Roma and Napoli, but Scaroni says Milan's focus is just on achieving Champions League qualification once more.

"The priority is to be back in the Champions League, Milan must always be there," Scaroni told Radio Anch'Io.

"If we can do better, we will be happy. The goal is at least fourth place, then if we end first, I will be delighted."

"Stefano Pioli has created a perfect mix with young and experienced players, building a real team, aggressive and fun. The coach has never been on the brink, ours is a long-term project since the first day."

The visitors' record on English soil is poor, too, given they have won just one of their last 13 in European competition against English opposition.

However, Scaroni referenced the gulf in income between his side and other European outfits as an important differentiator ahead of the repeat of the famous 2004-05 Champions League final between the two sides.

"I cannot forget that on Wednesday we will go to Liverpool, a club that earns €100 million from the box office, while we get €35m," Scaroni continued.

"Serie A clubs need new stadiums that can allow us to reach the European clubs otherwise fans will have to accept performances that are not at a European level."

Asked when Milan would start building a new stadium to bridge the gap, the president responded: "We are at a good point, I am optimistic even if there will be a mayoral election soon. October will be a crucial month.

"After the approval of the city council, which I hope will happen by the end of the year, it will take six months for the design.

"At that point, the construction could start in the second half of 2022 and, between 2024 and 2025, it could be ready."

It just had to be, did it not? Cristiano Ronaldo, back at Old Trafford, of course he would get on the scoresheet.

Ronaldo netted not once, but twice in United's 4-1 defeat of Newcastle United on Saturday, announcing his return to the Premier League in style.

Meanwhile, a player who has established himself as one of the possible heirs to the Ronaldo (and Lionel Messi) throne at the pinnacle of the game reached a century of goals in the competition.

And after their worst start in generations, Arsenal finally found a way to win.

Here are some of the more curious Opta facts from the latest round of games.


Age is just a number for evergreen Ronaldo

Aged 36 year and 218 days, Ronaldo became the oldest player to score a Premier League double in over a decade.

The last player of more advancing years to do so? Well, another of the league's greats, of course. That being Graham Alexander of Burnley, who scored twice in a match against Hull City in April 2010 at the age of 38 years and 182 days. 

On the same day as Alexander was leading Burnley to a 4-1 win over the Tigers, Ronaldo played his second LaLiga Clasico. Real Madrid lost 2-0, following on from Barcelona's 5-0 victory earlier in the season.

Back to Old Trafford on Saturday, where Newcastle's dismal run continued. They have only managed one win at the Theatre of Dreams in their last 27 league attempts, while Steve Bruce, a former United stalwart, has lost 12 of his 13 games at his old stomping ground as a visiting manager, with his teams scoring just six goals over that run.

Ronaldo's gap of 12 years and 124 days between goals is the second-longest between two strikes by the same player in Premier League history, after Matt Jackson, who went 13 years and 187 days in between netting for Everton and Wigan Athletic respectively.

The Portugal superstar also broke Damien Delaney's record (11y 155d) for the biggest gap between Premier League appearances, with Ronaldo turning out for Manchester United again 12 years and 118 days since his previous game in May 2009.

Paul Pogba stands out on his own at the top of the assist charts with seven to his name already. He is the only player to have recorded as many as 10 assists in the Premier League in 2021, while his tally across the opening four games is the most any player has registered in the first four games of a Premier League season.

Mo moves into the 100 club

Liverpool's 3-0 win over Leeds United was somewhat marred by a horrid injury for Harvey Elliott. But the Reds were nevertheless convincing winners, with Mohamed Salah opening the scoring with his 100th Premier League goal.

Salah has reached his century in 162 games, with only four players getting there quicker. His team also moved onto a century in terms of attempts on goal across their four league games so far this season.

Their tally of 30 shots was quite remarkable, though Jurgen Klopp will want an improvement on the 10 per cent conversion rate. 

Sadio Mane had a game-leading 10 shots, yet only two of those hit the target – the Senegal star finally scoring in second-half stoppage time. It was the most attempts he has ever had in a Premier League game, and more than any other player has managed in any match so far this season (Romelu Lukaku having had eight for Chelsea against Arsenal last month).

Villa left reeling by Rom yet again

There must have been a collective sigh of relief around Villa Park when, as Aston Villa were preparing for life back in the top flight, Lukaku left the Premier League to join Serie A giants Inter.

But now the Belgian has returned to England and, as he has a knack of doing, back to finding the net against the poor old Villans.

He scored twice in Chelsea's 3-0 win on Saturday, his first goals at Stamford Bridge for any team, in what was his 15th appearance at the ground.

Lukaku has now scored in each of his last six Premier League appearances against Villa (eight goals) – only against West Ham has he had a longer run of scoring in consecutive games against a specific opponent in the competition (seven, between 2013 and 2016).

Arteta finally gets off the ground

The pressure might well have been too much had bottom-of-the-pile Arsenal failed to beat Norwich City on Saturday, but fortunately for Mikel Arteta, his Gunners side came up with the goods.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sealed a 1-0 win in a match that saw Arsenal have 30 attempts, the most they have had in a league game since producing 33 against Manchester United in December 2017.

Remarkably, with Liverpool also having 30 shots against Leeds, the record from last season (29, set by Manchester City against Leeds in April) has already been surpassed twice.

This is Norwich's worst ever start to a league campaign after four games (zero points, -10 goal difference) and just the third time they have started a season with four league defeats.

Aaron Ramsdale, meanwhile, became the first English goalkeeper to make a Premier League appearance for Arsenal since David Seaman way back in May 2003.

Are Barcelona set to make a splash in 2022?

After losing Lionel Messi on a free transfer due to their crippling debt, Barca are busy planning for next season.

Franck Kessie and Youri Tielemans are believed to be on the radar at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING PAIR

Barcelona are targeting Milan star Franck Kessie and Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, according to reports.

Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and he is yet to re-sign at Milan amid links with Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Mundo Deportivo claims LaLiga giants Barca are considering a move for the Ivory Coast international, as well as Tielemans – who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fichajes says Premier League champions Manchester City are plotting a bid for Leeds United and England star Kalvin Phillips.

Real Madrid are interested in Lyon's Rayan Cherki as a long-term replacement for Karim Benzema, per Fichajes. It comes as Madrid continue to pursue PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

- Calciomercato claims Juventus are considering a move for Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy.

United are ready to rival Barca, Juve and Bayern Munich for RB Leipzig attacker Dani Olmo, according to Marca.

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