You could be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu when Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

The two European giants faced off in 2018 in Kyiv, with Los Blancos running out 3-1 winners thanks to, among other things, a sensational Gareth Bale overhead kick.

Four years later Liverpool and Madrid ready to battle it out to be crowned kings of the continent, with 19 European Cups/Champions Leagues already between them.

Just how much have the two teams changed since then, though? Stats Perform has taken a look at both to see if there are any similarities and marked differences to expect in Paris.

From nearly men to trophy collectors

One of the many reasons defeat in Kyiv hurt for Liverpool was it would have not just been another Champions League success, but the first trophy won since Jurgen Klopp had taken over.

The German coach had been at Anfield since October 2015, and while there had been clear progress, it had not yet manifested in the form of silverware.

The idea that the loss was merely a bump in the road on the start of a journey has since been proven correct, as Liverpool have since hoovered up a Champions League, Premier League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, EFL Cup and FA Cup.

At the time, though, it may not have felt that inevitable given the Merseyside club went into the final having finished fourth in the league, 25 points behind champions Man City, having also been knocked out of the EFL Cup in the third round and the FA Cup in the fourth round.

As well as making the final, the 2017-18 season was memorable for the Reds acquiring one Mohamed Salah, who went on to score 44 goals in all competitions.

They lost Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in the January transfer window, but signed Virgil van Dijk from Southampton to help out a troubled defence.

The team that started against Madrid included at least six players you would think will start in Paris in Trent Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson, Jordan Henderson, Salah and Sadio Mane, while James Milner and Roberto Firmino will at least be on the bench.

It is perhaps the additions made that will make the difference this time, most notably in goal.

Loris Karius suffered a concussion after an elbow to the head from Sergio Ramos that night, which could explain his bizarre performance after that where he threw the ball straight onto Karim Benzema's foot for Madrid's opener, before dropping the ball into the goal from a Bale shot for their third.

Brazil international Alisson is a significant upgrade on Karius.

Instead of the... shall we say... enigmatic Dejan Lovren, Van Dijk will be partnered by either Joel Matip or Ibrahima Konate, both of whom have performed well with the big Dutchman this season.

Should they be fit, Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho will play with Henderson in midfield instead of Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum, while Luis Diaz will almost certainly play alongside Mane and Salah in place of Firmino.

Klopp only made two changes off the bench that night, with Adam Lallana replacing the injured Salah in the first half, while Emre Can also arrived in the second half with little impact.

He will likely have players such as Firmino, Milner, Diogo Jota, Naby Keita and, for one last time, Divock Origi to make the difference if needed in the French capital.

But overall, how much have they changed as a team since that season?

In all competitions in 2017-18, Liverpool averaged 2.39 goals for and 1.11 goals against per game, while making 584.18 passes per game.

They created 2.26 big chances per game, attempted 62.19 long passes per game and won possession in the final third on average 4.94 times per game.

Compare that to this season, they have averaged slightly fewer goals for with 2.37 per game, though have conceded just 0.76 per game, and made 624.55 passes per game, suggesting they control matches more than they used to.

They have created 2.43 big chances per game, and make fewer long passes with 57.13 per game, so are also maybe not quite as direct.

One of the more interesting stats is that they have been winning possession in the final third on average 7.32 times per game this season, significantly more than they did four years ago, so Madrid will be wary of that.

Speaking to Stats Perform, former Liverpool player and assistant manager Phil Thompson - who was captain of the Reds when they beat Madrid in Paris to lift the European Cup in 1981 - said he feels their added experience will help them this time.

"They're better equipped all round," he said. "We're better defensively. The back four, the goalkeeper, I do think all round we're more experienced now in the way we play with Sadio, Mo Salah, and Luis Diaz has brought a different element to our game."

Madrid back as Champions League experts

Back in 2018, Zinedine Zidane guided Los Blancos to their 13th European Cup/Champions League, but otherwise it was a pretty ordinary campaign.

They finished third in LaLiga, 17 points behind the champions Barcelona. They were also knocked out of the Copa del Rey at the quarter-final stage by lowly Leganes.

They just had a knack in the Champions League, though, and remarkably won their fourth in five years.

Similarly to Liverpool, you would imagine at least five of their starting XI in Kyiv will also start in Paris, with Dani Carvajal, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Benzema key men in Carlo Ancelotti's side.

Thibaut Courtois has replaced Keylor Navas in goal, while Eder Militao, David Alaba and Ferland Mendy will probably be the ones to take the places of Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo.

It is up top where things have mainly changed though, and not just in personnel.

Isco has become a squad player, who will leave at the end of the season, while Cristiano Ronaldo has long since departed, paving the way for Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo to come in, while Benzema has drastically increased his output.

The France striker scored 12 goals in all competitions in 47 games in the 2017-18 season, but has bagged 44 in 45 this campaign.

As for the team overall, in 2017-18 they averaged just 2.14 goals for per game, and 0.91 against, creating 2.11 big chances per game.

Somewhat bizarrely, their goal averages both for and against are the same as Liverpool's were four years ago (2.39 goals for, 1.11 against per game), though they have increased their average of big chances created to 2.71 per game.

However, they have won LaLiga this season, in addition to the Supercopa de Espana, and somehow found their way past Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City to reach the final.

Looking at those numbers and what has been achieved since, it is fair to say that both teams have improved since their Kyiv meeting.

Klopp's men have gone from a relative also-ran in English football to one of the strongest teams in the world, and had it not been for City's incredible comeback against Aston Villa on Sunday, would be playing to complete a phenomenal and unprecedented quadruple on Saturday.

Madrid have taken back their place as the best in Spain, and whether it was through luck or determination, have toppled three of the best teams in the competition to make it here.

You would assume the match in Paris will be a closer affair than 2018, and as finals so often are, is likely to be decided by the fine margins.

With the strength of both teams, though, do not be surprised if this isn't the last time we are sat here preparing to do battle in Europe's showpiece club game in May.

The Premier League's longest-serving manager is to remain in his post until 2026 after agreeing a two-year contract extension to his deal at Anfield.

Having already led the Reds to their first ever Premier League title, ending a 30-year wait for top-flight glory, and a sixth European crown since arriving in England in 2015, Klopp is looking to become the first boss to win a historic quadruple in another fine campaign.

Liverpool finished eighth when Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers during the 2015-16 season but the German's canny recruiting has helped restore the club to one of the game's global powerhouses.

And Stats Perform has used Opta data to run through the club's best signings of the Klopp era.

Sadio Mane

Having led the Reds to EFL Cup and Europa League finals after inheriting a squad built by predecessor Brendan Rodgers, Klopp went about remodelling his team in 2016, with then-Southampton forward Mane representing the biggest arrival ahead of his first full campaign at the helm.

Mane registered 13 goals and seven assists in his debut season, with only Phillipe Coutinho managing more goal contributions for the Reds (14 goals and nine assists). The Senegal forward managed his best campaign to date when scoring 26 goals in all competitions two years later, also winning a vital penalty in the opening stages of their Champions League final win over Spurs.

Including this season, Mane has hit 20 goals in four of his last five campaigns at Anfield, more than paying back his £30million price tag.

Mohamed Salah

If Mane's arrival was a success, where do you start with the debut campaign of Salah, who joined Mane and Roberto Firmino to form a fearsome Reds front three in 2017?

In all competitions, Salah scored an unbelievable 43 goals and registered 14 assists during his first season with the club as Liverpool finished as Champions League runners-up. Salah has hit 117 goals in 176 Premier League appearances for the Reds, has scored in a Champions League final victory and won two Premier League golden boots to date, with another extremely likely to follow this term.

Not bad for a player Chelsea let go for a reported £13.5million back in 2016…

Virgil van Dijk

While Salah and Mane have arguably provided the most magical moments for Klopp's Liverpool, would any of their incredible successes have been possible without the acquisition of Van Dijk in January 2018?

With former club Southampton receiving a reported £75million for his services, Van Dijk certainly did not come cheap, but it could be argued no other player can rival his impact at Anfield. Having conceded 38 league goals in 2017-18, Liverpool shipped just 22 in Van Dijk's first full season with the club as they were crowned European champions and narrowly missed out on the Premier League title.

Indeed, after racking up 97 points that season, Liverpool earned 99 when winning their first Premier League title in 2019-20, 30 more than they earned in the 2020-21 campaign when Van Dijk was sidelined by an ACL injury.

Allison 

The 2018 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid was a turning point for Klopp's Liverpool. The heavy metal football that propelled Klopp to stardom had gotten the Reds so far, but Loris Karius' costly errors demonstrated their need for a safer pair of hands.

For all that Van Dijk's brilliance contributed to Liverpool's incredible defensive record in 2018-19, Allison's arrival must also be credited after he kept 21 clean sheets and recorded a save percentage of 77.08 per cent that term. The Brazilian could yet better those statistics this season, posting 19 Premier League clean sheets to date.

Liverpool's shot-stopper even popped up with a vital goal against West Brom last season to help secure Champions League qualification.

The Hull City left-back, the silky Spaniard and Liverpool's next great attackers: The best of the rest…

Klopp's Liverpool have generally recruited brilliantly since his arrival, and while the aforementioned quartet have arguably had the greatest impact on the team's development, there are numerous others who warrant a mention.

In terms of pure value-for-money, no signing can match the £7million purchase of Andrew Robertson, with only Trent Alexander-Arnold (17) beating the Scot's 15 assists in all competitions this season.

Thiago Alcantara, who arrived from Bayern Munich ahead of lasts season, took a while to convince some doubters, largely owing to the silky midfielder's bad fortune with injuries, but the Barcelona man has been inspirational in recent weeks and no regular Reds midfielder can match his passing accuracy of 89.56 per cent this term (all competitions).

If Liverpool could be said to have had one weakness in recent seasons, meanwhile, it was a lack of reliable back-ups for Salah and Mane.

However, the form of Diogo Jota and January arrival Luis Diaz has been crucial to Liverpool's quadruple bid. With Jota averaging a goal every 134.6 minutes in the Premier League this term, and Diaz recording five goal contributions (three goals, two assists) in just seven league starts, the duo could be crucial in Klopp's next cycle.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson has said he and his team-mates "want to win everything" ahead of a busy period that could see them end the season with an unprecedented quadruple.

The Reds have already won the EFL Cup and are a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race as well as still participating in the Champions League and FA Cup.

Liverpool will have 13 more games left to play between now and the end of May should they reach the finals of both those competitions, but Alisson is confident the team can deal with the hectic schedule.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Benfica, a tie in which they lead 3-1, the Brazilian stopper was asked about the physical demands of being in so many competitions.

"At this level we need to be prepared for that and we are," he said. "We have great fitness staff, we are training every day for that. We have targets, all the finals, all the games, as many games as is possible for us in the season.

"We want to win everything, so we are ready for that. Of course, it's not easy, sometimes we feel tired, but you need to put in your mind that you have energy enough to deal with every challenge."

Alisson has played 41 games for Liverpool in all competitions this season, keeping 22 clean sheets, and paid tribute to the players in front of him.

"It's massive [having a strong defence as a goalkeeper]. I have top players playing in front of me. No matter who is playing, they are always performing to the highest level possible, so I am really happy to be part of this team," he added.

The former Roma goalkeeper acknowledged the strength of Benfica ahead of Wednesday's second leg at Anfield.

"It was a tough game," Alisson admitted. "They have quick strikers, they have a strong striker as a number nine [Darwin Nunez]. I know Everton as well from Brazil, I know his qualities, how good he is.

"They gave us a lot of work to do, but we are ready to face them, we are ready and prepared to face that match to achieve our goals."

Manchester City and Liverpool goalkeepers Ederson and Alisson are two of the best shot-stoppers in world football, and David James concedes it is a struggle to pick an outright favourite.

Brazil duo Ederson and Alisson will meet on Sunday as Manchester City host Liverpool in a crucial game in the Premier League title race.

The goalkeepers have been the standout shot-stoppers in the Premier League in recent seasons. While Ederson has three league titles to his name, Alisson has helped Liverpool to a top-flight triumph and Champions League success.

This season, both goalkeepers have performed to similarly high levels. Alisson has made 60 saves in the league from 78 shots on target faced, leaving him with a save percentage of 76.9, while Ederson has made 50 stops, registering a save percentage of 72.3.

Based on Opta's expected goals on target conceded (xGOT) model, Alisson has performed slightly better when it comes to the number of goals he has prevented with the quality of his shot-stopping.

Alisson has prevented 2.9 goals in the top-flight, while Ederson has prevented 1.7.

With the margins between the pair so tight, former England number one James says it is difficult to pick which goalie he prefers.

"My favourite two goalkeepers in the Premier League, absolutely," the former City and Liverpool goalkeeper told Stats Perform.

"Even off the field, these two guys are fantastic people. I can admire them from the goalkeeping art, but when you've got wonderful people doing it, then it just adds another layer to it.

"They're very good friends as well, which makes it even more interesting, team-mates on the international scene, your mates off the field, and then you're competing in pretty much every tournament."

 

However, James does believe that Alisson, due to Liverpool's more open style of play, is tested more regularly.

"If I had a favourite, it's very difficult because their attributes are different," he continued.

"When you look at Ederson, the guy who can kick the ball 90 metres, hardly ever kicks the ball 40 metres, and everything is pretty much played in his own half now.

"It's more a demonstration of the dominance of City and because of that dominance he's not actually being called upon so much.

"Whereas if you look at Allison, who's got the freedom to get an assist if he wants, but has been called upon time and again, this even going into the game on the weekend, you're looking at it and thinking well 'case history would argue that Allison has made more saves in the last two months, possibly in one game than Ederson has had to do'.

"So Allison's kind of winning at the moment because he's doing more but I wouldn't want to pick one as my ultimate favourite."

It's time for gameweek 29 in the Premier League, and for some it is a double, which will no doubt lead to panicked stockpiling of players from those teams involved.

Do not be fooled into transferring out your star player for a cheaper alternative who has twice as many games on the horizon, though. You get more points for a goal in one game than not scoring in two, after all.

As ever, there are some obvious picks, but also some less obvious ones should you be a fan of the odd differential to gain an upper hand in your mini-leagues.

So let Stats Perform lead you by the hand with Opta data as we pick four players who might just give you those precious extra points in the latest Premier League gameweek.

ALISSON (Brighton and Hove Albion v Liverpool, Arsenal v Liverpool)

Alisson is unquestionably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and has played as big a role as anyone in Liverpool clawing their way back into the title race.

Since the turn of the year, no Premier League goalkeeper with a minimum of 180 minutes played has kept more clean sheets (five), conceded fewer goals (two) or has a higher save percentage (89.47).

The Reds suffered the unfamiliar feeling of defeat against Inter on Tuesday, albeit still defeating the Italian giants in the Champions League round of 16 on aggregate, but it still took a world-class strike from Lautaro Martinez to beat Alisson.

The big Brazilian comes up against a Brighton team that always manages to make scoring goals look more complicated than quantum mechanics and an Arsenal side that has failed to score against Liverpool in their last five meetings in all competitions.

KYLE WALKER-PETERS (Southampton v Watford)

Southampton may have lost to Aston Villa and Newcastle United in the last week, but before then they were going great guns, winning six of their previous seven in all competitions (D1).

One player in particular who has stood out has been Walker-Peters, who has been getting forward to great effect from right back.

No Premier League defender has had more chance creating ending carriers this season than Walker-Peters (12), while his three goal involvements (one goal, two assists) equals his best tally in a single league campaign (three assists for Tottenham in 2018-19).

DEJAN KULUSEVSKI (Manchester United v Tottenham, Brighton v Tottenham)

Tottenham have gone a bit 'Jekyll and Hyde' lately under Antonio Conte, often following up an impressive win with an insipid defeat. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, they're coming off a 5-0 win against Everton.

While Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have rightly been getting their usual plaudits for recent form (every other game at least), Kulusevski has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water since arriving from Juventus in January.

Since making his debut in England, only Kane (six) has been involved in more Premier League goals than the Swedish winger (five - two goals, three assists).

RAUL JIMENEZ (Everton v Wolves)

It may seem counter-intuitive to look to a Wolves attacker for points given only Brighton (26), Burnley (22) and Norwich City (17) have scored fewer than their 28 goals in the Premier League this season.

They did bag four against Watford on Thursday though, including a goal for Jimenez, who has a tremendous record against Everton and is about to come up against possibly the worst iteration of the Toffees he ever has on Sunday.

The Mexican striker has scored in all five of his league appearances against the Merseyside club, netting five goals in total. In the competition's history, only Liverpool's Mohamed Salah has a better 100 per cent record of scoring against an opponent (six goals in six games against Bournemouth).

Brazil head coach Tite has criticized the decision to appoint a Colombian referee for Thursday's chaotic 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Ecuador.

Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan handed out four red cards throughout the game, including two to Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson which were both rescinded by the VAR, along with two overturned penalty awards for Ecuador.

Trailing 1-0 to Casemiro's first-half strike, Ecuador had a 55th-minute penalty awarded by Roldan overturned when it was determined Pervis Estupinan had dived in the box as opposed to being fouled by Raphinha.

In stoppage-time, the hosts again thought they had a penalty which could have led to the winner after a foul from Alisson but the award was overturned by the VAR, offering the Liverpool goalkeeper and Brazil a late reprieve.

Tite was critical of Roldan's "impulsiveness" but also the decision to appoint a referee from Colombia, who came into this matchday fourth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying behind Ecuador.

“Today there was no point in appointing a referee from the fourth country in the table, when the third and first were playing," Tite said at the post-game news conference.

"Roldan is a good referee, but it gives for interpretations. The designation took a bit of sensitivity."

Tite added: "It was a difficult game. The number of fouls was exaggerated, 20 fouls by Ecuador and 12 by us.

"The circumstances happened, it wasn't evil, it was impulsive. Incorrect, yes. And it needs to be corrected, yes. It needs to be mature, yes. But it wasn't evil."

Liverpool closed the gap on Premier League leaders Manchester City to nine points with a 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp's side recorded a remarkable 7-0 victory in this exact fixture last season and were soon in command as Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck in the first half at Selhurst Park.

Palace deservedly pulled one back through Odsonne Edouard just after the break, but Fabinho sealed all three points from the penalty spot in the closing stages.

Victory saw Liverpool reduce City's lead at the summit after they were held by Southampton on Saturday, while the Reds still have a game in hand.

A deflected Jordan Henderson strike forced the first save of the contest from Vicente Guaita, but the Palace goalkeeper had no chance of stopping Van Dijk's thumping header from Andrew Robertson's out-swinging corner a minute later.
 
Liverpool doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark as Oxlade-Chamberlain brought down Robertson's inviting delivery and hammered home.
 
Alisson then denied Michael Olise as Palace looked to respond, while Jean-Phillipe Mateta saw his strike deflected wide after rounding the Brazil international.

Conor Gallagher headed a glorious point-blank chance wide immediately after the interval, before Alisson thwarted an inventive Edouard flick.

Palace eventually breached the Liverpool goal after 55 minutes when Mateta latched on to Jeffrey Schlupp's immense throughball and selflessly squared to Edouard for a tap-in.

Joachim Andersen fired narrowly wide moments after and Alisson had to race back to parry Olise's chip, as Liverpool negotiated a spell of sustained pressure.

Klopp's side secured all three points after a lengthy VAR check adjudged Guaita to have fouled Diogo Jota, with Fabinho converting from 12 yards.

Alisson, Roberto Firmino and Joel Matip will all miss Liverpool's trip to Chelsea on Sunday after they returned positive COVID-19 tests ahead of the clash at Stamford Bridge.

It follows the announcement on Saturday that manager Jurgen Klopp will also be absent from the game for the same reason.

The Reds are already without Thiago, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, Nat Phillips and Harvey Elliott with injuries, while Andrew Robertson misses the game through suspension.

Caoimhin Kelleher replaces Alisson in goal, with the Ireland international set to make just his fourth Premier League appearance, while Ibrahima Konate comes in for Matip and Diogo Jota continues up front with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who both play their last Premier League game before heading off for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Meanwhile, Chelsea are without Romelu Lukaku after the Belgian striker was dropped for recent comments in the media that displeased his boss Thomas Tuchel.

Thiago Silva and N'Golo Kante come back into the side after neither started the 1-1 draw with Brighton on Wednesday, while Marcos Alonso replaces the injured Reece James and Kai Havertz comes in for Lukaku.

Both sides will be desperate for a win to stay as close as possible to league leaders Manchester City after Pep Guardiola's men snatched a late victory at Arsenal on Saturday to go 11 points clear of second-place Chelsea.

TEAMS

Chelsea: Edouard Mendy, Trevor Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Marcos Alonso, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic. Subs: Kepa Arrizabalaga, Malang Sarr, Lewis Hall, Jorginho, Saul Niguez, Ross Barkley, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Harvey Vale, Hakim Ziyech. 

Liverpool: Caoimhin Kelleher, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Virgil van Dijk, Kostas Tsimikas, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota. Subs: Adrian, Marcelo Pitaluga, Naby Keita, Joe Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, Owen Beck, Neco Williams, Tyler Morton.

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain each have four nominees in the 23-man shortlist for the FIFA FIFPRO Men's World 11 for 2021.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are also included, although there is no place for Mohamed Salah.

PSG's attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are among the forwards, as is Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Veteran Dani Alves also won enough votes to make the list, even though the 38-year-old, who recently rejoined Barcelona, only played 16 times in domestic competition in Brazil this year.

Professional footballers across the world were asked to vote for the three players they considered to have the best seasons during the 2020-21 season among goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards.

FIFPRO said: "For the first time in 17 years, FIFPRO is updating the announcement about the most-voted players, reducing the shortlist from 55 to 23. This has been done to resemble a real-life 'squad' which, usually for international competitions, is the number of players involved. 

"The three goalkeepers, six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards with the most votes earned a place in the 23-men World 11 'squad'. To complete this elite selection, the two remaining outfield players with the most votes were added."

The keeper, three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards with the most votes will be chosen for the World 11, with the remaining spot assigned to the outfield player with the next highest number of votes.

The final 11 will be announced at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony on January 17.

 

FIFA FIFPRO MEN'S WORLD 11 23-PLAYER SHORTLIST:

Goalkeepers:
Alisson (Liverpool, Brazil)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan/Paris Saint-Germain, Italy)
Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, Senegal)

Defenders:
David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid, Austria)
Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, England)
Dani Alves (Sao Paulo/Barcelona, Brazil)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City, Portugal)

Midfielders:
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United, Portugal)
Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona, The Netherlands)
Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Forwards:
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Manchester United, Portugal)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)
Romelu Lukaku (Inter/Chelsea, Belgium)
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, Brazil)

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson hailed Mohamed Salah following his record-breaking performance in the 3-2 Champions League victory at Atletico Madrid.

Salah made history by becoming the first Liverpool player to score in nine successive matches to earn the Reds a dramatic win away to 10-man Atletico in Madrid on Tuesday.

LaLiga champions Atletico had two-goal Antoine Griezmann sent off and a late penalty contentiously overturned in the Group B battle.

After opening the scoring in the eighth minute before Naby Keita made it 2-0 five minutes later, Salah converted a penalty with 12 minutes remaining to give Liverpool a five-point lead in the group.

With 31 goals, Salah – who has a 90 per cent penalty-conversion rate for the club across all competitions – is now Liverpool's all-time leading scorer in the Champions League as Alisson praised the in-form Egyptian star.

"I'm really happy for him, he's a fantastic player," Alisson said during his post-match news conference.

"He's showing on the pitch all the time, making really nice goals, not just easy goals. But he contributes a lot for the team as well – not only scoring but helping in the defensive phase, playing for the team.

"He is a hungry player, he's a hungry striker. I'm really happy for him. I hope that he continues that."

Liverpool beat Atletico for the first time in the Champions League (D2 L2), while the victory ended a five-game winless run in away games against Spanish sides in the competition (D1 L4).

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool led 2-0 after just 13 minutes – the earliest Atletico have ever been two goals down in a Champions League match before.

However, it was also the first time Liverpool have ever scored and conceded two or more goals in the opening half of a Champions League fixture.

"I believe the boss is a maestro in talking in the right moments, the right things," Alisson said of manager Klopp. "I think he brought us in the game again in the changing room and also our attitude changed a little bit in the second half.

"It is not easy when you are 2-0 up and then you concede a goal and you know that it will be hard. We came here, we knew that it wouldn't be easy to play against Atletico and the game shows it for everyone, for us and for everybody who watched the game.

"So, I'm happy that we could score the third goal and don't concede anymore and control more the situations, but there is a gap to improve as well when we have one player more than them on the pitch. You must create more chances but, as I said, it is not easy when they park the bus in front of the goal. We are happy for the three points."

Fabinho revealed he and Alisson are set to miss Liverpool's Premier League clash with Watford due to international commitments with Brazil.

The Reds duo were part of Tite's squad for October's World Cup qualifying fixtures against Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay, the latter of which will be played in the early hours of Friday morning in United Kingdom time.

Fabinho believes they will not have time to return from South America in time for Saturday when Liverpool face the Hornets in the league for the first time since losing 3-0 in February 2020, a result that ended their 44-game unbeaten run in the top flight.

"I believe that this first match against Watford, it will be very hard for us," he told reporters in Brazil. "I don't think we'll play. Neither Alisson nor myself.

"The match against Uruguay will be Friday overnight there [in the UK] and the match against Watford is at 12:30pm [BST on Saturday].

"With all of what is involved with travel, I don't know how much time we'll have between one game and the other. I believe that we won't be playing."

Fortunately for manager Jurgen Klopp, Tite opted to leave Roberto Firmino out of the Selecao squad, meaning he will be available for the trip to Vicarage Road as Liverpool look to make it 18 league games unbeaten.

Fabinho also revealed the club are considering flying him, along with Alisson, straight to Spain for their Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday to avoid the 10-day quarantine on their return to England.

"We will also need to quarantine, but the club is still studying whether it is better to go straight to Spain to play against Atletico and quarantine there, without staying in a hotel in England," he continued.

Similar issues occurred in the previous international break, with Brazil calling for a domestic ban for their absent players when Premier League clubs agreed not to let them travel for matches amid concerns about the need to quarantine when they returned.

However, FIFA eventually confirmed South American stars could feature following September's internationals.

Brazil have summoned eight Premier League players for October's World Cup qualifiers – and former Middlesbrough star Juninho is hopeful a deal will be struck to avoid more quarantine chaos.

Coach Tite called nine English-based stars for the last batch of internationals at the start of September, but none travelled, with top-flight English clubs refusing to release a number of players travelling to countries on the United Kingdom's travel red list.

Anyone returning from those countries would have been required to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days upon their return, regardless of vaccination status, which was an unacceptable situation for the clubs.

There are hopes that a deal can be struck to allow footballers to travel in bubble conditions, with Juninho pointing to talks involving the Premier League, world football's governing body FIFA and British government officials.

At one point last month it appeared the players who did not join their national teams could be obligated to miss club games, effectively as a punishment, but that threat eventually receded.

Some Premier League players did travel to their national teams, however, and Tottenham's Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero, plus Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez, joined up with Argentina. They were then at the centre of incredible scenes in Sao Paulo when Brazilian health authority officials stormed onto the pitch to stop the Selecao's game against Argentina proceeding.

Brazil's travel rules demand individuals to isolate if they have been in the UK within 14 days of their arrival in the country.

The English-based contingent selected by Brazil for October's games includes captain Thiago Silva, goalkeepers Alisson and Ederson, Fred, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino. Everton's Richarlison misses out due to a knee injury, but Leeds United's Raphinha and Tottenham's Emerson Royal are in the squad.

Juninho, now a co-ordinator of the Brazil national team, said the players were selected this time because of the belief a solution could be found.

"There have been several meetings with FIFA, the Premier League and the British government," Juninho said, quoted on Brazilian sport website Lance.

"We trust that next week there will be a resolution on these cases."

Brazil travel to play Venezuela on October 7 and Colombia three days later, before a home clash in Manaus against Uruguay on October 14.

The players are due to assemble in Bogota, Colombia, on October 4. Brazil's eight wins from eight have put them firmly at the front of the race to qualify for next year's finals in Qatar.

 

Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City), Weverton (Palmeiras); Danilo (Juventus), Emerson Royal (Tottenham), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Guilherme Arana (Atletico Mineiro), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Lucas Verissimo (Benfica); Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fabinho (Liverpool), Gerson (Marseille), Everton Ribeiro (Flamengo), Fred (Manchester United), Lucas Paqueta (Lyon), Edenilson (Internacional); Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Antony (Ajax), Raphinha (Leeds United), Gabi (Flamengo), Matheus Cunha (Atletico Madrid), Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid).

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?

Central and South American players who were barred from travelling to World Cup qualifiers by their Premier League teams will be available this weekend after their countries backed down from a request to ban them under FIFA rules. 

Players from Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Paraguay are cleared to play as their national federations agreed late Friday to waive a measure that would have compelled the players to sit out after their clubs refused to release them for international duty. 

Premier League teams last month decided to prevent players from nations on the United Kingdom's COVID-19 "red list" to participate in Qatar 2022 qualifiers, citing the UK's requirement that people who have travelled to those countries quarantine for 10 days upon their return. 

There had been some indications earlier Friday that the players might be available, but official word did not come down until shortly before midnight London time. 

Brazilians now available to their clubs Saturday include Ederson and Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City, Chelsea's Thiago Silva and Manchester United's Fred. 

Among players from other nations involved, Wolves can use Mexico's Raul Jimenez on Saturday, while Newcastle will have Paraguay's Miguel Almiron available, and Watford can play Chile's Francisco Sierralta 

Liverpool will be most relieved, with Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino cleared to face Raphina and Leeds on Sunday. 

Earlier Friday, Jurgen Klopp said at a news conference that he hoped a solution could be reached for the benefit of all parties involved. 

"It is a really difficult situation and really tricky for all the clubs, and the players especially," Klopp said. "We should not forget at this moment that the players wanted to play these games, the clubs wanted to let the players go but it was not possible."

Jurgen Klopp hinted that Liverpool will be without Roberto Firmino, Alisson and Fabinho for the trip to Leeds United on Sunday.

Firmino misses out through a hamstring injury sustained against Chelsea but the availability of Alisson and Fabinho remains in doubt after Brazil called on FIFA to suspend the players from playing this weekend.

Brazil requested the governing body to take action after the Premier League clubs agreed to not let their players travel to South America, amid quarantining fears on their return subsequently causing them to miss fixtures.

When asked for an update on the situation, Klopp told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference: "I know Bobby [Firmino] will not be available because of injury. About the rest, no.

"It’s a really difficult situation and really tricky for all the clubs and players, especially.

"We should not forget the players wanted to play, the clubs wanted to let players go but it was not possible.

"It looks like the real punishment is on the players because they can't play and, of course, the clubs as well.

"That's really not okay, we didn't decide that the players could not go.

"Brazil played 1.30am this morning [UK] time, they won all 3 games and still there is a complaint.

"Before the last break I met [Arsene] Wenger and he showed me World Cup plans. In that moment I got the message from our guys 'no exemptions from government for our players'.

"Now we have that situation, we still don't know who we can line-up at the weekend.

"I've no idea when I can expect a solution, we will see. I don't know what moment I have to make the decision. I want to play them on Sunday but we will see."

Klopp's side travel to Elland Road on the second-longest unbeaten run in England's top four tiers (13), also winning seven of their last eight Premier League matches on the road.

Leeds are winless in their last eight top-flight meetings with the Reds, though they held Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Elland Road last season.

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