Julian Nagelsmann is ready to run the gauntlet of hate if RB Leipzig fans react bitterly when he returns to the Red Bull Arena as boss of Bayern Munich.

The coach who led Leipzig to a Champions League semi-final appearance in 2019-20, followed by a runners-up finish in the Bundesliga last term, has since switched allegiances to join Bayern.

Nagelsmann has defended himself against accusations of being "a liar" for the way he handled his move to the German champions, with the 34-year-old coming in for criticism after going back on a pledge not to take others with him to Bayern.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's clash between Leizpig and Bayern, Nagelsmann said: "I'm looking forward to it. I had two fantastic years in Leipzig. I think the coaching staff and the players are looking forward to seeing me.

"Of course I read something about me being a liar. Some fans aren't happy I left Leipzig. At the time, I said in a press conference I wouldn't take players or staff members.

"When you're sitting in a press conference and say, 'I want to take six players and seven members of my coaching staff along', I don't think that's going to go down very well in public either.

"That's also going to cause a very negative reaction. At the time I didn't plan to take anyone along."

When Nagelsmann's move to Bayern was announced in April, it was revealed immediately that assistant coach Benjamin Gluck would join him in making the switch.

Since then, Xaver Zembrod and Dino Toppmoller have also joined as assistant coaches, both making the switch from Leipzig in July.

Versatile midfielder Marcel Sabitzer has also moved from Leipzig to Bayern, with Nagelsmann saying that deal suited all parties as the Austrian was entering the final year of his contract.

Dayot Upamecano had already agreed to leave Leipzig for Bayern before Nagelsmann was picked to succeed Hansi Flick.

 

There could be a frosty reception for the previously popular coach, but Nagelsmann said: "It's not going to influence my performance. I worry about other things.

"We brought a good spirit into the club, had a good relationship with fans, and I think we furthered the club, developed the club. I tried to pay back the money that I earned there. It won't influence me tomorrow – I'm not going to be a worse coach tomorrow if some fans boo me.

"Things like hate and all the insults and the words thrown at you, I find it very questionable. I assume there are going to be some unhappy fans there. From a coaching perspective I don't really care.

"It's not as if I'm experiencing friendly welcomes in Dortmund, for instance. I'm not worried – if doesn't matter if a couple of people whistle, and if all 34,000 whistle or boo at me then it's OK too, my right ear isn't that good anyway."

Nagelsmann could not end Bayern's hold on the Bundesliga during his time in Leipzig, and Die Roten Bullen have won only one of 10 league games against the team who have won the last nine titles.

Leipzig are winless against Bayern in six games since a 2-1 home win in March 2018 (D4, L2), and their lone home defeat in the last 10 Bundesliga games came against Bayern – a 1-0 loss in April, prior to Nagelsmann agreeing his move.

Nagelsmann's Leipzig successor Jesse Marsch has begun with two defeats in his first three Bundesliga games, and he has recent experience of tackling the champions.

As coach of Salzburg last season, his side were drawn together with Bayern in the Champions League group stage, losing 6-2 at home and 3-1 at the Allianz Arena. The 6-2 loss was his heaviest in charge of Salzburg.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp expressed his confusion over England starting Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield against Andorra.

Alexander-Arnold occupied a first-half midfield position for Gareth Southgate's men in the 4-0 win before reverting to his usual full-back role in the second half.

The right-back has created more chances than any other player in the Premier League this season (15), while no player has provided more successful open-play crosses (six) than the 22-year-old.

As Liverpool look to extend their unbeaten run to 14 matches when they take on Leeds United on Sunday – the second-longest streak in England's top four tiers after Brentford - Klopp questioned if the shift was necessary.

"If you watch our games, Trent's position already changed when possible," Klopp responded at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"[There is] no need to make him a midfielder now. It's a shame we talk about this in 2021, good players play everywhere, Trent plays right-wing, everywhere.

"Some people think he could be more influential in midfield. How is it possible to be more influential than Trent Alexander-Arnold? We use him as good as we can.

"But why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder? I struggle to understand how you can think that."

The Liverpool academy product admitted post-match that he found the switch difficult against Andorra, recording 81 per cent passing accuracy, which increased to 87.1 by the end of the second half in his usual position.

He also produced a game-high six crosses and two key passes – only bettered by Jude Bellingham (three) – suggesting his performance was not as bad as his self-reflection hinted at.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hit out at the "farcical" situation that could prevent Brazil international Fred from playing for Manchester United this weekend.

United blocked Fred from joining up with his national side for their triple-leader of September World Cup qualifiers due to Brazil being on the United Kingdom's travel red list amid the coronavirus pandemic.

That would mean players having to isolate in a hotel for a minimum of 10 days upon their return, ruling them out for at least three matches.

However, the ​Brazilian Football Confederation has asked FIFA to enforce a law that would block players not released from representing their countries for at least five days.

Should that be the case, Fred will not be available for selection to face Newcastle United on Saturday, although United are still waiting on official confirmation.

Solskjaer has now joined Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, who are also set to be without some key players over the coming days, in calling on FIFA to show some common sense.

"It is a lose, lose, lose situation for everyone, national teams, players, clubs," he said at a pre-match news conference on Friday. "It has been a farce. 

"The players want to play. We know the situation we find ourselves in. We've had to try and find a way, but all the decisions have gone against the players.

"I'm disappointed with the whole thing. We need to prepare without Fred but fingers crossed some sense can come into it and we can use him."

Fred has started all three games for United so far this season and is second only to defender Harry Maguire (152) for successful passes (133), while only Aaron Wan-Bissaka (five) has intercepted the ball more times than the Brazilian (four).

While the 28-year-old's availability remains uncertain, Solskjaer confirmed returning forward Cristiano Ronaldo is in line for his second debut this weekend.

In further good news for United, who have seven points from the first nine on offer, Jadon Sancho is also available despite withdrawing from the England squad with a knock.

"Jadon has come back in with a minor problem but he's trained the last couple of days," Solskjaer said. 

"He's disappointed he couldn't play for England but determined to be fit and he’s available. So that's a positive. 

"The international break, we didn't get anyone injured.

"Luke [Shaw], Harry [Maguire] and Victor [Lindelof] played late on Wednesday night so they've not had a lot of recovery but they will be available, I think."

United have lost just one of their last 36 home league games against Newcastle (W26 D9), with that defeat coming in December 2013 when David Moyes was in charge.

The Red Devils have scored at least once in each of their last 14 Premier League home games, meanwhile, netting 40 times in total (2.9 per game).

Massimiliano Allegri revealed Juventus will be without their South American contingent, including Paulo Dybala, and the injured Federico Chiesa as they prepare to face Napoli on Saturday.

Dybala, who has been involved in four goals in his last four league games, heads the absentee list, which also includes Rodrigo Bentancur, Danilo, Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro.

Juve have managed just one point from their opening two Serie A games, only once in their history - Allegri's first spell in 2015-16 – have they failed to win any of their opening three matches.

And matters have worsened for the Old Lady as Allegri confirmed on Friday that the visitors will be without their South American players after their late returns from international duty.

"I decided to leave the South Americans at home because they will return too late," Allegri told Friday's pre-match news conference.

"[Juan] Cuadrado was the only one who could have joined the team, but he suffered stomach flu. He hasn't even returned to Italy. He is in still Colombia to undergo some medical examinations.

"This is the situation, I've never complained about the fixture list. Some players finished their international games at 3am last night and would return to Turin at 11am tomorrow morning.

"We don't want to run the risk they pick up injuries, so they will remain in Turin to work, it makes more sense."

Allegri confirmed Chiesa, too, will not be available for selection after the forward suffered a muscular issue with Italy during the international break.

The 54-year-old is without a win in his last seven league games with his new side, with only three Juve managers ever suffering longer winless streaks in Serie A, but asked for patience as his team look to kick-start their season after two poor showings against Udinese and Empoli.

"Napoli are among the candidates to win the title along with another seven or eight clubs, the season is still long and we need to remain balanced," he continued.

"There are many games, the first two matches didn't go as we expected, but this is football, we must keep things simple and start the season because we haven't started yet."

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola hit out at the "crazy" decision from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to invoke a FIFA suspension for Ederson and Gabriel Jesus.

City duo Ederson and Jesus were – among the majority of other South American players in the Premier League – not released by their clubs for the recent round of World Cup qualifiers on the continent.

Premier League clubs unanimously agreed last month they would refuse to release players called up by nations that are on the British government's travel red list amid the coronavirus pandemic.

All of South America is on this list, and players would have had to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days upon their arrival back in the United Kingdom, leaving them unavailable for at least two league games and next week's European fixtures.

Spurs trio Davinson Sanchez, Giovani Lo Celso and Cristian Romero nevertheless joined up with Colombia and Argentina respectively, while Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez and Emiliano Buendia also travelled, though the Argentine contingent agreed to return early.

However, Martinez, Lo Celso and Romero were at the centre of incredible scenes in Sao Paulo last weekend when Brazilian health authority officials stormed onto the pitch to detain the trio, as Brazil's travel rules demand individuals to isolate if they have been in the UK within 14 days of their arrival in the country.

Explaining his frustration and confusion, Guardiola pointed to this fact after Brazil invoked a FIFA ruling to prevent clubs from fielding the players they did not release.

Ahead of Saturday's trip to Leicester City, Guardiola told a news conference on Friday: "Right now it still isn't clear, hopefully they can play, we will wait and see tomorrow if there is some good news. The club didn't inform me of anything. So we are going to wait and see if they can play or not.

"I don't understand the situation for the fact that I don't know what we can do. It's an honour for us that our players go and play for the countries where they are born. It's no problem at all.

"It's difficult to justify for me that the Argentina players who play in the Premier League, they go to Brazil and they were not allowed to play, and the Brazilian players who should have travelled to play this game would have been completely the same.

"So if they travelled there, they wouldn't have been able to play because of the quarantine there. If they do it so they [fly to Brazil] but cannot play in Brazil and after when they came back they could not play here for 10 days. And if they don't fly, then after they are suspended for five days because they were here. So it makes no sense.

"Argentina travelled with some players, the police were on the pitch, and they could not play the game because they didn't follow the protocol.

"So it would have happened with the Brazil players. And after the federation from Brazil asked FIFA to ban these players that cannot travel to play with them, but they could not play there, and now they could not play here? It's crazy."

With Zack Steffen isolating in the United States having tested positive for COVID-19, Guardiola will likely have to call on veteran goalkeeper Scott Carson to make just his second City appearance if Ederson is rendered unavailable – the former England international's only previous outing being in a 4-3 win over Newcastle United back in May, his first top-flight appearance in a decade.

Ferran Torres scored a hat-trick in that match and, after netting twice against Arsenal last time out, has now been involved in six goals in his last six league appearances. 

Jesus, playing on the right of City's front three, has also made a strong start to the season and would be a miss for Guardiola's team. Indeed, the forward has only scored more times against Everton (eight) in the Premier League than he has in meetings with Leicester (five).

Guardiola was at least able to offer positive news on the fitness of Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne.

"Yesterday Phil made the first training session, and Kevin was training alone and then with the players still here," he said. "They're feeling much better."

The 2021 NFL season began on Thursday as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started their quest for a second straight Super Bowlw title with a thrilling victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Having won his seventh ring in his first season with the Bucs playing in front of at best sparsely populated crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brady and Tampa Bay claimed a 31-29 victory in front of a packed house at Raymond James Stadium.

While the return of fans and full stadiums will give this season a different look, once more it is the Bucs and the Kansas City Chiefs who go into the year as the teams to beat.

However, there are a host of other high-profile teams who could be set to improve on their 2020 win-loss records, as well as those who could be poised to decline from postseason contention.

With the help of Stats Perform data, here are some of the more intriguing teams to keep eye on as the NFL makes its much anticipated return.

With Dak back, Cowboys hope to contend

A gruesome ankle injury suffered by Dak Prescott in Week 5 ended Dallas' hopes of challenging last season.

As it turned out, further injuries on the offensive line and a miserable defense would have made it tough for the Cowboys to contend even if Prescott had been on the field to lead the offense, as their wait for a first Super Bowl since 1995 goes on.

But Prescott is back with the security of a lucrative new contract as Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup remain part of an explosive supporting cast and he delivered a compelling reminder of his upside in defeat to Tampa Bay, throwing for 403 yards, three touchdowns and an interception off the hands of Lamb.

Prescott has averaged 8.26 yards per attempt over the last two seasons, third best among NFL QBs, and there are huge hopes for the offense, particularly if the highly rated Lamb (74 catches for 935 yards in 2020) can kick on from a fine rookie season. Despite Lamb's drop leading to a turnover, the early signs were good as he caught seven passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, helping Prescott average 6.95 yards per attempt and post a 101.4 passer rating.

If new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn can get the defense – which allowed 158.8 rushing yards per game last season (31st in the NFL) but just 52 against the Bucs - somewhere towards the middle of the pack, the Cowboys should soar well clear of their 6-10 mark from 2020 and will be justified favourites to win the NFC East.

Pats look to pressure Bills in AFC East

The Bills and Josh Allen were so good last season that they may decline from their 13-3 mark even without doing too much wrong.

Allen made an astonishing leap from year two to three – posting career highs in passing yards (3,089 to 4,544), passing touchdowns (20 to 37) and completion percentage (58.8 to 69.2), plus eight rushing scores - and was rewarded with a huge offseason contract extension.

Allen's numbers and rate of improvement are hard to sustain, and even a marginal decline could lead to a worse record in a competitive division.

Stefon Diggs was incredible with league-leading figures of 127 catches and 1,535 receiving yards, while Cole Beasley (82 catches for 967 yards) was a crucial complementary piece.

Allen and Diggs played all 16 games last season while Beasley only missed one, so there was good fortune on the health front, while the Bills were able to win close games last season – boasting a 5-1 record in one-score contests – a metric that often reverts to the mean.

Their divisional rivals, meanwhile, look threatening. The New England Patriots have spent big in free agency to revamp the supporting cast for rookie QB Mac Jones.

New England's tight end situation has been among the league's worst since the departure of Rob Gronkowski, but they doubled down at the position to land Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

Henry ranks sixth among tight ends with 1,265 yards since the start of the 2019 season, while only five TEs have more than the 11 TDs grabbed by the athletic Smith over that period.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor arrived after a career year (896 yards) for the Las Vegas Raiders as the pass-catching options were significantly boosted.

A down year for the Patriots – in which their offensive weapons looked woeful and several defensive players opted out - still produced a not disastrous 7-9 record, with four of those losses coming by eight points or fewer.

The Miami Dolphins (3-4 in one score games) are another ascending team in the division after going 10-6 and allowing only 21.1 points per game (ried-fifth in the NFL).

Even the New York Jets, buoyed after selecting BYU QB Zach Wilson at number two overall, look poised to be more competitive than their 2-14 misery a season ago.

From worst to (somewhere nearer) first?

Trevor Lawrence has been billed as a generational talent at QB and there were few questions he would be selected at number one overall in the draft.

With Lawrence being paired with college coaching great Urban Meyer and an intriguing array of pass-catchers including Laviska Shenault (691 scrimmage yards, five TDs last year) and D. J. Chark (1,714 receiving yards since 2019), the Jags could be set for rapid improvement.

Even in their awful season that led to the chance to select Lawrence at the top of the draft, the Jags were 1-6 in one score games and slightly better than their 1-15 record suggested.

By the same metric, divisional rivals the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) and the Tennessee Titans (7-2) claimed many of their victories in close games.

With the Colts negotiating some uncertainty at QB as they look to revive the career of Carson Wentz – who is dealing with a foot injury – and the Houston Texans in disarray and full rebuild mode, the Jags could emerge as surprise challengers to the Titans.

Other teams who could rise and fall

Other teams who look likely to ascend include the San Francisco 49ers (6-10), who were ravaged with injuries last season and now have two viable options at QB with Jimmy Garoppolo and exciting draft pick Trey Lance. Five of their losses last season came by one score or less despite a depleted roster. 

The Denver Broncos (5-11)  have a stacked roster with their only concerns coming at the QB position, where they hope Teddy Bridgewater can provide more stability than the volatile Drew Lock (16 TDs and 15 INTs in 2020), despite coming off a poor season with the Carolina Panthers, who opted to replace him with Sam Darnold.

The New Orleans Saints (12-4) could be trending in the opposite direction, though. While Drew Brees was not at his peak in his final NFL season, a combination of Jameis Wilson and Taysom Hill must now try to replace the future Hall of Famer while keeping pace with the formidable Bucs and an Atlanta Falcons team that has added dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts.

New Orleans' offseason was defined by a roster overhaul enforced by the Saints' salary cap woe, leaving them with a wide receiver depth chart that looks alarming with Michael Thomas (missed nine games in 2020) starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Thomas Tuchel declared Romelu Lukaku fit but remains unsure of Thiago Silva's availability ahead of their clash with Aston Villa on Saturday.

Lukaku, who has scored in each of his previous five Premier League appearances against Aston Villa, revealed he was set for a scan after picking up a knock in his 100th Belgium appearance against the Czech Republic last weekend.

However, Tuchel confirmed Lukaku reported back to training fully fit.

When asked if Lukaku's injury was an issue, Tuchel told reporters on Friday: "No, not at all. Maybe he had some problems but he came back and he has trained with us, no problems at all."

While Lukaku looks set to feature at Stamford Bridge, the Blues await a decision on whether Silva can.

Premier League clubs agreed to not release players to South American countries for international duty due to quarantine requirements, and Brazil retaliated by calling for FIFA to impose bans on their absent stars.

Silva has played an important role in ensuring Chelsea boast the Premier League's meanest defence – excluding the teams promoted from the Championship – since Tuchel's arrival, having conceded just 14 goals, but he could be forced to miss out.

"Thiago [Silva] isn't officially out," Tuchel responded. "The chairman is still in talks. I'm waiting for the final decision. We will take the latest decision tomorrow morning.

"I don't understand it and it makes no sense from whatever side you look. Did it make sense for Brazil? No. Did it make sense for us? No, because he may not be able to play two matches.

"If we had sent him, he would've been out for ten days in a hotel room, not able to train. I understand because these are the travel restrictions, there's nothing to go around it.

"I don't know how any fan in this game can see a positive effect. There is none."

With or without Silva, Chelsea are also looking to become the second team to 600 Premier League wins, after Manchester United, as they host Dean Smith's men.

Cristiano Ronaldo will "definitely" make his second Manchester United debut in Saturday's Premier League clash with Newcastle United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner completed a sensational return to Old Trafford two weeks ago for an initial fee of £12.9million (€15m) on a two-year deal with the option of a third.

After being granted permission to leave Portugal duty early and then serving a period of isolation, Ronaldo reported to United's training ground for the first time on Tuesday.

He started training with his new team-mates on Wednesday and is now set to play his first Premier League game since May 2009 – the longest gap between appearances in the competition's history – this weekend.

"He had a good pre-season with Juventus, he's played for his national team and has had a good week with us here," Solskjaer said at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"He will definitely be on the pitch at some point, that's for sure."

Ronaldo scored 188 goals in 292 games in his first spell at United, which lasted for six years before he joined Real Madrid in 2009.

Despite that prolific return in front of goal, the Portugal captain scored just one hat-trick across that previous stint – against Saturday's opponents Newcastle in January 2008.

And Solskjaer expects the former Juventus man's return to also help get the most out of others in the squad as United look to build on a return of two wins and a draw from their opening three Premier League games.

"Everyone is very happy to have him back. He can speak for himself but he seems happy to be back as well," Solskjaer said. 

"The mood has been good and we're looking forward to Saturday.

"The way he has come in and conducted himself... we know what he's achieved in his career but he's coming here to achieve more. 

"He's lived the life of a top professional ever since he came here. You can't go into training and give 95 per cent and not be focused, that's what he demands from everyone."

Ronaldo has remained prolific across nine years with Real Madrid and three with Juventus, scoring a combined 551 goals in 572 matches in all competitions.

Asked what he is expecting from a player that finished top of the Serie A scoring charts in his last season with Juve, Solskjaer said: "Everyone evolves and develops throughout their career.

"Cristiano is a different player to the one who left but he's in such good nick still and will be looking in next few years to play and score as many goals as he can but also to be on the end of crosses and he's added something extra.

"We don't have his skill set in the team, the mix, no one has really. He is one of the best players that's ever played the game.

"He has developed, he has evolved as age goes by you have to change your game a little bit. You won't see those 18, 19, 20 stepovers before he goes past you.

"He has developed into one of the most accurate finishers. What he has developed on at Real Madrid has impressed us all. He is one of the best in the air, he still hits the target 99 out of 100 times when he shoots from outside the box as well. 

"He knows the game more, the positions and he is still as quick as he was it looks like, from the stats. Everyone is going to look up to him and he is going to be a leader in this dressing room."

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.

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.

Fabio Capello claimed former side England have a "monkey on their back and then fail" when it comes to finals.

Gareth Southgate's men reached their first major final in 55 years at Euro 2020, but lost on penalties as Italy claimed their first European Championship since 1968.

England have enjoyed relative success in September's World Cup qualifiers, crushing Hungary and Andorra 4-0 before conceding a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Poland.

In the latter game, Southgate opted to not make any substitutions – the first time the Three Lions have done so since the Euro 1996 semi-final against Germany.

And Capello believes there is a reason for the England manager's lack of substitutes in Warsaw after heartbreak in the Euro 2020 final two months ago.

"If [Southgate] doesn't make subs it means he wants this group to be convinced to be strong, as the results proved," Capello, who managed England for five years until 2012, told reporters.

"Bear in mind, they have just botched half a match versus Italy in the final, when they were overwhelmed by fear and stopped playing.

"I know England and their problems. They have that monkey on their back to get to the final and then they fail."

England are unbeaten in their last 16 international matches (W13 D3) – their longest streak without defeat since a 16-game run between September 1995 and November 1996.

While international teams pursue qualification for Qatar 2022, FIFA's chief of global football development, Arsene Wenger, is pushing a biennial plan for future World Cups.

The former Arsenal manager's proposition, which was put to FIFA in May, would see global football's most important tournament switch to a two-year cycle.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin greeted the suggestions with disdain, but Capello revealed he would support the proposed changes as a player.

"As a player, I would like the World Cup to be played every two years," the 75-year-old Italian continued.

"Four years is a long time and sometimes you are at the top of your game but when the World Cup comes you are not and you have no chance to shine.

"At the same time, waiting four years makes that trophy more coveted and important, it is bigger.

"Every two years, this value would decrease but again, as a player, I played the World Cup just once, and the second time I missed it for the width of a hair, so I would [play every two years]."

Cristiano Ronaldo will pull on the Manchester United shirt for the first time in over 12 years on Saturday, with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner all set for his second Red Devils debut.

Ronaldo secured his return to United at the end of the most recent transfer window, with the deal reportedly set to cost an initial £12.9million (€15m).

But it's fair to say the player United have re-signed is rather different to the one they sold for a then world-record fee.

Then a flying winger, Ronaldo has adapted his game as he's grown older and is now a clinical penalty box poacher – diminishing goal returns he may have, but 36 in all competitions last season would still have had him as the leading goalscorer in English football.

Saturday's visit of Newcastle United will provide Ronaldo with the opportunity to make his return, and ahead of that match, Stats Perform has used Opta data to look at how the formerly flamboyant trickster has altered his game since his Old Trafford departure in 2009.

Positional sense

In his final league game with United – a goalless draw against Arsenal in May 2009 – Ronaldo played on the right, though was given license to roam infield and exert his influence, as had been the case for much of a season in which he scored 26 goals across all competitions. 

However, only five of his touches on the day came inside Arsenal's penalty area, with the majority out on the right wing and a cluster from an advanced, central position. 

Contrast that appearance with his final Serie A start for Juve back in May, when he scored in a 3-2 Derby d'Italia triumph against Inter: only three touches in the area but fewer overall, heavily weighted to the centre of the pitch.

It speaks to the way Ronaldo has greatly changed his game over the past 12 years. 

During his time at United, he netted 115 goals in all competitions, making him the club's leading scorer in that six-year span from 2003 to 2009. In his final season at Old Trafford, Ronaldo scored eight goals from outside of the area – a feat he matched in four of the next five seasons and surpassed in the other, with 10 in 2011-12 (his third season at Madrid).

Yet by his final season at Juve, Ronaldo had refined his game to become the poacher United are adding to their squad. Across his three seasons at Juve, the 36-year-old scored just seven times from outside the area, from a total of 101 goals.

Wing wizard to penalty box king

During his formative years at United, Ronaldo's mazy dribbling and eye for a showboat caught the eye. It is no surprise, then, to see the numbers back this up. In 2004-05, he attempted 9.55 dribbles per 90 minutes, a career high. 

As he grew in stature, adapted to the rigours of English football and became a more powerful presence, rather than the wiry winger that burst onto the scene, Ronaldo's dribbling figures dropped – 8.22 in 2005-06, 5.65 the following year and 6.28 in 2007-08.

By 2008-09, Ronaldo's attempted dribbles per 90 were down at a relatively modest 4.73, completing 1.92. By the end of his last year at Juve, Ronaldo was down to 3.07 dribbles per 90, though his success rate of 61.7 per cent ranks as the highest in his career. He has not lost the ability to dribble, but rather picks his moments to do so.

Of course, there is less need for taking on the opposition when you are positioned in the opposition's area, ready to pounce on a cross or run onto a throughball.

Ronaldo's adaptation into a number nine had started before his move to Turin. Indeed, in his final campaign with Madrid, Ronaldo registered 1,913 touches in total, with 409 of these coming in the opposition's area – his highest total in the box in a single campaign.

Contrast that figure with his totals from his second season in the Spanish capital – just 82 of his 3,344 touches came inside the opponent's box as he scored 60 times in all competitions, a tally he bettered in 2014-15 (61).

The 2014-15 season was undoubtedly Ronaldo's zenith. Turning 30 halfway through the campaign, he was at his best in front of goal and creatively. His 21 assists were a career high, as were the 97 chances created.

If United are looking for a creative force now, though, they have chosen the wrong forward.

Ronaldo's 2008-09 season saw him create 82 opportunities and lay on 10 assists (at an average of 1.71 and 0.21 per 90). Last term, he created a career-low 1.15 chances per 90, with his average of 0.12 assists each game better only than the previous campaign with Juve.

Ronaldo averaged 50.6 touches per 90 in 2020-21, with 6.8 in the penalty area. In only four seasons, all at Madrid, did the Portugal captain touch the ball less on average, though his figure of penalty box touches ranks as the fourth-highest across his career.

Heads up

Looking back at images of Ronaldo's early days at United, it is hard to imagine how that rapid, tricky winger developed into one of the most feared headers of the ball in world football.

Ronaldo's leap – his ability to almost hang in the air at great height, while generating unbelievable power – is something few players have come close to emulating. It might as well be trademarked, at this stage.

If his all-round array of talents were not already enough, Ronaldo also gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team an aerial threat that only Edinson Cavani brings. Cavani, another veteran at 34, can no longer play every game.

Ronaldo scored seven headed goals across all competitions in 2020-21, as many as Cavani and Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who were the leading players from Premier League clubs in that regard.

Since he left United, 70 of Ronaldo's 450 club goals have come with his head – no player across Europe's top five leagues has scored more, with Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski ranking second with 57.

With Luke Shaw rejuvenated as an attacking force and Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba all capable of brilliant deliveries, Premier League centre-backs should fear Ronaldo's leap in 2021-22.

Lionel Messi is leaving behind a legacy for Argentina after surpassing Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation, according to "proud" head coach Lionel Scaloni.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner scored a hat-trick in Thursday's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Bolivia to overtake Brazil great Pele as CONMEBOL's top-scoring player.

Messi's 79 goals for Argentina have come in 153 appearances, compared to 77 in 92 caps for Pele, who had held the record since retiring from international duty in 1971.

It is the latest on a long list of records to have been broken by the ex-Barcelona star for club and country, and it comes two months after helping Argentina to win the Copa America.

La Albiceleste paraded the trophy – their first in 28 years – around the pitch at the Monumental at full-time and an emotional Messi broke down in tears.

Scaloni embraced Messi on the field and later hailed the Paris Saint-Germain forward for continuing to prove decisive for his country following his latest treble.

"I am proud to have him as a player. Messi is leaving a legacy to all the soccer players of the national team," Scaloni said at his post-match news conference.

"Messi was always a player who made a difference. Before and now. Winning magnified everything, and if before he was already an idol of the people, now it is much more. 

"Seeing them excited fills us with joy, but it lasts [only] until this international window is over, because afterwards we have to continue working."

 

Messi's hat-trick was his seventh for Argentina but his first on home soil and it helped extend his country's unbeaten run to 22 matches in a run stretching back to July 2019.

He is the only Argentina player to have scored multiple hat-tricks in World Cup qualifying.

Scaloni's men are second in the 10-team qualifying group, six points behind Brazil, whom they still have to face after last week's high-profile clash was controversially suspended.

Argentina also defeated Venezuela 3-1 in the same international window and Scaloni is pleased with what he has seen over the past week.

"I think we have a line of work from day one and we have grown," he said. "We've improved and corrected things even when we've won.

"This team has sacrifice, humility and an ability to unbalance other players in one-on-one situations."

Sergio Aguero denied the presence of any get-out clauses in his Barcelona contract relating to Lionel Messi.

Aguero, who scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances for Manchester City, arrived at Camp Nou on a two-year contract following a free transfer from Pep Guardiola's men.

He was expected to link up with international colleague Messi before the Blaugrana legend departed on a free to Paris Saint-Germain, the Blaugrana's financial issues preventing them from re-signing six-time Ballon d'Or winner after his contract expired, thus ending a 21-year spell at the Catalan club.

After Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets agreed to pay cuts, Ronald Koeman's side were able to meet salary-cap restrictions and register Aguero and their other new signings.

The Argentina forward has now quashed any rumours that any so-called "Messi clause" was in his contract.

"I don't understand why there was talk of this," Aguero told RAC1. "When I signed, Leo [Messi] had nothing signed. They [Messi and Barca] were coming to an agreement.

"It was invented that there was a clause, but there was nothing.

"I didn't ask Leo much either, I didn't want to bother him.

"I saw him at the Copa America, he told me that they were about to agree, and I thought, good!

"But I didn't want to bother him every day either. I didn't speak any more after the Copa America and I was shocked when everything happened."

The 33-year-old enjoyed a stunning decade at the Etihad Stadium, but only managed seven league starts in 2020-21, playing 559 minutes across 12 appearances.

His final campaign at City was hampered by coronavirus-related issues and injuries, but when Barcelona came knocking, Aguero could not refuse.

"When I was no longer at City and the talks with Barcelona came, I knew how the club was doing financially but I told my agent that I didn't care about money, that I wanted to come and play," he continued.

"Money is not a problem. What I was getting paid at City, I wasn't going to get paid here. Any player wants to play for Barca.

"Of course I would sign again, without a doubt. If someone from Barca calls you ... the name of the club ... many players are willing to give up money."

Neymar complained he does not get the respect he deserves after breaking another record to help Brazil remain perfect in their World Cup qualifying campaign.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward scored a tap-in having earlier set up Everton Ribeiro as Brazil saw off Peru 2-0 in Recife on Thursday.

That was the Selecao's eighth win from eight matches on the road to Qatar 2022 and ninth qualifying victory in a row overall, which equalled the longest streak in CONMEBOL history.

Neymar's strike saw him overtake Romario and Zico as Brazil's highest scorer in World Cup qualifiers on 12 goals, half of those coming in the current campaign.

He is also now just eight behind legendary forward Pele's all-time record of 77 goals for Brazil, scoring his 69 goals in 113 appearances.

But after coming in for more criticism following Brazil's 1-0 win over Chile last week, with some suggesting he was overweight, Neymar has hit back at his critics.

"Obviously, the team is the most important," he told TV Globo. 

"I'm very happy to be the top scorer in the qualifiers, have the most assists for the national team and soon, if all goes well, it will be an honour to pass Pele as the all-time scorer.

"I don't know anymore what I have to do for people to respect me. This is normal, it's been a long time. Reporters, commentators, others too.

"Sometimes I don't even like to talk in interviews anymore, but at an important moment I come to show up. I leave it to the guys to think a little bit."

 

With their latest victory, Brazil are the first South American team in qualifying history to keep nine consecutive clean sheets at home.

Tite's men remain six points clear of second-placed Argentina, who beat Bolivia 3-0 thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick, and are on the verge of sealing a spot at Qatar 2022.

"It's another good result and our winning sequence continues but we haven't mathematically qualified yet," Casemiro added. 

"We have to continue to work hard but we know that we're on the right track."

Brazil, whose high-profile match with Argentina last Sunday was farcically suspended early in the game, return to action in early October with a trip to bottom side Venezuela.

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