Carlo Ancelotti was unmoved by reports Paris Saint-Germain have offered to make Real Madrid-linked Kylian Mbappe the highest-paid footballer in the world.

Mbappe was in devastating form against Madrid on Wednesday, scoring PSG's late winner in the Champions League last-16 first leg at the Parc des Princes after generally impressing throughout.

The France star's decisiveness was fitting given overarching narrative of his future, which has put the two clubs into something of a tug-of-war over the past couple of years.

Madrid reportedly made several offers for Mbappe last year but were rebuffed by PSG, who were insistent that they would be able to persuade the striker to stay in Paris.

But then came January 1 and Mbappe still had not signed a new contract, meaning he became eligible to begin discussing moves to foreign clubs.

Many expect he will join Madrid at the end of the season, but in the wake of their 1-0 win over Los Blancos, PSG apparently made it known they would be willing to give Mbappe a basic wage "far in excess of £500,000 [€600,000], and closer to £1m [€1.2m] a week", according to the Independent.

Ancelotti is not convinced that matters, however.

"Everyone has to think what they want," Ancelotti told reporters on Friday ahead of the clash with Deportivo Alaves.

"I have to say, they pay me a lot and so I am privileged, but what I like is not the money I earn, but what I do."

Ancelotti acknowledged in the wake of the defeat in Paris that Madrid were poor, as they struggled to get control of the contest and subsequently found themselves under pressure for much of the game.

They failed to get a single shot on target for only the second time in a Champions League game since Opta records began (2003-04), and their 0.14 expected goals (xG) was their worst in the competition in just under nine years.

He was asked again about the performance and he recognised the best thing about the game was that they only lost 1-0.

"Sometimes it's the little details that decide the matches," he said. "I'm quite honest, we played very badly against PSG in what we normally do well. We had a bad night.

"This doesn't worry me so much because I know the quality and personality the team has for getting out of this.

"The criticism is justified because we did badly. The first critic is myself. The approach has not been good and I have to take responsibility.

"Criticism must be understood and learned from because sometimes it is very helpful. The idea that I don't talk to the players is nonsense.

"I spoke with the president and with the director and we have the same feeling. We are hurt but I think we are honest: we played badly and the image of Real Madrid was not good, which is what hurts the most. The best thing about the game was the result."

Tuesday's match was the sixth game in a row in which Vinicius Junior has failed to score after an extremely bright first half to the season, while Madrid as a team have netted just once in four.

Ancelotti is not concerned about there being a specific issue with Vinicius, however.

"Everything that happens to the team is happening to him, we've dropped off a bit," he added. "But the team is doing well physically.

"Against Villarreal we did well sometimes and against PSG we suffered until the end. Vini has had a very intense month and now he's going to be more effective.

"We have to score more, that's clear. But now Karim [Benzema] is back, he's the main striker, who scores a lot of goals and gets a lot of assists.

"When he's well, he's better. We've had problems but he's fine and he's going to help us fix it."

Carlo Ancelotti recognised Real Madrid had no answer to Kylian Mbappe in Tuesday's defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, acknowledging the match-winner was "unstoppable".

PSG claimed a slender 1-0 win over Madrid at the Parc des Princes to take a first-leg lead to the Santiago Bernabeu next month.

Mbappe got the decisive goal right at the end, skipping between a couple of defenders before firing through Thibaut Courtois' legs.

But Mbappe had terrorised the Madrid defence throughout, managing seven shots in total, drawing some vital saves from Courtois.

Mbappe also won the penalty that Lionel Messi had saved, with the France striker rising to the occasion against the club many expect him to join at the end of the season.

Ancelotti has rarely shied away from declaring his admiration for Mbappe, and he saluted the 23-year-old's show-stopping display.

"Mbappe is unstoppable," Ancelotti was quoted as saying by Marca.

"We have tried to control him. [Eder] Militao has done very well but [Mbappe] can always invent something out of nothing, and he created at the last minute."

In contrast to Mbappe's, Madrid's performance was significantly lacking in purpose, almost appearing to play for a draw from the outset.

They failed to get a shot on target for only the second time in a Champions League game since Opta records began (2003-04).

In fact, their 0.14 expected goals (xG) is Madrid's worst in a Champions League match since registering just 0.05 xG against Borussia Dortmund in April 2013.

Explaining their issues, Ancelotti continued: "We've done quite well in defence but we haven't been very aggressive.

"We lacked something with the ball, we've missed many passes and it took a lot to get out of their pressure.

"[Marco] Asensio and Vini [Vinicius Junior], [Karim] Benzema as well, they didn't get many balls. With the ball we didn't do as we wanted.

"We tried to start from the back but it didn't work out. The low block had to be more aggressive, but it wasn't a conservative approach. It didn't work out for us, getting the ball as we know."

Benzema was withdrawn in the second half after making his comeback following over three weeks on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, though Ancelotti assured he was not substituted due to that problem.

"Benzema's problem was not physical," he said. "I changed him just before the end, the problem is that the balls we wanted did not reach him.

"I'm optimistic, although we have to do better in the second leg. We have the game at home and we don't have to worry about the away goal.

"It's clear that PSG have a good advantage but hopefully it won't be enough."

Neymar was named on the substitutes' bench for Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League last-16 first leg against Real Madrid, who were able to welcome back top scorer Karim Benzema on Tuesday. 

Brazil star Neymar, who turned 30 earlier this month, has not played since suffering an ankle ligament injury in a win over Saint-Etienne in November.

However, he returned to training over the past week and was deemed fit enough by boss Mauricio Pochettino to be named on the bench for the visit of Los Blancos.

Lionel Messi, who scored 26 goals in 45 appearances against Madrid for Barcelona, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria lead the line for the Ligue 1 leaders. 

Madrid, meanwhile, were able to call upon the services of talisman Benzema, who had not played since suffering a hamstring strain on January 23 against Elche. 

Speaking on Monday, Los Blancos coach Carlo Ancelotti was non-committal on the availability of Benzema, but the France striker has been deemed fit enough to start in a huge boost for Madrid.

Benzema was named in attack alongside Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio.

Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema feels ready "in my head" to face Paris Saint-Germain after his recent injury absence but stressed he will not risk further problems if he does not feel right in training.

The France international has been absent since suffering a hamstring strain on January 23 against Elche.

Madrid have sorely missed their 24-goal top-scorer, managing to net just once in three full games since he sustained his injury, drawing a blank most recently on Sunday in a 0-0 draw at Villarreal.

Fears that he would also miss their Champions League last-16 first-leg trip to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday were eased when Madrid's Sunday squad announcement included Benzema.

But while that was undoubtedly a positive step, Benzema insists his participation at the Parc des Prince is by no means guaranteed.

"There's been many hours of work and I feel much better," he told reporters. "Now we have a training session to see if I can play, but I have to get more feeling [of his condition] on the pitch.

"Being 100 per cent, the most important thing is in your head. But you have to recover and have good sensations on the pitch.

"It's a difficult time when you're off the pitch. I've done work in Valdebebas [the training ground] and at home to get there.

"In my head I'm ready, but now I have to see on the pitch. It's a great game and if I have to play tomorrow, I will give everything.

"The team knows how to win without me, but I've done everything to get there. I hope I'll be fine but we don't have to risk it because the season is very long."

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was on the same page as Benzema but left no doubt as to the importance of the striker – if he is fit, he will play.

"I have to listen and make the decision," he added. "He already has the medical discharge.

"He has trained by running and sprinting, but you have to see the feeling [on the pitch]. The coach has to wait to see what he says.

"The player has not played for a month, but it's Karim. If he's okay, he has to play."

The Champions League returns on Tuesday as the round of 16 gets underway, and what a way to kick things off.

Paris Saint-Germain host Real Madrid in what is widely considered to be the tie of the round, with particular interest in PSG duo Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe for differing reasons.

Sporting CP welcome Manchester City to the Estadio Jose Alvalade in the other first-leg encounter, with Ruben Amorim's men hoping to spring a surprise against the champions of England.

What do the numbers say about the opening games of the Champions League knockout stage, though? Stats Perform takes a look to decipher who is likeliest to come out on top.

Paris Saint-Germain v Real Madrid

Real Madrid have a slight edge over PSG in their 10 previous meetings in European competition, having won four and lost three. The French side lead 2-1 in the head-to-head in the knockout stages, eliminating Madrid from the 1992-93 UEFA Cup quarter-final and the 1993-94 Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final.

The last meeting between the two came in the group stage of the 2019-20 Champions League, a 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu. PSG won the previous game at Parc des Princes 3-0, and ultimately finished five points ahead of Madrid in Group A.

Los Blancos did win their last Champions League knockout game in Paris, beating PSG 2-1 in the round-of-16 second leg in 2017-18.

PSG will hope to improve their home record, having won just one of their past six such Champions League knockout games, a run including four defeats.

Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, Mbappe – who is being linked with a move to Madrid when his contract expires at the end of the season – has been involved in more open-play sequences ending in goals (17) than any other player in the Champions League. He also has the highest expected goals sequence involvement of any player in this period (16.4).

Mbappe's France team-mate Karim Benzema, who is battling to be fit for the game, has found the net in each of his past four outings in the Champions League. Should he do so again on Tuesday, he will become just the third player to score in five consecutive appearances for Madrid in the competition, after Cristiano Ronaldo (four times, between 2013 and 2018) and Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2007.

The Spanish giants won all three of their away games in the group stage without conceding a goal. The only previous Champions League campaign in which they won their first four away games was in 2014-15, during Carlo Ancelotti’s first spell in charge.

 

Sporting CP v Manchester City

Sporting and City have only ever faced each other twice in European competition, which was their two legs in the round of 16 in the 2011-12 Europa League, with the Portuguese side going through on away goals.

City have only won once in their past six matches in Portugal (D2 L3), including their 1-0 defeat in last year's Champions League final to Chelsea in Porto.

This will be just the second time Sporting have played in the Champions League round of 16, with the previous occasion seeing them lose 12-1 on aggregate to Bayern Munich in 2008-09, the largest aggregate defeat in the competition's history.

City have kept just one clean sheet in their previous 11 matches in the Champions League and conceded at least once in all six group games this season. Still, should they win this game, Pep Guardiola's team will be the first in Champions League history to win five consecutive away games in the knockout stages.

Sporting boss Amorim, at 37 years and 19 days old, will be the second-youngest Portuguese coach to take charge of a Champions League knockout-stage tie after Andre Villas-Boas (34 years and 127 days) with Chelsea against Napoli in 2011-12. Villas-Boas was sacked prior to the second leg.

Among Portuguese players, only Ronaldo (six goals) has been directly involved in more Champions League goals this season than Sporting’s Pedro Goncalves (five – four scored, one assisted) and Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo (five – two scored, three assisted).

Saturday's 4-0 win at Norwich City was the first time Riyad Mahrez has failed to score for City since early December. The first of his seven-game scoring run was the final Champions League group clash, a 2-1 defeat at RB Leipzig.

Mahrez has also scored nine goals in his past 10 appearances in the Champions League and has been directly involved in six goals in his most recent six games in the knockout rounds (four scored, two assisted). Since the start of last season, Mahrez has scored at least four goals more in the competition than any other City player (Gabriel Jesus is next with five).

Karim Benzema trained with Real Madrid on Sunday and could make a dramatic return in the Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

The France international, who is one of Madrid's club captains, has been absent since suffering a hamstring injury on January 23 against Elche.

However, he has been named in Carlo Ancelotti's 26-man squad for the trip to Paris, where the first leg of the last-16 tie takes place on Tuesday.

Benzema has scored 24 times for Madrid already in 2021-22, and without him the goals have dried up.

The team have managed just one goal in their three full games since Benzema joined the injured list, drawing a blank most recently on Sunday as they drew 0-0 at Villarreal.

Gareth Bale was deployed as a central striker in that game, and after a slow start he became the chief attacking threat, having a game-high six shots and drawing three fine saves from goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.

That came as a pleasant surprise to Ancelotti, who nonetheless indicated Bale was only one of several options for the role against PSG, and he remained hopeful Benzema could be involved.

The fact Madrid were able to send 34-year-old Benzema onto the training pitch with team-mates on Sunday augured well for his prospects, and Ancelotti will now closely monitor the former Lyon frontman ahead of the game at the Parc des Princes.

Speaking on Friday, Ancelotti had been positive about Benzema's prospects, although the fact he played no part against Villarreal indicated Madrid are being ultra careful about his fitness.

Ancelotti said on Friday: "We have good feelings, he is having good feelings. The most important thing is the player's health. If there is a risk, we are not going to take it. We have to evaluate but if he plays on Tuesday, it is because there is no risk."

The match offers the tantalising possibility of Benzema and France team-mate Kylian Mbappe leading the respective attacks.

Mbappe is a known transfer target for Madrid, who failed with a big-money move for the PSG forward in August but could land him on a free transfer at the end of this season, meaning he and Benzema may soon be club-mates as well as colleagues with Les Bleus.

Carlo Ancelotti said "everyone's feelings are positive" regarding Karim Benzema's availability for Real Madrid's Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain next week.

Benzema has missed Madrid's last two games after picking up a muscle injury against Elche last month, and remains a doubt for Saturday's LaLiga trip to Villarreal.

However, speaking at a media conference ahead of that game, Ancelotti indicated that the 34-year-old – who has scored 24 goals in 28 games in all competitions this season – could be fit for Tuesday's clash in the Parc des Princes.

"We have good feelings, he is having good feelings," he said. "We will see if he will train on Sunday or Monday with the team. Everyone's feelings are positive, but it will be decided on Sunday or Monday.

"The most important thing is the player's health. If there is a risk, we are not going to take it. We have to evaluate but if he plays on Tuesday, it is because there is no risk."

Ancelotti also said he hopes PSG star Neymar will be fit for the Champions League fixture, adding: "I hope Benzema and Neymar can be there, the best players. If the best are there, we'll have the most entertaining game possible."


The former PSG boss was also asked about Gareth Bale. The Wales international has played just three times this season after returning from a loan move from Tottenham, and has not featured since playing in a 1-0 win at Real Betis in August.

"We have a very good working relationship," Ancelotti explained. 

"He's training hard. He's committed to the cause. He has not been playing of late, but seeing him in training I can confirm he is ready to play, and I do know that when he gets that opportunity, he will produce the goods.

"I'll be asked now 'why hasn't he played?' Looking back, he's had some trouble to be fully match fit after having picked up an injury. But these last 15 days or so the intensity has increased and I'm sure he's ready to play. Obviously it is my call to decide when."

Karim Benzema leads the LaLiga scoring charts this term with 17 goals.

But Real Madrid are set to revamp their attacking options if transfer speculation is true.

Benzema turned 34 in December and is contracted until 2023.

TOP STORY – BENZEMA CONCERN ON MADRID FUTURE

Madrid top scorer Benzema has requested a meeting with president Florentino Perez over concerns on his future with Erling Haaland's potential addition, reports Onze.

Los Blancos are set to be bolstered by forwardKylian Mbappe's arrival in the off-season to form an attacking trio alongside Benzema and Vinicius Junior.

But Haaland's potential move from Borussia Dortmund has left Benzema fearing he may lose his spot.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is being lined up by Bayern Munich as their ideal replacement for Niklas Sule, claims Fichajes. Sule has confirmed his exit to Borussia Dortmund for next season.

- Juventus have a new plan ahead of fresh contract talks with Paulo Dybala, according to Calciomercato. Dybala is unsigned beyond this season.

- Manchester United and Brazilian giants Flamengo have agreed to a £12m fee for the permanent sale of Andreas Pereira, reports Universo.

- Atletico Madrid, who are looking to replace the departed Kieran Trippier, are set to make a €30m offer for Aston Villa full-back Matty Cash, claims Mundo Deportivo.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan still have an eye on Club Brugge's Dutch talent Noa Lang.

Karim Benzema will not be fit to return for Real Madrid's clash with Granada on Sunday, while head coach Carlo Ancelotti insists he has no personal issue with Eden Hazard.

LaLiga top scorer Benzema missed the midweek Copa del Rey defeat to Athletic Bilbao with a hamstring complaint.

He was pictured training on Friday, but the France striker will once again miss out for the league leaders, who are without Vinicius Jr through suspension..

"Benzema won't play. He's improved, but he's not 100 per cent yet. He trained yesterday but not today, we've got to wait two or three more days," head coach Ancelotti told a pre-match news conference.

"The team are ready, we know Vinicius and Karim are both out."

Ancelotti acknowledged the importance of Benzema to his team but dismissed the notion Madrid are overly reliant on their talisman.

"Of course we're missing Benzema, he's the top scorer in the league, scoring lots of goals this season for Real Madrid," Ancelotti said.

"I think you look at teams and their Benzemas [star player], if they miss that player of course it's a big loss, it's a blow. 

"Without Benzema it's tougher, but without Benzema we've won games. I think we've done well without Karim Benzema."

Hazard's form has flattered to deceive since joining in a big-money move from Chelsea in 2019, though a star turn in a 2-1 win at Athletic back in December prompted praise from Ancelotti.

Since then, though, minutes have been hard to come by for the Belgium forward, who was an unused substitute for the Copa setback.

Asked about Hazard, Ancelotti replied: "There's no issues between myself and the player, he's training, he's now fit.

"But then I have to decide who I think is the best team. But I just preferred a different player. Hazard played against Elche [in the previous round of the Copa], scored after he came on, it's not as if he's not playing. He has been playing.

"There's not a personal issue with him, there's not a physical issue either, there's no issue we're not sharing about Hazard. No secrets."

Team-mate Gareth Bale was also not utilised in the Copa fixture and was filmed seemingly chuckling when Hazard was told to sit back down with 18 minutes remaining having gone out to warm up.

Ancelotti said he did not see the incident.

"I didn't see it, I don't know why he laughed, and it doesn't seem important to me," the Italian said.

"We wanted to put Hazard on in extra time and that's why he warmed up. Three players have to warm up, that's the maximum. I wanted my players warming up, taking turns, I couldn't send six players to warm up."

Madrid's Copa exit followed a come-from-behind 2-2 draw against Elche in LaLiga last week, with Los Blancos enduring a dip in form.

Ancelotti, though, says he has no issue with any criticism that comes his way.

"I'm not hurt, I'm used to this, to living these moments. It's a confirmation that I'm the coach of Real Madrid and you always have to make decisions, and sometimes you're right and you're wrong. Nothing new," he said.

"I'm so happy that I'm manager here, I don't mind criticism. It keeps me on my toes. It also makes you think things through a bit more."

Carlo Ancelotti admitted Real Madrid missed the quality of Karim Benzema as he claimed their Copa del Rey exit to Athletic Bilbao was not a surprise.

The LaLiga leaders were beaten 1-0 at San Mames on Thursday, Alex Berenguer scoring a brilliant winner in the 89th minute to send Athletic into the semi-finals.

It was a measure of revenge for Marcelino's men, who lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana final to Madrid last month, in which Benzema scored the second goal.

Los Blancos were without their talisman in the Basque country, though, as he had not recovered from a hamstring injury sustained in the 2-2 draw with Elche.

In the absence of Benzema, who has scored 24 goals in 28 appearances this season, Madrid managed just two shots on target against Athletic, while their first-half expected goals figure of 0.1 was their lowest since January 2020.

Ancelotti accepted the decision not to rush Benzema back into action left his side without enough of a threat going forward.

 

"We're hurt because we want to win everything. I don't think it will have consequences. I only hope that it makes us stronger," he said of the defeat, as quoted by Marca.

"We don't have players of Karim's quality. We didn't change the plan. We tried to play from the back, and we couldn't. Athletic's pressing was really great until the 70th minute.

"I think in extra time we would have had the advantage, but they scored in the last minute. We played too much on the wings. We should have used [David] Alaba and Casemiro more. It didn't go the way we wanted.

"It's not the worst game of the season. It was even until the end. I'm not surprised with how the game went."

Even as Madrid's attack laboured, Ancelotti left Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale and Luka Jovic on the bench, his only changes being Isco for Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga for Vinicius Junior.

It was put to Ancelotti that the trio were being punished by being kept among the substitutes, but he replied: "I have nothing to say. Nobody is punished. [Dani] Ceballos and [Jesus] Vallejo didn't play, either. They're at the same level as the others who didn't play. You have to be fair.

"Kroos was taken off due to fatigue, as was Vinicius. We were thinking of changes for extra time and there wasn't time."

Madrid's next match is at home to Granada in LaLiga on Sunday.

Karim Benzema has been left out of Real Madrid's squad for the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday due to a hamstring injury. 

The fitness of France international Benzema has been a source of concern since he hobbled off in the second half of Madrid's 2-2 draw with Elche in LaLiga on January 23. 

During his pre-match news conference, Carlo Ancelotti was hopeful the striker, who has been in sensational form this season with 24 goals in 28 games in all competitions, would be fit for the trip to San Mames but insisted no risks would be taken. 

Benzema's name was not in the 22-man squad for the match against Athletic that was released later on Wednesday, prompting concerns about his fitness for the Champions League last-16 meeting with Paris Saint-Germain in less than two weeks. 

Mariano Diaz and Ferland Mendy also miss out through injury, while Marcelo is ineligible due to suspension. 

However, Marco Asensio could make his return from a hamstring injury sustained in the Supercopa de Espana success against Barcelona 

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has said Karim Benzema could be fit for Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames, but warned he will not be risked unnecessarily.

The France striker – who sustained a hamstring strain in the 2-2 draw with Elche on January 23 – will train with his team-mates on Wednesday, according to Ancelotti, but the coach said he will only play if he is at "100 per cent".

Benzema has been in excellent form for the LaLiga leaders, scoring 24 goals and assisting a further nine in 28 appearances in all competitions this season.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Thursday's game, Ancelotti said: "We don't know yet [if Benzema will play], because he's only been able to do individual work.

"He has good feelings, and now he is going to train with the group. At the end, we will make a decision. We're not going to risk it. If he has the medical discharge, he will play; if not, no."

Asked again about Benzema, Ancelotti reiterated: "The decision is simple. If he is well, he will play; if not, he will stay at home. If he is not 100 per cent, it makes no sense to put him in a game that is going to demand a lot from us."

The Italian also suggested his South American players may be able to play some part, despite only now returning from international duty after yesterday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers.

Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo both played in Brazil's 4-0 win against Paraguay, with Casemiro an unused substitute, while Federico Valverde featured in Uruguay's 4-1 win against Venezuela. Eder Militao was allowed to return to Madrid by Brazil a few days early as he was suspended for the Paraguay game.

"We also have to assess the status of the players who have played with their national teams," Ancelotti added. "If they are just tired, they will travel. They may not start the game, but I may need them throughout the game, especially if we get to extra time.

"Vinicius and Rodrygo come back from playing, but they are 20 years old, not 60 like me. I think they can get back."

Madrid have faced Athletic three times already this season, twice in the league and once in the recent final of the Supercopa de Espana, with Los Blancos winning all three – including a 2-1 victory at San Mames just before the mid-season break.

"It's a very important match," Ancelotti added. "It's a competition in which we are very excited. It is a difficult match, against a strong opponent and a very difficult environment such as San Mames.

"We've played well the previous three games against them, but it will be a very close game. To win in San Mames, you have to get the best"

Ancelotti said he still did not know if he was going to start Thibaut Courtois or Andriy Lunin in goal, but a more pressing selection issue will be a left-back, with both Ferland Mendy and Marcelo unavailable.

"There are two options, [David] Alaba or Nacho," he said. "I've already decided, but I'm not going to say it.

"The evaluation does not depend on whether Nico Williams or [Alex] Berenguer plays. Nacho is more defensive and less used to it. Alaba gives us a lot of options with the ball and he's used to playing there."

Lionel Messi has found an unlikely ally in Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who believes those criticising the Argentinian's form at Paris Saint-Germain know nothing about football.

Messi joined PSG on a shock free transfer from Barcelona in August after the Blaugrana came to the realisation they simply could not afford to pay his wages in line with their reduced salary cap.

The move was seen as another big step for PSG in their quest to finally win the Champions League, as he was joining a team that already boasted Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in attack.

But Messi is yet to truly take off in Paris. While his haul of five goals in as many Champions League games is a good return, in Ligue 1 it has been a different story, netting just once in 11 appearances.

Unless he has an incredible second half to the season, Messi will fall well short of the 38 goals he scored across all competitions for Barca last term.

As for his creativity, Messi ranks third in the PSG squad for chances created (32) and his assists total of four is rather less than many would expect of him, particularly when Mbappe has 12 to his name.

But there have been extenuating circumstances given he did not have much of a pre-season, he has suffered with injuries and illness, and he is settling into new surroundings for the first time in his senior career.

As such, Benzema feels criticism of Messi – who could make his first appearance of 2022 on Sunday after a bout of coronavirus – is unfair.

Asked if Messi will be a success at PSG, Benzema told TF1: "How won't he succeed?

"It is just a period of adaptation, because he is not scoring a lot of goals. But watch what he does on the pitch.

"In any case you can't criticise a player like that. In fact, he who criticises Messi, knows nothing about football."

Messi claimed his record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or last year, an award that many had tipped Benzema to win over the course of the year.

Ultimately the Frenchman finished fourth in the running, also behind Robert Lewandowski and Jorginho, which was seemingly a source of frustration for him.

Winning the prize remains a goal of Benzema's, though he does not think he could have done any more than he did over 2021.

"Fourth, third or second is the same as 30th," he said. "The main thing is to win it.

"I was told that I hadn't won enough trophies, but I couldn't do more. It remains a goal and each season I will try to do better than what I did last season."

Everything points to the 34-year-old being in contention again at the end of 2022 as he sits atop LaLiga's goalscoring chart with 17, five more than anyone else in the division.

That haul has helped him to 303 goals for Madrid, which leaves Benzema just five behind club great Alfredo Di Stefano in third, while Raul (323) is not much further ahead in second – Cristiano Ronaldo (450) is way out in front.

Benzema never expected to get anywhere near Di Stefano's haul, which makes the achievement even more satisfying.

"It's a source of pride but I want to continue," Benzema added. "When I arrived, I saw [Di Stefano's record] so far away.

"I did not see these records as an objective, but today to be close to these legends is exceptional.

"When we arrive at Madrid, we don't tell ourselves that we will stay 10 or 15 years, we just want to win titles."

Real Madrid's squad is already packed with a magnitude of talent – and it could become even stronger should Erling Haaland arrive from Borussia Dortmund later this year.

Haaland has scored 78 goals in his two years with Dortmund – only Robert Lewandowski (107) has more in Europe's top five leagues – and would be a major coup for Madrid.

But while the Spanish giants remain confident of bringing in the in-demand striker from Dortmund, it could have a negative knock-on effect.


TOP STORY - HAALAND IN, BENZEMA OUT?

Karim Benzema is a much-loved figure at the Santiago Bernabeu and is enjoying another impressive campaign, but El Nacional claims that Madrid risk losing the Frenchman.

The report suggests that Benzema does not like the fact that president Florentino Perez is so fixated on bringing in a new player to lead Los Blancos' attack from next season.

While the 34-year is not currently seeking an exit, that could change should Madrid reach a pre-contract agreement with Haaland in the coming weeks, as has been suggested.

Benzema would not feel the need to move on should Kylian Mbappe join, though, as he considers that case to be different given the PSG striker is set to become a free agent.


ROUND-UP

Barcelona accept that it is increasingly likely Ousmane Dembele will leave Camp Nou as a free agent at the end of the season. According to Sport, Manchester United and Juventus have held talks with the player's camp, while Chelsea and Bayern Munich have an outside shot of signing the forward.

Arsenal have made their first move to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina, with Corriere Della Sera reporting that the Gunners have tabled an offer of £50million (€60m) plus Lucas Torreira, who is currently on loan with the Serie A side.

Chelsea are interested in signing Layvin Kurzawa on loan as they look to bolster their full-back ranks. However, Fabrizio Romano claims that the Blues have not yet officially opened talks with PSG.

– Calciomercato reports that Man Utd forward Anthony Martial has emerged as a January target for Juventus. The France international has struggled for games this season and has openly admitted he wants to find a new club this month.

Everton are on the lookout for a new manager after parting company with Rafael Benitez on Sunday and hope to make a swift appointment. According to ESPN, former boss Roberto Martinez – now in charge of the Belgium national team – is the leading candidate to take over.

Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood this window, but The Telegraph reports that they have been knocked back in their bid to bring in Donny van de Beek on loan. The Man Utd midfielder is said to have been put off by the Magpies' position in the Premier League.

Real Madrid secured the first trophy of Carlo Ancelotti's second spell as head coach by strolling to a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana final.

Luka Modric and Karim Benzema scored as the LaLiga leaders proved far too strong for Athletic, who beat Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals on Thursday.

Benzema's goal was a second-half penalty and took him to 18 career goals against Athletic. They are the team against whom he has scored the most goals, and he was a threat throughout this one-sided game.

Even when Athletic were awarded a late spot-kick themselves, with Eder Militao sent off for handling Raul Garcia's header, they could not take advantage. Garcia's penalty carried plenty of punch, but Thibaut Courtois saved with his legs.

Ancelotti was a Champions League winner during his first stint with Madrid, and the experienced Italian will hope this success in Riyadh proves to be the first of many trophies second time around.

Madrid had a string of early half-chances, with Benzema, Toni Kroos and Modric among those who could not capitalise.

Casemiro then threatened twice in quick succession, forcing Unai Simon to tip an ambitious long-range strike wide for a corner, before a looping header from the midfielder was touched over the bar by the goalkeeper.

Modric made the breakthrough in the 38th minute. Rodrygo dribbled into the Athletic penalty area from the right flank before laying off the ball sensibly to his veteran team-mate, and from 17 yards the Croatian swept an elegant shot high into the right corner.

Madrid were awarded a penalty after a VAR check in the 51st minute when Benzema's shot struck Yeray Alvarez on the arm. Benzema powered the spot-kick into the left corner and Madrid looked home and hosed, having barely faced any pressure from Athletic, who won this competition last year.

The 89th-minute penalty could have made for a nervy finish, but Courtois came to Madrid's rescue.

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