Jurgen Klopp was delighted with Liverpool's performance in their win over RB Leipzig, particularly as he felt "people expected us to slip up again".

The Reds took charge of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday as they claimed a 2-0 first-leg win in the relocated fixture in Budapest.

Goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in the second half, each coming from defensive errors from Leipzig, gave Liverpool a victory that makes them firm favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.

The result and performance was a notable departure from their recent run of form, which had seen them win just three of their previous 12 games in all competitions.

Manager Klopp felt it was a timely response to those who expected his players to struggle against the Bundesliga's second-placed side.

"It was a game we wanted; it was a game we needed," he told BT Sport. "Leipzig can be a real monster, they overrun teams, they're really physical, and tonight we controlled them in a really exceptional way.

"I think we got the result we deserved. We defended the situations really well.

"Tonight, we deserved to win. A lot of people were waiting for us to slip up again, and we didn't. We were really good for two years and then this year, we have some problems. A lot of people expected us to slip again, just because of the situation, and the boys didn't. That's what I'm really happy about."

Captain Jordan Henderson, who again deputised at the heart of the defence, wants Liverpool to maintain the standards they hit at the Puskas Arena.

"It was an important game for us, a tough game, but we're really happy with the performance overall," he said.

"Keeping a clean sheet was important for us as well. From start to finish, defensively, throughout the team we pressed well and won the ball back.

"It's a good win but it's only half the job done. We've got to be pleased with that because Leipzig are a good side.

"We just want to keep going, keep fighting every time we play. Tonight was a good step in the right direction for us. We need to continue with that performance level and if we do, we'll get some good results along the way."

Liverpool took charge of their Champions League last-16 tie with RB Leipzig as they claimed a 2-0 win in the first leg in Budapest.

Julian Nagelsmann's side, who pipped Manchester United to a place in the knockouts, looked far from comfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Puskas Arena, where Tuesday's game was held to due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Mohamed Salah's 24th goal of the season put Liverpool ahead after a mistake by Kevin Kampl, and Sadio Mane doubled the advantage when Nordi Mukiele gifted him an opportunity.

The Reds are now unbeaten in six away games against Bundesliga opposition stretching back to 2002, and Jurgen Klopp's men will be firm favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.

Liverpool nearly fell behind after just five minutes, Dani Olmo's diving header hitting the inside of the post from Angelino's cross.

The away side looked the most threatening as they began to take control, and Peter Gulacsi was alert to block a Salah effort from close range before Roberto Firmino fired a shot into the side-netting.

Mane then headed over from six yards from a Firmino cross, and the Senegalese thought he had set up his strike partner to nod in the opener after errors from Dayot Upamecano, but the ball had gone out of play.

Christopher Nkunku had barely been involved in the first half but he could have given Leipzig the lead early in the second, Alisson saving well after the striker ran onto Olmo's throughball.

It was Salah who broke the deadlock 53 minutes in, drilling past Gulacsi after a dreadful backpass from Kampl, and it soon got worse for Leipzig.

Mukiele made a complete mess of a simple clearance forward by Curtis Jones, and Mane had time to stride into the box and slot home.

Angelino had a chance to pull a goal back but sliced his attempt badly, summing up a poor game for last season's semi-finalists.

What does it mean? Fragile Liverpool give season huge boost

Injuries and recent form - they had won three of their previous 12 games in all competitions - will have had Liverpool fans feeling a little anxious before meeting the side second in the Bundesliga.

However, a display of supreme authority, helped by an erratic approach from Leipzig, put Klopp's men in total charge of this tie and could well have provided a timely boost in confidence.

Leipzig will hope for better in the second leg, but their previous visit to England ended in a 5-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Salah at menacing best

Salah should perhaps have scored sooner but he made no mistake with his clearest chance of the game.

He spent the rest of the game harassing a deeply unsettled Leipzig defence in a hugely impressive, committed performance.

Nagelsmann's men in a muddle

Leipzig were on a six-game unbeaten run at home in this competition and it was unfortunate for them that this game had to be relocated to a neutral venue.

Still, that does not explain the horribly haphazard nature of their performance. Two defensive errors led directly to the goals, Mukiele could have been sent off before his mistake, while Bayern Munich-bound Upamecano misplaced 20 passes from centre-back.

What's next?

With the return leg not until March 10, Liverpool's more pressing concern is a derby with Everton on Saturday. Leipzig head to Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga a day later.

Pep Guardiola hailed Jurgen Klopp's "exceptional " achievements as the Liverpool boss comes under increasing pressure amid their slump in form.

Klopp conceded the title following Liverpool's 3-1 defeat to Leicester City on Saturday, admitting that the gap to Guardiola's Manchester City - which stands at 13 points ahead of City's game in hand with Everton on Wednesday - was too much for the defending champions to make up.

The Reds, who face RB Leipzig in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, are in danger of missing out on playing in that competition next season.

Liverpool's loss at the King Power Stadium was their third successive defeat in the Premier League and they sit sixth in the table, two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and fifth-placed West Ham.

However, Guardiola praised Liverpool's display at Leicester, where they took the lead before Brendan Rodgers' side scored three times in the space of seven minutes, and was extremely complimentary of his managerial rival when asked if he had empathy for Klopp.

"A lot," he replied at a pre-match media conference. "What he's done is exceptional.

"I said many times now and previously in Germany, he makes football attractive for all spectators, wants to give joy to fans, attacking football and no doubts about it.

"We have good and bad moments, no manager can sustain season after season, winning and winning, it would be boring.

"Sometimes you have to lose, to realise. I speak personally, sometimes it's good to lose, you realise how difficult it is.

"When you come back you get more credit and value for what you've done."

City can go 10 points clear at the top with a win over Everton, having won their last 16 games in all competitions and their last 11 in the league.

"We never get perfection, what we've done, the 16 games in a row, 11 in the Premier League, is thinking the next game, this is the only secret," added Guardiola.

"All games left to play, a lot can happen. All I think is Everton. We are in mid-February, a lot of points [to play for], we'll drop points and that's the moment I expect to see the reaction of all of us."

For Naby Keita, Liverpool's Champions League tie with RB Leipzig could have offered a chance to show his old club what they are missing.

Travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic have blocked the first leg from taking place in Germany, so Budapest will instead stage the opening match of the last-16 showdown on Tuesday. Keita, however, will not be there.

Rather than head to the Hungarian capital with the rest of the squad, the Guinea international has remained back on Merseyside to continue his recovery from the latest injury setback in a Liverpool career that has flattered to deceive so far. 

There have been bright moments, occasional performances where he has demonstrated his class, but too often those high points have been followed by a prolonged spell on the sidelines.  

Keita made 43 league appearances in his first two years in England, but only 25 of them were starts. This season, there have been just seven outings, the last of them on December 19 in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, back when everything looked far rosier in Liverpool's garden.

Jurgen Klopp provided a positive fitness update on the midfielder ahead of the Leipzig game, revealing: "Naby is no longer injured but he's not fit yet".  A reunion with his former employers could still come at Anfield in the return fixture, albeit the German manager is not known for being sentimental when it comes to team selection.

Liverpool were patient in the first place just to get him; having failed to agree terms for his immediate transfer, they instead struck a deal with Leipzig to have him join 12 months later for, at the time, a club-record fee.

"Until I join my new club, next summer, I will remain an interested supporter from a distance," Keita said when the impending transfer was confirmed. Sadly, too often he has been stuck watching on since. There have been hamstring, thigh, groin and knee issues, plus a spell out after contracting COVID-19. It has felt like one step forward, two back.

Still, his two seasons at Leipzig – during which he contributed 14 goals and 12 assists in 58 Bundesliga games – demonstrated why Klopp was willing to wait. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of playing the killer pass when working in crowded spaces, he was seen as the ideal attacking threat that could lift the team to the next level. 

The Reds have duly raised their standards, but Keita has been a peripheral figure. He was ruled out of the Champions League final against Tottenham in July 2019 and, while he played – and scored – the night Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy just over 12 months later, it was one of only 14 starts in all competitions. 

His only other league goal during that title-winning campaign came at Bournemouth in the previous December, when he picked up possession in a pocket of space in front of the opposition defence, played a clever one-two with Mohamed Salah and then toe-poked the ball in.

Such moments of quality served to underline why he was identified and, eventually, signed. Liverpool have rarely made big-money mistakes in the transfer market, but Keita has yet to live up to the hefty fee, which covered his £48million release clause plus an undisclosed premium that sealed the deal. 

While seven goals and four assists in 45 starts is so far a disappointing return on that sizeable investment, exploring Keita's contributions in greater depth shows what he can produce when healthy.

No player who had over 20 dribble attempts for Liverpool in the 2019-20 league season had a better success rate than his 82.14 per cent, while his figure for big chances created per 90 minutes (0.55) was the best of the lot, too. Add in an average of 10.95 passes into the final third per 90 and you see the type of numbers that suggest he could have made a difference this term, particularly in games where Klopp's side have struggled so badly to break down opposing line-ups stuck in a low block.

There is still time to have a greater impact, of course, but rather than taking centre stage when Liverpool take on Leipzig, Keita is stuck as a spectator once again, a footnote to the storyline as the knockout stages of the competition begin.

Tuesday sees the return of the Champions League as the first two last-16 ties get started, including arguably the pick of the bunch; Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain.

While we have been robbed of the Messi v Neymar narrative after the Brazilian was ruled out for four weeks with an adductor injury last week, there should still be plenty of talent on display.

Messi can still expect to be the focus, given the strong transfer links to PSG, while the Parisians will be hoping for a hint of revenge for the famous 'Remontada' of 2016-17.

Also in action on Tuesday are Liverpool and RB Leipzig, with the Germans' home leg taking place in Budapest due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed in Germany.

Ahead of the two tantalising fixtures, here are the key stats for both games…

Barcelona v PSG

4 – Barca and PSG last met at this same stage in 2016-17, when the Catalans became the only team to ever qualify for the next round in the Champions League after losing by at least four goals in the first leg. They won the second leg 6-1 in Camp Nou.

14 – Barca are hoping to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the a record 14th consecutive campaign. They were last eliminated at this stage in 2006-07 by Liverpool.

10 – While PSG have only one away win against Spanish opposition (Valencia) in the Champions League knockout phase, Barca have never lost at home to a French side in 10 such games in this competition.

2 – Antoine Griezmann has more yellow cards (two) than he has Champions League goal involvements (one assist) for Barca at Camp Nou in seven appearances.

1 – Kylian Mbappe has scored only one goal in his nine Champions League knockout games with PSG. He had found the net six times in six knockout games with Monaco.

RB Leipzig v Liverpool

0 – RB Leipzig have played 22 matches in the Champions League – none have ended goalless.

8.9 – While Liverpool are known for their effective pressing, Leipzig are even more aggressive. The German have allowed their opponents just 8.9 passes on average before intervening defensively in the competition this season, the lowest figure of any side in 2020-21.

1 – Roberto Firmino has scored only one goal in his previous 16 Champions League games. That came in last season's last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid.

6 – Leipzig wing-back Angelino has contributed three goals and three assists in the Champions League this term – Alvaro Morata (six goals, one assist) is the sole Spaniard with more goal involvements in 2020-21.

45 – Liverpool were the only team not to concede a single goal in the first 45 minutes of matches in the group stage.

With Lionel Messi's future far from certain at the end of the season, his former team-mate Neymar has apparently reached out to the Barcelona captain about a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazilian superstar Neymar played alongside the six-time Ballon d'Or winner for four LaLiga seasons between 2013 and 2017, before sealing a world-record transfer to Ligue 1 giants

It is understood Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are ready to make a play to bring Messi to the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino's PSG appear to be taking the direct approach.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR PUTS IN A CALL TO MESSI

Lionel Messi's contract at his boyhood club expires in the off-season, less than a year after the Barcelona superstar sensationally tried to leave Camp Nou but found his exit plans blocked.

According to L'Equipe, Neymar – who is set to miss the Champions League trip to the Barcelona on Tuesday – has put in a call to convince Messi to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi will lead out Barca in the first leg of the last-16 tie, having stated he will wait until the end of the current campaign before making a decision on where he will play in 2021-2022.

ROUND-UP

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe has decided to stay put this off-season but is not planning on extending his current contract, which expires in 2022, claims ESPN.

Liverpool are looking for defensive reinforcements and they are monitoring Aston Villa's England Under-21 international Ezri Konsa, according to The Athletic.

- Bayern Munich's free-agent defender David Alaba has already agreed to join Real Madrid at season's end, reports Fabrizio Romano.

RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann expects out-of-form Liverpool to come out fighting like an "injured boxer" in their Champions League last-16 first leg on Tuesday.

Nagelsmann believes Liverpool will be fully focused on European success after letting their Premier League title defence slip away following three consecutive league defeats as Manchester City dominate in England.

Premier League champions Liverpool have fallen 13 points adrift of City after being upstaged 3-1 by Leicester City on Saturday.

Despite Liverpool's woes, Nagelsmann believes the Reds' class will shine through at Puskas Arena in Hungary.

"I don't think that I have to warn my team about an injured boxer. I believe that my team knows that this is a world class team," Nagelsmann, whose Leipzig reached last season's Champions League semi-finals, said.

"Also, if you listen to what the teams in the Premier League say, despite their tiny crisis, managers are still saying after every match that Liverpool are, with Manchester City, still one of the hardest teams to beat in the Premier League.

"That is because they have a very balanced squad. Hard to assess and variable. As [Leipzig goalkeeper] Peter Gulasci mentioned already, they can take care of a lot of things at once."

Jordan Henderson believes Thiago Alcantara has been a "brilliant" addition for Liverpool despite significant struggles for Jurgen Klopp's side of late.

Klopp conceded Liverpool's Premier League title defence was effectively over after a 3-1 weekend defeat at Leicester City left them 13 points shy of leaders Manchester City having played a game more.

The Reds are back in Champions League action against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday, bruised by a run of five defeats in seven domestically and three in succession.

Spain playmaker Thiago arrived as a coup of a close-season signing from European champions Bayern Munich, billed as the man to take Klopp's phenomenal winning machine to the next level.

He sparkled on his debut from the bench in a 2-0 win at Chelsea but a bout of coronavirus them preceded a maiden start in the Merseyside derby against Everton, one cut short by Richarlison's red-card lunge.

That meant a lengthy spell on the sidelines until the December 30 0-0 draw at Newcastle.

Thiago returned to the starting line-up at Southampton next time out and the 1-0 defeat was the first of six reverses in his subsequent 10 outings in all competitions - culminating in the nightmare unravelling at the King Power Stadium.

Nevertheless, club captain Henderson holds his team-mate in the highest regard.

"Thiago's been brilliant since he's come to the club. I think everyone knows how good a player he is. He's a world class player," he said.

"Even off the field he's a really good person, leads by example and you learn a lot from him.

"He's been a fantastic addition to the squad."

Pass master interrupted by injuries

Injury means Thiago is yet to play a minute in the Champions League this season, making comparisons with his purring form in Bayern's treble run last time around tricky.

But judging per 90 minutes played, the former Barcelona man's main stock in trade appears to be in good order.

Thiago averages 78.1 successful passes each match for Klopp's men, second only to Henderson (81.1) this term, set against 84.3 last season for a Bayern team a little more noted for their ball retention.

He creates 1.2 chances per game for Liverpool, up on 1.1 for the Bavarian giants in 2019-20, while his overall passing accuracy has only dropped fractionally from 90.6 per cent to 89.2.

Complaints that Thiago has neutered Liverpool as an attacking force can be countered by the fact that no Reds player averages more than his 30 passes ending in the final third per game, suggesting a progressive element of his game is very much present. He passed into these danger areas 24 times per 90 at Bayern last season.

Perhaps concerns should be more centred upon what happens when Thiago doesn't have the ball.

A liability in the tackle?

Having started the Leicester match on the bench, only to be pressed into action by James Milner's first-half injury, his foul on Harvey Barnes inside the final 15 minutes led to the hosts' equaliser and started the meltdown.

Thiago's tracking of Barnes for Leicester's third also left plenty to be desired but he can be a danger to himself and his team when he engages opponents.

Despite his limited game time, the 29-year-old's 28 fouls this season are second to Sadio Mane (49) in Klopp's first-team squad. Among first-team regulars, his 2.6 challenges per 90 are only behind Milner (2.9).

He might want to dial back this more unhelpful part of his work rate, although the other side of this is 7.5 recoveries (behind Henderson's 8.3 among outfield regulars) and 2.2 interceptions (joint second with Naby Keita to back-up defender Neco Williams on 2.4) every game.

Of course, the most important statistic of all arrives at full-time, and so long as Liverpool are winning 59.1 per cent of their games without Thiago and 30.8 per cent with him, the doubters will remain.

Not that Henderson is among them, as opponents and a competition that have seen his colleague thrive await.

"He probably knows Leipzig better than anyone, so he'll be telling us a few things over the next 24 hours," he added.

"He's settled in very well, like I knew he would. He's a phenomenal player and hopefully he can keep improving every time he plays for us and getting used to the way we play as a team."

Jordan Henderson has dismissed the rumour of a bust-up between Liverpool team-mates Alisson and Andy Robertson in the aftermath of the 3-1 defeat to Leicester City.

After the Premier League champions conceded three times in the space of seven minutes to lose at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, speculation circulated on social media over the possibility of Jurgen Klopp sensationally leaving the club. 

There were also posts online relating to an alleged altercation between goalkeeper Alisson - who was involved in a mix-up with Ozan Kabak for Leicester's second goal - and defender Robertson in the dressing room after the game. 

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's Champions League tie against RB Leipzig, Henderson revealed the players saw the funny side of the rumours as he made clear the squad remains united in a bid to turn their fortunes around. 

"I don't think I even need to comment on something like that," Henderson told the media.

"Someone's sitting behind a keyboard making rumours up about the manager or the players in the dressing room. 

"I quite like the one where Robbo and Ali were having a fight. That made us chuckle a bit."

Henderson also offered praise to Klopp - who stated in his pre-match media conference that he has no plans to leave his job – and called on the players to put in a performance to reward their manager's unwavering support during a difficult period. 

"The manager is really good in situations like this. Through adversity he's the one we'll listen to the most. He's always there for us as players and tries to protect us as much as possible," the England international said.  

"Deep down, we know as players we take full responsibility and it's down to us to change this tough period. 

"There are no question marks over how he reacts after games. He probably reacts the opposite to how people would think and he handles situations like that very well. 

"That's why we want to go and put a performance on - for the team, but for him as well." 

Liverpool will play the away leg against Leipzig in Budapest due to travel restrictions currently in place in Germany amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The Reds will hope a resumption of their Champions League campaign can help lead to an improvement in results on the pitch, having lost three on the spin in their domestic title defence. 

Leipzig reached the semi-finals in the previous season and qualified for the knockout rounds this term ahead of Manchester United. However, their tally of 12 goals conceded in the group stage was the highest of any team to reach the last 16. 

Jurgen Klopp insists he and his Liverpool players are ready to fight and turn their form around, while strongly rejecting suggestions he could be ready to walk away from Anfield.

A 3-1 weekend defeat to Leicester City, after Mohamed Salah gave the Reds a second-half lead at the King Power Stadium, led Klopp to concede his defending champions will be unable to catch Premier League leaders Manchester City.

In their previous match, Liverpool were beaten 4-1 at home by City, who are 13 points better off with a game in hand.

Attention now turns towards the Champions League, where Liverpool will look to continue an impressive recent record in Europe's premier competition when they face last season's semi-finalists RB Leipzig.

The rumour mill went into overdrive after the Leicester defeat, with unsubstantiated online speculation suggesting Klopp might step down amid dressing room ructions.

The 53-year-old also experienced personal tragedy when his mother Elisabeth died last week, with coronavirus travel restrictions preventing him from attending the funeral.

Despite being kept away from matches, a group of Liverpool fans looked to rally around Klopp by hanging a banner in his honour outside the Kop end of Anfield - a gesture he appreciated but felt was unnecessary.

"The banner is nice, not necessary I don't think. I don't feel like I need special support in the moment [but] it's nice, very nice," he said ahead of Tuesday's match, which has been moved to Budapest.

"What was the other thing? That I get the sack or leave by myself or what? Neither, nor. I don't need a break.

"The last thing I want to do is talk about a private thing in a press conference. Everyone knows that privately we [Klopp's family] had a tough time. That wasn't only for three weeks, that was a much longer time.

"We always deal with it as a family 100 per cent.

"When I come here at the football club to work, I can split things. I can switch off. I don't carry things around. If I'm private, I'm private. If I'm in my work place, I'm here. Nobody has to worry about me.

"I might not look like this because the weather's not cool and the beard gets more and more grey, I don't sleep a lot. That's all true. But I'm full of energy.

"The situation is a challenge. I don't want the situation but, now we are in it, I see it as an interesting challenge."

Liverpool's five Premier League losses since the turn of the year is one more than they suffered over the course of the previous two completed seasons.

Klopp is realistic over the magnitude of such a fall but insisted he and his players are ready to roll up their sleeves.

"Nobody wrote a book about being in a situation like this and how you sort it," he said. "But we will sort it by playing football, by sticking even more together, by fighting with all we have, by learning more than we have in each season we played before. That's the plan we have.

"We've learned a lot but in the moment a lot of people aren't happy for the results. I am responsible for that, 100 per cent. But we played still some pretty good stuff. You can forget that, we cannot because that is the start of changing things.

"Do you change a situation like we are in with bad football. I've never heard of that.

"We have to be dominant. Massive challenge, I'm ready, the boys are ready and we will give absolutely everything to sort it."

Klopp added: "Thanks for all the support. I'm very, very grateful for these kind of things. But they can really think about other things because no one has to worry about me."

Naby Keita will not be fit enough to face his former club despite returning to training this week. The midfielder has not featured since December's 7-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Dayot Upamecano will be a Bayern Munich player in 2021-22, meaning Liverpool and Chelsea must go back to the drawing board.

The Premier League rivals had each been linked with a move for the RB Leipzig centre-back as they look to add to their options at heart of defence.

Now they each must look to different targets come the end of the season, with injuries and poor play at the back having derailed the Reds' hopes of winning a second successive league title.

But which centre-backs could be part of Liverpool and Chelsea's plans to pose a more serious challenge to Manchester City next season?

Here we look at four players who could be playing their football at Liverpool or Stamford Bridge next season.

Bremer

The Torino defender is reported to be Liverpool's top close-season target after an impressive season in Serie A.

His 75 clearances are the second-most in the Italian top flight among defenders, while Bremer has also excelled at making recoveries.

Indeed, he has tallied 114, putting him 11th among defenders to have played at least 10 league games. Only four defenders have won more aerial duels than Bremer's 47.

David Alaba

Chelsea have been linked with the man Upamecano is seemingly set to replace, though Alaba’s wage structure may reportedly be a sticking point for the Blues.

Alaba's versatility to play across the back four and in midfield would certainly appeal to Chelsea and former Borussia Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Austria international has consistently demonstrated his prowess in attack as well as at the back.

He has created at least 17 chances in every season since 2010-11 and has crafted 10 in 19 league appearances this season.

Ibrahima Konate

Could Leipzig be raided again? Both Chelsea and Liverpool have been linked with Konate, the France Under-21 international signed from Sochaux in 2017.

Injuries have been a problem for Konate, who has played only 15 league games since the start of last season.

However, when he has played extensively, he has shown his quality. 

Konate featured 28 times in the Bundesliga in 2018-19 and was sixth in the league with 100 aerial duels won, contributing to 12 clean sheets, a tally only bettered by two players – his Leipzig team-mates Marcel Halstenberg (15) and Willi Orban (13).

Jules Kounde

Liverpool are thought to be keen on Kounde, but they will likely face competition from across Europe for the Sevilla defender's services.

Kounde has emerged as one of the finest young defenders in European football is again excelling this season.

With 106 recoveries in 2020-21, Kounde – who has also previously been linked with Barcelona and Manchester City – has proven a reliable presence in the heart of defence, while he can also start attacks.

His 136 successful passes into the final third are more than Barca's Clement Lenglet (132) and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos (128).

Ramos (84.77) and Lenglet (80.49) have a higher accuracy percentage on those passes than Kounde's 76.84, but at just 22 he has the time and the talent to develop into one of the world's top centre-backs.

Roses are red, violets are blue, have we got the perfect Valentine's Day content for you!

Questionable rhymes aside (okay, very questionable), love is in the air as long-standing couples and newly formed relationships celebrate the day of romance on Sunday.

The world of football is certainly no stranger to the language of love, so before you crack open a bottle of red and exchange cheap knock-off gifts with your significant other why not get some inspiration for love with our Valentine's Day facts with some help from Cupid!

(Well not Cupid, Opta – but the team at Opta are full of love!)

MATT LE KISS-IER LOVES TO SCORE ON VALENTINE'S DAY

Valentine's Day is of course a day for love (and overpaying for those last-minute flowers and cards you forgot to buy…).

Two players have been particularly good at spreading the joy on February 14th with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier and ex-Liverpool striker Michael Owen each scoring three times in the Premier League on this date – the most of all players.

Here's something even more interesting about that stat, though – each man's tally is a result of scoring a Valentine's Day hat-trick.

Le Tissier registered three against the Reds back in 1994, while Owen took home the match ball with a treble versus Sheffield Wednesday four years later.

Owen's three goals are part of 12 Liverpool have tallied on the day of love – comfortably the most by a team. Arsenal follow on seven, with Aston Villa and Southampton on four.

A ROSE FOR THE LADY?

Flowers are synonymous with Valentine's Day but none more so than the rose.

Two players named Rose have plied their trade in the Premier League – Danny (194 appearances) and Matthew (five appearances). The former, of course, is an England international who with his marauding runs from full-back has often been a, ahem, thorn in the side of opponents…

There are other love-themed names to have featured in the top flight. Valentino Lazaro played 13 times in the Premier League for Newcastle United on loan last term, while Valentin Roberge made 10 appearances for north east rivals Sunderland.

The Black Cats also had Donald Love on their books, the defender having previously represented Manchester United once in the top flight.

FOXES RACK UP THE CARDS

Whether from a partner or a secret admirer, it's always nice to receive a card or two on Valentine's Day.

Unless of course you're playing in the Premier League, in which case you want to see the referee keep their cards in their pockets.

In this regard, Leicester City have not been overly successful – the seven yellow cards representing the most received by a team on Valentine's Day. Arsenal follow closely behind with six, with Manchester City on four.

The Foxes also fare badly when it comes to red cards, having picked up two on February 14th – Danny Simpson and Hamza Choudhury account for those dismissals. The only other player to have been sent off on Valentine's Day is Everton hero Duncan Ferguson ... no, we weren't shocked either.

THE BEST BROMANCES

It goes without saying that we don't need to confine our love sharing to one manufactured day of the year…

No, we should be spreading the joy in our hearts all year round and these strike partnerships certainly succeed in that category.

Going back to the start of the 2015-16 season, no two players have combined for more goals than Spurs duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min (33).

In fact, Kane features three times in the top-five – also ranking third with Christian Eriksen (19), and sharing 18 with Dele Alli.

Manchester City pairing Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are second with 20, while Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez (18), who fired Leicester to shock title glory in 2015-16, also feature.

If reports are to be believed, Lionel Messi will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

However, his next destination remains a mystery.

The United States, though, could be next on the list for the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – MIAMI MOVE ON THE CARDS FOR MESSI?

Lionel Messi could be keen on joining David Beckham's Inter Miami in MLS, claims Sport.

Messi, whose contract is set to expire, is tipped to leave Barcelona at the end of the season amid strong links to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League giants Manchester City.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner could be lured to the United States, where Beckham co-owns Inter Miami.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to The Sun, Manchester United are battling Barca and Real Madrid to sign Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde. United are reportedly determined to bolster their defence and Kounde has emerged as a key target.

Liverpool have made Torino defender Bremer their top transfer target at the end of the season, reports the Mirror. Despite the January arrivals of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies, Liverpool still want to strengthen their defence.

- Spanish journalist Siro Lopez says Sergio Ramos has made his decision to leave Madrid. It comes as the likes of United, PSG, Juventus and Chelsea eye the superstar Madrid captain on a free transfer.

Madrid are interested in Real Betis midfielder Nabil Fekir, reports Estadio Deportivo. Inter, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Napoli are also believed to be eyeing the Frenchman.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes Liverpool can still retain their Premier League crown, despite Jurgen Klopp surrendering the title.

City are seven points clear atop the table, and 13 ahead of Liverpool, with a game in hand following Saturday's 3-0 win over Tottenham.

Liverpool manager Klopp admitted the titleholders cannot hope to go back-to-back this season after suffering a 3-1 defeat at Leicester City.

But Guardiola told reporters: "From what I saw, the way they played today against Leicester, of course we have to lose games but of course they can do it.

"It is the same Liverpool that I met in the last years but in the boxes they are not as clinical as they were before. The quality they played, to do what they've done against Leicester, that they've not been able to get past halfway.

"Football is boxes and sometimes you have that period where you have to create more to score and every time they arrive they score. Football is a mood, feeling, not tactics sometimes. Sometimes it leaves us.

"The quality of the team is still there. I don't think they drop the quality of press or play, they always create more than the opponent. I don't like to suffer against them but as a spectator, I always enjoy watching Liverpool."

City remain unbeaten in their last 23 matches in all competitions (W20 D3), conceding just six goals during this period – the Manchester giants have extended their record winning run for a top-flight side across all competitions to 16 matches.

Guardiola's City have not trailed for a single minute in any of their last 15 Premier League games, since a 2-0 loss to Tottenham in November.

In the league's history, only Arsenal have embarked on a longer run of successive games without going behind (a streak of 19 matches between December 1998 – May 1999).

City, meanwhile, are the first side to keep 14 clean sheets from their opening 23 Premier League games in a season since neighbours Manchester United (17) and Chelsea (14) in 2008-09.

Liverpool lost a third successive top-flight game under Jurgen Klopp for the first time and Manchester City extended their record winning run in Saturday's Premier League action.

The Reds conceded three goals in a seven-minute spell as they went down 3-1 to Leicester City - managed by their former boss Brendan Rodgers - at the King Power Stadium.

Klopp's men are now 13 points adrift of City, who brushed aside Tottenham 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium later in the day for their 16th win in a row in all competitions.

Burnley also scored three unanswered goals at Crystal Palace to move further clear of the relegation zone, while Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa played out a 0-0 draw.

Leicester City 3-1 Liverpool: No Vardy party for Klopp after latest setback

Liverpool's trip to Leicester marked Klopp's 300th game in charge of the club, though the German had little to celebrate come full-time after his side capitulated late on.

Klopp became the ninth manager to reach that landmark figure for the Reds and the day initially got off to a good start for his side.

Mohamed Salah gave the visitors the lead with his 10th away league goal of the season - the first player in the division to reach that mark - but then came a Leicester onslaught.

James Maddison made it eight goal involvements in his last nine league outings, before Jamie Vardy put Rodgers' side ahead.

It was the former England international's eighth Premier League goal against Liverpool - only against Arsenal (11 goals) has he found the net more times.

Harvey Barnes then rounded off the scoring with his eighth Premier League goal of the season, making him the highest-scoring English midfielder in the division this term.

The last time Liverpool lost three league games in a row was in November 2014 under Rodgers, who is the first ex-Reds manager to beat his former side since Roy Hodgson did so with West Brom in April 2012.

Manchester City 3-0 Tottenham: Goal-crazy Gundogan shines again for Guardiola's juggernaut

After setting a record for the number of successive wins for an English top-flight club in all competitions with their midweek FA Cup win at Swansea City, the Citizens picked up from where they left off in a straightforward victory against Tottenham.

City have now won 16 games in a row and are unbeaten in 23 in all competitions since losing 2-0 to Spurs in November's reverse fixture, conceding just six goals during that record-breaking run.

Incredibly, Pep Guardiola's men have not trailed for a single minute in any of their 15 league games since that loss at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - only Arsenal, 19 games between December 1998 and May 1999, have embarked on a longer run.

Ilkay Gundogan has been City's star performer across their perfect streak, with his brace here taking him to nine Premier League goals in 2021 - the most of any player across Europe's top five major leagues since the turn of the year.

Rodrigo had earlier given the home side the lead from the penalty spot after getting the nod over goalkeeper Ederson, who may not have got on the scoresheet but did at least register an assist - the third goal he has set up for City in all competitions.

On the back of their 5-4 extra-time loss to Everton in the FA Cup last 16, Spurs have now shipped eight goals in their last two games - the most a Jose Mourinho-managed side has conceded in a two-game period in all competitions.

Crystal Palace 0-3 Burnley: Zaha-less Eagles fail to fly

The result at Selhurst Park had a sense of inevitability about it before a ball was even kicked due to Wilfried Zaha being ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Palace have now lost 18 of their last 20 Premier League games in which star man Zaha has been absent, failing to score in 16 of those 18 defeats.

What was surprising, though, is the fact Burnley netted three times, matching their tally from their previous 10 away league matches combined.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson opened the scoring after five minutes - the first time he has netted in back-to-back Premier League appearances in what was his 108th game in the competition.

Jay Rodriguez's fifth league goal against Palace - only against Nottingham Forest (six) has he bagged more - had Burnley two up and Matt Lowton rounded off the scoring.

It was the right-back's first top-flight strike since April 2013, a run spanning some seven years and 313 days.

Brighton and Hove Albion 0-0 Aston Villa: Martinez repels Seagulls in stalemate

Brighton were held to a goalless draw by Villa but it was not for the want of trying as they attempted 26 shots, which is the most they have ever managed in a Premier League game.

Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez had another inspired game with nine saves in total on his way to keeping a seventh away clean sheet in the Premier League this season - only Brad Friedel in 2009-10 (eight) has kept more in a single campaign for the club.

Brighton continued to push for a goal right until the end and were helped in their pursuit of an opener by substitute Adam Lallana, whose four chances created was the highest of any player on the pitch, despite only playing 28 minutes.

A point for Brighton does at least extend their unbeaten run to six top-flight matches, something they last achieved in November 1981 with a run of eight.

This is perhaps a fixture the neutrals should steer clear of in future, given that the last seven league games in which Brighton have hosted Villa have seen just eight goals scored, with neither team netting more than once in a match.

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