As we head into the decisive matchdays in the Premier League season, match-winners will become worth their weight in gold to all 20 sides in the division.

With that in mind, our latest suggestions for fantasy football enthusiasts include a good number of forwards who will be expected to chip in with goals.

There are also two of the league's most in-form defenders and a goalkeeper who might just have won himself the number one spot.

Our tips for this week – powered by Opta, as always – are below...
 

DEAN HENDERSON

Since taking over Premier League duties while David de Gea was in Spain for the birth of his daughter, Dean Henderson has made it clear he does not intend to relinquish the Manchester United starting spot.

The former Sheffield United loanee has the best save percentage (82.4) in the competition this season, while he has conceded just 0.6 goals per game on average – the best rate of any keeper to play at least 200 minutes.

Henderson will likely keep his spot for the trip to Aston Villa, a team who have beaten United just once in their previous 44 Premier League meetings.

BEN CHILWELL

Fresh from celebrating reaching the Champions League final, Ben Chilwell will be looking to keep up his strong league form for Chelsea.

The left-back has been directly involved in seven goals this season (two scored, five assisted) – no defender in the competition has been involved in more.

Expect him to provide his customary threat on the break when Chelsea take on Manchester City.

AARON WAN-BISSAKA

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer challenged Aaron Wan-Bissaka to improve his attacking output, and the tough-tackling right-back appears to have heeded the call.

Three of his four goal involvements (75 per cent) and 21 of his 26 chances created (81 per cent) have come since the turn of the year.

The United man also boasts 13 Premier League clean sheets this season; among defenders, he is behind only Ruben Dias and Matt Targett (14).

MOHAMED SALAH

Liverpool might have struggled for consistency this season, but Mohamed Salah's goal output has remained impressively high; he has 20 in the league, behind only Harry Kane (21).

On Saturday, he will meet some of his favourite opposition in Southampton, a team against whom he has scored seven goals in seven league appearances, including five in three at Anfield.

Saints have also lost their past three league games away to Liverpool by an aggregate score of 10-0.

GARETH BALE

With a hat-trick against relegated Sheffield United, Gareth Bale proved he could still be a vital asset in Tottenham's European chase.

Bale has scored nine goals in 727 minutes in the division this season, averaging a goal every 81 minutes, which is the best record in the competition in 2020-21.

Should he take his tally to 10 against Leeds United, Bale will set a new record for the longest gap between 10-goal seasons in Premier League history (eight), overtaking Paul Scholes and Nwankwo Kanu (seven).

MASON GREENWOOD

Mason Greenwood has recaptured some of his better form in recent weeks to help United... well, if not catch Manchester City, at least consolidate second place.

The forward has four goals and one assist in his most recent four league games, which is more direct goal involvements than he managed in his previous 28 appearances.

Solskjaer will likely have to rotate given the hectic week ahead, but expect Greenwood to be involved at Villa Park, even if it's as a substitute.

KELECHI IHEANACHO

Speaking of rediscovering form, nobody in the league has done so quite as spectacularly in recent weeks as Kelechi Iheanacho.

The Leicester City striker has scored nine goals and assisted two in his most recent eight league appearances – that's one more direct goal involvement than he managed in his previous 57 league games.

The Foxes are also on a run of eight wins in 10 league games against Friday's opponents Newcastle United.

Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka have earned the top 2021 prizes at the Laureus World Sports Awards, while Patrick Mahomes, Lewis Hamilton and Mohamed Salah were all also recognised.

Tennis dominated the individual honours as Nadal collected a fourth award, named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for the second time.

The Spaniard, who has also previously taken the 2006 Breakthrough Award and the 2014 Comeback Award, was selected after winning the French Open to tie Roger Federer's record of 20 grand slam titles.

Nadal, who said he "can't be happier", added: "Winning the French Open and equalling the 20th grand slam of Roger Federer has been an unforgettable moment.

"It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It's something very special after all the history we have had together on and off court."

Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Osaka, the 2019 Breakthrough winner, claimed a second US Open triumph while supporting the 'Black Lives Matter' movement.

"I think it is important to use my voice, because, for me, I feel like I often hold back a lot and worry about what people think of me, but you know if you have a platform it is very important you use it," the Japanese superstar said.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Mahomes won the Super Bowl last year and played in the big game again earlier in 2021, making him the latest Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award winner.

He and Formula One great Hamilton both joined Osaka in demonstrations against racial inequality.

Two-time Laureus winner Hamilton got his hands on the Athlete Advocate of the Year Award and said: "This past year has been incredibly difficult for so many, but it has also been heartening to see the power of our collective voices spark new conversations and change.

"The impact of each and every one of you who have stood up, is so inspiring, so I want to thank you. Please keep fighting, keep shining your light."

Liverpool's Salah supported a number of causes and led the Reds to Premier League glory, receiving the Laureus Sporting Inspiration Award, but Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga were the World Team of the Year for the second time.

Nadal and Osaka were not the only tennis stars to have their name called, as Billie Jean King took the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award.

Will Lionel Messi commit to Barcelona or move on? 

The Argentine is out of contract in June and suitors are swirling. 

Paris Saint-Germain appear poised to make a bid. 

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MESSI BID

PSG are prepared to offer Messi an "unbeatable" contract to make a sensational move from Barca, according to a report from TNT Sports. 

The report claims the Ligue 1 outfit will offer Messi a two-year deal with an option for a third year. 

The club will attempt to convince Messi that joining PSG will give him more chances to win titles. 

 

ROUND-UP 

- Jurgen Klopp could turn to his former club for a boost if Mohamed Salah leaves Liverpool, as Bild reports a bid for Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho a possibility for the Reds. Manchester United also are eyeing Sancho after a failed move for him last year.

- United also remain interested in reuniting Erling Haaland with Ole Gunner Solskjaer, according to the Telegraph. Haaland, now with Dortmund, played for Solskjaer as a teenager at Molde. 

- Tottenham are looking at a pair of options in the shape of Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro and Fulham centre-back Joachim Andersen, according to the Daily Mail. 

- Juventus centre back Mathhijs de Ligt could be headed to Barcelona, reports Sport, which also says Villarreal goalkeeper Marc Vidal is a possibility for the Camp Nou club. 

Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund are preparing for home quarter-final legs knowing only victories will give them a chance of reaching the Champions League last four.

Jurgen Klopp's side were beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the Spanish capital last week, the scoreline matching that of the 2018 final, when Zinedine Zidane won the trophy for the third year running.

Of course, the Reds have history of famous Anfield comebacks, most notably two years ago when Barcelona were stunned on Merseyside after winning the semi-final first leg 3-0.

Dortmund are also in need of a spirited display. Marco Reus' away goal gave them a foothold in the tie against Manchester City, but a late winner from Phil Foden at the Etihad Stadium means the Premier League leaders have the advantage.

Still, if Dortmund repeat the result of the last time they hosted City in this competition, they will be going through...

 

Liverpool v Real Madrid (1-3 on aggregate): History on Zidane's side

Liverpool's unforgettable 4-0 win over Barcelona was one of two instances out of a possible 11 where they have progressed in a knockout tie after losing the first leg by two or more goals.

They beat Madrid by the same scoreline in March 2009 at Anfield, but Los Blancos' most recent visit to Merseyside ended in a 3-0 win in October 2014. They are now on a run of four consecutive wins over Liverpool.

Given Madrid have scored in each of their previous 23 Champions League knockout games, and the fact they have won 15 of the past 16 ties where they won the first leg by at least two goals, they would appear to be in a very strong position.

If Liverpool are to produce another turnaround, Mohamed Salah will almost certainly be key. His goal in the first leg means he has scored in each of his previous four appearances in the competition, and he could become only the second Liverpool player – after Steven Gerrard in 2007-08 – to do so in five.

Luka Modric is also chasing a small slice of history. The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner has provided an assist in three Champions League games in a row; since at least 2003-04, no Madrid player has ever managed to set up a goal in four consecutive games in this competition.

Borussia Dortmund v Manchester City (1-2 on aggregate): Haaland the main threat to Guardiola's record

Pep Guardiola lost three of his first five meetings with Borussia Dortmund but is unbeaten in his most recent seven, while City have only failed to progress twice in 15 European knockout ties after winning the first leg.

However, Guardiola endured the most recent of those eliminations, with Monaco upsetting City in his first season in charge in 2016-17. In fact, in Champions League history, the team to win the first leg 2-1 at home has been eliminated (15 times) more often than they have progressed (12).

It really could be a game of fine margins. If Dortmund repeat the scoreline from their only previous home game against City in December 2012 (1-0), that will be enough to send them through. However, City have kept clean sheets in four consecutive away games in the competition; another on Wednesday will guarantee their semi-final spot and see them become the first side to record shutouts in five games in a row since Manchester United a decade ago.

Inevitably, all eyes will be on Erling Haaland. The Norway star has only failed to score in three of his 15 Champions League appearances and has never drawn a blank at home for Dortmund, hitting seven in just four games.

Haaland has been tipped to replace Sergio Aguero at City next season, but this could be a chance for the Argentina striker to underline his legacy: a goal here will take him to 37 in the competition, the most of any player for a Premier League club. Aguero likes Bundesliga opposition, too: 11 of his 36 goals have come against sides from Germany, more than he has managed against teams from any other nation.

Where will Kylian Mbappe be playing next season is a question being asked across Europe.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Should Mbappe depart Paris, PSG are reportedly drawing up a list of replacements.

 

TOP STORY – KANE AND SALAH WANTED IN PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain have set their sights on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as possible replacements for Kylian Mbappe, according to Telefoot.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though PSG remain in negotiations over a contract extension.

While PSG are still hopeful, the Ligue 1 holders are eyeing the Premier League should Mbappe leave the French capital.

Kane is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Manchester City, while Salah has previously been linked with Madrid and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are chasing Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. The Sun adds Chelsea are also interested in the Italy star.

Juventus and PSG could exchange Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in a swap deal, says Corriere dello Sport. Icardi's future is up in the air, despite only joining PSG permanently from Inter last year, while countryman Dybala is reportedly nearing an exit.

- AS Diario claims United are keeping tabs on Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, who has also been linked with neighbours City. United have also been credited with interest in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig's Liverpool target Ibrahima Konate as well as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane.

- Eintracht Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter is set to replace outgoing boss Marco Rose at Borussia Monchengladbach, reports Kicker. Rose is poised to take charge of Borussia Dortmund.

Liverpool left it late to secure a first Premier League win at home in 2021, with Trent Alexander-Arnold's superb stoppage-time strike downing Aston Villa 2-1 at Anfield.

The Reds rallied from a goal down to secure three crucial points in terms of the top-four battle, while the result is also a timely boost with a Champions League second leg against Real Madrid coming up in midweek.

Ollie Watkins – who scored a hat-trick in a stunning 7-2 win for his side when Liverpool visited Villa Park early in the season - gave the visitors a half-time advantage on Merseyside, his left-footed shot squeezing underneath Alisson.

Roberto Firmino had a potential equaliser ruled out by the video assistant referee before the interval, but Mohamed Salah scored the Reds' first home goal from open play in the league in 765 minutes to level early in the second half.

Liverpool had a let-off when Trezeguet hit the post but, with England boss Gareth Southgate watching on, Alexander-Arnold collected a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and curled in a late winner.

It's June 25, 2020. Thousands of Liverpool fans have ignored government advice as they gather at Anfield for a very special occasion – the celebration of a first league title in 30 years.

Despite it looking a certainty for months, many Reds fans hadn't allowed themselves to be drawn in by the hysteria too early for fear of more heartache, but Chelsea's 2-1 win over Manchester City in London meant they had to wait no longer.

In the period between their two most recent top-flight titles – the last one coming even before the establishment of the Premier League – bitter rivals Manchester United lifted the trophy no fewer than 13 times.

But the title win was made even more significant by the manner of it, their dominance leaving everyone else well behind in the dust. Clinching the trophy with seven games to spare was a new record.

As fans clambered over the gates outside the Kop End and set off fireworks near the stadium, many – supporter or not – will have looked at those scenes and felt it was an image the rest would have to get used to, such had been Liverpool's consistency over the previous two years.

Yet, here we are in April 2021, approaching the Premier League's final straight with the defending champions looking hard-pressed to even finish in the top four.

A foreshadowing?

When Jurgen Klopp announced his decision to leave Borussia Dortmund in 2015, there was an initial sense of shock that was soon offset by the feeling it was perhaps to be expected. It was a testing season, and although a late upturn after the announcement saw them qualify for Europe, there was no getting away from the fact they had under-achieved.

While it was certainly not the only problem, one major issue for Klopp that season was injuries – at the time, it was estimated Dortmund's first-team players missed over 1,600 days due to injuries or illness.

As a base for comparison, Sky Sports claimed in early March that Liverpool players had lost just over 1,000 days to illness or injury this term. Granted, such data is difficult to nail down because exact timeframes aren't always confirmed by the clubs, however it does at least highlight a similarity.

Of course, another key component with regards to 2014-15 at Dortmund was the fact they lost Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich. Not only did he score 20 Bundesliga goals the previous season, the Poland striker helped knit their play together in the final third. Without him, so much changed in their attack.

Four Dortmund players scored nine or more Bundesliga goals in 2013-14, but only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – tasked with stepping up in Lewandowski's absence – managed this in 2014-15. Even then, his haul of 16 was only a personal improvement of three.

With key players frequently missing and new arrivals, such as Ciro Immobile, struggling to fit in, it's perhaps no wonder Dortmund's conversion rate dropped from 13 per cent to 8.3 – the only occasion it went below 11 per cent for Klopp at the club.

A common theory for his demise at Dortmund was the idea that Klopp had run the team into the ground after several years of playing high-intensity football, which subsequently led to more muscular injuries.

Dortmund engaged in 14.4 pressed sequences – defined as instances where the opponent has three or fewer passes in a sequence and it ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game in each of Klopp's final two seasons, but his Liverpool side this term averages 18.9 each match, up slightly from 18 in 2019-20. This highlights the quality of the Reds' pressing style, but it also shows a significant increase in intensity even from his Dortmund days.

Although the correlation is difficult to prove conclusively, links between high-intensity football styles and muscle injuries are nothing new. If this was partly to blame for Dortmund's increased absences list, then Liverpool's situation – given their even greater intensity – appears comparable.

But while it's impossible to ignore Liverpool's injury situation, to suggest that's where their issues end would seemingly be false.

Below the usual standards

Of course, as Klopp has pointed out before, unplanned absences can have significant knock-on effects throughout the team.

So, the fact Virgil van Dijk has been out since October won't have just impacted Liverpool's defensive solidity, but it will have changed how they play out from the back and subsequently affected the midfield because the likes of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have had to fill in away from their usual roles.

However, where Liverpool seem to have had the most issues in 2020-21 compared to last season is actually in attack, with their goals-per-game average decreasing from 2.2 to 1.65.

Having converted 14.4 per cent of their shots in 2019-20, they are now netting at a rate of 11.1 percent – only in Klopp's first season at Anfield have the Reds recorded worse in a full campaign (10.8).

It's not as if Liverpool are having significantly fewer shots either, as they are averaging 15 every 90 minutes as opposed to 15.5 last term, however, some potential explainers do appear when you look a little closer at those shots.

Liverpool are trying their luck from outside the box more often (5.1 per game, up from 4.6) and getting fewer away inside the area than before (9.9, down from 11). On top of this, they have had just nine (0.31 per game) shots from fast breaks in 2020-21, less than half as often as either 2019-20 (0.73) and 2018-19 (0.63).

This all suggests the opposition is sitting deeper against Liverpool than before, restricting space better and limiting the options of Klopp's men in attack – the fact they're having more long-range attempts could be a sign of collective frustration, or a lack of invention.

Supporting the idea teams are sitting off Liverpool a little more is the fact they are averaging 191.7 passes in the final third each game. This figure was 180.9 in 2019-20 and 173.8 the year before – opponents are seemingly happier to absorb pressure, more confident that Klopp's side are unable to break them down.

This potentially goes some way to explaining why Sadio Mane has had a less fruitful season in front of goal, as his xG maps for this term and last show he's not having as much of an impact in the six-yard box.

He has only scored one Premier League goal in this part of the area during 2020-21, whereas last season he scored four, suggesting he possessed something of a poacher's instinct as well as a knack for the spectacular.

While his haul of seven goals is by no means dreadful, it's 3.3 lower than his xG value, showing he's missing good-quality chances on a more regular basis than he'd be expected. By comparison, in 2020-21 he overperformed his xG by 4.3 (18 goals, 13.7 xG) and the year before he boasted a 6.9 xG differential (22 goals, 15.1 xG).

This means that, while he was living up to his abilities as an elite-level chance-taker for the past two years, this term he appears to be struggling to adapt to his surroundings, with defences packed a little tighter.

With Mohamed Salah, however, there's been a slight change in the other direction in that his non-penalty xG of nine is actually less than the 11 non-penalty goals he's scored – in 2019-20 he had a negative 0.8 xG differential (16 goals, 16.8 xG).

As such, Salah appears to be handling the changes better than Mane despite opposition setups also causing him to think differently about his shots. Again, xG maps show the Egyptian isn't able to get as many high-xG shots off from the centre of the area, instead being forced slightly more towards the right, yet he's still netting with fine frequency.

Working smarter to restore pride

Whether Salah's outperforming of xG is sustainable or not is another matter, and one only time can tell, though Liverpool will likely need even more from him to prevent their season finishing with a whimper.

Similarly, Mane rediscovering his best form would be a major boost, and that appears to hinge on him dealing better with less space or getting on the end of more deliveries into the danger zone.

Liverpool's lengthy injury list has undoubtedly had some impact in 2020-21, yet it also seems clear they could work smarter in light of opponents approaching their fixtures slightly differently.

Upcoming games against Arsenal and Real Madrid could potentially provide the tonic given neither is likely to set up particularly defensively, and this might play into the hands of Mane.

A make-or-break week is on the horizon – defeat to the Gunners could leave the Reds eight points adrift of fourth, while losing in Madrid will likely ruin their Champions League hopes.

As people clamour to proclaim Liverpool the worst Premier League champions ever, it's time to restore a little dignity.

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah refused to rule out an Anfield exit as he hinted at a move to LaLiga amid links to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Salah is contracted to Premier League champions Liverpool until 2023, but his future has become a talking point having previously refused to dismiss the prospect of joining Madrid or Barca in an interview with Diario AS in December.

The Egypt international has been a revelation since leaving Serie A outfit Roma for Liverpool in 2017, spearheading the Reds to Champions League and Premier League glory.

As Liverpool prepare to face Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, with the opening leg on April 6, Salah was asked about his future.

"It's not up to me," Salah – who has scored a joint-high 17 Premier League goals this season – told Marca when asked if it is time to leave Liverpool.

"We'll see what happens but I prefer not to talk about that now."

When pressed on whether a move to Spain appeals, having already experienced England and Italy, Salah added: "I hope to be able to play for many more years. Why not?

"No one knows what's going to happen in the future, so... maybe one day, yes."

Salah's relationship with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has made headlines amid reported tension between the pair.

Liverpool forward Salah was visibly frustrated when he was substituted by Klopp in the Premier League defeat to Chelsea earlier this month, with the German boss forced to play down the issue.

"It's a normal relationship between two professionals," Salah replied after being asked about his relationship with Klopp. "That's how I'd describe it."

The upcoming blockbuster Champions League tie will be a reunion between Liverpool's Salah and Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.

Salah was injured and forced to be substituted with a shoulder injury in the 2018 Champions League final after being hauled down by Ramos as Madrid went on to beat Liverpool 3-1.

Ramos was criticised for the incident, which impacted Salah's participation at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

"That game is in the past, so I don't think about it," Salah said. "I'm thinking about the team. Everyone is focused on their team and everyone wants to win... that's it."

Mohamed Salah knows Liverpool are "not in the best shape" but says they must show fight for the remainder of the season after reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.

Salah scored his 25th goal of the season and Sadio Mane added a second four minutes later in the second half as the Reds beat RB Leipzig 2-0 to seal a 4-0 aggregate victory.

The Premier League champions travelled to Budapest for the second leg on Wednesday smarting from a club-record sixth consecutive home defeat in the league at the hands of Fulham.

Jurgen Klopp's men face a battle to secure a top-four finish after dropping to eighth spot and may yet have to win the Champions League in order to play in the competition next season.

Liverpool posed much more of an attacking threat at the Puskas Arena, where Salah and Mane also scored in the first leg, hitting the target with seven of their 12 shots and certainly not resembling a side devoid of confidence.

Leading scorer Salah says the six-time champions of Europe must not put too much pressure on themselves as they attempt to turn the tide.

He told BT Sport: "It is a big result for us. We came here after losing a few games in the Premier League. The team is not in the best shape but we want to fight in the Champions League and also fight in the Premier League and see what can happen.

"I would love to score more. I am happy I scored today and the team won, that is the most important thing.

"We have had a few injuries this season, we have been unlucky but the most important thing is we have to keep fighting. We just have to take each game at a time and not look to the big picture because if you look to the big picture there can be too much pressure.

"It has been tough in the Premier League, we don't want it to be tough. It is part of the game. The last couple of years we were winning and flying, this year we have had injuries, it is hard. Hopefully, now we have two or three or four centre-backs we can keep winning."

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane struck in the space of four second-half minutes as Liverpool beat RB Leipzig 2-0 to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Jurgen Klopp’s side travelled to the Puskas Arena smarting from suffering a sixth consecutive home defeat in the Premier League at the hands of Fulham, but there was a sense of deja vu as they moved into the last right.

At the same venue where Salah and Mane gave the Reds a 2-0 first-leg advantage in what was Leipzig's home leg, the Reds forwards were on target once again to seal a 4-0 aggregate win.

Liverpool wasted a host of chances, but Alexander Sorloth hitting the crossbar was the closest Leipzig came as last season's semi-finalists bowed out.

Mane volleyed over amid a bright start for the Premier League champions, who had Fabinho back in midfield, before Dani Olmo was denied by the alert Alisson at the other end.

Liverpool did not resemble a side devoid of confidence and Peter Gulacsi showed sharp reactions to palm Diogo Jota's powerful header from a corner beyond the crossbar.

Salah wasted a great opportunity to open the scoring when Thiago's sublime pass sent him clear, but the forward shot straight at Gulacsi before he and Mane were unable to finish following up.

Emil Forsberg dragged a shot tamely wide and Jota spurned a golden chance when he broke through the middle but failed to beat Gulacsi, with the Portugal international then only finding the side-netting when he should have scored following an Dayot Upamecano error on the stroke of half-time.

Jota allowed Gulacsi to save all too easily yet again 10 minutes into the second half and Salah blazed the rebound over the bar as the breakthrough remained elusive. 

Sorloth, introduced as a half-time substitute, headed Hee-Chan Hwang's inviting cross against the bar midway through the second half, with Leipzig battling to stay in the competition.

Liverpool had one foot in the last eight 20 minutes from time, though - Jota setting up Salah in a rapid attack and the Egypt international cutting into the penalty area before finding the bottom corner with his left foot.

Divock Origi then whipped in a brilliant cross for Mane to tuck home a second as Klopp's men breezed through. 

Last season's beaten finalists Paris Saint-Germain are red-hot favourites to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals when Barcelona visit the Parc des Princes for the second leg of their last-16 clash on Wednesday. 

Mauricio Pochettino's side hold a three-goal advantage after Kylian Mbappe's hat-trick helped them seal a stunning 4-1 win over Barca in the first leg last month.

Liverpool are in a strong position to join them in the last eight, with Jurgen Klopp's side taking on RB Leipzig at Anfield after running out 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture. 

The German club, though, might just fancy their chances of causing an upset against the Premier League champions, who have lost six of their last eight matches across all competitions. 

We used Opta numbers to preview the two clashes.

Paris Saint-Germain (4) v (1) Barcelona: Blaugrana out to make history

Barca will have to make history if they are to book the most unlikely of last-eight places, with no side ever having progressed in the competition after losing the first leg at home by a margin of three goals.

The game marks the first Champions League meeting between the sides at the Parc des Princes since February 2017, when the Ligue 1 team recorded a 4-0 victory. 

That remains PSG's biggest margin of victory in a home knockout game in the competition, while it is also Barca's joint-heaviest defeat in a knockout game away from home in the competition (also 0-4 against Liverpool in May 2019 and against Bayern in April 2013).

While the onus is on Barca to score freely, do not be surprised to see the hosts do just that themselves. They have netted at least once in each of their last 22 Champions League games at home (61 goals), in a run that dates back to December 2015. 

Spearheading their attack will be Mbappe, who will become the youngest player to reach 25 goals in the Champions League if he scores (aged 22 years and 80 days), taking the record from Lionel Messi. 

Barca talisman Messi has only ended on the losing side in four of the 75 Champions League games he has scored in. However, half of these have come against PSG – the first-leg defeat and a 3-2 loss at the Parc des Princes in September 2014.

Should Messi and his team-mates slip to defeat it will mark the first time the LaLiga giants have lost three Champions League matches in a row.

Liverpool (2) v (0) RB Leipzig: Reds have the edge over German opposition 

With a two-goal advantage from the first leg, Liverpool will expect to continue their run of never having been eliminated from a Champions League knockout tie after winning away from home in the first leg.

The game will be the 21st time the Reds have hosted German opposition across all European competitions. They are unbeaten in the previous 20 of those (16 wins, four draws), scoring 52 goals and conceding just nine.  

Central to their chances of extending that run will be two players who have enjoyed themselves in the Champions League in recent seasons. 

Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Roberto Firmino is one of only three players in double figures for both goals (15) and assists (11) in the competition, along with Messi and Mbappe. 

Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, is Liverpool's top scorer in the competition, netting 23 goals in 40 games for the Reds. If he scores a brace in this game, he will reach 25 goals for an English club in the second-fewest appearances, following Ruud van Nistelrooy for Manchester United (27).

If Leipzig are to have any chance of causing an upset they will need to improve dramatically on their last away clash with an English side, the Bundesliga club suffering their heaviest defeat in European competition against Manchester United at Old Trafford back in October (0-5).

Only four of their 12 wins in the Champions League have been achieved by more than a one-goal margin (33 per cent).

However, the last time they won by two or more goals in the knockout stages of the competition was against Spurs last season (3-0 in the last-16 second leg).

Mohamed Salah has not given Jurgen Klopp sufficient reason to sit down for "a proper talk" about his Liverpool future, the Reds boss insists.

Egypt forward Salah has been a key figure at Anfield since joining from Roma in June 2017, winning the Champions League and Premier League under the guidance of manager Klopp.

This season has seen speculation that Salah may not be as happy with Liverpool as they are with him, amid rumours he could consider leaving the club.

When Klopp substituted Salah 62 minutes into Thursday's league clash with Chelsea, body language suggested  was far from happy with no longer being out on the pitch.

Liverpool, who were 1-0 down at the time of the change, could not find an equaliser and slid to a fifth successive home defeat in the Premier League, a result that damages their prospects of Champions League involvement next season. On Sunday they face Fulham, again at Anfield.

Asked how he would stave off any problem with Salah, Klopp said: "Talking, that's how it always is. I'm not even sure if this situation is now the reason for a proper talk about it.

"Because there were different things. We are 1-0 down, that makes no player happy, you go off and you cannot react how you react in different ways because you are not happy about the game.

"You are a striker and you think you should stay on the pitch, that's completely clear and not an issue. It's just normal life. These things are not our problem."

Salah has had 16 shots of which seven have been on target across his last seven appearances, having had 26 attempts and 13 on target in the seven previous games, 

That suggests form reflective of Liverpool's overall decline since the turn of the year.

They have lost eight matches in 2021 already; however, Klopp says he has no issues with Salah's productivity this season, describing his goalscoring as "absolutely outstanding".

And there he has a strong point, with Salah already bagging 24 goals in 37 games during this campaign, compared to 23 in 48 last term.

He is set to finish well short of the 44 in 52 games he achieved in 2017-18, his first season with the Reds, but so far this campaign he is matching his 'big chance' conversion rate from that season.

Salah took 28 of his 56 big chances in 2017-18 and has put away 16 of 32 this season, for 50 per cent hit rates in each campaign.

He is creating fewer chances this season, however, down from an average of 1.8 last term and a debut-season high of 2.12 to a more modest 1.48 per game.

Klopp suggested giving Salah a rest on Thursday could benefit Liverpool in games to come, as he repudiated any suggestion of unrest in their relationship.

"I could have changed other players as well, that's true," Klopp said.

"It was more about who we bring on. He looked for me like he felt intensity. He probably saw it completely different. That's absolutely fine.

"Half an hour without Mo Salah, maybe that's the reason why he can play on Sunday as well. We make these decisions in the moment, and not with any thoughts in behind.

"The problem is you have to explain it after the game. These kind of stories, so far they didn't happen. I cannot guarantee for the future for all time that it will never happen, but these kind of discussions, we never had.

"I make a decision, the boys accept it. We came together to the top and we came together to the point here, and we will sort it together.

"I cannot not change a player just because it creates a story afterwards. You do it because you think in the moment it's right and you are allowed to judge it afterwards if it was right."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp explained his surprising decision to withdraw Mohamed Salah as the struggling Premier League champions chased a goal during their 1-0 defeat to Chelsea, insisting he did not want to risk an injury for the Reds star.

With Liverpool still trailing to a first-half Mason Mount strike just past the hour mark, Klopp substituted top scorer Salah as part of a double change that saw Diogo Jota and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain enter the fray on Thursday.

Salah made no attempt to hide his displeasure as he took to the bench at Anfield, while his agent somewhat cryptically shared a tweet featuring only a full stop in the immediate aftermath.

However, speaking in his post-match news conference, Klopp played down the significance of the moment, insisting Salah was substituted only to guard against fatigue.

"That the boys look disappointed, that's not a problem. I didn't see what Mo did," Klopp told reporters.
 
"The reason for the substitution... I could have changed other players in that moment, that's true, but the reason was that he looked in that moment like he felt the intensity really and I didn't want to risk him, that's all. 

"It's very rare, I've known him now long, and usually Mo looks surprisingly fresh until the end. 

"[But] he didn't look fresh anymore and I thought that's a sign; in our situation I didn't want to risk him."

Having previously gone three-and-a-half years without a Premier League defeat at Anfield, Liverpool have now lost their last five home outings in the top-flight – the longest run in the club's history.

Liverpool are now seventh in the Premier League, four points adrift of the top four and 22 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

Asked if he had spoken to his players about what needs to be done to arrest that alarming slide, Klopp replied: "Not tonight. I try to be as honest as possible. I told the boys what I saw tonight."

Pushed on what he meant by honesty, the Reds boss added: "It's not that we go for any kind of excuses in these moments. 

"These games are decided in moments, it was always like this. And to get these moments back you have to fight and in some moments you have to fight on a different level as well. 

"That's what I told the boys. In these moments, it's not about tactical things or stuff like that, it's about heart and these kind of things. 

"I'm not saying that the boys didn't show heart, I know that they [did] their best, but talk about the decisive two/three/four per cent. 

"[That] we will start blaming the circumstances or whatever, that's just not the case. 

"We had a good team, a really good team on the pitch tonight, and we played in a lot of moments good football. 

"But not in the decisive moments good enough and there's only one person or group to criticise for that: that's me and us. That's what I told the boys."

Mohamed Salah played like Lionel Messi in training at Chelsea and Jose Mourinho failed to get the best out of the star forward, according to former Blues team-mate Filipe Luis.

Chelsea bought Salah to the Premier League in January 2014 after striking a reported £11million fee with Swiss side Basel.

But it was an unhappy spell for the Egypt international under Mourinho, with Salah starting just 10 games, scoring twice and supplying three assists before being shipped off on loan to Fiorentina a year later.

A spell at Roma followed his time with the Viola and it was his impressive performances in Serie A that convinced Liverpool to give him a second chance in English football.

With the Reds, Salah has become a Premier League and Champions League winner, and Filipe Luis – who similar difficulties forcing his way into Mourinho's plans – said his talent was always evident at Stamford Bridge.

"I won the league with him [Mourinho]. But he didn't get the best out of me, just as he didn't with Salah," the former Brazil international told the Guardian.

"When he went Fiorentina, I said: 'Why are you going, Momo? This is Chelsea.' And he said: 'I need to play.' I thought: 'This kid's good.' He never went for money or to win more; he went to show he could play. In training he was like Messi. Really, like Messi. Ask anyone."

Filipe Luis arrived at Chelsea in July 2014 having just won LaLiga with Atletico Madrid, a club with whom he was also a Copa del Rey and Europa League winner and a Champions League runner-up prior to moving to London.

Despite his reputation as one of the best left-backs in the world at that time, Mourinho afforded him just 26 appearances in all competitions and nine starts in the Premier League.

However, reflecting on that time in his career Filipe Luis insists he harbours no ill will towards Mourinho and accepts the form of Cesar Azpilicueta meant he could have few complaints.

"I haven't told anyone this but the first game I knocked on [Jose] Mourinho's door," he said. "'Can I talk to you?' 'Come in.' 'Why did you bring me here? You took me from a place I was happy, where I played every week. You signed me to play. And the first day against Burnley I'm on the bench. Why not leave me at Atletico? Why bring me here not to play?' 

"He said he didn't think I was playing well and Azpilicueta was, that he didn't feel as secure with me. I had to win my place; I couldn't expect to be first choice on reputation. And looking back, he was right.

"He played so well he never gave me a chance. Mourinho rotated so I did get chances but I didn't start big games because the team was playing perfectly. We had great players. Eden Hazard, [Cesc] Fabregas, Diego Costa."

Hazard, a modern-day Blues great, was a player who Filipe Luis was particularly enthralled by.

"Alongside Neymar, Eden's the best I've played with. He's up there with Messi, winning games alone. 

"He didn't run to defend much, didn't train well, and five minutes before games he'd be playing Mario Kart in the dressing room. He trained and warmed up laces untied. But he'd go out and no one could take the ball. He'd dribble three or four. If opponents got too close, he'd just pull away, so powerful.

"So intelligent: one-two, combine, go alone; assist, score, everything. Maybe he lacks the ambition to say 'I'll be the world's best', because he could be. For talent, the best. 

"Cesc had an extraordinary season too. And Costa. Then the defence was incredible. John Terry's one of the best captains I've had. Even the bench: Oscar, Obi Mikel, Mohamed Salah, [Andre] Schurrle, Kurt Zouma, [Didier] Drogba, Loic Remy. Some team."

It turns out all Liverpool needed was a short midweek break to Budapest to reconnect, restore some confidence and rediscover their ruthless streak.

Tuesday's 2-0 triumph over RB Leipzig in the Hungarian capital was a much-needed boost for Jurgen Klopp's squad, as the Champions League seemingly holds their only hope of silverware.

Before the second leg, though, they resume a Premier League campaign that has seen the focus switch from retaining the title to finishing in the top four. With no club spared from feeling the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Reds can ill-afford to miss out on the monetary benefits that come from playing in Europe's premier competition.

Next up: the Merseyside derby on Saturday. Liverpool welcome their neighbours to Anfield having lost three league games on the spin for the first time in Klopp's reign, though the European trip helped quickly lift the gloom that had engulfed them following the disheartening 3-1 defeat to Leicester City.

Mohamed Salah scored against Leipzig, meaning the Egyptian now has 24 in all competitions. There was also a goal for Sadio Mane, who – unlike his fellow forward – has not quite hit the same heights as he reached previously.

A one-on-one finish lifted Mane's tally for the season to 11 in 31 appearances, though just seven of those goals have come in league action. The Senegal forward finished level for the Golden Boot with Salah and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018-19 on 22 goals, while last term he managed 18.

It will take a strong finish down the stretch to get close to those figures again, but is there a clear reason for Mane's dip in productivity?


ISSUES UP FRONT - AND AT THE BACK

After 24 games in 2019-20, runaway leaders Liverpool had scored 56 goals and let in 15. At the same stage this season, they have conceded 32. Without a solid foundation to build on, the sense of invincibility has disappeared, replaced instead by a vulnerability that offers opponents hope, provided they repel what comes their way.

The attack could help mask some of those defensive deficiencies. While they have managed fewer goals this season (45), the numbers have remained relatively consistent with previous years.

Though Liverpool's shot conversion rate of 17.58 per cent is slightly lower, they have done better when it comes to putting away big chances, per Opta data. At 45.31 per cent, the Reds have been more successful than a season ago (40.37), albeit their minutes-per-goal average is obviously up (48 compared to 40.24, while in the 2018-19 season it went even lower, down at 38.43).

After consistent improvement, a plateau or a dip was always going to come along at some stage. What was not expected, however, is the number of injuries Klopp has had to deal with. It should not be underestimated how the rotation behind the established forward line has had an effect, particularly with midfield regulars Fabinho and Jordan Henderson having to fill in for absent centre-backs.


TARGET PRACTICE REQUIRED

Key absences have obviously hampered Liverpool, but the established trio up top have remained relatively consistent in Klopp's line-ups. Diogo Jota did arrive to provide competition, yet his fast start to life on Merseyside was put on hold by a long-term injury. Yes, even new recruits were not safe from suffering pain.

Predominantly playing on the left side of a front three, Mane has occupied similar positions to the previous season. His total number of shots appears on course to be similar, though there has been a noticeable decline when it comes to converting them.

His success rate of 14.29 per cent with attempts is his lowest since signing for the club. There is no such regression when it comes to taking big chances, yet his average of 255 minutes per goal is not just a major rise on previous years with Liverpool, but also higher than either of his seasons spent with Southampton.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Mane is underperforming in terms of his xG (expected goals) rate for 2020-21, with his seven goals from 63 attempts under his expected total of 9.3. In contrast, when helping secure a long-awaited championship, Liverpool's first in the top flight for 30 years, he hit 18 goals - a total managed from 77 shots - to comfortably outperform his xG of 13.7.


DERBY DAYS PROVIDE FOND MEMORIES

Having scored against Leipzig, Mane will be aiming to once again make an impact in what looks to be a pivotal derby for both teams. 

The 28-year-old was on target against Everton in the 2-2 result at Goodison Park back in October, a game that changed Liverpool's course dramatically as Virgil van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury. There were signs of cracks appearing before then - most noticeably in the shock 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa - but the Dutchman’s absence continues to be keenly felt.

The Reds leaned heavily on Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold as attacking outlets on their way to being crowned champions. The full-back pairing had 16 assists between them, the former leading the way with 10 (vastly higher than his xA - expected assists - value of 4.88).

This term, they have not quite had the same impact going forwards. They have three assists each, in line with their xA figures. Mane has also contributed the same number, having registered seven in the league in 2019-20.

Fatigue - both mental and physical - could also be an issue for Mane and his team-mates. According to former Liverpool player Vladimir Smicer, it would be understandable considering what they have been through, not just across the past few months but indeed ever since their unlikely run to the Champions League final in 2018. 

"Sometimes we are missing a bit of freshness in important moments in the game, which is the difference in regard to last season," Smicer told Stats Perform News courtesy of KIA.

"Even the VAR decisions against Liverpool this year, where last year everything was perfect, going well. 

"That might be why even Mane – a fantastic player, in my eyes one of the best players in the world – is suffering a little bit, whether it be with fewer goals, or his offensive potency."

Everton could be just the opponents to raise levels again, though. Mane has never lost a derby meeting in his Liverpool career, a record he will be keen to protect this weekend.

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