Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after beating Robert Lewandowski to the most sought-after individual prize in football.

The Paris Saint-Germain star may have endured a somewhat slow start to life in France this season, but before that he was electric for Barcelona and Argentina.

It was surely his long-awaited first trophy success with La Albiceleste that gave Messi the edge over Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski. 

Messi captained Argentina to Copa America success in July, ending their 28-year drought in major international competitions.

 

At the Maracana – the scene of Argentina's 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany – Messi helped Lionel Scaloni's men to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals and Copa hosts Brazil.

He had previously lost Copa finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, briefly retiring after missing his penalty in the shootout that saw the trophy slip from their grasp in the latter.

Messi may not have had the decisive impact in this year's final, but over the course of the tournament he was deemed to have been the best player, scoring four goals and setting up another five – no one bettered him in either metric.

 

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Messi's success in Brazil seemed to tip the scales in his favour, with the 34-year-old increasing his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes, the Manchester United forward now two back on five after finishing sixth in the voting this time around.

Lewandowski did, however, win the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Cristiano Ronaldo lost ground in his quest to claim more Ballon d'Or awards than his rival Lionel Messi, finishing sixth while the Argentine claimed a historic seventh award.

It is the first time the Portugal forward, who was not in attendance at the ceremony in Paris on Monday, has not been named in the top three since 2010, when Messi – who won his second prize that year – was joined by then Barcelona team-mates Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Ronaldo managed 30 goals at club level in 2021 for Juventus and Manchester United, while also becoming the all-time top scorer in men's international football.

The 36-year-old finishes above Paris Saint-Germain pair Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kylian Mbappe as well as Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah.

Salah and Mbappe both outscored Ronaldo at club level this calendar year, scoring 32 and 37 goals across all competitions, but finished seventh and ninth respectively.

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante and Real Madrid centre-forward Karim Benzema claimed the fifth and fourth spots, with Ronaldo's former team-mate enjoying a prolific year, managing 34 goals and 12 assists for Los Blancos in all competitions.

Jorginho, who won the Euros with Italy and claimed the Champions League with Chelsea, makes it into the top three behind Messi and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who finished second but won the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season, while he has netted 53 times in 2021.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballon d'Or top 10:

1. Lionel Messi (PSG and Argentina)
2. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich and Poland)
3. Jorginho (Chelsea and Italy)
4. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
5. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea and France)
6. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United and Portugal)
7. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)
8. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
9. Kylian Mbappe (PSG and France)
10. Gianluigi Donnarumma (PSG and Italy)

Lionel Messi has edged out Robert Lewandowski to the 2021 Ballon d'Or award, a seventh of his magnificent career.

World football's most prestigious individual accolade was back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony taking place in Paris on Monday, where Messi was announced as the winner with Lewandowski second.

The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was pipped by Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year in the running for the 2021 iteration.

Lewandowski did get the consolation prize of the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Was it the right choice, though? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses why the Argentinian may have been awarded this year's prize.

Last season: Barca swansong v Muller's record

Few anticipated that the first half of 2021 would also be the final half-season of Messi's time at Barcelona.

His sensational free transfer to PSG at the end of the campaign was forced by financial issues at the Catalan club, and he bid a tearful goodbye to the Camp Nou, but not before signing off with a few more goals.

Messi's last LaLiga campaign before heading off to France saw him bag 30 goals in 35 games, with a further five in six Champions League games.

However, team awards were scarce, with just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts. Barca finished a meek third in LaLiga, and were eliminated – somewhat ironically – by PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Something that may have counted against Lewandowski was his own lack of silverware compared to the previous year, where he and Bayern hoovered up a remarkable treble, including the Champions League. They did though still retain the Bundesliga title with relative ease, as well as clinching the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

They were eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, also by a pre-Messi PSG, though this can hardly be blamed on the Polish striker, who missed both legs of the tie through injury.

Lewandowski himself remained in outstanding form, and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 for Die Roten in just 29 league games, with a deadly shot conversion percentage across the season of 29.93.

It may have been Messi's superior creativity that helped sway the judges, creating 77 chances in his 35 league games, 22 of which were big chances, compared to 32 and nine from Lewandowski in his 29 league appearances in Germany.

The former Barca man did only manage two more assists than Lewandowski (nine to seven) but completed 159 dribbles and 1,068 successful passes ending in the final third, compared to the Pole's 22 and 237. Of course, it should be noted that Messi's role is typically a deeper one than Lewandowski's, so those latter statistics are not too surprising.

This season: New adventures v same old story

Messi's start to a new life in a new league has not exactly matched the inevitable expectations that accompanied his arrival in Paris.

The 34-year-old has just one goal in seven appearances in Ligue 1 with a shot conversion percentage of just 4.17, though he does have three in four Champions League games for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Lewandowski has continued to plunder goals against all-comers, with 25 goals in 20 games in all competitions for Bayern, including an incredible nine in five Champions League games, and his shot conversion rate is currently even better than last season at 30.86 per cent.

In all competitions, the former Borussia Dortmund striker has played almost twice as many games as Messi (20 to 11) so it is tricky to compare them too accurately in terms of output, but Lewandowski has created 26 chances to Messi's 18, with six big chances created to five, while Messi has the edge on assists (three to two), dribbles completed (22 to 20) and successful passes ending in the final third (222 to 146).

So far you would have to say it is the Pole who is impressing most in the current campaign, having also had a more productive season last time out, so where exactly did Messi win this award?

 

Internationals: Argentina v Poland

Despite being an individual award, there is no doubt that team accolades often play a big part in swaying the judges, and an eventful pre-season for Messi at club level was arguably the only thing that could possibly have overshadowed what happened at international level as he finally lifted his first trophy in an Argentina shirt.

Messi scored four goals and gave five assists as he led the Albiceleste to their first Copa America title since 1993, being involved in nine of the 12 goals scored by Argentina at the tournament.

Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament.

Their star striker still managed to score three goals in three games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.

 

Very little creates debate in football quite like the Ballon d'Or, and on the face of it this year's trophy could have gone either way, with honourable mentions for the likes of Jorginho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Karim Benzema.

It is Messi's Ballon d'Or in 2021 though, and it seems that Copa America success is what tipped it in his favour. PSG fans will be hoping that a domestic trophy haul over the next 12 months can see him installed as favourite to secure his eighth award next year, ahead of potentially his last attempt at World Cup success with Argentina.

Lionel Messi has won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after beating Robert Lewandowski to the most sought-after individual prize in football.

The Paris Saint-Germain star may have endured a somewhat slow start to life in France this season, but before that he was electric for Barcelona and Argentina.

It was surely his long-awaited first trophy success with La Albiceleste that gave Messi the edge over Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski. 

Messi captained Argentina to Copa America success in July, ending their 28-year drought in major international competitions.

 

At the Maracana – the scene of Argentina's 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany – Messi helped Lionel Scaloni's men to a 1-0 win over bitter rivals and Copa hosts Brazil.

He had previously lost Copa finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016, briefly retiring after missing his penalty in the shootout that saw the trophy slip from their grasp in the latter.

Messi may not have had the decisive impact in this year's final, but over the course of the tournament he was deemed to have been the best player, scoring four goals and setting up another five – no one bettered him in either metric.

 

Lewandowski had been considered the favourite before then, partly due to breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

The Poland striker looked likely to have won the award in 2020 before it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Messi's success in Brazil seemed to tip the scales in his favour, with the 34-year-old increasing his lead over Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes, the Manchester United forward now two back on five after finishing sixth in the voting this time around.

Lewandowski did, however, win the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

Paris Saint-Germain have confirmed Neymar will be out for six to eight weeks with an ankle injury.

The Brazil star was taken off on a stretcher during the closing stages of the 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne and was seen leaving the stadium on crutches.

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino said he did not expect the injury to be serious, but tests have shown Neymar has sprained the ligaments in his left ankle.

PSG said on Monday that a further update on his recovery time would follow this week.

Should Neymar be sidelined for two months, he would miss eight games in all competitions, including PSG's final Champions League group game against Club Brugge and the league trip to Lyon on January 8.

The 29-year-old has struggled for top form in 2021-22, managing three goals and three assists in 14 appearances in all competitions.

Manchester City's forward pursuit has dominated headlines.

Since Sergio Aguero left for Barcelona, Pep Guardiola's champions have been targeting a replacement.

Karim Benzema could reportedly fill the void.

 

TOP STORY – BENZEMA TO CITY?

Manchester City want to sign Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, according to El Nacional.

Premier League champions City are desperate to bolster their attack, having missed out on Tottenham's Harry Kane following the departure of Sergio Aguero at the start of the season.

Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic have been linked, but Benzema – out of contract in 2023 – has emerged as an option.

 

ROUND-UP

- Nicolo Schira claims Bayern Munich are set to battle Chelsea for Federico Chiesa. The Italy international is on loan at Juventus from Fiorentina and set to join the Bianconeri permanently at the end of the season. However, if Juve fail to qualify for the Champions League, rivals could pounce.

Barcelona are eyeing a move for Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, per Mundo Deportivo. Martial has found game time hard to come by at Old Trafford.

- SuperDerpote claims Madrid midfielder Luka Modric would be open to leaving for City. Modric is out of contract at the end of the season. It comes after Marca said Los Blancos are not interested in United star and soon-to-be free agent Paul Pogba.

Marcelo Brozovic is set to re-sign with Serie A champions Inter, according to Tuttosport. Brozovic has been linked with United, Barca and PSG.

Sergio Ramos endorsed Lionel Messi for the Ballon d'Or as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar targets a record-extending seventh crown.

Messi is among the favourites for the 2021 Ballon d'Or, which will be announced during Monday's ceremony in Paris.

Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski is expected to provide stiff competition as well as Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho, who celebrated Champions League and Euro 2020 glory.

Ramos has often backed Cristiano Ronaldo for the top gong over the years, given they were Real Madrid team-mates and rivals of former Barcelona captain Messi.

But Ramos now calls PSG home and wants ex-foe Messi to succeed once more following Argentina's drought-ending Copa America triumph.

 

"Yes, of course [I hope he wins]," Spain international defender Ramos told ESPN.

"I'm going to defend the guys in my team. I wish him all the luck in the world.

"He's in good shape, and I think he's the kind of player who really makes a difference. He's a unique player and it's a privilege to have him in the team.

"I think that bit by bit, each of us is going to bring our own quality to make Paris Saint-Germain even greater and achieve the things we want to achieve."

In Sunday's 3-1 win at Saint-Etienne, Messi delivered three assists in a single league game for the third time of his career after March 2016 against Getafe and February 2020 against Betis.

Messi became the first PSG player to achieve the feat in Ligue 1 since Blaise Matuidi against Angers in January 2016.

At 35 years and 243 days, Ramos became the oldest outfield player to make his first appearance with PSG in Ligue 1 since David Beckham (37 years and 298 days against Marseille in February 2013).

Ramos attempted 101 passes against Saint-Etienne – a game-high and the best tally for a PSG player making his Ligue 1 debut since Opta started analysing this data in 2006-07.

Paris Saint-Germain's Sergio Ramos reflected on "another learning experience" after finally making his long-awaited debut for his new club.

Ramos signed for PSG as a free agent in July after ending a trophy-laden 16-year stint with Real Madrid.

However, the 35-year-old was made to wait for his PSG bow, having to first overcome a calf issue that has plagued his year.

After making the bench for Wednesday's Champions League defeat to Manchester City, Ramos started alongside Marquinhos in the heart of PSG's defence on Sunday, helping Mauricio Pochettino's team labour to a 3-1 win over 10-man Saint-Etienne in Ligue One.

It was only the sixth appearance Ramos has made in all competitions across 2021 – the last time the centre-back played was in Madrid's defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals in May. There had even been talk PSG were considering terminating the defender's contract.

Ramos' appearances have totalled just 485 minutes, and he looked understandably rusty at times in the snow against Saint-Etienne.

 

He was at least partly at fault for Denis Bouanga's opener when he failed to attack Wahbi Khazri's cross, though PSG battled back through two Marquinhos goals and Angel Di Maria's strike – all three of their goals teed up by Lionel Messi.

Looking back on his debut, Ramos tweeted: "A win and a return to the pitch. You have no idea how I have longed for this! It has been a difficult few months.

"Lots of uncertainty, lots of changes and, worst of all, the pain of not being able to do what I love most: play football. But that's all behind me now.

"Another learning experience. It's time now to look forward with optimism and ambition.

"Thank you to everyone who has been there with kind words and encouragement, especially my family whose support has always been unconditional. On we go, there's more to come!"

Ramos finished the match with 101 passes, the most of any player, with 95 reaching their target (an accuracy of 94.1 per cent). 

Only Di Maria (113) had more touches than Ramos' 110, while the Spain international won five of his seven duels, made three tackles and a joint team-high two interceptions.

 

At 35 years and 243 days, Ramos became the oldest outfield player to make his first appearance for PSG in Ligue 1 since David Beckham (37 years and 298 days against Marseille in February 2013).

While Ramos appears to have put his injury troubles behind him, PSG were dealt a blow late on, with Neymar having to be taken off on a stretcher.

Replays showed the Brazil forward going over painfully on his left ankle, and he could be facing a long spell on the sidelines.

Mauricio Pochettino hopes that Neymar has not sustained a serious injury, though conceded the images he has seen of the incident do not look good.

Neymar had to be taken off on a stretcher late on after suffering an ankle injury in Paris Saint-Germain's win over Saint-Etienne on Sunday, shortly after Angel Di Maria had made it 2-1 to the Ligue 1 leaders.

Marquinhos then headed in his second goal of the game to round off a difficult 3-1 victory, though focus was on Neymar's injury in Pochettino's post-match media duties.

Neymar was pictured leaving the ground on crutches and while hopeful the forward will make a swift recovery, Pochettino explained PSG must wait for a full diagnosis on Monday.

"There is nothing more to say for the moment, it is the pain he felt in the leg with his ankle that turned. We will have the exams tomorrow and we will see," Pochettino told a news conference.

Pochettino had previously told Amazon Prime: "We will have to see this tomorrow but from the images, I hope that it's not a big deal and that he will be back with the squad quickly. But the action is not good."

Neymar subsequently posted an update to his official Instagram account.

"Let's recover, unfortunately these setbacks are part of an athlete's life," he wrote. "Now that's what you have, lift your head and let's go. I'll come back better and stronger."

Should Neymar face a lengthy absence, PSG can at least rest assured they can still field a star-studded front three, with Di Maria proving his worth against Saint-Etienne as he scored in successive league appearances for the first time since November 2019.

PSG also, of course, have Lionel Messi, who provided all three assists in the victory – the third time in his career he has set up three goals in a single league match. 

At the back, Sergio Ramos made his long-awaited bow, becoming PSG's oldest debutant since David Beckham in 2013.

Denis Bouanga put Saint-Etienne ahead, meaning PSG came back to win after conceding the opening goal for the fifth time in Ligue 1 this season, already equalling their best tally for comeback victories in a full season, set four times before (2014-15, 2011-12, 2003-04, 1985-86).

Neymar suffered a potentially serious injury as Paris Saint-Germain laboured to a 3-1 win over 10-man Saint-Etienne.

Looking for a response after their defeat to Manchester City in midweek, not to mention the speculation over Mauricio Pochettino's future, PSG fell flat for much of Sunday's game but Angel Di Maria and Marquinhos came up with the goods late on.

Marquinhos had earlier cancelled out Denis Bouanga's opener, after Timothee Kolodziejczak was sent off for the struggling hosts.

However, PSG will now hold concern over Neymar, who had to be taken off on a stretcher with an apparent ankle injury between the visitors' late goals.

The race to sign Erling Haaland may have taken another turn.

Norway forward Haaland is a hot property being pursued by a host of top clubs, with Manchester United among them.

Borussia Dortmund retained his services at the start of this season but the race is expected to heat up in the off-season.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED HOPEFUL OF HAALAND EDGE

The Mirror reports that the imminent appointment of Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United can give them the edge in the race for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Rangnick and Haaland worked together previously at Salzburg and United believe that relationship can propel them to the front of the queue.

Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are all in the race to sign the 21-year-old.

 

ROUND-UP

- PSG will not let head coach Mauricio Pochettino exit the club during the season amid links with Manchester United's vacant managerial role, reports Goal. The Argentine may be allowed to leave at the end of the season.

- Marca report that Real Madrid will not be signing Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba in the off-season despite widespread speculation about a move.

- Sevilla are leading the race to sign Blackburn's Chile international Ben Brereton, according to The Sun. Rovers want £20m for his services.

- West Ham are set to launch a £7m bid to sign Burnley defender James Tarkowski,  report The Sun.

Sergio Ramos claimed he can "continue playing for four or five years" if he can stay mentally strong as he expects his physical state to hold up.

Ramos moved to Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in July, but is yet to make an appearance for Mauricio Pochettino's side due to a knee injury.

The centre-back made a huge step on his road to recovery as he was an unused substitute in Wednesday's Champions League loss against Manchester City.

The former Real Madrid star could be in line for his debut away to Saint-Etienne, where PSG are unbeaten in 12 league games, with their last loss coming in September 2008.

But Ramos feels he can play on for a lot longer if his mental state can hold out, as he believes he is physically fit enough to compete for many more years.

"I think I can continue playing for four or five years," Ramos told Amazon Prime Video in an interview that will be broadcast in full on Sunday. 

"The most important thing is that my head holds. I hope I don't have any more physical problems."

 

The 35-year-old ended a 16-year association with Madrid when he left for France, but he has not played since Los Blancos' Champions League loss against Chelsea in early May.

Numerous reports have suggested an earlier return for Ramos, who signed a two-year contract at Parc des Princes, though Sunday could finally be the day he makes his bow.

When fit, Pochettino will have one of football's best defenders in terms of attacking returns to call upon, but Ramos' comeback will also be a sweet personal victory for the Spain international.

"I believed in myself and in work," he continued. "I focus on giving the club back the trust it has placed in me. I hope to reach my best level.

"At the end are difficult moments, moments of loneliness. Whole hours in the gym with the physiotherapist, with the physical trainer. You constantly have negative thoughts that sometimes make you doubt."

Mauricio Pochettino says being linked with the Manchester United job can only be a good thing as it must mean he is doing a good job with Paris Saint-Germain.

The ex-Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham boss has been persistently touted as United's top choice to succeed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a permanent basis at Old Trafford.

He is reported to be interested in a return to the Premier League with the Red Devils, who look poised to name Ralf Rangnick as interim boss until the end of the season. 

Pochettino refused to quash the rumours after Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League loss to Manchester City, but PSG sporting director Leonardo said on Friday the Argentine has not asked to leave.

The speculation is unlikely to go away until United bring in a new full-time boss, but Pochettino insists he will not let it distract him from his duties at Parc des Princes.

"I am very focused on PSG. We are used to these rumours," he said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's Ligue 1 trip to Saint-Etienne. 

"Rumours come often, and it's a good sign that they come often, because it's a sign that we are doing a good job. 

"But we do not create these rumours. We just focus on working well. We make sure to stay calm and that it does not affect us. The players are focused, too. It doesn't affect us."

Pochettino was cheekily asked if he prefers roast beef or boeuf bourguignon, to which he replied: "Argentinian barbecue, always!"

 

PSG travel to Stade Geoffroy-Guichard aiming to bounce back from their midweek loss at the hands of City.

The Parisiens have won 12 of their 14 Ligue 1 games this term and are unbeaten in 16 league meetings with Saint-Etienne, winning 11 of those.

Sergio Ramos, an unused substitute in the defeat at the Etihad Stadium, is in line to make his first appearance for PSG after recovering from a niggling injury issue.

The Spain international has spent his entire career to date in Spain and Pochettino acknowledged it may take time for the experienced centre-back to adapt.

"He needs to play. We'll have to see how he adapts to the league, which is completely different from LaLiga," Pochettino said.

"It's hard to predict how he will get on. It's just a feeling. He'll need the time it takes.

"He's behaving professionally and wants to help the team. He's a player that we know, with a lot of experience, and is a great champion. He can bring his knowledge and values."

PSG confirmed on Saturday that Marco Verratti will miss the trip to Saint-Etienne but should be back in training next week, while Ander Herrera, Georginio Wijnaldum and Mauro Icardi are also out.

"These are things that happen in football," Pochettino said when asked about Verratti's injury setback. "He's an important player for us, but also for all the coaches who have been here. 

"He is a fundamental player. It's a pity that he cannot be counted on tomorrow. We hope that he can find this continuity with the team to play regularly. We are still positive, and we hope that this will be his last injury."

Another day, another Kylian Mbappe rumour.

The Paris Saint-Germain and France forward has long been linked with Real Madrid.

Madrid's high-profile chase could be reaching a conclusion.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID'S MBAPPE PLAN

Real Madrid's plan to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe has been revealed, according to the front page of Saturday's Marca.

Mbappe is Madrid's top transfer target, with the PSG forward out of contract at the end of the season and both parties have made no secret of their admiration.

The recent report claims the offer is "unrejectable" as Madrid's interest dates back to Mbappe's time at Monaco in 2017.

Marca also reports Madrid are set for a busy January amid interest in other soon-to-be free agents – Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo says Barcelona are negotiating a move for Manchester City forward Ferran Torres, though the Premier League champions are not interested in selling the Spaniard.

Bayern Munich could look to sign Barca goalkeeper and Germany international Marc-Andre ter Stegen in 2023, per El Nacional.

- Roma star Nicolo Zaniolo is wanted by Serie A rivals Juventus and Antonio Conte's Tottenham, claims Calciomercato.

Juve are eyeing Fulham star Aleksandar Mitrovic as an alternative should they miss out on in-demand Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic, according to Todofichajes. Vlahovic has been linked with City, United, Madrid, Barca, Bayern, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Inter and Tottenham.

- The Star says Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips will turn down a move to Old Trafford. Phillips has attracted interest from rivals Manchester United but the England international midfielder is unwilling to spark backlash from fans.

Angel Di Maria is open to playing in midfield for Paris Saint-Germain as he looks to secure more game time, and believes it could be his best position.

Di Maria has been a star for PSG since joining the Ligue 1 giants from Manchester United in 2015.

The attacker has made 274 appearances for PSG across all competitions, scoring 89 goals and providing a further 107 assists.

Since he joined PSG, no player has played more games than the Argentine, who has also crafted 669 chances, way ahead of Neymar, who ranks second in the squad with 350. Indeed, Di Maria is 41 assists ahead of Kylian Mbappe (66), and only three players have scored more goals in the same timeframe.

Di Maria only signed a new contract in March, he has not been able to nail down a regular starting berth so far this term.

Mauricio Pochettino has a wealth of options at his disposal, and can hardly be blamed for starting Neymar, Mbappe and Lionel Messi, who arrived from Barcelona in August, in a sensational attacking trident.

While the trio have not yet clicked to their full potential, Di Maria has often been the man left out. The 33-year-old has made just 10 appearances this season, scoring twice and setting up a further three goals.

Having started seven games, Di Maria creates 2.42 chances per 90 minutes on average, showing his playmaking abilities are still as good as ever.

In fact, despite his lack of minutes, Di Maria has only created fewer chances than Neymar (28) and Mbappe (33) in 2021-22.

With Messi, Mbappe and Neymar needing to be accommodated up front, Pochettino has often gone with a more workman-like midfield three.

However, Di Maria, who was excellent in a deeper role in his final season at Real Madrid in 2013-14, is hoping he gets the chance to show his quality in midfield.

"I think I've already shown that I can play in that position. In fact, it was my best year at Real Madrid, in 2014," Di Maria told RMC Sport.

"The manager knows I can play there, but then it's down to decisions. He's there to decide and we're there to do as best as we can on the pitch, no matter where, in midfield, up front, or elsewhere.

"Those are questions for him, the only thing I've done since I arrived at PSG has been to give it my all when on the pitch.

"It's true that I like to play with the ball at my feet. In 2014 I played in midfield and I felt very good, really happy. With quality players at PSG like Marco [Verratti], Leandro [Paredes] or Gana [Idrissa Gueye] it could work, but those are the manager's decisions."

 

Last season, Di Maria scored two goals, created 14 chances and provided three assists in Ligue 1 from attacking carries, suggesting he may be suited to playing deeper to drive with the ball and supply the attack. 

Although frustrated by a lack of regular action, Di Maria understands the reasons.

"When you have those three up front, it makes sense that the first option is to play them, they are the best on the pitch," he added.

"With what they've won, and who they are, it gives all three of them a different status. Or at least to two of them, because Messi is different to the others. He's the best player in the world and he always has to be on the pitch.

"But I'm always trying to give it 100 per cent to get into the starting XI. I know that it's not easy for me given the players in my position. That's why I'm doing as much as I can to maybe find a different option."

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