Manchester City's dramatic Champions League exit at the hands of Real Madrid this season is apparently cause for another raid on the transfer market.

After already wrapping up Erling Haaland's transfer from Borussia Dortmund, the midfield is the next area of business.

With veterans in the midfield likely on their way out at the Etihad Stadium at this end of this season, replacements could soon be on the way.

TOP STORY – CITY EYE PHILLIPS AS FERNANDINHO REPLACEMENT 

Manchester City have emerged as contenders for the signature of Leeds United and England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, according to the Mirror.

While Manchester United have also identified Phillips as a potential addition for their midfield, the 26-year-old has reportedly made it clear to his inner circle that he will not join Leeds' fierce rivals.

However, Phillips would appear likely to leave Leeds if they are relegated, with West Ham, Aston Villa and Newcastle United all also linked.

Fernandinho will depart City at the end of the season, while Ilkay Gundogan could follow, and the £50million-rated Phillips is a more attainable target than £100m international team-mate Declan Rice.

ROUND-UP

– According to Bild, Paris Saint-Germain are prepared to move on a deal for Liverpool's Sadio Mane amid reports he is stalling on a renewal of his contract, which expires in 2023.

– Incoming Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag has added Ajax's Lisandro Martinez to the list of players he wants to bring to Old Trafford, the Telegraph is reporting.

United have also shown renewed interest in Lazio and Serbia midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, per Calciomercato.

– Chelsea want to sign Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of this season, Mundo Deportivo reports.

Liverpool may have lost ground in the Premier League title race to Manchester City, but they could claim a second trophy of the campaign when they face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

A Wembley Stadium meeting between the Blues and the Reds is, of course, nothing new, with Thomas Tuchel paying the penalty – literally – for his ill-fated introduction of Kepa Arrizabalaga in February's EFL Cup final loss.

Revenge will certainly be on Chelsea's minds after substitute Kepa missed the decisive spot-kick in the shoot-out at the end of that goalless draw, and they will be desperate to avoid becoming the first team to lose both domestic English cup finals in the same season since Middlesbrough in 1996-97.

For Liverpool, meanwhile, their pursuit of the quadruple, and with it, footballing immortality, hinges on their ability to see off the Blues.

Who will be crowned the latest winners of football's oldest national competition? Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta numbers ahead of these two rivals' fourth meeting of the season.

Wembley regulars hunting cup success

Chelsea and Liverpool have met in the final of the FA Cup on just one previous occasion, with Ramires and Didier Drogba firing the London club – then managed by Roberto Di Matteo – to victory just over a decade ago on May 5, 2012.

Both sides have significant pedigree in the competition, with Chelsea making their 16th final appearance and Liverpool featuring in their 15th – only Arsenal (21) and Manchester United (20) have made more such appearances than the duo.

However, neither side have had it all their own way when making it this far, with Chelsea losing each of the last two finals.

The Blues are the first team to qualify for three consecutive finals since Arsenal between 2000-01 and 2002-03, but another defeat would make them the first team since Newcastle United in 1998-99 to lose on their last three final appearances (1973-74, 1997-98, and 1998-99).

Liverpool, however, have lifted the trophy on just 50 per cent of their previous final appearances (7/14). Only two teams have a worse success rate having reached 10 or more finals (Everton, 5/13, and Newcastle, 6/13).

 

Fourth time lucky as deadlocked rivals meet again?

Having both made their names coaching Bundesliga sides Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel and Klopp are no strangers to one another, and have become accustomed to head-to-head meetings this season.

Chelsea and Liverpool have already met three times this campaign, twice in the Premier League and once in the EFL Cup final, with each of those games ending level.

Having clung on with 10-men to earn a 1-1 draw at Anfield in August, Chelsea fought back from two goals down in a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in January before enduring penalty heartache at Wembley the following month.

 

The last fixture between two English top-fight teams to see more draws in the same campaign was Arsenal v Chelsea in 2017-18 (four).

Fans of a penalty shoot-out, then, could be in for more entertainment on Saturday. 

The Mane for the big occasion

The electrifying form of January arrival Luis Diaz means Klopp's Reds have never had such attacking depth available, but could one of his longest-serving attackers make the difference here?

Since arriving at Anfield in 2016, Sadio Mane has scored six times against Chelsea, with no other player scoring more often against the Blues in that time.

Mane made an important contribution to Liverpool's 3-2 semi-final win over Manchester City, becoming the first player to score a Wembley brace for the club since Steve McManaman in the 1995 League Cup final against Bolton Wanderers.

Should Mane again find the net against one of his favourite opponents, he would become the first Liverpool player to score in consecutive Wembley appearances (when used as a neutral venue) since Phillipe Coutinho in April 2015 and February 2016.

 

Can Werner haunt his former suitors? 

Chelsea forward Timo Werner made headlines on Friday after claiming to have chosen Stamford Bridge over Anfield when he left RB Leipzig in 2020.

And the Germany international will hope to continue his excellent FA Cup campaign if he is chosen to lead the line at Wembley.

No player has made more goal contributions in the competition than Werner this season, with the 26-year-old recording two goals and three assists in the Blues' cup run.

While that tally is more than any Liverpool player has managed in the competition this term, it's also the most any Chelsea player has registered in a single FA Cup campaign since Pedro (six) and Willian (seven) both impressed in 2016-17.

However, Chelsea ended that season by falling to a 2-1 final defeat to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, so Werner will be hoping any contribution he can make will prove more decisive.

 

Sadio Mane has been speculated as a potential Ballon d'Or winner in recent weeks.

And the Liverpool forward is also gathering speculation about his club future.

The 30-year-old helped Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations in February and has netted 15 goals in Liverpool's Premier League title challenge.

TOP STORY – BARCA TO SWOOP FOR BAYERN TARGET MANE

Barcelona are ready to swoop in to sign Liverpool's Mane amid reported interest from Bayern Munich, Mundo Deportivo claims.

The Senegal international is reportedly interested in a switch and is moving into the final 12 months of his Liverpool contract.

Barcelona have missed out on Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland who will join Manchester City and are determined to land an elite forward this off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry is drawing attention from several clubs, with Real Madrid among the clubs interested, according to Fichajes.

- Newcastle United have made contact with Philippe Coutinho about a move, reports Goal. Coutinho is currently on loan with Aston Villa from Barcelona.

- The Guardian claims that West Ham United are plotting an off-season move for Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins. Villa would demand a £50m fee for the forward.

- Manchester United and Newcastle are both interested in signing Napoli's Victor Osimhen, claims Calciomercato. Napoli want 100m euros (£85.5m) for the Nigerian forward.

- Super Deporte claims that Sevilla are interested in a transfer for Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe.

Arsenal are reportedly interested in signing Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling if he becomes available in the upcoming transfer window.

Since arriving from Liverpool in 2015, Sterling has accumulated 130 goals and 70 assists from 336 appearances in all major club competitions, and has 19 goals from 74 senior caps for England.

Despite his status as one of England's best players, Sterling has found himself on the fringes at times during the tail end of this season, playing just 28 minutes across City's two-legged Champions League tie against Real Madrid.

TOP STORY – GUNNERS TO EXPLORE STERLING DEAL

The Telegraph reports Arsenal intend to test the availability of Sterling in the next transfer window, when he will have one year remaining on his contract.

With Erling Haaland expected to arrive at Manchester City on the biggest contract in the Premier League, players such as Riyad Mahrez have been floated as potential sales to balance the books and give the club some flexibility going forward.

Selling Sterling, at 27 years old, could help City fund further moves if they do not feel he is integral to their success next season – specifically in the Champions League.

ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich are said to be planning a move for Liverpool's Sadio Mane in the next transfer window, according to Sky Germany.

– Should Arsenal fail to reach an agreement on a new deal for striker Eddie Nketiah, the Daily Mail claims West Ham are the front-runners to prise him away.

– The Athletic is reporting Paul Pogba has told Manchester City he does not intend to join them when his Manchester United contract expires at the end of this season, favouring the offer of an unnamed club instead. The report suggests the favourites to land his signature are Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid.

– According to the Daily Mail, Aston Villa have made an offer of £12million to purchase Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona – significantly less than the £33million option that was included in the initial loan deal.

– The Daily Mail is also reporting that Sunderland are hoping to sign the younger brother of English Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham – Jobe Bellingham – after he became the second-youngest debutant in the history of Birmingham City.

Liverpool overcame a spirited Villarreal performance to book their spot in the Champions League final with a 3-2 away win, netting three second-half goals after seeing their first-leg lead wiped out in Spain.

Boulaye Dia handed Unai Emery's men an early lead in front of a boisterous home crowd, before Francis Coquelin stunned the below-par visitors by wiping out their aggregate lead on the stroke of half-time.

But Liverpool grew into the game after their dismal start, and after Geronimo Rulli failed to make a routine stop from Fabinho's effort, half-time substitute Diaz headed home to send Jurgen Klopp's men to the final.

Sadio Mane raced clear to round Rulli and roll home a late third to make the result safe before Etienne Capoue was sent off late on, keeping the Reds on course to cap an incredible season by winning four major trophies.

After failing to record a single shot on target at Anfield, the Yellow Submarine needed just three minutes to open the scoring, Dia tapping home after Capoue turned Pervis Estupinan's delivery across goal.

Gerard Moreno saw a close-range header blocked as the visitors produced a dreadful first-half performance, and the Reds' advantage, which looked to be decisive prior to kick-off, was wiped out when Coquelin sparked wild scenes by heading Capoue's cross into the top-left corner.

Trent Alexander-Arnold struck the top of the crossbar with a deflected effort as Liverpool improved after the break, before Fabinho drilled a low shot through the legs of Rulli to restore the visitors' aggregate lead after 62 minutes.

Diaz went close to bending home a superb second moments later, but was on hand to nod home Alexander-Arnold's cross after 67 minutes and put the Reds back in full command of the tie.

The tie was settled once and for all when Mane took advantage of another Rulli error after 74 minutes, rounding the keeper well outside his area before rolling home to secure Liverpool's progress, with Capoue then dismissed for a second yellow card after fouling Curtis Jones.

FIFA have ordered the Senegalese Football Federation to play a competitive match behind closed doors and fined them $180,000 after a series of incidents in March's World Cup qualifier against Egypt, including the use of laser pens to target Liverpool star Mohamed Salah.

After Egypt and Senegal each claimed 1-0 home wins in their two-legged play-off for World Cup qualification, Salah was targeted by a number of laser pens as he missed his penalty in the decisive shoot-out in Dakar, which Senegal went on to win.

Egypt lodged a complaint after their defeat, which came little over a month after the Pharaohs had lost the Africa Cup of Nations final on penalties to the same opponents, also claiming Salah was subject to racist abuse and their team bus targeted by missiles before the game.

Just as he did in February's Africa Cup of Nations final, Salah's Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane netted the winning spot-kick to hand Senegal a place at the Qatar World Cup.

Now, FIFA's disciplinary committee has punished the African champions for a series of offences, including a "failure to implement existing safety rules and failure to ensure that law and order are maintained in the stadium."

Senegal have also been punished for an "invasion of the field of play, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, use of laser pointers and use of objects to transmit a message that is not appropriate for a sports event."

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Football Federation have also been ordered to play a match behind closed doors, and received a fine of $154,000, after a pitch invasion that followed their away-goals elimination against Ghana in Abuja.

Senegal will be making their third appearance at the FIFA World Cup later this year, and will kick the tournament off when they face the Netherlands in Group A on November 21 – the first time since 1954 where the tournament's opening match doesn’t involve either the hosts or the defending champions.

Mohamed Salah scored twice as Liverpool went top of the Premier League thanks to a resounding 4-0 victory over an abject Manchester United at Anfield on Tuesday. 

Luis Diaz and Salah were on target inside 22 minutes to put Jurgen Klopp's side on course to leapfrog defending champions Manchester City, who will hope to return to the summit when they face Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday. 

United failed to produce a single shot in the first half of a Premier League game for the first time in four years. On that occasion they came from 2-0 down to beat City 3-2, but there were scant signs of such a stirring fightback this time. 

Sadio Mane made sure of that by adding a fine finish to his exemplary assist for Salah, who sealed Liverpool's first Premier League double over United since the 2013-14 season.

The Reds wasted little time in taking the lead, with Salah exposing United's lacklustre defence and squaring for Diaz to tap home after five minutes. 

The fans joined together in a touching show of support for Cristiano Ronaldo in the seventh minute, with the United forward absent following the death of his baby son. 

Paul Pogba was forced off with an injury and Liverpool doubled their lead when Salah added a fine finish to a slick move involving Diaz, Joel Matip and Mane. 

United showed more gumption after a change of shape for the second half from interim boss Ralf Rangnick, with half-time introduction Jadon Sancho finally working Alisson with an effort.

Alisson did well to deny Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga in quick succession after the hour mark, but Liverpool extended their advantage in the 68th minute when Mane swept a delivery from Diaz beyond David de Gea and into the bottom-right corner.

Salah then looped the ball over De Gea with five minutes remaining as United were emphatically consigned to a third straight Premier League away defeat for only the fourth time in the history of the competition.

What does it mean? Liverpool back on top 

Man City looked destined to cruise to the title when they held a 14-point lead over Liverpool as recently as January 15, even though the Reds had two games in hand. 

But Liverpool have now won 11 of their 12 games since – their only dropped points being last week's draw with Pep Guardiola's side – to put themselves firmly in contention for an unprecedented quadruple. 

Thiago keeps it ticking

Thiago Alcantara again absolutely bossed the midfield for Liverpool. He completed 105 of his 110 passes – both game highs – and lost possession just six times, which was the fewest of any Reds player. His seven duels won were also more than any other player on the pitch. 

Salah back on song 

A run of six appearances in all competitions without a goal came to an end for Salah. These were his first Liverpool goals since March 12 and a full two months since he last converted in open play in the top flight.

What's next? 

Liverpool take on Everton in the Merseyside derby on Sunday, while United are in action at Arsenal on Saturday. 

Sadio Mane pledged Liverpool will fight for a "dream" quadruple after scoring twice in the Reds' thrilling FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City.

Mane added to Ibrahima Konate's opener with a first-half double, closing down stand-in City goalkeeper Zack Steffen to score in bizarre fashion before netting a brilliant volley on the stroke of half-time to make it 3-0.

Goals at either end of the second half from Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva hauled City back into the contest, but Liverpool held firm.

Having scored in a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium last week, Mane has now netted 10 goals against City in all competitions, only finding the net more often against Crystal Palace (12) amongst Premier League teams.

After becoming the first Liverpool player to score a Wembley double since Steve McManaman did so in the 1995 EFL Cup final against Bolton Wanderers, Mane told BBC Sport: "I think from the start of the game we played very well. We started very well, everybody was on the front foot, we pressed them high. 

"We pushed them to make a mistake [for his first goal] and for that we got our reward.

"That's Liverpool, that's our style of play. Of course, it was not easy for them. I think that made the difference.

"I think today is special because we faced one of the best teams in the world. If you win this kind of game – especially a semi-final – of course, it's a big dream, a big win. We are very pleased and very happy to qualify for the final."

With the Reds progressing to their first FA Cup final since 2012, in addition to battling City for the Premier League title and facing Villarreal in the Champions League semi-finals, they could yet win an unprecedented quadruple.

"We'll see," he said. "We have a lot of games to go, we will try to do our best. 

"It's a dream, for sure. We'll go for it, we'll fight for it."

 

Mane's brace also made him the first Liverpool player to score an FA Cup semi-final double since Robbie Fowler netted twice in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa in 1996, and team-mate Thiago Alcantara was keen to highlight Mane's contribution.

"It talks about us, it talks about our hunger when we press like Sadio's [first] goal, it talks about the players we have in terms of Sadio's second goal, and also the great passers we have," he told Liverpool's official website.

"He [Mane] is a fighter with a lot of technique, so he knows how to mix it up and to do what we need. He was unbelievable.

"I think the first half was amazing, our best first half this season. Suddenly in the second half we just threw away the first half, but we are really happy with the qualification."

Liverpool's win was their first against City at Wembley, having lost both of their previous head-to-head clashes at the national stadium on penalties after 1-1 draws (the 2016 League Cup final and the 2019 Community Shield).

Liverpool's quadruple hopes remain intact as they beat rivals Manchester City 3-2 to secure their spot in the FA Cup final.

The Reds and City are neck-and-neck in the Premier League and could yet contest the Champions League final, but Saturday's win at Wembley made it advantage Liverpool in their 2021-22 trophies duel.

While City were without Kyle Walker and only had Kevin De Bruyne on the bench due to injury, Liverpool restored several key players to their line-up after a midweek rest and it was evident throughout a first half that the Reds dominated.

Liverpool were 3-0 up by half-time thanks to Ibrahima Konate's early header and a Sadio Mane double, with City goalkeeper Zack Steffen at fault for the Senegal forward's first goal.

Jack Grealish pulled one back early in the second period and Bernardo Silva's late tap-in forced a tense finish, but Liverpool held on.

Jurgen Klopp's men were ahead inside nine minutes, Konate towering above everyone to head home Andrew Robertson's corner.

It was 2-0 soon after. Where Ederson escaped a goal-line blunder in their Premier League showdown last weekend, Steffen was punished by Mane as the attacker's tackle saw the ball ricochet into the net.

City seemingly found themselves all but beaten on the stroke of half-time, Mane lashing home on the volley after a sublime Thiago Alcantara pass.

Grealish picked out the top-left corner with a lovely finish of his own just after the restart, and Silva nudged in from close range in second-half stoppage time to set Liverpool nerves jangling.

But it was too little, too late for City as two fantastic defensive blocks helped Liverpool hold firm to reach a first FA Cup final in 10 years.

Sadio Mane kept Liverpool in the Premier League title hunt with a priceless second-half equaliser in a gripping 2-2 draw with leaders Manchester City.

Jurgen Klopp's side sat 14 points behind City in January, but a 10-game winning run cut the gap to just one point to set up what many billed as a title decider at the Etihad Stadium.

Diogo Jota cancelled out Kevin De Bruyne's opener in an enthralling start, and Mane followed suit swiftly after the interval following Gabriel Jesus' 36th-minute strike.

Neither side could find a winner, with Raheem Sterling seeing a goal disallowed, as Pep Guardiola's side kept their slender lead intact with seven games left to play.

Sterling squandered a glorious chance after five minutes as he was denied by the onrushing Alisson following a square Jesus pass, but City were ahead just seconds later.

De Bruyne profited from a quick Bernardo Silva free-kick before arrowing a left-footed effort home, the ball going in off the right post following a fortuitous deflection off Joel Matip.

Liverpool responded within eight minutes, with Andy Robertson finding Trent Alexander-Arnold, who played the ball back from the far post for Jota to squeeze a low strike under Ederson.

De Bruyne whipped narrowly wide in search of his second before Jesus latched onto a Joao Cancelo cross and coolly finished via the underside of the crossbar.

Mane levelled up within a minute of the second half getting under way, racing onto Mohamed Salah's throughball to slot powerfully past Ederson, who thwarted Jota's prodded effort shortly after.

Sterling thought he had nudged the hosts ahead again, but a VAR check showed the forward was offside when De Bruyne passed the ball, while Salah curled just off target at the other end.

Substitute Riyad Mahrez provided a late scare for the visitors as he clipped the post with a free-kick, and then chipped over after a sublime De Bruyne pass, but there would be no decisive goal.

Virgil van Dijk has backed Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah to "turn disappointment into success" after Egypt failed to qualify for this year's World Cup.

Salah, who had lasers directed at him from the crowd as he lined up his spot-kick, blazed over in the penalty shoot-out on Tuesday as it was Senegal – spearheaded by fellow Liverpool star Sadio Mane – who booked their spot in Qatar following a 1-1 aggregate draw across two legs.

It was the second time this year that Salah and Egypt have suffered shoot-out agony against Senegal, who triumphed in the same way in the Africa Cup of Nations final.

Salah has been one of the standout players in European football this season, yet will not get the chance to show his quality on the biggest international stage.

While Van Dijk is disappointed for Liverpool's talisman, he is confident the forward will use Egypt's failure to spur the Reds on to more success this season, with a quadruple still on the cards for Jurgen Klopp's team.

 

"Well obviously, I feel sorry for Mo and for Egypt, but football is sometimes like this," Van Dijk told reporters after featuring in the Netherlands' 1-1 friendly draw with Germany.

"I am sure he will turn the disappointment into success for the rest of the season.

"We still have everything to play for so there is a lot of things still to achieve for him."

While Salah will return to Liverpool disappointed, Mane will come back knowing he is set to lead Senegal, who exited in the group stage in Russia in 2018.

Van Dijk was thrilled for Mane, but could not resist firing a warning shot his team-mate's way.

"As for Sadio, I wish him all the best and if he is in our group, he is going to need that good luck," the defender added.

Furious Nigeria supporters stormed the pitch at the National Stadium in Lagos after rivals Ghana sealed a World Cup spot at the expense of the Super Eagles.

Arsenal's Thomas Partey opened the scoring in the 10th minute for Ghana, before William Troost-Ekong levelled from the penalty spot for the hosts midway through the first half.

Nigeria could not find a crucial second goal, however, with Otto Addo's Ghana side holding on for the 1-1 draw, to progress to Qatar 2022 via away goals after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

The result sparked ugly scenes inside the stadium, with videos on social media showing supporters leaving their seats and smashing equipment at the side of the pitch.

There was heartbreak for Mohamed Salah and Egypt after they suffered another dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat to Senegal.

Hosts Senegan recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to beat Egypt by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium, before Salah, with dozens of laser pens seemingly pointing at his face, fired Egypt's first penalty of the shoot-out over the bar.

Mostafa Mohamed later failed with the visitors' fourth kick, allowing Salah’s Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane to slam his penalty past Mohamed El Shenawy and seal Senegal's progress, in a repeat of February's Africa Cup of Nations final triumph.

"We try our best but today was not enough," he wrote. "To all my players and my staff, [I give] my recognition and humble thank you.

"You will be always in my heart. It was my privilege to work and be helped by such dedicated and capable professionals and wonderful friends."

There was stunning late drama in Bilda as Karl Toko Ekambi scored late in extra time to seal a 2-1 win for visitors Cameroon against Algeria, the Indomitable Lions progressing to Qatar via away goals after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

Algeria thought they had sealed a place at the World Cup when Ahmed Touba cancelled out Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's opener with two minutes remaining in extra time, but there was just enough time left for Ekambi to seal the most dramatic of victories.

Morocco also booked their place in Friday's World Cup draw with an emphatic 4-1 win over Democratic Republic of Congo. A brace from Azzedine Ounahi, as well as goals from Tarik Tissoudali and Achraf Hakimi, sealed a 5-2 aggregate win over DR Congo, who scored a late consolation through Ben Malango.

Meanwhile, a 0-0 draw for Tunisia against Mali was enough to see the former seal their own place in Qatar after they managed a 1-0 win in the first leg.

Sadio Mane fired Senegal to the World Cup as Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah suffered penalty shoot-out agony with Egypt after being targeted with lasers by fans.

Senegal recovered from a 1-0 first-leg deficit to land victory by the same margin at the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium on Tuesday.

That meant the play-off, tied at 1-1 after 120 minutes of the second leg, went down to a battle of spot-kicks to decide who would go to Qatar 2022, and Salah missed Egypt's first penalty when he fired over the bar.

Lasers flashed across the pitch and were directed at Egypt's star man, who could not find the focus to convert from 12 yards.

The first four penalties were missed, with Salah's the second of those, before both sides netted their third kicks.

Egypt's Mostafa Mohamed failed with the visitors' fourth penalty, seeing his shot blocked, and that allowed Mane to step up and crack a fierce spot-kick past Mohamed El Shenawy, booking a place in Friday's draw.

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

Liverpool closed the gap on leaders Manchester City with victory over West Ham, while Chelsea tightened their grip on third place in Saturday's Premier League action.

The Blues saw off Burnley 4-0 at Turf Moor, a scoreline that was matched by Aston Villa in their statement victory against Southampton.

Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and Brentford also picked up wins, but it was a bad start to life under new management for Leeds in their early kick-off against Leicester City.

Following another eventful day of Premier League action, Stats Perform delves into the key Opta facts from each of the games.

Leeds United 0-1 Leicester City: New manager, same Leeds

Jesse Marsch's first game as Leeds boss ended in defeat to Leicester as United fell to a fifth successive league loss for the first time since April 2015, when they were in the Championship.

Leeds have failed to score in three straight league matches for the first time in a year, this despite registering 19 shots in their latest blank against Leicester.

United's expected goals (xG) return of 1.95 is their highest without scoring in a league game since June 2020, and the familiar failings were also on show at the other end.

Harvey Barnes' second-half winner means Leeds have gone 13 league games without a clean sheet, their longest-such run since 14 without a shutout ending in August 2016.

This was the fifth straight league game Barnes has scored against Leeds – four of those while playing for Leicester and one for West Brom, making them his favourite opponent.

 

Aston Villa 4-0 Southampton: Coutinho's home comforts

Villa are firmly back on track after registering back-to-back victories under Steven Gerrard for the first time since his opening two games in charge in November.

The Villans put four unanswered goals past Southampton at Villa Park for their biggest Premier League win since thrashing Liverpool 7-2 in October 2020.

Barcelona loanee Philippe Coutinho once again played a big part in the victory by scoring one and assisting another for Douglas Luiz.

Coutinho has now been directly involved in six goals in his first four home league games for Villa, scoring three of his own and setting up as many.

Ollie Watkins had earlier opened the scoring with his 21st Premier League strike since the start of the 2020-21 season, while Danny Ings added to his two assists with Villa's fourth goal.

 

Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Fraser helps end Magpies' duck against Seagulls

For a while things looked incredibly bleak for Newcastle, even after their big-money takeover, but they now find themselves seven points above the relegation zone.

The Magpies held off Brighton to make it eight Premier League games without defeat – no team is on a better such run – with five of those matches ending in victory.

Ryan Fraser opened the scoring to make it two goals in five Premier League outings, matching his tally from his previous 70 appearances, before setting up Fabian Schar.

That was the earliest United have scored twice in a Premier League home game since January 2007 and, despite Lewis Dunk's header, Eddie Howe's side saw out the win.

It marks the first time Newcastle have defeated Brighton in the Premier League in their 10th such encounter, having previously failed to so much as score against them at home.

 

Norwich City 1-3 Brentford: Bees buzzing thanks to Toney treble

After a run of eight Premier League games without a win, Brentford bolstered their survival ambitions with a well-earned victory away at bottom side Norwich.

Ivan Toney was the hero for the Bees with three goals, two of those from the penalty spot, making Brentford the 40th different team to boast a hat-trick scorer.

The Brentford striker now has nine Premier League goals for the season, each of those coming via his right foot.

Teemu Pukki scored a consolation but it was another miserable day for Norwich, whose goal difference of -42 is the worst at this stage since Derby County in 2007-08 (-44).

Not that it will matter a great deal in the grand scheme of things, but Brentford are the first team Pukki has scored home and away against in a single Premier League season.

 

Wolves 0-2 Crystal Palace: Shaky Wanderers lose again

Wolves' European hopes suffered another blow as they fell to a third successive Premier League defeat, as many as they lost in their previous 13.

Bruno Lage's out-of-form side have now conceded six goals in their last four league games, after shipping just five in 12 before that.

Jean-Philippe Mateta came up with the breakthrough from close range for his fourth goal in eight Premier League starts, and Wilfried Zaha doubled Palace's lead from the penalty spot.

Ivory Coast international Zaha has now been directly involved in 83 goals in the competition, the joint-ninth best total for an African player, level with Nwankwo Kanu.

With this latest loss, it is the first time Wolves have lost three games in a row against Palace in their entire league history.

 

Burnley 0-4 Chelsea: Blues cruise at Turf Moor

It was business as usual for Chelsea as they won for a third Premier League game running without conceding in what proved to be a straightforward victory at lowly Burnley.

The Blues scored all four of their goals in the second half as they enjoyed their biggest away league win since October 2018 when also beating Burnley by the same scoreline.

This was the biggest margin of victory for an away side in a game that was goalless at half-time since Tottenham beat Aston Villa 4-0 in December 2012.

Reece James started the scoring and in the process became the first defender from Europe's top five leagues to both score and assist five goals this term in all competitions.

Kai Havertz also netted twice before Christian Pulisic added some gloss to the scoreline – his fourth goal at Turf Moor, matching a record for an away player set by Tottenham's Harry Kane.

 

Liverpool 1-0 West Ham: Reds roll on thanks to Mane

Sadio Mane's first-half goal made it seven wins in a row for Liverpool in the Premier League, their best such streak since a run of 18 when they claimed the title two years ago.

That close-range finish was Mane's 12th of the season in the league, nine of those coming at Anfield – no player has scored more home goals in the division this season.

Trent Alexander-Arnold played the ball into the box for Mane's goal for his 16th assist in all competitions this term, more than he has ever registered in a single campaign.

Liverpool were not at their best and that was particularly true of Mohamed Salah, who failed to score from six shots – only against Stoke in April 2018 (seven) has he fared worse.

Incredibly, Virgil van Dijk has never been on the losing side for Liverpool in 60 Premier League home games at Anfield, setting a new record in that regard.

 

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