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According to Lionel Messi, there is “no doubt” that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema deserves to win his first Ballon d’Or award this year.

Messi has won a record seven Ballon d’Or awards as the world’s best player, but saw his new club Paris Saint-Germain eliminated by Madrid in the round of 16 of the Champions League this year — after Benzema scored a hat trick in the second half of the return leg.

Benzema netted another four goals against Chelsea in the quarterfinals and three against Manchester City in the semifinals — including the decisive penalty in extra time of the second leg — before Madrid defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the final on Saturday. Benzema was also the top scorer in the Spanish league as Madrid won the title in dominant fashion.

“There’s no doubt, its very clear that Benzema had a spectacular year,” Messi said in an interview to Argentine TV channel TyC Sports when asked if Benzema should get the prestigious award. “I think there is no doubt this year.”

In total, Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 matches with his club this season, and equaled Madrid great Raúl González as the club’s second-highest scorer with 323 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo leads that tally with 451.

While Madrid knocked out a quartet of European giants on their way to the Champions League title, Messi wasn’t overly impressed with the team’s style of play. Madrid needed big comebacks against both PSG and Man City and had Benzema to thank both times.

“Out of the blue they score against you, and the match changes automatically,” Messi said about this Madrid team. “Madrid was not the best team in this Champions League, there were better teams.”

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Neymar labels Messi and Mbappe ‘geniuses’ after PSG trio star in win

Neymar hailed fellow hat-trick hero Kylian Mbappe and Paris Saint-Germain assists king Lionel Messi as “geniuses” after the 6-1 win over Clermont.

The Brazilian also echoed Mbappe’s verdict that it was a “shame” the superstar trio had not been able to link up more often this season.

Messi claimed three assists in the Ligue 1 leaders’ rampant away victory on Saturday night, becoming the first player to claim three assists on two separate occasions in the French top flight since Opta data for the competition began in 2006-07, having previously assisted three goals against Saint-Etienne in November.

The former Barcelona captain has averaged an impressive 0.73 assists per 90 minutes on the pitch during his first season in Ligue 1, a team-high.

Meanwhile, the trebles scored by Mbappe and Neymar meant they became the first Ligue 1 team-mates to net hat-tricks in the same game since Mbappe and Edinson Cavani did so against Guingamp in January 2019. Prior to that, the last team to achieve the feat were Bordeaux against Valenciennes in August 1979.

Speaking after reaching double figures for Ligue 1 goals this season, Neymar was delighted with PSG’s performance and said the relationship between the front three is improving with every match.

“I am very pleased to have scored my first hat-trick of the season,” Neymar said.

“And [I’m] even happier with the win and our attitude. It’s important that the chemistry between us get stronger in every match.”

The win represented just the 14th occasion across all competitions when all three attackers have started together this season, leading Mbappe to say it was a “shame” PSG fans had been forced to wait until now to see them perform regularly together.

Neymar delivered a similar sentiment, while labelling his attacking partners “extraordinary”.

“Unfortunately, everyone has gotten to pretty much 100 per cent only at the end of the season,” Neymar said, quoted on the official Ligue 1 website.

“It’s a shame, but I am very happy with everything that we are showing on the pitch. It’s a lot easier to play with players who are very intelligent.

“Leo and Kylian are extraordinary, they are two geniuses.”

PSG’s last 11 Ligue 1 goals have been scored by Mbappe (five), Neymar (five) or Messi (one), and Mauricio Pochettino’s men are closing in on the French title.

Neymar, meanwhile, has now scored against 24 of the 25 opponents he has faced in Ligue 1, the exception being Brest, and the treble was his first since January 2018, when he scored four goals against Dijon.

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Messi: PSG want Champions League title after drawing Madrid

Lionel Messi insisted Paris Saint-Germain’s objective is to win the Champions League after being paired with Real Madrid in the round of 16.

LaLiga leaders Madrid stand in the way of PSG and the quarter-finals following a chaotic redraw due to a technical glitch on Monday.

PSG – initially drawn against Manchester United – were Champions League runners-up in 2019-20, however, the French giants have never conquered Europe.

As former Barcelona superstar Messi prepares to reunite with Madrid – the first leg will be held on February 15 – the Ballon d’Or winner reinforced PSG’s ultimate pursuit.

“The objective for PSG is to win the Champions League, that’s everyone’s aim,” Messi said at the Dubai Expo 2020 via Marca.

“The team has been very close before. It’s an essential competition for all teams. We’ll try to win it.”

Messi swapped Barca for PSG in a blockbuster switch ahead of the 2021-22 season.

The 34-year-old was set to sign a new deal with Barca, but left Camp Nou after the Catalan giants announced that “financial and structural obstacles” had left them unable to retain his services.

Messi has scored one goal in 10 Ligue 1 appearances this season, while he has managed five goals in as many Champions League games.

“It was a very big change after so much time in the same place, so it wasn’t easy,” Messi said.

“But, we’re all doing well in what is a spectacular city and at one of the best teams in the world.”

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Lionel Messi was on Monday night named the recipient of the 2021 Ballon d’Or as the Argentine forward claimed the award for a record-extending seventh time.

The Paris Saint-Germain star, who joined the French club from Barcelona in the summer, was voted ahead of Bayern Munich’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski and Italian Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.

Messi has won the Ballon d’Or in successive editions for the first time since winning the award four years in a row between 2009 and 2012. Last year’s ceremony was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The 34-year-old forward may have endured a frustrating year with former club Barcelona and is yet to hit his immeasurable heights for PSG, but he still scored 40 goals for club and country – 28 for Barcelona, four for PSG and eight for Argentina. Messi was also named player of the tournament at the Copa America, where he led his national team to the title – his first major international trophy.

Lewandowski finished runner-up after another exemplary year for Bayern, scoring 53 goals in all competitions, and was named Striker of the Year – a new award announced just hours before the ceremony.

Jorginho, meanwhile, took third spot after winning the two biggest prizes on offer for a European player, helping Chelsea claim the Champions League title, before playing a pivotal role in Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph.

The Ballon d’Or is voted for by 180 selected journalists from around the world. Check out the full rankings of the 2021 edition by clicking through the photo gallery above.

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Lionel Messi inspired Paris Saint-Germain to a 3-1 comeback victory at Saint-Etienne with a hat-trick of assists as Sergio Ramos made his long-awaited debut for the club.

Ramos was making his first appearance for PSG since joining them on a free transfer from Real Madrid this summer.

However, it was Messi who stole the show with three assists as PSG extended their lead at the top of the table to 12 points.

There was a big concern for PSG late on as Neymar had to be stretchered off the pitch with an ankle injury.

Saint-Etienne went ahead after 23 minutes with a Denis Bouanga strike but were controversially reduced to 10 men after Timothee Kolodziejczak brought down Kylian Mbappe when he was through on goal.

Messi took the resulting free kick and set up Marquinhos to equalise with a well-placed header just before the break.

The visitors went ahead with 11 minutes remaining when Messi put Angel Di Maria through on goal and he produced a clinical finish.

Messi grabbed his third assist of the afternoon in stoppage time to set up Marquinhos for another header to seal the three points for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

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The Best FIFA Men’s Player award: Messi, Ronaldo and Salah lead nominees

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah have all been nominated for the 2021 The Best FIFA Men’s Player award.

Chelsea midfielders Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Paris Saint-Germain stars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are also on the shortlist.

Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema complete the 11-man list.

There are seven nominees for the Best FIFA Men’s Coach prize, including City boss Pep Guardiola and Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who led his side to Euro 2020 glory.

Hansi Flick is nominated after significant success with Bayern before taking the Germany job, along with Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone and new Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte.

Lionel Scaloni, who guided Argentina to a Copa America triumph, completes the list.

Liverpool’s Alisson, PSG’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy, Bayern’s Manuel Neuer and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City are up for the Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper award.

The shortlist for the Best FIFA Women’s Player includes four Barcelona players, among them Alexia Putellas and Jennifer Hermoso.

Pernille Harder leads a four-woman Chelsea contingent, while City duo Ellen White and Lucy Bronze are nominated, as is Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema.

Barcelona’s Lluis Cortes, Sweden’s Peter Gerhardsson, Chelsea’s Emma Hayes, Canada’s Beverly Priestmann and England boss Sarina Wiegman are up for the Best FIFA Women’s Coach prize.

The candidates for each category were selected by respective panels of experts for men’s and women’s football. A public vote will run until 23:59 CET on December 10, after which three finalists in each category will be announced ahead of the ceremony on January 17.

Lewandowski won the Men’s Player prize in 2020, ahead of Ronaldo and Messi, while Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp took the Men’s Coach award.

Bronze was named the Best FIFA Women’s Player and Wiegman the Best FIFA Women’s Coach.

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Lionel Messi scores twice to complete comeback

Lionel Messi scored twice in the space of seven minutes as Paris Saint-Germain grabbed a 3-2 victory over RB Leipzig in a thrilling Champions League encounter.

Kylian Mbappe had fired PSG into a ninth-minute lead, yet Andre Silva deservedly pulled Leipzig level in what was another laboured and imbalanced performance from PSG on Tuesday.

Shorn of the injured Neymar, Mauricio Pochettino’s team looked set to be punished when Nordi Mukiele scored Leipzig’s second to put them ahead just prior to the hour at Parc des Princes.

However, Messi was on hand to stem Leipzig’s hopes of a first Champions League win of the campaign with a somewhat fortuitous finish, before the former Barcelona superstar chipped home the winner from the penalty spot.

Mbappe slammed a second penalty high over the bar in stoppage time, though PSG still moved to the top of Group A.

Preferred to Gianluigi Donnarumma, Keylor Navas had to be alert early on, denying Konrad Laimer and then Silva.

But PSG struck first as Julian Draxler fed Mbappe who, after isolating Willi Orban, wrongfooted Peter Gulacsi with a superb low finish to cap off a supreme counter-attack.

Silva was inches away from restoring parity with a fantastic volley that clattered off the post, though PSG’s luck ran out when the Portugal forward stole in unmarked to tuck in Angelino’s cross.

PSG’s defensive frailties were exposed again after the restart – Angelino whipping in another fantastic cross that was side-footed home by his fellow wing-back Mukiele.

Yet Leipzig’s hard work was undone when Mbappe latched onto a loose ball and turned it back for Messi. His shot was palmed onto the post, but he followed in to nudge home on the line.

The turnaround was complete in the 74th minute. With Mbappe having drawn a clumsy push from Mohamed Simakan, Messi stepped up to send a Panenka down the middle from 12 yards.

Messi seemed all set to round off his hat-trick when a second spot-kick was awarded PSG’s way for a foul on Achraf Hakimi, only for Mbappe to take it instead, with the France forward blazing over.

With Leipzig dominating after their second goal, Pochettino brought on Danilo Pereira and switched to a back three. 

The change in shape worked, matching their opponents and freeing up Messi to play alongside Mbappe, with the two working in tandem to level proceedings.

Defensively, PSG were far too porous, allowing 18 attempts on their goal. However, they had the quality up top to pull through, while Jesse Marsch’s Leipzig sit bottom of Group A, and seem almost certain to be heading out.

Messi makes the difference

While Messi’s first PSG goal – a sublime strike in the win over Manchester City – was of the calibre you would expect from the world’s greatest player, his second effort was rather scrappier, with Gulacsi making a mess of getting the first shot away.

Messi’s third goal, however, displayed all the quality and composure the mercurial 34-year-old has at his disposal. He is level with Mauro Icardi and Neymar in terms of PSG players with the most Champions League goals in their first three appearances in the competition, but really, he should have been given the opportunity to move clear in that regard.

Mbappe adds sour note with dreadful spot-kick

It would be wrong to suggest Mbappe had a poor game. In fact, alongside Marco Verratti, he was probably PSG’s best player. His opener was a sensational finish, and brought up his 40th direct goal involvement in the Champions League for the Parisians.

He then won PSG’s first penalty, after setting up the goal that made it 2-2, but perhaps his ego got the better of him when he denied Messi the chance of a hat-trick. There were no protestations from his legendary team-mate, though if he is going to pull rank in such a situation, he had to at least hit the target.

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Lionel Messi gave Paris St Germain fans what they came for as he helped them beat visitors Manchester City 2-0 in their Champions League clash with his first goal for his new club on Tuesday.

The Argentine forward, who joined PSG on a two-year contract after leaving Barcelona, found the top corner in the second half to add to Idrissa Gueye’s early first-half opener and put the capital club top of Group A on four points.

Messi had been quiet on his fourth appearance for PSG until he netted on the counter as his link up play with their France striker Kylian Mbappe bore fruit.

After two games, City are third on three points, one point behind PSG and Club Brugge, who beat RB Leipzig 2-1 away.

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Lionel Messi is fit and in contention to line up for Paris St Germain against Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The six-time world player of the year has missed PSG’s last two games with a knock but has trained ahead of the Group A clash at the Parc des Princes.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has also revealed key midfielder Marco Verratti could return after a knee problem.

Pochettino said at his pre-match press conference: “Leo is in the same position as Marco. He is in a very good way. I think he will be in the squad tomorrow but I still haven’t decided on the starting XI.”

News of Messi’s fitness raises the prospect of City facing the great Argentinian as part of a formidable forward trio with two of PSG’s other big-name stars in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Pochettino, however, was forced to play down reports of disharmony in the camp between Brazil star Neymar and France World Cup winner Mbappe.

Having been substituted in Saturday’s Ligue 1 victory over Montpellier, Mbappe appeared to react angrily when Neymar subsequently set up a goal for Julian Draxler. His complaint seemed to be that Neymar had not done him any such favours earlier in the game.

“Small incidents sometimes can create a wave but it is actually just talk,” said former Tottenham boss Pochettino.

“These things happen, there are always things between top players. They are competitors who want to win and help the team achieve good.

“I have spoken to them individually and they have spoken to each other. There have also been photos of them enjoying themselves in training. The team is happy and calm. There is a good atmosphere.”

PSG are nine points clear in France after only eight games but they were held to a surprising 1-1 draw by Bruges in their first Champions League outing and the Messi-Neymar-Mbappe axis is actually yet to spark.

Pochettino said: “Of course they need time to work together. They need time to work in different environments and to link up in a different way than they did in the past.

“PSG are always under pressure and big stars feel pressure for different things but the most important thing is that we are so happy with the squad that we have built. Now we need time.”

Pochettino also asked people to be patient with Messi, who has started just two games since his much-heralded move from Barcelona.

He said: “We are talking about the best player in the world but, saying that, you still need to understand that he is a man, like us, that needs to adapt to the new club and the family needs to adapt to the new society and new culture.

“Let people work, let the player adapt and start to feel at home.”

Pochettino, who would not confirm reports he was set to prefer Gianluigi Donnarumma to Keylor Navas in goal, predicted a tough game.

City beat PSG in last season’s semi-finals.

Pochettino said: “City have been under the best coach in the world, in my opinion, Pep Guardiola.

“They want to win the Champions League and they are further ahead than PSG in that process but we know that in a football match anything can happen.”

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Cristiano Ronaldo leapfrogs Lionel Messi in Forbes’ list of top-earning players

Cristiano Ronaldo leapfrogs Lionel Messi in Forbes’ list of top-earning playAccording to Forbes, Cristiano Ronaldo is set to make $125 million before taxes in the 2021/22 season, with $70 million coming from salary and bonuses at Manchester United.

Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo has reclaimed top spot in the list of the world’s highest-paid soccer players from Lionel Messi, according to Forbes.

Ronaldo, 36, rejoined United from Juventus in August after 12 years away, while Messi has swapped boyhood club Barcelona to join Paris St Germain.

Forbes said Ronaldo, among the world’s most popular athletes with over 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, is set to make US$125 million before taxes in the 2021-22 season, with US$70 million coming from salary and bonuses at United.

The rest will come from endorsements and partnerships with brands including Nike, Herbalife, Clear and his CR7 brand.

Messi, who topped last year’s list, will be paid a salary of US$75 million with an additional US$35 million from endorsements for total expected earnings of US$110 million.

The Argentine’s strike partner at PSG Neymar, who in May signed a new contract until 2025, is third on the list with total earnings of US$95 million.

Another PSG player, Kylian Mbappe (US$43 million), is fourth on the Forbes list while Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah (US$41 million) is fifth.

Top 10 highest earners in soccer:

Cristiano Ronaldo – US$125 million

Lionel Messi – US$110 million

Neymar – US$95 million

Kylian Mbappe – US$43 million

Mohamed Salah – US$41 million

Robert Lewandowski – US$35 million

Andres Iniesta – US$35 million

Paul Pogba – US$34 million

Gareth Bale – US$32 million

Eden Hazard – US$29 million