Messi pips Mbappe and Benzema to Best FIFA Men's Player award

By Sports Desk February 27, 2023

Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina forward Lionel Messi has won the Best FIFA Men's Player award for a second time.

Messi saw off competition from club-mate Kylian Mbappe and Real Madrid's Karim Benzema to collect the award at Monday's ceremony in Paris.

The award spans the period between the start of the 2021-22 season through to the end of the World Cup, which saw Messi end Argentina's 36-year wait to win the competition.

Former Barcelona superstar Messi claimed the Golden Ball award in Qatar – given to the best player of the tournament – after scoring seven goals and assisting three more.

Those 10 direct goal involvements were matched by Mbappe, who finished as top scorer, but that was not enough to see the France forward win his first Best FIFA award.

 

Messi made a slow start to life at PSG by his own personal high standards, scoring 11 goals and assisting 14 in 34 games in his maiden campaign at the Parc des Princes.

However, the 35-year-old – who has also won a record seven Ballons d'Or – matched those figures in his first 18 games this season ahead of the World Cup.

Messi, who previously won the Best FIFA award in 2019, joins Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski as two-time winners, having also finished as a runner-up three times.

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    Arne Slot should block out any noise around trying to catch Manchester City and instead set his sights on compiling 90 points in his first season in charge of Liverpool.

    That is the view of former Liverpool goalkeeper David James, who believes securing Champions League football should be seen as the minimum requirement for former Feyenoord boss Slot, who is replacing Jurgen Klopp at Anfield.

    While Klopp lifted the EFL Cup in his final campaign as manager, James feels it is very difficult for Premier League teams to set any targets relating to any silverware due to the consistent dominance of City under Pep Guardiola.

    City have won an unprecedented four straight Premier League titles and will face rivals Manchester United this weekend at Wembley in an attempt to win back-to-back FA Cup crowns. Guardiola also has four EFL Cup trophies to his name.

    James feels Slot should therefore focus only on what he can control and believes 90 points is an aspirational target that will at least put the Reds in contention.

    Liverpool made it to 82 points in 2023-24, which saw them finish nine behind Man City and seven adrift of second-placed Arsenal.

    That tally was comfortably enough to seal a return to the Champions League for next season, a status which James says Slot must ensure he maintains.

    "As we have seen under Jurgen Klopp, the fantastic manager, there are teams around in the Premier League who don't really care what you think you want to do, namely Manchester City," James said to Stats Perform when asked what Slot's minimum target should be.

    "There could invariably be a situation where whatever it is, such as if Pep decides it is his last season, then it might be fairytale stuff again, that he goes for the quadruple and he does it.

    "Then it doesn't matter [what your targets are], no one wins anything domestically. 

    "The minimum requirement, which Pep can't stop you from doing, has to be qualifying for the Champions League of course. But beyond that, I think it's just getting the performances. 

    "If you get 90 points, and I know this has happened to Liverpool and they have got records to prove it, but if you get 90 points or even more and still don't win the league, then it's not down to you doing something wrong, it's down to the excellence of whoever finishes above you. 

    "I would say minimum Champions League qualification and then just going for 90 points and see where it takes you. As I say, 90 points is the benchmark in the Premier League.

    "You know, it isn't that difficult to achieve when you think about it. You can literally lose to the four best teams, again subjectively, four best teams, home and away, and as long as you beat the others, the other 30 games, that's 90 points.

    "Who cares [which teams you beat]? You don't get an extra three points for beating the teams above you. It's just winning."

    James expects to see plenty of movement in the transfer window now that there have been substantial changes to the staff, but says Slot and his coaching team may not always get their own way.

    He added: "I do [expect a lot of movement]. There are a couple of things to say. The analysis department will have their numbers, they'll know who they need to keep, they'll know who they need to replace and obviously they'll know who they need or want to bring in. 

    "This wasn't just about Jurgen leaving, this was the whole staff going. This is a massive shift, and everybody [left at the club] has their opinion [on the squad], even the analysis guys.

    "[Those opinions] might encourage or discourage the manager from making choices, whether it's selection choices in games or whether it's selection choices for transfers. 

    "The conversation with Slot will be a whole room of [new] opinions added to a data analysis group [trying] to find replacements because some of the players are leaving. 

    "With transfers I think it will cause a little bit of a ruffle. It will be done for the right reasons but I don't think there'll be a situation where Slot will just bring the ones he likes in. 

    "It will be a group decision with the analysis department. It will need to be the right players and, as Liverpool have proven under Jurgen's tenure, when they get it right, they are very successful."

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    Florian Wirtz will stay at Bayer Leverkusen next season despite interest from Europe's elite clubs, says Die Werkself's managing director Simon Rolfes.

    Wirtz has been in irresistible form throughout Xabi Alonso's first full season at the BayArena, which could yet end with an unbeaten treble.

    Leverkusen won 28 of their 34 games as they became the first team to go unbeaten through a Bundesliga campaign, and they face a pair of finals this week – against Atalanta in the Europa League and Kaiserslautern in the DFB-Pokal.

    Wirtz was named Bundesliga Player of the Year earlier this week, having scored 11 goals and provided 11 assists throughout the campaign. He has also been involved in eight goals (four goals, four assists) and created 28 chances from open play in the Europa League this term.

    That form has reportedly put the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United on alert, but Leverkusen are not entertaining a sale.

    "He will stay. His father and agent said it before. He has a contract here and he's really happy," Rolfes told Sky Sports.

    "This is the right place for him to develop as a player and person. His future is bright, that's for sure. He is such a good player and shows a great will to win and to work. 

    "It's not normally the attribute of a number 10 but he combines talent with the work rate of a six or a defensive player along with producing special magic moments."

    When Bayern Munich last failed to win the Bundesliga title in 2012, they responded by raiding rivals Borussia Dortmund for the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Mats Hummels over the next few years.

    Asked if Leverkusen had any concerns about that happening to them, Rolfes said: "For sure 10, 15 or 20 years ago that was a normal thing but things are changing. The European environment has changed a lot. 

    "It's an international market now with the Premier League, and clubs in Spain, Italy and France as well."

    Bayern were, alongside Liverpool, unsuccessful in attempting to lure Alonso away from Westphalia, and Rolfes says he was always convinced the Spaniard would stay.

    "Maybe that was a little more special but I'm always convinced you have to concentrate on your strengths," he said. 

    "I was convinced we could offer a lot to him and our players with other interest in them. That's why I was always calm."

     

  • 'Maybe we can change that' - De Roon believes Atalanta can end Leverkusen unbeaten run 'Maybe we can change that' - De Roon believes Atalanta can end Leverkusen unbeaten run

    Atalanta captain Marten de Roon believes they have what it takes to end Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten season in the Europa League final.

    De Roon will not be available for La Dea in Dublin on Wednesday due to injury but has joined up with the squad to offer his support.

    Atalanta have had a memorable campaign, reaching their first European final and qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

    Leverkusen, meanwhile, claimed their first-ever Bundesliga title without losing a single game and are aiming to complete a treble.

    Despite coming up against a tough opponent, De Roon is confident that his side will be able to end their 61-year drought without a major trophy.

    "Every team is beatable. At the moment, [Leverkusen] seem unbeatable, but maybe we are the ones who can change that," he said in the pre-match press conference.

    "We have to believe in our philosophy, play attacking football and try to beat them. You don't win a trophy if you don't beat the best.

    "We have had a great campaign, and we fully deserve to be here. Both sides deserve to be playing this final. Let's see who will manage to lift the trophy.

    Atalanta narrowly missed out in the Coppa Italia final to Juventus earlier this month, and Gian Piero Gasperini is now preparing to manage his first-ever European final.

    The Italian praised Leverkusen but stressed the belief he has in his own team after an impressive campaign.

    He said: "We are aware that we are facing a great team. We know that they are undefeated, and we know that they have had an amazing season.

    "Our journey, however, was also very good as we beat very strong teams to reach the final, and we also have belief.

    "Leverkusen are a complete team; extremely organised. They are versatile, they can defend and recover the ball well.

    "The results they have achieved this season are not an accident. Certainly, small details can make the difference in a final. We have to respect them and try to adapt quickly to the opponents we are facing."

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