Some of Europe's top clubs are already making signings ahead of the January transfer window, but Real Madrid's focus, at least for now, looks to be on securing the services of a current player.

Karim Benzema remains one of Madrid's key men, with 12 goals in 17 LaLiga matches this term.

Los Blancos will reportedly reward the striker's fine form with a contract renewal in the coming months, keeping him at the Santiago Bernabeu for another two seasons.

 

TOP STORY – BENZEMA TO STAY UNTIL 2022

Karim Benzema has agreed to sign a new contract with LaLiga giants Real Madrid, according to Marca.

Benzema's current deal had been set to expire in 2021, but an extension is imminent. The newspaper reports the Frenchman will be rewarded improved terms on a new contract to run until 2022 due to his outstanding form.

With Madrid enjoying a midseason break, they are said to have agreed a deal with Benzema that will be made formal at the end of the campaign.

Benzema's future is apparently a priority for Madrid, with the report suggesting the deal was only capped at an additional year as the player is determined not to outstay his welcome, leaving before his outstanding career wanes.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United reportedly have an interest in Benfica star Gedson Fernandes. Sky Sports say the 20-year-old midfielder, who has fallen out of favour with his club, could be available for £34million (€39.8m) following a loan, rather than for a loftier release clause of £102m. United are desperate to bolster their midfield, with Nemanja Matic tipped to join Inter, Milan or Atletico Madrid.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Suns says United are eyeing £50m-rated Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin after Erling Haaland signed for Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund.

- The Mirror claims Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will leave Emirates Stadium at the end of the season in pursuit of silverware. Aubameyang has 18 months remaining on his contract.

Chelsea have made enquiries about the release clause in RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner's contract, says The Telegraph. Werner has been linked to Liverpool, United and Bayern Munich.

- El Desmarque says Everton are leading the race to sign James Rodriguez from Real Madrid. Toffees boss Carlo Ancelotti worked with James during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu.

- Serie A champions Juventus lead the race to sign Dejan Kulusevski, according to Sky Sport Italia and La Gazzetta dello Sport. The 19-year-old, on loan at Parma from Atalanta, has been linked to United, Arsenal, Napoli, Inter and Liverpool. But Juve are reportedly poised to pay Atalanta €40-50m, while allowing Kulusevski to remain on loan at Parma until the end of the season.

- Calciomercato.com reports Jean-Clair Todibo has an offer from Milan. A deal is said to be done for the Barcelona defender - an initial loan, followed by a €20m fee with no buyback option - but he has not yet agreed to the transfer.

- Having already signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan must move on others in the next month. However, La Gazzetta dello Sport reports the Rossoneri are only interested in selling Ricardo Rodriguez and Suso, rather than accommodating loan deals that would suit Watford and Sevilla, respectively.

Napoli are set to announce the signing of Stanislav Lobotka for an initial €16m, according to Calciomercato.com. The midfielder will leave Celta Vigo and sign a contract with the Partenopei until 2024.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will target the Champions League as Liverpool run away with the Premier League title, according to Xavi.

City are eyeing a third consecutive Premier League crown under Guardiola, however, the defending champions are third and 14 points adrift of unbeaten rivals Liverpool – who have a game in hand – after 20 matches.

Amid doubts over Guardiola's long-term future in Manchester, former Barcelona star Xavi believes the Spaniard will prioritise the Champions League ahead of a blockbuster last-16 showdown against Real Madrid.

"Pep is a born winner," Al Sadd head coach Xavi, who played under Guardiola at Camp Nou, told The Mirror. "It will hurt him that Manchester City are so far behind Liverpool in the league - and he won't give up.

"He will be realistic though. The gap is a big one and at the moment it doesn't look likely that they can make it three titles in a row.

"With that in mind, I think there's a big chance Pep will prioritise the Champions League.

"They will be two big games coming up against Real Madrid - and maybe there will be a chance to rest players before these games that they wouldn't have if they were in a title race.

"Pep will want to win every trophy that he can - but if you'd asked him at the start of the season what he would prefer, I'm sure he would have said the Champions League.

"He joked with Klopp that maybe Manchester City and Liverpool should swap trophies this year - but there was some truth in that joke, I think.

"He's won every trophy in England with Manchester City and he knows that winning the Champions League with them would take them to the next level as a club."

Guardiola's City will kick off the New Year with a clash against Everton at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

David Moyes says he will "make it impossible" for the West Ham board to not extend his 18-month contract after being unveiled as Manuel Pellegrini's replacement.

The 56-year-old is back at the London Stadium for a second spell following the sacking of Pellegrini on Saturday.

Moyes previously guided West Ham to Premier League safety in the 2017-18 season but his contract was not renewed, the London side instead opting to turn to Pellegrini.

But the Scotsman, who confirmed Alan Irvine will again be part of his backroom team, believes things will be different this time around.

"There is a clause in my contract to extend the deal," said Moyes. "I'm going to make it impossible that that clause can't be activated. It's up to the players to make sure of that now.

"It says an awful lot about the owners that they think the job I did with my backroom staff to give me another chance. This time, I'm going to give them no choice but to extend it.

"Last time when we came in, we needed results and it's similar this time but I know I've got a little bit longer this time to execute my plans."

Moyes has not coached in the 18 months since leaving West Ham, but insists he has broadened his horizons and is not afraid to try new things.

"I've tried to make sure I've educated myself while I've been off," he added at Monday's news conference. 

"I've worked with UEFA and I've tried to watch every Champions League game. For me, it was about staying in touch with football.

"I watch a lot of football, I am at games most weekends, I'm a football man. You're always looking to pick up new ideas.

"There are a lot of new modern things, but there has also been signs recently of going back to old times.

"Maybe possession isn't always key to winning games. We want to see more attacking football, action, excitement. 

"The biggest thing I want to see is the supporters enjoying watching the team."

West Ham have won five of their 19 Premier League games this season and are one point above the relegation zone, albeit with a game in hand to play on the sides below them.

Moyes feels the squad he is inheriting from Pellegrini is stronger than the one he left behind in May 2018, but is not ruling out further investment in the January window.

"I believe it is [stronger]," he said. "The club have spent well on players. If we're being truthful, we need those players to stand up. 

"They will have a massive impact on the support and they need to stand up in the coming weeks.

"I think there is money there to spend. I am more interested in the players at the club at the moment, to see how we can mould them into the best possible team and formation. We have to get results."

Somewhat fittingly for the week between Christmas and New Year, when excess chocolate and cheese can easily become a meal, the Premier League looks to have overindulged.

The newest gadgets can become tiresome through overuse at this time of year and the most recent rounds of fixtures in England's top flight might come to be seen as the moment when VAR ate itself.

Teemu Pukki, Wilfried Zaha, Dan Burn, Neto and Lys Mousset all had goals disallowed over the weekend when either themselves or team-mates were shown to be offside by the barest of margins.

Video Assistant Referees were rolled out in the A-League, MLS, the Bundesliga and Serie A before their largely acclaimed use at the 2018 World Cup.

All the while, the Premier League watched and waited, observed trials in domestic cup competitions and came up with its method of operating VAR. "Maximum interference – maximum benefit" was the self-announced "philosophy" of the league back in July.

The reality could not be further from the truth. So how did we get to a situation where even demonstrably correct decisions using VAR are derided and how can it be fixed?

Armpit offsides

For VAR evangelists and members of the "game's gone" brigade alike, this unwanted entry into the footballing lexicon is an absurdity that must be swiftly banished.

Where the intention of VAR – and, it must be said, it's regular benefit – is to stop incorrect calls affecting the destiny of games, its implementation for offsides in the Premier League is too frequently adjudicating upon something no one thought was a problem in the first place.

Raheem Sterling and Roberto Firmino are among the players to have had goals ruled out for the positioning of their armpit in relation to the last defender, elevating a part of the anatomy previously irrelevant to football conversation.

"Armpit offsides" have best highlighted the problem of interpreting as absolutes the rules of a sport that have always contained huge scope for interpretation and subjectivity. When fans used to talk of the striker being "about level" or giving "the benefit of the doubt to the attacker" no one was looking at anybody's armpit.

Therefore, the whole thing feels alien. These infringements, if you can even call them that, are not what the offside rule was designed to prevent.

Things need to change quickly in this regard and waiting until 2020-21 feels far too late, considering the potential for weekend-to-weekend moaning and articles like this one in the meantime.

Graeme Souness' suggestion that any part of a player being level with the last defender should mean the attacker is onside could be the way to go. Even though this would simply shift magnified millimetre calls back a metre or so, it would bring most decisions into line with what most fans perceive to be onside and offside.

Another alternative would be a version of cricket's "umpire's call", where the assistant's onfield decision – Mousset being onside, for example – would be allowed to stand within a defined margin of error.

Using the Monitor

Remember the old riddle of what goes to every FA Cup final but is never used? Well, the pitchside monitor is the Premier League's modern-day equivalent of the losing team's ribbons.

From its pre-VAR ivory tower, the Premier League decided it disliked the spectacle of referees trotting over to the halfway line to pore over television replays.

That conclusion was not unreasonable. But referees standing with their finger pressed to their ear, while minimal information is presented to jeering and confused fans is worse.

There is no indication the Premier League's time-saving ploy of avoiding the monitor is saving any time. A referee contacting their video assistant and being seen to review the monitor before settling on their final decision is a more transparent process.

The omnipresent murmurs of "what's going on?" means many do not trust a system that might never be fully trusted.

Before Champions League games – where VAR has also been far from perfect – a video is played inside the stadium outlining which decisions might be subjected to review.

The Premier League should consider something similar, while also making good on its guidance that allows a "definitive video clip to help explain what has happened" in the event of a changed decision to be shown on stadium screens.

"It's not football anymore"

The Sheffield United fans were the latest supporters to break into this chant at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, a few moments before Manchester City fans – who had, of course, benefitted from Mousset being given offside – joined them in a more explicit chant at VAR's expense.

Phantom offsides and the various flaws in the Premier League's video assistants project mean such supporter anger is completely understandable. But the complaints from players, managers, pundits and others have become increasingly scattergun. Correct decisions are now also causing fury.

Take Sadio Mane disallowed and subsequently allowed goal for Liverpool against Wolves on Sunday. Anthony Taylor felt Adam Lallana handled in the build-up, while the replay showed the ball clearly struck the midfielder's shoulder. No handball, goal, job done.

Or - and we should sympathise with a Wolves team that must have walked under various ladders across broken mirrors this month -  the penalty incident in Manchester City's game at Molineux.

Referee Martin Atkinson rightly ruled Leander Dendoncker's upper-body contact on Riyad Mahrez did not constitute a foul. However, he did not see the Belgium international stand on the City winger's foot. The video official did, so a penalty was awarded. The system works!

Sterling's saved penalty was booted behind by Conor Coady, but the Wolves captain was within 10 yards of the ball when the kick was taken. That amounted to clear encroachment and an unfair advantage when it came to making the clearance. A VAR intervention meant another chance for Sterling.

After the Liverpool game, a justifiably frustrated Nuno Espirito Santo bemoaned a video official "miles away" who "does not feel the game". With the greatest respect, this is nonsense. When has emotional investment ever been a desirable quality for an impartial adjudicator?

Support for introducing VAR grew out of persistent complaints about decisions from fans, coaches and the media, along with exhaustive frame-by-frame analysis of perceived injustices from any given weekend. Anyone claiming they enjoyed being repeatedly whipped up into that lather is being more than a little disingenuous.

Proclaiming the death of football every time a decision is reviewed and framing clearly explicable calls as the latest huge controversy is a waste of everyone's time and energy. As is using VAR problems as fuel for your latest conspiracy theory.

The Premier League must do away with trial by geometric microscope quickly and bring greater transparency into its VAR process. However, fans, professionals and those of us in the media need to meet the authorities halfway and raise the level of conversation above frothing outrage towards something more constructive.

Manchester United must evaluate why Erling Haaland chose to join Borussia Dortmund over them instead of attempting to blame other parties, according to agent Mino Raiola.

Highly rated striker Haaland, who scored 28 goals in 22 appearances in all competitions for Salzburg this season, signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with Dortmund on Sunday.

United, RB Leipzig and Juventus were also understood to be interested, with reports suggesting Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward held talks with Salzburg and Haaland's representatives – including his father Alf Inge Haaland and Raiola – before pulling out of the deal.

United were thought to be unhappy with Raiola's demands during negotiations, but the agent, who also represents Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic among other star names, refuted those suggestions.

"I do not know if Manchester United are briefing this but if they are then they are covering their own loss and that I find strange and disappointing," Raiola told The Telegraph.

"There was no fall-out between me and Woodward. It was just a normal negotiation and the player has chosen a different path.

"If they want to blame someone then, fine, blame me, but the player is happy. He has made his choice and we went through a normal process.

"The club that had the most direct contact with him was Manchester United. They spoke to him the most. Everybody had the chance to talk to him in person. We let that happen especially when he knows Ole.

"Clearly [Haaland] felt that at this moment it was not the right step in his career. There is nothing against Manchester United or Ole.

"He chose Borussia Dortmund ahead of them and other clubs and I'm very happy because he is going to the club he wanted to go to and that is best for him right now. If he wanted to go to Manchester United I would have been obliged to take him to Manchester United but he did not."

Raiola also claimed Haaland's decision proved his client is prioritising regular playing time over money.

"When you are 19 then maybe you prefer not to go to the Premier League," said Raiola. 

"The offer from Manchester United was good. It was not about the economics. It is just the player chose Borussia Dortmund at this stage of his career."

Eric Bailly is nearing a return for Manchester United after taking part in first-team training on Monday.

Ivory Coast international Bailly endured an injury-plagued 2019, making just seven appearances in all competitions for United.

The 25-year-old has been out of action since hurting his knee in an International Champions Cup victory over Tottenham in July.

Bailly underwent surgery and appears to be closing in on a return at a timely moment for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the Red Devils facing seven fixtures in January.

Paul Pogba sat out United's 2-0 win over Burnley on Saturday and was absent for the part of Monday's training session that was open to the media.

Scott McTominay, who was pictured leaving Turf Moor on crutches after sustaining a knee injury, Ashley Young and Axel Tuanzebe were also missing.

United's next game comes against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on January 1.

Liverpool cannot afford to take their foot off the gas in pursuit of a maiden Premier League title, according to midfielder Adam Lallana.

Jurgen Klopp's side restored their 13-point lead at the top of the table, with a game in hand still to play, courtesy of a slender 1-0 win over Wolves at Anfield on Sunday.

Sadio Mane scored the only goal of the game, the 42nd-minute strike awarded by the Video Assistant Referee after match official Anthony Taylor initially blew for handball against Lallana in the build-up.

Wolves then had a goal ruled out by VAR for a marginal offside against Jonny after Pedro Neto had fired home, while Diogo Jota had two good chances to score in the second half.

Lallana conceded Liverpool had to ride their luck to pick up a 10th league win in a row and has urged his team-mates to not become complacent.

"It was a massive three points, a gritty three points at times," he told Liverpool's official website.

"We'll look back when we analyse the game and we can do better, we can improve better mentally and physically. I think we can make life easier for us, keep the ball better.

"But that's the attitude we want to have. We don't want to just win and think, 'Ah, we got away with that'.  I think we can be better and I think it's important we have that attitude moving forward.

"We can't take our foot off the gas. We've got a couple of huge games at home in the next week - Sheffield United, who have had a fantastic season, and then the derby in the cup. 

"It's important we recover because we've had a few injuries and it's important that we get everybody back fit as quickly as possible. We want to maintain that form going into the New Year and keep Anfield a fortress."

Lallana made just his third league start of the season in the win over Wolves, coming into the side as the only change from the 4-0 win at Leicester City on Boxing Day.

And with youngsters Neco Williams, Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones among the subs, Lallana talked up the importance of everyone chipping in over the coming weeks.

"It's a squad game and I've said before that we're going to need everybody," he said.

"We've got a few injuries at the time being and three or four kids on the bench - it's a great experience for them being involved and so close to what's been a special season so far."

Liverpool are investigating an alleged incident involving Wolves defender Jonny Castro Otto and a ball boy during Sunday's clash at Anfield.

The Spanish wing-back is reported to have made contact with the youngster when attempting to retrieve the ball during Wolves' contentious 1-0 Premier League defeat.

A short statement from the Reds said a probe has been launched.

"The club is aware of the incident and will follow established protocols in terms of gathering the relevant information," the statement read.

"While that process takes place we will be making no further comment."

Liverpool maintained their unbeaten record in the Premier League this season in a VAR-controversy filled fixture.

Sadio Mane's opener was allowed to stand having initially been ruled out for handball against Adam Lallana, while Wolves saw an equaliser from Pedro Neto chalked off by VAR with Jonny deemed offside by the narrowest of margins.

Jurgen Klopp's side lead the table by 13 points from nearest challengers Leicester City and have a game in hand.

Erling Haaland's decision to join Borussia Dortmund brought an end to one of Europe's most fascinating transfer stories.

Manchester United had been in the frame for his signature but were reportedly put off by a key demand from the striker's representatives.

As often seems to be the case for the Red Devils, Mino Raiola's involvement led to complications.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED PULLED PLUG ON HAALAND BID

According to The Guardian, United abandoned their bid for the highly sought-after Haaland after learning of a request from his agent, Raiola, and father Alf-Inge Haaland.

The pair reportedly asked for a share of any future transfer fee for the 19-year-old, a stipulation the Old Trafford outfit were unwilling to meet despite their firm interest.

Haaland settled on Dortmund after the Bundesliga side activated his Salzburg buyout clause.

He had been linked to RB Leipzig, Juventus and several more top European clubs after emerging as a Champions League star.

 

ROUND-UP

- Haaland's arrival at Dortmund could lead LaLiga side  Atletico Madrid to narrow the transfer focus on Spanish striker Paco Alcacer, according to Marca. The former Barcelona player has struggled to cement a place in BVB's starting XI and represents a cheaper option in terms of wages than Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani, an apparent favourite of Diego Simeone.

- AS, meanwhile, reports on potential movements elsewhere in the Spanish capital. The newspaper claims Real Madrid are preparing to recall Jesus Vallejo from his loan spell at Wolves, with a view to finding him more playing time. That could lead to a short-term switch to Leganes or Eintracht Frankfurt.

- Juventus are close to extending Wojciech Szczesny's contract yet the Serie A champions remain admirers of Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma and Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen, according to CalcioMercato.

- Tammy Abraham wants a better deal at Stamford Bridge but Chelsea are not yet prepared to accept his demand for parity with Callum Hudson-Odoi's £180,000 per week salary, reports The Athletic.

- Manchester City are set to beat Premier League rivals United, Arsenal and Liverpool to the January signing of Barcelona's teenage left-back Juan Larios, says the Daily Star.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the 2010s in terms of individual awards and moments of pure inspiration.

Future generations will look back on this past decade as a period obsessed with the two generational talents - their often-exaggerated rivalry exacerbated by spending such a long time on opposite sides of the Clasico divide.

But, while Ronaldo and Messi have filled more column inches than any other player on the planet, there are plenty of others who have been world leaders in their respective positions.

Having looked back over the last 10 years, using Opta data for inspiration, we have selected a Team of the Decade. But who makes the cut?

Is David de Gea selected in goal? Does Luis Suarez join Messi in attack? Has Virgil van Dijk done enough for inclusion? Find out below...

OMNISPORT TEAM OF THE DECADE

Manuel Neuer

There is not much more Manuel Neuer could have achieved over the past 10 years. For much of that time he has been one of the globe's most dependable goalkeepers, even if he has shown signs of decline since a spate of foot injuries. A veteran of seven Bundesliga title triumphs and a World Cup winner with Germany, Neuer boasts a save percentage of 74.2 per cent and has comfortably the most clean sheets (139) this decade in the German top flight.

Dani Alves

Has there ever been a better right-back than Dani Alves? The Brazilian stands to leave an impressive legacy, not just through his thrilling style of play, but with his record-breaking trophy haul of 43 after captaining Brazil to Copa America success this year. Despite being a right-back, he claimed 67 assists in league action through the 2010s, though his greatest contribution came in LaLiga with Barcelona, for whom he set up 51 goals. Marcelo (48) is the closest to him, but he has played 77 times more than the current Sao Paulo star.

Vincent Kompany

Although a brilliant player at his best, it is understandable to suggest Vincent Kompany never reached his ceiling due to injuries. Nevertheless, the Belgian will go down as a Premier League great such has been his impact with Manchester City, with whom he enjoyed four title wins. Kompany recorded 83 Premier League clean sheets in the 2010s, just 10 fewer than record-setter Kyle Walker, who has played 57 more matches. His leadership qualities have been missed by City this season.

Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos is a player who often polarises opinion, but he's one of only three players to have been at Madrid for the entire decade, so he must be doing something right. An undisputed leader and fierce competitor, Ramos is a big-game player like few others and boasts a goal-scoring record even many midfielders would be happy with, having netted 43 times in LaLiga since the start of 2010, more than any other defender. Over the past 10 years, he's helped Los Blancos to a remarkable four Champions League titles, while he won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with Spain.

Jordi Alba

At his best, Jordi Alba was almost unstoppable. The flying left-back became a staple and key outlet for one of the great Barcelona teams, with his driving runs – on or off the ball – often creating havoc. A master at making a darting run into the box before cutting a pass back to create a chance, Alba has 38 LaLiga assists to his name for Barca, a record bettered by only Dani Alves and Marcelo among defenders. He gets the nod ahead of his Madrid counterpart as his assist haul is from 72 fewer matches.

Luka Modric

The only player to break the Cristiano Ronaldo-Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or duopoly, Luka Modric has enjoyed a wonderful decade. A vital part of the Croatia team that enjoyed an historic run to the 2018 World Cup final, Modric also played a big role in Madrid's incredible Champions League domination. Toni Kroos (11,260) is the only midfielder to have completed more passes in LaLiga than Modric (10,759), while he laid on 42 assists and created 522 chances.

N'Golo Kante

If there was an award for the most likeable player of the decade, N'Golo Kante would surely be a frontrunner. Sadly there is no such thing, so he'll have to contend with inclusion in this team. Arguably the key cog in Leicester City's remarkable Premier League title win, Kante followed that up with similarly impressive form at Chelsea and with France, winning the World Cup with Les Bleus last year. He has made 912 tackles and interceptions in the Premier League, putting him fifth among players with 200 appearances or fewer this decade, and each of those who rank higher have played at least 20 matches more.

David Silva

When David Silva leaves Man City at the end of the season, there will inevitably be a debate as to whether he can be regarded the Premier League's greatest 'import'. That this will even be suggested tells you the impact he has had. No one gets close to Silva's record of 89 Premier League assists in the 2010s, with the Spaniard almost certainly the most consistent creator the division has seen in the past 10 years. He was similarly important for Spain until his post-World Cup retirement last year, having previously lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2010 and at Euro 2012, eventually accumulating 125 caps.

Lionel Messi

Where does one even begin with Lionel Messi? If any single player has defined the 2010s – from an individual perspective – in world football, it is surely the Barcelona talisman. In LaLiga, Messi has amassed 505 goal involvements (369 goals, 136 assist) in 343 matches since the start of the decade, routinely carrying Barca to victory. He has won every trophy possible with the Blaugrana over the past 10 years and claimed five Ballons d'Or, with his 2019 victory giving him a record-breaking sixth. Although now 32, he remains frighteningly decisive – all that eludes him is international success with Argentina.

Robert Lewandowski

A long list of immense strikers have starred throughout the 2010s, but arguably chief among them – Ronaldo aside – is Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Having moved from Borussia Dortmund, whom he helped turn into Champions League contenders, the Poland international has developed into a remarkable all-round striker. In 307 Bundesliga games he has 221 goals from 1,163 attempts, meaning he scores every 5.2 shots – by contrast, Ronaldo needs 6.4 efforts per goal. Although he is yet to win Europe's elite club competition, there is little doubt the Pole appears to be getting better with age having already notched 19 league goals this term, just three short of his total for 2018-19.

Cristiano Ronaldo

In the somewhat tiresome 'Ronaldo or Messi' debate about which superstar is "better", the former can at least point to his international successes with Portugal as something that sets him apart, having lifted Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League. That is just the tip of the iceberg for his brilliance in the 2010s, however. Across spells with Real Madrid and Juventus, Ronaldo has scored 335 league goals and laid on 95 assists. With Los Blancos he helped inspire four Champions League successes, also winning a couple of LaLiga titles. What a privilege it has been to see Ronaldo and Messi in the same era.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said the runaway Premier League leaders will not celebrate prematurely, insisting the title race is still not over.

The Reds will enter the New Year with a 13-point lead atop the table following Sunday's 1-0 victory over Wolves at Anfield.

Liverpool recorded a 17th successive Premier League home win and extended their unbeaten domestic run on Merseyside to 50 matches thanks to Sadio Mane's goal.

As Liverpool close in on a first league crown since 1990, Klopp told reporters his side are not getting carried away following 19 matches.

"I think our fans are exactly like the team is," said Klopp, whose Liverpool have won 18 and drawn one of their 19 league fixtures this season to be ahead of Leicester City and two-time reigning champions Manchester City.

"They are not interested in the moment. They don't want to celebrate now. They take it like it is. They dig in a game, like today, today I liked it a lot. All the fans were really in the game. This was a game where the crowd can be nervous, they weren't, so that's good.

"We are a unit so we fight until somebody says 'it's enough' and 'you have enough points' or not. We will see. But it's not about belief. If we were not confident it would be really crazy but it's not about knowing, or wanting to know, that it's already done. Imagine, really, if you asked me and I sat here and said 'yeah, actually, I think it's done'. But we still play of course but I think it's done. That would be really crazy.

"But, since five, six or seven weeks ago we are still asking that question constantly. And I, as a normal human being, have the same answer. Because it's not done. So discuss it if you want, ask me if you want, but don't expect a different answer."

 

Pep Guardiola believes VAR in the Premier League has been a mess, despite seeing his Manchester City side benefit from the video technology against Sheffield United.

City got lucky when Blades forward Lys Mousset had a first-half strike harshly disallowed for offside by the video review system, which then allowed Sergio Aguero's opener to stand despite referee Chris Kavanagh inadvertently blocking off John Fleck in the build-up.

There was no doubt over City's second goal, with Kevin De Bruyne tucking home to secure an unconvincing win - Guardiola's 100th in the Premier League.

Video assistant referee controversy has ruled in the Premier League this weekend, with Norwich City's Teemu Pukki having a goal harshly ruled out, while at Anfield, Wolves had a strike disallowed for a marginal offside.

With the officials coming under even greater scrutiny after more debatable decisions, Guardiola has weighed in.

"I said many times I have a huge list for VAR. Every weekend is a big mess," Guardiola told Sky Sports.

"In other games it was a big mess. Hopefully next season it can do better."

However, Guardiola's counterpart Chris Wilder - whose side suffered their first away defeat of the season - was left much more frustrated.

"Yet again we had another goal disallowed by VAR, that's about eight or nine over the weekend. This is not a situation helping the game and the small margins," Wilder told BBC Sport.

"But I will leave that for everyone else to talk about because I have said too much about it."

Wilder said of City's opening goal: "I've been to see the referee and he has been honest about it. We make mistakes and I believe he made one too.

"It happened that quick and I thought he could have been helped by his colleagues a little bit.

"We talk about the new rule where if the referee touches the ball then he has to blow up, so surely if he is in the way and hinders us then he makes a sensible decision.

"If he made the sensible decision then I don't think anyone in the ground would have said anything about it."

Pep Guardiola indicated Manchester City are already focusing on next season after accepting there is no longer a title race in the Premier League.

Guardiola claimed his 100th league win as City boss on Sunday, as goals from Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne secured a 2-0 triumph over resilient Sheffield United.

The win took City back to within a point of Leicester City, though they are still 14 behind runaway leaders Liverpool, who overcame Wolves 1-0 at Anfield.

With the gap so large, Guardiola has accepted City are no longer realistic contenders for the title, which they have won for the last two seasons, and instead said the main focus is on ensuring they improve ahead of the 2020-21 season while targeting success in the cup competitions.

"No. It's unrealistic to think about that," Guardiola said in a news conference when asked if Liverpool could be caught.

His side were swiftly back in action after a 3-2 defeat to Wolves on Friday, meaning they had under 48 hours between the two matches.

Guardiola said: "A team which has the numbers of Liverpool, why should we think about that? It's just preparing, play good and better to be as close to the top of the league as we can, prepare for the knockout competitions and for the next season.

"Every game helps us to improve for next season. Hopefully we can do better.

"The motivation is to improve because when we improve we win games and that is the way to live better. That is the best motivation for all of us. Even in the past.

"Now we recover for three days, thank you for three days to recover, and prepare for the next game against Everton. That is what you have to do."

Despite accepting the title race is all but over, Guardiola insists it should not take anything away from what his City squad have achieved.

"The fans can say or do whatever they want but they cannot deny that the team in the last three years was incredible in every single competition," he added.

"Football you can lose or you can win. We have injuries in very important positions but always we tried, even in the games we lost.

"It was a tough game especially because of the opponent, because of the 48 hours, and two hours after the Wolves game on the bus back.

"It's not the best for recovery against one of the most physical teams in the Premier League and we won it, so full compliments to the team."

Jurgen Klopp told Liverpool's players to expect another half-season of tight battles after a 1-0 victory over Wolves at Anfield moved them 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Sadio Mane's goal proved the difference between the two teams as Liverpool survived a scare when Pedro Neto had an equaliser ruled out for offside following the latest in a string of controversial VAR rulings.

The Reds have played half of their fixtures for the season and look destined to win their first domestic league title for 30 years, but Klopp said the second half of the season would bring with it a shift in intensity.

"We are halfway there," Klopp told reporters. "We still have 19 games to play and probably 18 or 19 of them will be like this tonight, for different reasons.

"We will now face teams who fight for the league with all they have, then the fight for the Champions League and European spots is reopened again so they will fight with all they have and we have to be ready.

"Who cares about points in December? We just created a basis which we will work with from now on, that’s all."

Klopp underlined the importance of squad strength after seeing his players collect a 17th consecutive Premier League home victory and extend their unbeaten domestic run at Anfield to 50 matches.

The result means Liverpool can reflect on having won all but one of their nine matches in all competitions across the month of December, and Klopp praised the contribution of Naby Keita and James Milner from the bench in the second half against Wolves.

"Naby and Millie helped immediately, you could see that," said Klopp, who will prepare his players for the visit of Sheffield United at Anfield on Thursday.

"My God, Adam Lallana and Gini [Georginio Wijnaldum], what they played today effort-wise, miles-wise, was really great, but then fresh players there in the half-space helped obviously.

"Then we caused them problems again but didn't finish them off, it was not a game for two or three goals for us tonight, so we had to fight until the end. As I said, no problem with that."

David Moyes has been appointed West Ham manager for a second time after Manuel Pellegrini was sacked.

The Hammers are struggling in 17th in the Premier League, prompting Pellegrini's dismissal following Saturday's 2-1 home defeat to Leicester City.

Former Manchester City boss Pellegrini largely failed to get the best out of a talented group of players as West Ham slipped towards a relegation battle.

They have again turned to Moyes, who guided the London club to safety in the 2017-18 season. He has signed an 18-month contract, West Ham announced on their website.

The former Manchester United manager lifted West Ham to a 13th-placed finish in his previous spell in charge, but his short-term contract was not renewed and Pellegrini was appointed in May 2018.

Moyes, who has also managed Everton and Sunderland in the Premier League, has been out of management since leaving London Stadium.

He said of his return to West Ham: "It's fabulous to be back. It feels great to be home. I've missed being here because I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed being around the stadium and I loved being in this part of the world and I missed the club, so I can't wait to get started.

"I'm feeling very proud that I'm back here at West Ham. But I think more importantly I'll be looking to see what I can do and what I can make improvements to, how we can get some wins with the players and how we can get some quick wins on the field as well.

"I do believe that the squad of players I've got here is a better squad of players than when I took over before, so I am looking forward to working with them.

"I think there's got to be a short-term goal for us just now to get the wins to get us away from the wrong end of the league and what we're going to do over the next six months, then what we're going to do over the next period as well. The start is really focusing on the immediate games."

The next match for West Ham is the New Year's Day home fixture against Bournemouth, who sit just one point and one place better off than Moyes' team.

West Ham joint-chairman David Sullivan is confident the 56-year-old Scot, who was also recently linked with a return to Everton, has the credentials to turn around the club's on-pitch fortunes.

Sullivan said: "David proved in his short time with the club that he was capable of getting results and we believe that he will start moving the club in the right direction once again.

"We are delighted to welcome David back – he knows the club well and he built strong relationships during that time which will be crucial for the work that needs to be done going forward."

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