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Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness hit out at disgruntled Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the German Football Association (DFB) and the media amid the ongoing debate involving Manuel Neuer, who he believes is the "much better" shot-stopper.

Tension between Bayern keeper Neuer and Barcelona's Ter Stegen has been high after the latter voiced his frustration about the lack of international opportunities for Germany.

Despite 22-time international Ter Stegen's fine form with the LaLiga champions, captain Neuer is Germany's number one and started ahead of the 27-year-old during the latest round of Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Neuer – a World Cup winner with Germany having amassed 90 caps – accused Ter Stegen of putting himself before the team when he expressed frustration with the selection order, and his positional rival described the 33-year-old's criticism as "inappropriate".

Hoeness fiercely weighed into the Neuer and Ter Stegen debate following Bayern's 3-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in their Champions League opener on Wednesday.

"I think that this is a joke and especially the Munich press I think it's not okay what they do," Hoeness told reporters. "The West German press is heavily supporting Marc-Andre ter Stegen as if he won 17 times the World Cup. And from the South German press I don't see any support.

"I think it's impossible to make such a topic public because he has no claim to play there [in the national team]. With the goalkeepers it's different than with the other.

"He [Neuer] was the best goalkeeper in the world for many years. Now he was injured sometime but it was clear that if he becomes the old one again – and he is the old one again - there is no discussion if just him can be the number one. I hoped for more support from the German football federation. We frequently have troubles with DFB.

"First of all, I remember how our three players were kicked out in a very bad way of the national team [Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng and former defender Mats Hummels] and now this with Manuel Neuer is the same. I don't know how you cannot do something against it when a player goes public with a topic that he should only discuss with [head coach] Joachim Low. This is not okay.

"We have our opinion and we won't let this happen in the future that our players will be damaged without reason because Ter Stegen is a good keeper but Manuel Neuer is much better. And has more experience. There is no discussion necessary. Nobody in the world can have doubts with Manuel Neuer being Germany's goalkeeper. Neuer can play as long as he stays healthy. He will always be the best. There is no discussion about it."

Samuel Eto'o has said he wants to become the first coach of colour to win the Champions League and vowed to emulate the style of former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola.

The former striker, who retired from playing this month, twice won Europe's elite competition with Barca – under Frank Rijkaard and then Guardiola – before lifting it again with Inter in 2010.

The 38-year-old has now set his sights on winning the tournament as a coach, using the same possession and attacking style of football adopted by Guardiola at Camp Nou.

Eto'o also hopes such a triumph would blaze a trail for non-white coaches, the ex-Cameroon star having become wearied by recent incidents of racism in the sport.

"I want to be the first coach of colour to win the Champions League, by playing with a team like Guardiola does," he told Cadena SER.

Eto'o was speaking in the wake of the alleged racist abuse of Inter striker Romelu Lukaku by Cagliari fans during a Serie A match in Sardinia. Cagliari avoided punishment from the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

On Monday, television pundit Luciano Passirani was sacked for making a comment about Lukaku that, although apparently meant as a compliment, was considered by many observers to be racist.

"These have been very sad moments and the worst thing is it keeps repeating itself," Eto'o said. "I ask on my knees for you to help us so that football in the stands is cleaner, with more education.

"Yellow, black, orange... in the end, we're all the same, and our children should know that. They shout at you like a monkey and then ask you for a photo. They have a photo with a monkey."

Eto'o scored in Barca's Champions League final win over Arsenal in 2006 and then broke the deadlock when the Catalans beat Manchester United 2-0 in Rome three years later.

He celebrated the opening goal by slapping his exposed forearm, something he says was fuelled by the fact that "nobody talked about me" prior to the match.

"It meant, 'I am black and that is why they don't talk about me'," he said when asked to explain the celebration. 

"I was the only one from the two teams to have scored in a Champions League final [apart from Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008] and nobody talked about me.

"They talked about Cristiano, about my boy [Lionel] Messi, who had not yet arrived... but the one who had scored in a final before was me. And I scored again."

Most recently at Qatar SC, Eto'o has called time on his playing career but is already plotting a return to Barca, saying: "I'm sure I'll come back. How? I don't know, but I'll come back!"

For now, though, Eto'o says his post-playing plans are simply: "To relax and have fun with my wife."

Samuel Eto'o joked he will "kill" Xavi if his former Barcelona team-mate never coaches the Catalan giants.

Xavi, who won multiple major honours as a player at Camp Nou, has long been seen as a future Barca coach and has started his managerial career in Qatar with Al Sadd.

With Ernesto Valverde again coming under pressure amid an underwhelming opening to the season for the Catalan giants, Eto'o offered a clear suggestion on who could replace him. 

"He is the f******g boss in Qatar and in Spain," Eto'o told Cadena SER of Xavi.

"If he doesn't end up coaching Barca, I'll kill him!"

Xavi and Andres Iniesta were part of one of football's great midfields, with Eto'o hailing the latter's talent.

"In the [2006 Champions League] final in Paris he played like [Diego] Maradona, [Lionel] Messi and Cristiano [Ronaldo] combined," Eto'o added.

"I already said in my first interviews: he's the best player I have trained with.

"People were surprised I didn't say Ronaldinho or Messi, but time has proved me right.

"He's never been recognised at the level of Leo or Cristiano, but Xavi and Iniesta are at that level."

Barca's next great star could be Ansu Fati, the 16-year-old becoming the youngest player to feature for the club in the Champions League when he started against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

Fati already has two goals in three LaLiga appearances and Eto'o is excited by the forward's huge potential.

"Only God knows what's to come with Fati. He's very good," said the former Cameroon striker. "That one has two pairs of balls... he doesn't have one pair, he has two."

Fati has been playing alongside Barca's new signing Antoine Griezmann, who also has two LaLiga goals this term.

"Playing at Barca is like drinking a good glass of wine," Eto'o added. "Griezmann is drinking from that glass and enjoying it for a long time."

Barcelona have confirmed Jordi Alba suffered a hamstring injury when he went down in the first half of the Champions League draw with Borussia Dortmund.

Left-back Alba attempted to play on after receiving treatment but was forced to make way for Sergi Roberto five minutes before the interval.

Barca have not confirmed a timeline for the 30-year-old's return but he will reportedly miss two to three weeks, leaving him set to miss the upcoming LaLiga games against Granada, Villarreal and Getafe.

"Tests carried out have shown that the first-team player Jordi Alba has a hamstring injury in his left leg," the club said in a statement.

"The player is now unavailable for action and his recovery will dictate his return."

Alba's injury gives Junior Firpo the chance to push for a first Barca start.

The 23-year-old was signed from Real Betis to provide cover on the left side of defence but has only managed nine minutes in LaLiga this term.

He was left out of the squad that drew 0-0 with Dortmund, a result secured thanks to Marc-Andre ter Stegen's save from Marco Reus' second-half penalty.

Lionel Messi made his return from a calf injury in the Group F encounter, replacing teenager Ansu Fati in the 59th minute.

Barca have five games to play before the next international break, including the Champions League home match against Inter on October 2.

Chris Coleman has defended Gareth Bale's reserved nature and revealed the oft-criticised Real Madrid winger can speak perfect Spanish.

Wales star Bale almost left LaLiga for China during a turbulent close season in which Zinedine Zidane attempted to force him out of the Santiago Bernabeu.

The pair's relationship reportedly became fractured as Madrid fans showed increasing coldness towards the four-time Champions League winner, their treatment of him described as a "disgrace" by the player's agent.

Criticism of Bale has tended to centre on his speculated inability to learn Spanish as part of a wider reluctance to integrate into the country's culture.

Coleman, who managed the former Tottenham talisman for over five years at international level, believes such accusations are at least in part unfounded.

"I saw John Toshack saying Gareth hasn't given enough of himself to the public in Madrid," the former Wales boss told The Athletic.

"Well he's never done that. It's not his character. When he comes home he plays golf, stays with his family, in his little circle.

"I just thought it was unfair when people were picking him apart. He should do this, do that. No, be yourself. If he's not happy in his head he won't be right on the pitch.

"I've been with Gareth in Madrid, in a restaurant, and he's speaking perfect Spanish, ordering food, greeting people.

"He was very polite, but it's his own space. He has done all his talking on the pitch. He is the most decorated foreign import from the UK."

Bale was Coleman's key man when Wales exceeded expectations by reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2016.

Coleman stepped down the following November to take up an ill-fated opportunity at Sunderland, with Ryan Giggs named as his replacement.

Performances have not been entirely convincing but the former Fulham manager expects his successor to prove a shrewd appointment.

"I think he'll be good at it," Coleman said. "He is different to me and will do it his own way. Ryan's quiet, but he's super strong mentally."

He added: "Ryan's ego is not big enough where he thinks he's got all the answers, because none of us have. This is his first job, we mustn't forget that. He's going to get better and better."

There could be a fight to prise Fabian Ruiz from Napoli.

Fabian has established himself as one of Europe's premier midfielders and the Spaniard is reportedly attracting interest.

Two LaLiga giants and the Champions League holders are said to be eyeing Fabian.

 

TOP STORY - THREE-WAY BATTLE FOR FABIAN

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool are chasing Napoli star Fabian Ruiz, according to the Daily Mail.

Fabian swapped Real Betis for Napoli in 2018 and the Spain international has quickly become one of Europe's most sought-after midfielders.

Now three of the biggest clubs in the world are reportedly eyeing the 23-year-old.

ROUND-UP

- The Sun reports Manchester United are preparing a January move for Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson. The Red Devils have limited options up front following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Wilson, who has already scored three goals this season, fits the bill at Old Trafford as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer eyes talented English players.

Juventus, Liverpool and Manchester City are all interested in Real Madrid playmaker Isco, claims Calciomercato.

Barcelona are set to offer 16-year-old sensation Ansu Fati a new five-year deal to fend off interest from European rivals, claims the Daily Mail.

- League One side Southend United want to hire former Celtic, Barca and Manchester United striker Henrik Larsson as their manager, says the Daily Mail. Southend are second bottom in the league after eight games, while Larsson was last in charge of Helsingborg before quitting in August.

- According to Globo Esporte, Flamengo are negotiating to bring Fredy Guarin to the club. The 33-year-old former Inter midfielder is a free agent after leaving Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua.

Ansu Fati will become Barcelona's youngest player to feature in the Champions League after being named in their team to face Borussia Dortmund, while Lionel Messi is on the bench.

Messi has yet to feature this term due to a calf injury but has been deemed fit enough to be included on the bench for Tuesday's Group F game in Germany.

His absence has helped clear the path for Fati to come through and the 16-year-old, who has scored two LaLiga goals in three appearances, will get a chance to impress on Europe's grandest stage.

Fati starts in a front three alongside the returning Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann, who makes his Champions League debut for Barca. 

Griezmann's fellow new signing Frenkie de Jong also starts.

Suarez, who came off the bench to score twice in a 5-2 defeat of Valencia last time out, replaces Carles Perez in Barca's only change from that game.

Dortmund's XI includes former Barca striker Paco Alcacer, with the Spain international having already hit five Bundesliga goals this season.

Jesus Navas says years of covering for Dani Alves at Sevilla made it easy for him to become a full-back for Manchester City.

Having spent his earlier career as a winger, Navas was deployed as an emergency right-back in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge at the Etihad Stadium due to injuries.

Navas returned to Sevilla after the 2016-17 season and has mostly been used in defence for club and country since, including in all four LaLiga appearances this season and the 2-1 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Romania on September 5.

The 33-year-old says it was a natural progression for him to become a defender, partly because of his experience of covering for the marauding Dani Alves during the Brazilian's time at Sevilla between 2002 and 2008.

"There were players injured [at City] and he [Guardiola] asked me if I could play there," Navas said, courtesy of LaLiga. "I told him that I could do it without a problem because when I played with Dani Alves he used to attack a lot, so I normally covered him in the defence.

"I did not have any problem doing it. Everything went well."

Navas won six trophies in his first spell with Sevilla before helping City to one Premier League and two EFL Cup triumphs.

However, his crowning achievement came when his burst forward from his own half led to Andres Iniesta's winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.

"Thinking about that play, for me to have won a World Cup is the biggest thing ever as a player," he said. "You dream of that from when you're a child. It was a dream that became true. It was incredible. The greatest moment for me.
 
"My next dream would be to win another title with Sevilla and with our fans. That would be something big."

Navas twice won the UEFA Cup with Sevilla before it was rebranded as the Europa League and he now wants to lift the trophy for a third time this season.

He also predicts a Spanish team can triumph in the Champions League - as well as former club City.
 
"Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona or another team that's always on top can win the Champions League," he said. "The Spanish teams always fight for this title.
 
"[The Europa League] is very special for us. We have won it on various occasions and feel very comfortable playing it. We know that it is difficult and a long tournament, so we have to go game by game. The truth is that this competition has given us a lot of happiness."

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appears set on his determination to bring young British talent to Manchester United.

There are four English names on the United manager's radar, apparently, as he looks to rebuild the team into a title-winning force once more.

The end of the season could potentially see a spend of a similar magnitude to the £150million, more or less, that he spent on Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James this year.

 

TOP STORY - MADDISON AND SANCHO TOP SOLSKJAER'S WISH LIST

As per ESPN, Manchester United will pursue deals for Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho and Leicester City's James Maddison in 2020.

Manager Solskjaer is set on his policy of recruiting young, hungry British talent and remains keen on signing Sancho, who was reportedly a target this year.

United believe Leicester could sell Maddison for around £70m and are also interested in Newcastle United's Sean Longstaff, Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson and Stoke City's Nathan Collins.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona have been ordered by a judge to pay a €300 fine or play a match behind closed doors as part of Atletico Madrid's complaint against the transfer of Antoine Griezmann, Marca say. Atleti believe they are owed more than the €120m Barca paid to activate his release clause.

- The Daily Mail report Napoli are interested in Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard, a player they value at around €34m (£30.1m). 

- A handful of reports in Italy suggest Bernard Arnault, the billionaire owner of Louis Vuitton, is interested in buying Serie A giants AC Milan

- Back with Manchester United, and Calciomercato say JuventusInter, Milan and Borussia Dortmund are all keeping an eye on Nemanja Matic, who has grown frustrated at his reduced role in Solskjaer's plans.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen says it was "inappropriate" for Manuel Neuer to criticise him for speaking out about a desire for more game time for Germany.

Barcelona goalkeeper Ter Stegen described it as a "massive blow" not to feature for his country against Netherlands and Northern Ireland in the international break.

The 27-year-old has had to serve as back-up to Neuer for most of his international career, despite increasing calls for him to be given the number one spot ahead of the Bayern Munich star.

Neuer accused Ter Stegen of being unhelpful by expressing his frustrations in public and suggested he had shown something of a lack of respect towards Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp, who likewise are battling for more Germany playing time.

Ter Stegen, who has returned to his homeland for Tuesday's Champions League clash between Barca and Borussia Dortmund, thinks Neuer has been unfair but wants to draw a line under the issue.

He told a news conference: "I would like to say something about this. You cannot say we have competition for the goalkeeper position and then expect the players to be happy with the situation if they don't play. Football is about happiness but also disappointment.

"Manuel Neuer does not need to comment on my personal feelings and measure them, I'd say. It's my own opinion. If you think about the last few years, you realise that I always behaved well and what Neuer and other people have said is not fair.

"His remarks were inappropriate but I don't want to say much more. I want to end this controversy."

Ter Stegen's immediate priority is to help sure up Barca's defence, with the Catalans having conceded seven goals in their opening four LaLiga games of 2019-20.

"We're trying to stop the goals going in but things haven't come off," he said. "It's not what we expected. We have to improve. There have been mistakes that we can easily correct. We've spoken about it."

Lionel Messi has trained well in recent days but Ernesto Valverde remains wary of rushing him back into action when Barcelona face Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

The Argentina star has not featured this season due to a calf injury sustained in pre-season but was named in the travelling squad for Barca's opening Champions League group game at Signal Iduna Park.

Valverde has been pleased with Messi's training performances but will not make a decision on whether his captain will start the match until closer to kick-off.

"We'll decide before the game," he said. "It wasn't very clear a week ago if he could come, but he was with the team in the last few training sessions, finishing well, taking the fear of pain out of his mind. We'll see what we do."

Whether or not Messi returns, Barca could well hand a Champions League debut to Ansu Fati, the 16-year-old who has taken LaLiga by storm this season.

Fati became Barca's youngest ever league goalscorer against Osasuna last month and marked his full Camp Nou debut on Saturday with a goal and an assist in the first seven minutes of the 5-2 thrashing of Valencia.

"I've not spoken with him, save for tactical matters," Valverde admitted. "I don't like the history of giving advice. Of course I will talk with him, but you have to give him some breathing space.

"What he is doing is exceptional. If he plays, it's not so he can break a record, but because of the needs of the team. We love him."

Barca have only lost one of their past 28 group-stage matches but are under huge pressure to perform this season after collapsing in the semi-finals to throw away a 3-0 first-leg lead over Liverpool.

Valverde believes Dortmund will offer a good litmus test for his side, as he looks to put the disappointment of the 4-0 loss at Anfield and the dramatic quarter-final exit to Roma the year before behind him.

"I expect a rival of the highest level, a challenger for everything in their country and in Europe, and a good yardstick for us," he said.

"It's a competition in which one bad day can knock you out, even if you have had a great competition until that moment. The two teams in the final last year [Liverpool and Tottenham] lost more games than we did. You can't neglect even 10 minutes."

Tuesday's game will see Barca come up against Paco Alcacer, who has flourished since leaving Barca initially on loan in 2018.

"Alcacer is a great player and he's showing that for Dortmund and the national team," Valverde said. "He's playing regularly with Dortmund. What we know about him is both an advantage and a disadvantage."

Marcelo is a major doubt for Real Madrid's Champions League tie with Paris Saint-Germain after injuring his neck.

The Brazil international appeared to sustain the issue during the first half of Saturday's 3-2 win against Levante after landing awkwardly.

He completed the full 90 minutes but is now expected to miss Wednesday's Group A opener with PSG at the Parc des Princes.

Madrid, who confirmed the injury blow on Monday, have suffered a number of fitness setbacks in the opening weeks of the campaign, with the likes of Isco, Marco Asensio and Luka Modric also on the sidelines.

Zinedine Zidane is already without skipper Sergio Ramos and fellow defender Nacho Fernandez for the trip to Paris due to suspensions carried over from last season.

Lionel Messi is back in the Barcelona squad for the first time this season after recovering from a calf injury ahead of Tuesday's Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund.

Messi suffered the injury in pre-season and has been unable to feature even as a substitute in Barca's first four LaLiga games of the 2019-20 season.

The 32-year-old returned to training last week and took part in the full session on Sunday, despite coach Ernesto Valverde suggesting prior to Saturday's 5-2 demolition of Valencia that Messi would not be fit enough to face Dortmund.

But ahead of Tuesday's Champions League opener, Messi has been named on Barca's squad list, meaning an appearance at Signal Iduna Park is a possibility.

Barca's start to the domestic season has been indifferent without Messi.

While they thrashed Valencia and Real Betis 5-2, those victories came after a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao and either side of a 2-2 draw at promoted Osasuna.

Youngsters Carles Perez and Ansu Fati have been drafted in to help alleviate Barca's injuries woes in attack during Messi's absence, and both players have impressed.

Perez has scored one goal in four outings, while 16-year-old Fati has netted twice and got an assist in just three matches.

Luis Suarez made his return to from a brief absence against Valencia and scored twice off the bench, meaning he could potentially be brought into the starting XI in Dortmund.

Once dubbed the 'German Messi', Marko Marin has found his home at boyhood club Red Star Belgrade.

Marin's European odyssey has taken him to Borussia Monchengladbach, Werder Bremen, Premier League giants Chelsea, Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht, Trabzonspor and Olympiacos.

Now, in Belgrade – less than a three-hour drive from where Marin was born in the Bosnian city of Gradiska – the 30-year-old attacker is playing a key role in restoring the global reputation of 1991 European Cup champions Red Star, having disappeared off the radar.

"Even more for me, with my childhood club because I'm a fan from a kid," Marin, a league winner with Red Star and Olympiacos, told Omnisport as he reflected on Red Star's Champions League qualification. "To play Champions League with them is even more special. It's a very nice experience to bring the Champions League back to Serbia after so many years."

Born in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Bosnian Serb parents in 1989, Marin – a Europa League winner with Chelsea (2013) and Sevilla (2014) moved to Germany at the age of two and 16 international caps for his new country followed.

Marin waited for calls from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia but they were not forthcoming as he opted for Germany – he was rewarded with a spot in Joachim Low's 2010 World Cup squad after impressing for Bremen.

While he represented Die Mannschaft, Marin's love for Serbian powerhouse Red Star – who snapped a 26-year drought from Europe's premier club competition last term – runs deep and a second successive season of Champions League football means a lot to the club captain.

"It's different because you play with more passion for the club," Marin said when asked about the satisfaction of qualifying. "You always give everything for the club you represent because it's your job and love football. But it's different if you play for the club you really loved as a kid.

"We have many players in the team like this. The foreign players maybe give us more quality but the main group of the team and the strength – when you grow up as a Red Star fan, many of them trained in the youth team. It's a bit different to play Champions League for Chelsea or Werder Bremen for example."

"After every game, Belgrade and Serbia is so happy and even kids outside of the country," he said. "I grew up in Germany and I was a fan of Red Star and when I went with my friends to school, you would always talk and I said that I'm a Red Star fan but they didn't really know. But now, Red Star are playing in the biggest competition in Europe. You make Red Star big again. They're getting used to it. This is a motivation.

"For sure this season, we will make some good games. Even qualifying for the group stage is a big, big success. If you compare with Manchester City, Barcelona or Real Madrid, their aim is to win the Champions League... ours is to qualify first."

Marin arrived at Red Star from Greek giants Olympiacos prior to the side's 2018-19 Champions League group-stage campaign involving eventual champions Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli.

One of the game's most promising talents a decade ago, Marin's switch from Piraeus to Belgrade last year barely made the news outside of Serbia. What could have been is a question often asked about the Bosnian-born German. But what does he think about his career?

"It's a fantastic career," Marin replied. "I played in nearly every big league for the biggest teams. When I was at Bremen, we played for the title and in the Champions League. At Chelsea, I don't have to explain how big this team is and Sevilla.

"Maybe it could be better, for sure. There are some reasons. Maybe I wasn't patient enough in some situations. Injuries didn't help to make it even bigger. But I wouldn't have this experience with Red Star if this didn't happen. I'm very happy with my career. To feel this what I feel at the moment, it's the best part of my career."

Marin, who joined Chelsea on a five-year deal from Bremen in 2012, added: "Who knows what would've happened if I stayed longer in Germany? The experience to play for Chelsea was amazing. To play alongside the best players, the professionals. [Frank] Lampard, [John] Terry – these leaders. How they train every day and the passion and quality. I saw this for the first time in Chelsea. I played before with very good players but that was another level."

Fast forward to this season and Marin's Red Star are preparing to welcome Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, 2019 Champions League runners-up Tottenham and Olympiacos to Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana – in Group B.

Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting home support in the Serbian capital, where Liverpool lost 2-0 in November – one of four defeats for last season's champions in the 2018-19 competition – as Vladan Milojevic's men eye a third-place finish.

"It's difficult for teams coming here because they don't know, they can't expect this," Marin said. "Before last season's game against Liverpool in the news conference I said you will see it's completely different. I know Anfield is amazing with a big crowd, but it's totally different to what they experienced in Belgrade. You cannot explain it.

"They go to warm-up and the stadium is already full. We were waiting to come out of this big, long tunnel that you don't have anywhere in the world. Then you go out and the stadium is exploding. It's not easy for visiting teams. We play 11 against 11 but when they feel this atmosphere, it's different.

"I hope we can challenge for third place. I'm not sure if would be a surprise if we take some points because people know us and how difficult it is to play at Marakana. Our strength is team work and it's even more so at home. Of course we have quality but the biggest strength is teamwork."

And what about the 'German Messi' tag? "I couldn't change this. It didn't come from me. We all know there's only one Messi and no one is even near him. It wasn't big pressure because I don't think they took it seriously when they compared me to Messi. He is the number one. [Cristiano] Ronaldo is another type of player. Maybe they see it as my ability maybe in one-on-one situations. I take it as a compliment but it's not a real comparison."

If losing your manager was bad enough, imagine losing your star defender?

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and centre-back Virgil van Dijk are attracting some serious interest from across Europe.

Now, LaLiga's powerhouse duo are reportedly eyeing the Reds pair.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA AND MADRID WANT KLOPP AND VAN DIJK

According to AS, LaLiga champions Barcelona and rivals Real Madrid are set to go head-to-head to try to prise Klopp and Van Dijk from Liverpool.

Klopp and Van Dijk helped lead Liverpool to Champions League glory last season, while the Reds are challenging for Premier League honours this term having narrowly missed out to Manchester City in 2018-19.

With Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde and Madrid counterpart Zinedine Zidane under some early pressure in Spain, Klopp and Van Dijk are reportedly "two priorities" for both clubs.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid have the budget to sign Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe at the end of the season, reports AS. Madrid's financial accounts have been revealed, with €156million in liquid assets at their disposal, as well as €285m in credit. Los Blancos are reportedly planning to persuade the France forward, who is contracted until 2022, not to re-sign in the French capital in an effort to force the club's hand.

Lionel Messi to MLS? There has been talk about Messi and David Beckham's incoming franchise Inter Miami following a report claiming a delegation had been sent out to open negotiations for the Barcelona captain. However, Goal says Messi has had no contact with Beckham's Miami.

Manchester United are trying everything to re-sign star goalkeeper David de Gea. According to the Times, United have offered De Gea a new contract with no wage drop if the Red Devils do not qualify for the Champions League. The Spain international, who is out of contract at the end of the season, reportedly has a four-year deal on the table worth £13.5m a season.

- Staying at Old Trafford, and Record and O Jogo both report United are back in for Benfica star Ruben Dias. The 22-year-old defender was linked to the Manchester club before the transfer window closed. Now reports claim a United official was in attendance for Benfica's 2-0 win over Gil Vicente.

Inter are hoping to sign Mario Gotze from Borussia Dortmund, according to Calciomercato.com. Gotze's contract expires at the end of the season and Antonio Conte's Inter are eyeing the Germany attacker on a free transfer.

- Velez Sarsfield's Thiago Almada is still on the radar of Manchester City, says Record. City had a bid rejected during the transfer window but Pep Guardiola's side remain keen on the 18-year-old.

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