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Lionel Messi and Liverpool are among the front-runners for prizes at the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin on Monday.

Liverpool are up for two gongs after a wonderful year, as they won the 2018-19 Champions League and took a massive leap towards a first top-flight title in 30 years.

Jurgen Klopp's side look set to break a host of records this season, as they have dropped points in just one of their 25 matches and hold a remarkable 22-point lead over defending champions Manchester City in second.

The Reds are in the running for two prizes in the Laureus Sports Awards' 20th anniversary gala – World Team of the Year and Comeback of the Year, the latter on account of their astonishing Champions League semi-final turnaround at the expense of Barcelona.

Among those challenging Liverpool for the former are the United States' Women's football team and the Toronto Raptors, who became the first Canadian franchise win an NBA championship.

A selection of sporting superstars are up for the Sportsman of the Year award, with Barcelona and Argentina icon Lionel Messi among them following his record-breaking sixth Ballon d'Or.

Also in the running is Eliud Kipchoge after the Kenyan became the first athlete to run a marathon in under two hours last October, covering the 26.2 miles in one hour, 59 minutes and 40.2 seconds in Vienna.

Ballon d'Or Feminin winner Megan Rapinoe is among those in the hunt for the Sportswoman of the Year gong, although gymnast Simone Biles also has a compelling case.

The 22-year-old last year won five gold medals at the World Championships to become the most decorated gymnast in the event's history, and has won this award twice before, in 2019 and 2017.

The event will take place at the Verti Music Hall in Berlin on Monday. Below is a complete list of the awards up for grabs and the athletes nominated.

Sportsman of the Year

Eliud Kipchoge – Athletics
Lewis Hamilton – Formula One
Lionel Messi – Football
Marc Marquez – MotoGP
Rafael Nadal – Tennis
Tiger Woods – Golf

Sportswoman of the Year

Allyson Felix – Athletics
Megan Rapinoe – Football
Mikaela Shiffrin – Skiing
Naomi Osaka – Tennis
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – Athletics
Simone Biles – Gymnastics

 

Team of the Year

Liverpool – Football
Mercedes-AMG – Formula One
South Africa – Rugby Union
Spain – Basketball
Toronto Raptors – Basketball
United States Women – Football

Breakthrough of the Year

Andy Ruiz – Boxing
Bianca Andreescu – Tennis
Coco Gauff – Tennis
Egan Bernal – Cycling
Japan – Rugby Union
Regan Smith – Swimming

 

Comeback of the Year

Andy Murray – Tennis
Christian Lealiifano – Rugby Union
Kawhi Leonard – Basketball
Liverpool – Football
Nathan Adrian – Swimming
Sophia Florsch – Formula Three

Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability

Alice Tai – Swimming
Diede de Groot – Wheelchair Tennis
Jetze Plat – Triathlon
Manuela Schar – Wheelchair Racing
Oksana Masters – Cross Country Skiing
Omara Durand – Athletics

 

Action Sportsperson of the year

Carissa Moore – Surfing
Chloe Kim – Snowboarding
Italo Ferreira – Surfing
Mark McMorris – Snowboarding
Nyjah Huston – Skateboarding
Rayssa Leal – Skateboarding

Liverpool's match-winner Sadio Mane made the "perfect" return from injury at Norwich City - and now he looks primed to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp was delighted with the impact of Mane, with the Senegal forward returning from his hamstring setback to strike a stunning late goal at Carrow Road.

A 1-0 win moved Liverpool 25 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, preserving their record of having dropped only two points all season in the Premier League.

Mane and James Milner both came off the bench after recent lay-offs to play their part in Liverpool's 25th win in 26 league outings this term.

Klopp said: "It helps when you have such quality on the bench to bring on."

Now Liverpool turn their focus to Tuesday's first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, a trip to the Wanda Metropolitano to take on Diego Simeone's Atletico.

"Sadio could have started, of course," Klopp said, "but I wanted to have a free decision for Tuesday actually.

"I don't think too often and too much about these games, but when two players are back from injuries, like Sadio and Fabinho, you don't think they can play two games. [Don't think they] should play; can, yes, if you have to, but should play.

"And the quality of the other boys is just too big that you have to push somebody through. It was perfect for Sadio to get a few minutes. It looked like he was ready, yes."

Klopp stressed Liverpool's performance in windswept Norwich was not perfect and spoke of the team playing "two or three or four long balls too many".

"Obviously our midfield was sometimes surprised by the long balls of our centre-halves and just couldn't push up early enough or quick enough, so we didn't win the second balls and all these kind of things," Klopp said in his post-match news conference.

"You need to get used to circumstances and after 45 minutes we knew how it feels. More information from us at half-time and we could improve, that was obviously much better then second half.

"We had so many counter-press situations where we won the ball back, where we put them under pressure, kept them under pressure and scored a wonderful goal. That's it."

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson set up Mane's winner with a long pass that the striker took down skilfully before turning and firing past Tim Krul.

Speaking to Liverpool's official website, Henderson said: "It was a fantastic run from Sadio, great touch and a great finish – fantastic goal from him.

"It's good that Sadio is back after his injury and he's straight on the scoresheet, so nice to have him back and nice to get the three points."

Henderson added: "We've got to recover quickly, we've got another big game in midweek against Atletico Madrid which will be another tough test, so we've just got to go there and do everything we can to get a good result."

Jurgen Klopp expressed sympathy for Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City players after UEFA hit the Premier League champions with a two-season ban from European competition.

City swiftly announced their intention to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after Friday's punishment, which relates to breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations between 2012 and 2016.

Klopp's Liverpool were involved in a titanic title battle with City last season, missing out by 97 points to 98 in the final reckoning, but Saturday's 1-0 win at Norwich City extended their advantage this time around to a scarcely credible 25 points.

However, a burgeoning generational rivalry could be set to meet an abrupt end if the sanctions against City force a hasty rebuild at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola also competed against Klopp when the duo led Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and the Reds boss expressed admiration for the Catalan tactician after full-time at Carrow Road.

"It was a shock when it came out. Completely, 'Wow, what's that'?" he told Sky Sports.

"I'm a football guy, I can only speak about football and what Pep has done since he was in England is exceptional.

"All the rest I have no idea. At the moment I can imagine it is really difficult for the sports people to understand.

"You believe the people you work for and then someone else sees it completely differently.

"I really feel for Pep and the players. It's the first verdict, they will appeal and we will see what happens then.

"It’s obviously serious because UEFA would not react like that [otherwise]. The football City played was exceptional and is exceptional."

Klopp felt Liverpool were anything but exceptional before half-time against the Premier League's bottom side but Sadio Mane's introduction with half an hour to play proved decisive – the returning Senegal international scoring a fabulous winner 12 minutes from time.

"It was a difficult game for different reasons," Klopp said. "The wind, the organisation of the opponent and the way we played in the first half.

"The distance between the line was too big, we were a little bit too early with our long balls in behind.

"That's not exactly like how we wanted to do. The counter-press was not there because we did not press up.

"We had nice situations, good set pieces but not much more.

"We improved, Trent [Alexander-Arnold]'s positioning was higher. We were much more compact and could win the ball in the counter-pressing situations.

"Then we brought on Fabinho and Sadio – one was important for the organisation, gave Hendo [Jordan Henderson] the freedom to be more involved offensively, and Sadio was fresh and made the difference."

The moment Sadio Mane powered his size eight left boot through the ball to sink Norwich City was one of sheer inevitability, another challenger dismissed, that first Premier League title for Liverpool surely just weeks away now.

But what a peculiar contest it was at Carrow Road, Liverpool grinding away in a low gear, wearing down opponents they expected to crack, and who duly did.

Liverpool and Norwich don't play out low-scoring games, went the theory. We thought of Luis Suarez habitually ripping apart the men in yellow and green, the absurdity of Liverpool's 5-4 win at this ground in 2016, and more recently of the 4-1 spanking dished out to the Canaries on the opening evening of this season.

An eye-catching Opta pre-match statistic said that of the 359 fixtures to have been played more than 10 times in the Premier League, Norwich versus Liverpool had the highest goals-per-game average - 68 goals being plundered in 17 games.

But this never looked like following the four-goals-a-game average, and it would have been easy to daydream through the first 45 minutes.

Liverpool, mindful of their Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid next Tuesday, were not minded to direct the full might of their arsenal at their hosts, and Norwich are burdened by a nagging fear factor when it comes to the men in red.

They last enjoyed a victory over Liverpool in April 1994, when Jeremy Goss clattered a brilliant goal to secure a 1-0 win at Anfield, in the last match Liverpool played at their home ground before the famous Kop terrace was demolished.

It was the same week that saw Nelson Mandela elected as South Africa's president. One day after Goss and Norwich spoiled the party at Liverpool, sport was struck by tragedy when Ayrton Senna died after a crash at Imola during the San Marino Grand Prix.

A quarter of a century later, and Liverpool see sitting ducks when they clock the yellow in those Norwich shirts.

So it is 25 wins from 26 games for Jurgen Klopp's Reds in this season's top flight, and a 25-point lead over Manchester City, which is now the least of Pep Guardiola's worries.

When Liverpool last won the English title - the old First Division - their 1989-90 campaign contained the anomaly of two goalless draws against Norwich.

They won the league with 79 points from 38 games that term, finishing nine points clear of nearest rivals Aston Villa.

Now they have 76 from 26 and are heading for all sorts of records, especially if teams such as Norwich present themselves, flap and flounder and let an off-colour Liverpool pilfer the points.

Lukas Rupp effectively tripped over Norwich's team-wide insecurities when he bolted clear of the Liverpool offside trap late in the first half. Confronted with Allison, Rupp looked like a little boy lost and bungled a short-range pass to Teemu Pukki.

Liverpool cooked up a series of chances after the break, with Tim Krul heroically keeping the home side in the game before Alex Tettey rattled the outside of Alisson's right post from 25 yards. Alisson possibly had the ball covered.

Mane, returning from injury, came off the bench and injected a spark before rattling in the winner. He expertly took down a long pass from Jordan Henderson, turned sharply and lashed a left-footed shot past Krul.

Never doubt this Liverpool. The goal came in the 78th minute, but in another sense it had been long coming.

Klopp said the win was "outstanding" and his team - "these wonderful football players" in their manager's words - are almost over the line.

Their lead is "insane", Klopp said.

It's only February, but check the reality of this extraordinary situation, which on Saturday saw Norwich fans keenly posing for pictures with Klopp.

We're already witnessing a lap of honour.

Sadio Mane made a goalscoring return for Liverpool, coming off the bench to snatch a 1-0 win for the runaway Premier League leaders at Norwich City.

Jurgen Klopp's side were on top for long spells but ceded a clear chance in each half to the Canaries – Lukas Rupp botching a one-on-one and Alexander Tettey hitting the post.

Mane duly helped the Liverpool attack shift through the gears and stepped up with the winner 12 minutes from time.

The lead at the summit is now a gigantic 25 points for Klopp's rentless Reds.

Liverpool dominated possession and pushed their hosts back for the majority of the opening period but created little of note, save for a pair of sighters from the all-action Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Indeed, Norwich enjoyed the best opening of the half, only for Rupp to miss a simple pass to Teemu Pukki that allowed a scrambling Alisson to claw to safety.

Todd Cantwell fired into the side netting from a tight angle in the 52nd minute amid some ragged moments creeping into Liverpool's play, although a Naby Keita piledriver tipped over by Tim Krul showed their threat remained.

Krul excelled himself with a brilliant double save from Mohamed Salah and Keita before the hour, after which Mane's introduction from the bench gave fresh impetus to the Reds' attack.

Grant Hanley was forced to hack out of his own goal mouth in the 71st minute before Norwich surged forward on the break and Tettey almost caught out Alisson, firing a snapshot against the outside of the right post.

Hanley then miscued a free header from Ondrej Duda's corner and Daniel Farke's side would regret not making the most of that flurry.

Mane got the run on a tumbling Christoph Zimmermann – the centre-back picking a woeful moment to stain an otherwise towering display - to collect Jordan Henderson's raking ball and lash home a forceful left-footed finish.

Roberto Firmino could have ensured a nerveless finale but ballooned Alexander-Arnold's drilled cross over from close range in the 86th minute.

 

What does it mean? Reds' record charge remains on course

Liverpool are set to break a host of Premier League records on their march to glory and 17 consecutive Premier League wins means they are now only one behind Manchester City's all-time mark from the 2017-18 season. Norwich are seven points from safety at the foot of the table and entitled to feel slightly aggrieved over having nothing to show for their efforts.

Sadio on the Mane

Klopp getting Mane back in time for the return of the Champions League represents a huge boost. The verve and invention he injected into Liverpool's efforts here was palpable and decisive.

Oxlade-Chamberlain fails to press his claims

Filling in for any of Liverpool's much-vaunted front three is a thankless task and it was no surprise to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's number raised to make way for the returning Mane with half an hour remaining. The England international failed to make an impression on the contest, although a chunk of credit should go to Max Aarons, who excelled at right-back for the Canaries.

What's next

Liverpool travel to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday to resume their Champions League defence, with their next Premier League assignment coming at home to West Ham a week on Monday. Norwich travel to Wolves in eight days' time.

Maurizio Sarri believes Jurgen Klopp is "shaking off the burden" of Liverpool attempting to win the Champions League for a second straight season by claiming Juventus are favourites to lift the trophy. 

As well as tipping them for glory in Europe, Klopp also revealed his surprised at Juve not being clear in the Serie A title race, with Sarri's side level on points with Antonio Conte's Inter at the summit.

However, Sarri suggested the German is only highlighting the Bianconeri's strengths to relieve the pressure on his own players, with Liverpool set to take on Atletico Madrid in the last 16.

"Jurgen also said that he doesn't watch much Italian football, so that explains his confusion!" Sarri told a news conference ahead of Juve's clash with Brescia.

"Jurgen is one of the smartest and funniest people I've ever known and what he's doing here is shaking off the burden of being the favourites for the Champions League.

"It was clear from the very start that this would be a different type of season. I think it's motivating to be in a title race to the very end, so I feel we have to feed off this situation.

"No single match is decisive. We just have to focus on ourselves and picking up as many points as possible."

Manchester City, meanwhile, were handed a two-season ban from European competition by UEFA on Friday for a breach of Financial Fair Play regulations.

While they are to appeal their suspension, already there is speculation over City's star players leaving the club, along with Pep Guardiola, but Sarri does not think the punishment will lead to a mass exodus from the Etihad Stadium.

"I went to Chelsea last season and they weren't in the Champions League. I was happy to do it," Sarri said.

"This is also the first stage of the process, there will be appeals and we'll see what the definitive verdict is, but there are situations where a coach can look beyond those limitations."

Jurgen Klopp has "no clue" as to whether Liverpool can retain their Champions League crown this season and highlighted the levels of luck required to win Europe's elite club competition.

Klopp's runaway Premier League leaders are one of the main contenders to claim the title having won it last year by beating Tottenham in Madrid.

The next step of their quest comes on Tuesday with a trip to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Asked to assess their chances of emerging victorious in Istanbul in May, Klopp struck a cautious note.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's league clash with Norwich City, he told reporters: "Juventus were my favourites before the season started but obviously I don't watch Italian football enough because I cannot work out why they are not 10 points ahead at the top of Serie A.

"They have the biggest squad I have ever seen in my life; quality players too, it's crazy.

"The Bayern Munich squad is also massive, PSG are incredible when they are all fit, you can never discount Barcelona and let's not forget Manchester City because the Champions League will be one of their big targets.

"I have no clue how far we can go but there's no need to think about it yet because at the moment all we need to concentrate on is Atletico on Tuesday."

The German has built a formidable squad on Merseyside but believes the level of quality elsewhere in Europe means it will come down to a few crucial moments.

He added: "I have no clue if we can win the Champions League again, but we should be ready to go for it.

"What I know and what we showed last year is that we can beat the best. It doesn't mean we will, it just means we can, and that is the only thing I have to know.

"There are so many strong teams out there you have to be ready for the fight, then it's about luck in certain moments to win anything.

"In the end the quality within a squad is not always the biggest difference, it's more about who can find the right mood, show the most desire, be decisive in the right moment.

"And luck. To win anything you will need that for sure."

Marcos Llorente believes Atletico Madrid can take confidence from their 2-2 draw at Valencia into Tuesday's Champions League clash with Liverpool.

Atletico led twice at the Mestalla on Friday before being held to a draw, which means they have won just one of their past seven games.

But Llorente, who scored his first goal for the club, said it was a result that could give Atletico a boost ahead of hosting Liverpool in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

"Every player likes scoring goals. I'm happy to have done so and to make the most of the chances the coach gives me," he said, via the club's website.

"Valencia are a great team and this match gives us confidence ahead of Tuesday's very important clash."

Atletico look set to battle for a top-four finish in LaLiga, sitting two points adrift of third-placed Getafe and just one ahead of Sevilla.

Diego Simeone, who is under pressure as coach, was satisfied with his side's performance despite the draw.

"Both teams had many chances to score. We hurt them a lot on the break in the first half, whereas they created problems for us in the second," he said.

"It was a tough game against a team that haven't lost at their stadium. This is how we have to compete, because this is the way forward."

Jurgen Klopp has not yet made a decision on whether Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will be permitted to represent Egypt at the 2020 Olympic Games.

Egypt Under-23 boss Shawky Gharib confirmed his intention to select Salah as one of three overage players for the football tournament in Tokyo, although he conceded he is yet to discuss the matter with the player.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool's Premier League trip to Norwich City on Saturday, Klopp echoed this week's interjection from Salah's agent Ramy Abbas Issa that a conclusion to the matter is still to be reached.

"Do I want to lose a player in the pre-season? Of course not, that's clear. We have to consider different things," he said.

"I need to speak with Mo and all that stuff. We are completely clear about what we want but we need more information – how would it look, when would the preparation start and all that stuff.

"Nobody really contacted us so far – it's just in the media. It's difficult to get in contact with me through newspapers because most of the things I don’t read.

"No decision has been made yet, but we'll see."

For Rio 2016, clubs were not obliged to release players for the Olympic football tournament because it was not part of FIFA's international match calendar.

World football's governing body did ask for "support from the clubs to allow players who are called up by their national teams to be given the chance to be part of the Olympic experience" ahead of a competition where Neymar inspired Brazil to glory on home soil.

Klopp certainly understands the appeal that becoming an Olympian might hold for Salah, who scored twice but was compromised by a shoulder injury as Egypt lost all three of their matches at the 2018 World Cup.

"We've had to play already without Mo – not too often, thank God, but from time to time," Klopp said.

"It's not about that. All the positive things about Mo I could say I've said in different press conferences.

"It's the Olympic Games and I am still a sports person. Olympians are Olympians. We have to see how we can deal with it.

"We cannot discuss it really because we don't know a lot about it, apart from the things the manager of the Olympic team said. They have to contact us and we will see."

Klopp was addressing the media for the first time since another scheduling conflict – namely the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Shrewsbury Town that fell during Liverpool's scheduled mid-season break.

The manager did not attend the match and left under-23 manager Neil Critchley to helm a youthful line-up that prevailed 1-0 to set up a last-16 clash with Chelsea.

"It was absolutely great. I'm really happy for the boys. They all loved it like crazy, they loved it," Klopp said.

"It was absolutely sensational what our crowd made of this game. Creating that atmosphere shows what a wonderful club we are.

"For us it was never a standpoint against the FA Cup – I know people probably misunderstand it – but it was just to make sure that, as we decided there is a winter break, there must be a winter break.

"You cannot please everybody in the end, you have to think a little bit more about it. That's what we tried to infer, to discuss about these things. If you don’t discuss, things just get worse and worse and worse.

"We all love the Premier League, we all love the FA Cup and the League Cup, Champions League, all the games we play. We just have to make sure that the time in between is at least time for a little nap or something."

Klopp will welcome back James Milner and Sadio Mane from hamstring injuries for the runaway Premier League leaders' visit to Carrow Road.

Alvaro Morata is fit to feature in Atletico Madrid's LaLiga meeting with Valencia on Friday, Diego Simeone has confirmed.

An unspecified muscle injury in Morata's right leg forced him off early in the second half of the 1-0 defeat to his former club Real Madrid on February 1.

With Diego Costa and Joao Felix already out, Simeone had to start Saturday's 1-0 victory over Granada with Angel Correa and Vitolo in attack.

Despite confirming Morata will form part of his team for Atletico's trip to face Valencia at Mestalla on Friday - "Yes, he will be in the game tomorrow" - Simeone was unwilling to respond substantially to a follow-up question.

That concerned whether the 27-year-old Morata and fellow former Chelsea striker Diego Costa will be available for the first leg of Atletico's Champions League last-16 tie with Liverpool next Tuesday.

"I'm not looking at Tuesday's game [against Liverpool], all our energy and thoughts are focused on Valencia. After that, we'll look to our next match," said Simeone.

Atletico sit fourth in LaLiga, two points ahead of Valencia, and Simeone is wary of the threat posed by Albert Celades' team.

"It's a very important match because it's the one coming next," said Simeone. "Valencia at home are very strong with their fans behind them.

"They have important players and we must think about how we can hurt them in such a difficult fixture.

"We need to win, because this generates momentum and gives a positive feeling.

"Furthermore, it helps you keep improving."

Jadon Sancho is a player in demand.

The former Manchester City youth player is a man in demand due to exploits with Borussia Dortmund.

The Premier League's elite are circling…

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL WANT SANCHO AMID UNITED LINKS

Liverpool want to sign Borussia Dortmund star and Manchester United target Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Mail.

United are reportedly confident of luring the 19-year-old England international to Old Trafford, ahead of Premier League rivals Chelsea.

However, a fresh report claims Premier League leaders Liverpool have joined the race for the teenager as Jurgen Klopp hopes to take advantage of the relationship with former club Dortmund. Sky Germany also says Sancho will leave Dortmund at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are preparing to re-sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, reports El Confidencial. Neymar, who left Barca for a world-record €222m fee in 2017, has been heavily linked with a return to Camp Nou. After missing out on an off-season move, Neymar could be on his way back to the LaLiga giants – who are reportedly willing to sell one or two players to finance the blockbuster transfer.

- According to The Sun, Chelsea are battling United for the signature of 16-year-old Birmingham City sensation Jude Bellingham, who could cost up to £50million. The teenager has also attracted interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid.

- United recruit Odion Ighalo has been barred from the club's training ground due to ongoing coronavirus precautions, says The Mirror. Ighalo arrived from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, moving to United on loan until the end of the season. The Nigeria international, however, has not been allowed to train at Carrington.

Barca have ruled out signing Real Sociedad striker Willian Jose, reports Marca. With Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez sidelined, Barca are set to receive permission to sign an emergency forward within Spain. Real Betis' Loren Moron now reportedly tops the list of targets.

- Sandro Tonali has been valued at €55m and €60m by Brescia amid interest from Serie A champions Juventus and Inter, according to Calciomercato.

- Liverpool, United and Bayern Munich are eyeing Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka, reports the Daily Mail.

- AS claims Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu is at the centre of a transfer tug-of-war between Madrid, United and Atletico Madrid.

Mohamed Salah's agent has reiterated no decision has been taken on whether the Liverpool star will represent Egypt at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Egypt Under-23 boss Shawky Gharib confirmed his intention to select Salah as one of three overage players for the football tournament at the Games, though he did concede he has not yet held talks with the player himself.

Speaking last month, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said "it would not be too cool" if Salah were travel to Japan and that the call had yet to be made.

That was a message emphasised again by Salah's agent Ramy Abbas Issa on social media, who quote tweeted a report saying the 27-year-old would be selected with the message: "No decision has been made yet."

If Salah were to represent Egypt it would leave Liverpool without their key forward for pre-season and perhaps some of the beginning of the Premier League campaign.

The gold medal match is scheduled to take place on August 8, the same day as the start of the top-flight season in England.

Dani Ceballos believes he would have risked becoming an Anfield misfit if he had chosen to join Liverpool rather than Arsenal.

The Spain midfielder swapped Real Madrid for the Gunners in a season-long loan deal last July, but only after weighing up the idea of playing for Jurgen Klopp's Champions League winners.

Ceballos reached the conclusion that his style of play would not have been the ideal fit at Liverpool, accepting Unai Emery's invitation to head to London instead.

"I was proud to have a club like Liverpool after me, but I chose Arsenal because of Unai Emery and how he was with me," Ceballos told Marca.

"Klopp is a great coach but you have to look at the playing philosophy of each team. Right now players of my philosophy of play would not fit in the best possible way in a team like Liverpool."

Liverpool's hard-grafting midfielders have helped the Reds pull 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and 42 points ahead of Arsenal, who are toiling in 10th place.

Ceballos endured a long spell out of the Arsenal team because of a hamstring injury and the attack-minded 23-year-old admitted he may have played too often in his early months at the club.

He thinks he suffered the blow "because of an excess of matches", explaining: "I'd played 17 games in two months; I was the only player that had played all these games."

Ceballos had told Emery he wanted to be involved in every fixture, but he looks back now and says: "Sometimes you have to learn from mistakes. I struggled with the injury, but you learn from everything."

He was powerless to prevent Emery losing his job in November, but says successor Mikel Arteta "is going to be a great coach" and possesses the qualities that "Arsenal need right now".

Asked about the change of coach, Ceballos looked back on the turbulent period at Arsenal and said: "I'm f***** on my part because I'd never been injured and annoyingly, I got injured at a time when the team started to unravel a bit.

"I was watching the Arsenal games and I saw that we were struggling, that we weren't winning and that we'd entered a dynamic where we were finding it tough to get points.

"I'm powerless and angry that I wasn't able to have helped the boss [Emery] and repaid everything he'd done for me."

Sadio Mane has revealed the driving force behind his rise to the top after cementing himself as an integral part of an increasingly dominant Liverpool side.

The Senegalese forward won the 2019 CAF African Player of the Year award last month, having helped the Reds to Champions League success in June.

In 36 Premier League outings last year, Mane scored 24 goals and provided six assists, with Jurgen Klopp's side now 22 points clear at the summit after finishing runners-up in the 2018-19 campaign.

Mane, who moved to Anfield from Southampton in 2016, cited the support of his friends and family back home in the village of Bambali as key to his sparkling form.

"I can't describe how they are and how motivated they are especially. They always push me," Mane, who started his career in France with Metz, told Liverpool's official website.

"If you see those people, you push hard and harder to make them proud because it's the only satisfaction they have on it. I have to give back what they have done for me.

"I think it was something special for the village because in the village we had some great players but they were never successful.

"When I came to France and that time I was playing second league, the village never had the channel to watch the second league, so everybody was so excited to see me on TV first of all!

"They were praying for me every day to see me at this level because they will be just proud. How things are going and as I get more motivated and [they get] more excited to see me higher and higher, I think I have to sacrifice myself to make them proud."

Mane has not featured since suffering a hamstring problem in the first half of Liverpool's 2-1 win over Wolves on January 23 but has been back in training this week.

Manchester United or Chelsea?

The two Premier League giants are reportedly going head-to-head in the race to sign Borussia Dortmund teenager and England international Jadon Sancho.

And the Manchester club feel they can prise the 19-year-old to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BELIEVE THEY CAN PIP CHELSEA TO SANCHO

Manchester United are confident they will beat rivals Chelsea to the signing of in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, claims The Mirror.

Sancho is reportedly keen on returning to England, where the 19-year-old played for Manchester City's youth team before joining Bundesliga outfit Dortmund in 2017.

Dortmund are apparently willing to offload Sancho at the right price and Premier League giants United believe they can prise the England international to Old Trafford in a deal worth £120million (€142.5m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Will Mauricio Pochettino land at Old Trafford? According to journalist Duncan Castles, the former Tottenham manager is determined to take charge of United . His representatives are reportedly confident of convincing United's hierarchy that Pochettino is the right man for the job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles, with the Red Devils eighth in the Premier League.

- The Sun reports United are set for a double swoop to sign Aston Villa star Jack Grealish and Leicester City attacker James Maddison . Grealish has reportedly given the go-ahead for a move to Old Trafford, while Maddison has apparently been in talks over a contract extension with Leicester.

Marcelo Brozovic to Real Madrid? Mundo Deportivo says the Inter and Croatia international midfielder is wanted by the LaLiga giants. Madrid have also been linked to United's Paul Pogba and Ajax star Donny van de Beek

Barcelona have been told it will take €35m to sign Willian Jose from Real Sociedad, reports Marca. Barca are looking to strengthen their attack following long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

- According to The Express, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is plotting a £120m transfer spree at the end of the season. Benfica defender Ruben Dias is a target, as well as Norwich City's Max Aarons, Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell.

Stefano Pioli is contracted to Milan until 2021 but the head coach – who replaced Marco Giampaolo at the start of the campaign – is no certainty to continue beyond this season. According to Calciomercato, Elliott Management want Ralf Rangnick but Paolo Maldini is reportedly pushing for former Milan striker and current Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko.

- Football Insider claims Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new £50m deal amid reported interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

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