Cristiano Ronaldo says he discovered he belonged to a "world of stars" upon comparing himself to the rest of Manchester United's strong squad in 2003.

The future Real Madrid and Juventus forward rose to a prominence after moving to Old Trafford from Sporting CP as a skinny teenager.

Then a flashy winger, Ronaldo scored four goals from 29 appearances in his debut Premier League campaign.

Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy were among United's most prominent players at the time and Ronaldo quickly gained belief he too was destined to reach the top of the game.

"When I started playing for Manchester United at 18, 19, because I was as good as the players who were there I realised 'I'm close to achieving great things'," Ronaldo told Portuguese broadcaster TVI.

"Of course, I was a kid and I had a lot to learn – and I learned a lot from them – but I was in that world of stars.

"I saw that they were not doing anything that I couldn't do.

"There were better players than me: Giggs had more experience and was a better player than me at the time, Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer... but I felt that if I worked, with the talent I had, I could be the best player in the Premier League, for example."

Ronaldo spent six seasons at United, winning a first Ballon d'Or the before a €94million (£80m) transfer to Madrid in 2009.

The Portugal captain has since scooped European football's foremost individual honour a further four times.

Barcelona superstar and long-time rival Lionel Messi is the only other player to have claimed the Ballon d'Or on five occasions.

"I know that I am one of the best in my work and that I am in the history of football," Ronaldo said.

"It is no coincidence that only Messi and I have five. It is no accident. And I still feel motivated to try to win collective and individual prizes."

Ronaldo and Juventus commence their Serie A campaign away to Parma on Saturday.

Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic lead the names nominated for FIFA's Puskas Award, given to the scorer of the best goal of the season.

A panel of FIFA and external football experts selected 10 goals to put to a public vote, with the efforts ranging from the sublime to the outrageous.

Barcelona icon Messi is nominated for the fourth time in five years, while three female players are included after there were none up for the award last year.

All goals selected for consideration were scored between July 16, 2018 and July 19, 2019, and we have the low down on each one, with voting open until September 2…

 

Matheus Cunha (RB Leipzig) v Bayern Leverkusen – April 6, 2019

Brazilian midfield Cunha dazzled the Leverkusen defence in April's 4-2 win as he latched on to a pass in from the left, beat a defender with a pirouette and then found the net with a sumptuous chip.

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) v Toronto – September 15, 2018

Ibrahimovic has always been synonymous with the extravagant. His goal in last year's 5-3 defeat to Toronto is up there with his best. The Swedish forward got on the end of Jonathan dos Santos' lofted throughball and, despite initially looking set to take it down on his chest, he spun and guided the ball into the net acrobatically. His penchant for martial arts was immediately noticeable from the finish.

 

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) v Real Betis – March 17, 2019

We have become so accustomed to Messi's brilliance that he makes the extraordinary seem normal, but his hat-trick clincher in March's 4-1 win at Betis was pure genius. After receiving a cut-back from Ivan Rakitic, he caressed a first-time chipped effort over Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from about 18 yards when shooting through a crowded penalty area looked an impossibility.

 

Ajara Nchout (Cameroon Women) v New Zealand Women – June 20, 2019

Arguably the standout goal of the Women's World Cup was also a vital winner. With Cameroon being held to a 1-1 draw, Nchout – who also got her team's first – embarked on a mazy run, beating her marker twice with sharp turns before guiding a composed finish in to seal a late 2-1 win and book their place in the knockout phase of the competition.

 

Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria) v Napoli – September 2, 2018

Quagliarella went on to have the best season of his career at the ripe old age of 36 last term, scoring 26 times. We should have seen the early signs, as his first of the campaign was a truly special effort. Against his former club Napoli, Quagliarella met Bartosz Bereszynski's right-wing cross with an airborne back-heeled effort from 12 yards that left the goalkeeper helpless.

 

Juan Fernando Quintero (River Plate) v Racing Club – February 10, 2019

A former so-called 'wonderkid' who went off the boil before enjoying a resurgence, Quintero has had a fine couple of years. A playmaker with an eye for the spectacular, his free-kick against Racing in the 2-0 Superliga win in February was quintessential Quintero – from about 35 yards out on the right flank, his left-footed strike bent inside the top-right corner in a remarkable display of accuracy.

 

Amy Rodriguez (Utah Royals) v Sky Blue FC – June 16, 2019

After picking up possession inside her own half, Rodriguez cleverly side-stepped a defender and burst into the attack. She got to the final third and, sensing little support, let fly with a left-footed screamer that nestled in the top-right corner.

Billie Simpson (Cliftonville Ladies) v Sion Swift Ladies – August 9, 2018

A truly ridiculous goal. Straight from the opposing goal-kick, Simpson volleyed it right back in the opposite direction, catching it perfectly with a ferocious volley that caught the goalkeeper completely off guard.

 

Daniel Zsori (Debrecen) v Ferencvaros – February 16, 2019

Eighteen-year-old Zsori announced himself to Hungarian football in astonishing fashion in February. On his league debut, the attacker met a cross from deep with an overhead-kick just inside the area, picking out the top-far corner in stoppage time to secure a 2-1.

Luis Suarez is out for an indefinite period after injuring his right calf in Barcelona's LaLiga loss to Athletic Bilbao on Friday, the club have confirmed.

The 32-year-old striker had to be replaced before half-time at San Mames after receiving treatment following a shot that hit the post.

Lionel Messi missed the match with a calf issue of his own suffered shortly before Barca travelled to the United States for two friendly matches against Napoli last week.

Their absences were felt as Ernesto Valverde's men succumbed to a stunning late winner from Athletic veteran Aritz Aduriz.

"Tests carried out on Saturday morning have confirmed Luis Suarez has an injured right calf," Barca said in a statement.

"His recovery will dictate his return to action."

Suarez's early withdrawal was the first time he has been substituted in the first half of a LaLiga game since he joined Barca from Liverpool in 2014.

The champions suddenly look light on forwards, with Philippe Coutinho set to join Bayern Munich on loan with a view to a permanent deal.

Antoine Griezmann debuted against Athletic, but Suarez's injury and Coutinho's departure could see Barca ramp up their interest in former player Neymar, who looks increasingly likely to leave Paris Saint-Germain.

Athletic Bilbao veteran Aritz Aduriz matched a Lionel Messi goalscoring feat with his sensational winner against Barcelona on Friday.

Aduriz came off the bench in the 88th minute at San Mames and scored a spectacular overhead kick barely 60 seconds later to seal a 1-0 win over the champions.

It means the 38-year-old, who plans to retire at the end of this campaign, has now scored in 15 consecutive seasons in Spain's top flight, something only Messi has achieved before.

The Barca captain was missing from this match while he recovers from a calf problem.

Barca's defeat marked the first time since 2008-09 that the reigning LaLiga champions have lost their opening match of the new season. Back then, Real Madrid lost 2-1 to Deportivo La Coruna.

It was also Athletic's first victory over Barca in their last 12 meetings, although Ernesto Valverde has now lost five of his six LaLiga away games against his previous club.

Antoine Griezmann will make his LaLiga debut for Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao on Friday, but Philippe Coutinho is not involved.

The France international, who joined from Atletico Madrid for €120million in the close season, starts in attack alongside Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele at San Mames.

There is no place in the squad for Coutinho, who continues to be linked with a move away from Barca.

The latest reports in Spain suggest the Brazil international, also said to have been offered to Paris Saint-Germain as a makeweight in a possible deal for Neymar, could be preparing to travel to Germany to finalise a loan move to Bayern Munich.

Frenkie de Jong makes his first league outing for Barca and lines up alongside Sergi Roberto and Carles Alena in midfield, while Sergio Busquets, Samuel Umtiti and Ivan Rakitic are named among the substitutes.

Lionel Messi will not feature due to a calf injury that kept the club captain out of Barca's friendly matches against Napoli in the United States last week.

Atletico Madrid broke their transfer record and Real Madrid spent a huge amount to freshen up their squad, but Barcelona will still be the team to beat in LaLiga's title tussle.

Barca have finished top in eight of the last 11 years, including the past two, and they head into the 2019-20 season as favourites to retain their crown.

The reigning champions accrued 11 points more than runners-up Atletico last time out and have strengthened during the close season with the additions of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Junior Firpo.

But with Zinedine Zidane at the Madrid helm and long-term target Eden Hazard in place, not to mention the signings of Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo Goes, there is hope Madrid can bridge the 19-point gap from last season.

Across the city at the Wanda Metropolitano, Atletico replaced Griezmann with €126million sensation Joao Felix and refreshed some key areas in the squad following the exits of Diego Godin, Filipe Luis, Juanfran and several others.

Ahead of the new season commencing on Friday, we used Opta data to look at which records and landmarks LaLiga's three heavyweights are targeting over the next nine months.

The #PrimeraIberdrola gets underway on September 8th!

Who will be the 2019/20 champions? pic.twitter.com/FyzvJxjEps

— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 14, 2019

 

Messi has more records in sight at Barcelona

⦁ With Cristiano Ronaldo no longer in the picture, Lionel Messi is closing in on the ex-Madrid forward's hat-tricks record in the Spanish top flight. One more treble will draw him level with Ronaldo on 34; two more will take him outright top.

⦁ Messi, unsurprisingly, leads the way at the top of Barca's all-time scoring charts in LaLiga with 419 goals to his name. Team-mate Luis Suarez has the chance to move up to third in the list, requiring one more goal to overtake Ladislao Kubala (131).

⦁ Barcelona could become the second team to score more than 6,100 goals in LaLiga history. They go into the season on 6,089, 15 fewer than Real Madrid.

⦁ Messi is also high on the list of the Catalan giants' all-time appearance-makers, featuring 684 times in all competitions to leave him second to Xavi Hernandez (767). Gerard Pique has some catching up to do, but he has a landmark in sight, as he is two outings short of 500 in a Barca shirt.

⦁ In the dugout, Ernesto Valverde is on course to become the 10th manager to reach 450 LaLiga games. The Spaniard, whose future was called into question during the close season, is 26 matches short of that impressive figure.

 

Simeone closing in on milestone Atletico victory

⦁ Retaining the services of boss Diego Simeone was key for Atletico during the close season. The Argentine coach remains and he could become the second manager to reach 200 LaLiga wins with a single team after Miguel Munoz for Real Madrid (257). He heads into the weekend on 180.

⦁ Since Radamel Falcao got the Simeone era up and running with goal number one in 2012, Atletico have gone on to add another 484 in LaLiga, meaning the 500 landmark is within touching distance.

⦁ Atletico have become more synonymous with the defensive side of the game under Simeone and boast one of the world's best goalkeepers in Jan Oblak. The Slovenia international is on 88 LaLiga clean sheets and is aiming to become the third keeper to reach triple figures in the 21st century after Victor Valdes (171) and Iker Casillas (160).

⦁ In new signing Joao Felix, Atletico boast one of the hottest properties in world football. Aged 19, he could become one of the youngest players to score for the club - a record held by Ignacio Camacho (17 years and 364 days when he scored against Recreativo Huelva in 2008).

⦁ Joao Felix will hope to have a long and prosperous career at the Wanda Metropolitano, much in the way team-mate Koke has. The academy product has made 285 league appearances for Atletico and will expected to become only the sixth player to reach 300 this term.

 

 Numancia
 Chivas
 Real Madrid
 MLS All-Stars
 @AtletideSanLuis
 Juventus

 100% win rate in pre-season! #AúpaAtleti #AtletiSummerTour pic.twitter.com/k007cDdLQk

— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) August 10, 2019

 

Familiar faces out to make history for Madrid

⦁ They may have fallen well off the pace last season, but no team has won more matches in LaLiga than Real Madrid's 1690 victories, 55 more than next best Barca. They could therefore become the first team to reach 1,700 victories in the competition.

⦁ Karim Benzema hit a good patch of form towards the end of last season to go sixth on the club's list of all-time leading scorers in all competitions with 222 goals. That leaves him just 20 short of fifth-place Ferenc Puskas, but still a whopping 228 adrift of leading marksman Ronaldo.

⦁ The Frenchman will hope to retain his place up top this term, especially with Hazard now providing the ammunition from out wide. The Belgian is looking to become the eighth current player to reach 100 assists in the top five European leagues. He goes into the season on 89 from his time with Lille and Chelsea.

⦁ Zidane was brought back to Madrid in March, 10 months after stepping down, and he is closing in on 200 games for Los Blancos. The 47-year-old has taken charge of 160 matches in all competitions, leaving him behind five others, including Jose Mourinho (178).

⦁ Players and managers come and go but one thing remains constant - Sergio Ramos marshalling the Madrid defence. The Spanish skipper has made 419 LaLiga appearances in the famous white strip, although he is only seventh on the list of record appearances makers, with Paco Gento (427) the next player in his sights.

Lionel Messi is not in the Barcelona squad for the first game of their LaLiga title defence.

Barca go to Athletic Bilbao on Friday to open the 2019-20 season but they will be without their inspirational captain.

Messi has not featured during pre-season due to a calf injury and he was not present in the open section of Barca's training session on Thursday.

Ahead of the workout, former Athletic head coach Valverde had suggested Messi would not be able to take his place in the squad.

"We're not going to take risks with players and certainly not with him," Valverde told a news conference ahead of his return to San Mames.

"He's not trained with the team since they came back and it's different to train in isolation. We'll wait a little to see how his recovery goes, it's going well I understand, but we have to wait and see."

Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic are included in the travelling squad despite reports they could leave Barca as part of a deal with Paris Saint-Germain for the potential return of Neymar.

Antoine Griezmann is in line to make his league debut for Barcelona after joining from Atletico Madrid, with fellow new arrivals Frenkie de Jong and Junior Firpo also included, but midfielder Arthur misses out.

Ernesto Valverde says he will not risk Lionel Messi for Barcelona's LaLiga opener.

Messi has not featured in pre-season as he continues to recover from a calf injury.

Frenkie de Jong and Jean-Clair Todibo have returned to training ahead of the new season, but Messi was not with his team-mates on Thursday having worked separately with the fitness coach earlier in the week.

Defending champions Barca go to Valverde's former club Athletic Bilbao on Friday, though captain Messi may sit the game out as he builds his fitness.

"We're not going to take risks with players and certainly not with him," Valverde told a news conference.

"He's not trained with the team since they came back and it's different to train in isolation.

"We'll wait a little to see how his recovery goes, it's going well I understand, but we have to wait and see."

Despite winning back-to-back titles since leaving Athletic for Barca two years ago, Valverde's comparatively poor European record, coupled with his style of play, has drawn criticism.

"Everybody has this target, we want the best we can," Valverde said on his ambitions for the 2019-20 campaign. "In the big games you want to raise your level but you're always thinking about playing better.

"The question is how. Do you want me to look like George Clooney? That's difficult. The most beautiful football is difficult too, but we try to be the best team with the best football and we are steadily improving.

"We had some excellent games last season, some not so good, but if I look back over my two years we've lost four league games, I think, mostly when we've already won the title, so I think we're doing a lot of things right."

Valverde accepted it will be a difficult occasion facing his old club Athletic, where he spent four years in charge.

"It's my home and San Mames is special for me," Valverde said. "Personally it's hard to go and play there, I like these games to be over as quick as possible.

"I know how the fans get behind them and how they put you under a lot of pressure. But you can put a lot of pressure on yourself as well."

Champions League winner Virgil van Dijk is joined by Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo on the three-man shortlist for UEFA's Player of the Year award.

Van Dijk played a vital role in Liverpool's successful European campaign, playing 12 times en route to lifting the trophy.

As well as the UEFA recognition, he is also expected to be a major contender for the 2019 Ballon d'Or, as is Messi.

Barcelona reached the semi-finals before being eliminated by Liverpool, but Messi still managed to enjoy a fine Champions League campaign.

The Argentina star scored 12 goals – including two against the Reds at Camp Nou – from 10 matches.

Ronaldo's inclusion is rather more surprising, given Juventus were eliminated by Ajax in the quarter-finals.

The Portugal attacker scored a respectable six times in nine matches, but that was an unspectacular impact compared to his 15-goal haul in 12 outings the season before.

The shortlist was selected by a jury of 80 coaches from clubs involved in the Champions League and Europa League group stages, plus 55 journalists from UEFA's 55 member associations.

One of the three players will be presented with the award on August 29, during the Champions League group stage draw ceremony.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde believes it is "difficult" to see Lionel Messi returning from injury for his side's LaLiga opener against Athletic Bilbao on Friday.

Messi, 32, missed Barcelona's trip to the United States, where they claimed two wins over Napoli, due to a calf strain.

The forward appears set to miss his team's league opener at Bilbao, with Valverde saying it was hard to see the star returning for the clash.

"He's in the recovery process and I don't know if he will be ready for the start of LaLiga," he told a news conference after a 4-0 win over Napoli in Michigan on Saturday.

"It's looking difficult."

Despite Messi's absence, Barca produced a strong performance in their final pre-season friendly against Napoli.

Antoine Griezmann scored his first goal for the club, Luis Suarez netted a brace and Ousmane Dembele was also on the scoresheet in a comfortable win.

Valverde was pleased to see Griezmann, who arrived from Atletico Madrid for €120million in July, get off the mark for Barca.

"The scorers always feed on the opportunities, the goals. We are happy with him," he said.

"He gives us a lot for unchecking and defensively works well."

Lionel Messi has beaten Cristiano Ronaldo to UEFA's Goal of the Season award for 2018-19.

The Barcelona captain came first in the vote on UEFA's website for his spectacular free-kick against Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Camp Nou.

Ronaldo came second for a strike against his former club Manchester United for Juventus in the group stage, while Porto midfielder Danilo Pereira took third place for a solo run and shot from distance for Portugal against Serbia in March.

It is the third time in five seasons Messi has won this particular prize, having also come out on top in 2015 and 2016.

Mario Mandzukic was honoured for his stunning volley in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid in 2017, while Ronaldo was victorious last year for the overhead kick he scored against future employers Juve.

Only goals from UEFA club or international fixtures in 2018-19 were eligible for consideration, with a UEFA expert panel selecting the shortlist from which the winner was chosen by a public vote.

Messi's goal went unrewarded last season as Barca were beaten 4-0 at Anfield in the second leg to lose the tie 4-3 on aggregate.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and five Liverpool players have been shortlisted for 2018-19 Champions League positional awards. 

Liverpool defeated Tottenham in the Champions League final and have seen goalkeeper Alisson, defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk, midfielder Jordan Henderson and forward Sadio Mane named among the contenders in their respective categories.

Tottenham also have representation through keeper Hugo Lloris and midfielder Christian Eriksen.

Barcelona superstar Messi, who was the top scorer in last season's competition with 12 goals, will vie with Mane and old adversary Ronaldo for the forward award.

Midfielder Frenkie de Jong and defender Matthijs de Ligt – who are now at Barcelona and Juventus respectively – were also nominated after playing pivotal roles in Ajax's run to the semi-finals.

The awards will be presented during the 2019-20 Champions League group stage draw in Monaco on Thursday 29 August.

The shortlisting jury comprised the coaches of the 32 clubs from last season's group stage and journalists from each of UEFA's 55 member associations.

 

Full list of nominees for 2018-19 Champions League position awards:
  
Goalkeepers: Alisson (Liverpool), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur); Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona).
 
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax, now Juventus), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool).
 
Midfielders: Frenkie de Jong (Ajax, now Barcelona), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool).
 
Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus).

Lionel Messi expects to be out of action for "a little while" after suffering a calf injury during Barcelona training on Monday.

The Argentina star sustained a grade one strain to his right calf muscle in his first session back with LaLiga's champions after his post-Copa America holiday.

The 32-year-old will miss Barca's pre-season trip to the United States while he recovers from the problem.

Although Barca have not put a timeframe on his recovery, Messi does not seem to think the injury will keep him sidelined for long.

"I was looking forward to starting and unfortunately I had an accident in the first training session that will leave me out for a little while," he wrote on Instagram.

"I'm grateful for all your messages and displays of affection, I wanted to be with the team and with the people who follow us in the USA.

"It wasn't to be this time, but we'll see each other again soon. A hug to everyone."

Barca face Napoli in Miami and Ann Arbor this week in the final stretch of their pre-season duties.

They begin their league title defence away to Athletic Bilbao on August 16.

Lionel Messi will not travel to the United States with the Barcelona squad this week after sustaining a calf injury.

The Argentina star suffered a grade one strain during training on Monday and will stay in Catalonia to recover.

It was Messi's first training session since his return from holiday following the Copa America in Brazil.

Barca confirmed in a statement that Messi "withdrew from the session due to discomfort in his right leg. Tests carried out have diagnosed a Grade 1 calf strain for the Argentine."

There is no time frame for his recovery but it is unlikely he will be definitively ruled out of Barca's LaLiga opener against Athletic Bilbao on August 16.

Ernesto Valverde's side, who beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Joan Gamper Trophy match on Sunday, travel to the USA this week for two matches against Napoli.

The first is in Miami on Wednesday and the second in Michigan on Saturday.

Lionel Messi claimed he has no regrets about pledging to win the Champions League last season and promised Barcelona would "fight again for everything" as he gave his captain's address at Camp Nou.

Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League by eventual winners Liverpool in a dramatic semi-final in May but ended the season as LaLiga champions for the second successive campaign.

Ahead of Barca's 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the Joan Gamper Trophy, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi addressed the crowd on Sunday.

Messi did not play in the match, having only returned from holiday, but took the opportunity to outline his hopes for the new season and reflect on the club's achievements during his time in Catalonia.

"It's hard to say something after last season, but I don't regret anything," said Messi. "But I have no doubt that together we are going to fight again for everything.

"We won eight league titles in 11 years. We do not give it the value it deserves but over the years we will see how difficult it was."

Barcelona will play two more friendly matches against Napoli before the new season gets underway with a trip to Athletic Bilbao on August 16.

Ernesto Valverde has added Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Neto, Junior Firpo and Emerson to his squad in a spending spree that has cost the club more than €200million, and Messi was in a determined mood ahead of the new campaign.

"This club fights for everything and this year will be no different," he said.

"We have renewed dreams. Visca Barca and Visca Catalunya!"

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