Pep Guardiola admitted "the broadcasters are the bosses" in response to Manchester City's rearranged festive fixture list - but again called for players to receive greater protection amid punishing schedules.

City were initially set to travel to Wolves on Boxing Day but that game has been pushed back by 24 hours for live coverage, with the Sheffield United home game moved to December 29.

Still, they have less than 48 hours of rest between those two fixtures - with the reigning Premier League champions then starting 2020 by hosting Everton on January 1.

While a fan of playing during the Christmas period, a custom that he has become used to since moving to England, Guardiola fears the desire to squeeze in so many matches is a major concern.

He used the example of Neymar - who suffered a hamstring injury while playing for Brazil in a friendly against Nigeria last week, ruling him out for up to four weeks - as an example of the risks of playing too often.

Asked for his thoughts about City's fixture changes announced this week, Guardiola told the media: "It is what it is. Since I came here, every season it happened the same.

"The broadcasters are the bosses in this situation. I love to play Boxing Day and winter time when everybody stops, when families and kids go the stadiums and enjoy the games. I like it.

"The problem is the same. So now Neymar is injured again, but they travel for friendly games in Nigeria or Abu Dhabi, or wherever far away, then come back.

"We don't protect the players – the system doesn't protect them. It's too much. Honestly, it's too much."

Guardiola was speaking ahead of Saturday's trip to Crystal Palace - a game that could see both Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones return from injury.

While stopping short of confirming the duo will be available to feature at Selhurst Park, the City boss was upbeat over their outlook.

"Some of them are better. Kevin is back and John trained in the last two days and is good," he said. "[Benjamin] Mendy as well, maybe later, but as well."

Sergio Aguero was involved in a minor car crash in midweek, but Guardiola had positive news on the striker's status: "He is fine. The car is not fine."

Neymar is expected to be out for four weeks after the Paris Saint-Germain star suffered a hamstring injury on international duty.

The Brazil forward was withdrawn in the 12th minute of the Selecao's 1-1 friendly draw with Nigeria on Sunday.

PSG announced Neymar had an MRI scan on Monday that confirmed the injury, which will be re-evaluated in eight days.

Neymar has played just five games for PSG this season owing to an ankle injury picked up in June.

The ex-Barcelona forward did not make his first appearance until September, having attempted to force a move away from the club he joined for a world-record €222million fee in 2017.

He was booed by the home fans on his return to the side in a 1-0 victory over Strasbourg, in which he scored a spectacular overhead kick winner.

The 27-year-old has four goals in his five games for Thomas Tuchel's men, who have a two-point lead in Ligue 1 and have two wins from two in the Champions League.

Speaking after the stalemate with the Super Eagles, Brazil coach Tite said Neymar was not a pre-match injury risk.

"It would be irresponsible and incompetent of me [to play him if he was a doubt]," Tite explained.

"I would have to receive the complaints of the coach and the president of PSG if that happened."

Neymar posted an image on his Instagram story of him back in Paris and receiving treatment for the injury.

The length of Neymar's absence means he is likely to miss two Champions League games with Club Brugge and Ligue 1 matches with Nice, Marseille, Dijon and Brest.

In the same announcement, PSG said Kylian Mbappe is “positively following his recovery programme” after missing the game against Angers last time out.

Edinson Cavani, who has been out since August with a hip issue, continues training with the squad.

Julian Draxler (foot) and Colin Dagba (thigh) have returned to training.

Neymar is expected to be out for four weeks after the Paris Saint-Germain star suffered a hamstring injury on international duty.

Either through injuries or dips in form, Luis Suarez has started to show signs of regression at Barcelona and they are planning for a future without him.

The Uruguayan striker has been a remarkable player for Barca, but at 32 he is approaching the twilight of his career and the Blaugrana have been considering who they might want to replace him with when the time comes.

Meanwhile, one player recently heavily linked with Barca could be signing a new contract with his current employers.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA DRAW UP STRIKERS SHORTLIST

Barca have significantly strengthened several areas of their team in recent transfer windows, with Antoine Griezmann, Junior Firpo, Frenkie de Jong and Neto bolstering their options.

They are now beginning to turn their attentions to the central striker role, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The publication reports Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe is the ideal target, though Barca are said to be hopeful of getting him on a cut-price deal in 2021 after he has entered the final year of his contract, assuming he does not sign an extension in the meantime.

England and Tottenham striker Harry Kane is also said to be high up their list, despite their being acknowledgement that his wages would be more of an issue than the transfer fee.

The other two reportedly being considered are Marcus Rashford of Manchester United and Inter's Lautaro Martinez.

 

ROUND-UP

Barca missed out on securing the return of Neymar in the most recent transfer window and, according to Gazzetta dello Sport, PSG are now planning to offer the Brazilian a new bumper contract.

- The LaLiga champions are also looking at midfield reinforcements with potential. Napoli's Fabian RuizEduardo Camavinga of Rennes and Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz are all being considered, though Mundo Deportivo say Real Madrid are also tracking the trio with intent.

Christian Eriksen's future has been a hot topic for the last few months, with the Tottenham midfielder's contract ending next year. Sport1 in Germany claim Bayern Munich have already been in touch with him.

Liverpool are hoping to sign Brighton and Hove Albion-owned centre-back Ben White, 21, according to the Sun. The defender is impressing on loan at Leeds United and the Reds see him as a replacement for Dejan Lovren, who is said to be eager for a move to get first-team football.

- Despite languishing 12th in the Premier League after a wretched start to the season, the Daily Mail say Manchester United will not be splashing the cash in the January transfer window.

- But the Daily Express report United have reached a "verbal agreement" with Mario Mandzukic of Juventus, who are said to be demanding £10million for the Croatian forward.

Tite admitted he is struggling to get the most out of his players after Brazil's winless streak stretched to a third match with Thursday's 1-1 draw against Senegal.

Famara Diedhiou scored a penalty late in the first half of the friendly international to cancel out Roberto Firmino's ninth-minute opener at the Singapore National Stadium.

Brazil drew 2-2 with Colombia and lost 1-0 to Peru in last month's friendlies and are on their longest wait for a victory since 2013.

The Copa America champions nearly fell to back-to-back losses as Sadio Mane struck the post for Senegal, leaving coach Tite to accept the criticism aimed his way.

"We were below what we can do. The squad played less than what it can play," Tite said at his post-match news conference.

"It was less competitive than what it can be. The squad can give more than this. This wasn't a good game.

"We need to get results. When we don't, criticism emerges and I have to be mature enough to absorb it."

Tite used a 4-4-2 formation in Singapore, with Neymar starting alongside Firmino in attack.

Neymar earned his 100th cap for Brazil and almost marked the landmark appearance with a goal, only for Alfred Gomis to keep out his effort in first-half stoppage time.

Asked about the Paris Saint-Germain forward's performance, Tite said: "He is getting back to his normal patterns.

"We are also making adjustments for him in the 4-4-2 system, as we're doing within the whole team."

Brazil return to action on Sunday with a friendly against Nigeria at the same ground.

Neymar played down his fractured relationship with Paris Saint-Germain's fans, insisting "it is like with women, sometimes you argue and spend some time without talking".

PSG superstar Neymar has enjoyed a stunning return to the team since his failed return to Barcelona, scoring three goals in four matches.

Neymar's desire to re-join Barca sparked a rift with PSG's fans, who insulted and displayed banners during the Brazilian's comeback against Strasbourg on September 14.

But Neymar has not been affected, scoring the winner in Saturday's 1-0 Ligue 1 victory at Bordeaux and he dismissed the rocky relationship with PSG's supporters.

"It is like with women. Sometimes you argue and spend some time without talking," Neymar told reporters post-match.

"However, with love and affection, you go back to normal. I am here to help PSG and I will give my life on the pitch."

Neymar added to beIN SPORTS: "I'm very happy! I love helping the team, whether it be goals or assists! I'm here for that, and I have every intention of doing that.

"I'm happy when I make the breakthrough in such tight and difficult games. Kylian Mbappe? He returned with his smile, his good mood...and his football!"

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe combined for the 70th-minute winner as PSG bounced back from their shock 2-0 defeat at home to Reims on Wednesday.

"We won this evening by getting back our good feelings in our understanding with each other, linking up, and with quick attacks! It augurs well," Mbappe said.

"My absence? It was long, difficult too. When the team loses, you want to come back as soon as possible, but you can't be hasty. It wasn't easy, but it's over!"

On the relationship between Neymar and Mbappe, PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel said: "They have qualities. They like to be together, their personalities go well together. 

"We can feel it, observe it on the field but it should not be too obvious because you have to keep a balance with other players, they must seek others. We always have to make the best decision for the team, to win, to create opportunities. We played like that today."

Titleholders PSG are two points clear atop the Ligue 1 table ahead of Tuesday's Champions League trip to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

"We played well at the end of the game but forgot to score! We created a lot of chances, but the match was close to the end," Tuchel continued. "It's the only negative point, because I'm really very happy with our performance. The team's display was really excellent, with and without the ball. It was a great performance. I'm very happy."

Kylian Mbappe marked his return from injury by teeing up Neymar for the only goal of the game as Paris Saint-Germain got back to winning ways in Ligue 1 with a 1-0 triumph at Bordeaux.

Mbappe had not featured since August 25 because of a muscle problem but came off the bench in the second half to make a telling impact for the defending champions.

The France forward was introduced on the hour mark and 10 minutes later he laid on a close-range winner for Neymar.

Victory for Thomas Tuchel's men sees them go two points clear at the top of the table, though surprise package Angers can go back level with them at the summit by beating Amiens.

Pablo Sarabia saw a goal ruled out for offside in the ninth minute, and a frustrating first half for the visitors - beaten at home by Reims in midweek - featured a booking for coach Tuchel after he expressed his disdain at a free-kick given to Bordeaux.

His side dominated throughout and Thomas Meunier dragged an effort wide before Angel Di Maria and Neymar were each denied by Benoit Costil in quick succession.

Neymar then headed wide after more good work down the right from Meunier, with PSG's profligacy forcing Tuchel's hand as Mbappe was summoned to join the action.

He wasted an early opportunity by shooting straight at Costil before Neymar sent another header off target at the far post with the goal at his mercy.

PSG's persistence was finally rewarded, however, when Bordeaux lost the ball in their own half and Mbappe broke free down the right, firing a low cross in for Neymar to tuck into the bottom-left corner.

Mbappe's cameo was arguably worthy of a goal but Costil kept his team in it with another fine save after a break from the World Cup winner, who blasted over the bar shortly after on a day when PSG should have won by a much more convincing margin.

There was controversy late on, though, as Bordeaux had an appeal for a penalty rejected by VAR despite Idrissa Gueye appearing to make contact with Loris Benito, but a point for the hosts would have been scarcely deserved.

Didier Drogba believes Paris Saint-Germain's "exceptional" strikers Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will both win the Ballon d'Or during their careers.

The pair have been instrumental in PSG's dominance of French football since linking up at the start of the 2017-18 season, scoring 115 goals between them across all competitions.

Luka Modric broke Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's decade-long stranglehold on the Ballon d'Or last year and former Chelsea and Marseille striker Drogba has no doubt PSG's potent attackers will join that illustrious group.

He told Le Parisien: "Neymar and Mbappe will one day win the Ballon d'Or. They are part of this small group of exceptional players. There are very few in the world."

While Champions League winner Drogba thinks their individual talents will be recognised on the highest stage, he was keen to point out how impressively they work together in tandem.

"Neymar likes to create spaces and Kylian likes to move into those spaces. Neymar creates and Kylian profits. It works very well," Drogba said.

"Just watch them when they are together on the pitch. They are constantly looking for each other. It's almost the first thing they do when they touch the ball. It is obvious that when they are not on the pitch, PSG are not as strong."

Neymar has endured a mixed start to the campaign after an off-season transfer saga during which he reportedly pushed for a return to Barcelona.

He was booed by PSG's own supporters during a home clash with Strasbourg on September 14 before scoring a stunning stoppage-time winner. He followed that up last weekend with another decisive late goal against Lyon.

Drogba believes the Brazilian has been harshly treated and does not think it will not take him long to be accepted by fans again.

"At the moment, it seems like it's fashionable to criticise him for everything that happened [during the off-season]. But once he's on the pitch, who can seriously say they do not take pleasure in watching him play?" Drogba said. 

"The more matches he plays, the more things will change and he will become what he was before.

"I'm sorry, but what happened this summer is what happens in all the big clubs with all the big players. There are some who want to leave and some their clubs want to keep. It's the life of modern football."

Thomas Tuchel indicated he will rotate his depleted Paris Saint-Germain squad against Reims in Ligue 1 on Wednesday as he balances an ongoing injury crisis.

Forwards Mauro Icardi, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani are all unavailable, as well as defender Thilo Kehrer and midfielder Julian Draxler, while Marco Verratti is suspended.

Neymar and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting are therefore the only senior attackers available to PSG, who are three points clear at the top of the table after six matches.

After sitting out the opening weeks of the season due to injury and uncertainty over his future, Neymar has hit late winners in consecutive league defeats of Strasbourg and Lyon.

Tuchel, though, suggested the Brazil forward could sit out the visit of Reims to ensure he is kept fresh for PSG's busy upcoming schedule.

"It's not possible to pick the same players," he told a news conference. "I'm responsible for the team, we only have two days of rest.

"Then we play in Bordeaux, then in Istanbul [against Galatasaray in the Champions League] two days later, we cannot overuse the players."

Neymar reported late to training on Tuesday but Tuchel confirmed this was authorised as the forward had a "personal thing".

The 27-year-old has yet to be forgiven by some PSG fans after making it clear he wanted to leave the club during the transfer window.

Thomas Meunier, though, feels supporters need to move on from that saga and give Neymar their backing.

"Whistling is not the answer, I'm happy with what he brings in," he told a news conference.

"Professionally he did the right thing, he did not make a story, he's convinced himself that he can still play a role in the club."

Neymar was once again the hero for Paris Saint-Germain as his late goal secured a 1-0 win over Lyon on Sunday.

Having scored a stunning stoppage-time winner against Strasbourg last weekend, the Brazil international sealed all three points against Sylvinho's side with another brilliant finish, this time in the 87th minute.

The 27-year-old – who routinely had objects thrown at home by home fans when taking corners in the second half – collected Angel Di Maria's pass before turning away from Kenny Tete and firing a low drive into Anthony Lopes' bottom-left corner.

The win moves the reigning champions three points above Angers and Nice at the top of the Ligue 1 table, while Lyon languish in ninth.

Kylian Mbappe is "progressing well" as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, Paris Saint-Germain have confirmed.

Mbappe was substituted after pulling his hamstring in a 4-0 Ligue 1 defeat of Toulouse last month.

The France forward has been working hard on his recovery over the international break but is not yet ready to return to training.

Edinson Cavani, though, is closer to making his comeback after he was injured in the same game as Mbappe.

In an update posted to PSG's official website on Thursday, the club said the Uruguay striker will make a "progressive return to training this week".

Thilo Kehrer and Julian Draxler are undergoing treatment with both players expected to miss Saturday's home game against Strasbourg as a result.

Mbappe and Cavani are unlikely to be fit to take on Real Madrid, however, with PSG opening their Champions League campaign at home to the Spanish giants on Wednesday.

Neymar is also ruled out of that game due to suspension, so PSG coach Thomas Tuchel could be without all three members of his usual front line for the Group A clash.

Former Stoke City forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who has scored three goals in two Ligue 1 games, is therefore in line to feature.

EA Sports has revealed the 10 highest-rated players on FIFA 20 ahead of the game's release later this month, with Lionel Messi back on top after Cristiano Ronaldo ranked first last year.

Messi enjoyed another stellar campaign for Barcelona in 2018-19, scoring 36 goals in 34 LaLiga matches, inspiring the club's title defence and run to the Champions League semi-finals.

Ronaldo's first season at Juventus – who will be known as Piemonte Calcio on FIFA 20 – went as smoothly as might have been expected, with the forward finishing as the club's top-scorer as they claimed an eighth successive Scudetto, though that was not enough to retain his crown as FIFA's highest-rated player.

Neither Ronaldo nor Messi were able to win the Champions League, however, with that honour falling to Liverpool, who have two representatives in the top 10.

Find out who they are and which other players join Messi and Ronaldo in the 10 below.

10. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona – 90

Germany international Ter Stegen has developed into one of the globe's most well-rounded goalkeepers after an initially slow start to life at Camp Nou. He is one of three players with a rating of 90, making him the second best keeper on the game.

9. Luka Modric, Real Madrid – 90

Last year's Ballon d'Or winner, Modric's 2019 has not been particularly outstanding, as he has found himself out of the Madrid team a little more due to suspect form. He may be down one rating point from FIFA 19, but he still reaches 90.

8. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool – 90

A crucial part of Liverpool's Champions League winning side, Salah has truly established himself as one the world's primary stars over the last couple of years. He was not even in the top 20 in FIFA 19, however.

7. Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool – 91

The most important player in Liverpool's Champions League success? Until recently the most expensive defender ever, Van Dijk's influence on the Reds is undeniable. That is reflected in the fact he will be FIFA 20's best defender.

6. Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid – 91

Widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world for his quality and consistency, Oblak replaces David de Gea – who had a shaky 2018-19 – as the top-ranked keeper on FIFA.

5. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City – 91

Even though injuries have plagued De Bruyne in recent times, robbing him of a chunk of last season, the Belgium star remains one of most highly regarded players on the game, with the City star beginning 2019-20 in ominous fashion.

4. Eden Hazard, Real Madrid – 91

After helping Chelsea to Europa League success, enjoying a generally fine individual campaign as the Premier League's most creative player with 15 assists, he earned his dream move to Real Madrid. He's yet to feature due to injury, but he'll be hopeful of elevating himself to the next level now.

3. Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain – 92

Perhaps a controversial choice to some, Neymar missed a big part of last season through injury and only won Ligue 1 and the Trophee des Champions, as he was also absent for Brazil's Copa America success. Nevertheless, his skill is undoubtable and he comes in at number three.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Piemonte Calcio (Juventus) – 93

The best-ranked player on FIFA 19, Ronaldo's rating drops one to 93 despite enjoying a solid season in Serie A. Cynics might suggest Juve's exclusivity deal with FIFA rival Pro Evolution Soccer has something to do with it.

1.Lionel Messi, Barcelona – 94

The world's best player comes in at number one with a rating of 94 after he enjoyed another spell-binding season on all fronts, impressing even though Barca failed in the Champions League.

Brazil coach Tite rued not giving Vinicius Junior his international debut in Friday's friendly against Colombia, owing the decision to Neymar displaying "perfect" body language upon his return.

Real Madrid talent Vinicius has long been tipped to make the breakthrough at senior level for Brazil, having sparkled in his fledgling career with Flamengo and then last season in Spain.

Injury denied him a first cap in March after he was called up for matches against Panama and Czech Republic, while he failed to make the cut for Tite's Copa America squad.

Tite planned to let the 19-year-old feature as Brazil drew 2-2 with Carlos Queiroz's Colombia, but instead opted to keep Neymar – playing his first match for club or country in three months – on the pitch in an attempt to maximise the Paris Saint-Germain star's fitness.

"Vinicius was ready to enter," Tite told reporters. "The idea was to for him to come on, but circumstances change.

"He will have his chance. Of course, he will be used as a left winger. Playing in the national team is already complicated, the yellow shirt weighs on anyone.

"So, in the case of Vinicius, I will put him in his natural position, where he is accustomed and feels comfortable.

"The plan was not that Neymar played 90 minutes, he came from more than three months without playing, and I was about to take him off three times during the second half, but he was improving technically and physically as the minutes passed.

"I was talking with Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar and our physio during the match and we decided to leave him on the pitch.

"I don't think he expected me to play him for 90 minutes, I saw him look at the bench a couple of times, but his body language was perfect, he was not tired and there was no point in taking him out.

"The level of the game was so high and I saw the team at such a good pace that I didn't want to make any more changes."

Neymar scored Brazil's second goal, after a Luis Muriel brace had cancelled out Casemiro's headed opener.

Brazil are next in action against Peru on Wednesday.

No close season seems complete without a transfer saga.

This window has seen Neymar take centre stage - and not for the first time in his career either - as we waited to find out his location by the end of September 2. 

Now we know. Despite all the speculation, and even with the media suggesting half of the Barcelona squad could be moving in the opposite direction, the Brazilian forward will not be back at Camp Nou but instead remain at Paris Saint-Germain - at least for the next few months.

The story had more twists than the career of a rollercoaster designer. It was on, then off. Then back on again. Meanwhile, almost as a sideshow while the window remained open, the two clubs happened to start playing competitive games again in their domestic leagues.

Here, we look back at some other superstars who were previously involved in headline-grabbing transfer tales.

 

Steven Gerrard

It is mind-boggling to think how the footballing landscape may have looked had Steven Gerrard ended up joining Jose Mourinho at Chelsea.

The local boy who had come through the club’s ranks told Liverpool in July 2005 that he wanted to leave. Fans did not take the request well, burning Gerrard's number 17 shirt just over a month after he had captained the Reds to a famous Champions League triumph in Istanbul.

Having turned down a new deal, the midfielder revealed it had been "the hardest decision" for him to tell the Reds he needed to move on. The lure of working with Mourinho at the Blues appeared too great to ignore, or so it seemed.

Instead, Gerrard changed his mind. "He wants to stay. I couldn't be more delighted," chief executive Rick Parry said in a news conference, echoing the feelings of Liverpool fans around the world.

'Stevie G' ended up sticking around at Anfield for another decade, eventually departing for MLS in 2015.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo has made a habit of suggesting he is ready to move on after winning the Champions League.

The Portuguese superstar got his wish after lifting the trophy for a third straight year with Real Madrid in 2018. He teased his departure in a post-match interview not long after the final whistle against Liverpool, before the confetti was even cleaned up, paving the way for a sensational switch to Juventus.

However, Manchester United were not so forthcoming to Ronaldo's wishes in 2008.

So strong was the Red Devils' stance in the face of interest from Madrid, Alex Ferguson claimed United’s owners, the Glazers, would rather sit a player in the stand "just to prove a point", rather than be forced to make a sale.

The English club made a complaint to FIFA concerning Madrid's public pursuit (no action was taken, by the way) as they stood their ground. Having little option but to stay put, Ronaldo said in October he could see himself staying at United beyond the 2008-09 season.

Yet when Madrid came calling again the following year, the forward finally got his move. United cashed in on their prized asset for a then world-record fee of £80m.

 

Wayne Rooney

Rooney sensationally declared his intention to leave Manchester United (for the first time) in October 2010, citing a concern over the club's unwillingness to spend big in the transfer market.

Following a meeting with the then-chief executive David Gill, the England international released a strongly worded statement that said: "He [Gill] did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad".

Citing a desire to win trophies, Rooney suddenly appeared to be heading for the Old Trafford exit. Manchester City seemed his most likely destination, too.

However, it turned out he just needed to sleep on it. Well, for two nights anyway. Having initially baulked at signing a new deal at United, the striker made a stunning U-turn and penned a five-year contract.

"I've spoken to the manager [Alex Ferguson] and the owners and they've convinced me this is where I belong," he said, while adding his intention to win back the trust of the fans. It may also have helped make up his mind that the Red Devils reportedly doubled his wages.

 

Luis Suarez

In the 2013-14 season, Suarez was sensational for Liverpool, a one-man wrecking ball who so nearly fired them to the title. The Uruguayan scored 31 Premier League goals to win the competition’s Golden Boot, while he was also named the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year.

Yet it is easy to forget that the same player had wanted to leave the Reds prior to the campaign.

Suarez believed the club had failed to deliver on a promise to let him leave after they failed to qualify for the Champions League, with Arsenal appearing his next destination. The player felt, in such circumstance, his contract included a release clause set at £40m – and the Gunners duly put in an offer £1 above that amount.

"They gave me their word a year ago and now I want them to honour that. And it is not just something verbal with the coach but something that is written in the contract. I'm not going to another club to hurt Liverpool," Suarez said at one stage.

In the end, he had to wait 12 months to eventually get his move elsewhere – and Liverpool pocketed considerably more than £40m when the striker, serving a four-month ban at the time from all football-related activity after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup - headed to Barcelona.

 

Philippe Coutinho

Liverpool had barely finished typing out a statement to confirm he was not for sale when Philippe Coutinho e-mailed a transfer request to the club in August 2017.

Barcelona – with money to burn after Neymar had moved to PSG – had seen two bids rejected for the Brazilian playmaker, who had signed a new long-term deal in January but made clear his desire to move on just six months later.

The Reds, however, refused to budge – "maybe we are not a selling club," said Jurgen Klopp, who integrated the player back into the squad when the window closed. However, when it ticked into 2018, the rumours started again.

Having stood their ground previously, Liverpool changed their minds and negotiated a reported £142m price for Coutinho – a huge profit on the £8.5m they spent to bring him in from Inter.

"It is his dream and I am now convinced there is nothing left at our disposal to change his mind," Klopp admitted. In an added twist, Coutinho found himself suggested as a makeweight in a deal to bring Neymar back to Barca before joining Bayern Munich on loan.

Ousmane Dembele's agent remains adamant the Barcelona winger will play no part in a mooted swap deal involving Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar.

Moussa Sissoko, the France international's representative, insists his client is completely committed to spending a third season at Camp Nou.

LaLiga champions Barca are rumoured to have offered the 22-year-old World Cup winner to PSG in a part-exchange for Neymar, who continues to be overlooked for matchday squads by the Parisians.

Dembele's former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel is now in charge in the French capital and has reportedly warmed to the prospect of a reunion.

The player himself appears less keen on the idea.

"Ousmane stays at Barcelona, 100 per cent," Sissoko told French broadcaster TF1.

"There is no chance he will leave. He wants to and will succeed at Barcelona."

Dembele has battled injuries and fluctuations in form since moving to Spain from Dortmund in 2017.

He started Barca's season-opening 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao but missed the 5-2 victory over Real Betis with a hamstring strain, which is expected to keep him out for around another month.

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