Zinedine Zidane enjoyed watching Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland in Champions League action, though he refused to be drawn over his preference amid links to Real Madrid.

Mbappe lit up the start of the knockout stages of the European competition with a hat-trick for Paris Saint-Germain against Madrid's domestic rivals Barcelona on Tuesday, helping the French club record an outstanding 4-1 triumph at Camp Nou.

Just 24 hours later, Haaland continued his astonishing scoring exploits in the Champions League, becoming the fastest player to reach 10 goals for one club as he struck twice for Borussia Dortmund in a 3-2 victory away to Sevilla in the last 16.

Both young forwards have been rumoured as transfer targets for Madrid, so it was hardly surprising they were a topic of discussion for Zidane during his pre-match media conference ahead of Saturday's LaLiga trip to Real Valladolid.

Asked for his assessment of fellow Frenchman Mbappe, he replied: "I think the performance he put in earlier this week was marvellous. 

"I loved seeing what he did because we know each other from France.

"It's very good for football, I watched the game as a fan. I had a very good time watching it. He has a lot of good movement, a lot of good play."

French media has claimed Mbappe has been offered a new long-term deal to remain at PSG. The 22-year-old's current contract runs until 2022, which is the same year Haaland can leave Dortmund for €75million (£65m), according to a reported agreement with the Bundesliga club.

Madrid head coach Zidane, however, was not interested in revealing which of the duo he ranked higher.

"Like I said, what I like is just watching football. I just like watching good football, good players on the pitch," he said. 

"Two tremendous players, for now and the future. That's it. I'm not going to say who I prefer over the other. Everyone has their opinion."

The continued rise of Mbappe and Haaland as superstars has led to suggestions they can step in and become the next great pairing, taking over from the longstanding rivalry between Madrid legend Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

"They are quality players both of them, just like Messi and Cristiano," Zidane said. "Neymar, all these world class players, they're just like them.

"They're younger, they're demonstrating they are not just players for the future but players for the present."

 

Manchester City are counting the cost of the current financial climate and have slashed the budget assigned to lure Lionel Messi away from Barcelona.

The 33-year-old Barca captain could depart his boyhood team in the 2021 off-season after publicly trying, and failing, to force an exit from the Catalan club last August.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has been the subject of much speculation, but Messi may have to compromise to make the move happen as the Premier League leaders' bargaining power has taken a hit.

 

TOP STORY – CITY FORCED TO LOWER MESSI CONTRACT OFFER

City had already tabled a five-year contract designed to tempt Messi to switch LaLiga for the Premier League – but the numbers have now changed, reports The Sun.

A package worth £600million (€693m) had reportedly been prepared in order to tie the six-time Ballon d'Or winner down for the rest of his career, should he opt to leave Barca at the end of the season.

But The Sun says City will now not match the terms set in August, and the offer has dropped to £430million (€496m), potentially opening the door for Paris Saint-Germain to swoop.

ROUND-UP

Chelsea have already made contact with winger Jonas Hofmann, according to Bild, as the Borussia Monchengladbach exodus threatens to begin following the news that coach Marco Rose is leaving for Borussia Dortmund next season. Hofmann played for Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund.

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie is also in Tuchel's sights, and the Blues could offer Fikayo Tomori to the Serie A giants on a permanent deal as part of a player-plus-cash exchange, reports Il Milanista.

- Everton loanee Moise Kean has netted 14 goals in 25 games for PSG and his parent club will not part with the Italy international for any less than £60m, says Fabrizio Romano, while Juventus want to bring the striker back to Turin, according to Le 10 Sport.

 

Everton 'will demand £70m for Moise Kean transfer' after impressing at PSG https://t.co/3PvjhBQ1rf

— Sun Sport (@SunSport) February 18, 2021

- 'If there are opportunities, I will have a look at them,' is what Wilfried Zaha told the Financial Times Business of Football Summit, reports The Sun. The Crystal Palace winger has been previously linked with Arsenal and Tottenham.

- Gunners midfielder Lucas Torreira, currently on the fringes while on loan at Atletico Madrid, is close to securing a move to Fiorentina for next season, claims Gazzetta Dello Sport.

Kylian Mbappe's future is in his own hands after showing the world what he is capable of while scoring a hat-trick in Paris Saint-Germain's 4-1 Champions League demolition of Barcelona.

With his contract in the French capital set to expire in June 2022, Mbappe ultimately has the choice of either signing a new deal or leaving his hometown team – and the World Cup winner has been non-committal so far.

Should the 22-year-old sensation decide to take his career abroad, there will be no shortage of suitors, with four European giants ready to swoop.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER CITY, REAL MADRID, JUVENTUS EYE IN-DEMAND MBAPPE

If PSG cannot persuade Mbappe to sign a long-term extension, they will not want to lose a world-class talent without a fee, so the Ligue 1 champions have placed a €200million (£173m) tag on his head, according to Le Parisien.

Le Parisien reports the price may not deter the Frenchman's admirers, who include Premier League rivals Manchester City and LiverpoolReal Madrid and Juventus.

While those clubs may want him, it is unclear if all of them would be able to afford Mbappe, who is set to make more than €30m per year gross on his next contract. Reports claim PSG will aim to price their Champions League rivals out of a deal.

Lionel Messi is not motivated by money as he eyes titles amid uncertainty over his Barcelona future, according to presidential candidate Joan Laporta.

Messi has been heavily linked with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League giants Manchester City, with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

The record six-time Ballon d'Or winner tried to leave Camp Nou at the start of the 2020-21 campaign before opting to stay.

As doubts remain over Messi following Barcelona's 4-1 rout at the hands of PSG in the first leg of the blockbuster last-16 tie on Tuesday, Laporta – one of the remaining candidates in the running for the presidency – remains hopeful of keeping the 33-year-old.

"Giving him affection is very important," Laporta told Sky Sport Italia. "The love story between Messi and Barcelona is one of the most beautiful stories in football.

"He has to be loved. He deserves it. And he has to be valued with an economic offer that makes him feel valued, but he's not led by money.

"I know him, I have a good relationship with him and a lot of respect.

"He's a winner. What he wants is to win again, with Barcelona. I'm going to do everything I can to keep him. Our competitors are state clubs, they are making offers.

"We have to be clear that money doesn't guarantee titles, and Leo is more about winning titles than making money."

Laporta added: "He makes more money than he costs, much more. Messi's cost represents eight percent of the club's total income, while he generates around 30 percent of the income.

"Messi is very profitable for Barcelona, but the most important thing is the emotional return he gives us.

"It's priceless when you ask a young boy or girl who their favourite player is and they immediately say Messi."

Messi's opening goal against PSG was his 20th goal of the season for Barcelona in all competitions – it is the 13th consecutive campaign he has scored 20-plus goals for the club.

The Barca captain has scored in the Champions League in each calendar year since 2005. This run of at least one goal in 17 consecutive years is the joint-longest run in the competition's history alongside Raul (1995-2011).

Manchester United are making plans for Paul Pogba's departure and may have already identified the Frenchman's replacement in Real Madrid's Federico Valverde.

The 22-year-old has struggled with injuries this season, while veteran midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have been in vintage form for LaLiga's champions.

Valverde has only started 12 games in all competitions this season, but the Uruguayan has impressed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enough for United to step up their efforts to bring him to Old Trafford this off-season.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED EYE VALVERDE TO PLUG MIDFIELD

Valverde has shown his class while featuring in 89 games during his three seasons in the Spanish capital and has turned heads at United.

The Red Devils are said to admire his energy and box-to-box qualities as they seek a long-term solution to lock down a place in the centre of Solskjaer's midfield, according to The Sun.

One snag in the recruitment drive could be the Uruguay international's buy-out clause of a staggering £148million, though United can offer him a major improvement on his current £120,000 per week wage.

Gerard Pique is in contention to face Paris Saint-Germain after being named in the Barcelona matchday squad.

Barca host PSG at Camp Nou on Tuesday as their huge Champions League last-16 tie gets under way.

Pique has not played for almost three months since being replaced in the November 21 defeat to Atletico Madrid in LaLiga.

He suffered a sprain to his right knee and partial damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.

But the defender has been named in a 21-man squad on the morning of the game, from which head coach Ronald Koeman will pick his team.

Barca followed the announcement with an excited tweet declaring Pique "is back".

As well as Pique, forward Martin Braithwaite is included after being medically cleared.

Ronald Araujo is still out, so the potential involvement of Pique alongside Clement Lenglet at centre-back will come as a big boost to Barcelona.

While former Barca star Neymar is ruled out, PSG still boast a host of attacking talent including Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and in-form Moise Kean.

With Lionel Messi's future far from certain at the end of the season, his former team-mate Neymar has apparently reached out to the Barcelona captain about a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazilian superstar Neymar played alongside the six-time Ballon d'Or winner for four LaLiga seasons between 2013 and 2017, before sealing a world-record transfer to Ligue 1 giants

It is understood Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are ready to make a play to bring Messi to the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino's PSG appear to be taking the direct approach.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR PUTS IN A CALL TO MESSI

Lionel Messi's contract at his boyhood club expires in the off-season, less than a year after the Barcelona superstar sensationally tried to leave Camp Nou but found his exit plans blocked.

According to L'Equipe, Neymar – who is set to miss the Champions League trip to the Barcelona on Tuesday – has put in a call to convince Messi to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi will lead out Barca in the first leg of the last-16 tie, having stated he will wait until the end of the current campaign before making a decision on where he will play in 2021-2022.

ROUND-UP

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe has decided to stay put this off-season but is not planning on extending his current contract, which expires in 2022, claims ESPN.

Liverpool are looking for defensive reinforcements and they are monitoring Aston Villa's England Under-21 international Ezri Konsa, according to The Athletic.

- Bayern Munich's free-agent defender David Alaba has already agreed to join Real Madrid at season's end, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Lionel Messi has proven with his recent form that he is committed to Barcelona despite significant uncertainty surrounding his future and links to Tuesday's Champions League opponents Paris Saint-Germain, according to Jordi Alba.

Messi rocked world football in pre-season when declaring his desire to leave Barcelona after spending his entire professional career at Camp Nou.

The Argentina international had grown disillusioned with the state of the club under previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom Messi subsequently accused of reneging on an agreement to let him leave on a free transfer.

Messi ultimately decided to stay put, uncomfortable with the idea of dragging Barca through the courts, leaving the possibility for him to depart at the end of his contract in 2021.

While Barca have made no secret of their desire to renew his deal, a situation that is dominating the lead-up to next month's presidential election, PSG are apparently eager to bring Messi to France and even some of their players have openly addressed the prospect.

With PSG up next on Tuesday, attentions understandably turned to Messi's future in the pre-match news conference, and Alba insisted his illustrious team-mate had shown his professionalism with his haul of nine goals in as many games.

"The decision he makes will be well thought out and well-considered," Alba said. "I have said many times that I am a better player on the field when he is on the field.

"It is his decision and it will have to be respected whatever he makes, but now his thoughts are at Barca and you see that in every game.

"Even if he had decided, he wouldn't say whether he is going to stay. He already said before what intention he had.

"Today he is 100 per cent committed. From here, hopefully we can win a title and let him decide at the end of the season.

"What other players or other clubs say, we do not pay attention to in the dressing room. Leo will have the last word."

Ronald Koeman, who addressed the media after Alba, was a little less willing to discuss Messi, yet he reiterated he is optimistic Barca's captain will remain with them after the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

"I don't know if it was the intention from [the media] to talk a lot about Messi, my idea is to prepare the team and the players for an important game," he said.

"Messi is a Barca player and I have high hopes that he will continue to be a Barca player."

Paris Saint-Germain moved to the Ligue 1 summit as Moise Kean's late goal sealed a 2-1 win over Nice at the Parc des Princes on Saturday. 

Mauricio Pochettino was without the services of Neymar, who is out for a month after suffering an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen in midweek, but the champions had just enough to seal a sixth consecutive top-flight home win. 

Rony Lopes cancelled out Draxler's 22nd-minute opener early in the second half, but Kean – who scored the winner against Caen – secured maximum points 14 minutes from time. 

The result meant PSG – who visit Barcelona for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday – leapfrogged Lille at the top of Ligue 1 courtesy of a superior goal difference, although Christophe Galtier's side can reclaim top spot with a point against Brest on Sunday.

The hosts deservedly went ahead midway through the first half when Draxler prodded home his third goal of the season from eight yards after Mauro Icardi's close-range effort had cannoned back off the post. 

Kylian Mbappe should have doubled PSG's advantage shortly before the interval, the France international failing to make contact with Icardi's cross from six yards, while Amine Gouiri thundered over a presentable opportunity at the other end.

Nice pulled level five minutes after the break when Marquinhos' attempted clearance went as far as Lopes, who drove into the penalty area and unleashed a powerful drive that gave Keylor Navas no chance. 

Mbappe fizzed a strike just wide soon after following a swift counter-attacking move, while Gouiri crashed against the crossbar from close range as Nice threatened to pull ahead. 

Kean stretched PSG's unbeaten run at home to Nice to 10 games in the 76th minute, though, heading in from four yards after Icardi had steered Mbappe's cross into his path.

 

Paris Saint-Germain will focus on helping Neymar recover emotionally from his latest injury setback, said Mauricio Pochettino, who is confident they have the squad to win without him.

Neymar was ruled out for up to four weeks after suffering an adductor injury in PSG's Coupe de France clash with Caen on Wednesday.

He will miss Tuesday's trip to Camp Nou to face his former club Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.

The timeline also puts him in doubt for the return leg at the Parc des Princes on March 10.

Neymar spoke of his immense sadness in an Instagram following news of his injury.

And asked about the Brazil forward ahead of their Ligue 1 clash with Nice, PSG boss Pochettino said: "We have been speaking since the injury happened and, with the tests that he had yesterday, he has made his sadness and pain public.

"We are all going to help him get back as quickly as possible. And also help him recover in terms of his emotional state because it has been a tough blow for him.

"He is a tough guy and he is very mature. We have got to know him here to see what a great person he is, not just an athlete, but an extraordinary person who builds good relationships and is very likeable."

Pochettino brushed off talk of him taking an unnecessary risk by playing Neymar against Caen with Barca on the horizon.

"We are here to manage a squad of players and we make decisions that we think are for the best," explained Pochettino. 

"We make decisions together and try to apply that all the time. A player got injured and that can happen. That can happen in the Coupe de France, in training, in the league, in the Champions League.

"It is a shame that he got injured, but these things happen in football.

"We cannot look back. We have key players injured and we have to look for solutions, while also knowing that we have a squad that can still handle that and play well in these fixtures.

"Whether it is Ligue 1 or the Champions League, I have total confidence in the squad, and they are PSG players for a reason. So we are going to try to go into every game to win without any excuses."

Neymar will miss Paris Saint-Germain's trip to former club Barcelona in the Champions League after being ruled out for up to four weeks.

The Ligue 1 club, who head to Camp Nou next Tuesday, confirmed the Brazilian had suffered an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen on Wednesday.

The estimated recovery time would also put Neymar in doubt for the return leg of the last-16 clash with Barca, which takes place on March 10.

Neymar suffered the injury around the hour mark of the 1-0 win, with the 29-year-old clutching at his groin.

Though team-mate and midweek match-winner Moise Kean told Eurosport afterwards that "all is well", head coach Mauricio Pochettino was less optimistic.

"His left adductor muscle is affected and they will examine him to see what type of injury he has," he said.

"The reality is that we do not know the extent of the injury, tomorrow we will know more."

Sure enough, a PSG statement released on Thursday confirmed a notable setback for Neymar.

suffered a lesion to the left adductor on Wednesday evening," it read.

"After analysis of clinical exams and scans, it is expected that he'll be out for around four weeks depending on the evolution of the injury."

Neymar has often suffered untimely injuries at a similar time in previous seasons during his stint at PSG.

In 2018, Neymar sustained a broken toe in February, meaning he missed almost three months of action, with PSG losing 5-2 on aggregate to eventual Champions League winners Real Madrid in the last 16 in his absence.

An ankle injury then kept him out from January to April in 2019, with PSG going out at the hands of Manchester United, though he was fit to help the Parisians overcome Borussia Dortmund in last season's tournament, prior to the coronavirus-enforced suspension.

PSG went on to lose in the final to Bayern Munich, though Neymar has lifted the trophy before, having scored in a 3-1 win over Juventus in the 2015 showpiece.

Neymar will miss Paris Saint-Germain's trip to former club Barcelona in the Champions League after being ruled out for up to four weeks.

The Ligue 1 club, who head to Camp Nou next Tuesday, confirmed the Brazilian had suffered an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen on Wednesday.

The estimated recovery time would also put Neymar in doubt for the return leg of the last-16 clash with Barca, which takes place on March 10.

Moise Kean scored the only goal as Paris Saint-Germain beat Caen 1-0 in their Coupe de France round-of-64 clash at Stade Michel d'Ornano on Wednesday. 

The holders – who have won the competition a record 13 times – were poor in the first half and went in at the break having had just one shot on target. 

Mauricio Pochettino's side came out for the second period with renewed purpose, though, and broke the deadlock soon after thanks to on-loan Everton striker Kean's 12th goal of the season in all competitions. 

Caleb Sery squandered a golden opportunity to equalise late on, but PSG ultimately held firm to extend their unbeaten run against Caen to 18 matches with the minimum of fuss.

The hosts twice went close inside the opening five minutes, Sergio Rico pawing over Aliou Traore's fierce strike from distance and Hugo Vandermersch missing the target with a free header inside the six-yard box.

Julian Draxler headed wide from Neymar's lofted ball over the top in the 42nd minute, but PSG – sorely lacking the pace of Kylian Mbappe in the first half – were unable to find an opener before the interval.

Pochettino's men were a lot sharper after the restart and went ahead after 49 minutes, Kean diverting Neymar's left-wing cross past Sullivan Pean.

Pean superbly denied Kean a second three minutes later, getting a strong hand to the Italian's powerful drive after he had been played in by Leandro Paredes.

PSG handed a debut to highly rated former Barcelona youngster Xavi Simon with 12 minutes remaining, while the Ligue 1 champions were lucky not to concede in the closing stages as Sery inexplicably fired wide from 10 yards.

Manchester City will need to take their search for a new striker elsewhere with top transfer target Lautaro Martinez set to snub the Premier League giants.

Pep Guardiola had reportedly lined up the Argentina international as the long-term replacement for club legend Sergio Aguero.

But Martinez is on the brink of a sensational U-turn to remain in Serie A to the delight of coach Antonio Conte and the Milan-based club.


TOP STORY – LAUTARO SET TO REJECT CITY AND STAY WITH INTER

Eurosport reports that City's pursuit of their player at the top of their shopping list has come to an abrupt end with Martinez set to sign a new deal with Inter.

The report suggests the 21-cap international will double his money to stay in Italy, dealing a blow to City after they have monitored his situation closely for a year.

While City continue to prepare an offer for Lionel Messi should he decide to leave Barcelona, they are also set to turn their attentions to Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. 

Mauricio Pochettino urged people not to mistake France Football for Paris Saint-Germain amid continued talk of Lionel Messi moving to the Parc des Princes.

Messi, who attempted to force a switch from Barcelona prior to this season, is due to be out of contract at Camp Nou at the end of the campaign.

He has been frequently linked with PSG and the latest edition of France Football magazine ratcheted up the speculation, as the cover of the magazine featured Messi mocked up wearing a PSG shirt.

That will do little to improve the mood in the Barcelona camp, with head coach Ronald Koeman having previously accused PSG midfielder Angel Di Maria of disrespect.

Koeman's comments followed Messi's Argentina team-mate Di Maria saying there is a "big chance" the six-time Ballon d'Or winner will join PSG.

Pochettino was again asked about Messi prior to PSG's Coupe de France tie at Caen, which takes place on Wednesday.

The PSG head coach told a pre-match media conference: "I think we are talking about a magazine that has nothing to do with Paris Saint-Germain.

"When a player speaks, he might speak with emotion and affection, but there is no type of controversial situation here that we have thought up at the club.

"At no point has there been a lack of perspective. At no point has anything happened that is incorrect.

"I understand that players can talk and say whatever they like and that goes for Barcelona, Real Madrid. They might talk about fellow footballers at other clubs.

"Here we have total respect for every club and every player. We must not confuse what was said in France Football with PSG itself."

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