Once every four years players from across the globe get a chance to perform on the world stage and force their way into the football zeitgeist.

Whether it is a young midfielder from Ghana who has been battling injuries the past couple of seasons, or a mercurial Dutch forward trying to push his way out of the Eredivisie, it is the perfect launchpad to alter the course of a player's career.

Stats Perform has identified four players who have lit up Qatar and, in turn, have seen their profile and transfer stock skyrocket, opening the door to a new world of possibilities come the January transfer window.

Take a look at these young leading lights...

Cody Gakpo, the Netherlands

Cody Gakpo has perhaps been the breakout star of the tournament, finding the back of the net in all three of the Netherlands' group matches.

Having spent his entire career with PSV, the 23-year-old six-foot-four forward took a huge step forward in the 2021-22 season when he shattered his best goal return, following up his 11 goals in the 2020-21 campaign with 21 last time out.

While those in the Netherlands set-up were waiting to see if he could replicate his terrific 12 months, he has taken another leap, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 combined Eredivisie and Europa League contests this term.

There were rumours in the most recent transfer window that Leeds United were among the clubs looking to lure Gakpo away from PSV for a fee in the range of €30million, but he opted to reject their contract offer in the hope of landing at one of Europe's biggest clubs.

That bet on himself has proven to be a masterstroke, with his performances on the Qatar stage well and truly putting him on the radar of Champions League sides including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, per Dutch journalist Marco Timmer.

He became the first player from any European nation since 2002 to score in each group match, while he also became only the second player to put his side 1-0 up in all three group fixtures.

Enzo Fernandez, Argentina

Just over six months ago, Enzo Fernandez was playing for River Plate back in Argentina, but just half a season after arriving at Benfica for a deal worth up to €18m, the attacking midfielder could be moving on to greener pastures.

Fernandez, 21, broke into the Argentina squad while still with River Plate, but did not receive his senior debut until September 24 this year.

His lead-up to the World Cup was strong enough to book his ticket to Qatar, and after coming off the bench in Argentina's first group-stage loss to Saudi Arabia, he came on and scored against Mexico, forcing his way into the starting XI before contributing an assist against Poland.

His rapid rise has not gone unnoticed, and Marca is reporting Benfica have slapped a €100m fee on their new star if any team wants to pry him away while his contract still has another four seasons locked in.

Real Madrid are one side said to be accepting of that figure, with Marca claiming they now view him as an alternative option to Borussia Dortmund and England prodigy Jude Bellingham.

Mohammed Kudus, Ghana

Ajax's Mohammed Kudus had begun to break out at the club level this season heading into the World Cup.

The 22-year-old central midfielder scored four goals – including one each against Liverpool and Napoli – while adding two assists in six Champions League fixtures.

After being awarded his first senior international cap for Ghana back in 2019, he was spotted at Danish side Nordsjaelland and brought over to Ajax for a €9m fee in 2020.

He missed extended stretches of both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns through injuries, and still has not been used as a guaranteed starter this season, but his emergence on the World Cup stage has been undeniable.

Against South Korea, Kudus delivered Ghana their only win of the group as he found the back of the net twice in a 3-2 triumph, and it was a performance that is said to have caught the eye of European powerhouses.

Fichajes named Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain as interested parties, and Sports Illustrated believe his price will be around £90m.

 

Harry Souttar, Australia

Australia have now qualified for five World Cups in a row, but after not winning a game at both the 2014 and 2018 editions, they had centre-back Harry Souttar to thank for finally taking three points against Tunisia.

Souttar, 24, stands at a towering six-foot-six and showed off an impressive ability to cover ground in a hurry when he was called upon for a potentially game-saving, last-man challenge to defend Australia's 1-0 lead.

It was one of the most spectacular defensive efforts of the tournament so far and one that will go down in Australian football folklore, and it is even more significant when taking into account his recent history.

Tipped as a potential £20m transfer target late in 2021, Souttar then tore his ACL and missed 12 months of action, returning to the field in time to get three games under his belt with Stoke City before jetting off to the World Cup.

While he could be forgiven for needing time to work his way into form, he has instead started all three group games and been the Socceroos' top performer, including his stellar efforts in a second clean sheet against Denmark to help his side through to the knockout stage.

Clearly back to the player he was before his injury – at least – Souttar's showings on the world stage have been the kind that can take a career to a new level.

Real Madrid have reportedly pivoted away from Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham and are now treating Benfica's Enzo Fernandez as their top transfer target.

Bellingham, 19, was considered the top priority for the Spanish giants, but a report from Marca claims they now believe he is destined for the Premier League and will instead focus their resources on 21-year-old Fernandez.

Fernandez arrived at Benfica in June after they were able to pry him away from River Plate for a deal worth up to €18million including add-ons, but his exploits on the Champions League stage – including assists against Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus – have that price looking like a steal.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID SET THEIR SIGHTS ON ARGENTINA'S NEW STAR

Fernandez was handed his international debut as a 20-year-old back in November 2021, and his continued growth on the European stage earned his spot in Argentina's World Cup squad.

Not content to purely come along for the ride, Fernandez was brought on as a substitute in each of his side's first two group games, and against Mexico he became Argentina's youngest goalscorer at a World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006.

His ability to both break into and perform for such a quality international side – entering the tournament on a 35-match unbeaten streak before falling to Saudi Arabia – has reportedly sent Fernandez's transfer value through the roof.

Marca's report claims he is now viewed as a €100m talent by Benfica, and they expect to field offers in that neighbourhood soon.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to Relevo, Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag views the Netherlands' World Cup hero Cody Gakpo as his ideal replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo.

– Fichajes is reporting Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are all showing interest in 22-year-old Ajax midfielder Mohammed Kudus amid his excellent performances for Ghana.

Bayern Munich remain interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane and are working on an offer between €80-100m, per Sky Sports Germany.

– The Sun is reporting Chelsea are not happy with both Edouard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga and will look to bring in a new first-choice goalkeeper.

– With Rafael Leao likely leaving Milan at the end of the season, Gazzetta dello Sport claims they will try to fill the void with RB Salzburg's 22-year-old Swiss international Noah Okafor.

Newcastle United are reportedly preparing an improved offer to pry midfielder James Maddison away from Leicester City in January.

Maddison, 25, is away at the World Cup with England after a blistering start to the Premier League season saw him force his way back into the national set-up after three years in the wilderness.

After scoring a career-high 18 goals last season, Maddison has continued to show it was no fluke, bagging seven goals and four assists in 13 league fixtures this campaign.

Newcastle have been fond of the Foxes star for some time, having had two bids rejected in the range of £50million in the previous transfer window, but they are said to be discussing if they should "break their wage structure" to meet the demands.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE READY ANOTHER OFFENSIVE FOR LEICESTER'S MADDISON

According to Sky Sports, Maddison's contract demands have been a stumbling point for Newcastle in their pursuit, but the club are now willing to go above and beyond to secure their key target.

The report claims Leicester value Maddison at £60m, meaning the two sides are not far apart, and with just over 18 months remaining on his contract, his value will continue to fall the closer he gets to its conclusion.

Newcastle may face some competition, as GiveMeSport also believes Tottenham boss Antonio Conte is pushing to bring Maddison to north London.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport is reporting Aston Villa are interested in a January move for Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie, and hope they can land him for a fee around €14m after he arrived in Spain as a free agent in July.

- According to 90min, Chelsea have offered goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to Tottenham amid news they are looking to replace club captain Hugo Lloris.

- Juventus and Newcastle United are discussing a potential swap deal that would send Moise Kean back to the Premier League and Allan Saint-Maximin to Turin, per Juve Dipendenza.

- Calciomercato is reporting Inter have rekindled their interest in Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram after their attempt to sign him 18 months ago was torpedoed by a knee injury at the 11th hour. 

- Arsenal have been joined by Monaco and Ajax in the chase of 21-year-old Palmeiras midfielder Danilo, who the club are reportedly willing to part ways with for €24m, per ESPN.

Newcastle United are reportedly preparing an improved offer to pry midfielder James Maddison away from Leicester City in January.

Maddison, 25, is away at the World Cup with England after a blistering start to the Premier League season saw him force his way back into the national set-up after three years in the wilderness.

After scoring a career-high 18 goals last season, Maddison has continued to show it was no fluke, bagging seven goals and four assists in 13 league fixtures this campaign.

Newcastle have been fond of the Foxes star for some time, having had two bids rejected in the range of £50million in the previous transfer window, but they are said to be discussing if they should "break their wage structure" to meet the demands.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE READY ANOTHER OFFENSIVE FOR LEICESTER'S MADDISON

According to Sky Sports, Maddison's contract demands have been a stumbling point for Newcastle in their pursuit, but the club are now willing to go above and beyond to secure their key target.

The report claims Leicester value Maddison at £60m, meaning the two sides are not far apart, and with just over 18 months remaining on his contract, his value will continue to fall the closer he gets to its conclusion.

Newcastle may face some competition, as GiveMeSport also believes Tottenham boss Antonio Conte is pushing to bring Maddison to north London.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport is reporting Aston Villa are interested in a January move for Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie, and hope they can land him for a fee around €14m after he arrived in Spain as a free agent in July.

- According to 90min, Chelsea have offered goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to Tottenham amid news they are looking to replace club captain Hugo Lloris.

- Juventus and Newcastle United are discussing a potential swap deal that would send Moise Kean back to the Premier League and Allan Saint-Maximin to Turin, per Juve Dipendenza.

- Calciomercato is reporting Inter have rekindled their interest in Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram after their attempt to sign him 18 months ago was torpedoed by a knee injury at the 11th hour. 

- Arsenal have been joined by Monaco and Ajax in the chase of 21-year-old Palmeiras midfielder Danilo, who the club are reportedly willing to part ways with for €24m, per ESPN.

Barcelona will face Manchester United in their return to the Europa League after the Blaugrana were drawn against the Premier League club in the knockout round play-offs.

Xavi's side dropped into Europe's second-tier competition for the second season running after failing to progress from the Champions League group stages, finishing behind Bayern Munich and Inter.

It sets up the outstanding tie with Erik ten Hag's United, who are looking to end a trophy drought stretching back to when they last won the Europa League under Jose Mourinho in 2017.

United came second to Real Sociedad in the Europa League group stage, ultimately missing out to La Real by one goal.

They have paid the price for their failure in that regard, with Barca arguably the toughest draw they could possibly get and La Real already through to the competition's last 16.

Joining Barca in dropping down from the Champions League are Juventus, though they will likely be much more content with their draw after being paired with Ligue 1 side Nantes.

Europa League knockout round play-offs:

Barcelona v Manchester United
Juventus v Nantes
Sporting CP v Midtjylland
Shakhtar Donetsk v Rennes
Ajax v Union Berlin
Bayer Leverkusen v Monaco
Sevilla v PSV
Salzburg v Roma

Rangers set an unwanted record by becoming the first Scottish side to lose all six of their Champions League group stage matches after falling to a 3-1 defeat to Ajax.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side had little chance of securing a Europa League spot heading into the final match of their Group A campaign, and any slim hope was dashed when they found themselves 2-0 down within 29 minutes at Ibrox on Tuesday.

Steven Berghuis opened the scoring for the visitors in the fourth minute with Mohammed Kudus doubling Ajax's advantage.

Kudus was on the scoresheet again after the break, though the effort was disallowed for offside by VAR.

Rangers did get a late consolation goal from the penalty spot, tucked away by captain James Tavernier, but Francisco Conceicao rounded things off for Ajax, who finished third and will attempt to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League in the new year.

It leaves Rangers having conceded 22 goals in their six group games, scoring only twice.

That is only the second time a Scottish side has shipped more than 20 goals in a single campaign in Europe's elite club competition, with Van Bronckhorst's team joining the 1959-60 Rangers side in that regard.

Rangers set an unwanted record by becoming the first Scottish side to lose all six of their Champions League group stage matches after falling to a 3-1 defeat to Ajax.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst's side had little chance of securing a Europa League spot heading into the final match of their Group A campaign, and any slim hope was dashed when they found themselves 2-0 down within 29 minutes at Ibrox on Tuesday.

Steven Berghuis opened the scoring for the visitors in the fourth minute with Mohammed Kudus doubling Ajax's advantage.

Kudus was on the scoresheet again after the break, though the effort was disallowed for offside by VAR.

Rangers did get a late consolation goal from the penalty spot, tucked away by captain James Tavernier, but Francisco Conceicao rounded things off for Ajax, who finished third and will attempt to qualify for the last 16 of the Europa League in the new year.

It leaves Rangers having conceded 22 goals in their six group games, scoring only twice.

That is only the second time a Scottish side has shipped more than 20 goals in a single campaign in Europe's elite club competition, with Van Bronckhorst team joining the 1959-60 Rangers side in that regard.

The only Champions League group with qualifying places still to play for on Tuesday is Group D, with all four teams in with a reasonable chance of progression.

Marseille host leaders Tottenham while Sporting CP take on Eintracht Frankfurt, with each team knowing a win will see them through and defeat will mean third our fourth spot.

It has been a sensational start to the season for Napoli, and they can complete a perfect Champions League group stage on Tuesday.

Luciano Spalletti's men travel to Liverpool looking for a sixth win in six Group A games, and will top the group as long as they avoid defeat by four or more at Anfield.

As the Champions League group stage prepares to draw to a close, Stats Perform takes a look at the Opta numbers behind these and the rest of Tuesday's clashes.

Marseille v Tottenham

Having lost six home matches in a row in the Champions League between March 2012 and November 2020, Marseille have since won two of their last three such matches (L1), including last time out against Sporting. They have not won consecutive home games in the competition since the 2010-11 campaign when they beat MSK Zilina and Chelsea.

Despite currently sitting bottom of Group D, Marseille can still top the standings if results go their way. Only once in 10 previous campaigns have the Ligue 1 side finished top of their Champions League group, which was in 1992-93 when they went on to lift the trophy.

Spurs have failed to win any of their last four away matches in the Champions League. Should they fail to win here, it will be their longest run of games without a win away from home in the competition.

Antonio Conte will be concerned that Tottenham have failed to score in any of their last three away matches in the Champions League; the last English side to go on a longer run without a goal away from home in the competition was Manchester United between October 2004 and November 2005 (five games – a record for an English club).

Sporting CP v Eintracht Frankfurt

In what is their first ever Champions League campaign, Eintracht Frankfurt can still win their group if results go their way. The only German club to win their first group participation in the competition was Kaiserslautern in 1998-99, while the last Bundesliga side to progress to the knockout rounds at the first attempt was Stuttgart in 2003-04.

Sporting are looking to progress to the knockout stages in consecutive Champions League campaigns, having been eliminated during the group stage in seven of their previous eight participations (progressing in 2008-09).

Eintracht's Mario Gotze has recorded an assist in each of his past two appearances in the Champions League; only once before has he set up a goal in three consecutive games in the competition – between November 2012 and March 2013 for Borussia Dortmund.

Sporting have been shown three red cards so far this season in the Champions League – the last team to have more players sent off in a single group stage was Anderlecht in 2013-14 (four).

Liverpool v Napoli

This will be the eighth meeting between Liverpool and Napoli in European competition, with the Italian side (three) edging the Reds (two) in terms of victories so far (two draws). After their 4-1 win in this season's reverse fixture, Napoli could beat Liverpool in consecutive games for the first time.

The Italian side have travelled to face the Reds on three previous occasions in European competition, but are yet to win at Anfield (D1 L2) – losing 3-1 in the Europa League in November 2010 and 1-0 in the Champions League in December 2018, before a 1-1 draw in November 2019, also in the Champions League.

This will be Jurgen Klopp's 100th match as a manager in the Champions League, across spells with Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool. He will become the first German coach to take charge of a century of games in the competition.

Napoli have scored more goals than any other team through the first five matchdays in this season's group stage (20). The only team to score more during a single group stage in the previous four campaigns has been Bayern Munich (twice, 24 in 2019-20 and 22 in 2021-22).

Bayern Munich v Inter

Speaking of which, Bayern and Inter have met on eight previous occasions in European competition, with the German side winning half of those meetings (W4 D1 L3). Indeed, they are unbeaten in the three matches in the Champions League that have taken place in the group stage (W2 D1).

Inter are themselves unbeaten in their previous three away games at Bayern (W2 D1). This makes them the team to have faced the Bavarians away from home on the most occasions without ever losing in European competition.

Bayern have won each of their last 12 group-stage matches in the Champions League, and are looking to become the first side in history to win all six group games in consecutive campaigns. They would also become the first side to do so on three separate occasions, having also achieved perfection in 2019-20.

Inter are unbeaten in three away games in the Champions League, and could go four games without defeat away from home in the competition for the first time since December 2003 to February 2005 (five games).

Bayern have scored in 42 of their last 43 home matches in the Champions League, netting 136 goals across this spell at an average of 3.2 per game. They have scored in each of their last 21 in a row since being held by Sevilla in April 2018.

Other fixtures:

Viktoria Plzen v Barcelona

3 - Viktoria Plzen have lost all three of their previous games against Barcelona in the Champions League, scoring just one goal and conceding 11 times in return.

3 - Barcelona have lost each of their last three away matches in the Champions League, and could lose four in a row for the first time since a run between November 1994 and October 1997. 

Rangers v Ajax

5 - Rangers have lost all five of their games in the Champions League this season. No Scottish side have ever been beaten six times within a single campaign in the European Cup/Champions League.

4 - Ajax have lost each of their previous four games in the Champions League; they have not lost five in a row in the competition since September 2004 under Ronald Koeman.

Bayer Leverkusen v Club Brugge

18 - Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick has played 18 times in the Champions League without scoring a goal. His three goals in major European competition have all been scored in the Europa League, where he averages a goal every 138 minutes.

1 - Club Brugge have already qualified for the knockout stage, and could finish top of their group for the very first time in a single edition of the tournament.

Porto v Atletico Madrid

3 - Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa has saved three of the four penalties he has faced in the Champions League this season. This is already the most ever by a goalkeeper in a single season on record in the competition (since 2003-04). 

4 - Atletico are winless in their last four Champions League games (D2 L2). They last had a longer run without a victory in the competition between December 2008 and December 2009, when they went nine games without one prior to head coach Diego Simeone's arrival.

The great Arrigo Sacchi is in awe of "genius" Luciano Spalletti's Napoli team, comparing them to his Milan side and Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.

Sacchi's Rossoneri were widely considered one of the greatest club teams of all time, but the coach sees similarities in Napoli's class of 2022-23.

The Partenopei are unbeaten through 12 matches in Serie A, opening up a five-point gap at the top already as they chase a first Scudetto since Diego Maradona's time at the club.

In the Champions League, Napoli have five wins from five, including remarkable 4-1 and 6-1 defeats of Liverpool and Ajax respectively.

Sacchi, in an interview with Il Mattino, suggested a run to the semi-finals should be "the minimum goal" for this season, while he is backing them for domestic success.

His praise went further, too, as he said: "This Napoli are spectacular and a team one step away from legend.

"They are in the wake of the greats of the past, [Rinus] Michels' Ajax, Guardiola's Barcelona and my unbeatable Milan.

"I never get tired of watching them play. How could I? There is style, there is pride, there is a spirit of belonging, there is beauty, and there is a coach who has put ideas at the centre of everything.

"In a country where we only look for profit, Spalletti focuses on merit, on strategy, and not on tactics."

Among teams in Europe's top five leagues, Napoli have won the joint-most matches in all competitions (15 – also Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain) and have the outright best winning percentage (88.2).

Only Bayern (69) and PSG (54) have netted more goals (50 for Napoli), while the Bundesliga giants are the sole side averaging more goals per game (3.45 vs 2.94).

Napoli's early season success is all the more impressive given the number of stalwart stars who left the club ahead of the campaign.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Fabian Ruiz were sold for significant fees, while greats Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne moved on at the end of their contracts.

But Napoli invested superbly, signing Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Kim Min-jae and a host of impressive loan recruits.

"It's a lesson for everyone: ideas are worth more than money," Sacchi continued.

"What [owner Aurelio] De Laurentiis did this summer is something extraordinary: he took semi-unknowns and put them in a project where there was a vision, which many clubs lack.

"And the rest was done by the genius of Luciano."

Edson Alvarez has opened up on the blow of missing out on a move from Ajax to Chelsea, but the Mexico midfielder expects another top European club to come knocking.

The 25-year-old is set to be an important figure for his country at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, where he will have another chance to impress possible suitors.

The former Club America player was said to have been the subject of a €50million offer from Chelsea in the last transfer window, which Ajax refused, leaving Alvarez by his own admission "very disappointed".

Alvarez has been unable to prevent Ajax slipping to an early exit from the Champions League, but domestically they are leading the way in the Eredivisie, even after losing head coach Erik ten Hag and star winger Antony to Manchester United.

United are among the clubs to have been linked with Alvarez, who hopes the "difficult situation" of the last transfer window can be quickly forgotten.

"Of course there was interest from Chelsea. Nobody expected that they would make another offer," Alvarez said. "Ajax really couldn't go anywhere. They couldn't do anything more. They didn't have a player in my position."

Speaking to ESPN, Alvarez said he "fought as far as I could" before committing to Ajax for this season, knowing future opportunities could arise should he again be a top performer.

He has attempted more tackles (38), contested the most duels for the ball (174) and made more interceptions (22) than any other Ajax player so far this term.

By producing on the pitch, he is keeping the door open for more transfer opportunities in the future.

"Eventually you are aware that everything changes. A better competition, a better life for yourself and for your family. Because that's what it's all about in the end," Alvarez said.

"I've always thought for myself that I'm here because of my love for football, but also for my family.

"On the other hand, it motivates me enormously that clubs of that size keep an eye on my matches, my actions. I am very disappointed, but I am convinced that sooner or later a big club will come for me."

Jurgen Klopp hopes Liverpool reaching the Champions League knockout stages can give "everyone a lift" as the Reds aim to atone for an underwhelming Premier League start.

Klopp has progressed through every Champions League group stage with Liverpool, achieving a club-record sixth straight qualification with a 3-0 victory at Ajax on Wednesday.

Mohamed Salah became the third player to be directly involved in 50 or more goals in the competition for English clubs with a first-half finish and an assist after the interval for Harvey Elliott.

Darwin Nunez scored the other goal as Liverpool eased into the last 16, with Klopp hoping the Reds can carry that form into the Premier League, where they sit eighth – 12 points behind leaders Arsenal.

"We had a tough half an hour, where Ajax made a lot of pressure, and we had to defend a lot. That is fine, it is an away game in the Champions League," the Liverpool manager said on BT Sport.

"We changed system a little bit, we had to, they are a good football team, we wanted Darwin a little bit more central, so we had to adjust.

"We don't have to talk about [our form] all the time, we are through to the knockout stages and I will never take that for granted.

"Really important, it gives everyone a lift for the club. Really helpful, for tonight we all feel great, exhausted but great, and now we have a few days time to prepare for Leeds United."

Nunez inexplicably squandered a glorious first-half opportunity as he hit the post with the goal gaping, but made amends four minutes after the interval with a header from Robertson's corner.

The Scotland international revealed the former Benfica striker's half-time fury after a disappointing finish, though Robertson was delighted to see Nunez get on the scoresheet in a convincing victory.

"We had control. Darwin was really angry with himself at half-time," Robertson told BT Sport. "I sat next to him at half-time and told him I would put a cross in for him to score.

"We knew they had to win. They tried to start fast, and I don't think we calmed down quickly enough, but the important thing was we didn't concede.

"We managed to keep it tight, and then it was about getting the first goal. Three nil at this place, a really tough place to come and the clean sheet is so important for us now."

Liverpool will look to take the momentum from an impressive European win into the Premier League on Sunday, when they face strugglers Leeds.

Mohamed Salah continued his Champions League scoring run as Liverpool sealed their place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 triumph at Ajax.

Jurgen Klopp has now progressed from six consecutive group stages in the competition with Liverpool, a club-record run, after the Reds dominated on Wednesday in Amsterdam.

Salah scored his sixth goal in his last four Champions League games with a 42nd-minute opener, before Darwin Nunez and Harvey Elliott added quickfire second-half finishes to seal victory.

Ajax will drop into the Europa League by avoiding a resounding defeat at winless Rangers on matchday six, while Liverpool must beat leaders Napoli by an unlikely four goals to win Group A.

Ajax should have taken a third-minute lead but Steven Berghuis struck a gilt-edged opportunity against the right post, with the midfielder curling narrowly wide shortly after.

A resolute Liverpool continued with their backs against the wall before Andy Robertson smashed a rare Reds chance just off target, but Klopp's visitors soon hit the front.

Jordan Henderson delicately chipped through for Salah to neatly lift over the onrushing Remko Pasveer, before Nunez inexplicably smashed the left post with the goal gaping two minutes later.

Nunez made amends after the interval, heading Robertson's corner in off the right post before Elliott fired into the roof of the net two minutes later.

Substitute Kenneth Taylor blasted a presentable opportunity over after the hour mark, though Ajax never threatened an unlikely comeback.

What does it mean? Reds continue Ajax hot streak to qualify with ease

Underwhelming returns in the Premier League thus far have led to scrutiny for Liverpool, though the Reds emphatically delivered in what was their 150th match in the Champions League.

Klopp will take encouragement from the Reds' fourth straight victory in the competition over Ajax – only Real Madrid (seven) have managed a longer such streak – leaving Alfred Schreuder with much to ponder.

Ajax, whose first-half dominance failed to pay dividends, will likely settle for a Europa League place after falling to a seventh loss in nine home games against English sides in Europe.

Super Salah

Salah may be yet to hit his usual heights in the Premier League, but the forward collected his 42nd goal in the Champions League – only Didier Drogba (44) has more among African players.

The Egypt international presented a constant threat on the right flank, scoring in a fourth straight game in the competition for just the second time, as well as assisting Elliott for the third goal.

Bad from Berghuis

Berghuis was left to rue his two early missed chances, the first of those a routine finish that the midfielder would have been expected to slot past Alisson and into the back of the net. 

Those errant efforts summarised a frustrating outing for Ajax, who started in dominant fashion but faded away rapidly after Salah's first-half opener.

What's next?

Liverpool host Premier League strugglers Leeds United on Sunday, while Ajax are not in action until their final Champions League game at Rangers on Tuesday.

Liverpool can seal progression to the Champions League last 16 when they play on Wednesday, but Barcelona could see their exit confirmed from Europe's top competition.

Jurgen Klopp's Reds make the trip to face Ajax in Group A knowing they are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League at the very least – and simply avoiding defeat would guarantee their place in the Champions League knockout stages.

It is a more dicey affair for Xavi's Barca, however, as they welcome Bayern Munich to Camp Nou in Group C knowing a loss would spell the end of their journey. Even a win will not be enough if Inter defeat Viktoria Plzen.

Tottenham will hope to keep their noses in front in Group D, with Marseille and Sporting CP just a point behind, while Atletico Madrid have work to do in Group B.

Stats Perform previews Wednesday's eight matches by picking through the Opta data.

Ajax v Liverpool

Ajax have made for generous opponents for Liverpool of late, losing their last three against the Reds in the Champions League. Only Juventus (four, 1997-2004) and Real Madrid (seven, 2010-2019) have previously won four in a row against Ajax in the European Cup or Champions League.

Yet Ajax remain the last Dutch side to achieve a home win against Liverpool, albeit that was back in 1966, with the Premier League side unbeaten in seven subsequent trips to the Netherlands.

Liverpool's countrymen have also made hay, as Ajax have won just one of their last eight home European matches against English teams, beating Manchester City in October 2012.

With or without another strong result, this will be an historic occasion for Liverpool and Klopp, who will match Rafael Benitez's 62 Champions League matches in charge of the Reds, who bring up 150 games in the competition.

Barcelona v Bayern Munich

Needing a win, Barca might have hoped to face any team but Bayern, who have a record three Champions League away wins at the Blaugrana. Along with Juventus and Real Madrid, they are one of three teams to have won more matches at Barca than they have lost.

Home and away, Barca have lost nine of their 12 Champions League matches against Bayern, including the past five in a row.

In fact, if Bayern win again, they will match Madrid's record of 10 wins against a single opponent in the competition – Madrid's dominance coming against Bayern.

Although Bayern are already through, they are seeking a fourth home-and-away double against Barca in a Champions League season (also 1998-99, 2012-13 and 2021-22). Dynamo Kyiv (in 1997-98) are the only other team to beat Barca twice in the same campaign even once.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sporting CP

Sporting won 2-0 against Tottenham in Portugal in what was the sides' first meeting, but they have a dismal record in England, with two victories in 15 attempts away to English sides.

Spurs have won six of their seven home European matches against Portuguese opposition, only losing to Benfica in the 2013-14 Europa League.

Both of Tottenham's wins in this campaign have come at home, where Antonio Conte is bidding to become just the second Spurs coach to win each of his first three at home in the Champions League – after Harry Redknapp.

He and Tottenham will know they must keep their focus early and late; Sporting's last three Champions League goals have come in either the first or last minutes of the match, netting twice in second-half stoppage time in the reverse fixture.

Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen

Atletico have not lost at home to Leverkusen in their prior four such matches, winning two and drawing two, but the Bundesliga team have started to turn the tide, winning two in a row against them in the Champions League.

That strong home record applies whenever Atletico face German opposition, though, as Borussia Dortmund were the last Bundesliga visitors to win there in 1996. Atleti are unbeaten in 11 since.

Diego Simeone needs his team to rediscover their scoring touch, having gone three without a goal in the Champions League.

That is their worst run under Simeone. Only once in the competition have Atletico gone four without netting, back in 2009 under Abel Resino.

Other fixtures:

Club Brugge v Porto

21 – Club Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has saved all 21 of the shots on target he has faced in the Champions League this season. He has prevented a competition-leading 4.9 goals, according to expected goals on target data.

4 – Four of Porto's last seven Champions League goals have come from the penalty spot.

Inter v Viktoria Plzen

12 – Inter have scored 12 of their last 14 Champions League goals in the second halves of matches. All three against Barca last time out came after the interval – only the third time an away team has netted three second-half goals at Camp Nou in this competition.

28 – Plzen have averaged just 28 per cent of the possession in the Champions League this season, the lowest average by a team in a single season since Opta data collection began in 2003-04.

Napoli v Rangers

4 – Napoli have won all four of their matches in the Champions League this season and could become the first Italian side to win their opening five games in a single campaign since Juventus in 2004-05. 

12 – No goalkeeper has faced more shots on target (29) or conceded more goals (12) than Rangers' Allan McGregor in the Champions League this season. Indeed, he has only kept four clean sheets in 21 appearances in the competition overall.

Eintracht Frankfurt v Marseille

50 – Eintracht Frankfurt's Mario Gotze could make his 50th start in the Champions League in this match. He has been involved in 25 goals in his previous 65 appearances, including 21 in his 49 starts.

3 – Marseille have won their last two games in the Champions League – both against Sporting CP – and will be looking to win three in a row for the first time since October-December 2010, when they won four on the spin under Didier Deschamps.

Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly preparing to rival Chelsea in the pursuit of RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku, with this expected to be the forward's last season in the Bundesliga.

Nkunku, 24, burst onto the world stage this past season when he raised his goal tally in all competitions to 35 in 52 games, after previously never having scored more than seven goals in a season.

This season he has shown it was no fluke, with eight goals from Leipzig's first 11 Bundesliga fixtures, while adding another two in the Champions League, including one in Tuesday's home win against Real Madrid.

His form warranted his senior international debut for France in March, and as he is preparing to play a role for the defending champions at the World Cup, his old club have reportedly decided they want him back.

 

TOP STORY – PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN LOOK TO RECLAIM LEIPZIG'S NKUNKU

Nkunku spent nine years with PSG after arriving as a 13-year-old in 2010, earning 55 Ligue 1 appearances before being sold to Leipzig for a fee of €13million in 2019.

According to Fichajes, they now view that move as a mistake, and will look to reclaim France's new star as soon as January.

The report states both Liverpool and Chelsea are prepared to activate his €60m release clause in January, with Chelsea already said to have completed a preliminary physical in the previous transfer window, having been engaged with Leipzig in the sale of Timo Werner and an enquiry about Josko Gvardiol.

It is not known if PSG will have the funds to complete the move in January, especially while in contract renegotiations with superstar Lionel Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to 90min, Bayern Munich are considering a move for 32-year-old German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan from Manchester City at the end of the season.

– Sport reports that Barcelona are in talks with Wolves about securing 25-year-old midfielder Ruben Neves, with a deal believed to be possible in January. 

– The Los Angeles Times claims Cristiano Ronaldo could come to Major League Soccer to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, Los Angeles FC or Inter Miami if he can not find a European club.

– Calciomercato is reporting Manchester United have joined Chelsea and Barcelona with their interest in 25-year-old Ajax midfielder Edson Alvarez.

Paris Saint-Germain are prepared to pay €30m for 16-year-old Brazilian Endrick, per UOL Esporte. Endrick is playing in the Brazilian league with Palmeiras, and will not be allowed to make the jump to Europe before turning 18.

Borussia Dortmund striker Sebastian Haller has returned to training with former club Ajax just three months after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Ajax coach Alfred Schreuder confirmed the Ivory Coast international has returned to Amsterdam to regain fitness, despite undergoing treatment for a malignant tumour that was found in July.

The 28-year-old left for Dortmund ahead of the new season having finished as the Eredivisie's top scorer at Ajax, replacing Erling Haaland in Germany after the forward joined Manchester City.

While Haller is yet to put a time frame on his recovery, Schreuder provided an encouraging update on Tuesday.

"He asked us if he could come and train because he was rehabilitating here," Schreuder said, speaking ahead of Ajax's must-win Champions League clash with Liverpool.

"Then it is of course wonderful that he can be there for a while. He was able to train on a different pitch to help his recovery."

Dortmund progressed through to the Champions League knockout stages with a goalless draw against Pep Guardiola's City on Tuesday.

Haller is yet to make his debut for BVB, who sit fifth in the Bundesliga, trailing leaders Union Berlin by just four points.

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