Kylian Mbappe will be making the right choice if he leaves Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid, according to Bixente Lizarazu. 

France international Mbappe is set to be out of contract at PSG at the end of the season and has been heavily linked with a move to Madrid. 

The Ligue 1 champions hope to convince the 23-year-old to extend his stay at the Parc des Princes, though.

According to Spanish newspaper El Pais, Madrid want 50 per cent of Mbappe's image rights and that is making the attacker seriously consider a renewal in the French capital. 

However, Lizarazu thinks a move the Champions League finalists and the possibility to link up with international team-mate Karim Benzema would be ideal for Mbappe. 

Asked where he would like to see Mbappe playing, Lizarazu told Telefoot: "Real Madrid – it seems clear to me. 

"The Champions League culture, the electricity there is in the stadium, and on top of that the team is perfect. He would do well there. The combination with Benzema would be great. 

"Now, if he's taking so long to decide, it's because he's waiting for an answer from PSG. The answer on the structure, the organisation, the mentality. The team, collectively, will it respond? 

"There are a number of factors, so maybe he is waiting for that and changes at the level of certain directors." 

Following their exit at the hands of Roma in the Europa Conference League semi-finals, Leicester City are at the fork in the road that faces every club their size following some success.

History says that sustainable progress will have to come at the expense of selling the players who got the club to such heights.

While James Maddison and Wesley Fofana have long been on the wish lists of bigger clubs, Youri Tielemans reportedly looks set to leave also.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL, REAL MADRID SET ON TIELEMANS

Arsenal are closing in on a £40million transfer for Leicester City and Belgium midfielder Youri Tielemans, The Sun is reporting.

Real Madrid are waiting to pounce, however, if Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League this season.

Leicester are now reportedly resigned to selling the 25-year-old, whose goal won the Foxes the FA Cup last term. 

Tielemans has made no secret of his desire to play Champions League football, meaning Manchester United have dropped out of the race.

ROUND-UP

- Fernandinho appears set to leave Manchester City, despite having a year remaining on his contract, citing a personal decision, per Fabrizio Romano.

Tottenham are looking to sign Villarreal's Pau Torres for a fee below his release clause of £55million (€64.3m), Football Insider reports.

- The Daily Star are reporting Nemanja Matic, who will leave Manchester United at the end of the season, is set to join Juventus.

- West Ham are leading the race to sign 23-year-old Chile international Ben Brereton-Diaz from Blackburn Rovers, according to The Sun.

Xavi is not ready to welcome the end of Barcelona's season despite the relief of clinching Champions League qualification on Saturday.

The Blaugrana beat Real Betis 2-1 in Seville to ensure the fifth-placed side can no longer catch them in second.

Ansu Fati's scuffed shot broke the deadlock, before ex-Barca defender Marc Bartra responded with a similarly untidy header.

It fell to Jordi Alba to win the match and secure Barca's top-four place with a sublime 94th-minute volley.

Coach Xavi saluted his side for the effort they put in to recover from a poor start to the season, having won every match they have played against top-10 opposition in 2022.

But he still has his sights set on tying up second place.

"We've taken a weight off our shoulders," Xavi said. "It could have been a more complicated and difficult season.

"The team has competed a lot. We have not played excellently in many games; in others, yes, but we have a winning soul and competitive character.

"We beat the top 10 in this second round of the season. It's evidence that we have to play better. It has to be analysed, but we have made a titanic effort from November to here.

"We will be in the Champions League, the competition we deserve. Now we want to be second."

However, Xavi added this achievement was the "minimum required" at Camp Nou, saying: "I want to compete for titles. We can't miss another year not being competitive."

The former Barca midfielder will hope Fati can have a big role to play in an improved 2022-23 campaign, having been limited to 12 appearances – in which he has still scored six goals – due to injuries this term.

Xavi hailed Fati as his "difference-maker", scoring 75 seconds after his introduction from the bench, and said: "It's a very good feeling to have him back."

Jordi Alba waited until the 94th minute on Saturday to sensationally clinch a 2-1 win at Real Betis and Barcelona's place in next season's Champions League.

The Blaugrana needed all three points against fifth-placed Betis to be sure of a top-four finish and looked set to be frustrated after Marc Bartra cancelled out Ansu Fati's opener.

But Alba unleashed an outrageous volley into the roof of the Betis net with almost the final kick to achieve Barca's aim with three matches to spare.

The result was perhaps harsh on Betis, who passed up their own chances to complete a first LaLiga double over Barca, yet there was no arguing with the quality of the decisive goal.

Dani Alves wants to stay at Barcelona past the end of this season but acknowledges the club will decide his future.

Having left the Blaugrana to join Juventus in June 2016, Alves announced his return to Camp Nou in November 2021, though he had to wait until January to be eligible to feature for the Catalan giants.

The 39-year-old has contributed one goal and three assists in 13 appearances since then, 12 of them starts, as Barca look to ensure a top-four finish in LaLiga after improving since Xavi's arrival as head coach in November.

After making a positive impact since returning, Alves is hoping to extend his long association with Los Cules past the expiration of his deal at the end of the campaign.

While pledging to always "give 200 per cent" for the club, however, Alves admitted his future would be decided by others.

"I live intensely all day, without thinking beyond that because I don't know what will happen. But what is certain is that I would like to continue because I feel at home here," he told Marca.

"I am at this club and team, which I had to fight to return to for five years and I think I can keep contributing, although it doesn't only depend on me. 

"I'm not too worried about it, though. My mission was to come here and show what I can contribute. I'm not one of those people who thinks, because of my career and everything I've won, that I don't have to keep proving myself. 

"I will always think that I have to prove my worth. I can't do anything else but give 200 percent to the club that I love. But it's up to them to decide. 

"I know where I am in my life and my career, but I also know what's inside me. I think any club that doesn't have me is losing out. 

"If Barcelona want me to renew my contract, I'm delighted. If they don't want me to then I'll say 'thank you very much' and will continue to defend this club to the death wherever I am."

 

Having gone unbeaten in 13 away league games (eight wins, five draws), Barcelona can strengthen their grip on second place in LaLiga when they travel to Copa del Rey winners Real Betis on Saturday.

With things looking up again at Barcelona after the ill-fated tenure of Xavi's predecessor Ronald Koeman, Alves says the club's transfer business will decide whether the Blaugrana can compete for major honours next season.

"It will depend on the transfer market business. That will determine whether the club can aspire to great things or not. You have to get it right and add quality to what you already have," he added.

"Xavi's arrival brought knowledge of the club, of fighting for the badge and history of this club. It is also important to make mistakes because it gives you more experience. If you don't make mistakes, you don't see if what you're doing is right or not. 

"Mistakes have been made and we've seen which way isn't the way to go, so now the club is restructuring again. But we don't know how long it will take. 

"If the new signings take in the idea that Xavi proposes then it won't be long before the club aspires to great things again. If not, it will take a bit longer. But people need to understand where they are and what needs to be done to get good results."

Real Madrid talisman Karim Benzema is "one of the most underrated players in history" according to UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

Benzema has produced several incredible displays to fire Real Madrid to their 17th European Cup/Champions League final, scoring hat-tricks in last-16 and quarter-final ties with Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, before netting three goals across a 6-5 aggregate win over Manchester City in the semi-finals.

The 34-year-old has been touted for the Ballon d'Or after scoring 43 goals and providing 14 assists in all competitions for Los Blancos this term, with Carlo Ancelotti's team also wrapping up the LaLiga title last week.

The France international has scored 10 goals in the Champions League knockout stages, the joint-most recorded by a player in a single campaign, along with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016-17, also for Madrid.

Speaking to AS, Ceferin rejected suggestions Madrid had been fortunate in the competition this season, hailing the contributions of Benzema and midfielder Luka Modric and labelling the former "awesome".

"For me, one of the most underrated players in history is Benzema. He is an amazing player. And they have Luka Modric, who the older he gets, the better he plays," Ceferin said.

"Now [Benzema] is becoming more and more recognized. He has always been in someone's shadow. 

"It's amazing how this footballer can score goals. He finds a way, even when it seems impossible to score. He is an awesome player.

"We will have to ask them [Madrid] how it is possible. They are an experienced team. You could say that they have been a bit lucky in some matches, but you can only be lucky in one, not all."

After scoring an extra-time penalty to send Los Blancos to the May 28 final at City's expense, Benzema has scored seven Champions League goals against English teams this season, the most by a player in a single campaign in the competition's history.

He will have the opportunity to build on that record when Ancelotti's men face Liverpool in the final in Paris, and Ceferin believes the removal of the away goals rule has contributed to this Champions League season being one of the most exhilarating in recent history.

"That's the Champions League. The biggest football promotion and the best sports competition in the world," he added. "And when you watch these games… it's amazing. 

"I am happy that we have changed the away goals rule. When I told some of my team-mates that, they told me that there would be more penalty shoot-outs. 

"But it is not true and that is how it has been seen. The matches, in my opinion, are more interesting.

"The clubs in the Champions League are the best and playing away is almost the same as playing at home. I'm looking forward to the final."

Carlo Ancelotti insisted there are no problems with Gareth Bale within the Real Madrid dressing room after the Wales international missed Los Blancos' LaLiga title celebrations.

Madrid lifted their 35th league title last Saturday after a 4-0 hammering of Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Los Blancos celebrated on the pitch with the trophy in front of supporters after the game.

Ancelotti's side then embarked on a bus parade around the Spanish capital the following day, but Bale was not present on both occasions as he cited "back spasms" for his absence.

Eden Hazard, much like Bale, has not featured often for Madrid this season but could be seen joyously involved with the midweek celebrations after a dramatic Champions League win over Manchester City.

That continued the speculation as to the popularity of Bale, who has just played five times in LaLiga this season, but Ancelotti believes his side hold a "mutual respect" for the former Tottenham man.

"There is no distance with the dressing room, they have mutual affection, he was absent because he could not move. It happened to me," the Italian told reporters at a news conference on Saturday.

Dani Ceballos is another Los Blancos name linked with the exit door in the next transfer window, but has been offered more chances in recent weeks, featuring in eight of the last nine games.

Ancelotti revealed his desire to keep the midfielder at the club ahead of the clash with Atletico Madrid in LaLiga on Sunday.

"I've had a chat with Ceballos, he knows what I think of him, what the club think of him and he has to make what he thinks is the best decision," he added.

"He knows what I think, what his team-mates think, then he has to sit down and decide what he wants to do."

Meanwhile, Ancelotti reserved special praise for right-back Dani Carvajal, who impressed against Pep Guardiola's City in the remarkable Champions League turnaround.

"He has struggled with injuries but he's got a good, strong personality," he continued. "I know he's been frustrated at times and has not been able to deliver to 100 per cent.

"He was outstanding against Manchester City. Nobody has ever thrown in the towel, given up. To wear the Real Madrid shirt means a lot to these players, Carvajal now is in excellent shape, he's helping a lot.

"Also, when the team need him most he's there."

Carlo Ancelotti hopes to continue living a "long honeymoon" at Real Madrid, and said he respects Atletico Madrid despite the fact the club will not give his side receive a guard of honour in Sunday's derby.

Los Blancos celebrated a 35th LaLiga title by hammering Espanyol 4-0 last week before reaching the Champions League final in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Madrid were trailing 1-0 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate before substitute Rodrygo scored twice in injury time, dramatic scenes that preceded Karim Benzema scoring the winning penalty in extra time to set up a showpiece with Liverpool in Paris.

Following the win over Espanyol, Ancelotti was pictured smoking a cigar when celebrating with his squad – a photo that went viral on social media.

Asked if he was enjoying a renewed youth in his second spell at Madrid, Ancelotti told a news conference: "You can say that [I am enjoying it more than ever].

"But I really enjoyed my time at Napoli for example, I didn't win titles I enjoyed my time at all the clubs I've managed.

"At Everton I didn't win a title but loved beating Liverpool. Everton are now struggling, we finished quite high up in the table with Everton. 

"Real Madrid is different. You could say, yeah, it's a honeymoon period. I'm still on the honeymoon, a long honeymoon, from December through to May – hopefully the end of May."

Madrid's first league encounter since regaining the title is against the side they deposed at champions in the form at Atleti, who released a statement on Monday saying they will not provide a guard of honour – an act that is commonplace in Spanish football.

Ancelotti has no qualms about the decision, though.

"I'm not used to this because we don't see it in Italy. If they do it then great, if they don't then I still respect the club," he added.

"I have the utmost respect for Atletico Madrid."

Diego Simeone insists Atletico Madrid have "four finals" left to secure Champions League football as they prepare for the derby with Real Madrid on Sunday.

Atletico followed up a goalless draw with Granada by losing 2-0 to Athletic Bilbao last Saturday, allowing fifth-placed Real Betis to move just three points behind Simeone's side.

LaLiga champions Real Madrid secured the title with four games to spare courtesy of a victory over Espanyol last weekend and are up next for Atletico, who have lost their past eight in all competitions against Los Blancos.

Madrid are also on an 11-game unbeaten streak against Atletico in LaLiga, their best such derby run against Simeone as coach, and the Argentine knows the Rojiblancos are in need of a result to ease the pressure.

"The reality is that we are in a decisive situation, there are four finals left," he told reporters at a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"We will face the derby in the best way, with great enthusiasm and try to evade everything that is being talked about around the situation. What worries us is the result.

"I hope that the team can express itself in the best way, that it is strong, focused, competitive and from there good things happen. If you show yourself strong, in the match everything will be positive."

 

Atletico have already caused a stir prior to kick-off at Wanda Metropolitano by confirming they will not offer Madrid a guard of honour, with their strong response claiming the performative gesture was not required.

Instead, Atletico congratulated their neighbours in a statement and Simeone followed suit by commending the work of Carlo Ancelotti as he questioned the need for the media frenzy surrounding the guard of honour.

"Always in this search for questions they try to generate controversy, what he said, what he feels," he added.

"The reality is what the club said in a statement, explained perfectly, to congratulate Real Madrid above all, to the footballers and to their coaching staff because they have done a great job.

"I have great respect for Madrid, who have just become champions, but we have more respect for our people who are with us all day."

Despite Madrid already lifting the title, Simeone suggested Ancelotti will not make many tactical changes as he prepares for a familiar Los Blancos set-up.

"The structure is not going to change or the way of playing," he continued. "Carlo is a great coach, with very clear ideas. In that case, the names vary but not the tactics."

Amid the furore of Real Madrid's quite astonishing great escape in the Champions League – well, their latest – it's easy to forget they only won the Spanish title last weekend.

Of course, it had been long foreseen, but Madrid's 35th LaLiga crown was secured with their 4-0 win over Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu, leading to a party that had Marcelo climbing statues, Carlo Ancelotti smoking a cigar and David Alaba getting his chair out again.

With a record-extending 17th Champions League final appearance wrapped up, Madrid can turn their attention back to LaLiga knowing they still have a reason to keep themselves sharp, and they could yet equal their best points tally (93) since reaching 100 in 2011-12.

Fittingly, their first league match as champions comes against the team they ousted, with bitter rivals Atletico Madrid playing host to Los Blancos at the Wanda Metropolitano on Sunday.

While that match has taken a back seat over the past few days, in Spain there has been a debate centred on the derby rumbling in the background for some time now.

As champions, Madrid might feel entitled to a pasillo, or 'guard of honour' – but they won't get one.

'A public toll'

While the guard of honour is a tradition with deep roots in sport, there's little doubt that it's a polarising gesture.

A mark of respect, perhaps, but more and more it is seen as a tool of humiliation, particularly when expected in such contests between major rivals.

The decision was down to Atletico's decision makers rather than the players, though captain Jan Oblak made his feelings perfectly clear after their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

He said: "As captain, I'm one of those who doesn't like to give or receive the guard of honour, but the club will decide and we'll do whatever is necessary."

Atletico subsequently released a statement on Monday confirming they'll not participate, with their strong response claiming the recent debate was stirred purely to stoke anger between fanbases.

They said: "Some want to turn what was born as a gesture of recognition for the champion into a public toll that their rivals must pay, also impregnated with the aroma of humiliation. Under no concept are Atletico Madrid going to collaborate in this attempt at derision in which the true values ​​of sport are completely forgotten and tension and confrontation between the fans is encouraged."

Additionally, Atletico suggested there was no such debate around Celta Vigo's decision not to give them a guard of honour at the start of this season, with the controversy around the upcoming derby "exaggerated and artificial".

Some might feel Atletico's disdain for the tradition is disrespectful, but there is refreshing sentiment behind their stance as well: not every mark of respect needs to be accompanied by a performative gesture.

In this age of obsessing over social media engagement, there seems a need to turn normal behaviour into a song and dance, the classic example being the tidy changing room photo. "That's class" or "respect [clapping emoji]" litter the replies on Twitter – it's not, it's just common courtesy.

If Atletico players, officials, coaches or fans wish to congratulate Madrid, it doesn't require a forced gesture.

Madrid's refusal

This is by no means the first time Madrid have been involved in guard of honour controversy. Four years ago, the debate around the pasillo was arguably at its zenith.

Barcelona had won the title prior to facing Madrid in El Clasico, meaning there were those in the Blaugrana ranks expecting a show of respect at Camp Nou.

But Madrid refused. Zinedine Zidane, coach at the time, pointed the finger. He suggested they might have reciprocated had Barca given them a guard of honour a few months earlier when Los Blancos won the Club World Cup.

Barca's justification then was that they didn't play in the Club World Cup so didn't need to acknowledge Madrid's success – not that Zidane was buying the excuse.

"It's a lie," he said. "You have to win the Champions League to play in the Club World Cup. I am not the one to decide that we don't want to do the pasillo. They didn't do it, we respect that; we'll not do it because they didn't do it."

Gerard Pique, true to form, found a novel way to get around the issue while simultaneously highlighting Madrid's refusal – he arranged for Barca's coaching staff to give the players a pasillo instead at full-time.

Had Sergio Ramos still been at Madrid, one might have been expecting a similar arrangement for Sunday.

'Party of the champions'

The only other time this century that the pasillo has been such a contentious subject was in 2008, when Madrid did receive one in El Clasico.

The 2007-08 season was a dire one for Barca. Not only did Madrid win the title comfortably with 18 points more than their great rivals, but Frank Rijkaard's men also finished 10 points adrift of second-placed Villarreal.

 

Although Barca crushed Valencia 6-0 leading up to the Clasico clash on May 7, 2008, they were unable to prevent Madrid claiming the title, setting things up perfectly for the ultimate humiliation.

"The party of the champions", read the front page of Madrid-based daily newspaper AS on the morning of the game. Notoriously pro-Madrid Marca went with "Barca is here", accompanying a picture showing where the visitors were due to form their guard of honour. And Catalan publication Sport highlighted the other side of things, saying, "the pasillo that suffers alone", and adding, "Barca fans do not deserve to have to see the pasillo".

Despite the shameless nose-rubbing of the Madrid press and the intense humiliation that was about to befall them, Barca gritted their teeth. "Although it hurts, we will do it," Rijkaard said.

Club captain Carles Puyol sang from a similar hymn sheet: "As an athlete you have to recognise the champion, and we will do that. They have won it on the pitch. Real Madrid have been fair champions."

The emotions of the two coaches that night could not have been more different. Rijkaard slowly ambled out and took his position, hands together behind his back, before the Barca players jogged out and formed two columns either side of the halfway line, the cameras of the Bernabeu crowd incessantly flashing with glee.

Meanwhile, Bernd Schuster watched on as his Madrid side triumphantly walked through that red-and-blue-walled corridor, twenty years after he was a part of the last guard of honour Barca performed in El Clasico, wearing a Blaugrana jersey.

Some, such as Pepe, Fernando Gago and Wesley Sneijder walked straight down the middle, seemingly preserving the thoughts of a true rivalry by refusing to thank their counterparts for the degrading act of a Clasico pasillo, but looking back, that was the least embarrassing part of the whole night for Barca.

What started with a pasillo ended in a pasting, with Barca flattered by a 4-1 defeat in which Madrid were utterly dominant.

Atletico will at least avoid one form of humiliation, but considering the contrasting fortunes of the two teams on the pitch this term, it's hardly a given that Diego Simeone's side will prevent a mauling.

Barcelona coach Xavi is urging his players to take full advantage of a "golden opportunity" to seal Champions League qualification against a direct rival in Real Betis.

The Blaugrana go to Seville on Saturday sitting second in LaLiga, eight points clear of fifth-placed Betis – who won 1-0 at Camp Nou in December – as the battle for the top four nears its conclusion.

A win for Barca over the Copa del Rey winners would take them to 69 points and ensure they do not finish any lower than fourth, with Betis only able to reach 67 and sixth-placed Real Sociedad 68.

While the 15-point gap to champions Real Madrid highlights how confronting 2021-22 has been for Barca, Xavi has restored a degree of positivity since replacing Ronald Koeman in November.

Barca were ninth in LaLiga after 13 matches ahead of Xavi's first game in charge, 10 points behind second-placed Sevilla; they now appear favourites to finish ahead of Julen Lopetegui's side and dethroned champions Atletico Madrid as runners-up.

And Xavi wants his team to clinch Champions League qualification at the first time of asking.

"Hopefully, it's a golden opportunity to qualify for the Champions League," he said on Friday. "They're a direct rival, with great players and a great coach. It will be difficult.

"Football gives us the chance to take sporting revenge. We want to fulfil our goals before the end of the season.

"We are fighting for the minimum, but that's the way it is. There are two goals, but the most important is to be in the Champions League next season.

"That's the objective. If we can get second, which would give us the option of entering the Supercopa, then even better.

"We cannot think beyond this, [but] I hope that this summer there will be signings despite the economic situation. We cannot take the European qualification for granted.

"I expect an opponent [Betis] with a lot of confidence. They have won the Copa, they deserved it. I congratulate Betis, [Manuel] Pellegrini and the players, who are having an excellent, historic season. I congratulate them."

Ever since Xavi's return to the club, their "philosophy" and "DNA" have drawn a lot of focus, with many supporters feeling Barca's ethos was diluted under Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien and Koeman.

Ronald Araujo commented that restoring "the Barca DNA" with Xavi was a chief goal of his after signing a new contract in April, and while the coach acknowledges he cannot change things in an instant, he is confident they are making progress with a top-four finish almost secure.

"It's not my message, it's the message of Barca's history," Xavi continued. "I don't have a magic wand, what I'm clear about is that with this model [Barca] won five Champions Leagues and world recognition.

"You leave Spain and they remember [Pep] Guardiola's Barca, [Lionel] Messi's Barca, and they remember how we won, not so much what we won.

"We have to wait and be patient. If we review history, there is no doubt."

Kylian Mbappe has yet to agree a contract with Paris Saint-Germain or any other club, according to the French superstar's mother.

With Mbappe's contract in the French capital due to expire in June, the 23-year-old has been heavily linked with a move to Champions League finalists Real Madrid.

Mbappe has scored 35 goals and provided 19 assists for Mauricio Pochettino's team in all competitions this term, both club-high figures. PSG won the Ligue 1 title in dominant fashion but fell short against Madrid in the Champions League in March.

French newspaper Le Parisien reported on its website on Thursday that Mbappe was close to reaching an agreement in principle to extend his stay in Paris until June 2024.

Fayza Lamary, the 2018 World Cup winner's mother, later moved to refute suggestions Mbappe has decided anything about his future.

"There is no agreement in principle with Paris Saint-Germain [or any other club]," she wrote on Twitter.

"Discussions around Kylian's future are continuing in a climate of great serenity to allow him to make the best choice, with respect for all parties."

Mbappe scored his 130th and 131st Ligue 1 career goals on his last outing as PSG drew 3-3 with Strasbourg, making him the second highest goalscorer in the competition this century after Edinson Cavani, who scored 138 times in the league for the Paris outfit.

The forward has also scored 26 goals following a fast break in Ligue 1 since making his PSG debut in September 2017, more than double the amount recorded by any other player in the top five European leagues during that time. Mohamed Salah has 12 for Liverpool.

Liverpool forward Sadio Mane is Karim Benzema's biggest challenger for this year's Ballon d'Or, according to Arsenal and France legend Thierry Henry.

Benzema is enjoying the best season of his career in front of goal and has played a crucial role in Madrid's run to the Champions League final, where Liverpool await on May 28.

The 34-year-old has scored 43 times and provided a further 14 assists in all competitions, with no other player across Europe's top five leagues directly involved in more goals (57).

Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe are next on that list with 54 combined goals and assists each, while Mane lags some way behind on 23 for Liverpool – albeit having missed part of the season during the Africa Cup of Nations, which he won with Senegal.

Lewandowski, Mbappe and Anfield team-mate Mohamed Salah have been tipped to rival Benzema for football's top individual award, but Henry believes Mane is better placed. 

"To make the final even bigger, the two favourites for the Ballon d'Or are Mane and Benzema," Henry told CBS Sports. "That will add an extra little spice into it."

Mane played a direct part in five goals for Senegal at AFCON, aiding his cause to be crowned the world's best player.

However, if the former Southampton forward is to have any chance of pipping Benzema to the accolade, Henry says he must win a clean sweep of trophies with Liverpool.

The Reds have already lifted the EFL Cup and are into the FA Cup and Champions League finals, but they trail Manchester City by a point with four Premier League games left.

"I still believe that Benzema is ahead, but if Mane wins [the Champions League] with Liverpool and they do make the quadruple, that is a pretty strong case," Henry said.

"It would be great for Africa, but I'm still going for Benzema."

Benzema finished fourth in the voting for last year's Ballon d'Or, which was won by Lionel Messi for a record-extending seventh time.

Indeed, only one player other than Messi and five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo has won the award since 2008, with Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric triumphing in 2018.

Former Real Madrid midfielder Guti has admitted his surprise at the form of Karim Benzema this season, labelling him "football in its purest state".

Benzema scored an extra-time penalty in Madrid's dramatic 3-1 second-leg win in their Champions League semi-final against Manchester City on Wednesday and is among the favourites for this year's Ballon d'Or.

The France striker has 43 goals and 14 assists in 43 games in all competitions this season, helping Los Blancos to the LaLiga title as well as the Champions League final, where they will play Liverpool.

Speaking to TMW, Guti – who played for Madrid between 1995 and 2010 – praised his former team-mate for replacing the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo, who left for Juventus in 2018.

"In his feet there is an incredible talent, but I did not expect this performance as a goalscorer," he said.

"He is giving a lot to a Real that, after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, needed goals. Benzema represents football in its purest state."

Barcelona defender Dani Alves said "there is no such thing as luck" as he saluted fierce rivals Real Madrid's remarkable late comeback win against Manchester City.

The Spanish champions edged an epic semi-final with City 6-5 on aggregate on Wednesday to set up a showdown with Liverpool – a repeat of the 2018 final – in Paris on May 28.

Rodrygo scored twice in the space of 91 seconds to salvage extra time for Madrid, who trailed 5-3 on aggregate with less than a minute of normal time remaining.

Karim Benzema's penalty in the additional period sealed Los Blancos' passage through to a record-extending 17th European Cup/Champions League final, which is six more than any other team.

It is the third knockout round in a row that Carlo Ancelotti's men, who secured a second league title in three years at the weekend, have recovered from behind.

Indeed, since the Champions League format changed in 2003-04, Madrid are the first team to lose a match in the last 16 (1-0 vs Paris Saint-Germain), quarter-final (3-2 v Chelsea) and semi-final (4-3 v Man City) and still reach the final.

And Brazil international full-back Alves does not believe it is any coincidence that Madrid pulled off another almighty fightback.

"Just like in life, there is no such thing as luck," Alves posted shortly after full-time. "Either you dominate the game or the game dominates you."

Hailing the late impact of two-goal Rodrygo, who is the first player in Champions League history to score twice in the 90th minute of a knockout match, Alves added: "Ah, what would soccer be without the Brazilians!"

With 11 goals spread across the two legs, Madrid's memorable victory against City is the second-highest scoring semi-final in the competition's history, behind only Liverpool's 7-6 win against Roma in 2017-18.

The Reds await Madrid at the Stade de France later this month after surviving a scare of their own before seeing off Villarreal 5-2 on aggregate on Tuesday.

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