Kyle Walker will not "roll out a red carpet" for Kylian Mbappe as England prepare to face France in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

Mbappe is the tournament's top scorer so far with five goals in four matches, including a double in the reigning champions' 3-1 victory over Poland in the round of 16.

That win set up a clash in the final eight with England, giving Three Lions' manager Gareth Southgate a headache on how to best counter the threat of Mbappe.

Walker is the player many believe will be chosen to deal with the power and pace of Mbappe, with the possibility that Southgate will opt to play with a back five.

While Walker lauded Mbappe's talents, the Manchester City defender feels he is well-equipped to cope with the Paris Saint-Germain star.

"Of course I understand the focus and I understand what I need to do to stop him," Walker told reporters. "It's easier said than done but I don't underestimate myself.

"I've come up against some of the best players in the world but I have to treat it just as another game. You have to give him respect but not too much.

"I'm not going to roll out a red carpet for him and tell him to score. It's a World Cup, it's do or die.

"I'm not going home so I'm not going to let him ruin that for my family."

Other France forwards have impressed alongside Mbappe, such as Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud, the latter of whom became Les Bleus' all-time record goalscorer with his strike against Poland, with Walker stressing the focus is not just on the PSG forward.

Walker says it is important England pay due attention to all of France's attackers, and not just Mbappe, adding: "It will be a tough game but a team cannot just be about one person.

"When we've [City] played Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, we're not just thinking of Mbappe and it's the same on Saturday. 

"He's a tool in their armoury - and a very good one - but you can't underestimate their other players.

"We know he's a great player and that's why he's the focus of all questions. But let's not forget Olivier Giroud who has scored lots of goals, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann.

"For me all the questions shouldn't be about him [Mbappe]. I appreciate he's a great footballer, but there are others too."

At 32-years-old, Walker is one of the older members of England's squad, with young stars such as Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham playing a starring role in England's campaign so far.

Walker commended the Three Lions' new generation, reserving particular praise for Bellingham, who has lit up the tournament with his sparkling midfield displays at just 19-years-old.

"It is great for the English game," Walker declared. "As you mentioned, Jude [Bellingham] being one who has the courage to play for England that others didn't have when they were younger.

"They have no fear and they go in and express themselves. I feel the standard of players has gone up another level in this tournament."

Ousmane Dembele says he has "matured" as a person and a player since France last the World Cup in 2018, following a victorious start to their title defence against Australia.

The Barcelona winger started as Didier Deschamps' side bounced back from an early Craig Goodwin finish to win 4-1 in Al Wakrah, thanks to an Olivier Giroud double and goals from Adrien Rabiot and Kylian Mbappe.

Having been an unused substitute four years ago as Les Bleus beat Croatia in  the final in Russia, Dembele is looking to play his part in what he hopes to be a successive World Cup triumph.

With his Blaugrana form having turned a corner after a prolonged saga over his future at the club, he feels he is in a stronger place to contribute now for the national team at Qatar 2022.

"There has been three difficult seasons with Barcelona," he stated. "When you look at the first two games [I played in] 2018 and this year there is a lot of difference.

"I have matured. I didn't have a healthy lifestyle as you can imagine, [though] it wasn't a party! But I'm a little older now, [at] 25."

France's recovery ensured they dodged an upset against Australia, but other heavyweight favourites have been less fortunate so far at the World Cup.

Argentina were stunned by lowly Saudi Arabia, while Germany, looking to recover from a chastening campaign in Russia, failed to stop a comeback from Japan.

Dembele says it leaves a warning that no match is easy at Qatar 2022, and that bigger sides write off theoretical underdogs at their peril.

"There are no small teams," he added. "Everyone knows how to play football, how to work on tactics. We saw that with Saudi Arabia.

"When you lower the intensity, you get trapped. But with our team, if we put all the ingredients together, we will not have to worry."

France are next in action when they play Denmark in Group D on November 26, before their final group stage match against Tunisia four days later.

Barcelona boss Xavi says "not much is going to change" following Gerard Pique's retirement, with the Blaugrana squad prepared to play their part in filling the void left behind by the defender.

The veteran centre-back abruptly announced his retirement from the professional game last week, before bowing out on a winning note with a 2-0 victory in LaLiga over Almeria.

Pique departed in the 84th minute to a standing ovation, bringing the curtain down on a near-decade-and-a-half stay with the club, where he originally began as a junior before moving to Manchester United.

Asked how Barca intended to alter their side following his exit, Xavi was adamant there would be little difference within the team, noting they will pull together to counter his absence.

"Not much is going to change," he stated. "Everyone has their leading role in the team.

"We're going to miss Gerard but [the departure of long-term players] has always happened. When somebody has left, the rest have been relocated."

Elsewhere, Xavi further touched on the form of Raphinha and Ousmane Dembele, two wingers with contrasting fortunes this term at Camp Nou.

The Brazilian, signed from Leeds United ahead of the campaign, has yielded only one goal in a dozen LaLiga appearances, while the Frenchman looks to have rediscovered his form with four in 13 top-flight games, along with five assists.

On Raphinha, Xavi added: "He has total confidence on our part. Sometimes things don't turn out the way you want, but you have to keep working. We believe in him a lot, and I'm sure the goals will come.

"As for Dembele, he's making a difference. His numbers have changed. He is being important, and he is feeling that way too.

"He is happy, and he has grown a lot. He lacks consistency, but because of his talent and skill, he has everything to be the best in the world."

Barcelona eased to a 2-0 win against Almeria in Gerard Pique's final game at Camp Nou before retirement.

Goals from Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong made up for an early missed penalty from Robert Lewandowski, but it was always going to be Pique's occasion.

The 35-year-old centre-back played 82 minutes before being substituted, leaving the field to a standing ovation from every one of the 92,605 in attendance on Saturday as he tearfully hugged each of his team-mates.

Barca's win was their 11th in their last 12 league games and sent them back to the top of LaLiga before Real Madrid's trip to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

A VAR check saw Barca rewarded a sixth-minute penalty when Ferran Torres' header hit Kaiky Fernandes' arm but Lewandowski saw his spot-kick clip the outside of the left post after a stuttered run-up.

Despite Barca's dominance, a sloppy pass from De Jong was pounced on by Largie Ramazani and Marc-Andre ter Stegen reacted quickly to close down his shot.

It took less than three minutes of the second half for the hosts to find the opener as a long ball out to the right from Sergio Busquets found Dembele, who cut inside onto his left foot and beat two defenders before calmly rolling his shot into the far corner of the net.

Their lead was doubled just after the hour as a cross from the left by Jordi Alba found Ansu Fati, whose shot was saved well by Fernando Martinez before De Jong lashed home the rebound to seal the win as the Camp Nou bid farewell to Pique with a victory.

Xavi credited Ousmane Dembele's willingness to take risks after the France winger starred in Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of Athletic Bilbao at Camp Nou. 

Barca moved back to within three points of Real Madrid on the LaLiga table by putting Athletic to the sword on Sunday, with Dembele opening the scoring before recording three assists.

By laying on goals for Robert Lewandowski, Sergi Roberto and Ferran Torres, Dembele recorded four goal involvements in a single game for Barca for the first time, in what was his 165th Blaugrana appearance.

Dembele's tally of five assists in LaLiga is the best in the competition this season, and Xavi described the 25-year-old as a difference-maker following Barca's victory.

"He was in the spotlight because he takes risks and it's like a flip of a coin. He was especially motivated," Xavi told Movistar.

"He understood everything well. He's here to make a difference and he's capable of doing these things."

Barca raced into a three-goal lead within 22 minutes as Athletic collapsed, before controlling possession as Pedri repeatedly drifted inside from an unfamiliar left-wing role.

"We thought it was a game of intensity and rhythm, we understood that they were going to put a lot of pressure on us," Xavi said of Barca's approach.

"We put one more midfielder in and we attacked inside. We found the superiority and we matched their intensity, those were the keys. We showed solidarity and it was a complete game."

Barca endured a run of just one win in four matches earlier this month, losing to Clasico rivals Madrid and failing to beat Inter in two Champions League meetings, leading captain Sergio Busquets to emphasise the importance of their response.

"We came from a difficult week after losing against Madrid, but we have remade ourselves with two good games and we continue to fight for the top positions here," Busquets said.

"We came out very strong, because we knew that they are a very intense team and we wanted to match that intensity. 

"We had ten minutes of great success in front of goal and that made it easy for us to break up the match."

Ousmane Dembele scored and assisted three others as Barcelona warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich by thrashing Athletic Bilbao 4-0 at Camp Nou.

Xavi's team raced into a three-goal lead before half-time in Thursday's mauling of Villarreal and they repeated the trick on Sunday as Sergi Roberto and Robert Lewandowski joined Dembele on the scoresheet within 22 minutes.

Having set up Roberto and Lewandowski, Dembele continued to terrorise Athletic after the break and helped Barca add some gloss when he teed up Ferran Torres for a neat finish late on.

The result moved Barca back to within three points of leaders Real Madrid in the LaLiga standings, with Los Blancos having moved clear with a 3-1 win over Sevilla on Saturday. 

Dembele opened the scoring after 12 minutes, testing Unai Simon before nodding in Lewandowski's cross after the striker had recycled the loose ball.

There was more fortune about Barca's second, which arrived when Roberto's shot deflected beyond Simon from a tight angle following Dembele's throughball. 

Dembele played a role again in Barca's third as Athletic crumbled, driving inside from the right to feed Lewandowski, who swivelled and lashed into the roof of the net.

Barca suffered a blow when Gavi limped off following a collision with Dani Garcia before the break, but they almost scored a fourth when Garcia's clearance hit Pedri and crashed against the post.

Dembele showcased his creative qualities once again when Barca completed the rout after 73 minutes, drilling a low cross into Torres, who shifted the ball to his right foot before finishing coolly. 

Robert Lewandowski twice equalised late on but Barcelona's hopes of progressing to the Champions League knockout stage look slim after a 3-3 draw with Inter.

Lewandowski's late show keeps Barca's chances alive, though the Blaugrana are now relying on Inter not to win either of their final two Group C matches.

Ousmane Dembele's first-half strike put them ahead, though elimination was back on the cards as Nicolo Barella and Lautaro Martinez struck in a chaotic second half.

Robin Gosens thought he had sent Inter into the last 16 in the 89th minute, only for Lewandowski to score his second goal in the space of 10 minutes to snatch a point for Barca.

France boss Didier Deschamps could be without Ousmane Dembele for Sunday's Nations League clash with Denmark after the Barcelona winger reported a calf problem.

The game in Copenhagen will see Deschamps make a number of changes, with the trip coming just two months before the teams meet again in the World Cup group stage.

France are eager to get the win, as that would guarantee they avoid relegation from the top tier of the Nations League, but Deschamps will not push anyone into playing.

"Ousmane felt discomfort in a calf and will train separately," said Deschamps on Saturday evening.

"We will review after the session. I will make changes, but I won't decide tonight. I will wait for the medical return and the feelings of the players. There will be changes, but I won't tell you how many."

France and Denmark will be joined in Group D at Qatar 2022 by Australia and Tunisia, and they are due to go head-to-head on November 26 in the second round of games.

Denmark got the better of Deschamps' side at the Stade de France in June in their first Nations League encounter, with Andreas Cornelius hitting a double after Karim Benzema had put the hosts ahead.

According to Deschamps, there will be little to be gained on Sunday with a view to the World Cup game, though.

"The only advantage is for players who are there and who will have the possibility of starting or coming on," he said. "I'm not going to get any particular benefit from it otherwise.

"In Qatar, it will be another game, but the teams will know each other well, that's true."

With Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan coming off injured in the 2-0 win against Austria on Thursday, West Ham's Alphonse Areola has got the nod to start against the Danes.

Areola came into the fray for the second half against Austria, with first choice Huge Lloris out through injury.

The 29-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain stopper has made five appearances for West Ham this season, albeit with four of those coming in the Europa Conference League and just one in the Premier League.

"He will start," Deschamps said. "I see goalkeepers starting in the national team and not in the club. Alphonse has been more or less a starter. Every time he plays, he performs well. Alphonse is there because he has quality."

Arguably the most in-demand teenager in world football, Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham reportedly has Real Madrid as his preferred destination.

Bellingham, who only turned 19 in June, has already racked up 68 Bundesliga appearances and 18 Champions League games since arriving from Birmingham City ahead of the 2020-21 season. He has scored in both of his Champions League games this campaign, including one against Manchester City.

While he has already been awarded 15 senior international caps for England, and is preparing for his first World Cup, Spain's El Chiringuito TV has made the shocking claim that Bellingham will shun the Premier League altogether and head to Madrid.

 

TOP STORY – SPANISH MEDIA BELIEVES BELLINGHAM HAS CHOSEN REAL MADRID

It has been strongly suggested this will be Bellingham's last season with Dortmund, with Liverpool being consistently linked through this past transfer window, and even querying to see if he would be available in January.

His status as one of England's top teenagers has guaranteed the interest of all of the Premier League's top sides, although a report from The Athletic UK claims Dortmund will hold firm at an asking price of €150million, leaving few with the capabilities to get a deal done.

One team guaranteed to have the required spending power are Spanish giants Madrid, and while his popularity in England is already locked in due to his international status, it might be a case of believing his best chance of becoming a truly transcendent star in the game is to do it at one of the traditional powerhouse clubs.

With that being said, Liverpool have been proactive in their chase of Bellingham, and both they and Manchester City boast the necessary level of worldwide fame, recent success and deep pockets to convince any budding superstar that they are the right choice.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sport is reporting Barcelona's Sergio Busquets will head to MLS and join Inter Miami at the end of the season.

– According to Calciomercato, Milan will make a move for Salzburg striker Noah Okafor in January as their forward depth has been impacted through injuries.

– Sports Today claims Juventus have been in contact with Tottenham's Antonio Conte as they weigh up potentially parting ways with Massimiliano Allegri, with Conte said to be open to the idea after this season.

Arsenal are being linked with 24-year-old Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli, who has reportedly not impressed Allegri since arriving from Sassuolo, according to Calciomercato.

– L'Equipe is reporting that Ousmane Dembele – who was signed for a base fee of €105m in 2017 – has a €50m release clause in his new contract that will be active at the end of the season, with Dembele set to receive half of that €50m if a deal gets done to compensate him for accepting no signing bonus.

Raphael Varane has hailed Ousmane Dembele's "extraordinary qualities" and believes the 25-year-old is finally "blossoming" at Barcelona.

Dembele has been a player reborn since Xavi took charge in November 2021, with his 17 assists in all competitions bettered only by Lionel Messi (22) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) among players in Europe's top five leagues, while his 15 LaLiga assists during that time represent a league high.

The former Borussia Dortmund man also leads Barca's charts for chances created (63), chances created from open play (52) and touches in the opposing box (126) under Xavi in LaLiga.

Dembele signed a new two-year deal with Barca in July, and Varane thinks the best is still to come from his compatriot.

"I'm very happy to see him at this level," he said. "We see him blossoming. He has extraordinary qualities.

"As a person, I always find him with the same joy of living, he brings this freshness to the group.

"He is also more calm, always quiet. He has managed to find the recipe for physical recovery, to feel better, and we are very happy.

"He had some difficult moments with some injuries that followed one another, but now we have the chance to see him having fun and enjoying himself on the field, so we are all very happy."

 

Varane also praised the impact of France team-mate Aurelien Tchouameni at his former club Real Madrid.

Tchouameni, who joined from Monaco in June for a fee that could rise to €100million, has started the season in impressive form for Carlo Ancelotti's side, and Varane believes he has the maturity to keep on getting better.

"I think we can welcome his lightning adaptation in a club like Real Madrid," the Manchester United defender said.

"I know from experience how difficult it is. He has the maturity and the qualities for it, so hats off to him. He is a very complete player. He has the ability to defend well, protect the defence, and also the ability to organise the game.

"He does not hesitate from his first selections to ask for the ball, to impose the tempo in midfield. For his young age, he is already very mature, and I wish him to stay the course, to continue like this, because what he is doing is already extraordinary."

Ousmane Dembele has revealed he told Barcelona coach Xavi he would sign a new contract with the club as far back as December.

France international Dembele looked to be heading out of Barcelona in January when acrimonious wrangling over his future led to him being ordered to find a new club.

At the time, Dembele had refused an extension to his deal, which ran through to the end of June, and Barcelona wanted to recoup some of his value rather than see him leave on a free transfer.

Despite reported interest from Paris Saint-Germain and a number of Premier League clubs, the 25-year-old signed a new two-year deal in July.

Having tallied the most assists (13) and expected assists (9.2 xA) in LaLiga last season, Dembele has recorded four league goal contributions this term (two goals, two assists).

 

The former Borussia Dortmund man is loving life at Camp Nou and revealed he told Xavi last year he would sign fresh terms with the Catalan giants.

"With Xavi's confidence, I had to stay. I remember a meeting between him and me in December, and I told him that I was going to sign my contract," he told RMC Sport.

"I feel good in the locker room, with all these young people. This whole team is developing well.

"I've always told Xavi that I wanted to stay at the club. There were negotiations and I didn't settle, but I didn't tell myself that I was going to leave the club.

"I've been here for the past five years, and it's better now because everyone is talking about football.

"I've always dreamed of playing for Barcelona. I have realised my dream, and I'm very happy."

Dembele is likely to be in action for France over the next week as Didier Deschamps' side take on Austria and Denmark in the Nations League. 

Everything appeared to be heading towards Barcelona and Ousmane Dembele parting on poor terms after a largely unsatisfactory association.

"Either he renews, or we look for an exit," Xavi said in January, fielding the latest in a series of questions about the winger.

With Dembele failing to agree to a new Barcelona contract at the start of 2022, director of football Mateu Alemany was even more forthright, declaring: "He must leave the club immediately."

Fast forward eight months, and the unpredictable attacker has emerged as a key cog in a revitalised Barca side, one tipped to compete with Real Madrid after making an unbeaten start in LaLiga.

Having been in the cold since Euro 2020, Dembele is also back in the France squad for their upcoming Nations League matches, with his sights set on claiming a spot in Didier Deschamps' party for the World Cup in Qatar.

Football loves a redemption arc, and that of Dembele in 2022 is up there with the very best in recent memory.

On the eve of his France return, Stats Perform looks at Dembele's journey from €105million flop to the creative hub of Xavi's side, asking whether a World Cup flourish is next for the winger.

Injury woes and the long shadow of Neymar

Barcelona's failings following Neymar's 2017 move to Paris Saint-Germain have been well-documented, with Dembele long viewed as the ultimate personification of the shambolic recruitment policy during Josep Maria Bartomeu's tenure.

The Blaugrana parted with an initial €105m for Dembele, who recorded 30 goal contributions (10 goals, 20 assists) and created 100 chances in his lone season with Borussia Dortmund.

That substantial fee saw Dembele, a talented yet raw 20-year-old, touted as a replacement for Neymar, a pressure that appeared to weigh heavily on the Frenchman; he needed over seven months to score his first goal in LaLiga, finally finding the net at Celta Vigo in April 2018.

While Ernesto Valverde led Barca to a domestic double in 2017-18, Dembele's own contribution was limited by a series of injury setbacks, which represented a sign of things to come.

 

Dembele made just 17 league appearances and 12 starts in his debut campaign, having been ruled out until January 2018 after suffering a serious hamstring injury within a month of his arrival.

In three of Dembele's first five campaigns at Barca, injuries ruled him out for 100 days or more. Between the beginning of 2017-18 and the end of 2020-21, meanwhile, he started just 36 per cent of the club's league games.

On the rare occasions Dembele did stay fit, meanwhile, his output was negligible in a side increasingly reliant on Lionel Messi's brilliance. Dembele's tally of 17 league goals and 14 assists in his first four seasons hardly represented value for Barcelona's mammoth investment, meaning the winger was considered ripe for a sale as the club's economic position worsened.

From contract rebel to key man: Spearheading the Xavi revival 

Even LaLiga's casual observers must have grown tired of discussions over the economic "levers" being pulled by Joan Laporta's regime. But before the sales of future TV rights and production companies, shifting Dembele was touted as a means by which to balance the books after the January arrival of Ferran Torres.

With a loan move for Adama Traore leaving Barcelona's forward line well-stocked, the message could not have been clearer; if Dembele would not agree to fresh terms, he was surplus to requirements.

But with Traore struggling on his return to Spain and Torres regularly deployed centrally, Xavi decided to utilise Dembele once the January transfer window closed. He was richly rewarded after reinstating him on the right of Barca's attack.

Since Xavi took charge in November 2021, Dembele's 17 assists in all competitions is bettered only by Messi (22) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) among players in Europe's top five leagues, while his 15 LaLiga assists during that time is a team-high.

Dembele also leads Barca's charts for chances created (63), chances created from open play (52) and touches in the opposing box (126) under Xavi in LaLiga, finally combining his menacing dribbling ability with genuine threat and creativity.

 

And Dembele's 68 dribbles completed in that time – also a team-high – show he has not sacrificed the individual skill that attracted Barcelona's attentions five years ago. 

Three months on from Dembele being booed by his own supporters during a Europa League clash with Napoli, Xavi said: "When he has not been involved, we have noticed."

The former midfield maestro was right. Barcelona won two-thirds of the league games Dembele started last season, and 47.8 per cent of those he didn't.

That impact meant Dembele's belated contract renewal, finalised in July, was received with enthusiasm by everyone at Camp Nou, with the winger subsequently going from strength to strength.

The tonic to Deschamps' blues?

If some thought the arrival of Raphinha might threaten Dembele's place in Xavi's side, he has made them eat their words at the start of the new campaign.

Having tallied the most assists (13) and expected assists (9.2 xA) in LaLiga last season, Dembele has recorded four league goal contributions since the August restart (two goals, two assists), forcing his way back into Deschamps' thoughts.

By the end of August, Dembele had been involved in more shots (15) as a consequence of ball carries than any other player in LaLiga, and his dynamic, unpredictable style may be just what Les Bleus require.

 

Dembele was used sparingly at Euro 2020, with Antoine Griezmann preferred alongside Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe as France won just once in four outings. However, it's easy to see why Dembele's ability to hug either touchline might appeal to Deschamps, offering him tactical flexibility when several other options appear compromised. 

Griezmann's lack of game-time at Atletico Madrid has been subject to much debate in recent weeks, while Kingsley Coman is out of France's latest squad through injury. Benzema's own injury scare, meanwhile, will no doubt have sharpened Deschamps' mind on the need for a plan B.

With France failing to win any of their first four Nations League games this time around, Dembele's Barcelona revival may have come at the perfect time.

Should Dembele carry his club form onto the international stage, potentially contributing to the first successful World Cup defence since Brazil's 1962 win, his 2022 will surely go down as one of football's most emphatic comebacks. 

Ousmane Dembele has shown the same ability to beat defenders as Neymar did in his Barcelona prime, according to head coach Xavi.

The French winger delivered three assists on Wednesday as Barcelona hammered Viktoria Plzen 5-1 in their Champions League group opener, an ideal result ahead of tougher tests against Bayern Munich and Inter.

Robert Lewandowski grabbed a hat-trick, with Dembele setting up the striker's second as well as goals for Franck Kessie and Ferran Torres.

It is remarkable to think that Barcelona and Dembele were in a fractious stand-off barely eight months ago, which at one point saw the club tell the winger to leave amid a contract row.

He has since signed a new deal at Camp Nou, giving club and player security through to 2024, and his form on the wing has been largely outstanding.

"I don't want to throw flowers, but the ability he has in one-on-one situations is at the level of the best Neymar," said Xavi, who played alongside Neymar for Barcelona.

The only aspect where Xavi would ask more of Dembele is in pushing to add to his goals tally.

"He has to dare more to shoot at goal and score," said Xavi. "He's a good boy and he has to take advantage of these characteristics. He's here to make a difference and he's doing it."

Neymar left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 and remains with the French giants.

His prowess in front of goal is something Dembele can only aspire to, as despite Xavi's assertions there is a huge gulf between Neymar's output and Dembele's own.

Since the start of 2022, Dembele and Neymar have played a similar number of minutes across all competitions (Dembele – 1,814; Neymar – 1,681) and Dembele edges the assists comparison 13-11 but is 66-62 behind on chances created.

However, their form in terms of finishing has been strikingly different, with Neymar scoring 19 goals and Dembele managing just three. That is despite Dembele attempting 68 shots to Neymar's 54.

Of that high shot tally, Dembele only hit the target 15 times, while Neymar has done so on 31 occasions.

Neymar is exceeding his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.44, while Dembele's xG of 4.99 suggests his shots are often coming from areas where it is highly unlikely he would score. The xG metric looks at the quality of a chance and the likelihood of it resulting in a goal.

Neymar's shots-to-goals conversion rate is an excellent 35.19 per cent, while Dembele is found lagging on 4.41 per cent.

Barcelona coach Xavi is overjoyed by Robert Lewandowski's start at the club, referring to him as "insatiable" after terrorising Viktoria Plzen.

The 34-year-old was in ruthless form on Wednesday, scoring a hat-trick as Barca thrashed their visitors 5-1 at Camp Nou.

Playing his first Champions League game for Barca, Lewandowski netted two sumptuous 20-yard strikes either side of a stooping header, with the hosts comfortable throughout.

Wednesday's treble ensured Lewandowski became the first player to net a Champions League hat-trick for three clubs, having scored four for Bayern Munich and one with Borussia Dortmund.

But Lewandowski's display was not a real shock given his strong start to life in LaLiga, and everything about his first few weeks at Barca has left Xavi amazed.

"Robert is like that, he's insatiable. I'm delighted with how he trains, how he improves the team," Xavi told Movistar.

"He's humble, he expects [of his team-mates] and he does a great job of pressing.

"It's not just the hat-trick anymore, it's his work and how he dominates."

Lewandowski was not the only Barca player to impress, however – had the Pole not scored a hat-trick, most would have seen Ousmane Dembele as the standout performer.

The France international was dazzling at times on the right flank.

It was only the second time in a Barcelona shirt that Dembele has laid on five key passes in a single game, and two of those resulted in assists.

Dembele was in devastating form in the second half of last season, and Xavi feels the winger is having fun at Camp Nou.

"He is happy, enjoying himself," the coach added. "He is a player who makes a difference – he assists and scores goals. He is a dagger down the wing."

Barcelona's three first-half goals on Wednesday ensured they have already scored more than the two they managed in the whole group stage last term.

But a tricky trip to face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena awaits next week.

Robert Lewandowski scored his first Barcelona hat-trick as the Blaugrana met expectations with a dominant 5-1 win over Viktoria Plzen to open their Champions League campaign.

Barca's three first-half goals were more than they managed over the whole group stage last season (two) when they were dumped into the Europa League, though sterner challenges await.

Plzen had moments against an unconvincing Barca defence, with Jan Sykora netting just before the break, but the hosts were already ahead thanks to Franck Kessie and Lewandowski, who made it 3-1 on the stroke of half-time.

Although the tempo slowed slightly, Barca remained dominant after the break and Lewandowski ensured he became the first player to net a Champions League hat-trick with three different teams before Ferran Torres got in on the act.

Barca deservedly went in front early when Jules Kounde's header from a corner set up Kessie to nod in on his first start for the club.

Plzen looked set to level when Andreas Christensen clumsily tripped Jhon Mosquera in the box, but a foul on the Dane was spotted following a VAR review.

That reprieve was added to soon after as Lewandowski ruthlessly found the bottom-right corner from 20 yards.

Plzen at least appeared to be going into the break within touching distance thanks to Sykora converting from close range, but the excellent Ousmane Dembele teed up a stooping Lewandowski header to swiftly restore the two-goal lead.

Ansu Fati surprisingly sliced well wide in the first minute of a second half that was significantly less intense, but his wastefulness mattered little.

Lewandowski increased the deficit and cap his hat-trick with another sumptuous 20-yard finish after a neat interchange with Torres.

The Spain winger then rounded things off with a thumping strike from Dembele's cross.

What does it mean? Barca starting to right wrongs

Barcelona's Champions League campaign last season was dreadful – while they were paired with Bayern Munich in the group, they also finished below Benfica. Dynamo Kiev were the only team they beat.

Granted, their group this season is even tougher given Bayern and Inter are the other two teams Barca will face, but this was clearly a much greater showing than they produced against anyone in 2021-22. This was not a season-defining showing by any stretch, but the fact Barca made it look so straightforward at least shows progress.

Dembele ouses class

Lewandowski will obviously hog most headlines with his exceptional treble, but Dembele was still the best player on the pitch.

His five key passes – and two assists – were match highs, but he was just an absolute terror in general. A tremendous display.

Fati finding his feet

Xavi has been patient with Fati this season following his injury woes. This was his first start of the campaign and there was certainly some rustiness on show, as one might expect.

None of his four shots were on target, though Barca will be happy to see him come through the game unscathed, and he was lively in the first half.

What's next?

Barca go to Bayern next Tuesday as Lewandowski returns to the Allianz Arena, while Plzen will host Inter the same day.

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