Assessing the 4 Players Xavi Claims Can Replace Messi & Ronaldo as the Best in the World

Barcelona legend Xavi has named four players he thinks could take up the mantle as best player in the world once Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo begin to fade away.

Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the best player in the world awards for so many years now, it’s hard to remember a time before them, Xavi told the Daily Mirror.

“You look at young players who can be crowned the future best in the world and you still think of Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe, [Mohamed] Salah, and of course [Raheem] Sterling.

Here’s a closer look at those four names in closer detail…


Neymar

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When Xavi says ‘young players’, it seems that he simply means ‘younger than Messi’, because Neymar will actually celebrate his 28th birthday in February.

The Brazilian has been the obvious choice to take over from Messi and Ronaldo for a number of years, although his career has badly stalled since what now seems to have been an ill-advised move to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona in 2017.

Neymar, who was desperate to go back to Catalonia this summer, has seen both of his last two seasons curtailed by injury. His quality has never been in doubt – especially looking at his goal record when he has played – but it is whether he can move on from an unfortunate situation and pick himself up to reach the pinnacle that’s always been expected before it is too late.


Kylian Mbappe

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Current PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe seems much more likely than Neymar to become the best in the world, not least because time is very much on his side at the age of just 20.

Mbappe outshone both Neymar and Edinson Cavani in Paris last season and arguably made the transition from talented youngster with potential to lethal goalscorer.

The 2018 World Cup winner scored more than a goal per game in Ligue 1 and plundered 39 in all competitions. Arguably not since Ronaldo (R9) in the mid-1990s has a player so young been so devastating and made such an enormous impact at the top level.

There is no rush for Mbappe precisely because of his age, but one would expect that he must eventually move on from French football in the coming years to be considered the best.


Mohamed Salah

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At 27 years of age, Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is another ‘young player’ who is simply younger than Messi. The Egyptian obviously had an incredible debut season with the Reds in 2017/18 when he scored 44 goals in all competitions, but the key is consistency.

Salah found the net 17 fewer times last season in the same number of appearances. It is whether he can get that output back up to what it was that will determine whether he is seen as the world’s best or just a player that is very, very good among many.

What is certain is that even if his time at Liverpool proves to be relatively short, Salah will be remembered as an Anfield legend for the impact he has had at the club.


Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling

For Xavi, Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling is the one most likely to become the best in the world when Messi, now 32 years of age, returns to earth.

“I look at the moment – and Sterling is winning that race” Xavi said of the 24-year-old.

“He’s always been a good player, a dangerous player, but under Pep he become one of the best in the world. I know how Pep works – he would have worked closely with him since his arrival – where he needs to improve and what he needed to work on.”

Sterling has had two incredible seasons since 2017 when it seemed to finally all come together for him, playing a huge role in his club’s back-to-back Premier League titles. Champions League glory and international silverware still elude him, but both are within reach.


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Champions League: Picking a Combined XI From Teams in Group D

This year’s ​Group D in the Champions League should prove to be an exciting one with the quality on offer among the teams involved. 

It all kicks off on Wednesday, with Bayer Leverkusen welcoming Russian league runners-up Lokomotiv Moscow, whilst ​Atletico Madrid entertain 35-time Serie A champions ​Juventus to Wanda Metropolitano.

Atletico and Juventus aren’t exactly strangers to each other, having met in the knockout stages of the European competition last year, Juve narrowly coming out on top over the two-legged tie. 

Both of these European giants are clear favourites to secure this year’s knockout qualification. But the Champions League never fails to amaze, so we could be in for a surprise or two.

Here’s a closer look at the best players available to the four managers, and how would they line up in the combined best XI. 


Goalkeeper and Defenders

Kieran Trippier

Jan Oblak (GK) – Picking the ​Slovenia international is a real no brainer here, as he’s been one of world’s best keepers for a few years now. He has more clean sheets than goals conceded since 2014/15 season, which is frankly ridiculous. 

Kieran Trippier (RB) – The defender seems to have rediscovered his World Cup form since completing a move to Diego Simeone’s side in the summer. Since the start of the season, ​Trippier has registered one assist and two clean sheets at the new club, getting rewarded with a recall to England’s senior international squad.

Leonardo Bonucci (CB) – Giorgio Chellini would have been the obvious choice here, but the 35-year-old veteran is injured until March. However, Bonucci, Chellini’s right hand man, is the next best thing and has proved his solidity at the back for many years now.

Jonathan Tah (CB) – When you make your Bundesliga debut at 17, it’s usually a good sign. Once deemed the ‘next Jerome Boateng’, Tah is now making his own name with consistent and impressive performances for Bayer and the German national team. At 23, Tah looks ready to face some of the best European forwards.

Alex Sandro (LB) – Having been first choice at both club and international level, the Brazilian has slowly established himself as one of the most valued left backs in modern football. Real Madrid’s Marcelo has regularly been considered as the best left back in the world, but the fact that Sandro took his place in the Brazil squad in the summer underlines just how good he is. 


Midfielders

Kai Havertz

Saul Niguez (CM) – One of Diego Simeone’s trusted workmen who has always featured during the big European nights for ​Atletico Madrid. Admired by many, he’s displayed his versatility and athleticism on the pitch for many years now. He provides great cover for a stern Atletico defence, as well as, chipping in with a fair few goals too.

Miralem Pjanic (CM) – Bosnia international Pjanic was one of the first names on the team sheet during the Massimiliano Allegri era at ​Juventus. Many thought that with Maurizio Sarri’s arrival he could become surplus to requirements, but it has not turned out that way. He has been ever present for his new boss this season and constantly shows why he is such a class act.

Kai Havertz (CAM) – The 20-year-old is one of the most highly regarded young prospects in world football and no doubt has a huge future ahead of him. Last season he averaged a league goal every other game for Bayer in their successful bid to return to Champions League. His exceptional vision and ability to finish are going to be key for Bayer during the group stages. 


Forwards

Cristiano Ronaldo

Joao Felix (RW) – The most expensive transfer this summer, Felix has incredible awareness and an eye for a goal, which he regularly demonstrated for Benfica last season. He still has a long way to go if he wants to repay the fee invested in him or to fill Antoine Griezmann’s void, but the start has certainly been encouraging.

Kevin Volland (ST) – Sure, you could go with any one of Gonzalo Higuain, Alvaro Morata or Diego Costa, but Volland had a more successful 2018/19 season than any of the previously mentioned forwards and already has a goal and two assist in the league this campaign.

Cristiano Ronaldo (LW) – Sometimes, pictures speak louder than words.


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The Jerry Seinfeld 2019/20 UEFA Champions League Preview

‘What’s going onnnnn?!!!’

I’ll tell you what’s going on Jerry, the UEFA Champions League is back this week, and it’s been confirmed that your sitcom – Seinfeld – is set to hit Netflix in 2021. 

And to celebrate these two great bits of news, we’ll pour out ​a little bit of the bubbly, and re-work/butcher some of the Jerry Seinfeld’s best jokes to preview each of the eight ​UEFA Champions League groups. 


Group A

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Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid

My theory is 98% of all football played in Group A is merely killing time. 

Let’s face it, we don’t really want to watch Club Brugge or Galatasaray play football, do we? 

‘F**k no.’

That’s what I thought. 


Group B

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Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade/Crvena Zvezda, Olympiacos, Tottenham Hotspur

Jerry Seinfeld once said: “there’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”, and he was WRONG, because Group B really is fun for the whole family.

We have the blockbuster heavyweight clash between ​Bayern Munich and ​Tottenham Hotspur for your Dad and his tin of Carlsberg.

Crvena Zvezda for your hipster son to try and pronounce and pretend he’s heard of.

Mauricio Pochettino as eye candy for your mother.

And the wonderful city of Athens for your daughter, just back from interrailing, to cite as the ‘third nicest city’ she was in during the summer. 

Fun for the whole family. 


Group C

Pep Guardiola

Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb, Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk

Men don’t care about what’s happening in Group C, they care about what’s happening in Group D. So, moving on…


Group D

Cristiano Ronaldo

Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Lokomotiv Moscow

I tell you what I like about ​Atletico Madrid, they’re hanging in there with the park the bus football, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen the Gegenpress. They’re staying with the bus. I’m impressed by that.

I tell you what I don’t like about ​Juventus, they’re chopping and changing at every opportunity, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen how continuity breeds success. But they’re staying with the reactionary decision making. I’m not impressed by that. 


Group E

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Genk, Liverpool, SSC Napoli, Red Bull Salzburg

The Gegenpress is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that football managers are still thinking for themselves. 

Jurgen Klopp is one of the only managers in world football that’s not trying to copy Pep Guardiola, and you have to respect that. 


Group F

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Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter, Slavia Prague

Group F is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have the top for it. Anything can come out of it at any point in the near future…except for Slavia Prague. Obviously.


Group G

Timo Werner

Benfica, Olympique Lyonnais, RB Leipzig, Zenit St Petersburg

It’s incredible that everything that could possibly happen in Group G can be summed up in exactly two words: 

Who cares? 


Group H

Tammy Abraham

Ajax, Chelsea, LOSC Lille, Valencia

Group H is thought of by many as the most competitive, and therefore best, of all of the UEFA Champions League groups this season. So if Group H is the best group, why are you watching E instead? 


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Champions League: adidas Unveil Official Ball for 2019/20 Group Stage Games

​The ball which will be used in the group stage games of the 2019/20 Champions League has been unveiled by adidas.

The group stage will commence on Tuesday night, with teams from all over Europe ready to begin their battle for continental supremacy.


Hoping to continue the excitement from last season’s ​Champions League, adidas have produced an all-new ball with a reverse colour block. The base of the ball is a striking multicoloured pattern, which has been designed to reflect the colours which can be seen in stadiums around Europe.

There are blues, fluorescent oranges and yellows splashed all over the ball, whilst the iconic Champions League stars stand out in white with solid black outlines. Those same stars have also been made bigger than last year.

The ball itself is seamless and thermally bonded together, which will help to increase the accuracy of players’ passes and shots, whilst it will make controlling the ball far easier than before.

The textured surface and low water uptake will also help optimise the performance, as the ball will hardly be impacted by external factors like rain or snow.

This ball will be used in all the group stage games in this season’s Champions League. When that stage comes to an end on 11 December, the ball will no longer be used and will be replaced with a brand new ball, which is set to be announced in early 2020.


Tuesday night will see the likes of ​Chelsea, ​Barcelona and defending champions ​Liverpool get their European campaigns underway, whilst ​Juventus, ​Manchester City, ​Bayern Munich and ​Real Madrid will all be in action on Wednesday.

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UEFA Champions League: The 5 Must Watch Group Stage Fixtures of Matchday 1

The 2019/20 UEFA Champions League group stage begins with matchday one this week, with all 32 teams in action all over the continent across Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here’s a look at five of the biggest ‘must watch’ games taking place…


Napoli vs. Liverpool

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Stadio San Paolo

Sadio Mane

Liverpool begin the defence of their Champions League title by facing a team they had to beat at home no matchday six just to get out of the group stage last season.

The Reds may have gone on to lift the trophy in May, but they were beaten when they travelled to Stadio San Paolo in early October. Liverpool, who would lose all three group stage away games, failed to score and conceded a late Napoli winner from Lorenzo Insigne.

With Genk and Red Bull Salzburg completing Group E, this trip to Napoli is likely to be Liverpool’s most challenging game and toughest test in this phase of the competition.


Borussia Dortmund vs. Barcelona

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Westfalenstadion 

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Already a huge game as one of Europe’s most exciting young teams takes on an established giant, the potential return of Lionel Messi makes Barcelona’s visit to Borussia Dortmund even more enticing as the superstar is in the squad after missing the first four games of the season.

Dortmund have plenty to prove in Europe this season as they were eliminated from the group stage last year, while their overall reputation does not marry up with a team that has won just two Champions League knockout ties since playing in the 2013 final.

Barcelona will be desperate to make a strong start in difficult times as Group F also features a resurgent Inter and will claim a high profile scalp.


Chelsea vs. Valencia

Tuesday 17 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Stamford Bridge

Mason Mount,Tammy Abraham

Group H could hardly be more open and that is why it is vital for Chelsea to get an early win under their belt when Valencia visit Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were fired to Premier League victory over the weekend by home-grown youngsters Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, all of whom will be taking a step into the known for what will be their respective Champions League debuts.

Chelsea have the second leakiest defence in the Premier League this season after conceding 11 goals in five games, and they will therefore be vulnerable against a technical La Liga side, even one that has started the 2019/20 domestic season poorly.


Paris Saint-Germain vs. Real Madrid

Wednesday 18 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Parc des Princes

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The team that has been craving Champions League glory for years without success against the team that has won it more times than other club history, Paris Saint-Germain will host Real Madrid in a heavyweight clash at the Parc des Princes in Group A on Wednesday.

After brushing off an early season blip, PSG are on in Ligue 1, which is more than can be said for Real, who have only won two of their opening four domestic games and conceded six times.

A lot of focus will be on Neymar in Paris this week. The Brazilian superstar didn’t get his dream return to Barcelona during the summer and was heckled and booed by his own club’s fans when he made his first appearance of the season over the weekend – despite scoring a fairly incredible bicycle kick. 


Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Wednesday 18 September, 21.00 (CEST) @ Wanda Metropolitano

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Atletico Madrid and Juventus meet in matchday one of Group D after playing out an epic two-legged knockout tie in the Champions League last season. On that occasion it took a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick to overturn the tie for Juventus after a 2-0 first leg deficit.

Atletico have undergone a mini transformation since then, shedding Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin and bringing in younger talents like Joao Felix and Marcos Llorente.

These great clubs are two of European football’s biggest underachievers at a continental level. They have played in 12 European Cup/Champions League finals between them over the years, but have lost as many as 10 of those – including four in a row between 2014 and 2017.


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