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Ronaldo, Messi & the candidates to finish top-scorer in the 2017-18 Champions League


Over the course of the last decade, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have held a duopoly over football’s individual prizes. Ballon d’Or, FIFA Best Player, Golden Boots – you name it; they won it.

The top scorer in the Champions League is no different. The last 10 editions have been made the pair’s own personal dominion. Even when their teams have not been close to winning the competition, the rivals’ individual exploits have remained of the highest standard.

As such, this is a list that could easily contain just two names, for the odds are that one of the illustrious duo will claim the honours. However, both are now the wrong side of 30 and their control must surely wane at some stage.

Goal takes a look at the players in with a chance of winning the award this year (with their goal tally of last season in brackets).


Romelu Lukaku Manchester United

Manchester United’s marquee summer signing, Romelu Lukaku has performed with great promise for Jose Mourinho’s men in the opening weeks of the season.

The former Everton man has found the net in all of his competitive matches thus far and looks a fine focal point for the Portuguese’s direct style.

His lack of Champions League experience will count against him, though United will be hopeful of enjoying a significant run into the knockout stages, which should give him plenty of time to adapt, and shine.


Harry Kane Tottenham

Harry Kane has finished as the Premier League’s leading marksman in each of the last two seasons and will seek to transfer his form across to Europe in the coming weeks.

Injury prevented him from playing a major part as Spurs crashed out at the group stages last season and he remains largely untested at this level as a result.

For the England international to stand a chance of finishing as the competition’s top scorer, he needs his club to cause an upset or two along the way.


Luis Suarez Real Madrid Barcelona Supercopa 16082017

Controversy might have followed Luis Suarez at every turn, but so too have goals. The Uruguay hitman has been a regular on the scoresheet in La Liga, where he netted 40 times only two seasons ago, and since signing for Barcelona three years ago he has 18 in the Champions League.

Neymar’s departure may weaken the side as a whole, but it strengthens the former Liverpool man’s chances of finishing the competition as top scorer, as he will become more of a focal point of the attack – even if Messi remains the main man.


Alvaro Morata Chelsea 2017

Alvaro Morata has had a somewhat uncomfortable start to life at Chelsea, missing a crucial penalty in the Community Shield then squandering a fine chance in the London derby against Tottenham. In between times, however, he nearly inspired an unlikely comeback against Burnley.

In time, however, the Spaniard is expected to prove himself worth the £70 million fee his club paid this summer to Real Madrid, and all will be forgotten if he hits a prolific rhythm in the Champions League.

He is certainly capable of it, as he has shown in the past with important goals for both Real and Juventus.


Neymar Marco Verratti PSG Toulouse Ligue 1 20082017

Signed for €222m from Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain have made Neymar the world’s most expensive player. Their aim is to launch a successful push for the Champions League, and the Brazilian attacker is expected to be to the forefront.

He has started with immense promise in Ligue 1, scoring three times in his first two appearances, yet he may have to share the scoring spotlight with centre forward Edinson Cavani.

Neymar is the only player other than Messi or Ronaldo to have held this honour in the last 10 years, albeit finishing joint leading marksman with the pair in 2014-15. 


Dries Mertens Napoli

Dries Mertens represents an intriguing outside bet as top scorer, having absolutely exploded with Napoli last season by scoring 28 Serie A goals.

The Belgian was immensely impressive following back-to-back hat-tricks in December, having scored only three times in the first 15 matches of the 2016-17 campaign.

There’s been no looking back for the 30-year-old since then and he will be aiming to better his tally of five strikes, which was achieved in last season’s European run to the last 16.


Gonzalo Higuain Juventus

Juventus have been the nearly men of the Champions League over the course of the last three seasons. Twice they have reached the final and twice they have finished as runners-up. 

Gonzalo Higuain was central to their run to Cardiff last season, scoring five times for the Turin giants, and the Argentine is bound to be vital to them as they aim to better that effort.

The 29-year-old now has a wealth of experience to call upon and proved with his double in the semi-final first-leg win at Monaco that he could become a man for the big occasion.


Kylian Mbappe Monaco 2017

Whether he’s at Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid by the time the group stage starts, all eyes will be on Kylian Mbappe, the 18-year-old attacker who made such an impressive breakthrough last season.

Already he has shown an incredible eye for goal, but the summer’s transfer saga seems to be working against him at present. The season is long, though, giving him the opportunity to bounce back in a competition in which he has already excelled.


Antoine Griezmann Atletico Madrid Napoli Audi Cup

Atletico Madrid are not Europe’s most spectacular side, but they are one of the most functional and their leading attacker remains Antoine Griezmann.

In spite of a transfer ban, which has hampered the Spanish outfit this summer, he has shunned interest from Manchester United and will again be a key figure for Diego Simeone’s side.

Perhaps moving to their new stadium will inspire them to finally get over their ‘curse’, which has seen them lose two finals in four years. If that is to be the case, Griezmann will be key.


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Borussia Dortmund

Prolific in the Bundesliga for Dortmund, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has gradually been building a reputation as one of the most dangerous strikers in world football. Blessed with searing pace, he has been forced to develop the finishing skills that have made him such a threat.

Now 28 and approaching the peak of his powers, if Dortmund are going to have a successful run in Europe, it will probably be because of the French-born striker’s excellence. He scored seven times in last season’s competition but remains a long shot. 


Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich have long been one of the continent’s leading forces, and there is little doubt that their most potent threat is Robert Lewandowski. Since arriving at the Allianz Arena in 2014-15, he has scored 23 times in three European campaigns, managing nearly a goal per game.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side perennially reach the knockout stages of the competition and have expectations of pushing to win the competition. If they are to get their hands on Europe’s greatest prize, the 29-year-old Poland star will need to find the net regularly.


Lionel Messi Barcelona

Lionel Messi won the European Golden Boot last term, netting 37 times in La Liga. This was comfortably the best record on the continent in domestic play, far eclipsing Ronaldo, but Barcelona’s status has taken something of a tumble over the summer.

If the Catalans are to go deep in the competition, it seems that they will have to be carried by the Argentine more than ever. Messi has finished as the Champions League top scorer on five occasions, but not since 2011-12 has he been the outright leading marksman.


Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid 2017

Ronaldo starts the season as clear favourite to win the prize. Indeed, his scoring record in the Champions League has been unparalleled for the last five years. No-one has scored more than the Portuguese in any individual edition since 2011-12 – joint first is the worst he has finished.

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He has scored 67 goals in total over these last five years, in which his Real Madrid side have won the title three times. Zinedine Zidane’s men look stronger than anyone else heading into the new campaign, having become the first side to defend the Champions League last season, so both the Blancos and Ronaldo are well placed to retain their respective titles.


Juventus 3 Cagliari 0: Buffon saves Serie A’s first VAR penalty in comfortable win

Gianluigi Buffon saved a penalty awarded via VAR as Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala & Gonzalo Higuain scored in Juventus’ win over Cagliari.

Gianluigi Buffon added to his legendary status in Italian football by saving the first penalty awarded via VAR in Serie A as Juventus began their title defence with a 3-0 home win over Cagliari.

Veteran Juve skipper and Italy international Buffon denied Diego Farias from 12 yards after on-field official Fabio Maresca used video technology to award Cagliari a first-half spot-kick following Alex Sandro’s tackle from behind on Duje Cop.

It proved a costly miss for Massimo Rastelli’s side, who were already trailing to the champions following Mario Mandzukic’s opener in the 12th minute.

Paulo Dybala added to Cagliari’s frustrations when he picked out the top corner on the stroke of half-time, with calls for handball in the build-up from the visitors ignored by the referee.

Argentina international Dybala was denied a second by the crossbar early in the second half, but compatriot Gonzalo Higuain got on the scoreboard as Juve bounced back from their Supercoppa Italiana defeat to Lazio in fine fashion.

Blaise Matuidi was handed a Juve debut from the bench after completing his €20million move from Paris Saint-Germain on Friday, getting 20 minutes to help see out a 38th successive Serie A home match without defeat for Massimiliano Allegri’s men.

Miralem Pjanic curled an excellent free-kick narrowly wide, but Juve only had to wait until the 12th minute for the opening goal. Mandzukic guided a lovely right-footed volley from Stephan Lichtsteiner’s right-wing cross beyond Alessio Cragno to put Juve ahead.

Paolo Farago fired over after Buffon saved a powerful shot from Farias before Cagliari had a fantastic chance to equalise when referee Maresca awarded them a penalty following a video review of Sandro’s tackle on Cop.

Farias stuttered in his run-up and placed a poor spot-kick close enough to Buffon for him to save, and Juve punished the visitors further by adding to their tally before the break.

Pjanic sent an exquisite pass down the middle for Dybala, who was deemed to have controlled with his chest before beating Cragno with a fine finish into the top-right corner.

Within two minutes of the restart Dybala came agonisingly close to his second when, at the end of a flowing move, his cross-goal strike bounced down and out off the bar, with Mandzukic’s follow-up header held by Cragno.

Farago volleyed a rare opportunity for Cagliari over the top of Buffon’s goal, and Higuain showed him how to finish five minutes later.

At the end of a brilliant move involving substitute Sami Khedira and Sandro, Higuain placed a cross-goal shot through the legs of Marco Andreolli and into the bottom-right corner.

The Argentine was replaced by debutant Matuidi in the 70th minute, while Douglas Costa made his first Serie A appearance since joining from Bayern Munich by replacing Juan Cuadrado.

Dybala drilled narrowly wide at the end of a sweeping move in the 93rd minute, but Juve had already done enough to begin their bid for a seventh successive Scudetto with three points.


Icardi or Higuain? Serie A’s Capocanniere battle will define who leads Argentina at the World Cup


The race between Juventus hitman Gonzalo Higuain and Inter’s young captain Mauro Icardi for this year’s Serie A top scorer gong will prove to be one of the most intriguing subplots of the Italian season. But the Capocannoniere battle may just hold a greater prize for the winner.

Higuain 2/1 to score 2+ Saturday

Higuain and Icardi are both gunning for a place on the Argentina plane to Russia in June 2018, and their records in front of goal over the next season will have a direct bearing on who gets the nod as Jorge Sampaoli’s main man up front.

The ex-Sevilla coach has already ruffled feathers amongst the Albiceleste flock. His first squad marked Icardi’s first call-up for over three years, snubbing one of the sacred cows for previous trainers in the shape of Sergio Aguero. For the upcoming qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela which kick off in Montevideo later this month, Sampaoli has made another momentous decision.

Icardi retains his place, and rejoins a competitive Argentina squad right where he left off – his debut came in a dead rubber World Cup qualifier in Montevideo against Uruguay in November 2013, when all observers were given to believe he was the future of the No. 9 jersey. Aguero too has regained his place, leaving Higuain out in the cold for two decisive matches in the quest to make Russia 2018.

“Higuain will not be there in Montevideo, just like in Rio de Janeiro and Santiago.” Twitter was abuzz with such comments when the squad was made public and Higuain’s absence confirmed. The Juventus man has become the living embodiment of Argentina’s failure to push on and win against Germany in the 2014 final and in consecutive Copa America deciders against Chile, exposing him to social media ridicule.

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A similar no-show in June’s Champions League final has only heightened the feeling that the burly forward goes missing when the stakes are highest, casting a shadow on a fine debut season for Juve that yielded 24 Serie A goals and saw him finish just shy of Edin Dzeko for the Capocanniere. That the spotlight is on him again is in no doubt: a scathing editorial in Tuttosport following Supercoppa defeat at the hands of Lazio called the Argentine an “aircraft carrier in a marina, he does not move and his manoeuvres are limited… it’s humiliating that someone like him did not make a mark on the match.”

Icardi, on the other hand, knows how to cope when the going gets tough. At just 22 he was handed the Inter captaincy, and has been a rock for the Nerazzurri in what have been seasons of underachievement and near-chaos. His performances in 2016-17 tell an eloquent story: forced to push the team forward almost single-handedly in a campaign where three coaches came and went, and even facing calls from his own fans to quit due to revelations in his autobiography, Icardi smashed 24 goals in 34 Serie A games to match Higuain and help Inter to seventh place.

We may never know if the forward, still only 24, was held back internationally due to claims he was a ‘traitor’ in getting together with Wanda Nara, the exuberant Argentine model previously married to former team-mate Maxi Lopez. The gossip mill has long held that Lionel Messi vetoed his inclusion on the grounds he was a potentially disruptive presence in the dressing room (and in deference to Lopez, a friend of the Argentina captain), but Sampaoli has seemingly had few problems in overturning that prohibition almost as soon as he walked into the job.

What is certain is that the young Inter captain has shown admirable loyalty to his club, staying put through one of the worst periods in their history, and that he is dying to show what he is worth for the national team.

PS quotes

“My dear Argentina, today after four years we meet again,” he wrote on his Instagram page after receiving the call.

“The last time I wore these colours was in that distant 2013, fulfilling the dream of making my debut in the senior team aged just 20, thanks to my work and sacrifice.

“Today, four years later, I get this beautiful news, to be able to wear the most beautiful jersey in the world, which represents each of us, the Argentines, our country. That is why today I thank all those who trusted me. I do not like making promises, but of one thing I am sure: I will do everything for you, my dear Argentina.”

It will be Icardi’s responsibility to back up those words with actions when Argentina take the field against Uruguay and Venezuela. Higuain, meanwhile, will have to bide his time and send a message to Sampaoli that he still has plenty to offer at the highest level.

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Winning the Capocanniere would be a great start, but there too he will meet with fierce competition from his younger rival. Pipita has to show his mettle in big games, while Icardi will be forced to demonstrate his dressing room loyalty; but first and foremost Argentina want goals, and it is on that criteria that the No. 9 jersey for Russia will ultimately be decided.


Allegri & Juventus face sternest Serie A season yet


The evening after watching his Juventus side lose 4-1 to Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League in May, a crestfallen Massimiliano Allegri sat at home and considered resigning.

“Is this the end of the road?” he asked himself. “Is this as far as I can take this team?”

Allegri decided not to resign. He had more to prove, more to give.

“The next morning, my head was clear,” he explained. “I went to my office at 7 a.m. and had my espresso.

“It was a new season, with new opportunities.”

Massimiliano Allegri Juventus PS

Pessimism had given way to optimism. Juventus had once again fallen at the final hurdle in the Champions League – for the second time in three seasons – but their coach still believed that the Bianconeri could turn their domestic dominance into European glory.

Juve 12/1 with dabblebet to win CL

Yet now, on the eve of the start of the new Serie A season, there are those who doubt whether the reigning champions will claim a seventh successive Scudetto.

The Cardiff capitulation has left deep scars; the fallout is still being felt.

Ahead of Sunday’s Supercoppa Italiana showdown with Lazio, defender Giorgio Chiellini spoke of the need to “shake off” what had happened during a shockingly tame second-half submission at the Millennium Stadium.

Juventus Transfers Out PS

Leonardo Bonucci, the man at the centre of reports of a dressing-room dust-up during the interval in the Champions League final, had been sensationally sold to AC Milan for €40m, but it was clear at the Stadio Olimpico that Juve are still not themselves again.

They conceded three times – including an injury-time winner – against Lazio, meaning that Paulo Dybala’s dramatic late double counted for nothing.

Certainly, it was a positive that the Argentine attacker does not appear to be feeling the weight of wearing the No.10 jersey at Juve – something which affected Paul Pogba’s form at the start of the 2015-16 season – and, even more encouragingly, he appears happy in Turin in spite of constant links with Barcelona.

However, Juve’s Bonucci-less defence has looked vulnerable in pre-season and there is anxiety over the fact that the midfield has not been adequately strengthened.

Juventus signings PS

Blaise Matuidi has arrived from Paris Saint-Germain to compete for a midfield starting berth with Miralem Pjanic, Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira but there is the undeniable feeling among the fans that while the 30-year-old represents good value, he is past his best and certainly not the genuine upgrade that they were anticipating.

On the plus side, the acquisition of Douglas Costa from Bayern Munich should prove a masterstroke. The Brazilian endured a difficult campaign under Carlo Ancelotti last season but even Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge admitted, if the 26-year-old can rediscover the form of his first season at the Allianz Arena, he will terrorise Serie A full-backs with his blistering pace and quick feet.

Certainly, the width he offered following his introduction as a substitute played a pivotal role in Juve’s late rally against Lazio.

Federico Bernardeschi also has the ability and the talent to excel, as he showed for Italy at this summer’s Under-21 European Championships, but it has long been wondered just how he will fare at the highest level.

Juventus starting 11 PS

There is also a question mark over Gonzalo Higuain. The €90m man is a notoriously fragile character and it remains to be seen how he reacts to the vote of no-confidence he was given last week by new Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli, who left him out of his first squad since taking charge.

Higuain apologised to Juve fans for Sunday’s loss to Lazio but promised them a “fantastic year”.

Of course, the one issue there is that Juve have set the bar incredibly high. They have won the double for the past three years. Anything less than that, or a Champions League triumph, would be considered a let-down.

Consequently, Juve fans will be concerned by the fact that their beloved Bianconeri will arguably have a tougher battle on their hands to retain their title this season than ever before.

Milan have strengthened significantly and Inter have been revitalised by Luciano Spalletti, while Napoli, who have held on to their best players, remain the finest footballing side in Italy.

Indeed, there are those that believe that the Partenopei play with a panache of which Juve are simply not capable – and that their more defensive style is one of the reasons why they have hitherto been unable to take that final step in Europe.

In the opinion of Arrigo Sacchi, the Bianconeri are too cautious for their own good.

Arrigo Sacchi Juventus PS

“I like Juventus very much when they take the initiative, but they only play like that for 15 minutes and then retreat, just defend and seek the counter-attack,” the former Milan boss said in an interview with the Corriere della Sera.

“They’re not making the most of their attacking potential or feeding the strikers. I would love to ask Max Allegri why they do that.

“I fear it is a physical issue, so the team cannot handle playing in a certain way for an entire half of football.

“Many Juventus fans ask me the same question and I’d honestly love to know.”

Of course, the response would probably be that it has been a successful approach for the Old Lady up until now and, at Juve, winning is the only thing that counts.

Having resisted the urge to stand down, Allegri is now adamant that increased competition will actually help Juve realise all of their ambitions.

“I know we can have a great season,” he declared. “I know we can have a great Champions League campaign. So now we just continue to work.

“We’ll try to make it to opening night at La Scala once again. The good thing about the opera is that there’s a new show every year.”

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And this promises to be the most enthralling one yet.


Paris Saint-Germain 2 Juventus 3: Marchisio scores second-half brace

Juventus recorded a thrilling 3-2 victory against Paris Saint-Germain thanks to a brace from Claudio Marchisio.

A second-half brace from Claudio Marchisio helped Juventus to a 3-2 win over Paris Saint-Germain at the International Champions Cup.

Gonzalo Higuain produced a classy finish on the stroke of half-time to give the Serie A champions a lead at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

But a Goncalo Guedes goal, set up by the impressive Angel Di Maria, saw PSG level early in the second half on Wednesday.

Marchisio scored superbly from 20 yards in the 62nd minute, but Javier Pastore levelled once more for PSG.

However, Juve would not be denied a third time as Marchisio converted from the penalty spot for the match-winner in the 89th minute.

Marco Verratti and Di Maria, both linked with moves from PSG, started, while Dani Alves began on the bench for the clash against his former club.

Juve made an energetic start and Paulo Dybala should have opened the scoring in the fourth minute.

The Argentina international cut in from the right before curling a shot just wide as he aimed for the far corner.

PSG slowly built into the clash, Blaise Matuidi squandering a good chance from a cross before Di Maria forced a diving save from Gianluigi Buffon.

Dybala then went close twice approaching the half-hour mark, forcing Alphonse Areola to save a free-kick before curling a set-piece just wide.

PSG forward Edinson Cavani had the ball in the back of the net in the 33rd minute, but it was correctly ruled out for offside.

Juve looked more dangerous throughout the opening 45 minutes and they deservedly went ahead on the stroke of half-time.

Higuain played a one-two with Dybala before clipping a finish past Areola and into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.

Juve made 10 changes at the break – with only Buffon staying on – while PSG introduced eight new substitutes.

It was a frantic start to the second half, Stefano Sturaro almost doubling Juve’s lead as he struck the post after a Mattia De Sciglio pass, while Giovani Lo Celso forced Buffon into a save before PSG equalised in the 53rd minute.

Di Maria and Layvin Kurzawa exchanged passes down the left before the former poked a pass to the back post, where Guedes tapped in.

A crucial touch from Buffon denied Jese Rodriguez before Marchisio restored Juve’s lead in style.

Kurzawa gave the ball away cheaply and Moise Kean ran at the PSG defence before playing a pass across the area, Marchisio producing a superb first-time finish from 20 yards.

But PSG responded again, a brave Pastore header from a Kurzawa cross making it 2-2 in the 80th minute.

However, Marchisio would score the winner, striking a penalty down the middle after Kean was brought down by Presnel Kimpembe.