Messi receives two-match ban for Supercopa red

By Sports Desk January 19, 2021

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi has been banned for two domestic matches following his red card in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi was dismissed in the 119th minute of Sunday's game as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR, and referee Jesus Gil Manzano subsequently showed him the red.

It was the first time he has been sent off for the club and only the third red card in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Reports in Spain had suggested an extended ban could be imposed on Messi, and a statement by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed on Tuesday that he will be suspended for Barca's next two games.

Therefore, he will miss the Copa del Rey game against Cornella and the league trip to Elche – he will return in time for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

 

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  • 'One-in-a-million' Pedri becoming more than Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial 'One-in-a-million' Pedri becoming more than Iniesta's heir at Barca after snow interrupted Real Madrid trial

    The snowfall that hit Madrid in February 2018 initially appeared worse than it was, with the seas of white that engulfed fields, pitches and gardens in Spain's capital clearing quicker than one might have expected.

    It was enough to cause Real Madrid to cancel their training for the day on February 5, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo an unexpected day off on his birthday – though certain sections of the media were particularly critical of the club for essentially shutting down with a crucial Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain little more than a week away.

    As it happened, Madrid went on to claim a third successive European crown, so the issue of a day off almost certainly won't have been raised again. However, it was this snowfall that proved a major disruption to the trial of a kid from the Canary Islands who was "about to sign", according to his father.

    Pedri, 15 at the time, did not join Real Madrid. While he may have been shown the cold shoulder amid the snowfall, the midfielder subsequently signed with local side Las Palmas. And then Barcelona came calling.

    Almost a year on from initially agreeing a deal with the Blaugrana, Pedri's presentation at Barca in August 2020 came at a particularly difficult time for the club, but those in the know were well aware that the teenager's arrival was a real coup.

    Made for Barca

    A diminutive, but effortlessly silky midfielder, it's little wonder Pedri linked up with Barca. "I have that Barca DNA," he said to EFE in his first major interview after his move was confirmed in 2019. "My desire is to resemble [Andres] Iniesta. I have always said he is my idol and he'll remain that until I die."

    Pedri's rise was impressive. In a little over a year, he progressed through the Juvenil A, B and Division de Honor teams in Las Palmas' academy before being introduced into the first-team picture in 2019 for pre-season.

    He quickly became an undisputed starter – he initially didn't expect to even reach the Division de Honor team in 2019-20.

    Las Palmas had been cautious about showing him off too early, aware that such a talent would immediately attract offers. Instead, they reportedly waited until they had him secured to a professional contract with a €30million release clause and then promised they'd sell him to an interested party straight away.

    Barca made their move in September 2019. An initial €6m could become €25m should Pedri meet certain criteria at Camp Nou – and at this point, few would bet against him.

    Once again Real Madrid were left frustrated, with a second attempt to sign Pedri coming too late – not that they would have necessarily been successful otherwise, as the teenager's father is the president of a local Barcelona supporters' club, which his grandfather founded.

    "Barca DNA" indeed.

    "One in a million"

    Pepe Mel was the coach who put his faith in Pedri back in 2019, the experienced tactician clearly stunned by the youngster's abilities.

    "Look at this boy, because he's one in a million and he doesn't know it," Mel said at the time. "He will define a new era in Spanish football."

    A bold prediction of one so young, but Pedri took to first-team football with immense comfort, his performances in the Segunda in 2019-20 suggesting he was ready for LaLiga straight away and that Mel's foretelling was on the money.

    While he displayed the skillset to play virtually anywhere across the midfield for Las Palmas, by his own admission Pedri felt most effective in the centre where he can take the game to the opposition, exploit gaps in defences and dazzle with his close dribbling.

    Despite his age, Pedri was a key player for Las Palmas last season, scoring four goals and setting up another six. Six of those goal involvements came in the first 10 matches of the campaign, highlighting there was a bit of a dip in terms of overall productivity – though he was still effective.

    Despite missing a chunk of the 2019-20 campaign to take part in the Under-17 World Cup in October and November, Pedri played more league matches (36) than anyone else for Las Palmas and his 60 chances created was unmatched among team-mates. Only nine players in the entire league produced more key passes.

    Nineteen Segunda players attempted more dribbles than Pedri's 108, but only three of those could better his 62 per cent completion rate.

    And of 1,284 attempted passes, 80 per cent found a team-mate. While by no means a startling statistic on its own, context is key – many of those with better records on the face of it were central defenders or players operating in less-congested areas of the pitch than Pedri.

    One thing was abundantly clear: Pedri was already operating at a high level for a 17-year-old, and with something of a new era sweeping over Camp Nou when he arrived in August, it perhaps wasn't a surprise to see him settle quickly.

    It had initially been expected that Pedri would spend another season on loan in the second tier with Las Palmas, or move to Barca's B team had they been promoted to the Segunda.

    Then he began attracting loan interest from LaLiga clubs, but in Ronald Koeman he found a coach ready to give him the opportunity.

    He's certainly taken it.

    Fitting the mould

    While there was never any doubt about Pedri's technical abilities, adapting his game to fit in at a club with a style of play as iconic and ingrained as Barca's was likely – in theory – to take time. Regardless of how things work at Las Palmas, Barcelona are simply a different beast in every way, shape or form.

    Yet, arguably the most impressive element of Pedri's breakout season is how quickly he's managed to immerse himself intrinsically in Barca's philosophy, so much so that talk of being "Iniesta's heir" doesn't sound quite so reactionary anymore, which in itself shows his progress.

    The best way to showcase how he's adapted to life at Barca is by looking at sequence involvement data, which outlines how integral to a team's build-up play a certain player is.

    The only midfielders involved in more passing sequences ending in a shot than Pedri (136) have been Nabil Fekir of Real Betis (143) and Barcelona's own Frenkie de Jong (152), both of whom have played considerably more minutes in LaLiga.

    Pedri also ranks similarly high in terms of secondary chance creation – so, the pass to the player who sets up the subsequent shot – with Messi (64), Dani Parejo (37) and Fekir (36) the only individuals beating his 31.

    When you also factor in that Pedri's 37 chances created this term puts him behind only Messi (65) and Jordi Alba (42) in the Barca team, this all highlights just how much influence the now 18-year-old already has on their general play.

    Not only is he frequently teeing up shots himself, but he's one of Barca's most-involved players when it comes to retaining possession as they probe packed defences. And it's not as if Pedri is constantly offloading the ball once he has possession either - he has created eight chances following a carry (defined as a movement of at least five metres with the ball), the third most among central midfielders in LaLiga this term, evidence his ability on the ball also helps drive Barca forward and spark opportunities.

    It's precisely these factors that make comparisons with Iniesta seem more sensible, particularly since Koeman recognised he'd be at his most effective in the middle.

    But Pedri, who earned his first senior Spain caps last month, appears to have the quality to carve out his own lasting legacy at Camp Nou. A first experience of winning silverware in Saturday's Copa del Rey final will surely just be the start if Barca see off Athletic Bilbao.

    Snow may have prevented a move to Madrid three years ago, but Pedri's outlook at Barcelona is gloriously bright.

  • Rumour Has It: Man Utd want Fofana as Liverpool still eye Konate Rumour Has It: Man Utd want Fofana as Liverpool still eye Konate

    A new defender appears to be at the forefront of Manchester United's planning.

    The Premier League giants have been linked with a host of centre-backs.

    But they could turn to a familiar club to bolster their defence.

     

    TOP STORY – ANOTHER LEICESTER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

    Manchester United are eyeing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, according to Foot Mercato.

    United are targeting a new partner for former Leicester star Harry Maguire – the world's most expensive centre-back – amid links to RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

    Fofana only joined Leicester from Saint-Etienne at the start of the season and is contracted until 2025.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Fabrizio Romano says Konate remains one of Liverpool's top transfer targets. Liverpool are reportedly preparing a five-year contract.

    Arsenal are targeting Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga, reports Marca. The 18-year-old midfielder, who has already rejected a contract extension, has been linked with Madrid, United and Paris Saint-Germain.

    - Inter's Martin Satriano is attracting interest from Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Leipzig, claims the Daily Mail.

    - Tottenham are considering a move for Barcelona's Emerson, says Mundo Deportivo. The 22-year-old is currently on loan at Real Betis amid links with Inter and PSG.

    Atletico Madrid are eyeing Juventus sensation Nicolo Rovella and Udinese's Nahuel Molina, according to Mundo Deportivo.

    - Gazzetta dello Sport reports Milan have enquired about Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan as the Serie A side consider alternatives to Gianluigi Donnarumma should he fail to sign a contract extension. Meanwhile, SportItalia says Milan have offered Inter full-back Danilo D'Ambrosio a two-year deal. The Italian is out of contract at season's end.

  • Barca president Laporta 'convinced' Messi will remain at Camp Nou Barca president Laporta 'convinced' Messi will remain at Camp Nou

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta is "convinced" Lionel Messi will sign a new contract to stay with the LaLiga giants.

    Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and the 33-year-old's future with Barca is far from certain amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

    Laporta remains determined to re-sign Messi, who has spent his entire senior career at Camp Nou.

    As Barca prepare for Saturday's Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, Laporta was asked about the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

    "Everything is progressing adequately," Laporta told Deportes Cuatro.

    "I will do everything within the club's capabilities to get him to stay. That's what we're doing. Messi is motivated.

    "He is an extraordinary person and I am convinced that he will want to continue at Barca."

    Messi has scored a league-high 23 goals and supplied eight assists in 28 LaLiga appearances for Barca this season.

    In total, Messi has netted 29 goals across all competitions in 2020-21.

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