Lionel Messi is once again absent from the Barcelona squad for Sunday's LaLiga clash with Real Betis.

Messi returned to training this week following a calf problem, with the 32-year-old missing Barca's entire programme of pre-season friendlies due to Copa America commitments and his injury.

Although he got several days of training under his belt and appeared to be in fine form in video footage that came out of the sessions, it was reported Messi felt "discomfort" on Friday.

Coach Ernesto Valverde also urged fans to be patient in his pre-match news conference a day later, adamant Messi will not be risked if he is anything other than 100 per cent ready to feature.

As such, Messi has been left out of the squad for the visit of Betis, who left Camp Nou with a stunning 4-3 win last season.

There is a place in the selection for Ansu Fati, a 16-year-old winger who impressed in the UEFA Youth League in 2018-19.

Barca will be aiming to bounce back from their 1-0 opening-day defeat at Athletic Bilbao.

 

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde says Lionel Messi has to be 100 per cent fit if he is to feature against Real Betis on Sunday.

The 32-year-old missed the whole of Barca's pre-season programme with a calf injury and was not part of their squad for their opening LaLiga loss to Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

Messi – whose last competitive outing was for Argentina in the Copa America third-place play-off victory over Chile, a match in which he was controversially sent off – returned to training on Wednesday, but Valverde is unsure whether he will be fit for the visit of Betis.

Speaking at his pre-match media conference, Valverde said: "If he is not 100 per cent, he will not play."

If Messi does feature, he will likely line up alongside Antoine Griezmann in attack.

The €120million signing from Atletico Madrid struggled to make an impact in last weekend's disappointing defeat, with Luis Suarez's first-half injury leaving him isolated up front.

Valverde says he is improving all the time and expects the France forward to start firing soon if he is given the right service.

"He is better every day," the Barca boss said. "He has to participate a lot and last week he did not participate as we would have liked. 

"If he participates, he can be decisive, but we must help him."

Betis also opened their LaLiga campaign with a defeat last weekend – a 2-1 reverse to Real Valladolid – but Valverde is expecting a tough game at Camp Nou.

He added: "Betis are a team that have many options to allow them to be towards the top of the standings, but it is mandatory that we get all three points after losing last weekend."

Real Betis have signed Borja Iglesias from Espanyol after paying his €28.14m release clause.

The striker spent a single season in Barcelona after joining from Real Zaragoza last year, scoring 17 LaLiga goals and a further six in cup competitions as they finished seventh in the table.

Espanyol head coach Rubi was subsequently appointed by Betis as the successor to the sacked Quique Setien and he has brought the 26-year-old Iglesias to Seville on a five-year deal.

The arrival of the former Celta Vigo forward was announced by Betis on social media with a video referencing his unusual nickname - Panda.

"From the first day he arrived, Borja Iglesias has had exemplary attitude and behaviour," Espanyol said in a statement.

"Espanyol wishes to thank the player for his application, professionalism and commitment in white-and-blue colours and wishes him luck in his future."

Iglesias struck the opening goal in nine LaLiga matches last season, the joint-most of anyone in the division, level with Girona's Cristhian Stuani.

He is the fifth new signing for Betis ahead of the 2019-20 campaign, joining players including former Lyon captain Nabil Fekir, although Giovani Lo Celso has left for Tottenham.

Champions Barcelona play Athletic Bilbao when the 2019-20 LaLiga campaign begins on Friday.

Barcelona have won the title in the last two seasons and head into the new campaign as favourites again, having bolstered their squad with the additions of Antoine Griezmann, Junior Firpo and Frenkie de Jong.

Real Madrid have spent heavily during the close season in an attempt to close the gap on their bitter rivals, with Eden Hazard among those to arrive, and last term's runners-up Atletico Madrid also broke their transfer record by bringing in Joao Felix from Benfica.

There has been smart business right the way down the division, setting up what should be another thrilling year of Spanish top-flight action.

The transfer window does not shut until September 2 but, ahead of the opening round of fixtures, we look at the five best signings made by LaLiga clubs.

#LaLigaSantander is back this week! pic.twitter.com/kW0MWRSne0

— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) August 12, 2019

5. Marc Cucurella (Getafe)

Young Cucurella was one of the best left-sided players in LaLiga last season at Eibar and looked entirely capable of being an asset to Barcelona's first-team squad.

However, after triggering their buy-back option on him, Barcelona have since sent him out on loan to Getafe, who can make the deal permanent for €6million.

Given his impact in 2018-19, it looks immensely shrewd business by Los Azulones.

4. Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)

Isak has had to live with comparisons to another Swedish scoring sensation in Zlatan Ibrahimovic since breaking through at AIK three years ago.

Borussia Dortmund saw enough potential to snap him up in 2017 and, after a handful of Bundesliga appearances, he was sent on loan to Willem II last term and blossomed when used regularly.

Thirteen goals in 16 Eredivisie appearances, followed up by one for Sweden 11 minutes after being brought on in June's Euro 2020 qualifier against Malta, led to reported interest from the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Sociedad, somewhat surprisingly, won the race for his signature and the €7m fee will be considered a bargain should Isak provide goals for one of last season's lowest-scoring sides in LaLiga.

 

¡Doblete de @alex_isak !  #RealSociedad #AurreraReala pic.twitter.com/sBhAasI2Yw

— Real Sociedad Fútbol (@RealSociedad) July 27, 2019

3. Hector Herrera (Atletico Madrid)

The loss of Rodri to Manchester City leaves a void to be filled at Atletico this season, but in Herrera they have a player capable of thriving under Diego Simeone, albeit in a slightly different role.

Herrera, signed on a free after his contract at Porto expired, will be expected to offer more of a goal threat, having scored 26 times in his six seasons at Estadio do Dragao.

A Primeira Liga title winner and a player boasting plenty of Champions League experience, Simeone will hope the tenacious 29-year-old's best years are still to come.

2. Nabil Fekir (Real Betis)

Fekir was on the brink of joining Liverpool in a £52m deal last year, only for the move to collapse late on, reportedly due to concerns flagged by his medical.

Liverpool's loss is now Betis' gain, with the Andalusian side reaching an agreement with Lyon for an initial €19.75m.

The France international's goal tally may have halved last term - dropping from 18 in 2017-18 to nine in 2018-19 - but he could thrive as the focal point in Rubi's attack.

 

1. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Barcelona agreed the €75million signing of De Jong in January, seeing off competition from a number of rivals to ensure one of the hottest properties in world football would join them this summer.

Griezmann may add to Ernesto Valverde's attacking options and Firpo will provide long-term cover for Jordi Alba at left-back, but De Jong - allowed to stay on at Ajax for the second half of last season - looks like the most exciting of the Spanish champions' new recruits so far.

After starring for the Dutch champions in their run to the Champions League semi-finals, knocking out Real Madrid and Juventus along the way, there is no reason the versatile midfielder cannot make a similar impact in his new Camp Nou surroundings.

Spain's football season is almost upon us, with another thrilling campaign in store in LaLiga.

But while many will focus on Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard and the revolution at Atletico Madrid, some younger talents could establish themselves as LaLiga stars in the coming season.

There are several players up and down the league who will be desperate for their big opportunity.

With the help of Opta, we take a look at five prospects who debuted in the competition last term and will hope for breakout seasons.

 

Diego Lainez (Real Betis)

Winger Lainez only turned 19 in June, but he already has four caps for Mexico, having established himself as a top prospect at Club America after debuting at 16.

Although Lainez did not make an immediate impact at Betis after a €14million January move, starting just three LaLiga games, he scored a last-gasp equaliser against Rennes in the Europa League in February and is being tipped for a big season.

Bryan Gil (Sevilla)

Across the city at Sevilla, Bryan is getting fans excited. He became the first player born in the 21st century to score in the competition when he netted against Rayo Vallecano in April.

Bryan failed to start a league match last season, making more appearances (11) off the bench without lining up than any other player in LaLiga, while he also has the unenviable task of usurping Lucas Ocampos this season.

But under Julen Lopetegui – a coach renowned for trust in youth – he is expected to feature fairly regularly, having helped Spain to European Under-19 Championship success in the close season.

 

Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)

The most established name on this list, Chukwueze played a crucial role in Villarreal's survival last season, with his winner at Girona in April kickstarting a run that returned 13 points from the final six matches of the campaign.

Of the youngest 20 players to feature in LaLiga in 2018-19, no player managed more appearances (26) or goals (five) than Chukwueze. He got eight in all competitions and ended the season in the Nigeria team at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Waldo Rubio (Real Valladolid)

Rubio may turn 24 on Saturday, but he only got his first taste of LaLiga football in April after being promoted from the club's B team. As with Chukwueze at Villarreal, he was central to Valladolid staying up.

The attacker played eight games from his debut until the end of the season, starting five, and netted a crucial winner against Athletic Bilbao in his side's penultimate home league match of the campaign.

 

Adria Pedrosa (Espanyol)

In theory, left-back Pedrosa might find it tougher to catch the eye than the attacking talents elsewhere in this list, but that was not the case last term.

Pedrosa started 12 games in all competitions in 2018-19, establishing himself as a starter towards the end of the season and putting his blistering pace to good use with a goal against Deportivo Alaves and an assist for Diego Godin's own goal against Atletico Madrid.

The 21-year-old has already scored a fine goal in Europa League qualifying this season, too.

Tottenham have reached an agreement for the loan signing of Giovani Lo Celso, with the club retaining an option to make his move from Real Betis permanent.

Lo Celso becomes Spurs' third acquisition of the window, following the signings of Tanguy Ndombele – who completed a £55million move in July – and Jack Clarke, who was immediately loaned back to Leeds United.

Fulham's versatile left-sided teenager Ryan Sessegnon is also thought to have completed his move to White Hart Lane for a reported £30m fee, although that transfer had yet to be officially confirmed.

"We are delighted to announce that we have reached agreement for the season-long loan signing of Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis with an option to make the transfer permanent," Spurs said in a statement.

"The attacking midfielder will wear the number 18 shirt this season."

Lo Celso, 23, made the jump to European football in 2016 when he joined Paris Saint-Germain from Rosario Central in his native Argentina, making his debut in French football in April 2017.

He went on to feature 33 times in his first full Ligue 1 campaign and showed flashes of quality, but PSG sent him on loan to Betis last term and allowed them a purchase option in the deal.

Lo Celso enjoyed a stellar season in LaLiga, scoring nine goals and supplying four assists in 32 outings.

Betis unsurprisingly triggered their reported €22m option in April and signed Lo Celso to a four-year contract.

The transfer window slams shut in England on Thursday and Romelu Lukaku is finally set to get his move.

Linked to Inter and Juventus throughout the off-season, Manchester United striker Lukaku is poised to swap Old Trafford for San Siro in Milan.

Lukaku's exit could trigger United to make a late dash for his replacement.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU TO SWAP UNITED FOR INTER

After months of speculation, Lukaku will swap Manchester United for Serie A side Inter according to widespread reports.

Lukaku landed in Milan in the early hours of Thursday morning ahead of his €75million (£70m) move to Inter.

Inter will reportedly pay a €65m fixed fee and €10m in add-ons, with the deal also including a five per cent cut of any future sale.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Lukaku leaving Old Trafford, United are willing to pay the £81m (€88m) release clause to lure Inaki Williams from Athletic Bilbao, reports El Chiringuito TV. The Red Devils are also continuing to be linked to Juventus' Mario Mandzukic and former Tottenham striker Fernando Llorente, who is a free agent.

Tottenham are set to complete deadline-day deals for Real Betis midfielder Giovani Lo Celso and Fulham's Ryan Sessegnon, reports the Telegraph. Spurs are hopeful of clinching a transfer for Lo Celso at £55m (€59.7m), while Sessegnon could cost £20m.

- According to Sport, Real Madrid have offered €120m plus Luka Modric for wantaway Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar. Barcelona have been linked with their former forward but the LaLiga champions must raise funds before trying to re-sign the Brazil international. Barca could free up space by selling Philippe Coutinho, who has reportedly attracted interest from Premier League trio United, Tottenham and Arsenal.

Arsenal are set for a busy deadline day. The Sun reports the Gunners could land Chelsea defender David Luiz in a £12m deal, while Unai Emery's side have agreed a Scottish transfer record fee of £25m for Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney, according to the BBC.

- Tottenham have agreed to sign Juventus star Paulo Dybala but the player's image rights are holding up the deal, says the Independent. Dybala has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain after turning down a move to Manchester United.

- Sportitalia says Wolves have agreed a £23m (€25m) fee to sign AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who reportedly wants a wage increase. Wolves have already signed Patrick Cutrone from Milan.

- According to Sky Sports, Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha has handed in a transfer request as Everton look to sign the former Manchester United forward.

Mario Balotelli is on the verge of joining Brazilian side Flamengo until December 2021. That is according to La Gazzetta dello Sport and Sky Sport Italia. Balotelli is a free agent following his Marseille exit.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu says more signings are anticipated before the close of the LaLiga transfer window as speculation over a bid for Neymar continues.

The Spanish champions secured the arrival of Junior Firpo from Real Betis on Sunday in a deal that could be worth €30million.

Barca have spent upwards of €230m on new players in 2019, with Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Neto and Emerson among those to arrive in the close season.

They are reportedly in negotiations for the season-long loan of Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, who is pushing to leave the Ligue 1 champions just two years on from his world-record €222m move from Barca.

Such a deal, that would likely include an option to buy in 2020, would help Barca balance their spending while negating the need to sell several first-team players before the window closes on September 2.

Bartomeu thinks more arrivals at Camp Nou are certainly possible in the coming weeks.

"We have a stronger squad, with more potential," he said.

"There are still several weeks left for the market to close and we could have more incomings.

"We have an ambitious and incredible squad, led by the best player in the world and in history, Leo Messi."

Neymar watched on as PSG beat Rennes 2-1 in Shenzhen to win the Trophee des Champions for the seventh year in a row.

The Brazil international was dragged into medal celebrations by Marco Verratti and appeared in good spirits, despite PSG sporting director Leonardo confirming last month the player wants to leave.

There was then a moment of controversy when Kylian Mbappe, who scored PSG's first goal, appeared to push Neymar out of the way as the team celebrated with the trophy in front of photographers on the pitch.

Barcelona have agreed a deal to sign defender Junior Firpo from Real Betis for a fee potentially rising to €30million.

The Spain Under-21 international is set to ink a five-year contract at Camp Nou, which includes a buyout clause of €200m.

LaLiga champions Barca have paid €18m up front with a further €12m potentially due in add-ons.

While comfortable in multiple positions, 22-year-old Junior will primarily be expected to provide cover for Jordi Alba at left-back.

Ernersto Valverde reportedly considered Bayern Munich star David Alaba before deciding on Junior as a more cost-effective option.

He made 24 appearances in LaLiga last season and scored three times, including once in a 4-3 victory for Betis at Camp Nou in November.

"What I cannot deny is that it is an honour and a source of pride to be associated with Barcelona, ​​which is a great club and has a great team," Junior last month told Mundo Deportivo when asked about the possibility of a transfer.

Barcelona have agreed a deal to sign left-back Junior Firpo from Real Betis for a fee potentially rising to €30million.

Manchester United and Juventus have been discussing a swap deal involving Paulo Dybala.

However, Tottenham are also interested in the Argentina international.

With the Premier League transfer window to shut on August 8, there is still plenty of twists and turns to come.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS EYE DYBALA AMID UNITED TALKS

Tottenham have made an approach for Juventus star Paulo Dybala, according to SoccerLink.

Dybala is in talks with Manchester United, who have reportedly agreed a deal to send striker Romelu Lukaku to Juventus for the former Palermo forward.

The 25-year-old is reportedly not convinced about joining United and Champions League finalists Tottenham are ready to pounce after manager and fellow Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino tried to convince the player to move to London.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of SPORT is dominated by Neymar. The newspaper says Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are working on a loan deal with a non-mandatory purchase option to unlock negotiations. The new formula could accelerate a transfer.

- Manchester United star Paul Pogba fears being priced out of a move to Real Madrid, according to The Mirror. Madrid are in negotiations to sign Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek as they struggle to prise Pogba away from Old Trafford.

- The Express says Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is eyeing Real Madrid midfielder Isco and Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake. The Premier League champions are reportedly targeting Ake – who is believed to be wanted by Leicester City – as Manchester United close in on Harry Maguire.

- Napoli have entered the race to sign Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United, reports Alfredo Pedulla. However, Lukaku has apparently rejected the offer as he eyes a move to Juventus.

- According to O Jogo, Benfica are plotting a €6million transfer for Partizan Belgrade teenager Strahinja Pavlovic. The 18-year-old defender has been linked with Serie A champions Juventus.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Ligue 1 duo Lyon and Monaco are keen on signing AC Milan attacker Suso.

- Barcelona are close to signing Real Betis full-back Junior Firpo, according to Marca. Mundo Deportivo says the two Spanish clubs have agreed a €25m fee for the 22-year-old.

Real Madrid want to add a midfielder or two and they have made progress with Donny van de Beek and entered the race for another star.

The LaLiga giants have consistently been linked with Manchester United's Paul Pogba this close season, but it seems their chase of the France international is making very slow progress.

Now, they have reportedly agreed to terms with Ajax star Van de Beek and stunningly entered the race for Bruno Fernandes.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID AGREE TERMS WITH VAN DE BEEK, ENTER FERNANDES RACE

Real Madrid have reached an agreement with Van de Beek over a move to the Santiago Bernabeu, according to Marca.

The 22-year-old Ajax and Netherlands midfielder will make the move if Madrid can agree a fee with the Eredivisie champions.

However, Marca also say Madrid's move for Van de Beek would not close the door to Pogba.

Having already strengthened in the close season, Madrid are also in the race for Sporting CP star Fernandes – linked with Manchester United and Tottenham – according to Record.

 

ROUND-UP

- 'It's war!' reads the cover of Sport, who say Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar has insisted his desire is to return to Barcelona. They report the Ligue 1 champions are losing patience with the Brazil forward and will make a decision on the forward's future next week.

- With or without Neymar, Barcelona are making moves. Sport report the LaLiga champions have agreed to a five-year deal with Junior Firpo but are still working to reach a deal with Real Betis for the left-back. Barca will offer around €20million, but Betis are looking for €25m, with variables in the discussion.

- There is also set to be an exit from Camp Nou. Juventus will offer Barcelona €10m plus bonuses for left-back Juan Miranda, but the Spanish side will only accept a deal if a buy-back clause is included.

- Amid continued talks between Manchester United and Juventus regarding a Romelu Lukaku-Paulo Dybala swap deal, it seems Mario Mandzukic is ready for a switch to Old Trafford. Il BiancoNero reports Juve's Croatian striker is positive about the chance to join the Premier League giants.

- Mauro Icardi's Inter career is over. La Gazzetta dello Sport report Nerazzurri chiefs have told the forward he is no longer wanted at San Siro and should consider offers from Roma and Napoli.

- Nicolo Zaniolo has been linked with a move away from Roma, but the Serie A side are set to begin talks with the midfielder over a new contract, according to Calciomercato. Juventus and Tottenham are reportedly interested in the 20-year-old.

Junior Firpo is flattered to be linked to Barcelona but is keeping his focus on Real Betis.

The defender is said to be a target for LaLiga champions Barca after impressing for Betis last term.

Junior, 22, was then part of the Spain side that triumphed at the European Under-21 Championship.

The left-back would provide competition for Jordi Alba at Camp Nou but is not getting carried away with the Barca speculation.

"I'm not unsettled," Junior told Mundo Deportivo. "That news is coming out and the truth is that it is a compliment and a source of pride to be linked to important clubs such as Barcelona.

"But I am focused on Betis because it is my club and I also have huge gratitude because they have given me everything.

"I think it's a sign that I'm doing things right. I think I'm in a great club and in a great team and that has helped me a lot.

"Last season we had an inconsistent campaign but we had great victories in the league, we were close to reaching the Copa del Rey final and we played in European competition.

"It went well for me and therefore that has helped me. But I insist, I am focused on Betis because that is precisely what has made me get here."

Junior, though, accepts a move to Barca could allow him to develop further.

"For me, Jordi is the best left-back in the world, a great player capable of defending and also attacking dangerously," he added. "If one day I play with him, apart from competing with him, I'm sure I could learn a lot by his side.

"What I cannot deny is that it is an honour and a source of pride to be associated with Barcelona, ​​which is a great club and has a great team. I am now at the top in Betis and what has to happen will happen."

Manchester United may have identified a potential replacement for Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku has been heavily linked with a switch to Inter, although progress on the striker's potential move from Old Trafford has been slow.

However, United are preparing if the Belgium international does depart, with Moussa Dembele reportedly on their shortlist.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UNITED EYE DEMBELE AS LUKAKU REPLACEMENT

Lyon striker Dembele will be on Manchester United's shortlist if they sell Lukaku to Inter, according to Sky Sports News.

The former Fulham and Celtic striker enjoyed a fine first season with the Ligue 1 giants, scoring 20 goals in all competitions.

United have also been linked to Lille's Nicolas Pepe, but the report says they see Dembele as a better replacement for Lukaku.

ROUND-UP

- Mauro Icardi is almost certain to leave Inter and the forward was contacted by Boca Juniors, according to Fox Sports Argentina. However, they say Icardi will not make the move to his homeland.

- Another forward set for a possible move is Radamel Falcao. According to Soccer Link, Valencia have expressed an interest in the Monaco star.

- Barcelona have continually been linked with a move for Real Betis left-back Junior Firpo and, according to Sport, the defender is their priority. The Spain Under-21 international is seen as a possible future replacement for Jordi Alba, but Barca reportedly do not want to pay more than €20million, even though Junior's release clause is said to be closer to €50m.

- Wilfried Zaha is a reported target for Arsenal, but it seems Everton could be ready to pounce to sign the Crystal Palace star. The Daily Mail says Everton are prepared to make an opening offer of £55m.

- Rafinha has options should he want to move from Barcelona. According to Sport, the midfielder has offers from Valencia and Serie A clubs Atalanta and Fiorentina.

- Borussia Dortmund want to land Barcelona attacker Malcom. According to Goal, Dortmund could pay €42m for Malcom, just a year after the 22-year-old made the move from Bordeaux for the same fee.

Nabil Fekir has left Lyon and joined Real Betis, potentially paving the way for Giovani Lo Celso's departure.

France international Fekir, 26, entered the final 12 months of his deal at the start of July and LaLiga club Betis swooped to complete a transfer that could cost them €29.75million, with the deal also including a potential 20 per cent sell-on bonus for Lyon.

His younger brother, Yassin Fekir, has also moved to the Benito Villamarin, and Lyon will receive 50 per cent of any future transfer fee for the 22-year-old.

The versatile attacker, who has hit 36 Ligue 1 goals in the last three years, almost moved to Liverpool in 2018 and was linked to Arsenal after declining to discuss new terms with Lyon, the club he captained for two seasons.

Fekir progressed through the Ligue 1 side's academy and helped France win the World Cup in Russia last year.

His arrival in Seville is expected to free up midfielder and fellow left-footer Lo Celso for a switch to Tottenham.

A full Argentina international, the 23-year-old is reportedly keen to work with compatriot Mauricio Pochettino in London.

Lo Celso joined Betis on loan from Paris Saint-Germain at the start of last season, before the move was made permanent in April.

Tottenham will reportedly have to spend around €75m to make him their third close-season signing after Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele and Jack Clarke, who has returned to Leeds United on loan.

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