Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong played down comparisons to club greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

De Jong, 22, was signed by the LaLiga champions from Ajax in January for a reported €75million, but only made the move at the end of the season.

The Netherlands international has already been compared to Xavi and Iniesta, however, De Jong had no interest in discussing any similarities.

"I don't want to be compared with those players," De Jong told Barca TV.

"It's the perfect club for a midfielder. They hold onto the ball well, they control the play, it suits me perfectly."

De Jong joins Barcelona after a fine season with Ajax, winning a domestic double and reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

Barca were also eliminated in the semis, continuing their wait for a first Champions League crown since 2015.

Discussing his goals for 2019-20, De Jong is eager to be a regular starter for Barca – and he wants to help deliver in Europe.

"I want to start most games. All players want that. I'll work as hard as I can in training to show what I can do in games," he said.

"I like to play attacking football, for it to be attractive and for people to have fun when they come to the stadium.

"Both me and Barca are really keen to win the Champions League this year and I hope that's what happens."

Fernando Torres believes facing former Spain colleagues David Villa and Andres Iniesta will make for "the perfect finale" when he plays his last professional match in the J.League on August 23.

Having announced his decision to retire from football and bring the curtain down on 18 trophy-laden years in the game, Torres explained his decision to make Sagan Tosu's clash with Vissel Kobe his last appearance.

The 35-year-old striker shared Spain's Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup triumphs with Villa and Iniesta, both of whom chose to move to Japan in the last 14 months.

Torres, who left Atletico Madrid for Sagan in July 2018, said the opportunity to end his career in the company of friends was too good to miss.

"When we took the decision that this was going to be the last season, we thought about doing it as best we could and there was a fixture on the calendar against Vissel Kobe, so I decided on that date," he told AS.

"Japan gives me the opportunity to retire on the football pitch with two friends who have meant a lot to me.

"I partnered up front with David when the history of the Spanish side changed, we've played so many games, we've scored so many goals.

"With Andres, our careers have been in parallel because we started together in the Spain set-up when we were 15 years old. We won everything with full Spain team, we left our clubs the same year and we came to the same league."

Torres has yet to find the net for a struggling Sagan Tosu side in 2019, making six starts and 11 appearances as the club picked up four wins from their 16 J.League matches, leaving them at the foot of the table.

Vissel Kobe are five points above them in 13th, but competitive rivalry will briefly take a backseat when the two clubs meet at Ekimae Real Estate Stadium.

"I'm going to be able to have two friends on the field, so I can give them a hug the day I hang up my boots," said Torres.

"It's the perfect finale."

Barcelona are aiming for a record fifth successive Copa del Rey triumph on Saturday when they face Valencia, with the Catalans' recent dominance in the competition seeing them reach the final sixth times in a row.

If Ernesto Valverde's men complete the feat, they will certainly have done it the hard way, as they have had to get past Real Madrid and Sevilla en route to the final and will now face a Valencia side who finished fourth in LaLiga.

The pressure is on, however. Barca disappointed supporters by failing to reach the Champions League final, despite beating Liverpool 3-0 in the semi-final first leg, and some are calling for Valverde to lose his job.

Winning only LaLiga when a treble looked extremely likely just a few weeks ago could potentially spell doom for the head coach, but the omens are good for Barca, as their previous five finals have shown…

2013-14: Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona

Having seen LaLiga and the Champions League move out of reach in the build-up, Barca – and specifically coach Gerardo Martino – needed a victory in the 2013-14 final. Things got off to a bad start when Angel Di Maria opened the scoring after a good move in the 11th minute. Marc Bartra levelled with a powerful second-half header, but Gareth Bale clinched the first piece of silverware of his career with a spectacular late solo winner, consigning Barca to their first trophyless season since 2008, which cost Martino his job.

2014-15: Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Barcelona

If 2013-14 was a failure, the following season was the complete opposite. Having already wrapped up the league title, Barca cruised to victory in the Copa, giving club great Xavi the ideal final Camp Nou outing. The magnificent Lionel Messi starred, opening the scoring with a marvellous solo effort, before Neymar rounded off a flowing move for 2-0. Their Argentinian talisman ended Athletic's chances towards the end, with Inaki Williams' goal a mere consolation. Barca then went on to complete a treble with a 3-1 win over Juventus in the Champions League final.

2015-16: Barcelona 2-0 Sevilla (AET)

Fresh from beating Liverpool in the Europa League final, Sevilla were eager to upset another European giant. Barca were not helped by Javier Mascherano's dismissal for hauling down Kevin Gameiro in the first half, but they ended up managing the rest of the regulation 90 minutes fairly well and the numbers were evened up late on when Ever Banega was sent off. Barca simply had too much for Sevilla in extra time, as Jordi Alba and then Neymar got the goals, while Daniel Carrico was shown the game's third red card.

2016-17: Barcelona 3-1 Deportivo Alaves

A first ever Copa final for Alaves promised little given who they were up against. A Theo Hernandez free-kick offered them a measure of hope just after Messi's 30th-minute opener, but Barca ultimately had things wrapped by half-time, with Neymar and Paco Alcacer putting the game beyond Mauricio Pellegrino's men. Having missed out on the league title, Copa success at least meant Barca did not end the campaign empty-handed, with Luis Enrique leaving his post shortly after.

2017-18: Sevilla 0-5 Barcelona

While Barca's Copa tussle with Sevilla in 2016 was a gripping encounter, last season's meeting showed an alarming gulf. Andres Iniesta starred in what proved to be his last final for the club, scoring the fourth goal, but victory was effectively secured by half-time given a Luis Suarez double and a solitary Messi effort had them 3-0 up at the interval. Philippe Coutinho's penalty finished things off, as Barca went on to seal a domestic double, while Sevilla sacked Montella a week later.

Barcelona have confirmed a reunion with former players Andres Iniesta and David Villa after booking a pre-season friendly with Vissel Kobe.

Iniesta ended a career-long association with Barca by signing for the Japanese side last year, with Villa and former Camp Nou midfielder Sergi Samper now also at the club.

But the trio will all have a chance to catch up with old friends including Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets as Barca are heading to Japan on tour.

Ernesto Valverde's men, seeking to complete the treble this term, will take on Premier League club Chelsea in Tokyo on July 23.

Then, four days later they will head to Kobe to face Iniesta, Villa and Samper's Vissel side to conclude the Rakuten Cup.

Barca director of football Eric Abidal said: "We've had some fantastic battles against Chelsea in recent years and we're looking forward to playing them again in Tokyo.

"As for Vissel, the match will be very special for us as there are three players who are now in Kobe, but who have been part of the Barca family: Sergi Samper, David Villa and Andres Iniesta.

"We're excited to bring our unique style of play to our fanbase in Japan."

Andres Iniesta helped convince Sergi Samper to sign for Vissel Kobe, the former Barcelona midfielder has confirmed.

Samper's departure from Barca was announced on Monday with the leaders of LaLiga agreeing to cancel his contract.

The midfielder's career has been wrecked by injuries and he has made just a single appearance across all competitions for Barca this season.

And Samper feels a switch to J1 League where he will reunite with Barca icon Iniesta could be the kickstart he needs.

"Andres was key, he told me several times that it was a good place," Samper told a farewell Barca news conference. "And Gerard [Pique] also advised me. The news came through from him. I'm very grateful.

"It was not an easy decision, going to Japan at 24 is something I had not thought about, but seeing the project and seeing that I can feel loved and valued again... I'm focused on the present.

"I have not had good luck, the injuries have burdened me, but you never know what would have happened. They have hurt me, I am convinced that things would have gone better for me, although you never know 100 per cent.

"It's been difficult, stressful days, speaking with the most intimate family and friends, it's a difficult and complicated decision, but I think it's right. It's been four or five days, they came to explain it to me, it's been risky because you change continent and life, but I wanted to prove myself, it's a very competitive league. 

"I talked to Iniesta and he explained to me how they play, he told me that it is a very technical league and that I will enjoy it a lot. It was a decision made in a week, and all the information I got from the project was very interesting.

"I want to play again and enjoy football, when you sit down with the owner of the club and with the founder of [Vissel backers] Rakuten and they explain a solid and ambitious project, they convinced me, they want to play in the Barca style.

"Andres convinced me to go to Japan, those calls have been very important."

As well as Iniesta, Samper joins David Villa and Lukas Podolski at Vissel Kobe, who have taken three points from their first two games of the new J1 League season.

Barcelona have cancelled the contract of midfielder Sergi Samper amid reports of an impending link-up with Andres Iniesta at Japanese side Vissel Kobe.

Samper, 24, leaves Barca after never really living up to his early promise, having been highly rated when coming through their La Masia academy.

A technically gifted midfielder, Samper was initially seen as the long-term successor to Sergio Busquets and was handed his senior debut in September 2014, appearing against APOEL in the Champions League.

He had to wait until March 2016 for his LaLiga debut, and loan spells with Granada and Las Palmas followed.

But neither move went to plan, with both clubs suffering relegation from the top flight, and his development was hampered by injuries, particularly at Las Palmas.

Reports in Spain claim Samper is expected to join his former Barca team-mate Iniesta at Vissel Kobe.

Samper is expected to confirm his next move at a news conference on Tuesday.

David Villa scored his first goal for Vissel Kobe to give them a 1-0 J1 League win over a Sagan Tosu side featuring Fernando Torres.

Villa, making only his second appearance in Japan's top flight after leaving New York City, swept home following a defensive mix-up 54 minutes in to secure all three points for the home side.

"I am really pleased that I scored," the former Barcelona star said after the match. "I am more pleased that it has led to three points. I had a wonderful game. I want to continue like this."

Team-mate Andres Iniesta hopes it is the first of many goals for Villa, Spain's all-time top scorer.

"It was a really wonderful atmosphere - I really want to thank all the supporters," said Iniesta. "It was good that Villa scored in this game. Villa will continue to bring goals to this team."

It was a disappointing outing for fellow former Spain star Torres, who has lost both of his matches for Sagan Tosu this season.

"Playing against best friends and former team-mates on the pitch is a great thing in football. However, no result came into play," he said.

Andres Iniesta believes Barcelona's midfield is in safe hands due to Arthur's emergence and has also hailed Ousmane Dembele's game-changing qualities.

Iniesta ended a career-long association with Barca at the end of last season to join Vissel Kobe in the J-League.

Brazil midfielder Arthur, newly arrived from Gremio, took the Spain great's number eight shirt and has stepped up impressively to lend an air of continuity in Barca's engine room.

"I think that just watching him play everybody realises that he is a player who has a strong personality, who always knows what to do with the ball," Iniesta told DAZN.

"He is young, he also needs a process of adaptation to the team and, nevertheless, it is already seen that he is very attuned with that type of game. 

"Surely he is growing with the passage of time, surrounded by people who have a lot [of capacity] to grow."

Arthur's absence due to a hamstring injury has been felt by a Barca side who have turned in some below-par performances of late.

But the 22-year-old is back in Ernesto Valverde's squad for Wednesday's Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Madrid, with the tie locked at 1-1 after the first leg at Camp Nou.

In a tight, high-stakes contest, Iniesta believes Dembele – another Barcelona player to have become influential despite injury setbacks – has the qualities to come to the fore.

"Ousmane is a different player, a player who can decide any game at any time," he added.

"He is a very fast player, very skilled, very direct and at Barca that type of player is great. 

"This year he is scoring goals regularly. It's a pity about some injuries that he's has had, but surely he will be an important player in the next years."

A second Madrid-based Clasico in the space of four days arrives on Saturday, with Barcelona nine points better off than their bitter rivals in LaLiga.

Victory would be seen by many as decisive in the destination on the title but Iniesta maintains Atletico Madrid – second and seven points back – should not be ruled out of contention.

"Undoubtedly, Barca has a certain advantage, but in February it is difficult to decide a league," he said.

"There are many matches left, then comes the Champions League, which is also an added strain. It is always a very competitive league until the end, we will see in the last section how it ends."

On whether this weekend's Clasico will be decisive, Iniesta added: "There's also Atletico Madrid out there and, if I'm not mistaken, the closest one now is Atletico."

Andres Iniesta has apologised after a social media photo of his family celebrating the Spanish holiday of Three Kings Day included two people in blackface.

Andres Iniesta played a key role in selling Vissel Kobe to his old Spain and Barcelona team-mate David Villa.

Villa will be reunited with Iniesta at the J.League club after the 36-year-old left New York City at the end of his contract.

Iniesta ended a career-long association with Barca to join Kobe at the end of the 2017-18 season and ex-Germany star Lukas Podolski plays alongside him under head coach Juan Manuel Lillo – a mentor to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

Kobe concluded their 2018 campaign with a 3-2 win over Vegalta Sendai on Saturday, with Iniesta scoring as they took a 3-0 lead.

Although they could only manage a 10th-place finish, Villa was convinced to join after Iniesta spoke in glowing terms of his Japanese experience.

"When I got an offer for this Vissel transfer, I called Iniesta and my wife called and talked to Iniesta's wife," he told a news conference.

"[They spoke about] the goodness of the city of Kobe. He's had a wonderful time with the family here.

"I listened to him talk about the club's cosiness and the club project. 

"I got a good impression from Iniesta. He was my team-mate as well as my friend of many years. 

"That I can have the challenge of a new project with him feels attractive."

Andres Iniesta has accused Jose Mourinho of cultivating "hatred" between Real Madrid and Barcelona players during his time in LaLiga and says it led to "unbearable" tension within the Spain national team.

Mourinho spent three years in charge of Madrid after leaving Inter in 2010 and, during his reign, the Clasico rivalry became hugely bitter.

The most notable incident around a match occurred during a Supercopa de Espana clash in August 2011, when Mourinho appeared to poke Pep Guardiola's assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye amid a touchline fracas.

Mourinho then referred to Vilanova as "Pito" – Spanish slang for male genitalia – after the match, claiming he had no idea who Guardiola's assistant was, while Gerard Pique accused the Portuguese coach of "ruining Spanish football".

The majority of Spain's squad at the time came from Madrid and Barca and, although La Roja won Euro 2012 during Mourinho's Madrid stay, Iniesta has revealed the atmosphere became toxic thanks to the 'Special One'.

"You do not have to be from Barcelona or Real Madrid to know that this situation was unpleasant, and the key component in that story was Mourinho," Iniesta said on La Sexta's Salvados.

"You did not see it as a standard rivalry, it went beyond that. You saw hatred. That environment was cultivated, and it was unbearable.

"The Barca-Madrid tension provoked by Mourinho did a lot of damage to the national team and the team-mates."

Andres Iniesta insists he would not be hurt if his former Barcelona team-mate Neymar joined LaLiga rivals Real Madrid.

Neymar left Camp Nou in 2017 after four successful seasons alongside Iniesta at Barca, which saw them win two LaLiga titles and the Champions League, to join Paris Saint-Germain for a world-record fee of €222million.

The Brazilian superstar has consistently been linked with a switch to Madrid since his arrival in France and Iniesta – who left Barca to join Japanese side Vissel Kobe in May – would have no issues if such a move materialised.

"It wouldn't hurt me because they are decisions that if they happen, happen," he told Cadena SER.

"Madrid would reinforce themselves with a unique player."

Iniesta does not envisage Neymar returning to Barca and believes his former club have responded well to losing one of their star attackers.

"Obviously, Neymar continues to be one of the best and in any team he would make a difference, but it's not easy to return," he added.

"Barcelona have unique players and I see them as candidates to win all the titles.

"Barca have reinforced themselves well this year. There are people like [Philippe] Coutinho, who has adapted well. I see a powerful team."

El Clasico will have a very different feel this weekend as neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will be playing, the first time both have been absent for a clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid  more than a decade.

Arthur's arrival has helped Barcelona adapt to life without Andres Iniesta ahead of the first Clasico of the season, according to former Real Madrid midfielder Michael Essien. 

Juventus forward Paulo Dybala and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski are among the big names to have missed out on the 2018 Ballon d'Or after the announcement of the 30-strong list of nominees. 

Page 1 of 2
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.