Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil star Neymar revealed he considered retiring from football.

Neymar is regarded as one of the best players in the world, but he is a maligned figure due to his theatrics on the pitch and lifestyle away from the game.

The most expensive player in history after joining PSG from LaLiga giants Barcelona for €222million in 2017, Neymar admitted criticism has had an impact on him.

"I will never lose the passion for football, but I have had moments that I did want to stop playing," the 28-year-old told Gaffer Magazine. "Once, I reached a point of asking myself why I should keep playing if they do not like it.

"I used to go home hot-headed and then remembered everything I've done to get me here.

"The love I have for football and all those things just calmed me down and brought me back to reality. Because, I'm very lucky. Truly. I have achieved a lot of things in my career that made me and my family incredibly happy.

"Just debuting for Santos FC, winning the first title with Santos, winning the Libertadores Cup was super important as well. Joining Barcelona was a dream of mine since I was a kid, winning the Champions League, my arrival in Paris. These moments will always remain special to me."

Neymar added: "I have never felt pressure. Quite the contrary, I am a person that can easily manage pressure; being the number 10 of Brazil's national team, the number 10 at PSG and just being Neymar.

"I think I take it well but at the same time I know my commitment and I'm incredibly thankful to be representing teams such as PSG and Brazil. I know that when I play I have to do it differently, I have to give it 100 per cent because that's what everyone expects."

Neymar has scored three goals in eight Ligue 1 appearances for PSG this season, while he has netted 10 times across all competitions.

The Brazilian forward played the entire match as PSG moved top of the table with a 1-0 win at Angers on Saturday.

Lionel Messi will have the final say over whether he plays a part in Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana final showdown with Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. 

The Argentina international missed Wednesday's penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad in the semi-finals due to what was described as "discomfort". 

He trained individually on Friday and then with the rest of his team-mates on Saturday, though Koeman is unsure if his star man will be available to face Athletic at Estadio La Cartuja. 

"We will see. The player himself always has the last word," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference when asked if Messi will play. 

"We will wait until Sunday morning to see how his body reacts. We are hopeful he will be available tomorrow. 

"If you have the best players in your side, you always have a better chance of winning. We are talking of the number one player in the world. 

"With Leo the team is stronger in terms of creativity and effectiveness, which we otherwise sometimes lack. We have a system in mind but it depends if Leo is involved or not."

Sunday's clash with Athletic presents Koeman with an opportunity to win his first piece of silverware as Barca boss. 

The Catalan giants, who have won the competition a record 13 times, have had four days to recover for the game and Koeman feels his players are in good shape. 

"The team is fine and happy to play the final," he said. "We are very tired, but we have had enough time to fully recover.  

"A difficult game awaits us, against a rival who works hard and is very competitive. We have to try to play our game. 

"It is always important to win things to know that we are on the road. We know that it is not the most important competition, but it is always something for any of us to celebrate. 

"Winning shows us that we are on the right track. It will not be so decisive, but good for the confidence and to show that we have improved things.  

"It is another game to show that we are a strong team and that we fight every game. We will find an opponent who will have all their players ready." 

Athletic are 13 points below Barca in LaLiga but Koeman is wary of opponents who knocked out Real Madrid to reach the final. 

"It is a demonstration that tomorrow everything is possible," he said.  

"If Athletic are as competitive as they were [against Madrid] then it can make for a complicated game. They were effective against Madrid and deserved to go through." 

While Barca are gearing up for a cup final on the field, matters off it also remain a hot topic of discussion. 

It was announced on Friday that the presidential elections, originally scheduled to take place this month, have been pushed back until March. 

That delay means Barca are no longer in the market for new players, ruling out a rumoured move for Manchester City defender Eric Garcia, but Koeman fully understands the situation. 

The Dutchman said: "I have to tell you that I'm fine, happy. I know perfectly well the financial limitations of the club. If that is not possible, we will go ahead with what we have."

Lionel Messi will "do everything in his power" to stay at Barcelona as long as he receives a suitable offer, according to presidential candidate Joan Laporta.

Messi's future has been the subject of speculation and debate for many months, with the club captain attempting to force through a move away last August.

At the time, he was adamant a contractual clause that allowed him to leave for free was still active, but Barca refused to sanction an exit and Messi opted against dragging them through the courts.

Since then Messi has taken a few public jabs at the club, though the early resignation of previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu in October is thought to have been a positive development in Barca's bid to rebuild the relationship.

Messi's contract expires at the end of the season and he has assured fans he will not make any decisions until Barca's campaign has concluded.

Laporta, the overwhelming favourite to succeed Bartomeu when the presidential election is given the green light to go ahead in either February or March, is convinced Messi wants to stay with the Blaugrana.

"Messi is now totally focused on catching Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and playing the Paris Saint-Germain tie in the Champions League," Laporta is quoted as saying by Sport.

"I do not know if he will be playing on Sunday [in the Supercopa de Espana final] but he will be on the bench and it is important that Leo encourage his team-mates.

"I see him more and more happy, he is enjoying it. I know that he wants to stay and I know that he will do everything in his power to stay as long as the club can offer him an offer that suits him."

One player who looks likely to arrive at Barca is Manchester City defender Eric Garcia, who has long been linked with a return to Camp Nou, where he began his career.

Laporta understands Garcia will not join this month but, assuming the new board agrees to his signing, he is being lined up for the end of the season once his contract at City runs out.

"Eric Garcia will not come this winter," Laporta added. "We cannot give a letter to the manager to carry out acts of disposition.

"The options and figures have been explained to us and we have all concluded that if the contract ends, the new board decides to incorporate him.

"We have assessed the player's salary, and it was an operation that had to be carried out by assessing the financial situation of the club."

Manchester United and Chelsea are set to do battle for the signing of West Ham star Declan Rice.

Rice, 22, is being touted for a move in the close season, with Chelsea having reportedly led the race for the midfielder's signature.

But United could be ready to fight for the England international.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD TO CHALLENGE CHELSEA FOR RICE

Manchester United are prepared to challenge Chelsea to sign Rice ahead of 2021-22, according to ESPN.

The report says United are eyeing a forward, centre-back and defensive midfielder as priorities at the end of the season.

Rice is contracted at West Ham, where he arrived as a youth player from Chelsea in 2014, until 2024.

 

ROUND-UP

- Eric Garcia looks set to finish the season with Manchester City. Marca reports Barcelona cannot afford a transfer fee for the defender and the delay of the LaLiga club's presidential elections, now scheduled for March 7, mean Garcia will have to wait for a move.

- Also at Barcelona and backup goalkeeper Neto has asked for a January move, according to Sport. It comes as he struggles for game time behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen and amid links to Arsenal.

- Eder Militao is facing an uncertain future at Real Madrid. Goal reports Bayern Munich have joined the list of clubs who have asked about the defender, with Juventus, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund also reportedly interested in Militao, who has played just three times this season.

- Milan want Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori. The Daily Mail reports the Serie A leaders have discussed a loan with the option to make the move permanent for €30.4million (£27m) at season's end.

Pep Guardiola does not want Premier League footballers to become scapegoats for the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the UK.

The league and the Professional Footballers' Association have both issued directives this week urging players to abide by COVID-19 protocols when celebrating goals.

Those interventions came after England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said footballers should stop making "avoidable" contact with one another after goals were scored.

Manchester City boss Guardiola was recently criticised for defending Benjamin Mendy after his full-back celebrated New Year's Eve with three people from outside his household, in contravention of the UK government's coronavirus guidelines.

Kyle Walker and Phil Foden have also erred during the pandemic but, speaking at a news conference to preview Sunday's Premier League game against Crystal Palace, Guardiola insisted the behaviour of footballers - both good and bad - should be viewed in a wider context.

"We want to follow the protocols, I understand how sensitive everything is. I don’t think the problem, in the UK now, is because of the players," said the former Barcelona boss, who lost his mother to coronavirus last year.

"We can do as much as we can, as best as possible. When someone breaks the rules, like sometimes happens, it's not good.

"All the clubs have been clear. We know about the situation. Hopefully we cannot score a lot goals, we can be careful like in the beginning not to hug much but sometimes it's difficult - if you lose the emotion it's difficult.

"On the other side, I understand. A lot of businesses cannot do their jobs, they are closing. We are fortunate we can play football and do our job

"All the clubs, all the manager, doctors, all the clubs in Premier League, Champions League, Championship, League One and League Two, want to follow the rules. We are concerned about how difficult and how important the situation is in the UK. A lot of people are dying, unfortunately, and are infected every day.

"We are going to do our best to follow the new rules. The government and the scientists inform us what to do.

"But, please, the situation in the UK is not because of the football players. Don’t blame absolute responsibility on the players. It is a pandemic situation all around the world."

Eric Garcia is available to return for the Palace game after a positive coronavirus test, although reports in Spain suggest the young defender could complete a long-mooted move to Barcelona this month.

"I hope not but maybe the people in Barcelona know better, more than me," said Guardiola, who conceded the 20-year-old's departure is a possibility.

"I don’t know what's going to happen, but maybe it's going to happen."

City have a game in hand on the top two after going eight games unbeaten in the Premier League and could make up further ground this weekend as champions Liverpool host leaders Manchester United at Anfield.

Nevertheless, they have taken one point from their previous two home matches against Palace and Guardiola is duly wary of Roy Hodgson's side.

"A team like Crystal Palace knows exactly what they have to do," he added. "They are so, so clever. We saw it [in Thursday's 0-0 draw] against Arsenal.

"They can produce a lot of quality up front. It was really tough the last seasons here when we lost and we drew but we will try to convince the players to do our job."

Barcelona have been forced to postpone their presidential elections due to concerns around mounting coronavirus cases.

Catalonia's regional government told the club in a meeting on Friday that it could not authorise members to travel to a polling station outside their local area on election day.

Because of these restrictions on movement, Barca have declared it impossible to hold elections as planned on January 24.

There are three candidates still in the running for the presidency: favourite Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.

In a statement, the club also said: "In this sense, the club has asked the Catalan Government to evaluate the possibility of modifying the current sports legislation in order to enable voting by post on the new date of the elections, a request that the Government has undertaken to study."

While Spain has so far resisted implementing a new stringent national lockdown, regional restrictions have been toughened in recent weeks due to increasing cases of COVID-19.

On Thursday, there were 35,878 confirmed cases of the virus – the second highest daily total – and 201 deaths across the country.

There are at least 19,000 people being treated in hospital having tested positive for the virus, forcing some areas to cancel non-essential surgeries. The country has partly blamed the rise in cases on the highly infectious new strain first identified in the United Kingdom.

Dayot Upamecano is set to leave RB Leipzig – but not just yet – while Eric Garcia is getting closer to joining Barcelona.

Upamecano has been linked with several European giants after impressing for the Bundesliga club.

But the defender looks set to stay at the Red Bull Arena until the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – UPAMECANO SET FOR €42M MOVE

Leipzig are not considering selling Upamecano in January even though he can leave for £37.4million (€42m) at the end of the season, according to The Guardian.

Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have each been linked with a move for the France international.

Upamecano has made 21 appearances in all competitions for Leipzig this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Garcia is seemingly getting closer to a Barcelona move. Sport reports the Manchester City defender is a step away from joining the Catalan giants on a five-year deal and Barca are hopeful a move can happen in January.

- Coming out of contract at the end of the season, Hakan Calhanoglu's future has been a talking point. Sky Sport reports negotiations are ongoing between Milan and the midfielder, who has been linked to United.

- Mauricio Pochettino seems eager to get Dele Alli to Paris Saint-Germain. The Guardian reports the Tottenham midfielder is PSG's main target this transfer window.

- Arkadiusz Milik is set to leave Napoli. CalcioMercato reports Marseille want the striker and had an offer of €8m rejected.

- With Frank Lampard under pressure, Chelsea were reportedly considering bringing back Avram Grant to support the head coach. However, The Sun reports the Premier League giants are not lining up such a move.

Three candidates are in the running to became Barcelona president after Emili Rousaud withdrew from the electoral process.

Rousaud announced on Thursday that he is no longer in the frame to replace Josep Maria Bartomeu, who stepped down from the role in October.

Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa are the trio of candidates who are in the race to be named president.

Laporta, the favourite to return for a second term, had 9,625 signatures validated, while there were 4,431 and 2,634 for Font and Freixa respectively in the validation process for an election that will take place on Sunday January 24.

Rousaud had stated he no longer wants to be involved in a "dirty war" for the right to succeed Bartomeu.

Marca quoted him as saying: "It was a day of impressive dignity because, to my surprise, the majority decision was not to agree to join another candidacy, because we cannot tolerate the dirty war and we prefer to stay out.

"Our sporting and economic proposals were the best."

Erling Haaland is one of the sought-after players in world football.

The Borussia Dortmund forward can reportedly take his pick from Europe's elite.

But if his agent Mino Raiola has his way, Camp Nou could be Haaland's next destination.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND COULD LEAVE BVB AT SEASON'S END

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could leave the Bundesliga club for Barcelona at the end of the season, according to TV3 program Onze.

Haaland has been linked with the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus following his exploits for Dortmund.

The Norway international forward reportedly has a €75million (£66.8m) release clause at the end of his second season in Dortmund, though he could depart sooner rather than later.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says United are not working on a deal to sign Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. The Spanish superstar is out of contract at the end of the season, and he has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Juve, City, Chelsea and Liverpool. A move to Liverpool is reportedly not on the horizon due to his role in the injury to Mohamed Salah in the 2018 Champions League final.

City have joined Serie A champions Juve in the race to sign Sassuolo star Manuel Locatelli, reports the Daily Mail.

- According to Sky Sport Italia, Sportitalia and Tuttomercatoweb, Milan are set to meet with free agent Mario Mandzukic over the next 24 hours to discuss a short-term deal. Staying at San Siro and Sky Sport Italia says the Rossoneri are close to signing Torino midfielder Soualiho Meite on loan with the option to buy.

Arsenal are interested in Barca goalkeeper Neto, claims Sky Sports. With backup Runar Alex Runarsson struggling in London, the Gunners are hoping to bring in Neto on loan.

- Marca reports Barca are targeting Valencia star Jose Gaya to bolster their left-back position, while Villarreal's Alfonso Pedraza is another option.

Juventus are set to complete the signing of American defender Bryan Reynolds from MLS club Dallas, says Romano. The 19-year-old will join Benevento until June, before linking up with Juve.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is unsure if Lionel Messi will be available for Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final.

Messi missed Wednesday's penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad due to some "discomfort".

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two saves in the shoot-out as Barca overcame Sociedad 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, sending them into the final against either Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said he was still unsure if Messi would be available for the decider.

"First, I am very proud of this team, because if you count all the missing players we have in this moment, I think it is important to have people behind who can help. I think today we fulfilled in every way," Koeman told a news conference.

"I know Real [Sociedad] had their chances like us. We just managed to win after the penalties.

"Regarding Leo, we must wait the next days to know whether he is able to play."

Frenkie de Jong had put Barca ahead against Sociedad before Mikel Oyarzabal levelled from the spot in the second half.

Ter Stegen made six saves prior to the shoot-out, equalling his best tally in a single game for Barcelona this season.

"Of course to win on the penalties you must have a great goalkeeper, because Marc has stopped the first three penalties of Real and it is an important step regarding our possibilities to win," Koeman said.

"Also, I think Riqui [Puig] has the personality to take the responsibility to shoot the fifth [penalty]. It was important to score and reach the final."

Marc-Andre ter Stegen was delighted his man-of-the-match display helped Barcelona progress to the final of the Supercopa de Espana.

Ronald Koeman's side won 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw with La Real in the first semi-final in Cordoba.

Mikel Oyarzabal's penalty cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's header in normal time and there was little to split the sides in an end-to-end contest.

Ter Stegen produced six saves in 120 minutes including an impressive one-on-one stop to deny Alexander Isak and a flying one-handed save from Joseba Zaldua, and he even appeared to get fingertips to an Adnan Januzaj free-kick that clattered off the post.

The Germany international saved Sociedad's first two penalties in the shoot-out, including from Oyarzabal, before Riqui Puig's decisive effort sent the Catalans through.

Ter Stegen, who said he had not "studied" for a possible shoot-out, was left frustrated that he did not quite reach Januzaj's effort to end the penalties earlier.

"I'm very happy with the game, but I could have saved one more penalty," he said.

"Real Sociedad were a really tough opponent. We deserve the victory. I always look to be at 100 per cent. You have to win these games, and I'm very happy to be able to help the team.

"In the first 25 minutes, they pressed really strongly and did it really well. It was tough for us to get out, but bit by bit we found space and played between the lines.

"They were tiring and we were able to dominate the ball more."

Oyarzabal sent Ter Stegen the wrong way with his penalty in normal time, converting for the 15th time in a row from the spot, the best such run of any LaLiga player since the start of 2015-16.

However, as he tried a similar stuttered run-up in the shoot-out, Ter Stegen waited before flying to his right to make the save.

"What can I say? Losing like this hurts even more," said Oyarzabal. "To have the opportunity and lose on penalties, which is part lottery and part success...

"If I had to take a penalty tomorrow, I'd do it in the same way. The longer you wait, the fewer options the goalkeeper has. In the end, this time, maybe I rushed it a bit."

Barcelona reached the Supercopa de Espana final after beating Real Sociedad 3-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Cordoba.

With Lionel Messi sitting out the tie with a slight injury, it was Frenkie de Jong who continued his strong recent form with the opening goal in the first half.

De Jong conceded the penalty that allowed Mikel Oyarzabal to equalise, though, and it was Sociedad who threatened most as the game entered extra time, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in strong form and substitute Adnan Januzaj hitting the post with a free-kick.

Ter Stegen proved pivotal in the shoot-out, making two saves, before Riqui Puig buried his spot-kick to send Barca through.

The Germany international made a fine one-on-one save to deny Alexander Isak as La Real looked by far the more threatening in the early exchanges.

Barca seemed to settle after 25 minutes and twice came close through Martin Braithwaite, while Ousmane Dembele was menacing Nacho Monreal down the right.

The Catalans' growing pressure told six minutes before half-time, Antoine Griezmann clipping a cross towards De Jong, who reacted well to steer a header past Alex Remiro.

But De Jong handed Sociedad an equaliser 51 minutes in, his handball allowing Oyarzabal to send Ter Stegen the wrong way from the spot.

An end-to-end contest ensued, La Real threatening on the break through Isak and both Pedri and Griezmann coming close with powerful efforts.

In extra time, Ter Stegen made a spectacular one-handed save to keep out Joseba Zaldua's rocket before Dembele sent a shot straight at Remiro after Griezmann had stolen back possession.

Griezmann saw a volley smothered and Barca were very nearly hit on the break, Ter Stegen doing enough to deny Oyarzabal after the forward had failed to connect properly with Januzaj's cross.

Januzaj himself had a shot just prodded past the left-hand post after a strong run and then came closest of all to a winner, clattering the post with a wicked free-kick as Ter Stegen looked to get a fingertip to the ball.

De Jong hit the post with Barca's first penalty, but Ter Stegen saved from Jon Bautista and Oyarzabal and Willian Jose hit the post after Dembele had scored.

Griezmann skied his effort horribly after Miralem Pjanic and Mikel Merino each scored, but although Januzaj also converted, Puig showed nerves of steel to send the Catalans into the final.

Barcelona are without Lionel Messi for their Supercopa de Espana clash with Real Sociedad.

Messi scored twice in a 4-0 rout of Granada on Saturday, with the 33-year-old having now netted seven times and provided two assists in his past seven games, accumulating more goal involvements than any other LaLiga player over the same period.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was taken off in the 65th minute and Koeman confirmed on Tuesday that Messi had some "discomfort", but the Barca boss hoped to have his talisman fit.

It has not proven to be the case, however, with Messi – who has scored 11 league goals in total this season – failing to make Barca's 18-man squad for their semi-final with La Real in Cordoba.

Antoine Griezmann will instead play off Martin Braithwaite, who leads the line, with support from Ousmane Dembele and Pedri.

Sergi Busquets made his 600th Barca appearance on Saturday and the 32-year-old sits in midfield alongside Frenkie de Jong, with Jordi Alba, Clement Lenglet, Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo making up the defence, ahead of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

La Real on the other hand have been able to welcome back Nacho Monreal from an injury lay-off, though David Silva – who has not played since December 22 – does not feature.

The winners of Wednesday's tie will face Athletic Bilbao or LaLiga champions Real Madrid in the final.

And so, after two head coach sackings, a torrent of boardroom upheaval and the most discussed transfer request of all time, Barcelona return to the scene of the crime.

The scene in terms of the tournament itself, of course. But even after swapping Saudi Arabia for Seville, the memory of last season's Supercopa de Espana semi-final will be enough to bring many a Cule out in a cold sweat.

Barca led 2-1 going into the final 10 minutes of their encounter with Atletico Madrid at King Abdullah Sports City, only to lose 3-2. Ernesto Valverde would never lead them again.

To say Valverde's sacking and its aftermath were shoddily handled would go some way to redefining the notion of understatement.

Club great Xavi was courted before deciding he would rather lead his boyhood club at a more agreeable time, one without mayhem spewing everywhere behind the scenes at Camp Nou.

Quique Setien took the reins and came to look out of his depth long before the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich. Despite it being a game that caused shockwaves around world football, "8-2" still feels an utterly preposterous thing to type.

Sporting director Eric Abidal called out the squad for a perceived lack of effort during Valverde's final days, a somewhat belated show of solidarity with a coach he unceremoniously bundled towards the exit door.

Lionel Messi took umbrage and an unseemly public spat was still festering by the time LaLiga resumed following the coronavirus shutdown. Barca surrendered the title to Real Madrid before their night of shame in Lisbon.

Setien was gone and newly installed boss Ronald Koeman decided Luis Suarez should follow him through the exit door, something that did nothing to improve Messi's mood as he sought to prise himself away from Barcelona before being forced to stay under contractual duress.

A 2-1 defeat to Cadiz on December 5 left Barca seventh in LaLiga with 14 points from 10 games, with Koeman's dream job turning rapidly into a nightmare.

A listless 3-0 Champions League loss at home to Juventus followed, ceding top spot in their group. But since then, Barcelona are unbeaten in eight LaLiga matches, winning six, and Opta data suggests they might be in better health ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against Real Sociedad than at this time last year.

Creating more under Koeman

In 24 games under Koeman in all competitions, Barca have scored 53 and conceded 22, averaging 2.21 and 0.92 per game respectively in all competitions.

Heading into the semi-final with Atletico, Valverde's team were top of LaLiga with 40 points from 19 matches. That betters the 34 from 18 that Koeman's men have to lie third this time around, but it should be noted that leaders Atleti have 41 points from just 16 outings so far.

The numbers behind Valverde's final half-season at the helm hint at comparative progress under Koeman.

When the former Athletic Bilbao boss led the Blaugrana during the period in question, they averaged 2.32 goals per game with 58 in 25.

However, that hugely out-performed an expected goals (xG) figure of 41.1, meaning they were getting out of jail a fair bit thanks largely to a certain special player. Koeman's Barca are in line with an xG of 53.66 this season, with shots per game up to 16.9 from 12.5 in the same period under Valverde.

Both men left their defences grateful for wasteful finishing, with an xG against of 30.37 for Valverde and 29.83 for Koeman.

 

Messi still the master, Pedri and Griezmann stepping up

Despite a slow start to the season after his attempted exit, Barcelona's main man looks to be back up to speed.

In 21 games this term Messi has 14 goals, closing on the 15 from 19 in his final stint with Valverde as boss, when he hugely out-performed an xG of 9.83.

His importance to Barca remains paramount, leading the way in chance creation (51) as he did in the first half of last season (47).

Suarez was next on that list with 29 last time around. Although no one has filled the breach of 14 goals scored in the period by a man now spearheading Atleti's title charge, youngster Pedri has stepped up to craft 29 opportunities for team-mates.

Frenkie de Jong has created 25 chances from midfield - up from 19. The often maligned Antoine Griezmann has made the same leap, despite being on the pitch for 396 fewer minutes compared to last season. However, until he lifts considerably his goal and assist contributions from seven and four respectively, unflattering comparisons to Suarez and Neymar will remain.

There are numerous shafts of light permeating the gloom that descended upon Barcelona a year ago. Enough to justify the chaos of the interim period? Of course not, but there might be legs in the fragile Koeman-Messi axis yet.

Nevertheless, as Barca face up to Sociedad and Real Madrid prepare to take on Athletic Bilbao, it is hard to escape who this week's real winner will be.

A clinical 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday put Atletico four points clear at LaLiga's summit with two games in hand. Diego Simeone's men will have enjoyed the Barcelona demise they triggered; this time they get to put their feet up for eight days and enjoy their fellow heavyweights punching holes in one another.

 

Manchester City star Sergio Aguero is reportedly wanted by Barcelona.

Aguero's future at City is uncertain with the 32-year-old coming out of contract at the end of the season.

And the forward is unsurprisingly wanted by Europe's biggest clubs.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA WANT AGUERO

Barcelona are eyeing Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero, according to The Sun.

Aguero has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain as City's all-time leading goalscorer entered the final six months of his contract.

The Argentina international has scored two goals in nine games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Barcelona and Eric Garcia looks set to join the club from City. The cover of Mundo Deportivo says Garcia is poised to move to Barca in January in a deal worth €5million (£4.5m) plus variables.

- Also facing an uncertain future is Fernandinho. The Telegraph reports Fernandinho is undecided about his future, with the City man having offers from South America.

- Matteo Guendouzi is set to see out his loan spell at Hertha Berlin. Fabrizio Romano says the midfielder will not return to Arsenal in January, with the Bundesliga club wanting him to stay until season's end.

- Wolves seem unlikely to sign a forward in January. The Mirror claims they have aborted interested in Liverpool striker Divock Origi and Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- With Frank Lampard under pressure at the helm of Chelsea, help could be incoming. Sky Sports reports Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is considering bringing back former manager Avram Grant to work with Lampard.

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