Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman said his team are trying to win the Copa del Rey as they attempt to overhaul LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Barca came from behind to beat second-tier side Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in Wednesday's last-16 showdown in the Copa del Rey.

Fran Garcia gave Vallecano a 63rd-minute lead before Lionel Messi equalised six minutes later and Frenkie de Jong completed Barca's comeback 10 minutes from time midweek.

It has been a challenging season for Barca amid doubts over Messi's future, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and a struggle for form as the Spanish giants sit third and 10 points behind Atletico, while they also lost the Supercopa de Espana final.

But Koeman and Barca remain focused on the goal of silverware, with the Catalan club set to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

"I am very happy," Koeman said post-match after reaching the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. "From the beginning we played a good game. In the first part we forgave them on several occasions, in the last pass, there were plays in which there could be penalties.

"Yes, we had problems in the first half. In the second one, especially with the score against, I think we've showed our personality, scoring quality goals, we came back in the game. At the end you always suffer with such a tight result with just one goal difference. Overall, the team played very well.

"We know these are complicated games, it does not matter the category of the opponent. They played a great game, they complicated us. But, in the first half we forgave them, we should've scored one or two goals."

"Our goal is to go game by game, try to win every game in order to try to move up in the table," Koeman added. "Cut the gap we have now [in the league], play in the Champions League.

"We want to win the Copa [del Rey]. I think this is the mentality our team has shown in all competitions and try to get the most out of it. It is important, we are Barca, but there are no easy games.

"We know how the Copa games are, it doesn't depend on the category of your opponent. You have to work a lot and play well. The field was not very good to play our game. Despite the state of the field, we played a very good game. Also, the team had the right mentality to overcome this play-off."

Barcelona booked their place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as goals from Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong sealed a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday. 

Ronald Koeman's side had looked set to follow Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in losing to lower-league opposition when Fran Garcia gave Segunda Division side Rayo the lead shortly after the hour-mark. 

As is so often the case, though, Messi pulled Barca level soon after with a close-range finish. 

That set the stage for the impressive De Jong to secure Barca's progression 10 minutes from time.

The first clear sight of goal did not come until the 20th minute, De Jong looping an effort from six yards onto Stole Dimitrievski's crossbar.

The visitors somehow failed to take the lead 10 minutes before the interval when Dimitrievski initially pawed away Trincao's strike before Riqui Puig's follow-up was diverted onto the crossbar by Ivan Martos.

Antoine Griezmann and De Jong had further chances, but Barca were ultimately unable to make their superiority count at the break.

Messi clipped the top of the crossbar with a free-kick three minutes after the restart before the Argentina international blazed over after being played clean through soon after.

Barca were made to rue those misses in the 63rd minute when Fran Garcia turned home from almost on the line after Neto had parried Alvaro Garcia's cross into his path.

Messi restored parity six minutes later, however, sliding in from six yards after being teed up by Griezmann.

De Jong ensured there would be no need for extra time to settle the result, stroking home from a similar position to Messi from Jordi Alba's cross.

Paris Saint-Germain have disrespected Barcelona by publicly discussing a move for Lionel Messi and the Spanish club should take action, says Joan Laporta.  

Messi's future remains unclear as his contract at Barcelona continues to wind down. The talismanic forward was linked with Manchester City having made clear his desire to leave in the previous transfer window, though he ended up remaining at Camp Nou to see out his current deal.  

Negotiations over a renewal are not helped by the uncertainty over the identity of the next president at the Spanish club, though an election date is now set for March 7.  

Laporta is one of the remaining candidates in the running and has made clear the importance of making Messi an offer that helps convince him to stay – and is not happy with how PSG have talked about potentially signing the 33-year-old.  

Leonardo, sporting director at the Ligue 1 champions, said this month that "great players like Messi will always be on PSG's list", his comment coming after ex-Barca player Neymar fuelled speculation last December by declaring his desire to play alongside his former team-mate again in 2021.

"The club has to be able to make a good proposal to Messi so that he understands and accepts it," Laporta - previously Barca president between 2003 and 2010 - told the media on Wednesday. 

"I would understand any response from Leo. He has to know the situation of the club and this is urgent. The situation is consolidating; he is free to negotiate with another club, and Barcelona are without a president. 

"PSG allow themselves to publicly say they want to sign Messi. Barcelona cannot allow this. It is disrespectful, even more so coming from a club-state that breaks the rules.

"We have to work with UEFA and FIFA on this. PSG must abstain from [talking about Messi]. It is out of place for another club to speak about him - and there is no president to respond."

Laporta also made clear his position over the potential signing of Eric Garcia, the Manchester City centre-back strongly linked with a return to Spain.

A January move has been rumoured but Barca's financial troubles may make a deal difficult, particularly with the player set to be out of contract at the end of the season.

"I remain in the position I had when this possibility was raised. If a player wants to come to Barca, he has to prove it and if in June he would come for free," Laporta said in reference to the defender.

"It is hard for me to understand why we would have to give money to a competing club.

"I do not understand that the manager attributes the power to negotiate a salary or to pay money now when in June it would not have to be paid, even more so taking into account the economic situation of the club."

Eric Garcia would be willing to go unpaid for the rest of the season to force through a protracted return to Barcelona from Manchester City this month, according to Blaugrana presidential candidate Victor Font.

Garcia, 20, came through Barca's La Masia academy before being snapped up by City in 2017, subsequently making the breakthrough into the club's first-team squad.

Although he made 20 appearances across all competitions last term as he began to establish himself, Garcia delayed signing a new contract and now looks set to leave by the end of the season when his deal expires.

Pep Guardiola has already accepted Garcia will likely leave, but Barca's acting president Carles Tusquets does not have the authority to sign players, with the delayed election set to take place on March 7.

Media reports claim Tusquets and the three presidential candidates had previously agreed to wait until the end of Garcia's contract to sign him, such is the club's crippling financial state.

But now Font is urging the acting board to bring plans forward and meet City's €3million asking price, adamant he could significantly improve the team's chances of winning trophies this term.

"Eric Garcia is willing to make an effort and not get paid this season. He is crazy about coming immediately, he is committed and eager to play," Font told a news conference on Wednesday.

"The steps we have taken allow us to understand that the incorporation of Eric Garcia is possible for now, the club can take it on financially.

"Ronald Koeman and our sports structure consider his signing fundamental to aspire to all the titles this year. From here we ask that the management board make the decision to sign Eric this week."

Financial records dating back to August last year were recently uncovered and revealed Barca's debts topped €1billion, with their financial woes a key talking point in the various presidential campaigns.

While Joan Laporta – the favourite to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu as president – previously said signing Garcia this month is not possible due to Barca's debts, Font claims the club are in a position to sanction the move.

"If he is willing not to charge this season, why don't we incorporate him? City accepts €3m plus variables," Font continued. "The impact on Barca's accounts would be €230,000 of amortisation. How do we motivate Koeman if the only request he has is denied?

"There is a European Championship in the summer. Eric having minutes is essential so that Luis Enrique can count on him in the national team.

"There is no formal agreement with City but we have made the necessary arrangements so that if Oscar Grau [Barca CEO] calls City, he can verify that they are true - the conditions of €3m fixed, plus variables."

The battle to sign David Alaba continues among European giants, while Thomas Tuchel is eyeing Dayot Upamecano at Chelsea.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season and it was reported this month the defender had agreed a deal with Real Madrid.

But it seems the race to secure the Austria international's signature remains on.

 

TOP STORY – EUROPEAN GIANTS FIGHT FOR ALABA

Real Madrid have offered Alaba €11million per year and Manchester City are prepared to give the Bayern Munich star €14m, according to AS.

The report says Manchester United, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are also battling to sign Alaba.

Alaba has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea head coach was confirmed on Tuesday, and the former PSG boss is already looking to strengthen. Bild reports Tuchel wants RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano at Stamford Bridge. It comes as The Guardian reports Chelsea's interest in West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is likely to end following Frank Lampard's sacking.

- Real Madrid have work to do before the end of the season. Marca reports Luka Modric has agreed a new contract with Madrid, while Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vazquez are yet to accept offers. The report says Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez are their next priorities.

- Eric Garcia is linked with a move to Barcelona. Sport reports the next president of the Catalan giants must ratify the defender's five-year deal if the Manchester City defender is to arrive ahead of next season.

- Out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain the end of the season, Angel Di Maria's future is uncertain. L'Equipe reports the attacker, though, is on track for an extension with the Ligue 1 giants.

- Staying at PSG and the club are still pushing to sign Dele Alli on loan, according to Fabrizio Romano, who reports Tottenham are unwilling to let the midfielder go until they sign a replacement.

- Jordi Alba turns 32 in March and Barcelona are considering the left-back's successor. Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia's Jose Gaya and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso are candidates.

Barcelona have announced their presidential election will take place on March 7.

The club had to postpone the vote to name Josep Maria Bartomeu's replacement, initially scheduled for January 24, due to coronavirus concerns.

The regional government of Catalonia declared it could not grant Barcelona's members permission to travel beyond their local areas to cast votes due to tightened restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Instead, Barca have agreed to hold the election in 40 days' time. Members will have the option to vote by mail, using their local post office or, for those over 65 or with medical conditions, via a home courier service.

Due to nationwide health protocols, Barca said only polling stations located in Catalonia or in Andorra will be open to members to vote in person.

The three remaining candidates for the election are favourite Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.

Barcelona said in a club statement: "The managing commission would like to make it clear that during this period the club will continue to work closely with the Catalan government and the health and local authorities to best organise the elections so that they can be carried out in the best conditions possible."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman insists his players are not worried by the club's financial situation amid concerns around spiralling debts.

Barca's latest financial figures, dated August 17 but only released this month after their previous AGM was postponed, indicate their total debt has now exceeded €1.1billion.

Their short-term debt has risen to €730m, having increased by €225m since the 2018-19 season largely due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: specifically, the lack of matchday revenue as games continue to be played behind closed doors, and the reduction in tourists visiting the Camp Nou facilities.

Although Barca top the 2021 Deloitte Football Money League with total revenues of €715.1m, the stark numbers released by the club paint a concerning picture for prospective new presidents Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.

Last November, it was announced the players had agreed to a salary reduction that would save the club €122m and help to avoid widespread layoffs of non-playing staff, but interim president Carlos Tusquets claimed last month that the squad would not be paid for January due to the precarious financial situation.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey clash with Rayo Vallecano, Koeman stressed the senior squad was dully focused on keeping their trophy push alive.

"Barca is a great club that has been affected by COVID and suffers more than others, also from the tourism side of things," he said. "But all the big teams can take numbers that aren't good, not just here.

"The players are focused and not worried about this subject. We're concentrating on our work."

When asked if some Barca salaries were too high, Koeman replied:  "The club makes the contract and the player accepts it or not. We have to train and win games and trophies. We have all helped the club with the salary reduction."

He added on the subject of January wages not being paid: "I don't know if that's true. You'd have to ask."

Koeman is taking a strong side to second-tier Rayo, with the Copa del Rey looking likely to be Barca's best chance of winning silverware this season, with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both out.

While he may rotate his starting line-up, Koeman expects Lionel Messi to be raring to go after missing two games through suspension.

"It depends on the state of the players. If there are tired boys, we'll have to change," he said.

"We'll take a strong team to get through this tie. We know the road is shorter to winning something. The teams who are left are strong and we saw that in the Supercopa de Espana.

"[Messi] is really looking forward to playing and winning things. He's a winning player who wants titles. We have to wait until the morning to know if he'll play.

"To win something, we need Messi fit."

For so long, Real Madrid have been linked with Kylian Mbappe but will the LaLiga champions bring the French forward to the Santiago Bernabeu?

Mbappe is reportedly open to the idea of making the move to the Spanish capital.

However, Liverpool could be ready to hijack any transfer.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Kylian Mbappe dominates the front pages of Tuesday's Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo as Real Madrid try to sign the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid at the end of the season.

While the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic impacts Madrid, the Spanish giants are still working on a deal to prise the Frenchman to the Santiago Bernabeu, with Vinicius Junior a possible makeweight.

Mundo Deportivo says Premier League champions Liverpool are ready to pounce should Madrid fail to sign Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Onda Cero reports PSG have offered Madrid captain Sergio Ramos a three-year deal worth €15million a season. Ramos is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the superstar has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Juventus.

- Both Madrid and Barcelona are considering a shock move for Roma striker Edin Dzeko, according to Mundo Deportivo. Dzeko has had a falling out with under-fire head coach Paulo Fonseca, prompting links to Juve and Inter.

Thomas Tuchel is set to be named Frank Lampard's Chelsea replacement, with Fabrizio Romano claiming an announcement is "just a matter of time". Tuchel was sacked by PSG in December.

- The Athletic says Juve have identified Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres as a long-term replacement for veteran Giorgio Chiellini. Torres has also been linked with United, Manchester City, Barca, Madrid and Chelsea.

Tottenham have approached PSG's Angel Di Maria, who is out of contract at the end of the season, according to L'Equipe. Di Maria has history in England, having spent a difficult season playing for United in 2014-15.

- Sport 1 says Borussia Dortmund are interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli. The likes of Juve and City have also emerged as suitors.

Barcelona win every time Lionel Messi does not play as they "draw on other strengths", claims former Argentina goalkeeper Hugo Orlando Gatti.

Messi served the final match of a two-game suspension after his red card in the Supercopa de Espana decider as third-placed Barca defeated Elche 2-0 in LaLiga on Sunday.

The record six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been heavily linked with an exit on a free transfer amid interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.

Barca have won 10 of 17 games with Messi in LaLiga this season, and one of two in his absence – drawing the other.

Last season, Barca had a 66.7 winning percentage with Messi in the league – claiming 22 of 33 matches, while the Spanish giants won 60.0 per cent of their fixtures in his absence – three wins from five matchups.

But countryman Gatti, no stranger to hitting out at Argentina skipper Messi, told El Chiringuito: "Every time Messi doesn't play, Barcelona win because they can draw on other strengths.

"Football is about winning and if you play well, even better.

"Every time Messi doesn't play, Barcelona win."

Messi – out of contract at season's end – has scored 11 goals in 17 league appearances for Barca this season, while he has 14 across all competitions.

Ronald Koeman's Barca are 10 points adrift of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid through 19 rounds in 2020-21.

Barca face Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey round of 16 on Wednesday.

Frank Lampard's appointment as Chelsea head coach was widely heralded by the club's fanbase, who were desperate for a returning hero to succeed in the dugout.

Just 18 months later and Lampard – the club's record all-time leading goalscorer who won 11 major honours at Stamford Bridge – has been sacked.

The Blues have proven in the past there is little time for sentimentality or to dwell on past successes and not even a player with the stature Lampard holds at the club has been granted extra time.

Lampard's first season in charge brought a top-four finish and an FA Cup final but a run of just two wins in eight league matches saw Chelsea wield the axe with the team ninth and 11 points off top.

A huge close-season recruitment drive that saw the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Ben Chilwell arrive perhaps gave the Blues hierarchy itchy feet and brought about the end for Lampard.

With that in mind, we have looked at some hits and misses when players have returned to a club as boss.

HITS

Pep Guardiola

After leaving Barcelona as a player in 2001, Guardiola returned as the Barca B boss in 2007 before being promoted to head coach of the first team a year later. Over four years in charge at Camp Nou he led the Blaugrana to 14 trophies, including three LaLiga titles and two Champions League crowns. Success has continued to come Guardiola's way with Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Zinedine Zidane

World Cup winner Zidane was part of Real Madrid's 'Galacticos' in the early 2000s and he finished his playing career at the Santiago Bernabeu. Like Guardiola, he returned to oversee the second team before stepping up to the top job after the departure of Rafael Benitez in January 2016. Zidane went on to win an unprecedented three successive Champions League titles with Madrid before stepping down in May 2018, only to return 10 months later. He has already won LaLiga and the Supercopa de Espana in his second stint, though a slump this term has left his long-term future shrouded in doubt.

Antonio Conte

In 13 seasons as a player for Juventus, Conte won almost everything there is to win – five league titles, the Coppa Italia, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. He moved into management two years after retiring and worked his way back to Juve after spells with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena. Juve won three straight Scudetti under Conte – the start of their ongoing dominance – before he accepted the Italy job in 2014. Conte is now battling to end the Bianconeri's domestic dominance as head coach of Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Di Matteo accepted the top job at Chelsea in 2012, having previously been assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. Di Matteo – who won the FA Cup twice with the Blues as a player – went on to lift two trophies as Chelsea boss, including their first Champions League title with a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern, but he was discarded early in the following season.

MISSES

Alan Shearer

Record Premier League goalscorer, Newcastle United legend and lethal England striker – Shearer's playing career was full of success. When he retired in 2006, Shearer moved into television as a pundit, but when the Magpies came calling in 2009 he stepped in to try to save them from relegation. Sadly for Shearer he was unsuccessful, his eight-game reign ending in Newcastle slipping out of the top flight after a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on the final day.

Filippo Inzaghi

Employing former players as head coaches had previously worked well for Milan – Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti proving particularly successful. When the Rossoneri turned to Inzaghi in 2014 after Clarence Seedorf's brief tenure, the move was therefore no surprise. However, the former striker – who won eight major trophies at the club in his playing days – flopped, winning just 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league position in 17 years.

Thierry Henry

Henry made his name at Monaco after breaking into the first team in 1994, the forward going on to become a world champion and a Premier League icon with Arsenal. After a period as youth coach with the Gunners, Henry was named as Belgium boss Roberto Martinez's assistant. Permanent roles with Bordeaux and Aston Villa were mooted, but in October 2018 Henry chose Monaco. He lasted just three months, losing 11 of his 20 matches in charge across all competitions before being replaced by Leonardo Jardim, the man he had succeeded.

Juan Jose Lopez

One of the most decorated players in River Plate history, having won seven league titles in an 11-year spell, Lopez was a popular appointment after making a strong impact in his second period as caretaker manager in 2010. However, he subsequently presided over a poor 2011 Clausura campaign, forcing River into a relegation play-off against Belgrano, who won 3-1 on aggregate. It was the first time River dropped out of the top tier, sparking riots which left many people injured.

JURY'S OUT

Mikel Arteta

Arteta served Arsenal with distinction as a player between 2011 and 2016, captaining the club and winning the FA Cup twice. Success in football's oldest cup competition followed last term, with Arteta having replaced Unai Emery in December 2019. After finishing eighth, Arsenal defeated Liverpool on penalties to win the Community Shield but eight defeats from 19 league games in this campaign have left Arsenal 11th and 13 points off top spot.

Andrea Pirlo

Lampard's opportunity at Chelsea arrived when Maurizio Sarri departed for Juventus, but his stint in charge at the Bianconeri lasted just one season despite winning the Serie A title. Pirlo won four Scudetti, the Supercoppa Italiana twice and the Coppa Italia during a four-year stint as a player in Turin and was appointed head coach just a week after being installed as Under-23 boss. So far it has been a mixed bag in Juve's hunt for a 10th straight title, with six draws and two defeats in 18 matches leaving them seven points back of league leaders Milan – albeit they do have a game in hand. Pirlo also collected a first trophy courtesy of victory over Napoli in the Supercoppa Italiana last week.

If Paris Saint-Germain have their way, Lionel Messi will be playing for the French giants in 2021-22.

But will he be playing alongside Kylian Mbappe in Paris?

Real Madrid target Mbappe could stay.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN, MBAPPE OUT?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign Lionel Messi but Kylian Mbappe could remain with the Ligue 1 champions, according to reports.

Barcelona captain Messi is out of contract at season's end and has been heavily linked with PSG and Manchester City.

Le Parisien says there is no doubt who will replace Mbappe at PSG if he departs for LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though Canal + journalist Pierre Menes claims the French forward is interested in staying at Parc des Princes.

 

ROUND-UP

Madrid are considering a €45million (£39.9m) bid to re-sign Sergio Reguilon from Tottenham, according to Sport. Reguilon left the LaLiga champions at the start of the season, but Madrid have an option to buy him back within two years.

- Calciomercato says Juventus are eyeing Bayern Munich duo Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Zirkzee. Bayern are reportedly unwilling to let Zirkzee leave permanently.

- Sport 1 claims Borussia Dortmund are set to battle German rivals Bayern for Borussia Monchengladbach star Florian Neuhaus. The 23-year-old reportedly has a €40m release clause.

- RB Leipzig attacker Hwang Hee-chan could be loaned out amid links to West Ham, reports Kicker.

Inter and Lautaro Martinez remain in negotiations over a new contract, reports Calciomercato. Once tipped to join Barca, Martinez's Camp Nou dream appears to be fading due to the economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Inter are not prepared to meet Martinez's wage demands at the moment.

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Leandro Paredes said the Ligue 1 champions are working on signing Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been heavily linked with PSG and Premier League giants Manchester City.

PSG sporting director Leonardo revealed the French powerhouse – now coached by Mauricio Pochettino – are pursuing Messi, after star and former Barca team-mate Neymar made no secret of his desire to reunite with the Argentina skipper.

Having talked up the possibility of Messi's arrival prior to PSG's 4-0 rout of Montpellier on Friday, countryman Paredes told Corriere dello Sport: "It's up to Leo to come to the club, because PSG are trying to convince him.

"To be able to be coached by a coach from your country and the possibility of playing with Leo is a great opportunity... I hope it happens."

Messi sat out Barcelona's 2-0 LaLiga victory at Elche on Sunday due to his two-game suspension following a red card in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

The 33-year-old has scored 11 goals in 17 league appearances for Barca this season, while he has 14 across all competitions.

PSG, meanwhile, are top of Ligue 1 on goal difference ahead of Lille through 21 rounds.

Pep Guardiola has seemingly accepted that Eric Garcia will leave Manchester City and return to boyhood club Barcelona.

Garcia left Barca's La Masia academy to join City in 2017 and was handed his senior debut in the following year's EFL Cup quarter-final against Leicester City.

The defender made 20 appearances in all competitions last season but neglected to sign a contract extension, as rumours of Barcelona's interest first surfaced.

Garcia, 20, has had his appearances restricted this time around by injury and a positive coronavirus test, although not before making an international breakthrough with Spain.

Barcelona's ongoing presidential elections have featured a regular focus upon the youngster, with candidates debating whether he should be bought this month or signed for free when his City contract runs down.

Sunday's 3-1 FA Cup win at Cheltenham Town was Garcia's first start since the beginning of December and Guardiola, who previously stated he wanted to "seduce" the player into signing a fresh deal, now believes his City career is ticking down.

"I don't think so," he replied when asked whether a new contract was possible for the centre-back.

"I'm pretty sure he'll leave at the end of the season.

"Now, in this transfer window, will depend on the clubs."

City were behind heading into the closing stages at Whaddon Road, before strikes from Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres spared them an FA Cup humiliation of historic proportions.

A fifth-round trip to Championship side Swansea City awaits for the EFL Cup finalists, who are two points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United with a game in hand and resume their Champions League campaign against Borussia Monchengladbach next month.

Despite being favourably placed on all fronts, Guardiola baulked at talk of a quadruple bid to usurp the unprecedented domestic treble his team won in 2018-19.

"The target is 'Big Sam', West Bromwich. This is our target," he replied, with City's next Premier League game at the Hawthorns against Sam Allardyce's West Brom.

"The [quadruple] is a fairytale and 99.9 per cent has never been accomplished. My advice is don't do these questions to the managers, it's unrealistic."

Ronald Koeman praised Frenkie de Jong for improving the attacking aspect of his game after chipping in with another goal and an assist in Barcelona's 2-0 win over Elche.

The Netherlands international profited from a Diego Gonzalez error to give Barca a 39th-minute lead and crossed for substitute Riqui Puig to score a late second in Sunday's LaLiga clash.

De Jong now has three goals and two assists in his last six games in all competitions, while his five LaLiga goals in 18 months at Camp Nou is one more than he managed in five seasons in the Eredivisie.

He also contested more duels (11) than any other Barca player at Estadio Martinez Valero and no visiting player intercepted the ball more often (twice).

But it is the attacking side of De Jong's game that most pleased head coach Koeman, who wants his midfielders to take the goalscoring burden off the forward line.

"The three forwards aren't enough; we need the midfielders to score too," Koeman said. "It's good that he's scoring and assisting.

"He's always improving. We want the midfielders to get into the box and get up there."

Fellow midfielder Puig followed that advice by getting on the end of De Jong's cross and heading past Edgar Badia from his seventh touch after being introduced from the bench.

It was the academy graduate's first goal at senior level but he admitted to being disappointed by his lack of playing time this term, having made only one start in all competitions.

"I'm having quite a difficult season because I'm not used to playing so little," Puig told Movistar.

"But I'm getting stronger mentally. I'm happy with the team's hard work and how my team-mates are helping me."

Victory for Barcelona was their fourth in a row in the league, three of those without conceding, as they moved up to third place.

The Catalan giants have not conceded in any of their last nine LaLiga games against Elche, meanwhile, which is their best such run against a single opponent in the competition.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced a big save to deny Emiliano Rigoni with Barca 1-0 up and Koeman was grateful for his compatriot's shot-stopping ability.

"They didn't have many chances - they only had one and it came from a big mistake from our defence," Koeman said. "But Ter Stegen was very good in the one-on-one.

"Luckily we have a good goalkeeper, because they could've equalised at that point.

"Defensively, apart from that mistake, we did well. The best thing about today was our pressing and our performance without the ball. We deserved to win.

"I'm very happy with how we won. We've had lots of matches in the last few days and we've kept focus.

"We were better than our opponents. We were patient. We won possession. It was difficult to score because they had lots of men behind the ball. But we pressed well."

Barcelona return to action on Wednesday with a trip to Rayo Vallecano in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey.

Frenkie de Jong is unsure of Barcelona's title credentials despite their improving LaLiga form.

De Jong scored the opener and created a late second for substitute Riqui Puig during Sunday's 2-0 win at Elche.

That made it four wins out of four for Barca in Spain's top flight since the turn of the year, although they will be 10 points behind Atletico Madrid having played a game more if the leaders are able to beat Valencia in Sunday's late kick-off.

"I'm not sure," he told LaLiga TV when asked whether Ronald Koeman's side are back in the title race.

"We have to win our games and we'll see where we end up towards the end of the season."

Nevertheless, the Netherlands midfielder has no doubt Barca are an improved side after a tough start to life under his former national team boss Koeman.

"Since the new year we're a lot better and we've played most of the games away from home and won all of them in LaLiga. We're in a better moment," De Jong said.

"I think [beating Elche] will do us good, we've worked hard, especially now in the new year. We're growing and improving as a team and hopefully we can keep improving."

De Jong's tally of five goals across his season-and-a-half with Barca has already bettered his total of Eredivisie strikes for Ajax (four) across five campaigns, and the 23-year-old also feels that the imperative to improve applies to him personally, even after a man-of-the-match display.

"Yes, I do think I can play better but it’s not only about goals and assists," he added. "Of course I'm happy but there's more to come."

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