Paul Pogba is reportedly ready to stunningly re-sign with Manchester United.

The midfielder has been linked with a move away from the Premier League club throughout the season, one during which he has made just eight appearances in all competitions.

However, a fresh report suggests Pogba may yet stay at United.

 

TOP STORY – POGBA OPEN TO EXTENDING MAN UTD STAY

Pogba is ready to recommit to Manchester United, according to the Daily Mail.

The France international, who is contracted until 2021 but linked to Real Madrid and Juventus, sees his long-term future at the club and could even extend his deal, the report says.

Bruno Fernandes has helped lead a turnaround in form for United, who are unbeaten in 10 games.

ROUND-UP

- With Zinedine Zidane's future at Real Madrid increasingly uncertain, Marca reports former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino would be the main candidate to replace the Frenchman.

- Amid the troubles at AC Milan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return at San Siro may not last that long. CalcioMercato reports the striker's future with the club is in danger with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

- Marc-Andre ter Stegen has a deal at Barcelona until 2022, but it remains to be seen how long he stays at Camp Nou. Goal reports the LaLiga club are unable to meet the demands of the star goalkeeper.

- Linked repeatedly with a move for Moussa Dembele throughout last close season, United are lining up a fresh £60million (€68.4m) move for the Lyon forward, according to The Sun. Dembele has scored 22 goals in 42 games this season.

- With Hirving Lozano seemingly unwanted at Napoli, several European clubs are said to be interested in the attacker. CalcioMercato reports Atletico Madrid, Everton and West Ham are keen to sign Lozano.

The coronavirus continues to have a huge impact on the sporting calendar. 

Further measures to prevent the spread of the virus were taken on Tuesday, affecting a plethora of sports and leagues.

More events were subject to postponements, while games taking place in empty arenas will become a regular sight in the coming weeks.

Here we look at the sporting decisions announced as the world attempts to tackle the outbreak.

 

In France, Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 games will be played behind closed doors until April 15. France's minister for sport Roxana Maracineanu had on Monday said games could be played with a limit of 1,000 fans, but the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) confirmed on Tuesday that no fans will be permitted. Earlier, Maracineanu called for fans to show "responsibility" and avoid "any damaging impact on public order" when Paris Saint-Germain play Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The friendly between Germany and Italy, set to take place on March 31 in Nuremberg, will now be played behind closed doors, the German Football Association (DFB) confirmed. Additionally, there will be no fans at the Bundesliga game between Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin on March 14.

Also in Germany, the rearranged Bundesliga match between rivals Borussia Monchengladbach and Cologne, which was originally cancelled due to Storm Ciara, will now be played behind closed doors on Wednesday.

Gladbach CEO Stephan Schippers expressed his concern at a news conference, saying: "From a commercial perspective, you can't plan for something like this. 

"We will lose €2million per game. We have insurance against games that are called off, but not if they are played behind closed doors. That will hurt all clubs, including Borussia, financially.

"Fans have the right to be reimbursed. The settlement process will be discussed, but for now we need to see if more games will also follow. In that sense, we will find the right solution."

All sporting activity in Italy is suspended until April 3 by the country's Olympic Committee. In a statement, the committee conceded it does not have jurisdiction over international competitions. Following that, it was confirmed the Champions League clash between Barcelona and Napoli at Camp Nou on March 18 will go ahead behind closed doors. The Italian club insisted reports claiming they wanted the match to be postponed were "fake news".

The PGA of America and PGA Tour have rejected suggestions the US PGA Championship, which is to be held from May 14-17 at TPC Harding Park, could be moved from San Francisco after this week's tennis tournaments in Indian Wells were cancelled. 

"They [PGA of America officials] are fully planning on proceeding with the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. "There is no plan at this point in time for the PGA Championship to be held here. It's going to be held at TPC Harding Park."

However, the MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas, which was scheduled for April 3-5 in Austin, is postponed and will instead take place in November.

In the first indication that coronavirus could impact the NCAA men's basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, in the United States, the Ivy League announced its postseason tournament is cancelled. Yale have been declared Ivy League champions and will represent it in March Madness.

Wales will follow the advice of Italian authorities on whether Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey will be allowed to leave the country to take part in their home matches with Austria and USA later this month, amid the lockdown on travel in Italy.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport released a statement insisting there was "no rationale" to postponing sporting events at this stage in the United Kingdom. Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney said the message sporting authorities had received from the government was "let's not panic".

Matches in Poland's top flight, the Ekstraklasa, will be played without supporters until further notice. The Europa League final is scheduled to be played in Gdansk on May 27.

Ticket sales for Northern Ireland's away Euro 2020 play-off match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on March 26 have been suspended amid fears over the outbreak.

The Euro 2020 play-off match between the Republic of Ireland and Slovakia in Bratislava on March 26 will be played with no fans present on the instruction of the Slovakian government, with all supporters who bought tickets to be refunded.

The owner of Greek side Olympiacos and Championship club Nottingham Forest, Evangelos Marinakis, has confirmed he has contracted COVID-19. He wrote on Instagram: "The virus has 'visited' me and I felt obliged to let the public know. I feel good as I take all the necessary measures and I discipline to the doctors' instructions."

The coronavirus continues to have a huge impact on the sporting calendar. 

Further measures to prevent the spread of the virus were taken on Tuesday, affecting a plethora of sports and leagues.

More events were subject to postponements, while games taking place in empty arenas will become a regular sight in the coming weeks.

Here we look at the sporting decisions announced as the world attempts to tackle the outbreak.

 

In Germany, the rearranged Bundesliga match between rivals Borussia Monchengladbach and Cologne, which was originally cancelled due to Storm Ciara, will now be played behind closed doors on Wednesday.

All sporting activity in Italy is suspended until April 3 by the country's Olympic Committee, in a decision pending government ratification made on Monday. In a statement, the committee conceded it does not have jurisdiction over international competitions. Following that, it was confirmed the Champions League clash between Barcelona and Napoli on March 18 will go ahead behind closed doors. The Italian club insisted reports claiming they wanted the match to be postponed were "fake news".

Wales will follow the advice of Italian authorities on whether Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey will be allowed to leave the country to take part in their home matches with Austria and the United States later this month, amid the lockdown on travel in Italy.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport released a statement insisting there was "no rationale" to postponing sporting events at this stage in the United Kingdom. Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney said the message sporting authorities had received from the government was "let's not panic".

Former Manchester United captain, Salford City co-owner and influential pundit Gary Neville has declared he is not in support of matches behind closed doors. "If it's necessary to shut down stadiums the associations must find a way of delaying the season and playing the games when it is safe to do so to protect the revenues for clubs that require this income to survive," he tweeted.

Matches in Poland's top flight, the Ekstraklasa, will be played without supporters until further notice. The Europa League final is scheduled to be played in Gdansk on May 27.

Ticket sales for Northern Ireland's away Euro 2020 play-off match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on March 26 have been suspended amid fears over the outbreak.

The owner of Championship club Nottingham Forest, Evangelos Marinakis, has confirmed he has contracted COVID-19. He wrote on Instagram: "The virus has 'visited' me and I felt obliged to let the public know. I feel good as I take all the necessary measures and I discipline to the doctors' instructions."

The Champions League last-16 second leg between Barcelona and Napoli will be played behind closed doors due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.

The regional government of Catalonia had on Monday recommended the match go ahead on March 18 but without fans present at Camp Nou.

The decision was confirmed by Barca following a meeting between club officials and members of the Generalitat de Catalunya, including secretary general of sport Gerard Figueras.

Public health secretary Joan Guix said on Tuesday: "This is a decision that has been taken strictly for health reasons."

The announcement comes after Italy suspended all sporting activity until April 3 as part of a nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday that all of Italy's citizens would be restricted from travel barring only that which is essential for work, health reasons or emergencies.

It had already been confirmed that Atalanta's match with Valencia at Mestalla on Tuesday will be played behind closed doors, while the same measures have been taken for Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

The Champions League last-16 second leg between Barcelona and Napoli will be played behind closed doors due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.

The regional government of Catalonia had on Monday recommended the match go ahead on March 18 but without fans present at Camp Nou.

The decision was confirmed by Barca following a meeting between club officials and members of the Generalitat de Catalunya, including secretary general of sport Gerard Figueras.

Public health secretary Joan Guix said on Tuesday: "This is a decision that has been taken strictly for health reasons."

The announcement comes after Italy suspended all sporting activity until April 3 as part of a nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday that all of Italy's citizens would be restricted from travel barring only that which is essential for work, health reasons or emergencies.

It had already been confirmed that Atalanta's match with Valencia at Mestalla on Tuesday will be played behind closed doors, while the same measures have been taken for Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

Liverpool's Champions League defence is in the balance after a 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid in their last-16 first leg – and the Reds' record at Anfield against Spanish sides is not exactly inspiring.

Since 2001-02, Liverpool have played 10 matches against LaLiga opposition at Anfield and won only two of those games.

Of course, the latest such fixture was against Barcelona, when the Red overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to progress.

But at the Wanda Metropolitano in last month's first leg, Atletico showed they are still a force to be reckoned with in terms of their infamous pragmatism and defensive nous.

Ahead of Atletico's visit on Wednesday, we take a look at the past 10 examples of Spanish teams going to Anfield.

Liverpool 1-3 Barcelona, November 2001

Liverpool's poor run at home to Spanish teams began back in the days when the Champions League had two rounds of group stages. They had to come up against eventual semi-finalists Barcelona in the second stage and were comprehensively taken apart at home, with Patrick Kluivert, Fabio Rochemback and Marc Overmars eclipsing Michael Owen's opener. Two of Barca's goals should have been disallowed for offside, but it was a deserved win nonetheless. The Reds reached the knockout phase anyway, but were eliminated by Bayer Leverkusen.

Liverpool 0-1 Valencia, October 2002

After losing 2-0 at Mestalla, Liverpool were left on the brink of elimination when they lost 1-0 at home to Rafael Benitez's Valencia in October 2002. Francisco Rufete's effort in the 34th minute beat the suspect Jerzy Dudek and proved decisive, as Los Che were justified victors. Gerard Houllier's men dropped down into the UEFA Cup but were halted in the last eight by Celtic, who went on to lose 3-2 to Jose Mourinho's Porto in the final.

Liverpool 0-0 Deportivo La Coruna, October 2004

Having been within touching distance of the Champions League final in 2003-04, just a few months later Deportivo La Coruna were a shadow of the team previously referred to as 'Super Depor'. That said, Javier Irureta's side still took a commendable point away from Anfield, amounting to half of their overall haul in Group A – not that it disrupted Liverpool much. They went on to win the trophy, famously battling back to beat Milan in the final in Istanbul.

Liverpool 0-0 Real Betis, November 2005

Similar to Deportivo the previous season, the Betis of 2005-06 was nowhere near as effective as the Verdiblancos side that secured their unlikely Champions League qualification. Liverpool failed to score against them at Anfield, despite a flurry of chances, though the stalemate was enough to book the defending champions' progression to the knockout phase.

Liverpool 0-1 Barcelona, March 2007

Liverpool reached the Champions League final again in 2007, though they had a lucky escape on the way. After winning 2-1 at Camp Nou, Barca came to Anfield needing a win but just fell short of a scoreline that would have taken them through. Eidur Gudjohnsen's effort 15 minutes from time gave Frank Rijkaard's men the lead, but the holders could not add to that and went out on away goals.

Liverpool 1-1 Atletico Madrid, November 2008

Until their thrilling quarter-final elimination by Chelsea, Liverpool did not lose a single Champions League match in 2008-09. A major part of that was their 1-1 draw at home to Atletico in the group phase, as Steven Gerrard converted a last-gasp penalty after he had controversially been awarded the spot-kick following an aerial challenge with Mariano Pernia. It levelled a strike from future Red Maxi Rodriguez.

Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid, March 2009

Against the club he was taught to loathe as a kid, it was fitting that Fernando Torres – a former Atletico captain – was the one to inspire Liverpool past Real Madrid in 2009. Already 1-0 up from the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, Liverpool ran out comfortable 4-0 winners at Anfield, with Torres opening the scoring and producing a generally thrilling individual display to help set up a last-eight clash with Chelsea, who prevailed 7-5 on aggregate.

Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid, October 2014

Madrid got their own back in similarly one-sided fashion five years later. Prior to the 2014-15 season, Liverpool had not qualified for any of the past four editions of the Champions League – and it told. In that time, the Reds had fallen well behind the elite, as highlighted by Madrid leaving Anfield with a 3-0 win – Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema getting the goals between them. Brendan Rodgers' men ended up finishing third to Los Blancos and Basel, dropping into the Europa League, which they exited in the round of 32.

Liverpool 2-2 Sevilla, September 2017

Revenge was on the agenda for Liverpool in September 2017. Having lost 3-1 to Sevilla in the Europa League final the previous year, the visiting fans were eager to remind them of that with hand gestures before the match. Liverpool were 2-1 up at half-time, Wissam Ben Yedder's early opener cancelled out by goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, but Joaquin Correa secured a share of the spoils late on. They also played out another thriller in Spain for their second group meeting, Sevilla fighting back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3. Liverpool went on to lose to Madrid in the final.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona, May 2019

A remarkable Liverpool turnaround, or a humiliating Barca collapse? Whichever way you lean, there is no denying last season's semi-final tie was as gripping as it gets. Ernesto Valverde's men had seemingly put one foot into the final with Lionel Messi-inspired 3-0 win at Camp Nou, but the Reds battled back with an epic 4-0 victory. Divock Origi's early effort was added to by a quick-fire Georginio Wijnaldum double early in the second half, wiping out the Blaugrana's lead. Origi then got a second 11 minutes from time, taking the Reds into a second successive final – this time going on to lift the famous trophy.

Daniel Levy is known as a difficult negotiator.

The Tottenham chairman squeezed every penny out of United when the Red Devils turned to Dimitar Berbatov in 2008.

United also reportedly pulled out of the running for Luka Modric, who joined Real Madrid in 2012, as they did not want to haggle with Levy.

However, United could be ready to lock horns with Levy over Harry Kane's signature.

 

TOP STORY – WOODWARD READY TO BATTLE LEVY FOR KANE

Manchester United and Ed Woodward are ready to battle for the signing of Tottenham star Harry Kane, according to the Evening Standard.

Kane is reportedly considering his future at Tottenham and the England international striker is believed to be open to a switch to United at the end of the season.

United are yet to permanently replace Romelu Lukaku and Red Devils executive vice-chairman Woodward reportedly wants to lock horns with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.

 

ROUND-UP

- Could United beat Borussia Dortmund to Jude Bellingham? Birmingham City's 16-year-old sensation Bellingham visited United's training ground on Monday and reportedly spoke to former manager Alex Ferguson as the Red Devils ramp up their interest. Bellingham is valued at around £30million.

- David Beckham's Inter Miami want to sign Manchester City star David Silva, reports The Mirror. Silva, out of contract at the end of the season, has been linked to fellow MLS franchise New York City – who are the sister club of Manchester City and part of the City Football Group.

- Tuttosport claims Juventus are targeting Valencia attacker Ferran Torres. The 20-year-old has also been linked to LaLiga champions Barcelona, Real Madrid and Premier League leaders Liverpool.

United are prepared to pay £70m for Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, says The Mirror. Grealish has emerged as one of United's prime transfer targets and the Red Devils are ready to test Villa's resolve as the Premier League strugglers face relegation.

Paris Saint-Germain continue to target Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly. PSG have identified Koulibaly as Thiago Silva's replacement but Calciomercato says it will be difficult for the Ligue 1 holders to lower Napoli's demands. Koulibaly – also linked to the likes of United, Madrid, Tottenham and Manchester City – reportedly has a €150m termination clause.

- Kicker says Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich are considering signing on-loan Inter winger Ivan Perisic at season's end.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Tahith Chong can have a "bright future" at Manchester United after the winger signed a new two-year contract.

Chong's previous deal was set to expire at the end of the season, with Barcelona and Juventus reportedly interested in securing his signature.

But after his agent announced an impending agreement with United, the club confirmed Chong had committed until 2022 with the option of a further year.

Solskjaer, who gave the player his debut last January, was delighted to secure the 20-year-old's talents.

"Tahith works extremely hard every day and he is constantly improving," the manager told United's official website.

"His performances this season, whether for the first team or Under-23s, are testament to his hard work, dedication and to his character.

"We are pleased with the progress he has made since he stepped up from the academy and are looking forward to continuing to develop his talent.

"Tahith has great potential. Given his age, ability and work ethic, we can see that he has a bright future at Manchester United."

Chong - a 2016 arrival from Feyenoord's academy - is likewise looking forward to continuing his work with Solskjaer, for whom he has featured 10 times this season.

"When I joined Manchester United as a youngster, it was a dream come true," he said. "It is an honour every time I pull on the shirt and represent this club.

"I am working hard every day to improve and I know this is the perfect environment to develop my game.

"The opportunity to learn from the manager, his coaching staff and the world-class players here is fantastic.

"I am delighted to sign this new contract and really grateful for the chance to prove myself here for many years to come."

Manchester United winger Tahith Chong has agreed to sign a new contract at Old Trafford, according to his agent.

The 20-year-old's existing United deal is up at the end of the season, and he has been linked to a host of Europe's top clubs, including Barcelona, Juventus and Inter.

But Chong has decided to remain in Manchester, where he has made 10 appearances for the Red Devils this season.

Agent Erkan Alkan said, in quotes reported by Algemeen Dagblad: "There was a lot of interest, we talked to big clubs.

"But Manchester United came up with a good plan for Tahith. He likes to stay with the club that brought him from the Netherlands."

Alkan had previously suggested in January it was time for Chong to "look further" with a different club.

Chong was handed his senior United debut early in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign against Reading in the FA Cup in January 2019.

He subsequently featured in the team's stunning 3-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, before making his first start at home to Astana in this season's Europa League.

The regional government of Catalonia has called for the Champions League last-16 second leg between Barcelona and Napoli to be played behind closed doors.

Gerard Figueras, the secretary general of sport for the Generalitat de Catalunya, has recommended the game be held without fans present at Camp Nou on March 18 in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The measure has already been implemented for Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Borussia Dortmund in the French capital, which takes place on Wednesday.

Speaking to RAC1, Figueras said: "The prudent course I would recommend is for the game to be played behind closed doors.

"The decision is not yet made. Between today and tomorrow, there will be meetings between different government departments and the club."

Figueras says LaLiga champions Barca have been kept in the loop by authorities since early on Monday.

"We talked this morning," he said. "We're trying to arrange the meeting between today and tomorrow, most likely tomorrow."

Italy has been more badly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak than other European countries, with 7,375 confirmed cases and 366 people killed.

Close to 16 million people have been ordered into effective quarantine in the northern areas of the country as the government attempts to control the spread of the virus.

All Serie A matches are being played behind closed doors until at least April, and Parma's match with SPAL on Sunday was delayed while a proposal to suspend the league was considered just minutes before kick-off.

France has 1,116 confirmed cases, while there are 589 in Spain. Next weekend's Barcelona marathon has already been postponed until October.

Barca and Napoli drew the first leg 1-1, Antoine Griezmann's goal having cancelled out an opener from Dries Mertens.

Manchester City could let Sergio Aguero leave at the end of the season, according to a report.

City were handed a two-season Champions League ban last month over Financial Fair Play (FFP) breaches, although they are appealing the ruling.

However, that could lead to a big-name exit at the end of the campaign.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY COULD LET AGUERO LEAVE AT END OF SEASON

Manchester City are willing to let Aguero go if they fail to overturn the European ban, according to The Sun.

The report says the 31-year-old Argentina forward would be allowed to leave if he indicated he wanted to do so despite being contracted until 2021.

Aguero is the Premier League club's all-time leading goalscorer and is enjoying another fine campaign, netting 23 times in 29 games.

 

ROUND-UP

- Luka Jovic has struggled at Real Madrid and could be set for a switch. AS reports Napoli are considering a move for the 22-year-old forward, who has scored just twice this season after joining Madrid for a reported €60million from Eintracht Frankfurt.

- Chelsea seem ready to move on from goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The Daily Express reports the Premier League club have been alerted to the potential availability of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who is said to be weighing up his future at Barcelona. The Mirror reports Chelsea are monitoring Dean Henderson, who has impressed on loan at Sheffield United from Manchester United.

- Also at Stamford Bridge, The Mirror reports Tammy Abraham has rejected a contract offer from Chelsea. Abraham – who has 15 goals this season – has a deal until 2022 but reportedly wants fresh terms similar to the club's other stars before recommitting.

- Looking to strengthen their defence, Manchester City are prepared to spend £80m (€92.5m) on Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, according to the Daily Express.

- With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang perhaps set for an Arsenal exit, CalcioMercato reports Inter are considering a move for the forward, who played for AC Milan's youth team but never made an appearance for the senior side.

- Everton are eyeing a move for Newcastle United's Allan Saint-Maximin in the close season, according to The Sun.

Barcelona coach Quique Setien insisted he was happy with Frenkie de Jong's form, but said the LaLiga giants were perhaps asking for too much from the midfielder.

De Jong has faced some criticism for his performances since arriving at the club from Ajax for a reported €75million ahead of this season.

The midfielder, who has scored two goals and provided three assists in 37 games this season, played 90 minutes in Barca's 1-0 LaLiga win over Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Asked about De Jong afterwards, Setien said he was satisfied with the 22-year-old Netherlands international.

"I see Frenkie in quite a good place," he told a news conference.

"This doesn't just apply to Frenkie, but if you analyse all the players down to fine detail you'll always see some things that certain players can improve on, or every player can. Some decisions can have an impact on the game. As long as it's a good technical decision, that's what's important. That sometimes happens where a decision can be the wrong one or not.

"Frenkie gives us a lot. He helps us out a great deal. It's true that perhaps we might ask a little bit too much from him, as we demand excellence from our players and it's never easy when you're facing a team like we did [on Saturday]. It's not easy at all.

"Our players' characteristics are not really designed for an intense high press compared to Real Sociedad and that's what we struggled with and when they managed to play to their strengths they made us suffer. But that also happened to them.

"At the end of the day, in general I am happy with how the team played and how Frenkie played."

Barcelona moved top of the LaLiga table, two points clear of rivals Real Madrid, who visit Real Betis on Sunday.

Left-back Jordi Alba was disappointed to hear jeers among the Barcelona supporters as they struggled to break down Real Sociedad, prompting a response when he appeared to have scored.

Barca ran out 1-0 winners at Camp Nou as Lionel Messi's late penalty ended La Real's six-match winning run in all competitions.

Sociedad are one of LaLiga's form teams, but there was little patience with the home side as they toiled for a time.

Alba noted prominent early whistles from the fans, and so the Spain international stuck his fingers in his ears as he found the net in stoppage time, only for the goal to be ruled out.

"I respect the fans but the fans have to respect me," he explained afterwards. "Nobody likes to be whistled, and less so after 15 minutes at 0-0.

"It's true that we have to improve a lot of things but the attitude is good."

Head coach Quique Setien, nodding to La Real's quality, added: "The team have not lost confidence at all, but the fans do not contemplate that the opponent can dominate you.

"I give La Real a lot of credit. We have done many things well. We have had more chances than them.

"You end up being in the lead because you're better, but it's getting more even. La Real have three or four players who could play perfectly in Barcelona."

Barca moved top of the table at least until rivals Real Madrid face Real Betis on Sunday, although Setien suggests victory for Zinedine Zidane's side is not a given.

"We overcame a difficult game and now it's they who have a difficult game in Seville," Setien said.

Gerard Pique has defended Barcelona assistant Eder Sarabia for his foul-mouthed rant in El Clasico and insisted the players welcome his intense approach in the dugout.

Barca returned to winning ways with a 1-0 triumph over Real Sociedad on Saturday, six days after their desperately disappointing LaLiga loss to rivals Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu.

Ahead of the clash with Sociedad, head coach Quique Setien described the focus on Sarabia's outburst against his players during the Clasico as "a bit embarrassing" and urged his assistant to show control.

Setien also apologised to the squad, but Pique stressed that was not necessary after playing the full match at Camp Nou.

"The assistant coach is full of adrenaline and intensity which manifested itself in this way at the Bernabeu, but it is all completely normal for us," Pique said after Lionel Messi's late penalty gave Barca victory.

"All the players discussed it in the dressing room. The boss apologised and we told him that nothing had come from us; if anything it [the controversy] related to the image of the club.

"What's more, we like that there's intensity in the dugout and they are living [the game] too.

"When the club is weak, these types of things come up. A few weeks ago, the talk was about the players not having a huddle before the game because of the change of coach, then it was the warm-up was different.

"It's the same thing. It's another story that happens after a defeat and you always have to go out and deny it. [Sarabia's behaviour] is completely normal."

Pique was relieved to get the job done against a Real Sociedad team who had won six straight matches coming into the clash.

"We knew it was going to be very tough because we are coming from the defeat at the Bernabeu and they are having an exceptional season and they've reached the final of the Copa," said the Spain defender.

"It wasn't going to be easy; they play good football, we try to, and the game was decided by the small details.

"Some hands inside the penalty area have given us the three very important points that are going to help us fight for the title."

Sarabia had also addressed the topic prior to the match and insisted he will remain passionate in his approach.

"My spirit will never change," he said to Movistar. "It's more about ways [of doing things] than the substance.

"It's true that we have to set an example for lot of people, for children. We have to be careful with certain things.

"But I'm going to keep experiencing football intensely, I'm proud to be the way that I am and I'll keep it up, keep working and keep going."

Lionel Messi scored a late penalty as Barcelona shook off a post-Clasico hangover and edged to a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Having lost first place in their defeat to rivals Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu six days ago, Barca took the chance to return to the summit, albeit in an unconvincing Camp Nou victory on Saturday.

Messi came into the contest having failed to score in six of his last seven games but he converted the crucial spot-kick with nine minutes remaining after a VAR review adjudged Robin Le Normand had handled a left-wing cross.

Madrid now trail by two points but have the chance to reclaim top spot in Sunday's match against Barca head coach Quique Setien's former club Real Betis.

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