Xavi has resisted the chance to join Barcelona immediately in favour of staying with Qatari club Al Sadd, reports said on Sunday.

Speculation is rife over the future of head coach Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou, after back-to-back LaLiga champions Barca were defeated 3-2 by Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday.

Valverde's position has been in doubt since a collapse in the Champions League semi-finals against Liverpool and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final the end of last season.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha to meet with Xavi.

The purpose of the trip was said to be to offer Xavi the chance to replace Valverde in the coming days, rather than wait until the end of the season.

However, Xavi is reported to have rejected Barcelona's offer, with Spanish sports daily Marca saying he will wait until June of this year or June 2021 to take over at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd confirmed their coach oversaw training ahead of the Qatar Cup final aginst Al-Duhail on January 17.

Xavi acknowledged he met with Barcelona officials but refused to go into detail over the meeting due to his respect for Valverde.

"Coaching Barca is my dream, I cannot hide that, everyone knows I support them from the bottom of my heart," Xavi told reporters on Saturday.

"Yes, Abidal is my friend. I've met him many times, so I cannot say anything, just that I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde, I respect the players, I respect my club.

"They [Barca] were here to talk to me and we discussed many things. I cannot say anything else. Sorry, but I cannot inform you too much. I met Abidal, he is my friend, that's it.

"I'm doing my job here, I'm doing my best. I was focused on the semi-final and now we play the final so I'm very happy. I'm very happy to coach Al Sadd and I am focused on my team."

Luis Suarez is set to miss the majority of the season after the Barcelona and Uruguay forward underwent surgery on an injury to his right knee.

The 32-year-old had reportedly been struggling with an ongoing problem with the external meniscus in his knee for several weeks, with Barca announcing on Saturday they had decided to go ahead with on operation.

There were initial suggestions Barca expected Suarez to miss around a month of action, but it has now been confirmed the striker will be out for approximately four months following the surgery, which was performed by renowned knee specialist Dr. Ramon Cugat.

Losing Suarez, who has scored 14 goals in total this season, will come as a significant blow to Barca, who do not have great depth in the central striking position.

It also represents another issue for Ernesto Valverde, who is reportedly under pressure at Camp Nou, with media reports claiming Blaugrana icon Xavi has been sounded out over potentially taking over as coach.

It remains to be seen if Barca look to bolster their ranks up front in the January transfer window, or rely on Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati, Carles Perez and the currently injured Ousmane Dembele to fill the void.

As well as missing crucial games for Barca, including their Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli in February and the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu in March, Suarez will also be unavailable for Uruguay's opening World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Ecuador.

Should Suarez return ahead of schedule, he may target the clash with Atletico Madrid – a match that could be crucial in the title race – in late April, though it seems more likely he will make his comeback against Espanyol in the derby on the weekend of May 9-10.

Luis Suarez is set to miss the majority of the season after the Barcelona and Uruguay forward underwent surgery on an injury to his right knee.

Manchester United or Real Madrid?

Ajax star Donny van de Beek is a wanted man following his exploits for the Eredivisie champions.

But the LaLiga giants are reportedly poised to get their target at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DE BEEK SET FOR MADRID

Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek is on the verge of joining Real Madrid instead of Manchester United, claims The Mirror.

United have reportedly emerged as a suitor for Van de Beek in January due to injuries to Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.

But a transfer to Madrid at the end of the season "is more than 80 per cent certain", according to the report.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Metro says Premier League champions Manchester City have joined the race to sign Aston Villa's Jack Grealish. Rivals United have been heavily linked to the midfielder.

Tottenham are nearing a deal to bring Benfica midfielder Gedson Fernandes to London on an 18-month loan contract, reports Sky Sports. West Ham have also been looking to sign the 21-year-old.

- United midfielder Nemanja Matic is in talks to swap Old Trafford for MLS outfit Chicago Fire, according to The Sun. Linked to Atletico Madrid, Inter and Milan, the Fire want to bring in the veteran as a replacement for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Arsenal are considering a loan deal for Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, reports The Mirror.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter have reached an agreement with Christian Eriksen for a contract until 2024. Now, Inter must strike a deal with Tottenham for the soon-to-be free agent. Spurs reportedly want €20million (£17m) for the Dane.

- Sporting CP captain Bruno Fernandes has agreed personal terms with United for a contract until 2025 with yearly wages of €6m, according to Italian journalist Nicolo Schira.

Antonio Conte was in no mood to discuss Inter's prospective move for Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal after his side's laboured 1-1 draw at home to Atalanta in Serie A.

Lautaro Martinez gave the Nerazzurri an early lead at San Siro but visiting Atalanta were in the ascendancy for much of the contest from that point on Saturday.

Robin Gosens netted a deserved equaliser 15 minutes from time and only Samir Handanovic's superb save from Luis Muriel's late penalty averted Inter's second league defeat of the campaign.

Inter will fall two points behind Juventus at the summit if the Italian champions win at Roma on Sunday and head coach Conte was keen to focus on the absence of key personnel after the match.

"I am not talking about players who are not part of the Inter squad," Conte told DAZN when reported transfer target Vidal was raised.

"I faced this game without four key players. Atalanta are intense, with a lot of physical force.

"We did everything we could to try and win the game. The lads are exceptional.

"Today we had Nicolo Barella suspended, Matias Vecino with a calf problem. I'm trying to get Alexis Sanchez back in shape  but in my view we are giving everything in a very difficult situation."

Stefano Sensi eased Conte's concerns in that sense, completing 71 minutes in midfield on his first start since suffering an abductor tear in October.

"I am happy because he did 70 minutes in a very intense game, he will slowly come back up to speed," Conte added.

"We continue to work, the ranking [in the table] must not deceive us."

Xavi described becoming Barcelona head coach as his "dream" but insisted he respects under-pressure incumbent Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde's position has come under increased scrutiny after Barca's dramatic 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final.

Al Sadd boss and Barca legend Xavi confirmed reports he had met with the Camp Nou club's director of football Eric Abidal in Qatar on Friday amid speculation he will be offered the opportunity to succeed Valverde at the end of the season, or potentially before that.

But the 39-year-old was reluctant to go into detail about the meeting, insisting he respects his former club and their coach.

"Coaching Barca is my dream, I cannot hide that, everyone knows I support them from the bottom of my heart," Xavi told reporters after leading Al Sadd into the Qatar Cup final with a win over Al Rayyan on Saturday.

"Yes, Abidal is my friend. I've met him many times, so I cannot say anything, just that I respect Barcelona, I respect Valverde, I respect the players, I respect my club. 

"They [Barca] were here to talk to me and we discussed many things." 

"They were here also to check on Ousmane Dembele, that's all," Xavi added of the Barcelona forward, who is recovering from a thigh injury in Qatar.

"I cannot say anything else. Sorry, but I cannot inform you too much. I met Abidal, he is my friend, that's it. 

"I'm doing my job here, I'm doing my best. I was focused on the semi-final and now we play the final so I'm very happy. I'm very happy to coach Al Sadd and I am focused on my team."

Xavi endured a long and distinguished playing career with Barca, with his incredible list of honours including eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League triumphs. 

Luis Suarez will have knee surgery on an external meniscus this Sunday, Barcelona have announced.   Suarez, 32, is said to have been struggling with a niggling problem in his right knee for several weeks and it has finally been determined he will have an operation to prevent complications ahead of the season's run-in.   Media reports began circulating on Friday suggesting Suarez was set for a prolonged period of absence due to the problem.   And, following examinations on Saturday, Barca have confirmed the Uruguay striker will be operated on by renowned knee specialist Dr. Ramon Cugat.

Losing Suarez will come as a significant blow to Barca, who are not blessed with depth in the central striking position, with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and the currently injured Ousmane Dembele preferring to operate support roles either out wide or off a main forward.

Despite reports suggesting Barca have been identifying potential long-term replacements for the experienced Suarez, he has been enjoying another solid season in LaLiga.

His 11-goal haul is only bettered by Messi and Karim Benzema, while he also has a league-high record of seven assists to his name.

While Barca have not confirmed how long they expect him to be out, reports suggest Suarez will be sidelined for around a month.

He's likely to miss games against Granada, Valencia, Levante and Real Betis, but is not thought to be at risk of missing Barca's Champions League last-16 first-leg clash with Napoli on February 25, or El Clasico four days later.
 

One story is dominating the sporting agenda in Spain on Saturday: Xavi's potential return to Barcelona.

The Catalan giants have reportedly earmarked the club great to take over from the under-pressure Ernesto Valverde at the end of the season, and held informal discussions with him on Friday in Doha.

Xavi, 39, is currently coach at Al Sadd but would likely relish a return to Camp Nou, where he won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during a glittering playing career.

A strong affinity with a club is not a guarantee of success, however, and we have taken a look at eight other examples of players returning to manage teams they starred for.

 

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 away in May 2018, only to return 10 months later.

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. He is now back in Serie A and thriving with the Old Lady's bitter rivals Inter.

Roberto Di Matteo

Like Lampard, 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 Munich, 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 and 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 AC 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 14 of his 40 matches in charge as Milan finished 10th, their worst league finish 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 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.

Xavi seems set to return to Barcelona as head coach, replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde is under pressure again at the helm of the LaLiga giants after Thursday's Supercopa de Espana semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid.

And, it seems Barca are wasting no time finding a replacement.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA OFFER XAVI DEAL TO REPLACE VALVERDE

Barcelona have offered Al Sadd boss Xavi a two-and-a-half-year deal to replace Valverde, according to AS.

Xavi's potential return to Camp Nou, where he won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues in a glittering playing career, is dominating headlines in Spain.

The cover of Sport reads 'Earthquake Xavi', while Marca also reports that Barcelona have offered the job to the former midfielder.

ROUND-UP

- Bruno Fernandes. Manchester United. Here we go again. Record reports Sporting CP officials met with the Premier League club with a move potentially going ahead in January. The Daily Mail says United are considering a £55m (€64.6m) move for Fernandes, who they were reportedly interested in during the close season.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Sun reports Manchester United are eyeing a £40m move for West Ham defender Issa Diop, who is also apparently a target for Chelsea.

- Manchester United are at the centre of plenty of speculation this month, including a potential exit for Ashley Young. CalcioMercato reports Inter want the 34-year-old and the Serie A side are offering Young – who is out of contract at season's end – a deal until 2021.

- Gedson Fernandes is seemingly set for a move to London, but to which club remains to be seen. The Guardian reports West Ham fear they will miss out on the Benfica midfielder to Tottenham.

- Out of contract at the end of the season, Hugo Vallejo appears set for a Malaga exit. AS reports Real Madrid are considering making a move for the forward this month before sending the 19-year-old out on loan until the end of 2019-20. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Valencia are also reportedly interested in Vallejo.

- Meanwhile, Barca have had an offer of €6m for midfielder Matheus Fernandes rejected by Palmeiras, according to Globo Esporte.

Ernesto Valverde appears to be running out of time at Barcelona, with Xavi reportedly poised to take over as head coach at Camp Nou.

Barcelona lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday, piling more scrutiny on Valverde.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona officials including chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha.

The purpose of the trip was said to be a meeting with former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd.

Reportedly, the meeting was scheduled in order for Barcelona to offer Xavi the position as coach for the next two seasons, starting at the end of the current campaign.

However, Spanish sports dailies Marca and AS both reported that Thursday's chaotic defeat to Atletico led Barca to propose Xavi takes over immediately, replacing Valverde.

Xavi, now 39, won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during his time at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd issued a statement insisting Xavi remained fully focused on the team's match against Al-Rayyan on Saturday.

"The issue of Xavi going to Barcelona is normal and expected because he will be at his club and it's his first home and he must return there in the future, but as of today, Xavi is the coach of Al Sadd," general manager Turki Al-Ali said in a statement released on the club's official website.

"Xavi and his team are focusing on Saturday's match against Al-Rayyan, and we know that a club with the size and professionalism of Barcelona will take to official channels to speak of such matters."

Xavi has long been touted to follow in the footsteps of fellow former Blaugrana midfielder Pep Guardiola and take over at Barcelona.

Valverde, meanwhile, appeared to be close to losing his job at the end of last season, following Barca's capitulation in the Champions League semi-finals and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman was among the names linked to replacing Valverde, but the former Athletic Bilbao boss – who has guided Barca to successive LaLiga triumphs – retained his position.

Ernesto Valverde appears to be running out of time at Barcelona, with Xavi reportedly poised to take over as head coach at Camp Nou.

Barcelona lost 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday, piling more scrutiny on Valverde.

Spanish media widely reported on Friday that Barcelona officials including chief executive Oscar Grau and technical secretary Eric Abidal had travelled to Doha.

The purpose of the trip was said to be a meeting with former Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd.

Reportedly, the meeting was scheduled in order for Barcelona to offer Xavi the position as coach for the next two seasons, starting at the end of the current campaign.

However, Spanish sports dailies Marca and AS both reported that Thursday's chaotic defeat to Atletico led Barca to propose Xavi takes over immediately, replacing Valverde.

Xavi, now 39, won eight LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophies during his time at Camp Nou.

Al Sadd issued a statement insisting Xavi remained fully focused on the team's match against Al-Rayyan on Saturday.

"The issue of Xavi going to Barcelona is normal and expected because he will be at his club and it's his first home and he must return there in the future, but as of today, Xavi is the coach of Al Sadd," general manager Turki Al-Ali said in a statement released on the club's official website.

"Xavi and his team are focusing on Saturday's match against Al-Rayyan, and we know that a club with the size and professionalism of Barcelona will take to official channels to speak of such matters."

Xavi has long been touted to follow in the footsteps of fellow former Blaugrana midfielder Pep Guardiola and take over at Barcelona.

Valverde, meanwhile, appeared to be close to losing his job at the end of last season, following Barca's capitulation in the Champions League semi-finals and a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman was among the names linked to replacing Valverde, but the former Athletic Bilbao boss – who has guided Barca to successive LaLiga triumphs – retained his position.

Tottenham appear close to landing a replacement for Harry Kane, while Thomas Lemar could also be set for the Premier League.

Kane needs surgery on his left hamstring and is not expected to return to training for Spurs until April.

It seems the Premier League club are nearing a move for Milan forward Krzysztof Piatek, although there are contrasting reports over the status of the deal.

And, Atletico Madrid midfielder Lemar could also be heading to London.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS CLOSE TO LANDING PIATEK AS KANE REPLACEMENT

Tottenham have agreed a deal worth £28million (€32.95m) for Piatek, according to The Sun.

However, the Mirror reports Spurs have had a loan bid for the 24-year-old Poland international rejected, although talks are continuing.

After netting 11 times in 21 games for Milan last season following a January move from Genoa, Piatek has four goals in 18 this campaign.

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea and Tottenham are both trying to sign Atletico's Lemar on loan until the end of the season, according to The Telegraph. Lemar is linked with an Atletico exit after just nine LaLiga starts this season.

- While Christian Eriksen's possible Spurs exit will dominate headlines this month, it appears the midfielder will not be heading to Old Trafford. Sky Sports reports Manchester United have ruled out making a bid for the Denmark international this month.

- Searching for a right-back, Tottenham are keen on signing Barcelona's Nelson Semedo, according to the Mirror. The position has been a problem for Spurs since Kieran Trippier's off-season move to Atletico.

- Javier Hernandez's stay at Sevilla could be coming to an end. Marca reports the club could let the forward, who has one goal in nine LaLiga games this season, leave amid apparent interest from LA Galaxy.

- Leicester City are trying to sign Juventus defender Merih Demiral, according to the Mirror. Manchester City and Everton are also reportedly interested in the Turkey international.

- Piatek aside, there may be other moves at Milan. La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Nicolo Schira says Roma are interested in Suso and Cengiz Under could be heading to San Siro, while Milan are still eyeing Inter's Matteo Politano.

- Could David Moyes and Marouane Fellaini reunite for a third time? Sky Sports reports Moyes' West Ham are interested in signing the Shandong Luneng midfielder, who played under the Scot at Everton and Manchester United.

Diego Simeone hailed Atletico Madrid for achieving the "almost impossible" to overcome Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals.

Atletico stunned Barca with two goals in the final nine minutes in a 3-2 victory in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Alvaro Morata's penalty and Angel Correa's strike saw Atletico into the final against rivals Real Madrid and the comeback was labelled as close to impossible by head coach Simeone.

"I think we must live it with calmness, that we qualified for the final. It is important for the supporters, it is important for the club, it is important for the players," he told a news conference.

"It was a very tough game against one of the best teams in the world. They are the best when it comes to possession, and to attack with it.

"We suffered quite a lot during the first half. I think the second half was different, they kept their intensity and had chances until the 75tth minute, when something appeared that will always distinguish Atletico Madrid – the heart, the strength and the belief.

"We faced a difficult situation, almost impossible. But, we had the feeling that if we could get an equaliser, we could win the game, and that's what happened."

Atletico face another huge test in the final, taking on Real Madrid in Jeddah on Sunday.

Simeone paid tribute to Atletico's rivals and their boss, Zinedine Zidane, ahead of the clash.

"I don't have any doubt that Zidane is a fantastic manager, suitable for Real Madrid," he said.

"The results speak for themselves. They have changed since the beginning of the season and that's reflected on the pitch despite the absence of [Eden] Hazard, [Karim] Benzema and [Gareth] Bale.

"They have five midfielders on the pitch. They can do it if they move and pass accurately. They showed this the other day [against Valencia] with a great performance.

"We'll face a potent and strong team as it is with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool."

Luis Suarez said under-fire Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde was not to blame for the team's Supercopa de Espana collapse against Atletico Madrid.

Barca were stunned 3-2 by Atletico in the Supercopa semi-final, conceding two late goals to sensationally lose in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann cancelled out Koke's 46th-minute opener until Barca shipped twice in the final nine minutes as Atletico earned a showdown with Real Madrid.

The result plunged Valverde's future further into doubt but star forward Suarez defended the 55-year-old.

"[Valverde] is not to blame, the mistakes were ours and we can't make them," Suarez said post-match.

"I do not know if they are defeats that help us grow, [but] this defeat shows that there are things to correct.

"It shows us that there are mistakes that cannot be committed because we were in control of the game and we have allowed them to hit us on the counter-attack."

Griezmann was frustrated afterwards as the Barca forward lamented the side's errors against LaLiga rivals Atletico in Jeddah.

"I think we lost due to our own errors and they had the legs at the end," Griezmann said. "It cost us and we have to work hard in order to continue.

"We all made errors. I played a bad pass and then their goal arrived. They are errors which can cost you a Champions League or a league title."

Guillermo Amor played down suggestions Ernesto Valverde was close to being sacked after Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana loss to Atletico Madrid.

Barca conceded twice in the final nine minutes in a 3-2 semi-final defeat to Atletico in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

While they are top of LaLiga, Barca have won just one of their past five games, a period which has included three draws to reportedly put the pressure on Valverde once more.

However, Amor – the club's director of institutional and sporting relations – played down talk Valverde was close to being sacked.

"It has bothered us a lot to lose. We continue, this is very long," he told Movistar+.

"There are many and very important [games]. Of this you say about Valverde, there is nothing."

After Koke's 46th-minute opener, Barca led thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.

However, Alvaro Morata's penalty brought Atletico level before Angel Correa scored the winner four minutes from the end.

Amor lamented the result, with Messi and Gerard Pique both having goals disallowed by VAR for marginal offside decisions.

"When you have played football, you know that these things can happen, especially in important games with strong teams," he said.

"What you think is won, you can lose. In the summary of the game, I think we have dominated the first half.

"They advance and the two goals that were annulled indicate that we were close and we were superior."

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