Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world's best defenders.

Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.

His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club's youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.

Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.

Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United - linked again more recently - have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world's best defender.

"Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United]," De Ligt told the Telegraph.

"It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus."

While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.

Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.

His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.

"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he continued. "I'm where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.

"I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm."

Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.

He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero's record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.

"Well, he could be my father!" De Ligt quipped. "It's funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don't think he's twice my age and that's also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old."

Barcelona prospect  Ilaix Moriba could be tempted away from the Catalan giants.

Ilaix, 18, made headlines with a goal in his third LaLiga appearance for the Blaugrana on Saturday.

But Barca have limited wage capacity and Ilaix has received "several offers".

 

TOP STORY – SEVERAL OFFERS FOR BARCA TEENAGER

Teenager Moriba has become instant hot property with "several offers" to tempt him away from Barcelona, according to Marca.

The Guinea-born midfielder's agent, whom he shares with Gareth Bale, is in drawn-out discussions with the club, the publication says.

Marca's report does not identify who the potential suitors are, but if Ilaix continues a breakout season, the interest will inevitably grow, giving the player and his representatives more bargaining power.

Manchester United were earlier this week linked with the youngster in Mundo Deportivo.

Paris Saint-Germain will "fight to the death" to win a first-ever Champions League this season, according to head coach Mauricio Pochettino. 

The Ligue 1 champions go into Wednesday's last-16 second leg against Barcelona at the Parc des Princes well placed to reach the quarter-finals after a thumping 4-1 win over Ronald Koeman's side in the reverse fixture last month., 

Indeed, no team in the history of the competition has failed to progress from a knockout tie over two legs after winning the first leg by a margin of three goals away from home. 

They have also scored at least once in each of their last 22 Champions League games at home (61 goals), in a run that dates back to December 2015. The last team to keep a clean sheet away at PSG in the competition was Barca's LaLiga rivals Real Madrid (0-0 in October 2015).

PSG were beaten in last year's final by Bayern Munich – Kingsley Coman scoring the only goal in a slender win for the Bundesliga side – but Pochettino insisted the painful memories of that defeat will not derail them this term. 

"Clearly, it is the ambition of the club to win [the competition]," he told the LFP.  

"There are a lot of other teams who want to win it; it's not that easy. We are aware of our responsibility, and we will fight to the death to achieve it.

"We are unaffected by the past. We came here with a free spirit and without prejudice. These ideas convey only negativity. 

"Staying focused on the past limits your future possibilities. We come with new energy. We think that we have the potential to remain in contention in the Champions League. 

"In football, conviction brings you closer to winning."

Pochettino was in charge of Barca's city rivals Espanyol between 2009 and 2012, although he said that does not provide him with any extra impetus to knock them out of the competition. 

"I am not a fan of Espanyol who goes beyond the limits," he added. "Winning in Barcelona has a special flavor.

"But we want to win for PSG, for our players, for the fans, and finally, for ourselves."

The French giants eased to a 3-0 victory over Brest in the last 32 of the Coupe de France on Saturday to make it 12 wins, one draw and two defeats in Pochettino's first two months in charge after replacing Thomas Tuchel. 

The Argentinian is clearly enjoying his time at the helm of a club he played for between 2001 and 2003 and has cited training as the most stimulating aspect of his job.

"Coming to training every morning, being with the players, the staff, trying to improve, that's what motivates me," he said. "Maybe I even have more motivation to go to the training centre than to be in competition. 

"Within the staff, we believe a lot in the preparation, the building of a state of form. Motivation, concentration, it is built day by day."

A new era begins in earnest for Barcelona, with Joan Laporta's second spell as president confirmed on Sunday following his victory in the election.

Regarded as arguably the most important political event at the club in a generation, much was said to be riding on the collective decision of the socios, or members, who voted.

Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font had spent months outlining their plans in public, with La Masia, the club's crippling debt and the tumult caused by the previous administration among the main focuses.

But outsiders can be forgiven for thinking the election essentially boiled down to which candidate stood the best chance of convincing Lionel Messi to stay.

Laporta's first spell as president, from 2003 to 2010, coincided with Messi's rise from the youth ranks to global star, while he was also in charge when Pep Guardiola was promoted to the top job 2008.

While nostalgia may have played a strong part in Laporta's ascension, 54 per cent of voters feel he is the best man to navigate a challenging period – but what are the most important tasks facing him?

Messi – Should he stay, or should he go?

Laporta stopped short of insisting Messi will definitely stay put under his administration, which was probably wise given he only has a few months left on his contract. Fans would have surely seen through such a promise.

However, what he did throughout his campaign was emphasise his relationship with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, while also pointing out Messi's lack of familiarity with his rivals.

"I am the only one who can ensure his continuity. If I don't win, I'm sure Leo won't continue at Barca," Laporta said at last week's debate. "He was not very happy with Freixa's time [Laporta's rival was an ally of the discredited Josep Maria Bartomeu], when they let him see that he was expendable."

Of course, Messi attempted to force an exit last year, but his refusal to drag the issue through the courts meant Barca managed to keep hold of their prized asset.

Since then he has insisted his future is tied to the competitiveness of Barca. Laporta's discussions with him will be key, but they could be undermined should Ronald Koeman's men collapse in the latter stages of the season.

Make La Masia a force again

For years Barcelona's La Masia academy was the jewel of the club, the inspiration behind many hugely successful teams and the school that developed some of the finest players to play the game.

Even though a significant portion of the current squad have come through the ranks, La Masia's standing isn't quite what it once was and the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique are all into their thirties.

But Laporta emphasised the importance of the academy during his campaign, adamant he would look to restore it to its former glory, previously saying: "It will be our pillar, the backbone of the club's values."

Nevertheless, with Ansu Fati emerging as a ready-made star and Ilaix Moriba recently establishing himself as one to watch, La Masia's reputation is already receiving a timely boost.

Sell high-earning fringe players

Eric Abidal's spell as sporting director was ill-fated, to say the least. A day after sacking Quique Setien in August, the Frenchman was unceremoniously dismissed as well, with his overseeing of transfers making him a contentious figure long before he was eventually shown the door.

Among his purchases were the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Malcom, Jeison Murillo, Junior Firpo and Antoine Griezmann – it'd be difficult to consider any of those successes.

Granted, not all of his signings have been poor, with Pedri, Clement Lenglet and Frenkie de Jong brought in under his watch, but over the past few years the club has spent a significant amount of money on sub-standard players or underperforming so-called 'superstars'

As such, the Barca squad is bloated in terms of its wage expenditure and many of the back-up players are expected to be put up for sale, easing the financial strain and boosting revenues.

But before Barca can begin outlining transfer plans and a potentially revised recruitment strategy, Laporta needs to do something else…

Establish a new sporting department

Laporta is expected to bring his own people in to manage the club's sporting structure, and Jordi Cruyff – of course, the son of Barca icon Johan – is among the frontrunners for the sporting director post.

Cruyff is still thought to have significant influence and respect inside the club due to his family name, with the former Manchester United player recently affirming to Cadena Ser that he believes his father would have always backed Laporta in an election.

Mateu Alemany, former Valencia general manager, is also widely reported to be on his way in.

Alemany had played a major role Valencia's resurgence during the previous decade but left under something of a cloud in November 2019, with the Frenchman and club owner Peter Lim at odds.

Lim had dismissed popular head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral, of whom Alemany was a staunch backer, and that left the general manager's position looking untenable, particular after local reports claimed he wasn't even consulted about the subsequent appointment of Albert Celades.

Very little has gone right for Valencia since the exits of Marcelino and Alemany – their reputations, however, have remained firmly intact.

Strengthen the squad while managing debt

It's no secret that Barcelona's financial state is a mess – they have amassed €1.2billion in debt and that has unsurprisingly impacted their clout in the transfer market.

One of Laporta's main messages ahead of the election was that Barca needed a board and president with experience in such a tricky time, and that's certainly something he has in abundance.

In his first interview since being elected, Laporta stressed the need to make the club financially stable. He told Catalunya Radio: "The first thing will be to do an audit but first I will greet the workers. The club is in mismanagement and now we will finally be able to make the necessary decisions. We will do an audit and apply our shock plan so that Barca is economically sustainable."

Drastic changes could be on the cards, yet despite the financial state of the club, they will still need to work on improving the squad.

Juggling the two won't be straightforward, particularly when you add Messi's demand for competitiveness into the mix.

Matthijs de Ligt was linked with Manchester United before his move to Juventus in 2019.

United have reportedly renewed their interest in the 21-year-old Dutch defender.

Could he end up in Manchester?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT DE LIGT

Manchester United are set to target Juventus centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, according to TodoFichajes.

United were heavily linked with De Ligt before the Netherlands international swapped Ajax for Serie A champions Juve in 2019.

With United reportedly not advancing in their pursuit of Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, the Red Devils are eyeing De Ligt.

United have also been linked with RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla defender Jules Kounde and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Paris Saint-Germain are poised to offer David Alaba a €25million-per year deal in an attempt to prise the Bayern Munich star to the French capital. Out of contract at season's end, Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid. Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City have also been linked.

United have been left alone in the fight to sign Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, claims TodoFichajes. Unwilling to match Villa's valuation, City have reportedly exited the race for Grealish. The report also says United could sell Marcus Rashford to fund the move.

- Madrid stars Lucas Vazquez and Isco are wanted by Everton, according to Calciomercato. After prising James Rodriguez from the LaLiga champions, Everton are targeting another two players from the Spanish capital, though Milan and Juve are also keen.

- Diario AS reports Madrid are prioritising a move for in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. Chelsea, United, City, Juve, PSG, Barca and Bayern have all been linked but Madrid are reportedly shifting their attention from Kylian Mbappe to Haaland.

Joan Laporta is optimistic superstar captain Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona after being elected president of the LaLiga giants.

Laporta – who held the post from 2003 to 2010 – won the presential race on Sunday, seeing off competition from Victor Font and Antoni Freixa to return to the position as Josep Maria Bartomeu's successor.

Attention will now turn to six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi amid serious doubts over his future at Camp Nou.

Messi has been tipped to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season, with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League leaders Manchester City the reported frontrunners for the 33-year-old.

After his victory, Laporta delivered a speech and said: "Today marks 20 years since a boy named Leo Messi debuted with Barcelona's Infantil B [U12-13] team.

"Seeing the best player in the world come to vote with his son is an example of what we've said.

"Leo loves Barcelona. That's the reflection of it. The best player in the world loves Barcelona.

"Hopefully that will help him to stay at Barcelona. That's what we want."

Laporta also paid tribute to Barca great Johan Cruyff, adding: "I want to thank all the members for coming out to vote what has been the most important election in the club's history due to [the effects of] the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed our lives.

"I want to thank the members that have supported our campaign. This has been a celebration of democracy and of Barcelona. I also want to pay special thanks to Johan Cruyff, who's no longer with us. I am sure he's helped us.

"Barcelona is a huge family and we will overcome the difficulties together. We will achieve the objectives that we have set out."

Barca are three points adrift of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Ronald Koeman's Barca will face Athletic Bilbao in next month's Copa del Rey final, while they are looking to overturn a 4-1 deficit against PSG in the Champions League last 16.

Joan Laporta has won the race to become Barcelona's new president, with the 58-year-old seeing off competition from Victor Font and Antoni Freixa.

Laporta, who held the post from 2003 to 2010, was the favourite to come out on top in Sunday's election, and those predictions proved correct.

An exit poll conducted by Catalan television station TV3 projected Laporta to succeed with 58.3 per cent of the vote over Font (31.3) and Freixa (9.3).

The final figures were not too far off – Laporta claiming 54.28 per cent of the vote (30,184 votes). In total, there were 51,983 valid votes.

Lionel Messi and fellow first-team stars Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba were among members to cast their vote to determine the successor to Josep Maria Bartomeu, who stepped down last October, days before a planned vote of no confidence against his board.

Interim president Carlos Tusquets has had a difficult few months, with Messi, who publically criticised Barca's hierarchy under Bartomeu, still yet to decide on his future, while Ronald Koeman's team trail Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and are 4-1 down in their Champions League last-16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain.

The vote was scheduled to take place on January 24, yet a spike in COVID-19 cases in Spain pushed the election back six weeks.

As well as this delay, Barca's concerns have been compounded by official debt levels of over €1billion and a legal investigation that involves Bartomeu, who was provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business on March 3.

However, Barca fans will now be hoping Laporta, who oversaw one of the club's most successful periods which saw them win 12 major trophies, including their first treble under Pep Guardiola, can turn the Blaugrana's fortunes around.

Laporta has pledged to focus on "social and human" results, while also promising to restore La Masia – the club's famed academy – as a major contributor to the first team.

He has also claimed to be the best chance Barca have of convincing Messi to sign a contract extension.

While Koeman was only appointed last year, Laporta has reportedly considered offering the Barca post to Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.

Laporta hit the jackpot when he appointed the inexperienced Guardiola, who was assisted by Arteta at Manchester City, in 2008.

With 80 per cent of the vote counted and Laporta's victory becoming clear, opposing candidate Friexa said: "I want to congratulate Laporta for this victory, which does not allow for any discussion. We must now support our President. Such a high turnout legitimises his win."

Xavi was celebrating on Sunday as his Al Sadd team clinched the Qatar Stars League championship, the first league title of a coaching career that many expect will lead him back to Barcelona.

The former Spain and Barca midfielder saw his players secure the trophy with a 3-0 win over Umm Salal that puts them 13 points clear with four rounds of games remaining.

Xavi previously helped Al Sadd land the 2018-19 title in what proved to be the final year of his playing career.

The 41-year-old stepped up to be head coach of the team following that campaign and has led Al Sadd to a string of trophy successes in cup competitions, but he was thrilled to finally land a league title.

"We created a new history for Al Sadd," Xavi said. "I am happy to win the league title for the first time as a coach with Al Sadd, after winning it as a player."

Goals from Baghdad Bounedjah, Yousuf Abdurisag and Rodrigo Tabata secured Sunday's win.

Xavi told the club's website: "I am happy to be in this group of players, officials, technical and medical staff. Our goal is to win all the tournaments we participate in.

"Special thanks to the fans of Al Sadd who supported the team with full force throughout the season and also in the championship match against Umm Salal, and we promise them to continue working to make them happy and win more championships for the club."

Those supporters will hope Xavi's message signals a long-term commitment to the Al Sadd cause, given he has frequently been linked with a return to LaLiga giants Barcelona, the club where he spent his entire career until moving to Qatar at the age of 35.

Such suggestions were revived during the campaign to decide Barcelona's new president; however, the man heading for victory in the vote on Sunday, Joan Laporta, indicated recently that Xavi may not yet have sufficient experience to return to Camp Nou as head coach.

Al Sadd's league title was the 15th in their history and a 75th trophy in total, the club said.

Joan Laporta has won the race to become Barcelona's new president, with the 58-year-old seeing off competition from Victor Font and Antoni Freixa.

Laporta, who held the post from 2003 to 2010, was the favourite to come out on top in Sunday's election, and those predictions proved correct.

An exit poll conducted by Catalan television station TV3 projected Laporta to succeed with 58.3 per cent of the vote over Font (31.3) and Freixa (9.3).

The final figures were not too far off – Laporta claiming 54.28 per cent of the vote (30,184 votes). In total, there were 51,983 valid votes.

Lionel Messi and fellow first-team stars Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba were among members to cast their vote to determine the successor to Josep Maria Bartomeu, who stepped down last October, days before a planned vote of no confidence against his board.

Interim president Carlos Tusquets has had a difficult few months, with Messi, who publically criticised Barca's hierarchy under Bartomeu, still yet to decide on his future, while Ronald Koeman's team trail Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and are 4-1 down in their Champions League last-16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain.

The vote was scheduled to take place on January 24, yet a spike in COVID-19 cases in Spain pushed the election back six weeks.

As well as this delay, Barca's concerns have been compounded by official debt levels of over €1billion and a legal investigation that involves Bartomeu, who was provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business on March 3.

However, Barca fans will now be hoping Laporta, who oversaw one of the club's most successful periods which saw them win 12 major trophies, including their first treble under Pep Guardiola, can turn the Blaugrana's fortunes around.

Laporta has pledged to focus on "social and human" results, while also promising to restore La Masia – the club's famed academy – as a major contributor to the first team.

He has also claimed to be the best chance Barca have of convincing Messi to sign a contract extension.

While Koeman was only appointed last year, Laporta has reportedly considered offering the Barca post to Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.

Laporta hit the jackpot when he appointed the inexperienced Guardiola, who was assisted by Arteta at Manchester City, in 2008.

With 80 per cent of the vote counted and Laporta's victory becoming clear, opposing candidate Friexa said: "I want to congratulate Laporta for this victory, which does not allow for any discussion. We must now support our President. Such a high turnout legitimises his win."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique cast his vote in the Barcelona presidential election on Sunday and kept his fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

The former Barcelona player, who coached the team to treble glory in the 2014-15 season, was one of thousands who turned out to Camp Nou to vote in person.

Barcelona said 20,663 club members had already voted by post for their choice of the president to lead the club forward.

Luis Enrique was among a host of big names who arrived at the club's stadium to have their say in the election, with current players including Lionel Messi also exercising their right.

"It is an opportunity to choose the president of Barca and with joy. I hope that the one who comes out on top, the one picked by all the members, will be the best for the club," Luis Enrique said, quoted by Mundo Deportivo.

He was pictured wearing a face mask as he submitted his voting card, with the elections taking place while COVID-19 remains a major global crisis.

"Everything is strange in these times and what we have clearly demonstrated is the ability that we have to adapt," Luis Enrique said. "We will prepare and look for the positive side of things."

Xavi, a former Barcelona midfield talisman, urged members to come out and vote, to take their chance to influence the club's future direction.

Former president Joan Laporta is favourite to return for a second term in charge, with Victor Font and Toni Freixa the other men in the running.

Xavi, who Font has pledged to bring back to the club as head coach if he wins, had a major distraction on Sunday as his Al Sadd team attempted to wrap up the Qatar Stars League against Umm Salal.

But the 41-year-old wrote on Instagram: "From Doha I encourage all members to vote in the elections of the best club in the world. Long live Barca!"

Lionel Messi was among the Barcelona players to cast his vote in the club's presidential election on Sunday.

Former president Joan Laporta is favourite to return for a second term in charge, with Victor Font and Toni Freixa the other men in the running.

A sometimes ill-tempered campaign was extended when a rise in coronavirus cases put back the original polling day of January 24.

And further tumult was added to proceedings this week when ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu was arrested amid raids on Barcelona's headquarters by Catalan police this week.

Bartomeu was provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business.

Elections were called after Bartomeu stood down in October, following a turbulent period in which Messi sought to leave the club.

But Barca captain Messi, who is out of contract in June and yet to commit to his next move, arrived to vote alongside fellow first-teamers Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Riqui Puig, as well as ex-Blaugrana forward Luis Enrique.

Laporta said this week he was the only candidate who could ensure Messi would stay at Camp Nou, while Font believes his proposal of bringing in Barcelona great Xavi as head coach would be persuasive to his former team-mate.

Barcelona beat Osasuna 2-0 on Saturday, with Ronald Koeman's side cutting the gap to leaders Atletico Madrid to two points - having played two games more.

Atleti face Real Madrid – third and three points shy of Koeman's men – in Sunday's Madrid derby.

French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain are plotting an ambitious move for Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.

PSG, headed up by ex-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, are keen to replace 34-year-old Keylor Navas.

De Gea has been with United since 2011 and has two years remaining on his contract.

 

TOP STORY – PSG TO TEMPT UNITED

Mega-rich PSG would be able to offer United a significant fee for the 30-year-old De Gea and match his £375,000-a-week wages, according to The Sun.

United have been linked with a move for Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is coming off contract, while Dean Henderson has pushed De Gea this season to be number one.

PSG have also been linked with Tottenham custodian Hugo Lloris given his connection with Pochettino from their time together at Spurs.

ROUND-UP

- AS reports that Liverpool could enter the race for Kylian Mbappe, due to the alleged rift between forward Mohamed Salah and manager Jurgen Klopp.

- West Ham have turned to Stuttgart's Sasa Kalajdzic in their search for a striker, according to the Daily Mail. In the queue already are RB Leipzig and Roma.

- Limited funds means Barcelona are out of the race for Wolves' Adama Traore, according to Mundo Deportivo. The Spain international has been linked with Liverpool and Manchester City.

- UOL Esporte reports that Manchester United have registered an interest in Leeds United winger Raphinha.

After weeks of delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Barcelona will at last hold their presidential elections on Sunday, March 7.

More than 111,000 members, or socios, will cast their vote either in person at polling stations or by mail to determine who will succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in the top job.

Bartomeu stepped down last October, just days before a scheduled vote of no confidence against his board, but interim president Carlos Tusquets has hardly had an easy few months since.

As well as a delay in the hustings, which were initially set for January 24, Barca's off-the-pitch concerns have been exacerbated by official debt levels of more than €1billion and a legal investigation that involves Bartomeu, who was provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business on March 3.

Meanwhile, the men's senior football team requires an overhaul made even more difficult by the economic damage wrought by COVID-19, with Ronald Koeman's men chasing Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and facing a likely Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16.

The presidency has therefore become arguably the toughest job in elite football and could have a significant impact on the medium-term future of the club.

Who are the candidates?

There are three men in the race for the presidency: Joan Laporta, Toni Freixa and Victor Font.

The favourite is Laporta, who previously held the post from 2003 to 2010, one of Barca's most successful periods that saw them win 12 major trophies, including their first treble under Pep Guardiola in 2009. He remains popular with a large part of the fan base and is arguably the candidate on best terms with Lionel Messi.

Freixa, who campaigned unsuccessfully in 2015, previously advised Laporta's board of directors and served as spokesperson under Sandro Rosell and Bartomeu, and has been involved with the club for 18 years. His knowledge and experience of working for different administrations at Camp Nou could be key.

Font, meanwhile, is banking on the support of those members who feel a fresh approach is needed. A successful entrepreneur, his expertise lies in telecommunication, media and technology, but his vision for Barca's future has been worked on since 2013 and perhaps represents the most prudent option available.

What do they promise?

The message from Laporta's camp is simple: "We are a group of Barca fans with ideas for the future and the experience to carry them out." He promises to focus on "social and human" results, as well as those on the pitch and in financial statements. He has vowed to put faith back in academy products from La Masia to complement the first-team stars, while he insists he is the best chance Barca have of convincing Messi to sign a contract extension.

Freixa's campaign – Fidels al Barca, or 'True to Barca' – is, he says, "a candidacy for the people, free of outside interests". Following a member-first approach, he has vowed to correct Barca's crippling €1.2billion debt levels without the need for outside investors. Freixa's focus is on weaponising the club's passionate supporters: he wants to pack out the stadium "with Barca fans, not tourists", with reward schemes in place for the most loyal followers, and make sure the planned Espai Barca redevelopment of the stadium and surrounding area does not compromise the club's image.

Font has been building his 'Yes to the Future' campaign for the best part of eight years. Founded on "new blood and good governance", his is an honest approach: accepting the club have reached "an historic crossroads" that requires professional experience to navigate, he says his project has the groundwork and the expertise to be by far the most viable for the club's future. His plan is "to revamp collectively the club and to ensure that Barca can contribute in a tangible way to making the world a better place".

Will they hire a new coach?

Ronald Koeman has rightly become fed up with questions over his future and will be glad when Sunday's elections are over and he can find out from the new president what his job prospects look like.

While there can be few guarantees for any coach – Barca could still win the treble this season, or end up with nothing – it feels unlikely Koeman will be in charge for 2021-22.

Laporta has reportedly considered offering the job to Arsenal's Mikel Arteta, having previously struck gold with former players when he gave the inexperienced Guardiola a shot back in 2008. Font, who has the valuable support of former club captain Carles Puyol, is believed to be eager to bring Xavi back to Camp Nou after the ex-midfielder's impressive spell with Al-Sadd in Qatar.

Freixa has at least offered Koeman a public show of support until the end of his contract next year, but he too has spoken of wanting Xavi back in Catalonia sooner rather than later, even if that would initially see him take over the B team.

What will happen with transfers?

Barca's dire financial situation makes star signings, the kind on which many past club elections in Spain have been based, a very difficult thing to expect.

Font has adopted by far the more prudent approach, warning fans that selling high-earning under-performers and restructuring the wage bill is essential to stave off a deepening financial crisis, but that is not a policy that will appease fans desperate to see Barca challenging for the Champions League again.

Freixa has gone for the Hail Mary, insisting signing Kylian Mbappe AND Erling Haaland would be perfectly possible and that he has an investor lined up who could bolster the club to the tune of €250m through a stake in Barca Corporate.

Laporta's priority is to build a competitive side around their club captain...

So, what about Messi?

As mentioned, Laporta claims electing him will give Barca the best chance of convincing Messi to stay. The Argentina star broke into the first team during Laporta's previous presidency and enjoyed great success in that spell, including winning the Champions League – the trophy he covets most – under Frank Rijkaard and Guardiola.

Font and Freixa, without any personal connection to call upon, have each admitted keeping Messi depends more on Barca's ability to sell the strength of their new project to the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Again, Font is the real pragmatist. When El Mundo leaked details of Messi's massive contract, Font rejected the notion that paying such a salary was a financial burden too great to bear, insisting Messi was an asset who helped to generate as much money as he cost. However, he also told Onda Cero: "If [Messi] is not here in the future then it would not be the end of the world."

Ronald Koeman believes the combination between Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba for Barcelona is almost unstoppable.

Messi set up Alba's opener and Ilaix Moriba's sealer as Barca recorded a 2-0 LaLiga win at Osasuna on Saturday.

Of Alba's past 16 goals for Barca in all competitions, Messi has assisted eight.

Koeman, whose side closed to within two points of leaders Atletico Madrid, said the duo's connection was almost impossible to stop.

"You can see in every game our opponents are trying to cover that, trying to block Messi's pass to play the ball in behind to Jordi Alba," the Barcelona coach told a news conference.

"So, at many points of a game that pass between them isn't possible. But I don't think you can stop these two players and that connection that's there between Messi and Jordi Alba because it's something brilliant.

"There are always moments in a game where that pass does appear and those two are calm enough on the ball to pick it out and they can pick it out very easily and they really do it at the right time.

"You can't really stop it because it's just natural instinct."

Atletico have played two fewer games than Barca, with Diego Simeone's side facing Real Madrid in a derby clash on Sunday.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman says he will take an interest in Sunday's Madrid derby but is unfazed by the result as the LaLiga title race heats up.

The Catalans defeated Osasuna 2-0 on Saturday to extend their unbeaten LaLiga run to 16 matches and close to within two points of leaders Atletico Madrid, who have two games in hand.

One of those is Sunday's Madrid derby where third-placed Real Madrid will also look to close within two points of Atletico with victory.

Atletico have wavered in recent matches, dropping points in three of their past five, opening the door for Barca and Madrid, although Koeman said he would be unfazed by the outcome.

"The derby in Madrid? The most important thing is our result," Koeman said.

"But of course we're interested in it. Any result would be good."

Jordi Alba and Guinea-born 18-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba netted the goals in Saturday's win at Osasuna.

The teenager was making just his third appearance in LaLiga, having come through Barcelona's famed academy.

"Ilaix is young, but is physically very strong," Koeman said. "He's gaining ground to be with the first team more often."

He added: "Ilaix scored a goal in a difficult match, with 0-2 we killed off the game. Every time Moriba enters the pitch he brings something extra.

"Players like Pedri, Ilaix, Riqui [Puig], [Ronald] Araujo and [Oscar] Mingueza are the future of the club.

"We're proud to be able to bring in young homegrown players. But we are not doing it because the fans want it, we're doing it because they deserve it."

French defender Samuel Umtiti was replaced at half-time by attacker Ousmane Dembele, a switch Koeman clarified.

"The substitution of Umtiti was tactical. We wanted to be in better control," he said.

"It's true he had a card but he wasn't applying pressure well. We improved in the second half."

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