Getafe are poised to move for Barcelona midfielder Carles Alena and Real Madrid winger Takefusa Kubo when LaLiga's January transfer window opens.

Alena, 22, has been unable to establish himself as a regular starter under Ronald Koeman and has made just four appearances for the Blaugrana this season.

Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane allowed 19-year-old Kubo to join Villarreal on a season-long loan, during which he has made 19 appearances, but it is expected that deal will be cut short.

Getafe president Angel Torres revealed the club's interest in the pair as head coach Jose Bordalas seeks to strengthen his squad next month.

"Kubo wants to come," Torres told Onda Cero program El Transistor. "Yes, the other reinforcement may be Alena. But we are not going to go crazy."

Getafe currently occupy 13th place in LaLiga ahead of their fixture with leaders Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Barcelona presidential candidate Agusti Benedito has outlined his plans to bring in transfer guru Monchi should he succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in next month's elections.

Monchi is arguably the most revered sporting director in football thanks to his impressive business across two stints with Sevilla, either side of a less successful spell with Roma.

And Benedito, who has twice run unsuccessfully for the club's presidency, would happily give Monchi free rein to revolutionise Barca's transfer policy.

"We met in 2015 several times with Koeman and he had strong ideas. I think he will open a spell that lasts several years at the helm," Benedito told Goal. 

"In terms of sporting direction, back then we bet on Monchi and we spoke to him, too. I still think he is in the top three in the world and would be a brilliant addition.

"Back then it seemed he would never leave Sevilla and then he went to Italy and came back. The first thing I will do if I am president will be to call Monchi and try to convince him."

But would Monchi really be the right fit for Barca, who are clearly in need of some sort of overhaul? We look at his transfer hits and misses across two decades working behind the scenes.

THE HITS

Dani Alves

Alves was plucked from the obscurity of Bahia while still a teenager, initially joining Sevilla on loan before signing permanently for a reported €550,000 fee.

The attacking full-back formed a fine partnership on the right with Jesus Navas and played a crucial role in back-to-back UEFA Cup triumphs. 

He joined Barcelona for €41.5m in 2008, winning every title possible in one of the greatest eras in the club's history, before spells with Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Sao Paolo.


Freddie Kanoute

In the Premier League with West Ham and Tottenham, Kanoute was effective but by no means a star.

Sevilla were said to have parted with €6.5m to bring him to Spain, and after a decent first season, he really found his groove with 21 LaLiga strikes in the 2006-07 campaign. 

He formed one of the best striker partnerships in Europe with Luis Fabiano and was vital in their back-to-back UEFA Cup triumphs. The club never turned his form into a transfer profit, but he became a Sevilla icon and one of their greatest ever players.


Ivan Rakitic 

A little like with Kanoute, Monchi brought Rakitic to Sevilla when the midfielder appeared to be struggling to live up to his early promise. The club paid Schalke just €2.5m for the Croatian in January 2011 and the midfielder enjoyed an excellent first few months. 

His first full season showed why doubts about him had arisen in Germany, as he failed to score a single goal in LaLiga, but Unai Emery's arrival in the 2012-13 campaign saw his fortunes transform.

The following season Rakitic inspired Europa League success, earning his €18m move to Barcelona where he enjoyed great success before returning to Sevilla in September.


Ever Banega

The early years of Banega's career were mired by fitness issues and negative headlines, such as the time he ran himself over with his own car.

When he first joined Sevilla in 2014, there was an air of 'now or never' for the gifted Argentina international, who cost just €2.5m as Valencia reportedly just wanted rid of him. 

After a slow start he became one of the first names on the team sheet, playing arguably the best football of his career and winning two Europa Leagues. He left for Inter in 2016 but returned a year later, with Monchi counting him as one of his best buys.


Jules Kounde

Monchi returned for a second spell with Sevilla in 2019 and, perhaps needing to prove himself again after his underwhelming stay in Rome, he pulled off another transfer coup by bringing in Kounde from Bordeaux for a reported €25m.

That is a substantially higher fee than the other names mentioned, granted, but it is a club-record transfer that has more than paid off thus far.

The centre-back was a key member of Sevilla's latest Europa League-winning squad and attracted interest from numerous clubs during the close season, with his valuation said to have doubled in the space of a year.


THE MISSES

Patrik Schick

Monchi spent around €230m on a raft of signings while at Roma as they looked to replace the likes of Mohamed Salah, Alisson Becker, Antonio Rudiger and Leandro Parades.

The biggest single outlay was on Schick, who struggled to justify his transfer fee - and the hype surrounding his arrival - in his two whole seasons at the Stadio Olimpico.

Schick headed to the Bundesliga in 2019, initially on loan with RB Leipzig before joining Bayer Leverkusen permanently earlier this year for another large fee.


Javier Pastore

Arguably the most disappointing of Monchi's signings, Pastore struggled to adapt to life under Eusebio Di Francesco and little has changed since Paulo Fonseca took over last year.

He started a combined 12 Serie A games in his first two seasons with the club and has yet to play a single minute in all competitions this term.

What made the transfer all the more bizarre for a player past his prime was that Monchi awarded him a five-year deal, making it difficult for the Italian side to offload him.


Steven Nzonzi

This was a signing that perhaps made sense on the face of it as Nzonzi followed Monchi from Sevilla to Roma. He was part of France's successful World Cup squad a month earlier - but it proved to be another example of Roma splashing out big on a player with little resale value.

Nzonzi was a shadow of the player many hoped he would be in the Italian capital and he lasted just one full season before heading out on loan to Galatasaray and then Rennes, all while still on Roma's books.

Lionel Messi's failure to fully commit his future to Barcelona during a "unique opportunity" has left presidential candidate Agusti Benedito a worried man.

Argentine great Messi, the all-time leading scorer for Barca and in LaLiga, was the subject of a lengthy transfer saga prior to the 2020-21 season.

Left humiliated by Barca's 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, Messi announced his desire to leave Camp Nou, with Manchester City having been heavily tipped as his favoured destination.

Messi cited a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for free, but both Barca and LaLiga disputed his interpretation and, not wishing to drag the issue through the courts, the club captain stayed put.

The 33-year-old was heavily critical of president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October amid increasing pressure.

Unsurprisingly, Messi's future has been the main topic on the agenda for all candidates and the forward did not categorically state his desire to remain beyond the end of June 2021 during an interview with La Sexta, which has caused great concern for Benedito who has twice previously run for the presidency.

Speaking to Goal's Spanish edition, Benedito said: "In the summer he made some huge declarations where he said clearly that he wanted to go and asked the president to let him go and now we need him to change his mind.

"That interview was a unique opportunity to say that he was excited to continue and we didn't hear that. I wasn't able to hear a hopeful message and I'm worried, frankly.

"This time he didn't say he wanted to go but neither did he say that he wanted to stay.

"What us Cules are worried about is if he will stay on next season, that has nothing to do with what happens further down the road. We are hanging on his decision and after the interview I am still unsure whether he is interested in staying at the club because he didn't say so.

"We have the best player in the world, who in August said he wanted to leave after 20 years at the club and who still hasn't said if he wants to stay. My concern is that the most likely scenario sees him leaving us in the summer. Who wouldn't be worried about losing the best player ever?

"Everything has its beginning and end but it would be a shame for Messi's time at Barca to be cut short."

Another issue that candidates have answered plenty of questions on is the potential return of Neymar, who has been consistently linked with a move back to Camp Nou since departing for Paris Saint-Germain in 2017.

However, Benedito doubts PSG's Qatari owners would sanction a move with the country hosting the 2022 World Cup, and he suggested such a deal would not be prudent at a time where Barca's financial situation is precarious as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I don't think this is the time to be signing that kind of player and I don't think Qatar will let him go either," Benedito said.

"They are organising the World Cup finals, the investment is huge, they have a top club in world football like PSG and I think that not only will they try to keep those kind of players but that they will also go out looking for new signings.

"I think this summer we will be more focused on convincing Messi to stay than on Neymar's return."

Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho will undergo arthroscopic surgery to determine the severity of an injury to his left knee.

The Brazil international was introduced as a 66th-minute substitute during Tuesday's disappointing 1-1 draw with Eibar at Camp Nou but was unable to see the game out.

Initial reports suggested Coutinho could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines and the club confirmed on Wednesday he had damaged a lateral meniscus and will now have an exploratory operation.

A Barcelona statement read: "The tests carried out on the first team player Philippe Coutinho have shown that the midfielder has an injury to the lateral meniscus in his left knee. Treatment will necessitate arthroscopic surgery which will take place in the coming days."

A lengthy absence for Coutinho would be another blow for Barca boss Ronald Koeman, who is already without Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique through injury.

Coutinho has made 14 appearances for Barcelona this season in all competitions, with three goals and two assists.

The draw with Eibar saw the Catalans slip to sixth in the LaLiga table, seven points adrift of joint leaders Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi, one of the greatest football players of all time, stunned Barcelona by telling the club he wanted to leave only to be thwarted in his attempts in the last transfer window.

However, as he enters the final six months of his contract, it seems likely talks have already begun with interested parties as he considers where his future will lie in 2021.

The Argentina superstar has spent his entire career at the Catalan giants, but he now looks likely to start the 2021-22 campaign with a new club. 

Where Messi goes remains to be seen but any deal for the 33-year-old will rank as one of the most dramatic in the history of sport. 

Here, we look at a selection of other sporting deals that shocked the world. 

 

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of domestic football, but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final last term. 

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced that he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. Time will tell if his decision to sign with a highly promising Buccaneers team proves to be a masterstroke.  

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player, it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move. 

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

It appears that, if Lionel Messi has his way, he will be playing for a new club before long.

The Barcelona captain and talisman told his employers he wanted to leave and, although the club won the battle in the previous transfer window, they may end up losing the war.

Messi is now entering the final six months of his contract and, unless a new deal is agreed soon, he could become perhaps the most sensational free transfer of all time in 2021.

Of course, tempting Messi away from Barca is by no means straightforward. His basic salary is said to be roughly €71million and, when you add in bonuses and other possible commitments, that represents a huge outlay on a player who turns 34 next June. Only a handful of clubs are even capable of pulling off such a deal, particularly in a financial landscape changed by COVID-19.

But what if, just for a minute, we imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

 

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea. Perhaps Luis Suarez could join him at his old club when the Uruguay star decides his time in LaLiga is over.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but it seems likely he will move on in January after a falling-out with his head coach.

Imagine if they signed Messi to replace him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne have gone through some tricky times but Markus Gisdol has done a good job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023. However, with another relegation battle looking likely this season, they could do with a decisive signing or two to boost their survival chances.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the big boys in the Bundesliga, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League and have become the division's great entertainers, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

NAPOLI

The Serie A move that would capture the imagination the most would be joining Napoli.

Not only would Messi's arrival get one over on long-standing rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who would no longer be the solo big ticket in Serie A, it would give him the chance dispel some other demons.

For much of his career, Messi has contended with people saying he's not at the level of Diego Maradona, the man who made Napoli kings of Italy.

Now that El Pibe de Oro has passed on, the sight of Messi leading Napoli to Scudetto glory at the stadium now bearing the name of his compatriot would be truly unforgettable.

Lionel Messi is entering the final six months of his Barcelona contract. The end of an era is, potentially, in sight and that would usher in a strange new world, particularly for Barca and his possible next employers.

Messi declared his desire to leave Barcelona back in August, but the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu stood firm – their talisman and most iconic player in the institution's modern history was reluctant to drag them through the courts.

Although his initial announcement came as a shock, in some ways it was entirely predictable. The turmoil engulfing Barca's hierarchy and their decision-making in the past few years looked destined to come to a head – there would be major consequences, and Messi leaving was always going to be the worst-case scenario.

The departure of Bartomeu and the likelihood of Joan Laporta being his successor certainly improve Barca's chances of keeping Messi, but as he heads into the final six months of a contract that ends on June 30 he can start to discuss free transfers with other clubs.

Messi leaving Barca appears a real possibility. What will determine his next destination? Romance? Trophies? Vengeance?

If it's the latter, we have a few tongue-in-cheek destinations in mind, however unlikely they may be…

Real Madrid

Imagine the chaos, the hysteria. If Barca have angered him so much, what better way to really get his own back on them? Moving to the Santiago Bernabeu would be a remarkable switch, the ultimate act of vengeance. Luis Figo had a pig's head thrown towards him when he returned to Camp Nou after joining Madrid – you can only wonder what reception would await Messi if he were to commit the cardinal sin of crossing that divide.

Stoke City

There is a running joke in England that Messi "wouldn't be able to do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke". It derives from pundit Andy Gray, who in 2010 claimed – without a hint of irony – that Messi would "struggle on a cold night at the Britannia Stadium". His comment became embellished, but was regularly used as a stick to beat Messi with by Premier League fans who wanted to accentuate the physicality of England's elite division. Based on the idea Stoke were scrappy and the city sees more than its fair share of bad weather, as well as the stadium's renown for being windy, it was seen as the Premier League's grimmest away trip. After earning millions every season for the past 15 years or so, why not take a modest deal to prove he can in fact do it on a wet and windy night in Stoke?

Inter

The player rivalry that has defined the past 13 years or so at the top of football has been Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo. During the latter's days at Real Madrid, the pair were involved in some of the most enthralling matchups in world football as they tussled in a host of Clasicos and often played decisive roles in LaLiga title races. But their rivalry didn't stop there – it extended to their domination of prestigious individual awards, such as the Ballon d'Or; Messi has six to Ronaldo's five. Why not rekindle that fire by joining Juve's rivals Inter? The Derby d'Italia could usurp El Clasico as the world's most-anticipated club game.

Borussia Dortmund

For all of Messi's apparent issues with the Barca board, it seems unlikely that he doesn't still love the club – after all, he was signed up as a 12-year-old. The 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich back in August will have hurt. How better to get revenge than to move to Die Roten's arch-rivals Dortmund? He could be the final piece of the puzzle that finally overthrows Bayern's Bundesliga dominance.

Lionel Messi's future has been the subject of much speculation but a reunion with Pep Guardiola is still very much in Manchester City's plans.

Messi has been disgruntled with his situation at Barcelona since the end of last season, despite head coach Ronald Koeman's insistence that his superstar captain is happy.

Four-time Champions League winner Messi unsuccessfully tried to force an exit in August, however there will be no legal clauses to stop him when his contract expires in June 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI WANTED ON FIVE-YEAR DEAL

The City Football Group (CFG) is eyeing a 2021 swoop that will see Lionel Messi split time between their Premier League powerhouse Manchester City and MLS franchise New York City, according to the Telegraph.

A five-year contract could be offered to superstar Barcelona captain Messi, which includes three years in England, taking the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to the age of 37, followed by an additional two more in the United States.

In an interview with Spanish TV channel La Sexta, Messi admitted his desire to one day play in the United States, a hint that City's proposal may be on his mind.

Lionel Messi's days at Barcelona appear to be numbered, with the club captain and talisman heading into the final six months of his contract. 

As such, he can begin discussions with other clubs ahead of a potential free transfer once his contract expires on June 30. 

Messi, 33, set things in motion back in August when he rocked world football by publicly confirming his desire to leave the only club he has ever represented as a professional, and with whom he has won everything. 

Barca's surrender to Real Madrid in LaLiga's title race and the 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League appeared to be the final straw for Messi earlier this year, though the departure of president Josep Maria Bartomeu might have improved the club's chances of keeping him. 

Additionally, Joan Laporta is the favourite to succeed Bartomeu in next month's election, but if he cannot persuade Messi to stay then football looks set to see a move that will rank as one of the most seismic in the history of the sport. 

So, where could Messi end up next?

Newell's Old Boys

Messi's relationship with the public in Argentina has often been strained due to the fact he moved to Barca at the age of 13 and developed in their famous La Masia academy. But he started out at Newell's five years prior to that and a return to his hometown of Rosario would be an understandable move as he enters the latter stages of his career. Unrealistic? Perhaps, but it's a move all football romanticists would love to see.

Manchester City

While his form this term may have been somewhat disappointing by his usual standards, Messi undoubtedly still has the quality to play at the highest level. City, managed by former Barca boss Pep Guardiola, are said to have been looking into the feasibility of bringing the Argentina superstar to the Etihad Stadium. Media reports have suggested he could spend a few years in Manchester before then being sent to sister club New York City FC in MLS for the final seasons of his career. City are certainly one of a handful of clubs that could match Messi's huge wages, and there is a strong lure given the Blaugrana alumni running the show at City.

Paris Saint-Germain

PSG have been right at the forefront of this saga since the very start in August. Thomas Tuchel, since sacked of course, was asked about the possibility of signing Messi as early as his Champions League final post-match media duties. The Ligue 1 champions have never shied away from splashing the cash – they paid Barca a world record €222million for Neymar and shelled out €180m on Kylian Mbappe. If Messi wants to win another European crown before retiring, few clubs are better positioned to help him achieve that, and the chance to link up with Neymar again might be too good an opportunity to turn down.

Inter

Even before there was any doubt about Messi's future at Barca, Inter were the main club linked with an audacious attempt to sign the 33-year-old. The Suning Holdings Group ownership makes them one of the few clubs alongside City and PSG that have the financial capacity to offer him a sizeable contract, and they do appear to be getting back to the level expected of them since the arrival of Antonio Conte as coach. Links with Inter have cooled in recent months, but they cannot be ruled out yet. The chance to battle old foe Cristiano Ronaldo in Serie A may prove an enticing prospect, too.

Al-Sadd

Things could have gone very differently for Barca had club legend Xavi been handed the reins in January instead of Quique Setien. As it happened, the iconic former midfielder felt it was not the right time to return to Camp Nou and chose to remain at Al-Sadd. A link-up with his former team-mate in Qatar could be an option for Messi, though there is every chance Xavi finds himself back in Catalonia in the not-too-distant future.

Lionel Messi watched from the sidelines as Barcelona dropped more points against lowly Eibar in LaLiga and Junior Firpo blamed the team's lack of cutting edge.

Barca have fallen seven points off the pace set by rivals Atletico Madrid and defending champions Real Madrid atop LaLiga, following Tuesday's 1-1 draw.

Ronald Koeman's Barca were held to back-to-back draws at Camp Nou after Eibar striker Kike capitalised on Ronald Araujo's error before substitute Ousmane Dembele scored an equaliser for the hosts.

With superstar captain Messi absent due to an ankle injury, Martin Braithwaite missed a penalty as Barca fired in 16 shots, including five on target, against the LaLiga strugglers.

Goalscorer Dembele was guilty of hitting a tame shot when clean through on goal, while Braithwaite and substitute Francisco Trincao spurned chances to net a late winner.

Antoine Griezmann was the only player in Barca's starting line-up with more than two league goals in 2020-21 but the recalled forward was unable to add to his three goals from 14 outings. 

"We need a thousand chances to score," Barca defender Junior said via Marca.

"They [Eibar] had one clear chance and scored."

Junior added: "It's the trend of the season.

"The games are tough and it's all uphill."

However, the 24-year-old left-back Junior was more than happy with his own performance after combining with Pedri to set up Dembele for Barca's 67th-minute leveller.

Junior made his first league start of the season against Eibar in relief of veteran full-back Jordi Alba.

"I felt good," Firpo said. "It's noticeable when you don't play so often, but I always try to train to the fullest.

"When I get a chance I try to take advantage of it."

Barcelona travel to face bottom side Huesca in their first match of 2021 on January 3.

Ronald Koeman concedes it will be "very difficult" for his Barcelona side to challenge Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid for the LaLiga title this season. 

Barca were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Eibar at Camp Nou on Tuesday, Ousmane Dembele salvaging a point for the hosts after Kike Garcia had put Jose Luis Mendilibar's side ahead. 

Martin Braithwaite had earlier missed a penalty for Barca – his fourth consecutive failure from the spot – as Koeman's men dropped points for the eighth time in 15 LaLiga games this season. 

The result left them seven points behind the Madrid clubs despite having played two games more than leaders Atleti, and Koeman acknowledged a title tilt is now unlikely. 

"You have to be realistic and admit that it will be very complicated," he said. 

"In life nothing is impossible, but now there is a big difference in points with the leader, Atletico, who are doing very well, winning almost all their games and conceding very few goals. It's going to be very difficult."

Barca were without talisman Lionel Messi, who had been given extra time to recover from an ankle injury. 

Since his debut in October 2004, the Catalan giants have won just 55.9 per cent of their LaLiga games without him (W66 D39 L22), compared to 73.7 per cent with him in the side (W368 D83 L48).

While admitting they missed the Argentine superstar's creativity and goal threat, Koeman believed his side created enough chances to claim all three points. 

"In the first half we had problems getting the ball from behind," he added. "We did not look for a game between the lines and I do not know why, but we have had opportunities again.

"I don't want to say that we lacked experienced players. There is a transition in the team, there are injuries and we play with many young people.

"But today there was a lot of experience in the team and, yes, we were missing Leo who makes a difference. But the feeling we have is that it was possible to have won because we have created enough chances."

Barca are next in action against bottom side Huesca on Sunday. 

Lionel Messi's absence was sorely felt by Barcelona on Tuesday as Ronald Koeman's side were held to a 1-1 draw by lowly Eibar at Camp Nou.

Barca had given Messi – who was watching from the stands – a break to nurse an ankle injury, but the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's creativity and goal threat was badly missed as the hosts dropped points for the eighth time in 15 LaLiga games this season.

Martin Braithwaite was duly punished for an early penalty miss – a LaLiga-high third of the campaign for the Catalan giants – when Kike Garcia took full advantage of a Ronald Araujo error in the 57th minute.

Substitute Ousmane Dembele salvaged a draw for Barca 10 minutes later, although they are seven points behind leaders Atletico Madrid despite having played two games more.

Barca squandered a golden opportunity to take an eighth-minute lead, Braithwaite dragging his spot-kick wide after referee Javier Alberola Rojas had used the pitchside monitor to penalise Pedro Bigas for a foul on Araujo.

The Denmark international thought he had made amends shortly after the midway point of the first half, but his cool strike from Junior Firpo's cross was ruled out by VAR for offside.

Antoine Griezmann then pulled an effort wide from outside the penalty area as Barca went in at the interval having had just a solitary shot on target.

Dembele and Miralem Pjanic flashed strikes wide in the early stages of the second half before the former was denied by Marko Dmitrovic after being played clean through.

The Frenchman was made to pay for that miss when Kike picked Araujo's pocket inside the Barca half and coolly slotted past Marc Ande ter Stegen for his fifth goal of the campaign.

Dembele belatedly got the better of Dmitrovic in the 67th minute, firing home at the back post after Junior's cross flashed across the face of goal.

Francisco Trincao clipped narrowly wide of Dmitrovic's right-hand post in stoppage time as Barca missed the opportunity to make up ground on Atleti ahead of the leaders' clash with Getafe on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi's situation at Barcelona is "reversible", according to presidential hopeful Joan Laporta.

Argentina great Messi sent shockwaves through the world of football when he asked to leave Camp Nou ahead of the 2020-21 season but after a lengthy transfer wrangle ultimately ended up staying put.

With Messi out of contract at the end of the campaign, the 33-year-old's long-term future is still shrouded in doubt, although the end of the reign of Josep Maria Bartomeu – with whom he has had a fraught relationship – as president may convince the superstar forward to stay.

One potential issue is the financial problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with presidential hopeful Toni Freixa last month saying Messi would have to reduce the terms of his bumper contract.

Laporta, who is hoping to return to a position he served between 2003 and 2010, remains hopeful that Barca's financial difficulties and Messi's future can both be resolved, though.

"They are two things that are the result of poor management. The situation has worsened with COVID, but mismanagement is part of and is the origin of this consequence; having Leo like this," Laporta told AS. 

"The two things are reversible. The situation of the club is reversible and the Leo issue, I hope too. 

"I think the most important thing is that Leo said he will wait for a new president to decide and, therefore, he would be willing to listen to Barca's proposal. 

"They told me they would wait until the end of the season. I like to stay with the positive and I think that is very positive."

Back in 2008, Barca sold Ronaldinho and Deco but Messi was reassured of the club's ambition and his own standing as a crucial member of the team following a meeting with Laporta.

Asked what his message to Messi would be now, Laporta said such an answer is dependent on him winning the election.

"To answer the question, first I have to be president. To see the possibilities that we have in the club to make a good financial proposal," he added. 

"And then, the sports proposal has to be competitive. Leo does not move for money, he wants Barca. 

"And then, I think what he really wants is to keep winning the Champions League and Leagues. And there is the key to the issue. Make a competitive proposal."

Tottenham are keeping an eye on Sergio Ramos' situation at Real Madrid, while Georginio Wijnaldum is set to decide his future.

Ramos, 34, is coming out of contract at Madrid at the end of the season.

With the defender yet to re-sign, he has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – TOTTENHAM KEEPING AN EYE ON RAMOS

Tottenham are keeping an eye on Ramos' situation at Real Madrid, according to the Evening Standard.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho worked with Ramos at Madrid between 2010 and 2013.

Ramos has been at the Spanish giants since 2005, winning five LaLiga titles and three Champions League trophies among numerous other honours.

 

ROUND-UP

- Also out of contract at season's end, Wijnaldum is set to make a decision on his Liverpool future. Sky Sports reports the midfielder will decide this week whether to sign a new deal with the Premier League champions amid links to Barcelona.

- Diego Costa is set to leave Atletico Madrid, who are eyeing a replacement. Marca reports Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik is best placed to replace Costa.

- Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha is again linked with a move. The Sun reports Serie A leaders AC Milan are chasing Zaha in January.

- Arsenal look set to be busy in January. The Sun reports the Premier League club want Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan in a £32million (€35.3m) move. Meanwhile, The Athletic says Arsenal are unlikely to rekindle their interest in Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar.

- Could Marcos Alonso be returning to Spain? The Independent reports Atletico Madrid are in talks to sign full-back Alonso on loan from Chelsea in January. Alonso has played just three Premier League games for Chelsea this season.

Quique Setien insisted he would be prepared to return to Barcelona after an "extraordinary" experience at the helm of the LaLiga giants.

Setien took charge of Barca in January until the end of a miserable 2019-20 season, which the club finished without a trophy and were humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

The 62-year-old, who sued the club, talked up his experience at Camp Nou and said he would be willing to return.

"The experience was extraordinary," Setien said, via Marca.

"It is true that we did not enjoy what we would have liked and with that illusion I went from the beginning.

"Of course I would return to Barcelona and I would never regret having gone, not at all."

Setien has been without a job since being sacked by Barcelona in August.

The former Real Betis and Las Palmas coach said he needed time after his sacking.

"I have already overcome the mourning that I had to go through for what happened in Barcelona," Setien said.

"But this is an accident, one more that you take as part of your job."

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