Could Luis Suarez return to Liverpool, where he spent three and half seasons from 2011 to 2014?

The Uruguayan forward has been a key part of Atletico Madrid's LaLiga title push this term, with 19 league goals.

The Reds are reportedly keen to bolster their forward options, with Suarez on their list.

 

TOP STORY – REDS PREPARING SUAREZ OFFER

Liverpool are interesting in the return of Suarez this off-season and are preparing an offer for the Atletico Madrid forward, according to Fichajes.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp reportedly wants to add experience to his front line and 34-year-old Suarez fits the bill.

Suarez scored 82 goals in 133 appearances for the Reds in his previous stint before joining Barcelona.

ROUND-UP

- Spanish outlet Cope claims that Real Madrid are not contemplating a move for Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo despite widespread speculation of a return. The report says Madrid are focused on the future rather than a veteran player whose career is winding down.

- Barcelona are planning to release Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho this off-season due to their financial issues, allowing them to retain young talent Pedri, Ilaix Moriba and Ansu Fati, according to El Confidencial.

- On the topic of Barcelona, Sport is claiming the Catalans have approved the signings of Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool and Memphis Depay from Lyon and are awaiting validation from their new board.

- Diego Costa has reached an agreement to join Benfica as a free agent, according to Mundo Deportivo. Costa left Atletico Madrid in December and returned to his native Brazil.

- Manchester United are considering a move to sign 24-year-old Villarreal defender Pau Torres in the off-season, according to the Manchester Evening News.

- Galatasaray, Flamengo or Marseille are the primary options to be Arturo Vidal's next home as he is set to leave Inter, reports Calciomercato.

Few individuals have had such an enduring impact upon what we think constitutes beautiful football than Johan Cruyff.

As a playmaking forward in the great Ajax and Netherlands teams of the 1970s, Cruyff oozed inimitable style as he bent games to his will and thrilled the world with his eponymous turn.

An icon of his era and arguably the greatest European footballer ever to play the game, Cruyff's impact as a coach was somehow even more profound.

The irresistible approach of his Barcelona "Dream Team" in the early 1990s brought a maiden European trophy to Camp Nou along with four consecutive LaLiga titles. It is a legacy that sets the standard for the Catalan giants to this day

Beyond that, he switched on a generation of fans to the frictionless wonder of Barca's positional play, not to mention a host of tacticians whose deeds continued to burnish his considerable reputation.

On the fifth anniversary of his death, we look at five of Cruyff's most notable disciples.

FRANK RIJKAARD

"He is like the Godfather of Dutch football," Frank Rijkaard said of the man who coached him at Ajax in the mid-1980s before his tactical reputation was firmly established at Barcelona, while Cruyff's great mentor Rinus Michels also coached Rijkaard with the national team

Even though Rijkaard was not associated with Cruyff's most famous team, he followed in his old boss' footsteps by taking over as Barcelona head coach following a relative fallow period in 2003.

The arrival of Ronaldinho revitalised the ailing Blaugrana and Rijkaard enjoyed the fruits of La Masia's finest generation, as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi came to the fore.

Back-to-back LaLiga titles and the 2005-06 Champions League were the highlights of a 273-game reign. Only Cruyff (421) has led Barca more often in all competitions.

PEP GUARDIOLA  

After the Rijkaard era ambled to a bloated end, Barca turned to the man who has done more than any other to keep Cruyff's vision at the forefront of world football.

"Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore and improve it," said Pep Guardiola, whose restoration sparkled beyond all reasonable expectations.

Barca won three consecutive LaLiga crowns and two Champions Leagues – the first as part of a 2008-09 treble.

Unlike Cruyff, who never coached again after leaving Barca, and Rijkaard, who maybe should have followed suit and not endured underwhelming stints with Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia, Guardiola spread the gospel far and wide.

His Bayern Munich won three out of three Bundesligas, while Manchester City have set a record 100-points margin in the Premier League and are closing in on the third top-flight title of Guardiola's trophy-laden tenure.

ERNESTO VALVERDE

One of Guardiola's legacies after leaving Barcelona was any potential successors would have a stronger chance of getting the job if they had a link to Cruyff, La Masia or both. Luis Enrique followed Guardiola's path from Barca B to first team and even emulated the treble.

As a back-up forward at Camp Nou between 1988 and 1990, Valverde was an unflashy squad member of Cruyff went about empire building, a description that could also be applied to a strong coaching career as he earned respect during spells in charge of Espanyol, Olympiacos and Athletic Bilbao.

His Cruyff association, as much as those efforts in the dugout was a factor in him being appointed to replace Luis Enrique in 2017.

Despite inheriting the saga of Neymar's departure and an increasingly muddled sporting policy, Valverde won back-to-back LaLiga titles and helmed a record 43-match unbeaten run in LaLiga between April 2017 and May 2018 that began under his predecessor.

RONALD KOEMAN

The shambles that followed under Quique Setien, culminating in a shambolic 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in last year's Champions League quarter-finals, spoke well of the tight ship Valverde ran. After that failed experiment, Barca reverted to a familiar type.

Ronald Koeman became the club's fifth Dutch head coach after Michels, Cruyff, Louis van Gaal and Rijkaard.

Despite outstripping Mauricio Pochettino's win percentage at Southampton by 47.4 to 35.2, Koeman's work in the Premier League did not have other elite clubs beating down his door – much less his spell at Valencia.

His first season in the job he craved has not been without considerable turbulence, but a recent switch to a particularly Cruyffian 3-4-3 (hello, Frenkie de Jong in the middle of the back three!) and the apparent backing of recently elected president Joan Laporta suggests brighter days ahead.

JULEN LOPETEGUI

Even less prominent than Valverde as a Cruyff player, Julen Lopetegui was Barcelona's reserve goalkeeper between 1994 and 1997. But again, an unshakeable impression was made.

"As soon as I had the first training session with Johan I thought 'this is different to all other coaches', he was brilliant," he told BBC Sport in 2019.

"He planted the seed for other coaches to take on his ideas and develop those ideas. He was one step ahead of the rest."

The same could not be said for Lopetegui as he exited two dream jobs with Spain and Real Madrid in the space of a nightmare six months, but a cathartic Europa League triumph with Sevilla last season showed a coach impressively rebuilding his reputation.

Among coaches to have managed at least 40 Sevilla games in LaLiga, none can better Lopetegui's 54.5 per cent win percentage.

Lionel Messi is "the best player in history" and should stay at Barcelona, claims LaLiga president Javier Tebas, who laughed off the suggestion of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland joining a Spanish club.

On Sunday, Messi overtook Xavi as the player with the most appearances for Barca, six days after the 33-year-old scored a 20th LaLiga player for the 13th successive season – another record.

The Argentina forward has been involved in more goals in 2021 than any other player across Europe's 'top five' leagues, but he still has not tied his future to the Catalan club, who he wished to leave in 2020.

Messi elected to stay and see out the last year of his contract, but his future remains up in the air with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain interested.

Tebas has consistently urged Messi to remain in Spain but has also refuted the suggestion LaLiga would suffer markedly without the Barca star, citing examples of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo leaving for PSG and Juventus respectively.

He reiterated those comments on Wednesday, suggesting Messi would damage his "brand" by moving to another club.

"If I were Messi's advisor I would tell him, 'Stay at Barca'," Tebas told reporters.

"I want Messi to stay. He is the best player in history. If you are thinking about his last years of football, he should continue to be linked to the Barcelona brand.

"He started at Barcelona and I think he should continue at Barca. If I was his advisor, I would tell him he must do everything possible to stay at Barca."

While Messi continues to break records at Barca, his era of dominance in European football appears to be coming to an end.

Mbappe and Haaland are the players seemingly destined to take the baton from Messi and Ronaldo, with the Borussia Dortmund and PSG stars already having been pitted against each other by media outlets across the continent.

Mbappe, 22, hit his 100th Ligue 1 goal in a 4-2 win over Lyon on Sunday, while 20-year-old Haaland has been in sensational form since breaking through with Salzburg last season.

Between them, the duo have shared 41 goals in all competitions this season (21 for Haaland, 20 for Mbappe), while they have both converted 17 of the 27 "big chances" they have been afforded at a rate of 62.96 per cent.

Often utilised in a wide role for PSG, Mbappe has provided six assists and crafted 25 chances. Haaland has also proved his worth from a creative standpoint, teeing up four goals and forging 19 opportunities for team-mates to score.

Mbappe has often been linked with a move to Barca or Real Madrid but is in talks with PSG over a new deal, while Haaland is reportedly a priority target for Pep Guardiola's City, and Tebas sees little chance of either player moving to LaLiga.

"How, with a magic trick?" Tebas quipped when asked of the likelihood of seeing Mbappe or Haaland playing in Spain.

"Barca have to move out many players to bring a star, Madrid are not in position to do it either. Apart from the clubs owned by nation states, everyone has financial issues."

Could Harry Kane end up at Real Madrid?

Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is one of Europe's most sought-after and expensive players, while Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe also commands a hefty fee.

With that in mind, Tottenham's Kane has reportedly emerged as a transfer target in the Spanish capital.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID ADD KANE TO LIST

Real Madrid are interested in signing Tottenham star Harry Kane, according to SER Deportivo.

Madrid have been heavily linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe.

But Madrid's hierarchy reportedly feel a deal to prise Kane from Tottenham may be easier.

 

ROUND-UP

- Wednesday's Marca and Diario AS newspapers are dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo. Marca claims Ronaldo would exit Juventus to return to Madrid, who he left in 2018. Diario AS says Juve are ready to listen to offers for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner. Ronaldo has also been linked with former club Manchester United.

- Sport reports Manchester City defender Eric Garcia will join Barcelona on a five-year deal. It will be the first major signing under new president Joan Laporta as the LaLiga giants also eye Haaland and look to re-sign superstar captain Lionel Messi, who has been tipped to join either PSG or City on a free transfer at season's end.

- TV3 claims Ronald Koeman will continue as Barca head coach in 2021-22 following talks with Laporta. RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann and club great Xavi had been linked.

Inter are ready to reignite their interest in Udinese star Rodrigo De Paul, claims Calciomercato. The Serie A leaders have previously been linked with the Argentina midfielder. Antonio Conte's Inter are also tracking Madrid outcast Isco, according to Sport.

- L'Equipe claims United are considering a move for Tottenham captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris amid doubts over David de Gea. Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma has also emerged as a possible target.

Bayern Munich are in talks to sign Madrid attacker Lucas Vazquez on a free transfer, according to AS.

Liverpool, Juventus and Roma are among clubs interested in Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez, says AS. The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of 2021-22.

Manchester City have been linked with Erling Haaland.

As Sergio Aguero appears headed for an exit, Pep Guardiola wants to bolster his attack.

But Danny Ings has reportedly emerged as an alternative to the expensive and in-demand Haaland.

 

TOP STORY – CITY TARGET INGS

Manchester City are considering a move for Southampton star Danny Ings, according to Sky Sports.

City's all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero is out of contract at the end of the season and no closer to extending his deal in Manchester.

Pep Guardiola's City are reportedly among the admirers of Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland, who has also been linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Juventus.

With Haaland set to command a huge fee, City are eyeing former Liverpool forward Ings as a cheaper alternative.

 

ROUND-UP

- Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere dello Sport report Juventus head coach Andrea Pirlo is on the brink of being sacked. Juve are out of the Champions League and 10 points off the pace following their shock loss to Benevento. Former boss Massimiliano Allegri has been linked with a return, while La Repubblica claims Atalanta's Gian Piero Gasperini, Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi and Luciano Spalletti are on a three-man shortlist.

- Former Chelsea and Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri is Roma's number one option should they sack head coach Paulo Fonseca, says Gazzetta dello Sport. Fonseca – under pressure in the Italian capital – has also been linked with Napoli, alongside Hellas Verona's Ivan Juric. Napoli coach Gennaro Gattuso has been linked with Fiorentina, Torino and Bologna.

Neymar re-signing with Ligue 1 holders PSG is "just a matter of time", according to Fabrizio Romano.

Aaron Ramsey is interested in a move to Premier League champions Liverpool, according to Calciomercato. The Juventus midfielder, who left Arsenal for Turin in 2019, is seen as a possible replacement for rumoured Barca target Georginio Wijnaldum at Anfield.

- The Daily Express reports Arsenal are eyeing Barcelona misfit Philippe Coutinho. However, a move will depend on whether Arsenal sign loanee Martin Odegaard permanently from Madrid.

Xabi Alonso is set to become the new head coach of Borussia Monchengladbach next season, replacing Dortmund-bound Marco Rose. Romano, however, insists no contract has been signed as the former Bayern Munich star remains in charge of Real Sociedad's B team.

Erling Haaland dismissed speculation over his future, insisting he has three years remaining on his Borussia Dortmund contract.

Haaland continues to take Europe by storm as the Dortmund star reportedly attracts interest from Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool.

The 20-year-old was asked about his future while on international duty with Norway, who will face Gibraltar in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday.

"I still have three years of contract [at Dortmund]," Haaland told reporters.

"I am not worried about that."

Haaland, who joined Dortmund from Austrian champions Salzburg in January last year, scored twice in Saturday's 2-2 draw away to Cologne.

He took his tally to 14 away goals in the Bundesliga this season, more than Werder Bremen (13), Hertha Berlin (13), Mainz (11), Arminia Bielefeld (10) and Schalke (eight) have scored at home in 2020-21.

Haaland has scored 21 goals in 21 league appearances this season and 33 across all competitions.

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland will "define an era" according to Atletico Madrid forward Luis Suarez, who placed him ahead of Paris Saint-Germain sensation Kylian Mbappe.

Haaland continues to take Europe by storm as the Dortmund forward reportedly attracts interest from Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool.

The 20-year-old, who joined Dortmund from Salzburg in January last year, scored twice in Saturday's 2-2 draw away to Cologne – the Norway international taking his tally to 14 away goals in the Bundesliga this season, more than Werder Bremen (13), Hertha Berlin (13), Mainz (11), Arminia Bielefeld (10) and Schalke (eight) have scored at home in 2020-21.

Suarez heaped praise on Haaland, who has scored 21 goals in 21 league appearances this season and 33 across all competitions.

"He [Haaland] is a great player, he's at a spectacular level, he has an admirable physical strength," Suarez told Gerard Romero on Twitch.

"He's one of the best number nines in the world and will define an era.

"I'm a bit more in favour of Haaland, but [PSG forward Kylian] Mbappe is at a great level."

Suarez, meanwhile, has flourished since leaving LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona for rivals Atletico at the start of the season.

The 34-year-old Uruguay international reached 500 career goals for club and country after scoring Atletico's winner against Deportivo Alaves on Sunday.

Suarez has scored 19 league goals this season – only former team-mate Lionel Messi (23) has netted on more occasions in 2020-21 – as Atletico top the LaLiga standings by four points.

Eyeing silverware in Madrid, Suarez revealed he still keeps tabs on Messi and Barca, having spent six trophy-laden years at Camp Nou.

"I watch them because I like to watch football, I admire the club I defended and I'm grateful," Suarez added.

"I talk to Leo [Messi] almost daily, but sometimes about the odd game. Everyone knows the love I have for them for what I did there, also for what they have given me."

Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham believes signing stars such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar is far from a pipe dream for the MLS club.

The franchise has been linked with offers for Barcelona captain Messi and Juventus superstar Ronaldo as they approach the final years of their storied careers, while Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar stated last year he had given Beckham his word he would sign for him in the future.

Former Manchester United midfielder and England captain Beckham remains confident he can attract players of such calibre to Florida.

"When we announced Miami, there was always going to be talk about what players we were going to bring in, whether it was Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar," Beckham told ESPN.

"There was always going to be those discussions. I actually don't think it's a tough one for players to decide, to be honest, because it's a great place.

"Obviously, it's a great city, I feel like we've got a great fan base, but I also understand there's great talent in Miami and South Florida, and I think we have a real opportunity. Miami is a city that has that pull on players who have been playing in Europe that are big stars."

After signing notable names such as Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi and Rodolfo Pizarro, Inter Miami endured a tough time in 2020, finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference before losing in the play-in round of the playoffs.

Inter Miami also suffered three defeats in three games in Group A of the MLS Is Back tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Co-owner Beckham is now hoping for a brighter second season in MLS under former team-mate Phil Neville, who took over from Diego Alonso as head coach.

"[Neville] is the kind of coach that will get the best out of the players," said Beckham. "He won't just work with the [Designated Players], he works with the young kids that have come through the academies.

"His experience being a part of one of the best academies in the game at Manchester United when we were growing up, working with different coaches.

"He was David Moyes' assistant at Manchester United, he was an assistant coach at Valencia, and then obviously he went on to be the coach of the England women's national team, which was a great experience, but also challenging at times."

Didier Deschamps believes Ousmane Dembele can still become a more consistent contributor after recalling the forward for the start of France's World Cup qualifying campaign. 

Dembele has not played an international game since November 2018, when he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands. 

However, his form this season for Barcelona has led to the 23-year-old being included in Les Bleus’ squad for games against Group D rivals Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Deschamps handed the player his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, is pleased to see Dembele back performing again. 

Still, the France boss sees further room for improvement, pinpointing the need to have an even greater impact on games.

"He is a player who showed his qualities very early. He is still young," Deschamps told the media on Monday. 

"If we haven't seen him for a while, it's because he's not been spared from injuries. By the time he recovered he was injured again. 

"Now he is able to play again, he is able to make the difference and score goals. He could score more and be more effective. 

"It is not a question of changing him. He has been playing at the highest level for a long time. He is young. It would be good for him, for his club and for us if he could become more efficient.  

"Of course, this is something that needs to be worked on. As you mature, you may make better choices. All forwards have moments when they are less efficient than others."

Dembele has scored nine goals and provided four assists for Barca in all competitions this season, his fourth at Camp Nou.  

His tally of 78 shots is already his highest for a campaign since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, with his conversion rate sitting at 11.54 per cent.   

He barely featured last term but was more clinical in 2018-19, when he had 14 goals and eight assists in 42 appearances. That season, he converted shots at a rate of 20.29 per cent, with 45.45 per cent success from 'big chances', where Opta expects a player to score.  

Dembele has had 15 'big chances' and created a further seven under Ronald Koeman for Barca, who made it five wins on the spin in LaLiga at the weekend with a 6-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad, in which the Frenchman one of the goals.  

"Ousmane has and always had this ability to create chances and make the difference. He is not always decisive in the area. That's where it's most difficult," Deschamps continued.  

"The important thing is his ability to make the difference.  Yes, he can be more consistent from the beginning to the end of the game. 

"I'm not saying he can't progress or improve. I prefer to look at the qualities anyway. They all have little flaws that can be erased with time.   

"Sometimes they don't, but that doesn't stop them from being good. We are talking about a player who has been at the top level for several years and he is still very young."

Erling Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

Europe's elite are lining up to sign the Borussia Dortmund sensation.

Barcelona are reportedly prepared to go all out as Haaland grows frustrated in Germany.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND EYES DORTMUND EXIT

Erling Haaland has notified his agent that he wants to leave Borussia Dortmund if they fail to qualify for the Champions League, according to Diario AS.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Dortmund, heavily linked with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Juventus.

Dortmund – through to the 2020-21 quarter-finals – sit outside the Champions League places this season, fifth in the Bundesliga.

Haaland has reportedly given Dortmund an ultimatum should they miss out on Champions League football.

It comes as Sport claims Barca have started to try and raise funds in their pursuit of the Norway international, with the LaLiga giants willing to let two strikers leave.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild says Germany boss Joachim Low is a candidate for the Real Madrid job should Zinedine Zidane ever leave. Low is set to vacate his post after the reschedule Euro 2020. Telefoot, however, insists Zidane has no intention of leaving ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Liverpool are unaware of Georginio Wijnaldum's reported pre-contract agreement with Barca, claims the Liverpool Echo. Wijnaldum is out of contract at season's end and the Dutchman has been tipped to join Barca.

- United are ready to listen to offers for forward Anthony Martial, claims The Touchline Talk. It comes as the Red Devils seek to sign Haaland.

- Fiorentina are asking €40million for forward Dusan Vlahovic amid links with Milan, reports Calciomercato.

- According to The Transfer Window Podcast, Liverpool are set to rival Arsenal in the race to sign Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard.

PSG are still tracking out-of-favour Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli as the Ligue 1 champions also eye Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, reports Calciomercato.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman said the race for the LaLiga title will be close following Sunday's demolition of Real Sociedad.

Lionel Messi made history as he led Barcelona to a 6-1 thrashing of Sociedad – a result that moved the Catalan giants within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid.

Messi – in his club-record 768th appearance in all competitions – scored twice, Sergino Dest had a brace, while Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele also struck for the visitors.

As Barca loom large with 10 matches remaining, Koeman told reporters: "I think the win sends an important message – but mostly to ourselves. It shows the team is comfortable and confident in its own abilities.

"Physically we're in a strong place as well and we've improved a lot but it doesn't mean today's result and performance will be replicated in future games.

"There's still a lot of games left to play in LaLiga but we are still behind Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid have also improved.

"They are much stronger as well. It's going to be a tough fight until the last game of the season. Therefore, we have to keep going game by game."

Barcelona have won their last nine games away from home in LaLiga, keeping six clean sheets to level their third-best consecutive winning run on the road.

Koeman's Barca also scored six goals in an away game across all competitions for the first time since February 2017.

Messi, meanwhile, has now been involved in more goals (23) than any other player in the top five European leagues in 2021 – 16 goals and seven assists.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was delighted to mark his 58th birthday with an "incredible" 6-1 LaLiga thrashing of Real Sociedad.

The Catalans closed back to within four points of league leaders Atletico Madrid on Sunday with arguably their finest performance under Koeman.

Two goals each from Sergino Dest and Lionel Messi – who made a record 768th appearance for the club – and further strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele secured an emphatic victory, Barca's ninth in a row in the top flight.

Koeman, who was thrilled to see the goals spread out among four players and not only come from his captain, was proud at the way Barca made life so uncomfortable for their hosts.

"Without a doubt, it's the best present they could have given me," said Koeman. "I'm also happy for Griezmann and [Jordi] Alba, who've had their birthdays, and who played a great game.

"Scoring six goals at Real Sociedad is incredible. They tried to press us but, when they saw they couldn't, they took a step back.

"The first goal made us very calm and the second was almost decisive. We gave a really good impression of ourselves. We pressed really well without the ball and we were very effective.

"There's a long way to go. It won't be decided yet. Atletico are strong, but you saw against Alaves that it's not easy to win a game. Real Madrid are also in the fight; we can't forget them.

"We leave with a great result and a demonstration that we're going to go for everything. It's important that it's not just Messi scoring the goals because that makes it more difficult to defend against us."

Barca head into the international break trailing Atletico by 10 points after Diego Simeone's side claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win over Deportivo Alaves.

The Blaugrana look the sharpest of the big three in Spain at present and Koeman thinks they have improved significantly in recent weeks.

"I can't say we're not going to lose any game from here until the rest of the season, but it's clear that we're on a good path. We're very strong mentally and physically," he said.

"We've had many difficulties since the start of the season. We've changed things; any team needs time to learn. We've had some ups and downs in LaLiga, with defensive mistakes and a lack of effectiveness. But it's obvious the team has moved on."

Sergino Dest scored his first goals for Barcelona on a landmark outing for Lionel Messi as the Catalans thrashed Real Sociedad 6-1 to move back to within four points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

The United States international netted in each half after Antoine Griezmann had broken the deadlock against his former club on Sunday.

Messi marked a club-record 768th appearance in all competitions with Barca's fourth and sixth goals either side of a superb fifth from Ousmane Dembele, capping a resounding victory for Ronald Koeman's men on the road, with Ander Barrenetxea grabbing the hosts' consolation. 

Barca's most impressive league win of the season lifted them back into second place behind Atleti, who earlier beat Deportivo Alaves, and means they head into the international break on an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

La Real posed an early threat on the break, Marc-Andre ter Stegen making a solid block to deny Alexander Isak, but they fell behind 37 minutes in courtesy of their former star.

Ousmane Dembele should have buried Jordi Alba's cross but, after Alex Remiro's save, Griezmann pounced to blast the ball home.

Barca doubled their lead two minutes before half-time, Dest producing a confident low finish after a clever turn and slide-rule pass from Messi, all after Ter Stegen had produced another fine stop following a loose goal kick.

Any hope of a Sociedad comeback was lost seven minutes into the second half, Alba surging into the box and crossing for Dest to prod in a surprise second goal.

There was less of a shock about the scorer of Barca's fourth, Messi lifting a composed finish over Remiro following a fine ball over the top from Sergio Busquets.

Dembele had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside but was not to be denied a second time, the France winger waltzing his way into the penalty area before drilling a low finish past Remiro.

The home side did at least get off the mark, substitute Barrenetxea powering an unstoppable effort beyond Ter Stegen from the edge of the box, but Messi completed the rout with a neat near-post finish after a fine move involving Alba and Riqui Puig.

What does it mean? LaLiga pauses as title race heats up

Barca have now won nine consecutive away games in LaLiga, the third best such streak in their history, while they are unbeaten in 10 league meetings with La Real.

More importantly, they have gone back into second in the table, two points above Real Madrid and four behind Atletico with 10 games remaining.

Imanol's men stay fifth, with a 10-point gap to the top four making their Champions League aspirations look a little forlorn.

Messi makes his mark on another momentous day

Dest may have been the unlikely goalscoring hero but Messi was again integral on the occasion of another career milestone.

His pass for the full-back's first goal was superb and his own finishes equally composed as he reached 23 in LaLiga for the season.

A Real concern

Sociedad had responded quite well to losing 4-0 at home to Manchester United a month ago, beating Alaves and Levante and drawing away against Real Madrid and the Red Devils, conceding just once in that run.

However, back-to-back league losses to Granada and Barca may well have put paid to their top-four aspirations and they will need to recharge during the break ahead of their Copa del Rey final. 

What's next?

Barca return from the international break at home to Real Valladolid on April 5. Sociedad, meanwhile, will now prepare for the rearranged 2020 Copa del Rey final with Athletic Bilbao.

Lionel Messi has set a new club record for Barcelona, after making his 768th appearance for the Spanish giants.

Messi matched his former team-mate and fellow Blaugrana legend Xavi when he played against Huesca last Monday, taking him to 767 games for the club he first joined as a 12-year-old.

The 33-year-old and former midfielder Xavi are the only players in the club's history to have surpassed 700 games for the Catalans, with Andres Iniesta next on the all-time appearance list on 674.

Messi already boasts the record for the most trophies won (34) and highest goal tally (658) for Barca, and marked the record-equalling appearance in typical style, netting a sensational opener before laying on an assist and then rounding off the scoring himself in a 4-1 victory.

He also became the first player to score 20 or more goals in 13 successive LaLiga campaigns in the process and, on Sunday, he took the outright record for Barca appearances when he started against Real Sociedad. 

To date, Messi has featured in 511 LaLiga matches, while playing 149 Champions League fixtures, 79 Copa del Rey games, 20 in the Supercopa de Espana, five in the Club World Cup and four in the UEFA Super Cup.

Messi tops LaLiga's goalscoring charts this season with 21 goals, as Barca look to close within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid, who beat Deportivo Alaves 1-0.

The Argentina great has been involved in 21 goals in 22 games against La Real in LaLiga (14 goals and seven assists), scoring and or assisting in 14 of them.

Barca have won their last eight games away from home in LaLiga, keeping six clean sheets. They could level their third-best consecutive winning run on the road, and would only be behind their 12 wins in a row between May 2010 and January 2011 and 10 between August 2012 and January 2013.

Messi has yet to sign a new contract with Barca which means, as it stands, he may be down to his last 11 games in all competitions with the club following Sunday's meeting with La Real.

Ronald Koeman's team have 10 LaLiga fixtures remaining following the international break, while they will also take on Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final next month.

Ronald Koeman and new president Joan Laporta will map out Barcelona's future during the international break, and going Dutch would be in keeping with Camp Nou tradition.

The club which has been a magnet to Netherlands greats of the past may see more Oranje stars arriving, with Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum said to be a prime target.

According to the Sunday Times, Wijnaldum has a pre-contract agreement to move to Barcelona when his Anfield deal expires at the end of the season.

Reuniting with former national team coach Koeman would hold obvious appeal to Wijnaldum, who has been circumspect about his Liverpool future.

But what would Wijnaldum bring to a team already in the hunt for a domestic double? At the age of 30, would this signing make sense for Barca?


What options do Barcelona already have?

It may not be a vintage midfield of the type Pep Guardiola was blessed with, Sergio Busquets being the last survivor of that era in the centre of the pitch, but Barca are not badly off for talent.

Busquets and Miralem Pjanic bring the experience, Pedri the youthful exuberance and Frenkie de Jong is proven quality as he approaches his mid-20s.

They have the attacking option of Philippe Coutinho – who has been out injured since December – while Riqui Puig is a talent who Koeman appears unsure about.

Busquets and De Jong look a strong midfield pair, covering plenty of the pitch, with De Jong the likelier to roam away from the central channel.

 

What difference would Wijnaldum make?

At the age of 30, 'Gini' would not be bringing down the average age, even though that must surely soon become a priority for Koeman.

The head coach knows all about Wijnaldum's game from their time together in the Dutch national set-up, so there is a trust factor there, and to get an international player on a free transfer, albeit with high wages, could be seen as a good deal.

Yet to delve into this season's data, there appear to be very few areas where Wijnaldum excels above Barcelona's current crop.

Three goals and zero assists in 40 matches from Wijnaldum pales against what Pedri (three goals, six assists) and De Jong (six goals, five assists) have achieved from a similar number of games; however, it puts him ahead of Busquets (no goals, two assists) and Pjanic (no goals, no assists).

Wijnaldum's 18 chances created is fewer than what each member of that Barcelona quartet has achieved (Pedri 49, De Jong 38, Busquets 30, Pjanic 20), and although he is considered strong in the air, his 36 aerial battles won is bettered by De Jong and Busquets (both 45).

The former Newcastle United and PSV man has taken more shots (31) than any of that Barca midfield four, with Pedri (27) leading the way among those Blaugrana players, but he has too often failed to be clinical.

There are defensive qualities to Wijnaldum's game, and he has made 201 ball recoveries for Liverpool. Busquets (203), De Jong (234) and Pedri (173) suggest Barca are already handily equipped on that front.

If Wijnaldum is being signed as a replacement – say, if Pjanic is moved on to bring in such much-needed funds – then there could be merit in his arrival.

Otherwise, he looks to be just extra midfield stock.

 

Tackling a big issue

Wijnaldum's tackle success rate has nosedived in the 2020-21 season, having already been on a gradual decline during his career in England.

During his year at Newcastle in the 2015-16 season, Wijnaldum won 84.21 per cent of his tackles, and after three seasons of 60-plus percentage success with Liverpool, his rate dipped to 53.19 last term, though in a championship-winning campaign that hardly felt significant.

This season, however, it has crashed to 29.63 per cent, with his performance indicative of Liverpool's lame follow-up to their Premier League title triumph.

Such a rate would not cut it at Barca, where Puig (37.5 per cent) is the only midfielder with tackling success under 50 per cent this season. Busquets (58.46 per cent), De Jong (58.33) and Pedri (57.89) are the engine room players who have done most of the heavy lifting, setting the sort of standard any newcomer must expect to achieve.

Koeman favourite he may be, but Wijnaldum, a Champions League and Premier League winner with Liverpool, cannot live off past glories.

Barcelona will need an upswing to follow that downswing. After all, when Koeman said he wanted to bring a lad in, he really meant a Gini with bottle.

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