Julen Lopetegui wasn't instantly won over by Jules Kounde following his 2019 arrival at Sevilla from Bordeaux, unlikely as that seems currently.

He had only made four LaLiga starts by the end of October in his first season, and although that was followed by a more prolonged run in the team, a rocky performance against Osasuna in December saw him back on the bench.

As it was, Osasuna weren't able to punish Kounde's struggles on that occasion – the closest they came was hitting the post after his misjudgement of a bouncing ball led to a clear opportunity.

He was withdrawn soon after and only made another two league starts – a defeat at Real Madrid and underwhelming 1-1 home draw with Deportivo Alaves – before the start of February.

Indeed, it arguably wasn't until LaLiga's resumption after the coronavirus lockdown that Kounde truly nailed down a place and found genuine consistency in his performances, but now he is probably the first name on the team sheet.

Sevilla's 'selling club' business model is no secret, and by that logic it is unlikely that Kounde will remain at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan long-term – after all, Manchester City were keen in pre-season.

In years gone by Barcelona would've been not only a likely destination for him such has been their affinity for Sevilla-developed talent, it would have also been a stylistically ideal place for him to play. But ahead of the two teams' Copa del Rey semi-final tie, the archetypal Barca defender appears to be well out of their reach financially.

The 'false right-back'

In 2006, two years before he came Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola wrote a column for El Pais in which he discussed what has become known as the 'Lavolpiana build-up', a defensive setup attributed to Argentinian coach Ricardo La Volpe that essentially demands centre-backs carry the ball forward.

While La Volpe's Mexico side used a back three, the key ball-playing and forward-thinking elements of this system are still evident in the four-man defensive structure at Guardiola's City now – it is also identifiable in Lopetegui's Sevilla.

Kounde is a massive part of that, with the young Frenchman a fine player technically, both on the ball and when distributing.

The attack-minded nature of Sevilla right-back Jesus Navas leaves a lot of space for Kounde to operate in, and he often helps create overloads on the right flank – his positional map shows how he essentially works as a secondary right-back when in possession, while Fernando drops back into central defence to form a back three.

 

The recent 3-0 win over Getafe show this perfectly, with Kounde almost spending as much time in the attacking half as he did his own.

While the 'Lavolpiana build up' is a risky strategy, the right players can ensure it brings greater incisiveness particularly when playing through a press, and Sevilla have clearly adapted well – they are one of just two teams to not concede a goal as a result of a high turnover this term.

At no point this season has Sevilla's ability to play through the press been more prevalent than when remarkably stringing together 37 passes leading up to Luuk de Jong's second goal in the 3-0 Copa win over Valencia last month. Kounde more than played his role in that.

 

The defensive playmaker

This setup suits Kounde down to the ground. It's no wonder City were interested in him before going for Ruben Dias, and by extension he would clearly suit the ethos cultivated at Barcelona.

In 2019-20, Kounde showed glimpses of his undoubted ability but it was his partner Diego Carlos who arguably attracted more acclaim.

But this season, building on his positive development post-lockdown last term, Kounde has stepped things up a notch and seemingly relished that forward-thinking ball-playing role.

That is most notable with respect to how often he has carried the ball – his 331 carries (defined as a movement of five metres or more in possession of the ball) is bettered by only six players in LaLiga this term, three of whom are Frenkie de Jong, Lionel Messi and Luka Modric.

Of those 331 carries, 205 have been progressive, so moving Sevilla up the pitch. This gives him another very high ranking, with Pau Torres (321), De Jong (288), Messi (252) and Raul Albiol (246) the four individuals to boast more.

 

Kounde ranks in the top 10 for several other carry-related metrics – last season he did not. In fact, his 338 carries in 2019-20 is only seven more than he has in 2020-21, which in itself highlights his development.

But his forward runs in possession aren't Kounde's only way of getting on the front foot. His passing is also very positive.

Possessional stats can often be skewed for centre-backs given many of the passes they make are simple short balls to their defensive colleagues, but Kounde is often looking ahead.

His 387 successful forward passes is more than anyone else in LaLiga, while his 486 attempted forward balls is second only to Torres (502), who has played 360 minutes more than Kounde.

The Sevilla talent's 79.6 per cent completion rate from such passes is also better than Torres' 74.5 per cent.

Kounde is a prime example of how centre-backs can be just as satisfying to see in possession as your classic playmakers – in fact, that is essentially what he has developed into, a defensive playmaker of the ilk who wouldn't have looked out of place in the great Barcelona teams of the past 14 years.

While Sevilla and Lopetegui remain the perfect fit for Kounde, it is surely only a matter of time before his €80million release clause no longer appears a daunting figure for certain clubs – though Barca's perilous financial position means they won't be in the hunt.

He's come a long way from that shaky night in Pamplona.

Ronald Koeman has hit back at Rudi Garcia after the Lyon head coach accused his Barcelona counterpart of being a hypocrite.

Barca boss Koeman last week admitted to being unhappy with "disrespectful" Paris Saint-Germain after a number of their players and staff members discussed transfer links with Lionel Messi.

However, speaking to beIN SPORTS at the weekend, Garcia pointed out that Koeman publicly stated earlier this season that he wants to bring Memphis Depay to Camp Nou once his Lyon contract expires at the end of the season.

"I read that Koeman was a bit offended that PSG talked about Leo Messi before the Champions League match between PSG and Barcelona," Garcia said. 

"He was not shy about talking about Memphis Depay even after the transfer market. It is called the water sprinkler and the sprinkler has been sprinkled."

Koeman, who is preparing his side for Wednesday's Copa del Rey semi-final first leg with Sevilla, responded to Garcia's comments at a news conference on Tuesday.

"The Lyon coach likes to speak to the press a lot. For me he is not an important man," the former Netherlands boss said.

"For me I just have to prepare for the next games and then we will see."

Messi is into the final four months of his Barcelona contract and has been strongly linked with a high-profile switch to PSG at the end of the season.

Speculation over Messi's future rumbles on, as does the discussion over whether the six-time Ballon d'Or winner can be considered the greatest sportsman of all time.

The debate reopened on Sunday after Tom Brady won his seventh NFL championship ring by helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Asked where Messi ranks on the list of the world's all-time great athletes, Koeman said: "It is always difficult because there are different periods to consider.

"But what Messi has done is something incredible - the number of goals and titles with Barca. I did not see the Super Bowl but Messi is the best in the world at what he does.

"It is difficult to compare him with [Johan] Cruyff and Pele, but what I have seen of Messi is something special."

Messi is expected to return to Koeman's starting line-up for the trip to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with Barcelona aiming to extend their six-game winning run in all competitions.

Koeman has a tough selection call to make at the other end of the field, however, as Ronald Araujo has joined fellow centre-back Gerard Pique and right-back Sergino Dest on the sidelines.

Frenkie de Jong filled in alongside Clement Lenglet after Araujo limped off in the 3-2 win over Real Betis, but Koeman is still undecided on who will start at the back against Sevilla.


"It is true that if we put Frenkie as a centre-back then we are missing something in the centre of the pitch," he said. 

"If we can choose a recognised centre-back, it is better to play with him there. Without Frenkie in the middle, we lose something."

Oscar Mingueza can potentially shift into the middle, though that leaves a gap at right-back, while Samuel Umtiti is also in the squad but has struggled for fitness.

"Oscar is with us and he has improved a lot," Koeman said. "He has taken the opportunity to be with us. He knows how to play in different positions and has grown thanks to the help of his team-mates. 

"I have no fear of putting a young man into the side. He has taken the opportunity with both hands. You must improve when you have to press. He has room for improvement, but he is doing things very well.

"As for Samuel, physically he is fine at the moment. He's on the squad list and we have the option to play him. If not, we would not name him in the squad. 

"With his history, we are always aware of his physical condition. We are still thinking about his condition but in the many games he has played he has shown his quality."

Barca are in good form but Sevilla are on an even better run, winning each of their last seven matches in all competitions ahead of Wednesday's first leg.

"They have a good team, are very organised and have good individual quality," Koeman said. "That is why they are up there.

"We will have to be good with the ball because they are going to put pressure on us. But if we are at our top level, we can hurt even a team like Sevilla."

Barcelona were handed a tough draw against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semi-finals as Ronald Koeman chases his first trophy since being appointed head coach.

The two-leg tie will be a repeat of the teams' memorable meeting at the quarter-final stage two years ago, when Sevilla won 2-0 at home before being thrashed 6-1 at Camp Nou.

Koeman, who took charge last August, saw his side beaten 3-2 in the Supercopa de Espana final by Athletic Bilbao in January, when Lionel Messi was sent off in extra time.

That silverware slipped by but the Dutch coach will hope for a better outcome for Barcelona as the Copa del Rey enters its final stages.

They were almost knocked out in the quarter-finals this week by Granada, saved by late goals in normal time from Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba before winning 5-3 after extra time.

Facing Sevilla will surely be no easy task given Barca, second in LaLiga, are just a point ahead of Julen Lopetegui's team.

There could be another final between Barcelona and Athletic in store, with the Bilbao giants drawn to face Levante in the other semi-final.

The first legs of each tie will be played next midweek, with the return games to be played on the first midweek in March, with exact dates for each match to be determined.

Sevilla will have extra incentive to reach the final, given that match will be staged in their home city on April 17, at Estadio La Cartuja.

Because of the coronavirus impact on Spanish football, last season's Copa del Rey final has yet to be played, with that game between Athletic and Real Sociedad to be played at the same Seville stadium on April 3.

Barcelona hold the record for the most Copa del Rey titles, having won the competition 30 times, with Athletic next on the list with 23 victories.

Mauricio Pochettino said Paris Saint-Germain should be left to work on signings "in silence" amid Barcelona's anger over Lionel Messi.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman hit out at PSG on Wednesday, saying the Ligue 1 giants had been "disrespectful" by regularly discussing Messi.

Angel Di Maria became the latest person connected to PSG to discuss Messi, with coach Pochettino, sporting director Leonardo and Neymar having also spoken about the Argentina star in recent months.

Pochettino would not be drawn into discussing Di Maria's comments about Messi, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

"I am not going to talk about what our player's comment, as you know, because my words can be misunderstood, and then these words can go to another country in another way," he told a news conference after a 3-0 win over Nimes.

"I have to be focused on trying to improve this team, from now to the end of the season, to try to achieve our goals, knowing that it is not going to be easy because we are in a difficult competition, in a weird situation, with the pandemic that it is affecting all of us, and also football.

"And then, the Champions League and Coupe de France, we will try to compete and go as far as we can, try to win, because in Paris, is all about to win.

"But I don't want to give names, don't want to think on the future. I'm sure that the club is working in different situations to improve. So let's leave the club working in silence, in secret, in order to have a better team and with more possibilities to win."

Di Maria opened the scoring in PSG's win over Nimes before goals from Pablo Sarabia and Kylian Mbappe.

Pochettino praised the performance of Di Maria, who is also out of contract at the end of the season.

"I'm happy with [Di Maria's] performance and compromise within the team," he said.

"I think that as every player, he needs time but Angel is a very important player for the team. He's been at this club for many years. So I'm happy for his goal and his performance."

Ronald Koeman hit out at Paris Saint-Germain, accusing the Ligue 1 giants of being "disrespectful" for continuing to talk about Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Messi, 33, has been heavily linked with a move to PSG when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Angel Di Maria became the latest person connected to PSG to discuss Messi, with coach Mauricio Pochettino, sporting director Leonardo and Neymar having also spoken about the Argentina star in recent months.

After opening the scoring in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Nimes, Di Maria – who is also out of contract at season's end – talked up a potential PSG move for his compatriot.

"I hope to renew with PSG. Play with Messi? Yes, hopefully, I think there are many possibilities," he said.

"I have to be calm, think about my own thing and continue in Paris because I am very happy here."

Barcelona coach Koeman is growing tired of the Ligue 1 giants speaking about his star.

After a stunning comeback to get past Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, Koeman hit out at PSG, who face Barca in the Champions League last 16 beginning this month.

"It is disrespectful that so many people from PSG talk about Messi. They are spicing up the [Champions League] game," he said.

"He is still a Barca player."

Barcelona took a "giant step" towards a successful season with a thrilling comeback win over Granada, Ronald Koeman said.

The Catalans claimed a remarkable 5-3 Copa del Rey quarter-final win on Wednesday after forcing extra time at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Barca were trailing 2-0 as late as the 87th minute only for Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba to force the additional period, after Francisco Trincao, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele had all hit the woodwork.

Griezmann made it 3-2 only for a Fede Vico penalty to level matters again, but Frenkie de Jong scored from a rebound and Alba smashed home a stunning volley to secure Barca's semi-final spot.

Koeman last week suggested his side were not ready to compete for the biggest trophies and the Barca boss remains unconvinced they could end 2020-21 winning LaLiga, the Copa and the Champions League.

However, he believes their fightback against Diego Martinez's side could perhaps be a turning point in their campaign.

He said: "I was referring to winning the three trophies: LaLiga, the Champions League and the Copa. I don't believe [we can win all three]. But I've always believed in the team. We've improved many things, above all in character. We've taken a giant step forward.

"It helps to have spirit and strength in the team. That's the way. We've worked a lot to get to the moment when the team starts to believe and it's a proud feeling. And it's come at an important moment of the season.

"We started the game really strongly, we played really well in the first 20 minutes. A mistake in playing where we shouldn't be playing cost us a goal.

"You have to highlight the team's mentality because we never gave up. We had really bad luck with the woodwork. We did everything to win the game.

"We deserved it due to the mentality of the team, but on this occasion, we showed we know how to suffer. We knew how to defend the result and we deserved the win."

Griezmann proved pivotal to the result, scoring Barca's first before setting up Alba's equaliser with a cushioned header from a Messi cross.

The France star then converted an emphatic header of his own and teed up Alba's spectacular second with a clever outside-of-the-foot pass.

It was the first time the €120million man had been directly involved in four goals in the same game for the Catalans.

"I'm really pleased with Griezmann," said Koeman. "I know it's really important for him. The team needs him. With his effectiveness, we're more dangerous."

Barcelona fought back from the brink of defeat to beat Granada 5-3 after extra time in an extraordinary Copa del Rey quarter-final at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Ronald Koeman's side won at this ground 4-0 in LaLiga last month but were facing a battle when Kenedy scored against the run of play after an error by Samuel Umtiti, making just his fifth start of the season.

Roberto Soldado struck a second on the break early in the second half and Barca struggled to get back into the contest against an exemplary Granada defence and inspired goalkeeper Aaron Escandell.

However, Griezmann turned in Lionel Messi's cross from deep with two minutes of normal time left and the same combination set up Jordi Alba to head in an injury-time equaliser.

Griezmann's fine header put Barca ahead in extra time but Fede Vico struck back straight away from the penalty spot, only for Frenkie de Jong and Alba again to settle the encounter at last.

Aaron was forced into six saves in the first half as Barca dominated proceedings, with a double stop to deny Messi and Francisco Trincao the pick of them.

It was Barca's own slack play that gifted Granada the lead, as some loose passing in defence ended in Umtiti being dispossessed by Alberto Soro, who teed up Kenedy for a tap-in.

Granada delivered a sucker-punch in the first two minutes of the second half. Angel Montoro intercepted a Griezmann pass and launched a long ball forward to Soldado, who raced away from Umtiti and slotted past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Trincao, Ousmane Dembele and Messi all hit the woodwork and Griezmann was denied from an overhead kick by a brilliant Aaron save, but the France forward turned a Messi cross in off post and keeper to give his side a lifeline.

The same Messi pass and Griezmann run teed up Alba to net an unlikely header, but Luis Suarez almost snatched a win for Granada with seconds left, the substitute dragging a shot wide after racing through on goal.

Aaron could do nothing to deny Griezmann's emphatic second in extra time as he rose highest to head in Alba's cross, but Vico restored parity three minutes later from the spot after Carlos Neva won a soft penalty from Sergino Dest.

But De Jong denied Granada a second semi-final in succession, side-footing into the net after Aaron had parried Messi's shot in the 109th minute, and Alba blasted home a stunning volley from Griezmann's clever pass to make certain the contest was over.

Antoine Griezmann being a Barcelona success is important to head coach Ronald Koeman.

Barca are preparing to face Granada in an away Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday.

They are favourites to win the competition after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid crashed out against lower-league opposition.

Griezmann scored twice and set up another as Barca won 4-0 at Los Carmenes in LaLiga last month.

Ahead of their latest meeting in the cup, Koeman praised the World Cup winner for his turnaround in form, which was partly sparked by that outing.

He has five goals in his last seven games, including the winner in Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao.

"All season Antoine is working well," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference.

"[He has done] what a player has to do, which is help the team to the maximum. 

"With Antoine there have been moments when he has been scoring and those when he hasn't scored, but they are phases that any footballer goes through, we have all experienced it. 

"Now he is very good and that is important to me. We want to get the most out of each player in the squad."

Griezmann has seven goal involvements in his last six games at Los Carmenes and, prior to his star showing in the last meeting, had netted just three times in his first 16 LaLiga appearances this season.

Barca have five straight away wins in LaLiga, four of which have come with clean sheets. It is their best run under Koeman, who hopes they can carry that form into the cup.

"It is a different game because it is the cup and they are always different games from the championship," said the Dutchman.

"Also I think that both they [Granada] and we have played many games – they have had even more. 

"Do not forget that at the start of the other game we had quite a few complications in playing our game. We expect a difficult game in which we have to be very focused."

Koeman would not go as far as saying the Copa del Rey was now his top priority over LaLiga.

But he concedes it is the most likely route to domestic silverware with Atletico Madrid sitting 10 points clear with a game in hand atop the table.

Koeman added: "The cup is not more important than the league, but it is true that it is closer [to being won] because there are fewer games left. 

"It is not normal for Atletico Madrid to get so many points, they are very strong. In the league we can only wait for them to fail. We have lost many points at home that cannot be dropped.

"I don't give more importance to Wednesdays game than to the weekend [against Real Betis], but we want to keep winning and get through this tie to be in the semi-final. 

"Squad rotation depends on the physical condition of the players. It is a vital match, but if there is a player who is not physically well, he will not play."

Ronald Koeman believes it is "absurd" that a report over Lionel Messi's contract is still dominating headlines but has been delighted with the way his captain has responded.

The build-up to Barcelona's Copa del Rey quarter-final at Granada has been overshadowed by an apparent leak of Messi's deal at Camp Nou, which was signed in 2017.

A report by El Mundo on Sunday claimed the contract, which expires at the end of this season, is worth more than €555million.

It was already believed that Messi was on an extraordinary salary at Barcelona, given he is recognised by many as the greatest active player of the world's most popular sport.

But the leaking of the exact sums payable to Messi has caused a stir, coming at a time when the embattled LaLiga giants are in financial trouble.

Koeman has previously rejected any suggestion that Messi's contract was connected to Barcelona facing a financial hurdle.

He was unhappy that it remained the central story prior to Wednesday's last-eight tie, with Barca favourites to win the cup due to Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid already being eliminated.

"It is something absurd that you [the media] have been on with this issue for three or four days," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference.

"The team and Leo have responded in the way that I like, which is to try to leave the things from the press aside and concentrate on the game.

"I am happy with the team and how he [Messi] is currently working."

Koeman has previously said anyone inside Barca who is found to have leaked sensitive details would be fired.

But he reiterated his comments made after Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao – where Messi scored his 650th club goal – that the leak could well have come from outside.

Koeman added: "It can come from many places, because there is always competition between the big clubs and there are people from outside with friends inside.

"As a coach I defend the players and the club. Leaks like these are not good and have bad intentions.

"When things come out it is important to be more united in the dressing room."

The eye-watering wages Lionel Messi is being paid by Barcelona have been leaked by El Mundo.

The lucrative contract signed by the Argentina international in November 2017, which is set to expire this year, was said to potentially be worth more than €555million.

According to the Spanish newspaper, that includes annual earnings in excess of €138m - dependent on some variables - as well as a renewal fee of over €115m and a loyalty bonus just shy of €78m.

The report says Messi has earned €29.8m of the €73.5m up for grabs in incentives, making the deal ultimately worth €511.5m to the superstar striker.

That would make the 33-year-old the world's best-paid athlete, seeing him bring in around five times the amount NBA great LeBron James makes.

But against a backdrop of financial woes, with Barca's accounts for 2019-20 showing a gross debt of €820m, have the Catalan giants really got value for their money?

We take a closer look at the figures involved behind the deal and provide a breakdown of Messi's worth to the side.

STRIKING IT RICH

Messi's contract renewal was made official on November 25, 2017, six months after reports emerged of the forward having turned down the club's initial offer.

At that point in his career, he had scored 523 goals in 602 appearances for the Catalans in all competitions - a staggering scoring rate that saw him break a number of records.

The Argentinian has continued to feature regularly for Barca since then, playing 152 times in all competitions.

That totals 12,678 minutes of playing time overall which, using the €511,540,548 figure Messi has received, equates to €40,349 per minute across that period - although this will decrease slightly by June as he continues to play.

The Barca number 10 has scored 126 goals in all competitions - 94 in LaLiga, 21 in the Champions League, 10 in the Copa del Rey and one in the Supercopa de Espana.

Using those same reported figures, Messi has therefore been paid €4,059,846 for every goal he has netted since putting pen to paper on his latest contract.

SCORING FIGURES DECLINING

Barcelona have not exactly enjoyed their greatest period on the field during that time, winning just four trophies - LaLiga twice and the Copa and Supercopa once apiece.

No player in LaLiga has scored (94) or assisted (45) more goals since November 2017 than Messi, while the 277 chances he has created is also a competition-high.

However, the one-club man's goalscoring figures have dropped off over the past two seasons.

Messi scored 36 league goals in 2018-19, two more than the previous campaign, compared to 25 last season and 11 in 17 games so far this term.

In terms of assists, he has just two this campaign, which is a huge decline on the 21 supplied last time out - a LaLiga record, surpassing Xavi's 20 in 2008-09.

IMPORTANCE DIMINISHING?

Coach Ronald Koeman has not been afraid to leave Messi out of his starting line-up on occasion this season and the statistics appear to show his importance to the team is dwindling.

Going back to 2017-18, the season in which the forward signed his lucrative deal, Barca's win rate in the league dropped from 81.2 per cent with Messi in the XI to 33.3 per cent without.

That is in stark contrast to the current campaign, in which Koeman's men actually have a better win rate without Messi in their starting line-up, albeit over a smaller number of games.

Barca have won 56.2 per cent of the 16 LaLiga games Messi has started this term, compared to 66.7 per cent of the three games in which he has not featured from the outset. They have not lost any of the matches Messi has missed.

Barcelona have been drawn away to Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Ronald Koeman's team fought back to defeat second-tier Rayo Vallecano 2-1 on Wednesday, earning their place in the last eight after a major scare.

Barca will now have to face a LaLiga team in Granada, a side they defeated 4-0 at Los Carmenes earlier this month.  

Sevilla, who have not won the competition since 2010, will play away to Almeria, the last team from outside the top flight left in the tournament.

Real Betis will take on Athletic Bilbao, who are yet to play Real Sociedad in the final of last season's Copa, while the other match will see Levante host Villarreal.

Ties will be played across next week from Tuesday to Thursday, with Barca favourites to win it after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were eliminated against lower-league opposition.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman said his team are trying to win the Copa del Rey as they attempt to overhaul LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Barca came from behind to beat second-tier side Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in Wednesday's last-16 showdown in the Copa del Rey.

Fran Garcia gave Vallecano a 63rd-minute lead before Lionel Messi equalised six minutes later and Frenkie de Jong completed Barca's comeback 10 minutes from time midweek.

It has been a challenging season for Barca amid doubts over Messi's future, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and a struggle for form as the Spanish giants sit third and 10 points behind Atletico, while they also lost the Supercopa de Espana final.

But Koeman and Barca remain focused on the goal of silverware, with the Catalan club set to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

"I am very happy," Koeman said post-match after reaching the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. "From the beginning we played a good game. In the first part we forgave them on several occasions, in the last pass, there were plays in which there could be penalties.

"Yes, we had problems in the first half. In the second one, especially with the score against, I think we've showed our personality, scoring quality goals, we came back in the game. At the end you always suffer with such a tight result with just one goal difference. Overall, the team played very well.

"We know these are complicated games, it does not matter the category of the opponent. They played a great game, they complicated us. But, in the first half we forgave them, we should've scored one or two goals."

"Our goal is to go game by game, try to win every game in order to try to move up in the table," Koeman added. "Cut the gap we have now [in the league], play in the Champions League.

"We want to win the Copa [del Rey]. I think this is the mentality our team has shown in all competitions and try to get the most out of it. It is important, we are Barca, but there are no easy games.

"We know how the Copa games are, it doesn't depend on the category of your opponent. You have to work a lot and play well. The field was not very good to play our game. Despite the state of the field, we played a very good game. Also, the team had the right mentality to overcome this play-off."

Barcelona booked their place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as goals from Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong sealed a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday. 

Ronald Koeman's side had looked set to follow Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in losing to lower-league opposition when Fran Garcia gave Segunda Division side Rayo the lead shortly after the hour-mark. 

As is so often the case, though, Messi pulled Barca level soon after with a close-range finish. 

That set the stage for the impressive De Jong to secure Barca's progression 10 minutes from time.

The first clear sight of goal did not come until the 20th minute, De Jong looping an effort from six yards onto Stole Dimitrievski's crossbar.

The visitors somehow failed to take the lead 10 minutes before the interval when Dimitrievski initially pawed away Trincao's strike before Riqui Puig's follow-up was diverted onto the crossbar by Ivan Martos.

Antoine Griezmann and De Jong had further chances, but Barca were ultimately unable to make their superiority count at the break.

Messi clipped the top of the crossbar with a free-kick three minutes after the restart before the Argentina international blazed over after being played clean through soon after.

Barca were made to rue those misses in the 63rd minute when Fran Garcia turned home from almost on the line after Neto had parried Alvaro Garcia's cross into his path.

Messi restored parity six minutes later, however, sliding in from six yards after being teed up by Griezmann.

De Jong ensured there would be no need for extra time to settle the result, stroking home from a similar position to Messi from Jordi Alba's cross.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman insists his players are not worried by the club's financial situation amid concerns around spiralling debts.

Barca's latest financial figures, dated August 17 but only released this month after their previous AGM was postponed, indicate their total debt has now exceeded €1.1billion.

Their short-term debt has risen to €730m, having increased by €225m since the 2018-19 season largely due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: specifically, the lack of matchday revenue as games continue to be played behind closed doors, and the reduction in tourists visiting the Camp Nou facilities.

Although Barca top the 2021 Deloitte Football Money League with total revenues of €715.1m, the stark numbers released by the club paint a concerning picture for prospective new presidents Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.

Last November, it was announced the players had agreed to a salary reduction that would save the club €122m and help to avoid widespread layoffs of non-playing staff, but interim president Carlos Tusquets claimed last month that the squad would not be paid for January due to the precarious financial situation.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey clash with Rayo Vallecano, Koeman stressed the senior squad was dully focused on keeping their trophy push alive.

"Barca is a great club that has been affected by COVID and suffers more than others, also from the tourism side of things," he said. "But all the big teams can take numbers that aren't good, not just here.

"The players are focused and not worried about this subject. We're concentrating on our work."

When asked if some Barca salaries were too high, Koeman replied:  "The club makes the contract and the player accepts it or not. We have to train and win games and trophies. We have all helped the club with the salary reduction."

He added on the subject of January wages not being paid: "I don't know if that's true. You'd have to ask."

Koeman is taking a strong side to second-tier Rayo, with the Copa del Rey looking likely to be Barca's best chance of winning silverware this season, with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both out.

While he may rotate his starting line-up, Koeman expects Lionel Messi to be raring to go after missing two games through suspension.

"It depends on the state of the players. If there are tired boys, we'll have to change," he said.

"We'll take a strong team to get through this tie. We know the road is shorter to winning something. The teams who are left are strong and we saw that in the Supercopa de Espana.

"[Messi] is really looking forward to playing and winning things. He's a winning player who wants titles. We have to wait until the morning to know if he'll play.

"To win something, we need Messi fit."

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was furious that his side missed two penalties in their Copa del Rey victory over Cornella.

The Catalans required extra time to overcome the Segunda B side, with Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite eventually securing a 2-0 win.

Cornella goalkeeper Ramon Juan had otherwise kept Barca at bay, making seven saves including two from the spot to deny Miralem Pjanic in the first half and Dembele in the second.

Those missed opportunities forced Barca to go to extra time for the third game in a row - after two Supercopa de Espana draws - for the first time in their history.

Barca have now missed five of their past eight penalties in all competitions, including their most recent four in a row, and Koeman slammed their success rate as ill-fitting of a club of their stature.

"The most important thing is always to go through, but we can't be happy because we scored goals," he said.

"We missed two penalties and you have to have more responsibility in these types of games.

"Again, 120 minutes, it's an important topic because we've had three games [like that] and that's on us. We created chances and two penalties... that cannot be.

"I can't complain about the effort but it's not only running, but also creating and being effective. It was really tough today. It cannot be and it can't be accepted.

"You have to win matches earlier. We missed two penalties, we had chances. It cannot be that a team like Barca misses so much.

"I don't understand it, either, because we usually have enough players who can score a penalty. It can be scary. I truly don't know why we've missed so many penalties. You can't miss two penalties as Barcelona players. This isn't serious."

Barca are next in action away to Elche in LaLiga on Sunday.

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