Lionel Messi is looking forward to football getting back to normal after admitting it is "horrible" to play games without fans present inside stadiums. 

Due to the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, leagues across Europe continue to carry out fixtures behind closed doors in the 2020-21 season. 

This was also the case to finish the previous campaign, meaning Messi has not played in front of supporters at Camp Nou since LaLiga was paused in March. 

The Argentine superstar feels the impact of empty venues has been felt on the pitch too, as it negates any home advantage for teams and leads to more even contests. 

"It's horrible to play without fans. It's not a nice feeling," Messi told Marca after picking up the Pichichi award for finishing as LaLiga's top scorer in 2019-20. 

"Not seeing anyone in the stadium makes it like training, and it takes a lot to get into the game at the beginning.  

"That's why we see such even games. It's very hard to win whoever you are playing against. 

"The pandemic has caused football to change a lot, and for the worse. We are seeing it in games. Hopefully after all this is over, we can get people back into the stadiums and get back to normal."

Barca have certainly found it tough going in the league so far this campaign.

While Ronald Koeman's side have lost just once – against reigning champions Real Madrid – at home, they will go into the mid-season break off the pace in the title race. 

Messi acknowledges a slow start has left them with work to do in LaLiga, though he believes the situation could have been different had they been more ruthless in front of goal. 

"We are going to try and win everything, as is always the case with this club. We are improving little by little," he said.

"It's true to say that it took us a little while to get going in LaLiga. We shouldn't have dropped so many points.

"I think we deserved more in the games against Deportivo Alaves and Gefate, and also against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.

"In those three games we created a lot of goalscoring chances, and if we had converted them, the situation in those games would have been different."

While committed to helping Barca succeed on all fronts this season, Messi's long-term future at the club remains unclear having pushed to leave in the previous transfer window. 

The 33-year-old is in the final year of his contract and has been heavily linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

Manchester City and Manchester United are set to battle it out for the signature of Bayern Munich's star defender David Alaba.

Alaba's Bayern contract expires in June 2021 and both Manchester clubs have made approaches for the 75-cap Austria international.

Pep Guardiola coached the 28-year-old during his time in the Bundesliga, but City may face further competition for the two-time Champions League winner.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED AND CITY SET FOR TUG-OF-WAR OVER ALABA

Manchester City and Manchester United have each made formal contact with Alaba 's agent Pini Zahavi, reports Spanish media outlet AS.

Bayern's chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has accepted the European champions can do nothing to keep Alaba, despite trying "everything" to convince the nine-time German league champion to stay.

But the Manchester rivals are not the only interested parties, with Real Madrid the favourites to land Alaba, according to the Daily Mail.  Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are also in the race.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton left-back  Lucas Digne  is another player on Guardiola's wish list, say the Daily Mail. The Toffees are set to offer the France international a bumper new contract to ward off  City 's advances, according to the Times.

PSG  are lining up a bid for Atletico Madrid's wantaway goalkeeper  Jan Oblak , say the Daily Mail. The Ligue 1 champions see 27-year-old Oblak, who wants a new challenge, as the successor to 34-year-old gloveman Keylor Navas in the French capital.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said he cannot understand how Real Madrid avoided conceding a crucial late penalty in their win against Eibar.

Zinedine Zidane's side clung on for a 3-1 victory after Lucas Vazquez's stoppage-time strike clinched all three points at Municipal de Ipurua.

Karim Benzema and Luka Modric had fired the Spanish champions into a two-goal lead inside 13 minutes before Kike hit back for the home side before the half-hour mark.

Eibar were pushing for a late equaliser when the hosts had appeals for a penalty turned down after the ball appeared to strike the arm of Sergio Ramos inside the penalty area.

Eibar head coach Jose Luis Mendilibar fumed about the incident, which was not reviewed by referee Jose Luis Munuera Montero.

Madrid's fifth straight win in all competitions left them level on points with Atletico but Koeman hinted Los Blancos were fortunate.

"The day of the Madrid match, I said something that doesn't need to be repeated," Koeman said.

"I think there are things that cannot be understood. I'm sure that if you ask 10 people if yesterday's game is a penalty, nine will say yes.

"The referee and his team have decided not to call it. But, well, we know."

Following Barca’s 2-2 draw against Valencia at Camp Nou, Koeman’s side sit fifth in the LaLiga table, eight points behind Atleti and Madrid.

The Catalans face 18th-placed Real Valladolid on Tuesday at Estadio Jose Zorrilla.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has called for urgent reforms of football’s structure in response to financial challenges caused by COVID-19.

Perez revealed the Spanish giants had suffered a 13 per cent loss of revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and insisted Real Madrid would be one of the driving forces in remodelling the football landscape.

UEFA had previously held discussions about making sweeping changes to the Champions League format starting from the 2024-25 season, with Europe's elite clubs said to be pushing for fewer matches and additional revenue.

Those talks did not progress after push back from clubs and national leagues opposing a European Super League, but Madrid chief Perez believes fans will suffer if football does not find a new direction quickly.

"Nothing will be like it was before," Perez told Real Madrid's club members during their online annual general assembly.

"The pandemic obliges us to make football more competitive. We must innovate and look for formulas to ensure football remains attractive."

He added: "Everyone is arguing for a remodelling of world football.

"There is a saturation [of games] and our fans, who are the most important thing we have, suffer. 

"Football reform cannot wait. The biggest clubs in Europe have millions of fans spread across the world. We have the responsibility to fight for this change."

Plans for a lucrative breakaway competition involving Europe’s highest-profile clubs were revived in October, according to media reports, with banking powerhouse JP Morgan said to be involved in the talks.

UEFA firmly opposed the project, but Perez says impact of COVID-19 should only hasten football's response to reforming its schedule.

"The reality is that all big football clubs are suffering this significant financial blow and we're not immune to it either," he said.

Joan Laporta wants Lionel Messi to stay at Barcelona and believes he has an advantage over the other presidential candidates.

Messi, 33, is coming out of contract at the end of the season, having sensationally requested to leave Barca ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

Previously president between 2003 and 2010, Laporta is running again, with the election to take place on January 24.

The 58-year-old wants Messi to remain at Barca and feels he has an advantage over the other candidates.

"If I win the elections, I want to make a very competitive proposal and I know he will listen to me. I want him to stay," Laporta told RAC1.

"I have an advantage over others, he knows I've always fulfilled what I said. We have a good relationship, we appreciate each other and we respect each other.

"If I'm the president, I think that there are options to follow."

Sitting fifth in the LaLiga table, Barca have also continually been linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, who left the club in 2017.

But Laporta was unwilling to be drawn into discussing the Brazil international, saying speculation could hurt Ronald Koeman's team.

"Neymar? I won't talk about players during the campaign because it can destabilise the team," he said.

"They are attentive to any history in the environment. I don't want anyone inside to tell me that I'm a destabiliser."

Barcelona visit Real Valladolid in LaLiga on Tuesday.

Robert Lewandowski says he can never be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of longevity but joked he is now the one sitting at football's top table.

The prolific Bayern Munich striker was named The Best FIFA Men's Player for 2020 last week thanks to his sensational form over the past year for treble-winning Bayern.

Messi and Ronaldo had won the award in three of its four prior editions, though it was Poland international Lewandowski who claimed the top prize this time around.

In terms of wider honours, Messi has won six Ballons d'Or to Ronaldo's five, the pair having gone head-to-head in a fierce battle to be the world's best for more than a decade.

But Lewandowski feels he can now be considered in the same conversation as two of the game's all-time greats on the basis of his goalscoring figures in recent years.

"Messi and Ronaldo have been sitting at the same table, at the top, for a very long time, and that's what makes them incomparable," he told France Football.

"So to answer your question, I can't imagine myself next to them in this point of view. 

"That said, if you take the numbers for this year and even previous ones, I think I'm pretty good in terms of performance and goals scored. 

"Failing to be at the same table as Messi and Ronaldo, I think I can invite them to eat at mine!"

Lewandowski scored 60 club goals at a rate of one every 76 minutes between July 20, 2019 and October 7, 2020 - the period considered for this year's FIFA Best award.

That tally, from 52 Bayern appearances, was 20 more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

Juventus star Ronaldo was tied with Ciro Immobile on 40 goals, while Barcelona forward Messi (32) trailed Romelu Lukaku (37), Timo Werner (35) and Raheem Sterling (34).

Lewandowski has scored 17 goals in the first 13 Bundesliga matchdays this season, meanwhile, to equal the record set by Gerd Muller in 1968-69 and 1976-77. 

And despite now being 32 years of age, he intends to continue evolving in order to maintain his high performance levels.

"I have a desire to progress and that's even more important because I know that my time is limited," he said. 

"Obviously, progress is not instantaneous. When you repeat something every day, you can only measure its effect three or six months later, not the next day. 

"The problem is, a lot of people want what you do in invisible work to be seen immediately. Patience is an important virtue, in football as in life."

Lionel Messi's motivation and hunger to succeed at Barcelona has never been in question, according to head coach Ronald Koeman.

The Argentina international failed in his attempt to engineer a move away from Camp Nou during the close-season but is set to become a free agent at the end of the campaign.

He has not always been at his best this season and has admitted in a new interview with LaSexta that the saga surrounding his future has affected his performances.

"The truth is today I'm fine," Messi said in a short excerpt released by RAC1 on Monday. "Today I'm fine and I feel like fighting seriously for everything we have ahead of us.

"I'm excited. I know the club is going through a difficult time, at club and team level, and it is difficult everything that surrounds Barcelona but I'm looking forward to it."

Messi has gradually improved as 2020-21 has gone on and has five goals in his last seven LaLiga matches, having failed to score or assist in five matches in October.

The superstar forward's comments were welcomed by Koeman but the Dutchman insists he never doubted Messi's determination to succeed after seeing his exit blocked.

"I don't need to see the Messi interview to know just how hungry and motivated he still is," Koeman said at a news conference previewing Tuesday's LaLiga trip to Real Valladolid.
 
"I see him with his team-mates every day. It's tough for any player who has won as much as him to not win every match he plays.

"But the squad is very united, albeit unhappy with the results. Leo is integrated in the side and helping us to improve things."

Messi's goal in Saturday's 2-2 home draw with Valencia was his 643rd for Barcelona, equalling Santos great Pele's one-club goals record.

Barca are eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played a game more than the leaders and are winless in four away league matches, last going five without a win in 2008.

Koeman accepts that results have to improve, with the under-fire head coach putting his side's inconsistent results down to a high turnover of youngsters in the first team.

"We have changed a lot of things," he said. "With younger players come a bit of irregularity. For the future it is a good thing but at Barca we have to win titles.

"It is a complicated situation we are in and time is needed, but we are Barcelona and we want to win.

"We will need to have maximum concentration against Valladolid. Every game we do not win is a step backwards for us.

"There are many games ahead in which many things can happen. We have lost a few away games and cannot fail again. There is pressure on the team to close the gap."

Ousmane Dembele is back in full training following another spell on the sidelines with a hamstring issue aggravated earlier this month.

However, Koeman confirmed the France international will play no part at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla, while Gerard  Pique, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto are also out.

Barca have won 12 of their last 13 LaLiga games against Valladolid, their only defeat in that run coming in March 2014.

Diego Simeone is not prepared to risk the fitness of Atletico Madrid attacking trident Luis Suarez, Diego Costa and Joao Felix by starting all three players against Real Sociedad on Tuesday.

Costa marked his return from his latest injury lay-off with a penalty in Atletico's 3-1 win over Elche on Saturday, a game in which Luis Suarez scored his first two goals since recovering from coronavirus.

Joao Felix has carried much of the burden in his team-mates' absence but left the pitch with a knock in the final quarter of the contest, though he is back in training and in contention to face Sociedad.

Simeone has yet to start a game with all three players and does not intend to alter his formation on Tuesday, although he is not against using all three if Atleti are chasing a goal at Estadio de Anoeta.

"I don't think they're all ready to start, but we can finish with them," Simeone said at a pre-match news conference on Monday. "They are dangerous forwards and can play together.

"We have to be patient and get the most out of each player that we have. The most important thing is to ensure they are all well enough to play together."

Atletico have scored 24 goals in 12 LaLiga games this term at a rate of one goal every 45 minutes, compared to 51 goals in 38 outings in 2019-20 - one every 67 minutes.

They have also conceded just five goals all season - the fewest of any team in Europe's top five leagues - an improvement Simeone believes stretches beyond the start of this season.

"Everything is the consequence of something else," he said. "I have been repeating for a long time that the growth appeared when returning after the quarantine period.

"The team attacked very well at the end of last season and we have continued in the same direction this time around. We have improved as a whole and the players have perfectly interpreted what we have asked of them."

Atleti lead the way at the top of LaLiga ahead of their trip to Sociedad, who are three points worse off in third having played three games more.

Sociedad have won four of their last six home LaLiga games against Atletico and Simeone is anticipating a difficult encounter against the division's joint-top scorers.

"They are working well under a coach who is expressing it on the field," he said. "They have a stronger squad than last season, with the arrival of David Silva giving them something extra.

"They have very good midfield and forward players and are a team that competes at a high level."

Neymar is welcome to reunite with Lionel Messi but first he must ask for forgiveness following his acrimonious Camp Nou exit three years ago, Barcelona presidential candidate Jordi Farre has insisted.

The Brazil international spent four trophy-laden seasons in Catalonia, forming a formidable partnership alongside Messi and Luiz Suarez, before joining Paris Saint-Germain for a record €222million in 2017 after his release clause was triggered.

Neymar has scored 50 times in 59 Ligue 1 outings since arriving at PSG and assisted a further 29 - only team-mate Kylian Mbappe (99) has been directly involved in more goals in the competition in that time.

During his time with Barca, meanwhile, he was directly involved in 164 goals in 186 appearances, helping the club to eight trophies.

He left Barca under a cloud and has since been embroiled in a court battle with his former club over an alleged breach of contract and unpaid loyalty payments.

However, the superstar forward caused a stir earlier this month when saying he wants nothing more than to link up with Messi again next year.

PSG are rumoured to be readying an offer for soon-to-be free agent Messi, but Farre - in the running to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu as the LaLiga giants' next president in January's elections - has suggested the pair could play together at Barca.

"Neymar will be welcome but the first thing he has to do is withdraw his demands and ask for forgiveness," he told RAC1. 

"We have spoken to his people and they have told us about 'going home'.

"Who doesn't want the third-best player in the world on their team? There is an option of a transfer request, which would see him come for €40-45m."

Messi failed in an attempt to engineer a move away from Barcelona in the close season but is due to be out of contract at the end of the campaign, meaning he is able to open talks with other clubs from next month.

Manchester City and Inter have been linked with the Argentina international, but reports from Spain last week suggested PSG are the frontrunners for Messi's signature, although his father and agent Jorge has since labelled that speculation "false".

Farre hopes he can persuade the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to stay on, albeit on a reduced salary as Barca adjust to the crippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Messi and Neymar can play together at Barca next year. I am sure Messi does not want to leave," he said.

"I have talked to his people and, while we have not made any progress, he has told me he wants to stay. But he wants to be part of a winning project.

"My proposal to him is that he renews year after year, then we create a joint brand between Messi and Barca, and that he goes on to become the club's honorary president.

"But he will have to adapt to the current conditions of the club."

Messi scored in Barcelona's 2-2 draw with Valencia at the weekend to notch his 643rd goal for the Blaugrana, equalling Santos great Pele's one-club goals record.

Lionel Messi is determined to help Barcelona win trophies after admitting the saga surrounding his future has affected him this season.

The Argentine superstar appeared determined to leave Camp Nou in the previous transfer window, believing he was entitled to depart on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.

However, Barca refused to sanction a move without a fee being involved, so Messi confirmed he would stay for the 2020-21 campaign, the final year on his current deal.

His long-term future still remains unclear, with more potentially becoming known when an in-depth interview with the 33-year-old is broadcast by LaSexta on December 27.

RAC1 released a short excerpt on Monday, in which Messi outlined his continued commitment to the cause for the coming months, ruling out any idea of a January transfer.

"The truth is that today I'm fine," Messi said in conversation with journalist and presenter Jordi Evole. 

"It's true that I had a very bad time in summer. What happened before the summer, because of how the season ended, the burofax and all that. Then I dragged it a bit at the beginning of the season.

"Today I'm fine and I feel like fighting seriously for everything we have ahead of us.

"I'm excited. I know the club is going through a difficult time, at club and team level, and it is difficult everything that surrounds Barcelona but I'm looking forward to it."

Messi was strongly linked with a reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City earlier in the year, while more recent rumours have suggested Paris Saint-Germain could be his next destination. 

For now, though, he appears to be staying put.  

Barca have struggled for consistency so far this term under head coach Ronald Koeman, winning just six of their 13 league outings so far to sit outside the top four in the table. 

They have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, finishing behind Juventus in their group. The last-16 draw paired them with PSG, meaning a clash with former Barcelona team-mate Neymar. 

Messi has contributed nine goals in all competitions so far, taking his career tally for Barca to 643. In doing so, he tied Pele's record for most scored by a player for one club, equalling the legendary Brazilian's feat when finding the net for the 450th time in LaLiga against Valencia on Saturday. 

Real Madrid are still eyeing Kylian Mbappe next year.

Mbappe, 22, has been heavily linked with the LaLiga giants with his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in 2022.

Madrid may be looking to make a move in 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CONFIDENT OVER MBAPPE IN 2021

Real Madrid are very confident of completing a deal for PSG star Mbappe next year, according to 90min.

Mbappe has developed into one of the world's best forwards at PSG, where he has scored 13 goals in 17 games this season.

The France international is admired by Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona may be active in January. Sport reports Ronald Koeman is insisting on signings to begin 2021, with Lyon star Memphis Depay said to be available for just €5million. It also says Barca will negotiate with Manchester City for Eric Garcia.

- Staying at Manchester City and the Premier League giants have been boosted by John Stones' form. The Telegraph reports the defender is poised for a contract extension, with his current deal running until 2022.

- Yves Bissouma is seemingly attracting plenty of interest after his form for Brighton and Hove Albion. The Daily Express reports Manchester United have joined the race for the midfielder, who has also been linked to Liverpool and Arsenal.

- Yet to play for Napoli this season, Arkadiusz Milik is set for an exit. CalcioMercato reports Tottenham have given up on trying to sign the striker, who is also apparently a target for Juventus, Inter and Roma.

Karim Benzema is playing "phenomenally" after helping Real Madrid to another win, coach Zinedine Zidane said.

Benzema scored and provided two assists as Madrid made it five straight wins in all competitions by beating Eibar 3-1 in LaLiga on Sunday.

It was the 30th time the Frenchman has scored and assisted in the same LaLiga game. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (44) has done it more often for Madrid in the 21st century.

Benzema's form was lauded by Zidane as Madrid joined Atletico on 29 points, although Diego Simeone's men have played two fewer games.

"He is doing phenomenally, but not only at the goal level," he told a news conference.

"It is not just a goal, it is a game. It is clarity in the game and it is very important for our team.

"But then we must highlight also the work of all."

Benzema set up Luka Modric to make it 2-0 before Kike pulled a goal back for Eibar, who felt they should have had a penalty for a handball by Sergio Ramos.

Zidane refused to be drawn on the decision, with Madrid sealing their win through Lucas Vazquez in additional time.

"The most important thing is that the referee was sure about it," he said.

"I'm not getting involved, as always. The referee is there to make the call and that's it."

Madrid's busy run of fixtures continues with a home clash against Granada on Wednesday.

Karim Benzema led the way as Real Madrid claimed a fifth successive win in a 3-1 triumph at Eibar on Sunday to go second in LaLiga.

Zinedine Zidane had been under intense pressure at the start of December due to a run of poor results, but the win at Ipurua was their fifth on the bounce across all competitions and leaves them on the tail of bitter rivals and pacesetters Atletico Madrid.

Benzema looked in the mood right from the start of an action-packed first half, the striker scoring and then teeing up Luka Modric in the early exchanges, before also having an effort disallowed for offside soon after Kike Garcia's stunning effort gave Eibar a lifeline.

Eibar certainly had their chances to clinch what had seemed an unlikely draw, but failed to take their opportunities and were punished again when Benzema played through Lucas Vazquez to wrap up the points in stoppage time.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are confident over a move for Lionel Messi, while Mohamed Salah is eyeing Real Madrid.

Messi sensationally requested to leave Barcelona during the close season, but ended up staying with the LaLiga giants.

While the star made more history on Saturday, his contract expires at the end of the season – and two European giants think he is ready to make a move.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY, PSG CONFIDENT OVER MESSI

Manchester City and PSG are confident Messi is prepared to leave Barcelona in 2021, according to 90min.

The big-spending European giants have been among the most heavily linked with a move for Messi, who is out of contract at Barca next year.

Messi equalled Pele's record of 643 goals for one club with his header against Valencia in LaLiga on Saturday.

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool star Salah discussed a potential move to Real Madrid or Barcelona in an interview with Diario AS on Saturday – and the forward apparently has a club in mind. DefensaCentral reports the Egypt international wants a move to Madrid, who have apparently maintained close contact.

- Barcelona could be set for good news in January. L'Equipe reports Lyon are prepared to sell Memphis Depay – who has been linked with the LaLiga giants and is out of contract at the end of the season – for €5million.

- Manchester City are prepared to listen to offers for Oleksandr Zinchenko in January, according to 90min. Zinchenko has played just 12 minutes in the Premier League this season.

- Struggling for game time this season, Daniel James has been linked with a move away from Manchester United. However, the Manchester Evening News reports James is committed to staying with the Premier League giants beyond January.

Pele congratulated Lionel Messi on equalling his one-club goals haul and said he admired the Barcelona star.

Messi scored his 643rd goal for Barca during Saturday's 2-2 draw at home to Valencia in LaLiga.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner matched Pele's haul of 643 goals in just 656 matches for Santos between 1956 and 1974.

Pele, regarded by many as the best to ever play the game, posted a tribute to Messi on Instagram.

"When your heart overflows with love, it is difficult to change your path," the Brazil great wrote.

"Like you, I know what it's like to love wearing the same shirt every day. Like you, I know that there is nothing better than the place we feel at home.

"Congratulations on your historic record, Lionel. But above all, congratulations on your beautiful career at Barcelona. Stories like ours, of loving the same club for so long, unfortunately will be increasingly rare in football.

"I admire you very much, @leomessi."

Having initially seen a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, Messi got his milestone goal when he met a cross from the left and nodded home from point-blank range.

Messi's headed goal was his first for Barcelona in all competitions since March 2017, while he missed a spot-kick for the club for the first time since February last year.

Remarkably, his latest goal was also his 450th in LaLiga, making him the first player to reach that figure for a single club in any of Europe's top five leagues.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.