Lionel Messi became the first player to score 20 LaLiga goals in 13 successive campaigns as he found the breakthough superbly against Huesca on Monday.

It was already a historic outing for Messi, who equalled Xavi's all-time record of 767 Barcelona appearances.

And the 33-year-old moved on to 20 goals in 25 top-flight appearances this season by clipping home a superb strike from the edge of the box, via the underside of the crossbar after 13 minutes at Camp Nou

No other player has scored 20 or more times in the competition in 13 seasons in a row.

Indeed, Messi was the only player to have hit 20 goals in 12 consecutive LaLiga campaigns – a feat he achieved that by netting in a 4-0 win over Mallorca in June 2020.

Lionel Messi has matched Xavi's record for the most appearances for Barcelona in all competitions.

The club captain started Monday's LaLiga match with Huesca, taking him to 767 games for the club he first joined as a 12-year-old.

Messi already boasts the record for the most trophies won (34) and most goals scored (658) for Barca.

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.

To date, Messi has featured in 510 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.

Speaking before the Huesca game, head coach Ronald Koeman described it as "an incredible number of games".

"That also shows what Xavi did for the club, and now Messi will equal the number games of Xavi," he said.

"It will be a great day and then the next that will be one more than Xavi achieved with Barcelona. It is incredible because that shows how important he is and was for Barcelona.

"The number of games, the number of goals, the number of hat-tricks, the number of titles.

"Let's hope that we will continue with Leo, winning titles, what he showed and what he did for this club."

Messi tops LaLiga's goalscoring charts this season with 19 as Barca look to close within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid.

The Argentina star has been involved in five goals in two games against Huesca in LaLiga (two goals and three assists), including two goals and two assists in his only league appearance against them at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have gone 16 games without losing in LaLiga (W13 D3) – the best current unbeaten streak of any team in Eurppe's five major leagues.

Zinedine Zidane is open to the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Real Madrid.

Speculation has been rife following Juventus' Champions League elimination by Porto, suggesting Ronaldo wants to head back to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Despite reports only surfacing in the past week, Spanish publication AS claims Ronaldo and Madrid have been in talks for several months and a transfer for the end of the season is being mooted, with Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe seemingly out of reach this year.

Ronaldo left Madrid for Juve in 2018, a move seen as a major statement in the Bianconeri's bid to end their Champions League drought, which stretches back to 1995-96.

But they have not been beyond the quarter-finals since, losing to Ajax, Lyon and most recently Porto in successive years.

Ronaldo is already Madrid's record scorer with 450 goals and won Europe's elite competition four times with Los Blancos, and Zidane acknowledges another link-up is not impossible.

Asked by Sky Sport Italia if there was truth in the rumours linking Ronaldo to Madrid, Zidane said: "Maybe. We know Cristiano, the person he is and what he did here.

"But he is a Juventus player. I did what I had to do with him, now we will see what happens in the future. I was lucky enough to train him because he is really impressive."

Zidane was speaking ahead of Madrid's Champions League last-16 second leg against Atalanta, having beaten Juve's Serie A rivals 1-0 in Bergamo in their previous meeting.

Remo Freuler was sent off after just 17 minutes for the home side, with Zidane's men then finally breaking the deadlock through Ferland Mendy four minutes from time.

Madrid are in the driving seat in the tie but Zidane insists he is not relaxed heading into Tuesday's game. While he realises Atalanta have to come out and go for goals, he is also well aware that is their main strength.

"I'm not calm, in football that doesn't exist," Zidane added. "You must have a great performance to get through the round, you can't go to 95 per cent because they will come here to win.

"We will need the best Real Madrid. I don't expect anything different from Atalanta. They always play in the same way: they attack and score, a lot. It's a great team.

"It's true that everything changed early on in the first leg, but many things were said to each other and they are rightly angry about the sending off, which was harsh. But we also prefer to play against 11 men, because then our game was also different."

Karim Benzema has no issue with talk of Erling Haaland joining Real Madrid as he has become accustomed to speculation linking the club with other strikers. 

Haaland's future remains a subject of great interest in the media, with the Norway international continuing to be prolific for Borussia Dortmund. 

The 20-year-old, who already has 31 goals in all competitions this season, has been linked with a move to Madrid, along with another highly talented young forward in Kylian Mbappe. 

Ahead of the second leg of Los Blancos' last-16 Champions League tie with Atalanta on Tuesday, Benzema spoke about the possibility of Haaland heading to the Spanish capital at some stage in the future. 

"He's not at the club," the Frenchman, whose double against Elche at the weekend moved him to 20 goals for the season, told the media. 

"I've spent many years here and every month they talk about strikers and people who can get a lot of goals. 

"He's young and he does a lot for his team. He has to work more for his team and if one day he has the opportunity, and he comes here, then so be it."

Benzema was also asked in the pre-match news conference about Cristiano Ronaldo, the club's all-time leading scorer who has been linked with a sensational return. 

Ronaldo left in July 2018, moving to Juventus. "The time has come to open a new stage in my life," he said at the time of the stunning transfer. 

However, Juve's exit from the Champions League to Porto means they have failed to make it any further than the quarter-final stage during the Portugal forward's three years at the club, with reports in Spain suggesting the player is keen to head back to Madrid. 

"I did a lot with him here, a lot of goals and assists. It's already been three years [without him]," Benzema said about Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick for Juve against Cagliari on Sunday. 

"He's at another team. I'm neither the president nor the coach. I don't know if he's happy or not at Juventus. 

"I played with him in another time... we always got on well together. And we always scored goals."

As for his own future, Benzema remains relaxed about the situation but is willing to open talks about extending his stay at "the best club in the world". 

"I go day by day. I enjoy every training session, every match," he explained. "I have a contract until 2022 but my door is open if the president wants me to renew. It's the best club in the world." 

Zinedine Zidane has described the latest injury to Eden Hazard as "inexplicable" as frustrations build over the Real Madrid star's fitness.

The Belgium international returned from a six-game absence in LaLiga as a second-half substitute in Madrid's 2-1 win over Elche on Saturday.

It had been hoped the 30-year-old would be ready for more game time on Tuesday, when Madrid host Atalanta in the Champions League last-16 second leg.

However, Hazard had to miss training on Monday due to a damaged hip flexor, and head coach Zidane confirmed he would not be in the squad for the visit of the Serie A side.

"He's not going to be fit. We're going to put something out shortly [on the injury]; I can't say any more," Zidane said.

"Something is going on. These are things I can't explain. I want to be positive and think it's going to be something small.

"They [the fans] have to wait. We know what sort of player he is. They want to see him, of course, just like everyone else here. But now, they can't."

Hazard has played just 14 times this season as injuries continue to blight his time in the Spanish capital.

The €100million signing from Chelsea has only started 29 matches in all competitions since joining two years ago and has not completed 90 minutes in a single game since November 2019.

"There are four questions on Hazard – I can't say any more," Zidane replied when pressed about the player's problems.

"We want to help him. I don't know if it will be with me or someone else, because he has a long contract, but I want with all my strength for him to be seen as the player he is. Sooner or later, he'll arrive."

Hazard is one of a number of fitness concerns Madrid have had this term but Zidane refused to pin any blame on the club's medical department.

"I don't think there's a problem [with the department]. We have very competent people here who are on top of the players," he said.

"We're going to find out what is happening, but at the moment, it's inexplicable. We've talked about pre-season, the accumulation of matches, also in the head.

"We're going to try to recover [the injured players]. Now, we have fewer injuries. Enough of them have returned."

Striker Karim Benzema, meanwhile, was left saddened by Hazard's latest setback, saying: "He hasn't had much luck since he came here.

"I'm sad because he's a top player. He's sad because he wants to show that he's a world star. We need him."

Cristiano Ronaldo's future is dominating headlines.

After Juventus crashed out of the Champions League last 16, Ronaldo has been linked with a move away from Turin.

Could a return to the Spanish capital be on the cards?

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO ON MADRID'S RADAR

Real Madrid are interested in bringing Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club, according to the frontpage of Monday's Diario AS.

Ronaldo – Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer – left Los Blancos for Juventus in 2018 but his future with the Serie A champions is far from certain following their Champions League elimination.

Diario AS says Ronaldo represents an easier and quicker target than Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

Marca, though, insists Ronaldo's possible return does not alter Madrid's objectives as they weigh up either Haaland – heavily linked to Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Juve, PSG and Liverpool – or Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- TodoFichajes reports United will turn their attention to Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres if they miss out on star Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, whose contract expires at season's end.

Chelsea and United want to sign Rennes star Eduardo Camavinga, claims Diario AS. Camavinga has been tipped to join Madrid, while PSG have also emerged as a possible destination.

Bayern Munich are in danger of losing head coach Hansi Flick, claims Bild. Flick has been named as a possible replacement for Germany boss Joachim Low. It comes as Bild says Flick's relationship with Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic is worse than previously known, while RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann has reportedly been sounded out.

- Football Insider reports Barca's move for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum is "95 per cent done". The Dutchman is set to become a free agent.

City are set to make an approach for Sporting CP left-back and Madrid target Nuno Mendes, says Diario AS.

- ESPN claims Barca are tracking Rapid Vienna sensation Yusuf Demir. The 17-year-old is also reportedly wanted by City, United, Dortmund and Bayern.

- Ligue 1 side Monaco are interested in a two-year loan deal for Bayern goalkeeper Alexander Nubel, according to Kicker. Monaco are led by former Bayern head coach Niko Kovac.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman lauded "incredible" Lionel Messi as the superstar captain prepares to equal Xavi's historic appearance record.

Messi is one game away from matching Xavi as the players with the most games in Barcelona's history – 767 – ahead of Monday's LaLiga clash against Huesca.

Barca's Messi, who already holds the record for most trophies (34) and goals (658) in club history at Camp Nou, equalled Barca's all-time LaLiga appearances mark set by Xavi last month.

To date, Messi has featured in 509 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.

"Well it is an incredible number of games," Koeman told reporters. "That also shows what Xavi did for the club, and now Messi will equal the number games of Xavi.

"It will be a great day and then the next that will be one more than Xavi achieved with Barcelona. It is incredible because that shows how important he is and was for Barcelona.

"The number of games, the number of goals, the number of hat-tricks, the number of titles.

"Let's hope that we will continue with Leo, winning titles, what he showed and what he did for this club."

The 33-year-old Messi tops LaLiga's goalscoring charts this season with 19 as Barca look to close within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid.

Messi has been involved in five goals in two games against Huesca in LaLiga (two goals and three assists), including two goals and two assists in his only league appearance against them at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have gone 16 games without losing in LaLiga (W13 D3) – the best current unbeaten streak of any team in the five major leagues in Europe.

Cristiano Ronaldo remains "the future of Juventus" despite rumours of a possible return to Real Madrid, according to Bianconeri director Fabio Paratici.

Rumours have been building in Spain that Madrid would be prepared to re-sign the Portugal star in the next transfer window, three years on from his €112million move to Turin.

Those reports were largely fuelled by Juve's Champions League exit to Porto in the last 16, with Ronaldo criticised for his performance in the second leg, particularly when he turned his back in the wall for Sergio Oliveira's decisive free-kick.

Head coach Andrea Pirlo defended the 36-year-old ahead of Sunday's league match at Cagliari, insisting: "He has 90 goals in a hundred games for Juventus and has always shown his worth. It can happen that he doesn't score in a certain match, as has happened with others, and this creates rumours."

Paratici, speaking to Sky Sport Italia prior to kick-off, said of the Ronaldo rumours: "It makes me smile.

"I grew up in a small village, and I heard this talk in bars about [Gianni] Rivera, [Sandro] Mazzola, [Michel] Platini and [Roberto] Baggio. I never thought I'd hear them about Ronaldo now.

"We're talking about a footballer who is today the top scorer in Serie A, has five Ballons d'Or and is a privilege for us. He surely represents the future of Juventus."

Ronaldo responded by reaching 23 goals in Serie A this season with a hat-trick in the first 32 minutes of Sunday's game, celebrating his third goal by running to a pitch-side camera and pointing to his ear.

It was the second-fastest hat-trick he has scored in his club career, behind a 20-minute treble he hit for Madrid against Espanyol in September 2015.

The former Manchester United forward has now scored 87 goals for club and country in March, making it his most profitable month.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has warned against complacency as his side look to cut the gap to Atletico Madrid with victory over rock-bottom Huesca on Monday.   

The Catalan giants have not lost in LaLiga since they slipped to a 2-1 defeat away at Cadiz on December 5.   

Indeed, their run of 16 top-flight games without defeat – which has included 13 wins – is the best current unbeaten streak of any team in the five major European leagues.   

Atleti were held to a 0-0 draw by Getafe on Saturday, giving Barca the opportunity to get within four points of the league leaders if they overcome Huesca at Camp Nou.   

Koeman, though, is taking nothing for granted and wants his side to be fully focused, despite facing opponents who have recorded just one win in their last 20 away league games in the top flight.   

"First we have to win tomorrow, but we are closing the gap," Koeman told the media.

"It [the unbeaten run] is a demonstration that we have improved, but there are no easy games. Those from below fight not to be relegated and those from above, to qualify for Europe.  

"You don't have to look at the table but go to win every game. We can't fail any more. Atletico Madrid is going strong and Real Madrid is there too. You have to go game by game."  

He added: "I have always said that it is a very long season. The points that Atletico have obtained is not normal.  

"Atletico is very competitive. They haven't lost much either. They lacked effectiveness yesterday and had the match to win. In Getafe, they had many clear opportunities. It is a very strong team and you have to fight until the last match. 

"Our trajectory since the away defeat to Cadiz has been good." 

Barca were dumped out of the Champions League in midweek by Paris Saint-Germain despite taking 21 shots to the Ligue 1 side's seven in the second leg, with Lionel Messi missing a crucial penalty with the score at 1-1 in Paris.  

Koeman was impressed by what he saw but wants his side to make sure they have a clinical edge in front of goal. 

"It is the maximum that can be asked of the players," he added. "The level of the other day but with greater effectiveness. 

"If we analyse this season, where we have lost unnecessary points it has been for not having the effectiveness for a team like Barcelona.  

"They even told me that in the 6-1 comeback [against PSG in 2017] there weren't as many opportunities as we had in Paris." 

Ronald Koeman is not interested in media speculation about his own future at Barcelona as he waits to hold in-depth talks with new president Joan Laporta. 

Barca exited the Champions League in midweek, going out in the last 16 to Paris Saint-Germain, but still remain firmly in the hunt in LaLiga, having clawed their way back into the title race with a 16-game unbeaten run. 

The excellent domestic form has eased the pressure on Koeman somewhat, though a recent report in Spain suggested Julian Nagelsmann was being lined up to replace the Dutchman at Camp Nou. 

RB Leipzig boss Nageslmann, who has also been linked with Bayern Munich, made clear on Friday it would be disrespectful to discuss such matters, stating: "There are great coaches at all of these clubs and they have a contract, just as I do. It is not annoying me, nor is it flattering me." 

Likewise, Koeman's focus is on helping Barcelona continue to get better this season, rather than worrying about stories in the press. 

"It was a very good reaction, but I don't have to answer the names of players or coaches that a journalist produced," the Barca boss said ahead of Monday's LaLiga game against Huesca. 

"That is a matter for the media. You have to fill the pages every day.  

"I have a contract. We are improving many things and we have to continue."

Koeman revealed he had a conversation with Laporta - who was elected for a second stint as president last Sunday - prior to the second leg against PSG in the French capital.

However, he expects the pair to have more detailed discussions once their schedules allow. 

"I have not spoken with the president yet because there are many games and it must be official that he is president," Koeman said. "We spoke in Paris, but we have to meet later. These are not things to explain outside, but from within the club." 

Jordi Cruyff - son of club legend Johan, who is currently coaching in China - has been linked with becoming part of a new-look board at Barca. 

"I cannot say much because they are things that exist within the club, the president has to decide his team in important positions," Koeman replied when asked about his compatriot returning to Camp Nou. 

"I know Jordi well, as well as his family. He may be a candidate, but I have not discussed this issue."

Paris Saint-Germain is homing in on Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba.

Pogba has been linked with a move away from United since his agent Mino Raiola said he had no future at the club in December.

The 27-year-old has been at United since 2016 but struggled for impact over the past two seasons.

 

TOP STORY - POGBA'S PARISIAN PLAY

PSG have made contact with Pogba's agent and placed him on their list of transfer targets, according to Foot Mercato.

The report claims PSG sporting director Leonardo has recently been in touch with Raiola.

The 27-year-old World Cup winner has never played in Ligue 1 in his native France.

ROUND-UP

Manchester United goalkeeper uncertainty persists with the Daily Star claiming the Premier League giants have added Burnley's Nick Pope to their transfer list, although Tottenham are interested too.

- The Sunday Mirror is reporting United are set to offer manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a new deal.

Tottenham are lining up Southampton's Jannik Vestergaard, according to the Sunday Mirror too.

- Football Insider claims that a deal for Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum to go to Barcelona this close season is "95 per cent done".

- Milan midfielder Ismael Bennacer is hot property right now and Algerian publication Competition claims Paris Saint-Germain are leading the race for his signature, ahead of Manchester City.

- TeamTalk has reported Arsenal and Everton are interested in Fulham centre-back Ibane Bowat.

Arsenal and Tottenham are both keen on Sheffield United's Sander Berge, according to Jeunes Footeux.

Diego Simeone claimed that Real Madrid and Barcelona are unlikely to lose again this season, as he conceded it is normal for his Atletico Madrid side to feel pressure.

LaLiga leaders Atleti were frustrated on Saturday, as they failed to overcome 10-man Getafe and had to settle for a 0-0 draw.

Atleti had 72.7 per cent possession, their highest total in a LaLiga match since at least 2004-05, when Opta started to collect this kind of data.

David Soria was in superb form for Getafe, making seven saves – including a standout stop from Moussa Dembele – while Luis Suarez hit the post.

The result leaves Atleti six points clear of city rivals Madrid, though Barca would move within four points of Simeone's team should they beat Huesca on Monday.

Karim Benzema's double lifted Madrid to victory over Elche earlier on Saturday, and Simeone believes that neither of Atleti's title rivals will slip up again.

"We had the idea of winning again and continuing to have the advantage that we had," he told a news conference.

"The first half was not good, the game did not flow, there were no good transitions. In the second half the team improved and in the end had more chances to score.

"I maintain that the team is playing well, we have to be calm, it is a very difficult championship, Real Madrid and Barcelona are not going to lose any game from here until the end and we have to know what our path is."

Asked if Atleti were feeling the pressure, Simeone replied: "It is normal, we come almost the whole season being first. 

"There are 11 games left, they said that Barcelona was bad but against Paris Saint-Germain they could have won, they have a new president, enthusiasm and Madrid always manages to get the games won.

"We try step by step to continue our way, game by game, and we have two monsters behind us with the idea of being where we are."

Atleti's focus switches, temporarily at least, away from LaLiga for the next few days, with the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea coming up on Wednesday.

Thomas Tuchel's team, who are still unbeaten under the German, lead 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Olivier Giroud's stunning strike in the first leg last month.

Atletico Madrid suffered another slip up in their LaLiga title charge as they were held to a 0-0 draw by 10-man Getafe.

Diego Simeone brought up his record-setting 309th victory in charge of Atleti with a win over Athletic Bilbao last time out, but triumph number 310 evaded him on Saturday.

It was not for a lack of trying – Getafe goalkeeper David Soria pulling off a string of impressive stops, while Luis Suarez hit the woodwork.

Allan Nyom saw red for the hosts with 20 minutes left, yet Atleti could not make their numerical advantage count as they were forced to settle for just one point.

Perhaps spurred on by Real Madrid's earlier win, Atleti started with real intent – Suarez popping a header over before Soria denied Yannick Carrasco.

A rare error from Jan Oblak almost proved costly before the break, though Nemanja Maksimovic was unable to capitalise.

Oblak was back at his best on the hour, standing firm to deny Enes Unal after a sweeping Getafe counter.

Introduced at half-time, Joao Felix thought he had broken the deadlock moments later, but Marcos Llorente failed to keep the ball in play before squaring for the Portugal youngster.

Atleti were handed a boost with Nyom having his booking for a stamp on Renan Lodi upgraded to a red after a VAR check.

Getafe felt equally as hard done by from their next attack, the referee dismissing what seemed valid appeals for a penalty following Moussa Dembele's challenge on Maksimovic.

Dembele was in the thick of it at the other end soon after, twice testing Soria from close range – the first effort drawing a truly sensational stop – either side of Joao Felix forcing Getafe's goalkeeper into action.

Suarez thought he had won it in the closing stages, only for the post to come to Getafe's rescue, with a 90th-minute miss from Dembele ensuring Real Madrid and Barcelona were handed a boost.

Zinedine Zidane is delighted with the character Real Madrid showed to clinch a late win over Elche, but wishes his side could have scored earlier.

Karim Benzema's sensational half-volley in stoppage time secured a 2-1 comeback win for Madrid, who moved up to second in LaLiga.

It was Benzema's second goal of the game – the Frenchman having previously cancelled out Dani Calvo's header.

Madrid have scored five goals in second-half injury time in LaLiga this season, four of them scored by Benzema.

And though Madrid showing the spirit needed to score late goals is a positive for ZIdane, he is concerned that his team are becoming too reliant on last-gasp strikes.

"I like the character but I would like them to score earlier. I would like quieter games," Zidane told reporters.

"It is a team that has character, we are alive in both competitions and we will continue to fight hard and believe in ourselves.

"It's a comeback. We believe in what we do, it has cost us, we have had two or three chances to score before and we have not done it.

"In the end, it is a fair result. They are two very beautiful goals, very good plays. It is good for us."

Playing at the centre of a back three, Sergio Ramos made his first league appearance in over two months after recovering from injury, though the veteran campaigner looked to be working his way back to sharpness.

Ramos made one clearance and lost possession five times before going off after Elche opened the scoring 61 minutes in.

However, Ramos did have a penalty appeal turned down beforehand, a decision which Zidane felt went against his side, though he refused to criticise the officials.

"I shouldn't get involved there. The referee does his job and we try to do ours, that's it," Zidane said.

"I saw the play, it seems to us that there is something, but the referee has decided something else and that's it."

Real Madrid's LaLiga title hopes are still intact after Karim Benzema inspired a 2-1 comeback win over Elche on Saturday.

Having drawn their last two league fixtures, Madrid had the chance to leapfrog Barcelona into second place and close the gap on Atletico Madrid, temporarily at least, to five points.

But a lacklustre display looked like it would result in a third straight league draw – Benzema having cancelled out Dani Calvo's header.

Madrid's slim chances of catching Atleti were handed a late boost, however, when Benzema thundered in a supreme finish in stoppage time to snatch the points.

 

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