Lionel Messi continues to dominate headlines.

While Messi decided to stay at Camp Nou, Manchester City are reportedly still trying to prise the superstar from Barcelona.

Could he be set for a mid-season switch?

 

TOP STORY – MESSI TARGETED BY CITY

Manchester City are expected to make a bid to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in January, according to The Sun.

Messi was tipped to join Pep Guardiola's City after handing in a transfer request at the start of the season, however, he opted to stay at Camp Nou.

City, though, have not given up on signing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner – who has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

ROUND-UP

- What does the future hold for Sergio Ramos? The Real Madrid captain is out of contract at season's end, and the likes of Juventus, PSG and Manchester United have emerged as possible destinations. Should Ramos leave the Santiago Bernabeu, Diario AS claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba could arrive as a replacement at Madrid. Alaba is also wanted by Juve, Barcelona and City.

- Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is desperate for a loan move and is willing to take a pay cut to secure a short-term exit, reports The Sun.

- Eurosport says Chelsea are eyeing a future move for Borussia Dortmund sensation Jude Bellingham, who only swapped England for Germany at the start of the season. Bellingham is seen as an alternative to West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.

Inter are keen to make head coach Antonio Conte happy by exchanging Christian Eriksen for PSG midfielder Leandro Paredes and swapping Matias Vecino for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik in the New Year, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Sergio Ramos suffered an injury during the first half of the Nations League match between Spain and Germany in Seville. 

The Real Madrid captain hurt his hamstring after playing a long pass forward and was replaced by Eric Garcia 43 minutes in. 

Spain had already seen Sergio Canales go off with a similar complaint just 12 minutes into the contest. 

Despite the injury issues, Luis Enrique's side led 3-0 at half-time in the decisive Group A4 match through goals from Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres and Rodri. 

Any injury to Ramos would be a major concern for Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane ahead of a challenging run of fixtures

The champions return to LaLiga action at Villarreal on Saturday before they head to Inter for matchday four of the Champions League group stage. 

Madrid then face a further four games, including clashes with Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach, before the scheduled derby with Atletico Madrid on December 13. 

Ramos missed the reverse fixture against Shakhtar on October 21, a match Madrid lost 3-2 after falling 3-0 down in the first half at Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

There was further bad news for Zidane in Paris too, as another of his centre-back options in Raphael Varane was withdrawn at half-time during France's meeting with Sweden.

Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps told M6: "[Lucas] Hernandez and Varane have come off because they have small problems."

Javier Tebas has outlined his desire to keep Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos in Spain as LaLiga's president once again aimed a swipe at Manchester City. 

Messi pushed to leave Barcelona during the previous transfer window, with the 33-year-old citing frustrations with the board as he made clear his desire to move on. 

Pep Guardiola's City were heavily linked with the Argentina international, but Messi eventually elected to see out the remainder of his contract at Camp Nou, staying until at least the end of the 2020-21 season. 

Tebas once more reiterated his wish to see Messi remain in LaLiga, though he does not believe the competition will be significantly worse off should the Barca forward move on. 

"We would prefer Messi to stay in La Liga but Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar left and we haven't noticed any difference," said Tebas, who went on to criticise City over how they go about their business. 

"It seems the only club in Premier League that talks about registering Messi is Manchester City, who compete outside the rules. I am not the only one saying this. 

"I am not too worried about them. I have criticised what they do so many times. Doing it one more time makes no difference. 

"City is neither affected by COVID or pandemics or anything because they are financed differently and it is impossible to fight against that."

Also out of contract at the end of the campaign is Real Madrid captain Ramos, who overtook Gianluigi Buffon to become the most capped European footballer when he played for the 177th time for Spain in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Switzerland, during which the defender missed two penalties. 

Ramos cancelled a planned appearance at the national team's media conference on Monday ahead of facing Germany amid reports contract negotiations with Madrid had stalled. 

Tebas, however, expects the centre-back to remain in the Spanish capital. 

"I prefer Messi in the league, Sergio Ramos in the league," he said. "We have had important outings. But we are prepared to have the least possible impact.

"I think Ramos will continue at Real Madrid."

Eden Hazard will have a "fabulous" 2021 after missing out on Belgium's final games of this year with coronavirus, according to Roberto Martinez.

Since completing a €100million move to Real Madrid in June 2019, Hazard has been beset by injury problems and limited to just 25 appearances in all competitions.

He has scored two goals and supplied four assists for Los Blancos, after a final campaign at Chelsea in which he registered 16 goals and 15 assists in the Premier League alone.

A muscle injury meant his first outing of 2020-21 did not come until October 27 and three games into his return he tested positive for coronavirus.  

Hazard was again positive for COVID-19 at the weekend and will consequently miss Belgium's crunch Nations League Group A2 clash with Denmark.

However, Martinez is confident the 29-year-old will soon return to his previous heights and play an important role for Madrid and Belgium.

"Eden really wanted to join us and play the last three games in 2020," said Martinez on Tuesday.

"He has had a really complicated year. I am convinced that 2021 will be a fabulous year for Eden Hazard, and also the national team."

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "It's a shame he'll miss this match, but we have enough quality to win without him.

"The group has more experience, we know what we have to improve. We have one of the best teams in the world."

Martinez will also be without the suspended duo Axel Witsel and Thomas Meunier for the meeting in Heverlee, where a point will be enough for Belgium to qualify for the Nations League Finals.

"We are not going to focus on the absentees. I am looking at the players that will have the chance to put themselves forward, to seize an opportunity," said Martinez.

"I have many solutions to compensate for the absences of Wistel and Meunier. There is Thomas Foket, Thorgan Hazard and Nacer Chadli among others.

"Denmark are a very strong team but we want to participate in the Finals so we will do everything to win. We are not going to aim for a draw. We have to win for the fans and to end the year on a good note."

Belgium missed out on a place in the inaugural Nations League Finals in 2019 after losing their final group game against Switzerland 5-2.

Courtois insists they have learned from that performance and know they cannot take Denmark lightly.

"We know their strengths and weaknesses. If they win, they will quality. We have to show intensity from the first minute to the last, be careful and focused. We will not easily win this game 4-0," said Courtois.

"We had relaxed a bit that day [against Switzerland], it's true. We learned from that match. We are ready for Wednesday."

Barcelona must "take the bull by the horns" as they slash their wage bill, LaLiga president Javier Tebas has urged.

The impact of COVID-19 on Barcelona and Real Madrid was laid bare on Tuesday as LaLiga published this season's staff budgets.

Tebas suggested the January transfer window was one where Spain's biggest clubs would struggle to fund major signings.

Barcelona's budget has come down by 43 per cent, from €671.4million (£592.3m) last season to €382.7m (£337.6m) for the current campaign.

Real Madrid have replaced Barca as the team with the biggest budget in Spain, but they also face a major cost-cutting effort, needing to trim their bill by 27 per cent, from €641m (£565.6m) to €468.5m (£413.4m).

The big two are far from alone in feeling the pinch, and Atletico Madrid have also been faced with the problem of how to reduce their spending from €348.5m (£307.5m) to €252.7m (£222.9m).

LaLiga publishes its clubs' budgets each season, and the effects of the pandemic were always expected to mean clubs would face difficulties in operating at anywhere close to their previous level.

With revenue vastly reduced due to games being played without spectators, clubs have already been taking steps towards balancing their books, with a number of players agreeing to defer wages.

Tebas said: "It is very difficult for players to come to the big clubs in January. Cost savings are mandatory."

He explained that this season would inevitably be very different to previous campaigns.

"In the case of Barcelona, ​​for example, I think they have to take the bull by the horns and reduce their wage bill," Tebas said. "Barca are obliged to renegotiate their contracts."

LaLiga is far from alone in being affected so significantly by the coronavirus crisis, but its transparency in terms of revealing its clubs' staff spending limits shines new light on how severely many of them are being hit.

Speaking about Barcelona, whose former president Josep Maria Bartomeu highlighted the club's financial position prior to stepping down in October, Tebas said it was not a case of mismanagement that led to their current drastic situation.

Tebas said, quoted by Spanish newspaper Sport: "When you have a force majeure cause, you cannot say that things have been done wrongly.

"Barcelona had a specific financial strategy that worked well. If we were not in a pandemic, we would not talk about this reduction; it is a force majeure cause."

Atletico Madrid have been dealt another setback ahead of their clash with Barcelona after confirming midfielder Hector Herrera has sustained a grade two injury to his left thigh.

Diego Simeone's men are already set to be without Luis Suarez for Saturday's LaLiga game following his positive test for coronavirus while away on international duty with Uruguay.

Atleti are sweating on the fitness of a number of other first-team players, including Diego Costa and Yannick Carrasco, and will definitely be without Herrera next weekend.

The 30-year-old played no part in Mexico's 3-2 win over South Korea last week and was sent back to Madrid to undergo a scan.

Atleti confirmed the extent of the injury on their official website on Tuesday, with Herrera now expected to miss around a month.

He has featured eight times in all competitions for Atletico this season and started their last four games before the international break.

Herrera has averaged 85.18 passes per 90 minutes in his five LaLiga outings, which is behind only Toni Kroos (86.54) among players to have played at least five times this term.

Kroos is also the only player to have averaged more touches (104 to 100) than Herrera, while no player has turned over possession more often (9.64) - Manu Garcia being next highest with 9.38.

Atletico take on Barcelona, Valencia and Real Valladolid in LaLiga over the next three weeks and also have Champions League games with Lokomotiv Moscow, Bayern Munich and Salzburg in that period.

Paris Saint-Germain's focus is reportedly on Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, not Sergio Ramos.

Ramos has been linked with the Ligue 1 champions with his Real Madrid deal expiring at the end of the season.

But PSG seemingly have other deals they want done first.

 

TOP STORY – PSG PRIORITISING MBAPPE, NEYMAR OVER RAMOS

PSG are prioritising new deals for Mbappe and Neymar over a potential move for Madrid defender Ramos, according to Goal.

Mbappe and Neymar are both out of contract in 2022 and have unsurprisingly emerged as targets for clubs in Europe.

The star forwards have both been at PSG since 2017, helping the club win Ligue 1 in every season since.

Interestingly, Mbappe and Neymar have both appeared in just 38 of 113 Ligue 1 games for PSG since arriving.

PSG have won 34 and lost just one of those, while averaging 3.3 goals for. Without at least one of them, their win percentage drops from 89.5 to 72, and average goals for dips to 2.5.

 

ROUND-UP

- Out of contract at Liverpool at the end of the season, Georginio Wijnaldum's future remains unclear. CalcioMercato reports the midfielder is wanted by Barcelona and Inter.

- There could be plenty of movement coming up at Barcelona. Sport reports Riqui Puig has no plans to leave the club in January despite interest from Porto and Benfica. It also says while the LaLiga giants are prepared to let Puig and Carles Alena leave on loan, they are working on selling Samuel Umtiti, Martin Braithwaite, Junior Firpo and Matheus Fernandes.

- Staying at Barcelona and Mundo Deportivo reports the club are working on a contract extension for Ousmane Dembele, whose current deal expires in 2022.

- With Lautaro Martinez continually linked with Barcelona, Inter are considering their options. The Serie A giants are eyeing Torino striker Andrea Belotti as a replacement if Martinez joins Barca, according to CalcioMercato. Since Belotti arrived at Torino in 2015, only Ciro Immobile (111) and Gonzalo Higuain (90) have scored more goals than his 85.

- Also in Serie A, Napoli are considering a loan move for Chelsea defender Emerson Palmieri, according to la Repubblica.

Pedri thanked Real Madrid for not signing him, saying he was where he wanted to be at Barcelona.

The 17-year-old joined the LaLiga giants from Las Palmas in July, and has scored twice in 10 appearances for Barca this season.

But it could have been different for the teenager, who was turned down by Madrid after a trial.

Pedri, a Spain youth international, said he was glad to be rejected by Barca's rivals.

"I went to test with Real Madrid but they told me I didn't have the level," he told Cadena SER on Monday.

"I thank the one who told me I was not worth it, now I am in the team that I have always loved."

Barcelona sit eighth in the LaLiga table, nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad, although they have played two fewer games.

Pedri, who has made three league starts this season, is enjoying the opportunity of playing with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.

"Of course I dreamed of playing with Messi, like many children," he said.

Barcelona are next in action with a trip to Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Luis Suarez has tested positive for coronavirus and is set to miss Atletico Madrid's LaLiga clash with his former club Barcelona.

The 33-year-old will also sit out Uruguay's World Cup qualifier with Brazil on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19 while away with his national side.

Uruguay confirmed in a statement on Monday that Suarez and team-mate Rodrigo Munoz, as well as backroom staff member Matias Faral, are all following coronavirus protocols.

The news comes five days before Suarez was set to take on Barcelona, the club he left for a nominal fee in September after six years at Camp Nou.

He has played nine times for Atletico since joining and has five goals in six LaLiga outings. Only Real Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal has scored more, having played a further three games.

Suarez's six league goals have come from 22 shots, eight of which were on target, both of which are the most of any Atletico player this season.

Speaking to Marca this week, Suarez reiterated his disappointment at being forced out of Barcelona during the most recent transfer window.

"I was sad and hurt by the way I left – I already said it," he admitted. "But when they close a door, five more open to you where they value my work, professionalism and trajectory. I feel proud. 

"Where they did not want me, there was another that wanted me. I found happiness and I'm enjoying this moment now."

Sergio Ramos can handle talk over his future at Real Madrid and has not allowed his contract situation to affect him while playing for Spain, according to Luis Enrique. 

Defender Ramos is in the final year of his deal with Madrid and negotiations between the two parties have reportedly stalled, leading to speculation he could be set to depart the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with the 34-year-old, who pulled out of the scheduled national team news conference on Monday, Manchester City midfielder Rodri stepping in to replace his captain.

Ramos is preparing for Spain's pivotal Nations League clash with Germany on Tuesday, a game they must win if they are to leapfrog their rivals and qualify for the finals of the tournament. 

Head coach Luis Enrique has backed the centre-back to cope amid the growing pressure, something he has become accustomed to during his distinguished career for club and country. 

"Everything that is generated around Ramos is neither new, nor old, nor is it anything," the Spain boss told the media.  

"It is what it is and what it means to have a player of this level. It is normal that there is pressure around and you have to live with that. 

"If there is someone with enough experience to handle this personal situation it is Sergio Ramos.  

"He is well prepared, and I see him the same as the first day we arrived at the national team, his enthusiasm, his leadership. His face does not change at all and this is part of the things that a footballer should know how to carry."

Spain were only able to draw 1-1 away in Switzerland last time out, not helped by the usually reliable Ramos missing two penalties. 

Luis Enrique defended the player – who had scored his previous 25 attempts from the spot for club and country – in his post-match media conference, though it was again a topic of debate in Monday's preview session for the game in Seville. 

"I don't know if Sergio Ramos is the best penalty taker in the world," he replied when asked about Ramos' spot-kick role.  

"What I did defending Sergio after the game is what any coach would do of course. You have to know how to accept both versions of the story and nothing happens."

Ramos has played the most number of games (16) during Luis Enrique's time in charge, during which he is the leading scorer with nine goals.

He is also top of the charts across the same period when it comes to shots attempted (37), passes attempted (1,328) and also duels won (64), showing his all-round value to the team.

Spain have confirmed Sergio Busquets has sustained a mild sprain in his left knee that will keep him out of Tuesday's Nations League clash with Germany.

The Barcelona midfielder was injured during Spain's 1-1 draw with Switzerland last week and was unable to take part in training on Sunday.

After undergoing an MRI scan on Monday, the extent of the damage was revealed by Spain on their official Twitter account.

Busquets is definitely out of the home match against Germany, which La Roja need to win to top Group A4, and is considered a major doubt for Barca's LaLiga showdown with Atletico Madrid next Saturday.

The 32-year-old has started all seven of Barca's league games this term and has appeared in all three Champions League matches.

His 321 passes in the opposition half in LaLiga this term is bettered only by Frenkie de Jong (325), Sergio Canales (332) and team-mate Lionel Messi (332).

However, Busquets' figures in other areas have dropped since last season, leading to calls for Miralem Pjanic to be given the nod in Ronald Koeman's starting line-up.

Busquets' passes-per-game figures are down from 93 per game last term to 80 this time around, while his number of dribbles (0.83 to 0.48) and touches (106 to 91) have also fallen.

Barca face Atletico and Osasuna in their next two LaLiga games, either side of a trip to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.

Giovanni Simeone has not ruled out a move to "second home" Atletico Madrid when he looks for a new challenge away from Cagliari.  

Simeone, 25, joined the Serie A side on a permanent deal ahead of the 2020-21 campaign after enjoying a successful loan spell from Fiorentina last term.  

He has started the new season in fine form too, scoring five goals in seven appearances to help his side sit 11th in the table.

Indeed, only Andrea Belotti, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have scored more than him in the Italian top-flight, while he also chipped in with one assist and completed a team-high 75 per cent of his dribbles.  

Despite his permanent spell at Cagliari still being in its infancy, Simeone is already thinking about his next move and says LaLiga side Atletico – coached by his father Diego – holds a special appeal.

"I am enjoying Cagliari but I would like to be able to change at some point in my career, that would help me to keep growing," he told Marca. "Maybe in Spain or in England, which is another place that I like a lot.  

"I always say that being in other countries makes you a better player because leagues and teams are different and I would like to keep growing. 

"The feeling that I have for Atletico is different because my dad is there. I am obviously a fan of the clubs that he played for since I was a kid, but Atletico is a bit different. 

"Each time my father played for Atletico I have put on their shirt and been a fan. Since I was a child, I have felt Atletico is my home, even though I never played there and never lived in Spain really.  

"To have this feeling of a second home is a good feeling." 

Cagliari travel to champions Juventus on Saturday as Serie A resumes following November's international break.

Barcelona presidential candidate Victor Font has no intention of attempting to re-sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain should he win his election bid.

Neymar spent four trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou before joining the French giants for a record €222million in August 2017.

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

Amid fresh rumours last week linking Neymar with a return to Catalonia, Font has ruled out making an approach for the 28-year-old.

"Institutionally, Neymar's not in my plans," said Font, who has previously stated he wants to bring Pep Guardiola back to the club to reunite the Catalan coach with Lionel Messi.

"For financial reasons and for other reasons, like the lawsuit he has against the club and the fact he left the club in a tricky position days before the season started [in 2017]."

Neymar has scored 49 times in 56 Ligue 1 outings since arriving at PSG and assisted a further 29 - only team-mate Kylian Mbappe (95) 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 would fit in on the sporting side but not on the financial or the institutional side of things," Font added in the interview with Sport.

"But the signings will be in the hands of the sporting directorate, not as they have been made up until now."

Barcelona have been without an official president since Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned at the end of October ahead of an expected vote of no confidence.

Font is the heavy favourite to win the election, which is scheduled to take place on January 24.

Atletico Madrid have been paired with fourth-tier side Cardassar in the first round of the Copa del Rey, though Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of four LaLiga clubs missing.

The draw took place in La Cartuja, the Olympic stadium in Seville that will host the final next April, and is organised so that all LaLiga clubs avoid each other and are instead drawn with teams from the lower reaches of the Spanish football pyramid.

Atletico are the only one of the traditional 'big three' involved and face a trip to Tercera Division side Cardassar, who are from a small town on the island of Mallorca.

Sevilla, Spain's fourth Champions League representative this term, will stay in Andalusia when they go to Ciudad de Lucena and Valencia have been drawn against Catalonian team Terrassa.

Ties will take place on December 16 between the 112 clubs involved at this stage.

Madrid, Barca and 2019-20 Copa finalists Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao have byes to the third round due to their participation in the expanded Supercopa.

Athletic and La Real were unable to play their historic all-Basque final earlier this year as planned due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the match postponed indefinitely at the time.

Recent media reports suggest the match is due to be rearranged for April 4, 2021, two weeks prior to the 2020-21 final.

Sergio Ramos withdrew from a Spain media conference on Monday amid speculation Paris Saint-Germain are set to make a big-money offer for the Real Madrid captain. 

Ramos became the most capped European male player with 177 international appearances in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Switzerland, although he missed two penalties.

He was scheduled to speak alongside head coach Luis Enrique ahead of Tuesday's Nations League clash with Germany, but has been replaced by Manchester City midfielder Rodri. 

The 34-year-old's absence comes as Ligue 1 giants PSG are rumoured to be preparing a three-year deal worth €20million per season to secure his services.

Ramos' deal at Madrid expires at the end of the 2020-21 season and he is free to talk to other clubs about a lucrative free transfer from January 1. 

Los Blancos head coach Zinedine Zidane, however, believes Ramos will stay on at the club, saying earlier this month: "I have no doubt that he will stay. He is our leader and of course we love him forever."

Spain go into Tuesday's clash knowing only a win will be good enough to help them finish top of Group A4 and qualify for next year's finals. 

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