Lionel Messi first represented Barcelona's senior side 17 years ago, on November 16, 2003. It's difficult to adequately describe the impact and influence he's since gone on to have on one of the world's most illustrious clubs.

A six-time Ballon d'Or winner and long-established as Barca's all-time leading scorer, virtually every major decision that is made at the club ultimately appears to be taken with Messi in mind.

Perhaps the reality is different, but the way the Barca soap opera is played out in Spanish and Catalan media, one comes to assume it isn't just on the pitch that Messi pulls the strings.

It was this situation that made the pre-season tug of war between Messi and the club all the more damaging – while the player was adamant he could leave for free, then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu seemingly reneged on a previous agreement and stood firm.

Seventeen years on from his first appearance in the Barca team, during a friendly with Porto, it seems an opportune time to consider where Messi might go next if he allows his contract to expire next year.

So, just for a minute, let's imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses. What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea, and there is even the faint prospect of Luis Suarez going back to his old club to join him one day.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but imagine if Messi were doing it alongside him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne are going through some tricky times. Markus Gisdol did a brilliant job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga last season and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023, though they're struggling in the bottom three this term.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. As unlikely as it would be in any scenario, if Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous football export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League at last, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

Luis Suarez says he and Lionel Messi prefer not to talk about football with each other as the Atletico Madrid striker prepares to face Barcelona for the first time since leaving the club in September. 

Surez joined Atletico in a €6million deal after six years at Camp Nou, leaving Messi furious at the club for "kicking out" his close friend. 

Messi also came close to leaving the Catalan giants during the off-season after revealing he wanted to trigger a clause in his contract to depart on a free transfer, although the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The saga was brought to a temporary end on September 4 when the forward announced he will stay at the club for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

Messi and Suarez will face off at Wanda Metropolitano in LaLiga on Saturday, but the Uruguayan says they are unlikely to discuss the game this week. 

"The truth is that we speak a lot, but honestly we talk about our life," Suarez told Marca. 

"It was recently the birthday of one of my children, also his. We talked about life, the virus, everything, but very little about football, about the goals we miss or about tactical systems. 

"We worry more about how the family is than about what happens in football."

Suarez has taken quickly to life at Atletico and is the club's joint top scorer this season alongside Joao Felix with five goals from six games – more than any Barca player has scored this campaign. 

Those goals have come from just eight shots on target, while he has also chipped in with one assist. 

Suarez reiterated his disappointment at the way he was forced out of Barca but says he is revelling in life under Diego Simeone at Atletico.

"I was sad and hurt by the way I left – I already said it," he added. "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."

Atletico have won five of their opening seven matches to sit three points behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad, who have played two games more – while they are 23 unbeaten in LaLiga, their longest undefeated streak in league history and the best current run of any team in the top five European divisions.

Barcelona, meanwhile, are languishing in eighth having picked up just 11 points from their opening seven games. 

On November 16, 2003, a floppy-haired 16-year-old made his first appearance for Barcelona in a friendly against Porto – little did anyone know he would go on to become arguably the greatest to play the sport.

Lionel Messi had not even featured for Barca's B team at the point he was called up to travel with the senior side to Porto for the inauguration of Estadio do Dragao.

Messi made a 15-minute cameo in the 2-0 loss, marking the start of a remarkable career that has been blessed with a vast array of honours, including a record six Ballons d'Or.

Among the players to feature for Barca that day were Rafael Marquez, Xavi and Luis Enrique, true greats of the club, but Messi has gone on to surpass them all.

However, the ugly off-field saga that played out in pre-season suggests the sight of Messi in a Barca shirt might not be one we see after this season.

Despite all of the drama, Messi's goals have undoubtedly solidified his status as an all-time great and here is a look at a chronological top 10 from his collection.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already seen one goal wrongly ruled out for offside – an audacious chip from the edge of the box – Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Malaga (H): March 22, 2009

Thierry Henry's favourite goal by Messi during their time playing together for Barca. Why not let the France great take up the story? "It defied logic what he did," Henry said in the 'Take the Ball, Pass the Ball' documentary. "There's a diagonal ball and he controls it on his chest. He runs full speed, then the first player goes and the second player is just behind. If he takes another step, that player will clear the ball." A shimmy of the body and deft touch later – in the blink of an eye – Messi stabbed into the top corner to conclude a moment of 100-miles-per-hour brilliance.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, this strike against Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in a goal that began when he won the ball from a tackle at halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

At the height of the Clasico rivalry between Guardiola's Barca and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, the two teams met four times in three different competitions in less than a month. The league meeting ended in a draw and Madrid won the Copa del Rey final, but Barca triumphed in the Champions League semi-final with a 3-1 aggregate win. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, an ill-tempered affair to say the least, saw Messi make it 2-0 by bursting beyond four attempted challenges and slotting past Iker Casillas, all in the space of around five seconds.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca would regain their LaLiga title from Madrid but were in the midst of a Champions League semi-final shellacking from Bayern when they arrived at San Mames. A goal down in a match that would eventually finish 2-2, Messi received possession from Thiago Alcantara, twisted past Mikel San Jose, Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Herrera with minimal space in which to operate before nonchalantly side-footing home from just inside the penalty area.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Guardiola returned to Camp Nou with a Bayern side struggling with injury problems. They kept Barca at bay until the 77th minute of this Champions League semi-final first leg, when Messi finally struck. It was his second goal that earns a place in this list, though: collecting Ivan Rakitic's pass, a simple-looking shimmy left Jerome Boateng on his backside before he chipped Manuel Neuer with his weaker foot.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Madrid the title, and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in stoppage time gave Jordi Alba the chance to square to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Rarely has a hat-trick been completed in finer fashion. Messi's two goals had helped Barca to a 3-1 lead at the Benito Villamarin, before he passed to Rakitic, ran onto the return ball and sent a first-time chip over goalkeeper Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from just inside the box. It was a sublime effort that even had the home fans on the feet, applauding – something Messi himself admitted he had not experienced before.

Liverpool (H): May 1, 2019

Over the past few years, Messi has mastered the art of free-kick taking, with the skill being one of few to elude him in his younger days. Liverpool held their own for long periods at Camp Nou but goals from Luis Suarez and Messi gave the hosts breathing space. Jurgen Klopp's side then had to bow to greatness when, after being brought down by Fabinho, Barca's talisman swept an unstoppable 30-yard effort into the top corner. Barcelona would incredibly blow their 3-0 first-leg advantage, however, losing 4-0 at Anfield as Liverpool reached the Champions League final.

Atletico Madrid (A): December 1, 2019

It was goalless in the 86th minute at the Wanda Metropolitano when Messi collected the ball on the right flank, 10 yards inside the Atletico half. Those famous feet began to shuffle with purpose, and although Atletico knew what Messi had in mind, they were powerless to resist the execution of his plan. Messi surged on, playing the ball to Luis Suarez on the edge of the penalty area before taking the return pass and cracking a brilliant 20-yard shot into the bottom left corner of Jan Oblak's goal. A winner, and one of the highest class.

Manchester City could be set to strengthen in attack ahead of next season, with Erling Haaland and Lautaro Martinez reportedly their main targets.

The Premier League giants may be looking for a forward amid uncertainty over Sergio Aguero, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

And two of Europe's top talents are apparently top of their list.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY EYE HAALAND, MARTINEZ

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Inter forward Lautaro Martinez top Manchester City's wish list next year, according to 90min.

Haaland and Martinez have been heavily linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

The report says with Aguero's future unclear and some questions over Gabriel Jesus, City are prioritising a forward.

Haaland is the equal top goalscorer in the Champions League this season with four, converting 60 per cent of his big chances.

Martinez has a goal and an assist in three Champions League games, while creating five chances.

Meanwhile, the Daily Star reports City are weighing up using their £25million buy-back clause on Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz, while they are also looking at star Jack Grealish.

 

ROUND-UP

- While Paul Pogba is reportedly unhappy at Manchester United, Fabrizio Romano says the Premier League giants want to extend the midfielder's contract, although nothing is advanced. Pogba's current deal runs until 2022.

- Hakan Calhanoglu seems set to leave Milan. Mundo Deportivo reports Atletico Madrid are in pole position to sign the midfielder, who has also been linked to Manchester United, Juventus and Inter. Calhanoglu is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Staying at Milan and Milan Live claims the Serie A outfit are looking at Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, another player whose deal expires at the end of the campaign.

- Barcelona could be looking to raise funds in January. Sport says Riqui Puig and Carles Alena are set for January exits.

- Also at Barcelona and Mundo Deportivo reports the LaLiga giants will rely on Oscar Mingueza, Arnau Comas or Santiago Mingo from the B team if Manchester City do not lower their asking price, believed to be €15m (£13.4m), for defender Eric Garcia in January.

Diego Forlan played down the significance of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi staying in LaLiga, insisting the league would survive without the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi's future remains an important topic at Barca after he handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season.

The Barca captain was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse Manchester City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

"I wouldn't say it is a gift [Messi finally staying]," former Atletico Madrid forward Forlan, who won the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup during his time in the Spanish capital between 2007 and 2011, told Marca Sport Weekend.

"Obviously, LaLiga has grown up thanks to the great players who played in different club. But LaLiga is LaLiga, and the clubs are very important, and are in the history.

"It is very good he stayed, but they are growing… Leo Messi, Luis [Suarez]… great players, they are changing and LaLiga will be still there… It is more than 90 years history of LaLiga and big stars has been here, and will be also.

"But at the end, what remains in LaLiga, the teams, and that is the important thing."

Messi, who is due to become a free agent at the end of the campaign, has endured an underwhelming start to the 2020-21 season.

The 33-year-old had failed to assist a goal or score from open play in six LaLiga matches before last weekend's 5-2 win over Real Betis, when he also netted from the penalty spot.

Messi started that game on the bench – the first time that has happened in the league since September 2019 – but Barca head coach Ronald Koeman revealed he was carrying a knock.

This season, Messi has scored three goals in LaLiga and six across all competitions for Barca.

Atletico Madrid star Luis Suarez said he and his team-mates are confident the team can achieve "big things" this season.

Suarez swapped Barca for Atletico at the start of the 2020-21 campaign and the Uruguayan has helped the capital club remain the only undefeated side in LaLiga this term.

Atletico have won five of their opening seven matches to be three points behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad, who have played two matches more – while they are 23 matches unbeaten in LaLiga, their best undefeated streak in league history and the best current run of any team in the top five European divisions.

Diego Simeone's Atletico – runners-up in 2014 and 2016 – are also second in Champions League Group A following three matchdays, five points adrift of titleholders Bayern Munich.

Suarez has scored five LaLiga goals – level with Joao Felix at Atletico – and reflecting on his start to life in Madrid, the 33-year-old told Marca Sport Weekend: "I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm following Atleti's path. The team is very united, solid, ambitious. We are all ready and confident we can do big things."

Atletico have won just one of their opening three Champions League group games this season – the only two previous seasons in which they have won as few at this stage are 2009-10 and 2017-18 (zero wins) when they were eliminated on both occasions.

They have also won just one of their past five Champions League away fixtures (drawing once and losing on three occasions), with that victory coming against Liverpool at Anfield in March.

"I think the Champions League is very different to LaLiga," Suarez said. "It's all about the moment of each team. It's very physical now. The game against Bayern was because they were more efficient than us. From five or six chances they scored four. We had more chances but we couldn't convert them. That's costly in the Champions League.

"If we improve on that efficiency, we can compete against Bayern, who are the best team in Europe, or Liverpool, who the team already knocked out last season.

"If we know what we want and believe in ourselves, we're capable because we have the players, character and quality. We just need to be clinical in those crucial moments. That's what you have to do in the Champions League."

Suarez and Barcelona will reunite following the international break when Atletico play host to the Catalan visitors on Saturday.

Former Barcelona, Liverpool and Argentina star Javier Mascherano has announced his retirement. 

Mascherano, 36, revealed his decision on Sunday, calling it quits after 17 years as a professional. 

A 147-time Argentina international – the most in the country's history – Mascherano returned to his homeland by signing with Estudiantes de La Plata in January. 

After 11 appearances in all competitions for the Argentine side, including Sunday's 1-0 loss to Argentinos Juniors, Mascherano said it was time to hang up his boots. 

"I want to announce that today I am retiring from football professionally," he said. 

"I want to thank this club that gave me the opportunity to finish my career in Argentina." 

Mascherano added: "I have lived my profession 100 per cent, I gave the maximum I could. 

"Today, I find that for some time it's hard for me and I don't want to disrespect Estudiantes, who trusted me to return to Argentina, or my colleagues, or this profession."

After beginning his career with River Plate, Mascherano played for Corinthians and West Ham before joining Liverpool in 2007. 

A fearless defensive midfielder who turned into a centre-back, Mascherano enjoyed most of his success at Camp Nou, winning five LaLiga titles and the Champions League twice among numerous other trophies after joining Barca in 2010. 

He helped Argentina reach the 2014 World Cup final, which they lost to Germany in extra time, while finishing with four Copa America runner-up medals and two Olympic golds. 

After two years with Hebei China Fortune, Mascherano headed back to Argentina with Estudiantes, where he finished his career.

Manchester City are reportedly making plans to sign Lionel Messi next year.

Messi, 33, sensationally requested to leave Barcelona during the close season, but ended up staying with the LaLiga giants.

However, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the season and City continue to eye the star forward.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONTINUE TO MAKE MESSI PLANS

Manchester City are making plans to sign Barcelona captain Messi, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The report says the Premier League giants are trying to attract Messi with the idea of playing in England before finishing his career with fellow City Football Group (CFG) club New York City in MLS.

Messi has been linked with the likes of City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter previously.

He has six goals in 10 games this season, including three in seven in LaLiga.

Messi's dribbles success rate (56.3) in LaLiga is his lowest since 2015-16, while he is creating just two chances per 90 minutes, his lowest number since 2012-13.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports City manager Pep Guardiola is closer to agreeing to a contract extension, with his deal up at the conclusion of the current campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona's pursuit of City defender Eric Garcia is seemingly continuing. Sport reports Barca will attempt to sign Garcia again in January, but City still want €15million (£13.5m) for the defender despite his contract expiring at the end of the campaign.

- Also out of contract at the end of the season is Bayern Munich defender David Alaba. Tuttosport says Juventus are considering a move for the Austria international, who has been linked with several European heavyweights.

- Sidelined with a serious knee injury, Ansu Fati's future could be clearer soon. Marca says talks between Barcelona and Fati are on track, even with the 18-year-old forward contracted until 2022.

- Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders after serious injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez. The Daily Star says the Premier League champions may make a move for Olympiacos and Portugal defender Ruben Semedo in January, although it could cost them £18million (€20.1m).

- After just three Premier League appearances for Chelsea this season, Marcos Alonso again being linked with a move. The Daily Mail reports Crystal Palace are looking at the left-back.

Lionel Messi will have his motives and reasons for wanting to leave Barcelona and nothing will make him change his mind, according to the club's former player Luis Figo.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner stunned the world in August when he informed Barca of his intention to leave the club he has spent two decades with.

He intended to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer, but the validity of such a stipulation was made murky due to last season being prolonged into August by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Figo, who made a surprising and controversial move from Barca to bitter rivals Real Madrid in 2000, believes Messi will now have his mind set on departing Catalonia.

"I watched the thing with Messi and his attempt to leave Barcelona this summer like all football fans: expectantly and surprised," he told Marca.

"He'll have his motives and reasons for making that decision. I don't know what happened beforehand. 

"Every club wants a player like Messi, but then it depends on factors like the current financial situation at the club, the money he'll cost the club in wages, the will of the player...

"But generally, in life, if you don't want to be somewhere, in the end there's nothing that can change your mind."

Messi, who is due to become a free agent at the end of the campaign, has endured an underwhelming start to the 2020-21 season.

The 33-year-old had failed to assist a goal or score from open play in six LaLiga matches before last weekend's 5-2 win over Real Betis, when he also netted from the penalty spot.

He started that game on the bench - the first time that has happened in the league since September 2019 - but Ronald Koeman has since revealed Messi was carrying a knock.

Messi is now on international duty with Argentina and played the full 90 minutes of Thursday's 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Paraguay, the forward having a goal ruled out by VAR in that game.

Is Kylian Mbappe's future in Paris?

Mbappe has long been linked with a move to Real Madrid, while Liverpool have also emerged as a possible destination.

But Mbappe could extend his Paris Saint-Germain contract under one condition.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE READY TO RENEW IN PARIS

Kylian Mbappe will re-sign with Paris Saint-Germain but there is a catch, according to Diario AS.

Mbappe has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 champions PSG for LaLiga holders Real Madrid, while Liverpool are another possible destination.

The France star has reportedly rejected three contract offers from PSG, though he could be prepared to renew if a minimum-fee release clause was inserted in the deal.

 

ROUND-UP

- AS also says Madrid and Sergio Ramos are set to provide an update on his contract situation. The Los Blancos captain is out of contract at the end of the season. El Chiringuito claims Juventus, PSG, Manchester United and Manchester City have made approaches.

- Sport, meanwhile, claims Madrid are eyeing potential replacements if Ramos does not extend his deal in the Spanish capital. Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and City's Eric Garcia are reportedly being considered by Zinedine Zidane.

Alaba has also been linked with a move to Serie A champions Juventus, reports Tuttosport. The front page of the newspaper adds that Juve are also targeting midfielders, with Lyon star Houssem Aouar atop the list, while Ajax's Ryan Gravenberch is wanted in Turin. Aouar has also been heavily linked with Arsenal, Barcelona and City.

- The Express says Premier League champions Liverpool are prepared to splash the cash on a centre-back in January. It comes after Joe Gomez joined Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines through injury.

- Inter star and Barca target Lautaro Martinez will reject a renewal with the Serie A side if they remove his release clause, according to Sport.

Toni Kroos can see the merits of a European Super League despite his criticism of potential additions to an already hectic schedule.

The idea of Europe's elite clubs forming their own division has long been mooted but came to the fore again after outgoing Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu claimed the Blaugrana had agreed to join such a league.

Kroos' Real Madrid would surely be involved, too, but the midfielder this week took aim at FIFA and UEFA due to the number of games top players are being asked to play - particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seemingly referring to UEFA's Nations League and a possible super league, he said: "With the invention of all these new things, we seem to be just the puppets of FIFA and UEFA."

Further discussing the purported move with Marca, though, the Germany international highlighted some benefits.

"What I wanted to say is that, without a doubt, there are positive things about it," Kroos told the Spanish newspaper.

"We are going to see many matches of a very high level that we have only seen in the semi-finals of the Champions League. And we all like those games.

"It's going to make football very interesting for the fans of the teams and for those who don't have a specific [team]. We all like to watch football at the highest level."

However, he added: "You also have to take care of small teams. They are all very competitive. The super league is something else. I worry more about other things."

Toni Kroos is confident Zinedine Zidane will turn Real Madrid's form around – just as he has done in the past.

LaLiga champions Madrid have endured a difficult start to the new season, winning just six of their 11 games in all competitions.

There were shock back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk, while Los Blancos were thrashed 4-1 at Valencia prior to the international break.

Madrid have also landed big wins against rivals Barcelona and Inter, though, and midfielder Kroos acknowledges consistency is a big issue.

"It is true that we are missing something. It is not a secret. Everyone can see it," he told Marca. "We need to be consistent.

"If you see the results, there are two good, one bad, two good, one bad. We have to do better.

"You watch some games and you realise that it can be done better, [you watch] against Barcelona, ​​the first half against Inter.

"Clearly we can improve, but we lack continuity. If we did well against Barcelona, ​​we also have to play like this against Cadiz or Shakhtar at home.

"There is a lot of difference – sometimes very good and sometimes very bad. We must improve if we want to win something."

Zidane took responsibility for the Valencia reverse, the first time Madrid had conceded four goals in a league match since a 5-1 Clasico defeat in October 2018 that cost Julen Lopetegui his job.

The conversation around Zidane has not yet reached the same fever pitch, but Kroos knows the Frenchman will be aware of the need to deliver results.

"He knows that, at Real Madrid, if you don't have the results and you don't meet expectations, there are discussions," Kroos said. "That is why we are at this club. It is normal.

"With Zidane, we have already lived through times like this and we usually come out of bad spells. A few weeks ago, after losing to Cadiz and Shakhtar, we went to Barcelona and played a great game.

"We live like this and the coach is the first to know what happens at this club if you don't have results.

"In the end, what we have left is to improve and try to win games. The coach will find the solution."

Neymar is again being linked with a return to Barcelona.

The Brazil forward left the LaLiga giants for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222million deal in 2017.

But rumours of a return to Camp Nou refuse to go away.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR CONTACTED OVER BARCELONA RETURN

Neymar has been contacted by different Barcelona presidential candidates over a return to the club from PSG, according to Sport.

It says Neymar, who was recently said to be happy to renew a PSG deal that expires in 2022, does not want to extend at the Ligue 1 champions.

Neymar has battled injuries since moving to the French capital, making 30 or fewer appearances in each of his three seasons at the club heading into 2020-21.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Barcelona and Mundo Deportivo reports Lyon star Memphis Depay has a four-year agreement with the Catalans. It comes days after Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas ruled out a January exit for the forward. Depay is out of contract at season's end and Mundo Deportivo says he could make a January move for €5m or €6m.

- Dominik Szoboszlai sent Hungary into Euro 2020 on Thursday, and the Salzburg star is wanted across Europe. AS says Real Madrid are following the midfielder, who it says is valued at around €25m and also wanted by Arsenal, Milan and RB Leipzig.

- Also at Real Madrid and AS reports Martin Odegaard could play a key role in helping the LaLiga champions land his Norway team-mate Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund in 2022.

- After playing just 33 Premier League minutes for Chelsea this season, Olivier Giroud is again linked with a move. CalcioMercato reports Inter are set to go back in for the forward in January.

- Amid their defensive crisis with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez facing long spells on the sidelines, Liverpool are likely to look for a centre-back in January. TeamTalk reports the Premier League champions have been offered former Newcastle United and Watford defender Daryl Janmaat.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has vowed to continue with his choreographed celebrations in response to criticism from Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos. 

Speaking on his Einfach mal Luppen podcast, which he hosts along with his brother Felix, Kroos took aim at fellow professionals for their over-the-top antics after scoring.

Referencing a celebration by Aubameyang, who has previously sported Spiderman and Black Panther masks, father-of-three Kroos said: "I find it silly. It's even worse if there's an object hidden in their socks.

"Aubameyang once celebrated and took out a mask. That's where it ends with me. I don't think that's a good role model, either. What nonsense."

Arsenal striker Aubameyang did not take kindly to Kroos' comments and personally responded to the Germany international on Twitter.

"By the way, does this @ToniKroos have kids?" he posted. "Just to remember I did it for my son [a] few times and I will do it again. 

"I wish you have kids one day and make them happy like this Junior School pupils Talk and don’t Forget #maskon #staysafe."

The post was accompanied by an image of himself drawn by a school pupil after the youngster was asked to think about what happiness meant to them.

Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann get on very well despite claims to the contrary, according to former Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic. 

Griezmann has struggled for consistent form since his €120million move from Atletico Madrid last year and some have suggested his incompatibility with Messi is part of the problem.

Messi came off the bench to score twice and set up another, as well as play a key part in a goal for Griezmann, as Barca beat Real Betis 5-2 in LaLiga last week.

Griezmann, who earlier missed a penalty, scored only his second goal in seven league matches after Messi dummied Jordi Alba's cross into his path.

The pair only exchanged four passes throughout, however, as Messi mostly combined with Sergi Roberto (15 passes) and Sergio Busquets (19 passes) in an impressive cameo.

In an interview with France Football, Griezmann's former advisor, Eric Olhats, went as far as suggesting Messi has actively avoided passing to the France forward, accusing the Argentine of having a "deplorable" attitude and ruling the dressing room with a "reign of terror".

Rakitic, though, believes any such talk will disappear once each player hits a run of goalscoring form.

"From what I saw, they got along very well," he told Canal Sur Radio. "I got on wonderfully with Antoine and with Leo.

"I don't know what there is there. The two of them drink mate and spend a lot of time together in the dressing room.

"If they both start scoring goals, it won't be talked about any more. It's the demand of great teams.

"I'm not worried because they're two amazing guys. I wish them all the best."

Rakitic rejoined Sevilla during the transfer window after six seasons at Camp Nou, in which he won 13 major trophies, including four LaLiga titles, four Copas del Rey and one Champions League.

The 32-year-old has featured in all seven of Sevilla's league games in 2020-21 but still feels he needs time to readjust to his old surroundings.

"I'm going to be judged by what I do on the pitch. I need a little time. It's not the same as Barca; it's a different way of playing," he said.

"We're very competitive and you always want to play. I came here with great enthusiasm to give my very best. I have to rediscover my rhythm, understand my team-mates and have them understand me."

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