Diego Simeone admitted there was no guarantee Joao Felix would be fit to face Sevilla in LaLiga on Sunday as he waited for news from the Atletico Madrid club doctor.

The 21-year-old forward came off injured before half-time during Portugal's 3-1 win against Luxembourg in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, returning to Atletico with the problem.

According to reports, Joao Felix trained separately from the Atletico squad on Saturday, with head coach Simeone essentially powerless to influence the situation.

"For Joao, we are still waiting for him," Simeone said in a news conference.

"The doctor is looking for a way to see if he is in a position to help us and we will wait until tonight to decide whether or not he travels to Seville."

Atletico's lead at the top of LaLiga has shrunk to four points over Barcelona with 10 rounds of games remaining, and Simeone will want as close to a full-strength squad as possible.

Sevilla, who sit fourth, are a team capable of dealing another blow to Atleti's hopes of moving closer to the title.

Joao Felix has scored seven goals and had four assists in LaLiga this season, with Luis Suarez's 19 top-flight goals doing the most damage in attack for Simeone's men.

"The boys are working with great enthusiasm," said Simeone. "Whenever they come from the national team they come back with great enthusiasm.

"It is always very good for a footballer to be with his national team, representing his country, and defending the shirt where he was born, and I always believe that that is very positive for the preparation of a footballer.

"As for Sevilla, they are a team that play very well, who have [Julen] Lopetegui, a coach who makes them play in a very dynamic way, always looking for options of numerical superiority, where they can find it.

"There is a lot of variety in their squad, it must be one of the most balanced and balanced squads of all."

Sevilla will be without Sergio Escudero after the left-back tested positive for coronavirus.

Harry Kane has been linked with a move away from Tottenham this upcoming transfer window.

But the England forward has another three years on his contract and a deal will not come easy for suitors.

Manchester City are the latest club to be linked with Kane, as they assess their options if they cannot land Erling Haaland this close-season.

 

TOP STORY - TOTTENHAM WARD OFF KANE INTEREST

Tottenham have placed a £175million price tag on Harry Kane amid reports of interest in their star captain.

The Sun has reported Tottenham are unwilling to sell Kane, let alone to a Premier League rival such as City.

Kane is understood be content to stay at Tottenham and the price tag will likely deter any continental interest.

 

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid are willing to sell one Norwegian Martin Odegaard, who is on loan at Arsenal, to generate the funds required to land his compatriot Haaland, according to The Times. The Gunners are understood to be keen to sign Odegaard permanently.

- Barcelona are lining up Inter's Lautaro Martinez as a possible signing if they fail to win the race for Haaland, reports Spanish publication Sport.

- Tuttosport claims that Juventus are readying a move to bring Moise Kean back to Turin from Everton after starring on loan at Paris Saint-Germain.

- Spanish outlet ABC is reporting that both Manchester United and Chelsea are keen on Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez.

Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is tired of discussing a possible move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and says he is only thinking about the players in his squad.

Madrid are one of a number of elite clubs to have been linked with the Norway international following a goal-laden 15 months at Dortmund, where he has scored 49 goals in the same number of appearances.

Talk of a transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu at the end of the season intensified on Thursday as Haaland's agent Mino Raiola and father Alf-Inge were spotted in the Spanish capital, hours after footage emerged of the pair in Barcelona.

It was reported that Raiola and Alf-Inge were on their way to hold talks with Los Blancos president Florentino Perez over a deal for Haaland, whose reported €75million release clause is not said to come into effect until 2022.

However, Zidane was unwilling to discuss Madrid's apparent interest in the 20-year-old at Friday's news conference previewing a game against Eibar.

"I'm going to be very clear here. I'm very tired of saying the same thing over and over again," he said. "Everything that happens outside of my power, I'm not going to say it's good or bad. 

"I'm not going to give an opinion on this. What matters to me is my players and tomorrow's game. I'm getting tired of saying this, but if you and your colleagues keep asking this about other players, I'm going to keep saying the same thing. 

"I say all of this because, in the end, it's true; my job, my work is what I do with my players, how I work with my players in the day by day, and focusing on every game that comes in our path. Apart from all of that, I don't know.

"I only think about tomorrow's game. After that... again, you ask this and I say the same thing. We just focus on tomorrow."

Haaland has 21 goals in as many Bundesliga games this term, adding another 10 from six matches in the Champions League, a competition in which he tops the scoring charts.

The January 2020 signing from Salzburg netted twice in BVB's most recent outing, a 2-2 draw at Cologne, to take him to 14 away goals in the German top flight in 2020-21.

That is more than Werder Bremen (13), Hertha Berlin (13), Mainz (11), Arminia Bielefeld (10) and Schalke (eight) have scored as a team at home this season.

Asked for his opinion on Perez meeting with potential transfer targets, Zidane said: "Everyone can do what they want here. I don't have any feelings about this. 

"They can do whatever is at their convenience. I repeat again: my job is preparing my players, my staff around me here, everyone at this club around me, for this game, and that is all."

Zidane will be looking to maintain his unbeaten LaLiga record against Eibar on Saturday, winning eight and drawing one of their previous meetings.

Zinedine Zidane insists "no one has the blame" for Sergio Ramos returning from Spain duty with a calf injury that has "hurt" Real Madrid for a key stretch of the season.

Ramos returned from a knee issue ahead of the international break and scored for Madrid as they knocked Atalanta out of the Champions League.

However, he then played just 50 minutes across two appearances for Spain in World Cup qualifying and complained of a calf problem after a short cameo at home to Kosovo.

Madrid have not confirmed the anticipated length of Ramos' lay-off, but a return in time to face Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals and Barcelona in LaLiga appears unlikely.

Los Blancos host Liverpool on April 6, with a second leg eight days later sandwiching a critical home Clasico.

Given Ramos has appeared just 20 times for Madrid in all competitions this season, questions might be asked of his involvement for Spain.

But Zidane told a news conference on Friday: "No one has the blame here - not Spain, not Real Madrid. This is just football.

"Unfortunately, these things happen; it's happened before, not just to us but to a lot of other teams as well.

"It's true that, this part of football, we don't like it, of course, but these things happen. We have to accept this, but no one is to blame here.

"What we want for Sergio is that he recovers as quickly as possible. We know the player and captain he is. We know that he always wants to be available and playing.

"This has hurt us a little bit and we hope he recovers quickly."

Ramos' absence for the two legs against Liverpool would appear particularly costly as Madrid have lost seven of the 10 Champions League games he has missed since the end of the 2017-18, the season in which they were last crowned European champions and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo departed.

The centre-back has made 14 European appearances in that time and contributed to 10 wins, losing only once, while Los Blancos concede only 0.9 goals per game with him in the side - down from 1.9 without him.

But Zidane was not looking as far ahead as an intriguing last-eight tie, as Madrid first face Eibar on Saturday, playing before Atletico Madrid and Barca and able to cut the gap at the top to three points.

"You talk about Liverpool and Barcelona - we have a game tomorrow to play," Zidane said.

"We want Sergio back, we want him to be with us at all times, but right now we just focus on tomorrow's game.

"This is going to mark the path for the rest of the season. We just focus on tomorrow and that's it. Tomorrow at 4.15 [CET], we have a game and we have to all be ready, all of us."

Ramos is not Madrid's only injury absentee, either, with Eden Hazard prevented from going away with Belgium and Toni Kroos returning ealry from Germany duty.

Kroos has been a key man this season, playing 35 games and providing nine assists from 83 chances created, and he is "doing better", Zidane said.

The coach added Madrid are "not going to be silly" with the midfielder but he trained on Friday.

Hazard, on the other hand, has repeatedly suffered with fitness issues, restricted to only nine starts in 2020-21 and having a meagre four goal involvements.

"Once again, we don't have a plan with Eden," Zidane said. "It's a day-to-day thing, like everything.

"We're not going to force anything because the most important thing is that he's well, that he's recovered. For us, it's bit by bit.

"I'm not going to tell you we'll re-evaluate in a week, a few days, nothing. If it's in a few days, that's good for us; 10 days, okay. We're just going to take it day by day.

"He is with the team now and that's what we want. When he plays, we'll see."

Pozas, Bilbao, could seem a peculiar place for the average football fan on the day of 'Derbi Vasco', one of Spain's most famous rivalries.

Approximately one and a half kilometres in length, it is a street that's littered with bars and leads directly to the home of Athletic Bilbao: San Mames, with the grilled east stand and external screen visible between the final buildings.

It is on this street where Athletic supporters and their Real Sociedad counterparts meet up before the derby – not to scrap, as some might expect of such an occasion, but mingle side-by-side, sing and drink, and even swap club colours before walking to the stadium. Together.

"It's like a brotherhood," Mikel Mugalari, a lifelong Athletic fan, explained to Stats Perform. "Very rarely there's fights or incidents. We don't have that kind of hatred. It's a healthy rivalry."

It is little wonder this contest has been described as the "friendly derby", or "unique" as, although passion burns strongly on both sides, there is also a sense of camaraderie and unity.

Welcome to the Basque Country.

The phantom final

The next time these two famous clubs meet will be in the Copa del Rey final, the first between Athletic and La Real in their current guises. It was supposed to take place on April 18 last year but, much like virtually all sporting events around the globe at the time, it had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As such, we are left with the slightly awkward prospect of two Copa finals in the space of two weeks. The 2019-20 edition will be played on Saturday, before this season's showpiece – which also includes Athletic, but against Barcelona – takes place 14 days later.

Sadly there will be no fans in La Cartuja, Seville, for the first final, but the occasion will be no less momentous.

Despite the obvious historic nature of it, coverage of the 2019-20 final wasn't entirely positive ahead of the initial date. The new format of the Copa del Rey – ditching two-legged ties for one-off meetings before the semi-finals – was met with much praise on the one hand in its first season last term, as it gave smaller clubs a greater chance of progression, but it simultaneously highlighted potential bias in the mainstream media.

"People are tired of so many Clasicos and want other teams to compete for the titles," La Real fan David Gonzalez said, pointing out 2010 was the last time neither of the 'big two' reached the final.

Mikel agreed as he looked back on last year's coverage. "If you talk to someone who really likes football, many say, 'Wow, finally a final without Barcelona and Real Madrid.' My kid was reading me the comments in the main national sports papers: most of the comments from Spain were saying it's not a final, no one will watch it, cancel it [because of coronavirus]. I couldn't imagine talk of cancelling [rather than postponing] a Madrid v Barca final because of the coronavirus situation. But there was lots of talk about cancelling it. Why? Because it's two smaller teams from the north, who aren't even Spanish."

The Basque Country, or 'Euskadi' to the locals, was granted autonomy in 1979, four years after the death of Spanish dictator General Franco, who prohibited the region's Ikurrina flag after defeating the Basque government's army in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Although Mikel acknowledged, politically, Spain and Euskadi now find themselves in "a friendly situation", the lowest approval ratings of the Spanish monarchy are attributed to the Basque people and Catalonia, another excuse for the postponement of the final, he felt.

"It's going to be a Basque final, it's very important. In past finals there's been controversy because there's been whistles and yelling at the king," Mikel said.

"That's one of the things they don't like about this final in Spain. They were saying it should be cancelled because of coronavirus, but [in reality] don't want to have a televised final that will be viewed by millions over the world, to have whistling and yelling towards the king. What we say is, change the name [of the Copa]. That's it, it's a tournament [it doesn't belong to the king]. Change the name."

A bittersweet success?

Both David and Mikel remember the respective glory days of their clubs in the 1980s when, for four years, the league title didn't leave the Basque Country.

For David, that period brought immense highs and crushing disappointment. From seeing La Real lose the title to Real Madrid in 1980 due to defeat at Sevilla on the penultimate day of the season, to then inflicting similar misery on Los Blancos a year later.

"It just seemed unfair to me, but then the next year we won LaLiga in Gijon with [Jesus Maria] Zamora's goal in the very last minute when Real Madrid, who had already finished their match, were already celebrating winning the title," recalled David, who spent his very first salary on becoming a season-ticket holder.

Similarly, the 80s bring back both great and sad memories for Mikel, his worst being the 1984 Copa final – in which Athletic actually beat Barca 1-0 – due to the apparent vilification of his team following the infamous mass brawl at the end.

But, although both men agree the 2019-20 Copa final is momentous for the obvious reasons, there is also a consensus that this is essentially as good as it gets now – there's little hope victory for either team will be the prelude to sustained success it may have been in the 80s.

"A few years ago, I would tell you yes, without hesitation," David replied when asked if final qualification was a sign of things to come for La Real, who are fifth in LaLiga but 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Sevilla. "But today, unfortunately, football has changed a lot and for a club like Real Sociedad it is more difficult to maintain a good team like the one we have now."

"Until the Bosman rule's introduction [in 1995], Athletic had chances of winning, but now we have no chance of getting better than fourth, fifth, sixth," Mikel insists.

The 37-year wait

"We'll always consider the Copa to be our competition," Mikel says with a grin, as he highlights the fact only Barca have more than Athletic's 23 Copa wins.

Athletic celebrate their greatest successes in a unique way. La Gabarra, a barge, floats along the Nervion river with all the players and coaching staff aboard, the claimed title taking centre-stage while supporters line the riverbanks and bridges to join in the party.

La Gabarra is an iconic symbol of the club but, while Mikel remembers the last time it was used, many supporters will have never experienced such an occasion, for the lack of a major title since 1984 – not including the 2015 Supercopa de Espana – has seen the tradition become legend. Younger generations are consigned to looking upon the photos decorating the walls of bars on Pozas and imagining.

If ever an occasion merited its long-awaited return to the water, it's success in an all-Basque final. Just don't expect the blue-and-white contingent of the "brotherhood" to show their faces should the Copa head to San Mames for a 24th time.

Sergio Aguero's next destination is a hot topic of conversation after Manchester City confirmed he will leave at the end of the season.

The Argentina forward has been linked with a host of clubs, including Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

The 32-year-old has spent the past decade in England with City.

 

TOP STORY - BLUES IN BOX SEAT FOR AGUERO

Chelsea have moved into pole position to land Aguero, who wants to remain in England according to the Daily Mail.

The Blues, who wanted to sign Aguero in 2011 when he left Atletico Madrid for City, will be in the market for a forward with rumours about Timo Werner's future after an underwhelming debut season at Stamford Bridge.

Portuguese publication Record claims Benfica are also interested in Aguero, while The Sun has added Arsenal and his former club Independiente to the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- Lyon's Netherlands international Memphis Depay has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, but Marca claims Liverpool could 'muscle in' for the soon-to-be free agent.

- Le Parisien reports that Paris Saint-Germain are in a hurry to get Kylian Mbappe to commit to a new contract amid speculation linking him with a move away, including to Real Madrid.

- L’Equipe claims that Arkadiusz Milik has a €12million buyout clause in his Marseille loan contract from Napoli and Juventus are preparing an offer to swoop for him.

Sheffield United midfielder Ismaila Coulibaly has attracted interest from AC Milan and Galatasaray but the Blades want to keep him, according to Yorkshire Live.

Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro is bullish that the club can contend for both the Spanish LaLiga and Champions League titles.

Reigning LaLiga champions Madrid return to action on Saturday against Eibar in the league, where they are third, six points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with 10 games to play.

Los Blancos will be back in continental action in midweek against Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final too.

"Everyone knows what we are capable of, that we can do it," Casemiro told TVE.

"We are going to fight until the end. We know that it is very difficult, but we will fight for both titles.

"For Real Madrid all games are important. We are already used to playing the big games.

"We like to play these type of games. First, we have to think about Eibar and then about the Champions League and the Clasico [against Barcelona on April 10]."

The Brazil international acknowledged Madrid, who won a trio of European titles from 2016 to 2018, have a difficult assignment against 2019 European champions Liverpool.

"It will be a very beautiful match and it will be decided on details," Casemiro said.

"Whoever makes fewer mistakes will win. Liverpool have great players and this match could be a Champions League final.

"These are very nice games that all the players want to play. We have to give everything in all the games, not only against Barcelona.

"They are games that when you win, give you a lot of encouragement for the final stretch of the season."

James Rodriguez has revealed he held talks with Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone last year, but Real Madrid blocked a transfer from going through.

The Colombia international joined Premier League side Everton from Real Madrid in September after struggling for playing time under Zinedine Zidane last season.

He was linked with a number of high-profile suitors before completing his eye-catching switch to Goodison Park for what later transpired to be a free deal.

Atletico were among the sides tipped to sign James at the time and the 29-year-old has revealed he was close to joining Real's city rivals.

"It was nearly a done deal to got to Atletico," he told ESPN. "I spoke with Simeone, he said I could be important, but Real didn't let me go. 

"[President] Florentino Perez knew that with Zidane there I wouldn't play much. It was a bad year and I wanted to come to Everton to play and show what I can do.

James has scored five goals and registered four assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season.

That puts him level with Richarlison for the second-most goal involvements of any Everton player in the league this term, behind only ​striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin (14 goals).

No Everton player has created more chances than his total of 31, meanwhile, with 23 of those from open play - another team high.

James has enjoyed a positive first campaign in English football, but he would not have considered joining Everton without the presence of three-time Champions League-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"I'll say it with all sincerity that if Carlo wasn't here, I wouldn't have come," said James, who has not featured since February because of a thigh injury. "I'll say it with all my heart, he was one of the reasons for which I came.

"I have started to get to know the club, how they work, how they want to work, win things, play in Europe. The fact that Carlo is here was fundamental to come here, where I am learning every day.

"In these remaining [league] matches, I want to perform well. I had some physical problems for a month, but I have overcome them and it's my goal to get a European spot, hopefully in the Champions League."

Everton are eighth in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand.

Lucas Torreira is hopeful Arsenal will grant him permission to join Boca Juniors at the end of the season to fulfil the wish of his family following the death of his mother.

The Uruguay international has been given time off by Atletico Madrid, whom he has spent the season on loan with, after his mother lost her battle with coronavirus on Monday.

He is due to return to Arsenal at the end of the season and has another year to run on his contract, but he is ready to bring an end to his eight-year spell in Europe and return closer to home.

"I am trying to understand the situation. It is difficult to come to terms with it but as time passes, we will come to live with this pain," he told ESPN Argentina.

"My mother was 53 years old and died from coronavirus. There was an outbreak in Fray Bentos and she spent 11 days fighting but on Monday morning I received the worst news.

"I asked Atletico for some time off. 'Cholo' (head coach Diego Simeone) understood everything and they gave me a week, but I asked to stay for a little longer. 

"On Sunday I will probably return. I have to do my duty and life must continue. Atletico have been very good to me and it's important.

"It's not a violent emotion, a crazy decision because of my mother. I have always said that I want to play for Boca. I'm dying to play for Boca and I will always say it. 

"The night my mother died, one of the first to hear the news was my agent. I told him I don't want to play in Europe anymore, I want to play for Boca.

"I want to be close to my home, my family. I have a contract at Arsenal and I am on loan at Atletico but I want to go to Boca. I hope the clubs can agree."

Torreira, a reported £26million signing from Sampdoria in July 2018, fell out of favour under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal and has struggled for playing time in his season on loan with Atletico.

The 25-year-old has started just five times in all competitions, the most recent of those coming against Cadiz in January.

"It's been two years since I was enjoying myself personally. I haven't had continuity," he said. "Arsenal hurt me and at Atletico, I don't play like I want.

"I just want to play for Boca. I have made my decision. I will do it for my father. He asked me and I'm going to do it."

Manchester United striker Edinson Cavani is another Premier League player that has been linked with a switch to Boca, who won a 34th Argentine Primera Division title last season.

Asked about the prospect of linking up with international team-mate Cavani at the iconic La Bombonera, Torreira said: "I talk a lot with Cavani, he's a great guy.

"I hope I can come and share a team with him. We have a nice relationship."

Erling Haaland's agent Mino Raiola was pictured arriving in Barcelona on Thursday, but Borussia Dortmund director Michael Zorc insisted the club have "made our intentions clear" over the striker's future amid ongoing links with the LaLiga giants.

Barca are one of a number of elite teams to have been linked with the Norway international following a goal-laden 15-month spell with Dortmund that has seen him score 49 goals in 49 appearances.

Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Manchester United have also showed a reported interest in Haaland, who is believed to have a €75million release clause in his contract that comes into effect from 2022.

But talk of a move to Camp Nou at the end of this season intensified on Thursday after Spanish outlet Sport published a video showing Raiola and Haaland's father, Alf-Inge, emerging from an airport and being driven away in a private car.

It was reported that the driver is a member of Joan Laporta's staff, suggesting Raiola and Haaland senior were on the way to a meeting with the recently elected Barca president.

However, when questioned about the alleged meeting, Dortmund chief Zorc said he is "relaxed" about the 20-year-old's future and joked his entourage may have jetted to Catalonia for another reason entirely.

"I spoke to Mino Raiola yesterday. We've made our intentions very clear," he told Sport1

"There's no problem if Alfie and Mino want to sunbath on the Mediterranean Sea. I am relaxed because I know what we want!"

Speaking last week, Raiola suggested he was too cautious when moving star client Haaland from Salzburg to Dortmund in January 2020 and hinted the in-demand striker may seek pastures new in the next window.

Haaland has scored 21 goals in as many Bundesliga games this term, adding another 10 from six games in the Champions League, a competition in which he tops the scoring charts.

Sergio Ramos is a major fitness doubt for Real Madrid's crucial fixtures against Liverpool and Barcelona due to a muscle injury in his left calf.

Doubts over the fitness of Los Blancos' talismanic captain, who has recently been contending with a knee issue, were raised after he was an unused substitute in Spain's 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Georgia and only played the final few minutes of the follow up 3-1 triumph against Kosovo on Wednesday.

Ramos was at Madrid's Valdebebas training complex on Thursday but was restricted to doing work in the gym and not out on the pitches.

As usual, Madrid did not provide a timescale for his recovery but a short statement read: "Following the tests carried out today on our captain, Sergio Ramos, by the Real Madrid medical department, he has been diagnosed with a muscular injury to the internal calf in his left leg. His recovery will be monitored."

The timing could hardly be worse for Madrid, who host Eibar in LaLiga on Saturday before facing off against Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.

Barca travel to the capital a week on Saturday for a Clasico that could go a long way to deciding which side are better placed to challenge LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, while the return tie against the Reds takes place on April 14.

The omens are not particularly promising for Madrid against Liverpool considering Los Blancos have been beaten in seven of the past 10 games in the Champions League when Ramos has been unavailable.

In those games, they have conceded 19 goals – an average of 1.9 per match. Since last winning the competition in 2018, Madrid have won 10 of the 14 games Ramos has featured in – conceding only 13, an average of 0.9 per game.

The decision to bring Ramos on in those closing stages against Kosovo is sure to be a bone of contention for Madrid, with the skipper posting about his setback on Instagram.

"Yesterday, after the game, I was training on the pitch and noticed a puncture in the left calf. Today I have had the tests and it has been confirmed that I have a muscle injury," he wrote.

"If there is one thing that hurts me it is not being able to help the team in these games of the highest demand in which we play the season and also not be able to give back on the pitch the love and energy that you transmit to me.

"I can do nothing but speak frankly, work hard and encourage the team with the soul."

Ramos' future beyond the end of the season has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks, with the veteran centre-back linked with moves to MLS, the Premier League and Ligue 1.

Addressing the speculation after Spain's win over Kosovo, Ramos told TVE: "With my future I was very clear, there is no news and now I have nothing to say.

"When there is news, I will be the first to say it.

"We decide the season in two weeks, in LaLiga against Eibar and Barcelona, and in the Champions League against Liverpool, and hopefully we can play at a good level." 

Erling Haaland was back at the centre of Barcelona transfer speculation as his agent and father were pictured arriving in the Spanish city on Thursday.

The Spanish newspaper Sport published video on its website that showed agent Mino Raiola and Alf-Inge Haaland emerging from an airport and being driven away in a private car.

It was reported that the driver was a member of Barcelona president Joan Laporta's staff, pointing to Raiola and Haaland senior being on the way to a meeting with the newly elected Camp Nou chief.

Haaland has been long linked with a move to Barcelona, having dazzled in 15 months with Borussia Dortmund and emerged as a target for elite clubs across Europe.

Among those reported to have shown interest in the Norwegian are Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Manchester United, suggesting Barca may face a major battle to secure the 20-year-old, should he become available later this year.

Haaland is reputed to have a clause in his Dortmund contract that would allow him to leave for €75million at the end of the 2021-22 campaign, although this has never been confirmed by club officials.

His value even in a slightly deflated market is significantly higher than that at present, which may mean a departure at the end of this season suits all parties if there is no prospect of Haaland having a long-term stay in Dortmund.

Barcelona have been hit hard in economic terms by the COVID-19 crisis, but president Laporta will want to make his mark after returning to office last month, 11 years after his first stint in charge ended.

For Haaland to join Madrid would be a huge blow to Barca at a time when there is uncertainty over Lionel Messi's future. Blaugrana captain Messi is due to reach the end of his contract at the end of this season and has been repeatedly linked with PSG.

The club's record goalscorer may see the arrival of an exciting figure such as Haaland as an incentive to stay in Catalonia and a sign of Barcelona's ambition.

Since leaving Salzburg to join Dortmund in mid-season during the 2019-20 campaign, Haaland has scored 49 goals in 49 games across all competitions at club level, including 33 in 31 appearances this term.

Florentino Perez has called on Real Madrid's electoral board to set in motion the process of deciding the presidency and board of directors.

Madrid have not needed to carry out a full election since 2006, after the end of Perez's first spell in charge, which lasted just over six years.

Ramon Calderon won that vote but subsequently resigned in 2009, and Perez – who had overseen the 'Galactico era' in the early 2000s – returned for a second term as the only candidate to officially stand.

A similar situation has presented itself this time around, with Perez currently the only candidate in the race, meaning there would be no vote unless another member puts themselves forward.

However, Spanish businessman Enrique Riquelme, did last week suggest that he intends to run.

In a statement issued on their official website, Madrid said: "The president, having heard today's meeting of the board of directors, and in accordance with article 38, section b of the Real Madrid C.F. statutes, has asked the electoral board to initiate the procedure to call elections for president and board of directors."

Should it go ahead, Madrid's election is unlikely to be as tumultuous as that of Barcelona, with Joan Laporta having last month won the vote to take over at Camp Nou.

It came after former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, along with Barca's board of directors, resigned late last year.

Lionel Messi has been tipped to leave Barcelona for either Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

But Haaland could reportedly unlock Messi's future.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND TO CITY MEANS BARCA STAY FOR MESSI?

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could hold the key to Lionel Messi's future at Barcelona, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Barca, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

City have been tipped to sign Messi, but should they step up their pursuit of Haaland, the Premier League leaders could reportedly drop their interest in the Barca captain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo says new Barca president Joan Laporta is preparing a contract renewal for Messi, who is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- Bayern Munich are eyeing a move for Tottenham star Son Heung-min, claims Football Insider. Son has reportedly been offered a bumper new contract by Spurs, but the former Bayer Leverkusen forward is wanted in Munich.

- Sporting CP's Joao Palhinha, Borussia Monchengladbach star Denis Zakaria and Sander Berge of Sheffield United are on the list of midfielders to replace City veteran Fernandinho, reports A Bola.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Juventus and Barca are interested in Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli. The Italy defender is out of contract in 2022 and is reportedly seeking a €6million-a-year contract.

Napoli are eyeing Lazio head coach Simone Inzaghi and sporting director Igli Tare, claims Radio Kiss Kiss Napoli. Gennaro Gattuso has been tipped to leave Napoli at the end of the season, with ex-Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri, Luciano Spalletti and Hellas Verona's Ivan Juric among the possible replacements. But Lazio duo Inzaghi and Tare are being monitored to replace Gattuso and Cristiano Giuntoli in Naples.

United are interested in Lille defender Sven Botman, according to Fabrizio Romano. Sevilla star Jules Kounde has been on United's radar but the club's asking price of €80m (£68m) is too steep.

- Romano also says there is no agreement with United and Paul Pogba over a new contract. Pogba has been linked with former club Juve, Madrid and PSG.

Sergio Ramos addressed rumours about his Real Madrid future by promising to be "the first to say it" when a decision has been made, while insisting there is no news yet.

The Spain captain was speaking after making his 180th appearance for his country in a 3-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Kosovo on Wednesday, moving him within four of the all-time international caps record held by Egypt's Ahmed Hassan.

His brief cameo came four minutes from time at Estadio Olimpico de la Cartuja, but attention turned to his club career after the full-time whistle, with his Madrid contract set to expire at the end of the season.

Madrid are third in LaLiga, six points behind leaders and cross-city rivals Atletico, and face Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Amid rumours of a move to the MLS, Premier League or Ligue 1, Ramos told TVE: "With my future I was very clear, there is no news and now I have nothing to say.

"When there is news I will be the first to say it.

"We decide the season in two weeks, in LaLiga against Eibar and Barcelona, and in the Champions League against Liverpool, and hopefully we can play at a good level."

Luis Enrique defended the decision to bring Ramos on so late in the game, despite the defender having only recently recovered from an injury to his left knee that kept him sidelined for two months.

After seeing his side claim their second win in three World Cup qualifiers, courtesy of goals from Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres and Gerard Moreno, the Spain coach described Ramos' cameo as "a technical decision".

"Ramos has no further complications," Enrique told reporters.

"I decide which are the best players to start with. It is true that Ramos is fine but he has just come out of an injury from which he has recovered very quickly. That is the reality.

"Those who are in a better disposition play. Whether you like it or not, that's another question."

Asked whether the fact Ramos is closing in on Hassan's appearance record had a bearing on his decision, Enrique said: "The difficult thing about leaders is that they are leaders in any situation.

"When they are substitutes, in the stands, and from there I decide what is best for the team. I want to reward a player who for me deserves to beat all the records."

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