Ronald Koeman understands why further doubts were being raised about his Barcelona future after a 3-3 draw at Levante dealt a major blow to their LaLiga title hopes.

Barca needed a victory to go top of the table at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia on Tuesday and were well on course for three points at half-time courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Pedri.

The Blaugrana relinquished their lead all too easily after the break, though, with Gonzalo Melero and Jose Luis Morales on target in the space of two minutes.

Ousmane Dembele put Barca back in front, but more slack defending allowed Sergio Leon to nip in for an equaliser seven minutes from time.

Barca trail leaders Atletico Madrid by a point with only two matches to play, while Real Madrid are only a point behind them in third place and both capital clubs have a game in hand.

Koeman's future had already been called into question before this huge setback, so the Dutchman was not surprised to be asked if he felt his position is under the threat.

He said: "Coaches are always questioned but I understand that, after that second half, there are questions.

"We are disappointed and we're wondering what happened. We have to move on and prepare for next season.

"As a coach, you're always responsible. We spoke at half time about improving defensively and not dropping our intensity. We were hopeful, we were 2-0 ahead. You don't expect to draw from there."

Koeman knows Barca's chances of being crowned champions are slim ahead of their remaining games against Celta Vigo and Eibar.

He added: "Our aim was to win all three games and hope that the others would lose points, but now it's difficult.

"Games last for 90 minutes and we lost a lot in the second half. They caused problems and we didn't defend well. It's very disappointing. It's impossible to understand what happened. It's difficult to explain it."

Sergio Leon's late equaliser struck a massive blow to Barcelona's LaLiga title hopes as Levante fought back to salvage a 3-3 draw.

Barca looked to be cruising to the top of the table with a victory at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia on Tuesday courtesy of Lionel Messi's 37th goal of the season and Pedri's first-half tap-in.

Yet two goals in as many second-half minutes from Gonzalo Melero and Jose Luis Morales pegged the fragile Catalan giants back.

Ousmane Dembele put Barca back in front, but Leon provided another dramatic twist when he levelled seven minutes from time.

Ronald Koeman's side paid the price for defensive frailties and trail Atletico Madrid - who have a game in hand - by a point with only two matches to play.

 

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman reiterated his stance on VAR but was unwilling to comment on the controversial penalty awarded against Real Madrid through fear of being further punished.

Zinedine Zidane was left furious after Sevilla were given a spot-kick for handball against Eder Militao as Madrid were held 2-2 on Sunday, meaning the LaLiga title is no longer in their own hands.

Los Blancos thought they had earned a penalty for Yassine Bounou's foul on Karim Benzema at 1-1, only for a VAR review to overturn the decision because of Militao's handball at the other end at the start of the move.

Sevilla were instead awarded a penalty and Ivan Rakitic converted from 12 yards, though Madrid did at least rescue a point in the 94th minute through a goal later credited to Eden Hazard in what is the tightest LaLiga title battle in years.

Barcelona have themselves been on the wrong end of some controversial decisions this season, with Koeman questioning why VAR is even used in the Spanish top flight after his side were denied two penalties in their loss to Madrid.

The Dutchman, who has just served a two-game ban for comments made to the fourth official during last month's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada, did not want to get involved in the drama that unfolded at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

"If someone is better off not talking about refereeing, it is me," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's trip to Levante. "I have already said what I think, my opinion has not changed. 

"If Madrid think they were harmed, that is their problem. As for VAR, I will not repeat any more."

Barcelona remain two points off leaders Atletico Madrid following Saturday's stalemate between the sides and level on points with Madrid, who are one place better off due to their superior head-to-head record over their Clasico rivals.

Barca have collected just 10 of the last 18 points available in LaLiga, after picking up 45 from the previous 51, which Koeman puts down to fatigue at the end of another gruelling campaign behind closed doors.

"There are a lot of games that take their toll," the Dutchman said. "It is normal for all teams, especially those who have played in Europe and have reached cup finals this season.

"In addition, playing without an audience can also play a part. That's why many teams have dropped points at home. It's not normal for so many games to be played. The team that is physically and mentally stronger will win the title. 

"We will fight until the last moment to win the league. It is not in our hands and we cannot afford to make any mistakes."

Koeman has another year to run on the contract signed when taking over as Barca boss last August, but his future will reportedly come down to whether his side finish top of the LaLiga standings or not.

However, the Dutchman remains confident he will still be in charge at Camp Nou next season regardless of results over Barca's remaining three matches.

"There is nothing to answer on my future," he said. "You don't have to look for stories that are not there. From the first day he arrived, the president has shown me his confidence. If anyone can decide, it's him.

"The future is not for me to be worried about because I've signed two years as a coach. We have agreed to talk after the season, but before then we have two weeks and three more games to go.

"I cannot win a battle with the press or people on the outside. For many periods this season they have valued me. For me, the important people are those who I work with every day and who value what we are doing."

Koeman has not lost any of his two matches against Levante as a manager, with his teams keeping a clean sheet in both previous encounters, including a 1-0 win for Barcelona in this season's reverse fixture.

However, Levante have won two of their last three meetings with Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia in LaLiga - one more than they had in their previous 11 home games against them in the competition.

Where will Jack Grealish play his football next season?

It is one of the big questions in English football right now and Manchester City have joined the conversation.

City are reportedly emerging as the favourites to sign the Aston Villa captain.

 

TOP STORY – CITY LINE UP GREALISH SPLASH

Manchester City appear best placed to sign Aston Villa's £100million-rated captain Jack Grealish, according to the Daily Mail.

Grealish reportedly came close to joining Manchester United last year, but the Red Devils could not come up with the funds to seal the deal.

City manager Pep Guardiola is a well-known admirer of Grealish, previously calling him "an exceptional player".

 

ROUND-UP

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Liverpool have joined the queue chasing Inter defender Alessandro Bastoni, with a reported £43m (€50m) move. European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Barcelona are also allegedly keen on the 21-year-old Italy international.

Tottenham are likely to opt out of exercising the £36m (€42m) option-to-buy Carlos Vinicius, who is on loan at Spurs from Benfica according to the Daily Mail. The report claims Spurs are only willing to pay more than half that amount for the Brazilian.

- Calciomercato says Juventus are considering a move for Arkadiusz Milik, who they have previously been linked with as they prepare for the possible departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala. Juve are reportedly set to revive their interest in Milik, with the Poland international on loan at Marseille from Napoli.

- Football Insider reports that United are plotting a move for Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez amid doubts over star David de Gea and Dean Henderson. They have also been linked with Milan sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Real Madrid are keen to bring back Levante winger Jorge de Frutos to the Santiago Bernabeu, according to Marca.

Marcelino lauded Athletic Bilbao, who will contest two Copa del Rey finals within a fortnight after overcoming Levante on Thursday.

Athletic saw off Levante 2-1 in extra time and 3-2 on aggregate to set up a showdown with LaLiga giants Barcelona in the Copa del Rey decider next month.

Supercopa de Espana champions after upstaging Barca in January, Athletic reached last season's Copa final but, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, they are yet to play it – the match against their rivals Real Sociedad set for April 3.

Athletic are now gearing up for two finals in the space of 14 days next month, with a clash against Barca scheduled for April 17.

"These players have made Athletic Club history and sometimes that only happens once in a lifetime," Athletic head coach Marcelino said.

"They had to make the most of the moment and they did so."

Alex Berenguer's deflected, extra-time winner sealed Athletic's progress to back-to-back finals and saw them equal Real Madrid on 39 appearances in Copa del Rey deciders.

It completed a turnaround for the 23-time Copa winners, with Raul Garcia's penalty having cancelled out Roger Marti's opener.

"We are going to take it step by step and enjoy today at least," Raul Garcia added.

"I am very happy because of all the work behind this and hopefully it will be a historic year.

"It's an honour to fight alongside this group of friends.

"We have a lot of confidence in each other, always help each other and that's what is giving us the results."

Athletic and Barca will play their ninth Copa final – the most-contested fixture in the competition's history.

In fact, Athletic will become in the first team to play two Copa del Rey deciders in the same month.

Athletic Bilbao made it three finals in the space of a year as they saw off Levante 2-1 in extra time on the night and 3-2 on aggregate to set up a Copa del Rey showdown with Barcelona.

Supercopa de Espana champions Athletic reached last season's Copa final but, due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, they are yet to play it – the match against their rivals Real Sociedad is set for April 3.

In a bizarre turn of events, Athletic will be playing both finals in the space of two weeks, with Alex Berenguer's deflected, extra-time winner sealing their progress and seeing them equal Real Madrid on 39 appearances in Copa del Rey finals.

It completed a turnaround for the 23-time Copa winners, with Raul Garcia's penalty having cancelled out Roger Marti's opener.

Athletic started brightly, yet it was the hosts who struck first – Marti sweeping a neat, on-the-spin finish beyond Unai Simon.

Iker Muniain should have hit back seven minutes later only to head wide from Oscar de Marcos' precise cross.

Athletic had their equaliser, and a vital away goal, on the half-hour, though, with Raul Garcia slamming in from the spot after he had been felled by Oscar Duarte.

Jorge de Frutos prodded wide from a decent chance to restore Levante's lead before Yeray Alvarez turned Jorge Miramon's cross against the foot of Athletic's post.

Raul Garcia turned provider 20 minutes after the restart, presenting Inaki Williams with his first opening, only for Athletic's forward to slice his effort.

Muniain slipped at a crucial moment after wriggling his way to the six-yard box before Berenguer's improvised header looped wide.

Levante went closest in the first half of extra-time – Simon sensationally keeping out Enis Bardhi's free-kick.

Yet it was Athletic who finally settled the contest. Berenguer tried his luck from range, his effort taking a huge deflection off Nikola Vukcevic and clipping in off the woodwork to send the visitors through.

Diego Simeone made no excuses after Atletico Madrid slumped to a 2-0 defeat to Levante and urged his side to respond to a first home loss since December 2019.

Atleti could have gone nine points clear at the top of LaLiga with a victory, but their 22-match unbeaten top-flight run at the Wanda Metropolitano was brought to a halt on Saturday.

A deflected first-half strike from Jose Luis Morales put Levante in front and Jorge de Frutos sealed a shock win right at the end when he found an empty net from long range with Jan Oblak up for a corner.

Real Madrid can cut their city rivals' advantage to only three points, albeit having played a game more, in the title race if they beat Real Valladolid later in the day.

Atleti had been held to a 1-1 draw at Levante three days earlier and endured more frustration at the hands of the same opponents, with Luis Suarez hitting the post with a stunning free-kick and Lucas Torreira having a goal ruled out.

Simeone says there is no need to reach for the panic button after watching his side lose in LaLiga for only the second time this season.

The Atleti boss said: "I'm not looking for excuses. Coaches have to find solutions. In the second half we did it and we have to be the ones who help the players who are out there.

"Championships are always the same, everyone has moments of difficulties. Those who are strong in the bad moments are the one who achieve their goals."

The former Argentina midfielder added: "When you look for a goal it is important to get there, it is wonderful.

"There are obstacles. It is logical to find obstacles and then when you achieve the goal you enjoy it much more."

There were positives for Simeone, as Moussa Dembele made his debut off the bench and Thomas Lemar returned after recovering from coronavirus.

However, Jose Gimenez was withdrawn with a muscular injury three days before Atleti face Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Jose Luis Morales and Jorge de Frutos were on target as Levante consigned LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid to a first home defeat since December 2019 in a shock 2-0 win on Saturday.

Atleti were held to a 1-1 draw at Levante in midweek and their title hopes suffered a big setback against the same opponents three days later.

Morales' 12th goal of the season in the first half and Frutos' effort on the counter-attack at the death ended the leaders' run of 22 LaLiga games without defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano, giving second-placed Real Madrid the chance to reduce their advantage to only three points by beating Real Valladolid later on Saturday.

Luis Suarez struck the post with a stunning free-kick and Lucas Torreira had a goal ruled out as Diego Simeone's side raised their game in the second half, but suffered only a second loss of the season in the top flight.

Morales wasted a glorious chance to give Levante an early lead when he put a left-footed finish just wide of the far post after racing clear.

Suarez stung the palms of Levante goalkeeper Daniel Cardenas, but Atleti were punished for some slack defending when they fell behind on the half-hour mark.

Geoffrey Kondogbia was too casual when attempting to get hold of a loose ball in the penalty area and Morales capitalised, finding the back of the net with a right-footed strike that deflected off Mario Hermoso to give Jan Oblak no chance.

Ruben Rochina could have laid on a second for Morales, but his poor pass let a vulnerable looking Atleti defence off the hook before the break.

Thomas Lemar made his return early in the second half after recovering from coronavirus, replacing the injured Jose Gimenez, before Suarez rattled the post with a magnificent long-range free-kick.

Atleti were throwing everything at Levante and Cardenas denied Joao Felix from close range before Torreira had a goal ruled out due to a push from Suarez.

Joao Felix's rasping drive was straight at Cardenas as Simeone's men continued to knock at the door.

Lemar’s left-footed volley was superbly saved by Cardenas and Suarez blazed high and wide before de Frutos rubbed salt in Atleti’s wounds right at the end, surging down the right wing and finding an empty net from a long way out with Oblak up in search of an equaliser.

Diego Simeone does not believe Atletico Madrid's 1-1 draw at Levante was the result of nervousness at being favourites for the LaLiga title.

Atletico are six points clear of Real Madrid with a game in hand but they will be disappointed that the advantage is not eight after spurning several chances on Wednesday.

The visitors fell behind to Enis Bardhi's 17th-minute opener before Marcos Llorente levelled matters with a deflected long-range effort.

Simeone's men were in the ascendancy thereafter and Angel Correa should have put them in front shortly after the second-half restart.

However, he blazed over an open goal with a remarkable miss, but Simeone believes a point apiece was a fair outcome for two teams that will meet again on Saturday.

"No, I don't think it [being favourites] can generate nervousness," Simeone replied when asked if nerves were to blame.

"We find ourselves with a tough opponent who is doing things well. They have improved defensively, well organised and with good ball output.

"In the second half we came out well, we had very clear chances. A fair draw for two teams that played a good game.

"We didn't have to win and we could have lost it in the shot from the end from [Carlos] Clerc."

Atletico Madrid suffered a slip-up in the LaLiga title race as the leaders were held to a 1-1 draw by Levante after a remarkable miss from Angel Correa.

Diego Simeone's men fell behind in an open contest as Enis Bardhi struck first for Levante in the 17th minute.

Marcos Llorente's deflected strike drew Atletico level eight minutes before half-time but, following Correa's astonishing miss in the second half, the visitors were left to settle for a point.

Their advantage over rivals Real Madrid stands at six points and Atletico still have a game in hand. Simeone, however, will likely be disappointed at this missed opportunity in a season where the title is theirs for the taking.

All that came of an energetic start from Atletico was a header from Luis Suarez that looped wide and they were soon punished for sloppy play in midfield.

After Atletico lost possession just inside their own half, Jorge de Frutos surged forward and slid an excellent pass into Bardhi to slot home.

The hosts saw chances to double the lead go begging as Roger Marti fired narrowly over the crossbar and Jose Luis Morales could only produce a tame effort at the end of a well-worked attack.

And they were made to pay as Saul Niguez forced Aitor Fernandez to turn behind for a corner, from which Llorente's long-range effort was deflected past the goalkeeper by Rober Pier.

Two Fernandez saves in quick succession denied first Suarez and then Llorente to prevent Atletico completing the turnaround before half-time, though Correa should have done so shortly after the restart.

The goal was at his mercy after Fernandez made a fingertip save from Suarez, but Correa could only succeed in blazing high over the open goal.

Llorente went close to doubling his tally as Atletico ramped up the pressure, yet they failed to find the decisive goal and Levante hung on for a draw that will offer some hope to Madrid and Barcelona.

Joao Felix is back in contention for Atletico Madrid after being sidelined with coronavirus, Diego Simeone has confirmed.

It was confirmed Portugal international Joao Felix tested positive for the virus on February 3, forcing him to miss two games for LaLiga's leaders.

The first was a 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo, who netted a late equaliser, before Atleti beat Granada 2-1 in Andalusia on Saturday to stay five points clear at the summit with two games in hand on second-placed Real Madrid.

Moussa Dembele, Thomas Lemar and Hector Herrera were all confirmed as having the virus in the five days after Joao Felix's results were returned, but the situation has had minimal impact on the team's on-field performances.

Up next is a trip to Levante on Wednesday, before hosting Paco Lopez's men at the weekend, and that is followed by the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea.

Simeone is unsure if Joao Felix will feature on Wednesday but was glad to have him back.

"He has not had many symptoms that left him unable to train at home, so he was working with the coaches since the fourth day [of his absence]," Simeone told reporters.

"He is eager and enthusiastic, he is healthy. It's great to be able to count on him tomorrow, but we will decide tomorrow what to do with him."

Attention soon turned to Atletico's other key attacker this term, Luis Suarez, who has recently been the subject of reports claiming the Uruguayan has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season.

Simeone seemed unimpressed he was even asked the question.

"Normally I don't talk about personal contracts," Simeone said.

"I talk about how to attack, how to play, but I don't interfere in personal matters."

Athletic Bilbao head coach Marcelino acknowledged his players suffered from nerves during their Copa del Rey semi-final against Levante.

Marcelino's side needed an Inigo Martinez equaliser at San Mames after Gonzalo Melero had given Levante the lead as the first leg of the tie finished 1-1 on Thursday.

Athletic were the stronger of the two sides after the break following a timid first-half showing but were unable to find a winner.

The second leg will be played at Levante's Estadio Ciudad de Valencia on March 4, with the winners set to face either Sevilla or Barcelona in the final on April 17.

Athletic still have last season's delayed Copa final against rivals Real Sociedad to play on April 4 and their chance to complete the unprecedented feat of winning the trophy twice in the same month remains a possibility.

They have progressed in nine consecutive knockout rounds in the Copa del Rey - their best run since 11 in a row between 1983 and 1985 (including finals) - but Marcelino said his players must be better in the second leg.

"It may have been anxiety," Marcelino told a post-match press conference.

"We were not comfortable in any facet of the game. We missed simple passes and we were not mobile. 

"In the first half, most of the players were below their level. Then the idea of the game changed and we found ourselves again with what we like.

"It is clear that to be in a final we have to play as in the second half. We must demand more of ourselves.

"Approaching that level of play we can be in the final, but it is clear that we will not be able to drop a level even a minute in Valencia."

Levante boss Paco Lopez insisted his players must forget the second leg, and the prospect of reaching the Copa del Rey final for the first time in their history, and instead focus on LaLiga for the time being.

"We understand that people are waiting for this game but not for us now. There are three weeks in between," he added.

"What we have in the league is the most important thing now and we must put the focus there.

"On March 4 it will come and before we have several games and we are going to have to demand it from ourselves."

Athletic Bilbao's Copa del Rey semi-final against Levante is finely poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg at San Mames

Gonzalo Melero netted the opener midway through the first half when he swept in from inside the penalty area following some haphazard Athletic defending.

But Athletic, who are still to play the 2019-20 Copa final, got themselves back on level terms just before the hour as Inigo Martinez climbed highest inside the box to head home from a corner.

The match remained all square and the second leg - at Levante's Ciudad de Valencia on March 4 - must now produce a victor to advance and face either Sevilla or Barcelona in the April final.

Melero broke the deadlock following a cagey start when he received the ball from Jorge de Frutos near the penalty spot and slotted into the net.

Inaki Williams almost equalised two minutes later with Athletic's first chance, but his long-range effort was kept out by Daniel Cardenas, before he squandered the hosts' best opportunity of the first half with a header from Iker Muniain's corner.

Levante were indebted to goalkeeper Cardenas as Athletic applied pressure straight after the break, first saving Raul Garcia's diving header and then keeping out a low shot from Williams.

But Athletic deserved their equaliser as Muniain's outswinging delivery was met by Martinez, who escaped his marker and powerfully headed beyond Cardenas.

Only a superb block by Oscar Duarte denied Alex Berenguer and there was a final chance as another Muniain corner caused panic in the Levante box in the fourth minute of injury time, but Yeray Alvarez could not generate sufficient power with his header and Cardenas gathered.

Athletic Bilbao's Copa del Rey semi-final against Levante is finely poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg at San Mames

Gonzalo Melero netted the opener midway through the first half when he swept in from inside the penalty area following some haphazard Athletic defending.

But Athletic, who are still to play the 2019-20 Copa final, got themselves back on level terms just before the hour as Inigo Martinez climbed highest inside the box to head home from a corner.

The match remained all square and the second leg - at Levante's Ciudad de Valencia on March 4 - must now produce a victor to advance and face either Sevilla or Barcelona in the April final.

Barcelona were handed a tough draw against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semi-finals as Ronald Koeman chases his first trophy since being appointed head coach.

The two-leg tie will be a repeat of the teams' memorable meeting at the quarter-final stage two years ago, when Sevilla won 2-0 at home before being thrashed 6-1 at Camp Nou.

Koeman, who took charge last August, saw his side beaten 3-2 in the Supercopa de Espana final by Athletic Bilbao in January, when Lionel Messi was sent off in extra time.

That silverware slipped by but the Dutch coach will hope for a better outcome for Barcelona as the Copa del Rey enters its final stages.

They were almost knocked out in the quarter-finals this week by Granada, saved by late goals in normal time from Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba before winning 5-3 after extra time.

Facing Sevilla will surely be no easy task given Barca, second in LaLiga, are just a point ahead of Julen Lopetegui's team.

There could be another final between Barcelona and Athletic in store, with the Bilbao giants drawn to face Levante in the other semi-final.

The first legs of each tie will be played next midweek, with the return games to be played on the first midweek in March, with exact dates for each match to be determined.

Sevilla will have extra incentive to reach the final, given that match will be staged in their home city on April 17, at Estadio La Cartuja.

Because of the coronavirus impact on Spanish football, last season's Copa del Rey final has yet to be played, with that game between Athletic and Real Sociedad to be played at the same Seville stadium on April 3.

Barcelona hold the record for the most Copa del Rey titles, having won the competition 30 times, with Athletic next on the list with 23 victories.

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