Barcelona assistant boss Alfred Schreuder insisted his side can still win La Liga despite missing the chance to leapfrog leaders Atletico Madrid.

The two sides played out a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Saturday that keeps Atleti two points ahead at the summit with three games of the season remaining.

However, the result opens the door for Real Madrid, whose head-to-head record means they could go top with a win over Sevilla on Sunday.

Schreuder, who took on the post-game media duties as a result of Ronald Koeman's two-match touchline ban, is confident Barca can still be champions.

He said: "We know that now we have to wait for the results of other games. 

"Let's see what Madrid does with Sevilla. We know that we depend on others, but it is still possible to win La Liga. 

"We are where we wanted to be three months ago."

Barcelona dominated possession but struggled to create too many clear chances against a typically obstinate Atletico backline.

Schreuder was not surprised by the pattern of the game but believes the hosts had enough opportunities to claim all three points, including a late Ousmane Dembele header that went over.

"We knew it would be a very difficult game, without a doubt," he continued.

"We had a good chance from Leo [Lionel Messi] in the first half, another from Dembele in the second. We had the ball. We knew that Atletico would be very defensive. 

"Obviously there is always an opportunity for the rival. Now we have to focus on the next game. 

"We wanted to win, but we are still in this position. We are two points behind Atletico."

Schreuder also provided an injury update on Sergio Busquets, who left the field after just over half an hour after suffering a blow to the face.

The Barca assistant said on the midfielder: "I just spoke with him and I think he's fine, but we have to wait for the results of the tests they are doing in the hospital.

"We had to reorganise the midfield. He always gives us confidence there and we have lost the organisation a bit."

Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone insists he will not be watching Real Madrid's crunch LaLiga game against Sevilla on Sunday.

Atleti's 0-0 draw with fellow title hopefuls Barcelona on Saturday opened the door for Los Blancos, who can usurp their Madrid neighbours at the top of the table with victory in their game in hand.

A win would lift them level on points, but they would be first courtesy of their superior head-to-head record this season.

Atleti dominated the opening 45 minutes at Camp Nou but they could not find a way past Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Los Rojiblancos had six shots on target in the first half – the most by an opposing team before half-time against Barca this season in all competitions.

Simeone said he has little interest in watching Sunday's clash at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, instead preferring to spend time with his family ahead of Wednesday's visit of Real Sociedad.

"I don't think I will watch it," he told a media conference. "I'm not watching the games; I don't have a good time and I prefer not to watch them. 

"It will not change much if I see it. I will be with the family having dinner and preparing on Monday for a good game against Real."

The result means Simeone has overseen more away games without a win against Barca in LaLiga than against any other side in the competition, drawing four and losing five of his matches in charge of Atleti at Camp Nou. 

Despite the extension of that unwanted run, Simeone was pleased with his players' efforts. 

"We came to Barcelona to play a game with determination and collective work, and the game that we imagined happened," he added.

"We have had a great first half. The second half was more even. The team did a great job and we are continuing on the path we are on, which is to take things game by game.

"The only thing I asked the players is to play, that they are themselves and they manage to play. And they absolutely did. 

"That fills me with joy because success is in being able to compete every year where we are."

After also drawing a blank in the previous meeting of the teams, Barca have failed to score against Atleti in the same campaign for the first time since 1989-90, back when the legendary Johan Cruyff was at the helm.

Jan Oblak saw it approaching like a heat-seeking missile and witnessed everyone in red and white clearing a path.

But it was only when Oblak tipped the narrative wide of his left-hand post that you sensed this would be Atletico Madrid's day, and perhaps it will still be their season.

On the day that Neymar ruled out a return to Barcelona by signing a new Paris Saint-Germain contract, the stage was set at Camp Nou for Lionel Messi, and my word he almost scored an unforgettable goal.

Oblak, however, had other ideas, and unlike his team-mates he found a way to defy the Barcelona captain without resorting to brazenly foul means.

It would have been one for the Messi showreel, a sensational charge infield from the right flank taking him at lightning speed through the massed ranks of the visitors and to the edge of the penalty area, before the Barca forward ripped a shot that was arrowing into the corner.

Oblak sprung into action and plunged to his left, Atletico indebted to their last line of defence. The Slovenian is the wall that few find cracks in, the player as vital to their success as anyone, the glovesman who has kept clean sheets in both LaLiga clashes with Barcelona this season and 18 shutouts in 35 league games so far.

In front of him, Atletico's players know their roles, even if in that one instance they could not get close to Messi.

Typically here, the tactic was to halt Messi by fair means or foul. Given he has scored a remarkable 21 league goals already in 2021, that seemed a reasonable ploy from Diego Simeone's troops.

Saul Niguez, Felipe and Koke were each booked for identikit fouls on the 33-year-old, recognising he was in full stride and rationalising that was an unhealthy state of affairs for Atletico. Geoffrey Kondogbia tripped Messi on the edge of the box in the 89th minute, but there would be no dramatic finale, the assailed Argentinian ripping a free-kick wide of the top left corner.

So it finished nil-nil and that might be interpreted as the dream outcome for Real Madrid, who sit third for now but would join Atletico on 77 points should they defeat fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday.

For Barcelona, they are counting on their title rivals falling at the last now, with three rounds remaining. They would have gone top with a win here, but instead remain two points shy of Atletico.

Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente threatened in the first half for Atletico at Camp Nou, and the visitors had an abundance of the ball early in the second period too, but the chance of the game was probably the one that Barcelona substitute Ousmane Dembele headed over in the 85th minute, getting on the end of a cross that left-back Jordi Alba stood up to the far post but sending his effort far too high.

When the big chances fall to Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, playing like a competition winner against his former club here at times, there are days when that can spell terrible trouble for Barcelona.

Griezmann has now failed to score in the 12 LaLiga matches he has played against Atletico.

How Messi must wish he still had Luis Suarez by his side rather than on the opposing team.

Suarez, who was hurried out of Barcelona and welcomed with open arms by Atletico last September, was welcomed back to his old stamping ground with a big-screen video montage of some of his finest moments for the club.

He had a game-high four shots, three of which hit the target, and generally made a jolly old nuisance of himself without looking at his sharpest.

Messi was devastated to lose Suarez last year, but he has put that dismay behind him in recent months, with coach Ronald Koeman coaxing the best out of his talisman.

Barcelona now have 50 points from 20 LaLiga games in 2021, but their chaotic start to the season is catching up with them again. Too many points were dropped then, and for Barcelona to snatch the title this felt like a must-win game.

Koeman had an eagle's eye view, sitting high in the stands as he completed his touchline ban, unable to impose his presence and forced to settle for stalemate.

Like Oblak against the Messi missile, perhaps he saw it coming.

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid played out a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Saturday, handing Real Madrid the advantage in the race for LaLiga.

Atleti remain top – two points clear of nearest rivals Barca – but Los Blancos will usurp them if they beat fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday courtesy of a better head-to-head record against Diego Simeone's side.

Despite dominating the first half, Atleti could not find a way past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the German making six saves before the interval.

Barca improved after the break, but Ronald Koeman's team ultimately fell short of finding a winner that would have moved them to the summit.

Atleti, who saw Thomas Lemar forced off due to injury early on, almost went ahead shortly before the midway point of the first half, Angel Correa denied what looked set to be a certain goal by a superb last-ditch block by Clement Lenglet.

Barca lost Sergio Busquets in the 32nd minute after a clash of heads with Stefan Savic, before Ter Stegen kept out Marcos Llorente, Luis Suarez and Yannick Carrasco in quick succession.

Lionel Messi was denied a memorable goal shortly before the interval, Jan Oblak wonderfully tipping the Argentina international's effort away after he had waltzed past a host of Atleti players.

Simeone's visitors should have made their first-half dominance count on the stroke of half-time, yet Felipe blazed over from 10 yards after being picked out by Llorente.

The hosts did most of the pressing at the start of the second period, Oblak forced to paw away a Messi free-kick after 66 minutes.

Ronald Araujo had a header ruled out for offside soon after, while fellow substitute Ousmane Dembele nodded over from a glorious position five minutes from full-time as Barca threatened to claim all three points.

Atleti did not look like snatching a goal in the closing stages as their winless run at Camp Nou was extended to a whopping 15 games.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus have described warnings from UEFA as "intolerable" and "unacceptable" as the three clubs continue to back a breakaway European Super League.

Spain's biggest two clubs and Italian outfit Juve are the only three remaining of the 12 European giants who signed up for the controversial project, with all others having withdrawn just days after the competition was announced last month.

UEFA on Friday stated that Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid would not face Champions League or Europa League bans after pulling out of the proposed Super League.

The governing body warned that the three remaining rebel clubs could be sanctioned due to their unwavering stance.

UEFA stated: "UEFA has reserved all rights to take whatever action it deems appropriate against those clubs that have so far refused to renounce the so-called 'Super League'. The matter will promptly be referred to the competent UEFA disciplinary bodies."

Barca, Madrid and Juve released a joint statement on Saturday to make it clear they are not happy with UEFA's actions.

The statement said: "The founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures, threats, and offenses to abandon the project and therefore desist from their right and duty to provide solutions to the football ecosystem via concrete proposals and constructive dialogue.

"This is intolerable under the rule of law and tribunals have already ruled in favour of the Super League proposal, ordering FIFA and UEFA to, either directly or through their affiliated bodies, refrain from taking any action which may hinder this initiative in any way while court proceedings are pending."

The three clubs defended the Super League proposal by stating that "structural reforms are vital to ensure our sport remains appealing and survives in the long-term".

They added that the founding clubs agreed that the new competition would only take place if it was "recognised by UEFA and/or FIFA or if, in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, it was deemed to be a competition duly compatible for all purposes with the continuity of the founding clubs in their respective domestic competitions".

Juve, Barca and Madrid claim the Super League provided "a unique opportunity to offer fans around the world the best possible show and to reinforce global interest in the sport".

The trio of clubs say they are "ready to reconsider the proposed approach" but it would be "highly irresponsible" if they abandoned a mission to "provide effective and sustainable answers to the existential questions that threaten the football industry".

Four rounds remaining, four teams involved, and just six points to separate them.

The end of the LaLiga title race looks to be the most gripping to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish in Spain since 2006-07.

Back then, there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season: Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order – albeit they trail the leaders by six points – though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are most prominently in the mix.

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only seven of their 15 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada last week.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Let's say how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Atletico take the crown

Atletico Madrid are now given a 40.6 per cent probability of winning the title, up from 38 per cent a week ago.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca. Atletico hold a slight advantage, having beaten the Catalans 1-0 in Madrid in the reverse fixture, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Barcelona's chances have increased from 32.6 per cent to 35.1, with that surprise defeat to Granada preventing any bigger jump despite their 3-2 win at Valencia.

After drawing 0-0 twice in three games, Madrid's chances dropped from 34.4 per cent to 26.6 per cent last week, and they now sit at 24.3 per cent despite their most recent 2-0 win over Osasuna.

Sevilla, who conceded an injury-time winner to Athletic Bilbao last time out, remain distant outsiders. Our prediction model only gives them a 0.1 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona until the end of his career after president Joan Laporta's efforts in revitalising the club.

That is the view of former Barca full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, who believes the Messi transfer saga will be laid to rest once and for all.

It had looked likely Messi would leave, probably for Manchester City, at the start of this campaign but a dispute over the terms of his contract at Camp Nou proved a stumbling block too far.

The Argentina star has since helped Ronald Koeman's side win the Copa del Rey and they remain in the battle for LaLiga, sitting two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who they face on Saturday. 

And Zambrotta, who played for the club between 2006 and 2008, feels Barca now represent a more attractive proposition for Messi since Laporta's election as president for a second time in March.

"They won already an important title in Spain and this is already something," the former Italy international told Stats Perform.

"They are in contention for La Liga title. On Saturday there will be the game versus Atletico Madrid, they are just two points down with Real Madrid, so Barcelona are a team that's still up there regardless of any problem.

"They have the chance to win La Liga too, although it will be a fight until the end.

"I see Barcelona as an improved team in recent months. Laporta has brought enthusiasm and made the place a bit more serene with the aim of keeping their most important player, Messi."

Asked if Barca will achieve that aim, he replied: "I guess so, Messi will never leave Barcelona unless in a distant future he will like to go back to Argentina, but I doubt it.

"I think he will stay at Barcelona until the end of his career."

Ronald Koeman believes there is something personal behind the decision to hand him a touchline ban.

Barcelona confirmed this week they are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Koeman's ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for the massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful, prompting the club to try again with TAD.

"Yes, I think it was personal," said Koeman.

"Because saying 'what a character' in Spanish or 'what a person' in English is not insulting. 

"It is not a reason to sanction. So yes, there is something else behind it.

"Better not talk about the referees because, in general, the RFEF puts one of the best referees in for these games. 

"It is hoped that he [Mateu Lahoz] gets his decisions right, but you don't have to think about the referees. You have to think about yourself and plan.

"Hopefully the decisions of the VAR are fair for us and for Atletico."

Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

"Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

"It takes a long time and there are things that have not gone well with his recovery - I don't want to go into that anymore, but five or six months is a long time.

"Now the most important thing is that he is going to recover, he is going to get well and that he will be with us. Too bad it is for next season.

"It has been important that we missed a player like him, but the most important thing is that he recovers well to continue playing."

 

Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

"I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

"I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

"They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

"We have to be good with the ball because Atletico closes well and defends well. We have to be good with the ball to create opportunities and be effective."

Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

But aside from that rare blip against Granada, Koeman's side have the momentum. They have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico in this period.

Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

So we come to it: the biggest LaLiga game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for seven years.

Forget the Champions League disappointments, the off-the-field murmurings about money problems and the lingering toxic cloud of the Super League, and get ready for a title showdown.

League leaders Atletico are two points clear of Real Madrid and Barca with four games to go. If the match produces a winner, that team will have the power to decide their own fate. A draw could be enough for Atleti. A defeat for either may prove fatal to their chances.

The last time these two teams met this late in the season with the title still on the line for both was on that famous final day in 2013-14, when Atleti went to Camp Nou knowing they would win the league if they did not lose the match. Alexis Sanchez broke the deadlock, Diego Godin equalised, and Atleti were crowned kings of Spain for the first time in 18 years.

Nothing will be decided this season on Saturday, of course, and as any LaLiga coach will tell the media at any given opportunity, "every game is a final". But this one feels a bit different. With Madrid and fourth-place Sevilla meeting this weekend, too, Barca and Atleti must sense this is a massive chance to get a hand on the trophy.

 

FORM IS TEMPORARY...

For the neutral, the fact we even have a title race in early May is something to celebrate. So dominant were Atleti in the first half of the season – 16 wins, two draws and one defeat from their first 19 games – that the rest were struggling to keep up.

In fact, according to Stats Perform AI, on January 22 Atleti had a 75.1 per cent chance of winning the title based on predicted results, while Barca's chances were just 12.4 per cent. As of April 30, however, that same predictor model gave Atleti a 38 per cent chance of winning the league, with Barca just behind on 32.6.

While Atleti have won only half of their past 16 league games, Barca have been one of Europe's most in-form sides in 2021, winning all but three of their 19 league matches since the turn of the year – and lifting the Copa del Rey. They have collected 49 points in 2021, the most in the division and eight more than the leaders.

History is also on their side in this fixture: the 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano in the reverse game, when Yannick Carrasco grabbed a first-half winner, was their only league loss to Atleti in their most recent 21 meetings. They have not lost at home to them since Pepe Murcia's side ran out 3-1 winners in February 2006. Diego Simeone has drawn three and lost five of his league games in charge of Atleti at Camp Nou, making it his least favourite opposition ground as well as the scene of arguably his greatest coaching achievement.

 

OUTPERFORMING

This weekend's game is also the meeting of the best defence and attack in the division. Barca have scored 80 league goals, at least 19 more than anyone else, but Atleti have conceded a miserly 22. Attacks win games, defences win titles, as the adage goes.

Barca have actually faced the fewest shots (280) of any team in LaLiga this season, 40 fewer than Atleti, who are sixth best. However, the Blaugrana have conceded 33 goals from an Expected Goals Against figure of 37.0, whereas Atleti's 22 have come from an xGA of 33.7.

That highlights perhaps Atleti's greatest asset: based on Expected Goals on Target – an indicator of the quality of shots faced by a goalkeeper – Jan Oblak has prevented 7.1 goals this season, the highest figure in LaLiga. For teams in Europe's top-five leagues, no goalkeeper who has played more than 10 games this season has a better save percentage (79.1) than Atleti's Slovenian sensation.

 

MESSI V SUAREZ: BEST OF ENEMIES

Having missed the reverse fixture, this will be the first time Luis Suarez has faced Barca since his rather acrimonious departure at the end of last season. To date, the Uruguay striker – who has 166 career goals in LaLiga – has scored against all 30 of the teams he has faced in Spain's top flight.

Suarez has been a driving force of Atleti's title charge, even though he has only managed three goals in his most recent 11 games. With 19 goals in 28 league appearances overall in 2020-21, Suarez is averaging 0.79 per 90 minutes. Only one player has a better rate: Lionel Messi (0.92), the top scorer in the league with 28 and perhaps the most in-form player since the turn of the year.

Since January 1, Messi has scored 21 goals in 18 games, more than anyone else in Europe's top five leagues. Excluding one penalty scored, he has plundered 20 from an xG of just 11, giving him the biggest positive differential for anyone in those top five leagues in 2021. He is a man on a mission – perhaps his final mission for the club, if he doesn't agree to extend his contract.

Prevailing wisdom would suggest one of these former team-mates will decide this contest and, in turn, the fate of the title race. Barca and Atleti have waited seven years for a battle like this – who will hold their nerve?

 

Jose Mourinho is already plotting his moves in his first transfer window at Roma, where he will take charge at the end of the season.

The Portuguese reportedly is hoping to bring players he already knows to Serie A.

Could a pair of Red Devils and Spurs be headed to the Italian capital? 

 

TOP STORY – MOURINHO EYES FAMILIAR FACES

Jose Mourinho may turn to his Premier League connections to bolster his first Roma side. 

Manchester United pair Nemanja Matic and David de Gea are among the players with Old Trafford legacies on Mourinho's wish list, according to the Daily Mirror and Todofichajes. 

Among more recent Mourinho pupils, Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are among the Spurs players who stand as possibilities, says Corriere dello Sport. 

Football London also linked Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura with possible Roma moves as former Tottenham head coach Mourinho prepares to replace Paulo Fonseca ahead of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Corriere dello Sport reports Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are eyeing Napoli star Fabian Ruiz and Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Spain international Fabian has been heavily linked with Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Fellow midfielder Milinkovic-Savic, meanwhile, continues to be linked with the likes of Inter, Juventus, United and PSG.

Yves Bissouma could be headed to Manchester City as a replacement for Fernandinho, the Daily Star claims. City are said to be confident they can strike a £30million deal for the 24-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder. The Daily Express, however, has Arsenal leading the fight for the Mali international, with TottenhamWest Ham and Everton also potential landing spots. 

Chelsea may bring back striker Armando Broja on a lucrative contract after loaning the 19-year-old to Eredivisie outfit Vitesse Arnhem this term, Fabrizio Romano says, but other big clubs are circling as well.

- Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini is considering a move to MLS after his contract ends in June, Calciomercato reports. 

Miralem Pjanic could leave Barcelona as Sport claims the midfield outcast attracts interest from the likes of Chelsea and Inter

- Barca are considering the idea of allowing Francisco Trincao to leave on loan amid interest from Milan and Roma, according to Calciomercato. 

- RMC Sport says Milan have reached an agreement in principle to sign Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan at the end of the season. It comes amid doubts over the future of star Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is set to become a free agent. Yet to renew, Donnarumma has been linked with Juve, Tottenham, Chelsea and United.

Barcelona are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Ronald Koeman's touchline ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld.

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments he supposedly made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

The 58-year-old sat out Sunday's 3-2 win against Valencia, with assistant coach Alfred Schreuder placed in charge for the win that leaves Barca two points behind leaders Atletico ahead of this weekend's showdown.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for that massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful.

However, the Catalan giants will now take their case to TAD and have requested a temporary suspension of the ban which will allow the Dutchman to be on the touchline against Atletico.

Barca are also behind second-placed Real Madrid by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record and face Levante, Celta Vigo and Eibar after the visit of Atleti.

Lionel Messi scored the 50th free-kick goal of his Barcelona career to fuel hopes of a stunning LaLiga title triumph.

Messi's two goals in a 3-2 victory at Valencia on Sunday took him to 28 league strikes for the season, and that also meant the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner stayed ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in their friendly long-distance rivalry.

Barca captain Messi's seasonal tally is one more than Juventus' former Real Madrid talisman Ronaldo has managed in the current Serie A campaign, after the Portuguese netted twice in a win at Udinese earlier on Sunday.

Both are leading the way in their respective leagues, and only 36-goal Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski has scored more times than Messi in the top five European leagues in the current campaign.

Of Messi's stunning set-piece career haul, 39 of his free-kicks have come in LaLiga but few will have been as important as the curling strike that ultimately made sure of the points at Mestalla, giving Barcelona a 3-1 lead that was trimmed when Carlos Soler hit an excellent consolation.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman was a free-kick specialist himself, but he was absent from the touchline against Valencia.

That was because Koeman received a two-match touchline ban for the remonstrations during Thursday's shock defeat to Granada that saw him sent off.

In his place, Koeman's assistant Alfred Schreuder led the team, and it was down to the former Hoffenheim boss to dampen down excitement about this coming Saturday's clash between Barcelona and current leaders Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou.

Barcelona would go top of LaLiga by one point, for a little over 24 hours at least, should they win that game.

There are just four rounds of fixtures to come, and next week's games appear highly significant, given Real Madrid and Sevilla, the other two teams in title contention, also go head-to-head.

"We are all close," said Schreuder. "But we are there. We don't look at other teams, only at ourselves. Next week isn't a final, we have four matchdays in which we have to try to win.

"Yes, we trust our players to win LaLiga. We have reduced the gap to Atletico since January. We have competed well in these last three months."

The loss to Granada was a juddering result for Barcelona, but they had enough to fend off Valencia.

Messi missed a penalty but scored seconds later as the ball pinged around the Valencia 18-yard box, while Antoine Griezmann was also on target as Barcelona reacted positively to going behind early in the second half.

"We have shown character," Schreuder said. "We believed in what we were doing."

Marcos Llorente dismissed the suggestion of luck being on Atletico Madrid's side in their LaLiga title bid after their close-fought win over Elche.

Llorente scored the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute, moments after Luis Suarez had a goal disallowed by VAR for offside.

However, Llorente seemed set to go from hero to zero for LaLiga leaders Atleti when he conceded a late penalty for handball.

Yet Atleti came away unscathed, Elche captain Fidel hitting the post with his spot-kick. Atleti have now not conceded from the previous three penalties they have faced.

The victory lifted Atleti five points clear in a four-way title tussle, albeit that gap will be closed should Real Madrid beat Osasuna in Saturday's late game.

With Barcelona having lost their game in hand on Thursday, Atleti would be crowned champions should they win all of their four remaining matches – including a huge game against the Blaugrana at Camp Nou next week.

"It was an obligation to win, it was very important for everyone," Llorente told Movistar.

"The team knew how to carry out the game. All the rivals are at the top and Elche are a great team. We take all three points and it gives us great satisfaction."

Asked if luck was on Atleti's side, Llorente replied: "Starting from the fact that I don't believe in luck, in the end, if [the penalty] got to the goal, [Jan] Oblak had guessed the right way. 

"We got the points and it gives us a lot of strength for what remains.

"Winning is always positive, confidence increases, and today is one of those days."

It was a sentiment echoed by Simeone, who told a news conference: "It is time to work. The facts must be demonstrated on the pitch: that the team improves, plays with enthusiasm, is fierce and what I imagined and dreamed of when I arrived at Atletico."

Asked if Atleti must be considered favourites, Simeone said: "We are not in the moment to think; we are in the moment to do."

Simeone has now coached in 360 LaLiga games, surpassing Helenio Herrera as the Argentine to have managed the most matches in the competition.

Elche captain Fidel missed a stoppage-time penalty as Atletico Madrid picked up a narrow 1-0 win to tighten their grip on top spot in LaLiga ahead of next week's huge showdown with Barcelona.

Diego Simeone's side lost 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao last weekend and were fortunate to avoid another slip-up against relegation-threatened Elche in Saturday's contest at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero.

Marcos Llorente scored what proved to be the all important goal for Atleti with his 12th league strike of the campaign in the 23rd minute after Luis Suarez had one chalked off for a marginal offside.

However, Elche wasted a glorious chance to snatch a share of the spoils in the 91st minute as Fidel fired a penalty against the post, meaning Atletico move ​five points clear of Real Madrid and Barca, who both have a game in hand to play.

Ronald Koeman remains convinced Barcelona can still win LaLiga, even though they have left themselves with little margin for error during the run-in.

Barca missed the chance to take over at the top of the table on Thursday, letting slip a one-goal lead to surprisingly lose 2-1 at home to Granada.

The unexpected defeat means Koeman's side instead sit third with just five games to play in the top-flight campaign, starting with Sunday's tricky trip to Valencia.

Yet with Atleti still to visit Camp Nou, a defiant Koeman insists maximum points will be enough to pip both Diego Simeone's side and Real Madrid, who are second in the standings, to the title.

"It is true that we were very disappointed because it was a very great opportunity to get to the top, but there is no more time to be sad because we are fighting with the top three teams," Koeman told the media on Saturday.

"In all the games we have a lot of possession, we create opportunities. It is true that defensively we have to improve things.

"We expect a difficult game [against Valencia], where we are going to have a lot of possession, we have to create, be better defensively.

"It is a great opportunity that we have missed, but I am convinced that if we win the last five games we will be champions."

Sevilla are also firmly in the title race too, sitting just a point behind Barca, while Granada's midweek win provided a further example of why there are no certainties in a highly competitive league, according to Koeman.

"It is a strong championship, with very good teams. There are four teams fighting for LaLiga," he said.

"If you are not well, if you lack things, then you pay dearly. That is the beauty of this season. There is no team superior to the rest. That shows that it is a very strong championship."

Koeman was sent off after Granada's equaliser and is set to serve a two-game touchline ban, though Barcelona have appealed against the punishment.

The Dutchman will watch on from the stands for the game against Valencia, but a reduced suspension would allow him to be back in the technical area for the crucial clash with Atleti on May 8.

"We are going to appeal because I think it is a very exaggerated sanction for saying 'what a character', you wear two games, if you really insult, they give you 20 games," Koeman said. 

"Tomorrow I will not be able to be on the bench, but we have technical staff and we are going to overcome it."

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