Ronald Koeman has told Barcelona they must win all their remaining six games in 2020 to stay in the LaLiga title hunt. 

A rocky start to the campaign has followed the turbulent end to last season, which came to a head with the 8-2 thumping by Bayern Munich in the Champions League. 

Tension was then created when Lionel Messi tried to push through a close-season exit, while the effect of the pandemic has also hit Barcelona hard, causing off-field strife, with the early departure of president Josep Maria Bartomeu bringing club elections forward to January. 

A whole host of distractions appear to have taken a toll on Barcelona's first-team squad, with three defeats in their opening nine LaLiga games leaving coach Koeman with a tall order to reel in the early front-runners. 

Real Sociedad, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal are the surprise top three, with Real Madrid fourth and Barcelona seventh heading into the weekend. 

Koeman feels there is no room for error now, saying: "Atletico win their games, they concede few goals. The season is long, but we cannot lose more points and until the end of the year - we have to win all the games."

On Saturday they tackle a Cadiz side who sit sixth, a point ahead of Barcelona albeit having played two more games. 

Cadiz beat Real Madrid earlier this season, however, so Koeman is taking their threat seriously. 

Koeman is trying to see a bright future for his team, and despite stressing the need to string together wins, he would not go further into what a defeat to Cadiz might mean. 

"You have to answer when things happen, I prefer to think that you can win games and be positive," he said. 

Cadiz have taken 13 of their 15 points this season away from home, and their last league win anywhere came in October. It suggests Barcelona may be facing last season's Segunda Division runners-up at a good time. 

Cadiz have also not beaten Barcelona in LaLiga since May 1991, when Koeman lined up in a championship-winning Johan Cruyff team that suffered a 4-0 humiliation. 

Barcelona have won all six of the league games between the sides since, but head into this weekend on a rough run away from Camp Nou. 

Koeman's side have taken only one point from their last three LaLiga away games and are desperate to avoid a fourth such match without a victory. The club last endured such a dry run on the road when Frank Rijkaard's team went six without winning from March to May in 2008, with Pep Guardiola soon stepping in to shake up the side. 

"Normally we will have a lot of ball against a defence like that of Cadiz," Koeman said. 

"We will have to be patient. It seems to be more difficult for them to win at home, but they are achieving good results [overall this season], and it is a difficult ground where we must be focused to play at our level and score goals." 

If Messi finds the net, it will be his first goal against Cadiz in LaLiga. Barcelona's record goalscorer has scored against 37 of the 40 sides he has faced in the competition, with Xerez, Real Murcia and Cadiz being the exceptions. 

Messi has, admittedly, only played against Cadiz once previously.

Bayern Munich head coach Hansi Flick believes Leroy Sane needs more time to establish himself with the Bundesliga champions.

Since joining Bayern from Manchester City for a reported €45million in July, Sane has scored three goals and provided three assists in seven Bundesliga games, three of which have been starts.

He has also created four big chances, with only Thomas Muller (six) and Serge Gnabry (five) creating more for Bayern.

His big chance conversion percentage is 50 per cent, while he has completed just 38.1 per cent of his attempted dribbles.

The attacker missed almost the entire 2019-20 season with City after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and suffered a knee injury against Hoffenheim at the end of September.

Flick has largely been impressed with Sane's contribution but believes there is plenty more to come once he has settled at the club.

"You have to consider the background," Flick told a media conference ahead of Bayern's top-of-the-table clash with RB Leipzig on Saturday.

"He had a serious injury and was injured again in the Hoffenheim game. I know from my own experience that you need some time.

"What I see in training is good. It's not that easy when you come to a new club; you have to integrate first. At the moment we can't train like we did in pre-season."

Bayern are two points clear of Leipzig at the Bundesliga summit and will hope to improve on their recent record against Julian Nagelsmann's side when they visit the Allianz Arena on Saturday.

Bayern won their first three meetings with Leipzig but have triumphed only once in their last five matches. Indeed, since 2017-18, only Hertha Berlin (four times in seven games) have picked up points in as many games against Bayern as Leipzig (four times in six games).

Leipzig are also the only team to stop the Bavarian giants from scoring in their last 70 Bundesliga matches, holding them to 0-0 draws in May 2019 and February 2020.

And Flick is in no doubt his side are in for a tough game against Nagelsmann's forward-thinking outfit.

"Leipzig have developed tremendously," the Bayern boss said. "Even before I was at Hoffenheim, I knew that Julian was a top coach.

"Leipzig plays forward very quickly and are very variable. The idea of their football appeals to me and I value Julian as a coach. That's why Leipzig are where they are."

Alphonso Davies returned to full training this week after six weeks out with ankle ligament damage, while Joshua Kimmich stepped up his own personal fitness programme following surgery on a right lateral meniscus injury.

Saturday's game will come too soon for them, but Flick holds out hope Davies could make an appearance in Wednesday's final Champions League Group A game against Lokomotiv Moscow.

"Alphonso has trained, but is not yet ready for tomorrow," Flick said. "Maybe he will be back on Wednesday.

"Otherwise, except for Coco Tolisso and Joshua Kimmich, everyone is on board. That is a good sign, especially in the current situation."

Under-fire Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is convinced he retains the full support of the club and his players amid a difficult run of results.

Madrid head to Sevilla on Saturday having failed to win any of their previous three LaLiga matches, suffering losses to Valencia and Deportivo Alaves either side of a draw with Villarreal.

Los Blancos have never endured a winless run of four league games under Zidane, and the champions are already seven points adrift of pacesetters Real Sociedad – though arguably the greater concern is second-place Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone's men are unbeaten this term and, although a point behind La Real, they have two games in hand on them and one on their city rivals.

Tuesday's 2-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk increased the pressure on Zidane as their Champions League progression hopes were left hanging in the balance, but the Frenchman continues to put on a brave face.

When asked if he felt he had the club's backing, he told reporters: "Yes, completely, I feel the support of the club. I can't be happy when we lose a game, but we know where we are.

"We are lucky to fight for this club and that's what I'm going to do until the last day, and the players too. We have to be together with what we know how to do."

Zidane was then asked if the players have given him their backing, which seemed to irk the former France international.

"In the end, you guys [the media] always try these things, asking whether the players are with me or not," he replied. "What the players want is to compete and they have always shown their care for me, but it is not the most important thing.

"I have been a player here, coach, I know the history I have with this club and sometimes it is true that things do not work out for us.

"[Criticism] doesn't bother me. It's my position, it's what it is, when you don't win it's like that, it's normal for there to be criticism, but it won't change what I think. We will continue."

Traditionally, Madrid do well against Sevilla – Los Blancos have beaten them 19 times in their previous 30 LaLiga meetings, while Zidane has not claimed more wins against any other opponent across all competitions than he has over the Andalusians (seven).

Nevertheless, Europa League holders Sevilla – coached by former Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui – are likely to be fresh having rested many first-team regulars during the 4-0 Champions League defeat to Chelsea.

They are also unbeaten in 15 league games at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, keeping seven clean sheets in their past 10 home games, and will move above Madrid with a win.

But Lopetegui remains wary of Madrid, suggesting their difficult form might make them even more threatening this weekend.

"Real Madrid are always dangerous, and even more so in these situations," he said. "They're a team that have answers for many situations and now that feeds into them to give a good performance. I'm expecting a strong Real Madrid, who will demand the best version of us."

Thomas Tuchel is pleased with Kylian Mbappe's recent form but says he will consider leaving the forward out of Paris Saint-Germain's squad for Saturday's trip to Montpellier.

The France international wasted a good chance in Wednesday's 3-1 win over Manchester United as his scoreless streak in the Champions League stretched to a ninth game. 

He is also without a goal in his past three appearances for PSG, failing to score from any of his nine shots in those games and finding the target only twice.

PSG face a huge clash with Istanbul Basaksehir next Tuesday, knowing that they are guaranteed a place in the last 16 should they avoid defeat.

And with that contest in mind, Tuchel will consider leaving out Mbappe for this weekend's Ligue 1 meeting against Montpellier.

"We will have to decide on that today," Tuchel said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "In my head there are several different possibilities.

"We have to make decisions for Tuesday as well. We may have some changes to make. But for Kylian personally, I am calm.

"For me he had a good game [against United], a better game than in matches he has scored in. He put in a lot of effort both in an attacking and defensive sense.

"He had a bit of bad luck with his chance, but it will come for him. He should stay calm because I am also very calm."

Neymar scored twice at Old Trafford in a result that may effectively keep under-fire Tuchel in a job, the French giants now firm favourites to advance through to the knockouts.

Comments made by Neymar after the game proved a bigger talking point than Tuchel's future as he talked of his desire to be reunited with Lionel Messi next year.

That has only intensified speculation that Neymar's ex-Barcelona team-mate Messi could be on his way to the French capital, but Tuchel was unwilling to discuss the rumours.

He said: "That is not something I can talk about. I haven't discussed it with Neymar yet, either. I have a lot of respect for Barcelona and for Messi so I will not comment."

PSG make the trip to Montpellier on a two-game winless streak in the league, following up a 3-2 away defeat to Monaco with a 2-2 draw at home to Bordeaux last weekend.

The reigning champions have not lost two successive away games in the top flight since December 2016, with one of those defeats coming at Stade de la Mosson.

Indeed, Montpellier have won two of their last four home Ligue 1 games against PSG, but Tuchel suggested the visit of Basaksehir next week takes priority for his side.

"We will look to respond but we have to accept that we also have a very important game on Tuesday," he said. "I need to find a solution to my team selection.

"It's always tough for us against Montpellier. That is something we need to change, while accepting we have another game on Tuesday.

"We have to accept that for this match there will be decisions made with Basaksehir in mind."

PSG, who announced on Friday that teenage defender Timothee Pembele has signed a new deal until 2024, will definitely be without Pablo Sarabia, Mauro Icardi and Juan Bernat this weekend, while Julian Draxler will be assessed.

Ronald Koeman has told Barcelona senior figures to stop making public declarations about the touchy subject of Lionel Messi's future.

The head coach spoke out after interim president Carlos Tusquets said this week the club should have sold Messi during the close season.

Candidates for the Barcelona presidency have also spoken at length about the 33-year-old Argentinian, but Koeman believes it is unhelpful for such figures to fuel speculation.

At the same time, Koeman said in his news conference on Friday that Barcelona supporters would always want to have the best players at the club, in response to Neymar's suggestion he wished to be reunited with Messi.

But when it comes to talking to the media about Messi, who is into the final year of his contract with his future plans unclear, Koeman says the time has come for the commentary coming out of Barcelona to stop.

"We know the situation with Leo," Koeman said. "If there is someone who can say, it is Leo himself, the comments from outside do not interest me.

"If we make them within the club they do not help us to have peace of mind to do our work. We cannot control the comments from the outside, from the inside it is different."

Barcelona play Cadiz in LaLiga on Saturday and are already well off the pace this season, with any distractions to team harmony considered highly unhelpful.

Asked about Tusquets' remarks, Koeman said: "I respect opinions, but Messi must decide his future and I don't like comments in that sense."

The message from Koeman was clear: that he will stay out of the business of the presidential candidates and they should avoid being disruptive to his job of running the team.

"I have already said several times that I am not worried because I do not know what will happen in the elections," he said. "When it is known, we will talk. Until then, the best thing I can do is focus on the games."

When asked about the possibility of Messi and Neymar playing on the same side again, Koeman expressed cautious enthusiasm.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward, who spent four years at Barcelona before Paris Saint-Germain bought him out of his contract in 2017 for €222million, said this week that he wished to play on the same team as Messi next year.

"I don't like to talk about individual cases, but as a cule [a Barcelona fanatic] you want to see the best in your team," Koeman said.

Neymar took a route-one approach to attracting the interest of Lionel Messi, but discretion may be order of the day for Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Moments after coming off the pitch after PSG's 3-1 Champions League win at Manchester United, Neymar said he hoped to be reunited in 2021 with former Barcelona team-mate Messi.

That sparked inevitable debate about how it might happen, should Neymar be serious about that wish.

PSG would appear better placed to sign Messi than Barcelona are equipped to re-sign Neymar, given the Camp Nou great could be available on a free transfer at the end of this season.

To land the Argentine forward - LaLiga's all-time record scorer - would be a remarkable coup for PSG and president Al-Khelaifi.

Speaking to French talk show Touche Pas a Mon Poste, Al-Khelaifi was asked about the possibility of Messi coming to Paris.

"Messi is a Barcelona player. I can't talk about that," replied Al-Khelaifi.

Al-Khelaifi then joked that he was currently in Barcelona but later quashed speculation by stressing he was actually in London.

Neymar was not nearly as diplomatic on Wednesday when he told ESPN: "What I want most is to play with Messi again.

"I want to play with him. I'll let him play in my position if he wants! Next year, we have to play together, for sure."

Neymar's two goals in PSG's win over United took him to 38 in the Champions League in his career. Since his debut in 2013, only Cristiano Ronaldo (79), Robert Lewandowski (60) and Messi (59) have scored more.

He, Messi and Luis Suarez forged a three-pronged attack at Barcelona that was dubbed the MSN forward line, until Neymar left suddenly in 2017 when PSG agreed to meet the €222million buyout clause in his contract.

Suarez departed in September to join Atletico Madrid, leaving Messi as the lone survivor of the three, but even he has signalled a desire to leave.

Barcelona refused to let Messi go on a free transfer at the end of last season, resisting the player's desire to move on, when it appeared Manchester City was his likely destination.

Barca's interim president Carlos Tusquets this week said the club should have sold Messi in the last transfer window due to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Patrick Vieira has been sacked by Ligue 1 side Nice following a five-match losing run.

The 44-year-old had been in charge at the Allianz Riviera since June 2018, his second head coach job following two seasons in MLS with New York City FC.

He was due to be out of contract at the end of the campaign but Nice have taken the decision to terminate the former Arsenal star’s deal early.

The decision was made following Thursday's 3-2 loss to Bayer Leverkusen, which was overshadowed by protests before kick-off with supporters demanding Vieira step aside.

That defeat ensures Nice can no longer advance to the Europa League knockouts and they are 11th in Ligue 1 after going more than a month without picking up a point.

Nice confirmed the news on their official website on Friday and announced Adrian Ursea will step up from his previous role as assistant boss to take temporary charge of the first team.

"In a meeting conducted after last night's match, the Nice board informed Patrick Vieira of their decision to end their collaboration," Nice said in a statement.

"The Rouge et Noir has decided to appoint Adrian Ursea as head coach of the club's professional first team, as of today."

Vieira guided Nice to seventh place in his first season at the helm and improved on that by finishing fifth in last term's curtailed campaign on a points-per-game basis. 

"Patrick put all his heart and professionalism into his service for OGC Nice over the last two and a half years of their collaboration," the statement added.

"The Nice board sincerely thanks the former France international for his commitment and dedication to the development of the club and wishes him every future success in his coaching career."

First up for Ursea, who has also worked alongside Lucien Favre in the Nice dugout, is a league trip to Reims on Sunday.

If Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich are to overcome second-place RB Leipzig at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, they will need to get the better of a player that could well be lining up for them next season.

Dayot Upamecano has become one of Europe's most sought-after defenders following a string of dominant displays in the German top flight and the Champions League.

With Bayern's centre-back pairing of David Alaba and Jerome Boateng expected to leave at the end of the season, Hansi Flick has been heavily tipped to pay the reported €42m release clause in Upamecano's contract to bring him to Bavaria.

Ahead of what many are billing as the 22-year-old's audition over the weekend, we use Opta data to see if Upamecano would be an upgrade on Bayern's experienced central defenders.

The story so far

Despite supposed interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal at the time, Upamecano opted for Salzburg in 2015 and soon got a taste for first-team football at feeder club Liefering.

Given the links between the clubs, it came as little surprise when the centre-back chose Leipzig in January 2017, quickly adapting to a new country and league with 12 Bundesliga appearances over the rest of the campaign.

Upamecano's displays the next year saw him nominated for the 2018 Golden Boy award, won by then-Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt, but his game has since gone up another level under the stewardship of Julian Nagelsmann.

He has been a mainstay at the back, making 38 appearances in all competitions in the 2019-20 campaign.

Solid as a rock

Upamecano helped Leipzig finish third in the Bundesliga and reach the Champions League semi-finals last season.

He has started the 2020-21 campaign with a spring in his step and boasts particularly impressive defensive numbers when compared to Alaba and Boateng.

In his eight Bundesliga games, Upamecano has won 90 per cent of his tackles, with only Bayer Leverkusen's Edmond Tapsoba enjoying a better success rate (92 per cent) among those with at least 10 attempts. Alaba and Boateng are way behind in that department, with 50 and 57 per cent success rates respectively.

Upamecano contests significantly more duels than his Bayern counterparts, averaging 7.7 per 90 minutes to Alaba's 4.9 and Boateng's 5.7.

He has also won 65 per cent of his aerial battles this term, more than Alaba's 50 per cent and Boateng's 61 per cent, and has only been dribbled past by an opponent once all season.

With such impressive figures, it is hardly surprising that Upamecano has conceded just 0.7 goals per game this season, while Alaba and Boateng have let in 1.8 and 1.5 respectively per 90 minutes.

Contributing at the other end

It is not just in defence where Upamecano excels.

He boasts wonderful passing skills and consistently starts attacks for his side. This season he has initiated eight sequences that ended in a shot and been involved in 32 overall – both figures outstrip the Bayern pair.

Alaba and Boateng both average 75 passes per 90 minutes, while the forward-thinking Upamecano gets through 89 in the same period.

He is also more accurate when sending the ball long, successfully completing 75 per cent of such passes compared to Alaba's 54 per cent and Boateng's 58 per cent.

Robert Lewandowski will be licking his lips at the prospect of getting on the end of some of those passes should Bayern seal a deal for one of Europe's most impressive young defenders.

Neymar has sparked speculation over Lionel Messi's future.

Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar enjoyed a successful period alongside Messi at Barcelona before leaving in a world-record deal in 2017.

Now, Neymar wants to team up with Messi again.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, MESSI IN?

Paris Saint-Germain will have to sell Kylian Mbappe if they sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Diario AS.

Messi has been linked with a move to Ligue 1 champions PSG after former Barca forward Neymar expressed his desire to reunite with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

If Manchester City target Messi arrives in the French capital, it could send Mbappe closer to LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has not ruled leaving the Spanish giants, reports El Transistor. Ramos is out of contract at the end of the season and he has been linked with PSG, Juventus, Milan and Manchester United.

Mauricio Pochettino has been contacted by Madrid to replace under-fire head coach Zinedine Zidane, claims Sport. Pochettino, who has been out of work since he was sacked as Tottenham boss last year, has also been linked to United.

- Diario AS says Atletico Madrid are lining up a January bid for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik. The Poland international has been frozen out since making it clear he will not re-sign with the Serie A side. Tottenham, Everton and Roma have also emerged as possible destinations.

Romelu Lukaku is on Pep Guardiola's shortlist of forwards at City but Inter insist the Belgian star is non-transferable, according to Calciomercato.

- The Telegraph reports Chelsea's plan to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice rests on the success of off-season recruit Ben Chilwell.

Gennaro Gattuso has agreed a new contract with Serie A side Napoli, according to director Cristiano Giuntoli.

Gattuso, 42, is currently contracted to Napoli until the end of the season after replacing Carlo Ancelotti in December last year.

Since taking charge, former Milan boss Gattuso has guided Napoli to Coppa Italia glory in 2019-20 – the club's first piece of silverware since 2014.

Giuntoli was asked about Gattuso's future prior to Thursday's 1-1 Europa League draw at AZ.

"I know the lawyers are exchanging the contracts," Giuntoli told Sky Sport Italia.

"We have reached an agreement and the paperwork was written up this week. I don't think there will be any problems.

"Gattuso is a little more agitated on a daily basis than Carlo Ancelotti was, but that's just their personalities. They are both great professionals."

Napoli are fifth in Serie A this season, six points adrift of unbeaten leaders Milan after nine games.

Gattuso's Napoli make the trip to bottom side Crotone on Sunday.

 

Minnesota United will contest their first MLS Western Conference final after making light work of Sporting Kansas City 3-0.

A three-goal first half, inspired by Kevin Molino's brace, saw Minnesota past Sporting KC on Thursday and through to a showdown with defending champions Seattle Sounders.

Minnesota, who entered the league in 2017, have won their last three matches by 3-0 scorelines, equalling the longest streak of wins by three-plus goals in MLS history – regular season or play-offs.

Molino opened the scoring in the 27th minute after combining with Emanuel Reynoso before beating Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia.

It was the Molino and Reynoso combination again eight minutes later – the former volleying home to double Minnesota's advantage at Children's Mercy Park.

Bakaye Dibassy made it 3-0 six minutes before half-time when he headed home an in-swinging corner from Reynoso.

Reynoso – the only player in the history of the MLS play-offs with multiple three-assist games – became the first player to record three assists in consecutive matches since Jaime Moreno in September 2004, per Opta.

Minnesota and Seattle will clash in the Conference final on Sunday.

Lionel Messi wants more than money at Barcelona, with presidential candidate Joan Laporta insisting the disgruntled superstar craves a competitive team for success.

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

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse Manchester City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

Barca's interim president Carlos Tusquets said the club should have sold Messi in the last transfer window due to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Laporta, who is in the running for the presidential election which takes place on January 24 following Josep Maria Bartomeu's resignation in October, talked up Messi.

"Leo wants Barcelona," former president Laporta – at the helm of Barca from 2003 to 2010 as Messi's career took off – told Radio Marca and COPE.

"What I want is to give him back his happiness. It's not just a question of money, you have to create a competitive team.

"Leo has been cheated and that is a big loss. He's a winner and can't stand to see other teams lift the Champions League.

"The last time I spoke to him was in October. I am very grateful to him for all he has done for Barcelona. I have known him since he was 16 years old and he is an extraordinary person.

"There is mutual appreciation and respect. We must be inside [the club] to make an imaginative and credible proposal to him."

Messi has scored four goals in nine LaLiga appearances this season, while he has netted seven across all competitions.

"Leo wants to have a squad that brings back the joy," Laporte added.

"A team like Barcelona needs team spirit in a dressing room. I've been president of Barcelona and I don't want to destabilise a team in a delicate situation."

After being dethroned by bitter rivals Real Madrid last season and humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, Ronald Koeman's Barca are seventh in LaLiga and 10 points adrift of leaders Real Sociedad.

Barca travel to Cadiz on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane is a "magnificent coach" who has earned the right to stay on and turn things around at Real Madrid, according to club icon Iker Casillas.

The Frenchman's future at the Santiago Bernabeu has been called into question on the back of one win in five matches in all competitions.

Madrid have won half of their 10 LaLiga matches and are down in fourth, while their hopes of progressing to the last 16 of the Champions League hang in the balance.

A horror 2-0 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk left Zidane's men third in Group B and needing to beat Borussia Monchengladbach on matchday six next week to guarantee progression.

Zidane guided Madrid to three successive Champions League titles in his first stint in charge and won a second LaLiga title last term.

Amid growing rumours the 48-year-old is close to being sacked by president Florentino Perez, Casillas believes his former team-mate has done enough to warrant more trust.

"Zizou is a magnificent coach, a good friend and will do everything possible to have Madrid as high up as possible," he told AS.

"You cannot live in the past, but he has earned the right for trust."

Sergio Ramos is another who faces an uncertain period in the Spanish capital, with the long-serving defender's contract due to expire at the end of the season.

Paris Saint-Germain are reported to have offered Ramos a big-money contract, but Casillas is hopeful Madrid's captain will stay put.

"Sergio is an emblem of Real Madrid and it is best if he is in Madrid," he said.

Goalkeeping great Casillas announced his retirement in August, having not played a game since suffering a heart attack in training with Porto on May 1 last year.

He has previously talked up the prospect of returning to Madrid, the club he made 725 appearances for after emerging through their youth ranks, in an advisory role.

Speaking upon picking up an award for his sporting achievements, Casillas reiterated he considers Madrid to be his "home".

"This is an award for my whole career, for many years," he said. "Along that path I have to thank many people that I had with me, not forgetting my coaches, all my team-mates, the sacrifice of my parents and the clubs I have had.

"Real Madrid, which is my home and the club that gave me another opportunity to discover another way of life, and also Porto and the national team."

Roberto Mancini sees similarities between his Italy side and Spain after they were drawn to face each other in the Nations League semi-finals.

Italy were confirmed as hosts for the finals of the tournament in October 2021, Milan and Turin selected as the venues to stage fixtures.

The Azzurri qualified from Group A1 ahead of the Netherlands and are on a 22-game unbeaten run, though they will have to get past Spain if they are to play in the final at San Siro.

Luis Enrique's side progressed from Group A4 at the expense of Germany, who they sensationally thrashed 6-0 last month in the final round of qualifying games.

Belgium will face France in the other half of the draw, but Mancini believes, like his own squad, Spain are starting to see the benefits following a period of change.

"I think Spain are in a similar position to ours," the former Inter coach said after the draw. "They changed many players but they still have some strong and experienced players like Sergio Ramos.

"They have built a strong team, playing slightly more vertical than previously but still with a midfield so technical. Their style of play, it's not completely different.

"Maybe they added some fast wings that make their play more unpredictable. It will be a very interesting game."

Ramos remains one of the old guard still around for Spain and Mancini sees no signs of the centre-back losing a step, despite now being 34.

While his club future remains unclear – Ramos' contract with Real Madrid runs out at the end of this season – Italy's boss insists the defender still remains one of best in the world at his position.

"I'm not Real Madrid president but I think Sergio Ramos is one of the best defenders in the world for many years," Mancini said.

"He is a great player, he has unique technical skills and he is a very charismatic player. For sure he is the most important player for Real Madrid, but also for Spain.

"He is able to transmit that determination that is very important for a captain."

Both Italy and Spain will compete in Euro 2020 – delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic – prior to the conclusion of the Nations League, though Luis Enrique is a fan of the tournament.

"It is far on the calendar but it is like that because there are no other dates," the Spain boss told the media.

"That it is far away does not mean that we do not have much desire and great enthusiasm to lift this title, which would be wonderful. I consider the Nations League to be a great success and I am delighted to be able to participate in it."

Luis Suarez will resume training with his Atletico Madrid team-mates on Friday after the club announced he has returned a negative coronavirus test.

The Uruguay international has missed Atletico's last four matches after he contracted COVID-19 while away on international duty last month.

In his absence Atletico have won two LaLiga matches 1-0 – including against his former club Barcelona – and drawn Champions League games 0-0 and 1-1 against Lokomotiv Moscow and Bayern Munich respectively.

Suarez's match fitness will be assessed by head coach Diego Simeone to determine whether the 33-year-old can feature in Atletico's league fixture at home to Real Valladolid on Saturday.

"Luis Suarez will join the group training sessions of the first team tomorrow after having tested negative in the official LaLiga PCR test," read a statement from Atletico on Thursday.

"The Uruguayan, after overcoming COVID-19 and complying with all health protocols, is reintegrated into the group and will be under Diego Simeone's control again."

Suarez had been in fine form for Atletico this season with five goals in his first six LaLiga appearances since he joined from Barca for a nominal fee in September.

The striker's 1.2 goals per 90 minutes is the highest of any player in the division to have played at least three matches, with Valencia's Manu Vallejo (1.02) next best.

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