Barcelona will return to their revered footballing blueprint under Xavi and the Blaugrana faithful should be excited over a "team to dream about", according to Ronald Araujo.

The Uruguayan was speaking at Camp Nou on Friday after committing his future to the club until the end of the 2025-26 campaign, with the 23-year-old set to play a big part in Barca's future.

Araujo has emerged as a key player this season, particularly since the arrival of Xavi following the dismissal of Ronald Koeman in October.

Xavi has overseen an upturn in fortunes with Barca climbing from ninth at the time of Koeman's sacking up to second in LaLiga, despite falling to three consecutive home defeats across all competitions in April.

Defender Araujo was quick to back Blaugrana boss Xavi as he suggested the Spaniard will restore Barca's principles to help them compete with LaLiga champions-elect Real Madrid, who need just a point to reclaim the title.

"I always work hard," he said. "I watch videos and talk a lot with Xavi about learning the Barca style. I believe in the project and we will get back up and start winning trophies again.

"I want Barca fans to feel excited about the team, because we are going back to the Barca DNA and we have a solid base of young and veteran players. We have a team to dream about."

 

Araujo's 39 appearances this term can only be bettered by Jordi Alba (40), Gavi (42), Frenkie de Jong (43) and Sergio Busquets (47) among Barca's outfield players.

The Uruguay international has made 78 appearances in total since joining from Uruguayan side Boston River in August 2018, contributing to 13 clean sheets across those games.

Araujo is keen to continue his progression with the Catalan giants as he looks to learn alongside the evergreen Gerard Pique and experienced Alba.

"I feel such immense joy," he said of his new contract.

"I have matured a lot. I couldn't pick any single moment from my time here, all I wanted was to renew my contract and be able to stay at Barca for a long, long time."

Barca president Joan Laporta also heaped praise on Araujo as he spoke alongside him on Friday.

"We want to thank Araujo for his character and commitment," Laporta said. "He has opened his heart.

"He is a footballer of the immediate present, but this also helps us to consolidate our short- and long-term plans. He is a very talented player who will help us to build a winning Barca."

Toni Kroos future at the Santiago Bernabeu has suddenly become precarious, with the relationship between the player and Real Madrid disintegrating.

The 32-year-old's dramatic drop in form has called into question whether he will see out his contract, which expires at the end of next season in 2023.

With that in mind, there are reports Real Madrid will look to both replace him and bolster their midfield in the same transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID EYE POGBA AND TCHOUAMENI FOR KROOS

Real Madrid are seeking to replace Toni Kroos and strengthen their midfield, with the intent to sign both Paul Pogba and Aurelien Tchouameni, El Nacional is reporting.

The highly rated Tchouameni has long been a transfer target for Madrid, while the expiration of Pogba's contract at the end of this season makes them both attainable.

Kroos' position in Real Madrid's starting midfield has become vulnerable with the form of Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde, while this transpires amid the backdrop of Luka Modric's contract extension. 

It was reported that Kroos sought to extend for another season and retire in 2024, but that possibility now seems unlikely.

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich are eyeing Luka Jovic as a potential replacement in the event of Robert Lewandowski's departure for Barcelona, Sport is reporting.

- Incoming Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag wants to sign outgoing Juventus attacker Paulo Dybala, according to the Corriere dello Sport.

- The Red Devils have also indicated to Napoli they are willing to pay £84million (€99.8m) for striker Victor Osimhen, La Repubblica reports.

- Arsenal have expressed interest in signing Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, per Football Insider.

Jurgen Klopp is staying on at Liverpool for an extra two years after signing a new contract that keeps him at Anfield until June 2026.

Rumours had started to circulate suggesting the German and his coaching staff agreed fresh terms, and the club made it official on Thursday.

The announcement came as Liverpool chase an unprecedented quadruple. Having already won the EFL Cup this season, they are into the FA Cup final, sit just one point behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League and hold a 2-0 lead over Villarreal ahead of the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Injury-ravaged Liverpool finished 2020-21 third in the Premier League, 17 points behind Pep Guardiola's City, but Klopp has proven that to be a minor blip with the Reds back in devastating form this term.

Following confirmation of his new contract, Stats Perform looks back at some of the best and most notable victories from Klopp's five and a half years at the helm…

Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund, April 2016

Klopp surely felt he had a point to prove when going up against his former club in the Europa League quarter-finals, though it all looked to be going horribly wrong. After drawing 1-1 in the first leg, the Reds then trailed by two goals twice at Anfield and found themselves needing at least three goals in the final 25 minutes – somehow, they managed it. Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren all struck, with Liverpool incredibly netting with all four of their shots on target in the game.

Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City, January 2018

Although Liverpool still trailed leaders City by 15 points in the Premier League after this victory, in hindsight, there is a degree of this win being a watershed moment for Klopp's Liverpool. City were unbeaten in the league at this point, yet for much of the game Liverpool looked every inch their equal. While two late goals from City ensured a tense finish, the Reds were well worth the three points in what went down as a modern classic.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona, May 2019

The Reds seemed to have little hope here. Lionel Messi inspired a 3-0 dismantling of Liverpool in Camp Nou in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final clash, seemingly putting one foot in the final. But Klopp's side were in sensational form for the return at Anfield, with Divock Origi providing some early hope with a seventh-minute opener. Georginio Wijnaldum then laid on a second-half brace to restore parity, before Origi completed the turnaround 11 minutes from time. It was the first time since 1986 that a team wiped out a three-goal first-leg deficit to win a Champions League/European Cup semi-final.

Tottenham 0-2 Liverpool, June 2019

It may not have been a classic as a spectacle, but Liverpool fans – and Klopp – won't have cared. After falling at the final hurdle the year before, the Reds were European champions for a sixth time in 2019 as they beat Tottenham 2-0 in Madrid, with Mohamed Salah and Origi getting the goals.

Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United, January 2020

The 2019-20 title triumph was Liverpool's first league championship in 30 years – in that time, their bitter rivals United had won it 13 times to become the most successful club in the English top flight. While Klopp's side were already well clear at the Premier League summit when the ailing United came to Anfield in January 2020, there was a sense that their procession began with this 2-0 victory that left them 16 points clear at the top with a game in hand.

Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool, October 2021

Liverpool heaped the misery on United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer again in October. Paul Pogba's sending off certainly helped the visitors, but even before then the gulf was clear. This was the Red Devils' biggest losing margin to their fierce rivals since 1895 (Liverpool won 7-1 at Anfield), and worst ever at home. Mohamed Salah led the way with a hat-trick, in the process becoming the highest-scoring African player in Premier League history. The Reds went on to hammer United again six months later, winning 4-0 on Merseyside.

Ronald Koeman has called on former club Barcelona to show Xavi more support than he received in the Camp Nou dugout and defended his own record with the Blaugrana.

Koeman spent just over a year in the Camp Nou dugout before being sacked in October 2021, winning the Copa del Ray last season but overseeing a third-place finish in LaLiga and the departure of legendary attacker Lionel Messi.

Barca sat ninth in the top flight when the Dutchman departed, but are now favourites to secure Champions League qualification after Xavi oversaw an upturn in results. 

However, the Catalan giants recently lost three successive home games for just the second time in their illustrious history, and Koeman says club president Joan Laporta must show Xavi more support than he was granted during his own spell in charge.

"The situation of Barca, of the team and of the club, is the same as when I was [there]," he said at a golf event in Barcelona. "It means that changing the coach does not always mean being able to improve. The situation of the club hurts me.

"From January I will be the coach of the Netherlands, but I ask for maximum support for Xavi. He is a good coach, a legend at home and it is not his fault that Barca is in this situation.

"The only thing I ask is support for Xavi, I haven't had the full support of a president, I hope he [Laporta] has learned and does support Xavi. I didn't have support from the club and I hope Xavi does.

"Internally, you can say you have doubts, but on the outside there has to be support." 

Barca enjoyed an upturn in results after the January arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres but rivals Real Madrid are now 15 points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Los Blancos will secure their 35th title by earning a point at home to Espanyol on Saturday after winning eight of their last nine league games (one loss), and Koeman says that gap is evidence that his time in charge was not a complete failure, highlighting financial difficulties and presidential elections as having a severe impact throughout his tenure.

 

"When I left, Madrid was eight points ahead and now the difference is almost double," he added. "I don't feel like a failed coach, far from it. 

"In January we were twelve points behind Atletico Madrid, we had the opportunity to be first against Granada and we failed. We kept the Copa and if you win a title it's not a failure.

"I spent many months without a president, I had to make statements about the club's situation, there was financial fair play [issues]. Then Messi and [Antoine] Griezmann left on the last day of the market. 

"I was heavily criticised for signing Luuk Jong, who is very good when you need a finisher. Luckily his goals have given five or six points in the last few minutes. I think that one person or a coach cannot be blamed for the loss of [the club's] DNA."

Koeman will reclaim his former position as Netherlands head coach after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar when he takes over from Louis van Gaal and will be reunited with Blaugrana midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

De Jong has come in for some criticism for his recent displays and has been linked with a move to Manchester United, but Koeman believes the 24-year-old will prove any doubters wrong.

"I don't think Barca wants to sell Frenkie, Xavi doesn't want to either," he added. "You don't have to doubt Frenkie de Jong, I don't doubt him and he's a starter in the national team. We put a player on top of everything and two weeks later we criticise him."

Barcelona will play their home games at the city's Olympic Stadium during the 2023-24 campaign as redevelopment of Camp Nou gathers pace.

Modernisation work at Barcelona's home ground will start at the end of this season, it was confirmed on Thursday, with Barcelona's city council giving the green light.

Initial work will focus on the first and second tiers of the stadium, along with exterior urbanisation and matters such as technology improvements.

Demolition of the third tier will take place a year later, ensuring Barca can operate at almost full capacity for their fixtures next season.

Club president Joan Laporta had stated that uncertainties over cost and availability of materials due to the war in Ukraine must be taken into consideration when planning the project, so Barca have opted to minimise risks and protect next season's revenue by delaying work on the third tier.

With the majority of the redevelopment taking place during the 2023-24 campaign, the Blaugrana will play home matches in Montjuic rather than at Camp Nou, relocating to the stadium that was the centrepiece of the 1992 Olympic Games. The Olympic Stadium can house around 60,000 spectators.

Barca will be able to play at Camp Nou in the 2024-25 season, but capacity will be reduced by around 50 per cent. The building project is due to be completed during the 2025-26 campaign.

Barcelona said in a statement: "The club has the funding to invest in this work and is continuing its efforts to ensure the best general financing operation for the Espai Barca project for an amount that will never be any more than 1.5 billion euros, as approved by a large majority at last December's referendum, and further ratified by the delegate members at the assembly held on 17 and 23 October."

Ousmane Dembele's signing for Barcelona had become emblematic of Josep Maria Bartomeu's turbulent presidency.

An untenably ballooning wage bill saw the club face bankruptcy in the aftermath of Covid-19 restrictions and in a need to cut wages, the French attacker has become an expendable asset.

However, Dembele is reportedly determined to make keeping him at Barcelona more feasible, despite being set to leave at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – DEMBELE OPEN TO BARCELONA WAGE CUT

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Ousmane Dembele is prepared to reduce his salary in order to sign a new contract at Barcelona, Sport reports.

Dembele's agent Moussa Sissoko and the Barcelona board reportedly met and the assertion was made that the France international was willing to take a pay cut to continue playing under Xavi.

Return on investment has always lingered over the 24-year-old attacker following his €140million transfer from Borussia Dortmund in 2017. 

Dembele has provided one goal in all competitions this season for the Blaugrana, but leads the team in assists with 11 from 28 appearances.

 

ROUND-UP

- Roma are looking to the Premier League to bolster their squad for next season, with Granit Xhaka, Douglas Luiz and Nemanja Matic all being considered, Calciomercato reports.

- Barcelona are also keen to sign Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski but no opening bid has been made yet, per Fabrizio Romano.

- The Athletic is reporting Manchester United are considering a £50m move for Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

- Wayne Rooney has become to top candidate to replace the dismissed  Sean Dyche at Burnley on a permanent basis, according to the Sun.

Jordi Cruyff declared "dreaming is free" when asked about the prospect of Barcelona signing Robert Lewandowski and says now is not the time to talk about Frenkie de Jong's future.

Lewandowski has only 14 months remaining on his Bayern Munich contract and has been linked with a move to Camp Nou.

Erling Haaland is also reportedly a target for the Blaugrana, but Manchester City are the favourites to land the Borussia Dortmund striker.

Barca technical director Cruyff on Wednesday stated the Catalan giants are keeping their options open in the transfer market.

He said at the inauguration of the Cruyff Court Constanti: "I haven't ruled out anyone. I'm not very willing to talk about names. There will be others who respond.

"The only thing you do is annoy the clubs where they play, I'm more concerned about the [current] squad. They're all great players."

Quizzed specifically about prolific Poland captain Lewandowski, Cruyff replied: "He is a player who has a contract, we are the last to decide. Dreaming is free."

 

De Jong's Barca future has been the subject of speculation, with Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain thought to be keen on the midfielder.

Cruyff says the focus must be on securing Champions League qualification rather than potential transfer business.

He said: "They ask me about him because there is some criticism or doubt and I said that he is a highly valued player within the club and in the world of football and this is not the time to talk about this type of thing.

"We are in the middle of something that is above everyone, each one of us. We have to meet the minimum objectives and we are fighting for it."

Cruyff also revealed contract talks with Gavi and Ousmane Dembele are ongoing after Ronald Araujo signed a new deal this week.

"I think that these days or these weeks, it's time to work on them, we'll see if they end well or not," he said. "We're trying to achieve the same success as with Araujo."

Erik ten Hag appears as though he will have a huge say over his own Manchester United transfer targets.

The Dutchman has inked a three-year deal at Old Trafford, with the option for a further year.

Ten Hag will officially take over on July 1, with Ralf Rangnick remaining in interim charge.

A face familiar to the Premier League could now be headed to Old Trafford with Ten Hag from Ajax…


TOP STORY - TEN HAG TO BRING HALLER TO UNITED

Manchester United may make a move for Ajax striker Sebastien Haller in the off-season according to The Sun.

Haller currently plays under ten Hag, who will take over at United at the end of the campaign.

The Ivory Coast striker, who spent two years with West Ham United, has netted 33 goals in all competitions for Ajax this term.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona are optimistic that they can land Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski in the off-season, reports Sport. Lewandowski is contracted with Bayern until 2023.

- Liverpool have contacted 22-year-old Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni about a move to England, claims Foot Mercato.

- Nicolo Schira claims that Inter are not interested in signing Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic, contrary to reports. Pjanic is currently on loan at Besiktas from Barcelona.

- David de Gea and Manchester United are ready to enter into talks on a contract extension reports 90min.

- Fabrizio Romano claims that Luka Modric will ink a new deal with Real Madrid running until 2023.

Ronald Araujo has signed a new long-term deal with Barcelona, the Spanish giants have confirmed.

The 23-year-old has been a regular for Barca over the past two seasons and has now committed to the club until the end of the 2025-26 campaign.

Barca announced the new deal on their official website on Tuesday, with the centre-back's release clause set at €1billion.

Since making his debut for Barca in October 2019, Araujo – signed from Uruguayan side Boston River – has featured 78 times in all competitions.

 

He has helped keep 13 clean sheets over that period and also chipped in with six goals, most recently netting in the 4-0 thumping of LaLiga leaders Real Madrid last month.

Araujo's 39 appearances this term is bettered only by Jordi Alba (40), Gavi (42), Frenkie de Jong (43) and Sergio Busquets (47) among Barca's outfield players.

The Uruguay international also ranks in the top 10 for successful passes (1,242) among defenders in La Liga this term, a metric led by Madrid's David Alaba (1,749).

Xavi had been key to tie Araujo down, and previously revealed that an agreement was close to completion.

Riyad Mahrez could reportedly be sold by Manchester City in the upcoming transfer window, and some of the world's biggest clubs are said to be targeting the Algerian.

Mahrez, 31, has won the Premier League on three occasions, including once with Leicester City, and will make it four this season if Pep Guardiola's team can hold on.

After 38 Premier League goals for Mahrez over four campaigns with City, he could be facing a new challenge next season.


TOP STORY – MAHREZ MOVE TO MAKE WAY FOR HAALAND

Fichajes.net is reporting that Mahrez is one of the players City could part ways with to help fund the purchase of Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

The report names Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus as the three most likely landing spots.

Mahrez has scored 23 goals and dished out eight assists in 42 appearances across all club competitions this season.


ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are said to be closing in on a deal to sign Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer. The Guardian is reporting his contract will be worth at least £200,000 per week.

– The Telegraph is reporting Manchester City are interested in making a move for West Ham's Declan Rice.

– According to Marca, Real Madrid remain favourites to land Kylian Mbappe when he is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain in the next transfer window, but he will not make an official announcement until after the last game of his Ligue 1 season on May 21.

– Sky Sports News is reporting that Lionel Messi will remain at Paris Saint-Germain for at least one more season but that the French giants could consider letting Neymar move on.

– Barcelona would be willing to sell Frenkie de Jong for £58million, with Manchester United reportedly interested in bringing in the Dutch midfielder, according to El Chiringuito.

Sergino Dest could be out for the rest of the season after suffering a hamstring injury during Barcelona's defeat to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

The United States international was replaced by Clement Lenglet at half-time due to damage he sustained in the first half of a 1-0 loss at Camp Nou.

Dest underwent tests and Barca confirmed the full-back has injured his right hamstring, but did not put a timescale on his absence.

A club statement said: "Tests carried out on Sergino Dest have confirmed that the player has injured the semitendinosus muscle in his right hamstring.

"The player is unavailable for selection and his recovery will dictate his return."

Barca's third consecutive home defeat left runaway leaders Real Madrid needing only a point from five games to win the LaLiga title.

The second-placed Blaugrana travel to Copa del Rey winners Real Betis for their next match on Saturday.

A 10th Ligue 1 title for Paris Saint-Germain has evidently left a bitter-sweet taste.

Their devastating elimination at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League made for a fourth last-16 exit in the past six seasons, following final and semi-final defeats to Bayern Munich and Manchester City respectively.

Amid protests that culminated in fans walking out of the Parc des Princes as PSG claimed the domestic title at the weekend, the remedy reportedly appears to be a new coach.


TOP STORY – CONTE TO REPLACE POCHETTINO AT PSG

Paris Saint-Germain appear set to dismiss Mauricio Pochettino as their head coach and have lined up Antonio Conte as his replacement, Le Parisien is reporting.

Pochettino's exit is reportedly imminent and all that is left for the club is to come to a financial settlement, with another season left on the contracts of Pochettino and his staff.

PSG's preferred choice as Pochettino's replacement is apparently Zinedine Zidane, but he appears more intent to replace Didier Deschamps as France's national team coach if he leaves after the World Cup.

Tottenham boss Conte would be brought in on a two-year deal. 


ROUND-UP

Lucas Paqueta has told Lyon head coach Peter Bosz he will let the club know of his desire to stay or leave at season's end, according to the Chronicle.

- Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus is also yet to commit to his future beyond the end of this season, the Guardian reports.

Real Betis are keen to sign Real Madrid's Isco, who will be leaving at the end of the season, per Marca.

- Mundo Deportivo is reporting Barcelona are considering a bid for Ajax centre-back Lisandro Martinez.

Xavi has told Barcelona they have "five finals" to play as they attempt to banish their April blues and make sure of a Champions League place.

A third consecutive home defeat has left second-placed Barcelona 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid, who should wrap up the LaLiga title on Saturday, needing just to avoid defeat against Espanyol to make sure.

While Barcelona's great rivals get set to celebrate, there is significant work to do for coach Xavi after his Blaugrana team were beaten 1-0 at home by Rayo Vallecano, who completed a league double over the Catalan giants.

Andoni Iraola became the first manager to beat Barcelona home and away in his first season in LaLiga since Quique Hernandez did so at Hercules in the 1996-97 season.

Alvaro Garcia scored with the only shot on target that Vallecano managed all night, and with a little luck Barcelona would have enjoyed a better outcome, but they are all out of luck just now.

A Europa League loss to Eintracht Frankfurt and LaLiga defeats to Cadiz and now Vallecano have been unexpected setbacks for a team who were on an immense high five weeks ago when they spanked Real Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Assessing the Vallecano setback and its impact, Xavi said: "I don't think it's a lack of personality on the part of the team. There are emergencies at the club, both football-wise and financially. It's a difficult situation and we have to face it.

"Now it's time to rest, disconnect and in the middle of the week we will get back on and prepare for the Mallorca game. We have five finals remaining, we've complicated it for ourselves."

 

Barcelona should still achieve a top-four finish, given they remain six points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis, but Xavi wants more than to see his side stumble over the line.

Their objective is to finish the season strongly and build momentum for the next campaign, and performances such as Sunday's disrupt the significant progress that has been made since Xavi's appointment in November.

Speaking to Movistar LaLiga, Xavi said: "In the first half we were not good, but in the second we improved, and the feeling is that we deserved much more. We had shots from all sides, from outside [the penalty area], from inside. But it didn't want to go in.

"In the first half it wasn't us, we didn't have the personality that we had to have in the game. Everything has been complicated for us today. It was a slow game, with interruptions."

He said Barcelona needed to show greater desire, and pointed to how Sunday's visitors capitalised on their big moment in front of goal.

The three shots that Rayo Vallecano attempted ranked as their lowest total in a LaLiga game this season.

"Rayo had one and a half chances," Xavi said. "We return to the issue of effectiveness.

"We are in a difficult situation. We are still in the Champions League places but we have complicated it for ourselves because if we had beaten Cadiz and Rayo it would have almost given us qualification for the Champions League."

Sergio Busquets admitted Barcelona are stuck in "a negative dynamic" after a 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano that means they have lost three consecutive home games for the first time this century.

Alvaro Garcia's fine strike in the seventh minute condemned Barcelona to a Camp Nou loss, with Vallecano doing the double over the Catalan giants in LaLiga this season.

Barcelona had only suffered three straight losses at home once in their rich history, when Louis van Gaal's team experienced that disappointment in games spanning the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Now they must pick themselves up from the bitter blow and go again next Sunday, when Real Mallorca will be their visitors.

Busquets said in a post-match LaLiga interview: "We're finding it really hard to win games at home at the moment. We've been conceding goals very early and that makes it even tougher for us, then you suffer a little bit more.

"Then the teams close up and defend the result. When you're not effective in both areas, it's a bit of a struggle as well."

 

Barcelona did not concede until early in the second half when losing 1-0 to Cadiz at home, but in their Europa League loss to Eintracht Frankfurt they were 2-0 down by the break, and it took two goals in second-half stoppage time to cut their deficit to 3-2 in that game.

Barcelona's latest defeat means they remain second in the Spanish top flight, albeit level on points with third-placed Sevilla, and Real Madrid's lead at the top is 15 points with five rounds of games remaining.

Madrid can clinch the title by avoiding defeat to Espanyol next weekend.

Captain Busquets said Barcelona attempted to add pace to their game in the second half, but they were largely flat and increasingly desperate as Vallecano manfully defended their lead.

Barcelona led the shot count 18-3, but only five of their shots hit the target. Their 71.3 per cent of possession counted for little come the final whistle as Vallecano became just the fourth promoted team to win both of their games against Barcelona in a LaLiga campaign, and the first since UD Salamanca in 1997-98.

"They were very well set up, we weren't effective," Busquets said. "When you don't score and the minutes go by, everything gets a lot tougher.

"We're in this negative dynamic at Camp Nou. We haven't been able to take advantage of the games we've had, and we've ended up level with Sevilla.

"Maybe in the second half we needed to put more attacking players on and go for the game. We had crosses in, we had chances, but it wasn't to be."

Barcelona suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat to Rayo Vallecano that means Real Madrid can step up plans for a title party.

This was a third consecutive home loss for the Catalans, only the second time that Barcelona have suffered such a fate in their history, with Alvaro Garcia's early strike the difference between the teams.

It means Real Madrid's lead at the top is 15 points with five games remaining, putting Los Blancos on the brink of being crowned champions.

That will be confirmed if Carlo Ancelotti's team avoid defeat to Espanyol next Saturday, while Xavi's Barcelona have slackened their grip on second place with this setback.

Vallecano, sitting 14th in LaLiga before their arrival at Camp Nou, snatched a seventh-minute lead when Garcia made a smart run into space to meet a chipped pass from Isi Palazon and fired sharply into the bottom right corner.

Jordi Alba curled a shot that flicked wide off the post as Barcelona chased an equaliser, then Gavi wanted a penalty when he slumped to the turf under a nothing challenge from Santiago Comesana. Referee Isidro Diaz de Mera Escuderos was unimpressed and booked coach Xavi for taking his complaints too far.

A clever floated shot from Gavi hit the crossbar shortly before half-time, and although Ferran Torres lobbed the ball into the net from the rebound, he had been in an offside position.

Jordi Alba had a shot deflect over as Barcelona pushed early in the second half, but the home side were horribly flat, with Ferran Torres and Frenkie de Jong replaced by Memphis Depay and Nico Gonzalez as Xavi looked to inject some energy.

Depay had a close-range shot blocked by Nikola Maras, and the Dutch striker saw a stinging 20-yard strike punched over the bar by Stole Dimitrievski, but the equaliser would not come.

 

What does it mean? Barca on the slide

Barcelona had won their last seven home games against Rayo Vallecano in LaLiga, and were seeking eight in a row against them for the first time in the competition, but this was poor from them.

This is a bad time of the season to get stuck in a rut, and Camp Nou defeats to Cadiz in LaLiga and Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League have been followed by another aberration. Barcelona led the shot count 17-3 here, but despite playing 14 minutes of second-half stoppage time, they could not put produce a clinical finish.


New boys slay Camp Nou

Vallecano, who came up through the Segunda Division play-offs last term, have become the fourth promoted team to win both of their games against Barcelona in a LaLiga campaign, and the first since UD Salamanca in 1997-98. They have also improved their record when leading at half-time in LaLiga this season to W8, D1, L0.

 

Famous night for Iraola

After his team's 1-0 win at home in October, Andoni Iraola has become the first head coach to beat Barcelona home and away in his first season in LaLiga since Quique Hernandez for Hercules in the 1996-97 campaign.

The home win in the autumn was a result that was followed by Barcelona sacking Ronald Koeman, leading to Xavi's appointment.

 

What's next?

Barcelona will have home advantage against next Sunday when Real Mallorca visit Camp Nou. Vallecano are also back on duty next Sunday, hosting Real Sociedad.

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