Frenkie de Jong played a prominent role as Barcelona beat LaLiga strugglers Elche 2-0 to stay in touch with the leading pack.

Lionel Messi completed his two-match suspension for a red card during the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao and Barca struggled to create clear chances in his absence against well-organised opponents.

But an error from Diego Gonzalez allowed De Jong to take advantage in the 39th-minute – the Netherlands international unlikely to score an easier one than his fifth LaLiga goal.

A minute from time, De Jong then turned provider as he crossed for Riqui Puig to head home, ensuring Barca are three points behind Real Madrid, although they will be 10 points shy of Atletico Madrid again if the leaders are able to beat Valencia later on Sunday.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Real Madrid director of institutional relations Emilio Butragueno backed Zinedine Zidane, saying he wanted the coach to return as soon as possible.

Zidane is under pressure at the helm of Madrid after a humiliating Copa del Rey loss to Alcoyano on Wednesday.

The Frenchman did not oversee Saturday's 4-1 LaLiga win over Deportivo Alaves after testing positive for coronavirus.

While Zidane has come under fire, Butragueno defended the 48-year-old, who has led Madrid to two LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies across two spells in charge.

"Everyone knows what Zidane means to us. What we want is for him to return to us as soon as possible," he told Movistar+.

"We know what football is like. We have been around for many years.

"When the team doesn't win we have to listen to comments and rumours of all kinds. You have to be united and work."

Luka Modric has also faced an uncertain future at Madrid, with the Croatian midfielder's contract expiring at the end of the season.

But Butragueno hinted Modric was set to stay at Madrid as reports suggest the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner had agreed to a one-year deal.

"There are players like Modric who make this sport better. His pass to [Ferland] Mendy in the first half was a fine thing. It's a luxury for us to have him," he said.

"He's given us so much. He's still giving us so much and he'll continue to do so."

Real Madrid assistant coach David Bettoni urged patience with Eden Hazard after the playmaker showed signs of his best in a win over Deportivo Alaves.

Hazard has struggled to find his best form since arriving at Madrid from Chelsea in 2019, but he scored once and set up another in Saturday's 4-1 LaLiga victory.

The 30-year-old scored and assisted in a single game for Madrid for just the second time and first since October 2019 before coming off just after the hour-mark.

Bettoni, who took charge for the game after Zinedine Zidane tested positive for coronavirus, said Hazard needed time.

"I think Eden has had a tough season and a half with Real Madrid," he told a news conference.

"We have to be patient with him, although obviously in football and especially at Real Madrid, we don't really have time to be that patient but with Eden I think we have to be.

"He had a very good game, scoring a goal and getting an assist and I think we'll see the best of him eventually. We saw a little bit of that today."

Casemiro and Karim Benzema scored before Hazard's strike, only for Joselu to pull a goal back for Alaves.

But Benzema sealed Madrid's win after Hazard came off, the Frenchman reaching at least 15 goals in all competitions for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons with the LaLiga giants.

Bettoni explained his decision to introduce Vinicius Junior in place of Hazard was a tactical choice.

"It was a change because we wanted to bring on Vinicius to give us a bit more pace," he said.

"I think Hazard had a very good hour on the pitch and it was basically just to change things, to add a bit more pace to the front three and nothing more than that."

Madrid are second in LaLiga, four points behind Atletico Madrid, who have played two fewer games.

Karim Benzema has urged Eden Hazard to "make another story" at Real Madrid, after the Belgium star impressed against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. 

Hazard scored himself and also set up the first of two Benzema goals as Madrid eased to a 4-1 win over LaLiga strugglers Alaves, relieving some of the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, who was absent from the touchline after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Madrid had lost their previous two matches, against Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana before going down to minnows Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey in midweek. 

Casemiro opened the scoring before Benzema struck either side of Hazard's third goal of the season in all competitions. 

Hazard, signed from Chelsea in 2019, has struggled for form amid an injury hit spell at Madrid, but he seemed close to his best against Alaves. 

The 30-year-old both scored and assisted in a league game for just the second time in a Madrid shirt, while only Benzema (four) managed more attempts than Hazard's two.

With Hazard showing signs of a resurgence, Benzema, who has scored 10 league goals this season, wants his team-mate to go on and make his name in the Spanish capital.

"You always notice the depth in this team, I always want to help my team-mates," Benzema told Movistar. 

"Hazard I think he was a great player at Chelsea and now he has to make another story at Madrid. He is well, much better. He works hard and has played a good game. We need the best Hazard." 

Madrid's victory closed the gap, temporarily at least, on LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who host Valencia on Sunday.

Los Blancos are four points shy of their city rivals but six clear of Barcelona, who are also in action on Sunday. 

"It was a good game, very good for confidence, we know that each game is very difficult, each rival makes it difficult for us," said Benzema, who has now been involved in 10 goals in eight appearances against Alaves in LaLiga. 

"Today everything came out, we all wanted to play, it was a very good game for us. That is worked every day, the goals, the crosses, the passes. We are on the right track after a hard week for us. We always want to win."

Real Madrid returned to winning ways in style as Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard helped the defending champions to a 4-1 rout over Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga. 

Madrid were in desperate need of a victory after a Supercopa de Espana reverse to Athletic Bilbao and a shock Copa del Rey defeat to lower-tier Alcoyano piled the pressure on Zinedine Zidane, who was absent on Saturday after testing positive for coronavirus. 

Atletico Madrid's late victory at Eibar on Thursday had moved them seven points clear in the title race, though Los Blancos never looked in danger of failing to win on the road in LaLiga for a third successive game, Benzema and Hazard putting them in control after Casemiro's opener. 

Joselu's fifth league goal against Madrid gave Alaves hope, but Benzema's second meant the visitors had little trouble seeing out just their second win in 2021. 

Benzema seemed set to open the scoring when he latched onto Luka Modric's lofted pass, only to be denied first by Fernando Pacheco and then a deflection onto the right-hand upright. 

Madrid made the resulting corner count, though, with Casemiro rising high to head home from Toni Kroos' outswinger.

Madrid’s second goal should have followed in the 22nd minute, yet Ferland Mendy failed to tee up Benzema for a simple finish. 

Benzema had his goal 19 minutes later, sensationally picking out the top of the net with a wonderful, dipping effort from just inside the penalty box. 

Having curled wide earlier on, Hazard made it three on the stroke of half-time with a delicate finish over the onrushing Pacheco. 

Madrid are Joselu's favourite LaLiga opponent and the forward netted again when facing the capital club, this time sending a brilliant header beyond Thibaut Courtois. 

Alaves' comeback hopes were quashed with 20 minutes remaining, however, when Benzema cut in from the left to thump home and settle the contest.

Didier Deschamps has tipped Zinedine Zidane to "go full circle" by succeeding him as head coach of the France national team.

Zidane is in his second spell as Real Madrid boss and finds himself under intense pressure following Wednesday's defeat to third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey, a week on from losing to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals.

He was part of France's World Cup-winning squad in 1998 and has long been touted as the leading contender to replace his former team-mate Deschamps when the 52-year-old's deal expires next year.

It is a job Deschamps, who guided Les Blues to World Cup success in 2018, can see Zidane taking in the near future.

Asked in an interview with BFMTV if Zidane could be his successor, Deschamps replied: "Yes, obviously.

"I know this will be discussed again and it makes sense. It would be like going full circle."

Since bringing an end to his trophy-laden playing career and taking over at Madrid in 2016, Zidane has won 11 trophies, including the Champions League three seasons running.

"He always had a decisive element to his game and I never had a problem with that," Deschamps said. "Afterwards, everything he has done... Zizou is Zizou."

As well as winning the 2018 World Cup, Deschamps also guided France to the European Championship final two years earlier, when they were beaten by Portugal on home soil.

The reigning world champions will face Hungary, Portugal and Germany in the rescheduled Euro 2020 finals later this year.

Ronald Koeman declared he must be the wrong coach for Barcelona if he cannot be allowed to criticise the team for falling short of required standards.

The Dutchman is approaching six months in charge of the Camp Nou giants and he expressed frustration on Thursday when his team needed extra time to see off third-tier minnows Cornella in the Copa del Rey.

Miralem Pjanic and Ousmane Dembele missed penalties, and that factor particularly stuck in the craw for Koeman, a spot-kick expert in his playing days.

Koeman said his players needed to "have more responsibility", adding: "You can't miss two penalties as Barcelona players."

Those forthright comments have come in for plenty of scrutiny in Spain, and Koeman was asked about their impact on his players when he spoke on Saturday, ahead of a LaLiga trip to face Elche for which Lionel Messi is suspended.

"I am not going to lie. I say what I see," said the former Everton, Netherlands and Ajax boss.

"If you are a Barca player, you have to be demanding. I criticise them with respect. I'm not going for anyone, I want to help them, but if we play against Cornella with all due respect and we are not able to win in 90 minutes, I have to say what I see.

"If not, bring in another coach."

Koeman pointed to Barcelona's dismal overall penalty record this season, including the Supercopa semi-final shoot-out against Real Sociedad.

He said: "Every player can miss a penalty but to miss seven out of 12 is too much.

"The number one to take penalties is Leo [Messi] but if he's not there on the pitch to take it we must have other players to have the responsibility to score from the penalty spot.

"Yesterday and today we trained that to improve."

Sunday's clash with Elche will be a seventh successive game away from Camp Nou for Barcelona, including their Supercopa games last week.

Barcelona have struck on strong form in LaLiga and had moved up to third place heading into the weekend.

However, leaders Atletico Madrid stood 10 points ahead of them, with their rise driven to a large part by the goals of Luis Suarez, the striker Barcelona allowed to leave in the close season.

Suarez, third on Barcelona's all-time scorers list, has 11 goals in 14 league games for his new club.

Asked if Barcelona are missing Suarez, Koeman said: "I don't like answering that. You only ask me when he scores. He is a great player, I wish him the best of luck, but the decision has been made."

Koeman would love to bring new players to Barcelona, but the club's finances have been heavily hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Any possibility of a new club president launching his tenure with marquee recruits was scotched when elections, due to take place this Sunday, were delayed.

"My position is known: we lack people, but the economic situation of the club is an influence," Koeman said. "I think we all think the same. If no one arrives, I accept it and we continue the same, but if we want more we must sign."

Real Madrid have flatly denied there is any "tension" with Inter concerning an alleged agreement over deferred payments for the transfer of Achraf Hakimi.

The full-back moved to San Siro last July for a reported fee of around €40million, which was to be paid in four instalments.

It has been claimed in Italy and Spain that, due largely to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid agreed with Inter's request to defer the first payment of €10m, which had been due last month, until March 30.

However, according to a story in Corriere dello Sport on Saturday, Madrid insisted on "a series of guarantees" over the outstanding balance and that the LaLiga champions could even move to bring Hakimi back if Inter appear unable to keep up with payments.

In a subsequent statement, Madrid said there was no basis to claims of a dispute with the Nerazzurri and that relations between the clubs remain positive.

"In relation to the story published by Corriere dello Sport regarding alleged tension between our club and Inter Milan, Real Madrid wishes to clarify that these reports are completely false," the statement said.

"At no point in time has Real Madrid asked Inter Milan for an alleged guarantor, as the aforementioned publication states.

"The terms of the player's transfer to Inter fall within the standard and normal contractual relationships between football clubs. 

"This is particularly true in this case with Inter Milan, with whom Real Madrid has always and continues to enjoy an excellent relationship on account of its status as a historic club and one that is a friend of ours."

Hakimi's agent, Alejandro Camano, told FCInter1908.it that he did not know anything about the rumoured dispute between the clubs.

"We haven't received any calls from Madrid," he said. "Achraf is happy at Inter and is only focused on doing his best for Inter.

"His goal is to win with the Inter shirt, and he's not thinking about anything else."

Hakimi has enjoyed a strong first season in Italy, with six goals and four assists in 24 appearances in all competitions.

Wolves have reinforced their forward options with the loan signing of Real Sociedad striker Willian Jose.

The Brazilian moves to Molineux for the rest of the season with Wolves retaining the option to make the move permanent.

The deal remains subject to international clearance and Willian Jose obtaining a work permit, and Wolves said on their website they do not expect to have him available for Wednesday's clash against Chelsea.

Wolves have bolstered their numbers in attack with their main centre forward Raul Jimenez having suffered a fractured skull against Arsenal at the end of November.

Patrick Cutrone was recalled from a loan spell at Fiorentina and head coach Nuno Espirito Santo now has an additional option.

The 29-year-old Willian Jose, formerly a loanee at Real Madrid, joined Sociedad in 2016 and has scored 62 goals in 170 appearances for the LaLiga side.

Could Barcelona be about to make a splash in the free-agent market?

Strapped for cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barca are believed to have set their sights on two stars.

David Alaba and Sergio Aguero are on the agenda at Camp Nou…

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING OUT-OF-CONTRACT DUO

Barcelona are set to target Bayern Munich star David Alaba and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero , according to Mundo Deportivo.

Alaba and Aguero are both out of contract at the end of the season, prompting interest from embattled LaLiga giants Barca.

Bayern's Alaba has been tipped to join Real Madrid , while the likes of Manchester United , Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Aguero, meanwhile, is no certainty to renew in Manchester, where Pep Guardiola is reportedly eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter's Romelu Lukaku .

 

ROUND-UP

-   Sport reports Raphael Varane wants to leave LaLiga champions Madrid . The French defender has previously been linked to United .

- Madrid cannot afford to sign the likes of PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Haaland due to their current financial situation amid the coronavirus pandemic, claims Marca.

- The Guardian says West Ham have lowered their asking price for Declan Rice , who has been linked to Chelsea and United .

- Martin Odegaard is close to swapping Madrid for Arsenal on loan, reports journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also says United have not opened talks with Lens to sign Argentine centre-back Facundo Medina . The Red Devils are eyeing a new centre-back amid links with in-demand RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano .

Napoli want to sign either Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes or Benfica's Nuno Tavares , reports Calciomercato.

- There are serious doubts over Edin Dzeko's future at Roma, with Calciomercato claiming Juventus and Inter are monitoring the situation.

Even in these extraordinary times, Barcelona letting Luis Suarez go to Atletico Madrid is starting to look like the oddest decision of the season.

Suarez's double over Eibar on Thursday secured a 2-1 victory for the league leaders, who are seven points clear at the top with a game in hand over champions Real Madrid in second.

The Uruguay star, who has netted six in his past six league games for Atleti, is joint-top of the division's scoring charts alongside former team-mate Lionel Messi.

It seems increasingly likely that Suarez, and certainly Atletico, will be at the top of the tree come the end of 2020-21.

With the majority of sides having now played half of their matches, the Stats Perform AI team have run the numbers to simulate how the rest of the LaLiga campaign will play out – and it's good news for Diego Simeone.

 

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.

 

ATLETICO WIN AT A CANTER

Atletico have been given a 75.1 per cent chance of winning LaLiga, according to the model.

Simeone's men are predicted to finish on 86 points, nine clear of the rest of the field. They are given just a 17.8 per cent chance of coming second and dropping outside the top four is considered practically impossible.

Barcelona and reigning champions Real Madrid are predicted to end with 77 points apiece, with just a 12.4 per cent chance each of pipping Atleti to the title. Madrid have a 41 per cent chance of finishing second, slightly above Barca's 39.4, having beaten Ronald Koeman's side 3-1 in the first Clasico of the season at Camp Nou last October.

Those two are, at least, very likely to end up in a Champions League place. They are expected to be joined there by Sevilla, who have a 47.8 per cent chance of finishing fourth on 65 points, just three above Villarreal and six clear of Real Sociedad. The remaining European spot is predicted to be a close battle between Granada, Getafe and Real Betis, with Diego Martinez's men odds on to snatch it.

Valencia fans might be enduring a difficult time (again), and our sim has Los Che missing out on European football once more, if only by four points. That said, they still have a 3.6 per cent chance of a Europa League spot, which is better odds than those given to Supercopa de Espana winners Athletic Bilbao.

 

WOE FOR HUESCA

At the other end of a relatively tight table, in which just 11 points will separate seventh from 16th, it looks like Huesca are in for a tough run-in. They are given a 59.7 per cent chance of finishing bottom of the pile and just a 5.1 per cent shot at avoiding relegation, having won only once so far this term.

Osasuna are predicted to end up just four points above them, with the bottom three likely to be completed by Deportivo Alaves, although Elche will also be right in the mix. In fact, with those two tipped to finish level on 39 points, survival could come down to their head-to-head record, making their showdown on May 11 potentially decisive. Elche have the advantage there, having won the reverse game 2-0 away from home.

Real Valladolid are expected to have just enough to stay out of trouble, although they have scant room for manoeuvre, with our predictor giving them an equal 15.1 per cent chance of finishing 17th and 18th.

Eibar and Cadiz are looking likely to stay safe; indeed, Jose Luis Mendilibar's men, along with Celta Vigo and Athletic, are given a 0.1 per cent chance of gatecrashing the top four. They might well have boosted those odds this week were it not for that pesky Suarez.

Martin Odegaard will not be involved for Real Madrid against Deportivo Alaves amid speculation he could be set to join Arsenal. 

Odegaard excelled out on loan at Real Sociedad in the 2019-20 season but has found first-team opportunities limited under Zinedine Zidane upon his return to the Spanish capital.  

The Norway international has failed to score or assist in his nine appearances this season in all competitions and, having made just five starts, seems keen to seal a move away in January.  

A return to the Basque club – where he managed seven goals and nine assists in 36 appearances – appeared to be on the cards, but Arsenal have now emerged as the clear favourites to sign the midfielder on loan.  

Madrid assistant coach David Bettoni, who is to take charge of Madrid while Zidane isolates after testing positive for coronavirus, was asked about Odegaard's future during his media duties on Friday - and hinted there could be developments in the player's situation soon.

"What happened with Martin is something that I don't know too well," Bettoni said.  

"I'm the assistant coach and there are some things that I don't follow too closely, so I can't give the exact context.  

"He is an important member of the squad and we'll see what happens with him in the coming days."  

Odegaard is not part of Madrid's squad for Saturday's LaLiga trip to Alaves amid speculation he could be confirmed at Arsenal imminently. 

The 22-year-old created 62 chances in LaLiga last term - a tally only beaten by four other players, one of which was predictably Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi.  

His contributions in terms of goals and assists helped La Real finish in sixth place. They also reached the Copa del Rey final, though that fixture against rivals Athletic Bilbao is yet to take place due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

The addition of Odegaard would add some welcome creativity to Mikel Arteta's squad, the Gunners having managed just 23 goals in 19 league games so far in what has been a topsy-turvy 2020-21 season.  

Arsenal have created 158 scoring opportunities, of which 33 are considered big chances by Opta, well adrift of the league-high 53 recorded by Manchester City this term. The Gunners have managed 20 goals from 221 attempts (excluding penalties), slightly below their xG figure of 23. 

Emile Smith Rowe has been a revelation of late, contributing three assists in open play, but no individual has created more chances for the Premier League club than full-back Kieran Tierney, his total of 22 putting him one above Bukayo Saka. 

Having been busy so far in January trimming the squad, including the impending departure of Mesut Ozil, Arteta has admitted he hopes to make additions before the transfer window closes. 

"We are in that process right now, we have done the first part more or less and we are focusing now on the second phase," he told the media on Thursday. 

"Obviously this market and the context makes it difficult, but we are looking at options and we will see what we can do."

Zinedine Zidane is in "good spirits" after testing positive for COVID-19 as Real Madrid get ready to take on Deportivo Alaves without their head coach.

The Spanish club confirmed on Friday that Zidane is isolating after contracting coronavirus, meaning he will not be present for Saturday's LaLiga fixture.

Having already lost to Athletic Bilbao in the semi-finals of the Supercopa de Espana, Los Blancos suffered a humiliating defeat to third-tier club Alcoyano to exit the Copa del Rey in midweek.

With their title defence also stuttering, the pressure has increased on Zidane, whose absence this weekend means assistant coach David Bettoni will be in charge.

"I spoke to him this morning, he's feeling fine," Bettoni told the media ahead of a trip to an Alaves side that won 2-1 in Madrid last season.

"He's in good spirits. He won't be with us in person but we know he'll be supporting us. The important thing is that everyone knows he'll be there in spirit.

"We're just finalising how we're going to do things."

Zidane insisted he remained calm about his own future in the aftermath of the defeat to Alcoyano, having seen a strong Madrid side let slip a 1-0 lead to lose 2-1 after extra time.

Bettoni insists the squad remain united with the focus now shifting back to LaLiga, where they quickly need to make up ground on leaders Atletico Madrid.

"At Real Madrid, every defeat brings criticism, but we have enough experience to know we've got a chance against Alaves to show everyone we're a unit," he said.

"We're all together in this and we're going to do all we can to take the three points. We work hard every day towards just that and we have another chance to show it."

Sergio Ramos did not feature in the cup tie on Wednesday and will once again be absent this weekend, while fellow defender Dani Carvajal is not yet ready to make a return.

"With Sergio Ramos, he is in his recovery process and he won't be with us tomorrow," Bettoni confirmed.

"Dani Carvajal trained a little with us, but he won't be with us either and will be able to train normally from Monday."

Madrid have lost just one of their previous 15 away games in LaLiga but have found goals hard to come by this season, managing 30 in 18 games. That is their second-worst tally at this stage in the past 14 campaigns.

Lionel Messi will miss Barcelona's LaLiga match at Elche on Sunday after losing his appeal against a two-match ban.

The Argentina star was suspended for his red card in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao, in which he was sent off for striking Asier Villalibre following a VAR review.

It was the first time in 753 appearances for the club in all competitions that Messi was dismissed.

Barca appealed against the suspension but confirmed on Friday that their efforts had been in vain, meaning Messi will not be available for the game at Estadio Martinez Valero.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had already served one match of his ban, having been absent from Thursday's Copa del Rey win at Cornella.

Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite scored in extra time after Barca missed two penalties against the third-tier side.

Messi will be free to return in next Wednesday's Copa del Rey last-16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, with another meeting with Athletic, this time in LaLiga, to follow on January 31.

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