Premier League leaders Arsenal appear destined to miss out on their long-term target Mykhaylo Mudryk.

The Gunners had reportedly made several bids for the Shakhtar Donetsk winger, but he now seems set to join Chelsea after they began talks on a fee with the Ukrainian club.

As a result, Arsenal will need to turn their attention elsewhere during the January transfer window to bolster their squad.

TOP STORY – GUNNERS SWITCH ATTENTION TO BARCELONA'S RAPHINHA

Arsenal have turned to Barcelona's Brazilian winger Raphinha having missed out on Mudryk, claims Sportitalia.

The former Leeds United winger only joined Barcelona in July on a five-year contract, but has made only 12 starts from 22 overall appearances for the Blaugrana.

The Gunners hope that Raphinha would be a suitable candidate to return to England, given his previous Premier League experience.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fabrizio Romano claims Mykhaylo Mudryk will be at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea's game with Crystal Palace on Sunday after medical tests, having signed pre-contracts on a move to the Blues from Shakhtar Donetsk, warding off Arsenal's interest.

Chelsea have also lodged a €30million (£26.5m) offer for PSV winger Noni Madueke, according to ESPN. The 20-year-old England youth international moved to the Eredivisie from Tottenham in 2018.

Crystal Palace are set to launch a new bid to sign Conor Gallagher from Chelsea, claims The Sun on Sunday. Gallagher enjoyed a bright loan spell at Selhurst Park last season and has fallen down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge.

Memphis Depay will exit Barcelona in January, according to Fabrizio Romano. Talks are ongoing with Atletico Madrid, whom the Dutchman is open to joining.

Tottenham are readying a £20m (€22.5m) move for Bayer Leverkusen's Ecuadorian defender Piero Hincapie, reports The Sun on Sunday.

– Football Insider has suggested that Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita will leave the club on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of this season.

Tottenham and Newcastle United are both keeping a close eye on forward Nicolo Zaniolo despite a mediocre stretch of form with Roma.

The 23-year-old has 11 Italy caps to his name, but he has struggled to show his quality this season.

From 13 Serie A appearances this term, including 12 starts, Zaniolo has only scored one goal with zero assists, after a 2021-22 season where he contributed only two goals in 28 league games.

Despite his disappointing goal tally, Zaniolo is reportedly demanding a significant pay increase to re-sign in Italy's capital, forcing Roma into a difficult decision.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS CIRCLE FOR ZANIOLO

According to Calciomercato, Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte is a fan of Zaniolo, while the "increasingly ambitious" Newcastle are "waiting for new developments".

For Tottenham, their top priority remains retaining the services of Conte, and that could mean taking a leap of faith to secure one of his targets.

The report states the most recent negotiations between Roma and Zaniolo's agents ended with no progress, and with 18 months remaining on his contract, his transfer value will likely not get any higher than it is right now.

 

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– The Times is reporting Newcastle also have strong interest in 25-year-old Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves.

– According to Caught Offside, Chelsea could sign 25-year-old Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram for €10million this month as his contract expires at the end of the season.

Tottenham, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund are among the teams scouting impressive 18-year-old Oscar Gloukh from Maccabi Tel Aviv, who could be purchased for €9m, per The Sun.

– The Daily Mail is reporting 29-year-old Liverpool midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could leave the club this month, with six months remaining on his contract.

Liverpool are trying to convince 26-year-old Fiorentina midfielder and Morocco standout Sofyan Amrabat to head to Anfield, but he prefers Atletico Madrid, per The Mirror.

Former Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only returned to London in September to join Chelsea, but his time at Stamford Bridge could soon be up.

The Gabon international has scored three goals in 16 games but has only started four times in the Premier League under Blues boss Graham Potter.

Chelsea have been active in the January transfer window, already bringing in Joao Felix, Andrey Santos, Benoit Badiashile and David Datro Fofana.

TOP STORY – AUBA COULD EXIT CHELSEA FOR BARCELONA RETURN

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is eager to leave Chelsea and wants to return to Barcelona, reports Spanish newspaper Sport.

Aubameyang reportedly had interest from Atletico Madrid too, but FIFA rules state a player can only be registered for a maximum of three clubs in a season, but only play for two.

Any move for the Gabon international, who played for the Blaugrana earlier this season, could hinge on Atletico's interest in Barca's Memphis Depay

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Atletico Madrid are weighing up a move for Leicester City's Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu, reports Italian journalist Matteo Moretto. Wolves are pushing to sign Brazilian centre-back Felipe from the Spanish club, according to the Daily Mail.

– Southampton full-back Kyle Walker-Peters has interest from Manchester United and Chelsea, reports Talksport.

– The Sun reports Manchester United are also interested in World Cup stars Goncalo Ramos and Mohammed Kudus from Benfica and Ajax respectively.

– Foot Mercato reports Fiorentina's Moroccan midfielder Sofyan Amrabat would prefer to join Atletico Madrid instead of Liverpool or Tottenham. Fiorentina appear set to sell him for more than €50million after impressing at the World Cup.

– The Daily Mail says Marseille could receive a bid from Aston Villa for ex-Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi. New Villa boss Unai Emery worked with Guendouzi at Emirates Stadium.

– Leeds United have agreed a deal that could be worth up to £35.5million (€40m) to sign Hoffenheim forward Georginio Rutter, claims Sky in Germany.

Xavi is not anticipating any transfer activity at Barcelona this window, despite ongoing speculation surrounding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Memphis Depay.

The LaLiga leaders have been busy in the past two transfer windows in particular as they attempt to reshape their squad under legendary former player Xavi.

Reports on Wednesday suggested Barca were looking to re-sign Aubameyang on a free transfer, just four months after selling him to Chelsea for a reported €12million (£10.6m) fee.

That would then reportedly pave the way for Depay – used just four times this season – to find a new club, with top-flight rivals Atletico Madrid supposedly interested in the forward.

However, asked about those rumours at a press conference ahead of Barca's Supercopa de Espana semi-final with Real Betis, Xavi said: "We are happy with the squad.

"We don't know anything. We will have to see what happens. I've told the board I'll be happy if the squad remains as it is."

Barca are three points clear of reigning champions Real Madrid after winning 13, drawing two and losing just one of their 16 league matches this season.

The Catalan giants are in Saudi Arabia ahead of Thursday's showdown with Betis, while Madrid or Valencia await in next weekend's final should they advance.

Xavi is said to have held talks with director Mateu Alemany regarding possible transfer targets during their time in Riyadh, but the Barca boss denied that is the case.

"We haven't had a meeting," he told reporters. "We don't know anything [about the transfer speculation]. I have told Mateu if he does not add to the squad, I'm still happy.

"There is no news that I know of and I have not seen Mateu nor the president [Joan Laporta], at least not to speak about this. If there is any news they will let me know."

Former Brazil, Atletico Madrid and Inter defender Joao Miranda has announced his retirement from football at the age of 38.

Miranda won LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de Espana, Europa League and European Super Cup with Atletico, as well as reaching the Champions League final.

After four seasons with the Spanish side, Miranda moved to Inter in June 2015 and spent four years at San Siro without winning any major honours.

The centre-back then spent a short period with Jiangsu Suning prior to returning to Brazil with former side Sao Paulo, where he concluded his playing career.

He won 58 caps for Brazil at international level and was a member of their Confederations Cup and Copa America-winning squads in 2009 and 2019 respectively.

Miranada, who started his playing career with Coritiba in 2004 and also spent a year in France with Sochaux, confirmed his retirement on Twitter on Wednesday.

"The moment has arrived," he said. "To everyone who cheered for me, my most special thanks. Thanks a lot, football!"

Miranda, who headed the winning goal for Atletico against Real Madrid in the 2012-13 Copa del Rey final, added in an interview with Marca: "I'm proud of my career. 

"I'm missing only a Champions League. That's the most beautiful thing I could have given an Atletico fan, but I think I've done everything to win and I think it was a nice story.

"But even that year we achieved something very big, which was to win LaLiga and a week later it was like a prize to be playing in the Champions League final. 

"I think it was a top year and it was a shame that Real Madrid was up against us, who had been resting for two weeks and played a very good final. 

"If it came to be against a team with the same wear and tear as us, surely we could have won."

Chelsea have completed the loan signing of Joao Felix from Atletico Madrid.

The 23-year-old forward joins the Blues until the end of the season for a reported loan fee of €11million (£9.7m).

There has been no official disclosure from either Chelsea or Atleti over whether a purchase option has been included, though Joao Felix has extended his contract with the Spanish side until 2027.

Joao Felix had been strongly linked with a move to Premier League rivals Arsenal and Manchester United, but it is Chelsea who have made their move, looking to recover what has been a disappointing campaign at Stamford Bridge so far.

Graham Potter has struggled since replacing Thomas Tuchel as head coach in September, with Chelsea languishing in 10th place in the league as well as being eliminated from both the EFL Cup and FA Cup by Manchester City, losing 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Joao Felix becomes Chelsea's fourth addition of the January transfer window, following David Datro Fofana, Andrey Santos and Benoit Badiashile.

The Portugal international has struggled for consistency since his nine-figure move to Atletico from Benfica in 2019, though has managed five goals and three assists in 20 games (11 starts) this season for his club.

After reported disagreements with head coach Diego Simeone though, Joao Felix now has the chance to help rescue Chelsea's season in England.

"Chelsea is one of the great teams in the world and I hope to help the team reach their objectives, so I am very, very happy to be here and very excited to play at Stamford Bridge," said Joao Felix.

Real Madrid have reportedly made Tottenham's Harry Kane their top priority up forward after failed pursuits of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.

Kane, 29, is a three-time Premier League Golden Boot winner, and is showing no signs of slowing down, with his 15 goals in 18 league games this season trailing only Manchester City's Haaland (21 in 16 appearances).

He is only 10 league goals away from tying Wayne Rooney for the second-most in Premier League history, while he is also tied with Rooney for England's all-time record and is one goal away from tying Jimmy Greaves as Tottenham's all-time leader.

With his individual legacy in England already secured, Kane is said to be ready to take the next step in his career and join a team capable of competing consistently for trophies.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID SET THEIR SIGHTS ON ENGLAND'S NUMBER NINE

According to Todofichajes, Kane is now Madrid's favourite option for a new marquee striker, and the belief is that he does not plan on extending his contract with Tottenham beyond 2024.

With 18 months remaining on his contract and still yet to turn 30, Kane's transfer value will likely never be higher than it is right now, but a mid-season sale while also trying to convince Antonio Conte to remain long-term appears out of the question.

If Kane does not indicate that he will sign a new deal, Tottenham will be forced to sell him at the end of the season, or risk forgoing a transfer fee in the range of €100million and letting him walk for free.

 

ROUND-UP

– Mediafoot is reporting Arsenal are contemplating a move for out-of-favour 32-year-old Real Madrid winger Eden Hazard

– According to 90min, Chelsea have joined Tottenham in the hunt for 23-year-old Sporting right-back Pedro Porro, but also have reservations about meeting his €45m release clause.

Real Madrid have identified 22-year-old Alphonso Davies from Bayern Munich and Benfica 27-year-old Alejandro Grimaldo as their top options to replace left-back Ferland Mendy, per Fichajes.

– SportItalia is reporting Atletico Madrid view 28-year-old Barcelona winger Memphis Depay as a potential replacement for Joao Felix, who will spend the rest of the season on loan at Chelsea.

Everton and Nottingham Forest are both interested in a loan deal for 25-year-old Villarreal winger Arnaut Danjuma, per Sky Sports.

Negotiations are continuing as Manchester United seek to secure out-of-favour Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix on a loan deal this month.

Joao Felix became Atletico's club-record signing back in 2019 when they purchased him from Benfica for €126million, but he has failed to live up to his potential under Diego Simeone.

The Portuguese international with 28 senior caps has only started seven of the 15 LaLiga fixtures he has been available for this campaign, but has recently hit some form, scoring four goals in his past three appearances prior to Sunday's 1-0 loss to Barcelona.

Joao Felix's performances at the World Cup, coupled with his rediscovered nose for goal, have begun to rehabilitate a depressed transfer value – and he is said to be United's for the taking.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED IN THE BOX SEAT FOR JOAO FELIX

According to the Mirror, United have been given the "first option" on any Joao Felix deal, meaning they will have 48 hours to match any bid Atletico perceive to be acceptable.

United are understood to have submitted a loan offer, inclusive of a £3m (€3.4m) fee, while also covering the 23-year-old's wages, but this was rejected.

As a counter, Atletico proposed a £9.5m (€10.8m) loan fee as well as a commitment to a mandatory £70.5m (€80.2m) transfer fee at the end of the season.

The report also included information that the Spanish side are expecting a bid from Arsenal, while Fichajes add the Rojiblancos have strong interest in United youngster Alejandro Garnacho – a former member of Atletico's youth academy.

ROUND-UP

– According to the Daily Mail, Chelsea will turn to versatile RB Leipzig attacker Dani Olmo if they are unsuccessful in their pursuit of Shakhtar Donestk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk

Tottenham have locked in on Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as their desired replacement for captain Hugo Lloris, per the Mirror.

– ESPN is reporting Arsenal, Chelsea, United, Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Bayern Munich and Milan are all competing for Borussia Monchengladbach striker Marcus Thuram as he enters the final six months of his contract.

– According to Sky Sports Germany, Leeds United are taking a close look at Hoffenheim forward Georginio Rutter. The Bundesliga club have confirmed there is Premier League interest, having elected to leave Rutter out of their upcoming friendly against Servette. 

– Diario Sport is reporting Arsenal and Newcastle are the two main sides monitoring Barcelona left-back Alejandro Balde, who could become available at the end of the season if he decides to not extend his contract beyond 2024.

Xavi expects taking "three golden points" off Atletico Madrid to give Barcelona "tremendous morale and confidence" in the LaLiga title race.

Ousmane Dembele scored the only goal of the game at the Civitas Metropolitano on Sunday to put Barca three points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table.

The Blaugrana defended resolutely to take full advantage of Madrid's 2-1 defeat at Villarreal on Saturday, Ronald Araujo clearing off the line to deny Antoine Griezmann a stoppage-time equaliser against his former club.

Stefan Savic and Ferran Torres were sent off for a late off-the-ball clash, but that did not take the gloss off a big win for Barca in the absence of suspended striker Roberto Lewandowski.

Barca had been held to a frustrating draw by Espanyol in their first LaLiga game after the World Cup, so Xavi knew the importance of beating Diego Simeone's side in the capital.

He said: "It's a victory, but it's not just three points, it gives us tremendous morale and confidence for the remainder of the league.

"We are capable of winning in a field as difficult as this, suffering, being a family. Without playing as excellently as we did against Espanyol, today we have known how to suffer and we took three golden points. We hit the table to be candidates for this league [title]."

Xavi added: "Three golden points. We have taken advantage of our chance. They have pressed, and we have known how to suffer.

"And how important it is to keep a clean sheet. Just as I said on the Espanyol game that we deserved more, today perhaps without playing so well we got three points."

Captain Sergio Busquets felt the manner in which Barca dug deep to see out the win bodes well.

He said: "We started well, and we went ahead, but from then on they have pressed very well, it was difficult for us to have the ball and create chances.

"In the second half, although they came out very strongly, we managed to control the game. In the end, we suffered, but three very good points."

Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak were left to lament a slow start as Atletico Madrid fell to a frustrating 1-0 loss against Barcelona.

Ousmane Dembele's goal midway through the first half was enough to settle matters, with Atletico unable to salvage a draw despite applying late pressure at the Civitas Metropolitano, where Stefan Savic and Ferran Torres saw red for an off-the-ball clash in stoppage time.

The result leaves Simeone's men fifth in LaLiga and playing catch-up in the race for Champions League qualification, and the Atletico boss conceded that a hesitant opening to the game had cost his side dear.

"It [the slow start] was clearly seen that in the first 20 minutes, not because they created scoring situations, but we couldn't get out," he said.

"We couldn't get control from the recovery of the ball to start attacking. After the goal, we started to show more of what we want. After that, a good match was played, which excites me and makes things clear.

"The reality is that we lost. It is true that the team deserved to get another result ... but we were lacking in decisive areas. We did more good things than bad.

"If we follow the example of what came after those first 20 minutes, the team will compete as we want."

Goalkeeper Oblak, who made a smart stop to deny Pedri from making it 2-0 shortly after the opener, had a similar take on the game to his boss.

"We played a good game except for the first 25 minutes," he said. "We pressed very well, we had chances, but we lacked a bit of luck to score.

"I think that in general we played a good game and should have scored, but we just couldn't put it in.

"After Barcelona scored it became difficult, but we did everything we could."

Ousmane Dembele scored the only goal of the game as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid to go three points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Real Madrid's defeat to Villarreal on Saturday gave Xavi's side the chance to earn some breathing space at the summit and they grasped that opportunity with an impressive display at the Civitas Metropolitano.

Dembele's composed first-half finish was enough to see off the toothless Rojiblancos, who consequently slipped to fifth place.

Stefan Savic and Ferran Torres were sent off for a late off-the-ball clash as the Blaugrana, who were without the suspended Robert Lewandowski, passed a big test to secure their first top-flight victory since the World Cup break.

Barca quickly stamped their authority on the game by dominating possession, Savic and Jose Gimenez making crucial blocks to deny Ansu Fati.

Pedri was the architect for a superb opening goal in the 22nd minute, bursting into the box and laying the ball off to Gavi, who played it into Dembele's path and the winger found the bottom-left corner with a clinical right-foot finish.

Jan Oblak prevented Pedri from adding a second soon after, but Atleti posed an increasing threat and Jose Gimenez headed just wide, before Marc-Andre ter Stegen kept out Antoine Griezmann's drive with a brilliant one-handed save.

Former Barca man Griezmann had another chance early in the second half, but failed to hit the target from eight yards out.

Savic came to the rescue again by deflecting the dangerous Dembele's shot wide after Atleti were caught out by a ball over the top.

There was late drama when Savic and Torres were given their marching orders following a tussle and Griezmann had an effort cleared off the line as Barca held on for a big win.

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo has suggested Joao Felix will stay at the LaLiga club but knows "there is nothing impossible in life".

Arsenal and Manchester United are among the clubs who have been linked with Joao Felix.

The Portugal forward has had a difficult time at the Civitas Metropolitano after arriving from Benfica for a huge fee of €126million in 2019.

Joao Felix scored in Atletico's first game after the World Cup against Elche, setting his side on the way to a 2-0 LaLiga victory.

The 23-year-old is set to feature in a huge clash against Barcelona on Sunday and Atleti president Cerezo indicated he will remain in the Spanish capital, but has not ruled out a January exit.

He is quoted as saying by Mundo Deportivo: "Unless you say otherwise, his destination continues to be Atletico Madrid. He is an Atletico Madrid player, he has a long contract.

"As far as I know, no one has come to buy him."

Cerezo added: "There is nothing impossible in life, he is an Atletico player. The normal thing is that he stays."

Atleti head coach Diego Simeone's position has been called into question this season, but Cerezo is in no doubt he remains the right man for the job.

"Simeone is a great coach, he is ideal for Atletico Madrid," he said. "We will be with him here until he decides."

Chelsea's struggles and riches mean they are going to be busy during the January transfer window.

The Blues, who face Manchester City in the FA Cup on Sunday, are currently 10th in the Premier League as they continue to adjust to head coach Graham Potter.

Chelsea have already signed Benoit Badiashile, David Datro Fofana and Andrey Santos this month, while also being heavily linked with Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez, but they may have another World Cup finalist in their sights.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA KEEN ON THURAM IN JANUARY

Chelsea have commenced discussions with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach about a move for French forward Marcus Thuram, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Thuram's Gladbach contract expires at the end of this season and he is not planning on extending the deal.

Chelsea and Gladbach will hold further talks in the coming days to discuss conditions and a price tag for the 25-year-old in January.


ROUND-UP

– Negotiations between Atletico Madrid and Manchester United on a Joao Felix loan deal are ramping up, with the Spanish club demanding a £9.5million (€10.8m) loan fee and a commitment to buy for £70m (€79.4m), according to the Sunday Mirror.

– FootMercato claims Manchester United are exploring a deal to sign Wout Weghorst on loan. The 30-year-old Dutch striker is currently on loan at Besiktas from Burnley, with an £8.8m (€10m) buy option in the deal.

Tottenham are interested in signing Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as a long-term replacement for veteran Hugo Lloris, claims the Sunday Mirror.

Napoli have made an opening bid worth €15m plus add-ons for Azzedine Ounahi from French club Angers, claims 90min. Ounahi impressed with Morocco at the World Cup and has also been linked with Leicester City .

– The Sun reports that Crystal Palace will rival Everton in pursuit of Aston Villa striker Danny Ings in January.

Arsenal are monitoring Tammy Abraham's situation at Roma, claims La Repubblica.

– The Athletic reports that ex-Everton and Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has a verbal agreement to take over as Portugal head coach.

Barcelona head coach Xavi was keen to remind his players that Sunday's trip to Atletico Madrid "won't decide anything" as he looked to ease the pressure on the league leaders.

Barca headed into matchday 16 at LaLiga's summit thanks to having a better goal difference than Real Madrid.

But with Los Blancos in action on Saturday, Barca could begin the game trailing Carlo Ancelotti's men in the table.

It promises to be one of Barca's toughest fixtures of the season and comes amid an underwhelming return to action following the World Cup, with the Blaugrana held to a 1-1 draw at home to Espanyol last Saturday before needing extra time to beat third-tier opponents Intercity 4-3 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Xavi did not want to overstate the importance of Sunday's game, even if he tempered his tranquillity by highlighting Barca's habit of shooting themselves in the foot with individual errors.

"Every week is like this: the next game is the most important. It won't decide anything, but [dropping points] would be a blow on the table," he told reporters.

"It's a complicated place to go and they are a rock defensively. It will be difficult for us to generate things and we have to be more effective than in the last few two games, [but] it's not a transcendental game for the future of LaLiga."

Regarding their mistakes, he added: "It's more of a mental issue than a game issue.

"We've dominated and created chances, but we have to kill the matches. We have to be more forceful in certain areas. We're far superior to our rivals but we make occasional mistakes.

"In the end we all fail. We try to give the players confidence so they don't make mistakes, but football is a game of mistakes.

"We have to minimise those mistakes to win. Against Intercity we made life difficult for ourselves."

Although Barca are doing well in LaLiga this season, they have already been knocked out of the Champions League and have the difficult challenge of Manchester United in their Europa League play-off.

It is in such competitions – and the Copa del Rey – where Xavi feels Barcelona's lack of decisiveness is proving problematic, rather than LaLiga.

"Against Espanyol we lacked aggressiveness in the opposition's area and we lacked effectiveness. Against Intercity it was different. We conceded three goals and this can't happen. We have to be more aggressive.

"In LaLiga we are very plugged in, but in other competitions it is costing us more. In the knockout competitions, one detail can knock you out."

It was put to Xavi that Barca lack obvious leaders, particularly following the retirement of Gerard Pique.

But this was not a suggestion he agreed with.

"We have [leaders]," he continued. "Sometimes it's not necessary to raise your voice.

"[Andres] Iniesta did not raise his voice… There is always someone who expresses things with their voice, and others express with personality. We have several profiles.

"There is no problem of personality or leadership. Everyone knows their role in the squad and that's not the problem."

Diego Simeone suggested it would be difficult for any team not to be hampered by the loss of Lionel Messi, ahead of Atletico Madrid's clash with Barcelona.

LaLiga leaders Barca travel to the Spanish capital on Sunday in the headline fixture of the weekend.

Barca struggled last season under Ronald Koeman in the wake of Messi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain, though recovered under Xavi to finish second in LaLiga.

The Blaugrana are well set for a title challenge this term, with Robert Lewandowski having hit the ground running, but they have faltered in Europe, crashing out of the Champions League at the group stage for a second straight season.

Asked if Barca were a less-threatening side without Messi, Simeone told reporters: "Where Messi is will always be decisive, be it in the national team, in his current team or in Barcelona. 

"With a player of Leo's characteristics there is a better chance of winning."

Simeone compared Messi's influence on teams to that of the late Diego Maradona, who the Atletico coach played with at the 1994 World Cup.

"When I played the World Cup with Maradona, already a veteran, there was a feeling that it is difficult for us to lose, because we have the best," Simeone added.

"And if you have the best it is easier to win."

 

Simeone will be glad he no longer has to face Messi domestically, given the Barca great scored 26 goals in 30 LaLiga appearances against Atletico, who realistically need a victory on Sunday to keep any slim hopes of a title push alive.

"We face all the games and we want to see them as if it were a final," Simeone said.

"The next game in Almeria will be in the same and so on. There is no bigger game than the one you have to play [next].

"Barcelona are doing very well in the league, [have] a coach with clear ideas and they play very well."

Joao Felix's future appears up in the air, with Atleti willing to let the Portugal forward leave the club in January.

Asked if the Barca match provides a big stage for Joao Felix to impress on, Simeone elected not to focus on the individual.

"It is a good opportunity for the team," he said. "We continue to grow, improve as a team and capture what we want in the game."

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