Frenkie de Jong disagreed with Joan Laporta after the Barcelona president said the club could be proud of their performance in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Real Madrid. 

Barcelona twice came from behind to force extra time against Madrid in Riyadh last week, but Federico Valverde struck the decisive goal in the 98th minute to give Los Blancos a 3-2 success. 

Laporta went to the dressing room after the final whistle and told the players they could be proud of their performances, with the footage being published on the club's official social media channels.

De Jong took a dim view of Laporta's perspective after his 87th-minute goal against Deportivo Alaves on Sunday secured a 1-0 LaLiga success, ending a three-game winless streak. 

"We didn't play badly against Madrid, but it saddens me to say that we are proud," said De Jong. "When you lose, you always have to be disappointed." 

The victory saw Barca move above Real Sociedad and into fifth in LaLiga, with fourth-placed Atletico Madrid just one point ahead of them. 

"The victory was very important because we are in a difficult phase of the season," said De Jong. 

"We have to improve our play, although it was very difficult because the pitch was frozen. We have to be more precise with the ball, especially in the opposition's half. 

"The goal is to qualify for the Champions League and then we'll see what position we achieve." 

On his personal display, he added: "When you score, it doesn't mean you play well. I have to improve, but it's not a disaster either." 

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez predicted Luka Modric could win the Ballon d'Or for a second time after his masterclass in the Supercopa de Espana final.

Croatian playmaker Modric scooped France Football's prestigious prize for world player of the year after his dazzling performances at the 2018 World Cup.

He will turn 37 before the Qatar World Cup in November, but Modric's goal and overall display in the 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday showed he remains a force.

Thibaut Courtois saved a late penalty from Raul Garcia as Madrid made sure of a first trophy since Carlo Ancelotti returned to the club for a second spell as coach.

Asked about Courtois and Modric, Perez said after the game: "Without wanting to brag, they are the two best in their position. The best goalkeeper and Modric in enviable form, worthy of winning the Ballon d'Or again."

Modric's passing accuracy this season is an outstanding 90.41 per cent, and even in the opposition half it is 89.03 per cent, which are impressive numbers given he plays a lot of high-tariff balls.

He has created eight big chances for others this season already and has five assists, while the shot he sent arcing past Unai Simon in the 38th minute at the King Fahd Stadium gave Modric a first goal of the season. He took away the most valuable player award from Sunday's game.

Perez is still probably getting excited too soon, given the Ballon d'Or is an end-of-year prize, but Modric was excellent, and midfield colleague Toni Kroos had a 95 per cent accuracy rate from his game-high 100 passes, helping ensure Madrid had the game tied up before withstanding a late flurry of attacks from Athletic.

Former Barcelona captain Lionel Messi took the Ballon d'Or for a record seventh time last year, with even Robert Lewandowski's Bayern Munich goalscoring feats not enough to knock the Argentine great off his accustomed top spot in the vote.

 

Madrid should win more silverware this season. They lead LaLiga, have a Copa del Rey last-16 clash with Elche on Thursday, and remain in the Champions League, albeit with a tough tie against Paris Saint-Germain coming up next in that competition.

Perez enthused about the prospects for this Ancelotti stint, saying of Madrid's early success: "It means a lot."

Quoted in Marca, Perez said: "We always want to win everything, they taught us that since we were little. This year it was 60 years since I became a member, and that's how we were educated. I work along the lines that Santiago Bernabeu set for us, and I am happy because we have won the first title."

Courtois did not particularly guess right for Garcia's penalty, as much as guess late, meaning his outstretched leg could reach the ball down the middle as the rest of his body lurched to the right.

"I was hesitating between going to the right or staying in the middle," the Belgian goalkeeper told #Vamos, "and that's why I kept my foot there and I was able to stop it. If not, we would have had a heart-stopping final few minutes."

Real Madrid secured the first trophy of Carlo Ancelotti's second spell as head coach by strolling to a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana final.

Luka Modric and Karim Benzema scored as the LaLiga leaders proved far too strong for Athletic, who beat Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals on Thursday.

Benzema's goal was a second-half penalty and took him to 18 career goals against Athletic. They are the team against whom he has scored the most goals, and he was a threat throughout this one-sided game.

Even when Athletic were awarded a late spot-kick themselves, with Eder Militao sent off for handling Raul Garcia's header, they could not take advantage. Garcia's penalty carried plenty of punch, but Thibaut Courtois saved with his legs.

Ancelotti was a Champions League winner during his first stint with Madrid, and the experienced Italian will hope this success in Riyadh proves to be the first of many trophies second time around.

Madrid had a string of early half-chances, with Benzema, Toni Kroos and Modric among those who could not capitalise.

Casemiro then threatened twice in quick succession, forcing Unai Simon to tip an ambitious long-range strike wide for a corner, before a looping header from the midfielder was touched over the bar by the goalkeeper.

Modric made the breakthrough in the 38th minute. Rodrygo dribbled into the Athletic penalty area from the right flank before laying off the ball sensibly to his veteran team-mate, and from 17 yards the Croatian swept an elegant shot high into the right corner.

Madrid were awarded a penalty after a VAR check in the 51st minute when Benzema's shot struck Yeray Alvarez on the arm. Benzema powered the spot-kick into the left corner and Madrid looked home and hosed, having barely faced any pressure from Athletic, who won this competition last year.

The 89th-minute penalty could have made for a nervy finish, but Courtois came to Madrid's rescue.

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti has said he is "very excited" to be leading Los Blancos into another final ahead of Sunday's Supercopa de Espana clash with Athletic Bilbao in Saudi Arabia.

The LaLiga leaders progressed after a hard-fought 3-2 win against Barcelona on Wednesday, with substitute Federico Valverde hitting an extra-time winner.

Athletic overcame Atletico Madrid 2-1 in the other semi-final on Thursday, and Ancelotti has admitted he will have to change his tactics for Marcelino's men on Sunday.

"I'm extremely happy to be experiencing this period, I'm very excited," he told reporters in a news conference. 

"Being back in a final again is special and even more so when it's at the helm of Real Madrid. This team is used to these types of games and these moments."

The two teams played each other twice in December in LaLiga, with Madrid emerging victorious on both occasions, 1-0 at the Bernabeu and 2-1 at San Mames.

"We have to analyse the opposition," Ancelotti added. "We know each other very well because we have played twice in a month, once in Madrid and once in Bilbao. It's going to be a very hard-fought match, just like the others were.

"Athletic have a range of attributes, including a solid defence, organisation, pace up top, quality on set pieces... We have to bear that in mind. Our approach will be different to the semi-final because Athletic have different characteristics to Barcelona."

The former Chelsea and Everton manager also addressed a question about his team's style of play and he was keen to dismiss the idea that there is a defined approach that guarantees success.

"I respect everyone, every facet of football is to be respected," he added. "There's not some magic approach which guarantees you'll win. The perfect system doesn't exist. 

"You don't win every time because you play with the ball, or on the counter. A game can be won on set-pieces too. If we play defensively one day, it doesn't mean we're a defensive team. We've scored more goals than any other team in LaLiga."

Ancelotti also had words of praise for Karim Benzema, who scored Madrid's second on Wednesday and has plundered 23 goals in 26 appearances in all competitions this season, as well as registering nine assists.

"He hasn't changed, he's as humble as ever," his manager said. 

"What's changed is how others are seeing him. They're looking to him more as a leader. I think people look at him differently to how they did six years ago."

Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal will miss the Supercopa de Espana final against Athletic Bilbao in Riyadh on Sunday after testing positive for coronavirus.

Carvajal started the 3-2 semi-final win over fierce rivals Barcelona at King Fahd Stadium, but will not feature in the showpiece at the same venue this weekend.

The LaLiga leaders revealed on Friday that the Spain international had returned a positive COVID-19 test.

Lucas Vazquez replaced Carvajal at the end of normal time in the victory over Barca, which was secured courtesy of Federico Valverde's extra-time strike.

Holders Athletic came from behind to beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 in the second semi-final on Thursday.

Diego Simeone believes Atletico Madrid will be held back from achieving their aspirations this season if they cannot address their problems in defending against aerial threats.

Atleti let a lead slip to lose 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao in the semi-final of the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

The LaLiga champions looked set to face city rivals Real Madrid in the final at King Fahd Stadium on Sunday after Unai Simon's unfortunate own goal put them in front just after the hour mark.

Yet the holders mounted a great fightback in Riyadh on Thursday, Yeray Alvarez rising to head in a corner from Iker Muniain after 77 minutes.

Teenage substitute Nico Williams won it for Athletic nine minutes from time, finishing clinically with his left foot from inside the penalty area after Simeone's side failed to deal with another corner.

Jose Gimenez's red card for a dangerous challenge on Inigo Martinez added insult to injury for Atleti.

There were elements to the performance that pleased Simeone, but he fired a warning that his side are unlikely to challenge for trophies unless they can solve their issues in the air.

 

"There are things that can't be hidden. The team doesn't have defensive strength in aerial play and that takes away from us the possibility of having better games and better opportunities to be higher up in LaLiga and to stay in this competition," said the Atleti coach.

"This isn't the time to talk much. Everything looks much worse with the result, but there were good things. Joao [Felix] played a good game, [Angel] Correa worked, [Rodrigo] De Paul did well when he came on, [Mario] Hermoso's game was very good, Marcos [Llorente] was able to play for 45 minutes coming in with an overload in his glute, and we have to improve in training, on a day-to-day basis and get what comes to us from that."

Asked if it seemed his team had finally reached a point where they had stopped believing, he replied: "It's an opinion more than a question. I hear that as an opinion.

"We believe in the work we do. We're trying to improve. Since the Rayo [Vallecano] match [a 2-0 win on January 2], I think we've played good games, but we need to improve something very obvious that makes us lose points, [league] positions and stops us being in finals. It is up to us to improve that and increase the aggressiveness in the areas."

Llorente started the game at right wing-back before being replaced by Renan Lodi at half-time, but the pair between them only provided one cross from open play throughout the contest.

It laid bare the concerns Simeone has over that position following the sale of Kieran Trippier to Newcastle United.

While he is happy with the options at his disposal, with Sime Vrsaljko another who can play the role, Simeone said the club were exploring options in the transfer market.

"We have Vrsaljko as a replacement. He can play there. The club is working with what can be done in pursuit of the benefit of the club and of the team," he said.

Jan Oblak says Atletico Madrid's 2-1 Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao was "difficult to explain" and warned they must solve their defensive frailties. 

The LaLiga champions looked set to face city rivals Real Madrid in the final at King Fahd Stadium on Sunday after Unai Simon's unfortunate own goal put them in front just after the hour-mark.

Yet the holders mounted a great fightback in Riyadh on Thursday, Yeray Alvarez rising to head in a corner from Iker Muniain after 77 minutes.

Teenage substitute Nico Williams won it for Athletic nine minutes from time, finishing clinically with his left foot from inside the penalty area after Diego Simeone's side failed to deal with another corner.

Jose Gimenez's red card for a dangerous challenge on Inigo Martinez added insult to injury for Atleti.

Atleti have been vulnerable from set-pieces all season and goalkeeper Oblak says they have to tighten up.

He told MoviStar: "It is difficult to explain. Two set-pieces and this year we have conceded a lot [from set-pieces].

"We wanted to reach the final, we wanted to win the Super Cup, but we didn't do enough. I wish Athletic the best in the world, they won and they deserve to be there."

He added of Atleti's issues with defending set-pieces: "It is the question we want to solve, a lot of goals conceded this year. Many due to our failures. 

"It sure is a difficult time. You have a game like today where you go 1-0 and they score two goals from set-pieces.

"It is difficult to explain, we have to find the answer to this question. If it is not going to be complicated until the end of the season."

Oblak says Atleti can have no complaints with their defeat and must show a positive response.

"We have not played a good game. The plan was not that, it was to press and have more of the ball. The whole team is disappointed," he said.

"It is a difficult moment, you have to get up, with your head up, improve a lot. Each defeat is very hard and this one more because it was to go to a final for a title that we wanted a lot.

"We can talk, but words are useless until we solve it on the field."

Nico Williams climbed off the bench to score the winner as Athletic Bilbao came from behind to beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 and reach the Supercopa de Espana final at King Fahd Stadium.

Atleti looked set to face city rivals Real Madrid in the final after Unai Simon's unfortunate own goal put them in front in the second half.

But Athletic mounted a fightback, Yeray Alvarez equalising and substitute Williams completing the comeback with nine minutes to play in Riyadh, where Jose Maria Gimenez saw red late on.

The holders and LaLiga leaders Madrid will do battle for the first trophy of the season on Sunday.

Joao Felix had the ball in the back of the net only eight seconds into the semi-final, but the Portugal forward had strayed offside.

Atleti wanted a penalty when Thomas Lemar went down under a challenge from Alex Berenguer, but referee Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez and the VAR saw nothing untoward before Jan Oblak denied Inaki Williams at the other end.

Yannick Carrasco let fly from long range, but his venomous drive was straight at Athletic goalkeeper Simon in a first half that fizzled out after a bright start.

The LaLiga champions were in front just after the hour-mark, Joao Felix rising to meet an outswinging corner from Lemar and seeing his header strike an upright before hitting Simon and creeping over the line.

Inigo Martinez came close to an equaliser when Oblak kept out his powerful header, but Alvarez levelled after 77 minutes, leaping to head Iker Muniain's corner home.

Athletic had the momentum and Oblak produced a great save to deny Williams, but the teenager put his side ahead by slotting in with his left foot when Atleti failed to deal with another corner.

Gimenez was given his marching orders following a VAR check right at the end for a dangerous high challenge on Martinez as Atleti crashed out.

Nico Williams climbed off the bench to score the winner as Athletic Bilbao came from behind to beat Atletico Madrid 2-1 and reach the Supercopa de Espana final at King Fahd Stadium.

Atleti looked set to face city rivals Real Madrid in the final after Unai Simon's unfortunate own goal put them in front in the second half.

But Athletic mounted a fightback, Yeray Alvarez equalising and substitute Williams completing the comeback with nine minutes to play in Riyadh, where Jose Maria Gimenez saw red late on.

The holders and LaLiga leaders Madrid will do battle for the first trophy of the season on Sunday.

Joao Felix had the ball in the back of the net only eight seconds into the semi-final, but the Portugal forward had strayed offside.

Atleti wanted a penalty when Thomas Lemar went down under a challenge from Alex Berenguer, but referee Guillermo Cuadra Fernandez and the VAR saw nothing untoward before Jan Oblak denied Inaki Williams at the other end.

Yannick Carrasco let fly from long range, but his venomous drive was straight at Athletic goalkeeper Simon in a first half that fizzled out after a bright start.

The LaLiga champions were in front just after the hour-mark, Joao Felix rising to meet an outswinging corner from Lemar and seeing his header strike an upright before hitting Simon and creeping over the line.

Inigo Martinez came close to an equaliser when Oblak kept out his powerful header, but Alvarez levelled after 77 minutes, leaping to head Iker Muniain's corner home.

Athletic had the momentum and Oblak produced a great save to deny Williams, but the teenager put his side ahead by slotting in with his left foot when Atleti failed to deal with another corner.

Gimenez was given his marching orders following a VAR check right at the end for a dangerous high challenge on Martinez as Atleti crashed out.

Federico Valverde scored in extra time as Real Madrid advanced to the Supercopa de Espana final with a 3-2 victory over Barcelona. 

Vinicius Junior gave Madrid a deserved lead shortly after the midway point of the first half in Riyadh, yet Luuk de Jong ensured the sides went in at the break level with a fortuitous equaliser. 

Karim Benzema restored Los Blancos' advantage in the 72nd minute, only for Ansu Fati to draw Xavi's men level once again with seven minutes left of normal time. 

Valverde clipped home eight minutes into extra time, however, to set up a final clash on Sunday against either Atletico Madrid or Athletic Bilbao, who do battle in the second semi-final on Thursday. 

Madrid's bright start was rewarded in the 25th minute when Vinicius raced beyond Ronald Araujo and fired past Marc-Andre Ter Stegen after Benzema had dispossessed Sergio Busquets on the halfway line.

Barca pulled level four minutes before the interval, Eder Militao's attempted clearance inside the six-yard area smashing against De Jong and spinning in off the inside of Thibaut Courtois' right-hand post.

Moments after crashing an effort against the upright, Benzema slotted home from close range after Vinicius' cross had been diverted into his path by Ter Stegen. 

Substitute Fati, who was making his first appearance since November 6, sent the game to extra time, though, heading Jordi Alba's cross past Courtois from six yards.

Carlo Ancelotti's men sealed their spot in the final in the first half of extra time when Valverde slid home after a counter-attacking move that saw Barca desperately outnumbered. 

Twelve months ago, Dani Alves was in training with Sao Paulo in between a disappointing draw with Athletico Paranaense and 1-0 home defeat in the San-Sao derby to Santos.

At the same time, Vinicius was in the midst of a Real Madrid goal drought that began in late October and didn't end until March 1.

Now, they are preparing to face each other in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final, with Alves astonishingly back at Barca and – perhaps even more surprising – Vinicius probably one of the two best players in LaLiga.

It's fair to say that, at this point last year, there were growing concerns Vinicius simply wasn't going to be the player many had hoped or predicted.

While he was still only 20, he didn't seem to have developed a great deal since joining from Flamengo in 2018. If anything, he looked as though he was in reverse, and rumours were beginning to swirl regarding his future.

 

It was a little like when Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu in Star Wars doubts the prophecy that Anakin Skywalker is 'the One' to destroy the Sith.

Yet, Vinicius (SPOILER ALERT) succeeded where Anakin failed, the Brazilian managing to get himself back on the right path. In terms of decisiveness, he looks unrecognisable now, so ruthless that you'd suggest he was more machine than man – just without the helmet and Darth Vader's asthmatic problems.

First and foremost, Vinicius' haul of 12 goals is already three times his previous best in a single LaLiga season, and he's still got almost half a campaign left.

Undoubtedly Carlo Ancelotti's trust will be playing a part. Zinedine Zidane never quite gave the impression he had absolute faith in Vinicius, but the Italian has been unwavering in that regard practically ever since he got the job for a second time.

But Vinicius deserves the most credit.

He's showing much more maturity in his game. He's gone from being the most frustrating player on the pitch to very often being the most decisive.

His expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes is up to 0.49 from 0.3, which suggests he's generally getting into better positions than before – but perhaps even more importantly, though connected to that, is the fact he's averaging 0.67 goals over the same period.

Last season that figure was just 0.14, roughly half his xG, evidence that his decision-making and composure were at a pretty low level.

Vinicius is creating chances more frequently as well (1.9 per 90 mins, up from 1.5), but his biggest improvement is definitely in his decisions in front of goal.

 

Of course, outperforming xG can be a sign of good fortune, so some might suggest his form isn't sustainable – we won't know whether that's the case for a while yet.

But even when you disregard that, the improvement he's shown is massive. He's gone from wasting chances he shouldn't, to scoring chances he shouldn't.

His first goal in the recent 4-1 win over Valencia was an interesting exhibition of his new-found striker's instinct. Not only did he continue his run after offloading to Karim Benzema, he then made his own luck when bundling the ball through a crowd before nonchalantly passing into the bottom corner.

While maybe not an astounding goal in isolation, it's difficult to imagine that passage going the same way last season. Confidence breeds confidence, and he looks almost unstoppable.

With that in mind, the man he'll come up against on Wednesday will presumably be getting himself pumped up for a real challenge.

Of course, Alves has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore the hat. If we go back to the bad Star Wars analogies, Alves is Obi-Wan Kenobi. You thought he was gone for good but returns when you need him most.

 

This will of course be his first Clasico since returning to the club in November, answering Barca's call when all they could afford were free signings.

As much as anything, Wednesday's game should provide Xavi with understanding as to what the 38-year-old's ceiling is.

It's unlikely he'll be fazed about the prospect of tussling with Vinicius, though he'll be aware of the standard his compatriot is now playing at.

If Vinicius can be kept quiet, Barca's chances of success will increase exponentially, and it's by no means outlandish to suggest this game could be a turning point in their season, as Xavi noted in his pre-match news conference.

With a recent bank loan allowing them to sign Ferran Torres and president Joan Laporta declaring Barca are "back", all of a sudden the outlook isn't so gloomy, particularly now they're through the worst (they hope) of an injury and coronavirus outbreak crisis.

Xavi's brought through several talented young players already, and then there were injured 'wonderkids' Ansu Fati and Pedri waiting in the wings. They look set for important roles over the rest of the season and beyond – you might even suggest there's plenty of cause for optimism at Camp Nou.

The Supercopa offers a chance to really consolidate the growing positivity, and success in the Clasico might indicate Barca are genuinely back.

Carlo Ancelotti insisted Real Madrid are not favourites to beat Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana and would be worried if his players thought otherwise.

Wednesday's Clasico in Riyadh will determine who will face either Athletic Bilbao or Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa final on Sunday.

Madrid were 2-1 winners at Camp Nou in the previous meeting in LaLiga in October, and the gap between the sides has only widened since.

Los Blancos sit top of the league table after 21 matches, with Barca in sixth, 17 points behind their great rivals.

Ancelotti, though, thinks that will count for little with a place in the final up for grabs.

"I'd be worried if the players thought we were favourites, but they don't think that. They think we have to do everything to win," the Madrid coach said on Tuesday.

"These games are always balanced, however much of a gap there is in the table, just as the league game was balanced.

"When you play a game, you can win, draw or lose. The game will choose a winner. We have to play at our best level. We play against a team who are strong and who have the same objective, which is to reach the final."

 

This will be Xavi's first Clasico as Barca coach, the former Blaugrana midfielder having taken over from Ronald Koeman just two weeks after the 2-1 home defeat.

Although Xavi has earned praise for his use of young players and for striving to restore a typical style to Barca's play, results have been disappointing, with the Catalans having won only five of 11 matches since his appointment.

Still, Ancelotti believes they are showing signs of progress in their performances.

"I like them because they're a team with an identity, in the way Barca always have. I think they're a team who are going to improve with [Xavi's] contribution," he said.

"They have experienced players like [Sergio] Busquets, [Gerard] Pique or [Jordi] Alba, who always give a lot to the team. But the youngsters they're pushing forward stand out a lot, like Gavi or Nico, who can have a great future."

Ansu Fati is set to make his return to action with Barcelona in the upcoming Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Real Madrid.

The 19-year-old forward has had a particularly difficult time of it in the past 14 months, managing just five league appearances due to injury.

Fati missed the majority of the 2020-21 season after tearing the internal meniscus of his left knee in November 2020, an injury that ultimately kept him out until September 2021.

But his return then was brief – he featured five times in LaLiga, scoring three goals, before then hurting his hamstring almost exactly a year to the day after suffering that initial knee injury.

Even during his short-lived return, Fati highlighted his importance to Barca – he averaged a goal every 71 minutes, the best record at the club this season (min. 200 minutes played) and was ruthlessly clinical, those three strikes coming from just 0.85 expected goals (xG).

Fati's xG overperformance of 2.15 is comfortably the best in the Barca team this season. Their current top scorer, Memphis Depay, has underperformance in relation to non-penalty xG (6.0 xG, five goals).

But despite the evidence showing just how much of an asset Fati can be, Xavi will resist the urge to play him against Granada on Saturday, instead holding him back for a few extra days in order to feature in Wednesday's Clasico in Riyadh.

"If it were the other way around, playing Madrid tomorrow and the Supercopa against Granada, I would do exactly the same," Xavi told reporters.

"Ansu is fine, [but] I had some doubts that he would be able to play tomorrow's game. For now I prefer to wait because the last experience he had was a relapse.

 

"We love Ansu 100 per cent, and knowing that he is about to return is spectacular news for us. He has worked very well, with a very strong ambition, capable of making a difference.

"He is a fundamental player, but we do not want to take risks because we would lose him for the rest of the season. I prefer to wait until he is at full capacity – it's a question of physical condition."

Xavi was speaking a few hours after Philippe Coutinho's loan exit to Aston Villa was confirmed, a move that will go down well with many Barca supporters who had become increasingly frustrated by the Brazilian.

But while Coutinho may never have been the most popular player among fans, Xavi commended his attitude.

"It says a lot about him that he wanted to leave to have minutes," Xavi said. "His salary has been lowered. He is a great professional, who wants to succeed.

"Here he was struggling and he has looked for a solution. All the players are being very professional. I am delighted with those who play, but also with those who do not. They are exemplary."

Barca had been eager to move Coutinho on in part due to his massive salary, with the club needing to get players off the wage bill in order to register new additions.

Ferran Torres still cannot be registered following his move from Manchester City, though Xavi assured fans the club is doing everything it can to ensure the Spain international can play once he returns from his coronavirus-enforced absence.

"Today [Torres] has tested positive again. Regardless of whether we can register him or not, in principle he will not play [against Granada]," he continued.

"[Barca director] Mateu Alemany is working 24 hours a day so that Ferran can play when he tests negative for coronavirus. I am optimistic, I trust in the club management."

Lionel Messi's two-match ban is to be appealed by Barcelona, the club confirmed.

Messi was dismissed in the 121st minute of Sunday's Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR.

It was the first time he had been sent off for the club and only the third red in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Barca lost the match 3-2 in Seville and a ruling by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) competition committee on Tuesday deemed Messi's offence serious enough to warrant a two-match suspension.

That will rule him out of the Copa del Rey match against Cornella on Thursday and Sunday's LaLiga trip to Elche, before returning for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

But Barca seemingly deemed the punishment too sever and announced plans to appeal soon after the RFEF's initial decision.

Barca's statement read: "Barcelona is to appeal the suspension issued to Leo Messi. The competition committee announced on Tuesday that the Argentinian's red card in the final minutes of the Supercopa de Espana final against Athletic Club shall incur a two-match ban."

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi has been banned for two domestic matches following his red card in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi was dismissed in the 119th minute of Sunday's game as he took a swing at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by the VAR, and referee Jesus Gil Manzano subsequently showed him the red.

It was the first time he has been sent off for the club and only the third red card in his entire 17-year career for Barca and Argentina.

Reports in Spain had suggested an extended ban could be imposed on Messi, and a statement by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed on Tuesday that he will be suspended for Barca's next two games.

Therefore, he will miss the Copa del Rey game against Cornella and the league trip to Elche – he will return in time for another tussle with Villalibre and Athletic on January 31.

 

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