Bryson DeChambeau carded an eight-under-par 64 to take the lead after the second round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.

World number seven DeChambeau started Friday's session down in 11th but climbed to the top of the standings on 11 under for the tournament with an impressive round.

The 2020 US Open winner double-bogeyed on the par-four 16th after pulling his drive into a bush, but that was the only blemish as he made 10 birdies.

DeChambeau, whose only title this calendar year came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, is one stroke clear of fellow Americans Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka.

Morikawa will overtake Jon Rahm as the world's number one should he win the tournament, and he would have had a share of the lead if not for a bogey on the 18th.

"When I put myself in the fairway, I was converting, I was making the birdies when I needed to," said Morikawa.

“I still felt like the driver's a little off, but, you know, get my timing a little bit better tomorrow and the next day and we'll be just fine."

Finau began the back nine with a bogey but recovered well with four birdies on the following eight holes to remain in strong contention for the title with two rounds to go.

Rory McIlroy, who held a share of the first-round lead with Daniel Berger and Abraham Ancer, shot a one under-par 71 on Friday to slip four off the pace.

Berger is fifth after a round of 69, while Ancer's 73 – which included five bogeys – saw him drop outside the top 10.

Meanwhile, Sam Burns impressed with seven birdies for a second-round 65 that was bettered only by DeChambeau as he climbed into a tie for sixth alongside Tyrrell Hatton.

Raphael Varane learned a lot from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has compared the recently departed Manchester United boss to ex-Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane.

France international Varane joined United from Madrid in August and spent three months working under Solskjaer before the Norwegian was dismissed by the Red Devils two weeks ago.

Solskjaer left Old Trafford having failed to win any silverware in his three years at the helm, which is in stark contrast to the 11 trophies lifted by Zidane across two spells as Madrid boss, with Varane a key player under his compatriot.

Despite appearing just nine times for new club United prior to Solskjaer's exit in what has been an injury-plagued start to his Old Trafford tenure, Varane was impressed by Solskjaer's coaching ability.

"I spoke with him before signing. He's a very good person and humble with important values and in the short time here he taught me a lot of things, values and a lot of things about the club, the mentality of the club," Varane told The Times.

"He represents a lot of things of this club: very respectful, humble. He always tried to do his best. Sometimes when you speak about something sensitive, it's like a bit negative because it's like a weakness. But it's not true. It's a strength.

"When he speaks with a player, he's honest. It's important for a manager to be honest with his players and especially this point it's similar with Zidane. Maybe that's why I like this feeling. It was a short time working with him but I learn a lot."

Varane won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns among an array of other trophies during a decade-long spell at Madrid that saw him rack up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

However, the 28-year-old says he and his Madrid colleagues could not always celebrate their triumphs as winning titles is what was expected of them, something that played a part in his decision to leave the club.

"After winning the Champions League, the fans don't congratulate you," he told The Telegraph. "It was 'OK, the next one' after the first one I won.

"Four Champions Leagues! And they tell me, 'OK, go to the next one'. I just want to say sometimes you have to enjoy what you have. It was good!"

Varane added: "Sometimes I wanted to push the pause button, find some time to celebrate. That's why Madrid are special. It's because of this special mentality too.

"It's different. That's why I wanted to change, not because I don't like this mentality or because it's bad. It's very good, but I just wanted to try something different."

Porto and Sporting CP face a one-year ban from playing in Europe if they fail to pay outstanding debts by the end of next month.

UEFA on Friday revealed sanctions that have been issued to eight clubs for breaches of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

Primeira Liga leaders Porto and second-placed Sporting have been fined €300,000 and €250,000 respectively and will not play in the next UEFA club competition they qualify for in one of the next three seasons unless they can prove by January 31, 2022 they have settled "outstanding overdue amounts."

LaLiga side Real Betis have been hit with a €250,000 fine, while CSKA Sofia and CD Santa Clara were both ordered to pay €75,000 and Mons Calpe SC must fork out €15,000.

All of those clubs also face missing out on playing in Europe in either the 2022-23, 2023-24 or 2024-25 season if they qualify, but have not paid what they owe.

FC Astana and CFR 1907 Cluj were fined €150,000 and €200,000 respectively, but were not threatened with a ban.

The newly established First Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB First Chamber) also found that AEK Athens did not comply with several club licensing and FFP rules.

The Greek club agreed to pay an unconditional financial contribution of €1.5million, while they will also withhold 10 per cent of UEFA prize money they make in the next UEFA club competition they qualify for.

Mayank Agarwal held India's innings together with a terrific century on day one of the second Test against New Zealand, as Virat Kohli's return to the team saw the captain dismissed for a duck.

India posted 221-4 in Mumbai, with Agarwal 120 not out at stumps after a valiant effort at the top of the order.

All the wickets went to New Zealand's left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel, who at one point reduced India from 80-0 to 80-3 when he removed Shubman Gill for 44 and added the wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli in quick succession.

Kohli had spoken on Thursday of being determined to go the "hard yards" where necessary for India's sake, having missed the recent T20I series and the first Test in order to take a breather.

Ajaz had Gill caught by Ross Taylor at slip before bowling Pujara with a heavily turning delivery and getting an lbw verdict to dismiss Kohli, who was not reprieved by a review with no sign of an inside edge.

Partners came and went, but Agarwal - who kept his place in the team while Ajinkya Rahane missed out through injury - ploughed on, making a case to stay in the side for India's next assignments, although Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul may have something to say about that. Rohit has been rested for this series, which Rahul has missed due to injury.

Shreyas Iyer, who had a century and a fifty in the first Test, fell for 18 this time around to end an 80-run partnership for the fourth wicket, and Agarwal and Wriddhiman Saha (25no) put on 61 to guide India through to the close with no further casualties, leaving the deciding match of a two-game series finely poised.


Agarwal earns his place

A cover drive off Daryl Mitchell took Agarwal into three figures, his fourth Test century. He then spanked Ajaz for six from the penultimate ball of the evening to cap an impressive day's effort. Agarwal has converted two of his previous tons into doubles, against South Africa and Bangladesh, and will hope to do the same here, having revealed some words of advice from coach Rahul Dravid.

"He had told me, 'When you get set, make it big'," Agarwal said. "I am happy to have capitalised on the start that I had. But that message was very clear from Rahul, that I should make it count.

"This innings was more about grit and determination, just to stick with the plan and be disciplined. I know I didn't look good sometimes, but I got the job done. Getting runs in this format, the hardest format of the game, is the most satisfying feeling."

Special day for Ajaz

Four wickets anywhere is good going for a bowler, but for Ajaz this doubtless felt particularly special. He was born in Mumbai and emigrated with his family to New Zealand in 1996, going on to make his Test debut in 2018. Now 33 years old, he put India in a spin and will be chasing a third Test five-wicket haul on Saturday.

Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose has confirmed Erling Haaland is not fit enough to play a full part in this weekend's key Klassiker clash with Bayern Munich.

Haaland scored just seven minutes into his comeback from a six-week injury lay-off in last Saturday's 3-1 win over Wolfsburg.

That was the Norway striker's 50th Bundesliga goal, reaching the landmark in just 50 matches and becoming the youngest ever player to do so at 21 years and four months.

However, with just those 17 minutes of football to his name since sustaining a hip injury on October 19, Haaland will not be considered to play the whole game against Bayern.

"Erling himself knows his situation," Rose said at Friday's pre-match news conference. "He has had a good week of training behind him. 

"But we all know that we have to be careful a little longer. He will certainly not be ready for 90 minutes, so we will have to see how long he can go."

 

Haaland has averaged 1.12 goals per 90 minutes played in Germany's top flight, scoring 40 with his left foot, six with his right and four headers.

Since making his Dortmund bow in January last year, only Robert Lewandowski (70 goals in 56 games) has scored more Bundesliga goals than the ex-Salzburg man.

Indeed, no player in Europe's top five leagues has scored more goals in all competitions this season than Bayern striker Lewandowski's 25.

Despite his continued brilliance in front of goal, Lewandowski finished second to record-extending seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

Rather than feel sorry for himself, however, Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann is backing Lewandowski to be extra fired up against Dortmund on Saturday.

"I've already said that he's in great shape and it's not impossible that he could win this thing again," Nagelsmann said at his pre-match news conference. 

"He can't change the past. He's working every day on the present and the future gets created with his work in the present. I think it could be possible that he wins it someday.

"And I'm sure that, when you look at his current numbers without mathematical talent like me, it looks good for this season.  

"Therefore, I believe that he can do it and that those who vote will vote for him next year and say that he deserves the Ballon d'Or.

"It is important to accept this disappointment but also to take energy and motivation for other big performances. And I'm confident that he has this drive."

 

Against no team has Lewandowski scored more goals in all competitions than against former side Dortmund (24, level with his record against Wolfsburg).

Dortmund have lost their past six competitive matches against Bayern, but they enter this contest with six wins in their previous seven leagues games and are just a point behind Bayern.

Asked how his side go about beating reigning champions and current pacesetters Bayern at Signal Iduna Park, Rose said: "We need to play well in every department.

"I believe that Bayern have a clear structure with the ball and develop a goal risk from it with a lot of force. It is difficult to grasp. 

"It will be important to eliminate the offensive quality around Lewandowski and the wingers and to keep Munich out of the penalty area as much as possible."

Bayern Munich will play the remainder of their home matches this year behind closed doors due to rising coronavirus rates in Bavaria.

Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Soder revealed earlier this week that fans were set to be prevented from attending games "for the foreseeable future".

The Bavarian government on Friday approved increased measures in an attempt to contain the pandemic, including bans on spectators at large, cross-region sporting events until the end of the year.

Bayern will face Barcelona in their final Champions League Group E match next Wednesday without fans.

The Bundesliga leaders, already assured of a place in the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition, will then take on Mainz on December 11 and Wolfsburg six days later behind closed doors before the mid-season hiatus.

Bayern vice-chairman Jan-Christian Dreesen said: "It's a big blow to have to play in front of empty stands at the Allianz Arena again.

"Football is only half as nice without our fans in the stadium, not to mention the financial effects.

"We must of course accept the decision as it is, even though we've done everything we could for the health of our visitors at the Allianz Arena with the 2G+ rule and our hygiene concept."

Augsburg and Greuther Furth will also be affected, while similar measures have been introduced in neighbouring Baden-Wurttemberg, with Freiburg, Stuttgart and Hoffenheim seeing capacities reduced to 750 spectators.

New Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte reassured he is "very pleased" with Harry Kane despite the striker's lean spell of scoring form.

Spurs cruised to a 2-0 win over Brentford in the first ever top-flight meeting between the sides on Thursday, though Kane could not get on the scoresheet and has just one Premier League goal to his name so far this season.

The England international did, however, record a game-high three key passes in a creative performance that was typified by his usual preference to drop deep and look to link-up play.

As Conte prepares to host Norwich City, who the Italian has never faced before in the league, he once again gave his backing for goal-shy Kane.

"First of all, I'm sure Harry is happy if we win and he doesn't score," Conte said of Kane, who has scored five goals in three top-flight matches against the Canaries.

"Tottenham is the first thought for us and Harry. As I said yesterday, Harry played a very good game, he was in the situation that we scored and he had a good chance to score.

"It is important to have chances to score and we're improving a lot in this aspect. I'm sure Harry is going to score many goals.

"I'm sure he’s going to have a good performance in the same way he had against Brentford against every team we play.

"I'm very pleased with the way that he's playing. I know the striker wants to score but we want to give him many chances to score. I think we're on the right path to do this type of situation." Conte has won both of his opening home games in the league – only Ryan Mason and Harry Redknapp have started with three wins in the club's Premier League history.

Despite only being in charge for a short period, Conte has partly resolved some of Spurs' issues and one of his next tasks will be to sort a new contract with skipper Hugo Lloris, whose deal runs out at the end of the season.

"Yeah but I've just arrived," he responded when asked about negotiations with Lloris. "Only one month. At this moment, for sure, we have many situations to solve.

"Hugo is the captain of this team, captain of France and we're talking about a top goalkeeper. He's very focused now. He knows very well now we're trying to do our best.

"Me as a coach, Hugo as goalkeeper and every player has to perform at a high level, but for sure we'll have time to speak about him and I consider him an important player for his experience.

"He's a good goalkeeper first of all and has showed great commitment to the club over a number of years."

Sergio Ramos has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Lens as the defender's injury-plagued start to life in the French capital goes on. 

The 35-year-old has endured a frustrating time of things since arriving at the Parc des Princes from Real Madrid, whom he had represented for the previous 16 seasons.

Ramos made his long-awaited debut in last weekend's 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne, but he was not included in the squad for the midweek stalemate against Nice.

Spain international Ramos will again be absent on Saturday when PSG travel to Lens as Mauricio Pochettino's side attempt to get back to winning ways in Ligue 1.

"Ramos' workload has been adapted for muscle fatigue following his return to play. He will resume training with the squad on Sunday," read an update on PSG's official website.

Madrid legend Ramos has played just six matches at club level this calendar year, totalling 485 minutes on the field, while his last appearance for Spain came in March.

The 15 LaLiga games Ramos started last season was the fewest he managed for the club and a big drop from the 35 games started in the season before.

 

As well as being without Ramos against Lens, Ander Herrera, Julian Draxler and Neymar are also absent for PSG, with the latter ruled out for the remainder of the year.

Pochettino confirmed at Friday's pre-match news conference that he intends to make changes following his side's 0-0 draw with Nice.

That was the third time PSG have failed to score in their last 11 games, with Lionel Messi again firing a blank to leave his tally at one goal in eight Ligue 1 appearances.

Indeed, Messi has the highest differential (2.95) between his goals scored (1) and his expected goals (xG) (3.95) in Ligue 1 this term.

However, Pochettino is confident his compatriot will soon find his scoring touch in front of goal.

"It's a question of efficiency," Pochettino said. "Leo is someone who has always scored goals. It's also a matter of time and he's going to score a lot of goals here."

With the January transfer window now less than a month away, Pochettino is not yet thinking about bringing in any new recruits to bolster his star-studded squad.

"I'm not waiting for signatures at the winter break. I didn't talk about that after the Nice match. This is not the time to talk about this at all," he added.

"When the time comes, we will talk to the club to see if there are any needs in the team, but we are far from that."

Jurgen Klopp described Diogo Jota as "an incredible package" as the Liverpool striker prepares for a birthday return to Wolves.

Portugal international Jota was acquired by Liverpool in a deal worth up to £45million in September 2020, with his arrival bringing instant competition for Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

Firmino is sidelined for now and in his absence Jota has been enhancing an already strong case to be a preferred pick to the Brazilian, delivering hard-working and goalscoring performances.

As he celebrates his 25th birthday on Saturday, Jota will be back at Molineux with Liverpool, facing the club where he made his name in the Premier League.

Jota has already been back once to his old stomping ground, scoring the only goal as Liverpool won 1-0 at Wolves back in March.

After hitting nine goals already this season, Jota will fancy inflicting another blow on his former employers. He and Mane are both one away from double figures for the campaign, while Salah is one shy of reaching the 20 mark already.

Jota leads the way among Liverpool's forwards for ball recoveries (50), managing marginally more than Salah (49) and Mane (48) despite playing fewer minutes (Jota - 1,205; Mane - 1,457; Salah - 1,661). This is also an area where Firmino excels (29 recoveries in 515 minutes), with Klopp demanding hard work from his front players.

Asked about Jota in a news conference on Friday, Liverpool manager Klopp said: "He's an incredible package. From a personality point of view, he's a really incredible boy, really smart, really organised.

"I remember when I saw him for the first time, I thought he could be a player for me. The intensity he puts in makes a real difference, because at our level all the players are technically of incredible quality.

"You can make a difference with your attitude. That's what I was most excited about with Diogo."

Jota hit 13 goals in 42 games in his final year at Wolves, then repeated that haul in just 30 games for Liverpool last season.

He is firmly on course to beat that total this term, and after accumulating his 2019-20 haul for Wolves at an average of one goal every 205.4 minutes, Jota has gone from netting at a rate of one every 135.6 minutes last season to one per 133.9 minutes in 2021-22.

Klopp was always sure being a prolific goalscorer was in Jota's armoury, with Raul Jimenez having been the focal point of Wolves' attack and the Portugal international deployed in a wider role during their time as team-mates.

"People will say he didn't score an awful lot of goals," Klopp said of Jota, "but the problem is Wolves had probably the most intense style of play for wingers.

"He was very young then. For us, it was clear he would make the next steps with us and that's what he did."

Thomas Tuchel laughed off Ralf Rangnick's claim he was offered the Chelsea job in February, saying: "Hopefully he got the date wrong."

Rangnick was this week appointed as Manchester United's interim manager until the end of the season.

The German confirmed in his first United news conference on Friday that he had turned down an opportunity to replace Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge on a four-month deal.

Tuchel was not surprised to hear his compatriot may have been approached by the Blues hierarchy, but hopes it came earlier than stated given the former Paris Saint-Germain boss took charge of the London club late in January.

When asked about Rangnick's comments, Tuchel served up a quip as he said: "So maybe after our draw against Wolverhampton [Tuchel's first game in charge], maybe the bosses saw the draw and thought he doesn't know what he's doing so let's bring Ralf in for four months and let him take over.

"He must have the date wrong, hopefully. Otherwise, it's a nice job to have in world football to be the coach of Chelsea.

"You need to be realistic that if you're getting the phone call, you're not the only one getting the phone call. Now I'm here and I'm happy."

Tuchel revealed Trevoh Chalobah has joined the list of Chelsea absentees ahead of Saturday's derby at West Ham due to a hamstring injury.

The defender sustained the injury in a 2-1 midweek win at Watford and will undergo a scan.

Ben Chilwell (knee), Mateo Kovacic (hamstring) and N'Golo Kante (knee) also miss out, but Reece James and Jorginho have been passed fit.

Tuchel refused to be drawn on whether fit-again striker Romelu Lukaku will start in the battle between the Premier League leaders and the fourth-placed Hammers at the London Stadium.

He said: "I will not tell you because this is part of the line-up that I want to know very late and don't want the opponents to know. He is in training and wants to start, he is eager to start. But how difficult is it for Romelu to hit top level after an injury?

"I honestly don't know exactly, but we should try to reach our top level and in every match that is different. Watford caused us lots of problems, so we had to focus on not giving up many big chances. It was a mental game to not get too frustrated and wait for the chances and escape with a win.

"Tomorrow there will be new questions. We believe in what we do and are full of confidence."

Pep Guardiola warned Manchester City "must be careful" against Watford as the Spaniard hailed the career of Hornets manager Claudio Ranieri.

City are a point behind leaders Chelsea after 14 games following the 2-1 defeat of Aston Villa on Wednesday, while Thomas Tuchel's side edged past the champions' next opponents.

Ranieri's side crushed Manchester United 4-1 at home in late November, though, and Guardiola insisted his side must be cautious against the strugglers despite winning their last six games across all competitions.

"I know what [Watford] want to do, and what they do, they do really well," Guardiola told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference. 

"Against United they played well, against Chelsea they did a really good game. They are close results. 

"Against Leicester they lost but had more chances. Every game is there. We have to be careful tomorrow and do another good performance."

Guardiola, who has won all nine meetings with Watford across all competitions by an aggregate score of 39-3, also hailed his opposite number Ranieri for his work in football.

"Football has to be grateful to still live with important people like Claudio Ranieri," he added. "What he has done in his career is amazing, Leicester is the benchmark. 

"[He's worked] in Spain, Italy, France – I admire this type of person. What they have done, have the passion, energy to go there. 

"When they lost against Liverpool, the press conference after…the confidence he showed, I would be depressed. The first game to lose the way I lose and go there [to say], 'Follow me, we are going to win'. 

"I admire a lot still they have this passion, this energy. It will be a pleasure to see him again, I know the results against him always aren't good."

Rodri, along with Bernardo Silva – who has four goals in his last seven league games, as many as his previous 55 in the competition – has been a standout performer for City.

The former Barcelona head coach, whose side have won more Premier League away games (72) than any other side since his first season in charge, noted the Spain international's performances as he again credited Silva.

Asked about Silva's recent showings after he claimed the Portugal international was a class above, Guardiola said: "Take a video in Anfield, in Stamford Bridge, in the last game. You will know it.

"It's no secret. We have no top scorer upfront who creates something out of nothing. We have to do it as a team, it's good everyone is involved and has the permission to score goals. I never said in my career, 'Don't score a goal.' They have the feeling to go and try.

"Rodri is 23, 24. Everything is a process. Last season he played good, maybe the last part of the season drop a little bit but we gave him more minutes last season. You have to be careful this season. 

"The fact we are out of the EFL Cup is good for that. He is playing at an extraordinary level, the consistency. 

"He has to be [number] seven or an eight [in terms of position] all the time, he cannot be three or four because it destroys the team, he cannot be 10 because 10 is for the strikers. He is playing consistently, defensively, offensively."

Jurgen Klopp warned his Liverpool team they can throw away all hopes of Premier League title glory if they show signs of weakness over Christmas.

A strong start to the season has seen Liverpool gain a firm foothold in the title race, even if Klopp refuses to see it as such a battle at this relatively early stage of the campaign.

After 14 games, Liverpool have a healthy 31 points and sit two points behind leaders Chelsea and one shy of Manchester City, with fourth-placed West Ham seven points further back.

It looks like a long run to the finish line for the top three, and Reds manager Klopp wants his team to keep their focus during a testing run of games, starting with Saturday's trip to Wolves.

A healthy start to December saw Liverpool win 4-1 at struggling neighbours Everton on Wednesday, and Klopp hopes to be in a position later in the season where his team remain firmly in the hunt.

"Is it already a title race? I don't know. It's a very, very good, highest-quality league. It's unbelievable how good you have to be to win a single football game in this league," Klopp said in a news conference on Friday.

"We cannot win the league in November or December, but you can lose it, maybe. That's possible. You have to be around, you have to keep contact and be up there.

"That means we have to chase everybody, each player from each team we face from all directions, and just make sure we are this one goal better in pretty much all the games.

"I can't see it already in this moment as a title race, but it's exciting, obviously."

From December 19 to January 2, Liverpool must face Tottenham, Leeds United, Leicester City and Chelsea in the Premier League, and they also host the Foxes in the EFL Cup in that time. That testing run of games could go a long way to defining how their season plays out, with Klopp reminded of the agony he felt when Vincent Kompany fired Manchester City to the brink of the 2018-19 title after a thrilling race that saw Liverpool miss out on the silverware despite posting 97 points.

Liverpool of course made amends by streaking to the title the following year, before City were again top dogs last season.

"I think everybody knows I watched the Leicester game when they played Man City and Kompany scored that screamer," Klopp said.

"It's not that I'm watching City and Chelsea games [at the moment] and thinking, 'It'd be good if they lose' or whatever. Most of the time I don't know if they played or when they played, but hopefully it will happen at some point in March or April.

"That would be great and would mean we're still around, but between now and then obviously there are a lot of games to play and let's focus now on the next one."

Klopp has won all six of his Premier League games against Wolves, his best 100 per cent winning record against any opponent in his top-flight managerial career, so that bodes well for the trip to Molineux.

Indeed, Wolves have won just one of their 14 Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D2 L11), a 1-0 success at Anfield in December 2010. They have lost their last nine against the Reds in the competition by an aggregate score of 20-2.

Liverpool have not lost any of their last eight away league games against Wolves (W5 D3), with their most recent league defeat at Molineux coming in the days of the old First Division, a 1-0 loss back in August 1981.

In former Wolves forward Diogo Jota, who turns 25 on Saturday, Liverpool also have an attacker in form. The Portuguese talent has nine goals already this season and has created 23 chances for others.

Jota could become just the third player to score a Premier League goal on his birthday against a side he previously played for in the competition, after Emmanuel Adebayor for Tottenham against Arsenal in 2012 and Juan Mata for Manchester United versus Chelsea in 2019.

Klopp still finds English football's routine of playing through the winter hard to justify, given the heavy workload players face through December and January.

Two years ago he labelled it "a crime", and it is a refrain as familiar as any Christmas carol to hear Klopp chirping away in December about the harsh nature of the Premier League calendar.

"It's crazy. It was always crazy and will always be crazy, I think," he said. "Everything's fine until you reach Christmas time. To play on the 26th and 28th, it's still not right.

"We have to accept that, and we do that, and it's a tradition, and I get all that, but it's really tough. Generally it's not getting better. We have now two months ahead of us that will be really difficult to deal with."

Xavi claimed Ousmane Dembele could become the "best player in the world in his position" after Barcelona president Joan Laporta suggested the forward is better than Kylian Mbappe.

Dembele, who was a €105million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou in January.

The France international will be free to discuss fresh terms with clubs next month if a new contract cannot be agreed with current club Barca.

Laporta revealed on Thursday that negotiations were going slower than expected with Dembele but assured the following day that the 24-year-old wanted to stay and told TV3 he believes the Barca forward was better than Mbappe.

"We have a very good relationship with Dembele and he wants to stay," Laporta said.

"We also want him to stay because he's a great player. These situations need negotiations with representatives who want the best for the player.

"I'm enthusiastic about Dembele. He's a better player than Mbappe."

Asked for an update on the Dembele situation, Xavi told reporters:  "What I know is that it is not only the economic issue.

"We have left him a very clear position. He is a very important player with great talent. I already said it, he can be the best player in the world in his position. It depends on him. 

"We think of him as a key figure in this project. If it is because of the sporting project, he is happy. We are going to be positive. It is not just an economic issue. He wanted to feel loved and this he will have."

Questions were then put forward as to whether Dembele would feature without signing a contract and Xavi responded: "It would not be the objective, if he has a contract I think he has to play. 

"You have to be positive. But on the other hand, I am very clear on that, if you have a contract you have to play, also because of the image of the club. I do not value that option; I do not contemplate it."

 

Club legend Xavi took the reins after Ronald Koeman's dismissal in late October and has triumphed in his opening two LaLiga games – only four Barca managers have ever won their first three in the competition in the 21st century.

The Catalan club sit seventh, 13 points off leaders Real Madrid ahead of facing Betis, who have won just one of 20 previous top-flight meetings with Barca.

Xavi's side then face Bayern Munich on Wednesday in a crucial Champions League clash that they are likely to have to win to qualify for the knockout stages, but the former midfielder insisted his focus was on Betis.

"I look no further," Xavi responded when asked about the week ahead. "Each game is vital. Tomorrow is also a final. We cannot lose points if we want to connect and fight for the league. 

"We will play with the best 11, with whom I think they can perform better due to the circumstances. The league will tell us where we are at the end of the season.

"It is an important week like the next one will also be. And in January. Barca is a daily requirement and every game. 

"Every week at Barca is vital. There is no rest until the holidays and more in this situation, we can't give anything away.

"Barca aspires to win everything and time will always tell where we got to. We are a team made to win, compete and the notes will say where we have competed."

Carlo Ancelotti says "children have to pursue the dreams they have" when asked about a comic book detailing Kylian Mbappe's love of Real Madrid in his teenage years.

In the autobiographical comic, Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe recalls a visit to Los Blancos' Valdebebas training ground as a 14-year-old where he met his heroes Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The publishing of the story has only exacerbated rumours Mbappe will make the move to the Spanish capital, having been the subject of an unsuccessful deadline-day bid in the previous transfer window.

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and has been largely tipped with signing a pre-contract agreement with Madrid, who are top of LaLiga.

Asked about Mbappe and the comic, Ancelotti replied: "Children have to pursue the dreams they have. 

"As a child I had the dream of playing in Serie A and I fulfilled it."

However, when asked which player he would like to be if he were to have a do-over in his playing career, Ancelotti name-checked another superstar striker in the form of Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland among his list.

"I would like to be a forward. Vinicius [Junior], [Karim] Benzema or Haaland," he said.

"What I lacked in my career are the goals."

Madrid battled to a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday and face off against third-place Real Sociedad on Saturday.

As things stand, Ancelotti's side have a seven-point lead over rivals Atletico Madrid, who have played one game fewer.

The trip to San Sebastian begins a huge week that also sees Madrid face Inter in the Champions League and Atleti in LaLiga.

But Ancelotti says changes to his line-up will only be considered if players need a rest.

"We are not thinking about Inter and Atletico. I am going to put the best line-up to win the game against La Real," he added.

"Casemiro is going to play even though he has four yellow cards. We have no alarm, we are evaluating the squad. We have almost everyone. [Gareth] Bale has returned with the team, although he will not be in the squad. 

"Almost the entire squad is in good physical condition. I have looked a little at the statistics and only against Shakhtar [Donetsk] and Barca [did I] repeat the eleven."

Asked specifically whether his favoured midfield of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos can cope with playing in all the games, he replied: "I don't know if they can play the three games in a row. 

"I have to think first if they can play against La Real. I have to think about it. If Modric doesn't sleep well or feels tired, I won't put him in there."

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