Koeman set for vital Laporta talks as he dismisses latest Haaland question

By Sports Desk March 20, 2021

Ronald Koeman will head into important talks with new Barcelona president Joan Laporta during the international break.

Head coach Koeman declared that was the plan as he spoke on Saturday, a day ahead of the trip to face Real Sociedad in LaLiga.

The Dutchman's future was a major topic of discussion during the club elections, but there are a range of major issues that must be resolved between the dressing room and the boardroom.

Not least among those is the future of captain and record goalscorer Lionel Messi, whose contract expires in June, while the club's transfer budget and ambitions are also vital matters ahead of the close season.

Koeman was appointed last August on a two-year contract, and a failure to get past the last-16 stage in the Champions League was a major disappointment.

Barcelona remain in the hunt for domestic league and cup glory, though, and Koeman is keen to hear in the coming fortnight what Laporta is planning for the team's future.

Koeman said: "After tomorrow's game we have a break and we will have time to talk about the future of this team.

"We will take advantage of these two weeks to talk about players, signings and get to know each other. It is a time to be more together."

That was an answer given in response to the question of whether he was intending to meet with Laporta again, having already had brief talks.

Koeman said it was "important" to have an established figurehead at the club, after the reign of previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu dissolved amid considerable acrimony last October.

"It is reassuring to have someone who is the face of the club, but nothing changes for our work," Koeman said.

Laporta this week backed Koeman, saying: "Ronald, you have our confidence. We want to go back to that success story between Barca and the Champions League. This year we have to go for LaLiga and for the cup."

That simply confirmed what Koeman had already been told privately in the wake of the Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain.

"We must continue in this way so that the results reinforce it. Hopefully it will last for a long time."

The impending talks mean Sunday's clash at Anoeta is one that may take on extra significance for Koeman.

Should Barcelona win, that would ramp up pressure on leaders Atletico Madrid, who face Deportivo Alaves on Sunday. The closer they get to Atletico, the more impressive Koeman's leadership appears.

Barcelona are unbeaten in 17 games in LaLiga and have crept from mid-table to the point where they are just four points behind Atletico.

Koeman may privately ask Laporta about the prospects of signing Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund's free-scoring Norway international who has also been linked to Real Madrid.

But Haaland is not a player that Koeman is prepared to discuss in public, no matter how the question is put to him.

When asked on Saturday how he rated Haaland, and whether he was a player he would like to coach, Koeman pulled down the shutters, saying: "Out of respect I will not talk about a player who is not ours."

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    Liverpool face Rangers in a battle of Britain and Barcelona will attempt to apply more pressure on Inter boss Simone Inzaghi with a Champions League victory on Tuesday.

    An army of Gers fans will travel south of the border to descend on Merseyside for a Group A clash that will give them another opportunity to secure a first point, with the Reds in second spot behind Napoli.

    Barca moved top of La Liga last weekend and Xavi's side will start their third Group C game level on points with out-of-sorts Inter after losing 2-0 to leaders Bayern Munich last month.

    Bayern will be expected to maintain their 100 per cent record at the expense of Viktoria Plzen, and Serie A table-toppers Napoli travel to Ajax looking to continue their brilliant start to the season.

    Ahead of another mouthwatering set of matches, Stats Perform trawls through the Opta data to highlight the most noteworthy facts for each contest.

    Liverpool v Rangers

    This will be the first European meeting between Liverpool and the Glasgow giants in a European competition.

    The Gers have only won one of their seven away games in England, that being a 2-1 Champions League victory at Leeds United in November 1992 courtesy of goals from Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist. They have suffered six defeats and drawn twice.

    Liverpool's last meeting with Scottish opponents in the European Cup was back in the 1980-81 campaign, winning 5-0 on aggregate against Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen (1-0 away, 4-0 home). The Reds went on to win the competition that year.

    Jurgen Klopp's side have won 13 of their past 15 home Champions League group stage matches (D1 L1), scoring 36 goals in process. Their solitary defeat was against Atalanta in November 2020

    Rangers have failed to score in their two group games so far. Indeed, only Plzen (2) and Sevilla (3) have had fewer shots on target than the Scottish club (4) in this season's first two matchdays.

    Inter v Barcelona

    Inter have won just two of their 14 European matches against Barcelona (D4 L8), a 2-1 victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in January 1970 and 3-1 Champions League triumph in April 2010.

    Barca's two away wins against the Nerazzurri came 60 years apart, winning 4-2 in the Fairs Cup in September 1959 and 2-1 in the Champions League in December 2019.

    Inter have lost six UEFA Champions League matches against the Catalan giants, their most against a single opponent. Barca have only beaten Celtic (8) more times in the competition.

    Barca have lost three of their past four away Champions League group stage matches (W1), as many as in their previous 25 matches on their travels in the competition (W15 D7). Xavi is only the second manager to lose his first two away Champions League matches in charge of Barcelona, along with Louis van Gaal in 1997.

    Inter have lost their past two Champions League games at San Siro (0-2 v Liverpool and Bayern). Only once previously have they suffered three consecutive home defeats in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League (a run of three between February-September 2011).

    Bayern Munich v Viktoria Plzen

    Bayern have won all four of their European matches against Plzen, beating them twice in the 1971-72 Cup Winners' Cup and the Champions League in 2013-14.

    Plzen's two away European matches against Bayern have seen them concede at least five goals on each occasion, losing 6-1 in September 1971 in the Cup Winners' Cup and 5-0 in the Champions League nine years ago.

    Bayern are out to record three wins at the start of a Champions League campaign for a fourth consecutive season. In their opening three games in the previous three seasons and their two games this year, they have won all 11 matches by an aggregate score of 41-7.

    Plzen have conceded seven goals in their two Champions League games this season and only kept one clean sheet in their 20 matches in the competition.

    Leroy Sane has been directly involved in 14 goals in his past 11 Champions League starts for Bayern (8 goals, 6 assists). The winger could become only the second player to score in Bayern's first three Champions League games in a season, with Robert Lewandowski (in 2019-20 and 2021-22) being the other.

    Ajax v Napoli

    Napoli have never won away from home in the Netherlands (D2 L3) in any European competition.

    Ajax have failed to win any of their past 11 home European matches against Italian opposition (D6 L5) since winning 2-1 against Roma in this competition in December 2002.

    Napoli will be looking to win their first three Champions League group stage games for the first time. They are unbeaten in eight matches in the group stage of the competition (W5 D3).

    Ajax have won their past four home games in the group stage of the Champions League, scoring four goals in each of the previous three (4-0 v Borussia Dortmund, 4-2 v Sporting CP and 4-0 v Rangers).

    Napoli are the top scoring side in the Champions League this season with seven goals. Luciano Spalletti's side have had more shots (43) and shots on target (19) than any other team.

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    Marseille v Sporting CP

    6 - Marseille have lost six of their eight European Cup/Champions League matches against Portuguese opponents (W1 D1).

    16 - Marseille have lost 16 of their past 17 Champions League matches (W1), failing to score in 11 matches in this run, including both games this season.

    Porto v Bayer Leverkusen

    7 - Porto have won seven of their eight home Champions League games against German opposition (D1), winning five in a row.

    2 - Leverkusen have only won two of their past 13 away matches in the Champions League (D5 L6), with three of the previous four ending in defeats without scoring.

    Club Brugge v Atletico Madrid

    3 - Brugge are unbeaten in all three home meetings with Atleti in European competition (W2 D1).

    7 - Atleti have never won a European match against a Belgium club in seven attempts (five away, two neutral). They have played more major European games on Belgian soil without winning than in any other country.

    Eintracht Frankfurt v Tottenham

    4 - Tottenham have lost their past four Champions League matches against German opposition by an aggregate score of 14-3, losing twice to Bayern Munich (2-7 and 1-3) and twice to RB Leipzig (0-1 and 0-3).

    3 - Eintracht have won three consecutive European games against English teams (one versus Arsenal, two v West Ham), as many as in their first 14.

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    The Norway international continued his stunning start to life in the English top flight with another hat-trick in Sunday's 6-3 derby demolition job against Manchester United.

    It was the Leeds-born attacker's third consecutive three-goal haul in a home league game – a competition first – and furthers his tally for the season to 14 in eight games.

    Now, former Liverpool defender Carragher, speaking as a Sky Sports pundit, feels the 22-year-old's talents are something to be savoured by fans up and down the country rather than just at one club.

    "He's not just City's, he's the Premier League's [player]," Carragher said on Monday Night Football.

    "That's what it feels like to me. It felt like that when he joined, it was something to be enjoyed by the whole Premier League."

    Carragher's fellow pundit Gary Neville echoed his sentiments, adding: "I can't think of another time where the Premier League has signed a player in the last 30 years where you've thought [they are] a world star.

    "[Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Thierry] Henry, [Virgil] van Dijk, [Kevin] De Bruyne, [Mohamed] Salah – all these players have gone to be some of the best in the world. They weren't that when they signed into the Premier League.

    "But what we've signed here is somebody that everybody knew was going to be one of the best in the world."

  • Xavi not looking for Inter revenge in 'very important' San Siro showdown Xavi not looking for Inter revenge in 'very important' San Siro showdown

    Xavi will not be on a revenge mission when Barcelona face Inter in a "very important" Champions League showdown at San Siro on Tuesday.

    Head coach Xavi was in the Barca side knocked out of the Champions League by Inter at the semi-final stage in 2010.

    The Blaugrana were beaten 3-1 in the first leg in Milan and failed to overturn that deficit, crashing out after winning 1-0 at Camp Nou against Jose Mourinho's men, who went on to lift the trophy.

    Xavi returns to San Siro with the two sides both having picked up three points from their opening two Group C games, with Barca beaten 2-0 at leaders Bayern Munich last month.

    And the former Spain midfielder is motivated by the prospect of qualifying for the last 16 rather than having a score to settle.

    He said: "I have no feeling of [wanting] revenge. I come here as a coach this time. I remember that we had to travel by bus [to Milan] because of the volcano, but they were a great team.

    "It was difficult for us in the first leg. We lost it here. It was a controversial tie, but this is how it is. It's a bitter memory for us, unfortunately."

    Inter boss Simone Inzaghi is under pressure with his side ninth in Serie A following back-to-back defeats to Udinese and Roma.

    But Xavi is not reading anything into the Nerazzurri's poor form, as he knows they have the quality to turn things around.

    "It's not significant," he said. "It's Inter, a very strong team. They have a different system to anything we've come across so far.

    "They play with two strikers, something you don't see too much in Spain. They're a tough opponent, with good dynamics, but that has to be shown."

    Xavi added: "I have it quite clear. Despite the size of the rival, we are clear that we want to dominate. It is an important rival. It is the Champions League. It is not a definitive match, but it is very important for the future of the group."

    Inter have won just two of their 14 European matches against Barcelona, a 2-1 victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in January 1970 and that 3-1 Champions League triumph in April 2010.

    However, Barca's only two away wins against the Nerazzurri came 60 years apart, winning 4-2 in the Fairs Cup in September 1959 and 2-1 in the Champions League in December 2019.

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