Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said Lautaro Martinez is a "great player" as the Inter star continues to be linked with the LaLiga champions.

Inter forward Martinez has reportedly emerged as a top target for Barca, who are looking to identify a long-term heir for the aging Luis Suarez.

Martinez has scored 13 goals across all competitions this season, including a goal away to Barca in the Champions League on October 2.

The 22-year-old Argentina international will come up against Barca again when Inter welcome the Spanish giants to Milan on Tuesday, in a battle of first against second in Group F on the final matchday.

Asked about Martinez on the eve of the clash, Valverde – whose Barca have already qualified for the last 16 – told reporters: "He is a great player and he's having a great season. He is quick and strong.

"He scored a great goal in the first game at the Camp Nou. I know he is comfortable with [Romelu] Lukaku, they’ve found the right mechanism to help Inter.

"As for Lautaro being similar to Luis Suarez, they are a little different but both are born goalscorers.

"But Inter have so many good players, Lautaro, Lukaku, [Milan] Skriniar…"

 

Ander Herrera was one of 36 players cleared of sporting corruption by a Spanish court on Monday.

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Herrera, along with Leganes coach Javier Aguirre and ex-Atletico Madrid captain Gabi, were investigated on suspicion of match-fixing in relation to a LaLiga meeting between Levante and Real Zaragoza in the 2010-11 campaign.

Zaragoza won the match to keep their place in the top flight, though they were then accused of paying Levante players €965,000 to lose the game.

However, all 41 people who stood trial have been cleared of the charges, with a Valencian court citing a lack of evidence, though two former Zaragoza officials were convicted of fraud.

Ex-president Agapito Iglesias and former financial director Javier Porquera were found guilty of using over €1.7million from Zaragoza's accounts to pay relegation bonuses.

The pair were each handed a 15-month prison sentence, though they are unlikely to serve time in jail due to Spain's rules over suspended sentences for first-time offenders.

Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona's squad for their final Champions League group stage match against Inter.

Messi endured an injury-hit start to 2019-20, but has shown little sign of rustiness since returning to full fitness, and followed up his record sixth Ballon d'Or win with a hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

However, with Barca's place in the last 16 already secured thanks to a 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in their previous Group F fixture, it appears Ernesto Valverde has decided to rest Messi for the trip to Milan.

After Tuesday's match at San Siro, Barca face Real Sociedad before taking on Real Madrid in the rearranged Clasico on December 18, with another league match against Deportivo Alaves capping off 2019 three days later.

Messi is not the only star name to be left out of Barca's squad, with Gerard Pique also missing, while Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo continue their respective recoveries from hamstring and calf problems. Arthur and Ousmane Dembele are absent through injury as well.

Luis Suarez, who scored both goals in Barca's 2-1 win over Inter in October, is included within the 20-man squad, as is Antoine Griezmann.

While Barca's place in the knockouts is secured, Inter need to at least match Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague if they are to guarantee progression.

Barcelona "cannot afford" to let unsettled midfielder Arturo Vidal leave the club in January, according to president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Vidal has started just four of Barca's 20 matches this season and last month vowed to quit the Spanish champions next year if he is not made to "feel important".

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has opened the door for the Chile international to find a new team, with Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta recently hinting his side are interested.

However, Bartomeu is expecting Vidal - a reported €18million signing from Bayern Munich in August 2018 - to remain at Camp Nou until at least the end of the season.

"No movement is expected in January," he told La Repubblica. "We have a balanced squad - we don't lack anything, but we also cannot afford to lose someone. 

"Several times before a player has showed a willingness to leave, but never in January. In some cases we have let them go, on other occasions we have convinced them to stay."

Barcelona travel to Inter in the Champions League on Tuesday with top spot already assured in Group F, while the Italians need to match Borussia Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague.

Lautaro Martinez has been in fine form for the Serie A leaders this season, leading to reports he is on Barca's radar, but Bartomeu was unwilling to comment on the speculation.

"This is a trap question," he said. "What I can say is that Inter are playing very well and he is not the only player who has impressed me. It is no coincidence that Inter are top of Serie A."

Barcelona will find it impossible to replace Lionel Messi, according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who added Pep Guardiola would always be welcome back at Camp Nou.

Messi followed up winning a record sixth Ballon d'Or by recording his 35th LaLiga hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Despite spending big on Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong in the most recent transfer window, Barca are still heavily reliant on the 32-year-old, who has scored 14 goals from 15 appearances in all competitions this term.

Bartomeu has acknowledged Barca will find it extremely difficult to replace Messi whenever the forward calls time on his stay at the club, but outlined their intention to continue developing young talent from the famed La Masia academy. 

"We Barca fans have the good fortune to enjoy Messi every three days," Bartomeu, who plans to offer Messi a "lifetime contract" told Italian publication La Repubblica.

"Leo is impossible to replace and when he will be here no more, we will be forced to play differently. I cannot say that we are already preparing for post-Messi, but it is true that we have already decided to bet on young players for a long time.

"For now, what we have to do is not worry, but enjoy it. I would like to make him an annuity contract as we have already done with [Andres] Iniesta. He has earned the right to decide when to say enough is enough.

"As a footballer, Messi is number one and we will fully understand it only in a few years, because Leo has changed not only the history of Barca, but that of world football."

Bartomeu also confirmed Guardiola - who left Barca in 2012 after four trophy-laden seasons in charge before going on to coach Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, will always have a home at Barca, should he wish to return. 

"A possible return of Guardiola? It doesn't depend on me," he added. 

"It was Pep who decided to leave, but for him the doors of Barca are always open." 

Real Betis winger Joaquin rolled back the years on Sunday as he became the oldest player to score a hat-trick in LaLiga history.

The 38-year-old plundered three goals inside the opening 20 minutes in his side's clash with Athletic Bilbao at Estadio Benito Villamarin.

His treble takes his LaLiga tally for the season to six goals – the same as his total from last season and the most he has scored in a domestic campaign since 2003-04.

Joaquin – capped 51 times by Spain – started his career at Betis before moving to Valencia in 2006. He then enjoyed spells at Malaga and Fiorentina before returning to Los Verdiblancos in 2015.

Ivan Rakitic called Barcelona "the perfect place for me" after starting his third successive game in the 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

The Croatia international, 31, appeared destined for the exit door having grown frustrated at a lack of opportunities this season.

He had started just once - in the September loss to Granada - before being given the nod against Borussia Dortmund on November 27.

After impressing in a 3-1 Champions League win, Rakitic kept his place for the LaLiga victories over Atletico Madrid and Mallorca.

Rakitic joined Barcelona from Sevilla in 2014 and has won four league titles and the Copa del Rey on four occasions too, and he has no intention of leaving if he continues to be a first-team regular.

"Lots of things have happened in the last few months," Rakitic said.

"Sometimes, things happen that you can't understand, but you have to accept it.

"It's happened to me. No one gives you anything.

"I want to give my all and if I can play here then I've always said that there's no better place than Barcelona to keep winning trophies, it's the perfect place for me.

"I want to enjoy myself and try to help the team improve. I'm giving my best and if it can be like it has been in the last few games then that's even better.

"I'm here to play and take advantage of the minutes I get to earn the trust of the coach and my team-mates.

"I'm prepared for anything."

Luis Suarez labelled his stunning back-heel effort for LaLiga champions Barcelona as the best goal of his career.

Suarez scored a memorable goal as Barca defeated Real Mallorca 5-2 at Camp Nou on Saturday to regain top spot in LaLiga.

While Lionel Messi bagged a record-breaking hat-trick, Suarez capped a wonderful team move by back-heeling past Mallorca goalkeeper Manolo Reina prior to half-time.

"It's the best goal of my career," Suarez, who has now scored against all 28 teams he has faced in LaLiga, said of the 43rd-minute goal.

"I knew that it was a tight angle and the last option I had was to hit it with my heel. I was looking to bounce it because I had very little chance against the goalkeeper.

"[Head coach Ernesto] Valverde tells me that sometimes I miss the easiest ones and score the most difficult ones."

Barca produced an impressive performance at home to Mallorca as they moved ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference after their rivals won earlier in the day.

"This shows the confidence we're gaining as the matches go by," Suarez said. "We've been looking for our team-mates more and it was a great match today."

Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring in the seventh minute as the former Atletico Madrid star netted his first LaLiga goal since October 18.

"He has had to take up a new position in attack, he must find his space," Suarez of Griezmann. "I congratulate him on settling in because it's not easy."

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said Lionel Messi's record-breaking hat-trick was a "good way to celebrate the Ballon d'Or".

After claiming his sixth Ballon d'Or earlier in the week, Messi's treble led LaLiga champions Barca to a 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Messi's Ballon d'Or triumph on Monday saw him move clear of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Barca captain broke the former Real Madrid superstar's record for the most hat-tricks in LaLiga history.

After Messi's 35th league treble, Barca boss Valverde hailed the 32-year-old star post-game at Camp Nou.

"Unbelievable," Valverde told reporters after Barca regained top spot ahead of rivals Real Madrid.

"It was a good way to celebrate the Ballon d'Or."

While Messi dominated headlines with his latest match-winning display, Barca team-mate Luis Suarez scored a stunning back-heel to round off a fluid passing move against Mallorca.

On Suarez's 43rd-minute goal, Valverde added: "The situation took me by surprise. I thought it was a pass to a team-mate.

"It surprised me, but it was an extraordinary goal. I told him that there had been a few easier chances and this one, which was improbable, went in."

Lionel Messi has claimed Cristiano Ronaldo's record for the most hat-tricks in LaLiga history after scoring another treble in Barcelona's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

In the week he moved above rival Ronaldo with a sixth Ballon d'Or success, Messi showed why he was voted the world's best player with his impressive display at Camp Nou.

The 32-year-old scored two long-range goals in the first half and added a third seven minutes from time to make it 35 career hat-tricks in the Spanish top-flight.

That is one more than Ronaldo, who spent nine years with Real Madrid before joining Serie A giants Juventus in 2018.

Messi's first strike also saw him become the only player to net 10 or more goals in each of the past 14 seasons across Europe's top-five leagues.

Victory moved Barca back to the top of the table, with the champions above Madrid on goal difference ahead of the first Clasico of the season later this month.

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in the week he was crowned the world's best player as Barcelona eased to a 5-2 home win over Real Mallorca and reclaimed top spot in LaLiga.

Antoine Griezmann gave Barca a seventh-minute lead and Messi then took over with a couple of goals, either side of Ante Budimir's strike against the run of play.

On a day when the home side's front three clicked into gear, Luis Suarez added a fourth before the end of the first half with a sublime back-heel to round off a fluid passing move.

Budimir pulled another back for Mallorca 26 minutes from time, but Messi rounded off his hat-trick late on as Barca maintained their good form and overtook Real Madrid at the summit.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen claimed a second assist of the season with a quick goal-kick that Griezmann collected and lifted over Manolo Reina after racing through on goal.

Reina produced an impressive save to keep out the returning Sergio Busquets' header, but Messi found a way past the visiting keeper 95 seconds later with a 25-yard curler.

Mallorca, now winless in seven away league outings this season, gave themselves hope when Budimir's shot deflected off Clement Lenglet and looped over Ter Stegen.

But Messi took matters into his own hands with another trademark goal from range, before Suarez capped a fine piece of team play by back-heeling in from eight yards.

Reina frustrated Ernesto Valverde's men with a string of saves and Budimir then headed in from close range to once again give Mallorca a foothold on the game.

Barca made certain of a sixth win in a row in all competitions thanks to Messi's third of the match late on, the forward picking out the roof of the net after being teed up by Suarez to move onto 35 LaLiga hat-tricks in his career – one more than Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi became the only player to score 10 or more goals in each of the past 14 seasons in Europe's top-five leagues with a first-half double against Real Mallorca.

The first of Messi's strikes in Saturday's LaLiga clash, a 25-yard effort that curled away from Manolo Reina, took him into double figures for the league campaign.

The Argentina international, who landed a record sixth Ballon d'Or on Monday, doubled his tally before the interval with another goal from range to make it 11 in 10 league appearances this term.

Messi's highest-scoring league season for Barca came in 2011-12 when he reached 50 goals in 37 appearances.

Zinedine Zidane admitted Real Madrid lacked fluency in their 2-0 win over Espanyol and said the team "can do much better", yet he still had saw positives at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Goals from Zidane's French compatriots Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema saw off the lowly visitors from Barcelona.

There were promising performances from the likes of striker Vinicius Junior and midfielder Federico Valverde, two youngsters of whom much is expected in the coming years.

But it was largely an underwhelming display by a team that ultimately ground down their opponents, Madrid's pedigree telling in the end despite Ferland Mendy's late red card.

"Today, we have to be happy because we continue on a good run," Zidane said afterwards.

"Of course, we can do much better, but we played a very serious game, respecting the opposition, and that is the most important thing."

Zidane said that 19th-placed Espanyol "do not deserve to be where they are in the table", and he acknowledged: "I think we controlled our own game, even though we were missing a bit of fluidity.

"Despite this, I'm happy because we scored two goals and didn't concede."

He added that he continues to feel pride at coaching Madrid in his second spell in the post, saying: "I am fortunate to be here with them.

"It is they who are fighting on the pitch and we have a very good squad. There is still a lot of work and let's not forget where we came from."

After winning three Champions League titles in his first spell as head coach, Zidane is jostling for more silverware this season, and his side are battling Barcelona for LaLiga supremacy, inching ahead of their great rivals at least for a few hours with their latest victory.

Asked about Valverde's lively display, Zidane said of the 21-year-old Uruguayan: "Fede has a place for many years here because he is demonstrating what he has, he is an important player, like everyone else.

"He is very young; when he plays, he doesn't have any trouble with the ball and without the ball. And when he plays, he does well."

Zidane also highlighted his other options in midfield, including Luka Modric, who came off the bench late on, and Isco, who was not used.

Modric, who was celebrating his new status as a Ballon d'Or winner this time last year, still has a major role to play for Madrid, as Zidane stressed: "He knows that occasionally he'll miss a game. But physically he can hold up very well."

In attack, Madrid continue to rely on the goals of Benzema, but they have a major talent in 19-year-old Brazilian Vinicius Junior.

His pace and dribbling caused Espanyol problems at times, and Zidane is sure the goals, in short supply for now, will come.

"The important thing is his work. What he has done, he has done well, both in attack and in defence," Zidane said. "I don't ask anyone for goals. That is a consequence of what the team does."

Real Madrid extended their unbeaten run to nine games in all competitions with a straightforward 2-0 win over struggling Espanyol on Saturday.

Raphael Varane opened his season account and sent Los Blancos on their way to a fourth consecutive LaLiga victory with a left-footed finish in the 37th minute.

Karim Benzema made the points safe when he swept home Federico Valverde's pass 11 minutes from full-time, making Ferland Mendy's late sending off for a needless second booking the only blight on an otherwise unfussy showing.

Madrid's win momentarily edges them three points ahead of title rivals Barcelona, who host Mallorca later on Saturday.

Vinicius Junior started for the first time since October and registered two attempts on target inside the opening 30 minutes.

Thibaut Courtois clawed away Esteban Granero's header between those chances before Varane made the breakthrough.

The defender stayed forward following a corner and finished with impressive poise after Benzema created space through neat footwork.

Vinicius escaped a potential second yellow for an ungainly collision with David Lopez, then forced goalkeeper Diego Lopez into a near-post save.

Espanyol's number one prevented Benzema from doubling the margin when the French striker broke through on goal after the interval.

Benzema squandered another good chance to put the result beyond doubt 20 minutes from full-time, turning wide from Rodrygo's cut-back.

But the 31-year-old was not to be denied, his unerring low finish after Valverde's fine build-play ensuring the late loss of Mendy for a silly foul on Victor Gomez counted for little.
 

What does it mean? Madrid building towards El Clasico

The rescheduled first Clasico of the season is fast approaching and Madrid look set to take a good deal of confidence to Camp Nou on December 18.

Zinedine Zidane's men have two games to negotiate before that big test but the head coach will be pleased with how his side has moved on from a middling start to the season.


Vinicius excites in Madrid sunshine

Vinicius has struggled for minutes this season but here it was simple to see why Zidane has ruled out a loan move.

The winger was vibrant and incisive on the left flank, with a sense of over-eagerness perhaps the only area for improvement.


Marching orders for Mendy

The absence of Marcelo due to a calf strain offered an opportunity to France defender Mendy and he had been perfectly serviceable for over 80 minutes.

That will have made it all the more frustrating for Zidane when his second-choice left-back left a foot in on Victor Gomez for the second time in the space of 20 second-half minutes, earning him a red card and forcing him out of the next match against Valencia.


What's next?

Madrid conclude their Champions League group stage commitments with a midweek trip to Club Brugge, then visit Valencia on Sunday.

Espanyol have a Europa League game at home to CSKA Moscow before next weekend's date with Real Betis.

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