Lautaro Martinez has confirmed he previously held talks with Barcelona but reaffirmed his desire to now sign a new contract with Inter.

The Argentina striker was heavily linked with a big-money move to Camp Nou prior to the 2020-21 season after starring in Serie A with the Nerazzurri.

Martinez admits he was in discussions with Los Cules; however, a move failed to materialise and with Barca's financial woes becoming a huge discussion point in European football the chances of them imminently renewing their interest looks slim.

Instead, Martinez is focused on committing his future to Serie A leaders Inter, where he has a deal that runs until 2023 with Antonio Conte's side.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, he said: "It's true, I was in negotiations with Barcelona. I was clear with Conte, I told him: 'I think about Inter only, this is not going to affect me.'

"However, it all belongs to the past, I am going to sign a contract extension with Inter. I don't know when there will be an official announcement. Meanwhile I play. My future is here, I see myself in Milan for a long time.

"I like everything about this city. The food, the fans, the team. I only have positive feelings."

Since making his debut in August 2018, Martinez has scored 33 Serie A goals – which ranks 10th in the league in that time.

He has a modest shot-conversion rate of 12.55 per cent, has registered 95 shots on target and has a big-chance conversion of 36.36 per cent.

Additionally, Martinez has nine assists, and has created 79 chances for team-mates – 15 of which are defined as 'big chances' by Opta.

This season alone, he has netted 13 in 23 top-flight appearances – just one fewer than he managed in the whole of last season – to help fire Inter to the top of the table.

Conte's side are four points clear of rivals Milan having triumphed 3-0 in last week's derby, while defending champions Juventus are eight points back.

Martinez was reluctant to label Inter as "favourites" for the title but says the team's success is due to the atmosphere created by Conte.

"Favourites is a word I don't like. But we are on top of the table and this gives us positive feelings. I've never experienced having such a gap from the second-placed [team]," he added.

"It's not a coincidence. It's the result of the work we do with our coach. As he likes to say: 'We are working to leave Inter as high as possible.'

"We are a diverse team with Conte, more united, everyone fights for the others, we help each other and it's a good sign."

Since losing the first derby of the season back in October, Inter have been beaten just once in 19 Serie A matches.

Pressure had been building on Conte after a start that saw Inter win just three of their opening seven league games, while they were also knocked out of the Champions League.

Martinez pinpointed their European failure as the moment that turned Inter's season around.

"Simple, we were eliminated from the Champions League. It hurt so much and we told each other that our target should have been the Serie A title," Martinez said.

"Conte told us to take care of every little detail, on and off the pitch. That's how you win.

"That's what we tell each other in the dressing room, every day. That's how you win. We only play to win."

Victor Sanchez scored a late winner as Western United came out on top in a seven-goal thriller with Melbourne Victory, while Adelaide United held off Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday. 

Marvel Stadium was the stage for an A-League drama in the late kick-off, with Western United rallying from 1-0 down to lead 3-1 – only to then have a man sent off as Melbourne fought back to draw level.

Callum McManaman opened the scoring for the home team but Sanchez's first of the contest, plus a brace from Besart Berisha, put Western United in command. 

However, they were reduced to 10 men when Tomislav Uskok saw yellow for a second time. Jacob Butterfield closed the gap just after the hour mark and Rudy Gestede made it 3-3 in the 82nd minute, heading in a cross from Dalibor Markovic. 

Melbourne at that stage appeared favourites to get a winner, yet Sanchez was the hero when his left-footed shot found the net deep into added time.

Western United have now won four of the five meetings with Victory and are the only opponents in the competition's history to be unbeaten against them.  

Earlier on, Adelaide put an end to a three-game losing streak against Western Sydney, Craig Goodwin – who has rejoined the club on loan from Al-Wehda – opening the scoring inside two minutes before captain Stefan Mauk doubled the advantage just prior to half-time. 

Substitute Bruce Kamau pulled a goal for Western Sydney, but a first loss in eight league matches was confirmed when Mohamed Toure made it 3-1 in the 82nd minute. 

While Mitchell Duke struck late for the hosts, it turned out to be no more than a consolation effort.

The result sees Adelaide join their opponents on 13 points in the table, with Western Sydney missing out on the chance to move up to second place. 

LeBron James helped the Los Angeles Lakers end their losing streak, while Jimmy Butler inspired the Miami Heat.

James' double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds saw the Lakers snap their four-game losing run with a 102-93 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

Dennis Schroder contributed 22 points, while Montrezl Harrell (17 points) and Alex Caruso (10) finished with double-digits off the bench.

Butler was in fine form as the Heat overcame the Utah Jazz, who have the best record in the NBA, 124-116.

He went 12-of-22 from the field for his 33 points, while also contributing 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Miami (16-17) had five players in double-figures for points, including Goran Dragic (26).

Donovan Mitchell finished with 30 points for Utah (26-7).

 

Green guides Warriors, Lowry shines

Draymond Green posted a triple-double of 11 points, 19 assists and 12 rebounds in the Golden State Warriors' 130-121 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Green was the first Warriors player to reach 19 assists since Baron Davis in 2008.

For the Hornets, Malik Monk had 25 points in 25 minutes, including five three-pointers. He has at least 20 points and four three-pointers off the bench in three consecutive games. The only other Charlotte reserve to do that in three-plus straight is Dell Curry (March 1995), as per Stats Perform.

Kyle Lowry did likewise for the Toronto Raptors, his 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists seeing them past the Houston Rockets 122-111.

Kemba Walker poured in 32 points as the Boston Celtics overcame the Indiana Pacers 118-112.

The Los Angeles Clippers thrashed the Memphis Grizzlies 119-99, with Kawhi Leonard (30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists) starring.

 

Rockets crash to another loss

The Rockets slumped to their 10th consecutive defeat with the loss to the Raptors. Victor Oladipo (27 points) and John Wall (21) combined for 48 points, but they went 18-of-42 from the field in total.

 

Brilliant Butler

Butler was in incredible form to get Miami past Utah.

Friday's results

Boston Celtics 118-112 Indiana Pacers
Toronto Raptors 122-111 Houston Rockets
Sacramento Kings 110-107 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 124-116 Utah Jazz
Phoenix Suns 106-97 Chicago Bulls
Los Angeles Clippers 119-99 Memphis Grizzlies
Oklahoma City Thunder 118-109 Atlanta Hawks
Golden State Warriors 130-121 Charlotte Hornets
Los Angeles Lakers 102-93 Portland Trail Blazers

 

Mavericks at Nets

The Brooklyn Nets (22-12) have won eight straight and will take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks (15-16) on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp insisted there was no need for a "massive rebuild" at Liverpool amid their struggles this season.

The reigning champions are in a fight for Champions League qualification after losing their past four Premier League games ahead of visiting Sheffield United on Sunday.

Liverpool have endured a horrid run with injuries this season, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez missing most of the campaign, while several others have also been sidelined and captain Jordan Henderson has undergone surgery on a groin injury.

But Liverpool manager Klopp sees no need for drastic changes at Anfield.

"I don't think it is time for a massive rebuild like how I understand it," the German said.

"The squad of this year didn't have the chance to play together one time really. I think it would make sense to have a look at that [problem] but on top of that, of course little readjustments will happen.

"Reacting on the situation but planning at the same time for the future and all these kinds of things. I am not sure we can do that in the summer but that is what we will try."

Liverpool sit sixth in the Premier League table, five points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham.

While he accepted results have been below-par, Klopp believes his side's performances are improving.

"It is all about results. The table doesn't lie. Never. That is completely fine. We know that performance-wise we are not that far away, but results-wise we are," he said.

"That is what we have to change and for all the different reasons that it was a difficult season so far for us.

"We try with all we have to sort it and while you try and sort one problem another problem occurs. That is in a season when it is not going perfect, obviously."

Liverpool won 1-0 at Bramall Lane last season, with Sheffield United last losing consecutive home top-flight meetings with the Reds in September 1921.

Brooks Koepka fired a six-under 66 to grab a one-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the WGC-Workday Championship.

The four-time major champion made seven birdies and one bogey at The Concession Golf Club in Florida on Friday to move into 11 under.

Koepka holds a 36-hole lead or co-lead on the PGA Tour for the eighth time in his career as he eyes a second World Golf Championships title.

The American made three straight birdies from the 15th before dropping his only shot of the round at the last.

Koepka is a stroke clear of Collin Morikawa (64), Billy Horschel (67) and Australian Cameron Smith (66).

Morikawa, last year's US PGA Championship winner, produced the equal best round of the day, with Bryson DeChambeau – who is tied for 20th – also shooting a 64.

Overnight leaders Webb Simpson and Matt Fitzpatrick both slipped back into a tie for fifth after firing 69s, sitting at nine under alongside Tony Finau (67).

Defending champion Patrick Reed carded another 68 to be at eight under alongside Kevin Kisner (69).

Rory McIlroy shot a two-under 70 to get to five under and into a tie for 13th, with Justin Thomas (66) also among that group.

A six-time WGC winner, Dustin Johnson improved on his opening-round 77, carding a 69 that sees him sitting at two over.

Pep Guardiola is relishing the competition for places at Manchester City that means "unique" Kevin De Bruyne may no longer be an automatic selection. 

De Bruyne made his return from a month-long hamstring injury lay-off as a late substitute against Everton last week and started the 1-0 win against Arsenal four days later.

However, the reigning PFA Players' Player of the Year was an unused substitute for City's trip Borussia Monchengladbach in midweek, despite Guardiola confirming the playmaker was fully fit.

City won that Champions League last-16 first leg 2-0 through a Bernardo Silva header and Gabriel Jesus' strike, having also won all five-top-flight games De Bruyne missed during his time on the sidelines, scoring 15 times and conceding just once.

And with Bernardo continuing to excel in City's midfield three alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri, Guardiola has reiterated De Bruyne is no longer indispensable.

"They are quite similar but Kevin gives us something Bernardo doesn't give and vice versa," Guardiola said. "Every player has his own skills but they do it for the benefit of the team. That's why they are so stable.

"It's good for us, this competition between themselves. It was the same for [Kyle] Walker in the last game - because he knows Joao [Cancelo] is playing so good. It's the only way to maintain consistency. 

"Every three days there's a game and there's a competition among them. Our transitions with Kevin are much better - he is unique in the world. Without Kevin maybe we are more calm and have more time to pause, but it's not that we want one way or the other, it's the quality of the players we have."

De Bruyne's 10 assists in the Premier League this term are bettered only by Harry Kane's 11, the Tottenham striker having played three games more, while only Mason Mount (62), Bruno Fernandes (71) and Jack Grealish (75) can better his 58 chances created.

Bernardo may lag some way behind De Bruyne in both categories - assisting three goals and laying on 16 opportunities for team-mates - but Guardiola believes the Portuguese brings other qualities to the side.

City dominated possession away to Gladbach with 61 per cent of the ball and the manager said: "Sometimes you need more passes and Bernardo has that quality when he receives the ball.

"With opponents behind him, he can make two or four touches then give it. Kevin is a different player, more of a free mind, more explosion, and we need it.  He sees something that other ones cannot see and he provides passes others can't see. Sometimes I need him to be more behind, Bernardo up front. 

"It depends on the opponent. Sometimes the striker jumps, it depends on our movement, it depends on every game."

City are looking to make it 20 wins in a row in all competitions when they take on West Ham at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, a run that includes 13 successive victories in the top flight. Only on five previous occasions has a side won 14 or more on the spin.

Guardiola jokingly said earlier this week that money was the most important factor behind his side's incredible winning streak, which has them on course for a clean sweep of silverware.

But while the Catalan coach is thankful to have been financially backed by the club's wealthy owners, he insists there is more to his project at City than simply spending big sums of money, with others doing likewise during his time in England.

"I'm proud for the fact that [after] one team wins the Premier League they struggle a lot but we won back-to-back," he said. "Last season we could not fight against Liverpool - it was incredible. We were second but today, this season, again we are there - this is what I'm proud of most. 

"Four Carabao Cup finals, this is what I am proud of the most. And of course, we created this ourselves. But to do this you need top talents, top players and top players cost money. But honestly, I think United spent money too and Chelsea spent money, and Barcelona spent a lot and in Madrid they spend, as do all the clubs in that position."

Guardiola has used Joao Cancelo in a hybrid full-back/midfield position during City's ongoing winning streak but the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, who has won 29 trophies during his managerial career, does not believe he deserves more credit than his players for their success.

"You are not convincing me," he said. "The difference is the players. "I didn't invent anything. It's just the way I do it. I can play like this but sometimes I'm going to play in a different way. It's not about that. I would tell if I believed the reason why was me. I would tell you. 

"I would be grateful to say that the reason behind this success is because I'm so handsome and that's the reason why. It's not like that. It's the players. The big clubs have incredible success, in South America and Europe, and it's due to the quality of the players, the mentality."

He added: "Still I have the feeling when we finished the game against Gladbach maybe it will not be enough to reach the last stages of the Champions League if we don't improve in some departments. It’s the only way to getting better. 

"If I did not feel we could get better, I would not have extended my contract here. One hundred per cent. If I extend my contract, it's because they convinced me for different issues and still that we can do better. If not, [my time with] the team would be over."

Those Chelsea fans who reacted angrily to Frank Lampard's sacking appeared to settle upon a conclusion when it came to what the problem was at Stamford Bridge.

The youth products given the opportunity to shine in the Chelsea first team by the club's all-time leading goalscorer were not the problem. They were giving supporters a bright vision of the future and a recognisable identity.

Players acquired at great expense from abroad who seemed to fill no role in particular and clogged up the numbers in the squad, there was the problem.

You might say, in this analysis, the problem was players like Mateo Kovacic.

However, the former Real Madrid midfielder has been a mainstay since Thomas Tuchel replaced Lampard at the helm.

A coach who has gained a reputation for being standoffish with players over the course of his career has admittedly fallen head over heels.

"I love him,” Tuchel said after the win over Newcastle United earlier this month. "It is very easy [to love Kovacic].

"You can wake the guy up at 3am and he will be at Cobham [Chelsea's training ground] at 3.15 ready to give everything."

Previously, Chelsea fans might have taken this to mean Kovacic was being selected because he is a light sleeper who lives locally.

The Croatia international lacks the range of passing with which Jorginho is blessed, nor does he have N'Golo Kante's combative streak or the creative zest of Mason Mount.

However, his quality in tight spaces and underrated dribbling ability is something Kovacic uses to fine effect. Tuchel, a tactician who places a primacy upon his team's positional play, has quickly identified his key man when it comes to shifting Chelsea up the field.

Among players in the Premier League to have attempted 40 or more dribbles this season, Kovacic has the highest success rate of 81 per cent, having rounded out 34 of his 42.

Across Europe's top five leagues, only Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti is able to boast a better return of 41 out of 49 for 83.7 per cent.

Of players to have featured frequently in central midfield this season, only Manchester City duo Rodri and Bernardo Silva can better Kovacic's 368 carries – defined by Opta as a player moving the ball five metres or more – and 3,821.2 metres carry distance.

For carries ending with a completed pass, Kovacic is second on 309, behind Rodri (352) and a shade ahead of Silva (306).

Although he is yet to score in 31 appearances this season heading into a crunch weekend clash against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, Kovacic is certainly eager to involve himself at the business end of the field when the opportunity arises – further underlining his credentials when it comes to progressing play.

No player in the Premier League this season has taken a shot having been involved in a build-up move more frequently than Kovacic (10).

If a few of those attempts fly in before the season is out to secure a top-four place and maybe even some silverware, Kovacic's popularity will surely reach far beyond the confines of Cobham and his not-so-secret admirer Tuchel.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is relishing the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford after being blown away by the late-career rejuvenation of the Swedish great.

Manchester United and Milan were drawn together in the Europa League last 16 on Friday, giving the second-tier competition a glamour tie.

A serious knee ligament injury sustained in April 2017, near the end of his first season with Manchester United, raised doubts about whether Ibrahimovic would play at the highest level again. He got fit enough to make a first-team return before heading off to LA Galaxy, seemingly to wind down his career in the United States.

Yet Ibrahimovic was not finished with European football and in December 2019 embarked on a second spell with Milan, which has surpassed the most generous of expectations.

Ibrahimovic has scored 27 goals in 40 games so far for the Rossoneri, including 16 in 20 appearances this season to help Milan mount a title challenge. In doing so, the 39-year-old has passed the 500-goal mark in his club career.

Milan's lead in the Scudetto race was reined in by Inter, who now lead the way in Serie A, but Ibrahimovic's impact has been seismic in Italy.

United loanee Diogo Dalot, who has played 19 games for Milan this season, may also be heading back to Manchester for the March 11 first leg as he is eligible for the tie.

"Zlatan, of course, I've been so impressed, I've got to say, by how his career has gone," United manager Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He had a career-threatening injury when he was here but came back from that and went to MLS, then came back to Milan and has really lifted them. They're on the up and have done really well this season.

"I've been so impressed by him, and Diogo we know. He went there to get some experience at a big club and he's learned a lot. He's played a lot more games this season, kept fit and, hopefully, we can give him some bother!"

Ibrahimovic hit 28 goals in 46 games in his first season at United, adding one more strike in seven games in the following season as he fought his way back to full fitness.

His United goals came at a rate of one every 139.1 minutes, compared to his stunning Milan average strike rate of 109.9 minutes per goal.

He has also boosted his big chance conversion rate from 35.7 per cent at United to 45 per cent with Milan.

Solskjaer, whose side face Chelsea in the Premier League this Sunday, may have wished for a kinder European draw, particularly as it came on the Norwegian's 48th birthday.

"It's a nice birthday gift, isn't it? To watch that draw!" he said. "We do have the tradition of making it hard for ourselves in draws.

"It's one of the those draws again that you feel could be a Champions League game. It's good for us to have these games to look forward to. This team needs challenges and we enjoy challenges and we embrace them.

"The tradition and history of AC Milan, it's a great club that we welcome and it's a great stadium that we go to there, and we're looking forward to it."

Neymar remains on schedule with his recovery from injury and has been boosted by his return to individual training, Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino said.

The world's most expensive footballer suffered an adductor injury against Caen in the Coupe de France on February 10.

A four-week lay-off was predicted, potentially allowing for a return against former club Barcelona in the Champions League on March 10.

However, PSG won the first leg 4-1 thanks to a Kylian Mbappe hat-trick, easing the pressure on Neymar ahead of his comeback.

The Brazil superstar has only appeared in 18 of PSG's 35 games in all competitions this season and their win rate has actually improved from 66.7 per cent with the forward to 70.6 per cent when he has been absent.

But Neymar has still been involved in 17 of the 33 goals PSG have scored with him on the pitch in 2020-21; his 13 goals and four assists have him rank second only to Mbappe - 21 goals and nine assists for 30 involvements - among Parisian players this term.

Pochettino will certainly relish having Neymar back in the fold and detailed his progress on Friday ahead of the weekend clash with Dijon.

"Ney follows the protocol that the medical staff have established for him," the coach told a news conference.

"He has started running again on the field and he has done individual physical exercises, not with the team.

"He is in a very good state of mind. He is happy. He is on schedule for his return and, until then, everything is under control."

PSG head to Dijon third in the table and four points off the pace, unable to afford another setback having lost to Monaco last Sunday.

That was their sixth league defeat this term, their most across a single campaign since 2010-11 (eight), the season prior to Qatar Sports Investments' lucrative takeover.

PSG will have to improve in the final third against Dijon, having mustered only a single shot on target at home to Monaco, but will have to cope without the talents of Marco Verratti.

The midfielder, who played 35 minutes as a substitute last week, in which time he played 38 passes in the Monaco half, sustained a knock in training.

"The team lacked freshness and therefore creativity against Monaco," Pochettino said, with Verratti having started from the bench after sparkling as he assisted Mbappe's first goal at Camp Nou.

"In Barcelona, ​​we had been good in this area. In Dijon, we will find solutions and the players on the pitch will be up to the task."

PSG will also be without Mauro Icardi (gastroenteritis), Alessandro Florenzi (adductor) and Leandro Paredes (suspension).

Thomas Muller will be involved for Bayern Munich against Cologne, Hansi Flick has confirmed, as the reigning Bundesliga champions aim to get their title defence back on track.

Muller tested positive for COVID-19 while away with the squad at the Club World Cup but is now clear of the virus, allowing him to resume training at the club's headquarters on Thursday.

Speaking to the media, Flick confirmed Muller is to be included in the squad for Saturday's game at the Allianz Arena, with the pressure firmly on after two games without a win in the league.

Ahead of the 100th all-time meeting with Cologne, Bayern have already lost twice as many games (two) in Bundesliga action in 2021 as they did across the entire previous year, with RB Leipzig now just two points behind the leaders in the table.

"He will definitely be part of the squad," Flick said of Muller on Friday. "Things went really quickly with him. 

"Yesterday he had a quick session. Obviously he trained at home, as much as he was able and allowed to do. He's the kind of player who has a good foundation, so he will definitely be a part of that [the matchday squad]. 

"I don't know if it will be possible for him to start or come off the bench, we haven't decided that yet." 

After a surprise 3-3 draw at home with Arminia Bielefeld following their return from clinching Club World Cup success in Qatar, Bayern went down 2-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend.

They were impressive in midweek, however, thrashing Lazio 4-1 in Rome in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. 

"Against Bielefeld and Frankfurt, there were certain scenes we saw that indicated that better things were to come, but we had missed players and had done a lot of travelling," said Flick, who revealed Tanguy Nianzou is expected to be back after the international break in March. "I don't want to use that as an excuse, though.

"It was important for us to play in the Champions League against an opponent we respected. We followed our plan with great discipline, that's what I also expect tomorrow against Cologne.  

"I expect the team to show great willpower and a great willingness to win that game. We want to continue and play the way we did against Lazio, that's our job."

Jamal Musiala scored in the rout of Lazio before announcing his intention to represent Germany, rather than England, at international level. It now remains to be seen if Die Mannschaft coach Joachim Low calls up the teenage forward for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in March.

"It's his decision," Flick said of the choice made by Musiala, who turned 18 on Friday. "Obviously I'm a bit biased towards German football, so I think it's a good decision for German football.

"I always said there is enough good talent in this country, you don't have to worry about that. You have to make sure they develop well. 

"Now it's up to the coaches of the Germany team. If he's invited to join the national team, then we accept that. I do think that is going to give him a push. On the other hand, we have a lot of internationals in our squad who can offer support to him, so I don't think it will be a problem."

For years now, Barcelona have relied on one superstar above all others, with Lionel Messi the player that has glued the team together at Camp Nou - the Argentinian's very presence bringing a sense of calm.

But now there is another South American whose impact upon the team has been quietly telling, and the anticipated return to action of Ronald Araujo this weekend could have a major impact at a crucial stage of the season.

Araujo does not have a cachet anywhere near that of Messi, but his absence was sorely felt as Barcelona stumbled to painful defeats against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and Sevilla in the Copa del Rey.

Thankfully for coach Ronald Koeman, central defender Araujo is fit again after the ankle injury he sustained early in the 3-2 win at Real Betis three weeks ago.

The 21-year-old Uruguayan has missed the past five games, and his value to the team has perhaps never been quite so glaring as during his absence.

He was also sidelined for a five-week stretch in the autumn, and the evidence is mounting to show that Araujo, when fit, is now key to Barcelona's success.

"Ronald has had a very good season," Koeman said on Friday, when he named Araujo in his squad for the LaLiga home game against Sevilla.

"He is young and has learned a lot, he has shown his quality and physique. It is important to have strong and fast people. He must improve his game with the ball but defensively he contributes many things."

Koeman must know the data that shows exactly what a difference Araujo can make for Barcelona.

In the 20 matches that Araujo has played this season, Barcelona have won 14 times, drawn four and lost just twice, but when he has been absent that win ratio has nosedived.

Without Araujo's involvement, Barcelona have won nine, drawn two and lost six of their 17 games - amounting to a win percentage of 52.9, down from 70.

There is a curious contrast to be drawn here with Gerard Pique, the longest-serving centre-back at Barcelona.

A knee injury kept the 34-year-old out for almost three months until he returned to action in the shocking 4-1 home defeat against PSG on February 16.

In the 13 games Pique has played this season, Barcelona have a modest record of W6, D3, L4. Without him, they have won 17, drawn three and lost four.

As Koeman says, Araujo "contributes many things" to his defence, but perhaps in the twilight of his career that applies increasingly less so in the case of club great Pique.

Jose Mourinho has hinted he could start Dele Alli and Gareth Bale in the same Tottenham team as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

The prospect of those four attacking stars being regulars for Spurs this season appeared remote in the first half of the season.

While Son and Kane thrived, Alli and Bale struggled with their fitness and fell out of favour with Mourinho amid intense speculation over their Spurs futures.

Alli and Bale have been revitalised over recent weeks and all four players were on the pitch with Lucas Moura as Tottenham almost staged a late Premier League comeback in the loss at West Ham last week.

Asked about fans wanting all four to play together, Mourinho told reporters: "Do you give me four names or 11? Do you want to give the other seven? I do the other seven and you do the four!

"You could see against West Ham, it was not from the start of the game, but for 20 minutes or so, we had Bale, Lucas, Dele, Harry, Sonny. So you had it. 

"We didn't turn the result around or score to win that game, but we could leave the game with positive feelings.

"They played well, the interaction was good, we create chances. All of them, they had their ball to score their goal, it was positive.

"When they are in top form, and when they are fit, and when they are ready to play matches, it is never a problem for good players to play together.

"Since the beginning of the season I'm saying that, and I don't forget Gio [Lo Celso], because he is out for two or three months or whatever, I don't forget him, because he also belongs to that quality of the creative players, as well as Tanguy [Ndombele].

"We could even speak about [Erik] Lamela, [Steven] Bergwijn - we have players with these qualities."

Alli was the star of the show on Thursday, scoring a spectacular goal and adding two assists as Spurs thumped Wolfsberger 4-0 in the second leg of their last-32 tie.

Mourinho believes the England international has come through a testing time and feels better after every outing.

"In relation to Dele, when you have players performing like he did, it's easier for the team to play well and when the team plays well it's easier for players to perform well individually," Mourinho said ahead of Sunday's home Premier League match against Burnley.

"I'm happy with him. Difficult period. Sometimes small injuries in accumulation are more difficult than a big injury where after a few weeks or months you are back.

"Small injuries are mentally not good, players getting disappointed, lack of motivation, frustration. He went through all that.

"He came back. We had good conversations, training well, playing minutes or part of matches. Not yet a 90-minute match but he went through periods and basically now 75 or 80 minutes.

"Condition also improving. His feelings after matches always is better. In the first match in Budapest, he played 60 minutes or something like that and he [was] super, super tired after the game.

"This time he played more and two days later he's good."

Tottenham's struggles with injuries have taken a positive turn ahead of the clash with Burnley.

Ninth-placed Spurs are in desperate need of a run of results against Sean Dyche's team, Fulham and Crystal Palace over the next week.

Spurs have lost five of their last six Premier League games, more than they had in their previous 28 in the competition.

Since winning against Arsenal in December, Mourinho's men have taken just 12 points from 13 top-flight games – only strugglers Newcastle United, Sheffield United and West Brom have taken fewer in that span.

Mourinho said: "Now it never stops so we need everybody and, in the particular case of Dele Alli, I'm very happy.

"We need him and we need them all. In a long, long time, we didn't have every player on the pitch and today we did have it - that is great news for us because we have so many matches."

Thomas Tuchel is resigned to losing out in the fashion stakes to Olivier Giroud but he rhapsodised about the Frenchman giving Chelsea a winning edge ahead of a "huge" fixture.

Manchester United head to Stamford Bridge on Sunday, with the Red Devils still unbeaten on their Premier League travels this season.

Tuchel may be new to the Premier League but he is no stranger to United, having faced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

His PSG side twice lost to United at the Parc des Princes but won on both of their visits to Old Trafford.

"We hope we can turn this around and win at home," Tuchel said on Friday.

If Chelsea are to continue their impressive progress since Tuchel's January appointment, it may fall to the likes of Giroud to make the difference, just as he did with a spectacular overhead kick winner against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Sunday's Bridge battle could see Giroud on one side and Tuchel's former PSG frontman Edinson Cavani in the United ranks, both 34-year-old strikers with a point to prove.

"Look at them when they switch shirts - they are totally fit, their fitness is key," Tuchel said. "Oli is 100 per cent fit, zero body fat, the same as Edi.

"Edi is a player, like Oli, who as a number nine is always concerned about the team, always ready to suffer for the team, always ready to sacrifice and always ready to do runs to open spaces, always ready to defend with the team.

"This is the characteristic of them both and then in the box they're both excellent finishers, they have the experience, they don't get nervous, they have the composure.

"For me, their fitness and their self-discipline is key to their success."

Tuchel knows he cannot compete with the suave looks and man-about-town fashion style of Giroud, who he described as "a leader" within his squad.

"I try to close the gap," he said. "At the moment it's not possible because I arrived with only one suitcase, so there's no chance for me.

"I will have to trust you that the guy is top-notch and highest level. I will try to close the gap, so it's not embarrassing for Oli that I'm his coach."

Tuchel stopped short of promising Giroud a starting role against United, but he would clearly have no reservations about the striker's credentials for such an important game.

"He's used to playing a high rhythm, he's used to playing Premier League, and this helps him a lot to be on this level," Tuchel said.

"He's in a fantastic mood every day to push everybody around him, to win every little game we do in training and be very positive with everybody around him."

Chelsea will be without centre-back Thiago Silva, who has been absent for three weeks with a thigh injury but managed an individual training session on Friday and is making "big progress", according to Tuchel.

The Blues' boss was typically complimentary of a United side he knows well, declaring they can "hurt you any second with individual quality and speed".

Chelsea go into the game six points behind United, who head into the weekend in second place. The Blues went down 2-0 to United at Stamford Bridge last season and have not lost consecutive home Premier League games against the Red Devils since October 1995.

In all competitions, United have won their past three away games against Chelsea, winning in the FA Cup in February 2019, EFL Cup in October 2019 and Premier League in February 2020. They have never won four in a row away against Chelsea.

"If we get a win out of this game it will be huge for us," Tuchel added. "If they can a win it will be huge for them to put a difference between us, to increase the difference."

Jurgen Klopp remains hopeful Jordan Henderson will be back in action for Liverpool before the end of the season after undergoing groin surgery.

The Liverpool captain was injured during the first half of the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton last Saturday. It is unclear when exactly he will return, though the club has confirmed Henderson will not feature prior to the international break in March.

Klopp was not willing to be more specific over a comeback date for the midfielder when he spoke at a news conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Sheffield United.

However, the Reds boss was clear that, despite not being able to participate on a daily basis, Henderson - like Liverpool's other long-term absentees - can still have an influence on the rest of the squad.

"They all have to be influential [while out], that is clear with so many players unavailable at the moment. Most of them are leaders in this group, here doing their rehab," Klopp said.

"Hendo is not here yet but Virgil [van Dijk], Millie [James Milner] and Joel [Matip] all have to be influential here. That's what they will be. When Hendo is back, he will have to play this role while doing his rehab.

"The best-case scenario? I don't know, to be honest. It's not a quick one, but of course we all hope there is still a possibility for him to play a few games this season, but we will see."

Henderson will miss Premier League games with Chelsea, Fulham and Wolves next month, as well as the second leg of the last-16 Champions League tie against RB Leipzig. There are also three World Cup qualifiers for England that he must sit out.

The 30-year-old has started 20 times in the league this term, during which Liverpool have a 45 per cent win percentage and an average of 1.7 points per game.

Unsurprisingly, those figures drop when the skipper is missing. Klopp's side have won two of their five outings in the league when Henderson - so often used as a makeshift centre-back due to injuries in defence - has not played, averaging 1.4 points per match. They have also faced more shots, the average rising from 7.8 per game to 10.

There is some good news for Liverpool over the return of Diogo Jota, while Fabinho is also set to resume training ahead of Sunday's trip to Sheffield United.

Jota has not played in 2021 due to a knee injury but Klopp will not take any unnecessary risks with the forward, even with his side struggling to score goals.

"Diogo trained twice with the team and has looked very good, very good," Klopp said. "But he was long-term out and we have to see what we can do with that, though in training he looks really promising."

Asked later if Jota's return is a timely boost in the battle to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, Klopp replied: "Of course it's positive, but it's not the only positive.

"It's very positive that Diogo's back after a long time, the others who are out for a long time we will not see any more on the training pitch until the end of the season.

"Yes, it's very positive, and the way he came back in training is very positive. We just have to make a decision about what makes sense for him, when it makes sense for him, these kind of things."

Liverpool travel to bottom club Sheffield United on Sunday on the back of four straight defeats in their title defence; they have not lost five in a row in the top flight since a slump spanning August and September in 1953.

Klopp confirmed no decision had been made on the availability of Alisson for this weekend following the death of the goalkeeper's father back in Brazil.

Diego Castro was the Perth Glory hero as his double secured a 3-1 home A-League victory over second-placed Brisbane Roar.

Perth have won three straight matches, after captain Castro netted either side of a fine Bruno Fornaroli volley.

Jack Hingert headed in on the stroke of half-time to ensure the match was level at the interval, but Brisbane fell to defeat despite racking up 20 attempts on goal.

On his A-League debut, Perth substitute Kosuke Ota had a hand in creating the second-half goals from Fornaroli and Castro for the free-scoring hosts, who have now netted 18 times across their first six games, an A-League record.

Glory have three games in hand on most of the teams above them and are up to fifth in the table, two points behind Brisbane and six adrift of leaders Central Coast Mariners.

It is now four matches without a win for Brisbane, who hit the woodwork twice and saw impressive performances from Corey Brown and Jay O'Shea – who combined for 10 chances created – go unrewarded.

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