Former Manchester City full-back Pablo Zabaleta has retired from football.

The 35-year-old has been without a club since being released by West Ham at the end of June.

"After 18 years as a professional footballer I took the decision to retire from playing football," Zabaleta said in a social media post.

"These have been wonderful years that gave me the opportunity to enjoy unique and unforgettable moments.

"Forever I will thank all the people that shared the journey with me; clubs, team-mates, coaches and in particular my family and all my friends.

"With a lot of emotions I leave behind one of the best stages of my life. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!"

Zabaleta made 594 appearances at club level, starting with San Lorenzo in Argentina before moving to LaLiga with Espanyol.

He joined City in 2008 shortly before the takeover by the Abu Dhabi investment group and went on to become one of the club's most important players in a nine-year spell, popularly known as a 'warrior' figure.

Zabaleta won two Premier League titles, two EFL Cups and the FA Cup and was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in 2012-13.

He signed for West Ham in 2017 and made a further 73 appearances in England's top flight.

In 303 Premier League games in total, he recorded 953 tackles, the most of any player in the competition since his debut 12 years ago.

A winner of Olympic gold in 2008, Zabaleta won 58 senior caps for Argentina and was part of the side that finished runners-up at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Bayern Munich have bolstered their midfield by bringing in Marc Roca from Espanyol for a reported €15million.

Roca impressed last season despite Espanyol's relegation from LaLiga and has signed for the European champions on a five-year deal.

The 23-year-old made 121 appearances in total for Espanyol, scoring three goals.

"I am very happy. A dream come true for me," Roca told Bayern's official website. "In my opinion, Bayern is the best club in the world and has a strong tradition. I am very happy to represent the colours of this great club."

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said: "We are very happy to have signed Marc Roca. He is an outstanding fit for our team both as a player and a person, and will continue to develop here with us. We are sure he will give our team great value."

Roca comes in after Bayern sold Thiago Alcantara to Premier League champions Liverpool in September.

Michael Cuisance also looked set to leave for Leeds United, but the move broke down reportedly due to complications with the Frenchman's medical. However, he has also been linked with Marseille.

Mauricio Pochettino has seemingly opened the door to potentially coaching Barcelona after expressing regret for showing them "disrespect" with comments he made in 2018.

Pochettino's managerial career is most synonymous with Tottenham, where he spent five years until 2019, but Espanyol is where he first made his name and spent most of his playing days.

Across two spells as a player, Pochettino represented Espanyol for just shy of 10 years and then became the club's head coach in 2009, three years after retiring with Los Periquitos.

It was this association that was often referenced by Spanish football commentators and columnists when suggesting Pochettino would not coach Espanyol's rivals Barcelona.

Pochettino also expressed reticence to such an idea on several occasions, but most recently in 2018 when he claimed he would never coach Barca, Arsenal or Rosario Central due to his close ties to Espanyol, Spurs and Newell's Old Boys.

"I would prefer to work on my farm in Argentina than go to work in certain places," he said.

But he has now backtracked on that grand statement.

"I have to explain it well," he told El Pais. "I was in Barcelona that year and I met [Barca president, Josep Maria] Bartomeu in a bar.

"We greeted each other because we were taking the children to the same school and we were talking for five minutes. That generated a rumour that set off alarms because there were more teams that wanted us.

"When they [reporters] asked me [about the meeting], I wanted to settle it drastically. I didn't want to disrespect Barcelona.

"You can say things differently. Espanyol has made a name for me, but I'm not arrogant and I didn't like making a statement like that.

"Maybe now I wouldn't because in life you never know what will happen."

Pochettino has been out of a job since November last year when he was sacked by Spurs, just a few months after leading the club to the Champions League final.

Barca are currently coached by Quique Setien, but following his failure to retain the LaLiga title after replacing Ernesto Valverde earlier this year, reports suggest he must win the Champions League just to keep his job.

Barcelona head coach Quique Setien lauded Luis Suarez after the star forward moved third on the club's all-time goalscoring list thanks to his match-winning display against Espanyol.

Suarez surpassed Ladislau Kubala with his 195th Barca goal from 278 appearances in Wednesday's 1-0 win over LaLiga rivals Espanyol, who were relegated as a result.

Only two players have scored more goals for Barca – superstar captain Lionel Messi (630) and Cesar (232) – following his 56th-minute strike at Camp Nou midweek.

And Setien was full of praise for Suarez, who arrived from Premier League giants Liverpool in 2014.

"It wasn't difficult to figure out Luis Suarez was eventually going to score goals again as he continues to play games," Setien told reporters.

"When you're not playing for a while you need time to get back into your rhythm. That's something you only get through minutes on the pitch.

"He knows how to score goals and he's always showed that throughout his career. He did it, which moves him up to third in Barcelona's all-time scoring list and you can't take that away from him."

Barca moved within a point of bitter rivals and leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand as they prepare for Friday's match against Deportivo Alaves.

Setien's Barca are nine games unbeaten following back-to-back wins, though they were far from their best after Sunday's 4-1 rout at Villarreal.

"I think we certainly weren't brilliant," Setien said. "It was a difficult match. We managed to win and we'd all like to repeat, of course, the same performance we produced against Villarreal but it's not easy.

"You always need to take your opponents into account. In any case, I'm very happy with the win because I watch practically all the matches in LaLiga and I see a lot of teams are winning 1-0 and finding it a struggle. It's a very level playing field right now."

Barca substitute Ansu Fati was sent off after coming on at the start of the second half, while Espanyol's Pol Lozano was also dismissed.

Five minutes after coming on teenager Fati was heading off again, a VAR review upgrading his caution to a red card as he was punished when a high right foot caught Fernando Calero.

"He was very humble afterwards," Setien added on Fati. "He came to talk to me. He felt very bad about what happened.

"He wasn't provoked. He went in to win the ball. After I watched it, the challenge looked harder than it actually was. It's a moment that could have been avoided. When he goes to win the ball I saw he tried to fold his leg back so there wouldn't be any contact, but the decision was made.

"He'll be affected by this and we'll see what the punishment is but it's a moment that I don't blame him for."

Barcelona star Luis Suarez surpassed Ladislau Kubala for third spot on the club's all-time goalscoring list.

Suarez leapfrogged Kubala with his 195th Barca goal from 278 appearances in Wednesday's 1-0 win over LaLiga rivals Espanyol.

The 33-year-old forward broke the deadlock in the 56th minute to move Barca within a point of leaders Real Madrid, while relegating Espanyol.

Suarez already eclipsed Josep Samitier's 184-goal haul in October, with only two players above him – superstar captain Lionel Messi (630) and Cesar (232).

Since arriving from Premier League giants Liverpool in 2014, Suarez has flourished and even contributed 97 assists for Barca.

Suarez has won four LaLiga titles, the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup among other honours at Camp Nou.

Quique Setien is unworried about Real Madrid after Barcelona moved back within a point of their rivals with a 1-0 win over Espanyol on Wednesday.

Both teams were reduced to 10 men in the derby clash at Camp Nou before Luis Suarez scored the 56th-minute winner.

Barca have played one more game than rivals Madrid, who are a point clear at the top and host Deportivo Alaves on Friday.

But Setien is refusing to worry about Zinedine Zidane's side, with Madrid having four league games left to play.

"It is not our business. We have to worry about ourselves," the Barca head coach told Movistar.

"What Madrid does we will see."

After Ansu Fati was sent off in the 50th minute, Pol Lozano saw red for Espanyol three minutes later.

Setien accepted his team were below their best three days after crushing Villarreal, with Suarez's goal boosting their title chances.

"We did not have a great match. They have made it difficult for us in defence," he said.

"We have not found spaces nor have we had precision to handle ourselves."

Barcelona's busy run of fixtures continues with a clash against Real Valladolid on Saturday.

Luis Suarez said Barcelona must be ready if LaLiga leaders Real Madrid drop points as the title race nears its conclusion.

Two-time defending champions Barca kept their slim title hopes alive with a 1-0 victory over rivals Espanyol on Wednesday.

Suarez scored the only goal of the match in the 56th minute to relegate Espanyol midweek, while moving Barca to within a point of Madrid.

Madrid can restore their four-point advantage against Deportivo Alaves on Friday and while Barca only have three games remaining, star forward Suarez insisted the Catalan giants have to be ready to pounce on any slip-ups.

"What we have to do is win our next three games," Suarez, who moved third on Barca's list of all-time scorers, said afterwards. "Whatever Madrid do is up to them.

"If the rival drops points then fantastic, we have to think about being there if they do."

Barca were far from their best at Camp Nou, where substitute Ansu Fati was sent off after coming on at the start of the second half, while Espanyol's Pol Lozano was also dismissed.

But Barca managed to extend their unbeaten run to nine games following back-to-back triumphs.

Suarez added: "We knew it was going to be difficult. We knew their situation. We have to be aware of the fact that we put in a great performance on Sunday and were still feeling the consequences of that physically. The important thing is to win and to get three more points.

"I think if I didn't score in the first half or Barcelona didn't create more chances, that's virtue of the rival, who were very well organised.

"I think they make it difficult for Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba to push up on the flanks. But eventually the chance came and I'm delighted to be able to take it.

"I didn't see Ansu Fati's [red card] because there was a player in the way and the other one I didn't see either, there was another rival blocking my view.

"But in both cases VAR – which is there to help in these kind of situations – was able to help the referee to take the right decisions."

After his goalscoring display in the 4-1 rout of Villarreal on Sunday, Antoine Griezmann was handed another start alongside Suarez and Lionel Messi.

"It's the manager who takes the decision," Suarez said. "He wanted to find a formula, it's the formula he's trying at the moment. It's the first year of Antoine here so we know it's difficult – the adaptation period. The other day we could all enjoy a brilliant performance from Antoine Griezmann."

Espanyol knew anything but a derby victory at Camp Nou on Wednesday would relegate them to the second tier for the first time since 1994 but they were unable to preserve their top-flight status.

"I think today's match I'm proud of my team-mates, we had chances," Javi Lopez said. "If I'm here now it's to ask for forgiveness from our fans because we know these are tough moments for us but also for our fans. It's been a season in which nothing has gone right for us.

"I thank the fans but apologise again because it's the players' fault. We apologise again and tell them we are committed to coming back stronger and will fight for this club badge. That's all I've got to say – sorry to the fans, that's the minimum we can do.

"I think we all assume the responsibility in the changing room. We're most responsible for this. The players are out on the pitch and the ones who fault it is. These are really tough moments for all of us. We just have to be absolutely committed to come back stronger than ever before. I'm convinced that we will."

Luis Suarez's second-half strike consigned Barcelona's rivals Espanyol to a 1-0 defeat and relegation from LaLiga in a match that saw two red cards.

Espanyol knew anything but a derby victory at Camp Nou on Wednesday would relegate them to the second tier for the first time since 1994.

They were given hope when substitute Ansu Fati was sent off five minutes after coming on at the start of the second half, only for the numbers to be swiftly evened up when Pol Lozano was also dismissed.

Suarez capped off a crazy six-minute passage by scoring the only goal as Barca moved a point behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, in the title race.

In an all-or-nothing game for Espanyol, they were the better side in the first half, while Barca failed to have a single shot on target.

Adrian Embarba was the first to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen when he got in down the right, only for the German goalkeeper to thwart his effort with an outstretched right foot.

Espanyol continued to have joy on the counter attack and after Ter Stegen prevented a Clement Lenglet own goal, Didac Vila's effort hit the outside of the post just before half-time.

Quique Setien hoped Fati's half-time introduction would have an impact on his team and it certainly did, though not how he had imagined.

Five minutes after coming on the teenager was heading off again, a VAR review upgrading his caution to a red card as he was punished when a high right foot caught Fernando Calero.

However, Espanyol's one-man advantage lasted only three minutes, as Lozano joined Fati in being dismissed.

As was the case in Fati's instance, Lozano was initially awarded a yellow card that was changed to a red as replays showed he caught Gerard Pique on the shin when going over the top of the ball.

And it was Barcelona who adjusted better to going a man down as Suarez soon put them ahead, following up when Lionel Messi's effort was blocked after a brilliant Antoine Griezmann flick.

A vicious Messi volley was superbly saved by Diego Lopez and Espanyol could not muster an equaliser, let alone the two goals they needed, as their fate was sealed.

 

What does it mean? Espanyol go down with a fight

Espanyol have looked doomed for months, but they at least showed plenty of fight, even if it was a case of too little, too late.

It might be too late for Barca in the title race too with just three games to play, though Setien will at least be encouraged by Griezmann, Messi and Suarez's role in their goal ahead of the Champions League resumption next month.

Griezi on the eye again

A lovely goal at Villarreal last time out suggested Griezmann may finally be finding his feet at Camp Nou, and he had an instrumental role in the winner here too.

Though he will not be credited with either a goal or an assist, his vision to initially tee up Messi was fantastic.

Youthful naivety from Lozano

Fati deserves criticism for raising his foot way too high to prompt his red card, but Lozano had to be smarter when he was dismissed moments later in his first LaLiga start.

To rush into a challenge with Pique in midfield was ill-judged and Espanyol barely had any opportunity to make use of their one-man advantage as a result.

What's next?

Barcelona travel to Real Valladolid next on Saturday while their city rivals host Eibar the following day in their penultimate top-flight home game.

Barcelona boss Quique Setien is clinging to the hope Real Madrid will falter to allow for a late twist in the title race.

Despite holding a narrow LaLiga lead when the season resumed, Barcelona have slipped four points behind their great rivals and only four rounds of games remain.

A coronation for Zinedine Zidane's team appears inevitable, given they have won seven straight fixtures since the league's suspension ended.

But Setien is refusing to wave the white flag, saying on Tuesday: "Of course we can still win LaLiga. Mathematics says it. We have to keep hope until the final day.

"We have to look at what we can do. Win, leave good feelings, make progress. And if not in this situation, everything we do is worth it for the next one."

Should Barcelona take the title battle down to the final day, that would be a small triumph in itself given current circumstances.

They have the Champions League resumption to come in August, then a new LaLiga season after that, and Setien wants to see signs of progress from a team who have struggled since COVID-19 caused the 2019-20 campaign to be stalled for three months.

Victory in the home derby against Espanyol on Wednesday is surely imperative.

 

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has indicated he plans to keep Setien on for the 2020-21 season, with the coach speaking of "the circus that is football" as speculation surrounded his position.

"The club are happy with the work we do, I focus on that," he said in a news conference. "I don't value whether we win a game or lose others. I don't live daily, I work with more perspective.

"We are quite happy, as I have said on numerous occasions. Results are one thing and the feelings are another."

Setien feels his team are performing better than their results have been indicating, speaking of "very good moments" in the matches where Barcelona have dropped points. Three draws, alongside the four wins they have achieved since LaLiga returned, have been costly.

Coach Setien was cheered by Antoine Griezmann's delicious chip in Sunday's 4-1 win at Villarreal, where the Frenchman was given a more central attacking role than in previous games and thrived on the responsibility.

"He has enough ability to show his level," Setien said. "The other day there was a moment of inspiration and the players who played on the inside and the threat on the outside were closely linked. Sergi Roberto helped and did things very well."

Zinedine Zidane believes Karim Benzema's incredible assist in Real Madrid's win over Espanyol may be one of the plays of the season.

Benzema produced a moment of magic to set up Casemiro in Madrid's 1-0 victory that sent them two points clear atop LaLiga on Sunday.

The forward's outrageous backheel through the legs of defender Bernardo Espinosa gave Casemiro a simple finish.

Madrid head coach Zidane was unsurprised and believes Benzema's skill could go down as one of the best moments of the campaign.

"It doesn't surprise me. He is a player who invents things," he said, via AS.

"And then Casemiro is there. It can be one of the plays of the championship."

The goal lifted Madrid two points clear of rivals Barcelona with six games remaining in the LaLiga season.

Zidane said he expected the title race to go down to the final day of the campaign.

"Six games are missing and this will be decided on the last day. You have to fight in every game," he said.

"Today the second played against the last. You never know in this league."

Madrid are next in action against Getafe on Thursday.

Casemiro was unsurprised by Karim Benzema's incredible assist in Real Madrid's 1-0 win over Espanyol in LaLiga on Sunday.

Benzema produced a moment of magic to set up Casemiro as Madrid moved two points clear at the top of LaLiga.

The forward's 117th assist of his Madrid career came via an outrageous backheel through the legs of defender Bernardo Espinosa to give Casemiro a simple finish.

Casemiro said he knew Benzema was capable of such brilliance, paying tribute to the 32-year-old.

"What Karim did, for me is normal. We all know that the qualities he has aren't of a number nine, but of a number 10," the midfielder said.

"I know him, I know how he plays and the quality he possesses. I asked for the ball in space, and his backheel pass was incredible.

"It's Karim's goal. It's the backheel pass of a number 10 and you have to congratulate him."

With six games remaining, Madrid are on track to win LaLiga, holding a two-point lead over rivals Barcelona.

Casemiro is eager to help deliver Madrid a first LaLiga title since 2016-17.

"There is still a lot left, but we know that each match is a final," he said. "We want this league."

Madrid are next in action with a clash against Getafe on Thursday.

Real Madrid star Karim Benzema said he knew Casemiro was waiting on his ingenious match-winning assist against Espanyol, explaining: "I see football like that!"

Benzema stole the show as LaLiga leaders Madrid moved two points clear of bitter rivals Barcelona atop the table with a 1-0 win over bottom side Espanyol on Sunday.

At the end of a first half in which Madrid had hammered on the door without finding a way past former goalkeeper Diego Lopez, Benzema came up with a moment of sublime skill.

Benzema played a backheel through the legs of defender Bernardo Espinosa to grant Casemiro a simple finish for the decisive goal on the stroke of half-time.

"It was a good play, but the most important thing is the goal afterwards," Benzema said afterwards. "Casemiro gets it right. We are very happy."

Pressed on the piece of skill, the French forward added: "I see football like that! I knew Casemiro was coming from behind."

The goal was as important as it was arresting, as Madrid capitalised on Barca's failure to beat lowly Celta Vigo on Saturday.

"Of course we look at what Barca do, even though we are very focused on us," Benzema said. "I am not going to talk about Barca, but we are fine.

"We go from match to match and each game is a final for the LaLiga title.

"We are happy and we wanted to win. We left very psyched to get three points to take home."

Madrid have won all five of their matches since LaLiga resumed in June following the coronavirus-enforced break.

Zinedine Zidane's in-form Madrid play host to Getafe in the Spanish capital on Thursday.

Karim Benzema earned lofty praise after his sensational assist teed up the decisive goal in Real Madrid's 1-0 win at Espanyol.

Casemiro grabbed the only goal at RCDE Stadium to send Madrid two points clear at the top of LaLiga, yet the 45th-minute strike owed almost everything to the skill of Benzema.

The former France international's 117th assist of his Madrid career came via an outrageous backheel through the legs of defender Bernardo Espinosa to give Casemiro a simple finish.

The stunning touch swiftly prompted comparisons to ex-Madrid great Guti, who famously teed up Benzema for an open goal with a similarly stunning touch against Deportivo La Coruna in 2010.

As clips were shared of both goals on social media, Guti joined in the conversation to praise his former team-mate.

Sharing a picture of his own assist, the 43-year-old tagged Benzema and posted a series of clapping emojis.

"Magic, friend," he wrote. "Brutal."

Real Madrid moved two points clear at the top of LaLiga on Sunday, capitalising on Barcelona's draw at Celta Vigo by beating the Espanyol 1-0.

Zinedine Zidane's men led the league by virtue of their superior head-to-head record going into the weekend and were boosted by Celta's late equaliser against Barca on Saturday.

Madrid made sure not to pass up the opportunity to build a gap at the summit as Casemiro scored following a wonderful Karim Benzema assist in an entertaining if ultimately narrow away victory.

The capital club have control of the title race with just six matches remaining, although it was not all one-way traffic at RCDE Stadium despite bottom side Espanyol's accommodating defending.

Madrid looked similarly shaky at times in the first half as Sergi Darder saw an early deflected shot trickle wide before Wu Lei wastefully blasted over.

Former Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez scrambled to keep out an ambitious Casemiro attempt and watched both Sergio Ramos and the Brazil international head over, the captain missing the target from point-blank range.

Benzema was next to try his luck and draw a save from Lopez, whose busy outing continued with a double stop from Casemiro and Eden Hazard in a goalmouth scramble prompted by his own failure to deal with a high cross.

Casemiro's fifth effort before half-time finally evaded Lopez to break the deadlock, though, as Benzema teed up his team-mate with a cute backheel through Bernardo Espinosa's legs.

Madrid's momentum was slowed by the break, yet subsequent speculative Espanyol efforts from distance did not cause Thibaut Courtois significant concern as another win was sealed.


What does it mean? Madrid reinvigorated since restart

Defeat to Real Betis in March saw Madrid hand pole position back to Barcelona, but the coronavirus pandemic swiftly prompted the suspension of the season.

Zidane's side have entertained since the restart and could have run up a handsome scoreline against Espanyol. Crucially, though, they have won five straight matches, striking a balance between style and substance, while Barca have twice dropped points.

Casemiro in control

Nominally a holding midfielder, Casemiro provided Madrid's chief attacking threat in the first half. He appeared to be involved in each and every attack and deserved a goal long before it arrived courtesy of a gorgeous piece of skill from Benzema that meant, this time, Casemiro could not miss.

Wu wide of the mark

Madrid may have given up more chances than usual in recent weeks, but opponents must still make sure to take their opportunities when they arrive. Wu's profligacy saw Espanyol fail to do so. He should have hit the target when well placed in the first half and then aimed a tame shot into Courtois' clutches shortly after the break.

What's next?

Madrid host stuttering Getafe on Thursday, the same day Espanyol's unlikely bid to avoid the drop takes them to Real Sociedad.

Zinedine Zidane has cast a little uncertainty over his long-term future at Real Madrid, as he suggested the demands of management will lead to an early retirement.

Zidane has had a significant impact on Los Blancos, first during a five-year stint as a player and now as coach, with the Frenchman in his second spell at the helm.

During his first he led the club to an historic three successive Champions League successes, and although he left soon after the third, he returned last year following the ill-fated tenures of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.

He has Los Blancos back on track this term as they sit top of LaLiga, ahead of Barcelona by virtue of a better head-to-head record with seven matches to go.

But rarely has the possibility of a long coaching career been associated with Zidane, who, even when unemployed between his two Madrid spells was only ever closely linked with the France job.

And ahead of facing rock-bottom Espanyol, who sacked their coach Abelardo earlier in the day, Zidane brought up the subject of his future when asked about Sergio Ramos.

When asked if he thought Ramos would become a club icon when he played alongside the centre-back, Zidane said: "It was clear that he could achieve what he is achieving, because he already had quality and above all personality.

"He always wanted to win and make history in this club. I am not surprised by what Sergio is doing. We are lucky to have him in Madrid and I hope that continues until the end of his career. I am not going to coach another 20 years, I am going to retire sooner. Anything can happen."

He added: "I was a better footballer than a coach, but there were better footballers than me as well, although I'm happy with what I've done.

"I'm not going to coach for 20 years, I don't know how many. I don't plan anything, what encourages me is the day-to-day. Then I will do other things.

"In my head I have always been a footballer, I had 18 or 19 years as a player and when I was asked if I was going to coach, I would say no. In the end I was, but it's demanding – I don't think I'll be here for another 20 years."

But he was eager to assure fans that he is in no rush to leave, adamant he is still happy.

"No one should interpret what I say," he continued. "The reality is I'm managing the best club in the world and I'm happy, regardless of what happens here.

"But I know that when we lose the press will be out, the knives will be out, that won't change. We are winning now, but like I said, today we've yet to win the title. We must continue working, training hard.

"Everyone is going in same direction. We cannot control external matters, only what we can control. We shouldn't worry about what goes on outside Real Madrid and I think my future is the least of concerns at the moment."

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