Barcelona fought back from the brink of defeat to beat Granada 5-3 after extra time in an extraordinary Copa del Rey quarter-final at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Ronald Koeman's side won at this ground 4-0 in LaLiga last month but were facing a battle when Kenedy scored against the run of play after an error by Samuel Umtiti, making just his fifth start of the season.

Roberto Soldado struck a second on the break early in the second half and Barca struggled to get back into the contest against an exemplary Granada defence and inspired goalkeeper Aaron Escandell.

However, Griezmann turned in Lionel Messi's cross from deep with two minutes of normal time left and the same combination set up Jordi Alba to head in an injury-time equaliser.

Griezmann's fine header put Barca ahead in extra time but Fede Vico struck back straight away from the penalty spot, only for Frenkie de Jong and Alba again to settle the encounter at last.

Aaron was forced into six saves in the first half as Barca dominated proceedings, with a double stop to deny Messi and Francisco Trincao the pick of them.

It was Barca's own slack play that gifted Granada the lead, as some loose passing in defence ended in Umtiti being dispossessed by Alberto Soro, who teed up Kenedy for a tap-in.

Granada delivered a sucker-punch in the first two minutes of the second half. Angel Montoro intercepted a Griezmann pass and launched a long ball forward to Soldado, who raced away from Umtiti and slotted past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Trincao, Ousmane Dembele and Messi all hit the woodwork and Griezmann was denied from an overhead kick by a brilliant Aaron save, but the France forward turned a Messi cross in off post and keeper to give his side a lifeline.

The same Messi pass and Griezmann run teed up Alba to net an unlikely header, but Luis Suarez almost snatched a win for Granada with seconds left, the substitute dragging a shot wide after racing through on goal.

Aaron could do nothing to deny Griezmann's emphatic second in extra time as he rose highest to head in Alba's cross, but Vico restored parity three minutes later from the spot after Carlos Neva won a soft penalty from Sergino Dest.

But De Jong denied Granada a second semi-final in succession, side-footing into the net after Aaron had parried Messi's shot in the 109th minute, and Alba blasted home a stunning volley from Griezmann's clever pass to make certain the contest was over.

Barcelona booked their place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as goals from Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong sealed a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday. 

Ronald Koeman's side had looked set to follow Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in losing to lower-league opposition when Fran Garcia gave Segunda Division side Rayo the lead shortly after the hour-mark. 

As is so often the case, though, Messi pulled Barca level soon after with a close-range finish. 

That set the stage for the impressive De Jong to secure Barca's progression 10 minutes from time.

The first clear sight of goal did not come until the 20th minute, De Jong looping an effort from six yards onto Stole Dimitrievski's crossbar.

The visitors somehow failed to take the lead 10 minutes before the interval when Dimitrievski initially pawed away Trincao's strike before Riqui Puig's follow-up was diverted onto the crossbar by Ivan Martos.

Antoine Griezmann and De Jong had further chances, but Barca were ultimately unable to make their superiority count at the break.

Messi clipped the top of the crossbar with a free-kick three minutes after the restart before the Argentina international blazed over after being played clean through soon after.

Barca were made to rue those misses in the 63rd minute when Fran Garcia turned home from almost on the line after Neto had parried Alvaro Garcia's cross into his path.

Messi restored parity six minutes later, however, sliding in from six yards after being teed up by Griezmann.

De Jong ensured there would be no need for extra time to settle the result, stroking home from a similar position to Messi from Jordi Alba's cross.

Ronald Koeman praised Frenkie de Jong for improving the attacking aspect of his game after chipping in with another goal and an assist in Barcelona's 2-0 win over Elche.

The Netherlands international profited from a Diego Gonzalez error to give Barca a 39th-minute lead and crossed for substitute Riqui Puig to score a late second in Sunday's LaLiga clash.

De Jong now has three goals and two assists in his last six games in all competitions, while his five LaLiga goals in 18 months at Camp Nou is one more than he managed in five seasons in the Eredivisie.

He also contested more duels (11) than any other Barca player at Estadio Martinez Valero and no visiting player intercepted the ball more often (twice).

But it is the attacking side of De Jong's game that most pleased head coach Koeman, who wants his midfielders to take the goalscoring burden off the forward line.

"The three forwards aren't enough; we need the midfielders to score too," Koeman said. "It's good that he's scoring and assisting.

"He's always improving. We want the midfielders to get into the box and get up there."

Fellow midfielder Puig followed that advice by getting on the end of De Jong's cross and heading past Edgar Badia from his seventh touch after being introduced from the bench.

It was the academy graduate's first goal at senior level but he admitted to being disappointed by his lack of playing time this term, having made only one start in all competitions.

"I'm having quite a difficult season because I'm not used to playing so little," Puig told Movistar.

"But I'm getting stronger mentally. I'm happy with the team's hard work and how my team-mates are helping me."

Victory for Barcelona was their fourth in a row in the league, three of those without conceding, as they moved up to third place.

The Catalan giants have not conceded in any of their last nine LaLiga games against Elche, meanwhile, which is their best such run against a single opponent in the competition.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced a big save to deny Emiliano Rigoni with Barca 1-0 up and Koeman was grateful for his compatriot's shot-stopping ability.

"They didn't have many chances - they only had one and it came from a big mistake from our defence," Koeman said. "But Ter Stegen was very good in the one-on-one.

"Luckily we have a good goalkeeper, because they could've equalised at that point.

"Defensively, apart from that mistake, we did well. The best thing about today was our pressing and our performance without the ball. We deserved to win.

"I'm very happy with how we won. We've had lots of matches in the last few days and we've kept focus.

"We were better than our opponents. We were patient. We won possession. It was difficult to score because they had lots of men behind the ball. But we pressed well."

Barcelona return to action on Wednesday with a trip to Rayo Vallecano in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey.

Frenkie de Jong is unsure of Barcelona's title credentials despite their improving LaLiga form.

De Jong scored the opener and created a late second for substitute Riqui Puig during Sunday's 2-0 win at Elche.

That made it four wins out of four for Barca in Spain's top flight since the turn of the year, although they will be 10 points behind Atletico Madrid having played a game more if the leaders are able to beat Valencia in Sunday's late kick-off.

"I'm not sure," he told LaLiga TV when asked whether Ronald Koeman's side are back in the title race.

"We have to win our games and we'll see where we end up towards the end of the season."

Nevertheless, the Netherlands midfielder has no doubt Barca are an improved side after a tough start to life under his former national team boss Koeman.

"Since the new year we're a lot better and we've played most of the games away from home and won all of them in LaLiga. We're in a better moment," De Jong said.

"I think [beating Elche] will do us good, we've worked hard, especially now in the new year. We're growing and improving as a team and hopefully we can keep improving."

De Jong's tally of five goals across his season-and-a-half with Barca has already bettered his total of Eredivisie strikes for Ajax (four) across five campaigns, and the 23-year-old also feels that the imperative to improve applies to him personally, even after a man-of-the-match display.

"Yes, I do think I can play better but it’s not only about goals and assists," he added. "Of course I'm happy but there's more to come."

Frenkie de Jong played a prominent role as Barcelona beat LaLiga strugglers Elche 2-0 to stay in touch with the leading pack.

Lionel Messi completed his two-match suspension for a red card during the Supercopa de Espana defeat to Athletic Bilbao and Barca struggled to create clear chances in his absence against well-organised opponents.

But an error from Diego Gonzalez allowed De Jong to take advantage in the 39th-minute – the Netherlands international unlikely to score an easier one than his fifth LaLiga goal.

A minute from time, De Jong then turned provider as he crossed for Riqui Puig to head home, ensuring Barca are three points behind Real Madrid, although they will be 10 points shy of Atletico Madrid again if the leaders are able to beat Valencia later on Sunday.

Frenkie de Jong and Jordi Alba were granted a rest as Ronald Koeman called Alex Collado up for Barcelona's Copa del Rey clash with Cornella on Thursday.

Koeman gave a break to De Jong (2,166) and Alba (1,927), who rank first and third respectively for minutes played in all competitions at Barca this season.

Lionel Messi (1,939) separates them but misses the trip to the Segunda B side as he serves the first game of a two-match ban following his sending off in the Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. The suspension could yet be reduced to one game as Barca lodged an appeal.

Koeman has taken the chance to include 21-year-old Barcelona B midfielder Collado in a matchday squad for the first time since taking over in August.

Collado made his Barca debut in May 2019 but has only managed one further first-team appearance since then.

Fellow Barca B players Ilaix Moriba, Arnau Tenas and Konrad de la Fuente have also been named in the 20-man group.

Koeman still has plenty of experienced players available to him and will hope to avoid a shock exit like Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid have suffered this season.

Cornella stunned Atletico in the second round and will be keen for another scalp, while Madrid were on the receiving end of a 2-1 loss to 10-man Alcoyano after extra time on Wednesday.

Barcelona reached the Supercopa de Espana final after beating Real Sociedad 3-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Cordoba.

With Lionel Messi sitting out the tie with a slight injury, it was Frenkie de Jong who continued his strong recent form with the opening goal in the first half.

De Jong conceded the penalty that allowed Mikel Oyarzabal to equalise, though, and it was Sociedad who threatened most as the game entered extra time, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in strong form and substitute Adnan Januzaj hitting the post with a free-kick.

Ter Stegen proved pivotal in the shoot-out, making two saves, before Riqui Puig buried his spot-kick to send Barca through.

The Germany international made a fine one-on-one save to deny Alexander Isak as La Real looked by far the more threatening in the early exchanges.

Barca seemed to settle after 25 minutes and twice came close through Martin Braithwaite, while Ousmane Dembele was menacing Nacho Monreal down the right.

The Catalans' growing pressure told six minutes before half-time, Antoine Griezmann clipping a cross towards De Jong, who reacted well to steer a header past Alex Remiro.

But De Jong handed Sociedad an equaliser 51 minutes in, his handball allowing Oyarzabal to send Ter Stegen the wrong way from the spot.

An end-to-end contest ensued, La Real threatening on the break through Isak and both Pedri and Griezmann coming close with powerful efforts.

In extra time, Ter Stegen made a spectacular one-handed save to keep out Joseba Zaldua's rocket before Dembele sent a shot straight at Remiro after Griezmann had stolen back possession.

Griezmann saw a volley smothered and Barca were very nearly hit on the break, Ter Stegen doing enough to deny Oyarzabal after the forward had failed to connect properly with Januzaj's cross.

Januzaj himself had a shot just prodded past the left-hand post after a strong run and then came closest of all to a winner, clattering the post with a wicked free-kick as Ter Stegen looked to get a fingertip to the ball.

De Jong hit the post with Barca's first penalty, but Ter Stegen saved from Jon Bautista and Oyarzabal and Willian Jose hit the post after Dembele had scored.

Griezmann skied his effort horribly after Miralem Pjanic and Mikel Merino each scored, but although Januzaj also converted, Puig showed nerves of steel to send the Catalans into the final.

Ronald Koeman said Barcelona were missing a number nine as they scored just once from 20 shots on goal in a 1-0 victory over Huesca, and called for the club to sign a new striker.

Lionel Messi returned to the Barcelona side after recovering from an ankle injury and Koeman opted to play him in attack alongside Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele.

The trio attempted 15 shots between them but it was Frenkie de Jong who scored the decisive goal, volleying Messi's chipped pass into the net after 27 minutes.

Koeman, who sent on Antoine Griezmann for Braithwaite nine minutes from time, admitted that he lacks a natural striker to lead the line in between the creative talents of Messi and Dembele.

"I trust each player in our squad," Koeman told reporters. "But if we choose to have three midfielders there is room for three forwards.

"With Leo we bet on someone with great depth like Dembele, and we have to choose between Martin or Antoine at the top and Martin has done it.

"It's a nine that we're missing in these games but it doesn't mean anything in regards to Antoine's substitution. We have a lot of games and we need all the players.

"We have said several times, at the beginning of the season, that we need someone at the top to have more competition and more goals, more effectiveness, but this depends on many things."

Koeman indicated that he believes improving his striking options will help reduce the pressure on Barcelona's defence, which absorbed waves of Huesca attacks as the hosts sought an equaliser late on at El Alcoraz.

Barcelona were on target with just seven of their 20 shots at goal and Koeman said they must close games out earlier to avoid nervous late spells.

"The second half was not so brilliant," admitted Koeman.

"In the end we suffer a little because they have tried to create and there have been crosses where we have defended well. If you don't close out the game earlier, you always suffer."

Looking ahead to LaLiga clashes with Athletic Bilbao and Granada, and a Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Real Sociedad, Koeman added: "This month is very important for our aspirations because we have many away games and if we win them I think we can fight.

"We have come out strong, very focused, and that is the main base we need. If we have those two things we will improve with the ball and if we can also improve in front of goal we can have a very important and good year."

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen called upon his team-mates to raise the quality of their performances late in games after they earned a narrow victory over LaLiga strugglers Huesca.

Frenkie de Jong scored a first-half volley that proved decisive at El Alcoraz but Ter Stegen had to be alert to keep Rafa Mir from equalising as the division's bottom club were allowed to attack in the second half.

Ter Stegen acknowledged that Barcelona's display improved on their showing in a 1-1 draw with Eibar last time out in LaLiga, but called for more hard work to put the Blaugrana back in contention for a place in the top three.

"For 35 minutes we did very well, we played very good," Ter Stegen told the club's official website.

"We had a lot of possession, we pressed them high, when we lost the ball we were directly right in front of them to keep on going. We made it very difficult for them to come out from the back.

"We have to improve, that's what I think, overall in the last minutes so that we don't suffer as much. I think it's not needed.

"But we won the game which is very important and we move forwards."

Ter Stegen paid tribute to De Jong, who scored his second LaLiga goal of the season to equal the number he scored in the whole of 2019-20.

"I'm super happy for him, it's not that often that he scores. I hope he continues like this, and for me and the whole team it's nice to have a clean sheet for the restart and I'm really happy for us as a team," he said.

De Jong, who arrived at Camp Nou in a €75million transfer from Ajax in mid-2019, credited the fine chipped pass from Lionel Messi for giving him the opportunity to net his fourth goal for the club.

He said: "Especially in games like this when they close a lot and they are going backwards, all of their team almost, it's important to make these runs into the box as a midfielder.

"Leo gave me a great pass and I could score."

Asked whether scoring the club's first goal of 2021 holds significance for him, De Jong said: "I try to score a bit more but I don't think it means something, no."

Barcelona moved into LaLiga's top five after Frenkie de Jong's goal clinched a 1-0 victory over bottom club Huesca in Lionel Messi's 500th league appearance for the club.

Blaugrana boss Ronald Koeman, who warned before the game that defeat would all but end his side's title challenge, saw a much-improved Barcelona performance as he earned back-to-back LaLiga away wins for the first time in his tenure.

Messi came back into the side after missing Barca's disappointing 1-1 draw with Eibar due to an ankle injury and was at his talismanic best, deftly assisting De Jong's volleyed goal after just before the half-hour mark.

Huesca did open the visitors up on occasion and it remains to be seen whether Koeman can restore some consistency and style to this team, but they did enough here to climb above Sevilla in the table.

Barcelona's early pressure paid off after 27 minutes when Messi played an exquisite chipped pass into the box, where De Jong evaded two defenders and guided the ball into the corner of the net from six yards on the volley.

Messi would have capped a fine first-half performance with a superb goal five minutes from the interval had Alvaro Fernandez not pulled off a spectacular save, palming his dipping 20-yard free-kick over the crossbar.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner flashed a fierce effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box early in the second period, before Marc-Andre ter Stegen got down well to prevent Rafa Mir's close-range shot from becoming the equaliser.

Ousmane Dembele should have put the game beyond doubt when he went one-on-one with Fernandez 13 minutes from time, but the Huesca goalkeeper saved at his feet and then denied Messi again before full-time.

Paul Pogba could reportedly leave Manchester United as early as next month, while Zinedine Zidane is said to be eyeing a Real Madrid exit.

Pogba's future has again become a talking point at United after his agent, Mino Raiola, said the midfielder wanted to leave.

And the Premier League giants may be ready to make it happen.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD WANT TO SELL POGBA IN JANUARY

Manchester United want to sell Pogba in January after Raiola's latest outburst, according to The Sun.

It comes after ESPN reported the Premier League giants doubted whether Juventus or Real Madrid – the clubs the France international has been most heavily linked to – could afford the 27-year-old.

Pogba came off the bench as United were knocked out of the Champions League with a 3-2 loss to RB Leipzig on Tuesday.

 

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid managed to reach the last 16 to ease the pressure on head coach Zidane. However, Diario Gol reports Zidane has made it clear to Madrid president Florentino Perez he is likely to leave at the end of the season, regardless of what happens. The report says Zidane was promised the signings of Pogba, Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Rennes midfielder Eduardo Camavinga.

- Under pressure, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's future at Manchester United is uncertain. But the Daily Mail reports United will back the manager despite their Champions League exit and the availability of Mauricio Pochettino. Meanwhile, Sky Sports says United are interested in Atletico Madrid right-back Kieran Trippier.

- David Alaba seems certain to leave Bayern Munich at the end of his contract after the 2020-21 season. Bild reports Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are on the shortlist of destinations for the defender.

- Could Frenkie de Jong leave Barcelona after just two seasons at the club? Mundo Deportivo reports Bayern Munich are in contact with the midfielder's agent regarding a possible move. De Jong joined Barca from Ajax for a reported initial fee of €75million in 2019, and he re-signed with the club in October until 2026.

- Eric Garcia has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, but it seems there is also interest from elsewhere. The Sun reports Arsenal are tracking the defender, who is out of contract at Manchester City at the end of the season.

- Arsenal and Wolves are monitoring Maxi Gomez's situation at Valencia, according to the Daily Mail, which says Valencia could sell the forward in January or at season's end as they look to raise funds.

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong are all back in the Barcelona squad for Sunday's LaLiga clash with Osasuna.

Messi and De Jong were afforded rests in midweek, meaning they missed the 4-0 Champions League win away to Dynamo Kiev.

But both are likely to come straight back into the starting XI at Camp Nou on Sunday, when Messi will be hoping to continue his fine run against Osasuna, having scored 22 goals in 18 LaLiga meetings with the Pamplona side.

Busquets has not played for Barca since the 5-2 win over Real Betis on November 7 as he sustained a knee injury on international duty with Spain.

It is unclear if Busquets is to start, but he has seemingly been deemed fit enough to at least be on the bench.

Sergino Dest has been included in the selection after reportedly suffering with a muscular problem.

Should he be unable to take up a place on the bench, B team defender Oscar Minguez is also there to fill in.

Barca's most recent results against Osasuna have left a lot to be desired, having failed to win either of their previous two clashes.

Osasuna might fancy their chances of extending that run, too. After all, Barca's 11 points from eight games this term is their worst record at this point since 1991-92.

 

Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona's squad for the Champions League meeting with Dynamo Kiev as the forward is in need of a rest, says head coach Ronald Koeman.

Messi is not part of Barca's 19-man travelling party for Tuesday's Group G clash in Kiev while midfielder Frenkie de Jong is another notable absentee, despite being tipped to fill in for injured Gerard Pique at centre-back.

The Argentina international has endured a frustrating campaign for the Catalan giants, scoring only one goal from open play in eight LaLiga outings and yet to lay on an assist.

All three of his goals in the Champions League this term have come via the penalty spot, the 33-year-old failing to find the target from his nine attempts in open play.

After two goalless outings for Argentina last week, Koeman has now taken the decision to give Messi a breather in midweek.

"Leo is not travelling with us, neither is Frenkie," Koeman said at Monday's pre-match news conference. "We felt that both needed a break.

"With nine points so far in the Champions League we are in a comfortable position and have the chance to give them a rest."

Messi was benched for Barca's 5-2 win over Real Betis prior to the international break, which Koeman put down to a minor injury concern, before he came on for the second half to inspire his side to victory.

He was restored to the XI for Saturday's 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid but tested Jan Oblak only once from his three shots and had just two touches of the ball in the opposition box.

But Koeman is confident Messi, who failed in an attempt to leave Camp Nou on a free transfer in August, will soon rediscover his best form.

"He is still a very important player for us and can continue to give a lot," he said.

Lionel Messi remains the best footballer in the world and it is down to his Barcelona team-mates to play to the forward's strengths, according to midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner has yet to fully adapt to new boss Ronald Koeman's 4-2-3-1 system, failing to score from open play in six matches this season.

He has also created just one chance in LaLiga this term, with young academy product Ansu Fati - five goals and one assist in all competitions - stealing the limelight.

But De Jong, who has thrived in a deeper midfield role under Koeman, insists it is down to the others in Barca's squad to ensure Messi is in the right positions to work his magic.

"When you have Messi in your team, of course you have the best player in the world in your team," he told UEFA's official website. 

"You try to get him into the best positions to make a difference and I think we need to adapt to him. 

"When he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always."

De Jong struggled at times in his debut campaign at Camp Nou, but has been shifted into his favoured position by Koeman alongside Sergio Busquets.

The Netherlands international is averaging more successful dribbles this season (2.45) compared to the 2019/20 campaign (1.95) and, while he is touching the ball less often - down from 81.43 per game to 77.73 - he is happy with the tactical tweak.

"I think in my nature as a player, I want to receive the ball early in the play and to set up the play," he said. 

"I think that's more my style of play than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less. 

"I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position than high up front, but I can also play high up front. 

"It doesn't matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a 'mediapunta' (false nine)."

De Jong was signed from Ajax in a €75million deal in January 2019 and linked up with then-Barca boss Ernesto Valverde in Catalonia six months later.

And the 23-year-old has revealed Koeman, who was his national team manager at the time, advised him on a possible switch to the LaLiga giants.

"I spoke to him on the phone and he was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as Barcelona as a city," he said of the former Barca defender.

"I think the communication between us, between the coach and me, is really good, and he tells me strictly what he demands from me in this position, and I think everything is really clear. 

"When he's talking, you are listening to him because he has this authority, this power – I don't know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because I think he understands the game and was a great player before. 

"So, if he tries to teach you something, you're listening."

Ronald Koeman will get his first taste of El Clasico from a dugout when Barcelona host Real Madrid on Saturday.

The LaLiga champions head to Camp Nou after a pretty rotten week in which back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left fans and pundits alike thoroughly disillusioned with Zinedine Zidane's current approach.

Barca also lost 1-0 in their previous league game, away to Getafe, but a 5-1 thumping of Ferencvaros in the Champions League was a tonic and, in truth, that defeat at Coliseum Alfonso Perez felt more like an aberration during what has mostly been an encouraging start under Koeman.

The Clasico is always the acid test, though – and Barca, barring a dramatic change in system, will line up for this one in a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they have not done for at least the previous 46 meetings.

BREAKING THE WHEEL

Nobody need tell Koeman about Barca's traditional adherence to 4-3-3. He had enough experience as a player for the Netherlands and the Blaugrana to know such a system like the back of his hand, even if Johan Cruyff's peak 'Dream Team' – such as the one that won the 1992 European Cup final through a Koeman extra-time goal – thrived instead in a 3-4-3.

The fact is, though, that Barca have doubled down on 4-3-3 since Frank Rijkaard took charge in 2003. He, Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and, eventually, Quique Setien – all have either stuck religiously to the system or at least made good use of it.

That rings true in the Clasico, too. Since the 2005-06 season, there have been 46 matches between Barca and Madrid in all competitions, and Barca have started in a 4-3-3 in 39 of them. Four games have seen them set up in a 4-4-2, and one each in 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2.

It's yielded mixed success, as you might expect. Barca won 17 of those 39 games in 4-3-3 – a 43.6 per cent winning rate – and lost 12. They scored 71 goals and conceded 53.

In 4-4-2, they won twice, drew once and lost once, scoring eight goals and conceding four. The 3-4-3 was, fittingly, a 3-3 LaLiga draw in October 2007; the 4-3-1-2 was that famous 3-2 win for Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu under Luis Enrique in 2017, when Lionel Messi scored his 500th club goal; and the 3-5-2 was used by Valverde when they lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana second leg in the capital three years ago.

Koeman's set-up, then, is a big departure from the norm. But will it work against Madrid?

FATI AND FRENKIE ON FIRE

Koeman explained this month that 4-2-3-1 was preferable because of Barca's lack of wingers. "Looking at the quality that we have, this formation is perfect for the team," he told Barca TV.

Fans may not have warmed to the idea at first, but Koeman's approach makes sense – and there are certain players thriving in this formation.

For one thing, it gets Ansu Fati involved closer to goal. In four league games, the young Spain star has attempted 15 dribbles, created three chances and scored three goals. The freedom to cut inside from the left has also liberated Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest at left-back, each of whom have also created three goalscoring chances. Given Madrid presently have no fully fit right-backs, that should worry Zidane.

Another to benefit is Frenkie de Jong, a player who admitted to underwhelming in his first season after joining from Ajax for an initial €75million. He has performed positively in a central axis, usually alongside Sergio Busquets, asserting himself in games far more even though Barca's average possession figure has dropped to 59.2 per cent, lower than in any of the past 11 seasons.

He, too, has created three goalscoring chances and has a remarkable 100 per cent success rate from 11 attempted dribbles. He has also completed 216 passes, behind only the more possession-focused Gerard Pique (255) and Busquets (261). He is a player with renewed confidence in breaking lines in transition and getting the ball into threatening areas, and Madrid's midfield three will have a real test on their hands to cover the space of Barca's four forwards while keeping De Jong quiet.

And Messi? Koeman said before the Ferencvaros game that his captain's form "could be better", and he had a point – one goal (a penalty) and zero assists from four league games is an unusually modest return. He is also averaging 3.9 shots per game, his lowest rate since 2007-08.

Still, Messi has created more chances (six), attempted more dribbles (19) and more shots (15) than any other Barca player in the league this season, and he may be about to face a Madrid defence without Sergio Ramos.

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