Barcelona coach Quique Setien insisted he was happy with Frenkie de Jong's form, but said the LaLiga giants were perhaps asking for too much from the midfielder.

De Jong has faced some criticism for his performances since arriving at the club from Ajax for a reported €75million ahead of this season.

The midfielder, who has scored two goals and provided three assists in 37 games this season, played 90 minutes in Barca's 1-0 LaLiga win over Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Asked about De Jong afterwards, Setien said he was satisfied with the 22-year-old Netherlands international.

"I see Frenkie in quite a good place," he told a news conference.

"This doesn't just apply to Frenkie, but if you analyse all the players down to fine detail you'll always see some things that certain players can improve on, or every player can. Some decisions can have an impact on the game. As long as it's a good technical decision, that's what's important. That sometimes happens where a decision can be the wrong one or not.

"Frenkie gives us a lot. He helps us out a great deal. It's true that perhaps we might ask a little bit too much from him, as we demand excellence from our players and it's never easy when you're facing a team like we did [on Saturday]. It's not easy at all.

"Our players' characteristics are not really designed for an intense high press compared to Real Sociedad and that's what we struggled with and when they managed to play to their strengths they made us suffer. But that also happened to them.

"At the end of the day, in general I am happy with how the team played and how Frenkie played."

Barcelona moved top of the LaLiga table, two points clear of rivals Real Madrid, who visit Real Betis on Sunday.

Jose Bordalas hit back at Frenkie de Jong over his criticism of Getafe's style of play, saying he had no interest in playing like Barcelona.

Getafe reportedly used De Jong's criticism as motivation to stun the midfielder's former club Ajax in the Europa League last 32.

But Bordalas responded by criticising Barcelona, who edged Getafe 2-1 when the teams met in LaLiga last month.

The Spaniard said he had no desire to see his side play like Barca, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen having played 69 passes – the fourth most on the pitch – in that clash.

"When we played against Barca, his goalkeeper gave 69 passes," Getafe coach Bordalas told Radio Marca on Thursday.

"I don't want my goalkeeper to give 69 passes, something we would not be doing well.

"I want to create goalscoring chances."

Getafe will face Inter in the last 16 of the Europa League, while they are fourth in LaLiga, 10 points behind second-placed Barcelona.

Frenkie de Jong said it is easy playing alongside Barcelona captain Lionel Messi after he guided the LaLiga champions past Real Betis.

Messi was instrumental with a hat-trick of assists as Barca twice came from behind to beat Betis 3-2 on Sunday.

After a turbulent week following a public row with director of football Eric Abidal, Messi was back doing what he does best – leading Barca to victory.

Messi teed up De Jong, Sergio Busquets and Clement Lenglet, who scored the 72nd-minute winner before he was sent off along with Betis star Nabil Fekir.

On six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi, Barca midfielder De Jong said: "It's easy to play by his side because he gives you balls into space, it's not that I have a special connection, but he gives you good balls in space."

It was the perfect response for Barca, who bounced back from their shock 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday.

Barca's victory away to Betis kept the defending champions within three points of leaders and rivals Real Madrid.

"It was very important to win the game and that was not easy, although in the end we could have won by more goals, for the penalty they didn't give Messi. It was clear, he caught him and pushed him," De Jong said.

"It was hard to lose in the [Copa del Rey] because it was in the last minute and we had a good game. I think we deserved more but we have to look forward."

On his own performance, Netherlands international De Jong – who arrived from Eredivisie champions Ajax in the off-season – added: "I think that was one of my best games after suffering a bit in the last few. But it wasn't brilliant either."

Lionel Messi grabbed a hat-trick of assists as Barcelona ended a tumultuous week with a pulsating 3-2 LaLiga win over Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin on Sunday.

The Catalan giants were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao in midweek, while Messi has been involved in a public spat with technical director Eric Abidal after he questioned the work ethic of some players under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

Quique Setien's side got off to a terrible start against his former employers, with Sergio Canales' penalty putting the hosts ahead early on, but a wonderful goal from Frenkie de Jong pulled the champions level soon after.

Nabil Fekir - who was later dismissed for two bookable offences in quick succession - restored the hosts' advantage with a fine finish, before Sergio Busquets scored a second equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Clement Lenglet then headed home Messi's free-kick 18 minutes from time to ensure Barca remain three points behind leaders Real Madrid after their 4-1 win at Osasuna earlier in the day, although the Frenchman blotted his copybook by picking up a second yellow card soon after Fekir's dismissal.

Betis opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Canales stroking home from the penalty spot after Lenglet had handled Fekir's strike inside the penalty area.

Their lead lasted just three minutes, though, as De Jong chested down Messi's superb ball over the top and volleyed past Joel Robles from six yards.

Fekir rounded off a swift counter-attacking move with a fine low strike from 18 yards past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to restore Betis' advantage just before the half-hour mark.

Messi was again the provider for Barca's equaliser in first-half stoppage time, his deep free-kick turned in by Busquets from eight yards.

Messi was twice denied by Robles after the interval but he was central to Barca's winner, floating in a free-kick that was headed home by a towering Lenglet.

Fekir saw red 14 minutes from time, picking up quickfire bookings for a foul on Lenglet and dissent, while Barca's French defender also received his marching orders three minutes later after catching Joaquin.

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong says tactics have not changed much since Quique Setien took over as head coach from Ernesto Valverde.

Valverde was sacked following the 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals, with Setien – an advocate of Johan Cruyff's possession-based approach – named as his successor on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

The 61-year-old appears to have had a prompt influence on Barca's style, the Catalans enjoying 82.4 per cent of the ball in the LaLiga win over Granada and 78 per cent in Wednesday's Copa del Rey victory in Ibiza.

Barca only managed three goals across those two games, though, suggesting they are yet to find a fluency to their attacking play – something for which Valverde was often criticised.

And De Jong says Setien has not made many alterations yet to the team's approach, telling reporters at a sponsor event on Thursday: "He doesn't ask anything concrete of me. The idea he has is the same as Valverde, the style of Barcelona possession.


"The only things that have changed are small details, but the intention is to have the ball.

"It seems like I've adapted easily, and I'm happy, but I know I can do much better. I also believe we have a lot of room to evolve as a team and we'll be better throughout the season."

De Jong signed for Barca last January but did not move until the end of the season, helping Ajax to the Eredivisie title and the Champions League semi-finals before his departure.

The Netherlands midfielder is now hoping to go further in European competition, perhaps as part of a treble.

"I want to win every trophy but, if I had to choose one, I'd choose the Champions League, although I want to lift LaLiga and the Copa del Rey," he said.

"Last year, Barcelona-Ajax would have been a beautiful final. Hopefully, I can be there this year."

FIFA has revealed a record amount was spent on transfers in 2019, with deals for Eden Hazard, Antoine Griezmann and Joao Felix topping the bill.

A report issued by world football's governing body on Wednesday revealed $7.35billion (£5.6billion) was spent by clubs in the transfer market in 2019, an increase of 5.8 per cent on the previous year.

The study also confirmed that English clubs spent the most, though the total figure of $1.52billion (£1.14billion) was a 22.1 per cent decrease from 2018.

Joao Felix's €126million transfer from Benfica to Atletico Madrid – who sold Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona for €120m – was the biggest deal of 2019, while Hazard left Chelsea for Real Madrid in a deal reportedly worth €100m.

Harry Maguire became the world's most expensive defender with a reported £80m switch from Leicester City to Manchester United, while Ajax sold young stars Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong to Juventus and Barcelona respectively for an initial €75m each.

There was also a rise of 16.3 per cent in spending in the women's game, with over 800 transfers made in total.

Liverpool dominated the voting for UEFA's Champions League Team of the Year 2019, with five Reds players making the final XI alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Jurgen Klopp led Liverpool to their sixth European title in Madrid in June, with Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi on target in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Virgil van Dijk was named man of the match and he features alongside Anfield defensive colleagues Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, as well as goalkeeper Alisson.

Sadio Mane is the other Liverpool player in the line-up, part of a front four completed by Messi, Ronaldo and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong earned blockbusting moves to Juventus and Barcelona respectively as they helped Ajax to last season's semi-finals and both make the select side, with the latter partnered in central midfield by Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne.

More than two million votes were cast to select the team via UEFA.com over the course of a six-week period.

Ernesto Valverde said Frenkie de Jong's sending-off hurt Barcelona at a crucial moment in their 2-2 derby draw with Espanyol and noted his side's difficulties in killing off games.

The Blaugrana came from a goal down at RCDE Stadium to lead 2-1 thanks to goals from Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal but De Jong was shown a second yellow card 15 minutes from time.

It was the midfielder's first career red card in league football and preceded an Espanyol fightback in which Wu Lei scored a deserved equaliser to earn LaLiga's bottom club a share of the points.

Valverde, whose side have won just one of their past four top-flight matches, called for his side to battle for victories.

"We have to fight in every match," Valverde told reporters.

"We started badly, we managed to come back but unfortunately we went down to 10. They pressed and equalised.

"Frenkie's dismissal did us a lot of damage. We were unable to score a third. This is football.

"It was a very competitive game, a derby with a lot of tension and emotion. If you're winning and the opponent equalises, you leave with the impression of having lost two points."

Barca have made a habit of coming from behind in recent away games, doing so in their 2-1 victory at Leganes and their 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad.

Valverde acknowledged his players are capable of digging their way out of difficult situations but thinks they have struggled to go for the jugular when it matters.

"In a lot of games, we cash in first," he said.

"We managed to take the lead in four away games, whereas in other games we managed to come from behind.

"We have a reaction capacity, but we are not always able to kill the match. The sending-off affected the match."

Barcelona failed to regain their two-point lead at the top of LaLiga after Wu Lei scored a late equaliser for Espanyol in a 2-2 derby draw that saw Frenkie de Jong sent off for the visitors.

The champions fell behind 23 minutes into a contest they dominated but in which their best football was rarely in evidence against the division's bottom club.

Thankfully for Ernesto Valverde, Luis Suarez was at his lethal best, instinctively making it 1-1 shortly before he brilliantly teed up Arturo Vidal for Barcelona's second.

But after De Jong was shown a second yellow card, Espanyol ramped up the pressure and Wu clinched a precious point for LaLiga's bottom club as he became the first Chinese player to score against Barca in a competitive game.

The result leaves the champions level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table at the midway point of the season.

Barcelona star Frenkie de Jong believes the Premier League is at a higher level than LaLiga.

De Jong is enjoying a fine start to life in LaLiga after swapping Eredivisie titleholders Ajax for Spanish champions Barca in the off-season.

The 22-year-old was linked to Premier League champions Manchester City prior to his €75million transfer to Barca.

Happy at Camp Nou, Barca and Netherlands midfielder De Jong compared the Premier League and LaLiga.

"I used to think that LaLiga was the strongest football league in the world," De Jong told The Mirror. "You could see their dominance in European Cup competitions.

"The Spanish clubs always progressed a long way and often grabbed the main trophies, the Champions League and Europa League.

"But the Premier League has gained power over the last few years.

"When it comes to pure skills, LaLiga is better. But because of the sheer intensity, the English competition is at a slightly higher level."

De Jong has scored one goal and supplied two assists in 18 LaLiga appearances for leaders Barca this season.

Barca are two points clear of bitter rivals Real Madrid heading into the New Year – Ernesto Valverde's side back in action away to Espanyol on January 4.

When Barcelona hosted Real Madrid on November 29, 2009, the final Clasico of the first decade of the 21st century, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won just a single Ballon d'Or between them.

The following month saw Messi land his first, yet even when considering the standards both were setting even then, few would have predicted the remarkable nature of their dominance over the following decade.

Ten years on, only one person – Luka Modric – has been able to interrupt their duopoly of the coveted individual award, with Messi edging out Virgil van Dijk earlier this month to win it for a record sixth time.

Ahead of the final Clasico of this decade on Wednesday, Barcelona's Messi is now the undisputed king of the fixture, with no one else's status even remotely comparable since Ronaldo's departure from Madrid to Juventus last year.

There is a staleness to the two squads in terms of many so-called star names, Messi and Karim Benzema aside. Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Toni Kroos, Modric, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba – all have been wonderful players and, in most cases, are still among the main attractions, but arguably every single one is past his prime.

But as we prepare to head into a new year and new decade, both sides have impressive youngsters waiting to be leading lights of the next generation, and some could even enjoy a decisive impact on Wednesday.

Barcelona

Ansu Fati - Winger, 17

The next jewel out of La Masia? Well, his lightning start to life in the Barca first team suggests so. Despite being just 16 years old at the time and without even representing their 'B' team, Fati was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season, becoming the club's second-youngest player as he featured against Real Betis. He then made himself the most junior goalscorer in their history. Nimble-footed, a good finisher and blessed with excellent vision, the teenager's potential appears limitless such is the ease with which he has adjusted to top-flight football.

Jean-Clair Todibo - Centre-back, 19

France Under-20 international Todibo has had a curious start to his Barca career, in that he has not made much of an impact. He joined from Toulouse – for whom he played 10 Ligue 1 games in 2018-19 – at the start of 2019, but then only featured twice in LaLiga before the campaign ended. Similarly, he has been sparingly used this term, but away to Inter in the Champions League he highlighted his potential. Making his Champions League debut, the defender was the best player on the pitch, coping comfortably defensively and showcasing considerable ability on the ball. The archetypal Barcelona centre-back, they already seem to have Pique's heir. That is if Barca resist the urge to cash in early, as reports suggest they are contemplating.

Frenkie de Jong - Central midfielder, 22

Probably the player on this list who least requires an introduction. De Jong rose to prominence last term with Ajax, playing a starring role as they went as far as the Champions League semi-final. While he has not quite hit those heights at Barca yet, there's no doubt about his ability. Once some of the older midfielders move on, De Jong will surely have the team built around him.

Pedri - Attacking midfielder, 17

He may be a year or two from making his first Clasico appearance, but Pedri looks destined for an illustrious career. Barca secured the attacking midfielder's signature in September when he was still 16, paying Las Palmas – where he has been important since returning on loan – an initial €5million. Media reports claim the Segunda club could eventually receive €25million for Pedri, whose release clause will balloon up to €400million when he becomes a first-team player at Camp Nou. A dazzling dribbler and a fine playmaker, Pedri is already seen as one of Spain's next great hopes and will surely light up El Clasico in the 2020s.

 

Real Madrid

Rodrygo Goes - Winger, 18

Even though Rodrygo cost Madrid a reported €45million from Neymar's former club Santos, it never felt as though there was quite the same hype around him from Madrid fans as there was Vinicius Junior. But the 18-year-old already seems to have moved ahead of Flamengo product Vinicius in the pecking order, with Rodrygo becoming something of a regular over the past couple of months. He is the Champions League's second-youngest hat-trick scorer following his treble against Galatasaray and is settling in at Madrid in encouraging fashion.

Vinicius Junior - Winger, 19

A positive debut campaign in Madrid gave Vinicius a real platform to build on this term, particularly given a lack of quality wide options aside from Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale – who is rarely in favour. The Brazil international is yet to nail down a starting role, with his performances a little inconsistent, though he remains an explosive option and has been used fairly regularly by Zinedine Zidane lately. If he progresses as expected, there is no reason why he and Rodrygo can't be pillars at Madrid over the next 10 years.

Federico Valverde - Central midfielder, 21

Valverde is by no means the typical Madrid player. He's not particularly flamboyant, meaning he lacks the aura of glamour of Vinicius and Rodrygo, yet he is enjoying an excellent breakthrough season. The Uruguayan midfielder has already made 12 LaLiga appearances this term – just four shy of his total for 2018-19 – and has truly earned Zidane's trust. Mixing an effective blend of combativeness, off-the-ball intelligence and fine ball control, Valverde could be Madrid's midfield lynchpin for years to come.

Martin Odegaard - Attacking midfielder, 21

The clamour to sign a 16-year-old Odegaard in 2015 at the time felt like the transfer saga to end all others. Madrid got their man, despite reported interest from Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and just about every other major European club. For a few years it seemed his potential may have been misread, but a solid loan spell at Vitesse last term saw him flourish and he has truly blossomed at Real Sociedad this season as a standout player in LaLiga. He'll almost certainly be back in 2020-21, and on the evidence of his current form, few would bet against him instantly starring.

Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has been voted 18th in the final list for the 2019 Ballon d'Or, a fall of 15 places from last year.

Griezmann finished behind only Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo 12 months ago after winning the World Cup with France and impressing for Atletico Madrid at club level.

However, an underwhelming end to his Atletico career and a tough start to life at Barcelona - who he joined in a €120million deal in July - has seen him drop down the list.

It marks the second time the 28-year-old has slipped from third to 18th, having done likewise in 2017.

Griezmann's Barcelona team-mate Marc-Andre ter Stegen finished 24th and Frenkie de Jong, who spent the first half of the year with Champions League semi-finalists Ajax, was voted 11th in the standings.

Three Liverpool players missed out on the top 10, with Georginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino in 26th, 19th and 17th, respectively.

Fellow Premier League side Manchester City were also heavily represented in the 30-11 rankings, as were Dutch champions Ajax following their run to the final four of last season's Champions League.

Lionel Messi and Virgil van Dijk are the frontrunners to win the most prestigious individual accolade in world football during Monday's ceremony.

Ballon d'Or 30-11 list in full:

=28. Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain)

=28. Donny van de Beek (Ajax)

=28. Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)

=26. Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)

=26. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

=24. Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

=24. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)

23. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

22. Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

=20. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)

=20. Dusan Tadic (Ajax)

19. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

18. Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)

17. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)

16. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

15. Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)

14. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

13. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

12. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

11. Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona)

Lionel Messi would clearly be the most deserving winner of the Ballon d'Or despite Virgil van Dijk's outstanding year, according to Barcelona team-mate Frenkie de Jong.

Liverpool centre-back Van Dijk was long considered the favourite for the prestigious individual honour having helped the Reds to Champions League glory last season.

Van Dijk has also impressed this term as Liverpool – agonisingly pipped to the 2018-19 Premier League title by Manchester City – have surged eight points clear at the summit.

However, Mundo Deportivo claimed on Tuesday that Messi has been told he has won the Ballon d'Or for the sixth time, meaning he will have edged out Van Dijk again having scooped FIFA's The Best Men's Player prize.

De Jong says there is no doubt Messi deserves the recognition.

"For me, I said it a lot but Messi is the best player in the world so he has to win it," he said. 

"Van Dijk had an amazing season, he is a great defender and one of the best players in the world.

"But Messi is above and he is by far the best."

De Jong completed his move to Camp Nou from Ajax in July and has been a standout performer in a Barca side who have failed to convince despite sitting top of LaLiga and Champions League Group F.

The Netherlands midfielder knows the team are capable of showing more consistency but is enjoying life in Catalonia ahead of Wednesday's visit of Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. 

"I'm really happy to be here. It's everything I dreamed of. Of course we can play better, we're working as hard as we can and hopefully everyone can see [on Wednesday] that we're improving," said De Jong.

"We can play better, I think we have an amazing team, most of the best players in the world, so we know we can perform better but we're winning, first in the most difficult group in the tournament. We're not doing really, really bad but of course we can do better.

"We know we can improve, we talk about it a lot, we're training a lot. There's not a single game where a team made no mistakes so it's normal to make mistakes. I think we can improve a lot but we're not playing as badly as people think."

Ernesto Valverde's men have yet to make sure of a place in the knockout stages, although victory at home to Dortmund will get the job done. 

"We know it's really important, if we win we qualify, we're already first in the group," De Jong added.

"It's really important for us, qualifying for the next stage is the most important thing."

Ronald Koeman said it was a "fantastic" achievement by Netherlands to secure a place at Euro 2020.

A goalless draw with Northern Ireland in Belfast clinched a top-two finish in Group C qualifying for Netherlands, no matter how unspectacular their performance was at Windsor Park on Saturday.

Koeman was a key player in the Netherlands team that won Euro 88 in West Germany, but now he is pulling the strings from the touchline as head coach.

On a testing night, the one-time stylish centre-back admitted he settled for a stalemate before the end, which is why he introduced substitute defender Nathan Ake late on in place of striker Ryan Babel.

It did the job, as Netherlands reached their first tournament since the 2014 World Cup, having failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

"As a team, we always want more and better, but we have achieved a great result by qualifying for the European Championship," Koeman told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

"We've done it in a group with great opponents like Germany and a tricky opponent like Northern Ireland. I also just want to say that it is fantastic that we have qualified."

Netherlands were unconvincing, and with Memphis Depay absent through injury they struggled to make an impression in attack.

Babel was perhaps their biggest threat, but that was only because Steven Berghuis did not look up to the task. Steven Davis missing a penalty for Northern Ireland was a blessed relief to the visitors.

Yet like his captain Virgil van Dijk, who expressed similar sentiments, Koeman was chiefly concerned about getting the job done.

The draw sufficed, and Koeman, who took on the Netherlands job in February 2018, said: "I am happy and proud of the team. I also think you can now forget how tonight's game went."

He admitted Netherlands "should have done more attacking-wise", but it did not appear to trouble him unduly. There is time to look for solutions now the Dutch are sure of their place at the 24-team tournament.

Midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who moved from Ajax to Barcelona in the close season, is relishing his first senior finals with Netherlands.

"We haven't played a final tournament for a while, so everyone is happy," De Jong told NOS. "We have taken a photo together and we are certainly happy that we made it. I don't think we should be too critical, but I feel we should have won here."

De Jong added: "We did too little with the ball; attacking-wise we could have done more. But we're going to the European Championship and that is the most important thing."

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