Sergio Aguero signed on the dotted line at Barcelona but refused to discuss the possibility of Pep Guardiola following him from Manchester City to Camp Nou.

Barcelona are in a state of upheaval amid doubts over Ronald Koeman's future, with club president Joan Laporta describing the Dutchman as "a coach that we did not ask for" on Monday.

Laporta has not excluded the possibility of Koeman staying in charge for the second year of his contract, but it appears the club are also looking at alternative options to come in and take charge.

Aguero is also thought of as a potential upgrade on the talent Barcelona have as striking options, besides Lionel Messi, having become Manchester City's record goalscorer during a highly successful decade in England.

The new recruit also said he thought Messi would be staying at Barcelona, continuing their partnership from the Argentina national team.

However, asked about the possibility of Barcelona re-hiring Guardiola, who coached the Blaugrana from 2008 to 2012, Aguero stayed well clear.

He said: "I don't have the right to talk about that. He has a contract with City and I'm not the one who has to talk about the coach."

The 'one' would be Laporta, the president who was elected in March. His predecessor, Josep Maria Bartomeu, appointed Koeman.

Asked about the latest situation with Koeman, during what was Aguero's presentation news conference, Laporta said: "I already said that we have started a period of reflection, for the reasons I said.

"As he was a coach that we did not ask for, we needed that period. There are contacts, I have already said that he is a coach with a current contract and our will is to respect it as long as this period of reflection occurs."

Koeman almost led Barcelona to a domestic double in 2020-21, but a dip in league form over the closing weeks of the season meant their charge since the turn of the year was only good enough for third place in LaLiga. They won the Copa del Rey, but that may not be enough to save him.

Laporta was also questioned about whether Aguero had been brought in to please captain Messi, who has yet to sign a new contract with his current deal to expire at the end of June.

The president replied, according to Mundo Deportivo: "The signing of Aguero is because he is a desired player and an exceptional player. It is the first of a series of signings that you will get to know. Naturally, we want Messi to continue."

The news conference was perhaps a sign of what Aguero can expect at Barcelona, at least in the short term. Messi signing a new deal would bring a sense of calm to proceedings, as would clarity on the coaching situation.

Aguero is looking forward to playing with his compatriot on a week-by-week basis.

He said the prime motivation to join his new club was: "To be at Barca, where the best player in the world is.

"If he [Messi] continues here, which I think he will, we will try to do our best, as we have always done, in the national team."

Laporta could announce a new signing every day of this week – and he might yet, with Eric Garcia, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum heavily linked – but the coaching situation also needs to be a priority.

Aguero steered away from recommending Guardiola's appointment, but spoke of his admiration for the City coach.

"We all know that Pep, since he arrived at City, has proposed a different football," Aguero said. "He proposes to keep the ball all the time and to keep that is important. It made me and the whole team better."

Injuries and a COVID-19 absence caused Aguero to miss chunks of the 2020-21 season, but he came through a medical on Monday and said his left knee, which was operated on last June, was "perfectly fine".

Messi has benefited from some outstanding forwards lining up alongside him during his Barcelona career, notably David Villa, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Barcelona averaged 2.7 goals per game when Villa and Messi played together, and it was the same when Neymar played with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, dipping to 2.6 when Messi and Suarez featured in the same side.

There are overlaps to bear in mind when looking at those figures, but not in the case of Villa who left Barca in July 2013, with Neymar arriving effectively as his replacement. Suarez then came in a year later from Liverpool.

Neymar departed for Paris Saint-Germain in August 2017, while Suarez was sold to Atletico Madrid last year.

Barcelona's win percentage stood at 74.1 per cent when Neymar and Messi played in the same team, 73.6 per cent with Villa and 73.2 per cent with Suarez.

Yet Barca's points per game were curiously slightly lower at 2.3 when Messi played with Neymar compared to when Suarez and Villa were in the team alongside the little maestro (2.4).

It was a sign of the times that Barcelona, led by Guardiola for two of Villa's three seasons, averaged 71.8 per cent possession while the Spain striker was at Camp Nou. When Messi and Neymar played together that figure was 67.2 per cent and when Messi and Suarez teamed up it was 65.3 per cent.

Messi, Suarez and Neymar frequently played in the same side, forming the feared 'MSN' forward line.

Sergio Aguero described Barcelona as "the best club in the world" as he completed his move from Manchester City.

After 10 years at City, Aguero passed a medical on Monday to seal his free transfer to Camp Nou, with the Argentina international to officially become a Barca player on July 1.

The striker became City's record scorer during his decade-long stint at the Etihad Stadium, but now he is set to be united with compatriot Lionel Messi in Spain.

The pair are close friends, and Aguero's satisfaction was obvious as he sealed his return to LaLiga, having previously played for Atletico Madrid.

"We all know that Barca are the best club in the world, so I think I made a great decision to be here and I hope to help the team," Aguero said.

"Of course it's a step forward in my career. I'm really happy and hopefully I can help the team to win things."

"First of all, I want to play and help the squad and if the team does it well I will be happy individually. I just try to help the team and try to arrive at the end of the season with chances to win titles."

Hit by injuries and COVID-19 in a disrupted final season at City, Aguero bowed out with a substitute appearance in the Champions League final as Pep Guardiola's side lost 1-0 to Chelsea in Porto on Saturday.

Speaking in an interview released on Barcelona's Twitter account, Aguero indicated he had moved on and was now looking firmly to the future.

He said: "I want to send a big hug to everyone, to all supporters. I will try to give my best and hopefully the fans will enjoy my football skills.

"I've changed a little bit - at least my look when I arrived to Europe to Atletico Madrid at 18 years old. I learnt a lot, then I played for City in the Premier League.

"Now I've changed of course my way of playing, but I have an idea where I can play and I will try to help my team-mates with my experience."

Lionel Messi is "very excited" about the upcoming Copa America as Argentina eye a long-awaited title.

Argentina are set to host the 2021 Copa America after Colombia were stripped of co-hosting rights amid safety concerns in the country due to anti-government protests.

Messi's Argentina, who finished third in 2019 following back-to-back runners-up performances in 2015 and 2016, will open the South American tournament against Chile in Buenos Aires on June 13.

Argentina will also face Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia in Group A and Messi is relishing the Copa America as the superstar captain seeks his first senior trophy with La Albiceleste.

"I'm very excited and eager, I'll try to do things right," Messi said on Sunday, with Argentina riding an 11-match unbeaten streak.

"In the last Copa America we left a good image, but we cannot stay with that and we will have to continue growing.

"The last qualifying games we did well too, although it's been a long time since those games and we couldn't get back together, we'll have to get back on track quickly and keep growing."

"I'm always excited to compete with the national team, whatever game it is, we always want to win, it's always the same goal," added the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"The truth is that the youngest are eager and the oldest too, with the same or more eagerness. We are a very nice and united group with a good base that has already been working since [head coach Lionel] Scaloni started and some new ones who joined at the last moment. The important thing is to form a very strong group for the objectives that lie ahead."

Before their Copa America campaign, Argentina will meet Chile (June 3) and Colombia (June 8) in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc with matches postponed, but before COVID-19 led to suspensions, Argentina had won three of their first four games to be two points behind Brazil in second spot.

"I'm happy to be here with all my colleagues. It is a strange and different situation from what we usually live in and we cannot live in a normal way, but little by little we are getting together and working for the two qualifying games because both will be very difficult.

"All qualifying games are very tough. Chile are a great team with very good players, although they have a new coach and he didn't have many games, they have very experienced players base and many kids who are up to the task. They had a generational change like us and they are growing and preparing, it is a very competitive team.

"We try to comply with all the recommendations they give us, the last qualifying matches we had were very similar to what we are experiencing now, although now it is more serious due to the situation in the country. Unfortunately we are having a hard time, there are many infected, so we are trying to accommodate ourselves and comply with what they tell us to do everything well."

What does the future hold for Achraf Hakimi?

In his first season with Inter, the Morocco international claimed the Scudetto.

However, his time in Milan could already be coming to an end.

 

TOP STORY – HAKIMI TO PSG?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign star Inter full-back Achraf Hakimi, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Inter won the Serie A in 2020-21 but find themselves in a tough financial situation due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with head coach Antonio Conte already opting to depart.

Hakimi, Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Alessandro Bastoni could reportedly be sold to ease some of the economic pressure at San Siro.

PSG are believed to be interested, though Inter are demanding more than €60million for the 22-year-old, who only joined from Real Madrid at the start of the season.

Madrid have the right of first refusal and can match any offer for their former defender, while Bayern Munich and Chelsea have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail claims Arsenal are plotting a shock bid for Manchester City star Raheem Sterling. The England international found himself out of Pep Guardiola's starting XI at times in 2020-21. Madrid and Barca have been previously linked.

Paul Pogba remains a dream signing for Juventus, reports Calciomercato. Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli and Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez have emerged as targets for Juve, though the Bianconeri are still keen on Manchester United star Pogba, though Udinese's Rodrigo De Paul is an alternative.

- Romano says Barca are open to selling Philippe Coutinho, though Arsenal are not interested in the former Liverpool attacker.

Lionel Messi's contract extension is a priority for Barca before any new signings are made, according to the front page of Saturday's Mundo Deportivo. Barca have been tipped to bring in Lyon captain Memphis Depay, Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia on free transfers. Gianluigi Donnarumma – another free agent option as his Milan contract expires – is also a possible recruit.

- According to Romano and widespread reports in Italy, Luciano Spalletti has agreed to replace Gennaro Gattuso as Napoli head coach.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta revealed contract talks with Lionel Messi are going well as he prepares to meet again with Ronald Koeman to decide the head coach's future.

Messi's current deal is set to expire at the end of June but the Spanish club are in negotiations to make sure their talisman remains at Camp Nou.

Having pushed to leave Barca a year ago, the 33-year-old scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga appearances to finish as the competition's leading scorer, though Barca finished behind both champions Atletico Madrid and rivals Real Madrid in the table.

Laporta provided an update on Messi's situation at a lengthy news conference on Friday that covered a number of topics, during which he confirmed new signings are imminent.

"Messi's new contract is going well, but it has not been done yet," Laporta announced.

"We are working hard, all the executives that we have involved here are working hard to give him a good proposal. We are going to give him a proposal that is within our means and we hope that it will be accepted by the player.

"I see our relationship as very good. Messi loves Barca. We know that he is a man and a player conditioned by his incredible talent.

"Of course, we all want him to continue, and we hope that he will stay with Barca."

Barca are expected to sign defender Eric Garcia and forward Sergio Aguero in the transfer window, with both players soon to be out of contract at Manchester City.

"Our ambition is to improve the current squad and we are working on that very hard," Laporta said.

"Next week, we will talk about new arrivals for the first team. You will see the result of some of the work we have been doing.

"I understand that people want us to work in a rhythm that is faster, but we believe in working step by step, little by little and doing things right. We need to make two situations compatible, when I'm talking about the liquidation of one project and the beginning of a new one."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project; the Dutchman is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge. Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca," Laporta said. "We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Laporta was also questioned about links to Xavi and Pep Guardiola, two legendary names at the club who have been rumoured to be potential replacements for Koeman.

“Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]," Laporta said. "We are talking."

Is David de Gea's time at Manchester United coming to an end?

De Gea has spent a decade with the Red Devils but his form has been scrutinised in recent years.

A swap involving Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak could solve United's problems.

 

TOP STORY – DE GEA OUT, OBLAK IN?

Manchester United are lining up a swap deal involving star goalkeeper David de Gea and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak, according to The Sun.

De Gea's future has been uncertain since Dean Henderson signed a long-term contract extension at United, who remain uncertain about the pair.

Spain international De Gea joined United from Atletico in 2011 and the Red Devils are prepared to offer the LaLiga giants a reunion in exchange for star Oblak.

 

ROUND-UP

- TV3 reports Barcelona have offered Lionel Messi a new contract. Messi's current deal is due to expire on June 30 and the superstar captain has been linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

Saul Niguez is adamant he wants to leave LaLiga champions Atletico and Juventus lead the race to sign the Spaniard, claims Marca. United – long-term admirers – Bayern Munich and PSG are also interested.

- PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, says the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo. Zidane has announced his departure. Former Inter boss Antonio Conte, Castilla coach and club great Raul and Xabi Alonso – currently in charge of Real Sociedad's reserve side – are also on the list. Pochettino has also been linked with a sensational return to Tottenham.

Barca have held talks regarding goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, according to Fabrizio Romano. Donnarumma's Milan contract is due to expire and his departure is already confirmed. After talking with agent Mino Raiola, Barca are set to decide whether to sign Donnarumma, who has also been linked with Juve and United.

- Premier League champions City are looking to smash their transfer record to bring in £100million-rated Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, reports the Daily Mail. City are also interested in Tottenham's Harry Kane – a target for rivals United, Chelsea, Madrid and Barca.

- The Telegraph says United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to sign a new three-year contract in Manchester. Solskjaer guided United to a second-placed finish in the Premier League, while the club were stunned by Villarreal in the Europa League final this season.

Barca are close to completing free transfers for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon star Memphis Depay, according to Mundo Deportivo. Ronald Koeman's men are also eyeing City's free agent pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

- FootMercato reports PSG have made an approach for star Milan full-back Theo Hernandez.

Chelsea and Tottenham both have strong interest in Borussia Monchengladbach attacker Jonas Hofmann, claims Sport1.

Lyon sporting director Juninho slammed departing Barcelona-linked star Memphis Depay for wanting the Ligue 1 side to revolve around him like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Depay will leave Lyon on a free transfer this off-season and LaLiga giants Barca – led by former Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman – have been tipped to sign the Dutch forward.

The 27-year-old Depay, who arrived from Manchester United in 2017, was involved in 32 goals in Ligue 1 this season (20 goals and 12 assists) – equalling his best tally in a single campaign with the French side (19 goals and 13 assists in 2017-18).

Only Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe scored more Ligue 1 goals (27) than Depay in 2020-21, but Juninho had strong words for the outgoing Lyon captain.

"Memphis Depay just wanted a team for himself," Juninho told OLTV. "It's not a criticism, I had a good relationship with him.

"But on the other hand, the whole team had to revolve around him and that is very hard. Everyone should feel like they're working the same.

"There are only four players in the world where you have to do everything for them: Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe. If you have one of them, then the team can revolve around them.

"Sorry, I think that Depay is strong, but he's not at their level. And I think that he has to work harder without the ball."

Juninho also responded to departing head coach Rudi Garcia's stunning criticism.

In an interview with L'Equipe, Garcia said: "I was badly welcomed by certain people but I thought that after the cups and being top of the table at the half-way point, things would change.

"There are some fiery minorities but in the city the messages I received were truly nice. I also have the satisfaction of having the second team in France in terms of most playing time for young players. That was one of the objectives, to give chances to and favour those who have a market value but also to play the Brazilian recruits and after a while, there is the squaring of the circle…

"…he [Gerard Houllier, who died in December] was critical in the balance of the club. He knew how to grease up the wheels. It was he who could explain the role of Sporting Director to Juninho who lacked the experience. It is essential in a club that all the people are behind each other as we saw in Lille. Here there was too much dissonance in my relationship with Juni.

"Things went well initially. Things started to go wrong without me noticing. After two or three victories in November, the sporting director no longer came to congratulate me. I found that when the Brazilian recruits weren't playing, he wasn't happy. He would have preferred to win with his players.

"He invests himself a lot, and that is a quality, but I certainly think that he must have promised them that they would start. We spoke about it, he told me that if it had to be done again, he would not push on these things. But it slowed down the emergence of certain young players like [Maxence] Caqueret in particular. Juni's opinion was that Jean Lucas was better. The problem must have come from there initially. And things quickly deteriorated."

In reply as Lyon try to replace Garcia, Juninho said: "I was surprised. I knew he was going to do something like this because that's his character. He chose an experienced journalist and the statement looks like it was prepared a long time ago. It's a long interview, but I don't feel like I'm being betrayed. We are betrayed by friends, and we worked together as professionals.

"One of the problems I had with Rudi was the different ways he treated players in the locker room. He was strong with the weak, and weak with the strong. It was creating problems in the locker room and the players came to see me. Rudi Garcia wanted to loan out Jean Lucas because he didn't play him, we didn't necessarily agree on that. He was complaining that he wasn't progressing tactically, and I thought maybe it was his fault. He took some things personally but the player had nothing to do with it. Eventually he was loaned out, maybe I insisted too much but I have the right to ask questions.

"I think he has a lack of self-confidence. It also bothered him, my way of behaving with the players and the rest of the staff. During the transfer window, it's true I didn't let him choose the players. But that's my role, I made my choices. [Lucas] Paqueta, for example, I made the effort to bring him in. He wasn't necessarily used to this; he likes to impose his choices and that is understandable. But I have defended Rudi on several occasions, it was not necessarily easy but he was doing a good job."

Ronald Koeman is to hold further talks with Barcelona over his future and could stay on at the club beyond the end of next season, according to his agent Rob Jansen.

Reports in Spain suggest Koeman, who was appointed last August and has another year to run on his deal, met with president Joan Laporta for 40 minutes on Tuesday.

The Dutchman has come under pressure on the back of an underwhelming first campaign at Barca, whom he also represented for six seasons during his playing career.

Barca beat Eibar 1-0 in their final LaLiga game of the season on Saturday to finish third, five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of champions Atletico Madrid.

The Catalans also exited the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain at the last-16 stage, as well as losing to Athletic Bilbao in January's Supercopa de Espana.

However, Koeman's men did exact revenge by beating Athletic in last month's Copa del Rey final – a result that may have salvaged the former Netherlands coach's Camp Nou job.

Following discussions with Laporta – who succeeded Josep Maria Bartomeu as president in March – Koeman's camp believe he is set to stay on for at least another season, even as alternative reports claim he could yet be replaced.

"There was a positive atmosphere during the meeting and I personally left it with a good feeling. There was mutual respect," agent Jansen told De Telegraaf.

"The feeling is even that positive that Ronald might even stay longer [than 2021-22]. But we have not got this far yet, more conversations will follow."

What next for Koeman's Barcelona?

Speaking after the win at Ipurua last weekend, Koeman insisted his first season in charge of Barcelona could be considered a positive one.

"We have won many points in the league since the start of 2021 and won the cup in a brilliant way," he told reporters. "If you'd told me in August we'd win a trophy and be fighting for LaLiga with two or three games to go, I would sign for it. 

"Hopes were too high during the season – that's how I see it. That's why I think it's not a bad season, far from it. It is not the best possible season, but you can't ask for a double every year, or from a team that is still forming."

The 79 points collected by Koeman is the fewest of any Barcelona boss in their first 38 league games since Frank Rijkaard (72) in 2003-04.

It is the first season Barca have finished outside the top two since 2007-08 and the only time they have gone successive years without finishing top since between 2006 and 2008.

The Catalans were as reliant as ever on Lionel Messi, who scored 30 league goals – seven more than next-best Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker – to win an eighth Pichichi trophy 

However, doubts remain over the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's future with his contract due to expire next month.

As well as tying down Messi to a new contract, Barcelona are also expected to strengthen during the close season with the additions of free agents.

Georginio Wijnaldum is rumoured to be close to arriving from Liverpool, while Lyon forward Memphis Depay and Manchester City pair Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero have also been strongly linked.

What would new signings add?

Koeman complained about an ageing squad last week and the addition of 30-year-old Wijnaldum would not exactly help lower the average age.

The pair know each other well from their time together with the Netherlands, so Koeman will know exactly what he is getting in Wijnaldum, who has also become accustomed to winning major trophies with Liverpool.

Wijnaldum is not a clear upgrade in terms of providing additional creativity in midfield, though, his 21 chances created in the Premier League this term fewer than the tallies eight Barca players managed in LaLiga from a similar number of games.

He also failed to register a league assist in 2020-21, while finding the net only twice, which pales against what Frenkie de Jong (three goals, four assists), Pedri (three goals, three assists) and Sergio Busquets (no goals, five assists) produced.

From a defensive perspective, Wijnaldum's 198 ball recoveries were better than Pedri's 142 and Busquets' 182 but lagged some way behind the 215 from De Jong in LaLiga this season.

Depay and Aguero would provide different qualities in attack should they arrive, meanwhile, with the former coming off the back of another impressive Ligue 1 campaign for Lyon that saw him score 20 goals and assist a further 12.

To put that into perspective, only Messi (39) was directly involved in more league goals for Barcelona last season, with Antoine Griezmann (20) the sole other player to hit double figures.

Aguero may not have been used regularly for City in an injury and illness-plagued campaign, but his four goals in 12 games – two of those in the space of five minutes on the final day – gave him a return of one goal every 139.5 minutes.

That compares to a goal every 581 minutes in LaLiga this season for Barcelona's current back-up striker Martin Braithwaite, a goal every 296.5 minutes for Ousmane Dembele and one every 201.5 minutes for Griezmann.

Aguero's figures may be skewed by his limited outings this term, but he boasts a goal every 109.6 minutes in the English top flight since the start of 2018-19, a significant improvement on Barca's options aside from Messi.

The domestic football season concluded at the weekend in typically dramatic fashion.

The title went down to the wire in France and Spain, while Champions League qualification was up for grabs for some big names in England and Italy.

Much of the focus during the closing rounds in Germany was on Robert Lewandowski's record bid, but there was no shortage of intrigue whichever way you looked.

It was in keeping with the rest of an unpredictable campaign, one that Stats Perform breaks down with the use of Opta data.
 

LILLE, LALIGA AND LUKAKU SHAKE THINGS UP

Lille, Atletico Madrid and Inter all have relatively recent history of league glory, but a pre-season wager would have fetched long odds.

In Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain had won seven of the previous eight titles and would have expected to do so again, having claimed a domestic treble and reached the Champions League final in 2020.

As it was, under new coach Mauricio Pochettino, they had to settle for pushing Lille all the way.

Les Dogues claimed the title but had already set a club points record when they reached 79 with two games to spare. PSG finished on 82, though, meaning Lille desperately needed the final two results to boost their tally.

Despite the presence of Real Madrid and Barcelona in LaLiga, Atletico's triumph was perhaps more likely, even if the impressive nature of it may have come as a surprise.

Although they stuttered on the home stretch and had to come from behind on the last day to edge out Madrid, Atleti spent 30 matchdays at the top of the table – a mark only bettered once in their 10 other title-winning campaigns (36 matchdays in 1995-96).

Indeed, Atleti are used to having to wait to celebrate, with 10 of their 11 championships seeing the destination of the trophy decided on the final day (all except 1976-77).

Inter are another big name but had been waiting even longer than Lille for their most recent title, with one Milan victory and then nine in a row for Juventus since the 2009-10 Nerazzurri treble.

Antonio Conte's men completed the job in style, though, confirmed as champions with four games to play before finishing with 91 points (behind only their 2006-07 haul of 97) and 89 goals (third-most behind the classes of 1949-50 and 1950-51 – 99 and 107 respectively).

Talisman Romelu Lukaku was involved in 35 of them, becoming the first Serie A player to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists in the same season since at least 2004-05.


BAYERN BACK ON TOP, CITY SCALING NEW HEIGHTS

In Germany, the title race was a little less exciting. Winners of everything in 2020, Bayern Munich took home the Bundesliga crown for a ninth successive season.

Prior to this run, no team had won more than three on the bounce, yet there appears no end to Bayern's dominance in sight. They have now won 52 per cent of the championships since the formation of the competition in 1963.

Julian Nagelsmann, arriving from RB Leipzig, will be the coach tasked with achieving 10 in a row and Hansi Flick has set the bar high. His 86 games brought seven trophies.

Manchester City could soon be reflecting on a similarly dominant dynasty having now claimed three titles in four seasons.

Pep Guardiola played a big part in Bayern's run and now has nine league wins in 12 top-flight seasons as a coach, although this was an unprecedented achievement, with City eighth on Christmas Day – the lowest position at that stage for an eventual Premier League champion.

A record English league run of 12 away victories played a pivotal role in City's season, while defending champions Liverpool saw a club-record 68-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League ended as they subsequently lost six consecutive league matches at Anfield for the first time in their history.

City could yet win the Champions League too, where Sergio Aguero is in line for his final appearance before his contract expires. He will hope it is as successful as his last league outing, during which he scored twice against Everton on Sunday to set a new record for the most Premier League goals by a player for one club (184).
 

RECORD-BREAKING LEWY DELAYS NEXT GENERATION

Aguero might have had his say on the final day, once the title was secure, but he largely took a backseat – unlike Lewandowski at Bayern.

His 41 Bundesliga goals broke Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 in a single season. The next-best tally in Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21 saw Lionel Messi trailing well behind on 30.

Lewandowski unsurprisingly also led Europe in expected goals, with his chances worth 32.2 xG, and expected goals on target, producing shots with a value of 35.8 xGOT.

As Lewandowski took the Kicker-Torjagerkanone and Messi went away with the Pichichi, Cristiano Ronaldo (29 goals) won the Capocannoniere, having also previously topped the charts in England and Spain.

Kylian Mbappe (27) was the leading marksman in France, while Harry Kane (23) earned the Premier League Golden Boot for a third time.

Kane is set to be the subject of intense transfer speculation throughout the close-season – replacing Aguero at City might be one option if he gets his wish to leave Spurs – and he will join Mbappe and Erling Haaland in that regard.

Haaland also scored 27 league goals and only just trailed Mbappe's seven assists with his six.

The expectation is both players will establish themselves as the world's best in the coming seasons, but it is now Lewandowski, rather than Messi and Ronaldo, they must surpass.

Lionel Messi has won LaLiga's Pichichi Trophy for an eighth time and the fifth season running, after finishing the 2020-21 campaign with 30 goals.

Messi may well have played his final game for Barcelona. He did not feature in Saturday's win over Eibar, having been granted permission to take a break ahead of Argentina's Copa America campaign.

The 33-year-old is out of contract at the end of next month and it is not yet clear where his future lies.

Though despite the uncertainty, Messi has not failed to deliver on the pitch, and from 35 league appearances, he netted 30 times – 17 clear of Antoine Griezmann, who ranks second for Barca on 13.

Messi's goals came from a total of 196 shots, with 27 from his left, one from his right and two from his head.

Three of the goals came from the penalty spot, and three from trademark pinpoint free-kicks. Overall, Messi averaged a goal every 101 minutes in the 2020-21 league season.

Barring a huge effort by Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri, who faces Deportivo Alaves on Sunday, Messi will finish seven clear of his nearest rival, with Karim Benzema registering 23 league strikes.

Lionel Messi will sit out Barcelona's final match of the LaLiga season against Eibar.

The club confirmed their captain has been granted permission to start his holidays early before he begins preparations for the Copa America with Argentina.

Midfielder Pedri will also skip the game at Ipurua after a hectic season, with Barca unable to finish any higher than third in the table.

Messi has played in all but two of Barca's league games in 2020-21, making 47 appearances in all competitions.

He leads the goalscoring charts in LaLiga with 30, seven clear of nearest rival Gerard Moreno, meaning he is almost certain to win the Pichichi trophy for the eighth time in his career.

It is unclear whether Messi will play for the Catalans again. The 33-year-old's future at Camp Nou remains in doubt, with his contract expiring in June and no agreement yet reached on an extension.

Messi attempted to leave last year, with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain said to be interested, but he was thwarted by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The return of Joan Laporta, who has a good relationship with Messi, as Bartomeu's successor this year could play a part in the player's decision over his future.

Laporta is reported to have sanctioned a 10-year contract offer for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, while Barca have also been tipped to sign Messi's Argentina team-mate Sergio Aguero on a free transfer after he leaves City.

Where will Harry Kane play in 2021-22?

The Tottenham star Kane reportedly wants out of his boyhood club.

Premier League rivals Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are ready to pounce…

 

TOP STORY – KANE SEEKING SPURS DEPARTURE

Harry Kane has told Tottenham he wants to leave the club in the off-season, according to widespread reports in England.

Frustrated at a lack of silverware in London, Spurs star Kane would reportedly prefer to remain in the Premier League amid links to champions Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea.

Kane is believed to be open to a LaLiga switch, with Barcelona among his admirers.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Diario AS claims former Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane if the Frenchman leaves Real Madrid. Club great Raul, who is currently in charge of the Castilla team, is another option. It comes as Madrid push to bring in a franchise player in the form of Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, while Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and Bayern Munich's David Alaba are also wanted amid links to Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga and United midfielder Paul Pogba.

- The Sun says City are considering a mega move for Barca superstar Lionel Messi, who is out of contract at the end of the season. Messi is reportedly open to reuniting with Pep Guardiola in Manchester on a one-year deal.

Barca are weighing up the futures of Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Antoine Griezmann and Sergi Roberto, reports Mundo Deportivo. Due to their financial situation, the players could be asked to take a pay cut as Lyon captain Memphis Depay prepares to arrive on a free transfer. City forward Sergio Aguero and defender Eric Garcia, Haaland and Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum have also been linked.

- Lille's Jonathan Ikone is Dortmund's top priority as the Bundesliga club prepare for life without Jadon Sancho, according to France Football. Sancho has been tipped to join United or Liverpool, while Dortmund are also eyeing PSV sensation Donyell Malen, Ajax forward David Neres and Pedro Goncalves of Sporting CP.

Ronald Koeman had an eye-catching statement about the importance of Lionel Messi to Barcelona as he was quizzed on both his own future and that of his captain.

Barca can no longer win LaLiga following Sunday's results, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both victorious elsewhere as the Blaugrana lost 2-1 at home to Celta Vigo.

Atleti's triumph meant Barca would not have been able to finish this season as champions regardless of their result against Celta, though Koeman's side could not deliver anyway.

Although they led through Lionel Messi in the first half, Santi Mina netted before the break and then late on to seal a fine victory for the Galicians.

It was a familiar sinking feeling against Celta, who have now beaten Barca five times since the start of the 2014-15 season – tied with Madrid for the most in that time.

However, this campaign has been particularly disappointing at Camp Nou, with a seventh loss the Blaugrana's most in a league season since nine in 2007-08. That was also the last time Barca had fewer than their current 76 points after 37 games (64).

Questions about Koeman's job security are to be expected then, but he responded on Sunday: "I'm not going to answer that."

Of greater concern to Barca fans, though, will be a decision on Messi's next move, with the legendary number 10 out of contract for the second consecutive close-season.

His header against Celta made this the 300th different LaLiga game he has scored in – Madrid great Raul is a distant second on 186 – while he tallied 30 league goals for the ninth time in 12 campaigns.

Since the turn of the year, no player in Europe's 'top five' leagues has been involved in more than Messi's 31 goals (23 goals, eight assists) and Barca are of course keen to keep their captain.

Asked if Messi was appearing at Camp Nou for the last time, Koeman said: "Hopefully not.

"He is still the best in the world and has also shown today that it is impossible to play without him.

"He has scored 30 goals in LaLiga and has given us many points in LaLiga. It's a question for Leo. For my part and the club, let's hope he stays with us.

"Because if Leo's not here, we have a doubt who's going to score the goals."

Left-back Jordi Alba was offered the same question and replied: "Let's hope not, although it's a decision [Messi] has to make."

Alba appeared to excuse Koeman, meanwhile, as he reflected on a tough run-in for Barca, who have won only one of their past five matches.

"We haven't won four games," he said. "It's a shame. We players are to blame. We have to give a good image in Eibar [in the final game], give it our all."

The coach added: "The problem wasn't today. We had the opportunity against Granada [another 2-1 defeat] and today we have lost in a similar way. That's how we feel.

"It has to be accepted because, in the end, the champion will just be the champion. And we won't have done enough."

Santi Mina scored twice as Barcelona's slim hopes of winning this season's LaLiga title ended after a 2-1 defeat to Celta Vigo at Camp Nou.

The Blaugrana entered the penultimate matchday of the season in third, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two shy of second-placed Real Madrid.

But Atleti and Madrid both won, meaning Barca's challenge would have concluded early even if they had protected the lead forged by Lionel Messi.

As it was, Mina had the visitors level seven minutes before the break and then, after Clement Lenglet was sent off for a second booking, the Celta forward lashed in an 89th-minute winner.

It had all started so well for Barca, with Messi predictably at the heart of their best work up to and including his 28th-minute header.

Sergio Busquets' deep cross from the left found Messi beyond the Celta defence to nod past Ivan Villar, who had repelled the hosts' best chance to that point when he blocked from Antoine Griezmann.

But Celta levelled with their first shot, a smart Mina finish from 20 yards that wrongfooted Marc-Andre ter Stegen, apparently unsighted behind Gerard Pique.

Although that goal did not initially alter the pattern of play, Barca became increasingly impatient as they struggled to forge clear-cut openings and left gaps at the back.

A far more impressive contribution from Ter Stegen saw the goalkeeper dive to his right to deny Denis Suarez, while he tipped away an awkward free-kick moments after Lenglet earned his second card seven minutes from time for a rash challenge on Kevin Vazquez.

There was another stop from Suarez, too, and those saves might have provided a platform for a Barca winner, only for Martin Braithwaite to miss the target from close range.

The decisive goal instead arrived at the other end, with Ter Stegen caught under Augusto Solari's cross, which bounced back out off the post for Mina to blast into the net.

Lautaro Martinez sees winning the Scudetto as vindication for his decision to stay at Inter, where he has formed a superb partnership with fellow forward Romelu Lukaku.

Martinez was heavily linked with a move to Barcelona throughout the 2019-20 season, with the player even discussing a possible switch to Camp Nou with fellow Argentine Lionel Messi.

However, the 23-year-old instead opted to stick around at San Siro, remaining a key part of Antonio Conte's squad as the Nerazzurri secured a first Serie A title since 2010.

Inter had finished second in the previous season but have kicked on after that disappointment, running away from their rivals since the turn of the year to be crowned champions and end Juventus' nine-year dominance in the competition.

"I am very happy to be at Inter, even more so after this Scudetto which has been missing for so many years," Martinez said in an interview with Sky Sport Italia.

"We are experiencing an incredible moment and I cannot think of anything other than being here.

"I was close to Barcelona, I had also spoken with Messi. Afterwards, I made a choice - I chose to stay here and I was not wrong."

Martinez's combination with Lukaku has been a key factor for Inter, the pair scoring 75 league goals between them in their two seasons together at the club.

Lukaku has been a revelation since joining from Manchester United. After 23 goals in his debut Serie A campaign, he is at 22 this time around with two games to play, as well as providing 11 assists.

The Belgian striker has been ruthless too, converting 52.8 per cent of what Opta describes as 'big' chances, which is where a player is expected to score.

Martinez – who has 16 goals and five assists in the league in 2020-21 – believes the dynamic duo have continually pushed each other to raise the bar under Conte, in part due to the competition provided by having the experienced Alexis Sanchez in the squad.

"We built our relationship from the first day he arrived," Martinez said of Lukaku.

"The year before he had watched Inter's matches and we talked about this for two or three hours after the first training session. He speaks Spanish, we understood each other immediately.

"I always tell him that there is a match between the three of us, because every training session we try to improve and give our best.

"Each one has taken a step forward this year and this is important for the growth of Inter and this group."

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