Dani Ceballos knows only too well why Martin Odegaard has become frustrated at Real Madrid, insisting ambitious young players "need to play regularly" to further their development.

Odegaard impressed last season during a loan spell at LaLiga rivals Real Sociedad, yet he has struggled for minutes this term having returned to Madrid.

The Norway international has started just five games in all competitions and clocked up a mere 233 league minutes, leading to reports in Spain that he wants to leave in the January transfer window.

Ceballos himself is spending a second season on loan at Arsenal, a decision taken to make sure he had a greater opportunity for first-team action.

"I don't know exactly what happens with Martin, but it is obvious that any player who wants to succeed at Madrid is going to grab the opportunity he has," Ceballos said in an interview with Efe.

"I don't know what Martin thinks, but I know I think that when you're young and you have goals and objectives, what you need is to play regularly.

"If you don't, it's like something is missing. I guess that's what's happening to Martin."

Odegaard has failed to score or assist in his nine appearances for Madrid this season, having contributed seven goals and nine assists in 2019-20 while away on loan.

The 22-year-old has been linked with a return to Sociedad, potentially in a loan deal that includes an option to buy.

Ceballos, meanwhile, has not given up hope of forcing his way in at Madrid, though will need assurances over his future role if he is to remain in the Spanish capital next season.

"They don't have to tell me anything," the midfielder - who has won 11 caps for Spain - said of his own future. 

"It would be to have a talk with the coach and the coaching staff that is in at that moment and know that I will have equal opportunities with him.

"From there, you have to earn it on the field."

Ceballos has played in 24 games for Arsenal this term under Mikel Arteta, his most recent start coming in the 0-0 home draw with Crystal Palace on January 14.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is unsure if Lionel Messi will be available for Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final.

Messi missed Wednesday's penalty shoot-out victory over Real Sociedad due to some "discomfort".

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two saves in the shoot-out as Barca overcame Sociedad 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw, sending them into the final against either Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said he was still unsure if Messi would be available for the decider.

"First, I am very proud of this team, because if you count all the missing players we have in this moment, I think it is important to have people behind who can help. I think today we fulfilled in every way," Koeman told a news conference.

"I know Real [Sociedad] had their chances like us. We just managed to win after the penalties.

"Regarding Leo, we must wait the next days to know whether he is able to play."

Frenkie de Jong had put Barca ahead against Sociedad before Mikel Oyarzabal levelled from the spot in the second half.

Ter Stegen made six saves prior to the shoot-out, equalling his best tally in a single game for Barcelona this season.

"Of course to win on the penalties you must have a great goalkeeper, because Marc has stopped the first three penalties of Real and it is an important step regarding our possibilities to win," Koeman said.

"Also, I think Riqui [Puig] has the personality to take the responsibility to shoot the fifth [penalty]. It was important to score and reach the final."

Marc-Andre ter Stegen was delighted his man-of-the-match display helped Barcelona progress to the final of the Supercopa de Espana.

Ronald Koeman's side won 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw with La Real in the first semi-final in Cordoba.

Mikel Oyarzabal's penalty cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's header in normal time and there was little to split the sides in an end-to-end contest.

Ter Stegen produced six saves in 120 minutes including an impressive one-on-one stop to deny Alexander Isak and a flying one-handed save from Joseba Zaldua, and he even appeared to get fingertips to an Adnan Januzaj free-kick that clattered off the post.

The Germany international saved Sociedad's first two penalties in the shoot-out, including from Oyarzabal, before Riqui Puig's decisive effort sent the Catalans through.

Ter Stegen, who said he had not "studied" for a possible shoot-out, was left frustrated that he did not quite reach Januzaj's effort to end the penalties earlier.

"I'm very happy with the game, but I could have saved one more penalty," he said.

"Real Sociedad were a really tough opponent. We deserve the victory. I always look to be at 100 per cent. You have to win these games, and I'm very happy to be able to help the team.

"In the first 25 minutes, they pressed really strongly and did it really well. It was tough for us to get out, but bit by bit we found space and played between the lines.

"They were tiring and we were able to dominate the ball more."

Oyarzabal sent Ter Stegen the wrong way with his penalty in normal time, converting for the 15th time in a row from the spot, the best such run of any LaLiga player since the start of 2015-16.

However, as he tried a similar stuttered run-up in the shoot-out, Ter Stegen waited before flying to his right to make the save.

"What can I say? Losing like this hurts even more," said Oyarzabal. "To have the opportunity and lose on penalties, which is part lottery and part success...

"If I had to take a penalty tomorrow, I'd do it in the same way. The longer you wait, the fewer options the goalkeeper has. In the end, this time, maybe I rushed it a bit."

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.

Barcelona are without Lionel Messi for their Supercopa de Espana clash with Real Sociedad.

Messi scored twice in a 4-0 rout of Granada on Saturday, with the 33-year-old having now netted seven times and provided two assists in his past seven games, accumulating more goal involvements than any other LaLiga player over the same period.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was taken off in the 65th minute and Koeman confirmed on Tuesday that Messi had some "discomfort", but the Barca boss hoped to have his talisman fit.

It has not proven to be the case, however, with Messi – who has scored 11 league goals in total this season – failing to make Barca's 18-man squad for their semi-final with La Real in Cordoba.

Antoine Griezmann will instead play off Martin Braithwaite, who leads the line, with support from Ousmane Dembele and Pedri.

Sergi Busquets made his 600th Barca appearance on Saturday and the 32-year-old sits in midfield alongside Frenkie de Jong, with Jordi Alba, Clement Lenglet, Oscar Mingueza and Ronald Araujo making up the defence, ahead of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

La Real on the other hand have been able to welcome back Nacho Monreal from an injury lay-off, though David Silva – who has not played since December 22 – does not feature.

The winners of Wednesday's tie will face Athletic Bilbao or LaLiga champions Real Madrid in the final.

And so, after two head coach sackings, a torrent of boardroom upheaval and the most discussed transfer request of all time, Barcelona return to the scene of the crime.

The scene in terms of the tournament itself, of course. But even after swapping Saudi Arabia for Seville, the memory of last season's Supercopa de Espana semi-final will be enough to bring many a Cule out in a cold sweat.

Barca led 2-1 going into the final 10 minutes of their encounter with Atletico Madrid at King Abdullah Sports City, only to lose 3-2. Ernesto Valverde would never lead them again.

To say Valverde's sacking and its aftermath were shoddily handled would go some way to redefining the notion of understatement.

Club great Xavi was courted before deciding he would rather lead his boyhood club at a more agreeable time, one without mayhem spewing everywhere behind the scenes at Camp Nou.

Quique Setien took the reins and came to look out of his depth long before the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich. Despite it being a game that caused shockwaves around world football, "8-2" still feels an utterly preposterous thing to type.

Sporting director Eric Abidal called out the squad for a perceived lack of effort during Valverde's final days, a somewhat belated show of solidarity with a coach he unceremoniously bundled towards the exit door.

Lionel Messi took umbrage and an unseemly public spat was still festering by the time LaLiga resumed following the coronavirus shutdown. Barca surrendered the title to Real Madrid before their night of shame in Lisbon.

Setien was gone and newly installed boss Ronald Koeman decided Luis Suarez should follow him through the exit door, something that did nothing to improve Messi's mood as he sought to prise himself away from Barcelona before being forced to stay under contractual duress.

A 2-1 defeat to Cadiz on December 5 left Barca seventh in LaLiga with 14 points from 10 games, with Koeman's dream job turning rapidly into a nightmare.

A listless 3-0 Champions League loss at home to Juventus followed, ceding top spot in their group. But since then, Barcelona are unbeaten in eight LaLiga matches, winning six, and Opta data suggests they might be in better health ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against Real Sociedad than at this time last year.

Creating more under Koeman

In 24 games under Koeman in all competitions, Barca have scored 53 and conceded 22, averaging 2.21 and 0.92 per game respectively in all competitions.

Heading into the semi-final with Atletico, Valverde's team were top of LaLiga with 40 points from 19 matches. That betters the 34 from 18 that Koeman's men have to lie third this time around, but it should be noted that leaders Atleti have 41 points from just 16 outings so far.

The numbers behind Valverde's final half-season at the helm hint at comparative progress under Koeman.

When the former Athletic Bilbao boss led the Blaugrana during the period in question, they averaged 2.32 goals per game with 58 in 25.

However, that hugely out-performed an expected goals (xG) figure of 41.1, meaning they were getting out of jail a fair bit thanks largely to a certain special player. Koeman's Barca are in line with an xG of 53.66 this season, with shots per game up to 16.9 from 12.5 in the same period under Valverde.

Both men left their defences grateful for wasteful finishing, with an xG against of 30.37 for Valverde and 29.83 for Koeman.

 

Messi still the master, Pedri and Griezmann stepping up

Despite a slow start to the season after his attempted exit, Barcelona's main man looks to be back up to speed.

In 21 games this term Messi has 14 goals, closing on the 15 from 19 in his final stint with Valverde as boss, when he hugely out-performed an xG of 9.83.

His importance to Barca remains paramount, leading the way in chance creation (51) as he did in the first half of last season (47).

Suarez was next on that list with 29 last time around. Although no one has filled the breach of 14 goals scored in the period by a man now spearheading Atleti's title charge, youngster Pedri has stepped up to craft 29 opportunities for team-mates.

Frenkie de Jong has created 25 chances from midfield - up from 19. The often maligned Antoine Griezmann has made the same leap, despite being on the pitch for 396 fewer minutes compared to last season. However, until he lifts considerably his goal and assist contributions from seven and four respectively, unflattering comparisons to Suarez and Neymar will remain.

There are numerous shafts of light permeating the gloom that descended upon Barcelona a year ago. Enough to justify the chaos of the interim period? Of course not, but there might be legs in the fragile Koeman-Messi axis yet.

Nevertheless, as Barca face up to Sociedad and Real Madrid prepare to take on Athletic Bilbao, it is hard to escape who this week's real winner will be.

A clinical 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday put Atletico four points clear at LaLiga's summit with two games in hand. Diego Simeone's men will have enjoyed the Barcelona demise they triggered; this time they get to put their feet up for eight days and enjoy their fellow heavyweights punching holes in one another.

 

Lionel Messi has overcome a knock to be available for Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana semi-final against Real Sociedad as Ronald Koeman looks to take a step closer to his first trophy win as Barca coach.

Messi had, according to Koeman, some "discomfort" after Barca's resounding 4-0 win at Granada on Saturday, the Argentinian scoring twice as both he and the team appeared to be finding their feet again.

That was the Blaugrana's third LaLiga win in a row – all of which came away from home – and they are unbeaten in eight across all competitions since the 3-0 home defeat by Juventus on December 8.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barca's improvement has coincided with Messi finding some joy in his game again – the club captain has scored seven times and set up another two in his past seven games, racking up more goal involvements than any other LaLiga player over the same period.

In his 10 previous league games this term, Messi had only contributed to four goals in total – none of which were assists – suggesting his mind was elsewhere following an attempt to leave the club.

 

But Messi and Barca are looking significantly improved as they head into the Supercopa, with their star man fit for Wednesday's semi-final.

"There are several players with discomfort, one of them is Messi, that is why we withdrew him in Granada," Koeman said on Tuesday. "It seems that everyone is available for tomorrow, also [Ronald] Araujo, although a preparatory session is missing. It is a match against a strong team and we can take the next step."

Koeman recognises Barca have looked more like their old selves in recent weeks, particularly in attack. Since December 9, the four players with the most chances created in LaLiga are Barca players.

"The team is better offensively, we have more players coming from the middle of the field," Koeman said. "We have players in attack who do damage, and defensively the team is working well. We have gained in confidence.

"Lately the team is focused on every game - we have improved in this regard. When we don't have the ball, the team is quite compact. We are improving our game.

"Midfield players give us a lot of threat, but at the beginning of the season we already played with Messi as a false nine. The difference is that the team is more confident and we find free men between the lines."

Wednesday's contest against La Real in Cordoba will be Koeman's first semi-final in charge, with the winners set to play Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao in the final.

While the Dutchman sees it as a great opportunity for silverware, he does not think victory in this competition will instantly mean Barcelona are back to the levels expected of them.

"For us it is important, Barca is made to win. It is not the most important trophy, but we have to play the semi-final and we will give our best," he said.

"We will play with our best team to be in the final. We want to take the first step to reach it.

"I don't think that winning the trophy means being better. Soccer is fickle and things can change quickly.

"It [winning the trophy] would give us confidence, of course, but we have to go step by step, the first thing is to win the semi-final against Real Sociedad."

Andriy Shevchenko is in the conversation to take over as Chelsea manager if the Blues decide to part ways with manager Frank Lampard.

With Chelsea languishing in ninth place in the Premier League table, Le10sport reports the Ukrainian's name is on the Blues list of possible replacements.

Shevchenko played for the club between 2006 and 2008 and has since forged a managerial career with the Ukraine national team, moving through the under-19 and under-21 teams to the senior dugout.

 

TOP STORY – SHEVCHENKO BEING CONSIDERED AS NEXT CHELSEA MANAGER

Chelsea are studying their options to replace Lampard and his former Blues team-mate Shevchenko is part of the shortlist, reports Le10sports.

The 44-year-old led Ukraine through an undefeated Euro 2020 qualifying campaign to reach the finals, drawing 0-0 in Portugal and beating the European champions 2-1, in Kiev.

Shevchenko remains close to the club as his 14-year-old son, Kristian, plays in the Blues academy and is well liked by club owner Roman Abramovich, say Le10sports sources.

Finally, 2020 is history - there won't be many people who aren't happy to see the back of a difficult year.

While the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of making a swift exit, the turn of the year at least gives us the chance to look forward, and the same is true in the world of sport.

2020 saw many promising young players make the step up, some undoubtedly down to the absences caused by coronavirus or the packed schedule that the pandemic has led to.

We've picked out 21 under-21 players to keep an eye on in 2021 - and while you may already be familiar with some of them, there's good reason to give them your attention this year...

 

Illan Meslier, 20 - Leeds United

Few goalkeepers can come away from a 6-2 defeat having impressed, but Meslier did so against Manchester United recently. His eight saves prevented Leeds' crushing loss from getting even more embarrassing, while only three goalkeepers have produced more in a single Premier League match this term. His total of 63 is also the second most in the division – the France Under-21 talent, who joined on a permanent deal from Lorient last year, appears to have a big future ahead of him.

Kristoffer Klaesson, 20 - Valerenga

Goalkeepers tend to break through a little later than outfield players, but Norway youth international Klaesson has already been first-choice at Valerenga for the best part of 16 months – he only turned 20 in November. Coincidentally, he could have become a team-mate of Meslier's in 2020 as Leeds were reportedly interested, but he remains in Norway for the time being.

William Saliba, 19 - Arsenal

Saliba is certainly one of the most recognisable names on this list – after all, he has been owned by Arsenal for getting on for two years. Unfortunately, he has not been afforded much of a chance by Mikel Arteta this term, which makes him an interesting prospect to watch in 2021. Either he'll eventually get an opportunity at the Gunners, or a loan move will provide him with a crack at first-team football. After a tricky 2020, he'll want to get his career back on track.

Perr Schuurs, 21 - Ajax

Given his appearance, playing style and the fact he has come through Ajax's academy, comparisons between Schuurs and Matthijs de Ligt were to be expected. He may not reach the Juventus star's level, but he has certainly shown real promise that is reportedly interesting Liverpool. Schuurs is one of the five youngest players to have featured for at least 500 minutes in this season's Champions League, while his 47 ball recoveries was the sixth highest of any player in the group stage.

Ethan Laird, 19 - Manchester United

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was supposed to fix Man United's issues at right-back, but this season his defensive positioning has been concerning and he appears to have become even less effective in attack – his chances created and open-play crosses per 90 minutes have decreased significantly. Laird has long been considered a fine prospect at United and boasts the technical abilities to be a threat in attack. If he can stay fit, chances could be in the offing.

Tariq Lamptey, 20 - Brighton and Hove Albion

Having joined Brighton last January from Chelsea, Lamptey has quickly made a name for himself as an exciting wing-back. Last year saw the diminutive talent enjoy something of a breakthrough, but in 2021 he'll be looking to truly establish himself and potentially break into the England squad. There are few more exhilarating full-backs in the Premier League – his 3.8 dribbles per game is the third most among defenders to have featured more than twice.

Nuno Mendes, 18 - Sporting CP

Sporting have a wealth of talent coming through at the moment and left-back Mendes is arguably chief among them. Blessed with fine technical abilities, the 18-year-old is apparently a target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Already a regular having started 10 of the Primeira Liga leaders' 11 games this term, Mendes' 10 completed dribbles is the fourth-highest among defenders in the division, while his 28 interceptions is second only to team-mate Luis Neto.

Gabriel Menino, 20 - Palmeiras

An intriguing player with a well-rounded skillset, Menino has already transitioned from centre-back to defensive midfield to right-back despite his young age. It is in the latter position where he impressed enough to earn a first Brazil call-up last year and only two players have provided more than his five assists in the 2020 Brazilian Serie A.

Moises Caicedo, 19 - Independiente del Valle

The past month or so has seen Caicedo brought to the attention of a wider audience – or, more specifically, Manchester United fans. The all-action midfielder was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Billy Gilmour, 19 - Chelsea

Scottish talent Gilmour had shown real promise during his 11 Chelsea appearances last season before a knee injury in July laid him low. He returned to action last month with a few cameos off the bench, and there will be plenty hoping he can return to his previous level quickly. A loan move might be on the cards, but Frank Lampard has high hopes for the crafty midfielder.

Yunus Musah, 18 - Valencia

Valencia are going through another difficult spell, with off-field matters often overshadowing on-pitch performances. Nevertheless, in United States international Musah, they appear to have a reason for optimism. Another tricky winger, Musah's 38 dribbles is the second most among Los Che players this term and he became their youngest LaLiga goalscorer (17 years, 338 days) this century when netting back in November. He's one that got away from Arsenal.

Ander Barrenetxea, 18 - Real Sociedad

A nimble right-footed left-winger, Barrenetxea broke into La Real's senior side last season with 17 appearances in LaLiga. His eight starts this term is already an increase of five on the entirety of 2019-20 and he has been using that extra time on the pitch to excite. He has attempted 41 dribbles in LaLiga, and his 56 per cent completion rate is bettered by only seven players – all of whom are much older – among those to have tried at least 40.

Bryan Gil, 19 - Eibar (on loan from Sevilla)

If Barrenetxea embodies the modern 'inverted winger' style, then Bryan is very much a wide midfielder of the classic variety. A direct touchline-hugger, the left-winger's aim is almost always to beat his man and get a cross into the box, and he is catching the eye on loan at Eibar this term. Only five wingers in LaLiga can better Bryan's 49 open-play deliveries, though his 22.5 per cent accuracy is better than all but one of those with more cross attempts. He's also tried 44 dribbles, his 52.3 per cent completion putting him close to Barrenetxea.

Jaminton Campaz, 20 - Deportes Tolima

Campaz may not be a household name yet, but a move to Europe or one of South America's leading leagues is surely not far away. The attacker, who can play wide or through the middle, is an explosive player but also productive. No younger player had more goal involvements (five goals and four assists) and chances created (32) in Colombia's top division than Campaz.

Amad Diallo, 18 - Manchester United

Although United splashed a reported £19million on Diallo, the young Ivorian remains something of an unknown quantity. A left-footed right-winger, he has only been given a handful of opportunities in Atalanta's senior side – though he has often caught the eye with his ability on the ball. Given United's lack of options on the right flank, he might just establish himself sooner than some expect – either way, he will be one to monitor.

Pedri, 18 - Barcelona

As each week passes, more and more Pedri looks to be settling into the role as Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona, but whether he's ready to take up such a mantle as early as this year is another matter. Messi's contract ends in June and so he could well depart – taking on his creative burden would be an unenviable task for a teenager, though Pedri is proving effective. He is creating a chance every 45 minutes on average in the league this term, the third most frequent in the squad among those to have played at least five times.

Talles Magno, 18 - Vasco da Gama

Are you really a Brazilian 'wonderkid' if you've not been linked with every major European club? Talles Magno fits the bill there and it's easy to see why there's interest. His end product still needs work, but his ability to excite is considerable – the 18-year-old has completed more than twice as many dribbles (106) as any other teenager in Brazil's Serie A between 2019 and 2020.

Karim Adeyemi, 18 - Salzburg

There has been a buzz around Adeyemi for a few years now as has previously impressed scouts with Germany's youth sides and during a fruitful loan spell at Liefering. Now back at Salzburg, he looks destined to be another serious talent off the club's impressive conveyor belt. Adeyemi is the only player to have been involved in four goals in a single Austrian Bundesliga this term, scoring and getting a hat-trick of assists in the 8-2 victory over St. Polten, while he set up a goal on his league debut for the club in June. A thrilling talent with great vision and dribbling abilities, Adeyemi may get even greater responsibility in 2021 following the departure of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Marcos Leonardo, 17 - Santos

It's still early days for Marcos Leonardo, though Santos clearly rate him highly – the striker's release clause is €100m. He's already the underage player with the most minutes played (296) and goals (one) in Brazil's top division this season, while he became the sixth youngest player to net in the Copa Libertadores (17y, 173d) when scoring a winner against Defensa y Justicia.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 - Borussia Dortmund

There's not much that hasn't already been said about Moukoko. He became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player in November when making his debut a day after his 16th birthday, before then also setting a new record for the league's youngest goalscorer in December. New coach Edin Terzic has already given him two starts – his next target will be to break records on the international stage with Germany. He couldn't get into their Euros squad, could he?

Matias Arezo, 18 - River Plate (URU)

Stocky, technically gifted and already proving decisive in front of goal with seven goal involvements (five goals, two assists) in 15 league matches, Arezo has a lot going in his favour. Whether he has the mentality or focus to not let the 'new Luis Suarez' labels distract him remains to be seen, but he's already the youngest Uruguayan (17y, 349d) to ever score a brace in the Copa Sudamericana having done so against Atletico Nacional in November.

Real Sociedad have given Imanol Alguacil a contract extension to 2023 after a successful start to the season, despite his side having lost their past three LaLiga matches.

Alguacil has taken the club back into European competition during his two-year spell in charge and the board have demonstrated their faith in him with a new contract.

The club has also extended the contract of director of football Roberto Olabe to 2024.

The announcements come amid a downturn in form from a Sociedad team that went unbeaten across 10 matches in all competitions between November 1 and December 13.

Since then, Alguacil's men have suffered 2-1 defeats at Barcelona and Levante before succumbing 2-0 to LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

After a short spell as coach between March and May 2018, Alguacil took charge of Real Sociedad for the second time in December 2018, helping the club finish ninth in the table that season.

Improvement followed in 2019-20, when Sociedad finished sixth and qualified for the Europa League, where they finished second in Group F behind Napoli.

Club president Jokin Aperribay spoke of his pride in the club's recent achievements during a tumultuous year, telling the general meeting of shareholders: "We are facing two years of great uncertainty. The pandemic affects us in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

"We are proud to be able to present a positive result despite the times we live in."

Diego Simeone spoke of his gratitude for coaching Atletico Madrid after winning for the 300th time in charge of the club but is not letting milestones affect his focus, acknowledging the hierarchy could dismiss him at a moment's notice.

Atletico produced a complete display on Tuesday as they beat high-flying Real Sociedad 2-0 in San Sebastian to go three points clear at LaLiga's summit.

It was their ninth clean sheet in 13 league games this term, while only in 1995-96 had they conceded fewer goals (four) at this stage of the season than in 2020-21 (five).

The victory means Simeone – in charge since 2011 – is only eight adrift of Luis Aragones' all-time club record of 308 wins across all competitions.

And Simeone acknowledged reaching such an impressive figure was a source of pride.

"It means a lot," he told reporters. "I came to the club with the idea of leading Atletico to the top of this game.

"I was committed to all my people, to the footballers. I have to thank Miguel [Angel Gil, Atletico CEO] and Enrique [Cerezo, club president] for bringing me to the club.

"In my head and in my mind, the day I left as a player I knew I was going to come back.

"I prepared myself for what is happening, but I also know that they could kick me out tomorrow.

"We have to consolidate the growth of the club, but for this we need reality. The only thing that counts is when the game starts and the team must show its worth."

But in typical Simeone fashion, he entertained no suggestions of being title favourites, reminding reporters there were still 25 matches left for Atletico.

"You already know me, I will be recurrent with what I think, but what matters to us is the next game," he added.

"The work being done is very good, but we must vindicate it now against Getafe.

"There are 25 games to go. We take it game by game, game by game, game by game."

Atletico sit three points clear of bitter rivals Real Madrid, who play Granada on Wednesday. After that game, Simeone's side will once again have two games in hand on the defending champions.

Atletico Madrid once again showed they will take some stopping in LaLiga's title race as they claimed a commendable 2-0 win at high-flying Real Sociedad to go three points clear at the summit despite being without the injured Joao Felix.

Diego Simeone's side were unable to dominate a Real Sociedad side full of attacking talent, but Atletico's defence was as reliable as ever and even set them on their way with the first goal through centre-back Mario Hermoso.

The defender had arguably gone closer than anyone else to the opening goal in a first half that was intriguing, if not exhilarating.

But in the 49th minute, Atletico – so often a threat at set-pieces once upon a time – edged in front thanks to Hermoso's well-timed header at a free-kick.

Marcos Llorente doubled the lead towards the end, meaning early-season leaders La Real are now in danger of slipping out of the top four after their winless LaLiga run was extended to six games.

A well contested first half brought plenty of neat football but few clear-cut chances, with the two defences extremely well organised.

The hosts looked as though they had carved Atletico open in the 20th minute, with David Silva going on a mazy run up the right flank, but his cutback was crucially intercepted before Willian Jose could pounce.

Soon after at the other end, Hermoso had a header from a corner blocked by Andoni Gorosabel right in front of goal – though it may have been going just off target.

That was a warning La Real failed to heed as Hermoso broke the stalemate just after the restart, heading emphatically past Alex Remiro from Yannick Carrasco's free-kick delivery.

La Real's response was underwhelming, Atletico's backline remaining unruffled, and the visitors sealed the points 16 minutes from time.

Luis Suarez did well on the left and helped the ball towards Llorente with a deflection, and the midfielder's left-footed strike from the edge of the box left Remiro helpless.

Diego Simeone is not prepared to risk the fitness of Atletico Madrid attacking trident Luis Suarez, Diego Costa and Joao Felix by starting all three players against Real Sociedad on Tuesday.

Costa marked his return from his latest injury lay-off with a penalty in Atletico's 3-1 win over Elche on Saturday, a game in which Luis Suarez scored his first two goals since recovering from coronavirus.

Joao Felix has carried much of the burden in his team-mates' absence but left the pitch with a knock in the final quarter of the contest, though he is back in training and in contention to face Sociedad.

Simeone has yet to start a game with all three players and does not intend to alter his formation on Tuesday, although he is not against using all three if Atleti are chasing a goal at Estadio de Anoeta.

"I don't think they're all ready to start, but we can finish with them," Simeone said at a pre-match news conference on Monday. "They are dangerous forwards and can play together.

"We have to be patient and get the most out of each player that we have. The most important thing is to ensure they are all well enough to play together."

Atletico have scored 24 goals in 12 LaLiga games this term at a rate of one goal every 45 minutes, compared to 51 goals in 38 outings in 2019-20 - one every 67 minutes.

They have also conceded just five goals all season - the fewest of any team in Europe's top five leagues - an improvement Simeone believes stretches beyond the start of this season.

"Everything is the consequence of something else," he said. "I have been repeating for a long time that the growth appeared when returning after the quarantine period.

"The team attacked very well at the end of last season and we have continued in the same direction this time around. We have improved as a whole and the players have perfectly interpreted what we have asked of them."

Atleti lead the way at the top of LaLiga ahead of their trip to Sociedad, who are three points worse off in third having played three games more.

Sociedad have won four of their last six home LaLiga games against Atletico and Simeone is anticipating a difficult encounter against the division's joint-top scorers.

"They are working well under a coach who is expressing it on the field," he said. "They have a stronger squad than last season, with the arrival of David Silva giving them something extra.

"They have very good midfield and forward players and are a team that competes at a high level."

Real Madrid will begin the defence of their Supercopa de Espana title against Athletic Bilbao, while Barcelona will face Real Sociedad.

Madrid beat Valencia before seeing off city rivals Atletico Madrid on penalties in last season's re-formatted tournament in Saudi Arabia.

Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-21 tournament will be held in Andalusia, with Malaga, Cordoba and Seville confirmed as the host cities.

Madrid, who won LaLiga last season, will kick-off their campaign in Malaga against 2019-20 Copa del Rey finalists Athletic, the side Los Blancos beat 3-1 on Tuesday.

Barca, qualifying as LaLiga runners-up, were the first name out of the hat in Thursday's draw and will take on Athletic's Basque rivals and Copa del Rey final opponents Real Sociedad in Cordoba.

That tie will be played on January 13, with the second semi-final taking place the following day.

La Real were also Barca's most recent LaLiga opponents on Wednesday, when the Blaugrana claimed a 2-1 win at Camp Nou – labelled their best performance of 2020 by Jordi Alba – to knock the visitors off top spot.

Athletic and La Real are yet to go ahead with last season's Copa final, which was postponed due to COVID-19.

Both teams refused to play the match – the first Copa final featuring the Basque Country's two biggest clubs since the split 1910 tournament – behind closed doors.

Instead, that game will take place on April 4, two weeks before the 2020-21 final.

Madrid have won the Supercopa on 11 occasions, two fewer than Barca's record haul of 13.

The last of Athletic's two triumphs came in 2015, when they thrashed Barca 5-1 on aggregate over two legs, while La Real's sole title was in 1982.

The 2021 Supercopa final will take place at Seville's Estadio La Cartuja on January 17.

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona's "attitude and intensity" in the 2-1 LaLiga victory against Real Sociedad proved they can recover from their early-season struggles.

Barca head coach Koeman hailed his team display as Jordi Alba and Frenkie de Jong's goals earned a 23rd successive home league win against Sociedad.

Koeman's Barca controlled from the kick-off but were not able to record a shot on goal in the first 25 minutes, as the home side fell behind to Willian Jose's 27th-minute effort at Camp Nou.

But two goals in the space of 12 minutes before flipped the game in Barca's favour and Koeman insisted his players showed the characteristics needed to improve on their patchy form.

"With this attitude and this intensity we will be where we should be," Koeman said post-match.

"[It was] surely the best first half [of the season]. We were good with the ball and we pressed well....

"The second half Real played a great game. It was a high-level clash with a lot of intensity."

Page 1 of 9
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.