Ronald Koeman insists his work has been paramount in saving Barcelona, but his relationship with club president Joan Laporta is yet to fully recover.

The Catalan club underwhelmed in Koeman's first term last campaign, finishing third – seven points behind champions Atletico Madrid – in LaLiga and exiting at the Champions League's last-16 stage to Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca's problems were further compounded in August, amid financial difficulties and complications with LaLiga, when Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi departed on a free and several players had to take pay cuts to allow registration of new signings.

However, despite Koeman's seemingly fragile relationship with Laporta, who went on an unsuccessful managerial replacement search in June, the Dutchman is enjoying his time at Camp Nou as he looks ahead to a potential new contract.

"It has improved a bit [the relationship with Laporta]," Koeman told NOS. "But when you let things blow a bit as a club and are not clear about the future of a coach, then you get speculation.

"And if you are the one who is the coach, then that is not a nice case.

"Last week there was also something in the media, which I think was not right. That again suggests that the trainer does not have full power.

"He said a little too much. That can be done in private. I like it when a president is committed and also asks questions. Only that it should not be in the press, that was the problem.

"Laporta was not wise on two occasions, let me put it this way. We are also in contact about a new contract now. Thanks to me, this club has a future.

"I see a lot of potential. I am open to stay here, I am enjoying myself here."

Koeman's new-look team, in the absence of Messi, have picked up seven points from their first three matches, with Barca utilising the most under-21 players in their Spanish top-flight matchday squads so far (eight).

Indeed, the former Netherlands manager revealed academy products will always get chances under his stewardship as he warned Barca's financial struggles will have a knock-on impact on their competitiveness in Europe.

"It's not just Pedri," Koeman continued. "There are still four or five players aged 18 or 19 who will be fantastic players for this club in three or four years.

"Accepting things and not being able to do things that maybe they [the club] should. That's the moment. Focus on the youth and give them a chance.

"Barcelona is in debt and therefore has to deal with fair play in Spain. The best players cannot come to Barcelona because they have higher contracts and cost a lot of money, which the club does not have.

"Sportingly, this club will always be good. The question is, can you get back to the level where you will really win Champions Leagues and be the best in Spain for years in a row? That is not the case at the moment. Let's hope that it will come again."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman believes new signing Luuk de Jong is more dangerous than Neymar from crosses.

LaLiga giants Barca raised eyebrows when they signed Dutch forward de Jong from rivals Sevilla on loan at the end of the transfer window.

De Jong had been linked with a potential return to former club PSV in the Eredivisie and was shunted down to third choice at Sevilla following the signing of Rafa Mir from Wolves.

But late on deadline day, cash-strapped Barca – who already lost superstar Lionel Messi on a free transfer – allowed Antoine Griezmann to depart for Spanish champions Atletico Madrid and the Blaugrana replaced the Frenchman with de Jong on a temporary deal for 2021-22.

Koeman hailed countryman de Jong, who he feels is superior to Paris Saint-Germain star and former Barca forward Neymar in one department.

"When there's a cross coming in, Luuk is more dangerous than Neymar," Koeman told NOS.

"He's a different kind of forward to what we have, and I think all teams should have one like him."

De Jong averaged 1.1 headed shots per 90 minutes in LaLiga last season, a figure bettered by only four strikers (minimum 900 minutes played).

Similarly, just four forwards bettered his 0.36 headed shots on target per 90 minutes as well.

What makes that figure slightly more impressive is the fact Sevilla would not be considered a 'direct' team. According to Opta data, Julen Lopetegui's men only recorded 35 'direct attacks' last season, the second-fewest in the division, whereas Barcelona's 67 was the third-highest.

A direct attack is defined as a sequence that begins just inside the team's own half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition's goal and ends with a shot or touch in the box, so while that does not necessarily mean Barca smash long balls to the front man constantly, it does suggest Koeman's setup will provide de Jong with chances to be useful.

Koeman added: "I told the club last year [that I wanted to sign de Jong].

"I wanted to be able to change my forwards. If the game calls for someone like Luuk, then he'll play.

"We lost Antoine Griezmann on the last day of the window and only had three forwards.

"I first made contact with Luuk on August 8 and, even before that, I wondered why Barcelona didn't have a guy like that."

Barcelona are a structurally better side without superstar forward Lionel Messi, according to head coach Ronald Koeman.

The LaLiga giants were left stunned last month when Messi departed for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer after they were unable to fulfil a new contract that had been agreed.

Messi's exit has left a big void at Camp Nou, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having scored 672 goals and assisted 265 across his 778 appearances for Barcelona.

Barca have started the post-Messi era with two wins and a draw in their opening three league matches, scoring seven goals in the process, and Koeman believes his side are adjusting to life without their greatest ever player.

"It was a huge blow to lose him," Koeman told Sport. "We had planned for the season with him. 

"We lose so much and it took a few days to get things in order, but we must turn the page and build the team.

"Losing Messi doesn't oblige us to play different tactically but there are things without the ball where the team can improve. 

"We won't have the individual quality of Leo, but in pressing and structuring the team, the team is better now."

 

Antoine Griezmann is another high-profile forward to have left Catalonia last month, the France international returning to Atletico Madrid on an initial loan just two years after swapping clubs.

Koeman understands the club's decision to let Griezmann depart in the final stages of the window, with Luuk de Jong arriving from Sevilla as a replacement.

"The aggravation we had on the last day, with practically no time to find a solution, it was a b****," Koeman said.

"Griezmann had a great contract and if he left it was going to help improve the financial situation of the club. That's why I agreed to his departure."

 

Koeman has repeatedly called on his other attacking players to step up and new recruit Memphis Depay has done exactly that with two goals and an assist in his first three competitive games for Barca.

Depay also scored his first international hat-trick for the Netherlands in Tuesday's 6-1 win over Turkey to move level with Johan Cruyff and Abe Lenstra in Oranje's list of all-time top scorers.

President Joan Laporta revealed this week Depay's number nine shirt is now the biggest seller at Barca and Koeman has backed his compatriot to be the face of the club for years to come.

"Memphis can mark an era at Barca," Koeman said. "He has something that is essential to be a success here: personality and character. 

"There's something different about him and he's really motivated by the challenge of being here."

He added: "There are always things to improve but I'll tell you one thing: if we have everyone available, we can do big things.

"We have a great team. We still have to be realistic, it will be difficult, but I am optimistic and ambitious."

New Barcelona striker Luuk de Jong accepts he is "different" to the club's usual style of striker but pointed out Ronald Koeman knows how to utilise him.

De Jong joined Barca on loan from Sevilla at the end of the transfer window with the Dutchman seen by most as a curious option in many senses.

He had been linked with a potential return to former club PSV and was shunted down to third choice at Sevilla following the signing of Rafa Mir from Wolves.

But late on deadline day, cash-strapped Barca allowed Antoine Griezmann to depart for Atletico Madrid and the Blaugrana replaced the Frenchman with De Jong on a temporary deal for 2021-22.

It is a signing that many Barca fans will have deemed underwhelming given De Jong hardly sparkled previously in LaLiga with Sevilla and his skillset is not one that necessarily lends itself to the club's traditional philosophy of short, sharp passing and fluid, possession-based football.

Indeed, De Jong acknowledged he brings qualities that are seemingly at odds with Barca's past.

"I am tall, I am a good header of the ball," he told Barca TV upon his arrival. "As I already said before, I am a player with a different skillset."

De Jong played under Koeman for the Dutch national team, meaning the coach should feel confident about how to get the best out of his abilities.

"Koeman knows that he can use me in the final minutes when he needs a player that's tall and good with his head," he continued.

"That's the kind of player I am. [But] as I showed in Sevilla, I also have other aspects to my game."

Given the cultural significance of the style of play implemented at Barca, De Jong outlining his strengths suit a direct style of play may not go down too well with certain sections of supporters.

But there is no doubt such a brand of football is likely to ensure De Jong brings more to the table at Camp Nou – after all, he averaged 1.1 headed shots per 90 minutes in LaLiga last term, a figure bettered by only four strikers (minimum 900 minutes played).

Similarly, just four forwards bettered his 0.36 headed shots on target per 90 minutes as well.

 

What makes that figure slightly more impressive is the fact Sevilla would not be considered a 'direct' team. According to Opta data, Julen Lopetegui's men only recorded 35 'direct attacks' last season, the second-fewest in the division, whereas Barcelona's 67 was the third-highest.

A direct attack is defined as a sequence that begins just inside the team's own half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition's goal and ends with a shot or touch in the box, so while that does not necessarily mean Barca smash long balls to the front man constantly, it does suggest Koeman's setup will provide De Jong with chances to be useful.

His first such opportunities could even come against Sevilla this weekend.

"I'm not worried," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing with all my team-mates. I'm looking forward to playing against Sevilla, and I hope to win also."

Miralem Pjanic accused Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman of disrespecting him after departing the LaLiga club for Turkish champions Besiktas.

Barca outcast and Bosnia-Herzegovina international Pjanic will spend the season on loan with Besiktas following one poor campaign at Camp Nou.

Pjanic arrived at Barca in 2020 for a reported initial fee of €60million in a peculiar swap deal that saw Arthur go the other way to Juventus for an estimated €72m, but he failed to convince and fell down the pecking order in the second half of 2020-21.

After being frozen out by Koeman at Barca, Pjanic reflected on his time with the Spanish giants.

"The coach, yes," Pjanic told Marca when asked if he was respected at Barca.

"I couldn't get used to the situation I faced last year. I knew I didn't want it. I'm a player. I love playing football, this is what makes me happy.

"I always wanted to play for Barca but I didn't expect the situation to get so complicated. 

"There was a point that I was playing less, things were getting complicated. And when I played it was difficult physically and mentally to be well, because it was killing my confidence, because I had no communication with [Koeman]. 

"It was very strange, because a coach is the one who says who plays and who doesn't, but there are different ways to do things. I am a player who can accept everything but I would always like to be told things face to face. Not as if nothing happened and I was 15 years old."

Pjanic played 30 games across all competitions but only 13 were starts, with just four of those coming after the turn of the year as Ronald Koeman's lack of faith became ever clearer.

He did not score or assist a single goal all season, making him the only outfield player who played at least 170 minutes for the club last term to not have one goal involvement.

Pressed on what he thought the reason for Koeman's snub was, Pjanic added: "I've honestly asked myself a lot of times, wondering what I did wrong. Maybe he didn't like that I said I wanted to play more public.

"But any coach would say 'okay, this is a competition and I like to hear that'. That might be it, but I'd have liked him to tell me to my face that I wasn't for him. It didn't exist though and I don't understand him. It's complicated because it's the first time it's happened to me and I've never seen behaviour like that before."

Asked if he regretted joining Barca from Juve, Pjanic said: "No, never. Things happen in life, and I've always fought through my career. I'm ambitious, competitive, I've reached the level of Barcelona and Juventus.

"I know I can play for those teams, I just wasn't given a chance."

The transfer window does not close. It slams shut, and on Tuesday, it slammed shut with a flurry of late activity.

LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid were heavily involved, with Antoine Griezmann re-joining the club on loan from Barcelona while Saul Niguez left for Chelsea.

It marked the end of a difficult window for Barca, who of course lost Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, who rounded off a stellar three months by not only keeping Kylian Mbappe, but also adding promising left-back Nuno Mendes.

Earlier in the day, Cristiano Ronaldo's sensational return to Manchester United had been confirmed, perhaps putting the Red Devils right in the mix for the Premier League title, while Chelsea - buoyed by Romelu Lukaku's comeback - cannot be ignored.

Here, Stats Perform looks at the winners, and losers, of what has been a chaotic transfer window.

 

THE WINNERS

Paris Saint-Germain

Let's start with the obvious. Achraf Hakimi, Mendes, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georgino Wijnaldum and, of course Messi. Oh, and PSG kept hold of Mbappe, too, rebuffing three bids - the final one reportedly worth €200m - from Real Madrid for the 22-year-old superstar who is out of contract next year. Speaking of out of contract players, Ramos, Donnarumma, Wijnaldum and Messi were all brought in for combined fees of €0, although their wages are sure to be astronomical even by PSG's standards. In Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, PSG have, on paper, what could be the most feared attacking trident of the modern era, not to mention Angel Di Maria in reserve. Mauricio Pochettino's side look suspect defensively but have Ramos to come in, while Donnarumma will compete with Keylor Navas. If they do not win the Champions League this season, will they ever manage it?

Manchester United

It remains to be seen whether United really needed to go out and buy Ronaldo, but the temptation – and reportedly, the requirement to get one over on noisy neighbours Manchester City – was just too much. However, there is no doubting Ronaldo brings a focal point you could argue was still missing from the Red Devils' attack, though with so much quality at his disposal the pressure will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjer to deliver a trophy. United spent big on Jadon Sancho and also brought in a world class defender in Raphael Varane. A title tilt might not be expected just yet, but silverware in some form must be the goal now. After fan protests during the botched Super League proposals earlier this year, the Glazer family seem to have gone all out to prove they want success.

Chelsea

When it comes to Premier League title contenders, Chelsea have surely put themselves well in the running. The European Champions have brought in two major additions in the form of Lukaku and Saul, both players with a wealth of experience at the highest level, and both on the back of title-winning campaigns last season. The Blues did sell Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma, among others, but the strength in depth Thomas Tuchel has to play with is remarkable. A deadline day move for Sevilla's Jules Kounde did not materialise, but Saul adds another fantastic option in midfield to go alongside N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and the in-form Jorginho.

Tottenham

For a long while, it looked as though Tottenham would be one of the big losers from this window. A prolonged managerial search eventually resulted in Nuno Espirito Santo's appointment, but the main saga was over Harry Kane's future. City reportedly made one bid, during Euro 2020, which was dismissed out of hand. The champions never did return with an improved offer, despite huge speculation, and Kane ultimately stayed put. Older players such as Joe Hart, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Moussa Sissoko were moved out, while Bryan Gil, Pierluigi Gollini, Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal – a deadline day arrival from Barca – arrived to fill the gaps. Serge Aurier's contract was terminated, while three wins from three means Spurs sat top of the league heading into the international break.

Atletico Madrid

While Saul was a deadline day exit, Atleti have given themselves a great chance of retaining their LaLiga title. With rivals Madrid failing to land Mbappe, as well as losing two of their stalwarts, and Barca seemingly in disarray, there has never been a better opportunity for Diego Simeone's team to really assert themselves as top dogs in Spain. Griezmann's arrival, on a season-long loan with the option for either club to extend the switch, has bolstered a fearsome attack that already included Luis Suarez, Angel Correa, new signing Matheus Cunha and Joao Felix - though the latter may now find chances to play in his preferred position, nominally off the front man, even harder to come by. Saul was struggling to nail down a regular spot in the first team, but Atleti showed greater desire to keep Kieran Trippier, who stayed despite interest from the Premier League. Rodrigo de Paul also arrived from Udinese.

 

THE LOSERS

Barcelona

The chickens have finally come home to roost at Camp Nou. Years of mismanagement, and the impact of COVID-19, has left the club's finances in a shambolic state. Barca had agreed to a new deal with Messi only to then announce the deal could not be completed due to "financial and structural obstacles". Barca ended the window by selling promising youngster Ilaix Moriba to RB Leipzig and shipping off Emerson to Spurs. Then, late on Tuesday, Griezmann, who cost Barca €120m in 2019, was sent back to Atleti. Luuk de Jong, a target man Ronald Koeman worked with during his stint as the Netherlands' coach, was drafted in from Sevilla as a replacement. Memphis Depay seems ready to step up after his arrival from Lyon, while Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero also came in on free transfers, though Gerard Pique, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were among the players who took pay cuts in order for Barca to register their latest acquisitions.

Inter

Serie A champions Inter were dealt a blow when, just after ending their 11-year trophy drought, coach Antonio Conte left the club. Financial difficulties meant the Nerrazurri had to cash in on prized assets, and Hakimi and subsequently Lukaku followed Conte out of the door. Lautaro Martinez did stay, however, with Inter reinvesting some of the funds to sign Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Lazio forward Juan Correa. Hakan Calhanoglu, meanwhile, joined from rivals Milan on loan, though it is difficult to see that being enough for Inter to challenge on all fronts this season.

 

Juventus

While Inter were weakened, it has to be said that Juventus – surely their closest rivals in the Scudetto hunt – also had a disappointing window. Like many European clubs, they have been hit hard by COVID-19, though appeared well set to challenge again after reappointing Massimiliano Allegri. However, Ronaldo decided he wanted out late in the window, and Juve did not stand in his way. An initial fee of £12.86m (€15m), payable over five years, was agreed with United, and Ronaldo left just like that. Moise Kean returned from Everton on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy as a replacement, while Manuel Locatelli was their other major acquisition and Weston McKennie's move from Schalke was made permanent. Based on the performance in Sunday's defeat to Empoli, however, Juve are far from the force they were during Allegri's last spell in charge.

Real Madrid

For a time last week, it really did look as though Madrid were going to end the window in sensational fashion. Three bids were lodged for Mbappe, but PSG did not buckle. Madrid did move for another French youngster – Edouardo Camavinga, who joined from Rennes on Tuesday – but overall it must be considered a poor window. Los Blancos allowed Ramos to leave on a free and sold long-time defensive partner Varane - just the eight Champions League winners' medals between them. Martin Odegaard was deemed surplus to requirements by Carlo Ancelotti and sold to Arsenal, though no buyers were found for fringe players Luka Jovic or Dani Ceballos. David Alaba's arrival on a free transfer from Bayern Munich at least softened the blow of Ramos' departure, and Mbappe may well be on board in 2022.

Manchester City

City broke the British transfer record to sign Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, who in turn have made smart acquisitions such as Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia. While another attacking midfielder was more of a luxury than a necessity, City did miss out on Kane and then seemingly saw Ronaldo snatched from under their noses by United, though the club have claimed it is they who pulled out of the deal. Pep Guardiola went into the window wanting an out-and-out number nine following Aguero's departure, but for now the Premier League champions will have to carry on with makeshift forwards, it seems. Not that it did them much harm in 5-0 routs of Norwich City and Arsenal last month. Meanwhile, wantaway playmaker Bernardo Silva is still at the club, though he will remain a first-team regular.

Liverpool 

Unlike their league rivals, Liverpool never seemed focused on spending big. The Reds instead turned their attention to tying down the futures of key players, with Jordan Henderson, Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson, Fabinho and Andrew Robertson signing new deals. Ibrahima Konate came in from RB Leipzig to boost the defence – a clear area of weakness last season during an injury crisis – though Jurgen Klopp's squad does seem weaker. They have started the season well, but it remains to be seen how they cope without Wijnaldum and even Xherdan Shaqiri should injuries trouble them again.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona had other players who could step up and lead after Memphis Depay stood head and shoulders over the rest in Sunday's narrow win over Getafe.

Barcelona's 2-1 win in LaLiga came thanks to a second-minute strike from Sergi Roberto and a lovely run and finish from Netherlands forward Depay on the half-hour mark, the close-season arrival from Lyon already stamping his mark in Spain.

Between those goals, former Barcelona forward Sandro Ramirez briefly drew Getafe level, and the team who have yet to pick up a point this season pushed the hosts hard in the second half at Camp Nou.

For all the praise Koeman showered on Barcelona after the game, his players managed just seven attempts on goal, and they have not had fewer in a LaLiga fixture since tallying five in a 2-1 Clasico defeat to Real Madrid in March 2013. They have not had fewer in the league at home since at least 2003-04, Opta revealed.

Barcelona's seven points from three games look to be masking some serious shortcomings. Antoine Griezmann was mostly anonymous against Getafe and faced flak from the crowd, his display a blow to those that thought he might step up this season and assume the protagonist role previously vacated by Lionel Messi.

Koeman nonetheless looked for the positives, and said: "I don't like it when a Barca player is whistled. Someone who works like Antoine can never be criticised.

"All the attackers can have their day but there are games where you can't find the space. We haven't created opportunities for him either."

The France forward made more tackles than any other Barcelona player – five – but he did not have one shot or create a chance in his 84 minutes on the pitch. At the sharp end of the pitch, he was blunt.

Getafe have now played 17 away games against Barcelona in LaLiga without managing a win (W0 D4 L13). but Koeman praised the visitors.

"It was a difficult game. Getafe are a strong team," he said.

 

"We started very well. They equalised. We had control of the game but we didn't create many chances.

"I think that in the second half we lowered our performance with the ball. It should be noted, the work and the attitude we had to win the match. It was different from last year. Last year we drew games like today's. I'm very happy with the team."

Depay appears to have assumed the Messi role. His equaliser at Athletic Bilbao salvaged a point, and here his dribble and powerful finish coming in from the left side of the penalty was almost a mirror image of a typical Messi goal.

"I don't know if Memphis should lead," Koeman said. "There are more players to do it. We know that with him we have a player at the top who can make a difference. He did it today and also last week."

Barcelona could yet dip into the transfer market before Tuesday's deadline, but Koeman is not sure what the prospects are there.

He said: "Hopefully we can reinforce the squad because we need it, but if it is not possible, we will continue working as before."

Next for Barcelona is a Champions League group game against Bayern Munich, the team that thrashed them 8-2 in the Champions League quarter-finals in August last year.

That September 14 clash at Camp Nou will be preceded by countless reminders of the dark night at the Estadio da Luz, but Koeman will expect much better from Barcelona.

He wants them to make their home stadium, attended by 26,543 spectators on Sunday, as mighty a fortress as possible.

Without Messi, that seems a tall order, but Koeman has no choice but to set a high bar for his team.

"We have to win at home," Koeman said. "Last year we lost points here and this year we have two victories at home."

Barcelona have to be "realistic" in the transfer market and cannot hope to match the financial power of Paris Saint-Germain or the two Manchester clubs, according to Ronald Koeman.

Hit hard by previous mismanagement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barca are in financial turmoil with debts reaching €1.4billion earlier this month.

It resulted in the loss of talisman Lionel Messi, whose 21-year association with the Blaugrana ended in early August when Barca confirmed LaLiga restrictions meant re-signing him was an impossibility following the expiration of his contract in June. He subsequently joined PSG on a free transfer.

Barca are still looking to trim their squad to cut their wage bill. Gerard Pique was among those to take a pay reduction so the club to fall in line with salary cap rules, thus allowing them to register Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia, two of the four new arrivals this transfer window alongside full-back Emerson Royal and striker Sergio Aguero, who is out injured.

With rivals Real Madrid bidding for PSG star Kylian Mbappe, Koeman is still reportedly wanting to add to his squad before Tuesday's deadline, though he accepts Barca have to know their limits.

"Every person who wants the best for this club is frustrated but you also have to be realistic, and economically the club cannot compete with other teams like PSG, City or United," Koeman told a news conference ahead of Sunday's clash with Getafe.

"It is like that and you have to accept it. It will last for a long time, it is not a matter of ending today or tomorrow. I have always said that you have to be realistic and know the situation of the club.

"You have to know the moment of the club, that we are changing things, with young players. We are missing six or seven players who can start but we have a good team.

"I am not in favour of thinking about not winning things. We are a club that must always show a winning mentality, but at this moment we cannot fight with the best in the world.

"It does not depend on the best player in the world, it depends on the team and the mentality. We know that we lack the best in the world and we have to have other things."

Asked for his opinion on Madrid's chase of Mbappe, Koeman replied: "If Madrid have the money... I would also want to have him in my team. If you can improve your squad with these players, perfect.

"It seems crazy to me and absurd figures to pay so much money for a player seeing how the world is."

Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic are players who Barca wish to move on, but Koeman hailed the latter's attitude and application despite his situation, with both making the squad for the Getafe match.

"There are just a few days to go to release players who want to play for other teams. Pjanic is one of the players. His attitude is very good and that's why he's in the squad list," said Koeman.

One player who could bring the star quality Barca crave is Ansu Fati, who has returned to training after missing the majority of last season with a serious knee injury.

Koeman, though, insisted Barca will take it slowly when it comes to easing the teenager back into action.

"We don't have to go fast. I think Ansu still needs more time to become fit at the best level," said Koeman, who is able to welcome back Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Oscar Mingueza for Sunday's game.

"We are talking about a player who has been out injured for seven or eight months and you cannot recover your good form in three weeks, so I don't want to say one date.

"I read in the press that he would be available against Sevilla [on September 11]. I can confirm he won't be ready for that game, he needs more training sessions because we want to have Ansu for a long time and we are not going to take a single risk."

Pedri has belatedly been given a break from Barcelona duty after featuring in their first two matches of the 2021-22 season.

The Spain midfielder posted a picture from his aeroplane to social media as he headed back to his home in Tenerife.

Barca shared the image with the caption, "deserved vacation".

Pedri will not play for the Blaugrana against Getafe next Sunday, while it remains to be seen if he will be called up by Luis Enrique for the subsequent international break.

The 18-year-old would return to Catalonia in time for Barca's LaLiga clash with Sevilla on September 12.

Pedri had played only a single season with Las Palmas before linking up with Ronald Koeman's Barca at the start of the 2020-21 campaign, but he quickly became a key man.

Since his debut last September, only Bruno Fernandes and Manu Trigueros (both 56) have appeared in more club games across all competitions than Pedri (54, tied with Marcus Rashford) among players in Europe's top five leagues.

But Pedri has also turned out 10 times for the senior Spain team in that period, including in all six matches in their run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

And there were a further six appearances at the Tokyo Olympics as the teenager helped Spain take silver.

Having started his 2020-21 season in the Spain Under-21 team on September 3, 2020 – with four games at that level – Pedri has played 74 matches for club and country in less than a year.

Koeman was asked about Pedri's impending departure following Saturday's 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao, in which he was substituted after 62 minutes.

"It's better to give him a break now, so as not to have problems in the month of November," the coach explained.

Ronald Koeman had no complaints as Barcelona could only draw at Athletic Bilbao, hailing his battling side and Memphis Depay in particular.

Depay scored his first Blaugrana goal 15 minutes from time at San Mames to cancel out Inigo Martinez's opener and secure a point.

The Netherlands international became the first Barca player to have a goal involvement in each of his opening two LaLiga appearances (one goal, one assist) since both Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez in 2011-12.

Yet Depay could have added to his tally as he squandered the best of his three chances – valued at 0.24 expected goals – four minutes from time.

"I could have scored two goals," he told Barca TV. "In the end, I did it with the left.

"I am very pleased to have scored, for having scored my first goal, but disappointed not to have scored the second chance I had."

Koeman was pleased with Depay, however, adding: "He has scored a great goal and had a chance for another. We must highlight the attitude of the team after the 1-0 against.

"[Depay] has effectiveness, speed, strength. He's a great player, that's why we've signed him. You have to have personality, here the demand is better and he takes it well."

 

Indeed, despite Depay's late chance, Koeman suggested Barca would have been fortunate to win.

They had 67.3 per cent of the possession but just nine attempts to Athletic's 16.

"We initially lacked calm and the ability to find the free man," Koeman said. "We made mistakes and couldn't get out.

"Little by little we entered the game, we reacted well after the 1-0 and in the end we were better. We could even win, but maybe it would have been too much."

Barca had some issues at the back, with Eric Garcia sent off late on after Gerard Pique had departed with injury.

In a worrying trend, this is the sixth time in Pique's past 13 LaLiga starts he has failed to see out the full match, as many substitutions as in his previous 111 outings.

But Koeman said Pique's problem was "not serious and I hope he will be available for next week".

Ronald Koeman says the situation with Ilaix Moriba at Barcelona is "horrible", claiming the teenager and his advisors are prioritising money over his career.

Moriba broke into the Barca first team in 2020-21, making 14 appearances in LaLiga and scoring his first goal as a substitute in the 2-0 win over Osasuna in March.

Barca have been in talks with the midfielder over a new contract, with his deal expiring next year, but little progress has been made in recent weeks.

Moriba was effectively sidelined for pre-season as the impasse continued and clubs began to be linked with offers, with Premier League sides including Manchester City and Liverpool said to be interested.

According to Sport, RB Leizpig have made an approach worth €8million, although Barca want closer to €15m if they are to sell.

The stand-off has left head coach Koeman deeply unimpressed as he believes Moriba should be a key part of the future of the first team.

"I talked with Ilaix two or three weeks ago. His situation, for me, is horrible," the Dutchman said on Friday.

"He's young. He's 18, he had the opportunity to play for Barca and he's the future of the club. And he doesn't play, he's not with us.

"At 18, the most important thing is to play, not money. But Ilaix and his people think differently. I'm disappointed with that because I believe more in football than in contracts.

"Money at 18 cannot be the most important thing."

 

Barca's spiralling levels of debt have made sales essential if Koeman wishes to add any further players to his squad.

Martin Braithwaite and Philippe Coutinho have both been tipped to leave but Koeman would prefer to keep them as he seeks ways to soften the blow left by the departure of Lionel Messi.

Clement Lenglet is also expected to stay, but Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic could be moved on.

"We're in a situation at the club where we listen to offers in a lot of cases, but Martin's doing well with us. I believe he has to stay," he said of Braithwaite.

"He's important for us. I like working with him a lot because he's disciplined and he accepts his role. He plays in different positions in attack and the other day we saw that he can score goals. We'll see."

On the defenders, he said: "I'm really happy to have five or six centre-backs. It's an important position for which there's a lot of competition, and we need them.

"Umtiti has fewer possibilities than the others. Lenglet is our only left-footer. He has a place and he'll have games. After the break, the matches start every three days and we need all the players.

"Pjanic and Umtiti will find it difficult to have minutes. The final decision is the player's, but they have a complicated situation, yes."

He added on Coutinho: "Philippe is out because I think he needs one more week of training and to be with the group before being added to the squad. And yes, I count on him because for me he's a great player.

"He can be important because he has effectiveness in his play. He can play in different positions. We need people like him.

"With Messi, we've lost a lot of goals and we have to look for goals in other players."

Koeman also revealed Pedri will play against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday but will then be given a two-week holiday following his exploits at Euro 2020 and then the Olympics with Spain.

"We've had time to think about what the best thing is for Pedri. We've decided that he'll play tomorrow, and then afterwards he'll have two weeks of holiday so he doesn't get to November or December overloaded," he said.

"I've spoken with [Spain coach] Luis Enrique. We'll give him two weeks of holiday because he needs it. It's impossible to endure what he's endured and he deserves a holiday of at least two weeks."

Antoine Griezmann is "happy and proud" after reaching 100 appearances for Barcelona and the French star is targeting history with the LaLiga giants.

Griezmann brought up his century of games in Sunday's 4-2 rout of Real Sociedad and almost marked the occasion with his 36th goal for Barca, only to be denied by the crossbar.

With big shoes to fill after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca head coach Ronald Koeman will be hoping the forward can team up with recruit Memphis Depay to fire Barca back to the top of LaLiga.

Griezmann, who arrived from Atletico Madrid in 2019, told the club's media on Wednesday: "I am happy and proud to have reached this figure.

"It was very important to get a win in the first game with the fans back, who we haven't seen for so long. It was a good game and hopefully, we can now get another win against Athletic [Bilbao]."

Since arriving in 2019, no player has played more games for Barca, while only Messi (8003) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (8040) have racked up more minutes than Griezmann's 7,497.

France international Griezmann sits behind Messi for goal involvements in that time, too, having recorded 51 direct involvements – 19 more than the departed third-place Luis Suarez, who fired Atletico to their first LaLiga title since 2013-14 last term.

Griezmann's returns do not just impress up against his team-mates, though, given only Suarez (42), Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (51) and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (59) have scored more among LaLiga forwards since the Frenchman's switch to Barca.

While Griezmann remains a long way behind his 94 goals for Diego Simeone's Atletico, his 20 goals across all competitions last season – the same as his goal involvements in LaLiga – did see him finish as Barca's second-highest goalscorer.

 

Having not added to his 35-goal tally yet this campaign, that return means he is 14 goals away from Thierry Henry (49) as the highest-scoring Frenchman for Koeman's side, Ludovic Giuly third with 26.

However, it is not just his finishing abilities that standout during his Camp Nou career.

Only Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (131) have created more chances than Griezmann (107), who also ranks third at the club behind the same pair for 'big' chances created, defined by Opta, with 26.

In a side dependent on the link-up play of their forwards to unleash the likes of Ansu Fati, Alba and Ousmane Dembele, it is apparent why Koeman has challenged the 30-year-old to improve on those figures to be the spearhead and guide his team to glory.

Nevertheless, the former Sociedad man is looking forward to continuing life at Camp Nou.

"I hope I get to play another 100 games and carry on giving everything to make history with this club," Griezmann added. "I want to keep helping the team both on and off the pitch, in attack and defence, and enjoying being at Barca."

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona played their best football in "years" during the opening hour of their first LaLiga game since Lionel Messi's exit as they saw off Real Sociedad 4-2.

Martin Braithwaite's brace after Gerard Pique had opened the scoring gave Barca a three-goal advantage with 59 minutes played in Sunday's contest at Camp Nou.

Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal scored quickfire goals to set up a nervy conclusion to the game, but Sergi Roberto struck in injury time to seal a deserved win for the home side.

It was the perfect way for the Catalan giants to put the shock of losing their all-time leading goalscorer Messi to Paris Saint-Germain on a free contract this week behind them.

And while Koeman would prefer to still have Messi in his squad, the Dutchman feels Barca proved there is life without their former captain as they outclassed La Real.

"We know that we are good with the ball, but we have worked hard on pressing and to do so with everyone," Koeman said during his post-match news conference. 

"We have to be more collective than before. For me, the team in the first half hour was the best Barca in years. It is the path we want to follow.

"I would like to have Messi in the team. Of course we don't have the player who decides games on his own, but this is more about the collective now.

"We have to create opportunities to score. Today we scored four so it's fine."

Pique got the ball rolling for Barcelona with his 19th-minute opener, heading in a pinpoint free-kick sent in by Memphis Depay on his competitive debut for the club.

Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj could only be registered by Barca on Saturday after Pique accepted a substantial pay cut to ensure they met LaLiga's salary cap limit.

Pique celebrated his goal by kissing the Barcelona crest on his shirt and Koeman hailed the long-serving defender for putting the team first.

"For me, Pique was also the team leader last year," Koeman said. "Due to injuries he couldn't play as much as he would have liked. He has been exemplary for all the Catalans."

 

Braithwaite was Barcelona's star performer in their opening match of the 2021-22 campaign with his two goals, which makes him the first Danish player to score a brace in LaLiga this century.

His double came from an expected goals return of 0.89 and Koeman expects the 30-year-old to play an important role this campaign, despite being heavily linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

"I have always said that he is a great example of a professional soccer player," Koeman said. "He always works for the team and he has improved his game – not only because of the goals. 

"He helps us in many areas. He also has speed and always he is very difficult to defend against. I am delighted to have players like him."

Barcelona are now unbeaten in their last 11 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga, but tougher tests lie in wait with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid to come in their next seven games.

Following a period of doom and gloom, Koeman is hoping for a positive future with returning supporters fully behind their side.

"We know that the season is very long and many things can happen," Koeman added. "If the fans see a team with enthusiasm, that tries to do things well, with a positive attitude, that always helps. 

"We need the fans. We have to leave them happy and I think they have gone home happy today."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has called on Antoine Griezmann to step up this season and help fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

The Catalan giants are still coming to terms with the loss of their all-time leading scorer, who officially joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this week.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for Barca across 778 appearances in his 17 years in the first team.

He directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season, scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Griezmann was the only other Barca player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

As they prepare to begin a first season without Messi since 2003-04, Koeman has challenged World Cup winner Griezmann to improve on those figures.

"I love working with him," Koeman said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's opening fixture against Real Sociedad. "He is a team player who always helps without the ball.

"He is always happy and encourages others. But he must take another step and be more effective. It will be more important without Leo, because he occupied that position."

 

Messi's departure came after Barca had agreed deals with Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero, the pair arriving on free transfers from Lyon and Manchester City respectively.

Aguero did not feature for Barca in pre-season and is out for another 10 weeks through injury, but Depay has made a positive impression with three goals in four friendlies.

"I know Memphis well from our time with the Netherlands national team," Koeman said. "He has been effective with his performances so far.

"We have lost a lot with Leo leaving and now we ask for more from the others, and not just the forwards. We will try our best to improve and achieve our targets."

Barca received a big boost on the eve of their season opener with Sociedad as it was confirmed Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj have been officially registered to play.

Ansu Fati is out until after the September international break, however, while Ousmane Dembele and Aguero are also nursing injuries, leaving Koeman light in attack.

Barca's well-documented financial problems make bringing in new players difficult, but Koeman is hopeful of another new striker arriving before the transfer window closes.

"We lack players, and some are still injured," he said. "The squad is short. That's why we need a striker. 

"But then it depends on whether we can sign the player. It depends on the Financial Fair Play issues. If we can, we will sign someone."

Sunday's clash with Sociedad will mark the first time Barcelona have played a competitive game in front of fans at Camp Nou in 17 months, with up to 30,000 expected to be in attendance.

It will be an emotional occasion in more ways than one as Barca begin a new chapter without the greatest player in their history.

"Messi's exit was painful for everyone because of everything he has done," Koeman said. "We have to live the today and not the past. I am excited and hopefully the fans are too.

"I am excited to play in front of our fans, though we know the quality of the opponent, who we played against many times last year."

Barca are unbeaten in their past 10 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga (W8 D2). Only once have they gone 11 league matches without defeat in this fixture, a run of 17 games between 1952 and 1960.

Barcelona have finally registered new signings Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia after Gerard Pique agreed to a "substantial" pay cut.

The Catalans have faced well-documented financial problems, leading to the exit of all-time leading scorer Lionel Messi this week and leaving them unable to officially add players to their squad.

However, Messi's switch to Paris Saint-Germain and Pique's willingness to accept a reduced wage ensures that Barcelona now meet LaLiga's salary cap limit.

And on the eve of Sunday's opening LaLiga clash with Real Sociedad, Barca announced Depay and Garcia, as well as striker Rey Manaj, are all able to play competitive football.

A statement on Barcelona's website on Saturday read: "FC Barcelona is able to register Memphis, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj to play in the Spanish Liga de Futbol Profesional. 

"This has been made possible thanks to an agreement with Gerard Pique whereby the Barca second captain's salary has been substantially reduced.

"This means that all of the first team players will be available for selection by Ronald Koeman for this Sunday's opening Liga fixture against Real Sociedad."

Barcelona added that they are working closely with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to adapt the pair's salaries as they look to further reduce their wage bill.

Both players are "totally and utterly willing to cooperate" with Barca, who have also offloaded Jean-Clair Todibo, Junior Firpo, Konrad De la Fuente and Matheus Fernandes during the close season.

Ronald Koeman, speaking at a news conference on Saturday ahead of the visit of Sociedad, praised Barca's long-serving players for helping the club during a difficult period.

"We know perfectly well the financial situation of the club and it needs help in every way," Koeman said. 

"The attitude of Gerard, [Sergi] Roberto, Busquets and Alba must be highlighted. Those who have been here for many years want to help the club improve the economic situation.

"It is important and shows that they are people from home."

Sergio Aguero has yet to be registered by Barca, but the LaLiga giants are in no rush to do so as the Argentina international has been ruled out for 10 weeks through injury.

Barca's other recent arrival Emerson Royal is believed to already be registered as he is returning from a loan spell with Real Betis.

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