Ronald Koeman has warned Barcelona's rivals a rejuvenated and focused Lionel Messi will have a massive impact in the forthcoming season.

Messi is technically still a free agent after his contract with the Blaugrana expired at midnight on June 30, but it has been widely reported the 34-year-old is poised to sign a new five-year deal at Camp Nou.

Messi was again hugely influential for Barcelona last season, finishing as LaLiga's top scorer and managing 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions.

He also created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes over the course of 2020-21. 

The Argentina international is expected to take a substantial pay cut to stay at Barca but Koeman does not expect his influence to diminish.

"Messi is very important, he is the captain of the team and an example," head coach Koeman told a media conference on Sunday.

"After a difficult start due to his own situation, his effectiveness was enormous [in 2020-21].

"He really wanted to win the Copa America and, as he is the best player in the world, he is used to winning things. For me, he is the big favourite to win the Ballon d'Or."

 

Koeman claimed the presence of Messi and other experienced players will bring balance to Barca in the new campaign.

"The veteran players have a place in the squad," Koeman explained.

"They already showed it last year and it is important that they be with us. In a club like Barca, the balance between the oldest and the youngest must exist."

Koeman has taken some of the attacking burden of Messi shoulders with the signings of Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero on free transfers.

Depay enjoyed a fine final season in Ligue 1, scoring 20 times, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27), while his 12 assists and 94 chances created were the most in France's top flight.

Aguero scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances in all competitions during a glittering decade with Manchester City.

"I know Memphis very well and he knows how to work," Koeman added.

"He has a lot of character, physicality, speed, he can play in different positions in attack. He's the perfect age to show it.

"With Sergio, we had to improve our performance at the top and he is a very experienced and dangerous player in the penalty area. 

"The important thing is that he is physically well and our goal is to keep him in top form."

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."

Barcelona have completed the signing of Manchester City legend Sergio Aguero on a free transfer.

The 32-year-old striker underwent medical tests in Spain on Monday, just two days after his last match for City ended in a 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

The Argentina international, who will link up with friend and international team-mate Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, has signed a two-year contract that contains a €100million buy-out clause.

He will join on July 1 after his City contract expires.

"Everyone at Manchester City would like to take this opportunity to thank Sergio for his incredible contribution to our success over the last decade and wish him well on the remainder of his career," the English champions said in a statement.

Aguero spent five years in LaLiga with Atletico Madrid until 2011, when he moved to City for a reported fee of £35m.

He scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances in all competitions during a glittering decade in Manchester.

Aguero, who famously secured City's first Premier League title in 2011-12 with an injury-time winner against QPR on the final day of the season, won the top-flight title five times in England.

He also won six EFL Cups and the FA Cup in 2018-19 as part of a domestic treble under Pep Guardiola, who described the forward as "a special person" who would be irreplaceable for the club.

Aguero scored twice on his final league appearance for City in the 5-0 win over Everton this month. The goals took him to 184 in the Premier League – fourth in the all-time charts – and broke Wayne Rooney's record for the most goals scored in the competition for a single club.

Barcelona have completed the signing of Manchester City legend Sergio Aguero on a free transfer.

The 32-year-old striker underwent medical tests in Spain on Monday, just two days after his last match for City ended in a 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

The Argentina international, who will link up with friend and international team-mate Lionel Messi at Camp Nou, has signed a two-year contract that contains a €100million buy-out clause.

He will join on July 1 after his City contract expires.

Barcelona have completed the signing of Manchester City legend Sergio Aguero on a free transfer.

 

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."

At long last, Manchester City have made it to the Champions League final – ever since their 2008 takeover, becoming the major force in Europe has been one of their main targets.

Achieving that goal is finally within their grasp, with Saturday's showpiece being the club’s first final in the competition.

For all the success during Sheikh Mansour's ownership, the Champions League has been the missing piece of the puzzle, a situation City set out to remedy in 2016 when they hired Pep Guardiola.

It is no surprise the Catalan coach has been the man to get them to the edge of glory, such is his pedigree and reputation, though it may have taken a little longer than some expected.

However, success in Porto on Saturday is by no means a foregone conclusion, with Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea standing in their way.

Ahead of the biggest match in European football, Stats Perform looks at the key Opta data…

The Coaches

Much of the focus until now has been centred around the two coaches, whose situations are rather different.

While Guardiola may be taking charge of Champions League final newcomers, he of course has a stellar reputation in the competition and will become only the third manager to win it three times if City prevail – the others being Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.

Tuchel, on the other hand, was here just last year in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, who were defeated in the final by Bayern Munich. He is already the first coach to reach successive Champions League/European Cup finals with different teams, while only Marcello Lippi and Hector Cuper have lost two in a row.

Nevertheless, Guardiola has lost more matches to Chelsea in all competitions across his managerial (seven) than any other club, including the past two.

The Records

City have already made history by getting this far, with this their first European final in 51 years since beating Gornik Zabrze 2-1 in the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup final – it's the longest gap between finals for a team, beating the 41 years that Sporting CP chalked up between 1964 and 2005.

Another record in sight for City is Real Madrid's benchmark of 12 wins in a single Champions League campaign, with Guardiola's side on 11. However, Los Blancos' haul is a little less impressive when you consider their 12 victories came from 17 matches – City have played 13 so far.

Although both clubs have become European mainstays this century, they have only actually played each other outside of domestic football once, meeting in the two-legged 1970-71 Cup Winners' Cup semi-final when Chelsea won 2-0 on aggregate.

City's regularity in this competition has been impressive, though as previously mentioned it will be their first final, which means it will be the third year running that a new team contests the main event, following on from Tottenham and PSG – this last occurred from 1986 to 1988 when Steaua Bucharest, Porto and PSV contested finals.

The Star Names

As with any Champions League final, there will be an impressive array of quality on show, including Kevin De Bruyne, a former Chelsea player.

Along with Riyad Mahrez, the Belgian has scored in the quarter-final and semi-final this season. If they both net in the final, they will be the first duo to accomplish the impressive hat-trick since Real Madrid greats Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas in 1959-60.

Phil Foden's career trajectory already suggests this will not be his last European final, and if he is named in the starting XI he will be the third-youngest Englishman (21 years, one day) to start a Champions League decider after Owen Hargreaves (20y 123d) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (19y 231d in 2018 and 20y 237d in 2019).

Foden is also on the second-longest unbeaten run in Champions League history at 21 matches, a streak that stretches back to a defeat to Basel in March 2018.

And the longest unbeaten run in Champion League belongs to? That's right, another City player: Bernardo Silva. He hasn't lost in the competition since September 2018, a sequence of 26 appearances.

Sergio Aguero will play his final match for City should he make an appearance, and few would bet against that given he has scored 13 times against Chelsea, a record he has only bettered against Newcastle United.

Standing in City's way, however, will be Edouard Mendy – Chelsea hope. The Senegal international suffered a knock against Aston Villa and the Blues will be desperate for him to be make it given he has kept eight clean sheets in Europe this term. Only Santi Canizares and Keylor Navas have ever kept nine in a single campaign.

Another man who has been key to Chelsea's defensive solidity this term, particularly since Tuchel took over, is Thiago Silva. The Brazilian is set to become only the fifth player to feature in consecutive finals with different teams.

The others? Marcel Desailly (1993 Marseille, 1994 Milan), Paulo Sousa (1996 Juventus, 1997 Borussia Dortmund), Samuel Eto'o (2009 Barcelona, 2010 Inter Milan) and Alvaro Morata (2014 Real Madrid, 2015 Juventus) – now there is a quiz question for you.

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.

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.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola confirmed football's worst kept secret that star forward Sergio Aguero is set to join Barcelona this off-season.

It had widely been reported that Aguero had agreed to a two-year deal with LaLiga giants Barca on a free transfer, with his City exit confirmed two months ago.

Guardiola "revealed a secret" after City's 5-0 final-day win over Everton where Aguero signed off with a double as the club lifted the Premier League title on Sunday.

"I'm pretty sure, maybe I'll reveal a secret, maybe he is close to a agreeing a deal for the club of my heart, from Barcelona," Guardiola told BBC.

"He's going to play alongside the best player of all time, Lionel Messi. I'm pretty sure he's going to enjoy it and make my club Barcelona stronger and strongest with him on the pitch."

Aguero has been with City since 2011, making 389 appearances and scoring a club record 260 goals.

The 32-year-old won 15 trophies with City, including five Premier League titles, ending the club's wait in 2011-12 when he scored a dramatic late winner.

Aguero won the 2014-15 Premier League Golden Boot and is a two-time winner of City's Player of the Year, in 2011-12 and 2014-15.

Pep Guardiola believes Sergio Aguero is ready to help Manchester City in the Champions League final following his glorious Etihad Stadium farewell.

Aguero came off the bench on Sunday to score a brace as the Premier League champions thrashed Everton 5-0 – his final game in England's top flight before his City contract expires next month.

All attention now shifts to the showdown with Chelsea at Porto's Estadio do Dragao in six days' time and Guardiola felt Aguero's 183rd and 184th Premier League goals gave a timely demonstration of his enduring quality.

"Yeah, of course [he can play in the final]," he told a post-match news conference. "We have five substitutions. At the beginning, I don't know, I have to think about it.

"He has something special, Sergio. Of course he is ready to help us if we need him to win the Champions League."

Aguero improved his record as City's all-time leading scorer to 260, while he now has more for a single club than any other player in Premier League history, usurping Wayne Rooney's 183 for Manchester United.

Guardiola broke down in tears when discussing the five-time Premier League champion's legacy during a pitchside interview with Sky Sports.

Although the two have not always seemed like natural allies during Guardiola's five season in Manchester, he insists the Argentina striker has a place in his affections like few others.

"Some of them in Barcelona, it sometimes happens [you get emotional]," he said.

"Sergio has brought this club to the level we are now. He's a special person

"It was a perfect end, a fairy tale moment. We won the game, we had some good moments."

Guardiola revealed that Aguero, whose final campaign in Manchester has been dogged by injuries, asked to be deployed from the bench against Carlo Ancelotti's men.

"We spoke to Sergio yesterday, he had some little niggles and said, 'what do you want to do?'," he added.

"He said [he wanted to play] the last 30 minutes but he didn't tell me he needed just 30 minutes to score two goals. He did it again.

"It's perfect, it's so good for him."

The Premier League race is run. A season that has seemingly been a never-ending story finally concluded on Sunday with the focus centred on the top four.

Chelsea lost but still ended up securing Champions League qualification, Liverpool won to astonishingly end an eventful campaign in third and poor Leicester City missed out after a crazy game at home to Tottenham as Harry Kane clinched the Golden Boot.

West Ham finish above Spurs in sixth to make the Europa League, while Manchester United ruined Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Wolves. There was yet another goal for Joe Willock, while David McGoldrick made sure he will no doubt be the subject of a pub quiz question in years to come.

Manchester City had clinched the title long ago, but a home game with Everton offered a chance for their returning fans to say farewell to a club legend.


Aston Villa 2-1 Chelsea: Tuchel slips up on the road as Blues lose

Thomas Tuchel's side held on to their top-four spot thanks to the result at the King Power Stadium, with the German coach able to celebrate despite suffering his first away defeat in the league since taking charge at Stamford Bridge.

Bertrand Traore scored the opener for Villa, in the process becoming the 25th different player to manage a Premier League goal against Chelsea having previously been at the Blues. Anwar El Ghazi doubled the lead with the 100th penalty scored in the competition this season, the first time a campaign has reached triple figures.

On the subject of penalties, Jorginho finished with the most goals for Chelsea in the league with seven – all from the spot. It is the lowest number for the club’s leading scorer in a top-flight season since 1974-75, when Ian Hutchinson also managed seven.

Liverpool 2-0 Crystal Palace: Mane helps Reds prosper at Anfield

Jurgen Klopp has now finished in the top four at the end of the five full seasons he has had in charge of the Reds, who handed their former boss Roy Hodgson a 2-0 defeat in his Palace swansong.

Sadio Mane got both goals, the second with the aid of a huge deflection. He has scored 10 or more in all seven of his Premier League campaigns, including his two with Southampton before moving to Anfield in June 2016.

Liverpool won their meetings with Palace by a combined 9-0 score; only against Ipswich in 2001-02 (11-0) have they enjoyed a bigger aggregate margin across two Premier League games in the same season. While he had no need to conjure up another last-gasp goal this time, Alisson Becker did manage to keep a clean sheet on his 100th league outing for Klopp's side.

Leicester City 2-4 Tottenham: Foxes run into trouble against Bale and Kane

Leicester spent 242 days in the Premier League's top four this term, only to end the final one sitting in fifth place. For a second successive year, a late loss of form has cost them a Champions League place.

A sixth defeat in 13 matches did not appear on the cards when they twice led against Spurs thanks to Jamie Vardy, who scored two penalties in a match for a third time this season. However, a Kasper Schmeichel own goal – his second in the top tier – levelled matters, with the visitors then moving clear in a frantic finish.

Gareth Bale scored twice late on in potentially his final game for Tottenham, but will Kane still be there when the transfer window shuts? The striker's 41st-minute effort lifted him to 23 for this term as he became only the third player to win the Golden Boot award as many as three times, following in the footsteps of Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer (also three).

Aguero at the double, Willock matches Shearer (yes, really)

In scoring twice after coming on as a substitute, Aguero ended his City career as he had started it – with a brace off the bench (he had done just the same on debut against Swansea City, way back in August 2011). His double takes his final tally to 184 Premier League goals, in the process surpassing Wayne Rooney (183) for the most by a player for a single club.

As for Manchester United, a 2-1 triumph at Wolves sees them become just the fourth side to remain unbeaten away across an entire top-tier season, a feat most recently achieved by Arsenal in 2003-04. The current-day Gunners beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0, though still finished eighth for a second year in a row.

At Fulham, Willock was on target once more in a 2-0 win for Newcastle United. It means the on-loan Arsenal midfielder becomes only the second Newcastle player to score in seven consecutive Premier League appearances, after hall-of-famer Shearer in 1996.

West Ham secured a top-six finish for only the second time in the Premier League era thanks to a 3-0 win over a Southampton team who do not prosper on their travels – they ended up losing 10 of their 11 away fixtures in 2021, during which they leaked 33 goals and scored just seven times.

There was a win for Leeds United at home to West Brom, taking them up to 59 points – the most by a promoted club since Ipswich Town (66) in 2000-01. Sheffield United finished bottom, but at least signed off on a winning note. Striker McGoldrick grabbed the only goal against Burnley to earn his own place in history: it was the 1,000th scored in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season.

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