Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets says he could talk for "five or six hours" about the turbulence at the club. 

LaLiga giants Barca have been engulfed in drama for much of 2020, following Lionel Messi's public declaration that he wanted to leave the club, Luis Suarez's contentious departure to Atletico Madrid and the appointment of Ronald Koeman as new head coach following Quique Setien's dismissal in the wake of an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich.

Messi ultimately remained at Camp Nou after it became clear he would be unable to exercise a get-out clause in his contract, while Koeman refuted Suarez's claim that he was forced out of the club. 

Busquets – currently on international duty with Spain – holds strong views on the state of his club but suggested it would take a significant amount of time to discuss them all. 

"One thing is what happens outside, which is not the best moment of the club," he told a media conference ahead of Spain's Nations League clash with Ukraine. "And another what happens in the field, which was not our best year and it shows at an individual and collective level. 

"If I stopped to give my opinion carefully, it could be five or six hours. 

"On the field it was not our best year. Football is a team sport and if you are not well collectively, you will not be individually. But it has already happened and we have a new opportunity. Things have changed and we hope it will get better."

Busquets started Spain's 0-0 friendly draw with Portugal on Wednesday and their 1-0 Nations League win over Switzerland three days later to take him to 119 caps since his debut in 2008.

He is seventh on Spain's all-time most capped list but sits a whopping 55 behind record holder Sergio Ramos, who is the only player in the current squad to have played more international games than him. 

The 32-year-old has dismissed following Barca team-mate Gerard Pique into international retirement, though, and says he hopes to remain part of the Spain squad for the foreseeable future. 

"I focus on going season to season," he added. "It is clear that I am no longer 20-years-old and I cannot look much into the future. I feel fine.

"It depends on each situation of each player. A new but peculiar season has begun. I hope I can last a long time in the national team."

Luis Enrique has made it clear that Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets will not necessarily be at Euro 2020 if he does not maintain his form.

A winner of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Busquets has earned 118 caps for La Roja since making his debut in 2009.

He remains a key figure at the heart of midfield for club and country and captained the side that drew 0-0 with Portugal in Lisbon on Tuesday.

However, Busquets will be a month short of his 33rd birthday when the postponed Euro 2020 finals begin next June and his starting spot with Spain is already under pressure from Manchester City midfielder Rodri.

Luis Enrique cannot guarantee Busquets will be part of his plans next year if he is not able to sustain his performance levels.

"If he maintains the level of the last 11 years, he'll be at the Euros. If he lowers it, we'll see," said the Spain boss.

"He's a veteran and he's the first to know how this goes. In the end, there comes a time when age counts for everything.

"It's the rule of life. Nobody spends 28 years in the national team."

One player who has forced his way into Luis Enrique's plans is Wolves winger Adama Traore, who made his debut off the bench against Portugal.

The winger's speed, trickery and imposing physique make him a weapon unlike any other at Spain's disposal in attack, and his head coach is delighted to see him flourishing.

He also confirmed Traore's upper-body size is from genetics and general conditioning, not from hours of heavy lifting.

"His case his special. He doesn't lift weights – it's true what he says," the former Barca boss said.

"He's a footballer who doesn't only have speed and an enviable physical structure. It's skill, it's power, it's strength, it's the capacity to hold onto the ball.

"He's a very sensible and thorough person. I'm really glad he's doing well.

"There's no single tactic for a player. There are tactics that try to promote individual qualities from a collective vision.

"A profile like Adama's is unusual. Those qualities are hard to find at this level and we'll try to integrate him into our team."

Spain play their third game of Nations League Group A4 on Saturday against Switzerland at Real Madrid's Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

The match is due to go ahead despite Madrid having been put back into a state of alarm as a result of rising coronavirus cases over the past two months.

"The players can't be worried," Luis Enrique said. "We'd like the news to be otherwise, to be able to play with fans [attending].

"We're living in a bubble, with tests every few days, without contact with people from outside... there's a general wish that this can be resolved as soon as possible."

Sergio Busquets remains one of Spain's most important players, head coach Luis Enrique believes.

The 32-year-old, who has made 116 international appearances, has had his worth called into question for club and country after a difficult season with Barcelona.

But Busquets produced a performance close to his assured best as Spain snatched a 1-1 draw in their Nations League opener against Germany in Stuttgart.

Not that he had any need to prove himself to his former Camp Nou boss.

"Busi is a player who does not need to speak much because his presence imposes respect," Luis Enrique said ahead of Sunday's game against Ukraine.

"But he is not here for what he contributes off the field, he is here for what he contributes on the pitch.

"He makes better or worse games, but he is one of most important footballers of the national team."

Thiago Alcantara shone alongside Busquets, completing 97 of 104 passes in the match, and joined Luis Enrique in giving a glowing assessment.

"It's a joy to see how he positions himself, how he manages the team," said Busquets' ex-Barca colleague.

"There is his presence, his game, his numbers for years ... to improve as a midfielder you must pay attention to him."

Busquets is increasingly an outlier in a youthful squad with Spain.

Ferran Torres, Oscar Rodriguez, Mikel Merino and Ansu Fati all made their debuts against Germany, with Barca teenager Fati becoming the second youngest full international in his country's history.

"His performance does not surprise me, because I have seen all his matches at Barca," Luis Enrique said of Fati.

"His tranquillity his maturity and his naturalness have really surprised me. He is a different player, I don't need to explain it to you because you already see him. 

"His involvement in training and his maturity make it very easy for me as a coach."

Adama Traore could join the list of debutants from this international break after being cleared to join up with the Spain squad following his positive coronavirus test.

Nevertheless, Luis Enrique was keen not to be drawn on his plans for the Wolves winger.

"I would like all the players to be very happy, but I will decide the line-up with those who are more prepared," he added.

"It is possible that a few or many will remain in the team. And as for Adama Traore, we will see, but not until two hours before the game will we know the line-up."

Manchester City are reportedly looking at signing Lionel Messi, while Barcelona's rebuild does not include Luis Suarez.

Messi, 33, has been linked with a move away from the LaLiga giants after a trophy-less 2019-20 season.

Barca are preparing for a rebuild and while Messi is part of their plans, Suarez is seemingly not.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONSIDER MESSI MOVE

Manchester City are working out if they would be able to sign Barcelona star Messi without breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, according to ESPN.

The report says the Premier League giants are preparing should Messi become available.

Messi is contracted at Barcelona until 2021, but has been linked with a move.

ROUND-UP

- Also at Barcelona, Ronald Koeman is preparing his rebuild. Mundo Deportivo reports the club no longer want Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal or Samuel Umtiti, but have plans for Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. The report also says Suarez's departure will open up a move for Inter star Lautaro Martinez.

- Ansu Fati is seemingly close to committing his future to Barcelona. The 17-year-old forward, who has been linked to Manchester United, will sign a new deal that will include a €400million release clause, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- A former Bianconeri striker could help Juventus land Edin Dzeko. Tuttosport reports Mario Mandzukic could join Roma as a replacement for Dzeko, who is being linked to Juve.

- Milan are reportedly looking at Brahim Diaz. Fabrizio Romano reports the Serie A giants have opened talks with Real Madrid about a loan move, with an option to buy, for Brahim.

- Hector Bellerin has been linked with a move away from Arsenal. RMC Sport reports the defender has been offered to Paris Saint-Germain.

- Also at PSG, Leandro Paredes could make a move. Gianluca Di Marzio says Juventus are interested in the midfielder.

The transfer saga that is Jadon Sancho-Manchester United continues to roll on.

Sancho has long been tipped to join United, though Borussia Dortmund are adamant the England star will not return to his homeland this off-season.

United, however, are reportedly not giving up.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED HELD UP BY PERSONAL TERMS

Manchester United remain keen on signing Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho but personal terms and an agent fee are holding up their pursuit, according to ESPN.

Dortmund have insisted Sancho will not be sold, though United continue to target the former Manchester City youngster in a blockbuster transfer.

United have reportedly been given the green light to speak to Sancho and his representative but there has been an impasse with the player's camp over salary demands.

ROUND-UP

- Journalist Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen are still negotiating a deal for star Kai Havertz. While Chelsea are confident, there remains a difference between the two clubs as Leverkusen hope to conclude a deal by the end of the month.

Jack Grealish to United? The Aston Villa captain continues to be linked with a move to Old Trafford and ESPN reports United goalkeeper Sergio Romero could be included in a deal to sign Grealish. Romero is United's number two behind David de Gea and the Argentina international's future is unclear, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reportedly keen for Dean Henderson to challenge for the number one spot.

- According to Cadena Ser's El Larguero, Luis Suarez is aiming to stay at Barcelona. Linked with a return to former club Ajax, Suarez is reportedly one of a number of players who could be forced out following Ronald Koeman's arrival. However, Suarez, Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto all want to speak to Quique Setien's replacement.

- Amid doubts over Pique's long-term future with Barca, Libero claims newly promoted Premier League side Fulham have made an offer for the Spain international star.

United remain interested in signing Barca teenager Ansu Fati, reports Marca. The 17-year-old reportedly switched agents to Jorge Mendes, having previously been represented by Messi's brother.

- The Telegraph says Chelsea are considering a move for Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva. The 35-year-old will become a free agent following the Champions League final and he has already been linked with former club Milan and fellow Serie A side Fiorentina.

Juventus are negotiating with United for Federico Bernardeschi and Douglas Costa, claims La Gazzetta dello Sport. The report also says the Serie A champions are speaking to City regarding Alex Sandro, while new boss Andrea Pirlo is eyeing Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

- Tuttosport's frontpage on Thursday suggests a merry-go-round of strikers. Inter have reportedly told Real Madrid that Romelu Lukaku is not for sale, Juve are in talks with Wolves to sign Raul Jimenez and Inter are challenging the Bianconeri for Dzeko. Meanwhile, Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik is heading towards Roma.

- The countdown is on for Madrid to sell outcasts Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, according to Marca.

Sergio Busquets hopes Barcelona and Arthur come to a speedy resolution on the Brazil international's situation at Camp Nou.

Arthur has agreed to join Juventus at the end of the season in a deal worth €82million, with Miralem Pjanic heading the other way for a fee that could reach €65m.

The former Gremio midfielder has not featured for Barca since his transfer was announced in June and did not return to training following the conclusion of LaLiga.

Arthur has been left out of the Barcelona squad to face Napoli in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Saturday and is reported to be hoping to negotiate the termination of his contract.

"It was a surprise to everyone that Arthur did not return," said Busquets, who will be unavailable to face Napoli due to a suspension triggered by a booking in the 1-1 draw in the first leg.

"Arthur's situation has been difficult, but the only ones who know the situation are the player and the club.

"We know some of the news from what comes out, that he left and will now return, but we are on the sidelines and we hope they reach an agreement that will be the best for all.

"We will only focus on the game against Napoli."

Head coach Quique Setien said of Arthur: "I spoke with him before he left, the reality is that from then on I have not spoken to him again, what I have learned has been through the club. I would have liked it to be different, but I can't say anything else."

Barca held a two-point advantage at the top of LaLiga when the season was paused amid the coronavirus pandemic but ended up finishing five adrift of champions Real Madrid.

Captain Lionel Messi made it clear they needed to improve to have a chance of getting past Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli and held talks with Setien to clear the air ahead of the resumption of their European campaign.

Busquets said: "Everything that is discussed in the dressing room to improve is welcome. These weeks have been very good for us to train, to better plan the game tactically.

"We really want to be able to continue in this competition and be in the final eight, but first we have Napoli, who have a great coach and he's not going to make it easy for us."

It remains unclear whether Setien will still be at the helm for the start of the 2020-21 season, but Busquets believes it will be a positive sign for everyone at the club if he is retained.

"It's a decision for the club whether Setien continues or not," he said.

"If Setien continues it will be a good sign for everyone, but that should not worry us now."

Sergio Busquets conceded Barcelona face an uphill battle to retain their LaLiga crown after a 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi scored his 700th goal but it was not enough for Barca to claim all three points at Camp Nou, where Saul Niguez scored two penalties to earn Atleti a share of the spoils.

The draw leaves Barca one point behind leaders Real Madrid, who could move four clear with a win over Getafe on Thursday.

There are five games remaining for Barca to turn things around, but midfielder Busquets acknowledged their fate may well now be out of their hands.

"Look, to fight for the title is really complicated if you're dropping two points each two games, but we're going to keep fighting until the end," the Spain international told Movistar.

"We know it's difficult but we're going to try. They're a difficult rival. We dominated and created chances but the two penalties, penalised us – it's been a real shame.

"We were leaders and in a perfect situation before the break. I think it's been difficult for us since – some matches we've played better, others we haven't.

"Dropping points today and at the weekend means we're a little bit further away from our goal, which is to retain the title. I think we played better today but it's a difficult task ahead of us."

Diego Costa's own goal from Messi's corner put Barcelona ahead, before Saul hauled Atleti level from 12 yards – his goal coming after Costa had seen his penalty saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, only for a VAR check to spot the goalkeeper had moved off his line.

Messi chipped home his landmark goal from the penalty spot shortly after half-time, yet Saul kept his composure with his second spot-kick of the match.

Yannick Carrasco won both of Atleti's penalties, and the Belgian – who returned to the club in January following a stint in China – was buoyed by the visitors' resilience.

"We always want to win, but I think the team played well. It's just unfortunate we couldn't get the three points," he said.

"We have to keep working and think about the next game. We were playing against one of the best teams in the world. A point away from home is always positive but we wanted to win.

"It's the attitude which is the most important facet of this team always. After that we can win or lose, but if the attitude is the correct one then the coach is happy. Today wasn't to be but we can be proud of our performance."

After weeks of speculation, Barcelona have agreed a deal to sign Miralem Pjanic from Juventus, with the sale of Arthur in the other direction having also been sanctioned.

It has been one of the more head-scratching transfer stories to have emerged in recent times, given at the age of 30 Pjanic has seven years on Brazil midfielder Arthur – a star whose talent is still burgeoning.

Barca will fork out an initial €60million to Juve, who have in turn agreed to stump up €72million for Arthur's services.

There is a general consensus that Juve have the better part of the agreement, due mainly to Pjanic's age.

The deal is sure to impact several of Barcelona's midfield too. We take a look at what the arrival of Pjanic may mean for the Blaugrana's current options.


IVAN RAKITIC

Croatia international Rakitic has been a mainstay of Barca's midfield since joining from Sevilla in 2014, winning four LaLiga titles, as many Copas del Rey and the Champions League during a trophy-laden stint. But Rakitic has not always been universally loved by the Camp Nou faithful, perhaps his only crime being he is simply not club legends Xavi or Andres Iniesta, and has at times been subjected to jeers from the crowd. With his contract up in 2021 there have been plenty of rumours Barca could cash in and Atletico Madrid have been strongly linked with his signature. The player himself said this month he is not heading for the exit door, but this rumour is unlikely to go away anytime soon.


SERGIO BUSQUETS

Busquets is heading for the sort of legendary status the aforementioned Xavi and Iniesta achieved at Camp Nou. Since breaking into the first team from the club's legendary La Masia academy 12 years ago, there has been no player in world football more consistently brilliant in the defensive pivot role and his influence on Barcelona for over a decade can never be understated. But the World Cup winner turns 32 next month and Father Time does not slow down even for the world's best. Such is Busquets' enduring quality, he likely has a couple more years left at the elite level, yet Barca will need to start contemplating life after this club great. Pjanic may have been brought in to help bridge the gap between generations.


RIQUI PUIG

Widely considered as a player to carry Barca into the next generation, Puig has made six LaLiga appearances this term – the only start among those outings only came in last weekend's 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo. With doubts over the long-term futures of Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, it looked as though a breakthrough to becoming a more regular and influential part of the first team was on the cards for the 20-year-old. But the arrival of Pjanic may mean that particular path is blocked once again for one of Barca's greatest hopes. With fellow academy graduate Carles Alena having departed for Real Betis on loan in search of regular football in January, and the possibility that move gets made permanent, Barca will need to assuage any concerns over a lack of minutes or risk their talented youngster getting itchy feet.


ARTURO VIDAL

The arrival of Vidal from Bayern Munich on a three-year deal in August 2018 was met with a similar lack of fanfare to Pjanic's. The fact the Chile midfielder was 31 when he moved to Camp Nou only adds to the similarities. Much like Rakitic, Vidal's future at Barca has been the subject of regular debate, with a return to Serie A – where he formerly represented Juventus – to link up with Antonio Conte at Inter frequently mooted. Vidal recently said he is happy to stay at Barcelona so long as he feels important. He turned 33 last month, though, and the arrival of Pjanic may complicate his desire to be utilised in the trophy-defining matches. With Vidal there is very much a watch-this-space feel.


FRENKIE DE JONG

to agreeing his big-money move to Barcelona from Ajax last year, at least if the newspapers are to believed. De Jong has made 27 LaLiga appearances, including 24 starts, in a debut campaign that has shown flashes of brilliance but never truly ignited. Lofty expectations and ruthlessness are common at a club the stature of Barca, Arthur himself can pay testament to that, and more will be expected of De Jong moving forward. Still, he remains just 23 and Barca will surely build around De Jong for the next decade – perhaps flanked by Pjanic for a decent chunk of that time.

Rising Chelsea star Billy Gilmour says Barcelona midfield greats Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets have helped to shape his development.

Gilmour, 18, has caught the eye this season with impressive displays for the Blues, particularly against Liverpool in the FA Cup and on his full Premier League debut against Everton.

The midfielder, who was named man of the match in that 4-0 victory over the Toffees, says he has always been inspired by watching the style of play of some of Barca's finest footballers.

"When I was young, I used to watch Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – everyone did," he told Sky Sports. "But when I started to analyse my game and think about who I would like to progress to be like, it was more like Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas – it was those players.

"It was something about how they passed the ball, receiving the ball, everything was sharp. Sergio Busquets too; when you watch Barcelona and you watch Busquets individually, everything happens around him.

"Those are the kind of players I looked up to, getting on the ball and making things happen."

Gilmour left Rangers for Chelsea in 2017 and admits it was the Premier League club's long-term planning that convinced him it was the right move.

"At the time [of moving], I didn't really know what was going to happen," he said. "But when I went down, saw everything and they had a plan, it was unbelievable. It was a dream. I always wanted to go and play in the Premier League to test myself and see what my limit is.

"When I first came, I'd say I was more of an attacking midfielder, and then [assistant coach] Jody Morris turned me into a deeper player. To get on the ball and start play is best for me, but I am happy playing anywhere."

Speaking of his standout performance in the 2-0 win over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, he added: "There were parts that I felt were difficult, but when I got on the ball I felt good. I had players running off, so it was making it easy for me.

"It was a great, great game so I was happy to play well. And then receiving the man of the match, it was amazing. I never thought of it, I just wanted to play the game well, not muck up anything, and play the game right.

"To get first-team experience against Liverpool, the best team in the world right now, felt good."

Passing the ball can sometimes look like the easiest thing in the world to do. At least, it does when these guys do it.

Our latest dive into the data of 2019-20 sees us look at the best playmakers in Europe's top-five leagues before the season was called to a halt.

We've deliberately broadened our approach to what constitutes a playmaker here – Gerard Pique doesn't often appear as a number 10, unless Barca are in real trouble – as the idea is to offer a wider consideration of those players who generally use the ball better than most when in possession.

To that end, we've looked at 12 different metrics to come up with the top performers of the campaign, again from among those to make at least 10 league appearances.

While some stars are not exactly strange to see in the list below, there is a handful of more surprising names, too...

 

THE TOP PLAYMAKERS IN EUROPE'S TOP-FIVE LEAGUES 2019-20:

BUNDESLIGA:

Most successful passes: Sven Bender (1,766)
Highest passing accuracy: Axel Witsel (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Joshua Kimmich (873)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Axel Witsel (92.2)
Most passes ending in final third: Jadon Sancho (576)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Axel Witsel (88.4 per cent)
Most chances created: Christopher Nkunku (65)
Most big chances created: Thomas Muller (24)
Most assists: Thomas Muller (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Dennis Geiger (50 per cent)

LALIGA:

Most successful passes: Gerard Pique (1,688)
Highest passing accuracy: Toni Kroos (93.6 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Sergio Busquets (957)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Toni Kroos (92.4)
Most passes ending in final third: Lionel Messi (698)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Toni Kroos (90.3)
Most chances created: Jose Campana (58)
Most big chances created: Lionel Messi (22)
Most assists: Lionel Messi (12)
Most assists from open play: Portu and Lionel Messi (8)
Most crosses/corners successful: Jesus Navas (43)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

LIGUE 1:

Most successful passes: Marco Verratti (1,581)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Marco Verratti (956)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: Thiago Silva (92.8 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Angel Di Maria (543)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Colin Dagba (86 per cent)
Most chances created: Dimitri Payet (87)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Angel Di Maria (14)
Most assists from open play: Angel Di Maria (10)
Most crosses/corners successful: Dimitri Payet (63)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Marco Verratti (54.6 per cent)

 

PREMIER LEAGUE:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: John Stones (94 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Highest passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (23)
Most assists: Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Kevin De Bruyne (14)
Most crosses/corners successful: Kevin De Bruyne (69)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Christian Atsu (47.1 per cent)

 

SERIE A:

Most successful passes: Fabian Ruiz (1,488)
Highest passing accuracy: Marlon Santos (94.1 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Fabian Ruiz (932)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: Eljif Elmas (91.5 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Luis Alberto (723)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Walace (89.7 per cent)
Most chances created: Luis Alberto (75)
Most big chances created: Luis Alberto (16)
Most assists: Luis Alberto (12)
Most assists from open play: Luis Alberto and Alejandro Gomez (9)
Most crosses/corners successful: Erick Pulgar (46)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Armando Izzo (54.6 per cent)

 

AND THE TOP 12:

Most successful passes: Virgil van Dijk (2,209)
Highest passing accuracy: Thiago Silva (95.5 per cent)
Most successful passes, opposition half: Rodri (1,069)
Passing accuracy, opposition half: John Stones (93.9 per cent)
Most passes ending in final third: Kevin De Bruyne (740)
Highest passing accuracy ending in final third: Ibrahim Amadou (93.3 per cent)
Most chances created: Kevin De Bruyne (96)
Most big chances created: Angel Di Maria (31)
Most assists: Thomas Muller and Kevin De Bruyne (16)
Most assists from open play: Thomas Muller (15)
Most crosses/corners successful: Filip Kostic (71)
Highest crosses/corners accuracy (min. 10): Benat (55 per cent)

 

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets has cast doubt on LaLiga's 2019-20 season being resumed despite lockdown measures being eased in Spain.

LaLiga has been suspended indefinitely since March as part of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, which has affected the country badly.

Spain has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Europe with 180,659, while there have been close to 19,000 confirmed deaths.

However, some of the government's strict lockdown measures have started to be relaxed, with more people permitted to return to work this week as the number of new infections continues to drop.

LaLiga president Javier Tebas has suggested the competition could return as early as the end of next month, but Busquets is not convinced it will be possible to conclude the 2019-20 season.

"I think it'll be difficult to resume," he told Cadena COPE and Onda Cero. "I don't think it can be done.

"At first, I wanted to see how it evolved and now it seems we've reached the peak. I'm waiting for good news. I think it will be difficult to resume because of travel, getting everyone together. That will be the problem."

Barca were top of the table, two points above Real Madrid, when the league was put on hold.

Quique Setien says he remains positive about Barcelona's hopes of progressing in the Champions League despite Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal's absences for the last-16 second leg against Napoli in three weeks' time.

Barca laboured to a 1-1 draw against the Serie A side at Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday, scoring through Antoine Griezmann.

The France international's strike cancelled out a superb first-half goal from Dries Mertens, who limped off early in the second half after a heavy challenge from Busquets.

That foul earned the holding midfielder a yellow card, which rules him out of the second leg, while Vidal will also sit out the clash at Camp Nou after receiving his marching orders for quick-fire cautions in the same incident with Mario Rui late on.

Setien is not despondent, though, and is confident his side – who also lost Gerard Pique to injury late in stoppage time – will have enough firepower to overcome Gennaro Gattuso's men.

"We will look for solutions," he told a media conference.

"We have lost important players, but we will recover two others – Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. We have to look at things with optimism. We will be optimistic and think positively."

Setien refused to blame his players for their lacklustre performance, instead preferring to criticise what he perceived to be a negative display by the hosts.

"It is a good result considering that we have a return game at home," he added.

"They have defended with 10 players very close to their area. It is true that we have not generated much, but we knew that it was a matter of patience.

"It has been a close match and I consider it fair. We have had control, but in the first half they defended well and took advantage of the only occasion they had.

"The second half was different; there were more spaces and we have done more damage. A 1-1 draw is fine for the second leg."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerard Pique said Barcelona's dressing room was united despite the LaLiga champions suffering a crushing blow in an already troubling week, eliminated by Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

A 1-0 defeat to Athletic saw Barcelona knocked out of the Copa in the quarter-finals on Thursday, with that familiar route to silverware now cut off to the 30-time winners.

The setback followed criticism from director of football Eric Abidal, who questioned the team's effort under former head coach Ernesto Valverde, which led to a rebuke from star man and captain Lionel Messi.

"It's not time to air the dirty washing. The dressing room is fully united," Barca defender Pique told reporters. "Elimination is a big blow but we said in the dressing room that we've taken a step forward and played well, despite all the noise that's been generated."

He added, according to several Spanish newspapers: "We have to focus on playing and winning. We have to return to winning ways. The players have the ability to keep winning and we are working on that every day, finding a better feel for the game."

With LaLiga and the Champions League still in their sights, Pique said of Barcelona, who are three points behind Real Madrid: "There is enough confidence and talent to be able to win the two remaining titles."

Pique hobbled off in the second half in Bilbao with what initially appeared to be a groin injury, but he said the blow was to his adductor and "not serious".

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Barcelona looked to be on the right track, after a match they could easily have won.

Messi and Antoine Griezmann missed clear chances before Inaki Williams headed the winner deep in second-half stoppage time.

"The first thing is to congratulate Athletic, who will be in the semi-finals, but I also thank the Barca fans who have come and I also congratulate the Barca players because they fought, dominated and played well. [Athletic] have only had one chance and they scored," Bartomeu told Barca TV.

He said that he appreciated Barcelona's "performance and ambition".

"The ambition and the attitude that I saw on the pitch encourages me with a view to LaLiga and the Champions League, so successes can come," Bartomeu added.

"I repeat that we had clear occasions, such as those of Griezmann and Messi, and we dominated. Now we focus on LaLiga and the Champions League, but I want to emphasise the ambition, the attitude and the work done. We deserved to go through."

Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said, according to AS: "It is a sad day for everyone. We have two competitions that we have to keep fighting in. This does not stop, we have to continue, we have done things well and we have had the game quite under control. In an isolated play at the end we are out of the Copa."

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have all been left out of Barcelona's trip to Ibiza in the Copa del Rey.

The trio are being rested for the round-of-32 clash against the third-tier side.

Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele remain unavailable due to injury, although the former has begun the next stage of his treatment process in Catalonia as he recovers from meniscus damage.

Quique Setien has called up youngsters Carles Perez, Riqui Puig, Abel Ruiz and Chumi to the 18-man squad, alongside rising star Ansu Fati.

Barca face a potentially difficult LaLiga trip to Valencia just three days after the Ibiza clash.

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