Barcelona boss Quique Setien is clinging to the hope Real Madrid will falter to allow for a late twist in the title race.

Despite holding a narrow LaLiga lead when the season resumed, Barcelona have slipped four points behind their great rivals and only four rounds of games remain.

A coronation for Zinedine Zidane's team appears inevitable, given they have won seven straight fixtures since the league's suspension ended.

But Setien is refusing to wave the white flag, saying on Tuesday: "Of course we can still win LaLiga. Mathematics says it. We have to keep hope until the final day.

"We have to look at what we can do. Win, leave good feelings, make progress. And if not in this situation, everything we do is worth it for the next one."

Should Barcelona take the title battle down to the final day, that would be a small triumph in itself given current circumstances.

They have the Champions League resumption to come in August, then a new LaLiga season after that, and Setien wants to see signs of progress from a team who have struggled since COVID-19 caused the 2019-20 campaign to be stalled for three months.

Victory in the home derby against Espanyol on Wednesday is surely imperative.

 

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has indicated he plans to keep Setien on for the 2020-21 season, with the coach speaking of "the circus that is football" as speculation surrounded his position.

"The club are happy with the work we do, I focus on that," he said in a news conference. "I don't value whether we win a game or lose others. I don't live daily, I work with more perspective.

"We are quite happy, as I have said on numerous occasions. Results are one thing and the feelings are another."

Setien feels his team are performing better than their results have been indicating, speaking of "very good moments" in the matches where Barcelona have dropped points. Three draws, alongside the four wins they have achieved since LaLiga returned, have been costly.

Coach Setien was cheered by Antoine Griezmann's delicious chip in Sunday's 4-1 win at Villarreal, where the Frenchman was given a more central attacking role than in previous games and thrived on the responsibility.

"He has enough ability to show his level," Setien said. "The other day there was a moment of inspiration and the players who played on the inside and the threat on the outside were closely linked. Sergi Roberto helped and did things very well."

Josep Maria Bartomeu believes Xavi will become Barcelona boss one day, though he has given his support to current coach Quique Setien.

Xavi, who holds the record for the most Barca appearances of all time, has long been linked with the top job at Camp Nou, where he spent 17 trophy-laden years as a player.

He was considered one of the front-runners to take the post when Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January only to suggest he was not ready, which led Barca to turn to Setien.

Xavi has since said he wants to be Barcelona coach and has been tipped to succeed the under-fire Setien, but on Sunday the ex-Barcelona midfielder signed a contract extension as coach of Qatari club Al-Sadd.

And though the jury remains out on Setien given his side have fallen four points behind Real Madrid in LaLiga, Bartomeu has given him his backing.

"Setien will continue, obviously," he told RAC1.

"I do not regret Valverde's change. The team needed a boost. Setien knows our DNA, the model and has brought new airs and new ideas.

"The coaches are obviously subject to the results, but I am happy with the evolution of the team."

On Xavi's coaching credentials, Bartomeu added: "[Xavi is] a great coach who I am sure will one day come to Barca."

Barca's poor form and infighting behind the scenes has again led to speculation that Lionel Messi could do the unthinkable and actually depart the club when his contract expires in 2021.

Bartomeu has remained steadfast in his belief that the 33-year-old will retire with the Blaugrana and said the club will do all they can to extend his deal.

"He has a contract until 2021 – normally we do not explain the conversations with the players but it is evident that we have an obligation to renew him," he said.

"Messi is the best player in the world."

Barcelona head coach Quique Setien insists he "does not spend a minute" thinking about his future amid speculation he is close to being sacked.

The 61-year-old's position has been called into question following a run of three draws in four matches that leaves Barca four points adrift of LaLiga leaders Real Madrid.

Setien was handed a two-and-a-half-year deal when succeeding Ernesto Valverde at Camp Nou in January, but club icon Xavi is reportedly being lined up to take charge.

However, the former Las Palmas and Real Betis boss says he takes no notice of the rumours and is instead focused on Sunday's trip to in-form Villarreal.

"I don't spend a minute thinking about that," he said at his pre-match news conference on Saturday. "I focus on what I have to focus on, which in this case is Sunday's game.

"This is the circus we're involved in and we accept it, but I don't waste time listening or reading [speculation]. I know there is noise being made but I have to focus on my own job.

"It is not the first time that I have experienced it, nor is it the first time a coach has lived through a situation like this when they don't win a game."

Setien is said to have been summoned to a meeting with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu and other members of the board following Tuesday's 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid.

But the Spaniard did not get the impression from the face-to-face talks that he is on the verge of losing his job.

"I have said I am not going to reveal the conversations we had that day, but I didn't sense that, not at all," he said.

Barca could find themselves seven points off top spot by the time they face Villarreal should Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao earlier on Sunday.

Unlike the reigning Spanish champions, fifth-placed Villarreal have hit the ground running since the restart by taking 16 points from a possible 18.

"I don't know if they are the best or [one of] the best teams returning from isolation," Setien said of Sunday's opponents.

"They are doing things very well, with a lot of talent and players in good form, who defend well and who are going to compromise us a lot because they are playing at home.

"But we played a pretty good game against Atletico and I hope we are at that level and get through the game."

Quique Setien says Antoine Griezmann understands why he is not in the Barcelona first XI but insists the France forward has a lot to offer.

Griezmann, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid prior to the start of the season, has struggled to find consistent form alongside Lionel Messi in the Barca attack.

The World Cup winner has started just one of Barca's past four LaLiga matches and only got off the bench for second-half stoppage time in the 2-2 draw with old club Atletico this week.

Setien accepts responsibility for Griezmann's frustration at not being more involved but has no problems with the player's present attitude.

"He's good," the Barca boss said ahead of Sunday's game with Villarreal. "I exchanged some words with him. Antoine is a great professional; he's a player that understands the situation.

"He's an extraordinary guy who is tremendously professional. It's not going to affect him when he plays again. He's very positive and we can count on him 100 per cent when he's back out on the pitch.

"I have spoken about hierarchies, but I don't think I have ever spoken about untouchables. Griezmann is a great player who is very important for the club and for the team.

"When he's played, you ask me about Ansu [Fati]. When Ansu plays, it's the reverse. Not all players can play. I would love to give them all minutes, but I have to ask what each player can add to the team at certain moments. I always weigh up my decisions, I don't make them on a whim.

"I have the hierarchy and the importance of certain players in mind, but at a team like Barca, where there are so many great players, not everyone can play.

"It happens at all teams and it's normal players are angry because they always want to play. They're decisions that I must take responsibility for."

Quique Setien refused to be drawn into a debate around Lionel Messi's future following reports he will leave Barcelona next year, though the coach was adamant he has not heard the player himself state he wants to move.

Barca were held to a 2-2 draw by Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, and Real Madrid's subsequent win over Getafe on Thursday allowed Los Blancos to go four points clear at the top of LaLiga.

It was the third match in four that Barca have failed to win and reports began to circulate on Thursday that Messi has decided to leave in 2021 when his contract expires.

While some have put that down as a ploy to oust unpopular club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, others are concerned about such an idea taking root and becoming reality, with Messi reported to like the idea of once again linking up with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

Rumours of in-house squabbling and a poor relationship between the players and coaching staff have also developed in recent weeks, but Setien insists he has heard nothing from Messi about his supposed plan to leave.

"I am not going to speculate on this because I have not heard him say anything about it and it is not my job," Setien said in Saturday's pre-match news conference ahead of a meeting with Villarreal.

"I repeat, he looks well to me, Leo. The rest is speculation that does not even enter my consideration; that's what you [the media] are for. I see him training well, nothing more."

Riqui Puig is a Barca player around whom there is much positivity, with the 20-year-old midfielder producing some effective displays since the resumption and that has not been lost on Setien.

"We have all seen his level," he said. "Riqui has taken a very important step and has gained continuity in these games, but I tell him not to rest on what he's doing, but to improve.

"He is aware of the opportunity that has been given him, and this is the way. Then the rest, we'll see."

Barca return to action on Sunday at in-form Villarreal, who have won five and lost none of their six matches since LaLiga resumed last month.

Lionel Messi's future is often a topic of discussion.

Messi has an early break clause in his Barcelona contract.

As Barca look to re-sign Messi, the 33-year-old superstar is reportedly ready to walk away next year.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI WANTS BARCA EXIT

Lionel Messi will leave Barcelona when his contract expires at the end of 2020-21, according to Cadena SER.

Barca captain Messi – previously linked to Inter and Manchester City – has reportedly been in talks over a new two-year deal at Camp Nou.

However, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner and Barca's all-time leading scorer is reportedly tired of being blamed for issues at the club, with the LaLiga champions set to be dethroned by Real Madrid.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Camp Nou and club legend Xavi has agreed to become Barcelona head coach next season. Mundo Deportivo journalist Francesc Aguilar says the Al-Sadd boss has agreed a €6million salary to replace under-fire coach Quique Setien.

- Mundo Deportivo reports Manchester United and neighbours City have asked Barca about the availability of out-of-favour forward Antoine Griezmann. A big-money signing from Atletico Madrid at the start of the season, Griezmann has struggled and found himself on the bench in recent weeks. However, the report claims Barca are not considering a transfer.

Liverpool are poised to sign Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, says Sport. Thiago is out of contract at the end of 2020-21 and the Spaniard is not willing to re-sign. Now, Liverpool are believed to be in advanced negotiations as Bayern seek £31m (€35m) for Thiago.

- Everton full-back Lucas Digne has emerged as a target for City and Chelsea if they fail to land Leicester City star Ben Chilwell, according to ESPN.

Borussia Dortmund have completed the signing of Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham, reports Bild. United were also chasing the 17-year-old sensation.

- After signing Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid, Sky journalist Fabrizio Romano claims Inter have opened talks with Chelsea for Italian full-back Emerson Palmieri.

Juventus are hoping to settle Paulo Dybala's new contract between July and August, says Calciomercato.

- The Telegraph reports Chelsea are ready to step up their pursuit of Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz after Saturday's DFB-Pokal final against Bayern. Havertz has been linked to Bayern, Madrid, United, Liverpool and Barca.

- Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga could be shipped out on loan to Sevilla, claims The Sun. The world's most expensive keeper has been criticised for his performances this season.

Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has no interest in leaving the LaLiga giants.

Speculation over the France international's future has increased amid his, and Barca's, struggles.

But the 29-year-old seemingly wants more than one season at Barcelona.

 

TOP STORY – GRIEZMANN NOT INTERESTED IN BARCELONA EXIT

Griezmann has no interest in leaving Barcelona, according to Le Parisien.

Since arriving from Atletico Madrid for €120million, Griezmann has managed just 14 goals in 43 games this season.

Griezmann was introduced as a 90th-minute substitute in Barca's 2-2 draw with his former club on Tuesday.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Camp Nou and Quique Setien's future as Barcelona head coach remains a talking point after one win in four games. AS reports Setien is not in immediate danger but is far from safe, while Sport says his future is uncertain, although the club are hoping to keep him at the helm until the end of the season.

- Manchester City look set for a rebuild in the close season. The Guardian claims Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, who is out of contract next year, is a target for the Premier League giants.

- After making a stellar start to the season with Lyon before suffering a serious knee injury, Memphis Depay has been linked with a move. Le 10 Sport reports Arsenal want the attacker, who has 14 goals in 18 games this season.

- Carlos Tevez's future remains uncertain. Ole says the former Manchester United and Manchester City forward, 36, could retire as he struggles to agree to a new contract with Boca Juniors.

- With Bruno Lage on his way out as Benfica coach, the Portuguese giants are searching for a new boss. According to A Bola, Benfica have looked at the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Ernesto Valverde and Laurent Blanc, but are now considering former Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal coach Unai Emery.

- Tottenham defender Serge Aurier could be set for a move. Sky Sports reports Monaco are interested in the Ivory Coast right-back.

Manchester City could be ready to challenge rivals Manchester United for Aston Villa star Jack Grealish.

Grealish, 24, has been linked with a move away from Villa, with Old Trafford seemingly his most likely destination.

But City may be primed to join the race for the attacker.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONSIDER MOVE FOR MAN UTD TARGET GREALISH

Manchester City will consider a move for Grealish if they receive their asking price for Leroy Sane from Bayern Munich, according to The Telegraph.

Sane is set to leave the Premier League giants this close season amid continued links to Bayern.

And City could challenge Manchester United for Grealish – who has scored nine goals and provided eight assists in 35 games this season – if their asking price is met.

ROUND-UP

- Quique Setien is under increasing pressure at Barcelona. RAC1 reports Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu, chief executive Oscar Grau, sporting director Javier Bordas and technical secretary Eric Abidal met at Setien's house on Monday to discuss the current situation. Trailing Real Madrid by two points in LaLiga, Esport3 says Setien could be fired as early as this week.

- Arsenal have made a decision regarding Dani Ceballos. The Sun says the Premier League club will not make a move to buy the midfielder from Real Madrid when his loan deal expires at the end of the season.

- With Serie A promotion secured, Benevento could be set to strengthen. Gianluca Di Marzio reports the club are set to sign former Chelsea forward Loic Remy, who is coming out of contract at Lille.

- Real Sociedad are leading the chase to sign Real Madrid midfielder Takefusa Kubo on loan next season, according to AS. The 19-year-old has been on loan at Mallorca this season, while Milan are also reportedly interested in the Japan international.

- With Timo Werner joining Chelsea, RB Leipzig have seemingly found a replacement from the forward. According to Sky, Hwang Hee-chan will join Leipzig from Salzburg for about €10million. Hwang has been linked to the likes of Liverpool and Wolves.

- Celtic are reportedly keen to hold onto Fraser Forster. The goalkeeper has been on loan from Southampton this season and The Sun reports Celtic want to buy the former England international.

Diego Simeone tried to sidestep a question relating to reports Barcelona coach Quique Setien has lost the support of key players but emphasised the importance of managing a squad's emotions.

Barca host Simeone's Atletico Madrid on Tuesday amid a difficult situation, with media reports claiming Setien and his coaching staff are at odds with key players.

A clip from Barca's 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo on Saturday went viral on social media due to it appearing to show Lionel Messi ignoring Setien's assistant Eder Sarabia.

Although Setien conceded it is normal to have occasional differences, he insisted the squad is unified despite the apparent issue with Sarabia and the fact certain publications have suggested the head coach himself has a strained relationship with Messi.

Simeone, who is rarely forthcoming regarding internal matters in news conferences, was typically reluctant to appear as if he was offering an opinion on Barca's problems, though he did stress the importance of squad harmony.

"You know me, I don't give my opinion on what's going on in other dressing rooms," Simeone told a news conference on Monday.

"I just make an opinion on ours. We need to keep it protected, always take care of it and always manage the feeling of the players, which is the most important for a squad.

"The most important thing is to manage, in my team, the emotional part, which I consider to be the key part."

When asked how he would solve issues similar to those appearing at Barca, he added: "I wouldn't tell you, and I would try to solve it naturally in our camp, which is the dressing room or the training session.

"A cup of coffee could also be there in any informal chat that could help for solving any internal issue."

Arthur is part of Barcelona's squad to face Atletico Madrid on Tuesday despite the Brazil midfielder's €70million move to Juventus reportedly being close to completion.

Juve's Miralem Pjanic is set to move in the other direction, although both players will conclude the 2019-20 campaign at their current clubs.

Arthur was seen giving a speech to his team-mates at Barcelona's training session on Monday – an act that has been widely interpreted as the 23-year-old saying his goodbyes to a dressing room he joined in July 2018 from Gremio.

"I have no doubt about his greatest commitment until the last day he is here," Barca head coach Quique Setien told a pre-match news conference.

"He is a player until the last game of the season He has committed himself to being one more [member of the squad].

"He will dedicate himself fully to achieving the objectives. I have no doubts about him.

"He has said that he will be in the best conditions. I'll decide if he plays more or less."

Sergi Roberto is back in the Barca squad to face Atletico having sat out three matches with a fractured rib.

Two draws in their past three games have left the reigning champions two points behind Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga with six matches remaining, heightening speculation that Setien will be dismissed at the end of the season despite only being in post since January.

Barcelona head coach Quique Setien insists there are no problems between Lionel Messi and his coaching staff amid reports of behind-the-scenes unrest at Camp Nou. 

Barca have struggled for their best form since LaLiga's resumption and draws at Sevilla and Celta Vigo – either side of a laboured 1-0 home win over Athletic Bilbao – have handed Real Madrid the initiative in the title race. 

Zinedine Zidane's men are two points ahead with six matches remaining, while also holding a superior head-to-head record from this season's Clasico meetings. 

Having twice surrendered a lead in their 2-2 draw against Celta last time out, Barca face a tough assignment at home to in-form Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. 

Messi was seen apparently ignoring instructions from Setien's number two Eder Sarabia during the drinks break at Balaidos, where heated words were allegedly exchanged in the dressing room after the game. 

Speaking at a pre-match news conference for Atleti's visit, Setien insisted Messi and the squad are united in the battle to retain their title. 

"In reality it is true that there are always controversies, as in life, and it is normal that there are differences," he said of the Messi-Sarabia incident. 

"But this has always happened. I was not an easy player either. What we have to try to do is to convince everyone of the common idea.  

"I understand it as something natural. There is good communication. I don't give it any importance." 

Setien believes issues being raised within the camp should not be considered a surprise after dropping points in a high-pressure title race.

"When there are no wins and you don't win, everyone gets a point across," he said. "The relationship we have with the staff is good. It is true that at specific moments we do not agree.

"Yesterday we talked about many topics but we focused on the topic of football. We have to improve and do things better. 

"The situation we are experiencing, in which we are superior but do not generate goals, frustrates us. But the situations are normal. It is something we can change."

Atletico are on a run of four consecutive victories, having drawn their initial game back after the resumption to the season.

"They are a great team, very easily identified with their way of doing things," Setien added.

"They are going to make things very complicated for us. Winning is a tremendously decisive question because anything can happen but every time the matches are reduced and the margin [in the title race] is less. 

"We give due importance to this game as to others."

Barcelona coach Quique Setien said he had no interest in a player's price tag when choosing his team after starting Antoine Griezmann on the bench against Celta Vigo.

Griezmann, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid last year, was introduced late as Barca were held to a 2-2 draw in Vigo on Saturday.

Setien defended his decision to start Griezmann, who has scored 14 goals in 42 games this season, on the bench.

"I don't take into consideration the player's price tag," he told a news conference.

"Last week we chose one specific team, and today we decided on another one. Last week you asked me why Ansu Fati wasn't playing, why Riqui Puig wasn't playing and today why Griezmann isn't playing.

"These are decisions I make and they are technical decisions. They're not made rashly, and they are done with the best of intentions for the team."

Lionel Messi set up two goals for Luis Suarez, but Iago Aspas' 88th-minute equaliser saw Barca held.

Setien's men are a point clear of Real Madrid, who visit Espanyol on Sunday.

Quique Setien felt Barcelona lacked a cutting edge, as well as a bit of luck, following the 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo - leaving them with "little margin for error" in the LaLiga title race.

Luis Suarez scored a brace but Barca were twice unable to hold onto a lead on Saturday, despite dominating for long periods of the game. 

They were impressive in the first half in particular, youngster Riqui Puig catching the eye on his first league start of the season, but only led 1-0 at the break. 

Setien felt the performance in the first 45 minutes deserved more with Barca denied by the woodwork when a Gerard Pique header hit the crossbar prior to Suarez's opener in the 20th minute.

"They took a lot of risks in the last few minutes and they found a goal that gave them a point," Setien told the media. 

"We should not have got into that situation because we were much the better team in the first half.  We had to have gone in at the break with a more comfortable scoreline. 

"We're not in that moment of clarity. 

"We did a lot of things well. It should have been a more comfortable game. 

"We definitely lack conviction to turn our play into goals. The superiority we had in the first half was enough to have won the match and gone into [the second] more relaxed. 

"We're finding it difficult. Scoring is sometimes a question of luck." 

Iago Aspas' late free-kick denied Barcelona victory on the road. While the point picked up is enough to take them top for now, Real Madrid have the opportunity to leapfrog them when they face Espanyol on Saturday.

Zinedine Zidane's squad also have the added cushion of owning the better head-to-head record against their rivals this season.

Setien acknowledges that Barca may now require help from others if they are to retain their crown in Spain.

"We've got little margin for error now and, in theory, we have to win all our games and hope our rival slips up," he admitted. "We'll try to keep picking up maximum points."

Next up for Setien and his players is Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou on Tuesday.

Arthur was left out of the Barcelona starting line-up to face Celta Vigo amid reports he will have a medical at Juventus on Sunday.

Brazil international Arthur was named among the substitutes for Saturday's LaLiga clash at Balaidos but in the next 24 hours is expected to undergo tests prior to a switch to Juve that could cost €80million.

It is also claimed that Bianconeri midfielder Miralem Pjanic will have a medical on the same day before heading in the opposite direction.

Pjanic played the full 90 minutes as Juve defeated Lecce 4-0 on Friday and will reportedly command a fee of €70m.

After that game, Juve boss Maurizio Sarri said: "I don't know if Pjanic will no longer play with Juventus, I have not received any communication.

"These are not things that interest us, the market only starts in September. Miralem's a professional, he understands situations quickly. 

"I don't know anything at the moment, but I'm not worried."

Barca boss Quique Setien was unwilling to discuss the possibility of Pjanic arriving at Camp Nou at a news conference on Friday and said Arthur remained in his plans.

Setien said: "In principle I still have Arthur. He is important like the rest. He will train and in principle he will travel and has the possibility of playing.

"I hope all this noise does not affect him and that if he plays, he tries to give the best of himself.

"Any player who is in such a situation must make it clear the season is not over, win a title and leave a good impression until the last day he is here.

"I do not take it for granted that he is going to leave. The club has not informed me Arthur is leaving. He will be with us until the last game of the season.

"If it happens, I will try to convince him to leave a good impression. The most important thing is to be honest until the last day and I am convinced he is."

Arthur has been named in Barcelona's squad for Saturday's trip to Celta Vigo amid intense speculation regarding a potential switch to Juventus.

Brazil international Arthur is supposedly set to be involved in a swap deal that sees Miralem Pjanic arrive at Camp Nou, with some of the belief he has failed to adequately replace Xavi since arriving from Gremio in 2018.

Despite the media reports, Barca coach Quique Setien insisted in his Friday news conference that the club have not told him the 23-year-old is leaving.

But Setien did hint there was some truth in the rumoured interest from Juve, saying that "if it happens, I will try to convince him to leave a good impression".

Arthur will seemingly be available for selection at Balaidos on Saturday having been named in Barca's travelling party, though a starting berth appears unlikely after Setien suggested Riqui Puig will get the nod.

Victory in Vigo will lift Barca back to LaLiga's summit ahead of Real Madrid, though Los Blancos will expect to move ahead of the Blaugrana again on Sunday when they go to rock-bottom Espanyol.

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