Lionel Messi will make his 500th LaLiga appearance for Barcelona in Sunday's meeting with Huesca after returning to Ronald Koeman's starting line-up.

Messi missed Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Eibar after he was given an extended break over Christmas to nurse an ankle problem.

However, Koeman confirmed on Saturday that the 33-year-old had trained on December 30 and 31, and Messi has subsequently returned to Barca's starting XI for a landmark outing at Estadio El Alcoraz.

Messi's 500 league appearances for Barca is five short of the club-record held by Xavi, who also holds the record for all-time appearances for the Blaugrana with 767. 

Xavi's total is 17 more than Messi's current tally of 750, including Sunday's game.

The record for the most matches ever played in LaLiga is held by former goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, with 662 games under his belt for Athletic Club, Barca and Valencia.

Barca make the trip to Huesca unbeaten in five league matches, but they have drawn two of their last three and enter the game 13 points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid.

Messi was directly involved in four goals in his only previous LaLiga game against Huesca, scoring twice and providing two assists in September 2018.

Lionel Messi's wages are not sustainable but the superstar forward can be persuaded to stay at Barcelona with a sporting project that appeals to him, according to presidential candidate Emili Rousaud.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was unsuccessful in his attempt to leave Camp Nou ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, but he is now free to discuss an end-of-season transfer with clubs after entering the final six months of his contract.

He was strongly tipped to reunite with former boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, while Inter and Paris Saint-Germain – now coached by fellow Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino – have also been linked.

But while reiterating Messi will have to take a pay cut if he is to stay on at Barca beyond this season, Rousaud has outlined his plan to tempt the one-club man to put pen to paper on fresh terms.

"He did not want to leave the club for economic reasons. It was down to the lack of a sports project," Rousaud told Sport.

"I will look him in the eyes and say: 'Your salary is unsustainable, the club cannot pay you. But we are going to launch a project to surround you with young talent'.

Despite Barca's financial concerns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Rousaud has previously outlined his intention to bring in prolific striker Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund if he succeeds Josep Maria Bartomeu in this month's elections.

Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe is another possible target and Rousaud believes the prestige of playing for Barcelona could give the LaLiga giants an advantage in the transfer market.

"The market prices in which the players move now are not those of two years ago," he said. "In addition, Barca has something very important: a shirt that has a lot of weight in the world. But off course, we will not stretch the arm more than the sleeve.

"My advisor Josep Maria Minguella has spoken with [Haaland's agent] Mino Raiola to find out the conditions in which he would come and we have started talking. 

"For a player like him, being in a club like ours would give him a great showcase worldwide."

Rousaud has also vowed to attempt to bring Neymar back to Catalonia should he be elected, despite the Brazilian forward leaving Barca for PSG under a cloud that has since seen him embroiled in a court battle over an alleged breach of contract.

However, rather than condemning Neymar for leaving the club for a record €222million fee in 2017, Rousaud feels Barca only have themselves to blame for wasting the money on two players who have been blighted by injury problems.

"The money left by Neymar was invested in two players: [Philippe] Coutinho and [Ousmane] Dembele, who have not given the expected sporting result," he said. 

"And since they didn't work, we signed others. And since we no longer have cash, we started to get into debt.

"They say that Neymar humiliated us. I respect that opinion, but it left us €222million. If with that money we had signed Mbappe, maybe we wouldn't talk about Neymar anymore."

Kieran Trippier's 10-week suspension for betting offences has been put on hold by FIFA following an appeal by Atletico Madrid.

The defender was issued a ban and a fine of £70,000 on December 23 after the Football Association found him guilty of four of seven alleged breaches of rule E8(1)(b).

The regulation states: "Where a participant provides to any other person any information relating to football which the participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time, the participant shall be in breach of this rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting."

Trippier, who denied the charges, was facing the prospect of missing 14 Atletico games up until February 28, a run that includes the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Chelsea.

However, the 30-year-old England international will be free to play again while the appeal process continues.

A FIFA spokesperson confirmed on Sunday: "Following the appeal and, specifically, the request for provisional measures lodged by the club Atletico Madrid, the FIFA Appeal Committee has approved to stay the extension of the suspension against Kieran Trippier until the procedure is over before the FIFA Appeal Committee."

Trippier will miss Sunday's game between Atleti and Deportivo Alaves after being left out of the squad.

The former Tottenham man has played in 19 matches in all competitions this season for the LaLiga title-hopefuls, who are a point behind Real Madrid at the top of the table but with three games in hand.

The date of January 1 is typically the time for New Year's resolutions but for some footballers in Europe's top five leagues it signals the day they can plot a lucrative move to a new club.

A number of top players, including Barcelona's Lionel Messi, are out of contract at the end of the 2021 season and from the start of the year are free to open talks with other teams.

Messi, of course, will be the one that takes the limelight but there are some other big-name players who will be free to leave their clubs for nothing in six months.

Here's the best players (and a couple of pretty good second choices) who are out of contract in 2021 and make up a free transfers XI.

FREE TRANSFERS XI (4-3-3)

GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Marko Dmitrovic)
The youngest goalkeeper ever to play for Italy – at 17 years and 189 days – has now matured into one of Serie A's most consistent performers between the sticks. The 21-year-old has been key to Milan's surge to the top of the table with four clean sheets in the league so far this season.

RB: Elseid Hysaj (Kenny Lala)
Comfortable on both the right and left flanks the versatile Albanian full-back, 26, has been a dependable, and largely unsung, part of Napoli's defence since 2015. He may lack the eye-catching assists of attacking defenders but Hysaj uses the ball intelligently in possession.

CB: Eric Garcia (Shkodran Mustafi)
A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy he joined Manchester City in 2017 where Pep Guardiola has been influential in his development. Blessed with an excellent reading of the game, and a superb positional sense, the 19-year-old has rejected a new contract at City and appears hungry for regular first-team football elsewhere.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Jerome Boateng)
The knees might be creaking at the age of 34, but the Real Madrid and Spain centre-back's mix of bloody-minded determination and charismatic leadership make him an asset to nearly any defence despite being at the back end of his career.

LB: David Alaba (Romain Saiss)
Able to operate in defence or midfield the 28-year-old Austria international has spent a decade as one of Bayern Munich's most consistent and reliable players. With nine Bundesliga and two Champions League winners' medals under his belt he has bucketloads of experience at the top level.

CM: Georginio Wijnaldum (Hakan Calhanoglu)
The Dutch midfielder has been converted by Jurgen Klopp from a goalscoring attacker into an intelligent midfield workaholic integral to Liverpool's style of play. Largely unheralded, he is man for the big occasion as his two goals in Liverpool's famous 4-0 comeback win over Barcelona demonstrate.

CM: Fernandinho (Mesut Ozil)
He turns 36 next May, and may lack the bite of old, but the Brazilian still has a lot to offer either as an efficient defensive midfielder or classy centre-back. Another player whose influence and quality may only be fully appreciated by City when he has actually left the club.

CM: Luka Modric (Julian Draxler)
A cultured and experienced midfield playmaker who, despite his diminutive frame, still oozes class whenever he is on the ball. Part of the furniture at Real Madrid since 2012 the 35-year-old Croatian looks like he still has plenty of years at the top ahead of him provided injuries do not take their toll.

RF: Lionel Messi (Florian Thauvin, Lucas Vazquez)
Should he stay or should he go? The transfer saga of 2020 looks set to dominate much of 2021 as well. Barcelona's greatest ever player needs no introduction. Since his debut in October 2004, Barca have won 55.9 per cent of their LaLiga games without Messi (won 66, drawn 39 and lost 22), compared to 73.7 per cent with him in the side (won 368, drawn 83 and lost 48).

CF: Sergio Aguero (Olivier Giroud, Arkadiusz Milik, Diego Costa)
Injury problems appear to be catching up with the 32-year-old Manchester City striker. On his day, there are few better natural finishers around. Aguero has more hat-tricks (12) than anyone else in the Premier League and is the highest non-English scorer in the history of the competition with 180 goals.

LF: Memphis Depay (Angel Di Maria)
A pitiful return of just two league goals in 33 appearances saw him jettisoned by Manchester United in 2017 but since then Depay has rebuilt his career and started to flourish. The Dutch forward has a respectable 62 goals in 154 appearances for Lyon in Ligue 1 and aged 26 is about to hit his peak.

Barcelona presidential candidate Agusti Benedito has outlined his plans to bring in transfer guru Monchi should he succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu in next month's elections.

Monchi is arguably the most revered sporting director in football thanks to his impressive business across two stints with Sevilla, either side of a less successful spell with Roma.

And Benedito, who has twice run unsuccessfully for the club's presidency, would happily give Monchi free rein to revolutionise Barca's transfer policy.

"We met in 2015 several times with Koeman and he had strong ideas. I think he will open a spell that lasts several years at the helm," Benedito told Goal. 

"In terms of sporting direction, back then we bet on Monchi and we spoke to him, too. I still think he is in the top three in the world and would be a brilliant addition.

"Back then it seemed he would never leave Sevilla and then he went to Italy and came back. The first thing I will do if I am president will be to call Monchi and try to convince him."

But would Monchi really be the right fit for Barca, who are clearly in need of some sort of overhaul? We look at his transfer hits and misses across two decades working behind the scenes.

THE HITS

Dani Alves

Alves was plucked from the obscurity of Bahia while still a teenager, initially joining Sevilla on loan before signing permanently for a reported €550,000 fee.

The attacking full-back formed a fine partnership on the right with Jesus Navas and played a crucial role in back-to-back UEFA Cup triumphs. 

He joined Barcelona for €41.5m in 2008, winning every title possible in one of the greatest eras in the club's history, before spells with Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Sao Paolo.


Freddie Kanoute

In the Premier League with West Ham and Tottenham, Kanoute was effective but by no means a star.

Sevilla were said to have parted with €6.5m to bring him to Spain, and after a decent first season, he really found his groove with 21 LaLiga strikes in the 2006-07 campaign. 

He formed one of the best striker partnerships in Europe with Luis Fabiano and was vital in their back-to-back UEFA Cup triumphs. The club never turned his form into a transfer profit, but he became a Sevilla icon and one of their greatest ever players.


Ivan Rakitic 

A little like with Kanoute, Monchi brought Rakitic to Sevilla when the midfielder appeared to be struggling to live up to his early promise. The club paid Schalke just €2.5m for the Croatian in January 2011 and the midfielder enjoyed an excellent first few months. 

His first full season showed why doubts about him had arisen in Germany, as he failed to score a single goal in LaLiga, but Unai Emery's arrival in the 2012-13 campaign saw his fortunes transform.

The following season Rakitic inspired Europa League success, earning his €18m move to Barcelona where he enjoyed great success before returning to Sevilla in September.


Ever Banega

The early years of Banega's career were mired by fitness issues and negative headlines, such as the time he ran himself over with his own car.

When he first joined Sevilla in 2014, there was an air of 'now or never' for the gifted Argentina international, who cost just €2.5m as Valencia reportedly just wanted rid of him. 

After a slow start he became one of the first names on the team sheet, playing arguably the best football of his career and winning two Europa Leagues. He left for Inter in 2016 but returned a year later, with Monchi counting him as one of his best buys.


Jules Kounde

Monchi returned for a second spell with Sevilla in 2019 and, perhaps needing to prove himself again after his underwhelming stay in Rome, he pulled off another transfer coup by bringing in Kounde from Bordeaux for a reported €25m.

That is a substantially higher fee than the other names mentioned, granted, but it is a club-record transfer that has more than paid off thus far.

The centre-back was a key member of Sevilla's latest Europa League-winning squad and attracted interest from numerous clubs during the close season, with his valuation said to have doubled in the space of a year.


THE MISSES

Patrik Schick

Monchi spent around €230m on a raft of signings while at Roma as they looked to replace the likes of Mohamed Salah, Alisson Becker, Antonio Rudiger and Leandro Parades.

The biggest single outlay was on Schick, who struggled to justify his transfer fee - and the hype surrounding his arrival - in his two whole seasons at the Stadio Olimpico.

Schick headed to the Bundesliga in 2019, initially on loan with RB Leipzig before joining Bayer Leverkusen permanently earlier this year for another large fee.


Javier Pastore

Arguably the most disappointing of Monchi's signings, Pastore struggled to adapt to life under Eusebio Di Francesco and little has changed since Paulo Fonseca took over last year.

He started a combined 12 Serie A games in his first two seasons with the club and has yet to play a single minute in all competitions this term.

What made the transfer all the more bizarre for a player past his prime was that Monchi awarded him a five-year deal, making it difficult for the Italian side to offload him.


Steven Nzonzi

This was a signing that perhaps made sense on the face of it as Nzonzi followed Monchi from Sevilla to Roma. He was part of France's successful World Cup squad a month earlier - but it proved to be another example of Roma splashing out big on a player with little resale value.

Nzonzi was a shadow of the player many hoped he would be in the Italian capital and he lasted just one full season before heading out on loan to Galatasaray and then Rennes, all while still on Roma's books.

Isco has pulled out of Real Madrid's squad for Wednesday's LaLiga clash with Elche after becoming a father.

The 28-year-old was named in Zinedine Zidane's 24-man group for the game at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero.

Zidane hinted he would give Isco minutes as part of his squad rotation, with the 28-year-old being restricted to only three starts in all competitions this term.

However, the Spain international did not travel to Alicante on Wednesday and his absence was explained by Madrid on their official website.

"Isco is not part of the Real Madrid travelling party for tonight's LaLiga Matchday 16 encounter against Elche at the Martinez Valero," a club statement read. 

"The Malaga-born man was initially named in Zinedine Zidane's 24-man squad but is a last-minute withdrawal after becoming a father."

Isco has been strongly linked with a move away from Madrid in the January window after being used only 11 times in all competitions this term.

Arsenal are rumoured to be weighing up an initial loan deal for the playmaker, who has no goals and one assist in 10 LaLiga outings in 2020-21, just three of those being starts.

Isco averages 1.65 chances created per 90 minutes in LaLiga since the start of last season, putting him behind Toni Kroos (2.22), Luka Modric (1.84), Lucas Vazquez (1.8) and Rodrygo Goes (1.69) among Madrid players to have played at least 10 times.

In his seven and a half years in Madrid, meanwhile, only Karim Benzema (60), Cristiano Ronaldo (47) and Toni Kroos (46) have provided more LaLiga assists for Los Blancos than Isco (42), who has created 306 chances in 217 matches (1.4 per game).

Madrid make the trip to Elche sitting level on points with leaders Atletico, who have two games in hand to play.

Eden Hazard is among those in contention to play a part in the Spanish giants' final game of 2020 after recovering from his eighth injury layoff in 16 months.

Diego Costa has left Atletico Madrid after reaching an agreement to terminate his contract.

Costa's deal was due to expire at the end of this season, but the LaLiga leaders have allowed the striker to make an early exit.

The former Spain international has made just seven appearances for Diego Simeone's side this season, scoring twice.

Atleti said in a statement on Tuesday: "Agreement with @diegocosta for the termination of his contract. The club wishes the striker the best of luck in the next stage of his professional career."

Diego Costa has reportedly asked Atletico Madrid to terminate his contract six months early in order to find a new club in the January transfer window. 

The Spain international - who agreed a return to Atleti in September 2017, though was not able to play for them until January the following year - has endured an injury plagued 2020-21 that has restricted him to just seven appearances. 

Atletico are said to be open to the possibility of offloading Costa should they find suitable cover, with Luis Suarez their only recognised out-and-out striker. 

But how much of a loss would Costa actually be? Using Opta data, the time feels right to take a look at his attacking output in closer detail.

SCORING FEATS AND HELPING OUT

Costa does not exactly boast the best scoring record for a player with his reputation, netting only 12 times in 61 LaLiga appearances since the start of 2018.

Among those to have played at least 38 times during that period - the equivalent of a whole season - he ranks way down in 46th place for goals per 90 minutes (0.29). That is below the likes of Joselu (0.3), Lucas Perez (0.32), Juanmi (0.34) and Pablo Sarabia (0.37) across a similar number of matches.

The 32-year-old has often been praised for getting the most out of others, though that is not exactly reflected in terms of his number of assists.

He has set up a team-mate on only nine occasions across those 61 outings - an average of 0.22 assists per 90 minutes.

For context, former team-mate Antoine Griezmann (0.23) and current colleague Suarez (0.33) rank higher, with Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi (0.45) top by distance in that particular metric.

IMPACT ON THE TEAM

Eight of Costa's 12 LaLiga goals since returning to LaLiga have come via his right boot - including three penalties - plus three with his head. All but one of those goals came inside the box, with exactly half from open play.

But does Costa's presence in the side, as suggested by boss Diego Simeone in the past, have a positive impact on Atletico and the way they function?

In terms of average LaLiga goals scored per game it does, rising from 1.4 in the 67 matches Costa has not started, compared to 1.6 with him in the line-up.

However, Atletico win fewer matches when Costa is involved, with their 61.2 per cent success rate dropping to 51.2 per cent - or 2.1 points per game to 1.9 on average.

A STUTTERING SEASON SO FAR

Costa is no stranger to spending time on the sidelines, not least this season; he initially contracted coronavirus before then being ruled out with deep vein thrombosis.

That has restricted him to seven LaLiga appearances. Only two of those have been from the start, as he was named in the XI for wins over Granada and Celta Vigo.

He may only have netted twice but still boasts an average of 0.87 goals per 90 minutes in the Spanish top flight this term, second only to Suarez (0.94) among Atleti players.

Joao Felix is next on the list (0.58) having scored five goals in 12 outings, though the Portuguese has also chipped in with a couple of assists, something Costa has yet to do in 2020-21.

Costa also ranks highly in terms of shot conversion rate, having scored from half of his four shots this term, not including those to have been blocked.

Another metric he tops is touches in the opposition box, averaging 8.7 per 90 minutes. That is not only the most for any Atleti player but also the third highest in the league - after Barcelona pair Trincao (10.2) and Ansu Fati (9.08) - for those to have featured at least seven times in the competition this term. 

Ultimately, though, Simeone is after a player who can not only combine all of these attacking aspects but also stay fit for a sustained period of time. For that reason, it could be that Costa's time with the club is drawing towards an end.

Atletico Madrid and England defender Kieran Trippier has suspended for 10 weeks and fined £70,000 for breaching the Football Association's betting rules.

The 30-year-old's suspension from all football-related activity is effective immediately and runs up to and including February 28, 2021.

Trippier denied seven alleged breaches of FA Rule E8(1)(b) in July 2019, but four of those were found proven by the FA and he is now facing a lengthy ban.

He will miss at least 14 games for LaLiga leaders Atletico, including the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Chelsea.

Trippier will be back in contention by the time Atleti host Real Madrid in El Derbi on March 7.

An FA statement on Wednesday read: "Kieran Trippier has been suspended for 10 weeks and fined £70,000 following misconduct in relation to breaches of The FA's Betting Rules.

"The Atletico Madrid defender denied seven alleged breaches of FA Rule E8(1)(b), which were said to occur during July 2019, and requested a personal hearing.

"An independent Regulatory Commission was appointed to hear the case, with four of the alleged breaches found proven and three dismissed during a subsequent personal hearing.

"The independent Regulatory Commission's written reasons for its decisions and the associated sanction will be published in due course.

"The suspension, which includes all football and football-related activity, is effective worldwide from today (Wednesday 23 December 2020) following an application to FIFA."

Rule E8(1)(a) states: "A participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on – (i) the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in or in connection with, a football match or competition; or (ii) any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including, for example and without limitation, the transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters."

While Rule E8(1)(b) stipulates: "Where a participant provides to any other person any information relating to football which the participant has obtained by virtue of his or her position within the game and which is not publicly available at that time, the participant shall be in breach of this rule where any of that information is used by that other person for, or in relation to, betting."

Trippier, who joined Atleti from Tottenham in July 2019 on a three-year deal for a reported fee of $25million (£20m), is able to appeal against the FA's decision.

The right-back has featured 19 times for Atletico in all competitions this season, including the full 90 minutes of Tuesday's 2-0 win over Real Sociedad.

He captained England for the first time in their friendly win over Wales in October and started five of the Three Lions' six Nations League matches, only missing the clash with Denmark in October to attend an FA hearing relating to the offences.

Trippier displayed his versatility when fielded as a left wing-back by Gareth Southgate, something that could prove handy in terms of securing a place in England's squad for the rescheduled Euro 2020 in June.

Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James have all featured in recent squads and are likely to enjoy plenty of top-level club action during their countryman's pending absence.

Robert Lewandowski says he can never be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of longevity but joked he is now the one sitting at football's top table.

The prolific Bayern Munich striker was named The Best FIFA Men's Player for 2020 last week thanks to his sensational form over the past year for treble-winning Bayern.

Messi and Ronaldo had won the award in three of its four prior editions, though it was Poland international Lewandowski who claimed the top prize this time around.

In terms of wider honours, Messi has won six Ballons d'Or to Ronaldo's five, the pair having gone head-to-head in a fierce battle to be the world's best for more than a decade.

But Lewandowski feels he can now be considered in the same conversation as two of the game's all-time greats on the basis of his goalscoring figures in recent years.

"Messi and Ronaldo have been sitting at the same table, at the top, for a very long time, and that's what makes them incomparable," he told France Football.

"So to answer your question, I can't imagine myself next to them in this point of view. 

"That said, if you take the numbers for this year and even previous ones, I think I'm pretty good in terms of performance and goals scored. 

"Failing to be at the same table as Messi and Ronaldo, I think I can invite them to eat at mine!"

Lewandowski scored 60 club goals at a rate of one every 76 minutes between July 20, 2019 and October 7, 2020 - the period considered for this year's FIFA Best award.

That tally, from 52 Bayern appearances, was 20 more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

Juventus star Ronaldo was tied with Ciro Immobile on 40 goals, while Barcelona forward Messi (32) trailed Romelu Lukaku (37), Timo Werner (35) and Raheem Sterling (34).

Lewandowski has scored 17 goals in the first 13 Bundesliga matchdays this season, meanwhile, to equal the record set by Gerd Muller in 1968-69 and 1976-77. 

And despite now being 32 years of age, he intends to continue evolving in order to maintain his high performance levels.

"I have a desire to progress and that's even more important because I know that my time is limited," he said. 

"Obviously, progress is not instantaneous. When you repeat something every day, you can only measure its effect three or six months later, not the next day. 

"The problem is, a lot of people want what you do in invisible work to be seen immediately. Patience is an important virtue, in football as in life."

Lionel Messi's motivation and hunger to succeed at Barcelona has never been in question, according to head coach Ronald Koeman.

The Argentina international failed in his attempt to engineer a move away from Camp Nou during the close-season but is set to become a free agent at the end of the campaign.

He has not always been at his best this season and has admitted in a new interview with LaSexta that the saga surrounding his future has affected his performances.

"The truth is today I'm fine," Messi said in a short excerpt released by RAC1 on Monday. "Today I'm fine and I feel like fighting seriously for everything we have ahead of us.

"I'm excited. I know the club is going through a difficult time, at club and team level, and it is difficult everything that surrounds Barcelona but I'm looking forward to it."

Messi has gradually improved as 2020-21 has gone on and has five goals in his last seven LaLiga matches, having failed to score or assist in five matches in October.

The superstar forward's comments were welcomed by Koeman but the Dutchman insists he never doubted Messi's determination to succeed after seeing his exit blocked.

"I don't need to see the Messi interview to know just how hungry and motivated he still is," Koeman said at a news conference previewing Tuesday's LaLiga trip to Real Valladolid.
 
"I see him with his team-mates every day. It's tough for any player who has won as much as him to not win every match he plays.

"But the squad is very united, albeit unhappy with the results. Leo is integrated in the side and helping us to improve things."

Messi's goal in Saturday's 2-2 home draw with Valencia was his 643rd for Barcelona, equalling Santos great Pele's one-club goals record.

Barca are eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played a game more than the leaders and are winless in four away league matches, last going five without a win in 2008.

Koeman accepts that results have to improve, with the under-fire head coach putting his side's inconsistent results down to a high turnover of youngsters in the first team.

"We have changed a lot of things," he said. "With younger players come a bit of irregularity. For the future it is a good thing but at Barca we have to win titles.

"It is a complicated situation we are in and time is needed, but we are Barcelona and we want to win.

"We will need to have maximum concentration against Valladolid. Every game we do not win is a step backwards for us.

"There are many games ahead in which many things can happen. We have lost a few away games and cannot fail again. There is pressure on the team to close the gap."

Ousmane Dembele is back in full training following another spell on the sidelines with a hamstring issue aggravated earlier this month.

However, Koeman confirmed the France international will play no part at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla, while Gerard  Pique, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto are also out.

Barca have won 12 of their last 13 LaLiga games against Valladolid, their only defeat in that run coming in March 2014.

Ronald Koeman has put Barcelona's 2-2 draw with Valencia down to a lack of concentration from his players, rather than a problem with their attitude.

Barca were held at Camp Nou in Saturday's entertaining LaLiga clash and are now eight points adrift of Atletico Madrid having played a game more than the leaders.

Mouctar Diakhaby scored a free header to give Valencia the lead – a joint-high fourth league goal Barca have conceded from a corner this term along with Huesca – but Lionel Messi equalised and young defender Ronald Araujo put the hosts in front.

Maxi Gomez profited from yet more slack defending 21 minutes from time to score against the Catalan giants for a fourth game running, however, as Valencia became the seventh team to stop their opponents winning in 13 games this term.

Koeman did not want to blame any individuals following this latest setback but conceded his side switched off too easily for Valencia's goals.

"It was a difficult game. We fought back but have to be more focused," he told Movistar. "We had chances but weren't focused on some other actions, and the opponents defended well.

"We made more of an effort in the second half to win the game but didn't create as many chances as we wanted. It was an irregular game from us; we lost balls in areas that were dangerous.

"I don't think it was to do with an attitude problem. There was an irregularity to the whole game. We lost balls and doubted ourselves.

"We also know we have problems with set-pieces. You have to get above your opponent, but we have smaller players."

Barca had won their previous two matches, against Levante and Real Sociedad, but now face a massive battle in chasing down Atletico and the rest of the title challengers.

"We would have liked to have won all of the games," Koeman said. "The problem is not today's draw but that we lost four or five other games and that's why this draw seems worse.

"There are a lot of points left [to be won]. It's a very tough season. In two months, everything could be different. We have to fight to make up the points difference."

Koeman made one change from the 2-1 victory over Sociedad, bringing in Philippe Coutinho for Frenkie de Jong in what was an attack-minded starting line-up featuring Messi, Martin Braithwaite, Pedri, Antoine Griezmann and Coutinho.

Sergio Busquets, the sole holding midfielder, picked up a knock and was replaced by De Jong at half-time.

Explaining his team selection, Koeman said: "Frenkie had discomfort in training yesterday and we couldn't risk him from the beginning, according to the doctors.

"We had to leave him on the bench until the break. I changed things around and brought off Busquets, but not because he was having a bad game."

Messi's goal was his 643rd for Barcelona, taking him level with Santos great Pele for the number of goals scored for a single club.

The Argentina international managed 10 shots in total and had a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech, but he headed in from two yards in the aftermath to bring up his landmark goal.

"We know all about his impressive career," Koeman said. "It is another very good achievement."

However, Valencia head coach Javi Gracia questioned whether a penalty should have been awarded for Jose Gaya's perceived push on Griezmann with Valencia a goal ahead at the time.

The referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez initially showed Gaya a red card before downgrading that to a yellow after checking the pitchside monitor, but Gracia feels the spot-kick should also have been rescinded at a pivotal moment in a tight game.

"Justice does not exist in football," he said. "It is always difficult to assess the referee's performance. The goal just before half-time did us a lot of damage. 

"But the team's personality was clear to see again. I am proud of my players."

Diego Simeone is hopeful Joao Felix has just suffered a knock after he was forced off in the second half of Atletico Madrid's win over Elche.

LaLiga leaders Atletico won 3-1 at Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday, with Luis Suarez scoring twice for the hosts.

Forward Joao Felix limped off to be replaced by the returning Diego Costa with 17 minutes to go.

Costa duly wrapped up the victory by winning and converting a late penalty, settling any brief nerves caused by Lucas Boye scoring a header for Elche.

"The blow [Joao Felix took] in the first half was strong and hard," Simeone said about the 21-year-old after the match.

"It was in the play in which they stopped the counter-attack with the block on Joao - he was still playing in the second half with discomfort and pain.

"I saw him working very well for the team despite being uncomfortable, but after he took a shot at goal it was noticed that he was upset.

"Let's hope it's just a knock - we understood [it would be wise] to let him rest. The game was getting complicated and we needed legs in that area of the pitch."

Suarez had gone three games without a goal before scoring the match-winning double in his 200th LaLiga appearance.

Simeone had taken the blame for the striker's dry spell ahead of the match because he put him straight back into the team after a spell out with coronavirus.

The Atletico boss added: "We understand that all players need personal treatment, because the character of each one is different.

"It's like children in families and each one is handled, like with the five I have, in a different way.

"I didn't say anything strange about Luis, he played three games in a row last week when he was coming off a 20-day break.

"I was especially happy with the second goal, he waited until the last possible moment so he did not stray offside and made sure he could be found after a good piece of play by Yannick Carrasco."

Since making his LaLiga debut in October 2014, only Barcelona's Lionel Messi (36) has scored more braces in the competition than Suarez (23).

Lionel Messi equalled Pele's one-club goals record but it was not enough for Barcelona as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Valencia's in Saturday's entertaining LaLiga clash.

The superstar forward notched his 643rd goal for the Catalan giants on the brink of half-time, scoring in the aftermath of having a penalty saved by Jaume Domenech.

That milestone goal cancelled out Mouctar Diakhaby's deserved opener for Valencia, and Ronald Araujo then put the hosts in front with an acrobatic strike - his first Barcelona goal at senior level.

But Barca could not hold on for a third straight league win - and a fifth in a row at Camp Nou - as Maxi Gomez prodded in 21 minutes from time to inflict another title blow on Ronald Koeman's men.

Koeman named an attack-minded line-up that contained just one holding midfielder and Barca were regularly caught out at the back, Marc-Andre ter Stegen bailing his side out with a good save to deny Carlos Soler.

Valencia were winless in four league games prior to this clash and were taken to extra time by lower-league side Terrassa in the Copa del Rey in midweek, but they opened the scoring in Catalonia through Diakhaby's free header in the 29th minute from a Soler corner.

Antoine Griezmann then could not beat Domenech at the end of a swift counter and Martin Braithwaite had a strong penalty appeal turned down, while Ter Stegen produced a superb stop to keep out Gomez in an end-to-end contest.

Barca were given a route back into the game when Jose Gaya was adjudged to have nudged Griezmann in the back, the decision allowed to stand following a lengthy VAR check, though Gaya's red card was reduced to a yellow on second viewing.

Messi's spot-kick was pushed to one side by Domenech, only for Jordi Alba to send a deflected cross towards the back post for the Argentina international to nod over the line from two yards for his landmark goal.

Barca were given another scare early in the second half when Denis Cheryshev sliced wide from a glorious position and, three minutes later, Araujo sent a delightful half-volley away from Domenech.

But the visitors responded through Gomez, who got in front of Oscar Mingueza to poke in Gaya's left-sided cross, and they held on for a share of the spoils - Philippe Coutinho's off-target curler the closest Barca went to winning the game late on.

Zinedine Zidane is not interested in discussing a new contract with Real Madrid but is hopeful skipper Sergio Ramos will soon commit his future to the Spanish giants.

Madrid have won four games in a row ahead of Sunday's trip to Eibar to get their LaLiga title defence back on track and advance through to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Zidane, who was rumoured to be one game away from being sacked earlier this month, is under contract at the Bernabeu until the end of next season.

A number of Madrid players are also into the final 18 months of their existing deals, with the likes of Ramos, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez set to become free agents in 2021.

But while Zidane is not looking to open talks over fresh terms with Madrid, the Frenchman is keen for his first-team squad members to resolve their futures. 

"I have nothing in mind. I have a contract until 2022 and I will not ask for anything," he said at a news conference.

"I am fortunate to say that I am at the best club in the world. I hope the players stay."

Ramos is able to open talks with other clubs from January over a free transfer at the end of the campaign, with Paris Saint-Germain reportedly eager to snap up the centre-back.

However, Zidane expects Ramos - into his 16th season with Madrid - to prolong his stay in the Spanish capital beyond the end of 2020-21.

"He is looking well, because he is convinced that he will continue and that is the most important thing," he said. 

"I see him playing football for many years because he is someone who takes great care of himself.

"If you want to continue and take care of yourself, you have a great chance of continuing for a long time and I'm not surprised by what he does."

Isco is another player facing an uncertain future at Madrid amid suggestions he is on the radar of Premier League clubs Manchester United, Arsenal and Everton.

The 28-year-old has featured nine times in LaLiga this term but just three of those have been starts, totalling 332 minutes on the field.

He has yet to score or assist a goal in those appearances, failing to find the net from his seven shots, but Zidane insists the Spain international is not trying to force a move away.

"Isco is fine here. We have enough to think about to just focus on what we are doing," Zidane said.

Madrid will be looking to keep pace with LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who are three points better off at the summit having played a game less, when they take on mid-table Eibar.

The reigning champions have won 10 and lost just one of their 12 previous league meetings with Eibar, who are unbeaten in six matches in all competitions.

Zidane will not risk Eden Hazard for the match at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on the Belgium forward's latest return from injury, while Vinicius Junior is another major doubt.

"Hopefully [Hazard] will return soon. He is almost fully recovered, but he lacks match fitness. I hope he will be with the team shortly," Zidane said.

"I don't think [Vinicius] will be available because he's not feeling well. I think it's gastroenteritis. He is not comfortable. Let's see how it evolves today."

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