Roberto De Zerbi admitted he is worried about Brighton’s growing injury problems after they took control of their Europa League destiny with a commanding 2-0 win away to Ajax.

Goals either side of half-time from Ansu Fati and Simon Adingra sealed victory in the Johan Cruyff Arena against the Dutch giants, who despite a change of manager showed little more ambition than they had in losing at the Amex Stadium two weeks previously.

But the result was marred by the loss of three players to injury as Lewis Dunk, James Milner and the returning Pervis Estupinan were all forced off.

De Zerbi has previously spoken of the toll that a first season in Europe has taken on his squad, with a hectic schedule having put pressure on a relatively small pool as the absentee list has lengthened.

Estupinan, who has already missed much of the campaign, left the field just 12 minutes after making his return as a substitute in the second half, with Milner also having gone off in the eighth minute.

Captain Dunk was withdrawn at half-time after pulling up with what looked like a groin problem, though the manager said he suspected it was not a serious concern.

Still, De Zerbi emphasised the havoc that injuries continue to wreak on his team.

“I’m very worried but it’s a problem we are fighting in this moment,” he said. “We have a lot of injuries, especially in the full-back position. For that we have to find another solution. We play Sunday another crucial game (against Sheffield United) for us and we want to win.

“I don’t know (about Dunk) at the moment. I think it’s not a big problem, but he’s played so many games in a row. We have to understand better the (injury).”

Despite the injuries, Brighton were able to celebrate yet another landmark under De Zerbi as they won for the first time away from home in Europe.

There were particularly fine displays in attack from goalscorers Fati and Adingra, whilst Evan Ferguson and Joao Pedro – the Europa League’s joint-top scorer at start of play with four – also impressed.

“I’m really delighted for the result, for the performance, for our fans,” said De Zerbi. “They were incredible and we are very happy because we made them happy.

“We have three top players – Ansu Fati, Joao Pedro and Evan Ferguson. We expect always a great job in ball possession, in the last 20 metres. But they are very young.

“Today I’m very happy for the performance of Joao. He fought 90 minutes. He didn’t score but he played a great game.

“I’m satisfied but I expect always more and more. For Ansu, he played very well in the first half but after the second goal I think he could play better. He could score the third goal.”

Brighton enjoyed a comprehensive first victory in Europe as a goal in either half from Joao Pedro and Ansu Fati eased them to a 2-0 win against Ajax at the Amex Stadium.

It took until the final minutes of a first half that Brighton had dominated for the breakthrough to arrive, Pedro tapping home on the rebound, as Ajax – second-bottom of the Eredivisie – did little more than look to preserve parity in the Europa League clash.

The Dutch side have endured their worst start to a league season and, after sacking manager Maurice Steijn on Monday, they went down with barely a whimper as Fati’s goal early in the second half showed the gulf between Roberto De Zerbi’s team and the four-time European champions.

It was a first half that Brighton controlled but were for the most part frustrated by an organised, obdurate Ajax. Pedro wanted a penalty for a shove in the back inside of three minutes, waved away by the referee with barely a glance, before Brighton’s top scorer on their European campaign tucked the only real chance of the opening exchanges wide of the near post from Karou Mitoma’s cut-back.

Pedro appealed again for a spot-kick, this time with more gusto, when he appeared to be bundled to the ground by Jorrel Hato. The defender was adjudged narrowly to have reached Mitoma’s through-ball ahead of the Brighton striker as the Amex howled for a penalty.

The hosts’ central-defensive pair spent much of the first half 10 yards inside the Ajax half. The plan to lure out the visitors and exploit the resulting space was resisted by caretaker boss Hedwiges Maduro’s team, who seemed content to sacrifice attacking ambition for the sake of clogging the gaps in between their lines.

Simon Adingra had the best chance of the opening half-hour when he lashed a right-footed effort over the bar from Lewis Dunk’s header back across goal, as Brighton’s threat was stymied by Ajax in what was a ponderous first half from De Zerbi’s side.

Mitoma and Pedro’s partnership looked the most likely avenue of success. The pair carved out the clearest opening yet when Pedro dashed into a channel down the right to reach his team-mate’s threaded ball and drove low at goal, only for goalkeeper Diant Ramaj to beat it away with a strong right hand.

The breakthrough came three minutes before the break. Dunk’s pass was weighted into the path of Mitoma who dashed into the box and dragged the ball inside Josip Sutalo to make space to shoot. His effort was pushed out by Ramaj, but only to the feet of the onrushing Pedro who continued his fine European scoring run to end a frustrating half for Brighton on a high.

Fati’s goal, slotted home brilliantly eight minutes after the break, cemented Brighton’s superiority. Adingra began the move from midfield, patiently stewarding the ball until Fati’s run was made, checking inside and feeding the on-loan Barcelona forward who beat his man with a devastating first touch and dispatched deftly beyond Ramaj.

The game had sprung suddenly to life. Fati was inches from making it three and burying Ajax, his driven effort licking inches wide of the post, before Steven Berghuis at the other end struck the upright with Jason Steele beaten,  a rare foray forward from the visitors.

It was to be the closest the 2019 Champions League semi-finalists came, as Brighton’s debut European season finally got going in earnest.

Brighton enjoyed a comprehensive first victory in the Europa League as a goal in either half from Joao Pedro and Ansu Fati eased them to a 2-0 win against Ajax at the Amex Stadium.

It took until the final minutes of a first half that Brighton had dominated for the breakthrough to arrive, Pedro tapping home on the rebound after an opening period in which Ajax – second bottom of the Eredivisie – did little more than look to preserve parity, as Brighton dictated things from the first minute.

The Dutch side have endured their worst-ever start to a league season, and after sacking manager Maurice Steijn on Monday they went down with barely a whimper, Fati’s goal early in the second half laying bare the gulf between Roberto De Zerbi’s team and the four-time European champions.

It was a first half that Brighton controlled but were for the most part frustrated by an organised, obdurate Ajax. Pedro wanted a penalty for a shove in the back inside of three minutes, waved away by the referee with barely a glance, before Brighton’s top scorer on their European campaign tucked the only real chance of the opening exchanges wide of the near post from Karou Mitoma’s cut-back.

Pedro appealed again for a spot-kick, this time with more gusto, when he appeared to be bundled to the ground by Jorrel Hato. The defender was adjudged narrowly to have reached Mitoma’s through-ball ahead of the Brighton striker as the Amex howled for a penalty.

The hosts’ central-defensive pair spent much of the first half 10 yards inside the Ajax half. The plan to lure out the visitors and exploit the resulting space was resisted by caretaker boss Hedwiges Maduro’s team, who seemed content to sacrifice attacking ambition for the sake of clogging the gaps in between their lines.

Simon Adingra had the best chance of the opening half-hour when he lashed a right-footed effort over the bar from Lewis Dunk’s header back across goal, as Brighton’s threat was stymied by Ajax in what was a ponderous first half from De Zerbi’s side.

Mitoma and Pedro’s partnership looked the most likely avenue of success. The pair carved out the clearest opening yet when Pedro dashed into a channel down the right to reach his team-mate’s threaded ball and drove low at goal, only for goalkeeper Diant Ramaj to beat it away with a strong right hand.

The breakthrough came three minutes before the break. Dunk’s pass was weighted into the path of Mitoma who dashed into the box and dragged the ball inside Josip Sutalo to make space to shoot. His effort was pushed out by Ramaj, but only to the feet of the onrushing Pedro who continued his fine European scoring run to end a frustrating half for Brighton on a high.

Fati’s goal, slotted home brilliantly eight minutes after the break, cemented Brighton’s superiority. Adingra began the move from midfield, patiently stewarding the ball until Fati’s run was made, checking inside and feeding the on-loan Barcelona forward who beat his man with a devastating first touch and dispatched deftly beyond Ramaj.

The game had sprung suddenly to life. Fati was inches from making it three and burying Ajax, his driven effort licking inches wide of the post, before Steven Berghuis at the other end struck the upright with Jason Steele beaten, a rare foray forward from the visitors.

It was to be the closest the 2019 Champions League semi-finalists came, as Brighton’s debut European season finally got going in earnest.

Gabri Veiga scored twice as Celta Vigo clinched survival with a surprise 2-1 win over champions Barcelona on a dramatic final day of the season in LaLiga.

Starting the game in 17th, Celta knew a victory would preserve their top-flight status, and Carlos Carvalhal's men took charge as Veiga struck either side of the break. 

The 21-year-old drilled into the bottom-left corner to spark wild scenes at the Balaidos shortly before half-time, then saw a fortuitous 65th-minute cross sail in off the far post.

Celta clung on after Barca substitute Ansu Fati nodded home, clinching a 13th-placed finish as Real Valladolid went down, while Barca ended the campaign 10 points clear of runners-up Real Madrid.

Barca thought they had an 11th-minute lead when Franck Kessie latched onto a rebound to beat Ivan Villar, only for a VAR review to show the midfielder was offside.

Oscar Rodriguez skewed a first-time shot just wide as Celta went close, while Robert Lewandowski saw a curling effort clip the outside of Villar's left post.

The offside flag thwarted Rodriguez as he capitalised on Marc-Andre ter Stegen's error to flick home, but Celta did go ahead on the stroke of half-time when Veiga raced onto Haris Seferovic's pass to finish across goal.

With Barca struggling for momentum, Veiga put Celta 2-0 up when his mishit cross from the right swerved over substitute goalkeeper Inaki Pena, clipping the woodwork before nestling in the back of the net.

Fati ensured a nervous finish by heading in Ousmane Dembele's cross 11 minutes from time, but Celta clung on to ensure another season of top-flight football.

Real Madrid are reportedly eager to bolster their full-back options, to upgrade from Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy.

Los Blancos were linked with Manchester City's Joao Cancelo - currently on loan at Bayern Munich - earlier this week by Fichajes.

The Spanish giants are set to miss out on this season's LaLiga title, with Barcelona leading by 10 points.

TOP STORY – MADRID KEEN ON LIVERPOOL'S TAA

Real Madrid will turn to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold should they fail to land Reece James from Chelsea, claims Ekrem Konur.

Los Blancos are in the market for a new full-back and Konur claims Madrid could also turn to Bayer Leverkusen's Jeremie Frimpong.

Alexander-Arnold has had a mixed campaign for Liverpool, who appear set for a squad revamp in the off-season. The 24-year-old England full-back is contracted with the Reds until 2025.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti is an admirer of Torino's 21-year-old midfielder Samuele Ricci with Los Blancos keeping tabs on his situation, according to Tuttosport.

– The Sunday Mirror claims Manchester City are leading the race to sign Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham from Real Madrid , with Liverpool having pulled out.

Chelsea are looking to offer Romelu Lukaku as part of a deal with Atletico Madrid to sign Portuguese forward Joao Felix permanently, reports Fichajes. Chelsea are unwilling to pay Atletico's €100m asking fee, but may part with €70m along with the Belgian forward.

Tottenham are tracking Barcelona winger Ansu Fati, reports Mundo Deportivo. The report suggests Spurs are willing to make him their most expensive transfer in club history.

RB Leipzig are considering a move to sign Arsenal forward Folarin Balogun in the close season, claims Todofichajes. Balogun has impressed this season on loan with Reims .

Chelsea have interviewed Sporting boss Ruben Amorim about taking over as manager next season, reports talkSPORT.

Ansu Fati wants to stay at Barcelona, but his father has other ideas.

The 20-year-old, who has been with the club for a decade, has made 38 appearances in all competitions this season but 27 of them have come as a substitute.

Bori Fati – who manages his son alongside agent Jorge Mendes – has been left angered by the situation and believes the winger deserves more minutes for Xavi's side.

"If it was up to me, I would take him [to another team] but [Ansu] wants to stay at Barcelona," Bori Fati told Spanish outlet Cope.

"He does not want to sign for another club, but I want to see him succeed. As a dad, I am angry.

"Seeing Ansu play so little winds you up a little bit, and sometimes I think as a father, not a coach."

Fati, who has scored six goals this season, is under a long-term contract with Barca, who are 12 points clear at the top of LaLiga. 

And despite his father's wish, Fati has previously stated his desire to remain with Barcelona, where he feels at home. 

"I'm under contract with Barcelona until June 2027, and I hope to stay here for many more years," he said in February.

"I feel grateful and lucky to play for Barca and I have to thank the people who support me daily for their backing."

 

The situation led to Bori calling a meeting with Barcelona sporting director Mateu Alemany, and agent Mendes.

Alemany reassured him of his son's role at the club, though Bori remains unconvinced the situation will change.

"I called Mateu," said Bori. "He told us that Ansu is part of the club's heritage, and they have bet big on him.

"As a dad, I think differently, maybe I am wrong. He is your franchise player, the number 10, he took [that number] on when no one was ready to take it from [Lionel] Messi.

"What annoys me is how they're treating him in terms of minutes. One minute, two, three.

"I am not asking for him to be a starter, because all the forwards at the club are phenomenal, but we are talking about Ansu Fati, of Spain and Barcelona, who came through La Masia."

It is now at the point where Bori no longer wants to visit Camp Nou to watch his son play.

"If it carries on like this, I will go [back] to [the family home in] Seville and that's that," said Bori.

"I didn't go to the game against [Real] Madrid. I won't go to the stadium anymore.

"The other day Ansu asked me why I didn't go, he thought I was there. I told him I didn't fancy it."

New Bayern Munich boss Thomas Tuchel has reportedly communicated to the board that Tottenham striker Harry Kane is his top priority in the upcoming transfer window.

Kane, 29, is just five goals away from overtaking Wayne Rooney for second on the Premier League's all-time leading scorers list, after recently surpassing Rooney as England's all-time top scorer and Jimmy Greaves as Tottenham's record holder.

With his personal legacy in England already secured, the logical next move is somewhere the striker can secure some team silverware, and that is an area Bayern can deliver.

While Tottenham will be desperate to convince their star to stay put, any indication that he will not sign a new contract will likely force the club to cash-in on their top talent.

 

TOP STORY – TUCHEL HOPING TO MAKE KANE BAYERN'S NEW CENTREPIECE

According to Football Insider, Tuchel "is a huge fan of Kane from his time in the Premier League managing Chelsea", and he has communicated to the Bayern board that he should be the main focus going forward.

Despite Kane approaching the final 12 months of his deal, Tottenham are still expected to demand a fee in the £100million (Є113.8m) range to part ways with their club icon, but it remains exceedingly unlikely that they will allow his contract to run out.

However, the report adds Kane would potentially be open to an extension if Spurs can secure former Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann as Antonio Conte's replacement.

 

ROUND-UP

– 90min reports 27-year-old Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips is prepared to leave the club amid concerns his limited playing time will affect his spot in the England team, but Football Insider claims Phillips is prepared to stick it out.

– According to Sport, all 29 MLS clubs have agreed to split the salary of Lionel Messi and would allow him to choose whichever franchise he would prefer.

Paris Saint-Germain are planning to capitalise on a two-week window at the start of July when 26-year-old Napoli centre-back Kim Min-jae has a temporary release clause of €52.5m, per Foot Mercato.

– Fichajes reports Barcelona will likely be forced to sell 20-year-old winger Ansu Fati in the next transfer window for financial reasons.

Ansu Fati can follow Marcus Rashford's example and turn a promising start into a flourishing career, according to Barcelona head coach Xavi.

Teenage Barcelona forward Fati has had a stop-start beginning to his time in the spotlight, with injuries and a dip in form seeing him struggle to establish himself as a starter.

He has featured in 47 first-team games for Barcelona over last season and the current campaign but has started just 13 times, netting 12 goals and adding three assists.

This season he has six goals in 32 appearances, having managed the same number in 15 games during the 2021-22 campaign, and his shot conversion rate has plummeted from 24 per cent last term to just 9.38 per cent this time around.

Fati turned 20 in November and Barcelona see the Spain international playing a big part in their future, although they might like to see the return of the 2019-20 Fati, who hit eight goals as a teenage sensation.

In every season except this one, Fati has exceeded his expected goals (xG) tally, which assesses the quality of chances and the likelihood of a player scoring. This term his xG total stands at 7.87.

 

Asked whether Fati might become Barcelona's equivalent to Manchester United's Rashford, Xavi said on Saturday: "He has the potential to be. It is clear we have a lot of hope in him.

"We will give him confidence. Performance will mark his development. He will be important. He is being and will be."

Rashford was a teenage star whose game briefly went off the boil after a fast start. He featured in 53 games in the 2016-17 campaign as United won the EFL Cup and Europa League, their last major trophies, and Rashford hit 22 goals in the 2019-20 season followed by 21 in the next campaign, before managing just five in the 2021-22 season.

This season has seen 25-year-old Rashford back to his best, matching his best season haul of 22 goals by netting against Barcelona on Thursday in a 2-2 Europa League draw.

 

LaLiga leaders Barcelona host Cadiz on Sunday, wary they lost 1-0 in this fixture last year.

Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 12 LaLiga games (W11 D1), and victory over Cadiz would see them bring up a seventh consecutive win in the competition, matching their best run under Xavi, twice achieving seven-game runs previously.

Striker Robert Lewandowski scored and had two assists when Barcelona won 4-0 at Cadiz in September, the only time he has been involved in three goals in a single LaLiga game.

Xavi has urged Barcelona to make the most of having one of Europe's deadliest strikers as the spearhead to their attack.

With just one goal from his last five games, this is a lean patch for Lewandowski who has had 19 shots across those fixtures.

Xavi said: "He was extraordinary and now he's lower, but it's not bad. I'm happy with him because of how he works and moves. Maybe we have to use him more. He's a top player who makes a difference.

"He's always a danger. He links well and gives assists. You have to play more with him."

Barcelona will make changes with next week's second leg of their Europa League play-off against Rashford's United in mind, and midfielder Pedri misses out with a hamstring problem.

Erling Haaland's long-term future has been a source of speculation for months and reports of a release clause in mid-2024 in his Manchester City contract have put Barcelona and Real Madrid on high alert.

The Norwegian was pursued by a host of clubs last off-season, with City winning the race ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, Chelsea, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Haaland has since scored 25 Premier League goals in 21 appearances and 31 in all competitions after joining City.


TOP STORY – HAALAND SET FOR SPANISH SWITCH NEXT YEAR

Erling Haaland has decided he wants to leave England for Spain next year when the release clause in his City contract can be activated, reports Fichajes.

The report claims Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two viable options for Haaland, who will exit City at the end of the 2023-24 season, with playing in Spain a dream for the 22-year-old.

City's potential sanctions for alleged breaches of the Premier League's financial rules have also played a part in Haaland believing mid-2024 is the right time to leave.

 

ROUND-UP

- Big-spending Chelsea are set to join the race to sign Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, reports The Telegraph. Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid are already keen on the 19-year-old England international.

- Manchester Evening News claims Manchester United have "genuine interest" in a move for Roma's English striker Tammy Abraham in the next transfer window.

- Barcelona's Ansu Fati will resist overtures from Tottenham, Arsenal and Bayern Munich to remain with the Blaugrana, reports Mundo Deportivo.

- AS reports Tottenham will turn to Sevilla's Morocco international goalkeeper Yassine Bounou in their search for a long-term successor to Hugo Lloris.

- Leicester City have ramped up talks with James Maddison on a new contract amid interest from Newcastle United, Arsenal and Tottenham, claims The Telegraph.

- FotoSpor claims Turkish club Fenerbahce have reached out to Manchester United about signing Mason Greenwood, who is under club investigation despite criminal charges being dropped against him recently.

- Calciomercatoweb reports Massimiliano Allegri could leave his position as Juventus head coach to replace Roberto Mancini in Italy's top job.

Xavi retains "blind confidence" in Ansu Fati and is baffled by talk of the Barcelona forward's future being uncertain.

Fati has made 20 appearances for Barca in LaLiga this season, but 13 of those have come from the bench with two of Raphinha, Ousmane Dembele and Gavi usually preferred out wide of star striker Robert Lewandowski.

Reports this week credited Premier League trio Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal with an interest in Fati, who has scored three league goals and provided three assists in his limited playing time this term.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's trip to Villarreal, Xavi said Spain international Fati can make a big impact now and in the future, questioning why rumours about his future were rife outside the transfer window.

"We expect a lot from him, I have blind confidence in him," Xavi said of the 20-year-old. "I have it with everyone. We have been shaping the squad based on what I wanted. 

"I have confidence with everyone and especially with Ansu. He is a player for the present and for the future. He has to have patience and give everything when he comes in, which he is doing.

"At this moment there is no one transferable. The market has finished, I don't know what we are doing talking about sales, we are playing the season. 

"We are talking about the sale of Ansu, who was not talked about all month in January. I don't understand it and even less in the Barcelona environment. I have a lot of hope for him."

Fati will hope to get a chance to impress at the Estadio de la Ceramica – he has scored four goals in five league appearances against Villarreal, more than against any other opponent. 

Barcelona must juggle two competitions in the coming weeks, with the first leg of a mouthwatering Europa League tie against United coming four days after their meeting with Villarreal.

Xavi, however, is taking things game by game, saying: "There is no priority, we want to win the titles for which we compete. The most important game is always the next one."

Barca are likely to be without captain Sergio Busquets for at least two weeks after the 34-year-old suffered a sprained ankle in last week's 3-0 win over Sevilla.

The Blaugrana great is yet to pen a new contract amid suggestions Inter Miami hope to lure him to Major League Soccer, and Xavi reiterated the midfielder will decide his own future.

"With Busi there will be no problem," Xavi said. "He knows that he is extremely important. He is a living legend and his personal decision will mark his future. Only he decides.

"We go as the president [Joan Laporta], Busi and I and there is a very good vibe. It will depend on Busi, what he wants to do."

Liverpool and Newcastle United are reportedly among the Premier League teams exploring a potential move for Bayer Leverkusen centre-back Jonathan Tah – and the interest could be mutual.

Tah, 26, is in his eighth season in Leverkusen after arriving ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, racking up 283 appearances in all competitions and earning 16 senior international caps for Germany.

After five consecutive seasons finishing in the Bundesliga's top-six, Leverkusen have struggled this campaign, with just seven wins and a negative goal difference after 19 games, leaving them 10th.

Facing an uphill battle for any European football next season, the club will reportedly struggle to convince Tah to stick around, especially with plenty of interest from his desired landing spot in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – TAH SETS HIS SIGHTS ON THE PREMIER LEAGUE

According to 90min, Tah is "keen to take his talents to England at the end of the season".

He has two more seasons on his contract, tying him to Leverkusen until 2025, leaving the club with a difficult decision about whether to hang on to one of their top players or cash in and use the funds to improve the squad.

As well as Liverpool and Newcastle, West Ham are also understood to have touched base with Leverkusen about Tah's availability in January, while his name also came up in discussions with Tottenham, but they are said to prefer his centre-back partner Piero Hincapie.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Mirror is reporting Tottenham are admirers of 26-year-old Leicester City midfielder James Maddison

– According to El Nacional, Real Madrid have held talks with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp about potentially taking over from Carlo Ancelotti at the end of the season, and Klopp is said to have requested the Spanish giants pursue Jude Bellingham and Kylian Mbappe.

Milan have an interest in signing 27-year-old Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, per the Mirror, while the Daily Mail adds the Italian side are also impressed by 21-year-old Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun, who has 14 Ligue 1 goals for Reims this season.

Manchester United and Newcastle are said to be two of many clubs keeping a close eye on 18-year-old Royal Antwerp prospect Arthur Vermeeren, per the Daily Mail.

– Fabrizio Romano is reporting United, Arsenal and Liverpool have all held talks with the agent of 20-year-old Barcelona forward Ansu Fati.

Lionel Messi's relationship with Barcelona is unaffected by comments made by the legendary forward's brother, according to club president Joan Laporta.

Matias Messi suggested in a question and answer session on streaming platform Twitch that "no one knew" Barca prior to his younger sibling's trophy-laden spell at Camp Nou.

The 40-year-old also said he would make sure to "kick out Laporta" as part of a "good cleaning" in the boardroom if his brother ever returned to the Catalan heavyweights.

He posted an apology on his Instagram account on Wednesday, stating he "was just joking with my son and friends", but the comments did not go down well at Barca.

However, speaking at a press conference on Thursday to discuss Barca's latest accounts, Laporta insisted those remarks will not impact Messi's status at the club.

"I take away the importance of anything said by his brother," Laporta said. "He has since apologised. I don't think about it any more.

"It doesn't affect the relationship [between Messi and Barcelona] at all.

"I don't want to comment on a player from another team any further out of respect.

"Leo Messi is forever part of Barcelona and we are proud of that. He is the best in the world and the best in history."

Messi scored a club record 672 goals in 778 appearances for Barcelona across 17 seasons as a first-team player, during which time he won 35 trophies.

The Argentina international departed for Paris Saint-Germain in August 2021 and his famed number 10 shirt has since been inherited by fellow academy player Ansu Fati.

Fati has been linked with a move away from Barca in recent weeks, with Manchester United reportedly interested, but Laporta ruled out an exit in the next transfer window.

"Right now we are not considering it," he said. "I cannot predict the future, but Ansu Fati is a player with whom we have great hopes. 

"It all depends on whether he remains useful for the club and for [head coach] Xavi. He has a lot of expectations on him and we are not willing to sell the player at this time.

"We have no news that the player wants to leave, and we will continue to do what suits the club."

Laporta also confirmed Ousmane Dembele is not for sale, while captain Sergio Busquets's future beyond the end of this season when his contract expires is still unknown.

Barcelona, who are eight points clear of Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga, are back in action on Sunday with a trip to Villarreal.

The future of Ansu Fati at Barcelona appears to be increasingly uncertain.

Fati was a revelation when he first broke into the Barca first team, but has suffered several injury issues that have halted his momentum.

Even when fit, Fati has struggled to get into Xavi's side this season, featuring in 30 games but only nine times from the start, with six goals and three assists to show for it.

And reports are starting to emerge that vultures may be circling to offer the Spain international more regular football.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN LEAD THE WAY IN HUNT FOR ANSU FATI

Mundo Deportivo reports that Bayern Munich are at the head of a queue of seven European clubs interested in making a move for Fati at the end of the season.

It is also mentioned that four of the seven potential suitors come from the big-spending Premier League, though only Arsenal and Tottenham are named.

The player only signed a new deal in 2021 that committed him to Barca until 2027, with a release clause of €1billion, but the continued absence of Fati in the starting XI even after Ousmane Dembele's latest injury is apparently a concern to the player's agent, Jorge Mendes.

ROUND-UP

Barca, Atletico Madrid and Milan are all looking at a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the end of the campaign after Chelsea surprisingly left the striker out of their Champions League squad, according to the Mail.

Chelsea are poised to join Manchester United in targeting Napoli hitman Victor Osimhen as the Blues look to solve their goalscoring problems, report the Mirror.

Real Madrid turned down the chance to sign Joao Cancelo on loan from Manchester City before he went to Bayern on transfer deadline day, according to Fabrizio Romano.

– The Mail has pointed to Tottenham's good relations with Atletico as reason for their optimism about signing Jan Oblak and Yannick Carrasco at the end of the season.

– The Mirror reports that Manchester United will look to move on six players at the end of the season, including Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay, Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek.

Xavi has challenged Ansu Fati to prove he can be a leader for Barcelona while suspended striker Robert Lewandowski waits to return.

Fati only played the closing moments of Barcelona's 3-1 Supercopa de Espana final win over Real Madrid last Sunday as the club landed their first trophy since Lionel Messi left in August 2021. It was Xavi's first trophy as Barcelona coach.

The 20-year-old Fati was a substitute again for the Copa del Rey win over Ceuta on Thursday, coming on to score the third goal in a 5-0 rout.

His bit-part role is something Fati may have to accept given Lewandowski is a seemingly guaranteed starter when available to head coach Xavi. This weekend sees Lewandowski serve the second part of a three-game ban.

Gavi, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele have featured off the Polish striker, with Raphinha and Ferran Torres also getting chances.

Now it seems Fati may get to start against Getafe in LaLiga on Sunday, with Xavi saying: "He plays a decisive role in the team. He makes a difference and has that great communion with the goal.

"He is decisive and is being important for the team, and more so in the games that Robert is not there due to suspension he has to be a reference."

Barcelona are on a high after the Supercopa success, with Xavi saying: "This victory against Madrid means a lot to us, it gives us confidence and morale and makes us believe more.

"Now is the time to maintain our level and compete and fight for the three remaining titles."

They have LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League still to play for, having been knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage, with Xavi determined to wring everything out of his players.

"You have to keep demanding and even increase the demands," the coach said. "Now it's easy to relax, and you have to avoid that and make everyone feel important.

"You can play better. The game against Madrid was excellent and brilliant, but you have to keep up the level."

Xavi said there are fitness concerns over Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong ahead of Getafe's visit to Camp Nou.

"They're available, but they're having problems again," Xavi said. "We can't play with players who are at 80 per cent. Every game is a war, it's a final."

Barcelona headed into the weekend with a three-point lead over Madrid at the top of the table, also knowing they had not lost at home in their 17 previous games against Getafe (W13 D4).

The Catalan giants no longer have Memphis Depay in their ranks after he made a move to Atletico Madrid this week, with the Dutch forward having told Xavi he was "not comfortable" and needed to play more often.

Xavi is unsure whether he will be able to make signings before the January transfer window closes given financial fair play limitations, but he said it "wouldn't be a problem" if there is no further movement on that front.

Barcelona set up an El Clasico clash with Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana final after beating Real Betis 4-2 on penalties following a 2-2 draw at the King Fahd International Stadium on Thursday.

Goals from Robert Lewandowski and Nabil Fekir sent the game to extra time in Riyadh, before a wonderstrike from Fati was cancelled out by Loren Moron's cheeky backheel equaliser to force a penalty shoot-out.

Juanmi and William Carvalho saw their spot-kicks saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, allowing Pedri to clinch progress to the final.

Barca will now face Madrid on Sunday for the first time since the competition moved to a four-team format in 2019-20.

 

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