Victor Osimhen rescued Napoli a 1-1 home draw against Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in his first appearance for the Italian club since December.

Osimhen, who had served a ban in Napoli’s previous game after returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty for runners-up Nigeria, stole clear in the penalty area with 15 minutes remaining to fire home an equaliser.

Barcelona had taken a deserved lead on the hour-mark through Robert Lewandowski’s 93rd Champions League goal.

It was Napoli’s first game since they sacked head coach Walter Mazzarri after three months in charge and replaced him with Slovakian Francesco Calzona.

Porto winger Galeno’s stunning stoppage-time winner clinched his side a 1-0 win against Arsenal in the first leg of their tie.

Arsenal looked set to return to London all-square after a cagey tactical battle at Estadio do Dragao, but Brazilian Galeno crashed home a shot from outside the box in the fourth minute of added time.

The Gunners, bidding to reach the tournament’s last eight for the first time since 2010, created few chances, while Galeno struck a post with a close-range effort in the first half.

Kai Havertz had Arsenal’s best two chances late in the first half, firing off target from six yards before heading Bukayo Saka’s corner just wide.

The two sides will meet in the return leg at the Emirates Stadium on March 12.

Victor Osimhen snatched an unlikely 1-1 draw for Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Barcelona.

The Nigeria striker cancelled out a trademark Robert Lewandowski strike as a low-quality tie ended all square.

The champions of Italy met the champions of Spain in what should have been the glamour tie of the round at Napoli’s Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

The Argentinian’s name is synonymous with glory days at both clubs but now both are struggling to recapture last season’s title-winning successes.

Napoli, a lowly ninth in Serie A, sacked Walter Mazzarri on Monday with Francesco Calzona replacing him as their third manager of the season.

The Slovakia coach, appointed on an interim basis, had just 48 hours to try to inject some life into their dismal campaign.

Meanwhile, Barca boss Xavi – whose side lie eight points behind rivals Real Madrid in La Liga – announced last month he would be leaving at the end of the campaign.

Two sides bereft of confidence locked horns with Barca, without Gavi, Ferran Torres, Marcos Alonso and Sergi Roberto through injury, dominating the first half but lacking any real goal threat.

Lamine Yamal, their 16-year-old sensation, brought the first save from Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret with a fierce drive from the edge of the area.

Lewandowski’s first chance came from Ilkay Gundogan’s through-ball but his flicked finish was blocked by Meret.

The Napoli defence then opened up invitingly for Gundogan, whose dipping effort was also beaten away by Meret.

For Napoli, Osimhen was playing his first match since before Christmas but he looked isolated up front as the hosts finished the first half without a single effort on goal.

That sorry stat at least changed at the start of the second half when Matteo Politano planted an early header wide.

Gundogan should have done better with Yamal’s cut-back to the edge of the box but his side-footed effort was easily dealt with by Meret.

But Lewandowski broke the deadlock on the hour when Pedri played the ball into his feet.

Lewandowski expertly turned and fired low between two defenders and beyond the dive of Meret.

It was the Poland international’s 93rd Champions League goal, although he had not scored in his last four appearances in the competition.

But Barca had only kept one clean sheet in their previous nine matches and a blunt Napoli attack finally woke up in the 75th minute.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa drove the ball forward and Osimhen rolled Inigo Martinez, who claimed he was fouled, before tucking the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Both sides could have grabbed a winner but Napoli substitute Giovanni Simeone blazed over before Gundogan fired inches wide in stoppage time.

Ilkay Gundogan believes Barcelona face a “harder” test against Napoli following the Italian club’s change of manager.

The Serie A champions sacked Walter Mazzarri on Monday and immediately brought in former coach Francesco Calzona until the end of the season.

His debut in the dugout comes at home to Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on Wednesday night.

Speaking to La Vanguardia, Gundogan said: “This is what the Champions League is all about, making big demands.

“I love this kind of pressure. Every game starts from zero. The fact they have just changed managers won’t make it any easier for us. If anything, it makes it even harder.

“There are other teams in the competition with more of a chance and better experience, but if we can reach the quarter finals, we are entering special territory. I am a realist, but I also know it’s difficult for everybody.”

Barcelona will see their boss Xavi leave the club at the end of the season.

The 44-year-old confirmed the news last month, with Barca falling behind rivals Real Madrid and Girona at the top of the LaLiga table.

Gundogan, who joined the club from Manchester City last summer after completing the treble, admitted he “didn’t expect” Xavi to leave.

He said: “Xavi played a huge role in me coming to Barcelona. If our conversations had gone another way, I wouldn’t be here.

“He made the difference and I’m grateful for that. I didn’t expect him to announce he was leaving at the end of the season, but I respect his decision.

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“He should get a lot of credit. He thinks about his family, the players and the club before himself. Xavi loves Barca.”

Despite their struggles in the league, Xavi steered Barcelona to top spot in Champions League Group H.

Napoli finished second to Madrid in Group C and are also having a far from happy time of things domestically.

They lie ninth in Serie A and have won just twice in their last eight league games.

Barcelona have Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto fit again after spells on the sidelines.

Robert Lewandowski scored an injury-time penalty at the second time of asking as Barcelona secured a nail-biting late win over Celta Vigo to stay in touch with the LaLiga title race.

Lewandowski had already given his side the lead with an emphatic finish on the stroke of half-time but Iago Aspas put his struggling side on course for a draw with a deflected effort soon after the restart.

Lewandowski eventually won it from the spot in the seventh minute of added time, but only after the referee ordered a retake when his first attempt was saved by an encroaching Vicente Guaita. The result leaves them two points behind Girona in second and seven shy of rivals and leaders Real Madrid, having played one game more than both.

At the Metropolitano Stadium, fourth-placed Atletico Madrid ran out 5-0 winners over Las Palmas. Marcos Llorente and Angel Correa scored two apiece and Memphis Depay rounded things out in a one-sided contest.

Osasuna beat Cadiz 2-0 and Sevilla took a goalless draw from Valencia on their visit to the Mestalla.

In Ligue 1, departing Paris St Germain striker Kylian Mbappe found himself left out of the starting XI against Nantes only to step off the bench and bury a penalty.

Having announced his summer departure from PSG, Mbappe had to wait until the 62nd minute to see action but was ready to slot home from the spot to put the finishing touch to a 2-0 win. Lucas Hernandez had earlier put the runaway league leaders ahead on the hour.

Elsewhere, Lille moved back into third on goal difference as hat-trick hero Jonathan David put away Le Havre 3-0.

In Germany, Bundesliga’s relentless leaders Bayer Leverkusen banked another three points with a 2-1 away win at Heidenheim.

Xabi Alonso’s title-chasers have now won seven of their last eight matches, with Jeremie Frimpong and Amine Adli on target this time. Tim Kleindienst set up some late tension with an 87th-minute reply but the hosts could not force a second.

Third-placed Stuttgart fought for a 2-1 win at bottom club Darmstadt despite Pascal Stenzel’s red card at the end of the first half. They now sit five points above Borussia Dortmund, with the latter held 1-1 at Wolfsburg after substitute Yannick Gerhardt responded to Niclas Fullkrug’s early effort.

RB Leipzig won 2-0 against Borussia Monchengladbach, Union Berlin scored the only goal away to Hoffenheim and strugglers Mainz recorded a 1-0 win over Augsburg.

Juventus’ hopes of chipping away at Inter’s Serie A lead were stifled as they were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw at Verona. Juve twice dragged themselves back from a goal down, Dusan Vlahovic’s penalty and Adrien Rabiot’s second-half strike squaring efforts from Michael Folorunsho and Tijjani Noslin.

A point left Massimiliano Allegri’s men nine points behind the Nerazurri, who have a game in hand.

Napoli’s disappointing season continued to underwhelm as they were held 1-1 at home by Genoa. Morten Frendrup put the away side in front and it was not until the 90th minute that substitute Cyril Ngonge grabbed an equaliser.

Mario Pasalic, Teun Koopmeiners and Mitchel Bakker all found the target as Atalanta strengthened their grip on fourth spot at the expense of Sassuolo.

Robert Lewandowski snatched a dramatic late victory for Barcelona at Celta Vigo, converting a retaken penalty deep in injury-time for a 2-1 win.

The Catalan giants were on course for a second straight draw after old foe Iago Aspas cancelled out Lewandowksi’s first goal with a deflected effort just after half-time, his 200th career strike.

But with almost 97 minutes on the clock, the tension ramped up as the veteran striker stood over a last-gasp spot-kick and missed.

Lewandowski held his head in his hands but was offered a lifeline when the referee judged that goalkeeper Vicente Guaita had stepped off his line and ordered it to be taken again.

Unfazed, the 35-year-old repeated the same stuttering run-up as before and slotted it home to secure the points for his side and his 50th goal in Barca colours.

It was a much-needed result for Xavi’s men, who have endured a difficult campaign and would have been disappointed to let another result slip through their fingers after being held 3-3 by Granada last time out.

For Celta it was a harsh blow, denying them a hard-earned share of the spoils and leaving them just three points above the relegation zone.

Barca dominated the ball in the first half, but struggled to generate clearcut chances to make the possession count. Lamine Yamal was first to try his luck but could not beat Guaita, while Joao Cancelo screwed a shot wide.

Despite Aspas’ best efforts the hosts were unable to find a foothold and kept absorbing pressure, Andreas Christensen heading wide at a corner and and Ronald Araujo failing to get an effort away.

The dam broke with the interval approaching, Jules Kounde feeding the ball upfield and Yamal playing in Lewandowksi from the wing. The Poland star’s first touch was an instinctive flick off the outside of the boot, taking the ball away from his marker in an instant, and his second was a rifled finish from the edge of the penalty area.

That should have settled Barca but instead they held their lead less than two minutes after the restart. It was Celta’s smoothest move of the match, Jorgen Strand Larsen and and Oscar Mingueza both producing back-heeled touches to play in Aspas as he ran through on goal.

His shot left Marc-Andre ter Stegan with no chance, but only after a hefty deflection off Kounde. Aspas has been a nuisance for Barcelona’s teams for over a decade and took his tally against them to 11 goals in 19 games.

The 36-year-old looked to have settled the draw, with substitutes Raphina and Ilkay Gundogan unable to rally a winner for the visitors and Carl Starfelt marshalling a solid defensive response.

Added time was already well under way when Fran Beltran fouled Yamal in the box, ushering in the penalty drama that offered Lewandowski two bites at the cherry from 12 yards.

Teenage star Lamine Yamal rescued a point for Barcelona in a thrilling 3-3 draw against LaLiga strugglers Granada.

Yamal, who became the youngest scorer in the competition’s history against the same opposition earlier this season, curled home his second goal of the game 10 minutes from time to deny the visitors their first away win of the campaign.

The 16-year-old had opened the scoring in the first half, but Granada equalised through Ricard Sanchez just before the interval and Facundo Pellistri made it 2-1 on the hour mark before Robert Lewandowski levelled moments later.

A third goal in the space of six minutes from Ignasi Miquel restored Granada’s lead as they belied their lowly place in the table, only for Yamal to have the last word with a brilliant solo effort.

Yamal had come close to setting up Lewandowski for the opening goal before breaking the deadlock himself seconds later, volleying home at the far post from Joao Cancelo’s cross.

Myrto Uzuni attempted to get Granada back on level terms in spectacular fashion but failed to make contact with an overhead kick after 18 minutes, while Oscar Melendo’s follow-up shot blocked.

The home side looked certain to regain their lead shortly before the interval when Ilkay Gundogan squared for Lewandowski with the goal seemingly at his mercy, but the 35-year-old’s shot was brilliantly cleared off the line by Martin Hongla.

And Granada made the most of that reprieve in the 43rd minute when Pellistri drove to the byline before pulling the ball back for Sanchez to drill a first-time finish past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barcelona coach Xavi had used his pre-match press conference to herald the “great news” that Ter Stegen was fit to play for the first time since November following back surgery, but the Germany international will be disappointed to have been beaten at his near post.

Pellistri and Sanchez continued to cause problems for Barca in the second half and it was no surprise that the former gave his side the lead on the hour mark.

Pau Cubarsi’s poor header from a hopeful cross into the box fell perfectly for Uzuni to send the ball back across goal and give Pellistri the simple task of turning it into an empty net.

The lead lasted just two minutes before Lewandowski rifled in an equaliser from the edge of the area after a delightful lay-off from Gundogan, but Miquel then headed home from Faitout Maouassa’s cross to stun the home crowd.

Fermin Lopez had a goal correctly ruled out for offside before Yamal had the final word,
dispossessing Jose Callejon before curling a 25-yard shot into the bottom corner.

Barcelona coach Xavi welcomed the “great news” that goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is fit to return for Sunday’s must-win LaLiga clash against Granada.

Germany international Ter Stegen last played for Barcelona on November 12 after undergoing surgery on a lower back injury.

His replacement Inaki Pena has kept just two clean sheets in 10 league appearances, with Xavi’s side having fallen eight points behind leaders Real Madrid heading into this weekend’s fixtures.

“(Ter Stegen’s return) is very important, he’s a fundamental for us,” Xavi said at a press conference.

“I’m happy with Inaki, he’s shown he is a safe goalkeeper, but I’m also happy for Marc, we need him and he’s a key player for the squad.

“It’s great news.”

Ter Stegen’s return will come as a major boost to Xavi, but teenage forward Vitor Roque will be suspended for the visit of Granada after he was sent off in Barcelona’s victory against Alaves last weekend, while Oriol Romeu is also not fit enough to play.

However, Raphinha, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for the past month, is expected to be available.

Xavi also provided an injury update on Gavi, who was ruled out for the rest of the season back in November after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing for Spain.

Quizzed on his star midfielder’s recovery, Xavi said: “It’s going well. Better than hoped, it’s Gavi, he wants to be back now.

“He is having a text-book recovery. He’s taken it all in and he is doing everything. Even though he is not out on the field he is still a key part of the dressing room.”

The reigning Spanish champions welcome a troubled Granada side who have lost nine of their last 12 league matches to leave them 19th in the table, eight points adrift of safety.

However, the relegation-threatened side have picked up three draws and a win from their last four matches against Barca, and Xavi has issued a rallying call to his side’s fans for the match.

He said: “They are a difficult team who need points. They have improved defensively and they are more aggressive. We need the support of the fans to continue our good run.”

What the papers say

Raphael Varane is reportedly the latest big name attracting a wealth of interest from Saudi Arabia. The Daily Star says Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr are hoping to reunite the Manchester United defender with his former Real Madrid and Red Devils team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, with an offer believed to be in the region of £50million a year.

The Independent reports Kylian Mbappe‘s contract negotiations with Real Madrid have hit a stumbling block. According to the paper, the two parties are yet to come to terms on the 25-year-old striker’s wage package, with an agreement believed to be a way off. However, there is belief amongst all involved – including Mbappe’s current club Paris St Germain – that a deal to take the France captain to Spain will eventually be made.

And The Telegraph reports Aston Villa has reached a verbal agreement on a new long-term contract for Jamaica winger Leon Bailey.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Raphinha: Journalist Paul O’Keefe says on X the Barcelona attacker is being carefully monitored by Tottenham.

Hwang Ui-jo: The Nottingham Forest striker has agreed terms to spend the rest of the season on loan at Turkish side Alanyaspor, reports Turkish outlet Sports Digitale.

Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 in LaLiga despite playing the last 20 minutes with a man less.

Alaves piled the pressure on in the first period but Barcelona, in their first game since manager Xavi announced he will resign in the summer, nicked the opening goal of the game through Robert Lewandowski’s ninth of the season.

The home side were looking for a fourth straight league win but their hopes seemed to be snuffed out when Ilkay Gundogan doubled Barca’s lead.

Samuel Omorodion brought the hosts back into the match a couple of minutes later before Vitor Roque came off the bench on the hour mark for a whirlwind few minutes. He slotted Barca’s third and then saw red for a second bookable offence, but Barca nevertheless held on for a fifth win in six league games.

The hosts were causing major problems for Barca through the early stages and Omorodion was waiting to tap in from six yards following Sola’s low cross, but Ronald Araujo was there to clear away from danger.

Back came Alaves in search of the opener, this time Omorodion first to meet a corner at the front post but his glancing header evaded everyone inside the area.

Against the run of play, Barcelona broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute when Lewandowski latched onto a clever through ball from Gundogan and the Poland striker dinked over Antonio Sivera to make it 1-0.

Alaves almost had an equaliser five minutes later as John Guridi nodded towards goal but Barca keeper Inaki Pena did well to push the ball away.

Another wonderful chance went begging for the home team when the ball fell perfectly for Omorodion inside the box but he lashed a volley wide of the target.

Barcelona started the second half in much more solid fashion and their efforts were rewarded with a second goal four minutes after the break when Pedri’s delicious cross found Gundogan at the back post and he volleyed across goal to double the visitors’ lead.

Alaves responded almost instantly when Sola’s cross found Omorodion who headed past Pena to cut the deficit back down to a solitary goal.

Barcelona re-established their two goal lead just after the hour mark with a well-worked team goal.

Lamine Yamal started the move as he danced past Javi Lopez and after a few quick passes, Hector Fort cut it back for Roque who tucked the ball into the bottom right corner.

Barcelona were forced to play the final 20 minutes with a man less after goalscoring substitute Roque was sent off for a second yellow card after just 13 minutes on the pitch.

The 18-year-old Brazilian was booked a few moments before and saw red after he appeared to clip Rafa Marin, which the referee deemed to be worth another yellow card as Barca players protested heavily.

Alaves searched for a route back into the game but Barcelona looked solid and held on to make it back-to-back wins.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has insisted manager Xavi will not be sacked after announcing his decision to quit at the end of the campaign.

The former Barca and Spain midfielder made his shock announcement after last Saturday’s 5-3 home defeat by Villarreal, and Laporta has admitted any other manager might have been shown the door straight away.

Asked about the situation, he told Catalan radio station RAC1: “I found out after the game with Villarreal. I always go down to say a few words to the squad and that’s when he told me.

“I was surprised. I assumed his decision had to do with the result of the game. But then I realised he had been giving the matter some thought and felt under a lot of pressure. It was a resignation in delay.

“He also told me he was turning down the year he has left on his contract. That was honourable because we extended his deal last year.

“I want Xavi to stay until the end of the season. That’s the best thing. If the board had to decide, we’d keep him on until the end of the season. He doesn’t deserve to be sacked.

“If it wasn’t Xavi we were talking about, we’d have got rid of him. I accepted the idea because it’s Xavi.”

Barca bounced back from the Villarreal defeat with a 1-0 LaLiga victory over Osasuna in midweek, but head into Saturday’s trip to Alaves sitting fourth in the table and a full 10 points adrift of leaders Real Madrid.

Xavi has selection problems with a casualty list which features the likes of Gavi, Alejandro Balde, Marcos Alonso, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Raphinha, Sergi Roberto, Ferran Torres and Joao Felix.

Alaves boss Luis Garcia Plaza warned his players not to be taken in by Barca’s depleted resources, but nevertheless vowed to take the game to the Catalan giants.

He told a press conference: “I expect a great Barca. They are a very fearsome team away from home, with players capable of solving the game on their own.

“Let no one doubt that we are going to compete, go out hard and go after them. We are going to leave everything in the game.

“If we don’t give our maximum, we won’t be able to win.”

Alaves welcome back Jesus Owono and Abdel Abqar from Africa Cup of Nations duty and Joaquin Panichelli from injury, but will be without Andoni Gorosabel, Kike Garcia and Carlos Vicente.

Vitor Roque’s maiden Barcelona goal saw the LaLiga champions win their first match since boss Xavi’s announcement that he is to depart as 10-man Osasuna were beaten 1-0 at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys.

Roque, the 18-year-old Brazil forward recently signed from Athletico Paranaense, opened his Barca account with a header just past the hour mark, a minute after coming off the bench.

Despite having Unai Garcia sent off four minutes later, Osasuna showed some threat as they sought an equaliser but Barca were able to see out the win.

Xavi’s men bounced back after successive losses in the Copa del Rey at Athletic Bilbao and Saturday’s 5-3 home loss to Villarreal, after which the former Spain midfielder announced he would be leaving the club this summer, with the gap between them and leaders Girona reducing to eight points.

Barcelona returned to winning ways as substitute Vitor Roque secured a 1-0 home victory over 10-man Osasuna in the LaLiga champions’ first match since Xavi announced he is to stand down as boss.

Roque, the 18-year-old Brazil forward recently signed from Athletico Paranaense, opened his Barca account with a header just past the hour mark, a minute after coming off the bench.

Despite having Unai Garcia sent off four minutes later, Osasuna showed some threat as they sought an equaliser but Barca were able to see out the win.

Xavi’s men bounced back following successive defeats in the Copa del Rey at Athletic Bilbao and Saturday’s 5-3 home loss to Villarreal, after which the former Spain midfielder announced he would be leaving the club this summer.

The Blaugrana cut the gap between them and leaders Girona to eight points and, at least temporarily, moved up a place to third in the table ahead of Atletico Madrid.

Xavi made four changes from the Villarreal game, bringing in Ferran Torres, Pedri, Joao Cancelo and 17-year-old defender Pau Cubarsi.

One of the adjustments was enforced with Joao Felix dropping out after joining Barca’s lengthy list of unavailable players due to an ankle issue sustained in training.

And they were hit with another injury setback only a few minutes into the game as Torres suffered a thigh problem and had to be substituted, with Fermin Lopez coming on.

Robert Lewandowski nodded wide of the Osasuna goal soon after as he met a free-kick from Ilkay Gundogan, whose corner was then headed just over by Jules Kounde in the 35th minute.

The closing stages of the first half saw Lopez shoot too high and Kounde go close with another header.

There was further frustration for the hosts after the break with Lamine Yamal hitting a shot straight at goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez and a Gundogan header going wide before Roque, within seconds of replacing Lopez, connected with Cancelo’s cross to break the deadlock from close range in the 63rd minute.

Osasuna were then reduced to 10 men with Roque involved again, Garcia collecting a second booking having fouled the substitute.

That brought an admirable response from the visitors, with Raul Garcia’s shot hitting the post and Jon Moncayola bringing a good save out of Inaki Pena.

After Lewandowski saw an effort ruled out for offside, Pablo Ibanez then headed wide at the other end as Osasuna’s late push proved in vain.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti recognises the reasons for Xavi’s impending departure from Barcelona but refused to identify any comparisons in their roles.

Xavi hinted internal factors were among the reasons as he announced – following a 5-3 defeat at the weekend by Villarreal – that he will leave his position as Barcelona boss at the end of the season.

The 44-year-old had a decorated playing career at Barcelona and led them to the 2022-23 LaLiga title in his first full season at the helm but they sit well adrift of leaders Girona this season.

Asked whether he comprehends why Xavi is set to step down, Ancelotti told a press conference: “I understand it. I don’t want to make comparisons. I respect his thoughts and his decisions.

“There is pressure on our job. We have to respect everyone with words, decisions and thoughts.”

Real visit Getafe on Thursday looking for a sixth successive league win that will take them back above surprise leaders Girona.

“It’s a key game,” Ancelotti said. “It will be very difficult and it’s going to be very demanding for us. The team is doing well and hopefully we can put in a good performance.

“Getafe are solid, they play good football and are strong in their duels. It will be a tough game and vital for the league and the season.

“We have to get the first goal in every match. We’ve played games where we’ve taken the lead and in others we’ve had to come from behind. If we come back it’s because we’ve got the quality in the squad.”

Real trailed 2-0 against Almeria and 1-0 at Las Palmas in their two most recent contests but hit back on each occasion to win by the odd goal.

Luka Modric was an unused substitute in both matches, with the 38-year-old’s game time dwindling this season.

“Modric didn’t warm up for the game because a young player such as Arda (Guler) can warm up, not play and nothing happens,” Ancelotti said. “But with Luka I can’t do that.

“He has won five Champions League titles and he’s a legend of the club. When I’m sure he’s going to play during the game, he warms up. The player knows this.”

Ancelotti spoke fondly of Jose Bordalas, describing the “fantastic job” he is doing as Getafe head coach, who sees the resemblance in the styles between himself and the veteran Italian.

Bordalas told a press conference: “Ancelotti and I are good friends, we share many things on a professional level, we have a very similar idea.

“I have great affection for him, great respect and a lot of admiration, for what he represents for all coaches, for the world of football and for everything he is capable of achieving.

“We all know that Real Madrid is in a formidable moment. We have to be close to perfection if we want to achieve a good result.”

Xavi hopes the news he is stepping down as head coach will spark an improvement in Barcelona’s fortunes.

One of the club’s greatest ever players, the homegrown star returned to the Catalan giants as head coach in November 2021.

Xavi led Barca to last season’s LaLiga and Supercopa de Espana crowns, but things have gone somewhat awry this term.

The Blaugrana languish fourth in the standings – 11 points behind surprise leaders Girona – and the former Spain star announced on Saturday that he would be leaving on June 30.

In his first press conference since the announcement, Xavi said: “Unity is important. It is not an easy time but we want Barca and the fans to be united.

“I would like to highlight the reaction of the fans and the dressing room following my announcement.

“The shows of affection I have received have been amazing.

“I have been surprised by the messages, the calls…during the days a lot of my players have come to speak to me and many were emotional.

“I have felt that human quality. My announcement was designed to help the team grow, so that we can all take a step forward.”

Barca will hope to take a first step at home to Osasuna on Wednesday evening as they look to banish the disappointment of Saturday’s 5-3 defeat to Villarreal.

The shock result was compounded by Xavi’s surprising announcement, which he believes can provide the catalyst to a strong end to his final season in charge.

“The reaction of the players should be what it needs to be on the field because we depend on them becoming inspired,” he said.

“There is a lot at stake, do our best in the league and compete in the Champions League. I am still excited, I feel free. I will give a bit extra so it works.”

 

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Barca have a chance to show that against Osasuna at Estadi de Montjuic, where all three of their LaLiga defeats have come so far this season.

“Osasuna are rock solid defensively, they play direct football and work well together,” Xavi said.

“It will be tough because they are a team with great spirit.”

Barcelona will be without a string of first-team players against Osasuna, with forward Joao Felix joining their lengthy list of absentees on the eve of the match.

“In training on Tuesday morning the first-team player Joao Felix suffered a sprain of a ligament in his right ankle,” a club statement read.

“He is unavailable for selection and his recovery will dictate his return.”

As for Osasuna, forward Chimy Avila is not part of the 22-man squad as talks continue over a potential move to Real Betis.

Ruben Pena is also absent from Jagoba Arrasate’s squad travelling to Barcelona.

Barcelona left-back Alejandro Balde has undergone surgery on a hamstring injury in Finland.

The homegrown 20-year-old talent has played 28 matches in all competitions this season and was forced off 23 minutes into last Wednesday’s Copa del Rey defeat at Athletic Bilbao.

Tests showed Balde had sustained an injury to a hamstring tendon that required surgery, which could rule the Spain international out for the remainder of the season.

A statement from the LaLiga club read: “The first team player Alejandro Balde has undergone a successful surgical procedure on the injury to the tendon in his right hamstring.

“The procedure was carried out by Dr Lasse Lempainen, under the supervision of the club’s medical staff, in Turku, Finland.

“The player is unavailable for selection and his recovery will dictate his return.”

Balde joins Barca’s lengthy list of absentees. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Marcos Alonso and Inigo Martinez are also out, as are Gavi and Raphinha.

Sergi Roberto also missed Saturday’s 5-3 home defeat against Villarreal with an Achilles tendon problem.

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