Barcelona have activated a fourth economic lever in a bid to ensure their new signings can be registered for LaLiga, announcing the sale of a further 24.5 per cent of their production company for €100million.

The Catalan giants, who have signed the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie despite ongoing financial troubles, have reportedly failed to register their new acquisitions for the upcoming league campaign.

President Joan Laporta has been working to raise funds to allow Barca to meet LaLiga's salary limits ahead of the season, and said last week the club had made a "great effort" to do so. 

Last month, 24.5 per cent of Barca Studios was sold to the company Socios.com for €100million, while the Blaugrana have also sold 10 per cent of their LaLiga broadcasting rights to American investment firm Sixth Street, among other measures.

But with reports suggesting the club were still struggling to meet LaLiga's rules, they have announced a second deal for an equivalent stake in Barca Studios.

"FC Barcelona announces the sale of 24.5 per cent of Barca Studios to the company Orpheus Media, managed by Mr Jaume Roures, an audiovisual production company with a long history of producing content, for 100 million euros," read a club statement.

"The agreement complements the one signed on 29 July with Socios.com and will help to accelerate the growth of the club's digital, NFT and Web.3 strategy.

"With this investment the strategic partners in Barca Studios show confidence in the value of the project and the future of digital content in the world of sport."

Reports suggest that while Barca are prioritising the registration of their new signings, they are still eyeing a move for Chelsea's Marcos Alonso, while Manchester City's Bernardo Silva has been touted as another target.

Barca begin their LaLiga campaign when they host Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, though it remains to be seen how many of their new stars can feature.

Barcelona fans may have completely forgotten there will be actual football to play very soon.

So chaotic and draining has the off-season been for Barca supporters that they'd be forgiven for thinking they were stuck in some form of purgatory, where the club's finances are discussed and debated endlessly.

In fairness, even those who don't necessarily support Barca may have similar feelings. If you've been following the soap opera in recent weeks and months, you'll already be sick to death of the word palanca, or 'lever'.

Of course, those proverbial levers are what president Joan Laporta has been pulling to inject capital. Barca were expected to work within another measly LaLiga salary limit this season before selling off some of their TV rights at the end of the last financial year, which meant they actually turned a profit.

With the other 'levers' Laporta has activated, he claims the club has brought in €860million in two months, but obviously the deals involved will result in reduced long-term income, hence the widespread suggestions Barca are "mortgaging their future".

It's probably an understatement to say there has been a lot to take in, and that's before we even mention the Frenkie de Jong sideshow, the signings and the latest concerns about whether their new players can even be registered.

In the background, Xavi continues to plug away and drown out all the nonsense surrounding the club, and on the pitch, there are genuine reasons for optimism at Camp Nou.

A platform of rapid improvement

There was a time last season – even after Xavi's November appointment – when Barca's campaign looked to be heading for embarrassment.

After a 1-0 defeat to Real Betis in December, Barca had 23 points from their first 16 matches of the league season, their worst total at that stage since 2002-03.

But the same team – plus a few January additions – claimed more points (45) in LaLiga than any other club after the turn of the year. Sure, Real Madrid played one game less over the same period, but even if they had contested an extra match and won, Los Blancos would still have been two points shy.

Of course, Madrid's focus towards the end was on the Champions League as they never looked likely to throw the title away, so it's probably not the perfect comparison, but it does at least highlight the results Xavi was getting and the degree of the turnaround he has already overseen at Camp Nou.

 

Similarly, there were signs of classic Barca in their performances. Their 9.4 high turnovers per game was a LaLiga high after Xavi's appointment, while they also boasted the greatest average share of possession (64 per cent).

Perhaps the biggest indicator of Barca's promise under Xavi was the 4-0 hammering of Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in March's Clasico. They had lost their previous five such clashes, including four in the league, making it the Blaugrana's worst run against their bitter rivals since the 1960s.

Barca were electric going forward, carving through Madrid almost at will, while they also looked solid defensively, with Xavi's decision to play Ronald Araujo at right-back proving wise as he kept Vinicius Junior in check.

Gerard Pique responded by declaring: "We are back."

Playing the part

The improvement Xavi instigated last season was made even more impressive by the fact certain players didn't have an especially prominent role.

Pedri made just 12 appearances in the league, while Ansu Fati recorded 10. Both were hampered by serious injuries but will in all likelihood – assuming they stay fit – be key players this season.

Pedri will be the vital midfield conductor, keeping the build-up play ticking over, while Fati can provide both goals and creativity from out wide on the left. As clichéd as it sounds, the Spain forward will feel every bit a new signing if he can stay out of the medical room.

 

But it's also fair to say there are several players whose reputations have been enhanced lately – or at the very least restored.

Ronald Araujo really stepped up last season and matured into a colossus of a centre-back. Athletic, composed on the ball and uncompromising in defence, the Uruguayan looks cut out for a long career at the heart of Barca's backline.

While some might've had concerns about his ability to get Barca on the front foot, with his passing range hardly that of a young Pique, the arrival of Jules Kounde should offset those worries given the France international's reputation as an excellent progressor of the ball.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the Xavi era so far, however, has been Ousmane Dembele.

 

Almost perennially injured or underwhelming at Barca, Dembele became essential for Xavi's men in the second half of last season.

Between January 1 and the end of the campaign, Dembele's assists count of 11 was four more than anyone else in the league despite the Frenchman not even playing 1,100 minutes. Vinicius, for example, registered six from 1,182 minutes.

Granted, Dembele's assists tally outstripped his expected assists (xA), though his 7.3 xA was still comfortably better than everyone else over the same period – Vinicius was second with 4.5 xA.

Until he has an extended period without injury, Dembele's fitness and reliability will always be a concern, but Xavi has made it clear the winger is key to his plans, and the 25-year-old has certainly shown his commitment by signing a new contract on reduced terms. He wants to be a success at Barca.

New blood

Now, obviously this part comes with an asterix. Barca have made some impressive additions to their squad, but it remains to be seen whether they can register them in time for the opening weekend. They can only do that if LaLiga are happy their finances are in order and the club adhere to their salary limit.

But assuming Laporta finds a way to get the green light before the transfer window closes, the new faces should be considered statement signings.

The headline arrival is obviously Robert Lewandowski. Barca didn't necessarily have a problem scoring goals last season, but they were short of reliable options in the centre of attack, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often occupying spaces out on the left.

 

Ferran Torres simply isn't a 'killer' in front of goal, Lewandowski is, and you don't need to go into any great detail to explain precisely what he'll offer; his 161 top-flight goals over the past five years is 30 more than any other player in the top five leagues (Lionel Messi is second with 131).

Among those charged with laying on chances for Lewandowski will be Raphinha, whose dynamism and exceptional creativity made him one of the standout Premier League wingers at Leeds United.

His ability to come inside onto his left foot will give Barca greater invention in central areas as well, potentially key against packed defences, and he's demonstrably a wonderful creator, with his 13.0 xA over two seasons in the Premier League bettered only by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Bruno Fernandes, Mohamed Salah, Mason Mount and Kevin De Bruyne – not bad for a player who was embroiled in a relegation battle last term.

 

Then you've got Kounde, who has not only marked himself out as one of LaLiga's best defenders in three seasons at Sevilla, but many consider him an archetypal Barca centre-back – in fact, his ability on the ball was best exemplified against the Catalans in the Copa del Rey last season, when he embarked on a brilliant solo run from defence before applying a cool finish.

 

Add Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen to the mix as well, and Barca have themselves an impressive array of signings who all appear well-suited to the club's particular brand of football.

When they'll all be able to play is still a mystery, but clearly Barca will be a force when they can.

 

Sergio Aguero would be surprised if Bernardo Silva leaves Manchester City for Barcelona, but believes the midfielder could play a key role in Xavi's rebuild if a move goes through.

Barca have signed Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie during a busy transfer window.

With Frenkie de Jong expected to leave Camp Nou, reports have suggested Portugal international Silva is Xavi's next target.

Silva made 50 appearances for City in all competitions last season, a tally only bettered only by Joao Cancelo (52), scoring 13 goals and providing seven assists.

Only Kevin de Bruyne (129) and Jack Grealish (78) created more chances for City than Silva's 76 last term, but he could be on the moving after stating the Premier League champions "know what I want" this week.

 

Aguero – a team-mate of Silva's before leaving City for Barcelona in 2021 – is unsure whether a move will materialise but believes the 28-year-old would suit Xavi's new-look side perfectly. 

"Bernardo is a great player. He carries the ball, he sacrifices, has quality to assist and score goals and he can play in different positions," Aguero told Stake.

"It would surprise me if City let him go. He is a player who contributes a lot every season, but everything is possible.

"If he finally arrives at Barca, then he will be someone who can be key to the possession game that Xavi likes."

LaLiga, home to the European champions, returns on Friday for another season.

Real Madrid ended the previous campaign by winning the Champions League, the prize they covet most, but it was also a successful year in domestic action.

Carlo Ancelotti's men eased to a record-extending 35th league title by 13 points – that is the gap Barcelona have sought to bridge in the transfer market during the close season. So, just how successfully have they done that?

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with Barca seemingly left still with plenty to do.

MADRID MAINTAIN BUFFER TO BARCA

Given their 35 titles, given their 13-point gap, given their status as European champions, it is surely no surprise Madrid are considered the clear favourites to scoop Spanish football's top prize once again.

The data makes Ancelotti's side 58.75 per cent favourites to retain their crown.

Barca recovered from a dismal start last season to finish second, and they are forecast for the same result again after investing hugely in Robert Lewandowski and Co.

But there is only a 17.0 per cent chance of the title heading to Camp Nou, with Atletico Madrid a predictable third in the rankings and rated as a 12.3 per cent shot.

Those three clubs have accounted for the past 18 championships since Valencia finished top in 2003-04. Now, under Gennaro Gattuso, Valencia have a mere 0.08 per cent chance of returning to the summit, deemed ninth favourites among 11 teams with any hope at all.

Sevilla (4.74 per cent) and Villarreal (4.66 per cent) are the sides most likely to upset the established order.

 

PRECIOUS FOURTH PLACE UP FOR GRABS

There realistically remains only one of the four Champions League places on offer after taking into account Madrid (95.68 per cent), Barca (79.31 per cent) and Atletico (71.56 per cent). Last season, that belonged to Sevilla.

Yet despite Sevilla's high ceiling seeing them fourth favourites for the title, Stats Perform AI expects them to be pushed out of the top four.

After losing defensive duo Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are given a 47.45 per cent of qualifying for the Champions League, just behind former coach Unai Emery's Villarreal (48.66 per cent), who were seventh last season but reached the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition.

Real Sociedad (24.79 per cent) and Real Betis (20.39 per cent) are both firmly in the mix, too, although every team in the league have at least a 0.04 per cent hope of contending for Champions League glory.

Athletic Bilbao are expected to be on the outside looking in from eighth place (7.48 per cent for Champions League, 7.42 per cent for Europa League and 10.51 per cent for Europa Conference League).

 

NO ESCAPE THIS TIME FOR MALLORCA

The fight against the drop went right to the wire last term, with three teams still in the mix on the final day.

Granada were the surprise victims of a dramatic scrap, relegated just two weeks after winning 6-2 at Mallorca. Mallorca then earned seven points from their next three games to stay up alongside Cadiz at Granada's expense.

That late recovery may have rescued Mallorca for another year, but Stats Perform AI predicts their LaLiga stay will last no longer than that.

They are 41.27 per cent favourites to go down, even considered more likely for demotion than Girona (39.95), who were promoted via the play-offs.

Real Valladolid, another promoted side, are ranked as the third relegated team (32.74 per cent), yet there is very little to choose between a clutch of clubs, with Cadiz (31.8 per cent) again at risk alongside Elche (31.48 per cent), second-tier champions Almeria (28.86 per cent) and Rayo Vallecano (27.46 per cent).

Carlo Ancelotti's return to Real Madrid last year came as something of a surprise to most.

While the job he'd done at Everton was generally seen as fine, there was nothing about his time at Goodison Park that suggested the Italian would be back at the top of the game in his next job.

His appointment at the Santiago Bernabeu could've almost been interpreted as a pointed dig at Clasico rivals Barcelona, where managerial hirings tend to be based around 'philosophy' – few could say that about Ancelotti, a coach arguably regarded more for his motivational skills, tactical flexibility and winning than for sticking to one defined brand of football.

Regardless of how surprising Ancelotti's return was, he certainly got the job done. Madrid looked certainties for the title virtually all season and pulled off great escape after great escape to eventually win the Champions League, traversing one of the toughest routes to European Cup glory ever seen.

But let's not forget, Ancelotti's won the Champions League with Madrid before. Last time, in 2014, he lasted only another year and a day before he was discarded.

From Milan dynasty to short-term guarantee

Perhaps it shouldn't be a shock, given many of the clubs he's coached have been among the biggest – and that usually means impatient by extension – teams in Europe, but Ancelotti hasn't been in charge of a single club for more than two consecutive full seasons since leaving Milan in May 2009.

Granted, his spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Everton ended essentially because Madrid came calling, so who's to say how long he'd have been in charge. But clearly there has been a pattern in his working life since Milan.

Ancelotti will be acutely aware of the expectations upon him at Madrid as he's lived through them before and paid the price for failing to achieve his targets.

But you have to wonder if anything will be different this time around.

 

Ancelotti's dismissal in 2015 came down to the fact Madrid didn't win a (major) trophy in the 2014-15 season. Florentino Perez's decision at the time wasn't universally popular, though no one would've been surprised.

In the culture created by Perez at the club, a lack of success simply equates to failure, and clearly even the good will attained by winning La Decima – Madrid's 10th European crown – only lasts you so long.

Perez's statement to the media even seemed to admit there being a degree of not knowing what else to do, as he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make; the demands at this club are the utmost because Madrid always wants to win silverware.

"The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him. What did Ancelotti do wrong? I don't know. The demands here at Real Madrid are very high."

Essentially, since his Milan days, Ancelotti has been brought in by teams to achieve success quickly and, for the most part, he's done that almost everywhere he's been – but long-term success in one place has eluded him.

Presumably then, Ancelotti will have to again win at least one of LaLiga or the Champions League to stick around for a third season. That stands to reason at Real Madrid, and there's no reason they would be considered incapable on either front, but expecting everything to fall into place like last season is asking for trouble.

Tempting fate?

Who's to say Madrid won't cruise to the title again with Karim Benzema conquering every team in his path? It's entirely possible.

The key differences this time around are the fact Madrid are heading into the season without a defined back-up striker for Benzema, and Barcelona have strengthened significantly.

Firstly on Barca, if we assume they are able to register all of their new signings in time for the season's start, they'll have bolstered a team that finished the 2021-22 season very well. In fact, since the start of 2022, their 45 points was more than any other LaLiga team.

Granted, Madrid played one game less (19), but if they had contested a 20th match and won it, they'd still have been two points shy of Barca.

The change inspired by Xavi cannot be overstated and, as much of a mess as the club is off the pitch, there's every reason to expect them to be a force on it this season.

 

For Madrid and Ancelotti, again their hopes will be pinned on Benzema. Of course, on the face of it that's not an issue. He's scored at least 21 league goals in each of the past four seasons and never made fewer than 27 top-flight appearances for Los Blancos.

As a difference-maker and consistent presence, he's their Mr Reliable. But what if he does pick up a major injury: who will Madrid rely on to fill the Benzema void?

Vinicius Junior enjoyed a remarkable season but wouldn't be suited to the Benzema role, stylistically or as a leader. Again, when Eden Hazard is fit, he is not a central striker, while Mariano Diaz has started just 11 league games in four seasons.

Madrid's decision to get rid of Luka Jovic was probably the right one given how underwhelming the Serbian had been, and there's no guarantee anyone else brought in as a backup would've been more effective.

 

But it does seem an unnecessary risk for a club like Madrid to go into a season without a second striker – or without a second striker who's got a better track record than Diaz. That's the decision Florentino Perez has reportedly made.

Even if they were granted special dispensation to sign another LaLiga-based striker out of the transfer window, mid-season integration for that player would be tough in every way.

Yes, yes, yes, it's all hypothetical and no one likes to think about the worst-case scenario, but surely it's better to plan for that possibility than to leave it to chance? Perhaps Ancelotti has a master backup plan hidden up his sleeve in the event of losing Benzema for a while – we'll only find out if it happens.

But if it does and his answer is to rely on Diaz, there's little hope of Ancelotti reaching that elusive third season.

Chelsea are ready to make a splash in the transfer market with a series of signings on the cards.

The Blues have been heavily linked with Leicester City's Wesley Fofana as they seek replacements for the departed Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen in defence.

Chelsea are understood to be keen to bolster their forward options too, with Romelu Lukaku exiting for Inter.

TOP STORY – BLUES TO SWOOP FOR DE JONG AND AUBA

Chelsea are all set to sign Barcelona pair Frenkie de Jong and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should the Catalans permit the duo to exit the club, reports Sky Sports.

Manchester United have been involved in a drawn-out saga for De Jong this off-season, with the Dutchman reluctant to leave but the Blues are ready to match their £72million (€85m) bid, plus offer Champions League football.

Aubameyang only joined Barcelona in January but has previously worked with Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund.

ROUND-UP

– ESPN claims that Barcelona's off-season signings Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie could leave the Blaugrana for free if the club cannot register them due to LaLiga financial fair play rules in time for Saturday's league opener. Barca defender Gerard Pique has offered to play for free to help register the new players, according to AS.

– The Mail reports that Manchester City are set to finalise an £11m deal for 21-year-old Spanish left-back Sergio Gomez from Anderlecht on Thursday. Fabrizio Romano claims he may be loaned out to Girona.

– Rennes forward Arnaud Kalimuendo is on the cusp of joining Paris Saint-Germain for €25m, claims L'Equipe. Leeds United have shown an interest in the 20-year-old striker.

– Atalanta and Nottingham Forest have agreed terms for the transfer of Switzerland international midfielder Remo Freuler, reports Sky Sport Italia.

Bernardo Silva expects any developments around his Manchester City future to be "very respectful" but says the club "know what I want".

Silva has been an outstanding performer for City since signing from Monaco in 2017, winning four Premier League titles in five years.

But he has been linked with a move away from the Etihad Stadium in this transfer window, with big-spending Barcelona said to be interested.

It has been suggested Silva would be keen to join Barca, and the midfielder did not rule out the possibility of a transfer in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN.

"I've always said that I'm happy here, but I have no idea what's going to happen," Silva said. "We'll see, honestly.

"My relationship with the club is very honest. I've been open with them, and they know what I want.

"If I stay, I'm very happy, and I will always respect this club and give all my best. If not, it's football and we'll just see what happens.

"It's a big club, and they don't want players who are not happy at the club. They always say to all of us that if you're not happy, you can go.

"Of course, they are in business and they want the right amount of money for letting us go, but personally it's a relationship with the club that is very respectful.

"They have always been honest with me, and I have always been honest with them.

"As I said, I will always respect my relationship with Man City, with the fans, with the staff, with my team-mates, so whatever happens happens, and for sure, it will happen in a very respectful way."

Having started 33 matches in the Premier League last season, Silva was a substitute in Sunday's opening win over West Ham, appearing for the final 12 minutes.

Robert Lewandowski believes playing under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich represented the ideal preparation for his move to Barcelona, as he compared Blaugrana boss Xavi to his former coach.

Guardiola was one year into a three-season tenure with the Bavarian giants when Lewandowski joined from rivals Borussia Dortmund in 2014, with the striker scoring 67 goals in 100 appearances under him in all competitions. 

Having ended his Bayern career with 344 goals in all competitions, Lewandowski – one of several new faces at Camp Nou – scored for the first time in Barca colours three minutes into Sunday's 6-0 friendly thrashing of Pumas UNAM.

As Xavi looks to lead Barca to a title challenge in his first full season at the helm, Lewandowski identified similarities between with Manchester City manager Guardiola.

"Guardiola's philosophy and his style of caring for and managing the team, I think, basically was Barca at Bayern Munich," Lewandowski told Sport.

"Xavi is very similar to Guardiola. They were both 'sixes', they worked together. They think about football in the same way.

"With that memory in mind, Barca was the only option for me, and it was a great preparation when I was there.

"I didn't talk to Guardiola before signing. But when I was with him at Bayern, it was like a great preparation to get to Barca one day. 

"All the staff were Spanish, there were eight Spanish players. During that period, I had a very good relationship with Thiago [Alcantara] and Javi Martinez. Both of them congratulated me when I signed for Barca."

Lewandowski made his desire to leave Bayern clear on several occasions before finalising a move to Camp Nou and has reiterated his €45million transfer was primarily motivated by a wish to test himself in Spain.

"I feel like a small child who enters a huge store of new toys," he said. "What I feel in Barcelona so far is pure happiness and motivation to start this new chapter.

"In Munich, I was missing new challenges. I won many titles and I recognise that I felt less and less intensity. I needed another challenge, a boost, a change of environment.

"I've always wanted to play in LaLiga, live in Spain, see what life is like here. Twelve years in Germany is a long time. 

"I achieved everything there. I didn't want to stand in front of the mirror in 12 years and say to myself: 'Why haven't you tried?' There would be a lot of unanswered questions."

Lewandowski will hope to make his competitive Barcelona debut when they host Rayo Vallecano in their LaLiga opener on Saturday, with president Joan Laporta confident the Blaugrana will be able to register their new arrivals despite ongoing financial concerns.

 

Cesar Azpilicueta has admitted he came close to leaving Chelsea for Barcelona last season, but that he ultimately felt a responsibility to remain "in my home".

The Blues skipper penned a new two-year contract extension earlier this month, to end weeks of speculation over his future, after the club triggered a 12-month extension clause before his prior deal expired amid the off-season.

The Spaniard completed a sweep of major honours at Stamford Bridge with the Club World Cup in February, and says that he felt ready to consider a move back to his home country in the aftermath.

But the subsequent sanctions imposed against owner Roman Abramovich amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine saw him have a change of heart, with a desire to stand by the team as they transitioned to the Todd Boehly era.

"Yes the conversations were there [with Barcelona]," Azpilicueta was quoted by The Guardian. "After the Club World Cup, where I became the only player to ever win every trophy, I felt it was the time to go back.

"But then everything happened with this club. I wanted to stay committed to the club. I never did anything against my club.

"We had private conversations where I said everything. We had players leaving, and I have never been in a transfer market situation in 10 years. It was different. For a period I was a free agent.

"Who knows what could have happened in that period. I decided to stay silent because I think there was already enough noise around me. I didn’t want to make it worse because I wanted to stay focused on my game.

"I had a meeting with the new owners. They wanted me to stay here to lead the team both on and off the pitch. It’s a big thank you to them. They were very honest and transparent from the first day.

"I felt a responsibility to stay here in my home. My family are happy here. We have a new project with new players and youngsters coming in. I feel right and ready to look forward."

Azpilicueta started Chelsea's first game of the new Premier League season on Saturday, as Thomas Tuchel's side ran out 1-0 victors against Everton.

The Blues next face Tottenham, in an early test of their top four credentials, on Sunday.

Frenkie de Jong appears likely to remain at Barcelona for this season, if the comments from club president Joan Laporta after their side's 6-0 pre-season win against Pumas are to be believed.

De Jong scored the sixth goal in the rout, coming off the bench at half-time and finding the net in the 84th minute.

He has been one of the main names featured in transfer rumours this off-season, with Barcelona's questionable finances making it seem like the club would have to part ways with the 25-year-old Dutch international to fund their sizeable moves for Leeds United winger Raphinha, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde.

However, having been outspoken about his desire to remain at Camp Nou, it now seems more likely he will not be sold during this transfer window, with Laporta saying before the match against Pumas that it is what both parties want.

"Frenkie is our player and we want him to stay at Barcelona," he said. "He wants to stay, too.

"With him and his teammates, we have a very powerful midfield. He has offers, but we want him to stay."

After the match, Xavi was less emphatic about De Jong's future when interviewed by TV3, but insisted that he's "counting on" the midfielder this season.

"I don’t know what will happen to Frenkie, as until August 31st anything can happen," he said.

"He knows what I think, and what the club want and need. Of course I’m counting on him, he’s a great player."

Barcelona will open their LaLiga campaign at home against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Pedri described playing with Robert Lewandowski as a "luxury" after both players starred in Barcelona's 6-0 demolition of Pumas UNAM in the Joan Gamper trophy on Sunday.

The Blaugrana ran riot in their traditional Camp Nou curtain-raiser, with goals from Pedri (two), Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Frenkie de Jong condemning the Mexican side to a crushing loss.

Barca took just 20 minutes to establish a 4-0 lead as Pedri scored twice after laying on new signing Lewandowski's opener, with the Poland striker returning the favour to tee up the skilful midfielder's second strike.

Lewandowski – who scored 50 goals in all competitions during his final season with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich last term – was named as man of the match, leading Pedri to shower him with praise. 

"It was important for us to win in front of our fans and we have achieved it by playing a good game," the midfielder said.

"The coach asks us all to reach the top and that we score goals, and I hope it continues like this. We've had a good pre-season and we wanted to start scoring soon.

"It is a luxury to play with Lewandowski, I really enjoy seeing how he finishes and how he links up.

"The president [Joan Laporta] and everyone have done a great job, and we will fight until May for it to be a very beautiful year for us all."

With Lewandowski joining Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde and Raphinha in moving to Camp Nou ahead of the 2022-23 season, hopes are high that Barca can challenge for silverware – even if speculation persists that they may be unable to register their newcomers.

For Xavi, the performance against Pumas – for whom Barca legend Dani Alves featured – represented the standard the Catalan giants must hit in every match.

"Everything went well tonight, I'm very happy with the good game and for the fans, who have been excited. This is the way," Xavi declared.

"We are in a good dynamic of play and results, but we have to continue working for this to work. The sensations are good, yes, but there is no need to lower the pace or the intensity during the 90 minutes.

"Today it is understood that we relaxed a bit because we were 4-0 very early and it was a friendly, but in official competition you cannot lower your guard."

Barca begin their LaLiga campaign at home to Rayo Vallecano next Saturday.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has confirmed the club are looking to offload Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite before the transfer window closes.

The LaLiga giants have been busy in the transfer market, signing Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen – with Chelsea's Marcos Alonso lined up as the next recruit.

Barca could not afford to keep Lionel Messi a year ago due to their financial crisis and there has been talk that LaLiga may not give them the green light to register their new recruits due to limits on spending.

Laporta has stated that he does not envisage any issues after the club signed up to a hugely lucrative sponsorship deal with Spotify, and sold a percentage of LaLiga broadcast rights, merchandising rights and a stake in Barca Studios.

Barca are prepared to activate a fourth financial lever to allow for those registrations, if required, and are also looking to reduce their wage bill, with departures and negotiations for wage reductions on the cards.

With the new season beginning on Saturday against Rayo Vallecano, Barca are in a race against time to register their new additions and, while Laporta remains confident they will be able to do so, there is still work to be done.

Ahead of Sunday's pre-season clash against Mexican side Pumas, Laporta revealed Umtiti and Braithwaite have been informed that they are not in the club's plans - following on from the cancellation of Neto's contract, with the goalkeeper joining Bournemouth.

"Umtiti and Braithwaite have a contract, but they have understood that the coach does not count on them and that the best thing for them is to leave," he told ESport3.

Laporta added: "We are awaiting some more dismissals, but with the operations we have carried out we understand that we will be able to register all signings and renewed players."

Frenkie de Jong is another player who has been heavily touted for an exit before the window closes on September 1, but Laporta has once again outlined the club's desire to retain the services of the Netherlands international.

"Frenkie de Jong is a Barca player. He has offers, but he wants to stay, and we want him to stay," he added.

Bournemouth have announced the free transfer signing of goalkeeper Neto, following the veteran's release from Barcelona.

The 33-year-old, who has also played with Juventus and Valencia, arrives on a year-long deal at Vitality Stadium as the Cherries' fourth signing of the window following their return to the Premier League.

The Brazilian will wear the number 13 jersey for Scott Parker's side and will provide competition for Mark Travers and Will Dennis.

"To be able to attract a player of Neto's calibre is very pleasing," chief executive Neill Blake stated. "This is a real coup for the club and we're delighted he has chosen to join us.

"He has vast experience at the very top level of the game so I'm sure he will be a huge asset for us."

A Serie A, Coppa Italia and Copa del Rey winner across his career, Neto has often played as a back-up option for other keepers, particularly during his time at Juventus and Barcelona.

He made more appearances in two years at Valencia than in five combined between the Bianconeri and Blaugrana, and was capped once by Brazil, in 2018 against El Salvador in a friendly.

Neto follows Joe Rothwell, Ryan Fredericks and Marcus Tavernier through the door on the south coast, as the club look to ensure they stay up following promotion from the Championship last term.

Bournemouth started their attempt to do so with a 2-0 home win against Aston Villa on Saturday.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag remains keen to bolster his squad before the end of the transfer window.

The Dutchman, who took over at Old Trafford this off-season, wants to improve his front-line options, along with his midfield with Fabian Ruiz and Frenkie de Jong linked.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial along with Cristiano Ronaldo will likely lead the line for United this campaign.

TOP STORY – UNITED IN SURPRISE BID FOR BAYERN'S SANE

The Mirror reports that Manchester United have made a shock move to sign Bayern Munich's former Manchester City forward Leroy Sane.

United have made an enquiry with the Bundesliga champions about the 26-year-old Germany international's availability.

Sane's role at Bayern has been jeopardized by Sadio Mane's arrival, clouding his future, with Liverpool also interested in him according to the Liverpool Echo.


ROUND-UP

–  Manchester United may use Donny van de Beek in a swap deal in their pursuit of Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong, claims the Express. Goal reports that the Red Devils are also considering Napoli's Fabian Ruiz as an alternative if they fail to win De Jong's signature.

United are set to miss out on target Benjamin Sesko who has decided to stay with Austrian champions Salzburg, according to Sky Sport Austria. Chelsea and RB Leipzig were also keen on the 19-year-old Slovenian.

Real Madrid are plotting a move for Bayer Leverkusen's teenage Spanish forward Iker Bravo, according to Marca. Atletico Madrid are also interested in the 17-year-old who made his Bundesliga debut last year.

– The Sun claims that West are in for free agent Dan-Axel Zagadou amid interest from Roma. French defender Zagadou left Borussia Dortmund at the end of last season.

– Free agent Edinson Cavani will join Argentine giants Boca Juniors claims Fabrizio Romano. The Uruguayan left Manchester United in the off season and has been linked with Villarreal among other clubs.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel is hoping to welcome more new faces to Stamford Bridge before the end of the transfer window as he confirmed Marcos Alonso is close to joining Barcelona.

Jorginho's first-half penalty was enough to get Chelsea's 2022-23 Premier League campaign off to a winning start on Saturday, ending a run of four consecutive defeats for the Blues at Goodison Park.

New signings Kalidou Koulibaly and Raheem Sterling started the hard-fought victory, the latter twice coming close to a debut goal, while Marc Cucurella also made his Chelsea bow from the bench.

Having already parted with substantial fees for that trio, Chelsea have also been linked with moves for Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana and Barcelona star Frenkie de Jong.

After Chelsea won their opening Premier League match for the third consecutive season despite failing to produce a fluid performance, Tuchel insisted more recruits are required. 

"Yeah, if we can add, we'll add," Tuchel told Sky Sports.

"Maybe not midfielders as a first option but we are open for everything, and I think we can use new energy, new legs, and fresh input to bring us to a new level.

"If not, then we will push this team, but I think we could use some more input and some more quality. We are on it, but we will not tell you!"

Having dominated the opening period on Merseyside, winning the second-most corners on record in the first half of a Premier League match (13, second to Tottenham's 15 v Aston Villa in December 2012), Chelsea were indebted to Edouard Mendy for making two strong saves to preserve their lead after the break.

Mendy has now kept a clean sheet on 47 per cent of his Premier League starts (31/66) – only Ederson (50 per cent) has a better record among goalkeepers to have started at least 50 games in the competition.

But with Chelsea having struggled for results at Everton in recent seasons, Tuchel was content with the Blues picking up a victory despite not being at their best.

"We struggled last season to get points here, we have the points, a win is a win," he added. "It's most important for everything to get better, because we have to get better.

"I could assume that we are maybe not on our highest level. We have players in, but they came in late, pre-season was a bit turbulent. 

"The last week in training was promising, some situations in the first half were quite good, and in the second half we had simply not enough movement on the ball. It was a strange second half without the rhythm from our team and the interruptions, 10 minutes extra time... a bit strange.

"But we hung on and we did what was necessary to keep a clean sheet, so there are positive things and from there we go.

"Very classic that we win 1-0 with a penalty from Jorginho. Like I said, we know that we need to get better but first of all, a win helps us to be open for improvement and for the atmosphere and spirit."

Meanwhile, with Chelsea acquiring Cucurella this week, they look set to allow fellow wing-back Alonso to leave for Barcelona.

The Spain international was left out of the squad for the trip to Merseyside, and Tuchel confirmed that decision was the result of his desire to join the Blaugrana.

Asked whether Alonso's absence indicated a move to Camp Nou was close, Tuchel told reporters: "That is the case. 

"He tries to leave and we agreed to this wish. That's why it would not have made sense to put him on the pitch today. 

"He would've been on the pitch otherwise but in this situation, it was the right thing to do."

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