Ronald Koeman promised Barcelona would "go with everything we have" to secure the LaLiga title on an evening when Atletico Madrid faltered again.

The trophy, and a domestic double, looked unlikely prospects as Barcelona stumbled through the opening months of the season.

Yet they will head into May with the Copa del Rey locked away in the trophy room and league glory could follow.

Long-time leaders Atletico have struggled without former Barcelona frontman Luis Suarez recently, and although he came off the bench in Sunday's clash with Athletic Bilbao, Diego Simeone's wobbling side suffered a 2-1 defeat.

It means that although Atletico still hold a two-point lead at the top, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the closest chasing sides, level on 71 points. Importantly, Barca have a game in hand over both their rivals.

The Camp Nou club's 2-1 win over Villarreal strengthened their championship case, with Real Madrid only able to draw 0-0 with Real Betis on Saturday.

Asked about the prospect of a league and cup double, Koeman said on Sunday: "I have never said that it is impossible, but when you have a distance of points and you are behind, you have to go game by game.

"We're in there. But the best way to win this league is to go game by game."

Speaking after Barcelona's win but before Atletico fell to their jolting defeat, Koeman praised his side, who have now gathered 46 points from a possible 51 since the turn of the year in LaLiga.

Of their last 24 clashes with Villarreal in LaLiga, Barca have won 18 times and drawn the other six, a staggeringly good record against one of Spain's better club sides.

"It is closer, but I don't know if it is very close," Koeman said of the title. "We have a track record of many victories. And what the team are doing is something very big, trying to win LaLiga as well.

"We know that if we win all six games we will be champions. We are going to go with everything we have to try to win LaLiga."

Atletico have lost two of their last five LaLiga games, showing fallibility at just the wrong time. They had previously lost just two of 44 league matches, including a strong finish to last season.

A Camp Nou clash between Atletico and Barcelona on May 8 is the standout fixture of the title run-in, and momentum can quickly turn.

Before that, Barca have games against Granada on Thursday and at Valencia on Sunday.

Koeman said it is "difficult to be 100 per cent" when games are coming so thick and fast.

But having come so far, making up so much ground when at one point qualifying for the Champions League looked to be in doubt, Barcelona are determined not to slow down.

As goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen put it on Instagram: "6 finals to go. We must be ready for Thursday."

Antoine Griezmann is proud to be playing his part in Barcelona's LaLiga title push, even if it means continuing to play out of position.

The France international scored twice to earn Barca a 2-1 comeback win away at Villarreal on Sunday after Samuel Chukwueze opened the scoring at Estadio de la Ceramica.

He has 13 goals and nine assists in all competitions in 2021 - only team-mate Lionel Messi (32) and Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (24) have been involved in more among LaLiga players.

Griezmann was once again paired with Messi up top against Villarreal, with Frenkie de Jong and Pedri positioned just behind in a 3-5-2 formation now favoured by Ronald Koeman.

While the 30-year-old was more accustomed to being the focal point in attack during his Atletico Madrid days, he is happy to put the team first in Barcelona's quest for more silverware.

"I try to be there, among the opposition centre-backs," he told LaLiga TV. "I need to make space and create room for my team-mates.

"It's not my natural position, but I'm proud to be at Barcelona and play with these team-mates. Sometimes I'm asked to mark, other times I lead, but I always work for the team."

Griezmann has now scored in three successive matches, his latest brace helping Barca to close the gap on league leaders and former side Atletico to two points.

Barca have taken 46 points from the 51 on offer this calendar year, compared to 38 points in one game fewer for Atletico ahead of their trip to Athletic Bilbao later on Sunday.

The two sides are scheduled to meet at Camp Nou on May 8 and Griezmann acknowledged Barca's fate is in their own hands with six matches to go. 

"We all want to win LaLiga. There are four teams, including Sevilla, that are fighting for it," he said. "We have to try to win every game - that is the only way to be champions.

"It will not be ease but we have the group of players needed to achieve it.

"Atletico are having an incredible season. We are close behind them and trying our best to be champions. We have it in our hands. We just need to win all the games we have."

All five of Barca's shot on target against Villarreal were in the first half, with Frenkie de Jong being denied by a fine Sergio Asenjo save with the game scoreless.

De Jong also missed from a one-on-one late on after the hosts had Manu Trigueros sent off for a challenge on Messi, but the Dutchman impressed compatriot Koeman with his overall play.

"For me, this De Jong is better than the Netherlands and Ajax version," he said at his post-match news conference. "He attacks, defends and is a very important player for this team."

Barcelona, who won their first piece of silverware of the Koeman era with victory over Athletic Bilbao in last week's Copa del Rey final, have a four-day rest before facing Granada in their next LaLiga outing.

Koeman only made one change to his starting line-up for the Villarreal match and does not believe fatigue is a major issue for his side.

"It is more about mentality than freshness," he said. "We have two games this week. The players are use to that.

"Sometimes you have to suffer. We faced a good opponent and did not panic when they scored.

"This is a big step towards the title, as is every victory. Every match is difficult, but we reacted well and defended well, even if we were tired in the final stages."

Antoine Griezmann scored twice to earn Barcelona a 2-1 comeback win over 10-man Villarreal that keeps the pressure on LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Barca are now unbeaten in 24 league meetings with Villarreal but were made to work hard for their latest victory at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday.

Griezmann struck twice in the first half, but only after Samuel Chukwueze had opened the scoring for Villarreal against the run of play with his third goal in as many league appearances.

Manu Trigueros was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Lionel Messi in a quieter second period as Barca made it eight wins from their last nine LaLiga outings, moving them to within two points of Atletico after the same number of matches.

Frenkie de Jong was presented with a glorious opportunity to open the scoring after 16 minutes when teed up by Jordi Alba for what appeared to be a back-post tap-in, but the Dutchman got his feet in a mix and Sergio Asenjo clawed the shot off the line.

Asenjo was then equal to a Messi shot at his near post and that looked to be a pivotal moment early on as Chukwueze had the ball in the net at the other end eight minutes later, the winger rounding Marc-Andre ter Stegen and tucking in.

But Griezmann levelled things up 87 seconds later with a sublime chipped finish over Asenjo and he doubled his tally soon after with a first-time shot after pouncing on a weak Juan Foyth back-pass that did not reach his keeper.

Griezmann would have had a hat-trick before the midway point if not for a low save from Asenjo, while Etienne Capoue was denied by a Ter Stegen save from the game's next big moment just after the hour mark.

Villarreal were in the contest at that point, but Trigueros' red card for catching Messi on the shin with a follow-through challenge left the Europa League semi-finalists with an even tougher task on their hands.

Barca were able to see out the final 25 minutes in a stress-free manner – De Jong failing to beat Asenjo from a one-on-one in the best of the remaining chances – to stay firmly in the title hunt.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has made clear the 12 European Super League clubs must face the consequences for their involvement in the planned breakaway competition.

Less than 48 hours after the official announcement of the tournament, and following a huge public backlash to the plan, the 'big six' from the Premier League – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – all ended their involvement.

Ceferin has praised the English clubs for a willingness to admit they made a mistake, but that will not mean they avoid punishment – albeit it is unclear yet what action the governing body will take.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the UEFA chief revealed how he has placed the teams in different tiers while comparing Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid to those who believe Earth is flat, with that trio still remaining aligned to the initial proposal.

"Everyone has to take consequences for what they did and we cannot pretend nothing happened," Ceferin told the newspaper.

"You cannot do something like that and just say: 'I've been punished because everybody hates me'. They don't have problems because of anyone else but themselves. It's not okay what they did and we will see in next few days what we have to do.

"But for me it's a clear difference between the English clubs and the other six. They pulled out first, they admitted they made a mistake. You have to have some greatness to say: 'I was wrong'.

"For me there are three groups of this 12 — the English six, who went out first, then the other three [Atletico Madrid, Inter and Milan] after them and then the ones who feel that Earth is flat and they think the Super League still exists. And there is a big difference between those.

"But everyone will be held responsible. In what way, we will see. I don't want to say disciplinary process but it has to be clear that everyone has to be held responsible in a different way.

"Is it disciplinary? Is it the decision of the executive committee? We will see. It's too early to say."

There was widespread condemnation of the Super League from fans, governing bodies and former players alike, leading to financial backers JP Morgan to admit they "misjudged how the deal would be viewed by the wider football community".

UEFA announced changes to the Champions League format on Monday, including an increase from 32 to 36 clubs as the current group stage system is to be shelved in favour of a single league.

Clubs will get to play four extra matches per season, with the top eight in the final table advancing through to the last 16. Those placed between ninth and 24th will enter a play-off round to decide who else will qualify for the knockout stages, while those 25th and lower are eliminated and do not enter the Europa League.

The radical reforms to the competition are scheduled to come into place for the 2024-25 season.

Speculation is beginning to grow around the vacant Tottenham coaching position after Jose Mourinho's exit last week.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is on the hunt as Spurs try to return to England's top echelon.

Spurs appear set to miss out on Champions League football for the second straight season.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS PLOT RODGERS SWOOP

Tottenham are planning a move to recruit Brendan Rodgers from Leicester City as their new head coach this off-season according to The Sun.

Levy is a long-time admirer of the former Liverpool coach although he reportedly needs to convince his fellow Spurs board executives after disparaging comments Rodgers made about the club years ago.

Rodgers has been in charge of Leicester since 2019 with the Foxes firmly in the hunt for a top four finish this term.

 

ROUND-UP

- Borussia Monchengladbach forward Alassane Plea is being tracked by Premier League pair Arsenal and Manchester United claims the Mail.

- Inter Milan are interested in outgoing Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, but Barcelona remain favourites to land him reports Tuttosport.

- The Sun reports Manchester United could make a surprise move for 35-year-old goalkeeper Tom Heaton who spent time with the club as a youngster and is currently back-up at Aston Villa.

- Ajax are ready to sell full-back Nicolas Tagliafico as his admirers circle, including Leeds United, Inter Milan and Manchester City according to the Mail.

Ronald Koeman expects to remain in charge at Barcelona for next season as his team launch a final assault on the LaLiga crown.

The Dutchman was brought in on a two-year contract last August to replace Quique Setien, amid high speculation that presidential elections could mean his reign would last only one season.

There has been huge upheaval at Barcelona since, with rising debt, the resignation of a president, a delayed election that was won by Joan Laporta, and recent talk of a breakaway Super League proving unwelcome distractions.

Amid the off-field turbulence, Koeman has stayed admirably calm, and his team could finish the season with a league and cup double, having already won the Copa del Rey.

They came into this weekend trailing leaders Atletico Madrid by five points, but with a game in hand. Real Madrid, perched between Atletico and Barcelona, were in action on Saturday evening. Fourth-placed Sevilla, the outsiders of the four title contenders, play Granada on Sunday.

Barcelona are handily placed, in form and with a home game against Atletico to come, and if Koeman can deliver a title win he would seem unsackable.

He feels Laporta has his back, saying: "The president has shown me his support and trust since the first day, and until he says the opposite, I believe that.

"At the moment, I see myself as a head coach [in Barcelona] for next season. And I also have a contract. If it is not like that, we have to talk."

On Sunday, Barcelona take on a Villarreal side who sit seventh and have a Europa League semi-final first leg against Arsenal coming up on Thursday.

The future of Lionel Messi has also been a season-long talking point, with the club captain due to reach the end of his contract at the end of the campaign.

However, Koeman is not interested in talking about anything other than his team's targets, and made that point when asked about the Super League.

"We have already talked a lot about the Super League, now there are more important things than talking about UEFA, sanctions or threats," he said. "We have to be aware of the calendar that we have left."

Remarkably, Barcelona have taken 43 points from a possible 48 in LaLiga since the turn of the year, soaring into the title picture.

They have a terrific record against Villarreal too, winning 17 and drawing six of their last 23 league meetings against the Valencian side.

Messi has scored 15 goals in his 23 games against Villarreal in LaLiga, more than any other LaLiga player has managed against Barcelona's Sunday opponents.

Former Everton and Netherlands boss Koeman said Ousmane Dembele is a contender to start Sunday's game, and stressed he could not be sure that injured teenage forward Ansu Fati would play again this season.

Dembele was absent through injury for the 5-2 win over Getafe on Thursday, but Koeman said of the French forward: "He is a very important player for us, because he is a different player from the rest playing in attack, a deep player, able to play one-against-one, with dribbles, shooting with both feet.

"He is very important because he gave us many things this season."

Koeman sees Villarreal as a major threat, and suggested the home team will not be distracted by their upcoming assignment in Europe.

"They are a team that play football very well, with top quality people," Koeman said. "They are proving in Europe to be a strong team.

"They have until Thursday to prepare for the next game. They are also fighting for UEFA positions, For them it is an important game and for us, too. It is an interesting game."

Florentino Perez says the clubs who claimed this week to have abandoned the European Super League remain contractually tied to the project.

The Real Madrid president, who has been a driving force and staunch defender of the controversial breakaway, says those that signed up "can't leave", even if they say they have quit the league.

Twelve teams declared last Sunday that they had committed to the Super League, but on Tuesday all six Premier League clubs announced they had quit. Inter and Atletico Madrid soon followed, Milan may also withdraw, while Juventus remain advocates of the league but have acknowledged its collapse.

Real Madrid and Barcelona very much remain, but for all the merits of Clasico clashes, they need other clubs to firmly commit.

Perez was asked in an interview with Spanish newspaper AS whether it was true that clubs would have to buy themselves out of binding contracts.

He said: "I'm not going to take my time to explain what a binding contract is here. But the fact is, the clubs can't leave.

"Some, because of the pressure, have had to say they'll leave. But this project, or something very similar, will happen, and I hope it's in the near future."

Supporters, players, coaches, politicians and even royalty have come out in opposition of the plans, with the 'closed-shop' nature of the Super League, whereby the 12 founding clubs would be guaranteed continuing membership, being criticised as an anti-competitive concept.

UEFA and FIFA, the long-time governing bodies of the European and world game, have been scathing and pointed to the possibility of punishments being imposed on the clubs involved.

Perez vowed the Super League has not yet been killed off and is merely a sleeping project, poised to be resurrected.

"The entity exists and the members who make up the Super League are there too," he said.

"What we've done is given ourselves a few weeks to reflect on the hostility with which certain people who don't want to lose their privileges have manipulated the project."

He said financial backers JP Morgan remain involved, despite the investment banking firm stating it "clearly misjudged" the depth of feeling that would be stirred in the football community by the league.

"They've taken time to reflect, like the 12 clubs," Perez said. "If something needs to be changed, it'll be changed, but the Super League is the best project we've thought can be carried out."

Perez said he was baffled by UEFA's Champions League expansion plans, announced on Monday, which will see 36 teams rather than the current 32 compete from the 2024-25 season, each guaranteed at least 10 games per season, and he said the start date was too far away.

Madrid, Barcelona and all major European clubs have been hit heavily financially by the COVID-19 crisis, with major revenue streams such as matchday income cut off.

Perez said there was a danger that "all the clubs go bankrupt" unless there is immediate action.

Is Ibrahima Konate bound for Anfield?

The 21-year-old defender has caught the eye of both Liverpool and Manchester United.

But, the Merseyside club appear set to win the race for his signature.

 

TOP STORY – KONATE HEADING TO ANFIELD

Liverpool have agreed a deal to sign Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, according to the Guardian.

Konate had also been linked with Premier League rivals Manchester United, who are eyeing a new centre-back at Old Trafford.

But Liverpool have reportedly agreed a five-year contract with Konate, who has a €35million (£30.5m) release clause.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Saturday's Mundo Deportivo reports Barcelona want to offer a new and improved contract to teenage sensation Ansu Fati, which would keep him at Camp Nou until 2026. The 18-year-old, previously linked to United, until at least 2022, with the option to extend it by a further two years.

- What does the future hold for Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma? The 22-year-old Italy star's contract is set to expire at the end of the season and he is yet to re-sign at San Siro amid links with United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Real Madrid. While Milan remain hopeful of keeping Donnarumma, Calciomercato says they have begun conversations with Lille's Mike Maignan.

Milan, Inter and Roma are eyeing Torino captain and star forward Andrea Belotti, claims Calciomercato.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Manchester City are set to sign Metinho in the same deal with Fluminense team-mate Kayky.

Madrid remain optimistic about the possibility of signing Kylian Mbappe from PSG, according to Le Parisien. Mbappe has been tipped to join Los Blancos, who have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

JP Morgan, the investment bank who had agreed to back the breakaway European Super League, has vowed to learn from a saga it "clearly misjudged".

The New York-based company was said to have committed €3.25billion to fund the controversial project.

But plans for the competition, which was officially revealed by the 12 founding clubs last weekend, fell through within 48 hours of the announcement after England's 'big six' pulled out.

Pressure from fans, players, coaches, governing bodies, governments and the media built up on the clubs due to the anti-competitive nature of a tournament intended to rival UEFA's Champions League model.

The dozen founders would have been guaranteed participation each year regardless of performances in their domestic leagues.

Only LaLiga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona still appear committed to the proposal with Juventus - keen supporters, led by chairman Andrea Agnelli - acknowledging the initial version of the Super League will not work.

JP Morgan said in a statement released on Friday: "We clearly misjudged how this deal would be viewed by the wider football community and how it might impact them in the future. We will learn from this."

Sustainability rating agency Standard Ethics had earlier downgraded JP Morgan from an "adequate" rating to "non-compliant" following the episode.

"Standard Ethics judges both the orientations shown by the football clubs involved in the project and those of the US bank to be contrary to sustainability best practices," it said.

Between 2003 and 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo won three Premier League titles and the Champions League among other honours at Manchester United.

Ronaldo has since gone on to play for Real Madrid and Juventus, but he could be set for an Old Trafford reunion.

Watch this space…

 

TOP STORY – UNITED MAKE RONALDO CONTACT

Manchester United have made contact with Cristiano Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes over a return to Old Trafford, according to the front page of Friday's Gazzetta dello Sport.

Juventus superstar Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Turin, where he arrived in 2018, amid links with former clubs United and Real Madrid, as well as Paris Saint-Germain.

Ronaldo, who starred for United between 2003 and 2009, would have to take a wage cut in order to make a Manchester reunion a reality.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS claims Madrid are willing to sell Raphael Varane in order to raise transfer funds amid strong links with Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and PSG star Kylian Mbappe. Varane has been linked with United and Chelsea.

- Staying at the Santiago Bernabeu, and AS says the future of captain Sergio Ramos looks less likely to be at Madrid. The likes of United and PSG have emerged as possible destinations for the superstar Spain skipper.

Barcelona are prioritising the signing of Lyon captain Memphis Depay, reports RMC Sport. Juventus have also been linked.

Rodrigo De Paul is wanted by Leeds United, Juve, Inter and Napoli, according to Calciomercato. Juve have been eyeing the Udinese star, but the Italian giants are also weighing up moves for United's Paul Pogba and Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli.

Ronald Koeman does not believe Barcelona are stronger than LaLiga title rivals Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Sevilla this season.

Barca – who have a game in hand – moved within five points of leaders Atletico following Thursday's 5-2 victory over Getafe.

Lionel Messi scored twice in an action-packed first half at Camp Nou, where Clement Lenglet's own goal cancelled out the superstar captain's eighth-minute opener within four minutes.

Getafe's Sofian Chakla turned the ball into his own net in the 28th minute before Messi extended Barca's lead five minutes later.

Enes Unal's penalty after a VAR review gave Getafe hope, but Ronald Araujo headed in from Messi's superb corner before Antoine Griezmann converted from the spot in stoppage time.

Copa del Rey champions Barca are a point ahead of fourth-placed Sevilla and two adrift of Madrid, and head coach Koeman said post-match: "I don't think we're stronger than the other three teams [Real Madrid, Atletico and Sevilla].

"They're winning games too and we all have tough matches left.

"The fight will be until the final day."

Messi reached 25 LaLiga goals for the season in Barca's win over Getafe, and in doing so he matched a feat achieved by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner and Juventus foe Ronaldo are the only players from the 'top five' European leagues to have scored at least 25 goals in 12 different seasons this century.

Unlike Ronaldo, Messi has achieved his run of seasons with at least 25 goals by reaching the mark in consecutive campaigns, beginning in 2009-10.

While Ronaldo has had such seasons for Manchester United, Real Madrid and current club Juventus, for whom he has scored 25 in Serie A this season, Messi's goals have all come with Barcelona.

The twin strike on Thursday also ended a mini barren run in home league games against Getafe. Messi had previously not scored in his three most recent appearances against them at Camp Nou, his longest streak without scoring at home against them in the competition.

Messi has scored four doubles in his last six games, as many as in his previous 25 games in all competitions.

It comes amid continued uncertainty of Messi's future, with the 33-year-old out of contract at season's end and linked with either Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

"If I had spoken to Leo, I wouldn't tell you," Koeman added. "The decision [to stay] is in his hands.

"He never lets his concentration slip. If he does, you don't notice it in his game.

"We need him. Today, he was decisive again. Let's hope he stays for many years."

Lionel Messi reached 25 LaLiga goals for the season in Barcelona's win over Getafe, and in doing so he matched a feat achieved by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Barcelona captain's double strike in Thursday's 5-2 win means he and Ronaldo are the only players from the 'top five' European leagues to have scored at least 25 goals in 12 different seasons this century.

The 33-year-old scored twice before the break, before teeing up Ronald Araujo to head a contest-settling fourth Barca goal and then playing in Antoine Griezmann to win a late penalty.

Unlike Ronaldo, Messi has achieved his run of seasons with at least 25 goals by reaching the mark in consecutive campaigns, beginning in 2009-10.

While Ronaldo has had such seasons for Manchester United, Real Madrid and current club Juventus, for whom he has scored 25 in Serie A this season, Messi's goals have all come with Barcelona.

The twin strike on Thursday also ended a mini barren run in home league games against Getafe. Messi had previously not scored in his three most recent appearances against them at Camp Nou, his longest streak without scoring at home against them in the competition.

Barcelona kept within touching distance of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid as Lionel Messi inspired Ronald Koeman's team to a 5-2 victory over Getafe.

As Atleti were beating Huesca to move three points clear at the top of LaLiga, Barca released a statement prior to their own contest at Camp Nou, reiterating a commitment to the seemingly failed European Super League project.

While that topic seems set to rumble on, Messi served up a reminder of just what the game is at its very best with another sublime showing, scoring twice in an action-packed first half which also saw Sofian Chakla and Clement Lenglet turn into their own nets.

Enes Unal's penalty after a VAR review gave Getafe hope, but Ronald Araujo headed in from Messi's superb corner before Antoine Griezmann converted from the spot in stoppage time.

A magnificent Messi strike seemed set to put Barca ahead within three minutes, yet Getafe survived – the ball bouncing down and away off the underside of the crossbar.

Messi would not be denied again five minutes later, as he beat Getafe's offside trap and finished over David Soria.

But with Oscar Mingueza off the field receiving treatment for a knee injury, Barca were swiftly pegged back when Angel Rodriguez's wayward shot diverted in off Lenglet.

It was a huge stroke of misfortune that saw Getafe concede for a second time.

Soria rushed out to get onto a loose ball, only for Chakla to instead play a blind pass beyond his goalkeeper, whose despairing dive into the net only added to the comedy of errors.

It was 3-1 five minutes later – Messi's right-footed volley coming back off the post, but Barca's talisman was on hand to tuck in the rebound.

Getafe received a lifeline when Araujo was adjudged after a VAR check to have fouled Unal, who converted the resulting penalty to reduce the deficit with 21 minutes remaining.

Yet Araujo made amends in the 87th minute, powerfully heading home from Messi's corner to secure the points, with Griezmann's last-minute penalty adding further gloss to a win which moves Barca third, five points behind Atleti with a game in hand.

Barcelona said it would have been an "historical error" not to sign up for the European Super League and the club remains convinced structural reform is needed to protect the financial future of football.

The Blaugrana were announced on Sunday as one of 12 founding members of the highly controversial breakaway league, which received widespread criticism due to the closed-shop nature of the competition.

Less than 48 hours, all six of the Premier League teams that had agreed to sign up all withdrew their participation following a fierce backlash from fans, players, supporters, the Football Association and the UK government.

Atletico Madrid and Serie A rivals Milan and Inter later followed suit, seemingly leaving the league dead in the water before it even took off the ground.

But Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli – leading figures in the Super League – both launched a staunch defence of a competition they remain convinced has to happen as clubs struggle to contend with the economic impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Newly re-elected Barca president Joan Laporta earlier said the lucrative Super League was "absolutely necessary" and a club statement struck a similarly pleading tone about their belief that change is a must.

"FC Barcelona shares the view of most major European football clubs, and even more so given the current socio-economic climate, that there is a need for structural reforms to guarantee the financial sustainability and feasibility of world football by improving the product that is offered to fans around the world and by consolidating and even increasing the fan base on which this sport is sustained, which is its mainstay and greatest strength," the statement began.

"In this context, the FC Barcelona Board of Directors accepted, as a matter of immediate urgency, the offer to form part, as the founding member, of the Super League, a competition designed to improve the quality and attractiveness of the product offered to the football fans and, at the same time, and as one of FC Barcelona's most inalienable principles, seek new formulas for solidarity with the football family as a whole.

"The decision was made in the conviction that it would have been a historical error to turn down the opportunity to be part of this project as one of its founding members. As one of the world's top sports club, our intention shall always be to be at the forefront, this being an indispensable part of the club's identity and its sporting, social and institutional spirit."

Despite the project seemingly being left in tatters, Perez insisted the project the Super League is "not dead" in an interview with Spanish radio station El Larguero.

Barca said more analysis is clearly needed but said such examination must take place in the absence of "unjustified pressure and intimidation".

The statement added: "Given the public reaction that the aforementioned project has generated in many and various spheres, there is no question that FC Barcelona appreciates that a much more in-depth analysis is required into the reasons that have caused this reaction in order to reconsider, if necessary, and to the required extent, the proposal as originally formulated and resolve all those issues, always for the good of the general interest of the football world. Such in-depth analysis needs time and the necessary composure to avoid taking any rash action.

"We feel it is equally important to highlight the objective fact that a Court of Justice has already granted urgent legal protection as requested, thus confirming right of the initiative on the part of the founding clubs of the Super League project.

"In this regard, FC Barcelona considers that it would be improper for the necessary process of reflection and debate to be established under criteria of unjustified pressure and intimidation.

"Despite being perfectly aware of the importance and interest raised by this matter, as well as the need to always act with the utmost transparency, FC Barcelona shall act at all times with due prudence and asks for the utmost understanding, respect and most of all patience among FC Barcelona supporters and public opinion in general."

President Javier Tebas insists LaLiga will not punish Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for launching the European Super League, as "these clubs have been sanctioned by their own fans".

Spain's three biggest clubs said on Sunday they would be involved in a controversial breakaway competition that looked set to rival the Champions League.

But those plans fell through within just two days as pressure applied to England's 'big six' prompted them to back out, soon followed by Atleti.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez remains committed to the project, even if there is no clear route forward, while Barca's Joan Laporta still claims it is "absolutely necessary".

UEFA had threatened to banish clubs and players who signed up to the Super League, which was criticised for its closed nature. Talk of punishment has since dissipated, however.

At domestic level, calls for the six Premier League clubs to be deducted points have so far brought no result.

And Tebas, who declared the Super League "dead", has now confirmed LaLiga will not sanction Madrid, Barca or Atleti, suggesting each was already embarrassed by the response to their grand plans.

"We are not talking about sanctions," Tebas told the media on Thursday. "Everyone wants to cut people's heads off. We have to have a procedure and we have to see how it looks in the end. We have to see how it all works out.

"I'm talking about other types of agreements. We shouldn't rush into anything. I think a very important thing is that these clubs have been sanctioned by their own fans. Their reputations have been affected."

That did not prevent Tebas from criticising the clubs, though, adding his voice to those questioning comments from Perez.

The Madrid chief claimed the proposals would help the rest of the football world, but Tebas feels secretive meetings suggest otherwise.

"They can't tell us they're coming to save us from ruin," Tebas said. "It's not true. Nor that they do not harm national competitions. They do, economically and sportingly. If it was that good for football, they wouldn't have done it behind our backs."

Tebas was speaking as LaLiga released a statement confirming the clubs that were not invited to join the Super League had followed their Premier League counterparts in voting "unanimously and vigorously" against the competition.

"The opposition shown globally in recent days has shown that a closed and elitist European league is unworkable and unwanted," it read.

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