Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti said he is excited about the prospect of playing alongside Lionel Messi at the Ligue 1 champions.

Barcelona superstar Messi is out of contract at season's end and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been heavily linked with PSG and Premier League giants Manchester City.

As Messi's future dominates headlines, PSG star Verratti discussed his possible arrival in Paris.

"Of course, I would like to play with Messi," Italy international Verratti told Canal+.

"To have him in the squad would be something magnificent, one more thing that football would give to me.

"I would give the ball to Neymar and Messi and stay behind to just [enjoy] watching them a bit."

PSG and Barcelona will meet in the Champions League last 16, with the first leg taking place at Camp Nou on February 16.

It will be a reunion for former Barca star Neymar, who has scored six goals in 11 Ligue 1 matches this season.

Neymar - who left Barca in a world-record €222million deal in 2017 - has scored 13 goals across all competitions.

"We are not stupid, we know that he is the best player and our role is to put him in the best possible condition," Verratti said. 

"He knows that when I have the ball, I'm looking for him. He always makes movements to receive the ball well."

Mauricio Pochettino's PSG are third in Ligue 1 after 24 rounds, three points adrift of leaders Lille following Sunday's 2-0 Classique victory against Marseille.

PSG face Caen in the Coupe de France on Wednesday before welcoming Nice to the French capital in Ligue 1 action on Saturday.

Juventus are not targeting Eden Hazard, while Sergio Ramos looks set to wait for a new Real Madrid deal.

Hazard's future has become a talking point amid his struggles at Madrid since arriving from Chelsea in 2019.

But just where the playmaker could end up remains to be seen.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS NOT INTERESTED IN HAZARD

Juventus are not interested in Real Madrid playmaker Eden Hazard for now, according to CalcioMercato.

Hazard has made just 24 LaLiga appearances for Madrid since arriving ahead of 2019-20 after battling numerous injuries.

Madrid reportedly paid €100million for the Belgium international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sergio Ramos' future at Madrid is also uncertain. The defender is out of contract at the end of the season and is reportedly set to miss another two months after undergoing knee surgery. Marca says Ramos will still be without a contract by the time he returns, most likely in April.

- Changes are also expected at Barcelona at season's end. CalcioMercato reports Milan are interested in midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who has struggled to live up to expectations with the LaLiga giants.

- Barcelona and Arsenal are interested in bringing in Marc Overmars as sports director, according to Mundo Deportivo, with the former Netherlands international set to leave his role as Ajax director of football at season's end.

- After several impressive displays for Leicester City, the Premier League club are rushing to renew Youri Tielemans' contract, which runs until 2023, according to TodoFichajes.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman praised the game-changing impact of Lionel Messi, who came off the bench to inspire a 3-2 LaLiga victory over Real Betis.

Messi was a shining light for Barcelona after being named among the substitutes, scoring an equaliser before unlocking Betis' defence with a sublime pass on Sunday.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner scored just 136 seconds following his introduction – his fastest goal as a substitute for Barca in LaLiga.

Trincao struck the 87th-minute winner for Barca, who are seven points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, though the latter have two games in hand.

Koeman saluted superstar captain Messi post-match, telling reporters: "I always talk to the players and I express to them my ideas.

"I spoke to Lionel Messi yesterday about whether he was happy with having a rest and that if we needed him during the game, I was going to bring him on.

"That's what ended up happening. We were losing 1-0 and just a few minutes after coming on to the pitch he completely changed the game.

"He scored the equaliser and then added a lot to our play in the second half."

Messi – tipped to leave Barca amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City – has scored six goals in his past seven LaLiga games playing from the bench.

Koeman's Barcelona have won their past nine games away from home in all competitions – the third best streak ever for the Spanish giants after 13 in 2008-09 under Pep Guardiola and 10 in 2014-15 under Luis Enrique. Barcelona claimed LaLiga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League in those seasons.

Ronald Koeman was delighted with the character shown in Barcelona's victory over Real Betis but recognises his team must continue to prove their winning mentality.

Barca made it six away wins on the bounce in LaLiga as Trincao's late strike secured a 3-2 victory over Betis on Sunday.

Borja Iglesias' first-half tap-in put Betis ahead, but Lionel Messi scored 136 seconds after his introduction from the bench – his fastest goal as a Barca substitute – to restore parity before Victor Ruiz turned into his own net.

Ruiz atoned with a fine header to make it 2-2, yet Trincao, another visiting sub, had the final say to lift Barca back into second place in LaLiga.

"We must highlight the mentality of the team; in a tough game we have won for quality and for having an important character," Koeman told reporters.

"For me, the first half was not very good. We needed more to open up Betis when we had the ball. When we lost balls, we reacted late. I have not seen a team with much spark in the first half.

"The Copa del Rey [which Barca played in on Wednesday] is a trophy where we are in the semi-finals. It is the shortest way to win something.

"It is important, but we are Barca. You have to show mentality in any game in any competition."

Trincao's strike, which took a slight deflection on its way into the top corner, was the 21-year-old's first LaLiga goal.

However, the winger insisted the most important factor for him was helping Barca to secure the points.

"I didn't need to score, just do my job. You have to help. I'm very happy for the team and the victory," said Trincao, who became the fifth Portuguese player to score for Barca since the turn of the century, after Deco (13 goals), Andre Gomes (three), Nelson Semedo (two) and Ricardo Quaresma (one).

"We changed our attitude in the second half. It was the most important thing for the victory. We want to win everything and we are going to do everything possible to win.

"The spirit of my team-mates helps me a lot. They have all congratulated me for the goal."

Barca have now won their past nine away games in all competitions, the third-best streak ever for the club after 13 in 2008-09 and 10 in the 2014-15 campaign.

They sit seven points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, although the gap will be back at 10 points should Diego Simeone's team overcome Celta Vigo on Monday.

Lionel Messi woke up a sleepy Barcelona and Trincao fired a brilliant late winner as Ronald Koeman's side snatched a 3-2 victory at Real Betis. 

Club captain Messi began Sunday's game as a substitute, taking a rare rest as Barcelona began with a front three of Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite. 

But with Barcelona trailing after Borja Iglesias struck in the first half, Koeman called on his deadliest weapon and he duly delivered, scoring a fine equaliser before playing a sublime pass to unlock the Betis defence for a second time. 

Victor Ruiz put the ball into his own net from Jordi Alba's cross as Barcelona went ahead, before making amends at the other end of the pitch to head Betis level at 2-2 in the 75th minute, but Trincao struck a terrific 87th-minute winner, his shot clipping the underside of the bar as it sailed past Joel Robles.

Will he leave Paris Saint-Germain or not?

That is the question regarding French star Kylian Mbappe.

Real Madrid are keen, but they are reportedly prepared to wait.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID WAITING FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid have decided to wait to sign Kylian Mbappe until Paris Saint-Germain put the French star up for sale, according to Marca.

LaLiga champions Madrid have been tipped to sign Mbappe, who has also been linked with Premier League holders Liverpool.

PSG are trying to re-sign Mbappe as his contract runs out in 2022, and if they are unsuccessful amid their pursuit of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, Madrid are ready to pounce.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Sergio Ramos' knee injury could spell the end of his illustrious career with Madrid. Ramos is out of contract at season's end and the star captain has been linked to the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, PSG, Chelsea and Juventus.

Liverpool are interested in Leeds United winger Raphinha, reports Football Insider. The Brazilian only moved to Elland Road at the start of the season.

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Juventus are hoping to sign Roma sensation Nicolo Zaniolo.

Ronald Koeman does not agree with Gerard Pique's claim that referees favour Real Madrid over other LaLiga sides.

Pique this week quoted a former referee who, according to the Barcelona defender, said 85 per cent of officials in Spain's top flight were from Madrid.

In an interview with Post United, Pique said: "How are they not going to whistle in favour of Real Madrid? Even unconsciously, how are they not going to give more for one side than the other?"

Pique added last season, when Madrid won the title, was "the most absurd refereeing experience ever".

En route to the championship in 2019-20, Zinedine Zidane's side earned a joint-high 11 penalties and conceded a joint-low two.

But Koeman disagrees with his centre-back, who reportedly could be sanctioned for his comments, insisting the league's referees are honest.

"Those are [Pique's] words. I can only comment on this year, not on previous seasons," Koeman told reporters.

"There are decisions in which we have had no luck, but I don't think they are against us. They are decisions of the referee and also VAR.

"I always think that the attitudes of the referees are honest. They give what they see and are not in favour of any team."

The numbers have changed this term as Madrid have received a joint-low 37 cards (36 yellow, one red) but only Cadiz (none) and Huesca (one) have won fewer than their two penalties.

The defending champions have also conceded a joint-high seven spot-kicks heading into this weekend.

Barca have been shown 38 cards, won five penalties and given away two.

Koeman was speaking ahead of Sunday's trip to Real Betis, which follows hot on the heels of Barca playing 120 minutes against Granada in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Victory after extra time in that match set up a double-header with Sevilla in the semi-finals, adding to an already packed schedule.

Koeman feels the calendar is "killing the players" and pleaded for help from competition organisers.

"It is difficult," he said. "The number of games that the big teams have, with three competitions, on top of the COVID situation, makes everything more difficult.

"You have to talk with the players to see how they are physically, their feelings. Sometimes you have to give someone a rest to be able to have everyone in the best condition.

"If we count tomorrow's game and Wednesday's, there are 12 games in a row, of which 11 are away from home. And that's playing at 21:00, coming home at 03:00 in the morning. It is difficult for the players to be able to play all the time. We need help.

"I hope that one day UEFA or LaLiga will think about the number of games and what this does to the players. It is not normal. The games we've had to play, the trips, the schedules, playing the Supercopa between four teams, in my opinion, is a lot.

"Each coach has his opinion about the fixture schedule that the players have to go through. I think this has to stop, it's killing the players. We will have many injuries as a result of this. It is impossible.

"Hopefully one day they will make a decision to help the players with their fitness."

Ronald Koeman has reiterated his desire for Lionel Messi to stay at Barcelona, although he once again acknowledged it is the player who will make the final decision.

Messi wanted to leave Barca last year but stayed on to see out the final year of his contract, details of which were recently leaked to the Spanish press.

The revelation of Messi's earnings – potentially worth in excess of €555million over the course of four years – came as Barca's debts reportedly rose above €1.1billion, with the coronavirus pandemic dealing a huge blow to the club's finances.

Despite the speculation surrounding his future, Messi has continued to perform for Barca, scoring 16 goals across all competitions this season.

He missed two games due to suspension in January but returned to score against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey, followed by the opener in Barca's most recent LaLiga match, a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said in midweek that he still hoped Messi would eventually choose to remain at Barca and extend his contract, though the coach conceded he was not confident of that happening.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's game with Real Betis, the former Netherlands boss again stressed Messi's future is in his own hands.

"I said the other day: I think there's one person that can decide his future and that is Leo Messi himself," Koeman told a news conference.

"Us as a club and me as a manager, of course, I would like that he stays here for many more years and we can try to make him feel good, make sure he's happy, because if he's happy, like he is this season, he gives us a lot of quality, which we need.

"He is a player with incredible talent and, on top of that, I think his morale is also very high at the moment; he's got good energy and he helps us a lot. The future is in his hands."

Messi has created 14 goalscoring chances following a ball carry (moving with the ball five or more metres) in LaLiga this season – more than any other player – although he has failed to assist in this way. 

The 33-year-old has an exceptional record against Betis, having had a direct hand in 31 goals in 21 LaLiga appearances against the Andalusian club, scoring 21 times and providing 10 assists, while he has either scored or assisted on each of his past five league visits to Benito Villamarin.

Messi is still the main man at Barca, but Antoine Griezmann has finally rediscovered the form which earned him his big-money move from Atletico Madrid.

Griezmann scored twice and set up two more as Barca laboured to a 5-3 extra-time victory over Granada in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, a result which Koeman celebrated passionately on the touchline.

"I remember that I called him when I signed for Barcelona," Koeman said of Griezmann, who ranks fifth in the Blaugrana squad for league chances created this season (21) but leads the way on assists (four), while his goal tally of six is bettered only by Messi (12).

"I told him that I had a lot of confidence in him. I told him that he should know that he is important.

"Although he started without effectiveness, he has recovered. I have never doubted him. Besides, he is also his own critic.

"You can't ask for more from Griezmann, he's very important to us.

"I can't deny that the other day I was very happy after the game. I don't know for how long. Today it's sunny and tomorrow it may rain.

"I really liked the game the other day, but tomorrow is another game. We have to prove ourselves yet again that we are on the right track."

Barcelona were handed a tough draw against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semi-finals as Ronald Koeman chases his first trophy since being appointed head coach.

The two-leg tie will be a repeat of the teams' memorable meeting at the quarter-final stage two years ago, when Sevilla won 2-0 at home before being thrashed 6-1 at Camp Nou.

Koeman, who took charge last August, saw his side beaten 3-2 in the Supercopa de Espana final by Athletic Bilbao in January, when Lionel Messi was sent off in extra time.

That silverware slipped by but the Dutch coach will hope for a better outcome for Barcelona as the Copa del Rey enters its final stages.

They were almost knocked out in the quarter-finals this week by Granada, saved by late goals in normal time from Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba before winning 5-3 after extra time.

Facing Sevilla will surely be no easy task given Barca, second in LaLiga, are just a point ahead of Julen Lopetegui's team.

There could be another final between Barcelona and Athletic in store, with the Bilbao giants drawn to face Levante in the other semi-final.

The first legs of each tie will be played next midweek, with the return games to be played on the first midweek in March, with exact dates for each match to be determined.

Sevilla will have extra incentive to reach the final, given that match will be staged in their home city on April 17, at Estadio La Cartuja.

Because of the coronavirus impact on Spanish football, last season's Copa del Rey final has yet to be played, with that game between Athletic and Real Sociedad to be played at the same Seville stadium on April 3.

Barcelona hold the record for the most Copa del Rey titles, having won the competition 30 times, with Athletic next on the list with 23 victories.

Is Erling Haaland's future becoming clearer?

Haaland's exploits for Borussia Dortmund have attracted interest from far and wide.

But Manchester City appear to be the frontrunners for his signature…

 

TOP STORY – CITY LINING UP BIG HAALAND BID

Manchester City are confident of landing Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland in a £100million (€114m) deal, according to the front page of Friday's Mirror.

Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, having been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester United and Juventus.

But City believe winning this season's Premier League will help them sign Haaland at the end of the campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal claims Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi will wait until season's end before deciding his future. Messi has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain and City on a free transfer.

Sergio Aguero is tempted by a move to Barca if Messi remains at Camp Nou, reports Cadena Ser. Like Messi, City forward Aguero is out of contract at the end of the 2020-21.

- Defensa Central says Chelsea are interested in re-signing Eden Hazard, but at a huge discount. Hazard has struggled for form and fitness since leaving Chelsea for Madrid in a big-money move in 2019.

Milan will miss out on signing Ajax teenager Brian Brobbey as he is set to join RB Leipzig, according to Calciomercato and widespread reports in Italy. But Milan are close to signing Marseille's soon-to-be free agent Florian Thauvin.

- Calciomercato claims Madrid have put veteran full-back Marcelo up for sale amid links to Juventus.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi will retire wherever he wants amid doubts over his future, according to former team-mate Luis Suarez.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the current campaign and the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner appears likely to leave on a free transfer amid strong links to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Premier League giants Manchester City.

The 33-year-old attacker had tried to exit Camp Nou prior to the start of 2020-21 before opting to remain with the embattled LaLiga powerhouse.

Suarez won four LaLiga titles and the Champions League among other honours during his time together with Messi before joining Atletico Madrid in the off-season and he hailed the superstar.

"This afternoon I spoke with him, he was very happy about yesterday's victory [over Granada]," Suarez told El Transistor.

"He is [playing] at a spectacular level, he is the best in the world.

"Messi will retire wherever he wants, he can decide whether it's at Barcelona, in Argentina or wherever."

Suarez has starred since leaving Barca after six years at Camp Nou, spearheading Atletico's title charge this season.

The 34-year-old has scored a LaLiga-high 14 goals to help Diego Simeone's Atletico sit 10 points clear atop the table, ahead of second-placed Barca with a game in hand.

Suarez averages the fewest minutes per goal (one goal every 85 minutes) among players to have scored at least two goals this season.

The Uruguay international reflected on his Barca exit following Ronald Koeman's arrival, adding: "When Barcelona told me that they did not count on me it was hard, I did not expect it.

"They were very difficult moments because of the manner [in which it happened]. Koeman called me and told me that I was not in his plans.

"When Barcelona made it official that they did not count on me, conversations began with Atleti, with Cholo [Simeone], with Miguel Angel...

"There was interest from many clubs, not just Juventus. I wanted to make the right decision, the best for me and my family."

Chelsea are chasing defenders and Niklas Sule is reportedly a target, with David Alaba seemingly set for Real Madrid.

Premier League outfit Chelsea have been linked with defenders, particularly since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at the helm.

They have three at the top of their list.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA EYE SULE

Bayern Munich defender Sule is on Chelsea's shopping list, according to Sport Bild.

The report says Sule's Bayern team-mate Alaba , who is out of contract at the end of the season, and RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano are also among their targets.

Chelsea have kept back-to-back clean sheets since Tuchel took over last month.

 

ROUND-UP

- Alaba seems set to head elsewhere. Marca reports Real Madrid have a four-year agreement in place with Alaba, who has passed his medical.

- Borussia Dortmund seem to be preparing for Jadon Sancho's exit. Sport Bild reports PSV attacker Donyell Malen and Lyon star Memphis Depay, who is also apparently wanted by Barcelona, are targets for Dortmund with Sancho likely to leave at season's end.

- With Andre Villas-Boas having left his post, Marseille are looking for a new coach. Sky Sport reports former Chelsea and Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri has turned down an approach from the Ligue 1 side.

- John Terry is on the list of candidates to become the next Bournemouth manager, according to the Daily Mail. The Championship side sacked Jason Tindall and are said to be looking at the Aston Villa assistant.

- Martin Braithwaite could have left Barcelona. Sport reports the forward turned down a loan move to West Brom during the previous transfer window.

Mauricio Pochettino said Paris Saint-Germain should be left to work on signings "in silence" amid Barcelona's anger over Lionel Messi.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman hit out at PSG on Wednesday, saying the Ligue 1 giants had been "disrespectful" by regularly discussing Messi.

Angel Di Maria became the latest person connected to PSG to discuss Messi, with coach Pochettino, sporting director Leonardo and Neymar having also spoken about the Argentina star in recent months.

Pochettino would not be drawn into discussing Di Maria's comments about Messi, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

"I am not going to talk about what our player's comment, as you know, because my words can be misunderstood, and then these words can go to another country in another way," he told a news conference after a 3-0 win over Nimes.

"I have to be focused on trying to improve this team, from now to the end of the season, to try to achieve our goals, knowing that it is not going to be easy because we are in a difficult competition, in a weird situation, with the pandemic that it is affecting all of us, and also football.

"And then, the Champions League and Coupe de France, we will try to compete and go as far as we can, try to win, because in Paris, is all about to win.

"But I don't want to give names, don't want to think on the future. I'm sure that the club is working in different situations to improve. So let's leave the club working in silence, in secret, in order to have a better team and with more possibilities to win."

Di Maria opened the scoring in PSG's win over Nimes before goals from Pablo Sarabia and Kylian Mbappe.

Pochettino praised the performance of Di Maria, who is also out of contract at the end of the season.

"I'm happy with [Di Maria's] performance and compromise within the team," he said.

"I think that as every player, he needs time but Angel is a very important player for the team. He's been at this club for many years. So I'm happy for his goal and his performance."

Ronald Koeman hit out at Paris Saint-Germain, accusing the Ligue 1 giants of being "disrespectful" for continuing to talk about Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Messi, 33, has been heavily linked with a move to PSG when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Angel Di Maria became the latest person connected to PSG to discuss Messi, with coach Mauricio Pochettino, sporting director Leonardo and Neymar having also spoken about the Argentina star in recent months.

After opening the scoring in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Nimes, Di Maria – who is also out of contract at season's end – talked up a potential PSG move for his compatriot.

"I hope to renew with PSG. Play with Messi? Yes, hopefully, I think there are many possibilities," he said.

"I have to be calm, think about my own thing and continue in Paris because I am very happy here."

Barcelona coach Koeman is growing tired of the Ligue 1 giants speaking about his star.

After a stunning comeback to get past Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, Koeman hit out at PSG, who face Barca in the Champions League last 16 beginning this month.

"It is disrespectful that so many people from PSG talk about Messi. They are spicing up the [Champions League] game," he said.

"He is still a Barca player."

Barcelona took a "giant step" towards a successful season with a thrilling comeback win over Granada, Ronald Koeman said.

The Catalans claimed a remarkable 5-3 Copa del Rey quarter-final win on Wednesday after forcing extra time at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Barca were trailing 2-0 as late as the 87th minute only for Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba to force the additional period, after Francisco Trincao, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele had all hit the woodwork.

Griezmann made it 3-2 only for a Fede Vico penalty to level matters again, but Frenkie de Jong scored from a rebound and Alba smashed home a stunning volley to secure Barca's semi-final spot.

Koeman last week suggested his side were not ready to compete for the biggest trophies and the Barca boss remains unconvinced they could end 2020-21 winning LaLiga, the Copa and the Champions League.

However, he believes their fightback against Diego Martinez's side could perhaps be a turning point in their campaign.

He said: "I was referring to winning the three trophies: LaLiga, the Champions League and the Copa. I don't believe [we can win all three]. But I've always believed in the team. We've improved many things, above all in character. We've taken a giant step forward.

"It helps to have spirit and strength in the team. That's the way. We've worked a lot to get to the moment when the team starts to believe and it's a proud feeling. And it's come at an important moment of the season.

"We started the game really strongly, we played really well in the first 20 minutes. A mistake in playing where we shouldn't be playing cost us a goal.

"You have to highlight the team's mentality because we never gave up. We had really bad luck with the woodwork. We did everything to win the game.

"We deserved it due to the mentality of the team, but on this occasion, we showed we know how to suffer. We knew how to defend the result and we deserved the win."

Griezmann proved pivotal to the result, scoring Barca's first before setting up Alba's equaliser with a cushioned header from a Messi cross.

The France star then converted an emphatic header of his own and teed up Alba's spectacular second with a clever outside-of-the-foot pass.

It was the first time the €120million man had been directly involved in four goals in the same game for the Catalans.

"I'm really pleased with Griezmann," said Koeman. "I know it's really important for him. The team needs him. With his effectiveness, we're more dangerous."

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