Barcelona boss Xavi insists he was not trying to send any message to Frenkie de Jong by playing him out of position in defence after being subbed on at half-time in their 1-0 friendly win against Real Madrid.

De Jong, 25, has been at the centre of Barcelona's transfer discussions this off-season, with the widespread belief that the club must sell him to balance their books after expensive moves for Leeds United winger Raphinha and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

The Dutch international is not totally inexperienced in defence, but he is undoubtedly more comfortable in the centre of midfield, but with plenty of competition for that position, Xavi said he was simply taking advantage of De Jong's versatility.

"No, I didn't send any messages," he said. "I think [De Jong] can be adapted. 

"The message is personal and already chatted with him. He knows he is valued. I value him a lot as a footballer – he knows… for me, he is a fundamental footballer for the team's game. 

"Then, I insist, there is an economic situation in the club, the situation of [financial] fair play, but for me there is no doubt that he is a very important footballer, and playing as a central defender he can give us many things. 

"We have signed Andreas [Chistensen], we also have Eric [Garcia], we have Gerard [Pique], we have Ronald [Araujo] there, who can also adapt as a full-back.

"We now have a lot of competition and that is good for the team, but Frenkie can adapt very well as a centre-back. He sees the game very well when he controls the ball, he doesn't lose the ball and I like it. 

"No, that position is not a message. I would never do it as a coach."

Barcelona's next friendly is against Juventus on Tuesday.

New Juventus signing Paul Pogba has suffered a knee injury and will not be part of the team that travels to Dallas to take on Barcelona in a friendly on Tuesday.

The France international recently returned to the club where he previously spent four years between 2012 and 2016, winning four Serie A titles in that period.

But it now appears that Pogba will be spending time on the sidelines, after Juventus released a statement updating fans on the status of the 29-year-old.

The statement on the club's official website said: "Following complaining of pain in his right knee, Paul Pogba underwent radiological examinations that revealed a lesion of the lateral meniscus.

"In the next few hours he will undergo a specialist orthopedic consultation.

"Therefore, in order to continue treatment, he is not taking part in the trip to Dallas."

Pogba's previous spell with the Bianconeri came to an end when Manchester United paid a then-world-record fee of £89.3million (€105m) to take the midfielder back to Old Trafford, where he had spent time as a youngster.

However, after an ultimately underwhelming six-year spell in Manchester, Pogba rejoined Juventus following the expiration of his United contract.

Ansu Fati is confident he can return to his previous heights after an injury-plagued couple of seasons for Barcelona. 

Fati burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old in 2019, becoming the second-youngest player to feature for Barca in LaLiga and the third-youngest to find the back of the net in Spain's top flight. 

He set records as the youngest goalscorer in the Champions League, for Spain and in El Clasico – though his international record has since been surpassed by Gavi. 

Fati sat out almost a year with a serious knee injury sustained in November 2020 and hamstring problems limited him to just 15 appearances in all competitions last season. 

However, he is confident he will eventually be the player he was before his torrid time with injuries. 

"I'm working to achieve it and I have no doubt that with work and sacrifice I will achieve it," Fati told TV3. "Right now I'm not 100 per cent, but I'm very close. 

"It's normal that when you come back from an injury you play very cautiously. But that's only the first minutes of the first game, then you forget it. Right now, I'm playing without fear. 

"I know where I've come from and everything I've done to be here. I never thought about quitting. I'm very young, and I have my whole future ahead of me." 

Fati will face increased competition for game time following the arrivals of Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha at Camp Nou, but he feels such competition can help restore Barca to their former glories. 

"We are building a very good team, very competitive. The new signings will give us a lot throughout the season. They are great players who will help us," said Fati. 

"We have a very powerful forward line and a lot of competition. It's very good for the team and the players that we can't relax. We know that if we don't work hard, we're not going to play because someone else can take out place. This is good because it will always keep us on edge. 

"This is a team that wants to win titles. We know that in recent years we've only won the Copa del Rey and that cannot be enough at Barca." 

Gary Neville believes that Frenkie de Jong should "consider legal action" against Barcelona.

The Netherlands international is a target for Manchester United, who have reportedly agreed a fee with Barca for the former Ajax midfielder.

However, De Jong is supposedly keen to remain at Barca, while it has also been claimed the Spanish club owe the 25-year-old €20million in wages.

That is after De Jong deferred his wages in order to help Barca deal with their financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet in spite of their financial issues, Barca have brought in a number of big-money signings this transfer window, including Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich and Raphinha from Leeds United.

And United great Neville believes that De Jong should consider taking Barcelona to court over their failure to pay him the wages he deferred to help out the club.

He tweeted: "De Jong should consider legal action v Barcelona and all players should be behind him!

"A club spending fortunes on new players whilst not paying the ones they have under contract their full money is immoral and a breach."

He also called upon FIFPRO, the representative organisation for professional footballers, to take action against what Neville calls "bullying."

 

Edu is delighted that Arsenal managed to sign first-choice transfer targets Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko despite missing out on Champions League football last term.

However, the club's technical director also revealed Raphinha was never close to moving to the Emirates Stadium, with the now-Barcelona winger having always prioritised a move to Camp Nou.

Arsenal have been active in the transfer market after a late-season collapse saw rivals Tottenham secure a top-four Premier League finish at their expense in May, outspending every other side in the top flight do far.

Alongside former Manchester City duo Jesus and Zinchenko, Mikel Arteta's side have recruited Porto's Fabio Vieira, New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner, and young Sao Paulo winger Marquinhos, and Edu revealed Arsenal's lack of Champions League football has not been too inhibitive in securing their foremost targets. 

"[We signed] almost 100 per cent of them," he told Sky Sports. "I understand sometimes players want to play Champions League football, but I think we can offer something very special for the players as well.

"It's not only Champions League, but you can be part of a group of players which can achieve something very special for this football club. And then I always ask them if they want to be part of the project we've been building.

"I'm sure we will do something very special for this football club and then when I explain to the players, they really understand [it] and that's why they're here."

Zinchenko made just 10 Premier League starts for City last season, playing a total of 1,044 minutes in the competition, but Edu is delighted with the signing of the Ukraine star after targeting him for six months.

"We are so excited to have Zinchenko with us here because he's a player that we really targeted," he added.

"It's a player that we really believe has the characteristics and the qualities that are going to increase our level in the squad for sure. [The transfer] was planned like six months ago, to feed that position in the best way possible in the way which Mikel really wants to play.

"Mikel of course knows him more than anyone because they worked together [at City] but all the information around the player is top."

Edu also revealed the signing of Jesus was the culmination of another drawn-out process, adding: "I think we as a club have to be proud to have a player like Gabriel Jesus here.

"This process really, I think, takes like seven months in terms of understanding each other and talking to each other, because also he had a lot of other opportunities and then he chooses because he understands who we are."

Raphinha was another player linked with Arsenal after scoring 11 goals in 35 Premier League appearances for Leeds United last season.

However, he made a big-money move to Barcelona earlier this month, and while Arsenal did speak to the winger's agent Deco, Edu revealed his heart was set on a move to Camp Nou.

"People think we went in too deep about Raphinha, because Raphinha was everywhere," Edu said. "It's fair, we did have some conversations with Deco because Deco is his agent and I have a good relationship [with him] - we are friends.

"I just said to Deco, 'can you explain to me the situation with Raphinha?' and he was clear, 'Edu, we have a good relationship but I'm not going to lie to you, his idea is to go to Barcelona because he's dreaming to go to Barcelona, and we've been talking to Barcelona since a long time ago'.

"[I said] 'okay, thank you very much, if something happens then just let me know because I can explore and understand the situation'. If not, no problem and we carry on with our relationship."

Despite winning LaLiga and the Champions League last season, Real Madrid want to secure a bright future to follow their trophy-laden present.

Having confirmed the signings of Aurelien Tchouameni and Antonio Rudiger this off-season, Madrid managed to bolster their squad in two areas of the pitch.

Meanwhile, they are on the verge of securing the long-term futures of three foundational pieces in those successes last term.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID TO SECURE BRAZILIAN TRIO

Real Madrid are all but set to confirm renewed contracts for their Brazilian trio of Eder Militao, Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Despite tricky initiations for each, all three have now established themselves as vital players under Carlo Ancelotti, as evidenced by their new release clauses.

Militao and Rodrygo have reportedly extended to June 2028, with respective €500million and €1billion release clauses.

After a breakout season, culminating with his goal in May's Champions League final, Vinicius will reportedly extend to June 2027, along with a €1bn release clause.

 

ROUND-UP

– Manchester United are now considering a move for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic as an alternative to Frenkie de Jong, Calciomercato is reporting.

– Juventus have made a €23m (£19.5m) move for Liverpool's Roberto Firmino as they finalise the termination of Aaron Ramsey's contract, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

Jules Kounde's departure from Sevilla appears likelier with the defender close to agreeing personal terms with Barcelona, per Fabrizio Romano.

– Arsenal have confirmed their interest in Lucas Paqueta but are yet to make Lyon an offer, The Times has reported.

Robert Lewandowski feels like he has been at Barcelona "for months" after making his first appearance for the Blaugrana in Saturday's El Clasico win against Real Madrid.

The exhibition game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was decided by a wonderful goal from another new man, Raphinha, as Xavi's side ran out 1-0 winners.

Lewandowski could not find the net on debut but saw a fierce strike at goal pushed away by Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in the first half.

The Polish striker only officially became a Barca player last week, but explained after the game to Barca TV and TV3 how settled he is already feeling.

"Although it was a friendly, the Clasico is the Clasico and it is always different and special, and we are very happy with the quality and intensity that we have shown," Lewandowski said.

"I'm very happy to be here and to be part of this team. I don't feel like I've been with the team for days, it feels like I've been with the team for months. I feel very supported by both my team-mates and the staff."

Despite their well-reported financial issues, Barca have been very active in the transfer window, bringing in Lewandowski, Raphinha, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen so far, while also being linked with a move for Jules Kounde from Sevilla.

The former Bayern Munich hotshot is anticipating a successful first campaign in Spain, and discussed the winning mentality at his new club.

"We always think about winning," he added. "We have a very winning mentality, not only in games but also in training.

"We have the opportunity to look forward and think that this can be a great season."

Barca begin their LaLiga campaign at home to Rayo Vallecano on August 13.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti has declared his squad as "better than last year", and suggested there will be no more arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu in this transfer window.

Los Blancos won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22, and have since added Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea and Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco.

However, questions have been asked about a perceived lack of attacking options, with Luka Jovic having left for Fiorentina and doubts about the immediate future of Marco Asensio.

Madrid faced El Clasico rivals Barcelona on Saturday as part of their pre-season preparations in Las Vegas, losing 1-0 to a stunning Raphinha strike.

As well as the former Leeds United man, Barca have signed Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich to complete a formidable looking set of forward options ahead of the new campaign.

Madrid's star striker Karim Benzema was not involved, though Ancelotti confirmed the France international will return in their next outing against Club America.

When asked by reporters following the defeat to Barca if he needed another striker, Ancelotti replied: "The squad is closed and it is better than last year. Our two new arrivals are going to contribute a lot. 

"There are 27 players, a lot of them, and training them is not easy, but the ones I have are intelligent and understand the difficulty I have."

On the futures of Asensio and midfielder Dani Ceballos, Ancelotti simply said it was "up to them" and "up to the club".

Eden Hazard started the game at Allegiant Stadium playing as a false nine in between Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo, and Ancelotti hinted that could be where the Belgian predominantly features in the coming season.

"He can play in several positions, it was seen last year," he said. "He has the quality to be false nine, but he has to get used to it."

Thomas Muller has admitted that Bayern will face a stern test following the departure of Robert Lewandowski, but says there were "good reasons" for the striker's departure.

The Poland international brought an end to a trophy-laden stint in Bavaria by completing a move to Barcelona, leaving a significant void in Bayern's attack ahead of the 2022-23 season.

Bayern have moved for a replacement, landing Sadio Mane from Liverpool and being vocal with interest in Tottenham striker Harry Kane, and Muller has defended the club's decision to allow Lewandowski to leave.

"All parties decided that Lewy should leave the club, there were good reasons for that," he told BILD.

"But, without a doubt, we don't know what to expect when a player who has always scored between 30 and 50 goals per season is no longer with us on the field.

"There was no plan to always play for him, but when you know you have a striker like that, you do it. Now things will change, and it will be exciting to see how our attack develops."

While the loss of Lewandowski's goals will certainly present a difficult adjustment for Bayern, Muller identified occasions in the past where the club has coped with similar high-profile departures.

 

"We're not going to play with ten simply because Lewy left," Muller said. "Now there will be opportunities and scoring chances for other players. Maybe we score less, but that doesn't mean we won't succeed as a team. 

"For example, Mario Mandzukic replaced Mario Gomez in 2012. Mandzukic didn't get the records Gomez had, but we won the treble and were invincible as a team."

Bayern will once again begin the season as favourites for the Bundesliga, having won the past 10 titles, but Dortmund's transfer activity prior to the start of the campaign has caught the eye.

Muller, heading into his 15th season as a Bayern player, believes it's a good thing that their arch-rivals are bolstering their ranks.

"[It's good] that something is also stirring at BVB. It is not known whether BVB will now score ten more points," he said. "But it's good for the league. There is anticipation and excitement in the air."

Lionel Messi could return to Barcelona one day, according to club president Joan Laporta, who feels "indebted" to the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi's 21-year association with Barcelona, 16 of those spent as part of the senior squad, came to an end last August when he signed for PSG as a free agent.

The Argentina international won every trophy available with Barca and departed as the club's all-time record scorer with 672 goals across 778 appearances.

Last year's departure came as a huge shock at the time, with the Catalan giants' financial situation meaning they could not agree fresh terms that adhered to LaLiga's salary cap rules.

Messi has another year to run on his PSG deal, which will take him through to the age of 36, though that contract contains the option of a third season in Paris.

But Laporta, who was re-elected as president in March 2021, has opened the door for the club great to return to Catalonia one day.

"For Barca, he has possibly been the best player in history, the most efficient, only comparable to Johan Cruyff in the history of Barca," Laporta told ESPN.

"But it had to happen one day. We had to make a decision as a consequence of the legacy we had received, the institution is above players and coaches.

"I don't believe Messi's chapter at Barcelona is over. And I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that chapter is still open, that it hasn't closed.

"To have a moment to do it how it should have been done so that he may have a much more splendid ending than what he had."

 

Messi was directly involved in 937 goals for Barcelona, with his most prolific season coming in 2011-12 when scoring 73 goals in all competitions and assisting a further 28.

That is in stark contrast to the 11 goals and 14 assists managed in 34 games across all competitions during his first season at the Parc des Princes.

As the poster boy of the most successful period in Barca's history, Laporta feels a sense of gratitude towards the superstar forward.

"Do I feel indebted to him? Yes. Morally, as president of Barca, I did what I had to do," Laporta said. "But also as president of Barca and on a personal level, I think I owe him."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has rubbished reports the club have accepted an offer from Manchester United for midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

Erik ten Hag is keen to reunite with the 25-year-old, whom he managed at Ajax, and United have been pushing to bring the Netherlands international to Old Trafford.

The financial situation of Barcelona has been identified as a reason why the Catalan side may be tempted to sell, with reports stating the club have accepted an offer from the Premier League side but De Jong himself is yet to be persuaded by a move.

Such claims have been refuted by Laporta, who made it clear to ESPN that no bids for De Jong have been accepted.

"Frenkie de Jong is our player, we really like him," he said.

"We received some offers for Frenkie but we didn't accept as of now, as we want to talk with him and know exactly what he wants. We need to clarify some aspects of his situation."

Laporta's stance on De Jong was echoed by Xavi, although the Barcelona coach admitted the financial situation could affect the proceedings heading into the final month of the transfer window.

"I’m not here to send messages. I already spoke with Frenkie, I value him very much. He's a key player, but then there's economic situation and Financial Fair Play," he said following Barcelona's 1-0 pre-season win against Real Madrid.

Xavi also dropped a hint on plans to utilise De Jong's versatility next season, adding: "He can give us a lot also as a centre back."

Barcelona boss Xavi has claimed there are "no friendlies" for the Blaugrana, while sidestepping questions over a potential move for Sevilla's Jules Kounde.

The Catalan club continued their pre-season preparations in the United States with a 1-0 victory in an overseas iteration of El Clasico against Real Madrid, thanks to a glorious strike from new recruit Raphinha in Las Vegas.

With Robert Lewandowski handed a club debut, the future continues to look rosy for Barca as they seek to reverse two years of diminishing gains with a high-risk transfer policy to reclaim their crown in La Liga.

Part of that process comes down to a mental belief that every game is there to be won, per their coach, who says that even pre-season tests cannot be interpreted as kick-about games.

"There are no friendlies at Barcelona," Xavi stated after his side triumphed over their rivals. "[We want to] win titles again. Everyone starts from scratch - we don't go by your name."

Asked about Kounde - who looks set to move to Chelsea amid talk of Barca hijacking the transfer - the Spaniard sidestepped a direct answer, merely adding: "We are trying to strengthen all the positions."

Xavi was happier to wax lyrical about Raphinha and Lewandowski, with the two attacking talents the most significant fruits of Barca's transfer dealings, having arrived from Leeds and Bayern Munich respectively.

"[Raphinha] makes a difference," he added. "He's dynamic on the wings. Robert is a world-class star who has adapted very quickly. They'll give competition to the rest of the squad - they'll have to wake up soon."

Barcelona continue their pre-season campaign with another heavyweight European clash against Juventus in Dallas on Tuesday, before wrapping up their American tour against New York Red Bulls on Saturday.

Robert Lewandowski made his debut for Barcelona as they defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in their pre-season friendly in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The 33-year-old had to share the spotlight with Raphinha however, with the latter's lone goal ultimately proving the difference in the 27th minute.

With Xavi also able to take his place on the touchlines after he was allowed entry into the United States, the Blaugrana started close to what could be considered a full-strength starting XI, with Andreas Christensen starting ahead of Gerard Pique.

Carlo Ancelotti kept a number of starters on the bench to begin the match, with the trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos eased in along with Ferland Mendy, while Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga were paired in midfield to start.

Raphinha scored what would be the winning goal midway through the first half in what was an ultimately timid affair, firing home from the top of the penalty area after a quick regain of possession up the pitch for Barcelona.

Modric, Kroos and Casemiro were introduced while the likes of Pedri and Sergio Busquets came off in the second half, creating the aura of a sparring match, and Barcelona held out despite chances to Ousmane Dembele.

Barcelona could not compete financially with Chelsea for the signing of centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, according to Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Chelsea confirmed the signing of Koulibaly last weekend in a deal worth a reported £33.8million (€40m), bringing an end to the defender's eight-year stay in Naples.

LaLiga heavyweights Barca, whose financial problems have been well documented over the past year, also had an interest in the Senegal international.

However, De Laurentiis claims the Catalan club could not meet Napoli's valuation for Koulibaly, who was into the final year of his contract at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

"Barcelona had come in, but they didn't have the money because they are in debt," he told Radio Kiss Kiss. "Then Chelsea came forward and we couldn't say no."

Koulibaly helped Napoli to three second-place finishes in Serie A and to Coppa Italia glory in 2020, as well as winning the Supercoppa Italiana shortly after he arrived in Italy.

Since joining the club in 2014, no defender in the Italian top flight has won more tackles than Koulibaly (344), or made more successful passes (14,528).

De Laurentiis revealed Napoli offered the 31-year-old an improved contract in an attempt to fend off Chelsea.

"I let Koulibaly go because he asked me to. I tried in every possible way to keep him, offering €6million per season net," De Laurentiis said.

"But if a player wants a new experience at a prestigious club, in the biggest league in the world, you have to recognise what he's given you and not put up walls."

Koulibaly made 236 Serie A appearances for Napoli, including 27 as the Partenopei finished third last season.

Dani Alves is grateful that he will have the opportunity to say a final farewell to Barcelona fans at Camp Nou in one of his first games as a Pumas UNAM player.

The veteran full-back left Barcelona at the end of last season following the expiration of a short-term deal signed when returning to the club for a second spell in January.

Brazil international Alves started 14 LaLiga games for Xavi's side in the second half of last season, but the club decided against extending his contract for another year.

He will now continue his prestigious career in Mexico with Pumas, who confirmed the 39-year-old's arrival on Saturday after days of teasing the high-profile signing.

And in a coincidental twist, Alves is now expected to be part of the Pumas squad that takes on Barca for the Joan Gamper Trophy on August 7.

Barca were originally scheduled to face Roma, but Jose Mourinho's side pulled out and Pumas took up the invitation to play in the pre-season friendly.

The defender previously suggested he was unhappy with the manner of his Camp Nou exit, but he has now said he can understand Barcelona's decision.

"In the end, life treats people who treat life well, and this game gives me the right to come and play with Pumas at Camp Nou to say goodbye," he told TUDN News. 

"My contract there ended. I didn't expect much more as I'd only signed for six months and fulfilled those.

"But now, I will have the opportunity with Pumas to say goodbye to the people as I would have always liked."

 

Alves scored one goal and set up four more between his second debut on January 5 and the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

That is a tally bettered only by Ferran Torres (six), Jordi Alba (seven) and Ousmane Dembele (11) among Barca players over that period.

Despite recently turning 39, Alves made clear he wanted to quickly find a new club in order to remain part of Tite's plans for the 2022 World Cup.

Asked why he opted for Mexico, and Pumas in particular, Alves said: "What attracted me to this club is more than just football.

"I think that in Mexico, you have to try to believe a little more in their football. 

"Those who out of ignorance discredit Liga MX, do it wrongly. There are very good goalkeepers, who we have faced at the Olympics. 

"When we went to the Club World Cup with Barca, the Mexicans were the only ones who wanted to face us."

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