Arsenal and Tottenham are reportedly trying to pry centre-back Evan Ndicka away from Eintracht Frankfurt this month.

Ndicka, 23, arrived at the Bundesliga club in 2018, racking up 162 appearances since. He has played every minute of their 15 Bundesliga fixtures this season, helping them to reach the German mid-season break in fourth position.

Standing at an imposing 192cm tall with pace to burn, he fits the bill as a centre-back who can handle the physical demands of the Premier League, and his impressive traits are exactly why Frankfurt have been desperate to retain his services.


TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE RIVALS BATTLE IT OUT FOR EXCITING CENTRE-BACK

Currently in the final year of his five-year contract, this will be the last opportunity Frankfurt get to cash in on their young talent, and they reportedly see the writing on the wall despite their desire to extend Ndicka's stay.

According to German publication FR, Ndicka's agents have been reaching out to Europe's elite clubs including Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Barcelona, but are said to have driven some away with their lucrative contract demands.

Previous reporting from Football London has claimed Arsenal had agreed to personal terms with Ndicka for a free move before Frankfurt's most recent improved contract offer, while Tottenham remain in the hunt.

Interested parties prepared to wait another six months could scoop him up on a free, but a transfer fee in January with so little time remaining on his contract could end up surprisingly affordable.


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Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea are all closely monitoring 19-year-old PAOK winger Giannis Konstantelias, who is believed to be worth in the range of £10million, per the Evening Standard.

– Foot Mercato is reporting Saudi Arabia side Al-Nassr are working on acquiring Eden Hazard to reunite him with former Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.

– According to Sport, Juventus have enquired about 33-year-old Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba as he enters the final six months of his contract.

Napoli have submitted a €19m offer for 22-year-old Angers and Morocco midfielder Azzedine Ounahi, per Foot Mercato.

– Sport is reporting 28-year-old Barcelona forward Memphis Depay would like to return to former club Manchester United.

Jordi Alba and referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz had both "forgotten" about the Barcelona defender's first yellow card prior to his dismissal against Espanyol on Saturday.

Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw by their Catalan rivals on what was a bittersweet day for Alba, who became only the 12th different player to make 300 LaLiga appearances for the club.

Alba's landmark outing was marred as the left-back received two yellow cards in the space of five minutes after Espanyol's leveller, with Lahoz losing control of the latter stages.

Lahoz, who was in charge of Argentina's fiery World Cup quarter-final clash with the Netherlands earlier this month, also sent off Vinicius Souza, while only a VAR review saved Leandro Cabrera after he was initially shown a red card for a stamp on Robert Lewandowski.

Alba will now serve a one-match suspension, meaning he will miss Barca's clash with Atletico Madrid at Civitas Metropolitano on January 8.

The Spain international revealed he received his second yellow card after voicing his frustration at a challenge involving Andreas Christensen and Joselu, whose penalty cancelled out Marcos Alonso's earlier header at Camp Nou. 

"I did not understand the expulsion and I told him so," Alba said, in quotes carried by Mundo Deportivo. "I went to Mateu to tell him that Joselu had made [Christensen's] bed, nothing more.

"He thought it was the first yellow, and he showed me the second. For me, it is not even a card.

"I am aware that sometimes I make mistakes and protest too much because I am very impulsive, and I have to correct this aspect, but this time, it was not the case."

Sergi Roberto, who wore the captain's armband during Saturday's derby, concurred, telling Movistar: "Alba had forgotten his first card. We were all a little surprised."

Although Barca returned to the top of LaLiga on goal difference, they were punished for not converting their superiority into maximum points, having enjoyed over three quarters of the possession and registered 21 shots on goal.

"In the second half, we wanted to go for the second goal and to have the game more controlled," Sergi Roberto added. 

"The game stopped a lot with the expulsions, the cards, and then we were not able to play our way anymore."

Xavi paid tribute to Sergio Busquets following his decision to retire from international football, describing him as one of the greatest midfielders in history.

Busquets announced his retirement from Spain duty on Friday having captained La Roja in each of their four games at the World Cup in Qatar.

Busquets' miss in a penalty shoot-out defeat to Morocco in the last 16 provided a less-than-fitting end to his stellar career with Spain, for whom he made 143 senior appearances.

The 34-year-old starred alongside his Barcelona team-mate-turned-coach Xavi as Spain won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, and the Blaugrana boss believes few can match his impact.

"In the end, it's a personal decision that you make when you feel the time is right," Xavi told Barcelona's website. "I wish him the best, now he will be able to rest more and focus on Barca.

"He is a player who has made history. He is one of the best midfielders that football has produced worldwide and, for sure, the best defensive midfielder in the history of Spain."

Fellow Barcelona star Jordi Alba said Busquets will be "sorely missed" by Spain, who will be led by Luis de la Fuente in Euro 2024 qualifying after Luis Enrique left his role as head coach. 

"You have always been a great leader for all of us who are part of the team, both in good times and in bad," Alba wrote on Twitter.

"After so many training sessions and games together in the national team, today you say goodbye and you will be sorely missed, friend. 

"Thank you for what you have contributed to us and for everything you have given."

Jordi Alba is determined to stay at Barcelona until his contract expires in 2024 and hopes he could still be reunited with Lionel Messi at Camp Nou.

Spain left-back Alba has his focus on World Cup duties for the coming weeks, believing La Roja are well-placed to challenge in Qatar, with a first game against Costa Rica coming up on Wednesday.

At the end of the last transfer window, Alba was linked with a shock move to Italian giants Inter, but he said in an interview with Cadena Ser that "nobody told me anything" about that prospect.

"My intention is to stay until the end of my contract because I think I can help; when I don't, I'll be the first to go," said the 33-year-old, a five-time LaLiga winner with Barcelona.

"I've improved and people who know realise it. Many things were heard about my decision at the club, but I decided to stay. Nobody told me anything about Inter."

Alba said he helped out financially stricken Barcelona with his contract after last year's European Championship, at a time when the club were looking to cut costs.

"Whenever they asked me for help from the club, I gave it. Nobody can say otherwise," he said. "Whenever the club has asked me for anything, and whatever it is, I have helped. I am from Barcelona and I feel the colours."

He saw Messi, Barcelona's record scorer and greatest player, leave to join Paris Saint-Germain after a contract offer was withdrawn, with the Catalans unable to afford to keep him.

Almost 18 months later, Messi continues to be linked with a switch back to Barcelona.

"Of course I would like Leo Messi to return to Barca," said Alba, in a separate interview with Cope. "He is the player with whom I have had the best understanding on a field and for the club it was a great loss."

Such is the intense focus on Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Spain national team can feel like a poor relation at times. However, the success they enjoyed from 2008 to 2012, winning two European Championships and the World Cup, meant the group united the country, and Alba feels they could also have an outstanding 2022 World Cup.

He said of the team's coach, a former Barcelona boss who played for both Clasico rivals: "Luis Enrique has done very well.

"We hadn't met our expectations for a while and the European Championship [where Spain reached the semi-finals] was very good.

"People got hooked again and I think they will do it again with the World Cup. I hope and want to go far in this World Cup."

Jordi Alba labelled Luis Enrique as "the best coach in the world" as Spain aim for World Cup glory in Qatar.

Alba worked with Luis Enrique at Barcelona when he was in charge between 2014 and 2017 before the latter left and went on to become La Roja coach.

The former Real Madrid and Barca midfielder initially left his role in 2019 due to family reasons before returning in the same year, subsequently guiding Spain to the semi-finals of Euro 2020.

A second-place finish in the 2020-21 Nations League further added to the resume of Luis Enrique, who Alba feels is the right man to lead Spain in the Middle East at the World Cup, which starts next Sunday.

"I already know him from Barcelona. He is a direct person, who trusts the players a lot," the Barca left-back told Mundo Deportivo.

"For me, I have always said, he is the best coach in the world. Not only in the football field, but also in the human field. 

"He is very close and helps all his team-mates and that is important for all the players and for me. He has a lot of personality. He captures his idea and that all the players go in the same direction. 

"It is something very difficult and he has achieved it in all the teams he has been in. We all go to what he tells us. At that he is the best."

Alba, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets all reportedly took a significant drop in wages to allay Barca's financial difficulties after Lionel Messi left in August 2021.

The Spain left-back reiterated his commitment to Barca as he outlined his plans to stay at Camp Nou amid reports he could leave at the end of his contract in 2024.

"As far as I am concerned, I feel qualified to continue here for many years," he added. "I think that when I'm playing I'm doing well and when I'm not playing I'll support my team-mates and try to help the younger ones as much as I can. 

"I want to continue performing well. I've been here at Barcelona for many years and my intention is to stay here. Honestly, I didn't get any offer from that club, or from any other. 

"I knew the opinion of the coach, who was counting on me. There has been talk for many years that I could go on loan or sign to another club. But my intention has always been to stay here. 

"During these years I have worked hard for this club, then things will turn out for better or worse, but that will continue to be my intention until the end of the season and everything that remains on my contract."

Barca brought in the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde ahead of the 2022-23 term but were eliminated at the Champions League group stage for the second time in as many campaigns.

Xavi's side head into the World Cup break two points clear of Real Madrid at the LaLiga summit and Alba hopes to repay the faith of the Blaugrana faithful.

"This year we have not qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League and we are in the Europa League, but the people have continued with the players and that has been very important," he said.

"Now we have to try to return it in the form of titles. The deal with the fans has always been phenomenal."

Milan forward Rafael Leao continues to be linked with a host of top European clubs who are plotting January moves.

Leao won last season's Serie A Footballer of the Year and has maintained his fine form this term.

The 23-year-old forward is contracted with Milan until mid-2024, prompting interest to prise him away from the Rossoneri.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN PREPARING FOR BUMPER JANUARY BIDS FOR RAFAEL LEAO

Milan are preparing for January bids from Chelsea and Manchester City of approximately £105 million for Rafael Leao, reports Tuttomercato.

Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have also shown an interest in the Portuguese attacker.

Milan are still working on a new deal with Leao before he departs for the World Cup, hoping to tie him down on a long-term contract.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag is considering trying to lure Dusan Vlahovic to Old Trafford as he prepares for life without Cristiano Ronaldo, reports The Sun on Sunday. Juventus forward Vlahovic moved to the Bianconeri from Fiorentina in January for £62million.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has told the club to sign Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans in the January transfer window, claims The Sun. Tielemans is valued at £40m and is out of contract at the end of this season.

– The Mirror reports Arsenal are also interested in a January move for Vitoria Guimaraes midfielder Ibrahima Bamba, having sent scouts to watch him.

– Calciomercato claims Tottenham are looking into a swap deal involving Emerson Royal in order to bring Dutch defender Denzel Dumfries to the club from Inter.

– Serie A leaders Napoli are preparing an offer for Barcelona's Jordi Alba, who is looking for first-team football, according to El Nacional.

Reports have surfaced that Joao Felix is unhappy at Atletico Madrid having fallen out of favour in recent games.

Atletico have reportedly moved to reiterate that they do not want to sell the Portuguese, who it is claimed has requested a January move.

Joao Felix joined the Colchoneros on a seven-year deal in 2019 from Benfica for a fee of €126 million.

 

TOP STORY – PSG AND BARCA KEEN ON JOAO FELIX

Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona are both considering moves to sign wantaway Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix.

AS claims PSG are weighing up a move for the 22-year-old as they make plans for the potential departure of Lionel Messi at the end of this season.

El Nacional reports that Barcelona are in the race for the Portuguese too, as they fear Ousmane Dembele will exit. A Bola has also linked Manchester United with Joao Felix.

 

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Barcelona want to sell Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong in the near future to raise funds to invest in the squad according to Sport. De Jong was linked with Manchester United over the off-season.

– The same Sport report claims that Barcelona are set to release long-term duo Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba to free up funds too.

Real Madrid are targeting Bayern Munich's Canada international Alphonso Davies, claims Marca. Los Blancos are eager to bolster their left-back options and are monitoring Davies.

Inter are looking to sign on-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku permanently, while the Nerazzurri are also interested in Everton's Yerry Mina claims Calciomercato.

–​ Barcelona will rival Real Madrid in pursuit of Inter's Italy international forward Nicolo Barella, reports Calciomercatoweb.

–​ Newcastle United are keen to lock down Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes on a new long-term deal before the end of this season, reports 90min.

Chelsea have reportedly already conducted a medical for RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku with the aim of signing him at the end of this season.

It has long been thought Nkunku's time at Leipzig was coming to an end, but the Bundesliga club retained his services in the most recent transfer window, potentially setting him up for a 2023 departure.

Nkunku is off to a terrific start to the Bundesliga season, netting four goals from seven games, and while the interest in him is expected to be wide-ranging, Chelsea have used their relationship with Leipzig in an effort to jump to the front of the queue.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA COMPLETE SECRET NKUNKU MEDICAL, PREPARE TO TRIGGER RELEASE CLAUSE

According to Bild, Nkunku has a release clause in his contract set at €60million, and Chelsea are prepared to trigger it at the conclusion of this campaign.

Chelsea and Leipzig have done plenty of business together previously, including sales of Timo Werner in either direction and advanced negotiations around young centre-back Josko Gvardiol. It appears Nkunku was also discussed at length, and the German club were willing to let Chelsea take a closer look at the in-demand attacker ahead of any official bids being made.

With Gvardiol also remaining a potential target for new Chelsea coach Graham Potter – with his price tag set at a huge €90m – this could turn into one of the most expensive package deals ever.

ROUND-UP

– According to the Daily Star, Erling Haaland weighed up a potential move to Liverpool before eventually choosing Manchester City, but he categorically ruled out Manchester United.

– Football Insider is reporting Aston Villa are considering Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery for their next manager if Steven Gerrard is fired.

– Football Insider also claims Leicester City's James Maddison is "very keen" on a move to Tottenham after reports they are keeping tabs on the 25-year-old midfielder.

Chelsea will give Christian Pulisic a chance to prove his value before making a decision on his future, per 90min.

– Sport is reporting Juventus are planning a January move for Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba.

Chelsea's first big transfer splash under new boss Graham Potter could reportedly be RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol, after the club had a £77million bid rejected before the deadline.

Gvardiol is young at 20, but he does not lack experience, having already been awarded 10 senior international caps for Croatia, as well as racking up 47 club appearances in all competitions last season for Leipzig.

He was one of many high-profile defenders to be enquired about during Chelsea's search that ended up landing Leicester City's Wesley Fofana and Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly.

But with Koulibaly already 31 and Thiago Silva now 37, the club may feel it is best to figure out the succession plan sooner rather than later.


TOP STORY – CHELSEA PLAN BIG MOVE FOR GVARDIOL IN JANUARY

With over £150m spent between Fofana, Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella, while being tied with Manchester United for the fewest goals scored in the Premier League by a team in the top-half (eight from six games), it is curious to see the Stamford Bridge side still so desperate for defensive help.

It remains to be seen what kind of budget Potter will be allowed to use in the January window, given all the recent signings had been under Thomas Tuchel's guidance, and it is also fair to assume a potential Gvardiol deal would not have this season's results in mind, given their previous offer included loaning him back to Leipzig.

Ownership's willingness to open up the cheque book in January would have likely been discussed during their recruitment of Potter, and Bild remain convinced Chelsea's interest with the young Croatian is far from over.


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– According to The Mirror, Arsenal and Newcastle United will compete for the signature of 26-year-old Benfica left-back Alex Grimaldo, who is said to be available for £8.6m due to being in the last year of his contract.

– The Metro is reporting United full-back Diogo Dalot turned down a move to Milan, instead wishing to fight for his spot at Old Trafford.

– According to inews, Newcastle are joining the race for Vasco da Gama teenager Andrey Santos, who reportedly has a £30m price tag and is a target of Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

Jordi Alba is unsettled at Barcelona amid interest from Inter, but remains committed to the club where he now has to contend with Alejandro Balde and Marcos Alonso for the starting role, according to Marca.

Chelsea have reportedly held an emergency call with new signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to reassure him of his future with the club after Thomas Tuchel's surprise sacking.

Tuchel was removed from his position after Chelsea's 1-0 loss to Dinamo Zagreb in their Champions League opener, in a move that will carry a heavy financial cost, according to reports from the Daily Mail and The Mirror.

Tuchel and his backroom staff are said to be receiving £15million in pay-outs, and Brighton are set to claim £20m in compensation after Graham Potter took over.

One of the main selling points for Aubameyang to come to Stamford Bridge was his relationship with Tuchel, who had coached him at Borussia Dortmund, and the Telegraph claims Chelsea's ownership group went out of their way to reassure the 33-year-old striker about his decision after cutting ties with Tuchel.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA OWNERS REASSURE AUBAMEYANG OF HIS ROLE AFTER TUCHEL FIRING

According to the Telegraph's report, controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Egbali addressed the Chelsea squad on Wednesday after Tuchel's sacking took place that morning, but there was also a separate individual chat with Aubameyang.

They reportedly told the signing from Barcelona that they "believe he can flourish under new head coach Graham Potter", and the Gabon international is said to have no second thoughts about his decision.

While he was clearly a player Tuchel pushed for, Aubameyang was assured he was "a club signing", and the report claims he "is thought to have been appreciative of the explanation".

In his one game for Chelsea under Tuchel, Aubameyang was substituted in the 59th minute.

 

ROUND-UP

– BILD has confirmed once again that Liverpool have their sights set on a massive move for Borussia Dortmund's 19-year-old English midfielder Jude Bellingham in 2023. 

– A report from Sport claims the rise of 18-year-old Barcelona left-back Alejandro Balde has complicated the arrival of Marcos Alonso, who was brought in to be the main competition to Jordi Alba, but he is now behind Balde as well.

– Fabrizio Romano is reporting 21-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk wants a move to Arsenal alongside his Ukrainian compatriot Oleksandr Zinchenko, and that it could be possible in January.

– JuveLive claim Juventus are prepared to offer 22-year-old striker Moise Kean to Aston Villa in a straight swap for 24-year-old midfielder Douglas Luiz.

Barcelona "made a tremendous effort" in the transfer window, according to head coach Xavi, who also confirmed the imminent signing of Marcos Alonso.

Barca recruited heavily during the transfer window, welcoming a wealth of major recruits from across Europe.

The club's well-documented financial troubles forced them to find creative solutions to register players such as Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde, while they also moved for several free transfers in the market.

Former academy player Hector Bellerín returned on Thursday following his release by Arsenal, while it is expected that Marcos Alonso will join by the end of Friday after his contract was terminated by Chelsea.

Ahead of his side's trip to Sevilla, Xavi expressed his delight with Barca's transfer progress at a press conference on Friday.

"The club has made a tremendous effort," he said. "We have a competitive squad, we need to prove it. We are very happy and satisfied with where we are.

"[It] has lacked some players, [but I am] happy and satisfied. [It has been] between the best and the intermediate [outcome]."

He also confirmed the expected arrival of Alonso, adding: "I wanted full-backs. What we needed more was a right-back. Bellerín is going to help us a lot, and Alonso too. I'm delighted with both signings.

"The registration of Alonso? Yes, we are optimistic that everything will be resolved today before midnight. We are convinced that he can be registered for the Champions League."

Chelsea are expected to be one of the major players on deadline day, having completed a deal for Wesley Fofana on Wednesday.

The Blues have been one of the big spenders during the transfer window and owner Todd Boehly is eager to bolster his squad after a slow start to the season.

Barcelona forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been linked with the Blues, along with Anthony Gordon, although Everton boss Frank Lampard insists he is not for sale.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA OFFERED CHANCE TO SIGN PSG'S NEYMAR

The Daily Mail claims Chelsea have been offered the chance to sign Neymar, but the Times reports that Paris Saint-Germain are now refusing to sell him in an apparent U-turn.

The 30-year-old Brazil international had been linked with a move away from Paris during the off-season, although nothing substantial materialised.

Chelsea were approached about Neymar, with PSG potentially open to letting him go as they seek to avoid any issues with UEFA's Financial Fair Play guidelines.

ROUND-UP

Chelsea have made a €50 million (£43m) bid for Ajax centre-back Edson Alvarez, according to the Telegraaf. The Blues have already added Fofana but want more reinforcements, with the Mexican able to also play in midfield.

Chelsea are also interested in Aubameyang, with Fabrizio Romano claiming negotiations are progressing with Marcos Alonso involved in a deal with Barcelona. The Blues have also been linked with Milan's Rafael Leao, according to The Times.

– Mundo Deportivo reports that Barcelona and Inter have agreed to a deal for full-back Jordi Alba to join the Nerazzurri on loan. The deal is on the basis that Robin Gosens leaves Inter for Bayer Leverkusen.

Milan are set to win the race to sign Barcelona's Sergino Dest, beating out interest from Manchester United, claims Gianluca Di Marzio. Dest will join the Rossoneri on a season-long loan with the option of a permanent deal.

Newcastle United are in the race to sign Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, claims the Mail. Arsenal are also interested in the Belgium international.

Fulham have submitted a bid for Blackburn's Chile international Ben Brereton Diaz according to The Athletic. Rovers boss Jon Dahl Tomasson has said he would cost a lot of money, with Fulham's offer not disclosed.

– PSV have opted against selling 23-year-old Netherlands international Cody Gakpo amid interest from Leeds United and Southampton, reports The Athletic.

Jordi Alba implored Barcelona to come together and be "more united than ever" as the LaLiga giants battle financial difficulties.

Xavi and Blaugrana president Joan Laporta are looking to strengthen in the transfer window after finishing second in the league, some 13 points behind champions Real Madrid.

Robert Lewandowski has emerged as the main target from Bayern Munich, but doubts persist as to whether Barca can afford the Poland talisman, who has made his desire to move to Camp Nou clear.

LaLiga chief Javier Tebas suggested Barca must sell their prized assets, such as Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United, to afford Lewandowski.

Laporta hit back by insisting Tebas was intending to "harm" Barca's interests, but Blaugrana economic vice-president Eduard Romeu acknowledged sales were needed to help ease the club's worries.

Alba, speaking before Spain's Nations League clash with Czech Republic on Sunday, admitted he would like more signings but understands the situation his side is in.

"It's the situation we're in. It's not always going to be rosy. Barca would like to be in a better economic situation," he told reporters.

"We're going to go out and if we can't sign we'll have to pull from the academy, where there are very good players.

"It's the idea that the club has and I can't say more. I'd like to sign many players, but the situation is this. We have to be more united than ever, say it all behind closed doors and that's it."

Alba, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets were named as the joint captains of Barca when Lionel Messi left amid financial struggles at the start of the 2021-22 season.

On Friday, Roberto became the fourth of the captains to agree a new contract with Barca, with the other three all reportedly taking a significant drop in wages to ease the financial burden.

While Alba was delighted to see Roberto extend his stay with Xavi's team, the left-back assured the captains are committed to the project.

"There should be no doubt of our commitment to the club. I can't control what is said in the press or outside our reach, nor do I want to," Alba added. 

"The needs of the club are what they are and we will be here to help. The four captains will help and I'm sure some more. We have always been committed to the club and we will continue to be.

"It's been a difficult year at club level but I'm convinced that next year will be much better."

Barcelona took another big step towards Champions League qualification as Memphis Depay and Sergio Busquets scored superb goals in a 2-1 LaLiga win over Real Mallorca.

Looking to avoid a fourth consecutive home defeat, the Blaugrana calmed a nervous Camp Nou crowd through Depay's excellent first-half volley on Sunday.

Busquets then fired a low effort beyond Sergio Rico and the Catalan giants held on for the win despite Antonio Raillo's 79th minute goal.

After being forced to watch rivals Real Madrid win the title on Saturday, Xavi's side at least look likely to join them in next season's Champions League after moving back into second place.

Rico was forced into an excellent save after five minutes, diving to his right to turn away Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goal-bound header, before Fer Nino squandered a fantastic opportunity for the visitors when firing over at the back post from close range.

Ronald Araujo saw a powerful 22nd-minute header ruled out for offside, but the Blaugrana did take the lead three minutes later when Depay expertly volleyed into the bottom-left corner after controlling Jordi Alba's ball over the top.

The hosts lost Gerard Pique to injury before the break, but doubled their advantage after 54 minutes when Busquets drilled a left-footed effort into the bottom-right corner after striding onto a loose ball on the edge of the area.

Depay went close to another brilliant goal when he shot narrowly wide from range after dancing through the visiting midfield, before Barca had another goal ruled out by VAR after Ferran Torres's shot deflected in off Aubameyang in an offside position.

Xavi handed Ansu Fati his first appearance since November from the bench, as the hosts clung on for a vital win despite Raillo prodding home from Salva Sevilla's cross. 

What does it mean? Blaugrana end Camp Nou misery 

Barcelona had seen much of the positivity surrounding the club dissipate after suffering three consecutive home defeats for just the second time in their history, but bounced back to secure three precious points.

In doing so, Xavi's side stretched their lead over fifth-placed Real Betis - who have a game in hand - to nine points with four matches to play, taking a huge step towards sealing a Champions League spot.

Alba assumes creative role again

Having teed up Depay's goal, Alba has recorded nine assists in La Liga this season, the best such record managed by a defender in the competition since Real Madrid's Marcelo registered 10 in 2016-17.

Alba's return also represents the best managed by a Barca defender since Dani Alves teed up 11 goals in the 2011-12 campaign.

Depay shows his worth

Although Barcelona's push for Champions League football has seen January arrivals Aubameyang and Torres star in the attacking positions, Depay provided a reminder of his quality by striking a terrific opener.

The Dutchman has now scored 11 goals in LaLiga this season, more than any other Blaugrana player.

What's next? 

Barcelona's next outing sees them travel to Betis for a huge contest on Saturday, while Mallorca host fellow strugglers Granada on the same day.

Barcelona's victory over Real Sociedad at Reale Arena on Thursday was "crucial for the future of the club", according to coach Xavi. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the only goal of the game as Barca defeated La Real 1-0, moving up to second in LaLiga increasing their advantage over fifth-placed Real Betis to six points. 

It was the Blaugrana's only attempt on target across the entire game and they had 44.3 per cent possession – their second-lowest amount since 2005-06 – with poor finishing from Alexander Sorloth and Alexander Isak letting the visitors off the hook. 

Barca are now unbeaten in their past 13 LaLiga away games, which is their best such run since April 2019. 

Xavi was pleased with the fact their win came against a top-four rival, even if their performance was far from what he would have wanted. 

"I am satisfied with the three points. They are vital and crucial for the future to the team and the club. It's a golden victory," Xavi said. 

"But I'm not satisfied with the game. The first half, yes, but in the second half we suffered. We have to be honest and self-critical. We haven't been good. 

"We have to improve. This is not the way. It's not been our ideal game. These are three crucial points against a direct rival for the Champions League. 

"It's the game in which I've suffered the most, along with the one against Villarreal. We noticed the fatigue." 

Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba played on after appearing to sustain muscle injuries and signal for substitutions, while Ronald Araujo was withdrawn with a knee problem and Dani Alves also appeared to struggling with an issue. 

"Jordi, Ronald, Pique – we are suffering a lot. There's a lot of fatigue because the calendar is demanding," said Xavi. 

"It's not that we don't train well, it's the way the game is played. And the calendar is demanding. But the effort is spectacular. 

"[Pique] has been playing with discomfort for two or three months … at 35 years old, he is in shape. It's vital." 

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