Manchester United target Frenkie de Jong was named in Barcelona's squad for their pre-season tour of the United States as Xavi's players prepared to depart on Saturday.

New signings Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen and Raphinha were also included by head coach Xavi, whose side will play four matches as they step up preparations for the LaLiga campaign.

The Blaugrana will play Inter Miami, Real Madrid, Juventus and New York Red Bulls on their jaunt to America, where De Jong is also set to feature despite question marks over his future.

United and Barcelona reportedly agreed a deal worth £63million (€75million) for the Netherlands international earlier this week, with a further £8.5million (€10million) in add-ons.

However, the midfielder, who would link up with former Ajax boss Erik ten Hag at Old Trafford, is widely reported to be eager to remain at Camp Nou.

Despite a busy transfer window, Barcelona are reportedly unable to register their signings as they contend with financial fair play regulations, and it had been suggested the LaLiga club must cash in on assets to ease those issues.

President Joan Laporta appeared to reject that theory on Friday when he insisted the club do not need to sell De Jong.

Robert Lewandowski is poised to seal a move to Barcelona after Bayern Munich reportedly accepted a €50million offer from the LaLiga giants.

Rather than appear at Bayern's team presentation event at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, Lewandowski is expected to travel to Spain to put the finishing touches to his transfer.

It will mark the end of a saga that began in May, when it emerged there was a mutual attraction between Lewandowski and Barcelona.

Reports indicate Barcelona will pay an initial €45m, plus €5m in performance-related add-ons, to secure the player who hit 50 goals for Bayern across all competitions last season.

That made him the leading scorer from Europe's top five leagues, and it came as a jolt to the Bundesliga champions when the 33-year-old Polish striker made clear his desire to leave.

Barcelona have been pulling together funds to allow the deal to proceed, and the arrival of Lewandowski will follow the signing of Brazilian winger Raphinha from Leeds United as Xavi pieces together a team he hopes can compete for honours with Real Madrid.

According to Bild journalist Heiko Niedderer, Lewandowski arrived at Bayern's Sabener Strasse training headquarters shortly before 08:30 local time (06:30 GMT) to collect his possessions and say his goodbyes.

Later in the day, the presentation of the team at Bayern's stadium was due to see the first team and new recruits paraded in front of supporters. That had promised to be awkward if Lewandowski's future had remained unresolved.

As he departs, having won eight consecutive Bundesliga titles since arriving in 2014 from Borussia Dortmund, Bayern are expected to step up their efforts to bring in Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus.

Barcelona are due to fly to the United States for a pre-season tour on Saturday, with games scheduled against Inter Miami, Real Madrid, Juventus and the New York Red Bulls.

Lewandowski is not anticipated to be on the team flight but will hope his transfer can be completed to allow him to join his new team-mates within days.

Bayern are also heading to the US in the coming week to step up their own pre-season work.

Barcelona's players have learned from last season's struggles and are extra motivated to succeed in the upcoming campaign, according to defender Sergino Dest.

The Catalan giants registered their lowest points tally (73) last season since 2007-2008 (67), seeing them finish a distant second to fierce rivals Real Madrid.

Barca also failed to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2003-04, while falling well short in the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana. 

Finishing as runners-up provided some cause for satisfaction, however, given they were ninth in November when Xavi replaced Ronald Koeman.

Xavi's side will now look to challenge Madrid for the LaLiga title this season, having added Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen and Raphinha to their squad this window.

While further new arrivals are anticipated, with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski a target, Dest accepts that those at the club from last season must step up.

"I feel like we are Barca, so everybody expects us to be the best," United States international Dest told reporters. "That's true – you can't play here if you don't have any quality. 

"So I feel like from all the games, the difficult games we lost last year, we definitely learned from it. This is going to be a different season."

 

Dest has spent the past two seasons at Barca, having joined from Ajax in a worth an initial €21million, and has made 70 appearances in all competitions.

That is a tally bettered only by seven other Barcelona players since his debut in October 2020, though he was restricted to just 23 starts last season after being hit by injuries.

And with Qatar 2022 now on the horizon, the full-back has plenty of reasons to hit the ground running this campaign.

"Everyone's extra motivated because of the World Cup," he said. "Everybody wants to play and prove themselves. 

"I think we're just going to have a great season and try to learn from the games we lost last year."

Barcelona have gone three seasons without winning LaLiga, which is a far cry from the eight titles won in an decade of dominance between 2008-09 and 2018-2019.

Having spent the whole of that period coming through the youth ranks at Barca, defender Eric Garcia is eager to help his side return to the top.

"Barcelona made the generation that was seen, at the time, as something unique," said Garcia, who returned to Catalonia last year following three years with Manchester City. 

"We are here to obviously return the club to where it needs to be, with a lot of ambition, with a lot of desire. 

"We are young people combined with people who have been in the club for a long time at a very high level, and between all of us, we are all in the same mindset. 

"We are eager to get the club back to where it deserves as well as that win that it deserves. From there, we will be fine."

Sevilla head coach Julen Lopetegui appears resigned to losing in-demand defender Jules Kounde.

Barcelona are reportedly leading the race to sign Kounde, although Sevilla sporting director Monchi on Thursday stated there had been no contact between the two LaLiga clubs.

Chelsea and Manchester City have also been linked with the 23-year-old France centre-back.

Sevilla have already sold Diego Carlos to Aston Villa before bringing in Marcao from Galatasaray, and Lopetegui warned they must be busy in the transfer market if Kounde departs.

"We are aware of the departure of an important player, and we don't know yet if another important player could leave," said the former Spain and Real Madrid boss.

"The Spanish league is tremendously competitive, the Champions League too, and we want to have the best team possible.

"It is certain that the club will work to replace very, very important players and also to provide players who can make us grow in internal competitiveness, because we must improve the team to try to achieve the objectives.

"A very important player, Diego Carlos, has left, and it may be that our other regular central defender has also left, we don't know what will happen.

"They are difficult to replace, and we have to help Marcao so that he adapts quickly to the demands."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has insisted the Blaugrana do not need to sell Manchester United target Frenkie de Jong to ease their financial problems.

Xavi's side announced a two-year extension for Ousmane Dembele on Thursday, having already signed Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie.

Raphinha became the next signing of the transfer window for Barca on Friday, joining from Leeds United in a deal reportedly worth up to €67million (£56.6m).

It has also been reported that Barca will push ahead with their attempts to sign Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski over the coming days.

While Barca continue to bring in new faces, the Blaugrana are unable to register their signings as they battle financial fair play regulations.

It has been repeatedly suggested the LaLiga club must cash in on assets to ease those issues, with De Jong among the favourites to depart.

Earlier this week, United and Barcelona reportedly struck a deal worth £63m (€75m), with a further £8.5m (€10m) in add-ons also possible.

Yet De Jong apparently remains eager to stay at Camp Nou, and Laporta has now suggested there is actually no requirement on Barca's part to sell the midfielder.

"It's not true that we are forced to sell Frenkie de Jong, this is not correct," Laporta said as Raphinha was welcomed at a news conference.

"Frenkie's trip to the United States [on the pre-season tour] will be decided by Xavi."

 

Yet Barcelona director Mateu Alemany seemed to contradict Laporta's claims.

"Frenkie is a very important player and we count on him. But we know La Liga's Fair Play tells us to sell player," Alemany said shortly after Laporta at the same media conference.

"I can't say more [on Frenkie deal and Man Utd]."

Ten Hag will hope to partner De Jong with Christian Eriksen in midfield after United confirmed the signing of the Denmark international on a three-year deal on Friday.

Raphinha sealed his move to Barcelona on Friday as club president Joan Laporta hailed the Brazilian winger, declaring: "We think the beautiful game is coming back."

At the age of 25, Raphinha follows compatriots Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar in arriving at Camp Nou with high expectations on his shoulders.

He could soon be joined by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who has been Barcelona's prime target, but Laporta was not missing a chance to trumpet the club's first big-money signing of the close season.

"This is very exciting for us. For all of us who have lived through golden times at the club, there were always Brazilians," Laporta said.

"He takes the baton of illusion and magic. From the club, we think that the beautiful game is coming back.

"It's Xavi who has loved him, he has insisted a lot, and the club have done everything they could. We are grateful because you showed the desire to come to Barca. That has been key."

Barcelona have found the funds to complete the deal, with the fee reportedly setting back the club €67million (£56.57m).

Raphinha scored 11 times in the Premier League for Leeds United in his last season, after netting six goals in the 2020-21 campaign following his arrival from Rennes.

He managed only three assists last term but created 65 chances, with only seven players in the league teeing up more goalscoring opportunities.

Laporta added: "We hope you work, train and continue to be like you are. We need your joy. We have always liked the beautiful game at Barca.".

Raphinha was unveiled at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper, the club's training ground, rather than at Camp Nou.

He was nevertheless satisfied to seal his switch to LaLiga, saying it gave him "great pride".

"I have many idols who have passed through here and have made history. If I manage to do half as much as them, I will already achieve a lot," Raphinha said.

"I'm living a childhood dream, my family too. I'm going to do my best for Barca."

Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic "never had any doubts" Robert Lewandowski would report back for the start of pre-season training this week.

The Poland international told Bayern in May he wished to move away from the Allianz Arena this transfer window.

That came on the back of a campaign that saw Lewandowski score 50 goals in all competitions – the most of any player across Europe's top five leagues.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta last week confirmed the LaLiga giants had made an offer for the prolific striker and were awaiting a response from Bayern.

Reports from the German media suggested Lewandowski would delay returning for training, but that did not prove the case as he was present for fitness tests on Tuesday.

While the future of the former Borussia Dortmund star remains far from certain, Salihamidzic praised the 33-year-old for not downing tools in an attempt to force through an exit.

"Robert is a top professional who I know very well," Salihamidzic told Bild. "I never had any doubts that he may not show up for training."

 

Bayern have offloaded the likes of Niklas Sule, Marc Roca and Corentin Tolisso this window, while Ryan Gravenberch, Noussair Mazraoui and Sadio Mane have arrived.

Netherlands defender Matthijs de Ligt is another player on the German champions' radar, with Salihamidzic confident an agreement can be reached with Juventus.

"It was important to meet with Juve," he said. "We held two talks and now we have to be patient and see what happens. In principle, I'm an optimistic person."

De Ligt played more minutes (2,675) than any other Juve outfield player in Serie A last season as Massimiliano Allegri's side struggled to a fourth-placed finish.

And although Lewandowski may have asked for a move away, Salihamidzic believes Bayern are still a club that big-name players want to join.

"It's sexy for the players to go into the future with this club and this coach," he said.

"We'll keep our eyes and ears open, see what's happening on the transfer market, and we'll do our best for Bayern."

Bayern face MLS side D.C. United in their opening pre-season friendly next Wednesday as part of their tour of the United States.

Manuel Pellegrini believes the World Cup will create a unique logistical challenge for club coaches this season in Europe, but his confidence with Real Betis remains high.

Under Pellegrini last season, Betis just missed out on Champions League qualification and finished fifth in LaLiga, as well as claiming the Copa del Rey for the first time since 2005.

With the World Cup break in November and only five players in the squad under the age of 23, finding and maintaining a critical sense of rhythm represents a definitive challenge in building upon last season.

Speaking to Marca as his side commences pre-season, the 68-year-old believes the second half of the upcoming LaLiga season will particularly be like a sprint to the finish.

"It is a different World Cup that is going to cut the championship into two phases, with 45 or 50 days without playing," Pellegrini said. "So you have to try to amortise it with friendly matches, with some occasional vacations, to reach the second part of the championship with all the energy that is needed for the final stretch."

Combining the combative likes of Borja Iglesias and Guido Rodriguez with the more cerebral Sergio Canales and William Carvalho, Betis played a distinct brand of football under Pellegrini last season.

They were one of only five teams in LaLiga last season to score over 60 goals and the Argentine coach raised the idea his side's fans have also been normalised to a particular style of football.

He added, however, that maintaining an attractive style of football while delivering amid heightened expectations is a challenge his side is willing to meet, while competing on domestic and continental fronts.

"Yes, we all want more, the people and us. It is not easy to achieve it, but we are going to fight from the first day to be able to do it," Pellegrini said. "There are four titles in dispute, LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, the Europa League and the Supercopa.

"Of course we are going to try to fight for all of them. It is also a challenge to qualify for Europe again, if it is in the Champions League even better, but the biggest challenge is to maintain a style of play and a style where the fans really feel identified and not looking for a result in any way.

"It is an important challenge, motivating, a hope that we generate ourselves and now we have to take charge because, of course, the Betis fan has to stay with that bar and support the team absolutely the same."

Carlo Ancelotti claims Real Madrid have already completed their summer spending as he ruled out any more arrivals at the Santiago Bernabeu.

That underlines a staggering difference between Madrid and their great rivals Barcelona, who have barely got started and are hoping for pieces to fall into place to allow a spree to go ahead.

Madrid, the LaLiga and Champions League double winners, have brought in German defender Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer from Chelsea, while landing French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco for a reported initial €80million.

The club cleared plenty of space on their wage bill by offloading Gareth Bale, Isco, Marcelo and Luka Jovic, and head coach Ancelotti has decided to keep trust with the bulk of the squad that achieved so much last season.

"I can't talk about signings, but I'm already saying that everything is over. We're not going to sign anyone. We're fine like this," Ancelotti said.

As Barcelona wrestle to get players in and out, the message is already clear from Madrid that the champions have their ducks in a row already and cannot wait to get going in the 2022-23 campaign.

Ancelotti, who was speaking to international media ahead of Madrid's pre-season trip to the United States, saw Rudiger and Tchouameni come through their first training sessions with Madrid on Thursday.

The new pair were described by Ancelotti as "the best that could be found on the market".

The first pre-season test for Madrid comes against Barcelona in Las Vegas on the evening of Saturday, July 23. That Clasico clash is "not an exhibition", according to Ancelotti.

Quoted in the Spanish press, the Italian boss said: "It's never a friendly against Barcelona. They are the team we respect the most and the one with the greatest rivalry."

There could be an experiment or two from Ancelotti before the season begins, as he toys with the idea of using Eden Hazard as a 'false nine' striker.

Ancelotti is wary about overburdening captain and star striker Karim Benzema, and he believes Belgian Hazard could thrive in the role when called upon.

Madrid have the defence of their domestic and European titles as obvious targets, and a mid-season World Cup complicates planning for the campaign ahead.

"We have many options for that position. Benzema is number one, but we have to understand that this will be a strange season, different, with the World Cup in the middle, and we have to look at different options," Ancelotti said.

"My idea is to try to see Eden in that position. Given the quality that Eden has, it could be good for us to test him there."

Barcelona's off-season has the potential to become even more complicated than what it already is.

Trying to balance their ambition with the economic realities of their situation is creating a tricky environment with the players to have departed and are still at the club this off-season.

According to reports, one player whose departure can ease the financial burden Barcelona have placed on themselves does not want to leave.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA INFORM DE JONG OF MANCHESTER UNITED MOVE

Frenkie de Jong has reportedly been told by Barcelona they want him to leave for Manchester United, according to The Athletic.

The Blaugrana are trying to convince De Jong that while they believe he is a talented footballer, they must sell him in order to balance their excessive wage bill.

The clubs have reportedly agreed on a guaranteed transfer fee of £63million (€75m) but the 25-year-old has no apparent desire to leave club, given Barcelona still owe him a deferred salary payment.

Meanwhile, the arrivals of Raphinha and Franck Kessie this off-season complicate the club's pitch of De Jong's transfer being economically necessary, as opposed to the sale being a purely sporting decision.

 

ROUND-UP

– Juventus have approached Arsenal over signing Gabriel Magalhaes as they eye a potential replacement for Matthijs de Ligt, The Independent reports.

– Meanwhile, the Gunners are working on a deal to sign Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City, per The Athletic

– Leeds United are close to agreeing terms with PSG over 20-year-old striker Arnaud Kalimuendo, Sport is reporting.

– At the same time, PSG have been joined by West Ham in the race to sign Sassuolo striker Gianluca Scamacca, according to Fabrizio Romano.

 

Sergino Dest has categorically ruled out a move away from Barcelona this transfer window and is hoping to play a more prominent role for the Blaugrana this season.

The United States international has recently been linked with a move away from Camp Nou, with Chelsea reportedly among those interested.

Dest has spent the past two seasons at Barca, having joined from Ajax in a worth an initial €21million, and has made 70 appearances in all competitions.

That is a tally bettered only by seven other Barcelona players since his debut in October 2020, though he was restricted to just 23 starts last season after being hit by injuries.

He did not score any goals, while fellow full-back Jordi Alba (12) registered four times as many assists as his three.

However, the 21-year-old has rejected suggestions that he is looking to kick-start his career away from Catalonia ahead of the World Cup.

"I'm not thinking about transfers at the moment," Dest told reporters. "I'm happy at this club, so I will definitely stay here. 

"For me, personally, I really need to get fit. I came back from an injury, then had two injuries last year on one side, so I don't want any injuries anymore.

"I'm taking this really serious. I want to make sure that I can play the whole season without any injuries."

 

Dest played the first half of Barcelona's pre-season opener on Wednesday, a 1-1 draw with Olot.

Xavi's side now travel to the United States to face Inter Miami, Real Madrid, Juventus and New York Red Bulls.

"This pre-season is really important for me, and I think, as well, for everyone because it's just the basis for the whole season," Dest added.

"It's going to be a great season for all of us. Personally, for the ones that have a World Cup coming up, we all can't wait to play that as well."

Erik ten Hag is edging closer to getting his man, or so it seems.

While Tyrell Malacia signed last week and deals for Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez seem close to going through, it is clear that Manchester United's priority transfer target has been Frenkie de Jong.

A star of Ten Hag's Ajax team, De Jong was tipped to help take Barcelona's midfield into the post-Xavi and Andres Iniesta era when he switched Amsterdam for Catalonia in 2019.

Yet, three years on, United have reportedly agreed a fee in the region of £63million (€75m) with Barcelona for the Netherlands international, with a further £8.5m (€10m) in add-ons also possible.

There is one small matter that needs to be resolved, though: De Jong needs convincing to make the switch from Barcelona to Manchester.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta told reporters on July 2 that De Jong had indicated he wished to stay at the club, but then suggested that if the Dutchman were to get his wish, he would have to take a wage cut.

That Laporta believes he would have to negotiate a salary decrease with a player who signed a lucrative contract only three years ago illustrates where Barca have gone wrong, and just why it is hard to fairly judge De Jong's time at Camp Nou, in which he has worked under four coaches – Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setien, Ronald Koeman and Xavi.

The latter was keen to keep hold of the midfielder, but with Barca having signed Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on free transfers and agreed a deal with Leeds United for Raphinha – not to mention handing Ousmane Dembele a new deal – a big sale is apparently required.

While there is still potential for this deal to fall through, should De Jong stick to his guns, it does seem increasingly likely he will be lining up at Old Trafford next season. So, just what will he bring that United need?

Has he lived up to the hype?

De Jong came into a Barca team that had slumped to a humbling Champions League semi-final defeat to Liverpool and were reeling from that implosion.

Valverde's team let a 3-0 aggregate lead slip in that tie, and truly the coach never recovered. Yet Barca splashed out an initial €75m to add stardust to their midfield and back the coach.

On paper, De Jong is the ideal Barca player, the embodiment of total football; an elegant runner, skilful in possession and a brilliant passer, while he is versatile enough to play in any midfield role or even in the centre of defence.

Over the course of his three seasons at Camp Nou, only Sergio Busquets (144) has made more appearances than his 140, so fitting De Jong into the side has not been an issue, while his creativity has certainly come to the fore, with his 149 chances created ranking behind just Lionel Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (207).

Last season, he created 40 chances in 32 LaLiga games.

 

He ranks fifth for assists (15) in the last three seasons, though it should be noted that both Messi and Antoine Griezmann, who are ahead of him in that metric, left the club in 2021.

De Jong's 10,158 touches puts him third at Barca for the same period, with his 645 duels won likewise third, with only Messi (800) and Busquets (814) winning more.

Under Ten Hag, De Jong might well be employed as a deep-lying playmaker as he was often utilised for Ajax. At Barca, Busquets has remained the midfield metronome, topping the charts for passes attempted (10,799) and completed (9,676), though De Jong does boast a better accuracy than the Blaugrana stalwart (91.8 to 89.6).

But for all his quality, De Jong has been unable to transform Barca's midfield, with Pedri and Gavi the new kids on the block. It is that duo that have seemingly grasped the initiative more, with Busquets still trusted by his former team-mate Xavi.

A clear improvement...

De Jong might not have been able to become the superstar many forecast at Barca, but at 25, he has plenty in the tank and, in truth, strolls into United's midfield.

It has been an area of weakness for several seasons, despite the huge investment in Paul Pogba, Fred and Bruno Fernandes.

While Fernandes has, of course, proved a huge success in England, Pogba only managed flashes of brilliance across his six-year second spell at Old Trafford and has now left on a free, while neither Fred nor Scott McTominay seem natural fits for Ten Hag's possession-based, fluid system.

De Jong fits that bill with aplomb and is a huge step-up on what United have in that area.

With Eriksen's impending arrival set to supplement Fernandes as a creator, De Jong could take up the mantle as United's midfield general from a deeper position, whether playing in front of the defence in a 4-3-3, or as part of a double-pivot in a 4-2-3-1 shape, as was employed in this week's 4-0 friendly win over Liverpool.

 

Last season alone, De Jong completed more passes – 2,160 – than any United midfielder, with only Fernandes (1,849) getting close. He also proved consistently available, playing 47 times, 20 more than Pogba, who he is effectively replacing.

Perhaps surprisingly, only Fred (372) and Fernandes (841), of United midfielders, lost possession more times, excluding hoofs, than De Jong (359) last term.

However, De Jong is adept at winning the ball back, having made 226 recoveries, and the fact he did lose possession so much appears to be largely due to him attempting so many more passes than his United counterparts.

De Jong's dribbling ability adds another dimension to United's attack, with his prowess at carrying the ball upfield a useful tool while in transition. His dribble success rate of 77.4 per cent is better than any of United's regular midfielders from last season, bar Matic, who only attempted 27 dribbles. Opta data shows De Jong made 279 progressive ball carries in LaLiga last season. In comparison, Fred managed 91 in the Premier League, with McTominay mustering 182 and Pogba tallying 125.

 

It is no surprise, then, that Ten Hag sees De Jong as a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Getting this deal done and over the line would be a statement of intent, and should provide an ideal platform for United to be shaped in their new manager's image.

Even if doubts remain further up the field, with uncertainty surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo's future, United's midfield has been in need of a major revamp – De Jong provides just that.

Luka Jovic labelled Cristiano Ronaldo as "the greatest of all time" and hopes to emulate the Portugal forward's achievements in Italy after leaving Real Madrid for Fiorentina.

Ronaldo ended a nine-year spell with Madrid in 2018 to join Juventus, where he won two Serie A titles in three seasons before returning to Manchester United ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

Jovic has followed a similar path, leaving the Spanish capital to move to Fiorentina on a two-year deal as part of a free transfer that will see Madrid take half of any future fee the Viola receive.

While Ronaldo left having taken LaLiga by storm with Los Blancos, Jovic departs after a largely unsuccessful spell in which he scored just three goals in 36 league games.

Madrid paid €60million in 2019 for the Serbia international after he impressed for Eintracht Frankfurt, but Jovic is aiming to put the past behind him as he referenced Ronaldo as one of his idols.

"I am inspired by Cristiano, he is the greatest of all time and I hope I can do what he did in Italy," Jovic told reporters on Thursday.

Jovic will wear Ronaldo's iconic number seven shirt, though the Fiorentina signing insists it was "the only one available that I liked", and believes a different system with the Viola will help him thrive.

"I've never played in this competition, but I have experience in Europe and I think we have the qualities to go far," he added.

"I always played better with two strikers, but in Frankfurt we played with three and in Madrid also with one. I'm just saying that I have to help, the rest is the coach's job.

"I've been training all summer and I think I've come here fit – I just have a little calf problem that doesn't bother me."

Jovic will not be the only Serbia striker operating in Serie A, with international team-mate and former Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic playing up top for Juve.

Vlahovic and Dejan Stankovic share the record for the most goal scored by a Serbian in Serie A (51), but Jovic insists he will put international friendships aside with the Juve attacker now becoming a rival.

"Dusan did great in Italy and I will try to do the same," he continued. "In the national team we are team-mates and here rivals. He spoke to me greatly about the championship and about this club."

Barcelona have announced the appointment of former player Rafael Marquez as the new head coach of their B team.

The 43-year-old won LaLiga four times and the Champions League twice during his seven years at Camp Nou during his playing days.

Barca president Joan Laporta revealed earlier this month an agreement was in place for Marquez to return in a coaching capacity, and that was officially confirmed on Thursday.

The Catalan giants tweeted "Welcome back home, Rafa" when announcing the appointment on their Twitter account.

Marquez, who appeared at five consecutive World Cups with Mexico between 2002 and 2018, follows in the steps of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique in managing Barca B.

He will begin his new job on Friday and has agreed a contract that runs through until the end of the 2023-24 season.

Sergi Barjuan was in charge of the Blaugrana's second side last season, but a failure to earn promotion from the third tier of Spanish football led to his departure in June.

Ousmane Dembele believes Barcelona can challenge to win the Champions League after the France winger signed his new two-year contract.

Former Borussia Dortmund star Dembele looked to be heading out of Barcelona in January when acrimonious wrangling over his future led to him being ordered to find a new club.

At the time, Dembele had refused an extension to his deal, which ran through to the end of June, and Barcelona wanted to recoup some of his value rather than see him leave on a free transfer.

Yet it was all hugs and good will on Thursday as 25-year-old Dembele completed the formalities of the contract that will keep him at Barcelona until the end of the 2023-24 season.

Hampered by hamstring and knee trouble during his first five years at the club, Dembele hopes better times lie ahead.

He said: "It's a very happy day. Barca have been my club since I was little, and I hope to help them.

"These have been very difficult years due to injuries, but now it is another time. Staying was always my first option. I told this to the president and coach. It has taken a long time, but we are all happy. I'm looking forward to the season starting.

"The goal is to win titles, the dream is the Champions League, and I'm going to give everything to win this title. I'm going to work hard, and I hope it's a very good year for me and for Barca."

Dembele believes Barcelona are well placed, with Xavi as head coach and Joan Laporta pulling the strings as president, to bring the glory days back to Camp Nou.

He said there were "many people who have helped me a lot" at Barcelona, adding: "Now I have the confidence of everyone, and I am much better."

Laporta will be hoping Dembele delivers on his word as he looks to put the promise into practice, having been a key performer over the second half of last season.

Dembele has made 150 appearances for Barca and came to the fore when setting up 13 goals in the 2021-22 LaLiga campaign – more than any other player in the Spanish top flight.

He was particularly impressive after Xavi summoned him to help the team once it was clear he would not be moving on. Across the LaLiga campaign he made just 15 starts, plus six substitute appearances, so Dembele will be looking to play a fuller role in future.

Laporta, who hopes to close out the signing of Raphinha from Leeds United this week, said the signing of Dembele to new terms marked "a very important day for Barca".

"He has always wanted to stay and the truth is that he has made an effort to enter the new salary scale," Laporta said.

"Dembele has an incomparable talent, very specific. He brings us a lot. Xavi has loved him from the first moment.

"This year is very important, we have to win trophies. I am convinced that we will achieve it. Today is a very emotional day for me. The coach loves you, but so does the club."

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