Ronald Koeman is happy for Lionel Messi to decide on his Barcelona future at the end of the season.

Messi asked to leave Barca in 2020 but ultimately stayed put, although he has made little effort to hide his displeasure with former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

The 33-year-old's contract runs out at the end of the season, and he is set to become the most highly sought-after free agent in history.

While Messi, who did not feature in a 1-1 draw with Eibar on Tuesday, is reportedly yet to fully decide on whether he will leave the club, head coach Koeman is not looking to hurry his captain.

"Leo is fine. He was training on [December] 30 and 31, while the rest of the squad was resting," Koeman said ahead of Barca's clash with Huesca.

"No doubt for him, he's got great fitness and he's prepared, happy and really excited. That's important for us.

"He has said that he no longer wants to make the decision [now] and it must be respected. You are free to report however you want. 

"He always does the best for the team, I see no problem that he doesn't decide now."

Barca's presidential elections are set to take place later this month, with several candidates offering up their plans for how to turn things around for the Catalan giants.

The camp of Emili Rousaud, one candidate, spoke of a potential move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, although speculation was swiftly stymied by agent Mino Raiola.

Koeman would like to be able to add to his squad in January but accepts that financial restraints may limit his options, while he does not expect any business to happen prior to the presidential elections on January 24.

"Yes. Without saying names, yes," Koeman replied when asked if he wanted new signings.

"There are players who find it difficult to play games and we want to strengthen the squad. Some don't have much of a future.

"I have already said that it depends on the new president and there will not be much time. We can be prepared. I cannot change the date of the elections."

Ronald Koeman expects to be without Philippe Coutinho for at least three months following surgery to repair a knee injury.

Coutinho suffered damage to the external meniscus of his left knee after coming on as a second-half substitute in Barcelona's 1-1 draw with Eibar on Tuesday at Camp Nou. 

The Brazil international was told he required an operation following further assessment and, while the club has yet to offer a timetable for his return, Koeman has confirmed it will be a lengthy absence. 

Speaking ahead of Saturday's LaLiga fixture away to Huesca, the Barca boss admitted it is a blow to lose another forward option, considering he is also without the services of Ansu Fati. 

"It's unlucky because we have so many important players out injured and Philippe will be about three months out," Koeman told the media.  

"He always has been an important player and he will be important, but now he has to recover, and I don't know when he will be 100 per cent fit.  

"An important absence. Up front, we are having some problems, of course, and I will have to see how we can solve Philippe's absence." 

Coutinho's injury will increase speculation over Barca making a move for long-time target Memphis Depay in the January transfer window. 

The Netherlands international is in the final year of his contract at Lyon and media reports in both France and Spain have suggested he could be available at a greatly reduced price, considering he can leave for free at the end of the 2020-21 season.

In the short term, Koeman will at least have Lionel Messi back for the game with Huesca, as Barcelona aim to avoid losing three successive games against newly promoted sides in the top flight for the first time in their history.

The Blaugrana were beaten by Osasuna in July towards the end of the previous season, then humbled by top-flight new boys Cadiz last month.

Real Madrid are reportedly close to agreeing a deal with David Alaba, while Manchester United are expecting the asking price for Jadon Sancho to drop.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

The defender is free to speak to other clubs, and Madrid are making their move.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CLOSE TO ALABA SIGNING

Real Madrid are close to landing Bayern Munich defender Alaba on a four-year deal, according to Marca.

Alaba is likely to have offers from multiple clubs after establishing himself as one of Europe's leading defenders.

The Austria international has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Jadon Sancho yet to hit top form for Borussia Dortmund this season, Manchester United may be able to land the attacker later this year. 90min reports United believe they can land Sancho for less than £100million (€112.7m) after not meeting Dortmund's valuation of £107m (€120m) in the close season.

- Lionel Messi's future remains a major talking point. Sport reports the Barcelona star – who is out of contract at the end of the campaign – will wait until the end of the season to decide between the LaLiga giants, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and MLS.

- Real Madrid are apparently eyeing a replacement for Marcelo. AS reports the LaLiga giants are tracking Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes, who is also linked to Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus and PSG.

- Liverpool are also linked with centre-backs after long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, while potential exits have been mentioned. However, the Liverpool Echo reports the Premier League giants are not expecting any senior departures in January, which would mean Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi remain despite speculation over their futures.

Philippe Coutinho will undergo knee surgery on Saturday, Barcelona have announced, as reports in Spain suggest he could be out for several months. 

The Brazil international was introduced as a 66th-minute substitute during Tuesday's disappointing 1-1 draw with Eibar at Camp Nou, but was unable to see the game out. 

On Friday, Barca confirmed the Brazil international will have an operation on the external meniscus of his left knee, after which a timetable for his return will be revealed.

A club statement read: "Philippe Coutinho will be operated on this Saturday for the injury to the external meniscus of the left knee by Dr. Joan Carles Monllau and under the supervision of the club's medical services.

"Once the surgery has been completed, further information will be provided to detail the approximate expected recovery time."

Several Spanish media outlets have reported the 28-year-old is likely to be out of action for an extended period of time, potentially not playing again until April.

Such a lengthy absence would be another blow for Barca boss Ronald Koeman, who is already without Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique through injury.

Coutinho has made 14 appearances for Barcelona this season in all competitions, scoring three goals and providing two assists. He spent the previous season on loan at Bayern Munich, helping the German club secure a treble that included winning the Champions League.

Rumours had circulated he could leave the club in the January transfer window, but this latest setback looks to have ensured he will see out the 2020-21 campaign in Spain.

Sergio Ramos has not been named in Real Madrid's squad for their LaLiga match Celta Vigo on Saturday.

The Madrid captain did not train on Friday and, according to Marca, is struggling with a stomach issue.

Ramos, the only unexpected absentee from a 23-man group, has scored twice in 13 league appearances this season.

The centre-back has contributed to five clean sheets, averaging 1.1 tackles, 2.8 clearances, 1.5 interceptions and 0.3 blocks per 90 minutes.

He has made only a single error leading to a shot and received three yellow cards.

Madrid will have to adapt to the absence of the talismanic Ramos, having won just one of the three prior league games he has missed this term.

However, the defending champions are unbeaten in 12 against eighth-placed Celta in LaLiga.

Zinedine Zidane is aiming to "take advantage of the moment" at Real Madrid as he is unsure how long his Santiago Bernabeu reign will last.

The four-year anniversary of Zidane's initial appointment at Madrid is approaching, but the head coach revealed last month he was not discussing an extension to a contract that expires in 2022.

The Frenchman was asked prior to Saturday's game against Celta Vigo if another four years at Madrid - this time unbroken by a spell away - could be on the cards.

However, unable to provide any promises over a long-term stay, Zidane responded: "It takes a lot out of you, but it's a great position here.

"I'm lucky enough to say I'm manager of Real Madrid and take advantage of every moment. I can't say a month, a year or four years. Life is just about the day to day.

"That's what I'm interested in: the day to day, to give everything I can, in every training session, every game. That's what I'm interested in.

"The rest? I don't know what's going to happen in one week. That's why we have to take advantage of the moment."

Zidane will hope to have added to his 11 major honours by the time he does depart, although this season's LaLiga title race is far from straightforward.

Defending champions Madrid can at least briefly move above Atletico Madrid if they beat Celta, against whom they are unbeaten in 12 in LaLiga, but Zidane's men have already played two more games than their city rivals.

It is advantage Atleti for now, yet the former Ballon d'Or winner is not overly concerned.

"Being first means you have an advantage, and that's it," Zidane explained. "We just have to keep on going. We can't control [Atleti being favourites].

"They have an advantage because they're first, and that's it. People are speaking a lot about Atletico now, because, as I said, they're first.

"But the nice thing about this league, right up until the end, it's going to be an open league - as it always is. We'll see."

Despite their strong recent record against Celta - scoring in 28 consecutive home LaLiga meetings, their longest ongoing such run against any side - Madrid were held 2-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu last season.

Eighth-placed Celta could draw against Madrid in consecutive matches for the first time since May 2003.

Zinedine Zidane is not entertaining speculation about transfer talks with David Alaba as Real Madrid battle to defend their LaLiga title.

Bayern Munich defender Alaba is out of contract in Germany at the end of the season and negotiations over an extension have so far proved fruitless for the European champions.

The Austria international has been mooted as a target for Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain as well as Madrid, although Zidane's outfit are considered favourites for his signature in some quarters.

Alaba was a key part of the Bayern team that won the Champions League last season.

However, since the start of 2019-20, he has committed four errors leading to shots in the competition, a joint-high among defenders. None of these have resulted in goals, while Madrid's Raphael Varane has made the same number of mistakes but been punished on all four occasions.

Alaba's statistics over this period are very similar to Varane's, playing 13 games to his 14 and having 29 fewer touches and seven fewer successful passes.

Varane is also just four tackles, two blocks, five clearances and seven interceptions ahead of his counterpart.

Rather than being signed as a competitor to Varane, though, Alaba could partner the World Cup winner as talismanic Madrid captain Sergio Ramos approaches his 35th birthday.

Either way, the speculation does not interest head coach Zidane, who said ahead of facing Celta Vigo: "We've got all our players here. I'm just thinking about the game tomorrow with the players that I have here.

"Then maybe you're going to ask me about the players that are playing a lot or not playing a lot. We have 22 players, 25 with the goalkeepers, a very big squad.

"We have enough to think about with the games that we have not to be thinking about players that aren't even ours. Please, we're thinking just about the game tomorrow."

While Zidane is keeping his focus on LaLiga, where Madrid trail Atletico Madrid by two points, the need to bring in a player of Alaba's calibre would become urgent if a new contract for Ramos was not agreed.

The PSG-linked skipper, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez are all free agents, like Alaba, in June 2021.

"Yes, we all want [contracts to be signed]," Zidane said. "We want the situation to be sorted as quickly as possible.

"It's in everyone's interests, it would be good for everyone, so hopefully it can be sorted out quickly."

Barcelona's new era without Lionel Messi does not need to begin immediately but a clear plan must be laid out for life after the Argentine great, says presidential candidate Victor Font.

Messi will forever be a legend at Camp Nou given his sensational career that has seen him become both Barca and LaLiga's all-time leading goalscorer.

But the 33-year-old was part of a well-documented transfer saga in the close season, in part due to a fractious relationship with departing president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and although a move away eventually did not materialise speculation continue to link Messi with an exit when his contract expires in June.

Asked by AS the objectives for life after Messi, Font replied: "Maintain the ownership model and keep winning titles. 

"That is, to be competitive by having the club owned by the members when this winning generation no longer exists."

But Font did not agree with the suggestion that now is already the time to usher in a new dawn without Messi.

"Not at all. In fact, our goal is for Leo to continue to be and continue to lead the team on the field as long as he wants to continue playing," Font added. 

"When we were talking about Barca post-Messi, surely the best way to define it is Barca post-unique generation of footballers. And that does not happen from one day to the next. 

"There were Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta, [Carles] Puyol, [Gerard] Pique, [Sergio] Busquets…and this transition is not from one day to the next, it happens in time. 

"That is why it is essential to have a project and be clear about how to do it. This is what Messi told us in August, there is no project here, they are lurching, patches are put on. That was his frustration."

Messi caused quite the stir when, in the aftermath of Barca's humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in last season's Champions League, he revealed his desire to move on.

Another recent interview conducted with Messi saw him air his frustrations from that time and did not categorically affirm his commitment beyond this season.

But Font was encouraged by what he heard, adding: "[I took it] positively, because it is consistent with what we have explained. 

"In the short term, it confirms that if there is a high-level sports project, it can continue. And another, that he openly expresses the desire to make what is so strategic for us a reality. And that the Messi-Barca alliance becomes long in time."

Barca's financial situation has been under scrutiny given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Font did not specifically say Messi would have to take a pay cut if he stays at Barca, but said some high earners will have to be sold on and other contracts renegotiated to help their money issues.

"We know that the economic situation is very critical and that is why a shock plan has been prepared as part of the government plan that includes both refinancing the short-term debt because there is no money to pay, and restructuring expenses and the wage bill," he said. 

"In other words, next year we will not have enough income to pay the current staff.

"You have to change, renew templates. We will have to sell players with high salaries, bring in players who charge less, renegotiate contracts. It is part of this 100-day government plan." 

As part of his plan, Font outlined his desire to bring in club great Xavi as general manager and Jordi Cruyff as director of sport.

With Xavi, Font said the aim must be to avoid a situation like with Pep Guardiola, who eventually sought challenges away from Camp Nou.

"We believe that, in the case of Xavi, Barca has a unique asset. A person who has a talent, unique abilities," he said. 

"We have to create the conditions to prevent us from having another Pep Guardiola case with Xavi, who trains, empties, and leaves because he wants to continue being a coach elsewhere. 

"We have to ensure that in the next ten or fifteen years, to say the least, Xavi is part of the club's sporting project. And in this role as general manager, he may have that responsibility."

Finally, 2020 is history - there won't be many people who aren't happy to see the back of a difficult year.

While the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of making a swift exit, the turn of the year at least gives us the chance to look forward, and the same is true in the world of sport.

2020 saw many promising young players make the step up, some undoubtedly down to the absences caused by coronavirus or the packed schedule that the pandemic has led to.

We've picked out 21 under-21 players to keep an eye on in 2021 - and while you may already be familiar with some of them, there's good reason to give them your attention this year...

 

Illan Meslier, 20 - Leeds United

Few goalkeepers can come away from a 6-2 defeat having impressed, but Meslier did so against Manchester United recently. His eight saves prevented Leeds' crushing loss from getting even more embarrassing, while only three goalkeepers have produced more in a single Premier League match this term. His total of 63 is also the second most in the division – the France Under-21 talent, who joined on a permanent deal from Lorient last year, appears to have a big future ahead of him.

Kristoffer Klaesson, 20 - Valerenga

Goalkeepers tend to break through a little later than outfield players, but Norway youth international Klaesson has already been first-choice at Valerenga for the best part of 16 months – he only turned 20 in November. Coincidentally, he could have become a team-mate of Meslier's in 2020 as Leeds were reportedly interested, but he remains in Norway for the time being.

William Saliba, 19 - Arsenal

Saliba is certainly one of the most recognisable names on this list – after all, he has been owned by Arsenal for getting on for two years. Unfortunately, he has not been afforded much of a chance by Mikel Arteta this term, which makes him an interesting prospect to watch in 2021. Either he'll eventually get an opportunity at the Gunners, or a loan move will provide him with a crack at first-team football. After a tricky 2020, he'll want to get his career back on track.

Perr Schuurs, 21 - Ajax

Given his appearance, playing style and the fact he has come through Ajax's academy, comparisons between Schuurs and Matthijs de Ligt were to be expected. He may not reach the Juventus star's level, but he has certainly shown real promise that is reportedly interesting Liverpool. Schuurs is one of the five youngest players to have featured for at least 500 minutes in this season's Champions League, while his 47 ball recoveries was the sixth highest of any player in the group stage.

Ethan Laird, 19 - Manchester United

Aaron Wan-Bissaka was supposed to fix Man United's issues at right-back, but this season his defensive positioning has been concerning and he appears to have become even less effective in attack – his chances created and open-play crosses per 90 minutes have decreased significantly. Laird has long been considered a fine prospect at United and boasts the technical abilities to be a threat in attack. If he can stay fit, chances could be in the offing.

Tariq Lamptey, 20 - Brighton and Hove Albion

Having joined Brighton last January from Chelsea, Lamptey has quickly made a name for himself as an exciting wing-back. Last year saw the diminutive talent enjoy something of a breakthrough, but in 2021 he'll be looking to truly establish himself and potentially break into the England squad. There are few more exhilarating full-backs in the Premier League – his 3.8 dribbles per game is the third most among defenders to have featured more than twice.

Nuno Mendes, 18 - Sporting CP

Sporting have a wealth of talent coming through at the moment and left-back Mendes is arguably chief among them. Blessed with fine technical abilities, the 18-year-old is apparently a target for Man United, Liverpool and Real Madrid. Already a regular having started 10 of the Primeira Liga leaders' 11 games this term, Mendes' 10 completed dribbles is the fourth-highest among defenders in the division, while his 28 interceptions is second only to team-mate Luis Neto.

Gabriel Menino, 20 - Palmeiras

An intriguing player with a well-rounded skillset, Menino has already transitioned from centre-back to defensive midfield to right-back despite his young age. It is in the latter position where he impressed enough to earn a first Brazil call-up last year and only two players have provided more than his five assists in the 2020 Brazilian Serie A.

Moises Caicedo, 19 - Independiente del Valle

The past month or so has seen Caicedo brought to the attention of a wider audience – or, more specifically, Manchester United fans. The all-action midfielder was the teenager with the most goals (four), shots attempted (24), chances created (19), successful passes (748) and dribbles completed (23) in Ecuador's top flight in 2020, while his passing accuracy of 90.1 per cent was the highest among players to attempt 500 or more.

Billy Gilmour, 19 - Chelsea

Scottish talent Gilmour had shown real promise during his 11 Chelsea appearances last season before a knee injury in July laid him low. He returned to action last month with a few cameos off the bench, and there will be plenty hoping he can return to his previous level quickly. A loan move might be on the cards, but Frank Lampard has high hopes for the crafty midfielder.

Yunus Musah, 18 - Valencia

Valencia are going through another difficult spell, with off-field matters often overshadowing on-pitch performances. Nevertheless, in United States international Musah, they appear to have a reason for optimism. Another tricky winger, Musah's 38 dribbles is the second most among Los Che players this term and he became their youngest LaLiga goalscorer (17 years, 338 days) this century when netting back in November. He's one that got away from Arsenal.

Ander Barrenetxea, 18 - Real Sociedad

A nimble right-footed left-winger, Barrenetxea broke into La Real's senior side last season with 17 appearances in LaLiga. His eight starts this term is already an increase of five on the entirety of 2019-20 and he has been using that extra time on the pitch to excite. He has attempted 41 dribbles in LaLiga, and his 56 per cent completion rate is bettered by only seven players – all of whom are much older – among those to have tried at least 40.

Bryan Gil, 19 - Eibar (on loan from Sevilla)

If Barrenetxea embodies the modern 'inverted winger' style, then Bryan is very much a wide midfielder of the classic variety. A direct touchline-hugger, the left-winger's aim is almost always to beat his man and get a cross into the box, and he is catching the eye on loan at Eibar this term. Only five wingers in LaLiga can better Bryan's 49 open-play deliveries, though his 22.5 per cent accuracy is better than all but one of those with more cross attempts. He's also tried 44 dribbles, his 52.3 per cent completion putting him close to Barrenetxea.

Jaminton Campaz, 20 - Deportes Tolima

Campaz may not be a household name yet, but a move to Europe or one of South America's leading leagues is surely not far away. The attacker, who can play wide or through the middle, is an explosive player but also productive. No younger player had more goal involvements (five goals and four assists) and chances created (32) in Colombia's top division than Campaz.

Amad Diallo, 18 - Manchester United

Although United splashed a reported £19million on Diallo, the young Ivorian remains something of an unknown quantity. A left-footed right-winger, he has only been given a handful of opportunities in Atalanta's senior side – though he has often caught the eye with his ability on the ball. Given United's lack of options on the right flank, he might just establish himself sooner than some expect – either way, he will be one to monitor.

Pedri, 18 - Barcelona

As each week passes, more and more Pedri looks to be settling into the role as Lionel Messi's heir at Barcelona, but whether he's ready to take up such a mantle as early as this year is another matter. Messi's contract ends in June and so he could well depart – taking on his creative burden would be an unenviable task for a teenager, though Pedri is proving effective. He is creating a chance every 45 minutes on average in the league this term, the third most frequent in the squad among those to have played at least five times.

Talles Magno, 18 - Vasco da Gama

Are you really a Brazilian 'wonderkid' if you've not been linked with every major European club? Talles Magno fits the bill there and it's easy to see why there's interest. His end product still needs work, but his ability to excite is considerable – the 18-year-old has completed more than twice as many dribbles (106) as any other teenager in Brazil's Serie A between 2019 and 2020.

 

Karim Adeyemi, 18 - Salzburg

There has been a buzz around Adeyemi for a few years now as has previously impressed scouts with Germany's youth sides and during a fruitful loan spell at Liefering. Now back at Salzburg, he looks destined to be another serious talent off the club's impressive conveyor belt. Adeyemi is the only player to have been involved in four goals in a single Austrian Bundesliga this term, scoring and getting a hat-trick of assists in the 8-2 victory over St. Polten, while he set up a goal on his league debut for the club in June. A thrilling talent with great vision and dribbling abilities, Adeyemi may get even greater responsibility in 2021 following the departure of Dominik Szoboszlai.

Marcos Leonardo, 17 - Santos

It's still early days for Marcos Leonardo, though Santos clearly rate him highly – the striker's release clause is €100m. He's already the underage player with the most minutes played (296) and goals (one) in Brazil's top division this season, while he became the sixth youngest player to net in the Copa Libertadores (17y, 173d) when scoring a winner against Defensa y Justicia.

Youssoufa Moukoko, 16 - Borussia Dortmund

There's not much that hasn't already been said about Moukoko. He became the Bundesliga's youngest ever player in November when making his debut a day after his 16th birthday, before then also setting a new record for the league's youngest goalscorer in December. New coach Edin Terzic has already given him two starts – his next target will be to break records on the international stage with Germany. He couldn't get into their Euros squad, could he?

Matias Arezo, 18 - River Plate (URU)

Stocky, technically gifted and already proving decisive in front of goal with seven goal involvements (five goals, two assists) in 15 league matches, Arezo has a lot going in his favour. Whether he has the mentality or focus to not let the 'new Luis Suarez' labels distract him remains to be seen, but he's already the youngest Uruguayan (17y, 349d) to ever score a brace in the Copa Sudamericana having done so against Atletico Nacional in November.

Manchester City are reportedly planning a bid for Harry Kane, while United are still interested in Jack Grealish.

City have been linked with numerous forwards amid uncertainty over Sergio Aguero's future.

And it seems the Tottenham star is among their targets.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY PLANNING £88.7M BID FOR KANE

Manchester City are planning an £88.7million offer for Tottenham star Kane ahead of next season, according to Bild.

Kane, 27, is contracted at Spurs, where he continues to star, until 2024.

The England international has scored nine goals in 15 Premier League games this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United remain interested in signing Aston Villa star Grealish, according to the Daily Mail. The midfielder was heavily linked with a move to United in the close season, but ended up staying at Villa, who are in action at Old Trafford on Friday.

- Eric Garcia has seemingly made a decision on his future. The Guardian reports the Manchester City defender has agreed personal terms on a five-year deal with Barcelona. Garcia is contracted at City until the end of the season.

- With Mauricio Pochettino reportedly set to take over at Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham apparently have worries over Hugo Lloris. The Sun reports Spurs fear the goalkeeper could join former boss Pochettino in Paris and they are eyeing West Brom's Sam Johnstone and Manchester United's Dean Henderson as potential targets.

- Yet to play for Arsenal this season, Mesut Ozil's future remains a talking point. Bild reports the playmaker wants to see out his contract, which runs until season's end, with the Premier League outfit.

- Also coming out of contract, Sami Khedira looks set for a Juventus exit. The Daily Mail reports the midfielder is set to hold talks with Everton over a potential move.

- Struggling for game time at Manchester United, Jesse Lingard has had the one-year option on his contract at the club triggered, according to Sky Sports. Lingard's deal now runs until 2022.

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