Diego Simeone urged Atletico Madrid to return after the World Cup with the intention of turning around their faltering season following another defeat.

Atletico were beaten 1-0 away to Mallorca on Wednesday, stretching their winless run to five matches across all competitions – they have never endured a worse streak during Simeone's spell in charge.

Up next is a tussle with minnows Almazan in the Copa del Rey on Saturday, but otherwise Atletico are now not due to play competitively again until after the World Cup.

Wednesday's defeat leaves Atletico sixth in LaLiga, although a big win for Rayo Vallecano against Celta Vigo on Thursday could push Simeone's men down a place.

Either way, the first half of the season has not gone to plan for Atletico, who will be without knockout European football in the new year for the first time since 2010-11.

"The pause of the championship will generate peace of mind to work, and to fully recover [injured players], whom we obviously need," Simeone told DAZN.

"I hope that after the World Cup they come back with the idea of reversing this difficult situation."

Despite the obvious issues for Atletico, Simeone actually seemed somewhat philosophical about their situation and Wednesday's performance.

While concerns remain, Simeone also saw elements that he liked, especially the team's attitude towards the end.

"To say that we have lacked forcefulness in all the games is a very simple excuse. We're making a lot of defensive mistakes that make games uphill battles for us, having to go looking to change the result and that creates complications for us," he later said in his post-match press conference.

"It's clear that little happened in the game in the first half. We couldn't solve a very simple plan in the best way and the game was played where [Mallorca] feel most comfortable.

"Defensively, [Mallorca's] work was very comfortable. In the first half we were looking for balls with more directness in order to be closer to the goal.

"Our changes gave us more vitality, freshness, a more dynamic way of approaching the game with speed on the flanks with [Antoine] Griezmann, [Thomas] Lemar's [ability to] break [the lines], and the appearance of [Sergio] Reguilon, who can give important things. But it was not enough.

"Reality makes us leave with a defeat that hurts and that obviously makes us have to work hard in the time we are going to have, because when LaLiga returns there will be complicated games.

"[But] the team never gave up, I never saw a team that didn't want to go for the game, and that gives me strength."

Atletico Madrid failed to win a fifth successive match as they were beaten 1-0 away to Mallorca in LaLiga on Wednesday.

Diego Simeone's side – who had lost two of their previous three games across all competitions – were unable to stop the rot as they offered little threat in what was their final league game before the World Cup break.

Mallorca talisman Vedat Muriqi was unsurprisingly the one to edge Mallorca in front early on, and that ultimately proved decisive.

An Alvaro Morata strike was ruled out shortly after, but it was by no means a prelude to legal Atletico goals as Los Colchoneros failed to make the most of their dominance of the ball.

Mallorca were good value for their 16th-minute opener, however scrappy it was.

After Jan Oblak spilled Antonio Sanchez's long-range effort, Antonio Raillo's follow-up was blocked into Jaume Costa's path and his scuffed low cross fortunately left Muriqi with an easy finish.

Atletico thought they had a swift response as Morata lifted a lovely finish over Predrag Rajkovic following Rodrigo de Paul's excellent throughball, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.

The visitors showed more attacking purpose at the start of the second half, but Axel Witsel completely missed the ball when teed up inside the box in the 48th minute.

It was not until the 82nd minute that Atletico threatened again, with Morata failing to bundle over the line from close range, and a few moments later he saw a volley brilliantly saved by Rajkovic.

Robert Lewandowski chalked up a LaLiga record as his ninth goal of the season gave Barcelona a 1-0 win at Real Mallorca, taking Xavi's team to the top of LaLiga.

The match-winning strike from Lewandowski made him the fastest player to reach nine goals in the Spanish top flight in the 21st century, with this just his seventh game since arriving from Bayern Munich.

Real Madrid can reassert themselves as leaders when they face Osasuna on Sunday, but the sight of Barca at the summit, however fleetingly, points to the prospect of a fierce title battle.

There was plenty to satisfy coach Xavi, including a first domestic league start of the season for Ansu Fati, even if his team had to settle for a slender victory margin.

Lewandowski put Barcelona ahead in the 20th minute, collecting a pass from Ansu Fati and racing in from the left. He cut back cleverly onto his right foot to make space, cracking a powerful low shot into the far corner.

The Pole had another chance shortly after but could not apply power to his finish after being picked out by Sergio Busquets with a smart first-time pass.

Mallorca went close to a leveller when Jaume Costa tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen after good persistence on the right flank from Antonio Sanchez.

Sanchez forced another save from Ter Stegen soon after the break with a vicious cross-shot, while at the other end Franck Kessie sent a 25-yard drive just wide after good work from Fati.

Kessie and Fati made way midway through the half as Xavi brought on Pedri and Raphinha, emphasising Barcelona's squad depth.

Pedri, Gavi and Raphinha almost combined for a fantasy goal, but Barcelona ultimately did not need a second.

Barcelona boss Xavi has played down concerns over the future of captain Sergio Busquets, insisting the Spain international remains "key" to his plans at the club.

A difficult start to the season for the 34-year-old, including a red card against Rayo Vallecano, seems to have stoked further suggestions this campaign could be his last at Camp Nou.

With Barca still likely to need to cut their cloth accordingly amid their financial struggles, the Spain skipper could well be one key man to depart next year.

But the defensive midfielder has publicly downplayed a definitive answer on his future, and speaking ahead of his side's clash with Mallorca, Xavi reiterated that no decisions have yet been made.

"Busquets has said publicly that he hasn't decided anything," he stated. "He will make a decision at the end of the season and for me, he continues to be key."

With domestic and European concerns to field, Barca are set to enter a major period of fixture congestion, with a dozen games crunched into the month-and-a-half stretch ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Several of Xavi's fellow coaches across the continent have voiced their displeasure at the intense calendar, but he is instead focusing on the need to take as many points as they can at home and abroad.

"We have 12 games until the break for the World Cup," he added. "It's a momentous stretch of the season. All games are going to be very important.

"Tomorrow we have to win and show our character. We have to show our strengths."

Barca will move into an enforced break this term thanks to the mid-season winter staging of the World Cup in Qatar, adding another tough dimension to an already gruelling campaign.

With FIFA having mooted plans in recent times to potentially expand the tournament to a biennial staging, Xavi feels there should be no further restructures or moves from its traditional off-season berth.

"FIFA plans to organise the World Cup every two years," he added. "Now we have the World Cup in Qatar during the winter period.

"I think it would be better if the tournament is compiled at a separate time. Then the other time is allocated to the clubs."

Neymar has hit out at Mallorca captain Antonio Raillo over controversial remarks directed towards Brazil team-mate Vinicius Jr.

The Real Madrid forward has been embroiled in a racism scandal after a Spanish agent told him to "stop playing the monkey" in reference to his dancing celebration.

Vinicius was then subject to a torrent of abuse from Atletico Madrid fans in Madrid's recent derby victory, celebrating Rodrygo's goal in his customary fashion after being urged to "keep on dancing" in a flood of support.

On Monday, Raillo cause further controversy when he accused Vinicius of using the "race card" when he is criticised.

"Vinicius should dance, but he shouldn't be foul, he shouldn't insult or belittle his fellow professionals; then when he is branded as provocative, he uses the race card," he told Diario de Mallorca.

Neymar has subsequently responded on social media, replying to a post from TNT Sport Brasil and asking: "Who is Raillo?" – accompanying his comment with a laughing face emoji.

Brazilian footballers have unfortunately been on the receiving end of recent abuse, with the incident on Vinicius followed by a banana being thrown at Richarlison after he scored for the national side in a 5-1 friendly victory against Tunisia on Tuesday.

Mallorca head coach Javier Aguirre has hit out at LaLiga's scheduling as he considered the decision to play in the afternoon heat against Real Madrid "a crime".

Los Blancos maintained their 100 per cent start to the new season with a 4-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, played under 32-degree heat after kicking off at 2:00pm local time.

The kick-off time left Mexican boss Aguirre furious as he detailed the problems his players had in such temperatures.

"You can't play at this hour, it's a crime. You can see how the players end up after going after the ball," he said in his post-match press conference.

"We are all exhausted, so are the fans. It is very difficult to play at this time, [Vedat] Muriqi with cramps, [Rodrigo] Battaglia with discomfort, Dani [Rodriguez], too.

"I had to change the whole midfield, and we have another one on Saturday at the same time and we have come from another. Let's see if we have better luck in the future."

Carlo Ancelotti also discussed the conditions after the game but came to a different conclusion, understanding the schedule is necessary due to the upcoming World Cup.

"That's the way the calendar is – like today we had to play at 2pm," Ancelotti said. "Fortunately, it wasn't too hot."

Rodrygo declared Real Madrid's start to the new campaign "couldn't have been any better" after helping Los Blancos preserve their 100 per cent winning record in LaLiga.

The Brazil winger contributed a goal and an assist as Madrid rallied to beat Mallorca 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu, completing a comeback that began with Federico Valverde's extraordinary solo goal.

With five wins from as many matches in LaLiga, Madrid are the only team with a 100 per cent record in the big five European leagues this season.

This is only the second season this century in which Madrid have started with five league wins (also 2009-10).

Speaking to the club's website after Sunday's win, Rodrygo said: "Our start couldn't have been any better. 

"This is the fruit of our efforts. We have two tough games coming up now, we have to keep working and doing the right things because we have everything in place to enjoy a fantastic season."

Rodrygo's assist teed up Vinicius Junior to score in his fourth consecutive league appearance at the start of the season, and the former is enjoying linking up with his compatriot.

"Vini and I have a great understanding. We had to get a bit closer to each other," Rodrygo added.

"[Luka] Modric was threading balls between the lines, which is where the coach asked me to be for most of the game. I found space there, linked up with Vini, and the goal came. We just had to move closer.

"The gaffer asked me to attack the space, get in behind the defence. That was the only space you could find because they were very compact and it was so tough to link up on the inside. 

"We managed a few times, but it wasn't easy. Then eventually the goals came."

Tenacious midfielder Valverde was the catalyst for Madrid's comeback, driving forward from his own half before drilling a fabulous effort into the top-left corner to get the hosts on level terms.

However, rather than any individual plaudits, Valverde's main concern was picking up the three points.

"I'm delighted to have got the win. The goal was beautiful, but the important thing was to win. We've got that pride and daring to go after the game even if we're behind," Valverde said.

"I started running, I saw the red shirts and I tried to get round them so I could keep going. When I saw they were showing me inside, I took advantage of that and shot with my left. It was a team goal.

"I tried my luck often last season with my right and I would always hit the post or see it go just wide. 

"Now they're going in, and I'm really enjoying this spell. I try to make the most of my qualities, running with the ball is one of those. 

"When things come off, it's great. After the team has worked so hard, these things bring you real joy."

Madrid have claimed six points from losing positions in LaLiga already this season. Only Southampton and Milan (both seven) have picked up more across Europe's top five leagues this campaign.

Carlo Ancelotti says he empathises with Marco Asensio following his angry reaction to being left on the bench during Real Madrid's 4-1 win over Mallorca.

Los Blancos returned to the LaLiga summit after coming from behind to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season, while remaining the only team in the big five European leagues with a perfect record still intact.

Federico Valverde's marvellous individual effort cancelled out Vedat Muqiri's earlier header, while goals from Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Antonio Rudiger completed the turnaround after the break.

Asensio, who was repeatedly linked with a move away from Santiago Bernabeu during the transfer window, has played just 17 minutes for Madrid across all competitions this season.

His frustration at the lack of playing time boiled over when he was overlooked by Ancelotti after Dani Carvajal replaced the injured Lucas Vazquez in the 71st minute; the winger throwing his bib to the ground while kicking a water bottle.

When asked about the incident, the Italian said: "We were preparing if we didn't make it 2-1 to put Mariano and Asensio in. Lucas has been injured, and we only had one window, and I didn't think about making that change.

"If he is angry, I agree with him. It's normal, it means you want to play, feel important. In this period, he has been the most affected player in the squad and I take that into account. I totally agree with his anger, nothing happens."

Ancelotti also praised the leadership qualities of Valverde after the Uruguay international's wonderful solo goal that saw him pick up the ball from deep inside his own half, before firing into the top corner from 20 yards.

"You are a leader when you are an example, and Federico is very, very important to us," the head coach said of the midfielder, who netted his first Madrid goal in nearly two years. 

"He is doing very well, he is still very humble and this can help him to be a leader in the future. Here, we have many leaders who are leaders with examples, not with language. This is very important."
 

Real Madrid returned to the LaLiga summit after coming from behind to beat Mallorca 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The hosts fell behind as the in-form Vedat Muriqi headed Mallorca into the lead, but Federico Valverde equalised before half-time with a marvellous individual effort.

Carlo Ancelotti's side completed the turnaround 18 minutes from time with Vinicius Junior finding the net for a fourth successive LaLiga game, before another impressive solo goal from Rodrygo and Antonio Rudiger's first strike for the club late on tied things up.

Los Blancos remain the only team in the big five European leagues to boast a 100 per cent record this season, having won their opening five league matches for the first time since 2009-10.

Mallorca had not won at Madrid since May 2009 but Muriqi sounded a warning for the visitors inside the opening minute.

Latching onto Martin Valjent's long ball, the striker cleverly escaped the advancing Antonio Rudiger before his powerful volley was beaten away by Thibaut Courtois. 

Dani Ceballos and Rodrygo tested Predrag Rajkovic at the other end, but Mallorca took a surprise lead in the 25th minute as an unmarked Muriqi headed home Lee Kang-In's free-kick for his third goal of the season.

Madrid equalised in emphatic fashion in first-half stoppage time; Valverde embarking on a wonderful run from deep inside his own half, before firing into the top corner from 20 yards.

Lucas Vazquez curled a 25-yard effort narrowly wide just after the hour mark before Mallorca squandered a glorious opportunity to regain the lead; substitute Antonio Sanchez shooting wide with only Courtois to beat.

It proved costly as Madrid edged their noses ahead in the 72nd minute. Rodrygo burst into the heart of the visitors' defence before feeding Vinicius, who neatly clipped the ball beyond the advancing Rajkovic.

Rodrygo then sealed the points with a minute remaining as he embarked on a strong, jinking run into the box, evading several challenges before slotting home, which was followed by Rudiger volleying home a Toni Kroos free-kick at the far post in stoppage time.

Luka Modric believes Real Madrid are well-equipped to thrive in the aftermath of Casemiro's move to Manchester United, as he praised Los Blancos' midfield options.

Casemiro left Madrid to join United in a £60million (€70m) move last month, but his departure has not stopped Carlo Ancelotti's men from making a strong start to the new season.

Ahead of Sunday's home clash with Mallorca, Madrid have won all four of their games in LaLiga and began their Champions League defence with a 3-0 thrashing of Celtic on Tuesday.

Madrid are the only team with a 100 per cent record in the top five European leagues this season, and are now bidding to win their opening five league matches for just the second time in the 21st century, having also done so in 2009-10.

The likes of Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga and Federico Valverde have stepped up in Casemiro's absence. 

Of Madrid's midfielders, new signing Tchouameni leads the way for minutes played in LaLiga this season (328), followed by Valverde (265), Modric (260) and Camavinga (222). All four have made more starts than the two managed by Toni Kroos, who has played 173 minutes.

Modric believes the strength of Madrid's options means Casemiro will not be missed, telling the club's website: "We've started really well this year and we have a strong team. 

"In midfield, we lost an important player in Casemiro, but we've got a lot of other good players to replace him and do a good job. 

"Tchouameni has adapted really well. This is Camavinga's second year and he had a great first year.

"Kroos has been here for a long time. Valverde is also doing really well in any position. [Dani] Ceballos is helping the team a lot, so we're well-equipped in this position."

Meanwhile, Eden Hazard capped Madrid's trip to Celtic by finishing off a 33-pass move for their third goal. Since Opta data began in 2003-04, that is the longest uninterrupted build-up to any of Madrid's 434 goals in the competition.

But speaking on Saturday, Ancelotti insisted the Belgium forward's strike was not representative of a change in Madrid's style of play.

"Madrid deserves the credit it gets but scoring a goal from a 33-pass play doesn't mean that's our whole identity," the Madrid boss said.

"The game was almost over and we wanted to finish it out with a long spell of possession, but the stats say it's easier to score in under 10 passes. The numbers show very few goals come from over 10 passes.

"You could say that playing a possession-based game has been fashionable and has seen success in recent years, but football is changing and it's more direct.

"Possession football is less popular than it has been recently in every country."

Karim Benzema will miss Real Madrid's next two games, but could return for the derby with Atletico Madrid, according to Carlo Ancelotti.

Benzema came off with a knee injury during Madrid's 3-0 win at Celtic in the opening group game of the Champions League on Tuesday, and it had been feared he would miss a significant period as a result.

However, Ancelotti appeared to allay those fears at a press conference on Saturday ahead of Los Blancos' game with Real Mallorca, saying the France international might even be back in just over a week.

After Mallorca, Madrid host RB Leipzig in the Champions League before making the short trip to face rivals Atletico next Sunday.

"We will not force Benzema," Madrid coach Ancelotti said. "He will certainly not play against Leipzig, but then we will see for the derby.

"If he can't play then [against Atletico], he won't go to France [for the international break]."

Benzema was replaced after 30 minutes at Parkhead by Eden Hazard, who went on to score the third goal in the victory, and it is likely the Belgian will be tasked with filling the centre-forward spot against Mallorca.

Ancelotti does not want him to play like Benzema, though, saying: "Hazard did well coming on against Celtic. I'm going to put him in again on Sunday. Hopefully he can repeat a great game.

"I don't expect [Hazard] to play like Benzema, but I want him to play well and to connect with the other forwards."

Ancelotti has made it clear that there is no replacement for Benzema, with alternative options providing different strengths in the final third, and singled out Vinicius Jr. - who has scored in each of his last four Madrid appearances - for praise.

He said: "We don't have Karim and because he is the best striker in the world, there is no substitute for him on the market.

"But he can be replaced with other players with different characteristics.

"Vinicius is getting more consistent in finishing, in scoring goals. It is difficult for him to fail in front of the goal, there he has improved a lot. 

"I want to emphasise that he continues to maintain a good attitude, with a lot of humility, work - he wants to improve every day."

LaLiga, home to the European champions, returns on Friday for another season.

Real Madrid ended the previous campaign by winning the Champions League, the prize they covet most, but it was also a successful year in domestic action.

Carlo Ancelotti's men eased to a record-extending 35th league title by 13 points – that is the gap Barcelona have sought to bridge in the transfer market during the close season. So, just how successfully have they done that?

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with Barca seemingly left still with plenty to do.

MADRID MAINTAIN BUFFER TO BARCA

Given their 35 titles, given their 13-point gap, given their status as European champions, it is surely no surprise Madrid are considered the clear favourites to scoop Spanish football's top prize once again.

The data makes Ancelotti's side 58.75 per cent favourites to retain their crown.

Barca recovered from a dismal start last season to finish second, and they are forecast for the same result again after investing hugely in Robert Lewandowski and Co.

But there is only a 17.0 per cent chance of the title heading to Camp Nou, with Atletico Madrid a predictable third in the rankings and rated as a 12.3 per cent shot.

Those three clubs have accounted for the past 18 championships since Valencia finished top in 2003-04. Now, under Gennaro Gattuso, Valencia have a mere 0.08 per cent chance of returning to the summit, deemed ninth favourites among 11 teams with any hope at all.

Sevilla (4.74 per cent) and Villarreal (4.66 per cent) are the sides most likely to upset the established order.

 

PRECIOUS FOURTH PLACE UP FOR GRABS

There realistically remains only one of the four Champions League places on offer after taking into account Madrid (95.68 per cent), Barca (79.31 per cent) and Atletico (71.56 per cent). Last season, that belonged to Sevilla.

Yet despite Sevilla's high ceiling seeing them fourth favourites for the title, Stats Perform AI expects them to be pushed out of the top four.

After losing defensive duo Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are given a 47.45 per cent of qualifying for the Champions League, just behind former coach Unai Emery's Villarreal (48.66 per cent), who were seventh last season but reached the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition.

Real Sociedad (24.79 per cent) and Real Betis (20.39 per cent) are both firmly in the mix, too, although every team in the league have at least a 0.04 per cent hope of contending for Champions League glory.

Athletic Bilbao are expected to be on the outside looking in from eighth place (7.48 per cent for Champions League, 7.42 per cent for Europa League and 10.51 per cent for Europa Conference League).

 

NO ESCAPE THIS TIME FOR MALLORCA

The fight against the drop went right to the wire last term, with three teams still in the mix on the final day.

Granada were the surprise victims of a dramatic scrap, relegated just two weeks after winning 6-2 at Mallorca. Mallorca then earned seven points from their next three games to stay up alongside Cadiz at Granada's expense.

That late recovery may have rescued Mallorca for another year, but Stats Perform AI predicts their LaLiga stay will last no longer than that.

They are 41.27 per cent favourites to go down, even considered more likely for demotion than Girona (39.95), who were promoted via the play-offs.

Real Valladolid, another promoted side, are ranked as the third relegated team (32.74 per cent), yet there is very little to choose between a clutch of clubs, with Cadiz (31.8 per cent) again at risk alongside Elche (31.48 per cent), second-tier champions Almeria (28.86 per cent) and Rayo Vallecano (27.46 per cent).

Barcelona head coach Xavi labelled Ansu Fati a "special player" after handing the 19-year-old his first league appearance since November in a 2-1 win over Real Mallorca.

Fati entered the fray as a 75th-minute substitute as the Blaugrana recorded a crucial win in their bid to secure Champions League qualification, as goals from Memphis Depay and Sergio Busquets moved Barca into second place in LaLiga, nine points clear of fifth-placed Real Betis.

Fati has recorded 14 goals and one assist in 37 appearances in LaLiga since making his Barca debut in 2019, but he has suffered an injury-plagued campaign and went over five months without making a league appearance prior to his comeback.

Speaking after the youngster's return to the pitch, Xavi lauded Fati's ability and said it was a "shame" the Catalan giants had been without him for the majority of the season.

"He is very happy to be with the group," Xavi said. "Little by little, he needs competition rhythm. Training is not the same as participating in a match and he needs time. 

"Ansu is a special player. You see him in training. He has made an effort to be with us.

"I have tried him as a number nine [in this match] so that he was close to the area, and because he is not yet ready to do many one-on-ones. 

"It's a shame that we haven't had him these months because I'm sure he would have helped us. I'm very happy for him."

Although Fati's 15-minute cameo in Barcelona's fifth win in seven LaLiga games (two defeats) was welcome news, the Blaugrana lost defender Gerard Pique to injury in the first-half, and Xavi said his former team-mate had been playing through the pain barrier to help Barca's push for a top-four finish.

"Today he told me that he was very well, but in the 10th minute he felt discomfort again. He is making a super effort for the team, he is super involved but the pain is there," Xavi added.

"In the 25th minute, he told me that he couldn't give any more and it was difficult for him to run. 

"Let's see how it is this week. Pique is very important because of his ball output, his size, his set piece [threat] and the leadership he gives to the group."

Barcelona face top-four rivals Real Betis in their next league outing on Saturday, and could mathematically confirm Champions League qualification with a win in that contest if Betis fail to win at Getafe on Monday.

Xavi said Barcelona's 2-1 win over Real Mallorca gives them "peace of mind" in their hunt for Champions League qualification, and hailed Memphis Depay's attitude after he opened the scoring with a stunning volley.

Having lost three consecutive matches at Camp Nou for just the second time in their illustrious history, the Blaugrana bounced back through excellent goals from Depay and Sergio Busquets, holding on for the win after Antonio Raillo pulled a goal back late on.

The Catalan giants have now won five of their last seven games in LaLiga to open up a nine-point lead over fifth-placed Real Betis in the race for Champions League football, moving up to second in the table.

Although Xavi insisted his team should have won the match more comfortably, he was pleased after picking up a crucial win in their quest to wrap up a top-four finish.

"It was a 3-0 match and we have to finish more satisfied, we have committed an unnecessary foul and they have scored the goal. It is a game to win [more] comfortably," he said after the victory.

"[But] the three points give us peace of mind. Now we have a league of five teams to enter the Champions League, which we have to win."

Depay's fantastic volleyed opener represented his 11th goal of the season in LaLiga – more than any other Barcelona player, and while Xavi was not willing to discuss whether the attacker had a future at Camp Nou, he insisted the 28-year-old deserved to play after showing great application in training.

"There is no talk of the future. Memphis has played because he trains very well, and maybe because another player had lowered his arms," he added. "We had worked on the play for the first goal.

"We want players with his attitude. I'm happy for him because it's possible that we were unfair at times with him. But if he trains like this, he has to participate."

Depay's Netherlands team-mate Frenkie de Jong, meanwhile, played the full 90 minutes after reacting angrily to being substituted in Barca's defeat to Rayo Vallecano last time out.

But the 24-year-old, who has been linked with a move away from Catalonia in recent weeks, said he has had positive discussions with Xavi since that incident and hopes Barcelona can compete with newly-crowned champions Real Madrid for the league title next term.

"The conversation with Xavi went well," De Jong said. "I have confidence in myself and the coach has told me that he also has confidence in me. I don't think too much is demanded of me, the pressure is always good and it's never too much.

"We were better and we deserved the victory. We played quite well, although we can always improve a lot. But it was important to win after defeats and we are happy with that.

"We are second, the first objective is to qualify for the Champions League, and then to be second to play in the [Spanish] Super Cup.

"It is frustrating, not fighting for the league, but we have not been good this year and that is why we have not been able to compete with them [Madrid]. We hope to do so next year."

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.

Page 1 of 3
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.