Kylian Mbappe stepped off the bench to convert a penalty as Paris St Germain won 2-0 at Nantes to extend their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to 14 points.

Mbappe, who told PSG on Friday of his intention to leave in the summer when his contract expires, struck his 21st league goal of the season from the spot after Lucas Hernandez had given his side a second-half lead.

Amid mounting speculation that Mbappe will join Real Madrid in time for next season, the 25-year-old, along with Ousmane Dembele and Achraf Hakimi, were left out of Luis Enrique’s starting line-up.

Mbappe, who started and scored in PSG’s 2-0 win against Real Sociedad in Wednesday night’s Champions League last-16 tie, was in dispute with his club over his contract last summer.

The France forward refused to sign a one-year extension clause and was subsequently exiled from the first-team squad, and left out of their pre-season tour to Asia.

But he was all smiles with boss Enrique as he waited to enter the action at the Stade de la Beaujoire just after Hernandez had broken the deadlock, and was handed the captain’s armband after going on.

At the end of a first half of few clear-cut chances, Nantes twice went close and had a goal ruled out for offside.

Hernandez’s last-ditch tackle thwarted Douglas Augusto and was deemed legitimate by VAR before Marquinhos blocked Nicolas Cozza’s shot after Gianluigi Donnarumma had saved Mostafa Mohamed’s effort.

Nantes thought they had broken the deadlock when defender Nicolas Pallois turned home a corner, but his effort was ruled out by the referee assistant’s flag.

Pallois’ dipping 30-yard volley was comfortably saved by Donnarumma early in the second half and PSG took the lead on the hour-mark through Hernandez’s deflected shot.

Mbappe, Dembele and Hakimi were all sent on by Enrique straight after Hernandez’s opener and the visitors put the result beyond Nantes with 12 minutes remaining.

Augusto tripped Mbappe in the penalty area and the France forward picked himself up to slam home the spot kick for his 26th goal in 28 appearances for his club in all competitions this season.

Nantes went close to a late consolation goal when Donnarumma pushed substitute Moses Simon’s effort on to a post as PSG extended their unbeaten league run to 17 matches.

Kylian Mbappe became Paris St Germain’s leading scorer at the Parc des Princes as the Ligue 1 champions saw off Toulouse with a 2-0 victory to take the Champions Trophy.

PSG headed into Wednesday’s showpiece as the firm favourites to claim more silverware and they were ahead after just three minutes through Lee Kang-in.

Mbappe doubled his side’s advantage shortly before the interval with his 111th home strike for PSG as Luis Enrique landed his first trophy for the French side.

Ousmane Dembele returned for PSG following their 3-1 win against Metz a fortnight ago, while Toulouse made two changes with Vincent Sierro and Moussa Diarra back in the starting line-up.

Toulouse, who have found the going tough under new manager Carles Martinez Novell on the domestic front – with just two league wins this season – were making their first appearance at this stage of the competition since 1957 after thrashing Nantes to win the Coupe de France.

But they were a goal down with just two minutes and 35 seconds on the clock.

Vitinha’s superb crossfield ball was volleyed back across the face of goal by Dembele with an unmarked Lee making no mistake from close range.

PSG were on the front foot and in control, but Toulouse almost netted an equaliser when Gabriel Suazo struck the sidenetting with PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma beaten.

With 10 minutes of the opening period remaining, Lee nearly had his second of the night when he unleashed an overhead kick, only to be gobbled up by Guillaume Restes, before Toulouse suddenly threatened again as Thijs Dallinga’s snapshot was tipped on to the post by Donnarumma.

But the home side did double their advantage before the interval following a moment of magic from Mbappe.

The France international collected the ball 25 yards from goal before dribbling away from a handful of Toulouse defenders and firing the ball into the far corner to surpass Edinson Cavani as PSG’s sharpest shooter at the Parc des Princes.

Mbappe’s masterclass left Toulouse with a mountain to climb in the second half and, despite an impressive start after the interval, PSG nearly had a third when Achraf Hakimi’s free-kick struck the woodwork.

Brazilian defender Lucas Beraldo was handed his debut in the second half and, while Toulouse refused to give up, they never looked like threatening PSG as Enrique’s men cruised to a record-extending 12th triumph – and their 10th in the past 11 years.

Paris St Germain boss Luis Enrique wishes he could be playing for a title every week as he bids to land his first trophy with the club on Wednesday.

The Ligue 1 champions can open 2024 by claiming more silverware as they take on French Cup holders Toulouse for the Champions Trophy at the Parc des Princes.

PSG, winners of the trophy in nine of the past 10 years, go into game as strong favourites having opened up a five-point lead at the top of the table while Toulouse languish in the bottom three.

Enrique, the former Barcelona and Spain manager who took charge last summer, told reporters at a press conference: “We have the opportunity to play a match to win our first title this season, so that’s a source of motivation.

“Our aim is to win every title possible. It would be a reward for all the work we put in last year, so of course we’re very motivated.

“I’d love to be able to play for a trophy every week, like all the players.

“Of course, the motivation is greater than any normal league match. It’s going to be played at ‘home’ but as a neutral ground, so I imagine the atmosphere will be great.”

Toulouse have found the going tough under new manager Carles Martinez Novell on the domestic front but they finished second to Liverpool in their Europa League group.

Enrique expects them to be highly motivated and is taking nothing for granted.

He said: “Paris Saint-Germain lives for this type of match but both teams will be motivated.

“They’re a team that can do a lot with the ball and if you give them time, they’re very good at occupying space. Without the ball, they can also perform well.”

The game comes after PSG began the January transfer window by completing the signing of Brazilian defender Lucas Beraldo.

He could be the first of a number of additions.

Enrique said: “If I can have several players available in each position, I’d obviously be delighted.

“We’ll be paying close attention during this transfer window and we’ll see if there are any opportunities that allow us to improve the team.”

Ousmane Dembele is the latest addition to the PSG injury list with a hamstring problem but back-up goalkeeper Arnau Tenas is available after a shoulder issue.

Kylian Mbappe and 17-year-old Warren Zaire-Emery starred to help Paris St Germain get their Champions League campaign back on track with a 3-0 win over AC Milan.

The Ligue 1 champions had been humiliated by Newcastle with a 4-1 loss at St James’ Park before the international break, but a second victory in Group F sent them to first position with six points after dismantling last season’s semi-finalists.

Mbappe opened the scoring after collecting Zaire-Emery’s pass before Randal Kolo Muani made it 2-0 at the start of the second half.

There was still time for a flourish in Paris with Zaire-Emery again showing his class with a second assist to set up Lee Kang-in late on.

PSG’s success coupled with Newcastle’s loss at home to Borussia Dortmund has further changed the complexion of the group with Milan bottom on two points ahead of welcoming the French outfit to the San Siro in a fortnight.

Luis Enrique had rested Achraf Hakimi, Milan Skriniar, Ousmane Dembele and Kolo Muani for their weekend win over Strasbourg, but recalled his big guns in an effort to help PSG regain control of Group F.

It was visiting Milan who dominated possession in the opening exchanges and Rafael Leao fired wide from Christian Pulisic’s quick corner.

Yellow cards were also frequent with Malick Thiaw, who was sent off in Milan’s loss at home to Juventus on Sunday, booked for a foul on Kolo Muani after only four minutes.

Mbappe’s involvement during the first quarter of an hour had been minimal, but the PSG talisman signalled his intentions with a snapshot straight at Mike Maignan in the 22nd minute.

Soon after Mbappe sent another effort wide from range before the breakthrough did occur with the World Cup winner able to provide the opener after 32 minutes.

Zaire-Emery was at the heart of the goal with the 17-year-old able to impressively hold off Tijjani Reijnders before he passed into Mbappe, who squared up Fikayo Tomori and then curled into the bottom corner in a flash for his 10th goal of the campaign.

It was the moment of magic the anxious Parc des Princes crowd wanted but no further goals were forthcoming before the break after PSG had penalty appeals waved away following a tangle between Mbappe and the already-booked Thiaw in the area.

The hosts did have the ball in the net three minutes into the second half when Dembele appeared to open his account for the club, but VAR awarded a foul for Manuel Ugarte’s cynical tackle on Rade Krunic in the build-up.

Milan threatened moments later but Olivier Giroud could only fire into the side-netting from Pulisic’s centre and the second did arrive in the 53rd minute for PSG.

Mbappe’s quick thinking saw the French attacker take a quick corner into the path of Dembele, who had a low shot parried out by Maignan to Kolo Muani and he made no mistake from close range.

While Leao continued to carry Milan’s attacking threat, their race was run and only a stunning finger-tip stop from Maignan to deny Mbappe prevented PSG making it 3-0.

It would prove brief respite with Luis Enrique’s team adding a third after 89 minutes when teenager Zaire-Emery raced down the right and squared for substitute Lee to curl into the bottom corner to help PSG leapfrog Newcastle to move top of Group F.

Luis Enrique has vowed to get the best out of superstar Kylian Mbappe as he attempts to address Paris St Germain’s stuttering form.

The Ligue 1 champions return to domestic action at Rennes on Sunday still smarting from their 4-1 Champions League drubbing at Newcastle on Wednesday evening, during which Mbappe cut a frustrated figure.

However speaking at his pre-match press conference, PSG boss Enrique dismissed concerns over the striker’s fitness – he limped out of the 4-0 win over Marseille a fortnight ago with an ankle injury, but has started the two games since – and backed him to return to his best form.

He said: “Kylian is 100 per cent. Like all players, his fitness varies throughout the season. Not everything can be black and white.

“He’s a decisive player for us and my aim as coach is to make the most of his qualities.”

Like Mbappe, summer signing Ousmane Dembele made little impact at St James’ Park, but Enrique called for patience with the former Barcelona star as he adapts to his new surroundings.

He said: “I’m very happy with Ousmane’s work so far. I don’t think we need to put any particular pressure on him.

“The first person to blame when things aren’t going well is the coach. My real objective is to attack with 11 attackers and defend with 11 defenders.

“Ousmane Dembele plays on the flanks but he can also come into the middle to provide support. He’s an ideal player for my playing philosophy, with the ability to unbalance opponents. I’m happy with his attitude and his performances.”

PSG headed into the weekend sitting in fifth place in the table, two points behind early leaders Monaco, but having won only four of their nine games in all competitions to date to leave Enrique himself in the firing line.

However, the Spaniard remained defiant in the wake of intense criticism of his side’s performance at Newcastle.

He said: “My job is to find the best way to achieve the best possible results. In any case, I have every confidence in my players and my staff going forward.”

Rennes, who lost for the first time this season when they went down 1-0 at Villarreal in the Europa League on Thursday evening, have frustrated PSG in recent seasons, completing a league double over them last season.

The Parisians have not returned from Rennes with all three points since September 2018 and have managed just a single draw in their last four visits.

Enrique said: “Rennes are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the league. Historically, they’re a club that we’ve had some difficulty facing, especially when we play them away.

“They have some very interesting attacking systems, with some very strong individual attacking players.”

Dan Burn realised a dream he never imagined would come true when he scored in Newcastle’s Champions League triumph over Paris St Germain.

The Magpies defender was earning £9 an hour collecting trolleys when he got his break in football as a 17-year-old YTS trainee with Darlington.

On Wednesday night, his header put his side 2-0 ahead in their Group F clash with the French champions at St James’ Park, and they went on to secure a famous 4-1 victory to give themselves a genuine chance of qualification.

 

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Asked afterwards if he had ever dreamt of scoring in the Champions League, the 31-year-old said: “I dreamt of it. I never thought it was going to happen.

 

“I don’t think it’s really sunk in. The next few days once I’ve watched it back about a hundred times and managed to celebrate with my family, it probably will.

“But (it was) just a special night all round for the city.”

Burn’s big moment, which came after Miguel Almiron had fired the home side in front, was surrounded by drama after he headed home Bruno Guimaraes’ cross and immediately saw the flag go up to spark a lengthy VAR check.

But the 6ft 6in defender eventually got the answer he craved to spark wild celebrations on and off the pitch.

He said: “It spoiled it a little bit because as soon as I scored, I looked up and saw the offside flag and you’re a bit deflated.

“But as it went longer and longer, you think it might be a goal and just to have the lads jumping on you and looking around, and I’ve got all my family here as well…

“To be able to say that I’ve scored in the Champions League for Newcastle is amazing.”

Much of the talk before the game centred on how a Newcastle defence shorn of the services of key man Sven Botman would handle the threat of Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Goncalo Ramos and Randal Kolo Muani.

In the event, Burn, Kieran Trippier, Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar – who also got his name on the scoresheet – coped admirably to blunt a potentially lethal attack.

Asked about Mbappe, Burn said with a smile: “He stayed on the left side, so I was quite happy, to be fair. But even to say I was playing against Mbappe is crazy.

“As I said, he kept over to Tripps’ side more, so I was happy with him.”

 

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The Magpies will resume their campaign after the international break with another home tie against Borussia Dortmund, but will do so having made a significant statement about their prospects.

 

Burn said: “We don’t fear anyone. We worked very, very hard to get to this point and we want to enjoy it, but we’ll only enjoy that playing the way that we play.

“We’ve just got to keep the momentum going.”

Ousmane Dembele has told Barcelona that he wants to leave to join Paris St Germain, according to manager Xavi.

The Ligue 1 side have made the 26-year-old an offer that Barca “cannot match” and he has informed his manager that he wishes to move.

The France international has a £43million release clause in his contract which PSG have reportedly triggered, shortly before the terms of his deal stipulated the figure would rise to £86m.

Talks have taken place between the parties and Dembele has made up his mind that his future lies away from Barca, whom he joined from Borussia Dortmund for £125m in 2017.

“Dembele came and told me he wanted to leave,” said Xavi. “He has an offer from PSG that we cannot match.”

He has played 185 times for the club and has won three LaLiga titles during his six-year stay.

Liverpool's underwhelming 2022-23 campaign has led to talk that the club will undertake a squad overhaul in the off-season.

Chief among Jurgen Klopp's priorities is a midfield revamp, with Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham and Chelsea's Mason Mount among those linked to the Reds.

However, there could also be another attempt at signing a France international they were beaten to in 2022 by Real Madrid.

TOP STORY – YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TCHOUAMENI MIDFIELDERS

Real Madrid's Aurelien Tchouameni is once again high on Liverpool's transfer agenda as they look to refresh their midfield, reports El Nacional.

The Reds were interested in the 23-year-old at the end of last season but were unable to land him after he chose to move from Monaco to Madrid for a reported €100 million on a six-year deal.

Though he started Saturday's 3-2 home defeat to Villarreal, Tchouameni has been unable to establish himself as a frequent starter under Carlo Ancelotti, meaning Los Blancos may be willing to let him go to raise funds, with Liverpool reportedly still keen and willing to offer £71m (€80m).

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercatoweb claims Inter are warming to the idea of Nicolo Barella exiting San Siro, as Liverpool circle for the midfielder as part of their revamp. Inter reportedly want no less than €50m (£44m) for him.

Barcelona's discussions with Ousmane Dembele over a new contract have stopped, with the Catalans unable to offer him a pay rise, reports SPORT.

ArsenalChelsea and Villarreal are all interested in Wolfsburg full-back Ridle Baku, claims Caught Offside.

– Newcastle United and West Ham United are leading the race to sign Wilfried Zaha on a free transfer from Crystal Palace, according to The Star.

– The Mirror reports ex-Leeds United boss Jesse Marsch has agreed to a long-term deal to take over at Leicester City following Brendan Rodgers' dismissal.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has won plenty of admirers with 13 goals and 15 assists for runaway Serie A leaders Napoli this season.

The 22-year-old Georgian joined Napoli in July 2022, penning a contract until 2027 for a for a reported fee of €10–12 million from Dinamo Batumi.

Kvaratskhelia has helped Napoli into the Champions League quarter-finals, while winning the Serie A's Player of the Month twice.

 

TOP STORY – PSG TO TABLE LUCRATIVE OFFER FOR NAPOLI STAR

Paris Saint-Germain are ready to go all-out and offer Khvicha Kvaratskhelia a whopping €180m deal, claims Le10Sport.

Real Madrid are also reportedly monitoring the winger's status although he has previously shown no interest in exiting Napoli. It has been claimed Napoli would not accept anything below €100m for their emerging star.

The lucrative deal is plausible given PSG hold the record for the two most expensive transfers in world football, signing Neymar for €222m in 2017 and Kylian Mbappe for €180m in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

– Mundo Deportivo reports Borussia Dortmund have placed a bumper €125m (£110m) minimum price tag on midfielder Jude Bellingham as a long list of clubs chase his signature including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Manchester United are willing to pay the €50m (£44m) release clause in Ousmane Dembele's Barcelona contract as they look to sign the French winger, reports Fichajes. The report claims the Blaugrana may be open to that as they look to sort their financial challenges.

Chelsea are interested in an off-season move for Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier, reports Football Insider. The report claims Blues boss Graham Potter wants a new stopper, with Meslier seen as a cheaper option if Leeds go down. Fichajes claims Chelsea are keen on Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana to take over from Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Newcastle United have revived their interest in Bayer Leverkusen pair Moussa Diaby and Mitchel Bakker claims 90min. Arsenal have been linked with Diaby in the past, with the French winger reportedly worth €70m (£62m).

Juventus are still pushing to sign Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante as a free agent despite reports he will re-sign with the Blues, according to Calciomercato.

– The Mirror reports Manchester United are set to hand manager Erik ten Hag a new three-year extension, despite the ongoing uncertainty around the sale of the club.

Top Premier League clubs Manchester United, Newcastle United and Chelsea are said to be monitoring Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele ahead of his release clause activating.

Dembele is in his sixth season with Barcelona, having racked up a total of 40 goals in his 178 appearances.

He remained a first-team regular to start this campaign, with 14 starts from his 18 LaLiga appearances, before suffering a serious hamstring injury in late January.

The France international is yet to return nearly two months later, but despite his troubling physical problems, England's elite believe he could represent terrific value due to his contract situation.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA'S DEMBELE AVAILABLE AT A DISCOUNT

Dembele was purchased from Borussia Dortmund for €105million plus add-ons back in 2017, but according to Calciomercato he will be available for just €50m (£44m) in the upcoming transfer window.

His contract is set to expire after one more season, and if the club do not secure a long-term extension, Dembele will have his release clause activated.

The €50m figure is said to be more than enticing to England's wealthy clubs, as it is considered a bargain compared to the going rate for other world-class wingers.

Serie A giants Juventus and Inter are also said to be fans of Dembele's, but the price tag is too rich for their current financial situation unless they sell some players to raise funds.

 

ROUND-UP

– Foot Mercato is reporting Paris Saint-Germain superstar Lionel Messi is considering a move back to Barcelona next season, with his father said to be in regular communication with the club.

Real Madrid are monitoring 29-year-old Tottenham striker Harry Kane as a potential successor to Karim Benzema, per the Daily Mail.

– According to Calciomercato, Barcelona and Tottenham are both fans of 26-year-old Fiorentina midfielder Sofyan Amrabat, who is expected to leave the club in the upcoming transfer window.

– Goal is reporting Brighton and Hove Albion are prepared to make 25-year-old winger Kaoru Mitoma the highest earner in club history, in order to fend off interest from Real Madrid, Manchester City and Arsenal.

– Former player Jose Enrique revealed on his live stream that Liverpool have agreed to terms for 20-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, who Enrique shares an agent with.

Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League last-16 exit has prompted speculation about a squad overhaul.

Neymar's future in the French capital is in doubt, while pressure has ramped up on head coach Christophe Galtier.

PSG will be an interesting watch during the next transfer window as they show their hand on their future direction.


TOP STORY – PSG PLOT MOVES FOR SILVA AND DEMBELE

Paris Saint-Germain are plotting off-season moves to sign Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva and Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele , according to Diario Sport.

The Parisiens are monitoring Dembele's status at the Blaugrana with only one year left on his contract, with a €50million release clause.

Barcelona have been linked with Silva but may struggle to facilitate that deal given €65m asking price, with PSG better placed to table that figure.

The report claims PSG's move for Dembele hinges on Neymar and whether he stays in Paris.

  
ROUND-UP

– AS reports Real Madrid are still angling to sign PSG's Kylian Mbappe after a long courtship. The report claims Los Blancos want to sign him as a free agent when his contract expires in 2024 and have prioritised him over Man City's Erling Haaland .

Tottenham are ready to launch a move to sign Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford on a cut-price deal, according to The Sun. The report claims Pickford has a clause in his new Everton deal, signed last month, if they are relegated although the Toffees are understood to want around £35m.

PSG are planning a bid for Villarreal defender Pau Torres in the next transfer window, reports The Mirror. Manchester United opted against signing him last year.

Barcelona 's top priority in the off-season is to sign Athletic Bilbao defender Inigo Martinez , according to Sport.

– Calciomercato claims Milan have cooled their interest in Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita as his wage demands are beyond what they can offer.

Bayern Munich continue to monitor the status of Juventus forward Dusan Vlahovic , reports Calciomercato.

Ousmane Dembele is expected to miss a run of important games for Barcelona after suffering a strained thigh in their LaLiga win over Girona on Saturday.

The French winger, described by coach Xavi as Barcelona's "most important player in one-on-one situations", may struggle to be back in time for the Europa League play-off first leg against Manchester United, which takes place on February 16 at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have yet to give an official estimate of how long Dembele faces on the sidelines, but local reports have suggested it may be a three-week absence.

The injury took some of the shine off an eighth win in nine LaLiga games, in which Dembele's replacement off the bench, Pedri, scored the only goal.

Dembele made way after 26 minutes and underwent checks before visitors Barcelona embarked on their short journey home.

Barcelona announced on their website: "Tests this evening on Ousmane Dembele have revealed that he has strained the rectus femoris muscle in his left thigh. It means he is sidelined until he can recover from the injury."

Xavi said of Dembele's blow: "It's a shame because he is an important player."

Dembele has eight goals and seven assists for Barcelona this season, with those combined 15 goal involvements bettered only by Robert Lewandowski's 27 (22 goals, five assists) among Xavi's squad.

Barcelona have LaLiga games against Real Betis, Sevilla and Villarreal before the United game.

Xavi believes it will be a "catastrophe" if Barcelona do not beat Girona on Saturday as they look to keep up their LaLiga title charge.

A run of seven wins in eight league matches has put Xavi's men top of the table, holding a three-point lead over rivals Real Madrid in second.

They continue their bid to win their first LaLiga title since the 2018-19 season on Saturday at home to Girona, who sit 11th and just four points above the relegation zone.

Xavi hopes his team can pick up another three points amid the pressure of a title race, telling reporters: "You have to beat Girona. This is Barca.

"This is the Barca environment, I know it very well. If we don't win tomorrow, it will be a catastrophe.

"Try to win it because it will be a difficult match. Michel [Girona head coach] has said that they have nothing to lose and we will come out with pressure because we want to win LaLiga."

Xavi is hoping Ousmane Dembele will extend his Barcelona contract amid rumours of a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Dembele scored Barca's winner as they beat Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Wednesday, continuing his excellent form this season after a tough 2021-22 campaign.

The France international has been involved in 15 goals with Barcelona in all competitions this season, already equalling his record of last term, but with his contract set to expire in 2024, there had been rumours of a move to PSG.

But Xavi wants Dembele to remain with the Spanish giants, telling reporters: "Ousmane is an important player, someone who makes a difference.

"It's difficult to find these kind of players. For me, he's a key player. Ousmane knows it, the club knows it.

"He has changed his mentality and I hope to have him here for many more years."

Barca overcame wastefulness in front of goal to overcome La Real and reach the Copa del Rey final four, with Dembele's goal enough to secure a narrow 1-0 win despite having 20 shots.

While Xavi is concerned about his side's profligacy in front of goal in tight matches, he believes his team are much improved from last season, saying: "I am worried about not finishing them [close games]. Many things have to be improved

"We have to value how we were last year and how we are now. There are things to improve, obviously, but I think we are in a very good moment of form and it should be valued."

Xavi credited Ousmane Dembele with changing his mentality in order to discover the form he has shown for Barcelona this season.

Barca reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey thanks to a second-half strike from Dembele to beat Real Sociedad 1-0 at Camp Nou, aided by the sending off of La Real midfielder Brais Mendez late in the first half.

Dembele attempted 11 dribbles during the game, equalling the highest total by a Barca player in a game this season, which came from the French winger himself against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.

Speaking to the media after the win, Xavi said that filling Dembele with confidence is the major difference from the player he inherited when he took charge of the club in November 2021.

"The only thing we have given Ousmane is confidence. I believe a lot in him," the Barca head coach said. 

"I always think he can generate many things for us. I see the faces of the full-backs and they suffer. The only thing that had to change was his decision-making at the last moment.

"I'm very happy for him because he got the winning goal. I think he's enjoying it and he's managed to turn his situation around.

"We try to guide Dembele so he makes the best decision on the field. I see tremendous conditions for him and he continues to be one of the best in his position.

"At Barca you have to have the ability to change your mentality and believe it, and I think at this stage he is succeeding. I see him very happy."

 

Dembele has been involved in 15 goals for the Blaugrana this season (eight goals, seven assists), already equalling his record of last campaign (two goals, 13 assists), while only Robert Lewandowski (27 – 22 goals and five assists) has been involved in more among Barca players.

The hosts dominated much of the quarter-final on Wednesday, though were grateful to Marc-Andre ter Stegen for making a vital save from Robert Navarro late on.

"The game at the end was complicated for us, where Ter Stegen saved us," Xavi added. "This is football and we have to learn, but we cannot end up suffering like this.

"We have dominated Real Sociedad with 11 [players], a team who had just won nine games in a row. The feelings are very positive and we are where we wanted to be, but we want to improve our effectiveness and we want to close games earlier."

La Real boss Imanol Alguacil said he was "annoyed" by Mendez's red card, suggesting the incident in which his player caught Sergio Busquets' ankle with his studs did not warrant overturning once the referee had initially decided on a yellow card.

"I don't like to use the word pride, because that means we lost," he said. "But today the sending off marked us... I think we have to value the effort of the team since we have had very clear situations and we have competed even with one less player.

"In the last 10 minutes the draw was much closer than 2-0."

Barcelona are through to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey after a 1-0 win against 10-man Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

The hosts were unable to find the breakthrough in the first half despite dominating, but were handed an advantage when Brais Mendez was sent off in the 40th minute.

Ousmane Dembele gave the Blaugrana the lead early in the second half after being played through by Jules Kounde, finishing powerfully past Alex Remiro.

The contest between LaLiga's first and third-placed teams was rarely as close as the scoreline suggested until a late push from Sociedad, and Xavi's men march on looking to add another trophy to their recent Supercopa de Espana success.

Barca started brightly and had the ball in the net in the 11th minute, but Robert Lewandowski's goal-bound strike deflected off the offside Frenkie de Jong on its way in.

The dangerous Dembele threatened shortly after when a determined run ended with a curled effort just wide of the left-hand post, while Takefusa Kubo struck the crossbar just before the half-hour with the visitors' first attempt.

There were borderline ironic cheers before half-time from the home fans as referee Gil Manzano, who sent off Lewandowski earlier in the season, handed a red card to La Real's Mendez when a VAR review showed the midfielder had caught Sergio Busquets on the ankle with his studs.

Dembele opened the scoring in the 52nd minute when he raced onto a pass down the right channel from Kounde, before firing his shot past Remiro at his near post.

La Real should have been level on the hour when Alexander Sorloth somehow turned Kubo's cross over the bar from close range, while Gavi hit the woodwork at the other end. 

One goal was enough to seal Barca's passage to the final four, though, thanks to late Marc-Andre ter Stegen saves to deny Roberto Navarro and then Jon Ander Olasagasti.

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