Ousmane Dembele's struggles for fitness and form at Barcelona are deservedly coming right at the perfect time, according to team-mate Clement Lenglet.

Barca looked set to be held to a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Real Valladolid on Monday before Dembele volleyed a 90th-minute winner – victory closing Ronald Koeman's side to within a point of leaders Atletico Madrid with nine games of the LaLiga season remaining.

Since moving to Camp Nou from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105million in 2017, the 23-year-old France winger has been beset by injury problems.

But Dembele has become an increasingly integral member of Koeman's team since the turn of the year, forming a fruitful attacking alliance with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.

Griezmann was substituted against Valladolid and Messi was frustrated by former team-mate Jordi Masip in the visitors' goal, leaving Dembele to step forward as the hero.

"It doesn't surprise me," Lenglet told LaLiga TV. "He couldn't play a lot of games because of injuries and now it looks like everything is calm in that respect.

"When he is physically well he's a very good dribbler, he's got two good feet, a lot of speed. He gives us a lot.

"I'm very happy for him because he's worked hard for this and he deserves it."

Dembele was also involved in the game's other key moment, when Valladolid midfielder Oscar Plano was sent off for bring him down in the 79th minute.

Although Plano's challenge was unquestionably cynical, the red card came as a surprise to his team-mates.

Nevertheless, Lenglet felt the punishment fitted the crime.

"The red card was [decided] very quick," he said. "Ousmane took a very hard foul from behind, that's why the ref sanctioned him in that way.

"I think the card is deserved because of the foul from behind."

Next up for Barcelona is a crunch Clasico clash at Real Madrid on Saturday, with their bitter rivals two points behind them in third as an intriguing title race reaches boiling point.

"It's proved this league is very difficult. We’ve got to fight to win every game," Lenglet added.

"It's the fruit of our hard work these results. We've worked very hard in these last few months, things are going better for us but there's a long way to go."

Ousmane Dembele thumped in a 90th-minute winner as Barcelona beat Real Valladolid 1-0 and cut Atletico Madrid's advantage at the top of LaLiga to a solitary point.

Ronald Koeman's resurgent side had won their previous five top-flight matches but were short of their best for much of the first half, with Kenan Kodro hitting the crossbar for Valladolid.

Lionel Messi and his team-mates tried to crank through the gears in the second half but struggled to find a breakthrough, even after Oscar Plano was sent off 11 minutes from time for a cynical foul on Dembele.

The France winger would have the final word, swiping home on the volley after Ronald Araujo made a nuisance of himself on the end of Frenkie de Jong's cross - setting up next weekend's pivotal Clasico showdown perfectly.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was back in action for the first time since Germany's humiliating 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia and he was relieved to see Kodro's header cannon to safety off the bar.

Messi won a free-kick in the 15th minute and clipped wide but the visitors continued to acquit themselves well.

Roque Mesa grazed the top of the netting with a speculative strike before Barca let the playmaker run unchallenged for around 30 yards to blast over.

Barcelona belatedly found some rhythm before the interval and Pedri linked up nicely with Messi to fire in a rasping low drive that Jordi Masip tipped against the right post.

Koeman's front three were all involved before the hour – Messi releasing Dembele to draw a brilliant low stop from Masip, with Antoine Griezmann sending an improvised diving header wide on the rebound.

Jordi Alba survived appeals for a penalty after the ball flicked off his hand inside the Barca box and Plano sliced wide on another threatening break.

A yellow card would arguably have been suffice for Plano's petulance and Valladolid buckled at the last in what felt like a huge moment in the title race.

Ousmane Dembele is proving he is "on the right track" after the Barcelona winger scored in France's 2-0 defeat of Kazakhstan.

After drawing against Ukraine in their opening World Cup qualifier, the reigning world champions moved top of Group D in comfortable fashion on Sunday.

Dembele opened the scoring with a goal laid on by Martial, before Kazakhstan defender Sergiy Maliy put through his own net.

It marked France's seventh straight away win – their best run since January 1990 to October 1991.

Dembele, who has enjoyed a resurgence at Barca this season following several injury-hit campaigns at Camp Nou, was replaced by Kingsley Coman in the 90th minute, having created one chance and had two shots, both of which hit the target.

Martial teed up Dembele's goal – the only key pass played by the Manchester United forward, who had three attempts (two on target) before going off with an apparent injury in the 59th minute.

His replacement was Kylian Mbappe, and the Paris Saint-Germain star went on to have as many attempts as Martial, though one of those was a penalty he saw saved by Alexandr Mokin.

Asked for his thoughts on the displays of Dembele and Martial, Deschamps told a news conference: "They did some interesting things. 

"Ousmane confirmed that he is on the right track. He is capable of repeating efforts and of differing his play. He was rewarded with this goal. 

"Anthony is behind the first goal. It's good for both. From the moment I take them [in the squad] it is to use them. I have other attackers, but compared to the profile of the opponent, it was important to provoke and to dribble [at the opposition]. They did it pretty well."

Deschamps also stressed he has few concerns over France's somewhat laboured performances across their last two fixtures.

"Everyone is free to wait for what they want. The France team is efficient and continues to be," he said. 

"We do a lot of good things. There were no big scores [on Saturday] either. It is not easy for anyone. There is the opponent, the sequence of matches, plus everything that came before. These are not excuses. I told the players to do the job, to win. We won.

"There were nine new players from the match against Ukraine, but they already had experience. I'm not going to take away the credit. The qualifying games are always difficult, the main thing is to reach our goals."

The understanding between Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud will be key to a successful World Cup qualifying campaign for France, according to boss Didier Deschamps. 

Reigning world champions France start their Group D campaign against Ukraine on Thursday before taking on Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday and Wednesday respectively. 

Les Bleus are expected to comfortably book their place in Qatar next year and Deschamps expects his forward trio to shine again after their heroics won the 2018 tournament. 

"I'm not going to separate them from the rest of the team, but when you look at the number of goals and assists that the three provide, that's what allowed the France team to be world champions," he told a media conference.

"They know each other; it is automatic. The experience they have is something important. It is up to them to maintain this level of performance."

Mbappe has enjoyed another fine season for Paris Saint-Germain and is Ligue 1's top scorer with 20 goals in 21 starts.

He has also laid on six goals for his team-mates – second behind only Angel Di Maria (eight) for Mauricio Pochettino's side. 

Mbappe largely plays on the left of a front three for his club and Deschamps revealed he has spoken to the 22-year-old to ensure his position for France brings out the best in him.

"Kylian has the ability to play in all offensive positions," Deschamps said. "In his club, he is mainly used in a position on the left, even if he has a lot of freedom. 

"Sometimes he plays in the middle, where he is also efficient. On the right, he plays less. I discuss it with him to make sure he is happy [where he plays]."

Trying to force his way into Deschamps' forward line will be Ousmane Dembele, who has not featured for France since November 2018.

Deschamps handed the Barcelona man his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, he has returned to form this term. 

Captain Hugo Lloris is pleased to see the 23-year-old back on the international scene and is hopeful he is in the right condition to make a positive impact. 

"He has a fairly strong history with the France team as he was part of the World Cup group in Russia," the Tottenham goalkeeper said. 

"He was held back by injuries, but we know all his qualities. We hope that his injuries are behind him and that he can look ahead. 

"He is doing very good things with Barca. We know what he can bring and what he is capable of doing."

Didier Deschamps believes Ousmane Dembele can still become a more consistent contributor after recalling the forward for the start of France's World Cup qualifying campaign. 

Dembele has not played an international game since November 2018, when he came on as a substitute in a 2-0 Nations League defeat to the Netherlands. 

However, his form this season for Barcelona has led to the 23-year-old being included in Les Bleus’ squad for games against Group D rivals Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina 

Deschamps handed the player his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, is pleased to see Dembele back performing again. 

Still, the France boss sees further room for improvement, pinpointing the need to have an even greater impact on games.

"He is a player who showed his qualities very early. He is still young," Deschamps told the media on Monday. 

"If we haven't seen him for a while, it's because he's not been spared from injuries. By the time he recovered he was injured again. 

"Now he is able to play again, he is able to make the difference and score goals. He could score more and be more effective. 

"It is not a question of changing him. He has been playing at the highest level for a long time. He is young. It would be good for him, for his club and for us if he could become more efficient.  

"Of course, this is something that needs to be worked on. As you mature, you may make better choices. All forwards have moments when they are less efficient than others."

Dembele has scored nine goals and provided four assists for Barca in all competitions this season, his fourth at Camp Nou.  

His tally of 78 shots is already his highest for a campaign since arriving from Borussia Dortmund, with his conversion rate sitting at 11.54 per cent.   

He barely featured last term but was more clinical in 2018-19, when he had 14 goals and eight assists in 42 appearances. That season, he converted shots at a rate of 20.29 per cent, with 45.45 per cent success from 'big chances', where Opta expects a player to score.  

Dembele has had 15 'big chances' and created a further seven under Ronald Koeman for Barca, who made it five wins on the spin in LaLiga at the weekend with a 6-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad, in which the Frenchman one of the goals.  

"Ousmane has and always had this ability to create chances and make the difference. He is not always decisive in the area. That's where it's most difficult," Deschamps continued.  

"The important thing is his ability to make the difference.  Yes, he can be more consistent from the beginning to the end of the game. 

"I'm not saying he can't progress or improve. I prefer to look at the qualities anyway. They all have little flaws that can be erased with time.   

"Sometimes they don't, but that doesn't stop them from being good. We are talking about a player who has been at the top level for several years and he is still very young."

Barcelona produced a storming fightback to reach the Copa del Rey final thanks to a dramatic 3-0 victory over Sevilla after extra time at Camp Nou. 

The Catalan giants hit the headlines at the start of the week when president Josep Maria Bartomeu was among those arrested on Monday - he was then provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business - as part of a police investigation into last year's 'Barcagate' scandal. 

Barca's players looked anything but affected by off-field events, however, as they dominated the majority of the second leg, Ousmane Dembele giving them a richly deserved first-half lead. 

Lucas Ocampos had a penalty saved by Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with 17 minutes to go and Gerard Pique made him pay by making it 2-2 on aggregate right at the end of stoppage time, moments after Sevilla had seen Fernando sent off. 

Martin Braithwaite put Barca in front early in extra time and Luuk de Jong - who had been substituted - was shown a red card for dissent after Sevilla were not awarded a penalty, with the hosts going through to face Athletic Bilbao or Levante in the final. 

Dembele opened the scoring in the 12th minute in a scintillating Barca start, showing excellent close control in the penalty area before drifting outside the box to find the top-right corner with a sublime right-footed finish from 20 yards out. 

The Blaugrana were causing Sevilla all sorts of problems with their slick passing and movement in a relentless first-half display, Marcos Acuna clearing a deflected shot from the brilliant Lionel Messi off the line. 

Barca were almost level when Jordi Alba's acrobatic volley rattled the crossbar and there was more drama when Ocampos' tame penalty was saved by Ter Stegen after the Sevilla player had been upended by Oscar Mingueza. 

Substitute Antoine Griezmann then produced the impact hoped for with time almost up, delivering an inviting cross for Pique to head home, this after Fernando was shown a second yellow card for upending Messi. 

Barca were in front for the first time in the tie four minutes into extra time, Braithwaite coming off the bench to nod in Alba's superb cross. 

Sevilla thought they had a second penalty for handball against Clement Lenglet but the VAR verdict ruled there was no intent, resulting in De Jong seeing red on a miserable night for the visitors.

Barcelona claimed a deserved 2-0 LaLiga win at Sevilla on Saturday in the first of the sides' two crunch clashes.

The Blaugrana will host Sevilla in their Copa del Rey semi-final second leg in midweek but first took care of business in the league thanks to strikes from Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi.

A display of similar dominance will now be required at Camp Nou, as Barca trail 2-0 from the first leg of their Copa tie.

Ronald Koeman's men will certainly not be short of confidence, though, after climbing to second, only two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid having played two games more.

[17:09] bensprattjourn (Guest)

Barca had initially lacked a focal point, playing a 3-5-2 formation without a natural striker, yet their unorthodox front two combined to great effect for the opener after 29 minutes.

As Messi dropped deep to collect the ball, Dembele tore away on the shoulder of the last defender and met a pinpoint pass to fire under Yassine Bounou.

That was the only moment of real quality in a low-key first half, but Barca twice in quick succession should have added to their advantage after the break.

Sergino Dest blasted against the post when the ball broke his way following a patent move, before Dembele raced away again and teed up Messi, who blazed over.

Clement Lenglet then had a header ruled out for offside, yet Messi settled any nerves as he played a smart one-two with Ilaix Moriba and prodded in the rebound when Bounou blocked his dinked attempt five minutes from the end.

Only an apparent injury to Ronald Araujo, 15 minutes after his return to action, put a dampener on Barca's day.

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

For so long, Real Madrid have been favourites to prise Mbappe to the Santiago Bernabeu.

But Premier League champions Liverpool are believed to be stepping up their pursuit.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL FRONTRUNNERS FOR MBAPPE

Liverpool are ahead of Real Madrid in the race to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe , according to Canal+ show Late Football Club.

Mbappe has been tipped to leave Ligue 1 champions PSG for LaLiga holders Madrid at the end of the season.

But Liverpool are reportedly the frontrunners to prise the France World Cup winner to Anfield amid doubts over Mohamed Salah 's future.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Madrid are preparing for the departure of Sergio Ramos as their star captain nears an exit. The soon-to-be free agent has been linked with the likes of PSG , Juventus , Manchester United and Manchester City .

- Will Roma striker Edin Dzeko and Inter's Alexis Sanchez swap clubs? Sky Sport Italia reports an exchange deal could be set to collapse. City reportedly turned down a chance to re-sign Dzeko, who has a fractured relationship with Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca.

Milan are continuing to target Palmeiras and Uruguayan defender Matias Vina , says Calciomercato.

- Cadena Cope reports PSG want to sign Barcelona defender Emerson , who is on loan at Real Betis.

- Sport Bild journalist Christian Falk says United are interested in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano , but Bayern Munich lead the race to secure his services at season's end. Upamecano has also been linked to the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool .

- Falk also confirmed that Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate has a release clause in excess of €40million (£35m) amid interest from United , Liverpool and Tottenham .

United are eyeing Barca's Ousmane Dembele if Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho does not arrive ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, according to Falk.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was furious that his side missed two penalties in their Copa del Rey victory over Cornella.

The Catalans required extra time to overcome the Segunda B side, with Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite eventually securing a 2-0 win.

Cornella goalkeeper Ramon Juan had otherwise kept Barca at bay, making seven saves including two from the spot to deny Miralem Pjanic in the first half and Dembele in the second.

Those missed opportunities forced Barca to go to extra time for the third game in a row - after two Supercopa de Espana draws - for the first time in their history.

Barca have now missed five of their past eight penalties in all competitions, including their most recent four in a row, and Koeman slammed their success rate as ill-fitting of a club of their stature.

"The most important thing is always to go through, but we can't be happy because we scored goals," he said.

"We missed two penalties and you have to have more responsibility in these types of games.

"Again, 120 minutes, it's an important topic because we've had three games [like that] and that's on us. We created chances and two penalties... that cannot be.

"I can't complain about the effort but it's not only running, but also creating and being effective. It was really tough today. It cannot be and it can't be accepted.

"You have to win matches earlier. We missed two penalties, we had chances. It cannot be that a team like Barca misses so much.

"I don't understand it, either, because we usually have enough players who can score a penalty. It can be scary. I truly don't know why we've missed so many penalties. You can't miss two penalties as Barcelona players. This isn't serious."

Barca are next in action away to Elche in LaLiga on Sunday.

Ousmane Dembele and Martin Braithwaite scored in extra time to see Barcelona past a resilient Cornella 2-0 in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

Ronald Koeman's men had two penalties saved in normal time as they failed to break down the Segunda B side who famously knocked out Atletico Madrid in the previous round.

Miralem Pjanic and Dembele each missed from the spot but the latter eventually made the breakthrough with a powerful strike.

The visitors made sure of the win in the very last moment through Braithwaite to ensure there would be no repeat of Wednesday's action, when Real Madrid suffered one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history by losing to Alcoyano.

Barca struggled to turn possession into chances, their first real effort of note coming via a Francisco Trincao volley from Pjanic's corner that was parried by Ramon Juan.

Pjanic had the chance to break the deadlock from the spot after Ronald Araujo took a high foot to the head, but his penalty was expertly saved.

They started the second half with more purpose and should have scored when Martin Braithwaite shot straight at Ramon after Antoine Griezmann diverted the ball into his path.

Griezmann then blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy after a clever quick free-kick from Pjanic, and Neto had to make a flying save to parry an Agus Medina strike barely a minute later.

Substitute Dembele was given the chance to get the breakthrough 11 minutes from time after another high boot in the box, this time from Pol Moreno on Clement Lenglet, but Ramon held his nerve and blocked the penalty from the middle of his goal.

Braithwaite sliced another clear chance wide of the right-hand post and Ramon came to the rescue again to tip a Pjanic half-volley onto the crossbar and away.

Yet within two minutes of the beginning of extra time, Ramon's resistance was broken, the keeper getting two hands to Dembele's strike from 20 yards out but unable to keep the ball out of the net.

Konrad de la Fuente almost made it 2-0 immediately after coming off the bench, but Ramon threw himself to his left to make another fine stop, before Albert Estelles earned a second booking in the closing moments for a poor challenge on the excellent Araujo.

With the final move of the game, Dembele combined expertly with Pedri, who unselfishly teed up Braithwaite to drill into the unguarded net.

What does it mean? Barca avoid more disappointment – just

This was the first time in their history that Barca had three consecutive games go to extra time, having twice gone the distance in the Supercopa de Espana.

After losing the final to Athletic Bilbao, it was important for Koeman's changed side to respond here and he will be relieved that they eventually found a way through.

With the two Madrid giants already out, the Copa del Rey looks like Barca's safest bet for silverware this season.

Ramon-believable

Ramon made seven excellent saves, including the two penalties, and he will be furious he could only parry Dembele's shot into the top-left corner.

Still, were it not for their keeper, Cornella could well have suffered a straightforward defeat in normal time. 

Puig poor

Riqui Puig has found it difficult to convince Koeman at times and this was not a performance to earn the trust of his coach.

The midfielder, booked for dissent seven minutes in, managed no shots, crosses or key passes and was taken off at half-time.

What's next?

Barca are back in LaLiga action away to Elche on Sunday.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman believes Lionel Messi is slowly getting back to his best after a brace against Athletic Bilbao.

Messi scored twice, to go with Pedri's goal, at San Mames on Wednesday as Barca recorded a 3-2 victory.

The star has been involved in 10 goals in his past 10 games in all competitions, netting eight and assisting two.

And Koeman feels Messi, who has netted 12 times in 20 appearances this season, is improving.

"Since the first day that I arrived at the club I think Lionel Messi has given everything," he told a news conference.

"I haven’t been surprised by his quality because he's obviously been showing how good he is for years. It's possibly true that he's been less effective than normal which is why there could have been doubts but he's doing a lot better now, he feels comfortable at the moment and he feels up for the challenge.

"That's how I feel. But I think Messi is the one who can answer that best."

Pedri cancelled out Inaki Williams' opener before Messi's double, and Barca moved into third in LaLiga despite Iker Muniain's late goal.

Koeman also praised Ousmane Dembele, who along with Pedri and Antoine Griezmann had a game-high three key passes.

"I think everything starts with the player himself. If the player feels comfortable and feels physically fit he can play well," he said.

"I don't think there's ever been any question about his quality, at least in my opinion, but there have been doubts about his ability to stay fit. At the moment he seems fully fit and I have to think about the programme of games ahead and when we can give him a rest because he hasn't played regularly for quite some time.

"He has to learn how to manage his game time as well. But in terms of the football he can play we know what he can give to the team. He's very good going forward, he attacks with the ball and those are good qualities for us."

Barca, who are seven points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid and have played two more games, visit Granada on Saturday.

Barcelona moved into LaLiga's top five after Frenkie de Jong's goal clinched a 1-0 victory over bottom club Huesca in Lionel Messi's 500th league appearance for the club.

Blaugrana boss Ronald Koeman, who warned before the game that defeat would all but end his side's title challenge, saw a much-improved Barcelona performance as he earned back-to-back LaLiga away wins for the first time in his tenure.

Messi came back into the side after missing Barca's disappointing 1-1 draw with Eibar due to an ankle injury and was at his talismanic best, deftly assisting De Jong's volleyed goal after just before the half-hour mark.

Huesca did open the visitors up on occasion and it remains to be seen whether Koeman can restore some consistency and style to this team, but they did enough here to climb above Sevilla in the table.

Barcelona's early pressure paid off after 27 minutes when Messi played an exquisite chipped pass into the box, where De Jong evaded two defenders and guided the ball into the corner of the net from six yards on the volley.

Messi would have capped a fine first-half performance with a superb goal five minutes from the interval had Alvaro Fernandez not pulled off a spectacular save, palming his dipping 20-yard free-kick over the crossbar.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner flashed a fierce effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box early in the second period, before Marc-Andre ter Stegen got down well to prevent Rafa Mir's close-range shot from becoming the equaliser.

Ousmane Dembele should have put the game beyond doubt when he went one-on-one with Fernandez 13 minutes from time, but the Huesca goalkeeper saved at his feet and then denied Messi again before full-time.

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