Xavi has reiterated his admiration for Ousmane Dembele's professionalism as the Barcelona boss confirmed negotiations over a new contract for the winger were under way.

Dembele was told publicly to leave Barca by the club during the January transfer window, after contract talks broke down.

The France international's current deal runs out at the end of the season, meaning he will be able to leave Camp Nou on a free transfer.

However, with no move having materialised before the end of January, Dembele has been reintegrated into Xavi's squad and seems to have rediscovered his form.

Dembele has started Barca's last four LaLiga matches, providing five assists across those appearances.

The 24-year-old also scored and teed up two other goals as a substitute in a 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao at the end of February.

On Tuesday, with Barca's squad given a day off ahead of travelling to Germany for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Eintracht Frankfurt, Dembele was spotted going to the club's training ground, with reports stating that he did extra physical work.

"He's an example in the way he trains, the way he plays, his attitude and commitment," Xavi told a news conference when asked about Dembele. 

"I don't know how he was before but I've got no complaints. I see a very happy, very motivated player and with his winning attitude.

"He's happy and comfortable here and so that's not a surprise that he trained on his day off. He's a great professional, I said that when he wasn't playing as well."

Dembele created seven chances in Barca's win over Sevilla on Sunday, also providing the pass for Pedri's goal in a 1-0 victory.

Earlier this week, Barca executive Mateu Alemany reportedly met with Dembele's agent to restart negotiations over a new deal, and this speculation was confirmed by Xavi.

"It is a negotiation. We are also in talks with Ronald [Araujo], Gavi, Sergi Roberto, it is a process," he said.

"The club knows my priorities and we are working. Hopefully Dembele can stay, with work he can be the best in his position.

"The club is working hard and I hope they decide to stay. Gavi, Araujo, Dembele... if we can have them next year we'll be a better team and squad."

Xavi was equally as effusive in his praise for Araujo, who he revealed has agreed to fresh terms.

"For us he is a guarantee and Barcelona have a central defender for ten years or more," Xavi said.

"There are few central defenders in the world like him. He has been the key in the negotiation. He is very humble, direct, he is a luxury.

"I am delighted. As a person he is a hard worker. Barcelona fans can be proud that he has decided to stay at Barcelona."

Xavi refused to be drawn on talk of Barcelona signing Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger ahead of Sunday's LaLiga showdown with Sevilla.

Sahr Senesie, Rudiger's half-brother and agent, was this week pictured entering a hotel in Barcelona with Blaugrana director of football Mateu Alemany and technical director Jordi Cruyff.

The Germany centre-back is out of contract at Stamford Bridge at the end of the season and has been free to talk to clubs from overseas since January.

But Barca head coach Xavi is focused on masterminding a win at Camp Nou this weekend that would move his side above Sevilla into second place, rather than potential new recruits.

He said during a press conference on Saturday: "I'm not going to talk about signings, we have a lot at stake. It is true that Mateu, Jordi and the board are working for next season, but our [job] is to go for second place tomorrow."

Ousmane Dembele is in a similar situation to Rudiger, with his Barca deal expiring at the conclusion of the campaign.

Xavi praised the France winger's professionalism amid uncertainty over his future and says only the 24-year-old can decide where he will be playing next season.

He said: "I haven't had a single complaint about Dembele at a professional level since I arrived. He's a footballer of many levels, well worked, I still think he can be the best in his position. It's up to him, the renewal depends on him."

Meanwhile, the Barca boss is optimistic Gavi and Ronald Araujo, who are both under contract until the end of next season, will sign new deals.

"The club cannot afford to lose Gavi and Araujo, they are very important to us and I show it with the minutes I give them. I am optimistic and I hope a solution is reached," Xavi said.

Barca are unbeaten in 12 matches and have won five consecutive games in the Spanish top flight, the last of which was a 4-0 Clasico thrashing of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu before the international break.

The Catalan giants are 12 points adrift of Los Blancos with a game in hand and Xavi has demanded they maintain their momentum at the expense of Sevilla.

"The message is to continue, not to let our guard down, not to relax," he said. "The Bernabeu was good, but the goals are to be as high as possible in the league and win the Europa League." 

The coach added: "The break could have been good for us. It is a final sprint in which we have to grit our teeth."

Luuk de Jong will not face his parent club after testing positive for coronavirus, while Sergino Dest, Samuel Umtiti, Ansu Fati and Sergi Roberto are ruled out due to injury.

Joan Laporta is not aware that Ousmane Dembele may want to stay at Barcelona but revealed contract talks with Gavi and Ronald Araujo are "on track".

Dembele has just three months remaining on his Barca deal and there is no sign of the France international agreeing to extending his stay at Camp Nou.

However, Blaugrana vice-president Rafael Yuste this week stated "if Dembele continues to feel comfortable, then we can meet his agents and he could stay".

Barca president Laporta says there are no developments over the former Borussia Dortmund forward's future as the in-form Catalan giants strive to make a late charge for the LaLiga title following a 4-0 Clasico thrashing of Real Madrid.

He told Mundo Deportivo: "Dembele is a wonderful, charming boy, at least he hasn't caused us problems since we took charge of the club. 

"Perhaps we are seeing the best Dembele since he was at Barca, for sure. He is a player that the coaches have known how to manage better, starting with Xavi, who is managing the player wonderfully. 

"But we made him a renewal offer that expired on December 20 last year. He decided not to take advantage of that renewal. Now Xavi says that he was counting on him because he is a player who makes a difference. 

"Now, the renewal of Dembele? Let's see, the option he had has expired and we are already setting salary levels that all those who stay next season will have to accept. Some levels that have to maintain the sustainability and balance of the club and the squad."

Asked if Barca will make a new offer for Dembele, Laporta replied: "At the moment, for our purposes, we have no news that he wants to continue. 

"I don't know if his representative has been in contact but I think not because he would know and in principle we are focused on this last stretch of the league to try to make a splash and win it. At the end of the season, I suppose that in some way there will be talks but within the salary levels that we are establishing."

Teenager midfielder Gavi and Uruguay defender Araujo are contracted until Barca until the end of next season, but Laporta has no concerns about their futures.

He said: "This is on the right track. Yes, they are players that we want to continue, within these salary levels that we are establishing. We would like them to continue for many years.

"There is no need to be worried about their cases. Negotiations are under way and everything is going perfectly normally with Araujo and Gavi."

Ousmane Dembele may yet sign a new contract with Barcelona after going from strength to strength under head coach Xavi, according to the club's vice-president Rafa Yuste.

France international Dembele was informed by Barca director Mateu Alemany to leave the club "immediately" in January after repeatedly turning down the offer of a new deal.

The 24-year-old was linked with a number of heavyweight clubs in the most recent transfer window, but a move away from Camp Nou did not materialise before the deadline.

Dembele has since been integrated back into the side by Xavi and is once again a key player for Barca now that his injury issues appear to be behind him.

It looked certain the former Borussia Dortmund forward would leave on a free transfer at the end of the campaign, but Yuste is not ruling anything out.

"As you know, negotiations did not bear fruit on their day, but Xavi tells us he is an exceptional player and he contributes a lot to the club," Yuste told Catalunya Radio.

"I think Xavi is doing fundamental work, including psychologically, because Dembele is better understanding the system. It's clear Xavi is a reference for the players.

"If he feels more and more comfortable, which I think will be the case, I do not rule out that we can meet with his agent again with the possibility of him continuing with us."

 

Dembele set up two goals for Barcelona in Sunday's stunning 4-0 win over fierce rivals Real Madrid as Barca made it 12 games without defeat in all competitions.

He is the second Barca player to provide two assists in the first half of a Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu this century, after Xavi in May 2009.
 
That double took Dembele to seven LaLiga assists in 2022 – at least two more than any other player – to go with his strike against Athletic Bilbao.

Those seven assists have come from an expected assists (xA) return of 3.6, which is the biggest positive differential of any player in the Spanish top flight this calendar year.

While tying down Dembele to fresh terms is now back on the agenda for Barca, the club are also continuing to work on new deals for Gavi and Ronald Araujo.

"We are working on this to the maximum, within our possibilities," Yuste said. "The manager is optimistic about the situation. They are all happy, which makes negotiations easier."

Barcelona technical director Jordi Cruyff has said "we will see" about the future of Ousmane Dembele after the France international put in another impressive showing in the 4-0 home win against Osasuna on Sunday.

Dembele has been unable to agree an extension to his contract, which is due to expire at the end of this season, and spent a spell on the sidelines in January as the winger became an unpopular figure with fans at Camp Nou.

The 24-year-old did not secure a move away from Barca in the January transfer window, and head coach Xavi has slowly reintroduced him to a team in form.

Dembele registered two assists and made five key passes, the most of any Barca player, during the win against Osasuna.

Following the victory, which lifted the Blaugrana to third in LaLiga, Cruyff talked to SPORT about the former Borussia Dortmund man's future.

"The situation regarding Dembele's renewal is not easy. I think the most important thing is that he continues to help the team and the rest, we will see," Cruyff said.

"He has played a good game, like many players who end their contract with the future already done and others who are looking for a better contract. [It is important] that he continues helping the team to achieve the maximum objectives, and the rest we cannot control."

Dembele has five assists in his past four LaLiga appearances, as many as he managed in his previous 45 league games for the club.

Cruyff also had words of praise for Ferran Torres, who scored twice after coming in for criticism for missing a series of chances in previous games.

On the January arrival from Manchester City, Cruyff added: "There was more noise outside than inside... Nobody at the club had any doubts."

Barcelona boss Xavi says he had no doubts that Ferran Torres would start shining for Barcelona after the Spain international scored a brace in Sunday's 4-0 win over Osasuna.

The 22-year-old had scored just one goal in six LaLiga appearances following his move from Manchester City, but he found the back of the net twice in a routine win that lifted the Blaugrana up to third in the table.

His first came from the penalty spot after Gavi had been fouled in the area and he added a second before the midway point with a cool finish after being picked out by the impressive Ousmane Dembele.

That brace – his first in 78 appearances in LaLiga – came from just four shots, with the 22-year-old having scored just once from his previous 16 attempts in the Spanish top flight.  

Xavi was delighted with his contribution and insisted he had no doubts Torres would soon click into gear at the Camp Nou.

"With Ferran I already said that the goals would come; it was a matter of time," he told reporters. "Besides, all the work and what he gives us up front. 

"I would say that he has been, at times, unlucky in front of goal, but fantastic in the rest. He is one of the best in the team going into space."

Barca added gloss to a 12th win in their last 14 home LaLiga games against Osasuna through goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riqui Puig.

Aubameyang’s goal was also teed up by Dembele, who has now provided five assists in his last four LaLiga games – the joint most in the competition alongside Athletic Bilbao's Alex Berenguer and the same amount he managed in his previous 45 league games. 

"Dembele is a player who is able to make the difference through scoring, assisting and running into the penalty area. Today he played a very good game," he added.

"If you perform, you make the fans happy. People see that they give their lives for Barca and you can't fool people. You can't fool Camp Nou."

The result means third-placed Barca are 12 points behind leaders Real Madrid, who they face in El Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu next Sunday.

Asked if there is any possibility of Barca making a late title charge, Xavi responded: "LaLiga is very difficult, even with winning at the Bernabeu. They have only lost two games and we would need them to lose three or four. We cannot be too optimistic."

Manchester United still appear keen to sign Ousmane Dembele if the winger leaves Barcelona at the end of the season.

Dembele was told he could leave Barca in January after refusing to sign a new contract.

However, no clubs came in for the former Borussia Dortmund attacker, who will instead see out the remaining months of his deal at Camp Nou and looks set to leave on a free.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED ARE DEMBELE'S ONLY SUITORS

According to Spanish newspaper Sport, Dembele's options for when he leaves Barca are limited. In fact, the report claims that United are now the only team interested in the France international.

Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea were among the clubs reported to hold an interest in the 24-year-old previously.

However, according to Sport's report, United are in a queue of one as it stands.

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham are now the favourites to sign Nottingham Forest's Middlesbrough loanee Djed Spence, ahead of Arsenal and Bayern Munich, Goal reports.

- Journalist Raffaele Auriemma told TeleClubItalia that Fabian Ruiz is likely to leave Napoli at the end of the season and that Arsenal have made a proposal.

- AS, meanwhile, believes that Barcelona could look to sign left-back Alex Moreno from Real Betis ahead of next season.

- Another defender who looks set to join Barcelona is Andreas Christensen. Fabrizio Romano reports that a deal is close for the centre-back to join on a free from Chelsea.

- Fichajes reports that Real Madrid could become involved in a three-way tussle with Barca and Arsenal for Lille forward Jonathan David.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta hopes Ousmane Dembele changes his stance and reconsiders the contract offer from the Catalan club.

Dembele has failed to agree an extension to his current contract, which is due to expire at the end of this season, leading to a spell on the sidelines in January as the winger became an unpopular figure with fans at Camp Nou.

The 24-year-old did not secure a move away from Barca last month, and head coach Xavi has slowly reintroduced him.

Dembele delivered a masterful attacking show in a 23-minute cameo against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, scoring one and assisting two more as Barca cruised to a 4-0 victory.

That made him the first Blaugrana substitute to play a part in three goals in a single LaLiga game this century, and Laporta expressed his hopes the former Borussia Dortmund could yet stay.

"Dembele knows our offer and that we have always wanted him to stay. We hope that at the end of the season he will reconsider it," Laporta said on Monday, as quoted by Cadena SERe.

While Dembele shone against Athletic, Xavi also reserved special praise after the game for Pedri, who he compared to former team-mate Andres Iniesta.

The Spain midfielder attempted (92) and completed (86) more passes on Sunday than in any prior LaLiga match for Barca, also setting a new high for touches (107).

Laporta followed Xavi's plaudits as he hailed the former Las Palmas man's recent outings.

"[Pedri] is destined to be one of the best players in the world, if not the best, but he knows that he has to work hard," Laporta said.

Barcelona head coach Xavi compared Pedri to Blaugrana legend Andreas Iniesta, while he hailed the performance of Ousmane Dembele against Athletic Bilbao.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's fourth goal in his past two LaLiga appearances put the Catalan side in control against Athletic on Sunday, before a late flurry added deserved gloss to the scoreline.

Substitute Dembele, whose future remains in doubt after failing to agree to an extension on a contract that expires at the end of the season, scored one and assisted two more for substitutes Luuk de Jong and the fit-again Memphis Depay.

With those involvements, Dembele become the first Barca substitute to play a part in at least three goals in a single LaLiga game in the 21st century.

After moving back into LaLiga's top four with a 4-0 success, Xavi reserved special praise for midfielder Pedri and Dembele.

"How [Pedri] understands the game, it's wonderful to watch him play," Xavi told reporters. "He reminds me a lot of Andres Iniesta, I haven't seen many talents like that.

"I see many scenarios for Dembele, we have seen the Dembele that we want and know he is capable of doing."

Asked whether the France international will stay at the club, Xavi added: "That is no longer my thing, I have always said that he has been very professional."

Barca sit level on points with Atletico Madrid, who ran out 2-0 victors against Celta Vigo on Saturday, and moved just one shy of third-placed Real Betis after they fell to Sevilla.

The Blaugrana still boast a game in hand over their fellow top-four contenders and Xavi refused to give up hope on any possible outcome in LaLiga.

"The feelings are getting better and better," he continued. "The team is training very well, that's why the results come.

"We have worked very well and it has paid off against a team that has a very good middle and low block and that defended very well.

"Even with the [seven] changes they made, they are a strong team. Putting four goals past Athletic is not easy at all, Marcelino's teams are always very hard-working and difficult.

"We're fourth, we'll go for third, then second and if it reaches us we'll go for first. You have to be realistic and humble and keep working day by day, nothing more."

Barca have lost just one of their past 15 top-flight fixtures and will look to continue their impressive run of form when they visit Elche next Sunday.

Ousmane Dembele netted his first LaLiga goal of the season and added two assists in a dazzling cameo as Barcelona moved back into LaLiga's top four with a 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Dembele has become an unpopular figure with Barca fans after failing to agree an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of the season, but his thunderous effort six minutes after arriving from the bench made sure of a Camp Nou victory on Sunday.

After Atletico Madrid had leapfrogged the Blaugrana with their win on Saturday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continued his fine recent scoring form to set Xavi's side on their way, before Dembele struck and then twice crossed for Luuk de Jong and the fit-again Memphis Depay in the closing stages.

And with Real Betis beaten by rivals Sevilla, Barca are now just a point behind third place with a game in hand as their season maintains its upwards trajectory.

 

Gerard Pique saw a header cleared on the line by Oier Zarraga while Ferran Torres tested Unai Simon with a stinging volley as Barca dominated the opening exchanges.

The reward for Xavi's hosts arrived on 37 minutes when Aubameyang acrobatically finished after Pique headed against the crossbar from Dani Alves' corner.

Torres should have doubled his side's advantage past the hour mark, but his tame effort was pushed away by the onrushing Simon, who then denied Aubameyang's weak header.

Simon was powerless to stop Dembele, though, as substitute Frenkie de Jong found the winger, who smashed a left-footed attempt in from the left side of the box, earning a touch off the post as he put the game beyond doubt.

There was still time for Luuk de Jong to flick a header into the bottom-left corner following Dembele's pinpoint delivery from the right, before the France international repeated the trick to find Depay, who turned in from close range for the final goal.

Even if not quite the force they once were, Manchester United still like to show their fans their ambitions match up, especially in the transfer market.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick has the job of ensuring the Red Devils qualify for next season's Champions League and is currently on course, with them sitting fourth in the Premier League.

However, the club supposedly remain confident of adding big names at the end of the season regardless of a top-four finish.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD WANT MORE ENGLAND STARS

Manchester United believe they can attract big names to Old Trafford at the end of the season, even if they may not have Champions League football to offer.

According to ESPN, the Premier League club have an ambitious list of targets that includes England pair Declan Rice and Harry Kane, and they believe the 2016 signing of Paul Pogba – when they were in the Europa League – is proof the name of the club is enticing enough.

It remains to be seen what that means for whomever the incoming permanent manager is by then, but they will likely not say no to additions of that calibre.

ROUND-UP

Atletico Madrid are plotting a move for Georginio Wijnaldum from Paris Saint-Germain, according to Fichajes.

- Calciomercato claims Inter wish to add Torino defender Bremer to their ranks next season and may already have an agreement with the player.

- Meanwhile, Barcelona forward Ousmane Dembele is being pursued on a free transfer by both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, 90min reports.

- The Catalan giants could get one in return though as they have offered a two-year deal to Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta, according to Sport.

- Marca is reporting Tottenham are looking at Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon as a potential long-term replacement for Hugo Lloris.

Roma could reignite their interest in Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka at the end of the season, Calciomercato says.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang said it "would be an honour" to play alongside Erling Haaland at Barcelona.

Aubameyang made the switch to Camp Nou effectively on a free transfer in January after his Arsenal contract was cancelled amid a falling out with Gunners boss Mikel Arteta.

The Gabon striker may face competition in the form of Borussia Dortmund sensation Haaland next season, with Barca among a plethora of clubs reportedly interested in signing one of world football's hottest properties.

Last month Barca president Joan Laporta did not rule out making a move, despite the club's well-documented financial woes, saying Los Cules are "still a point of reference in the transfer market".

If Haaland did arrive it could impact Aubameyang's playing time but the 32-year-old would love to have the Norway star as a team-mate.

"I'm always prepared for healthy competition with my team-mates, so it would be an honour to play with him if he ends up joining Barca," Aubameyang, who scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 LaLiga beating of Valencia on Sunday, told SPORT.

"I'm not a coach, but I think Haaland is a great player.

"He scores a lot of goals, he has a very good physique and a lot of speed. He is very big, but he runs a lot. He is incredible."

One player Aubameyang has reunited with at Barca is Ousmane Dembele, a prospect that was not necessarily a foregone conclusion last month.

Dembele was linked with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain and may still leave on a free transfer at the end of the season when his contract expires.

But Aubameyang did his part to try and convince Dembele to stay and continue a partnership that began when the pair were both playing at Dortmund.

"It is something very special because we had an incredible year in Dortmund and he is an incredible player," he added.

"Ousmane is one of the best with the ball and, for a striker, he is incredible.

"To tell the truth, I am very happy that he is here and when I arrived I told him: 'You have to stay, man.'"

When asked whether he thought Dembele would stay put, Aubameyang added: "I don't know, but the only thing I can say is that everything is possible in life."

Xavi is confident Ferran Torres will come good at Barcelona despite a tricky start to life at Camp Nou.

Torres, a €55million December signing from Manchester City, rescued a 1-1 draw for Barca at home to Napoli in the Europa League, scoring from the penalty spot.

Yet that was the only one of the forward's nine attempts to hit the target on Thursday as he passed up a series of glaring opportunities, appearing to be close to tears at full-time having accounted for 1.47 of Barca's 2.03 expected goals.

In six games in all competitions for the Blaugrana so far, Torres has scored twice. But those goals have come from his only two shots on target, with a further 15 attempts failing to trouble opposition goalkeepers.

However, head coach Xavi believes this is all part of life at Barcelona, comparing Torres' circumstances to those of Luis Suarez following his 2014 move from Liverpool.

Suarez, coming off a 31-goal season at Anfield, scored just once in his first eight matches for his new club.

But the Uruguay forward finished that 2014-15 season with 25 goals, including one in the Champions League final as Barca won the treble. In 2015-16, he netted an extraordinary 59.

"Now we were making a comparison in the dressing room," Xavi said, with Suarez the last Barca player besides Lionel Messi to attempt as many as nine shots in a match (vs Inter in 2018).

"It happened to Luis Suarez. In the first few months it seemed that he could not score. The Barca shirt weighs a few more pounds.

"But because of how [Torres] has taken the penalty and the work he does for the team, I hope he can play many years at Barca.

"If he is in the area, it is because he will score goals. It's a matter of having faith and working at it. He has had goals all his life and will continue to have them. He has our absolute confidence."

Xavi – whose summary was "the feelings are very good but the result is not" – also discussed Ousmane Dembele's impact from the bench.

The coach was not enthused by a poor reaction to the introduction of the wantaway winger, but he felt a 25-minute display was ultimately appreciated by the Barca fans.

"The crowd have not listened to me, but they decide," Xavi said. "In the end, [the whistles] have been transformed into applause.

"He created things for us. That's it, we've already jeered him, it's already happened. The news is that the whistles have been transformed into applause."

Xavi believes Ousmane Dembele can still be a useful player for Barcelona for the remainder of the season, despite the winger's refusal to agree a new deal.

Barca insisted last month that Dembele would be sold before the transfer window's deadline after the 24-year-old turned down the club's latest contract offer.

Dembele, signed from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105million in 2017 following Neymar's departure to Paris Saint-Germain, has struggled with injuries since his move to Camp Nou.

He has played just six times in LaLiga this season and in just over half of Barca's league games since his arrival four-and-a-half years ago.

Dembele has managed 31 goals and 22 assists in 129 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.63 goals per 90 minutes. That puts him on a par with Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial among wingers from Europe's top five leagues, and just behind Liverpool star Sadio Mane (0.64).

In his sole season at Dortmund, Dembele created 100 chances in all competitions, scoring 10 goals.

 

Xavi made it clear upon his arrival as coach last year that he saw Dembele as a key player for the future of the club, but the France international is now into the last five months of his deal.

PSG seemed set to sign him late in the January window, but that move did not go ahead, while there is also rumoured interest from the Premier League.

However, Barca and Dembele have now decided to put their differences to one side and Xavi insisted it would be a foolish move to omit him from the squad.

"Well, we haven't found a solution for Dembele," he told a news conference ahead of Sunday's clash with reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid, for which Dembele was included in the squad alongside new arrivals Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

"The situation is as it was a month ago, he hasn't signed a contract. We had a meeting with the president. We have all met and we have decided that he is part of the squad. We cannot shoot ourselves in the foot.

"He's a player for Barca. We have to use him, he can help us, he has been a good professional when he has been involved or not, so that's the club’s decision. We will use him. I think he can be useful, he's part of the team."

Asked if he is concerned about the reaction of the fans to Dembele, Xavi said: "I understand the fans if they are hurt, but we have to close ranks for the good of the team. He is training well.

"He is a club player and his commitment is clear. His commitment is impeccable."

Another Barca player in talks over a renewal is centre-back Ronald Araujo, and Xavi is eager to tie the 22-year-old down.

"Yes, it is a priority. It is a reality and it gives us a lot," he said. "A very popular person in the locker room. It is a priority operation."

Xavi also confirmed that both Traore, re-signed on loan from Wolves, and Aubameyang, who has joined essentially as a free agent after cutting ties with Arsenal, are in contention to face Atleti.

"Both of them have trained well. Probably Adama is in a better shape. Auba has had COVID-19, so he was working individually [before leaving Arsenal], so we will decide," Xavi said.

"They are excited and we also want to see them in the squad. Two great signings.

"We have reinforced ourselves well and let's see how far we get. There is a good atmosphere and a good group."

Dani Alves is urging Barcelona to make the most of Ousmane Dembele while they can, but he also reminded the France forward he has a duty to "defend the shirt" as long as he remains at Camp Nou.

Dembele was strongly linked with a move away from Barca in January after his agent and the club came to an impasse in contract negotiations.

His current deal expires in June, meaning Dembele is already eligible to discuss free transfers with other clubs, though Barca have made no secret of their desire to keep him.

Nevertheless, Joan Laporta claimed Dembele ultimately rejected a transfer to an English club on deadline day, a decision that left the club president somewhat baffled and assuming he already had an agreement with another team for next season.

Laporta accepted it would be up to head coach Xavi whether Dembele was selected for the rest of the season, though Alves seems to think Barca should make use of his talents while they can.

Speaking on Movistar's #Vamos show, Alves said: "This kind of thing happens in football, but as long as he stays at Barca, he has to defend the shirt.

"If he goes at the end of the season, then so be it, but there are still five months left. You have to take advantage of being here.

"One has to be smarter than the situation. We have to think intelligently and take advantage of the fact that we have the player.

"We need unity in the entire locker room. You have to create a healthy environment of positivity, in which there are no bad vibes. If everyone contributes their own, Barca will come back, that is everyone's goal."

Alves returned to Camp Nou in November after leaving Sao Paulo and was eventually able to be registered at the start of 2022.

Three more new signings arrived in January as Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang joined the club.

But due to UEFA regulations only permitting three squad alterations ahead of the knockout phases of its club competitions, one of the new arrivals had to be left off their Europa League list.

Alves was the unfortunate one and, while he acknowledged a degree of frustration at the decision, he insisted he was not about to make a big deal of it.

"The coach knows what I think," he said. "I am always focused on trying to contribute as much as I can.

"We are employees. The club decides. I came to help, to add things, to bring a degree of competitiveness and winning spirit.

"If helping means staying out [of the squad], fine. They are phases of life that one has to accept.

"I would've liked to be in the squad, but unfortunately there were four players for three spots. I'm not going to catch bad vibes, I will continue trying to help."

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