Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany has informed Ousmane Dembele to "leave the club immediately" after repeatedly turning down the offer of a new contract.

The Catalan giants have been in talks with the France international since July over extending his existing deal, which runs out at the end of this season.

Dembele has struggled to establish himself as a key player at Camp Nou since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million due to persistent injury setbacks.

Barca head coach Xavi recently insisted Dembele could become the "best in the world" in his position as he underlined his desire for the forward to agree fresh terms.

However, the 24-year-old's agent Moussa Sissoko this week told RMC Sport that he would not bow to "pressure" from Barca over his client's future. 

Sissoko also accused the club of making "threats of no longer playing in the side" rather than engaging in productive talks with Dembele.

That led to Xavi issuing an ultimatum on Wednesday when telling the former Dortmund attacker to either agree to the offer on the table or be sold in the January window.

And after he was left out of Barcelona's squad for Thursday's Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Athletic Bilbao, Alemany revealed time has now run out for Dembele.

"With Ousmane and his agents we started conversations around the month of July," Alemany told Barca TV.

"In all this time, almost seven months, we have talked, Barca has made different offers, we have tried to find a way for the player to continue with us.

"Those offers have been continuously rejected by his agents. It seems obvious that the player does not want to continue at Barcelona and is not committed to our future project.

"We told him and his agents that he must leave the club immediately because we want to have players committed to the project.

"We expect a transfer to take place before January 31. The sporting consequence is that we don't want to have players who don't want to be at Barca.

"The fact that he was not in the [squad] list for today is the consequence of this whole process. The coach has our full support, it's a consistent attitude."

Dembele 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.

He 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 compatriots Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial among players from Europe's top five leagues, and just behind Liverpool star Sadio Mane (0.64).

His goal tally has also come from an expected goals (xG) of 23.7, suggesting Dembele's finishing has been of a high standard, given the quality of chances that have come his way.

However, to put Dembele's injury issues into some context, the 129 games he has played for Barca is 91 fewer than team-mate Sergio Busquets over the same period.

Dembele has reportedly drawn interest from a host of Premier League sides, including newly-rich Newcastle United, as well as Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. 

Barcelona coach Xavi has issued an ultimatum to Ousmane Dembele over his future: either sign a new contract or leave the club this month.

The Catalans have been in discussion with the winger for months about an extension to his deal, which expires at the end of the season.

Dembele has struggled badly with injury troubles since his move from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million, which have hampered his attempts to establish himself as a key player at Camp Nou.

Xavi, though, has been eager to see the France international stay at the club despite him playing just six times in LaLiga this season and in only 52 per cent of all Barca's league games since his arrival.

This week, Dembele's agent Moussa Sissoko told RMC Sport that he would not bow to "pressure" from Barca over his client's future and accused the club of making "threats of no longer playing in the side" rather than engaging in productive talks.

It appears Xavi and Barca's directors have had enough of the situation and the message to Dembele is clear.

 

"What I can say is that we are making a difficult decision. If he does not renew, the club has decided they will make a decision," Xavi told reporters ahead of Thursday's Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

"We've waited a long time. We have been in talks with him for five months.

"Either he renews or we look for an exit. In the end, the club has decided that if he does not renew, a solution must be found.

"We have to do what is best for the club. [Sporting director] Mateu Alemany has been talking with him and his representatives for months.

"It's not a pleasant situation for anyone, but what's clear is that the interests of the club must prevail here.

"He told me he wants to stay. It's a question for him. I've been really clear; I can't be more concise. Either he renews, or we look for an exit. It's all or nothing."

Xavi also made it clear he considers it a priority to extend the contract of defender Ronald Araujo, which expires at the end of next season.

"His renewal is a priority. He's a really important piece. He has a winning character," Xavi said.

"I hope an agreement is reached because he's a player for the present and the future. Ronald is a boy who adds a lot."

Ousmane Dembele's agent claims Barcelona have threatened to bench the winger for the rest of the season if he does not sign a new contract.

Dembele entered the final six months of his deal on January 1, meaning he is eligible to discuss potential moves to other clubs for next season.

Barca, especially coach Xavi, have been open in their desire to see Dembele commit himself to the club, despite his time there being largely disappointing since joining from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105million in 2017.

But reports suggest Barca have grown frustrated with the lack of movement, with Xavi previously urging Dembele to "make an effort" in talks.

Now, the likelihood of an agreement may have diminished even further after Dembele's agent accused Barca of refusing to negotiate and instead turning to "threats".

"It's applying pressure, and that doesn't work with people like us," Dembele's representative Moussa Sissoko told French broadcaster RMC Sport.

"Maybe it can work with agents who are cosy with Barcelona, but that's not the case, I am here to defend the interests of my player.

"We are not here to fuel the debates on social networks, but the truth must be told. Yes, we have demanding demands, but we have already shown that Ousmane's career choices are not dictated by the money, otherwise he wouldn't be here.

"If Barcelona wanted to negotiate, they could have tried to come to the table with us to discuss, except that there is no discussion, just threats of no longer playing in the side, and that's forbidden. We will assert Ousmane Dembele's rights if necessary.

"We don't know what we're going to do, nothing has been finalised, but [Barca's] hierarchy alone are losing Ousmane.

"From the start, we have shown that we want to discuss, with conditions of course, but without closing the door."

Real Madrid's squad is already packed with a magnitude of talent – and it could become even stronger should Erling Haaland arrive from Borussia Dortmund later this year.

Haaland has scored 78 goals in his two years with Dortmund – only Robert Lewandowski (107) has more in Europe's top five leagues – and would be a major coup for Madrid.

But while the Spanish giants remain confident of bringing in the in-demand striker from Dortmund, it could have a negative knock-on effect.


TOP STORY - HAALAND IN, BENZEMA OUT?

Karim Benzema is a much-loved figure at the Santiago Bernabeu and is enjoying another impressive campaign, but El Nacional claims that Madrid risk losing the Frenchman.

The report suggests that Benzema does not like the fact that president Florentino Perez is so fixated on bringing in a new player to lead Los Blancos' attack from next season.

While the 34-year is not currently seeking an exit, that could change should Madrid reach a pre-contract agreement with Haaland in the coming weeks, as has been suggested.

Benzema would not feel the need to move on should Kylian Mbappe join, though, as he considers that case to be different given the PSG striker is set to become a free agent.


ROUND-UP

Barcelona accept that it is increasingly likely Ousmane Dembele will leave Camp Nou as a free agent at the end of the season. According to Sport, Manchester United and Juventus have held talks with the player's camp, while Chelsea and Bayern Munich have an outside shot of signing the forward.

Arsenal have made their first move to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina, with Corriere Della Sera reporting that the Gunners have tabled an offer of £50million (€60m) plus Lucas Torreira, who is currently on loan with the Serie A side.

Chelsea are interested in signing Layvin Kurzawa on loan as they look to bolster their full-back ranks. However, Fabrizio Romano claims that the Blues have not yet officially opened talks with PSG.

– Calciomercato reports that Man Utd forward Anthony Martial has emerged as a January target for Juventus. The France international has struggled for games this season and has openly admitted he wants to find a new club this month.

Everton are on the lookout for a new manager after parting company with Rafael Benitez on Sunday and hope to make a swift appointment. According to ESPN, former boss Roberto Martinez – now in charge of the Belgium national team – is the leading candidate to take over.

Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier and Chris Wood this window, but The Telegraph reports that they have been knocked back in their bid to bring in Donny van de Beek on loan. The Man Utd midfielder is said to have been put off by the Magpies' position in the Premier League.

Aaron Ramsey has not had the best of times since moving to Juventus.

The Wales midfielder joined Juve from Arsenal in 2019 on a four-year deal.

Ramsey has only managed 70 appearances in an injury hit two and a half years with Juventus.

 

TOP STORY – RAMSEY TO LEAVE JUVENTUS IN JANUARY

Aaron Ramsey is set to exit Juventus in the January transfer window, reports Sky Sports.

Italian transfer supremo Gianluca Di Marzio claimed that Ramsey is likely to return to the Premier League, having already turned down an offer from Burnley .

Newcastle United have been linked with Ramsey, along with Everton.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich will consider swapping Kingsley Coman with Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele in the off-season, reports L'Equipe. Coman's contract expires in 2023 and negotiations on a new deal have stalled.

- Sky Sports have reported that Newcastle are contemplating a bid for Lucas Digne. The full-back is set to leave Everton this month after a falling out with Rafael Benitez, though supposedly prefers a move to London, with Chelsea and West Ham also said to be interested.

- Everton, meanwhile, hold an interest in Newcastle midfielder Sean Longstaff and have already made a bid, according to the Daily Mail and Sky Sports.

- Paris Saint-Germain may look to sign Lyon's Lucas Paqueta next off-season, so say L'Equipe.

- Manchester United are determined to secure Wolves' Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves in January, according to The Sun.

- Lazio have opened talks with Liverpool on a deal for Belgium international forward Divock Origi, claims LazioNews24.

- According to Sky Sports, five Premier League clubs have held talks with Barcelona's Philippe Coutinho.

Dani Alves has been cleared to play in Barcelona's Copa del Rey tie at Linares Deportivo on Wednesday and Ousmane Dembele is back in the squad.

Alves agreed a surprise return to Barca in November and featured in a friendly draw with Boca Juniors in Saudi Arabia last month.

The 38-year-old Brazil full-back's registration has now been sanctioned and he has been included in the squad for the round-of-32 match.

Dembele was also given the green light to travel to Andalusia after testing negative for coronavirus.

Barca have suffered a COVID-19 outbreak in the camp, with Alves having also tested positive, but Dembele is back in contention.

Clement Lenglet also returned a positive test last week and the defender remains sidelined after Barca revealed he and Samuel Umtiti are suffering with a stomach bug.

Sergino Dest, Sergi Roberto, Philippe Coutinho, Pedri, Memphis Depay, Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite, Ferran Torres, Gavi, Ez Abde and Alejandro Balde are all ruled out of the cup clash.

The holders are also without suspended striker Luuk de Jong.

Xavi is "very optimistic" that Barcelona can further strengthen in the January transfer window, but is unsure whether forward Ousmane Dembele will remain at Camp Nou beyond this season.

Despite their well-publicised financial issues, with debts rising above €1.2billion last year, Barca have brought in Ferran Torres from Manchester City this month for an initial €55million (£46.7m).

Barca will be unable to register Torres until they have offloaded some other players as they would risk exceeding their salary cap, yet other big-name stars continue to be linked with a switch to Camp Nou.

Among those touted as a target for the Catalans is Erling Haaland, with club president Joan Laporta this week refusing to rule out a potential move for the in-demand Borussia Dortmund striker.

Responding to rumours regarding his side's interest in Haaland, Laporta told the football world to "get ready" because Barcelona "are back".

Xavi shares Laporta's enthusiasm and believes the arrival of Torres, who was presented at Camp Nou on Monday, will galvanise supporters following a poor first half to the campaign.

"I'm very close to [Laporta] and I'm very optimistic. I like his ambition," Xavi said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's Copa del Rey last-32 tie with Linares Deportivo. 

"We are working to return. We are close to the Champions League positions. It is not easy, but we are working hard to give Barca what it deserves. We are on the right track.

"The signing of Ferran Torres makes the fans breathe as well. We are working practically 24 hours a day. We must follow the president's lead. It is a positive message to say that we have returned.

"If we sink into misery, it does not help. We must be positive. The president leads the way."

 

Haaland has scored 76 goals in 75 games for Dortmund since making his debut in January 2020, a tally bettered by only Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (103 goals in 87 games) among players from Europe's top five leagues in all competitions.

Alvaro Morata, currently on loan at Juventus from Atletico Madrid, has been touted as another potential option for Barca to bolster their attack, which was depleted by the high-profile exit of Lionel Messi in August.

Asked about the links with Haaland and Morata, Xavi said: "I don't want to talk about hypotheses, only the players we have here. 

"They are both great players but they are not ours. If Morata signs for Barcelona then I will answer questions on him."

Barca cannot realistically bring in more players until others make way, however, with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele potentially on their way out.

Coutinho has started just five games all season, while Dembele is into the final five months of his deal and is officially free to sign a pre-contract agreement with clubs from abroad.

The France international's time in Catalonia has been hampered by a succession of injury setbacks, but when fit he has made an impact and averages 0.6 goals or assists per 90 minutes in LaLiga, which is a similar amount to Antoine Griezmann (0.67) and team-mate Memphis Depay (0.66).

"We have to wait for Dembele," Xavi said. "I'm calm as I can't do anything else. Dembele has to make an effort and think about his future – it depends on him.

"As for Philippe, I've not spoken with him. He's a professional and helps us a lot. But in order for us to have entries, there must be exits."

Xavi also confirmed Barca are hopeful of having Dani Alves, another recent recruit, registered ahead of the midweek cup tie with third-tier Linares Deportivo.

Alves' only appearance since early September was in a friendly against Boca Juniors last month, but Xavi expects the experienced full-back to play a big part in the remainder of Barca's campaign.

"I see him very well. He is spectacular in training, with a lot of intensity and a professionalism," Xavi said. 

"He will help us a lot with his arrival on the wing. He is 38 years old, but as is training will help us in many games. He is a superb player and I hope he can play every three days for us."

Romelu Lukaku's club future has been thrown into the spotlight after an explosive interview.

The Belgian striker revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea in August.

Lukaku was subsequently dropped by coach Thomas Tuchel for Sunday's 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU COULD MAKE STUNNING SWITCH TO SPURS

La Gazzetta Dello Sport claims that unsettled Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku could make a cross-city switch to Tottenham to re-unite with Antonio Conte.

Lukaku and Conte worked together at Inter where they won the Serie A title last term.

The striker revealed his frustrations at Chelsea over the weekend, with Tuchel offering no guarantees about his future.

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland will not leave Borussia Dortmund during the January transfer window, reports Fabrizio Romano. Haaland has not decided his next destination yet, despite rumours of a pre-agreement with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

- Ara claims Barcelona will offer Ousmane Dembele to Manchester United as part of a swap deal for want-away forward Anthony Martial.

- Tottenham and West Ham United  are both keen to sign Wolves' Adama Traore, claims the Telegraph. Wolves want £20million for the Spanish forward.

- Olympiakos' Guinea international midfielder Aguibou Camara is attracting interest from Milan and Liverpool, claims Calciomercato.

Xavi is urging Ousmane Dembele to "make an effort" after contract negotiations between the Frenchman and Barcelona hit an obstacle.

The 24-year-old has entered the final six months of his contract at the club, meaning he is able to begin talking with other clubs over a free transfer at the end of the season.

Dembele's Barca career has been largely disappointing since joining from Borussia Dortmund for a reported €105million in 2017, with injuries restricting him to just 86 LaLiga appearances from a possible 165.

Yet, ever since Xavi was appointed as Ronald Koeman's replacement in November, the new coach has frequently spoken of his admiration for Dembele, repeatedly backing him to be the best player in the world in his position.

Xavi remains hopeful in light of rumours suggesting Barca and the player's representatives reached something of a stumbling block in talks, though he wants Dembele to play his part as well if he truly wants to stay.

Asked about the apparent "tension" encountered in negotiations, Xavi told reporters: "I am not disappointed. It's a negotiation.

"Agents are difficult. At Barca we have a clear position and it is in progress, it's not over. I'm optimistic and I hope that Ousmane makes an effort. He has a fantastic proposition [but] there is always a tug of war.

"I hope he can stay because he is a player capable of making a difference and could be the best footballer in his position. It's an opportunity for him and he can't miss it.

 

"I don't think he'd be happier elsewhere than he is here. Barca is the best club in the world, the sporting project is going to be more important than economic [aspect], and I have let him know. That is why I am hopeful.

"I naturally told him that we need him. He is an important player for us. He knows that the project is very interesting for him. The economic issue does not concern me."

One player being linked with joining Barca is Alvaro Morata.

Reports suggest Xavi wants to bring the Atletico Madrid-owned striker back to Spain from Juventus.

While it would seemingly be a complicated deal – and that is before you consider Barca's need to offload players before registering new ones due to their salary limit – it is one that seems to make sense on the face of it.

Though Ferran Torres has arrived from Manchester City, Xavi has appeared unconvinced by his options in the striker role, with Luuk de Jong supposedly set to have his loan from Sevilla terminated, though the coach was reluctant to talk about Morata.

He said: "Let's talk about the players we have. Ferran Torres and [Dani] Alves are going to improve our squad.

"They are very good for our style of play. The rest are theories and that's something that does not concern me."

January 1 ushers the start of a new year and, for many, a chance for a fresh start. That is particularly true in the world of football as it signals the day the transfer window opens and some of Europe's top talents can plot a lucrative move elsewhere.

A number of the sport's top talents, including Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, are due to be out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and can therefore open talks with teams abroad in January.

While the futures of Mbappe and Pogba will be heavily discussed in the coming weeks, other big names across the continent will also become that little more attractive to buyers given their availability on a free (notwithstanding their lucrative salaries, of course!).

Stats Perform looks at the best players soon to be out of contract and therefore available to sign pre-contract agreements elsewhere from January 1.

 

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

Where better place to start than with a goalkeeper potentially seeking a new destination. Lloris has spent 10 seasons with Tottenham and has captained the side for the past six years, while also skippering the France national team since 2012.

Spurs have historically been reluctant to offer long-term deals to players in their 30s and that policy could see them lose one of European football's finest goalkeepers from the past decade. He has racked up 392 appearances for Tottenham, keeping 131 clean sheets in the process.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Martial did not quite transform into the superstar forward many were expecting upon joining United from Monaco six years ago, but neither has the France international been as big a flop as some would suggest.

Indeed, since making his Premier League debut in September 2015, only Marcus Rashford (57) has scored more goals for United than Martial's 56. Those goals have come from an expected goals (xG) return of 43, with that xG differential of 13 the largest of any player at the club in that timeframe.

 

Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)

Chelsea face the prospect of losing four defenders without receiving a fee of any sort at the end of the campaign, with Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rudiger all nearing the end of their respective contracts.

Tying down Rudiger to fresh terms should be the priority, given there has arguably been no better defender in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel first took charge of Chelsea on January 27, backed up by the centre-back's Premier League-leading 17 clean sheets over that period.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

No player has quite dominated the transfer column inches in the same manner as Pogba in recent years and, with no sign of a new contract being signed anytime soon, it now looks certain the 28-year-old will depart United for a second time.

Pogba may have struggled for consistency at Old Trafford, not helped by niggling injury issues, but he has averaged one assist per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season – a tally not matched by any player to have played more than once.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG rejected multiple offers from Real Madrid in 2020, but as it stands they are powerless to stop one of the game's leading lights departing at the end of the season.

As well as breaking a number of goalscoring records, Mbappe's 215 direct goal involvements in all competitions since making his PSG debut in September 2017 – 147 goals of his own and 68 assists – is a tally bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (242) and Lionel Messi (246).

 

Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)

Inter have so far been able to persuade Nicola Barella and Lautaro Martinez to extend their stays at San Siro, but Brozovic's future remains unclear heading into the new year.

Brozovic was a key part of Inter's Scudetto-winning side last term, featuring in 33 of their 38 games, and has started all 19 of their matches this campaign. Only Ruben Dias (1,713), Joao Cancelo (1,803) and William Saliba (1,840) have played more successful passes than the Croatia international (1,681) among players from Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22.

Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Gareth Bale and Isco are two high-profile Madrid players set to move on either in January or at the end of the season, but as well as trying to seal Mbappe's signing, Madrid's other priority might be ensuring Modric does not bring an end to his decade-long spell at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2022.

Proving that age is just a number, 36-year-old Modric has been as good as ever for LaLiga leaders Madrid this season. The six big chances created by the midfielder in 2020-21, leading to four assists, has been bettered by only four others in the division.

 

Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)

Dembele has struggled to come close to justifying his hefty transfer fee, reported to be an initial €105million, but he was recently described as having the potential to be the best attacking player in the world by head coach Xavi.

Barca president Joan Laporta is also eager to keep hold of Dembele, who has managed 30 goals and 22 assists in 126 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.6 goals per 90 minutes. For comparison, that is an identical number to Antoine Griezmann during his short-lived stint at Camp Nou.

Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Strongly touted as a target for the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Zakaria will depart Borussia Monchengladbach in 2022 after confirming to the German club that he intends to run down his contract.

The defensive midfielder averages 52.3 passes every 90 minutes and 47.1 successful ones, the latter being the ninth-most this season among Bundesliga midfielders with at least 500 minutes played. Among the same group of players, only seven average more than his two successful dribbles every 90 minutes – all of those being more attack-minded players.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Dybala has indicated that he wants to remain a Juventus player beyond this season but the longer talks over a new deal drag on, the more unlikely it appears he will still be in Turin six months from now – and that would be a major blow for the Bianconeri during an already difficult period.

The Argentina international has eight goals and four assists in 17 appearances this term, without being at what many would consider his best form – at least three more direct goal involvements than Juve's next most threatening player Alvaro Morata and double that of Federico Bernardeschi in third.

Ousmane Dembele could become the face of a new Barcelona but his future remains unclear.

Xavi has made it clear how much he rates the France international, but his contract expires at the end of the season.

Barca are keen to extend his stay, though it appears their chances have suffered a setback.

 

TOP STORY - DEMBELE TALKS HIT PROBLEM

Barca's latest meeting with Dembele's agents did not have the "expected end", with "tension" rising in negotiations, according to Sport.

While the Catalan daily claims Barca are still confident of reaching an agreement, with Dembele having previously given the green light over a renewal, the forward will be able to open discussions with other clubs over a free transfer from January 1.

Sky Sport Italia reports Manchester United and Newcastle United, the latter of whom are expected to have plenty to spend in January, have already registered an interest.

ROUND-UP

- River Plate's highly-rated forward Julian Alvarez seems poised to leave sooner rather than later. TyC Sports suggests Man Utd have requested a meeting with his agent to understand what it would cost to sign the 21-year-old.

- Many players are likely to be linked with Newcastle over the coming weeks but Atletico Madrid and England right-back Kieran Trippier appears one of the likeliest to join them. Fabrizio Romano claims the Magpies are "still working" on the deal, though Los Colchoneros are yet to receive a bid.

- Borussia Dortmund have not given up hope of retaining Erling Haaland. The Norway sensation has been linked with most of Europe's biggest clubs, but Bild says BVB are willing to make him their highest-paid player of all time.

- Barcelona want to solve their issues in the striker role by bringing Alvaro Morata back to LaLiga from Juventus, according to AS, though there is an acceptance the deal will be a complicated one to pull off due to the fact he is on loan from Atletico.

Barcelona have confirmed Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti and Gavi have tested positive for COVID-19.

The Blaugrana were previously hit with positives for Clement Lenglet, Dani Alves, Jordi Alba and Alejandro Balde in the past week.

A statement on the club's website on Wednesday read: "The footballers Dembele, Umtiti and Gavi are positive for COVID-19 after PCR tests on the squad. 

"The players are in good health and self-isolating at home. The club has reported the cases to the relevant authorities."

Umtiti has largely been out of favour at Camp Nou this season, playing just once across all competitions, while Dembele has only managed eight appearances (four starts) having spent a significant period out through injury.

Gavi is the club's third-highest appearance maker in this campaign, though, with the 17-year-old midfielder playing 22 times, 17 of which have been starts. Only Sergio Busquets has featured more often.

The Blaugrana sit in seventh place in LaLiga, two points off fourth and 18 behind leaders Real Madrid, and travel to face Real Mallorca next on January 2.

Xavi said he would struggle to sleep after Barcelona were unable to take advantage of their dominance in a 1-1 draw with Sevilla on Tuesday.

Los Nervionenses went ahead in the 32nd minute thanks to Alejandro Gomez's cool finish, but Barca pulled level on the stroke of half-time courtesy of Ronald Araujo's header.

It was no less than Barca deserved, given they had attempted 15 shots in the opening period – the most of any team in a first half in LaLiga this season.

Jules Kounde was dismissed in the 64th minute for throwing the ball at Jordi Alba's face after a coming together between the two players, yet Barca were unable to make their numerical advantage count in the closing stages.

It meant the Blaugrana have won only one of their past eight away games in the top flight, and while Xavi was frustrated with his side's inability to leave Andalusia with all three points, he was pleased with their performance.

"We have lost two points; we deserved to win, even when it was 11 against 11," he told Movistar.

"It will be difficult for me to sleep because we should have won. Sevilla were able to cool the game down; they are a veteran team, they know what they are doing and they work very well tactically.

"This Barca is close to the one we want, to be protagonists and be brave. It is the right way.

"I have seen a Barca with personality. It is what we want and the team is growing.

"We were good at high pressuring, recovering after losing the ball and the circulation of the ball. We competed very well, despite the draw."

 

Ousmane Dembele's future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks and he showed why Barca are keen to keep hold of him with a bright display.

The France international had a game-high five shots – one of which struck the upright late on – while no player on the pitch bettered his four key passes.

He also registered his second assist in as many games, sending in the corner for Araujo's header, to equal his tally from his previous 34 appearances for Barca in all competitions.

Xavi was pleased with Dembele's contribution and wants to see more of the same when Barca resume action after the mid-season break against Real Mallorca on January 2.

"We want this from him," Xavi added. "I say the same for [Ez] Abde or Ansu [Fati] when they are playing.

"We want pure wingers in the team; let them prove how good they are.

"It's a pity the goal was missing but he played a very good match."

Barcelona hope to have clarity on the future of Ousmane Dembele by the end of this year, sporting director Mateu Alemany said on Saturday.

The winger's contract expires at the end of the season and, while head coach Xavi has insisted the player wants to stay, there has been no sign of an imminent new deal.

Clubs including Newcastle United, now bankrolled by a Saudi Arabia-backed consortium, have been linked with January bids for the France international, who would be free to leave for nothing at the end of the campaign.

However, Alemany appears confident Barca will be able to keep the 24-year-old, who was signed in 2017 for an initial €105million following Neymar's world-record €222m move to Paris Saint-Germain.

"We've been at this for a long time, always with the will to find an agreement, because his idea is to stay and that gives us a lot of confidence," Alemany said to Barca TV.

"We're at a key moment. We hope everything will be cleared up by the end of the year."

Any new deal for Dembele would push Barca closer to breaching financial fair play regulations, with debts of more than €1.2billion having forced them to plan for this season with a greatly reduced salary cap.

However, Alemany says plans are in place to ensure they stay within parameters, insisting it will be possible for new signings to be made next month.

"There are several options in place to stay within financial fair play, and we're working on signings. We've worked on this with the coach," he said.

"We know what he wants, what he needs and what he has. And we're clear about what the market can provide. We're keen to secure departures and arrivals."

Barcelona head coach Xavi has claimed it is "strange" that some of his players "do not understand" the style of play he is attempting to impose.

Appointed to arrest the team's decline under predecessor Ronald Koeman, the former midfield star has struggled to reverse the problems at Camp Nou in terms of performances and results.

Barca have won just two of six games since Xavi's return to the club, while a goalless draw with Benfica and a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich saw them fail to progress to the Champions League last 16 for the first time in 20 years.

Ahead of Saturday's game with Elche, the Catalans are eighth in LaLiga, 18 points behind leaders Real Madrid and five adrift of the top four.

Xavi has suggested part of the problem lies in his players' inability to grasp 'juego de posicion', a structured approach to play with and without the ball in which the former Spain international thrived.

However, he is refusing to give up on Barca's ambitions this season, telling reporters: "I have a lot of faith in my players, although the results are not following. We have to believe in the process.

"We're Barca and we have to compete against any opponent, regardless of injuries. We can't make excuses.

"The objective is to be in the top four and to win trophies, although the gap to the leaders is very big. We don't rule anything out.

"We need to understand the way we want to play football. It's strange there are Barca players who don't understand juego de posicion.

"This is about winning, and we're eighth in the table. We have to be positive and brave: press high, press after losing the ball, attack spaces... this is what we want."

 

Barca's well-documented financial problems leave them in a precarious position when it comes to bolstering the squad in the transfer window.

Indeed, amid reports president Joan Laporta had met with agent Mino Raiola to discuss the prospect of signing Erling Haaland next year, LaLiga boss Javier Tebas expressed his doubt that Barca would be able to afford the Borussia Dortmund star.

However, Xavi insisted Tebas would be as happy as anyone to see a talent of Haaland's pedigree move to Spain's top flight.

"In these moments we have a difficult economic situation, and you have to think that it's not going to be easy. We have a salary cap," Xavi said.

"In terms of names, we haven't spoken of that possibility. It would interest [Tebas] for players like Haaland to be here for the good of the league."

It has been suggested Barca could look to offload Ousmane Dembele to fund January arrivals, but Xavi appeared keen to keep the winger, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

"I spoke with him yesterday. I'm positive. He wants to continue. I can't say more; it's a matter of reaching an agreement.

"He already knows the importance he'll have if he stays with us. He looks good, he's playing more and more. He's a footballer capable of making a difference."

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