Barcelona feel Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves has one foot out of the door and are optimistic about their chance of signing him at the end of the season.

Neves, 25, has spent the past six seasons with Wolves after arriving during their last season in the Championship (2017-18), racking up over 200 appearances for the club along with 28 goals.

The central midfielder, a regular for Portugal, has caught the eye of Europe's elite clubs.

Wolves had been hopeful of extending Neves' stay at the club, but with their future in the Premier League in doubt, they might have already started to plan for life without him.

 

TOP STORY – WOLVES SIGNING INDICATES LOOMING NEVES DEPARTURE

According to Sport, Barcelona believe Wolves are signing 21-year-old Flamengo midfielder Joao Gomes as a direct replacement for Neves, who they expect to leave at the end of the season.

The report states Barcelona know what it will cost to pry him away from the Premier League and are comfortable with the price, which is said to be "much more feasible" than the €60million price tag for Real Sociedad's Martin Zubimendi.

Real Madrid are also expected to pursue Neves, who they reportedly feel has "the potential to become the new Casemiro".

 

ROUND-UP

– The Telegraph and Fabrizio Romano state Chelsea will make another run at signing 22-year-old Benfica and Argentina standout Enzo Fernandez, and are willing to meet the £105m (€120m) release clause if they can pay it in installments.

– According to Bild, Tottenham have submitted a £22m (€25m) verbal offer to Bayer Leverkusen for 21-year-old Ecuador centre-back Piero Hincapie.

Newcastle United have had their latest £20m offer for 18-year-old Flamengo midfielder Matheus Franca turned down, per Fabrizio Romano.

– Newcastle are also said to be looking to replace Jonjo Shelvey, who is set to join Nottingham Forest, with Sheffield United's Sander Berge.

– The Daily Mail is reporting Brighton and Hove Albion have rejected a £70m approach from Arsenal for 21-year-old midfielder Moises Caicedo, and are holding out for £80m.

– According to Sport, there is mutual interest between Barca and Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix, who will spend the rest of the season on loan at Chelsea.

Carlo Ancelotti hailed a "complete" Real Madrid performance as "one of the best of the season" despite a goalless LaLiga draw with Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Madrid sit five points behind leaders Barcelona after failing to breach Imanol Alguacil's defence in a largely one-sided encounter at Santiago Bernabeu.

La Real goalkeeper Alex Remiro thwarted a dominant Madrid with seven saves, the most he has managed in a LaLiga game this season, including three fine stops against the energetic Vinicius Junior.

Head coach Ancelotti was "satisfied" with his side's showing, though, as third-placed La Real held on for a precious point that kept them just three behind Madrid, having played a game more.

He said: "It was a shame because we played very well and we deserved to win. We played a complete game, one of the best of the season, but we didn't have any luck.

"The team is improving and growing and physically we are much better. Now the injured return and we have confidence for the coming months. 

"We have done very well with and without the ball and all we had to do was score, we came so close but it is a draw. I am satisfied because the team has played very well."

The majority of Madrid's attacking threat came through Vinicius, who attempted 21 dribbles – the most by one player in a single LaLiga match since Opta began recording in the 2005-06 season.

Dani Ceballos impressed in a rare start in the Madrid midfield, while Eduardo Camavinga showed his versatility in a fine performance at left-back.

"We pushed the 90 minutes to the fullest with great intensity, Real Sociedad has not played as they like because we pressed well up top," Ancelotti added.

"The extra time of the Copa del Rey [a 3-1 quarter-final win over Atletico Madrid on Thursday] was not noticed, we have had a high intensity for the 90 minutes.

"It was difficult to make changes because nobody deserved to leave the field, the team was playing well and I did not want to change the dynamics. 

"Ceballos and [Federico] Valverde played very well. [Camavinga] did well, he is an option because of his quality and his energy. He is not used to playing there and with Vinicius they created many chances.

"The game was good but if you don't score... now we are five points behind and we have to chase."

Madrid will hope to make up ground on Xavi's Barca when they host top-four chasers Valencia on Thursday.

Real Madrid missed the chance to move back to within three points of LaLiga leaders Barcelona after being held to a goalless draw by unlikely title challengers Real Sociedad.

Carlo Ancelotti's side dominated for large parts but drew a blank at Santiago Bernabeu just three days after downing rivals Atletico Madrid in Thursday's Copa del Rey quarter-final.

Goalkeeper Alex Remiro starred with numerous fine stops amid a somewhat one-sided encounter, with Madrid unable to break the impressive resistance of Imanol Alguacil's team.

The stalemate left Los Blancos trailing fierce rivals Barca by five points, with third-placed La Real three behind Ancelotti's men after Sunday's clash.

Chances were plentiful amid a frantic and free-flowing opening between two in-form sides.

A stretching Alexander Sorloth could not reach Aihen Munoz's pinpoint left-wing cross with the goal gaping, while Vinicius Junior and Asier Illarramendi went close at either end.

Remiro repelled a fizzing Toni Kroos drive and Dani Ceballos curled just wide as Madrid failed to find deserved reward for an enterprising first half.

Vinicius saw another low strike denied by Remiro's feet and Thibaut Courtois thwarted a precise Takefusa Kubo attempt after the interval.

Remiro stood tall to parry from Vinicius when one-on-one with a save that proved pivotal as La Real held on for a precious point.

What does it mean? Los Blancos dominance goes unrewarded

Madrid extended their unbeaten LaLiga run to seven games against La Real but leaving this fixture without three points may feel like an opportunity missed for Ancelotti.

Los Blancos have already secured Supercopa de Espana success and remain in the hunt for the Copa and Champions League, but chances like this in the league cannot go begging if they are to catch Barca.

However, nothing should be taken away from the impressive La Real, who continue to prove they can compete with Madrid and Barca amid a fine season under Alguacil.

Lively Vinicius blunted by Remiro

Vinicius continues to deliver for Ancelotti and Madrid this season, producing another energetic display in this game – albeit without just reward.

The Brazil winger was denied on three occasions by the resolute Remiro – who made seven saves, the most he has produced in LaLiga this term – and created two chances.

Super Sorloth run ends

Norway international Erling Haaland has repeatedly hit the headlines with Manchester City, but international team-mate Sorloth has been almost as impressive in recent weeks.

The striker was aiming to become just the third La Real player this century to score in six straight LaLiga games – after Darko Kovacevic (in 2002) and Aleksander Isak (in 2021) – but failed to threaten Madrid.

What's next?

Madrid host top-four chasers Valencia on Thursday, with La Real at home to Real Valladolid three days later.

Carlo Ancelotti has responded to strong claims made by Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Gil Marin that Real Madrid get preferential treatment from referees, insisting corruption no longer exists in football.

In a statement published on Atletico's official website on Friday, Gil Marin claimed Real are involuntarily favoured by referees and have created an atmosphere that influences officials.

Gil's strong remarks came a day on from Atletico's 3-1 extra-time loss to fierce rivals Real in their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie, which they led for an hour until Rodrygo cancelled out Alvaro Morata's goal.

Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior won the tie for the hosts at the Santiago Bernabeu in the additional period, after Stefan Savic was sent off by man in the middle Cesar Soto Grado for two bookable offences.

However, Atletico felt Real midfielder Dani Ceballos should also have been dismissed for bringing down Thomas Lemar when already on a yellow card and with the visitors a goal to the good.

"Anyone who observes [the situation] from the outside can see that for decades the same thing almost always happens," Gil Marin added in his statement.

"Unfortunately it no longer surprises anyone, it is not news. It's very obvious and you just have to remember the story."

Ancelotti was reluctant to get involved when asked about Gil Marin's comments at a pre-match press conference previewing Sunday's LaLiga match with Real Sociedad, but he did add suggestions of referees favouring certain teams are wide of the mark.

"I have not read the comments, though I have heard something," Ancelotti said. "I don't want to talk about it. The only thing I can say is that my character is my character and I respect to all opinions.

"It was a competitive match, an even match. I think for our part we deserved to win. The rest are matters I won't talk about."

Asked if he feels referees in general are doing a good job, Ancelotti said: "It is very complicated for them. It seemed that with VAR it could help. There is no longer talk about offside, for example. 

"But everything that is not objective can create controversy. The corruption is gone compared to the past. In general, refereeing has improved a lot across Europe."

Madrid now turn focus back to LaLiga and a showdown with third-placed La Real, who lost to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey in midweek but are on a five-game winning run in the league.

"La Real are playing very well and have good dynamics," said Ancelotti, whose side trail leaders Barcelona by three points.

"We have to improve certain parts. After what happened against Atleti, it is important to play a complete match offensively and defensively."

LaLiga finds itself in the rather awkward position where it wants the competition to be competitive internally while also desperate for the 'big two' to remain the behemoths they are, because Real Madrid and Barcelona are good for business.

President Javier Tebas insists LaLiga is, in sporting terms, the most competitive league in the world, something he believes is proven by the performances of Spanish teams in Europe over the past 20 years or so.

To his credit, the incredibly divisive figure of Tebas has done plenty of good for Spanish football. In general it is far more financially stable than when he was elected in 2013, and the centralised sale of TV broadcast rights has levelled the playing field a little more.

Fairly or not, though, there are many who feel that there only being two – or three in some years – teams capable of winning the league shows its lack of competitiveness.

But when a club does rise above the rabble, the financial disparity between Real Madrid and Barcelona and the rest makes the achievement of simply challenging all the more impressive.

This time it's Real Sociedad, and on Sunday they could make a statement.

La Real out to put the big boys on notice

The omens aren't great.

Real Madrid have lost only one of their last 15 LaLiga home games against La Real (W12 D2), the one exception coming in May 2019.

But there's something a bit different about this vintage.

Until the slender 1-0 Copa del Rey defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou on Thursday, La Real's nine-match winning streak across all competitions was the best such run they have managed since returning to LaLiga for the 2010-11 season.

Sitting third heading into the weekend, La Real are seven points clear of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid and already look near-certainties for the Champions League.

Defeat to Barca in the week was undoubtedly a setback, but it provided yet more evidence of them not being easy to beat.

The fact their 38 points from 18 matches is just two shy of a club record set in the 2002-03 season – more on that team later – highlights just how impressive they've been generally.

Yet, it doesn't tell the whole story. Imanol Alguacil has overseen this start to the campaign despite losing Alexander Isak to Newcastle United and then seeing his replacement Umar Sadiq succumb to a serious knee injury – from which he still hasn't recovered – after playing just 82 minutes for his new club.

The neat and intelligent Martin Zubimendi thrives in defensive midfield; 36-year-old David Silva continues to defy his age as the number 10; Robin Le Normand has developed into one of the most under-rated centre-backs in the league; Brais Mendez has taken their midfield to a new level; and Alexander Sorloth – who once scored no Premier League goals in a year at Crystal Palace and netted just four all last season for La Real – is the unlikely talisman up top.

The big Norwegian has scored eight goals, none of which have been penalties, in LaLiga. Only Robert Lewandowski (13) has more, while Sorloth ranks third for non-penalty expected goals (xG) with 6.0.

We can't call it a title challenge yet. They are still six points behind Barca having played a game more than the Blaugrana.

But with just over half the season still to go, La Real find themselves in position to pounce should Xavi's side let up – providing they can retain their own momentum.

Win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday and everyone else will begin to take them a little more seriously as well.

Two points from immortality

La Real have been here before.

Their flirt with the title in the 2002-03 season is probably the best example of a so-close-yet-so-far tale in modern Spanish football.

It effectively came out of nowhere, too.

Four successive seasons of mid-table obscurity had offered no hint of what was to come, and what followed that campaign made it all seem like a farfetched dream.

La Real pushed a Madrid side that included Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos to the wire, even beating them 4-2 at Anoeta to reinvigorate their campaign after a chastening derby defeat to Athletic Bilbao in late 2002 was followed by something of a blip.

The Basques headed into the final three games of the season knowing nine points would secure the rarest of title wins.

They had risen to most challenges to that point. Their little-and-large striker duo of Darko Kovacevic and Nihat Kahveci plundered goals at will, racking up 43 between them; Xabi Alonso gave them almost ceaseless control in midfield; Valery Karpin and Javier de Pedro provided ammunition from the flanks.

But it couldn't have been a shock that a team without a league title since 1982 crumbled in the end. A draw at home to Valencia was followed by defeat to Celta Vigo in Galicia, while Madrid beat Atletico Madrid.

La Real's win over Los Colchoneros on the final day of the season was insufficient to keep hopes alive as Madrid comfortably saw off Athletic.

It was a valiant effort, with La Real edged out by two points when all was said and done, but it was not the start of a prosperous new era. What followed was four seasons of dicing with relegation, the last ultimately claiming them and leading to three campaigns in the second tier.

The difference this time? Stability, consistency. The past six years have essentially confirmed La Real as a top-half team, finishing sixth or higher four times, including in each of the last three.

Imanol has been in charge for those three, moulding La Real into a highly organised, high-pressing and dynamic side. But their institutional excellence goes deeper than that, with synergy a key priority from top to bottom, hence how 15 members of the first-team squad have come up through the academy or the B team. Make that 16 if you include the coach himself.

In all likelihood, La Real probably won't get that close to becoming the first team to upset the established order of the historical 'big three' since Valencia in 2004. Barcelona and Real Madrid are still too big for most to really go toe-to-toe with over a 38-game season, regardless of Tebas' changes.

But with arguably a far more talented squad than 20 years ago, La Real are much better equipped to at least make title challenges a regular dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barcelona head coach Xavi has hit back at "silly" criticism about Gavi's perceived overly physical playing style and told the midfielder to show even more passion.

The 18-year-old has featured in all 17 of league-leading Barcelona's LaLiga fixtures this season, starting 12 of those.

Gavi leads the way among Barca players for fouls conceded this campaign with 41 – at least 22 more than any other team-mate and the third-highest tally in the division.

He also tops the list in terms of duels contested (146) among Barca players and is behind only Sergio Busquets (1.73) for tackles per game with 1.65.

Some have suggested Gavi too often gets away with bad challenges, having been cautioned only three times, but Barca head coach Xavi does not agree with that assessment.

"That seems silly to me. There is a referee who decides, right? In the end, he is the one who decides," Xavi told reporters. "Gavi puts passion and courage into his game.

"I consider it that the whistle is blown for very few fouls on him. For me, it's the other way around. He's a player who's fouled a lot and the whistle is blown for a few of them."

 

Gavi's playing style has earned comparisons to Brazil international Casemiro, who won 18 trophies in nine years at Real Madrid prior to joining Manchester United last August.

But Xavi feels the young midfielder is only praised when representing Spain, rather than when putting on the Blaugrana strip.

"It seems to me that when he goes to the [Spanish] national team he is wonderful, and when he plays for Barca, he crosses the line," Xavi said.

"This is what it seems to me from the outside, yes. He's an example of grit and courage [for Spain] and, when he's at Barca, he is not liked, right?

"Well, it's normal. It is normal. And on top of that, if we win, he is liked even less. It is the way that it is.

"To Gavi, I say be calm, to put in the same passion, or even more, and also more courage and sacrifice... and that he doesn't stop. He doesn't have to slow down."

Gavi is in line to feature when Barca host Real Sociedad – who are third in LaLiga – in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

"It's a key match for us," Xavi added at Tuesday's pre-match press conference. "It's a quarter-final and a one-off match. We're playing in front of 80,000 of our fans.

"We are in good form and they are in a good moment also in terms of results and confidence. I expect we'll see a good game."

Xavi insists there is no problem with referee Gil Manzano taking charge of Barcelona's Copa del Rey quarter-final with Real Sociedad.

Manzano was the official who showed Robert Lewandowski a red card when Barca faced Osasuna in LaLiga in November, before including mention of a gesture the Polish striker made when leaving the pitch in his report, which landed Lewandowski a three-match ban.

Speaking ahead of the Blaugrana's home game against La Real, Xavi was relaxed about involving his top scorer with Manzano in the middle.

"There is no problem. Let it go unnoticed," he told reporters on Tuesday. "We hope it will be a pleasant match. Robert is a professional who will be aware of the game, which we can control.

"I always tell [the players] to forget about the referee. It's a situation that we can't control. This is not going to lower our mood."

Following their 1-0 league win against Getafe on Sunday, Barca have still conceded just six goals in their 17 LaLiga outings, and Xavi paid tribute to goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for his role in their airtight backline.

"Marc is at a spectacular level. At the best moment," he said. "He reminds me of Ter Stegen from his first year. He gives us a lot and makes a difference to us.

"We give importance to the defensive line. We work on it and it bears fruit in the league in this case."

With a week left of the January transfer window, Xavi seemed to rule out an exit for Franck Kessie, who has been linked with a loan move away from Camp Nou.

The former Milan midfielder has made just two starts in LaLiga this season, but impressed in Barca's previous Copa del Rey clash against Cueta, recording a goal and two assists.

"Kessie, at no time did I consider leaving," his boss said. "He gives us many alternatives in our game."

On general transfer market intentions, Xavi added: "I predicted a calm market. I'm happy with the team and there's nothing new, although I haven't ruled anything out."

Real Madrid and bitter rivals Atletico Madrid will duel for a place in the Copa del Rey semi-finals after being paired in the last eight.

Los Blancos survived a scare on Thursday as they came from 2-0 down at Villarreal to win 3-2 thanks to goals from Vinicius Junior, Eder Militao and Dani Ceballos.

It ensured Carlo Ancelotti's team bounced back from losing to Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana final four days earlier.

Nevertheless, their route does not get any easier with Thursday's draw pitting them against city rivals Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Diego Simeone's side beat Levante 2-0 in Valencia on Wednesday, with Alvaro Morata and Marcos Llorente scoring in the second half.

It will be the first time Atletico and Madrid have tussled in the Copa since January 2015, when the former emerged 4-2 aggregate winners over two legs.

The competition remains on track for a Clasico final, though Barca will also have to get past tricky opponents to reach the last four.

Real Sociedad, who have won each of their past eight games in all competitions and are third in LaLiga, will visit Camp Nou.

La Real have a dreadful record away to Barcelona, however, last winning there in LaLiga way back in 1991.

The other two quarter-finals are also all-LaLiga affairs.

Last season's beaten finalists Valencia will meet Athletic Bilbao at the Mestalla Stadium, while Osasuna – conquerors of defending champions Real Betis – play host to a Sevilla side who are battling relegation in the league.

The matches are scheduled across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

 

Copa del Rey quarter-final draw in full:

Barcelona v Real Sociedad

Osasuna v Sevilla

Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid

Valencia v Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona will face the lowest-ranked team left in the Copa del Rey after being drawn with Ceuta in the last 16.

Xavi's side will be huge favourites to reach the quarter-finals, with their next opponents propping up Group 1 of the Primera Division RFEF, Spain's third tier.

Nevertheless, Ceuta – who beat LaLiga's Elche in the round of 32 – will take encouragement from Barca's struggles in the last round ahead of welcoming the Catalans to Africa's north coast.

The top-flight leaders needed extra time to beat another third-tier side in Intercity, with Oriol Soldevila pegging them back three times to force extra time.

Ansu Fati's extra-time goal made it 4-3 and eventually sealed Barca's passage, but it was still alarmingly close to an upset for the Blaugrana.

The tie of the round will take place at Estadio de la Ceramica as Villarreal host Real Madrid.

Holders Real Betis were drawn at home to Osasuna, one of four all-LaLiga ties, while Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla were all paired with Segunda opposition.

Fixtures will take place across January 17, 18 and 19.

Copa del Rey draw in full:

Ceuta v Barcelona

Levante v Atletico Madrid

Sporting Gijon v Valencia

Deportivo Alaves v Sevilla

Real Betis v Osasuna

Villarreal v Real Madrid

Real Sociedad v Real Mallorca

Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol

Real Madrid will face fourth-tier club Cacereno in the Copa del Rey's round of 32 in early January.

Cacereno produced the biggest shock of the second round when beating LaLiga side Girona 2-1 on Thursday, with the Catalans becoming the first top-flight side to be knockout of this season's competition.

The Segunda Division RFEF side have been rewarded for that success with a dream duel with Real Madrid, who will travel to Caceres for the game.

For Cacereno, such a draw will provide a huge boost financially.

Club president Carlos Ordonez was quoted by AS as saying: "It is the maximum lottery that a man from Caceres could win. It has been a continuum of messages, calls, WhatsApps...

"It is the greatest prize that could be given to us. It is an economic boost that for a club like ours is super important. Real Madrid hasn't come to Extremadura for a long time and it's a prize for all Extremadurans."

Madrid only entered the competition in Friday's draw, with Barcelona joining them.

The Blaugrana are set to face third-tier side Intercity of San Juan de Alicante, who have had a fairly rapid ascension to the Primera Division RFEF since their 2017 foundation on the sixth level of the Spanish football ladder.

Atletico Madrid will go to Real Oviedo, while holders Real Betis begin their campaign at Ibiza Islas Pitiusas.

Real Sociedad and Sevilla were drawn with third-tier opponents in Logrones and Linares Deportivo, respectively.

Matches are due to take place between January 3 and 5, with exact kick-off dates and times to be confirmed in due course.

Full third-round draw:

Ibiza Islas Pitiusas v Real Betis

Cacereno v Real Madrid

Intercity v Barcelona

La Nucia v Valencia 

Logrones v Real Sociedad

Eldense v Athletic Bilbao

Pontevedra v Mallorca

Gimnastic Tarragona v Osasuna

Linares Deportivo v Sevilla

Ceuta v Elche

Deportivo Alaves v Real Valladolid

Levante v Getafe

Real Oviedo v Atletico Madrid

Cartagena v Villarreal

Sporting Gijon v Rayo Vallecano

Espanyol v Celta Vigo

Arsenal are reportedly the leading candidate to land Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic after an injury to Gabriel Jesus exposed their lack of depth in attack.

Vlahovic, 22, was purchased from Fiorentina for €70million in January this year, and started the current Serie A campaign in fine form, with six goals and an assist from his first 10 starts.

He missed Juventus' final four league games leading into the World Cup break due to an adductor injury, and failed to make much of an impact for Serbia in Qatar, scoring one goal from a combined 79 minutes on the field.

While he still has another three seasons on his contract, Juventus' behind-the-scenes turmoil could make the young talent available as the club sort out their financial issues.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL EMERGE AS FAVOURITES FOR SERBIA'S VLAHOVIC

According to Calciomercato, Vlahovic is no longer viewed as the "immovable cornerstone" he was before the season, mentioning the "corporate situation" as an important factor.

The report implies Vlahovic will only be sold if it is necessary to do so, and, more importantly, that it will likely not be until the end of the season that Juventus begin to entertain the possibility. 

With Jesus scheduled to miss three months following his knee surgery, Arsenal will need to decide if their need for cover means they need to pivot to an alternate option.

Meanwhile, a separate Calciomercato report adds Juventus would be happy to exchange Vlahovic for Atletico Madrid forward Joao Felix, who is also reportedly nearing the end of his time with his club.

 

ROUND-UP

– Il Romanista is reporting Roma will attempt to bring in Barcelona's Hector Bellerin in January if right-back Rick Karsdorp leaves the club as he has requested.

– Sport reports Barcelona could secure midfielder Ruben Neves in January for less than Wolves' initial €50m asking price, but Xavi is said to prefer Real Sociedad's Martin Zubimendi or Chelsea's N'Golo Kante.

Eintracht Frankfurt's 24-year-old forward Randal Kolo Muani is reportedly being tracked by Liverpool, Tottenham and Atletico Madrid, per Fichajes.

– According to O Jogo, Real Madrid have approached Benfica about a potential purchase of 21-year-old midfielder Enzo Fernandez.

– The Mirror claims Everton are exploring a £35m move for 24-year-old Watford winger Ismaila Sarr.

Sofyan Amrabat has been at the centre of Morocco's surprise success at the World Cup, and his performances have put the Fiorentina midfielder on the radar of several Premier League clubs.

Amrabat, 26, had his first taste of Serie A football when he was loaned from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona for the 2019-20 season, catching the eye of Fiorentina, who scooped him up the following year.

The defensive midfielder has steadily increased his role at Fiorentina, making 10 starts and three substitute appearances in the league this season.

He played every minute of Morocco's three group games, guiding his side to an undefeated record (W2 D1) with clean sheets against both Belgium and Croatia, and now he is reportedly wanted by the English elite.

 

TOP STORY – AMRABAT EMERGES AS LIVERPOOL AND TOTTENHAM TARGET

According to Sky Sports Germany, Liverpool believe Amrabat can address their midfield depth issues, and could be available for €30million in January.

An earlier report from La Repubblica claimed Tottenham had enquired about a potential deal last January, and his terrific tournament has only strengthened their interest. 

With a blockbuster last-16 clash booked against Spain on Tuesday, another standout performance could have Amrabat packing his bags for an impending move to England.

 

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato is reporting 23-year-old Barcelona target Martin Zubimendi is also on Manchester United's radar, although the Spaniard's contract ties him to Real Sociedad until 2027.

– Calciomercato is also reporting Cristiano Ronaldo is "very interested" in joining Chelsea if the Stamford Bridge side will have him.

– According to Fichajes, Inter would like to bring Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie back to Serie A, but cannot afford to purchase him outright in January, while the Spanish side are not willing to let him leave on a loan deal.

– 90min is reporting Real Madrid would need Kylian Mbappe to agree to certain conditions – including a pay cut and significantly less behind-the-scenes influence – if he wants to come to the club in the near future.

– Newcastle United are not planning any moves in January, and are open to parting ways with 28-year-old winger Ryan Fraser, according to the Telegraph.

Edinson Cavani is set to miss Valencia's match against Real Sociedad on Sunday as he battles an ankle injury just two weeks out from the World Cup.

The Uruguay forward joined Valencia at the start of this season after his Manchester United contract expired and has scored four goals in seven LaLiga games.

However, the 35-year-old's hopes of having an impact at his fourth and likely final World Cup have been hit by a recurring ankle problem.

Valencia have tried to protect Cavani, who has completed 90 minutes only once this season.

But that full shift against Mallorca last month was followed by an early withdrawal against Barcelona, with the striker replaced after just 18 minutes.

Cavani missed training on Saturday, and Valencia coach Gennaro Gattuso accepted it was "difficult" to see how he could face La Real.

"He's not right," Gattuso said. "He has had problems in the ankle for a long time."

 

Cavani at least has a little time to get fit to feature for Uruguay, whose Qatar 2022 opener is not until November 24 against South Korea.

But Gattuso insisted the player's primary focus was featuring for Valencia, dismissing the idea he was sitting out only due to the spectre of the World Cup.

"I've played three World Cups, none of them in December," the coach said. "I've always been a little scared, but I didn't think about whether I was going to get injured.

"Cavani's problem is his ankle. He's playing with great responsibility, but it's something that he's carried for a long time."

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