Memphis Depay hopes Barcelona keep faith with Ronald Koeman as president Joan Laporta scours for a superior alternative.

It appeared certain, until recent developments, that Depay and former Netherlands boss Koeman would be reunited at Barcelona in the coming weeks, but now it is unclear whether either will start the season with the Catalan giants.

Depay has looked destined to arrive as a free agent after deciding to leave Lyon, while Koeman was chasing a LaLiga and Copa del Rey double until Barcelona's league form deserted them in the closing weeks of the season.

Now Laporta is assessing whether there is a better coaching option available to Barcelona for the new campaign, at the same time as keeping Koeman on in the event he cannot find a more accomplished boss. Reports have even suggested Laporta would like to bring Pep Guardiola back to the club, which on the face of it looks highly unlikely.

Depay says his own prospects of a move to Barcelona do not hinge on Koeman being the man in charge.

"I don't think that matters if a club like Barcelona is interested," said Depay. "It's a fantastic club, but there are more great clubs.

"Regardless of where I go, I would like it if Koeman stays there. For himself anyway."

Laporta indicated on Friday that Barcelona would begin to announce new signings over the coming week, and Depay confirmed in his interview with Dutch broadcaster NOS that "interest is there".

He is with the Netherlands squad that is preparing for Euro 2020, having qualified under the guidance of Koeman before he was tempted away by Barcelona last August.

Frank de Boer now holds Koeman's old job and Depay promised to have "100 per cent focus" on national team duties, with a June 2 warm-up game against Scotland coming up.

Depay scored 22 goals in 40 games across all competitions for Lyon in the season just ended, at an average of one goal every 141.5 minutes, his second best rate since joining the French club in January 2017 from Manchester United.

He massively exceeded his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.38 and also had 12 assists, down on his 2017-18 best of 17 for the club but still immensely useful. Of all players from Ligue 1, only Paris Saint-Germain's Angel Di Maria beat that assists total, setting up 15 goals.

For those reasons, it is easy to see why Koeman would want him, but if a contract is not inked then any incoming Barcelona coach may take a different view.

Only Lionel Messi (38) beat Depay's goals haul in 2020-21 among current Barca players, and only Jordi Alba (13) had more assists.

Going into the Euros, Depay stands to be prominent for the Dutch, who last won the European Championship in 1988, when Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, along with the likes of Koeman, made them a devastating side.

Koeman more recently lifted the gloom surrounding the national team, after they shockingly failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

"You see, as has already been shown in the past, that the Netherlands can go a long way. We want to do that again," Depay said. "I think this team can do a lot.

"We are finally back and everyone is super happy about that. But now it is time to show why we are there."

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has insisted he is in good health and told his followers "don't believe anything you hear" in a social media post.

Club president Joan Laporta said in a news conference earlier on Friday that Koeman had given the club "a scare" this week.

It came after the 58-year-old, who had a heart procedure last year, visited hospital, with conflicting reports over whether the trip was routine or related to anxiety.

Koeman attempted to clarify the situation on Twitter, writing: "Don't believe anything you hear. I am healthy, that's all that matters in life!"

The comments come at an uncertain time for Koeman, who has one year left on his contract at Camp Nou but is under pressure to keep his job.

Laporta has held initial talks with the Dutchman and his agent and is set to hold a further round of discussions in the near future after the head coach finished his first campaign in charge.

The president is said to have asked him to wait for a verdict while he looked at alternative options to fill the role.

Laporta faced questions at a news conference after speculation he would look to pursue Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola after the Champions League final.

Former Barca player Xavi, currently in charge of Al Sadd in Qatar, has also been heavily linked with the job.

"Ronald has a contract and that gives him peace of mind that he should not be rushed into a decision," Laporta said. "We spoke calmly with him. 

"He had an episode that took him to hospital and he routinely gets checked up. He gave us a scare, especially thinking that a year ago he had a heart attack. I told him to take it easy.

"We spoke with respect. We will sit down with Ronald next week and we will decide after outlining all the aspects.

"Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]. We are talking.

"We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Adding to the complexity of the situation, Koeman's agent Rob Jansen - via his own Twitter account and that of agency Wasserman - appeared to hit out at Laporta.

"Imagine: I want to marry you, but I have doubts," he posted. "Give me two weeks to find a better partner. If I can't find the right person, we will get married anyway!"

A statement from Wasserman added: "The words of FC Barcelona's president Joan Laporta during a press conference today about Ronald Koeman's anxiety attack are overdone.

"Ronald has been to the hospital for blood pressure checks, a routine check for people with his medical history. We regret the way it got into the media. Ronald is fine, there is nothing to worry about."

Joan Laporta says he is eager to see Pep Guardiola lift the Champions League trophy amid reports the Manchester City boss is his top target to coach Barcelona.

It was suggested this week that Barca president Laporta will make an audacious attempt to persuade Guardiola to return to Camp Nou after the Champions League final.

Laporta reportedly wishes to speak to Guardiola - who is under contract with City until 2023 after signing a new deal last year - before determining his next move with under-pressure incumbent Ronald Koeman.

Guardiola enjoyed a hugely successful spell at the Barca helm between 2008 and 2012, winning the Spanish title for three successive seasons, as well as the Champions League twice.

"If you want to ask me about Pep, I wish that he wins the Champions League with City on Saturday," Laporta said on Friday.

"I am not here to talk about my dreams. I focus on realities and like to make my dreams come true, not talk about them.

"May he win the Champions League with Barca and City; I think it will be wonderful for him and also for all of us who love him.

"That is the only thing in my head when we talk about Guardiola. I can't wait to watch the final and I hope Pep can win it because he is a good friend of mine."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project.

The Dutchman, who has one year left on his contract, is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge.

Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation and the president asked him to wait for a verdict while he looked at alternative options.

Former Barca player Xavi, currently in charge of Al Sadd in Qatar, has also been heavily linked with the job.

"Xavi will be a great coach and he is a friend but we have nothing specific," said Laporta.

"These are names that sound good - everyone wants them to come, but we are in a different situation now than when we bet on [Frank] Rijkaard or Guardiola, plus we don't want to involve Ronald in more stories.

"Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]. We are talking.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca. We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta revealed contract talks with Lionel Messi are going well as he prepares to meet again with Ronald Koeman to decide the head coach's future.

Messi's current deal is set to expire at the end of June but the Spanish club are in negotiations to make sure their talisman remains at Camp Nou.

Having pushed to leave Barca a year ago, the 33-year-old scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga appearances to finish as the competition's leading scorer, though Barca finished behind both champions Atletico Madrid and rivals Real Madrid in the table.

Laporta provided an update on Messi's situation at a lengthy news conference on Friday that covered a number of topics, during which he confirmed new signings are imminent.

"Messi's new contract is going well, but it has not been done yet," Laporta announced.

"We are working hard, all the executives that we have involved here are working hard to give him a good proposal. We are going to give him a proposal that is within our means and we hope that it will be accepted by the player.

"I see our relationship as very good. Messi loves Barca. We know that he is a man and a player conditioned by his incredible talent.

"Of course, we all want him to continue, and we hope that he will stay with Barca."

Barca are expected to sign defender Eric Garcia and forward Sergio Aguero in the transfer window, with both players soon to be out of contract at Manchester City.

"Our ambition is to improve the current squad and we are working on that very hard," Laporta said.

"Next week, we will talk about new arrivals for the first team. You will see the result of some of the work we have been doing.

"I understand that people want us to work in a rhythm that is faster, but we believe in working step by step, little by little and doing things right. We need to make two situations compatible, when I'm talking about the liquidation of one project and the beginning of a new one."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project; the Dutchman is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge. Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca," Laporta said. "We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Laporta was also questioned about links to Xavi and Pep Guardiola, two legendary names at the club who have been rumoured to be potential replacements for Koeman.

“Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]," Laporta said. "We are talking."

Ronald Koeman is to hold further talks with Barcelona over his future and could stay on at the club beyond the end of next season, according to his agent Rob Jansen.

Reports in Spain suggest Koeman, who was appointed last August and has another year to run on his deal, met with president Joan Laporta for 40 minutes on Tuesday.

The Dutchman has come under pressure on the back of an underwhelming first campaign at Barca, whom he also represented for six seasons during his playing career.

Barca beat Eibar 1-0 in their final LaLiga game of the season on Saturday to finish third, five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of champions Atletico Madrid.

The Catalans also exited the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain at the last-16 stage, as well as losing to Athletic Bilbao in January's Supercopa de Espana.

However, Koeman's men did exact revenge by beating Athletic in last month's Copa del Rey final – a result that may have salvaged the former Netherlands coach's Camp Nou job.

Following discussions with Laporta – who succeeded Josep Maria Bartomeu as president in March – Koeman's camp believe he is set to stay on for at least another season, even as alternative reports claim he could yet be replaced.

"There was a positive atmosphere during the meeting and I personally left it with a good feeling. There was mutual respect," agent Jansen told De Telegraaf.

"The feeling is even that positive that Ronald might even stay longer [than 2021-22]. But we have not got this far yet, more conversations will follow."

What next for Koeman's Barcelona?

Speaking after the win at Ipurua last weekend, Koeman insisted his first season in charge of Barcelona could be considered a positive one.

"We have won many points in the league since the start of 2021 and won the cup in a brilliant way," he told reporters. "If you'd told me in August we'd win a trophy and be fighting for LaLiga with two or three games to go, I would sign for it. 

"Hopes were too high during the season – that's how I see it. That's why I think it's not a bad season, far from it. It is not the best possible season, but you can't ask for a double every year, or from a team that is still forming."

The 79 points collected by Koeman is the fewest of any Barcelona boss in their first 38 league games since Frank Rijkaard (72) in 2003-04.

It is the first season Barca have finished outside the top two since 2007-08 and the only time they have gone successive years without finishing top since between 2006 and 2008.

The Catalans were as reliant as ever on Lionel Messi, who scored 30 league goals – seven more than next-best Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker – to win an eighth Pichichi trophy 

However, doubts remain over the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's future with his contract due to expire next month.

As well as tying down Messi to a new contract, Barcelona are also expected to strengthen during the close season with the additions of free agents.

Georginio Wijnaldum is rumoured to be close to arriving from Liverpool, while Lyon forward Memphis Depay and Manchester City pair Eric Garcia and Sergio Aguero have also been strongly linked.

What would new signings add?

Koeman complained about an ageing squad last week and the addition of 30-year-old Wijnaldum would not exactly help lower the average age.

The pair know each other well from their time together with the Netherlands, so Koeman will know exactly what he is getting in Wijnaldum, who has also become accustomed to winning major trophies with Liverpool.

Wijnaldum is not a clear upgrade in terms of providing additional creativity in midfield, though, his 21 chances created in the Premier League this term fewer than the tallies eight Barca players managed in LaLiga from a similar number of games.

He also failed to register a league assist in 2020-21, while finding the net only twice, which pales against what Frenkie de Jong (three goals, four assists), Pedri (three goals, three assists) and Sergio Busquets (no goals, five assists) produced.

From a defensive perspective, Wijnaldum's 198 ball recoveries were better than Pedri's 142 and Busquets' 182 but lagged some way behind the 215 from De Jong in LaLiga this season.

Depay and Aguero would provide different qualities in attack should they arrive, meanwhile, with the former coming off the back of another impressive Ligue 1 campaign for Lyon that saw him score 20 goals and assist a further 12.

To put that into perspective, only Messi (39) was directly involved in more league goals for Barcelona last season, with Antoine Griezmann (20) the sole other player to hit double figures.

Aguero may not have been used regularly for City in an injury and illness-plagued campaign, but his four goals in 12 games – two of those in the space of five minutes on the final day – gave him a return of one goal every 139.5 minutes.

That compares to a goal every 581 minutes in LaLiga this season for Barcelona's current back-up striker Martin Braithwaite, a goal every 296.5 minutes for Ousmane Dembele and one every 201.5 minutes for Griezmann.

Aguero's figures may be skewed by his limited outings this term, but he boasts a goal every 109.6 minutes in the English top flight since the start of 2018-19, a significant improvement on Barca's options aside from Messi.

Ronald Koeman met with Barcelona president Joan Laporta on Tuesday evening as reports claimed the future of the head coach remained unresolved.

Dutchman Koeman guided Barca to a third-placed finish in LaLiga this term, meaning they finished outside of the top two for the first time since 2007-08, though the Blaugrana did succeed in winning the Copa del Rey.

They were inspired by Lionel Messi, who scored 30 league goals to win an eighth Pichichi trophy, though the 33-year-old is also the subject of speculation over his next move, with his contract at Barca up next month.

Laporta succeeded previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu in March, taking charge at Camp Nou for a second spell.

Koeman was appointed by Bartomeu last year, after Quique Setien's ill-fated tenure, with the former Netherlands coach signing a two-year contract.

Reports have suggested that Laporta is keen to install his own man in the hot-seat, and on Tuesday he met with Koeman and the Barca legend's agent.

No firm decision was made, according to reports in the Spanish media, though Marca suggested there was a possibility of another meeting later in the evening.

After a poor start to the congested season, Barca did manage to drag themselves into title contention, only to slip up towards the end of the campaign.

Their tally of 79 points is their lowest total since 2007-08, when they managed 67. Indeed, the last coach to earn 76 or fewer points in his first 38 games with the club was Frank Rijkaard in 2003-04 (72 - W21 D9 L8).

With Atletico Madrid triumphing this year and Real Madrid winning LaLiga in 2019-20, it meant Barca have failed to win the title in two successive seasons for the first time since 2008.

Uncertainty over Koeman's future has not stopped transfer links, although – in large part due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic – Barca's finances have been a cause for concern.

The majority of the first-team squad are reportedly up for sale should offers come in, though the Blaugrana are seemingly in the market for free agents.

Sergio Aguero looks set to join once his contract at Manchester City expires, while Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum – Netherlands regulars under Koeman – and Eric Garcia also look likely to arrive.

Barca's issues were compounded on Tuesday, when UEFA confirmed it had opened disciplinary proceedings against the club, along with Real Madrid and Juventus, for their part in the failed European Super League project, with none of the three teams having yet withdrawn.

Luis Suarez has slammed Ronald Koeman for lacking personality and also hit out at former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu after winning LaLiga with Atletico Madrid.

The 34-year-old striker was controversially allowed to leave Barca for domestic rivals Atletico after six successful seasons at Camp Nou.

Suarez responded by firing in 21 goals in 32 league matches for Atleti, including two in their final two matches in priceless wins against Osasuna and Real Valladolid. The latter goal ultimately sealed the title, with his league strikes leading to 22 points in total across the season.

The Uruguay forward has regularly discussed how hurt he was by his Barca departure and looked at it from a fresh angle after showing his emotion when Atleti got over the line to claim league glory.



Suarez told El Partidazo de COPE: "The tears were of happiness. It was because of the situation.

"I will always be grateful to Barcelona and I'm never going to go against Barcelona, they have given me everything and allowed me to get to the elite.

"But obviously the president [Bartomeu] said everything in the press instead of calling me.

"Then the moment they wanted Leo [Messi] to stay they called me to use me to convince him, to talk to [Antoine] Griezmann – so why didn't they call me when they wanted me to leave?

"Or why did the coach not come and tell me that he does not count on me because he wants another type of striker?

"Koeman told me I wasn't in his plans, then he said, 'If we don't figure this out by tomorrow, you're back in my plans and I'm counting on you against Villarreal'.

"I saw then that the man had no personality. He was not strong enough to tell me I was not needed. The decision [to sell] came from the board.

"No one [from Barca's management has] congratulated me, but I nearly sent them a photo!"

Suarez added he would find it "impossible" to leave Atleti ahead of next season, the club having confirmed he will stay for the second year of his contract should he wish to do so.

 

Atleti boss Diego Simeone, meanwhile, has discussed the circumstances around signing Suarez, insisting he was not going to let the opportunity slide.

"I met a man. I expected nothing less," Simone said to ESPN about Suarez.

"I was very happy from the first day I spoke with him, I had already spoken with him when he was at Liverpool, in an effort for him to sign with us but he chose Barcelona.

"And when the possibility [for Atletico to sign him] appeared, the club called me and said, 'What do you think about the possibility of Luis Suarez coming?' and I replied, 'Are you serious?' Don't ask me, let's go for it, let me talk to him'.

"When I spoke to him, the first thing I said to him was, 'Look Luis, we need to win, and you want to win, the door is open.

"There are players who are chosen with the magic wand, like Suarez, he is a winner.

"He came with all the questions about his departure at Barcelona and arrived with a rebellion of a 20-year-old boy, with an enthusiasm, wanting to show that he was a force.

"And when a guy who is used to winning, joins a team that needs to win it can paint [a perfect picture]."

Ronald Koeman's first season in charge at Barcelona was less than convincing, creating doubts about his future.

Koeman guided Barcelona to third place in La Liga in 2020-21, as well as lifting the Copa del Rey, but they bowed out of the Champions League in the last 16.

It was a season of change at Barcelona, with Joan Laporta taking over as president in March and recently stating they will undergo an off-season "renovation" and that their "cycle has ended".

 

TOP STORY - KOEMAN SET FOR BARCA SHOWDOWN TALKS

Ronald Koeman will sit down with Barcelona president Joan Laporta this week for showdown talks about his future, claims Diario Sport.

Koeman was appointed by previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu on a two-year deal in August last year.

Laporta will also likely inform the Dutchman to sell up to 10 players to fund their off-season transfer plans.

Barcelona have been linked with a host of players including Sergio Aguero, Erling Haaland and Georginio Wijnaldum this off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims that David Alaba will join Real Madrid irrespective of Zinedine Zidane's future. Alaba has completed and agreed to a pre-contract.

- Le10Sport claims Paris Saint-Germain are shaping as the favourites to sign Liverpool's off-contract midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum rather than Barcelona who are yet to make an offer for the Dutchman.

- Barcelona are weighing up an off-season move for Atalanta's German versatile full-back Robin Gosens, claims Diario Sport.

Milan will look to secure Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea on a permanent deal, with a €28million option to buy him, claims Fabrizio Romano.

- Arsenal have opted out of the race for Brighton's Yves Bissouma, boosting Liverpool's hopes of signing him reports The Mail.

- Leicester City are in the hunt for Sassuolo midfielder Jeremie Boga, joining the race along with Atalanta and Napoli, according to Calciomercato.

Ronald Koeman believes his first campaign in charge of Barcelona can be considered a positive one and is confident he will still be in charge next season.

Barca beat Eibar 1-0 in their final LaLiga game of the campaign on Saturday to finish third, five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of champions Atletico Madrid.

The Catalans also exited the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain at the last-16 stage, as well as losing to Athletic Bilbao in January's Supercopa de Espana.

Koeman's side did exact revenge by beating Athletic in last month's Copa del Rey final, though, and the Dutchman feels that trophy has salvaged this season.

"We have won many points in the league since the start of 2021 and won the cup in a brilliant way," Koeman said after the late win at Ipurua.

"We were unable to take advantage at the top of the table when we could have and we must learn from that.

"If you'd told me in August we'd win a trophy and be fighting for LaLiga with two or three games to go, I would sign for it. 

"Hopes were too high during the season – that's how I see it. That's why I think it's not a bad season, far from it. 

"It is not the best possible season, but you can't ask for a double every year, or from a team that is still forming."

The 79 points collected by Koeman is the fewest of any Barcelona boss in their first 38 league games since Frank Rijkaard (72) in 2003-04.

This is the first season Barca have finished outside the top two since 2007-08 and the only time they have gone successive seasons without finishing top since between 2006 and 2008.

But Koeman, who hinted at a lack of support from those above him at his pre-match news conference, insists he is still at the start of a long-term process in Catalonia despite reports suggesting he will be replaced in the close season.

"I don't think this is my last game," he said. "I have a contract and, I don't know... you talk a lot about it, but I'm calm. If the club want to change something, they must talk to me.

"From the moment I arrived, the only signing made was [Sergino] Dest, on the last day of the window. The squad is not at the level we want to have at Barca.

"Many at the club agree with this. We are trying to improve the squad. There are older players, with all due respect, who can still give a lot.

"The younger players need to gain experience and will become better. You cannot change the squad in one season alone."

While Barca were battling to a 1-0 win at already-relegated Eibar on Saturday, Atletico picked up the win they needed against Real Valladolid to pip Real Madrid to the title.

Atleti have led the way at the summit for 30 matchdays and Koeman says his side can have no complaints about missing out on top spot.

"Atletico deserved to win the championship," Koeman said. "They have been leaders for a while and have a very well-made squad.

"In general, they were a little better than Real Madrid and Barcelona. Congratulations to them, and nothing more."

Barca were heading for a goalless draw with Eibar before Antoine Griezmann fired in an impressive acrobatic winner nine minutes from time.

He has been directly involved in 25 goals across all competitions in 2021 – 15 goals and 10 assists – which is behind only team-mate Messi (37) and Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (30) among LaLiga players.

And like his head coach, Griezmann hopes Barca can strengthen their squad during the close season.

"We are hurting after missing out on the title. We have failed in some important games and have to rest and see where we can improve for next year," he told Movistar.

"I will continue working like I have for the last two years, and the president will make his moves."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman does not know if he will still be in charge of the club for next season.

The Catalan giants head into Saturday's final LaLiga match of 2020-21 against Eibar knowing they cannot finish any higher than third place.

After a mixed start to the season, a 19-match unbeaten run in the top flight propelled Barca back into title contention as leaders Atletico Madrid began to falter.

However, Koeman has overseen just three wins from their past eight league games, meaning they are five points behind Real Madrid and seven adrift of Atleti heading into matchday 38.

Barca's recent league form, coupled with their Champions League last-16 exit to Paris Saint-Germain, has left Koeman facing serious questions over his future despite winning the Copa del Rey in April.

President Joan Laporta has reportedly decided to appoint a new coach for next season after becoming frustrated with the way Barca allowed their promising title challenge to collapse in recent weeks.

Koeman expects to speak with Laporta after the game at Ipurua but, although he wants to stay on at Camp Nou, he knows matters are largely out of his hands.

"I don't know if I will continue," he said on Friday. "I haven't spoken with the president. We've agreed to do so after the end of the season. 

"We'll see. I want to stay and complete my contract. Things have to change. The president has the last word.

"I don't know exactly what's going to happen. I will speak with the president. I love the club a lot and if the club thinks I'm not the one to lead the team, they say so.

"I give my opinion and that's it. Until I talk with [Laporta], I can't answer more.

"It's the last month. You have to respect the coach and the players more. I understand they're bothered because in the last few days they haven't deserved the treatment the press has given them."

Koeman went on to suggest he has not felt as though he has had the full backing of the club during a recent run of one win in five games, which culminated in a shock 2-1 home defeat to Celta Vigo that killed Barca's remaining title hopes.

"In the final part of the season, I haven't felt [that support] because we haven't spoken about the future. I understand where I am, at a club like this," he said.

"Despite the changes we're making, I've always stood up. I've been the only spokesman on the club's behalf in many moments and that should be recognised. If, in the end, we think we need a new coach or new players, perfect, but you have to communicate."

Ronald Koeman had an eye-catching statement about the importance of Lionel Messi to Barcelona as he was quizzed on both his own future and that of his captain.

Barca can no longer win LaLiga following Sunday's results, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both victorious elsewhere as the Blaugrana lost 2-1 at home to Celta Vigo.

Atleti's triumph meant Barca would not have been able to finish this season as champions regardless of their result against Celta, though Koeman's side could not deliver anyway.

Although they led through Lionel Messi in the first half, Santi Mina netted before the break and then late on to seal a fine victory for the Galicians.

It was a familiar sinking feeling against Celta, who have now beaten Barca five times since the start of the 2014-15 season – tied with Madrid for the most in that time.

However, this campaign has been particularly disappointing at Camp Nou, with a seventh loss the Blaugrana's most in a league season since nine in 2007-08. That was also the last time Barca had fewer than their current 76 points after 37 games (64).

Questions about Koeman's job security are to be expected then, but he responded on Sunday: "I'm not going to answer that."

Of greater concern to Barca fans, though, will be a decision on Messi's next move, with the legendary number 10 out of contract for the second consecutive close-season.

His header against Celta made this the 300th different LaLiga game he has scored in – Madrid great Raul is a distant second on 186 – while he tallied 30 league goals for the ninth time in 12 campaigns.

Since the turn of the year, no player in Europe's 'top five' leagues has been involved in more than Messi's 31 goals (23 goals, eight assists) and Barca are of course keen to keep their captain.

Asked if Messi was appearing at Camp Nou for the last time, Koeman said: "Hopefully not.

"He is still the best in the world and has also shown today that it is impossible to play without him.

"He has scored 30 goals in LaLiga and has given us many points in LaLiga. It's a question for Leo. For my part and the club, let's hope he stays with us.

"Because if Leo's not here, we have a doubt who's going to score the goals."

Left-back Jordi Alba was offered the same question and replied: "Let's hope not, although it's a decision [Messi] has to make."

Alba appeared to excuse Koeman, meanwhile, as he reflected on a tough run-in for Barca, who have won only one of their past five matches.

"We haven't won four games," he said. "It's a shame. We players are to blame. We have to give a good image in Eibar [in the final game], give it our all."

The coach added: "The problem wasn't today. We had the opportunity against Granada [another 2-1 defeat] and today we have lost in a similar way. That's how we feel.

"It has to be accepted because, in the end, the champion will just be the champion. And we won't have done enough."

Ronald Koeman has launched a staunch defence of Barcelona's season, insisting his team did not throw away their shot at LaLiga glory.

Tuesday's dramatic 3-3 draw at Levante means Barca go into this weekend's match against Celta Vigo four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with two games to play, having won one of their past four top-flight outings.

After the Levante game, where the hosts came from 2-0 and 3-2 down to snatch a point, Koeman said he understood questions over his future as head coach.

However, he was in a more strident mood when previewing the Celta game, insisting Barca's run of 19 LaLiga games unbeaten – beginning in December and ending with April's Clasico loss at Real Madrid – and their Copa del Rey success should be the main marker of this campaign, as opposed to the recent collapse.

"We didn't throw it away," he said. "We made a comeback that cost us a lot of effort. 

"Atletico and Real also lost points. It's true that we lost a big chance against Granada [a 2-1 home defeat at the end of last month after Lionel Messi put Barcelona ahead], but we're talking about one match.

"It is important to believe and continue, trying to win and hope. Our chances of winning are small but we still have some and it is about winning our games.

"In the past two weeks I have felt mistreated. We won the Copa, we recovered 12 points in LaLiga.

"If you look at the press in recent days, it seems that we did a very bad job and I do not agree with that."

Koeman went on to insist he retains the support of the dressing room at Camp Nou and similarly dismissed suggestions he should be disappointed by the efforts of his players.

"I am not disappointed with my players. For them it has also been a very difficult year," he said.

"There are five or six players who have missed 35 or 40 matches in all competitions. We were only able to sign one player. 

"The fans have seen a team that has played fantastic games, which has shown to be very hungry, recognising that sometimes we do not win key games, such as Levante in the second half. 

"The team has a future. If we can sign what we think is missing to take the next step, we can be excited about next year."

On the subject of his own future, Koeman claimed that had not been on the agenda during a meeting with club president Joan Laporta this week.

"I can't explain much, we talked about the latest results, the team and we meet to talk [again] after the season," he added.

What does the future hold for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez?

The pair helped Inter to their first Scudetto since 2009-10.

But both could depart San Siro as Inter look to cut costs.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU AND LAUTARO TO LEAVE INTER?

Inter could be forced to sell star forwards Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Antonio Conte's Inter have been crowned Serie A champions this season, but the Nerazzurri have financial problems as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lukaku has been linked with former club Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid, while team-mate Martinez has long been tipped to join Barca.

Alessandro Bastoni is also listed in the report amid links to Manchester City and Liverpool, while star full-back Achraf Hakimi is said to be of interest to Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo reports Barca look at the idea of signing City's Sergio Aguero favourably. Aguero is out of contract at season's end and he has been linked with Inter, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham. But the Argentina star reportedly wants to play alongside countryman Lionel Messi. A move for Aguero would not prevent Barca from signing fellow free agent and Lyon captain Memphis Depay. Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland is also a target for the LaLiga giants. It comes amid doubts over the future of head coach Ronald Koeman.

Manchester United and Arsenal are battling to sign Sparta Prague sensation Abdallah Sima, claims the Mirror. Sima is reportedly valued at £25million (€29m).

- Sky Sports says United are interested in Juventus defender Cristian Romero, who could cost £34m (€40m). The 23-year-old Argentinian joined Atalanta on a two-year loan deal from Juve and the Serie A side have an option to buy Romero. United have also been linked with Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Lille defender Sven Botman, Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres and Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could replace Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace after emerging as a leading contender, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Ronald Koeman understands why further doubts were being raised about his Barcelona future after a 3-3 draw at Levante dealt a major blow to their LaLiga title hopes.

Barca needed a victory to go top of the table at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia on Tuesday and were well on course for three points at half-time courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Pedri.

The Blaugrana relinquished their lead all too easily after the break, though, with Gonzalo Melero and Jose Luis Morales on target in the space of two minutes.

Ousmane Dembele put Barca back in front, but more slack defending allowed Sergio Leon to nip in for an equaliser seven minutes from time.

Barca trail leaders Atletico Madrid by a point with only two matches to play, while Real Madrid are only a point behind them in third place and both capital clubs have a game in hand.

Koeman's future had already been called into question before this huge setback, so the Dutchman was not surprised to be asked if he felt his position is under the threat.

He said: "Coaches are always questioned but I understand that, after that second half, there are questions.

"We are disappointed and we're wondering what happened. We have to move on and prepare for next season.

"As a coach, you're always responsible. We spoke at half time about improving defensively and not dropping our intensity. We were hopeful, we were 2-0 ahead. You don't expect to draw from there."

Koeman knows Barca's chances of being crowned champions are slim ahead of their remaining games against Celta Vigo and Eibar.

He added: "Our aim was to win all three games and hope that the others would lose points, but now it's difficult.

"Games last for 90 minutes and we lost a lot in the second half. They caused problems and we didn't defend well. It's very disappointing. It's impossible to understand what happened. It's difficult to explain it."

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman reiterated his stance on VAR but was unwilling to comment on the controversial penalty awarded against Real Madrid through fear of being further punished.

Zinedine Zidane was left furious after Sevilla were given a spot-kick for handball against Eder Militao as Madrid were held 2-2 on Sunday, meaning the LaLiga title is no longer in their own hands.

Los Blancos thought they had earned a penalty for Yassine Bounou's foul on Karim Benzema at 1-1, only for a VAR review to overturn the decision because of Militao's handball at the other end at the start of the move.

Sevilla were instead awarded a penalty and Ivan Rakitic converted from 12 yards, though Madrid did at least rescue a point in the 94th minute through a goal later credited to Eden Hazard in what is the tightest LaLiga title battle in years.

Barcelona have themselves been on the wrong end of some controversial decisions this season, with Koeman questioning why VAR is even used in the Spanish top flight after his side were denied two penalties in their loss to Madrid.

The Dutchman, who has just served a two-game ban for comments made to the fourth official during last month's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada, did not want to get involved in the drama that unfolded at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

"If someone is better off not talking about refereeing, it is me," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's trip to Levante. "I have already said what I think, my opinion has not changed. 

"If Madrid think they were harmed, that is their problem. As for VAR, I will not repeat any more."

Barcelona remain two points off leaders Atletico Madrid following Saturday's stalemate between the sides and level on points with Madrid, who are one place better off due to their superior head-to-head record over their Clasico rivals.

Barca have collected just 10 of the last 18 points available in LaLiga, after picking up 45 from the previous 51, which Koeman puts down to fatigue at the end of another gruelling campaign behind closed doors.

"There are a lot of games that take their toll," the Dutchman said. "It is normal for all teams, especially those who have played in Europe and have reached cup finals this season.

"In addition, playing without an audience can also play a part. That's why many teams have dropped points at home. It's not normal for so many games to be played. The team that is physically and mentally stronger will win the title. 

"We will fight until the last moment to win the league. It is not in our hands and we cannot afford to make any mistakes."

Koeman has another year to run on the contract signed when taking over as Barca boss last August, but his future will reportedly come down to whether his side finish top of the LaLiga standings or not.

However, the Dutchman remains confident he will still be in charge at Camp Nou next season regardless of results over Barca's remaining three matches.

"There is nothing to answer on my future," he said. "You don't have to look for stories that are not there. From the first day he arrived, the president has shown me his confidence. If anyone can decide, it's him.

"The future is not for me to be worried about because I've signed two years as a coach. We have agreed to talk after the season, but before then we have two weeks and three more games to go.

"I cannot win a battle with the press or people on the outside. For many periods this season they have valued me. For me, the important people are those who I work with every day and who value what we are doing."

Koeman has not lost any of his two matches against Levante as a manager, with his teams keeping a clean sheet in both previous encounters, including a 1-0 win for Barcelona in this season's reverse fixture.

However, Levante have won two of their last three meetings with Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia in LaLiga - one more than they had in their previous 11 home games against them in the competition.

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