Marcelo Gallardo has made clear he plans to see out his contract with River Plate amid links to Barcelona.

Ronald Koeman is the head coach at Camp Nou but his time in charge could be coming to an end, despite Barca being unbeaten in LaLiga so far this season.

Wednesday's 3-0 defeat away to Benfica in the Champions League means the Spanish club have lost back-to-back group games in the competition in the same campaign for the first time in 21 years.

Koeman also has a fractured relationship with Barca president Joan Laporta, leading to speculation the Dutchman is on his way out. Gallardo is one of those seen as a potential candidate to take over, though the former Argentina international responded to the rumour on Friday.

Speaking to the media ahead of the huge game against Boca Juniors on Sunday, Gallardo said: "I am focused on the Superclasico and also everyone knows that my thought and my decision is to fulfill the contract with River.

"I have no reason to be distracted by other things and thoughts of others. I have a contract and a commitment to River.

“I want to continue connected with what it means to be River's coach and it never crossed my mind to leave the club."

Gallardo's deal with his current employers expires at the end of the year. Reports in Spain suggested he had already been contacted by Barcelona, though he refused to confirm or deny such speculation.

"If they contacted me or not, what's the point of revealing it," he added.

"The only thing I can say is that my goal is to end the contract with the club. Then we will see, but my focus is on the game against Boca."

Koeman is set to take charge as Barca visit reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid on Saturday, though the Catalan club do not then play again until October 17 due to the upcoming international window.

As well as Gallardo, Belgium national team boss Roberto Martinez and Barcelona legend Xavi have been rumoured as potential options to become the new head coach, along with Italian duo Antonio Conte and Andrea Pirlo.

Diego Simeone is full of respect for Ronald Koeman and sympathises with his opposite number's current situation as Atletico Madrid prepare to host Barcelona in LaLiga.

Atletico lost their previous league match against Deportivo Alaves and are aiming to avoid suffering consecutive defeats in the competition for the first time since 2019.

Simeone's side sit in fourth and have won just one of their last 11 top-flight home games against Barca, who are unbeaten in their first LaLiga six matches this term, though there is mounting pressure on head coach Ronald Koeman.

Reports suggest the under-fire Koeman is soon to be relieved of his duties at Camp Nou, but Simeone spoke highly of the Dutchman ahead of Saturday's meeting in the Spanish capital.

"He will surely be in an uncomfortable situation and, on our side, I imagine that all of his colleagues respect him as a coach and he will surely always do well," Simeone told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"I am not the one to value anything. I respect Koeman very much, he has shown personality and I wish him the best. As for the transition, we are very busy with ourselves and we do not worry about what happens on another team.

"We think about the value of the rival players, Barcelona has great footballers, a very good coach with a lot of personality and we focus on doing well ourselves, improving ourselves."

 

The fixture may well signify the end for Koeman, who will be absent from the touchline after his dismissal against Cadiz, but it also sees Luis Suarez go up against his former club once again.

The forward has scored against 30 of the 31 opponents he has faced in LaLiga, with Barca the only side Suarez has failed to find the net against so far.

However, Simeone insisted there was no change in motivation for Suarez, while he also praised the versatility of Antoine Griezmann following his return to the club from Barcelona.

"I see him [Suarez] as always, since he arrived here, with the same hunger, enthusiasm and we try to empower him that the best thing he has is the goal," Simeone said.

"We always put him [Griezmann] where he normally plays. Footballers always have a privileged place, I like to play here.

"The important thing is where the team needs it and Antoine I have no doubt that where we put him, the other day as a midfielder, I am sure he can help us wherever we put him."

Ronald Koeman seemingly accepted that his time as Barcelona head coach is up but has questioned whether his replacement will do a better job with the players available.

Wednesday's 3-0 loss to Benfica – making it back-to-back defeats to begin a Champions League campaign for the first time in Barca's history – has upped the pressure on Koeman.

Amid a run of one win in five matches in all competitions, reports from Spain on Friday suggest this weekend's trip to Atletico will be the Dutchman's last in charge.

Barca president Joan Laporta is said to have made the decision in the wake of the heavy loss in Lisbon and a replacement will reportedly be brought in during the international break.

While Koeman has yet to discuss his future with Laporta, the ex-Netherlands boss admits the reports in the Spanish and Catalan press are telling.

"The club hasn't told me anything, really," he said at a news conference on Friday previewing his side's clash with Atletico. 

"I found out that the president was here this morning but I didn't see him. We were training but I'm still the same. 

"I have ears and eyes and I already know that a lot of things leak. Surely it's true but to me, once again, he has not said anything to me.

"I am not the most important thing, but the team. I am here for the love of the club. I came here during a complicated situation – more complicated than the first day.

"Everyone has their opinion but I am only interested in the players and the Atletico game."

 

Luis Enrique and Roberto Martinez, in charge of Spain and Belgium respectively, ruled themselves out of the running to replace Koeman this week.

A number of other high-profile names have been linked, but Koeman – who saw Lionel Messi depart for Paris Saint-Germain in August – feels the situation will remain the same.

"I don't know if another coach would be able to get more out of this side," he said. "There are a lot of young players here.

"There's been talk about the system, but that's because players are unavailable. There are no wingers. The job of the coach is to work with the players available.

"If I had a bag of money, I would still have Messi here and other players alongside him. If we recover attacking players, we can have a strong and young squad."

Jordi Cruyff, who was appointed as a sporting advisor by Barca in June, is another who has been tipped to succeed Koeman in the coming days or weeks.

"I talk to Jordi every day," Koeman said. "But what we talk about stays between us. From the first day he told me he was not going to take over as the club's coach."

 

Koeman has been under pressure since the end of last season and the 58-year-old has regularly had to defend his position.

"I'm tired of doing that," he said when asked to highlight the work he has done in his 14 months at the helm.

"We have done important things during a period of change. One day I will speak and say what I think."

Asked for his best and worst moments in charge, Koeman said: "It seems I'm out but the best was signing for the club, the worst was Messi's departure."

Koeman's immediate focus is on the match with Atletico, who have beaten Barca just once in their last 11 league meetings in the Spanish capital.

A victory for the Catalan giants would move them above the champions in the table, though Koeman is expecting another tough test.

"We are sides with different styles, but they both lead to winning many things," he said. "They were deservedly champions last season.

"It's difficult to create chances against them. They are great at defending their area and you have to be very good with the last pass. Only by scoring can you beat them."

Young midfielder Pedri and full-back Jordi Alba have both been ruled out of the match through injury.

Roberto Martinez says he has had no contact with Barcelona amid reports he is a contender to replace Ronald Koeman.

Barca boss Koeman is reportedly on the brink of being sacked following a 3-0 Champions League defeat at Benfica on Wednesday.

Martinez is a close friend of Barcelona sporting advisor Jordi Cruyff's and president Joan Laporta is said to be an admirer of the Belgium head coach's work.

However, Spaniard Martinez has played down talk that he could be set to return to his homeland.

"There is absolutely nothing. There are no contacts," Martinez told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws 

"The basis of my friendship with Jordi is that we separate the private from the professional.

"At no time did I ask Jordi what my situation was in Barcelona. I don't think he has the function of appointing a possible new coach."

Martinez is under contract with the Red Devils until after the World Cup in Qatar next year and says he is focused on the job in hand, with a Nations League semi-final against Italy to come next Thursday.

"I would love for us to be the first European country to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. That is the challenge after the Nations League final," he added.

"But in football you never know what will be done tomorrow. I wake up every morning as Belgium coach until the last day of my contract, but I realise that many circumstances can arise along the way."

 

Barcelona had not lost to Benfica since 1961. They had not started a European season with consecutive defeats since 1972-73. They had last lost back-to-back Champions League group games 21 years ago.

And yet, the most damning thing about their 3-0 defeat in Lisbon on Wednesday was that it wasn't a huge surprise.

By most reasonable football definitions, Barca are in crisis. They have won just three of eight games in all competitions in 2021-22. Spiralling debts of more than €1.2billion meant they could not give Lionel Messi a new contract or conduct any meaningful recruitment, even as club captains took pay cuts.

Those dire financial figures also mean they have a spending cap barely an eighth of the size of Real Madrid's for this season, so January is unlikely to offer much of a chance to change things. And, in Ronald Koeman, they have a coach who appears increasingly out of his depth, unable to inspire his players or maintain much cordiality with the suits above him.

There is speculation that Barca's next game could be his last in charge... and it just happens to be against the champions. How has it come to this?

 

Passive passing

It should be repeated that many of Barca's problems are not of Koeman's making. He was appointed by Josep Maria Bartomeu after the historic ignominy of that 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich, when years of squad mismanagement came home to roost in one horrifying performance. With no money to keep Messi or greatly improve the team, Koeman has been hamstrung in his efforts to build a side capable even of competing for pride, never mind titles.

It's also true that Koeman's system is a mess.

There's a semblance of playing 'the Barca way'. For one thing, they love having the ball: the Catalans average the most possession in LaLiga this season (68.4 per cent), while their average of 4.54 passes per sequence is the highest in the division, and only league leaders Real Madrid (112) have put together more sequences of 10 passes or more than Barca (106). They also press high, restricting opposition teams to just eight passes per defensive action on average, the best figure in the league.

The trouble is, they don't seem to make the most of these positives.

 

Despite ostensibly pressing with intent, their return of 53 high turnovers is only joint-seventh in LaLiga. Despite controlling the ball for the majority of matches, they have only created 55 chances from open play – eight teams have created more – and attempted 72 shots, the 13th-highest tally in the competition. Even crosses are scarce: five teams can better their figure of 211 deliveries into the box.

For context, Sunday's opponents Atletico Madrid have attempted 96 shots this season, the third-most in the league, created 10 more goalscoring chances than Barca and played 44 more passes into the penalty area – and all while facing a league-low 45 shots on their own goal, 14 fewer than Koeman's men. Even taking into account Barca's game in hand, these are notable differences.

 

A Messi divorce

Barca knew they would miss Messi. Koeman knew they would miss Messi. Anyone who has ever kicked a football knew they would miss Messi.

But, boy, they really do miss him.

Barca finished LaLiga last season with 85 goals, 18 more than any other side, 30 of which were scored by Messi. They outperformed their expected goals figure by 11.04, with only champions Atletico doing so by a greater margin (13.95). Messi himself exceeded his xG by 6.21.

 

Excluding penalties and own goals, Barca outperformed their xG of 74 in 2020-21. Their 583 shots, the most among LaLiga teams, each carried an average value of 0.13xG.

 

This season, Barca have scored 11 goals, which almost exactly matches their xG – and that is despite the average xG value of their shots increasing very slightly to 0.15. Without Messi's abnormal abilities, they are reverting towards the norm.

It's amazing how much better things look when someone is there to stick the ball in the net.

 

Dutch courage

Which brings us to Memphis Depay, the big positive of Koeman's time in charge.

Trying to fill Messi's shoes might be beyond mere mortals, but the way Depay has settled into his role as Barca's attacking lynchpin has been extremely impressive. The Netherlands forward has fulfilled his former international boss' requirements, leading the line with aplomb even when the team around him has floundered.

Depay has managed three goals and one assist in all competitions, more than any other Barca player. With 2.49 expected assists, he can consider himself unlucky not to have a greater tally of goal involvements, too.

To date, Depay has attempted 22 shots, more than three times as many as any team-mate, and created 18 chances, six more than the next-best figure posted by Frenkie de Jong.

 

Among LaLiga players in all competitions, only Karim Benzema (16) and Vinicius Junior (14) have mustered more shots on target than Depay (13), while only three players in Spain's top flight have completed more dribbles than the former Lyon and Manchester United man (21). He has embraced the pressure of leading the Barcelona line in one of the toughest periods in their recent history. He just can't do it alone.

If Koeman's reign is to survive this weekend, he will have to hope Depay can produce some magic against Atletico – although even that may not be enough.

Paris Saint-Germain continue to plan for Kylian Mbappe's potential departure. 

The Ligue 1 giants have been linked with several possible replacements. 

Robert Lewandowski is the latest rumoured target.

 

TOP STORY – PSG EYE LEWANDOWSKI AS MBAPPE REPLACEMENT

With seemingly everyone expecting Kylian Mbappe to depart Paris Saint-Germain after the season, the club have been linked with several potential attacking options. 

Robert Lewandowski is the latest, with Le10Sport reporting the Bayern Munich and Poland striker could make a lucrative move to PSG. 

The 33-year-old is under contract with Bayern through 2023, though, and could end up agreeing to a new deal to remain in the Bundesliga. 

 

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Real Madrid are set to take another run at Manchester United's Edinson Cavani during the January transfer window, says El Nacional. 

Andrea Pirlo and River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo are candidates to replace Ronald Koeman if he is sacked by Barcelona in the coming days, the Express reports. 

PSG are eyeing midfield help, with Inter's Nicolo Barella a possibility, according to Calciomercato, along with N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Franck Kessie.

Liverpool are interested in Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby, according to Calciomercato. 

Timo Werner could look to leave Chelsea if he does not receive more playing time the rest of the season, says the Telegraph.

Luis Enrique has no interest in replacing Ronald Koeman at Barcelona while he is still under contract as Spain head coach.

Koeman is under growing pressure at Camp Nou following Wednesday's 3-0 defeat to Benfica, which makes it back-to-back defeats for Barca to begin a Champions League campaign for the first time ever.

The Catalan giants have now won just one of their past five matches in all competitions ahead of Saturday's trip to reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid.

According to reports from Spain, Barca chiefs will consider replacing Koeman during the upcoming international break should they fall to another defeat this weekend.

Luis Enrique is rumoured to be one of the club's top choices to take over should Koeman leave, but the former Blaugrana boss intends to serve the rest of his contract with Spain, which is due to expire after the World Cup in December 2022.

Asked if Barcelona president Joan Laporta had contacted him regarding the position, Luis Enrique said: "I don't think he has my phone number.

"I'm a coach here for a second time, and it's my custom to keep my word. I'll be here until my contract ends, for sure.

"Despite my proud history with that club, I don't want to get involved in other people's business."

Luis Enrique, who won nine trophies across a hugely successful three-year spell in charge of Barca, was speaking at a news conference on Thursday after announcing Spain's 23-man squad for the upcoming Nations League Finals.

Spain face European champions Italy in next Wednesday's semi-final at San Siro, with the winners of that match to take on either Belgium or France in the final four days later.

 

The high-profile match in Milan presents La Roja with a chance to exact some revenge following their penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 semi-finals a little under three months ago.

The Azzurri went on to beat England on penalties in the final and have remained unbeaten in their three World Cup qualifiers since that Wembley triumph.

Roberto Mancini's men set a new all-time record of 37 matches without defeat in men's international football with their 5-0 win over Lithuania earlier this month, surpassing the benchmark previously set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

"Italy are at their peak and were deserving champions at the Euros," Luis Enrique told reporters. "They have continued with that streak since then, but the day they lose for the first time is near. 

"We were capable of beating them in the tournament, but we didn't. This game will demand a lot from us as they are a team of the highest level, which is where we want to be.

"Whichever players I select on the day, I hope it will be another spectacular game."

Sacking Ronald Koeman would be the easy way out for Barcelona, with Sergio Busquets calling on the players to take responsibility for their "critical situation". 

Barcelona were on the receiving end of a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday, meaning they have lost their first two matches of a European campaign for only the second time in their history. 

Darwin Nunez put Benfica in front after just three minutes at the Estadio da Luz and the Uruguayan added a second from the penalty spot after Rafa Silva doubled the Portuguese side's advantage in the second half.

Barca finished the game with 10 men after Eric Garcia was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Goncalo Ramos. The Catalan giants have now lost four of their past five Champions League games, conceding 14 goals in the process. 

Calls for Koeman to be relieved of his duties will surely intensify after another disappointing result, but Busquets believes the fault does not lie solely with him. 

"It's the easiest thing in the world of football [to sack the coach], but the responsibility also belongs to the players. We are in a critical situation," Busquets told Movistar. 

"We have zero points. You have to think about moving upwards because there is no other option. 

"We have to win both games against Dynamo Kiev and see what the other teams do. There is a lot left [to play for] and we have to try to be positive." 

Frenkie de Jong made his 100th Barca appearance in the meeting with Benfica and despite the shock defeat does not think getting rid of Koeman would turn the club's fortunes around. 

"I can't talk about Koeman, it's not for me. I don't think changing the coach can solve anything," he said. 

"We are trying everything, working hard in training. We tried our best on the field but today was not the day, that is clear. 

"We have to keep fighting, be together, overcome this situation because you only escape from situations like this when you work hard and are united as a team.  

"We have lost and we have not scored. We are in a very difficult situation. We have to continue and look forward."

Ronald Koeman believes he retains the backing of Barcelona's players but accepts his future is not in his own hands after the club's embarrassing 3-0 Champions League defeat by Benfica.

Barca followed up their 3-0 matchday one loss to Bayern Munich by an even more humiliating defeat as they left Lisbon on the end of another three-goal defeat on Wednesday.

It means Barca have lost the first two matches of a Champions League campaign for the first time ever and leaves them bottom of Group E.

On top of that, Barca have now lost back-to-back group-stage matches for the first since 2000-01, while Benfica's win equalled their biggest ever in the competition.

Barca have been in turmoil ever since Lionel Messi's departure was confirmed last month and their situation has been exacerbated by the financial issues that had threatened to consume the embattle LaLiga giants for months.

Wednesday's defeat came a matter of hours after LaLiga confirmed Barca's salary cap spending limit for 2021-22 had been cut by €280million to just €97m, only the seventh-highest in Spain's top flight, highlighting the plight they find themselves in.

"I am not going to discuss the level of this team," Koeman told reporters after the Benfica loss.

"Everyone knows what Barca's problem is today. It's not possible to comment on a team that is not the one of past years. For me this is clearer than water.

"I cannot say anything about my future. I feel very supported by my players and their attitude, but I don't know what the club thinks.

"It's not in my hands, and that's why I don't want to answer anything about my future. We will see what happens. I accept the world in which we coaches live."

Barca found themselves 1-0 down in the third minute but created numerous chances to equalise before the break, with Luuk de Jong and Frenkie de Jong wasting glorious opportunities.

According to the expected goals (xG) metric, Barca would ordinarily have expected to score 1.4 goals on Wednesday – while that was still less than Benfica's 1.9, it is evidence of their wastefulness.

But the Portuguese hosts were clinical. Rafa Silva effectively put the game beyond Barca deep into the second half and Darwin Nunez added to his opener with a late penalty to compound the visitors' embarrassment, and Koeman accepted the responsibility.

"In the end, the culprit is the coach," he continued. "I think that during many phases of the game the approach was good.

"I understand that after going 2-0 down we had more problems. But I think we had opportunities to score two goals. We have been inferior in effectiveness, not over the course of the match.

"We are at a time where we have to change many things and there are many people missing. I don't think there's any need to repeat this."

Ronald Koeman reached a new low as Barcelona were beaten 3-0 away to Benfica on Wednesday, making it the first time in Champions League history that the Blaugrana have lost the first two games of a campaign.

Barca were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich on matchday one and this was every bit as humiliating as the Catalans lost back-to-back group games in a single season for the first time since 2000-01.

A nightmare start quickly gave them an uphill battle as Darwin Nunez put Benfica ahead in the third minute, and although Barca were soon dominating, they were extremely wasteful in front of goal.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen got away with a dreadful error early in the second half but Benfica held firm at the back and eventually seized their opportunity to finish Barca off through Rafa Silva and a late Nunez penalty before Eric Garcia saw red to cap a dreadful night for Koeman.

Garcia offered little resistance as Nunez earned Benfica an early lead, the Uruguayan producing a couple of stepovers before finding the bottom-left corner.

Barca quickly began to dominate in response, but a fantastic Lucas Verissimo block prevented Luuk de Jong from finding an empty net.

Frenkie de Jong was similarly wasteful when prodding a low cross wide from close range, and Pedri – a surprise starter so soon after injury – shot agonisingly past the left-hand post a little later.

Ter Stegen summed up Barca's poor decision-making early in the second half, bizarrely opting to rush out in an attempt to cut out a throughball and was beaten to it, but Nunez could only hit the post.

Luuk de Jong then somehow hit the upright from point-blank range at the other end, though an offside call against Ronald Araujo in the lead up spared his blushes somewhat.

Either way, Barca were made to rue their profligacy.

Silva slammed home from 10 yards after Ter Stegen parried a shot right to him and Nunez made it 3-0 with a cool penalty after Sergino Dest handled, with Garcia's late red card for a cynical tug compounding Barca's embarrassment.

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona's Champions League visit to Benfica could not be classed as decisive in the early stages of Group E.

Barca endured a tough start to the Champions League against Bayern Munich, failing to attempt a shot on target for the first time in the competition since Opta records began in 2003-04.

The Catalan club are looking to avoid losing their first two matches in a European campaign for only the second time in their history, having previously lost both legs of their UEFA Cup first-round tie with Porto way back in 1972-73.

However, Koeman was in confident mood ahead of the trip to Portugal after crushing Levante 3-0 on Sunday, while shunning claims that Wednesday's tie was a must-win.

"Impossible, it is the second of six, it cannot be decisive," Koeman initially responded to reporters on Tuesday before outlining his intentions.

"Barcelona always plays to win the game. Our intention is to control, have the ball and look for spaces with the players we have.

"We expect a difficult game. I know the atmosphere that can be in the stadium and the strength that [Benfica] have at home.

"They play at home, and they will have the environment in their favour, they will try attack to win. It is not a team that plays not to lose. And we have the same intention at home or away, to take control of the game to win."

Koeman remained secretive as to whether the recovering Ansu Fati, who has now been involved in 17 goals in 44 appearances across all competitions following his strike against Levante, would feature.

Memphis Depay has scored in his past two games against Benfica in the competition, and he is expected to lead the line once more, though he did not attempt a single shot on matchday one against Bayern.

Whoever Koeman selects up top, Blaugrana centre-back Ronald Araujo is backing his side to compete and challenge for titles in both the Champions League and LaLiga this term.

"We are Barcelona, and we have to aspire to all the titles," Araujo told reporters.

"We cannot go to see what happens, we have to go to win and try to win as many titles as we can.

"It's an important game against a great rival, but we are going to win. We come from a great game at the weekend and I think that's the way to go. We have to go for the three points."

Ansu Fati marked his return with a brilliant late goal and Luuk de Jong opened his Barcelona account in a 3-0 LaLiga defeat of Levante.

Luuk de Jong doubled Barca's lead in his fourth appearance for the club following his move from Sevilla after his Netherlands team-mate Memphis Depay opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

An inspired performance from Aitor Fernandez prevented Barca from significantly boosting their goal difference as they totally dominated the game, with under-pressure boss Ronald Koeman watching on from the stands as he serves a two-match ban.

Fati, on as a late substitute, put the icing on the cake in his comeback following 10 months out with a knee injury, finishing superbly in stoppage time as Barca ended a run of three games without victory.

Depay sent Fernandez the wrong way from the spot just six minutes in, having produced great trickery to beat two defenders before being upended by Nemanja Radoja.

De Jong opened his Barca account eight minutes later, finishing clinically with his right foot after Sergino Dest had slipped him in.

Gerard Pique somehow failed to add a third from point-blank range and Gavi was unable to lob an advancing Fernandez, who showed great reflexes to tip the lively Depay's header over the crossbar.

Levante were unable to contain Depay and Fernandez diverted his right-footed drive around the post after some shambolic defending.

Teenager Nico Gonzalez, making his first Barca start, flashed a venomous long-range drive wide and Fernandez thwarted Depay yet again.

Sergio Postigo almost turned the impressive Gavi's cross into his own net before Fati was given a great ovation when he came off the bench with 10 minutes to go.

The 18-year-old looked like he had never been away as he spun away from a defender then beat another before finding the back of the net with a right-footed shot from outside the area.

Ronald Koeman called for caution over Ansu Fati's return to action after the youngster was included in Barcelona's squad for the first time in 10 months.

Fati has not played for Barca in 322 days, after he suffered a serious knee injury in November 2020.

The 18-year-old, who has taken the number 10 shirt vacated by Lionel Messi, has undergone three operations and only returned to training last month.

However, Fati has been called into Barca's 20-man squad for Sunday's home game against Levante, a team he has scored two goals against in two matches. He has only netted more times against Villarreal (three) in LaLiga.

Fati became the youngest goalscorer in Barcelona's history when he netted against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days and has since added a further 12 goals to his tally, but Koeman says the Spain international will need more time to recover full fitness.

"It's really important to have Fati back, for himself because he has been out injured for many months," Koeman told a news conference.

"We have a plan to recover him, to get him in his best shape, so he will have to get minutes little by little and the plan is that he will play around 15 minutes maximum [on Sunday].

"There is a long way to go before he is as sharp as he has been. He does not recover in two games or in two weeks. We have to help him. The most important thing is that he recovers.

"It depends on his state. We are talking about a young man who will give us a lot of quality, but little by little."

Koeman's future at Barcelona is far from certain. His position seems a precarious one, given president Joan Laporta is reportedly searching out replacements, with Belgium coach Roberto Martinez a rumoured target.

Barca have been held to draws by Granada and Cadiz in the last two games, with Koeman seeing red in the latter match.

"I have to learn from this. Be calmer. Think about the team and the game," Koeman said. "I am also human and there are moments in games where it is difficult to accept decisions."

As for his future, Koeman said: "I can't say much about this issue because I haven't been reading the press for a long time.

"I know the rumours out there, but all we have to do is win games. There are rumours, names. I'm not going to waste energy on things I can't control.

"The president can speak, he is the most important man at the club. I have no problem. I am involved in my job, I have to win games. The rest does not interest me."

Koeman also explained he believes he has the backing of the dressing room.

"Every player and every coach wants to win titles and games," he said.

"There are no differences on this issue because I have spoken with them. In general, the players agree. That is the important thing. In that sense, there are no differences of opinions between them and me."

Anthony Martial has reportedly been permitted to explore his options by Manchester United.

Martial has fallen down the pecking order at Old Trafford since Cristiano Ronaldo's return.

France international Martial scored four league goals for United last term, after netting 17 times in the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND PLOTS MARTIAL MOVE

Borussia Dortmund are bracing for Erling Haaland's departure by plotting a move for Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, claims 90Min.

Haaland, who has a release clause in his contract that activates in mid-2022, is being chased by a host of top clubs, including Premier League champions Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Liverpool and United.

Martial is still contracted to the Red Devils until 2024, having penned a five-year deal in January 2019, amid reported interest from Barca, Tottenham and Arsenal.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Transfer Window podcast claims City owner Sheikh Mansour wants to hijack Madrid's bid for PSG star Kylian Mbappe and sign him "at any cost". Mbappe has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

- Barcelona are looking at Reims' Spanish head coach Oscar Garcia as a replacement for under-pressure boss Ronald Koeman, per RMC Sport.

- Madrid midfielder Isco has held numerous rounds of negotiations with Serie A challengers Milan about a move to Italy, according to Todo Fichajes.

Barca are considering a move for Porto's Colombia international forward Luis Diaz next off-season, claims El Nacional.

- Diario AS says Theo Hernandez is ready to commit his long-term future to Milan amid interest from PSG and City.

Gerard Pique remains convinced Barcelona can recover from a slow start to challenge for trophies as Ronald Koeman received backing from within the club.

After a first LaLiga goalless draw with Cadiz in their 27th meeting, Barca have managed just two wins from their five top-flight games so far. 

Meanwhile, the Catalan club have gone without scoring in two of their past three games in all competitions, as many as in their previous 41, as they continue to suffer in the absence of Lionel Messi, who departed for Paris Saint-Germain amid financial difficulties. 

Despite the underwhelming opening to the campaign, Pique has called for unity at the club in pursuit of finding resolutions to their issues on and off the pitch. 

"The club have been riding the crest of a wave for many years," Pique told Movistar after Thursday's 0-0 draw. 

"We are going through a situation we aren't used to. These are turbulent years, with the change of president, and change of coaches. Together we have to do our best to provide peace of mind. 

"Everyone wants to win. There are many ways to deal with it. We can all complain or we can work. The players are here to work. 

"Let's not look for two sides. We are all with the president and also with the coach. We can't control the noise [around the club] and don't want to think about it." 

 

Indeed, the goalless draw means Barca have scored just eight goals after their first five games in the league, their worst return at this stage since 2003-04 (five). 

Frenkie de Jong's late dismissal was also Barca's second red card of the season, along with Eric Garcia against Athletic Bilbao, as many as in the whole previous campaign as Koeman's side continue to lack discipline. 

However, Pique is adamant Barca will return to the top of Spanish football. 

"I don't wear the Barcelona shirt to finish second or third," he continued. "I'm here to compete for trophies. 

"Sometimes we have to face moments like this. We feel the fans are behind us and the situation is complicated for us all. 

"I'm absolutely convinced, despite the start, that we'll be competing. The team is in good spirits and have the desire." 

Koeman's relationship issues with president Joan Laporta have been well-documented, as the former appears to be heading towards the exit door if results do not come soon. 

Barca technical secretary Ramon Planes did at least reject any suggestion that Koeman will be relieved of his duties ahead of the game against Levante on Sunday. 

"Yes, it will be with Koeman, who has our support," Planes responded to Movistar after the Cadiz game. "Football is set up like this, the coaches are in permanent examination and in a big club, even more so. 

"We are Barca, the best club in the world, we have a good squad, and the objective is to win and win, because there are no transitional seasons. We have a squad to fight for the title." 

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