Sergio Busquets admitted Barcelona are stuck in "a negative dynamic" after a 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano that means they have lost three consecutive home games for the first time this century.

Alvaro Garcia's fine strike in the seventh minute condemned Barcelona to a Camp Nou loss, with Vallecano doing the double over the Catalan giants in LaLiga this season.

Barcelona had only suffered three straight losses at home once in their rich history, when Louis van Gaal's team experienced that disappointment in games spanning the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Now they must pick themselves up from the bitter blow and go again next Sunday, when Real Mallorca will be their visitors.

Busquets said in a post-match LaLiga interview: "We're finding it really hard to win games at home at the moment. We've been conceding goals very early and that makes it even tougher for us, then you suffer a little bit more.

"Then the teams close up and defend the result. When you're not effective in both areas, it's a bit of a struggle as well."

 

Barcelona did not concede until early in the second half when losing 1-0 to Cadiz at home, but in their Europa League loss to Eintracht Frankfurt they were 2-0 down by the break, and it took two goals in second-half stoppage time to cut their deficit to 3-2 in that game.

Barcelona's latest defeat means they remain second in the Spanish top flight, albeit level on points with third-placed Sevilla, and Real Madrid's lead at the top is 15 points with five rounds of games remaining.

Madrid can clinch the title by avoiding defeat to Espanyol next weekend.

Captain Busquets said Barcelona attempted to add pace to their game in the second half, but they were largely flat and increasingly desperate as Vallecano manfully defended their lead.

Barcelona led the shot count 18-3, but only five of their shots hit the target. Their 71.3 per cent of possession counted for little come the final whistle as Vallecano became just the fourth promoted team to win both of their games against Barcelona in a LaLiga campaign, and the first since UD Salamanca in 1997-98.

"They were very well set up, we weren't effective," Busquets said. "When you don't score and the minutes go by, everything gets a lot tougher.

"We're in this negative dynamic at Camp Nou. We haven't been able to take advantage of the games we've had, and we've ended up level with Sevilla.

"Maybe in the second half we needed to put more attacking players on and go for the game. We had crosses in, we had chances, but it wasn't to be."

Xavi called on Barcelona fans to make Camp Nou "a pressure cooker" after they drew 1-1 against Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.

Ansgar Knauff gave Eintracht the lead with a fine finish early in the second half at a raucous Deutsche Bank Park on Thursday, but Ferran Torres equalised after a brilliant exchange with Frenkie de Jong. 

The Bundesliga side saw Tuta sent off with just over 10 minutes remaining following a second bookable offence, but Barca were unable to pinch a winner in the closing stages. 

However, by avoiding defeat their unbeaten run stretched to 14 games – their best streak since January-May 2019 under Ernesto Valverde. 

Barca had almost two-thirds of the possession but mustered fewer than half the attempts on goal of Eintracht, who were a persistent threat on the counter-attack. 

Xavi felt his team were hindered by the state of the pitch and hopes a fiery atmosphere in Catalonia in next Thursday's second leg can help the Blaugrana advance to the semi-finals. 

"They were a very physical opponent. They got forward like hell in transitions. We didn't have the ball circulation and the state of the pitch didn't help us," Xavi told Movistar. 

"We leave quite satisfied and Camp Nou will have to be a pressure cooker, like it was in their stadium. 

"Normally the team that's in control creates more, but we were not able to stop their devilish counter-attacks. We had already been warned – they eliminated a team like [Real] Betis [in the last 16]." 

Gerard Pique hobbled off in the first half with an apparent groin injury but Xavi was unable to provide a meaningful update on the centre-back. 

Sergio Busquets, who would have given a penalty away for a tackle on Rafael Borre had it not been for VAR, acknowledged Barca will need to be better in the second leg. 

"The goal gives us a lot of life because we had come to win but it was very difficult," said Busquets. 

"There are things to improve. We will do better in the second leg with our fans and a pitch that will surely be better and faster. 

"Barca are always a candidate to win everything. We had a period that wasn't the best but we're doing things well. 

"We respect all the teams. Anything can happen and we will try to win." 

Barca have progressed in three of the five knockout rounds in Europe's secondary competition after drawing the first leg away from home. They were eliminated in the last such instance by Bayern Munich in the 1995-96 season. 

Barcelona star Sergio Busquets would hand the captain's armband back to Lionel Messi if the forward returned to Camp Nou.

Argentina skipper Messi left the Blaugrana in a sensational free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain last August, with a financially crippled Barca unable to fulfil the terms of a new contract that had been all but agreed.

The 34-year-old is yet to hit the lofty heights in Ligue 1 that he reached for much of his astounding career, scoring just seven goals across all competitions for Mauricio Pochettino's side.

There has been speculation that the Blaugrana legend could leave PSG – who may also lose Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid – at the end of the season, and Barca head coach Xavi suggested the door will always be open for Messi's return.

Former team-mate Busquets echoed Xavi's sentiments as he expressed his desire for the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner to come back to Spain.

 

"Of course I miss him. On the field and off it," Busquets said of Messi in an interview with Spanish radio station RAC1. "Nobody else has given us what he gave us. He made a huge difference.

"After so many years, it's normal to miss him. I'm sure he will miss me too."

He added: "At first it was difficult [when Messi left]. It was a shock for us too. We are still here, but imagine it for him; changing city, changing team, changing style.

"When you don't win, you're not happy. I wish him the best. I would like Leo to come back, but I know it's very difficult. He has a contract with another team and it's complicated because of how he left us.

"If Xavi told him that the doors are open, imagine me as his friend and team-mate. I would give him the armband. He always has my admiration and respect."

Sergio Busquets has revealed Xavi struggled to make an immediate impact as Barcelona head coach – confusing players with his plans.

The return of club legend Xavi to Camp Nou was announced by Barcelona on November 5, after a rocky start to the season under Ronald Koeman's leadership.

Barcelona lost four of their last six matches during Koeman's tenure, before caretaker Sergi Barjuan temporarily stabilised matters ahead of Xavi's arrival from Al Sadd, the Qatari club where he launched his coaching career.

Despite his celebrated playing days, which saw him make 767 appearances for Barcelona – only Lionel Messi has managed more – Xavi was untested at LaLiga level as a coach and did not initially convince everyone in the current squad.

There were sticky results in his first two months, but since the turn of the year Barcelona are unbeaten in LaLiga, with a 4-0 thumping of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last time out emphasising their improvement.

It would take a major turnaround still for Xavi's side to leapfrog Madrid at the top of the table, given they trail by 12 points with just one game in hand, but Barcelona's belief is soaring.

Busquets said: "He's worked hard, especially early on. It wasn't easy because a lot of players didn't understand his ideas and he's had to work hard to get things to improve.

"He has changed a lot and brought in his own staff. I think he learned a lot under Pep [Guardiola]. We veterans try to help him, but not just with the idea and not just with Xavi, we always have done to make sure the young players come through and adapt properly."

If they beat Sevilla on Sunday, Barcelona will go second in the Spanish top flight, a prospect that seemed unlikely when the team sat ninth as Koeman departed.

Xavi starred in the great Pep Guardiola teams at Barcelona and will have taken many of his teachings from the influential coach, who is now at Manchester City.

To win LaLiga in his first season will probably be beyond Xavi, given the substantial lead Madrid have, but next term promises to see the great rivals in a serious title battle.

"We still have our hopes in the league, but all we can do is win and hope," Busquets said in an interview with RAC 1. "We are on good form and have the right mentality to at least make sure we have a chance."

At the age of 33, Busquets has a year left on his Barcelona contract and could then follow Xavi into coaching, another great Barcelona stalwart taking on a tracksuit role.

First stop for Busquets after Barcelona is likely to be outside Europe, if he elects to play on. Like Xavi, who saw out his playing days in Qatar, Busquets cannot stomach the thought of competing against Barcelona.

"I'd find it very hard to go elsewhere in Europe and play for a team that's chasing the same things as Barca," he said. "I can only really see myself going to play in a different continent."

Barcelona head coach Xavi and captain Sergio Busquets have both not ruled out a remarkable late title push after their stunning 4-0 Clasico victory.

The Blaugrana overwhelmed league-leading Real Madrid with a double from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang along with strikes from Ronald Araujo and Ferran Torres at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The victory means third-placed Barcelona have 54 points from 28 games, but still trail Madrid by 12 points although the Catalans do have a game in hand.

But Barcelona have been buoyed by an exceptional turnaround in form since Xavi's arrival as boss along with their flurry of January transfers which have boosted the side.

The Blaugrana are on a 10-match unbeaten streak in LaLiga while they have won their past five league games.

Barcelona has a record of eight wins and three draws from 11 matches in all competitions since the closure of the January transfer window too, offering them momentum.

"I don't know if we can win the title, we can't rule out anything," Xavi told reporters after the Clasico. "Maybe we're a bit late, but this is a very big win for us.

"We were much better than Real Madrid. We played almost as a home team in the the ground. It's a day to enjoy, not only as a Barca manager but also a fan.

"We could easily have scored five or six. We changed our negative dynamic of losing the last few Clasicos."

Busquets reiterated Xavi's sentiment that Barca retained some title hope, albeit small.

"If we still have a small chance to make a run for the title, we will fight until the end," the 33-year-old midfielder said. "It's very difficult but in football anything can happen. We are Barca."

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has been left out of the latest Spain squad by Luis Enrique, while Barcelona's Sergio Busquets is "rested".

La Roja play friendlies against Albania and Iceland during the upcoming international break, and Luis Enrique has replaced De Gea with another goalkeeper from the Premier League, Brentford's David Raya.

From the previous squad for the final World Cup qualifiers in November, in defence, Inigo Martinez and Jose Luis Gaya are replaced by Diego Llorente and Marcos Alonso, while Marcos Llorente and Pedri come in as midfield options in place of Busquets and Mikel Merino.

Raul de Tomas and Ferran Torres are selected among the forwards, with no place for Rodrigo, Pablo Fornals or Brahim Diaz.

Speaking at a media conference after the squad announcement, Luis Enrique said that Busquets' omission was merely to keep him fresh. The 33-year-old has played 39 games in all competitions for Barca this season.

"In the case of Busquets, it is a personal decision," he confirmed. "He is the player who accumulates the most minutes and I want to have the best version of the captain for the games in June, and I have decided to rest him.

"He is having a spectacular season."

The Spain head coach also said the two upcoming fixtures should not be treated like friendlies, and challenged his squad to show their "ambition" and "hunger" as the World Cup at the end of the year draws closer.

He added: "Since November, the wait has been long [to play again]. They are not friendlies for the players nor for us because the World Cup is close. It will help me to see the level of the players, their ambition, their hunger."

Spain squad in full:

Unai Simon, Robert Sanchez, David Raya; Marcos Alonso, Jordi Alba, Aymeric Laporte, Pau Torres, Eric Garcia, Diego Llorente, Cesar Azpilicueta, Dani Carvajal; Rodri, Koke, Pedri, Marcos Llorente, Gavi, Carlos Soler; Dani Olmo, Pablo Sarabia, Alvaro Morata, Raul de Tomas, Ferran Torres, Yeremy Pino.

Barcelona star Sergio Busquets has labelled Karim Benzema as a "luxury" for Real Madrid and the "most decisive player in LaLiga".

Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid sit 10 points clear at the LaLiga summit after a 3-0 win at Real Mallorca on Monday, with their next fixture the small matter of hosting Xavi's in-form Barca in Sunday's Clasico.

The league leaders have largely been inspired by Benzema and Vinicius Junior, who have been involved in 18 of the past 22 Madrid top-flight goals - with 10 strikes and four assists for the France striker in this time, and four goals and four assists for the Brazilian winger.

Indeed, Benzema - whose hat-trick guided Madrid past Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16 - has scored 32 goals this season in all competitions, his joint-highest tally for Los Blancos in a single campaign (also 32 in 2011-12).

He has also already equalled his best season in the Spanish top flight in terms of assists (11, as in 2012-13), and Busquets heaped praise on the forward in an interview with Vamos on Movistar Plus.

Asked whether Benzema was the best player in the league, Busquets said: "Yes, for sure, at a statistical level, in terms of goals, of confidence. For them, it is a luxury to have him."

Blaugrana midfielder Busquets also appreciates the quality of Casemiro, who leads Madrid in the league for both tackles won (47) and successful duels (206) while ranking fourth for completed passes (1,351).

"If he is not the best, he is among the best, you just have to look at the games and his career," Busquets said of Madrid's Brazil international.

"In the end, you look at the goals and assists. Our task is important, we are in the middle of the team, controlling everything and ordering. I admire him, really."

Barca moved up to third in LaLiga after a 4-0 thrashing of Osasuna, their fourth consecutive top-flight win, but Busquets is aware of the tough threat Ancelotti's Madrid will pose.

"Everything is different. The self-esteem, the state of mind, the confidence. A new coach arrived who made several changes and brought his philosophy that he gave us so many years ago," Busquets said.

"The new players have been understanding it little by little. We are a more complete team. We still have a long way to go, but this is the way.

"It will be a test [on Sunday] because Madrid are the leaders and compete with us to win all the titles. We have to be realistic, we are going to compete, but then hopefully the result will fall in our favour."

Xavi and Sergio Busquets hailed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after the former Arsenal man netted a hat-trick in Barcelona's 4-1 hammering of Valencia.

The Gabon striker netted either side of Frenkie De Jong's tap-in to give Barca a 3-0 half-time lead, before completing his treble in bizarre circumstances on the hour-mark, after Carlos Soler had pulled one back for Valencia.

Barcelona's fourth goal of Sunday's LaLiga contest was originally credited to Pedri, but has since been awarded to the 32-year-old, who got the slightest of touches on the youngster's long-range effort.

It was the first time Aubameyang, who was making his first LaLiga start, has scored multiple goals in a league game since he helped himself to a hat-trick for Arsenal against Leeds United 12 months ago, and Xavi was thrilled with the forward's contribution.

"He has scored goals his entire career," he said. 

"It was to be expected that he would score here soon too. He goes very well to [find] space, he is mature, he is very intelligent.

"I am delighted with him. These goals will be very good for him."

Aubameyang's opening goal made him just the fourth player to score in the Spanish, English, German, and French top flights this century, after Stevan Jovetic, Michy Batshuayi, and James Rodriguez, while the striker also became the first Gabonese player to net in LaLiga.

 

Barca captain Busquets was equally effusive in his praise for his new team-mate.

"He is working very well, he arrived with a lack of minutes, but he is getting them [now]. He is a great player and it is a luxury to have him in the squad, [especially] after arriving for free," Busquets said.

"Without Aubameyang's help, perhaps the goalkeeper would have been able to stop it [Barcelona's fourth goal]."

Although Pedri saw the final goal of the match taken away from him, the quality of his initial strike did not go unnoticed by Xavi, who said the midfielder is amongst the most talented players in world football.

"He is superlative," the Barca boss said. "At that level of talent, there is no other [player] in the world like Pedri, and he is only 19 years old.

"We ask him to shoot [more often]. We demand it, he has a good shot. He is very young and shy, but not everyone has the skills he has."

Barcelona moved into LaLiga's top four with the win, scoring four or more goals in a single away league game against Valencia for the first time since December 1993.

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain each have four nominees in the 23-man shortlist for the FIFA FIFPRO Men's World 11 for 2021.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are also included, although there is no place for Mohamed Salah.

PSG's attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are among the forwards, as is Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Veteran Dani Alves also won enough votes to make the list, even though the 38-year-old, who recently rejoined Barcelona, only played 16 times in domestic competition in Brazil this year.

Professional footballers across the world were asked to vote for the three players they considered to have the best seasons during the 2020-21 season among goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards.

FIFPRO said: "For the first time in 17 years, FIFPRO is updating the announcement about the most-voted players, reducing the shortlist from 55 to 23. This has been done to resemble a real-life 'squad' which, usually for international competitions, is the number of players involved. 

"The three goalkeepers, six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards with the most votes earned a place in the 23-men World 11 'squad'. To complete this elite selection, the two remaining outfield players with the most votes were added."

The keeper, three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards with the most votes will be chosen for the World 11, with the remaining spot assigned to the outfield player with the next highest number of votes.

The final 11 will be announced at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony on January 17.

 

FIFA FIFPRO MEN'S WORLD 11 23-PLAYER SHORTLIST:

Goalkeepers:
Alisson (Liverpool, Brazil)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan/Paris Saint-Germain, Italy)
Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, Senegal)

Defenders:
David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid, Austria)
Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, England)
Dani Alves (Sao Paulo/Barcelona, Brazil)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City, Portugal)

Midfielders:
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United, Portugal)
Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona, The Netherlands)
Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Forwards:
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Manchester United, Portugal)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)
Romelu Lukaku (Inter/Chelsea, Belgium)
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, Brazil)

Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets admitted the embattled LaLiga giants needed to beat Espanyol after the Xavi era opened with a 1-0 victory in Saturday's derby.

Xavi's first match in charge resulted in three points against city rivals Espanyol at Camp Nou, where Memphis Depay's 48th-minute penalty settled the contest.

Barca have struggled this season, leading to the sacking of Ronald Koeman and prompting the return of club great Xavi, who had been in charge of Qatari outfit Al-Sadd.

Reflecting on the result, which saw Barca move within eight points of top spot before Real Madrid's fixture at Granada on Sunday, Busquets welcomed the win.

"We needed this victory for the team to continue to grow and regain our confidence. We have a new coach, a new philosophy and we will find a way up," Busquets said.

"I think generally we played well. I think the scoreline is a bit tight. They had some great chances, any team can cause you problems but we needed the win."

 

Barca have not lost any of their last 23 matches against Espanyol in LaLiga (W18 D5), keeping 17 clean sheets in those games, their longest unbeaten streak against the Periquitos in the competition.

At home, Barca have won their last 12 meetings against Espanyol in LaLiga, after winning just one of their previous five (D3 L1), since a 1-2 defeat in February 2009, in a match that featured Gerard Pique, Busquets and Xavi in the Blaugrana side.

"We need to believe, to regain confidence, little by little we will get better, with new ideas, a new philosophy, and we will find a way up," Busquets added.

"Right now we have a group of youngsters helping us. It's really important to have this young blood, especially right now because of the financial situation and we can't make many signings."

Depay has won three penalties in LaLiga this season, becoming the Barcelona player with the most penalties earned in a single season in the competition since Luis Suarez in 2018-19 (also three). Since 2005-06, only Neymar has won more in the same campaign in LaLiga for Barcelona (eight).

Barca's Depay has scored in each of his last three games in LaLiga (three goals), his best run in the top five European leagues since March-April 2018 (six games for Lyon – seven goals).

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's future is in doubt as Manchester United continue to struggle.

United were outclassed effortlessly by neighbours Manchester City in Saturday's Premier League derby.

Struggling for form, Solskjaer could pay the price at Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – SOLSKJAER SET FOR AXE?

Manchester United are considering the departure of under-fire manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to the Daily Mail.

Manchester City eased past United 2-0 in the Premier League derby showdown at Old Trafford, where Solskjaer's side were left sixth and nine points off the pace.

There are reports of a player revolt as Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo grow frustrated with life in Manchester.

Zinedine Zidane and Ajax boss Erik ten Hag have been linked as possible replacements.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Real Madrid and Newcastle United are interested in Liverpool star Mohamed Salah. The Egypt international, who is contracted to Liverpool until 2023, is keen to sign a new deal at Anfield.

City are weighing up a move for Juventus and Netherlands centre-back Matthijs de Ligt, says El Nacional. De Ligt has also been linked with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United.

Karim Benzema is open to joining Paris Saint-Germain should Madrid sign Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, per El Nacional. Benzema has reportedly snubbed a move to Newcastle, while Haaland has been linked with City, United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, PSG, Chelsea and Juve.

Gerard PiqueSergio BusquetsSergi Roberto and Jordi Alba will be allowed to leave Barca under new head coach Xavi, according to El Nacional. Fabrizio Romano adds Xavi will look to re-sign Pablo Gavi and Ousmane Dembele.

- Calciomercato claims Atletico Madrid are interested in Udinese's Nahuel Molina, who is also wanted by Inter.

Barcelona threw away a three-goal lead to underline the issues faced by new coach Xavi as Iago Aspas' last-gasp strike secured a 3-3 draw for Celta Vigo.

Blaugrana legend Xavi was named as the new coach earlier on Saturday, but interim boss Sergi Barjuan remained in charge for the trip to Balaidos and Barca appeared to be cruising to victory after first-half goals from Ansu Fati, Sergio Busquets and Memphis Depay.

Yet an injury to Fati on the cusp of half-time dented the visitors' confidence, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen's error gifted Aspas a goal to spur Celta on.

Nolito headed home in the 74th minute to set up a grandstand finale and just as it seemed Barca had survived the onslaught, Aspas curled in with the last kick of the game. 

Fati's quality was on show from the off, and he did brilliantly to keep his balance and curl a wonderful finish between two defenders and over Matias Dituro.

Barca's second came from a more unlikely source – Busquets curling a superb finish into the bottom-right corner from 20 yards out – before Depay made it three with an excellent header from Jordi Alba's cross.

Fati's game was cut short just shy of half-time, the winger pulling up and clutching his left thigh after trying to race clear of Celta's defence.

The offside flag came to Barca's rescue when Thiago Galhardo slotted in, though there was no such reprieve two minutes later as Ter Stegen fumbled Javi Galan's effort, with Aspas on hand to tuck in.

Hit by injuries to Eric Garcia and Nico Gonzalez, Barca wilted, with Nolito seeing a goal disallowed for handball before he directed a brilliant header beyond Ter Stegen.

Frenkie de Jong hit the crossbar as Barca tried to put the game out of reach, but it was to no avail and, in the 96th minute, Aspas found the bottom-right corner to snatch a share of the spoils and leave Xavi with plenty to ponder.

Pedri has thanked Ronald Koeman for giving him his breakthrough at Camp Nou and says he "will always be grateful" to the former Barcelona head coach.

Barca confirmed the departure of Koeman on Wednesday shortly after a 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano that leaves them ninth in LaLiga with 10 games played.

The Dutchman lasted just 14 months in the job after replacing Quique Setien in August 2020, during which time he won just 58.21 per cent of his 67 games in charge. 

Koeman had more success when it came to nurturing young players into the first-team fold, though, with Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza and Pedri breaking through last season.

And with Barca's financial issues well-documented, Koeman made further use of the academy this term by giving Alejandro Balde, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Yusuf Demir chances.

None of those players have had as big an impact as Pedri, who made the fourth-most appearances under Koeman (56 games), despite this season's injury issues.

Pedri's form last season saw him rewarded with a call-up to the Spain squad ahead of Euro 2020, where he started all six of his country's matches in their run to the semi-finals.

After a memorable 12 months for club and country, the 18-year-old has personally thanked Koeman for giving him a chance to shine.

"I'm sorry things didn't turn out the way we wanted, mister," he posted on his personal Instagram account on Thursday. 

"I will always be grateful to him for everything he has done for me: for giving me his trust from the first moment and for the opportunity to fulfil my dream at Barcelona.

"I wish you the best both personally and professionally."

 

Sergio Busquets was the most used played during Koeman's tenure, featuring 63 times in total – one more than Frenkie de Jong – with 56 of those being starts.

The experienced midfielder also paid tribute to his departing boss on social media on Thursday, posting: "Thanks for everything, mister. Good luck in the future."

Koeman's win percentage is the lowest of all coaches to have taken charge of Barca since Pep Guardiola left in 2012, the next lowest being Setien (64 per cent).

The 58-year-old is also the only Barca boss to average fewer than two points per game in LaLiga (1.96 PPG), again comfortably behind the next worst in Setien (2.21 PPG).

Barca announced on Thursday that Sergi Barjuan will take interim charge while a permanent successor for Koeman – expected to be club great Xavi – is found.

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets believes his side deserved more after losing 2-1 to Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season 2-1 on Sunday.

David Alaba and Lucas Vazquez gave Madrid a 2-0 lead before Sergio Aguero grabbed a late consolation for Barca deep into added time.

The defeat was Barca's fourth consecutive Clasico defeat across all competitions - their longest losing run in the fixture since seven losses in a row between April 1962 and February 1965.

Busquets, 33, felt that the Blaugrana should not have ended up on the losing side, but were undone by conceding the first goal.

"They got it right in the first part and we didn't," Busquets said to Barca TV post-match. "We knew they were going to let us have the ball but they had speed with Rodrigo and Vinicius.

"In a team with these characteristics, when you lose the ball it is difficult to recover. And they have scored a goal in a kick, not in a play. That changes the game completely. I don't think we deserved to lose, but that's football.

"When there are games of these characteristics, the one who scores first has the advantage. In the second half, we had possession and control, but we had not made clear chances."

Busquets refused to blame the referee for the result and insisted that Barca remain positive despite being five points behind the top three.

"Yes, I have seen [the controversial incidents], but it does not matter," Busquets continued. "The referee has been good in general lines and I am not going to respond to the controversies.

"A small gap [in the table] is opening but I think we are growing little by little. Now we are going to recover Ousmane who will give us things in attack. We have to continue."

Barca head coach Ronald Koeman - who has now lost five games against Real Madrid (three) and Atletico Madrid (two), as many as in the previous nine seasons in the competition - agreed with his veteran midfielder, insisting that his men played well but that going behind allowed their opponents to play on the break.

"It is always difficult to understand a result like this because we made merits to have another result, especially in the first half," Koeman said. 

"It depended on a very clear chance to have 1-0 and instead, they scored 0-1, then it was complicated because they defended the result and we knew that is very dangerous.

"The crowd was phenomenal until the last second, we tried but we didn't get the result we wanted. We were good in the first half. We had a lot of ball possession."

Jules Kounde is seemingly bound to eventually move to the Premier League.

But where will the French centre-back land?

Manchester United and Chelsea are both believed to be interested.

 

TOP STORY – ANOTHER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are in the race to sign star Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, according to Fichajes.

Kounde was tipped to join Champions League holders Chelsea but a transfer did not materialise before the end of the previous window, much to the frustration of the player.

Despite the arrival of Raphael Varane, United are reportedly set to make a move for the France international centre-back.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Wednesday's Diario AS claims Real Madrid have re-activated their interest in United star Paul Pogba, who will become a free agent at the end of the season. A deal for Pogba would reportedly provide further encouragement for Kylian Mbappe in their pursuit of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

- Corriere dello Sport claims PSG and Atletico Madrid want Nicolo Barella as his contract talks with Serie A champions Inter stall.

- The Express reports United are considering a move for Monaco and France sensation Aurelien Tchouameni, who is also attracting interest from Madrid, LiverpoolChelsea and Juventus.

Barcelona will sell Sergio Busquets in order to sign Milan's Franck Kessie, says El Nacional. Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and the star midfielder has been linked with United, PSG, Liverpool, Arsenal and Inter. The front page of Wednesday's Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, reports Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger and Pogba are among several soon-to-be free agents being eyed by Barca.

- Le10 Sport claims PSG could join the race for Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic, who is seen as a potential replacement for Madrid target Mbappe. Vlahovic has been linked with Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Juve, Inter, Arsenal and Liverpool. PSG are also believed to be interested in Borussia Dortmund's sought-after forward Erling Haaland.

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