Andres Iniesta has given his backing to former Barcelona team-mate Xavi after he was officially unveiled as the new head coach at Camp Nou.

Iniesta and Xavi made a combined 1,441 appearances for the Catalan club, winning seven LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues together before the latter moved to Qatari club Al Sadd in 2015.

The duo also won two European Championships and a World Cup with Spain, and Vissel Kobe midfielder Iniesta has no doubts that Xavi "fits perfectly" in the Barca hot seat.

Speaking to BeIN Sports, Iniesta said: "Xavi fits perfectly, that's for sure. Not only because of what he represents as Xavi, but as a coach and how he's prepared to face this challenge."

 

"I wish him all the luck in the world and I am convinced that he will be fine because he has prepared for that moment and is very excited to be able to take on this challenge. 

"I hope that the circumstances will be in place to succeed. I wish him well. For him as a team-mate, as for Barca, for the club, of course."

Xavi described his return to Barcelona as "the biggest challenge of my career" after he was officially confirmed as the club's next head coach.

Barcelona were pegged back to 3-3 at Celta Vigo on Saturday, despite holding a 3-0 lead at half-time. Xavi was not in charge for that match, with his presentation to take place on Monday.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti expects Barcelona to bounce back from their poor start to the season under new head coach Xavi.

Xavi has been tasked with leading embattled LaLiga giants Barca out of their difficult period after his appointment as Ronald Koeman's replacement at Camp Nou.

Barca are 10 points adrift of Madrid after squandering a three-goal lead as Celta Vigo secured a dramatic 3-3 draw in the 96th minute on Saturday, while Ancelotti's league leaders edged Rayo Vallecano 2-1.

Ancelotti was asked about the return of Barca great Xavi to the Catalan giants – who are ninth in the standings – following Madrid's victory at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Obviously I don't want to talk about Barcelona. I know they're in a tough situation, and I've said that on more than one occasion because I have a lot of respect for them as a club, and I respect Xavi as well," Ancelotti told reporters.

"I wish him the best because I can't say anything personally if Barca have any issues or not, but they have more than enough quality to get out of this tough situation."

Ancelotti added: "It's a surprise that we're 10 points clear of Barcelona, but I think Barcelona can very easily get back into the title race because the season is very long.

"And as I said, this is a very competitive league. You don't need 100 points to win this division. You need many less because it's that competitive."

Madrid continue to set the pace after Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema guided Los Blancos past Rayo in the Spanish capital.

Benzema has reached 10 goals in 11 of his 13 seasons in LaLiga (10 in 2021-22) – only Lionel Messi (15) has scored 10-plus goals in more campaigns in the competition in the 21st century than the Frenchman.

Madrid duo Benzema (10) and Vinicius Junior (seven) have scored 17 goals in LaLiga this term, a figure only surpassed by Bayern Munich (19) pair Robert Lewandowski (13) and Serge Gnabry (six) in the five major European leagues.

"I saw a team that played very well. For about 80 minutes, I think we played very well," Ancelotti said of his team's win. "We had a lot of chances and I think we had to score one more to kill off the game and we still kept creating chances and that third goal didn't come. And then when Rayo scored, we had a few minutes of fear.

"I haven't really got any other word to describe it, and we suffered, but I think we have to analyse everything as a team, and we suffered later on in the game. But we played very well during the majority of the match.

"We also did miss in front of goal, which is something that we don't normally do. It's something very strange that, for example, Karim [Benzema] misses in front of goal, but he scored a second, so he made up for that.

"But overall, I am happy because we picked up the three points and we got three points as well against a Rayo side that play well, they press well, they're very good playing out from the back. And we tried to be very dangerous on the counter when we had the possibility to, but I think the game was maybe over in the 80th minute. It was maybe one of our best performances of the season, but we had to work hard at the end."

Frenkie de Jong believes "a bit of personality" is missing at Barcelona after the Blaugrana surrendered a three-goal lead at Celta Vigo.

Iago Aspas' last-gasp strike snatched a share of the spoils for Celta in Saturday's 3-3 draw, leaving new Barca boss Xavi with plenty to ponder.

Xavi was officially appointed as Barca's new coach earlier in the day, though the legendary midfielder was not in charge at Balaidos.

That duty was left to interim coach Sergi Barjuan, who looked set to claim his first LaLiga win and snap a three-match winless streak in the top flight for Barca as they cruised into a 3-0 lead.

Ansu Fati, who then went off injured in what will be a blow to Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Memphis Depay got Barca's goals, only for Marc-Andre ter Stegen's mistake to gift Celta a way back into the game.

Aspas capitalised on that error and was on hand again to curl in a wonderful goal with the last kick of the match after Nolito had set up a grandstand finale.

Barca only mustered 40.5 per cent possession in the second half, during which they had just four attempts to Celta's 10.

One of Barca's efforts saw De Jong hit the crossbar shortly before Aspas' equaliser, but the Netherlands midfielder knows the Blaugrana were found lacking once again.

 

"I think in the second half we forgot to play football. A bit of personality is missing, I think," he told reporters. "The players are the ones who have to change, that's it.

"This game was very important to get us a little boost. This is a very big blow for us. We can fight because we have quality. It will be very difficult, but we have to continue."

Asked if Xavi is the right man to turn Barca's situation around, De Jong added: "We must see. People are excited about his arrival, and we are going to work hard."

Saturday's match saw Barca squander a three-goal advantage in a LaLiga game for the first time since January 1998, against Valencia at Camp Nou in a 4-3 defeat.

The Blaugrana sit ninth in LaLiga heading into Sunday's matches ahead of the international break, with Xavi's first game in charge set for November 20 – a derby against Espanyol.

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.

Xavi's Barcelona tenure has not yet officially started, but the Blaugrana's new coach may have to cope with a lengthy absence for one of the club's star players after Ansu Fati suffered an apparent hamstring injury.

Barca confirmed on Saturday that legendary midfielder Xavi had returned to take over as Ronald Koeman's replacement.

Xavi, whose contract with Qatar Stars League team Al Sadd was terminated on Friday, will be officially presented on Monday and his first game in charge will be a derby against Espanyol.

However, he seems set to be without youngster Fati, who was forced off just before half-time against Celta Vigo on Saturday, having pulled up clutching his left thigh.

Fati had been enjoying a brilliant game, putting Barca ahead early on with a fantastic finish from a tight angle. Sergio Busquets and Memphis Depay subsequently scored to make it 3-0 at the time of the winger's injury.

The teenager only returned to action in September, having endured a long injury lay off due to a serious knee problem that kept him out for the majority of the 2020-21 campaign.

His goal at Celta was his third in LaLiga this season, from just his fifth appearance in the competition, while he has also scored once from three Champions League games.

Fati's injury will also present a blow to Spain coach and former Barca boss Luis Enrique, who had named the forward in his squad for crucial World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Sweden over the next two weeks.

Xavi described his return to Barcelona as "the biggest challenge of my career" after he was officially confirmed as the club's next head coach.

Barca announced in the early hours of Saturday that former Spain star Xavi had been appointed as Ronald Koeman's replacement at Camp Nou.

Club delegates travelled to Qatar this week to formalise the payment of the release clause in the 41-year-old's contract with Al Sadd, where he has been head coach for the past two and a half years.

Xavi's first senior coaching role in Europe will see him entrusted with steering Barca through one of the most difficult periods in their modern history.

Debts of more than €1.2billion meant the Blaugrana could not afford to sign Lionel Messi to a new contract or make any significant investment in the playing squad before this season, and results on the pitch have been concerning: they are ninth in LaLiga, having won only four of their first 11 games.

Xavi made 767 appearances for Barca in all competitions, a tally only surpassed by Messi (778), before retiring as a club hero in 2015 after winning his eighth league title and fourth Champions League.

However, he believes returning to the club at this time represents by far the toughest test he has faced as a professional.

 

Speaking to reporters before flying back to Spain, he said: "It's the biggest challenge of my career. I'm really happy, I'm coming home, coming back to Barca. It's a major challenge.

"I'm really grateful to Barca. They came to Doha, my contract was rescinded, there was a clause, and each of us has done our part. I'm really grateful to the club."

Xavi hopes his familiarity with some of Barca's more experienced players could serve as an advantage as he attempts to hit the ground running.

"The first thing to do is to speak with the players, to explain to them the ideas I have and to work a lot," he said.

"To coach friends is an advantage, it's a positive point. I know how they train and I know what they're like. I see it as an advantage."

It's felt inevitable that Xavi would return to Barcelona at some stage and the time has finally come.

The former midfielder has agreed to take over from Ronald Koeman, embracing both a financial and sporting crisis at Camp Nou that sees the team ninth in LaLiga and more than €1.2billion in debt.

Given his pedigree as a player for the club, where he won 25 major trophies, and the fact he has delivered three cups and a Qatar Stars League title in his time in charge of Al Sadd, you would be forgiven for thinking Xavi could have chosen to bide his time and wait for a more opportune moment to take the job.

Yet here we are, with another of Europe's grandest sides appointing a club legend. It's a move that often resonates well with a disillusioned fan base, but recent history tells us a star playing career often counts for little when it comes to life in the dugout at the elite end of football.

There are a fair few examples of ex-players heading back to their old clubs in the past few years – and to different levels of success...

 

Mikel Arteta (Arsenal): Jury's out

When Arsenal lost their first three league games of the season without scoring a goal, it looked like the Arteta experiment might have run its course.

Now on a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions, buoyed by a derby defeat of Tottenham and a manager of the month award for September, it's beginning to look as though the former captain might just have got things on track at Emirates Stadium.

Winning the FA Cup last year was also a big feather in Arteta's cap, but there's still a sense that the next bad result is just around the corner. After all, he lost 20 of his first 60 league games in charge; it took Arsene Wenger 116 matches to reach that number.

Ronald Koeman (Barcelona): Failure

There is no question Koeman stepped into the breach at Barca at a terrible time, with an institutional crisis ongoing and the team having lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich in Quique Setien's final game in charge. He was chosen for his estimable record as a player at the club, and he did at least deliver Copa del Rey success last term.

Yet as soon as new president Joan Laporta admitted before this season that he was basically only keeping Koeman because there wasn't another option, the writing was on the wall.

Uninspiring football and a troubling run of results that culminated in a first loss to Rayo Vallecano since 2002 forced Laporta into action – he sacked Koeman on the flight home, if reports are to be believed. In the end, his contribution as a player offered little protection.

 

Niko Kovac (Bayern Munich): Short-term success

Kovac took over from Jupp Heynckes before the start of the 2018-19 season, becoming only the fourth former Bayern Munich player to become head coach (after Soren Lerby, Franz Beckenbauer and Jurgen Klinsmann).

Trophies were not a problem: Kovac won the DFL-Supercup 5-0 against old club Eintracht Frankfurt in his first match in charge, and the Bundesliga title and DFB-Pokal followed. Nobody at Bayern had ever won the double as both player and coach before.

It all turned a bit sour in 2019-20, though. Bayern won just five of their opening 10 league games and were thrashed 5-1 by Frankfurt in November, at which point Kovac and the club agreed the time was right to part ways.

Frank Lampard (Chelsea): Failure

Chelsea's record goalscorer only had one season of experience at Championship side Derby County before being entrusted with the big job at Stamford Bridge.

Losing 4-0 to Manchester United in his first game wasn't exactly a strong start, but Lampard did guide the Blues to fourth in the Premier League and an FA Cup final, all while navigating the difficulties of a transfer ban.

However, after a squad investment of close to £250million before 2020-21, Chelsea's progress stalled and a run of two wins in eight league games saw Lampard replaced by Thomas Tuchel. His points-per-game average of 1.67 was the fourth lowest of any permanent Chelsea manager in the Premier League era.

Andrea Pirlo (Juventus): Failure

Compared with Pirlo, Lampard was a seasoned veteran in managerial terms. Juventus handed the top job to their former star midfielder when his only coaching experience was nine days of looking after the Under-23 side.

Pirlo's swaggering style as a player did not translate itself to the dugout: Juve lacked cohesion and creativity and were embarrassed when 10-man Porto knocked them out of the last 16 of the Champions League, a result that did more damage to Pirlo's position than any other.

The former Italy man delivered Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia success, and managed to drag Juve back to a fourth-placed finish on the final day of the season, but Inter had already marched to the title by then. In the end, Pirlo lasted less than a year.

 

Mauricio Pochettino (Paris Saint-Germain): Slow progress

Pochettino is a little different to the others on our list given his coaching experience covered Espanyol, Southampton and a memorable five years at Tottenham before he went to PSG, the club where he spent two seasons as a player.

The 49-year-old has won renown for getting his teams to play high-tempo, exciting football, but this has yet to be consistently evident in Ligue 1 even if results are mostly going his way.

Ten wins from 12 games have them comfortably top of Ligue 1, while wins over Manchester City and RB Leipzig stand them in good stead in the Champions League, but it feels like PSG are too often being rescued from mediocre performances by a moment of inspiration from a star player – and that's rarely been the Pochettino way.

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Manchester United): Who knows?

Manchester United have become one of the most singularly baffling football teams in the world under Solskjaer, the man who won six Premier League titles as a player and scored arguably their most famous goal: the winner in the 1999 Champions League final that secured the treble.

Hired as an interim coach in December 2018 to repair the damage of Jose Mourinho's final months, Solskjaer rebuilt United's morale through sheer goodwill and a heady dose of nostalgia, both of which have kept him in the job ever since.

They finished second in the Premier League last term but lost the Europa League final, and seem to have gone backwards in 2021-22, with that 5-0 hammering by Liverpool almost sounding the death knell for Solskjaer. However, the talents at his disposal – not least Cristiano Ronaldo – seem to do just enough to keep Ole at the wheel on a weekly basis.

 

Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid): Resounding success... but walked away (twice)

Many of these clubs hoped to discover the next Pep Guardiola: the famous ex-player who could turn his first senior coaching job into something not just successful, but era-defining, unforgettable. Zidane at Real Madrid is the closest we have seen.

After spells as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti and coach of the Castilla, Zidane replaced the unpopular Rafael Benitez in January 2016 and led them to Champions League glory. He did the same for the next two seasons as Madrid became the first side in the tournament's modern era to win successive trophies.

Zidane also won two LaLiga titles: in 2016-17, in which he oversaw a club-record 40 games unbeaten in all competitions, and in 2019-20, when he had returned to club after walking away in May 2018. He left again at the end of 2020-21, the only season in which he did not win a trophy.

 

Sergi Barjuan is willing to help Barcelona in any way he can, having been in contact with next coach Xavi ahead of his arrival at Camp Nou.

Xavi is soon to be confirmed as the latest Blaugrana boss, with Al Sadd confirming on Friday they had agreed a deal with the Catalans for his departure.

The Barca great, who played 767 times for the club, second only to Lionel Messi (778), will succeed Sergi, who has served as interim coach since Ronald Koeman was sacked.

With the team preparing for Saturday's game at Celta Vigo, Sergi was keen to wait on official news of Xavi's appointment.

"Al Sadd has made the statement, Barca has not yet," he told a news conference. "We have to wait for it to be from both sides.

"We have a good relationship and I have contact with him. If there are any questions, I will be happy to help the club.

"I am the interim coach, I try to contribute so that the team performs. Whether Xavi is a good candidate is a question for the president."

The move means Sergi steps aside after just two games in the hot seat, a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves and then a vital 1-0 Champions League win against Dynamo Kiev.

Certainty was needed in the dugout, with 16 points from 11 league games Barca's worst start since 2002-03, but Sergi's final test is a tough one. Barca have lost three times at Balaidos in LaLiga since 2015-16 – more than at any other away ground in that time.

"It's normal [to step aside], but I already knew it," said the coach, whose only previous game against Celta as a manager was a 2-2 draw with Almeria in 2015. "I knew this had an expiration date, but I'm happy.

"I just have the last step that is tomorrow. We are going to work hard because they are going to demand a lot from us. Historically, they have created problems for us. If we play like in Kiev, I will be happy.

"In the end, when you have a candy and you stop tasting it, you dislike it, but I'm very happy because the little details I've put into the team have been reflected."

Sergi believes Barca have a squad good enough to "fight and be higher in LaLiga and qualify for the Champions League".

However, one player Xavi will not be able to call upon right away is Ousmane Dembele, who suffered a hamstring injury in training having returned from knee surgery against Dynamo on Tuesday.

The winger, who is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked to Newcastle United, has played over 1,000 minutes in a LaLiga season only twice since his €105million transfer from Borussia Dortmund in 2017.

Discussing Dembele's return in the Champions League, Sergi said: "When you take charge, you have to make decisions. We were all happy to see Dembele.

"We had a rest day and he got injured in training. If he wasn't injured, no one would speak about this. Dembele played and won, but these are situations that can happen to a player. Football has that risk."

Joan Laporta is adamant Xavi will be Barcelona head coach one day but refused to reveal if he will replace Ronald Koeman in the dugout this season.

Koeman was relieved of his duties on Wednesday after a poor start to the season that has left Barca ninth in LaLiga and with just three points from three Champions League games. Barca B boss Sergi Barjuan has taken temporary charge.

Club legend and Al Sadd manager Xavi has emerged as the front-runner for the permanent position, but Barca president Laporta – while praising the 41-year-old – maintained he is keeping his options open.

Xavi guided Al Sadd to the Qatar Stars League title last season and has claimed six cups since taking over in 2019, having spent four years at the club as a player.

"I have always said that Xavi will coach Barca one day," Laporta said ahead of Barca's contest with Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. "He is a person who lives for football, he belongs to Barca and has it as a priority objective in his life.

"What I think is that I have a very good relationship with him and we'll see how everything evolves. I have been talking to Xavi since the election campaign and contact has never been broken. 

"I have not changed my opinion about Xavi. Since he went to Qatar, I said he would be a Barca coach. What I don't know is when. The reports we have are very good.

"I have not followed Al Sadd. All the inputs that come to us are positive. He has recently taken the step of being a coach and does not have a long career. As much as we talk about Xavi, let me keep my [options open]."

Laporta also acknowledged the club should have dismissed Koeman sooner and accepts responsibility for the delay in the decision being made.

"[Giving Koeman time] was a way to motivate the coach and the team," Laporta continued. "Possibly we should have decided earlier, and I take responsibility for this decision. The situation was untenable. We had entered a dangerous drift in which we could disengage from everything.

"Ronald is a legend of Barcelona and we had to thank him for the effort he made. I told Ronald that, good luck and thank you very much. Possibly I had to make the decision before, but I opted for this decision."

The Barca president insisted that whoever is brought in as the new head coach will be backed by the board but will also be expected to deliver success within a short period of time.

"[The new head coach] will have the full support of the board that I preside over and the football management," Laporta added. "We will see how he evolves. He will have all our support and all our demands because we aspire to win the competitions we are in.

"At Barca, there are no transitional seasons. Everything is possible in football."

The list of candidates to replace Ronald Koeman at Barcelona is already forming.

Koeman was dismissed after Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano which left them ninth in LaLiga.

Barcelona are battling financial challenges and have struggled since Lionel Messi's exit in August.

TOP STORY – XAVI OFFERED BARCELONA JOB

Barcelona have offered their vacant head coaching role to club legend Xavi, reports Goal.

The Catalans have acted fast with Koeman sacked late on Wednesday.

Xavi is currently coaching Qatari outfit Al Sadd but has an exit clause in his contract, although Barca are prepared to pay any fee required.

The 41-year-old long-time Barcelona midfielder retired from playing in 2019, with his final on-field stint at Al Sadd before moving into coaching.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are in the box seat to sign Leeds United's England international midfielder Kalvin Phillips, according to the Daily Star. Phillips, who is contracted with Leeds until 2024, has been linked with Manchester United too, but the report claims Liverpool are his first choice and the deal would be worth around £60million.

- Manchester United have conceded that agreeing a new deal with Paul Pogba is impossible and are prepared to lose the France international on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of the season, reports ESPN. Pogba has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain , Juventus and Real Madrid .

- Manchester United's Amad Diallo is interested in going out on loan to Dutch club Feyenoord, according to Feyenoord TM. The 19-year-old Ivorian winger has not played this season.

- TEAMtalk claims that PSG have joined the pursuit of Leeds United's Brazil international Raphinha. PSG is the current home of Raphinha's Brazilian team-mates Neymar and Marquinhos.

- Chelsea are preparing for Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen's exit by lining up moves for Sevilla's Jules Kounde and Juventus' Matthijs de Ligt, reports Eurosport.

Xavi feels sympathy for Lionel Messi and his former club Barcelona following the superstar forward's switch to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi held a tearful news conference on Sunday to confirm the end of his 21-year stay at Camp Nou ahead of completing a move to PSG on Tuesday.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner revealed both he and Barcelona did everything possible to agree a new deal, but it was made impossible by "financial and structural obstacles".

Xavi, who won 24 trophies playing in the same side as Messi prior to departing Barca in 2015, is upset that the Argentina international was effectively forced out of the door.

"I'm just so sad for Leo," Xavi, who is now managing Qatari club Al Sadd, told The Times. "It's a pity to see he and the club couldn't find a solution.

"I know that Leo wanted to stay, but in the end it could not be sorted.

"The only thing I can say now is that I will miss him a lot. It's even hard for me to picture Messi with a shirt other than Barca's. 

"It's sad for Leo, especially for how I saw him emotionally at the Camp Nou the other day, but for FC Barcelona as well."

 

As Barcelona get set to begin a new season without Messi for the first time since 2003, there will be plenty of onus on others in Ronald Koeman's squad stepping up.

One of those who has already made big strides in his first full campaign at Camp Nou is young midfielder Pedri, who also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympics.

He played more passes in the opposition half (461) than any player at Euro 2020.

Pedri's 421 successful passes was bettered by only four players, with the 18-year-old completing 65 of the 66 attempted in the semi-final loss to Italy – that one misplaced pass coming in extra time.

And Xavi can see similarities between Pedri and another Barcelona icon in Andres Iniesta, who spent 16 years in Barcelona's first team.

"Pedri is unbelievable. The kid has Iniesta's profile of a player, for sure," Xavi said.

"Watching him play at his age, doing what he does, leaves you with the only answer: he'll be great. Actually, he already is so impressive, but he can be even better."

While Spain's campaign ended at the last four stage, England reached the final on home soil before suffering a cruel defeat to Italy on penalties.

Xavi was impressed by what he saw from Gareth Southgate's side and in particular a couple of their midfielders.

"I've seen England at a fantastic level. They have absolutely everything in the squad. Well, actually they were not champions just because of a penalty," he said.

"This generation is young, physically strong but also great technically. With this group of players, they'll always be competitive.

"I can see them fighting for the World Cup, without a shadow of a doubt. They are almost there.

"I think that sooner rather than later they'll have this spark of luck you need to win trophies.

"I have also been hugely impressed by the two midfielders, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. I did not know them that well, but they were superb.

"You can see a centre-back like John Stones and how he plays the ball out from the defence.

"Next to him there's [Harry] Maguire, who drives up the ball to split the opponent's pressing. 

"How the full-backs and wing-backs behave for the team . . . there are details that speak volumes of Southgate's work."

 

Euro 2020 was a rather mixed tournament for Phil Foden, who started England's first two matches but struggled to make an impact and was largely overlooked from that point on.

"I think he is an unreal talent for a lot of reasons," Xavi said of the Manchester City midfielder. "He has an amazing work rate, but also his decision-making is ace. 

"He's strong, quick, has a sense of goal, great passer and shooter... There's everything in the pack.

"I would have loved to see more game time for Foden. When you have this number of talented players, all I can think of is putting them on the pitch. 

"I understand it's very tough to make changes with the squad Southgate had. There were a lot of options in his hands and only eleven could play. 

"But it's a pity to see so many special talents with not much playing time."

Spain greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta are inspirational figures for Italy's Nicolo Barella, although the Azzurri midfielder does not try to replicate their skill sets.

Barcelona legends Xavi and Iniesta formed a key part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 – in which they thrashed Italy in the final – either side of lifting the 2010 World Cup.

While the Barca duo were more renowned for their creativity than goalscoring exploits, albeit Iniesta got the crucial strike in Spain's World Cup triumph in South Africa, Barella has established himself as a real goal threat for both Inter and Italy.

Indeed, the former Cagliari man opened the scoring in Italy's 2-1 quarter-final win over Belgium with a fantastic finish, teed up by some excellent footwork.

And while Barella is inspired by the Spain greats of the past, he finds it hard to compare his own game with theirs. 

"They had great champions who inspired everyone, like Xavi and Iniesta," Barella told a news conference. 

"It's easy to say that we were inspired, but all those who love football are. I have different characteristics, seeing me in them is difficult.

"The Spain side that won the Euros in 2012 had an incredible midfield. There were amazing champions there, here there are great players, but we hope we can reach their level and possibly do even better."

Italy inflicted a 2-0 defeat in the last 16 of Euro 2016 to gain revenge for their 4-0 loss in Kyiv nine years ago, and a final against either England or Denmark is the prize for the victor at Wembley on Tuesday.

"[Sergio] Busquets has been one of the best midfielders in the world for many years," Barella continued.

"Then they have Pedri and Koke. It will be a nice game, we'll try to beat their midfield and beat Spain.

"It will be a tough game, we are similar as we both want to dominate the possession. I hope it will be a nice game, we want to enjoy it in a fantastic stadium."

Italy did suffer a blow in the win over Belgium, with influential left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"It was strange not to celebrate because one of my team-mates had suffered a serious injury," Barella said when asked about Spinazzola, who has travelled to Finland for surgery.

"It was the first time I didn't celebrate a win at the end of the game, all we can do is to make Spinazzola proud and celebrate for him."

Only three defenders – Andrew Robertson (nine), David Alaba (10) and Jordi Alba (11) – have created more chances than Spinazzola (eight) so far at Euro 2020, though Barella is confident that Chelsea's Emerson, who is set to replace the stricken Roma full-back, will prove an able deputy.

"Emerson and Spina have different characteristics, they are two great players and nobody is worried," he said.

"[Emerson] won the Champions League and he will help us as he's always done. He's played many games for us and we all trust him."

Lionel Messi became a free agent on Thursday, but Xavi believes it is a matter of time before the captain and record goalscorer re-commits to Barcelona.

While away with Argentina at the Copa America, Messi has been focusing on that tournament, and as July arrived there was no word of a new contract at Camp Nou.

That meant his previous deal expired, making Messi potentially available to suitors that may wish to sign him.

Interest from Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain has appeared to go quiet amid an assumption that Messi will stay with Barcelona.

Former team-mate Xavi feels Messi is moving closer to signing again with the Catalans and would put money on the 34-year-old doing so, even if small doubts linger.

"These are market circumstances, we have to wait," Xavi said. "I imagine he is talking to the club and the president.

"I wish Leo the best, as a friend of his and as a cule [a Barcelona fan], I wish him to continue at Barca. Hopefully, it can be announced as soon as possible."

Speaking to Mundo Deportivo, Xavi, who is coach of Al Sadd, added: "If I had to bet, I would say that he will continue at the club, although many things have been said in football, but I would say that he will continue.

"Leo needs Barca and Barca need Leo. He is happy in Barcelona; he has spent his life there. I would bet on him renewing."

Messi was again hugely influential for the LaLiga giants last season, finishing as the league's top scorer and managing 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions.

He created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes, when taking all competitions into account.

Jordi Alba was next on the list of the most chances created, teeing up 85 goalscoring opportunities, while of players with more than five goals, Antoine Griezmann had the next-best minutes-per-goal ratio, with one every 195.2 minutes.

 

In terms of the most games played, top-flight rookie Pedri finished top of the pile with 52 games, and he has since gone on to play for Spain at Euro 2020.

Pedri will then go on to the Olympic Games and will have had barely any break by the time LaLiga gets under way in 2021-22.

Barcelona are reportedly unhappy at the demands placed on the shoulders of the 18-year-old midfielder, but Xavi thinks such experiences are priceless.

He said: "If I were Pedri, I would go to the Games. I had the opportunity at the time, and they are opportunities that do not return.

"He is 18 years old and footballers want to play. It's a unique opportunity to go to the Games. If you ask Pedri, he will tell you that he is excited."

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."

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