"There is a great talent here. He has a great future but it all depends on him," Zlatan Ibrahimovic said of Rafael Leao after Milan beat neighbours Inter in the derby last October.

Ibrahimovic knows what it takes to reach the top better than most.

There has been no doubt about Leao's quality, the 22-year-old has pace to burn and an arsenal of attacking weapons up his sleeve. But he has split opinion since being prised from Lille in 2019 – a result of mixed performances amid hype and expectations after Milan made a significant investment.

However, after an inconsistent start in the north of Italy, Leao is now flourishing under the guidance of Zlatan and Stefano Pioli as part of the Rossoneri dream of conquering Serie A for the first time in over a decade.

Deployed as a left-sided wide forward or lone striker, Leao has showcased his ability with the ball at his feet, leading the league this season in average carry progresses (9.1 metres), shot-ending carries (14), goal-ending carries (two) and total chance created carries (17) – Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne and Juventus star Federico Chiesa are just some of the names left behind on those lists.

A key member of Milan's Scudetto charge, Leao has a chance to further enhance his growing reputation on the big stage when city rivals Milan and champions Inter meet in a blockbuster Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Another off the long list of Sporting CP's famed production line, Leao dazzled in Lisbon, where he drew comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo before his time at Estadio Jose Alvalade ended abruptly in 2018. After players and coaches were sensationally attacked by fans at the club's training facility, Leao terminated his contract prior to moving to Lille on a free transfer.

 

"The first time I saw Rafael was when I took the job as the technical director of the Sporting academy. Every time I saw Rafael in his first few sessions for the Under-17s, he was different and he was special. You know, at Sporting, we've created so many good players – like Ronaldo and [Luis] Figo. Because of that, we are qualified to see when we have special talents in front of our eyes. Then it was easy to see, Rafael was different from the others," Luis Martins – Leao's first coach at Sporting – told FTF.

After eight goals and two assists in one season with Lille, Milan came calling and splashed out around €30million to usher in a new era for the Italian powerhouse, desperately craving a return to their glorious past after years in the wilderness.

Following a tough start to life under Marco Giampaolo, Leao showed glimpses when Pioli stepped into the Rossoneri hotseat, but he was far from convincing, proving a frustrating figure due to the consensus that he lacked consistency.

Leao only managed one goal in his first 19 appearances for Milan across all competitions. While he ended his debut campaign with six Serie A goals at an average of 232 minutes per goal and a sole assist, there were already questions whether the Portuguese was a future star or a gamble that hadn't paid off.

The key takeaway was Leao's involvement in Milan play. In 2019-20, he was the orchestrator of just 58 sequences in open play. In those 31 appearances, not one of those sequences started and ended in a goal. For context, he tallied nine goals and six assists the following season.

A raw talent finding his feet, Leao shot conversion rate was 17.7 per cent, well down on the 27.6 per cent mark he reached the season prior with Lille.

"It's true, I expected more from him tonight. When coming on, he was meant to give changes of pace, fresh energy, work with the team," Pioli said after a loss to Lazio in November 2019 as Leao was eventually linked with a move away heading into 2020-21. "He has a lot of potential, but he absolutely has to do more. His contribution tonight was not up to his standards."

 

Leao has seemingly heeded the advice of those around him, delivering on a more regular basis just as his team-mates are under Pioli's watchful eye.

Capable of delivering an incredible pass, Leao has mastered the art of attacking space with his blistering pace and it has well and truly come to the fore since 2020, with his 21 dribbles this season only exceeded by Sassuolo's Jeremie Boga (24) among forwards. Leao has also scored the most goals from fast breaks in Serie A (three).

Despite not yet having a fixed position at Milan, Leao's movement – predominantly on the left flank – has him first for carries with a shot (14), carries with a goal (two) and fourth for total carries by distance (1995.79) in the league this season.

"The Leao project goes on regardless of the role. He continues his growth and maturation, as is normal for such a young player," Pioli said in April.

"Then it is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. The important thing is the growth of its value, then we will evaluate the position along the way."

Leao's rise and development has been evident since the turn of the year, having become the second-youngest foreign player to score 10-plus Serie A goals for Milan back in January, older only than Alexandre Pato.

No one has scored more goals for Milan this term – level with France World Cup-winning striker Olivier Giroud on four goals through 11 matchdays – than Leao, who has outperformed his xG (2.6) while scoring every 205 minutes in Italy's top flight (more frequent than the likes of Chiesa, Tammy Abraham and Alvaro Morata among forwards) with a shots to goal conversion rate of 18.2 per cent.

It's not just the goals when it comes to the new and improved version of Leao. The two-time Portugal international has become more of a team player, leading the way at San Siro in attacking sequence involvements (40) across shots (25), chances created (seven) and build-up to shot (eight), ahead of Alexis Saelemaekers (38), Davide Calabria (33), Brahim Diaz (30), Ante Rebic (24) and Theo Hernandez (24) in 2021-22.

Leao has gone from prospect to genuine star, and as he takes centre stage in one of football’s most historic fixtures, the sky is the limit.

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."

Mauricio Pochettino praised Neymar after his two-goal display in Paris Saint-Germain's 3-2 victory over Bordeaux in Ligue 1.

Neymar starred in the absence of Lionel Messi, scoring a brace as league leaders PSG outlasted Bordeaux away from home on Saturday.

Having not scored from open play in Ligue 1 since May, Neymar ended that run with two sublime first-half strikes.

Neymar scored only his third and fourth Ligue 1 goals from open play in 2021 (eight goals in total), while taking his tally to seven top-flight goals against Bordeaux – his favourite Ligue 1 opponent.

Kylian Mbappe was also on target for PSG – Neymar and the former have exchanged 23 assists with each other in Ligue 1 since 2017, at least six more than any other top-flight duo.

"I think Ney [Neymar] played a good game. I think that overall, also scoring two goals it is noteworthy," PSG head coach Pochettino told reporters.

"It is clear that both him and Kylian [Mbappe], who have scored the goals, it is important for our offensive players, of course, that they touch, that they were close to the goal and that they scored."

 

With one goal and two assists, Mbappe has been involved in three goals in the same Ligue 1 game for only the second time in 2021, after January against Montpellier (two goals and one assist).

Mbappe scored his first goal from open play in the top-flight since September (against Clermont), ending his longest such streak of his career in Ligue 1 (23 – five shots on target).

PSG, who led 3-0 with 27 minutes remaining before Bordeaux scored twice, are 10 points clear of Lens atop the Ligue 1 standings after 13 games entering the international break.

"The explanation is clear, we have made two mistakes and we have conceded two goals," Pochettino added. "The goals come from mistakes or the success of the opponents. In this case it was a mix of everything, the opponent's success and our mistakes.

"We must have much more strength in defending these types of situations. It is clear that with the 3-0, Bordeaux attacked, creating some chances, especially from corners, but the game was controlled. A pity that we finished 3-2 because the team had played a good game up to that point."

Karim Benzema fully merits the plaudits for a stunning start to the season, according to Real Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos.

Benzema scored Madrid's second goal in a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday and leads LaLiga for both goals (10) and assists (seven).

He has now been directly involved in 22 goals in 15 matches for Madrid in all competitions this season, trailing only Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski (25 involvements in 17 matches) of players in Europe's top-five leagues.

"I see what Karim does in training and how he plays and deserves every success," Kroos told Movistar.

"But what matters to me is what you win with us. I am happy with my goal but because it helped us win. The individual awards do not interest me much.

"We came from a tough match in the Champions League and at 2-1 you suffer a little. Vinicius has helped us a lot so far, in difficult times too, and I hope he continues like this."

Benzema has now reached 10 goals in 11 of his 13 seasons in La Liga (10 in 2021-22) and only former Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi (15) has scored 10-plus goals in more campaigns in the competition in the 21st century than the French striker.

The 33-year-old Benzema was substituted by Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti with seven minutes left and replaced by Eden Hazard.

Ancelotti felt Benzema could have got more goals – having had one struck off by VAR early in the first half before he netted from close range – but suffered from fatigue in the second half.

"It's quite rare that Karim misses the opportunities we've had," Ancelotti added. "I have removed him because he was tired."

Rayo pulled a goal back through former Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, who has netted a goal every 67 minutes in LaLiga this season with the best ratio in the competition (five goals after 334 minutes played).

Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois admitted the failure to keep a clean sheet took the gloss of the victory and his team-mates must learn to grind out a victory if they are unable to be prolific in front of goal.

"It was part good and part bittersweet at the end," Courtois said.

"We controlled the game, but in the end they almost ended up drawing. Today the three points were very important. They have pushed and we don't take advantage of our chances to score more goals.

"We managed the game quite well, but in the penultimate corner they almost scored a goal and there we have to improve. The team has shown that it knows how to fight and that we are focused until the end. 

"We have to try to keep a clean sheet and close out the game. It's something we have to change because we have a lot of quality to score more goals."

Massimiliano Allegri insisted Juventus should remain angry about the points they have frittered away in Serie A this season after his team returned to winning ways in the competition.

After defeats to Sassuolo and Hellas Verona in their last two league games, Juventus came into the weekend as mid-table stragglers, the prospect of a Scudetto tilt almost already in tatters.

It would take something special from here to become involved in a title scrap, and a 1-0 win over Fiorentina, secured against 10 men by a stoppage-time Juan Cuadraro strike, was hardly the hallmark of a Juventus team on the up. Their first shot on target did not arrive until the 86th minute.

Yet a narrow home win might be a small step towards Juventus becoming a force again, with the three points being the pay-off for an intense week of training.

Head coach Allegri told DAZN: "Mentally we kept up well; this should make us happy for this victory, but very angry for the points left with Sassuolo, with Empoli, in Udine, in Verona.

"With a different mentality, with a different nastiness about our playing, we would have brought home some points, so we have to be happy, but also angry and not forget what we left behind us.

"If we had won against Sassuolo and Empoli we would be in an excellent position in the standings. We did not win, and we must do a mea culpa."

Allegri's second spell at Juventus could require abundant patience before reward arrives, unlike his previous tenure when he took over from Antonio Conte and continued the Turin giants' dominance, landing the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Serie A titles amid a nine-year stretch of dominance.

This was Allegri's 200th victory for the Bianconeri in all competitions, as he became just the third head coach to reach that mark with Juve since 1929-30 after Giovanni Trapattoni (319 victories) and Marcello Lippi (227). Until Nikola Milenkovic was sent off in the 73rd minute, however, Juventus were up against it.

"Victory boosts our morale and must raise the level of attention for the future even more," Allegri said, quoted on the official Juventus website.

"The starting point for returning to being a team that aims for the top is simply running.

"We need availability and aggression: here we won all our tackles, against Sassuolo not even one.

"The difference is there, because then the team has quality. But we have to be a group on the pitch, which must not forget what we have left in the league so far."

Cuadrado echoed Allegri's assertion that it will be graft that moves this incarnation of Juventus in the right direction.

Juventus have now won 15 of the 16 Serie A matches in which the Colombian has found the net, drawing the other.

"I'm happy with the team's performance," Cuadrado said. "It was important to be ready, we must continue to grow and maintain this attitude in every match.

"Fiorentina played well, they forced us to defend, but defending well helps us to attack better.

"We are a very close team, a family, and this week has brought us together even more. We get up every morning with the desire to be at the top, but we don't have to talk, just work."

Karim Benzema continued his fine form in front of goal as Real Madrid went top of LaLiga with a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Toni Kroos put Madrid ahead when he finished off a counter-attack in the 14th minute, the goal awarded after a VAR review having initially been ruled offside.

Benzema's 10th league goal of the season – and ninth in 10 against Rayo – made it two seven minutes before half-time, but Madrid sat back following the restart and Radamel Falcao's response ensured a tense finish.

Rayo could not quite forge an equaliser, though, and Madrid moved two points ahead of Real Sociedad at the summit at least until their trip to Osasuna on Sunday.

Alvaro Garcia had almost given Rayo a shock early lead when he broke clear of the Madrid defence only to send his shot wide, a chance that jolted Carlo Ancelotti's side into life.

Vinicius Junior had the ball in the net, yet the VAR determined Benzema had been offside in the build-up, and the France forward then lifted a shot over the crossbar from a good position before Kroos scored on the break, rifling in from Marco Asensio's cross and this time seeing the technology work in Madrid's favour.

Madrid went into the interval two goals ahead when Benzema got on the end of a superb teasing cross from David Alaba and calmly nudged the ball into the net at the back post.

Ferland Mendy teed up Benzema to curl over just after the hour, but a brief cameo from Falcao – introduced in the 69th minute before departing in the 81st – brought Rayo back into the reckoning as his header from Garcia's cross deflected off Alaba and deceived Thibaut Courtois.

Madrid fans then had their hearts in their mouths at the death when Oscar Valentin saw his shot blocked by Eduardo Camavinga and Kroos crucially cleared his follow-up effort off the line.

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe starred as Paris Saint-Germain returned to winning ways on the road in Ligue 1 with a tightly contested 3-2 victory at Bordeaux.

Lionel Messi was again absent through injury, though the other two stars of Mauricio Pochettino's deadly attacking trident combined to brilliant effect.

Neymar had not scored from open play in Ligue 1 since doing so against Lens in May, but ended that run with two sublime first-half strikes.

Mbappe – who had teed up Neymar's double – got in on the act midway through the second half to ensure late goals from Alberth Elis and M'Baye Niang were not enough for Bordeaux.

It was far from plain sailing for PSG at first, as Bordeaux had the better of the opening exchanges, regularly catching the visitors dawdling in their own half.

Yet Bordeaux were soon lamenting their failure to make PSG pay, with Neymar taking Mbappe's floated pass under his spell before drilling a wonderful finish beyond Benoit Costil.

Costil had to be at his best to prevent Mbappe making it 2-0, but could do little to prevent Neymar doubling PSG's tally before the break.

The combination with Mbappe again came to the fore, Neymar playing a slick one-two with the France star before sliding a cool effort into the bottom-left corner.

Mbappe looked set to go from provider to scorer early in the second half, only for Laurent Koscielny to make a fantastic last-ditch block.

He was not to be denied again, though, and he tucked home into a gaping goal after Ander Herrera's pass had set Georgino Wijnaldum away.

Elis' close-range finish gave Bordeaux hope, with substitute Niang then slotting in after a fantastic one-two with Jimmy Briand in stoppage time, but it was too little too late.

What does it mean? No Messi, no problem

Messi's niggling injury issues have prevented the superstar getting into full flow for PSG, at least in domestic football, but Neymar and Mbappe were more than enough to shrug aside Bordeaux.

With Nice not in action until Sunday, PSG sit clear at the top with 11 wins from 13 games. After a 2-0 defeat at Rennes and a 0-0 draw at Marseille, Saturday's result also saw the capital club avoid a run of three away games without scoring – a streak they last went on in 2010.

Neymar's happy hunting ground

Neymar has now scored seven goals against Bordeaux in Ligue 1, making them his favourite opponent in the competition.

Ahead of this much-needed performance, the 29-year-old had not scored in his previous five league matches, which was his longest drought since arriving at PSG in 2017.

More Girondins misery against PSG

Bordeaux have not won any of their last 13 Ligue 1 games against PSG (D4 L9). The Girondins have only had two longer runs without a win against a specific opponent in the top-flight: against Lyon between September 1999 and August 2006 (15) and against Reims between September 1978 and December 2020 (14).

What's next? 

PSG welcome Nantes to the Parc des Princes after the international break on November 20, while Bordeaux visit Metz a day later.

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.

Substitute Juan Cuadrado struck in added time against his former club as Juventus finally broke down 10-man opponents Fiorentina to win 1-0 in Saturday's Serie A clash.

Juve were on the verge of going a fourth league game without a victory when Cuadrado, on the field for just 13 minutes, beat Pietro Terracciano at his near post late on.

The hosts had struggled for large parts of the contest but momentum swung in their favour when Nikola Milenkovic was sent off 17 minutes from time.

After Federico Chiesa hit the bar and Alvaro Morata had a goal ruled out for offside, Cuadrado found a way through to lift Juve level on points with their opponents in eighth place.

 

Leon Goretzka was delighted to send Bayern Munich into the international break on a high as his goal helped them to a 2-1 win over Freiburg.

The Bundesliga leaders ended Freiburg's unbeaten start to the season at the Allianz Arena, Goretzka's opener and a second-half strike from Robert Lewandowski proving enough for maximum points.

Julian Nagelsmann's team lost at home to Eintracht Frankfurt prior to the last international break.

But they were dominant this time around against Freiburg, Bayern's 29 shots their most of the season so far.

Goretzka, who also hit the post in the second half, underlined the importance of approaching the break with a positive result.

"We shouldn't forget that we played against a good team today," Goretzka said to Sky. "The most important thing was to win the game, which we did.

"It was incredibly important to score the second goal, because you can always concede at any time. Our goal was to win today as it's the last game before the international break.

"It wasn't a good feeling when we lost just before the last international break. Therefore we are very happy today."

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.

Bayern Munich solidified their position atop the Bundesliga as they ended Freiburg's unbeaten start with a 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena.

Freiburg were the sole team yet to taste defeat in the league this season, but they were always second best against Julian Nagelsmann's side on Saturday.

Leon Goretzka opened the scoring on the half hour and Bayern saw several chances to pad their lead go begging.

But Robert Lewandowski could hardly miss as he eventually made it 2-0, Bayern at least temporarily going four points clear of Borussia Dortmund in second despite Janik Haberer's late consolation.

Freiburg's defence had conceded only seven goals going into this game, but Bayern found consistent joy in carving a way through the backline.

Alphonso Davies was a menace down the left and forced saves from Mark Flekken twice in the opening six minutes before Lucas Holer could have put Freiburg ahead.

Holer should have done better as he fired wide and, after some fruitless probing from Leroy Sane, Goretzka punished Freiburg's earlier profligacy with a confidently taken close-range finish at the end of another well-worked Bayern attack.

Only the right-hand post denied Goretzka a second as Bayern upped the ante in search of a second after the interval, with Sane then lashing over on the volley.

It was Sane who supplied the final pass as Lewandowski put the game beyond doubt. The Poland international tapped in from point-blank range after Sane had combined with Kingsley Coman, but there was late consolation for Freiburg, whose reward for a strong finish came in stoppage time as Haberer wriggled free in the box and beat a frustrated Manuel Neuer.

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.

Olivier Giroud has questioned why Didier Deschamps did not give France's senior players any advance notice of Karim Benzema's return from international exile.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was named in France's Euro 2020 squad in May following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by head coach Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema has strenuously denied he was complicit in attempted blackmail.

Looking to bolster his attacking options, Deschamps decided the time was right to bring back Benzema ahead of the European Championship, but Giroud believes the move proved unsettling to France's established way of playing.

Giroud has not featured for France since their last-16 elimination at Euro 2020, when the World Cup winners bowed out on penalties to Switzerland, and it remains to be seen whether the 35-year-old's international career is over.

Addressing Benzema's surprise return, Giroud told L'Equipe: "[It] created a tactical imbalance at the team level and in the way we play. I say this frankly, and without anything against Karim.

"The France team was able to overcome this problem of tactical adaptation much later. We have seen this, especially with the Nations League [which France won in October].

"But it took a long time. Karim quickly changed our way of playing which had been well established with certain offensive profiles for five years.

"The mix didn't work overnight, especially before a competition like the Euros."

Commenting on Deschamps' decision to seemingly spring the selection on the rest of the players, Giroud said: "It was the will of the coach to proceed like that.

"He preferred that it not be heard. I can understand it. Now who am I in his eyes for him to call me first? He is the sole decision-maker.

"But I would have appreciated being warned, that he warned certain senior figures."

Giroud is second on the list of France's all-time leading scorers, netting 46 goals, of which 45 have come during Deschamps' nine years at the helm.

Only Thierry Henry (51) has more goals for France than the former Chelsea and Arsenal forward, who is now at Milan.

He was absent from the squad that won the Nations League, when Benzema and Kylian Mbappe scored in the final against Spain.

"It was a weird feeling, even though I was happy for the guys in front of my TV," Giroud said. "It's hard not to experience that with this squad that I have known for a long time, and with whom I have shared so many beautiful things. Like any sensitive person, I had a twinge in my heart."

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."

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