Real Madrid cannot afford to be complacent despite Barcelona's early season struggles, defender Dani Carvajal says.

Barca are ninth in LaLiga heading into the November international break, already 11 points behind leaders Real Sociedad and 10 shy of second-placed Madrid.

The Blaugrana are winless in four as a miserable season, which began with Lionel Messi leaving for Paris Saint-Germain, continues at Camp Nou.

Club great Xavi will take charge when the campaign resumes, with Sergi Barjuan having overseen two league matches since Ronald Koeman was sacked.

Xavi, who won 25 major honours in his Barca playing career, said as he was presented this week: "We have to work hard to get back to winning trophies."

Most commentators expect, at least in the league, silverware will have to wait until next season, but Madrid stalwart Carvajal is not ruling Barca out.

"Far from it," he told Marca. "We respect all rivals. We are surprised to see Barca so far behind, but no one can rule them out for any title.

"Respect is essential. Teams have better and worse moments, but everything comes out."

Indeed, Carvajal expects a big impact from Xavi, saying: "It is a safe change. The arrival of a figure like Xavi for Barcelona will fill them with enthusiasm.

"Although he is a rival, I wish him all the luck in the world – not against us – because he is a colleague."

Europe's qualifying section for the 2022 World Cup reaches its dramatic climax over the next week, with eight more nations set to secure their places in Qatar.

There will be 50 matches played during this international window, during which the outcome of all 10 groups will be decided, with Denmark and Germany the only European nations to have already booked their tickets.

Indeed, the other eight group winners will seal automatic qualification for Qatar 2022, while another 10 nations will advance to March's play-offs as the runners-up.

The 10 second-placed teams will be joined by the two best group winners from the 2020-21 Nations League who have neither already qualified nor sealed a play-off spot via the group stage.

With plenty of excitement and drama guaranteed, Stats Perform takes a closer look at the most eye-catching fixtures, permutations and milestones.  

800 up for Ronaldo?

Another day and another milestone approaches for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is just two goals away from taking his career tally to 800.

The Portugal skipper could hit the landmark when his country face the Republic of Ireland on Thursday – failing that, they host Serbia three days later.

Should Portugal take maximum points at the Aviva Stadium, Fernando Santos’ men would then guarantee top spot in Group A by avoiding defeat against Serbia on Sunday.

 

Deja vu for Italy?

The reigning European champions missed out on the finals last time around, sparking a cultural reset that ultimately culminated in their brilliant Euro 2020 success earlier this year. But their place in Qatar is still far from secure.

Level on points with Switzerland at the top of Group C with two games remaining, the Azzurri must beat the Swiss when they face off on Friday and avoid defeat against Northern Ireland three days later to guarantee qualification. 

Four years ago they were fell to Sweden in the play-offs – failure this time around would be an even bigger shock.

Work to do for the Dutch

The Netherlands were also absent from Russia in 2018 and, despite leading Group G, they are not home and dry just yet.

Louis van Gaal’s side travel to Montenegro on Saturday while second-placed Norway host Latvia.

Just two points separate the top two, who lock horns at De Kuip on Tuesday in a game that will more than likely decide who wins the group.

Spain to avert Swede success?

The 2010 World Cup winners are not yet guaranteed a top-two finish in Group B, although they will be by avoiding defeat away to Greece on Thursday.

Spain are two points behind leaders Sweden, who travel to Georgia on the same day. They go head-to-head in what will surely be the group decider on Sunday, assuming they take maximum points three days earlier. 

 

France looking to avoid the Blues

The reigning world champions and recently crowned Nations League winners are not quite over the line in Group D, despite holding a three-point advantage and game in hand over second-placed Ukraine.

However, Les Bleus will secure top spot with a win over Kazakhstan on Saturday or, failing that, taking maximum points away to Finland on Tuesday. 

Who will top Group H?

Russia and Croatia are guaranteed top-two finishes in Group H, but with just two points separating them, the identity of the group winners is still very much up in the air.

After facing Cyprus and Malta respectively on Thursday, the two nations collide in Split on Sunday with one of them booking a place in Qatar and the other heading for the play-offs.

Second place up for grabs in Group J

Eight points clear of the chasing pack in Group J, Germany secured qualification with flying colours. But the battle for second place is not quite as straightforward.

Occupying second are Romania (13 points), followed closely by North Macedonia and Armenia (both 12), while Iceland (eight) still have an outside chance as well.

Armenia and North Macedonia face off on Thursday with Romania hosting Iceland.

The group then reaches its climax three days later as North Macedonia and Iceland lock horns, while Armenia host Germany and Romania travel to Liechtenstein – expect a rollercoaster ride in Group J!

Aaron Ramsey has become an issue for Juventus, being on a bumper contract but having fallen out of favour.

Ramsey signed with Juve in 2019 on a four-year deal from Arsenal.

The 30-year-old has only made 70 appearances across almost two-and-a-half seasons, including only five this term.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE PAIR KEEN ON RAMSEY

Juventus are shopping around Aaron Ramsey with Premier League pair Everton and Newcastle United in the mix, claims Goal.

The Bianconeri are keen to find a buyer for the Wales international midfielder in January although his salary may be a stumbling block.

No formal offers have been tabled yet for the ex-Arsenal star.

ROUND-UP  

- The transfer saga involving Paul Pogba continues to twist and turn with The Star claiming Manchester United are willing to sell him in January, with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Juventus have been linked with the French midfielder.

- AS claims Manchester United are hoping to win the race for Sevilla's Jules Kounde , with Chelsea 's admiration long known.

- West Ham will turn down any approaches for England international Declan Rice , reports The Sun. The midfielder has been linked with Manchester United and Chelsea .

- Newcastle are angling to land Ousmane Dembele as a free agent if he refuses to pen a new deal with Barcelona, reports Express.

- Internazionale could also seal a free transfer for Andre Onana from Ajax according to Fabrizio Romano, who claims a verbal agreement was reached months ago. Barcelona have also shown an interest in Onana.

- Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah has interest from German club Monchengladbach for a January move according to The Sun.

- Goal claims that Liverpool legend and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is Aston Villa 's first choice to take their vacant managerial role following Dean Smith's dismissal.

Arsenal youngster Emile Smith Rowe has revealed how kicking bad drinking and eating habits has helped his rapid rise following his maiden England call-up this week.

Smith Rowe earned his first-ever senior England call-up for World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino after Marcus Rashford and James Ward-Prowse's withdrawal.

The 21-year-old attacking midfielder burst onto the scene with Arsenal late last season and has scored in each of the Gunners' last three league games.

Smith Rowe told The Guardian that his recent rise came after abandoning bad habits around diet and hydration.

"I didn’t used to eat that well," Smith said. "I wasn’t drinking that well. Before games, I wasn’t really that hydrated. I’ve tried now to focus so much on it.

"Arsenal are strict but I didn’t really listen, to be honest. I think that’s where I went wrong. Now I’m listening all the time."

He added: "Chocolate … I like Nando’s a lot – maybe that’s killing me a little bit. I’ve tried to cut out chocolate and takeaways as much as I can.

"The club have sorted me out with a chef. His name is Chris and he comes to my house every day. I live with my mum and she normally cooks but she doesn’t have to any more. Chris cooks for me and her.

"With hydration, there’s loads of stuff we should be taking before a game and, yeah, before I was a bit too lazy."

Smith Rowe has made 11 Premier League appearances this season, netting four goals and providing two assists. He also scored in the EFL Cup against AFC Wimbledon in September.

Germany's national team director Oliver Bierhoff has confirmed Niklas Sule is the player to have tested positive for coronavirus.

It was announced earlier on Tuesday that a member of Germany's squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Armenia had returned a positive PCR test result and had immediately gone into isolation, though the player was not named at the time.

Four other players who were judged to have been close contacts also had to isolate, though no other positive results had been recorded within the camp.

At a subsequent news conference, Bierhoff confirmed Bayern Munich centre-back Sule was the player to have contracted COVID-19. 

Sule is double vaccinated, and the earlier update stated he had not shown any symptoms.

His club-mate Joshua Kimmich, who has publicly confirmed he has not yet received either dose of his vaccine, is one of the other four players to have gone into quarantine.

Kimmich, 26, explained last month that he is not opposed to the prospect of getting vaccinated at some stage, but he wishes to wait for further research to be conducted.

Fellow Bayern players Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala have also been forced into isolation, given they were part of the same travelling party to the training camp, while Karim Adeyemi also has to quarantine.

"The squad is still strong, and we will prepare for the two games in World Cup qualification from noon today and make them successful," said Bierhoff.

"The situation is not easy for the players, but there is no huge concern now."

Asked about Kimmich, Bierhoff said: "It was clear that if someone in his environment tests positive, he would be put in quarantine.

"Of course, that's difficult to accept when you have acted correctly and paid attention to everything."

Bierhoff was joined at the media conference by Germany's team doctor Tim Meyer, who explained the length of the quarantine will depend on the regulations set by the local health authority in Wolfsburg.

Asked if Gnabry, Musiala and Adeyemi were vaccinated, Dr Meyer said: "I won't give you any information about that. The vaccination plays a role in the decision, but also how close the contact was.

"I have already given my personal opinion on vaccination against COVID-19. Joshua Kimmich's opinion is also known. We have to accept that."

Dr Meyer added that four other players have been classed as contacts, though will be allowed to remain at the accommodation and will be tested again in the coming days.

Germany have also lost Florian Wirtz and Nico Schlotterbeck to muscular injuries, with Kevin Volland and Wolfsburg duo Ridle Baku and Maximilian Arnold added to the squad.

A Germany player has tested positive for coronavirus, with four others also forced into quarantine.

The player in question, who has not been named, is fully vaccinated and currently asymptomatic, according to a DFB statement issued on Tuesday.

All players and staff were PCR tested upon their arrival at Germany's training camp ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Liechtenstein and Armenia.

Only one player tested positive, but four others have been placed into isolation after being judged to be close contacts.

According to reports, Germany subsequently cancelled their training session on Tuesday, though the DFB statement did not confirm this.

Oliver Bierhoff, director of the national teams and academy, said: "The number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply across the country.

"Therefore, we will continue to implement the hygiene and behavioural measures in place for the final international game of the year, in order for us to handle the current situation as responsibly as possible.

"This news coming so soon before the final two World Cup qualifiers is very tough, both for the coaching staff and the whole team, but health and welfare is our top priority, of course.

"I hope the player who tested positive recovers soon and that he remains asymptomatic."

Germany has seen a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks. Indeed, last week, 169,483 cases were recorded (according to World Health Organisation statistics) – the largest spike in the country since December 2020.

Dusan Vlahovic is believed to be Juventus' number one transfer target.

However, Juve are not the only club interested in the Serbia international, who is unwilling to re-sign at Fiorentina.

Juve are keeping their options open as they try to reinforced a stuttering squad.

 

TOP STORY – MARTIAL AND ICARDI EMERGE AS JUVE OPTIONS

Anthony Martial and Mauro Icardi are among the alternatives should Juventus miss out on Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, according to Calciomercato.

Juve are interested in Vlahovic, who has also been linked with Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Inter, Tottenham and Arsenal.

With competition high, United forward Martial, Paris Saint-Germain's Icardi, Benfica star Darwin Nunez, Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal and Sassuolo's Gianluca Scamacca are also being considered by Juve.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Nacional reports Real Madrid are targeting Juve star Federico Chiesa. The Italy international signed from Fiorentina on an initial two-year loan deal and Juve are desperate to make it permanent amid interest from Liverpool.

Manchester United are in no rush to sack embattled manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, per Manchester Evening News. Solskjaer is under pressure following humbling defeats to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City. Ajax boss Erik ten Hag, Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers and Zinedine Zidane have been linked.

- Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tottenham midfielder Harry Winks are among Roma's transfer targets, says Calciomercato. Roma are also determined to sign Denis Zakaria from Borussia Monchengladbach.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not thinking about retiring from professional football despite needing a physio to watch his every step.

Since returning to Milan in January 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 30 goals and supplied nine assists in 54 games in all competitions. 

However, the striker has struggled with injuries and featured in only half of the Rossoneri's Serie A games in 2020-21, while he was forced to pull out of Euro 2020 duty with Sweden. 

Still, he became the fourth-oldest scorer in Serie A history this season when he struck against Bologna last month and took his domestic league tally to 400 versus Roma a week later.

Ibrahimovic acknowledged he has had to learn to listen to his body more and seek treatment as quickly as he can, though it has not made him think about hanging up his boots. 

"Last season I had more injuries than I usually have and have had before. But it's because I didn't think about taking it easy when I felt something, I just powered on. I have that mentality. I give 200 per cent," said Ibrahimovic. 

"After I turned 30, I noticed the pain does not go away, it just moves within the body. 

"What I have changed is that now I have a physio that follows me everywhere in Italy 24 hours a day. At the very least, he is right there poking. 

"That's the only change I made. As soon as I feel something, I want to take care of it immediately." 

He added: "We always want to play, but I have to find the right balance considering the injuries I've had. 

"You learn something new every day. I get to know by body better with every day that passes. But as my body ages, my head becomes younger and I look more handsome. 

"I haven't set a date to quit. I want to continue as long as possible and not think about when it will end. I don't want to be sad, like someone who quits thinking he could've played again." 

Ibrahimovic retired from international duty after Euro 2016 but has since returned to the fold, making his comeback for Sweden in March. 

An Achilles injury forced him to withdraw from the squad in the previous international break, but Sweden boss Janne Andersson has been impressed by his recovery. 

If Sweden beat Georgia on Thursday, they will go into their final World Cup qualifier against Spain three days later knowing a point will be enough for them to top Group B and book their place in Qatar – assuming La Roja beat Greece beforehand.

Andersson refused to confirm whether Ibrahimovic was ready to play in both games, though. 

"If we're talking about Zlatan and his physique, he has looked surprisingly good. Last night [the Milan derby] I think he looked fit – the matches before that too," said Andersson. 

"A few weeks ago he looked a bit rusty but he has looked great since, so we will see how much I will play him." 

Philippe Coutinho hopes Xavi can achieve success with the existing group of players at Barcelona. 

Xavi was presented as Barca's new head coach on Monday, returning to the club that formed him as a player and with whom we won 25 trophies during an illustrious 17 years.

The former midfielder is the permanent successor to Ronald Koeman, who was sacked following the 1-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano on October 27. 

Sergi Barjuan stepped in for the interim and took charge of a win and two draws, the last of which saw Barca throw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Celta Vigo. They now sit ninth in LaLiga after 12 games, 11 points adrift of leaders Real Sociedad. 

However, Coutinho believes Xavi could well be the man to turn things around at Barca following the exits of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann. 

"Xavi was a great player, an idol, and now he's back home at Barcelona," he told a news conference while on international duty with Brazil. "I hope he can be very successful with the group we have. 

"I was able to talk to him once when I had to visit some doctors in Qatar. I know what a great guy he is. He will definitely do a great job at Barcelona." 

Coutinho, who returned from nine months out with a knee injury in September, was accused by Catalan newspaper Sport of being lazy when warming-up on the sidelines against Celta. 

He denied that was the case and insisted he is keener than ever to put in work as he prepares to make his first Brazil appearance in over a year. 

"I was kind of surprised when I got home and saw the story. I've never lacked professionalism in my life. I've always respected everyone I work with. But it's okay. I respect the opinion of you journalists," he said. 

"On my selection [by Brazil], I'm very happy and really want to be here. I'm focused on working, to achieve things through working, in the 10 days I have here." 

He added: "I feel very good. It's obvious that being injured for nine months is not easy, returning from three surgeries in a row on the same knee. 

"But since I came back I haven't had any pain or discomfort. I feel good." 

Pep Guardiola has tipped Xavi to be a managerial success at Barcelona in his own right as he distanced himself from comparisons with his former colleague.

Xavi was paraded at Camp Nou in front of around 10,000 supporters on Monday as he was officially presented as Ronald Koeman's permanent successor.

He is back at the club where he spent 17 seasons during his playing career, racking up 767 appearances across that period – a tally only surpassed by Lionel Messi (778).

The 41-year-old won LaLiga eight times and the Champions League on four occasions before ending his 24-year association with the Catalan giants in 2015.

Six years on, and with two and a half years of coaching experience under his belt at Qatari side Al Sadd, Xavi is back in Catalonia and tasked with turning the tide at struggling Barca.

Xavi thrived under the management of former team-mate Guardiola, whom he described as the best coach in the world during his unveiling on Monday.

But Guardiola, who was among those present at Camp Nou for the presentation, does not want Xavi to be tied down by any comparisons to the club's successful past.

"I wasn't the heir to anybody and Xavi doesn't have to be my heir," Guardiola said. "If Joan Laporta has chosen Xavi then it's because there are millions of pros and few cons.

"He knows the club and will bring positive energy, given how he enjoys football and because of his dedication. He always sees the positive side of things."

"With his class, dedication and effort, I'm sure he'll improve the club's situation."

Guardiola won 14 trophies during an era-defining spell in charge of Barcelona – his first in senior management – before achieving success at Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

Speaking earlier on Monday, when asked about the similarities between himself and Guardiola, Xavi said: "He was a reference for me as a player and a manager. 

"I think he's the best manager in the world. If people want to compare me with him, that's a positive."

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has called up Atalanta's Matteo Pessina and Lazio midfielder Danilo Cataldi to his latest squad after losing Roma duo Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo to injury.

The European champions face Switzerland and Northern Ireland in their final two qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and currently sit top of Group C on goal difference, level on 14 points with the Swiss ahead of their crucial encounter in Rome on Friday.

Mancini, who is already without Marco Verratti due to a hip injury, confirmed earlier on Monday at a media conference that Pellegrini (knee) and Zaniolo (calf) will return to their club.

"Zaniolo was a bit unlucky because he suffered two serious injuries. He is young and he has the qualities to get over it," he said.

"It could have been an important game for him, but he has a problem and we can't take any risk. I don't think he needs my advice, he has the quality and he can improve in everything.

"We will surely replace them [Pellegrini and Zaniolo] because we also need to assess [Nicolo] Barella. We didn't call Pessina because he is not ready."

Despite this, Mancini ultimately did decide to turn to Pessina, as well as Cataldi, who receives his first senior call-up since 2017 after a solid start to the season at Lazio.

The former Manchester City manager did have better news about his defence, with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci appearing to be fit to play despite missing Juventus' 1-0 win against Fiorentina at the weekend.

"They feel well, we have a training session today. We'll see how everyone feels." 

Can Cataldi step up for the Azzurri?

While Mancini is suffering from something of a midfield crisis, having players with the quality of Pessina and Cataldi to call on is not a bad problem to have.

It may be the first call-up for Cataldi in over four years, but he has achieved it off the back of some eye-catching performances at club level for Maurizio Sarri's men.

When measured against Pellegrini, whose role he will fill, Cataldi leads the way in pass success percentage (91.2), albeit the 27-year-old has only started four of his 10 league appearances, while the Roma captain has started 11.

Cataldi also has a superior pass completion rate in the opposition half, with 84.7 per cent compared to Pellegrini's 79.7, so his numbers do not appear to be indicative of him only playing easy passes.

Whether Cataldi gets an opportunity to win only his second cap remains to be seen, but he has clearly caught the eye of Mancini at least.

New Barcelona head coach Xavi says it is important the club no longer dwell on Lionel Messi's exit as they have others who can step up and fill the superstar forward's void.

Barca have got off to a poor start in their first season without Messi since 2003-04, the Catalans having won just six of their 16 matches in all competitions.

Argentina international Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more across his 778 appearances for the club, amounting to 937 goal involvements in total.

Messi averaged a goal every 110.3 minutes in all competitions in his final season with Barca (38 goals in 47 games) before joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

 

That compares to a goal every 237.3 minutes for Barca's leading scorer Memphis Depay this term (six goals in 16 matches).

Ansu Fati inherited Messi's number 10 shirt and has averaged an encouraging one goal every 91.8 minutes in 2021-22, but that is across just eight matches and is set for another spell on the sidelines.

Only three others – Martin Braithwaite, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique (two each) – have scored multiple goals for Barca this season.

One of the big tasks on Xavi's hands after being officially presented as Ronald Koeman's successor on Monday is to get the most out of the attacking players available to him.

And while the Barca midfield legend would love to be able to call upon Messi and some other former team-mates, he is eager to look to the future rather than the past.

"I'd have liked to have managed Messi, of course, and also Samuel Eto'o, Ronaldinho... but they are not here," he said at a news conference.

"I still have a close friendship with Leo, that is well known. He has written to wish me luck. As always, he has joked around. He is a real joker.

"I wish him all the luck in the world. He is the best player in the history of football and obviously the history of this club, but we do not have him.

"We have other players that need to perform and be good in his place; players who can make a difference on the pitch. We cannot think about the players we do not have."

Messi's first three months at PSG have not entirely gone to plan either, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner having played in just eight of their 18 games due to niggling injuries.

He has had 15 shots without finding the net in Ligue 1, failing to score from an expected goals value of 1.9, with his only three goals to date coming in the Champions League.

Only Clermont Foot midfielder Jim Allevinah (16) and Troyes forward Renaud Ripart (19) have had more shots without scoring in the French top flight this term.

France boss Didier Deschamps insists he will continue to select players on merit and not in response to "buzz" ahead of his team's final two World Cup qualifiers.

The world champions sit top of Group D and will qualify for Qatar 2022 if they win either of their upcoming matches against Kazakhstan and Finland.

At a press conference ahead of the two games, Deschamps was asked why he has not yet selected Lens right-back Jonathan Clauss, despite the player making a "buzz" in Ligue 1 this season.

"A buzz? But who is making the buzz?" Deschamps asked with a smile. "I watch the matches, so a lot of players, including this Lens player, of course. Buzz or no buzz, that's not what will lead me to select a player or not.

"Of course, [Clauss] is one of the players we follow. With the characteristics that are his, after it is also a question of competition in the position. I know you're waiting for something new at every selection, but I'm not here for that."

It was put to Deschamps that perhaps the 29-year-old's age or lack of experience in the Champions League or Europa League had put the coach off selecting him.

"I have always incorporated new ones, and to draw a parallel to the age of the player, Jordan Veretout is more or less the same age," he said.

"He arrived late, he plays in Rome, in European competition of course, but that does not prevent [Clauss from being picked. [It's the same for] those of 18 years, I select [them] when I think it is the [right] moment. The 'buzz' is closed."

Does Clauss deserve a place with Les Bleus?

Deschamps has named a 23-man squad for the upcoming games, including Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard and Lyon's Leo Dubois, both of whom can play in Clauss’s usual position of right back.

The manager has decided to stick with what he knows for now, given the importance of getting over the line in World Cup qualifying, but is Clauss’s form at Lens more than just "buzz"?

It is difficult to compare him to Pavard as the Bayern defender only returned to action in September after an ankle injury and has only played nine games, less than half of which were in the Bundesliga.

If Clauss is going to force his way into the France squad, a likelier route may be to do so at the expense of his fellow Ligue 1 competitor, Dubois.

The obvious reason for the public clamour for Clauss is his two goals and six assists from 13 league games this season – three of those (one goal, two assists) came in his team's 4-0 thrashing of Troyes on Friday, whereas Dubois is yet to register his first goal involvement in 11 appearances.

 

However, it must be noted that Clauss primarily plays as a right wing-back, and sometimes even as a right midfielder for Lens, while Dubois predominantly plays as an orthodox full-back.

That goes someway to explaining how Clauss has created 28 chances, compared to just six from Dubois.

The Lyon man has the upper hand in terms of passing and defensive play, with superior percentages in passing accuracy (85.4 to 77.3), dribble success (58.3 to 47.1), duel success (60.6 to 56) and tackle success (60.7 to 50), though some of these may be down to Dubois operating in less-congested areas of the pitch.

Clauss comes out on top when it comes to interceptions though, making 27 so far, more than twice as many as Dubois (12).

Either way, Deschamps has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, and it cannot be a massive surprise to see him stick with the players he knows well at the end of a qualifying campaign that has not always been comfortable.  

But if Clauss can maintain his high standards, he might just get the opportunity many feel he deserves next year when Deschamps turns his attention towards World Cup preparation friendlies.

It is all change in the England squad, with two players dropping out, and Emile Smith Rowe earning a first senior call up from Gareth Southgate.

Smith Rowe has been in excellent form for Arsenal this season, but was not initially included in Southgate's squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Albania and San Marino.

The midfielder, who was handed Arsenal's number 10 shirt for 2021-22, has appeared in every Premier League game for the Gunners this term.

His tally of 15 chances created ranks him second in Arsenal's squad, behind Bukayo Saka (19). He has provided two league assists and scored four goals, meaning he is the club's joint-top scorer in the top flight alongside captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

After initially arriving at St George's Park to be part of the England Under-21 squad, Smith Rowe will instead join the senior side after Marcus Rashford and James Ward-Prowse dropped out.

Rashford has only just returned from a long injury lay off following shoulder surgery, and will remain at Manchester United in order to work his way back to fitness, while Southampton's Ward-Prowse is ill.

Southgate might also be without regulars Luke Shaw and Mason Mount. The United full-back is following concussion protocol after sustaining a head injury in Saturday's derby defeat to Manchester City and will continue to be assessed by the club before being released for international duty. 

Mount, meanwhile, has had his arrival pushed back by dental surgery and will be monitored over the coming days.

England host Albania on Friday, before taking on San Marino three days later. Four points from the two matches will guarantee their place in Qatar.

New Barcelona head coach Xavi believes Ousmane Dembele can be the best player in the world in his position and has urged the club to prioritise a new deal for the winger.

Dembele has failed to justify his transfer fee, reported at the time to be worth up to €147m with add-ons, since joining Barca from Borussia Dortmund in August 2017.

He has made 119 appearances for Barca in total, starting 76 of those. To put that into context, 10 players, three of whom left ahead of the 2020-21 season in Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Nelson Semedo, have featured more in that time, with Sergio Busquets (209) leading the way.

The France international returned from a five-month lay-off in last week's win against Dynamo Kiev, only to sustain a hamstring injury in that game that will again keep him out.

Despite Dembele's persistent fitness issues, however, Xavi made clear at his Camp Nou unveiling on Monday that he wants Barca to keep hold of the 24-year-old.

"He can be the best footballer in the world in his position," Xavi said at a news conference. "He has spectacular abilities and a winning mentality. His renewal is a priority right now.

"We have to work with him and demand a lot. That will also depend on him, on his mentality. He will have to train well to prevent injuries."

 

Dembele has scored 30 goals and assisted 20 more for Barca, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.65 goals per 90 minutes.

That is an identical return to highly regarded Liverpool pair Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, among players from Europe's top five leagues since August 2017.

However, it does lag considerably behind the likes of fellow forwards Erling Haaland (1.39), Lionel Messi (1.29), Robert Lewandowski (1.27), Kylian Mbappe (1.24) and Neymar (1.14) – the man he replaced at Camp Nou.

Dembele's existing deal is set to expire at the end of the season and he can therefore discuss ​a free transfer with other clubs from January 1.

Barca have numerous other issues to contend with between now and then, not least in terms of potential targets ahead of Xavi's first transfer window at the helm.

Asked if he is hopeful cash-strapped Barca can bring in new recruits, Xavi said: "We are going to assess it with the club and we are going to decide. 

"It is soon, but we are going to work to strengthen the team. It is always an opportunity. For me, it is clear that we must ensure all the players we have are clear about what they each have to do in every moment of a game."

Xavi's first game in charge of Barcelona, where he spent 17 seasons during his playing career, is against city rivals Espanyol on November 20.

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