Barcelona place Sergi Barjuan in temporary charge following Koeman sacking

By Sports Desk October 28, 2021

Barcelona have named Sergi Barjuan as their interim head coach while they search for a permanent successor to Ronald Koeman.

The Catalan giants sacked Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano that leaves them ninth in LaLiga with 10 matches played.

Koeman lasted just 14 months in the job after replacing Quique Setien in August 2020 and departs Camp Nou with a 58.21 win percentage across his 67 games in charge.

Widespread reports from Spain suggest legendary Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who is in charge of Qatari side Al Sadd, is being lined up to replace the former Netherlands boss as early as next week.

Talks between the two parties are said to be ongoing, but Barca have moved to place Sergi in charge for the time being.

The former left-back, who has spent the past four months at the helm of Barcelona's B side, will be introduced to the first-team squad ahead of Thursday's training session.

He has also previously managed Zhejiang Greentown, Real Mallorca, Almeria and Recreativo following a 15-year playing career that saw him spend nine seasons at Camp Nou.

The LaLiga side confirmed the news on their official website, with Sergi set to speak to the media for the first time on Friday ahead of this weekend's visit of Deportivo Alaves.

Barca then have a crucial Champions League trip to Dynamo Kiev before travelling to Celta Vigo in their final league game before the international break.

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    Karim Benzema will be extra motivated to win the 2022 Ballon d'Or after finishing fourth in this year's voting, according to Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

    The 33-year-old has scored 34 goals for Madrid this calendar year and was recalled to the France squad in May after a six-year exile.

    Benzema's combined 46 goals and assists in 2021 has been bettered only by Erling Haaland (48), Kylian Mbappe (51) and Robert Lewandowski (59) from Europe's top five leagues when taking all club competitions into account.

    The Madrid striker finished behind Euro 2020 winner Jorginho, Lewandowski and record seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony, with N'Golo Kante completing the top five.

    Benzema's Madrid team-mate Toni Kroos has argued the Frenchman did more than Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year to win the award.

    But Ancelotti accepts the decision, determined by journalists from across the world, and insists Benzema will not be fazed by finishing outside the top three.

    "We have to give fair value to the classification," he said at a news conference previewing Wednesday's LaLiga contest with Athletic Bilbao.

    "Messi has won and we must congratulate him. The individual awards are important but if they do not win it is not a catastrophe. I hope next year a Madrid player will win it.

    "Benzema has had a great season and finished fourth. He will continue to be motivated to try to be first next time.

    "If I had a vote, I would not choose any player outside of my own team. I'd have voted Benzema first, Vinicius [Junior] second, [Thibaut] Courtois third, Casemiro fourth.

    "But you have to respect and congratulate Messi on winning."

    Madrid-linked forward Kylian Mbappe finished ninth, but Ancelotti does not believe leaving Paris Saint-Germain will necessarily enhance his chances of winning the coveted crown.

    "Playing for a great club can help you, but it is still an individual prize," Ancelotti said when asked specifically about Mbappe.

    "These players will not cry because they have not won the award. The likes of Benzema and Courtois will accept it without a problem."

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    Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 LaLiga games against Athletic (W8 D4), one short of their best unbeaten run against the Basque club in the top flight.

    Ancelotti, who has lost only one of his four LaLiga games against Athletic, is prepared to make changes to Madrid's line-up three days on from their 2-1 win against Sevilla.

    "It's an evaluation I make every day," he said. "The dynamics of the team right now are very good. I won't rotate for the sake of it, but if we have any risks then of course we will do it.

    "We are facing a well organised team at the back. Marcelino trains all his teams very well, especially in a defensive sense.

    "This game will demand a lot from us and we need some offensive clarity. They are also a team that attacks vertically, so we must show good balance."

    Despite having to contend with injury problems and a congested schedule, Ancelotti reiterated Madrid are not likely to bring in any new players in January.

    "You have the summer to improve the squad," he said. "I don't like using January to adjust as that means something must have gone wrong in the summer.

    "If players are not happy then we'll think about it, but we are not looking to sign. The squad is fine and will compete until the end."

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    The 34-year-old played a key part in Argentina's Copa America success, contributing to nine of the 13 goals his side scored as he ended his long wait for an international trophy.

    He has had a rather more mixed year at club level, having scored 28 goals in 29 games for Barcelona before completing a shock transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in August.

    Messi has netted just four times in his first 11 games for PSG, but he did enough to finish ahead of favourite Robert Lewandowski for his latest Ballon d'Or triumph.

    Lewandowski finished second despite scoring 53 times in 42 games this year so far – 15 more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.

    Chelsea and Italy midfielder Jorginho was third, followed by Benzema – who has 34 goals this year – in fourth and N'Golo Kante placed fifth. 

    Five-time winner Ronaldo finished sixth – the first time he has failed to make the top three in 11 years – but Kroos insists his former team-mate, as well as current colleague Benzema, have impressed more this year than Messi.

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    "For me, Karim would have been the number one if you were really looking for the best individual player of the last year. I can see from close quarters what an outstanding footballer he is.

    "When I see how many decisive goals Cristiano has scored lately – Manchester United are still in the Champions League thanks to him alone – then, in my eyes, Cristiano would have also come before Messi."

    Messi won the first of his seven Ballons d'Or in 2009 and now has two more than Ronaldo, with Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten next on the list with three each.

    The PSG superstar's latest success has caused plenty of debate, however, with legendary Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas also questioning the outcome of Monday's vote.

    "It is increasingly difficult for me to believe in football awards," he posted on his personal Twitter account.

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    Poland international Lewandowski was considered the favourite to come out on top at Monday's ceremony in Paris following another impressive 12 months for Bayern.

    The 33-year-old has scored 53 times in 42 appearances this calendar year so far – 15 more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.

    He has averaged a goal every 67 minutes and also made history earlier this year by breaking Gerd Muller's 49-year-old record for the most goals in a Bundesliga season with 41.

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    Matthaus, who won the coveted trophy in 1990, was among those to question the final standings, which saw Jorginho finish third, Karim Benzema fourth and N'Golo Kante in fifth.

    "To be honest, after this vote, I don't understand the world anymore," he told Sky Sport. 

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    Lewandowski, who also missed out on the 2020 award after it was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead had to settle for the inaugural Striker of the Year award.

    Bayern director Oliver Kahn was also surprised to see Messi pip Lewandowski to football's top individual prize.

    "Lewandowski deserved the Ballon d'Or just as much as his top scorer trophy because he has performed at the highest level for years," Kahn said.

    "But congratulations nonetheless to Lionel Messi. 

    "Even without the Ballon d'Or, Lewy has long since arrived as one of the Olympus of football greats. He will still be a Ballon d'Or contender in the years to come."

    While Messi had a rather more mixed campaign at club level compared to Lewandowski, the Paris Saint-Germain forward did inspire Argentina to Copa America glory in July.

    Messi scored 28 goals in 29 games in the first half of 2021 with Barcelona before completing a shock transfer to PSG, for whom he has scored four goals in his first 11 games.

    Lewandowski took to social media on Monday to congratulate the superstar forward on his latest triumph, which takes him two clear of five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo.

    "Congratulations Leo Messi and Alexia Putellas, winners of the #BallonDor2021, congratulations also to all nominated players," he tweeted.

    "I won Striker of the Year Award and no player can win an individual award without the strongest team and loyal fans behind him. Thank you for your support."

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