Barcelona forward Ansu Fati has returned to training with the LaLiga club's first-team squad following a lengthy lay-off through injury.

The 18-year-old missed the second half of last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee in November 2020.

Fati sustained the injury during Barcelona’s 5-2 victory over Real Betis at Camp Nou, and has subsequently undergone three operations.

However, the Spain international is closing in on a return to action after he was photographed back on the training pitches at Barcelona's Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training ground on Tuesday.

Although he will not be available for this weekend’s LaLiga showdown with Getafe, Fati could be in contention for Barcelona's trip to Sevilla on September 11.

The forward became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, who he joined at the age of 10.

The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain, and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.  

Philippe Coutinho, Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti have all been left out of Barcelona's squad for the LaLiga opener against Real Sociedad.

New recruits Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia are set to make their debuts for the club on Sunday, Barca finally able to register the duo - as well as Rey Manaj - after Gerard Pique accepted a reduced salary.

All three are in a 23-man squad named by Ronald Koeman ahead of Sunday's fixture at Camp Nou, as well as another offseason signing in Emerson Royal.

However, a trio of players reportedly available for transfer will not be involved.

Brazilian Coutinho – who made just 12 league appearances before missing the season half of the 2020-21 season through injury – is a notable absentee from the list.

There is no Pjanic either, the midfielder seemingly surplus to requirements after just one season with Barcelona. He has been linked with a return to Juventus.

Defender Umtiti, meanwhile, misses out with fellow centre-back Clement Lenglet fit to feature. Frenkie de Jong has also been cleared to play, but Sergio Aguero is among those ruled out out through injury.

Koeman will also have to do without Ansu Fati, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ousmane Dembele for Barca's first competitive game since the departure of Lionel Messi, now at Paris Saint-Germain after financial restrictions prevented him from signing a new deal.

Ronald Koeman proclaimed Lionel Messi to be the "best player in the world" after it was confirmed the Barcelona legend will be leaving the club.

Messi enjoyed an outstanding career at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his time with the LaLiga giants ended abruptly this week due to Barca's dire financial situation.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was expected to sign a new contract, having become a free agent on July 1, before Thursday's announcement shocked the football world.

Koeman, who managed the forward during the 2020-21 campaign, joined a host of football's big names in paying tribute to Messi.

"Still hard to understand that you will not play for [Barcelona] anymore," the head coach wrote on Instagram. "Thanks for everything you have done for our club. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together.

"I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win. It makes you the best player in the world. For now, I wish you and your family the best!"

With Messi expected to move to Paris Saint-Germain, Koeman must prepare for life without the four-time Champions League winner.

Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann will have incredibly large shoes to fill in the 2021-22 campaign, while Barca players past and present used social media to praise their former team-mate.

Gerard Pique, who won the treble with Messi in his first season back at the Catalan club, posted on Instagram that "nothing will ever be the same again" following the end of an era.

"Now you are leaving, but I know that one day you will come back," the centre-back continued. "There are pending things to do. Have fun, enjoy wherever you go and keep winning as only you know how to do. Here we will miss you. I love you Leo."

Luis Suarez, formerly part of the formidable trio with Messi and Neymar, pipped Barca to the title with Atletico Madrid last term but he too revealed his admiration for the "best player ever".

"I will always be grateful for how you received me since I arrived because of what a great human being you are," Suarez wrote.

"Proud to have shared thousands of wonderful moments at [Barcelona] and to be lucky to have played with you. I sincerely hope that what happens in the future is the best for you and your family. I love you so much."

Despite only playing for two campaigns with Messi, Barca youngster Ansu Fati used his Instagram account to say farewell to his captain.

"All the boys who come to the Masia dream of being able to play with you, I feel lucky to have fulfilled it," Fati posted. "I wanted to thank you these two years for your gestures of affection towards me and for everything I learned.

"[Messi] my family and I will always be eternally grateful, I wish you and yours all the best."

Ronald Koeman believes there is something personal behind the decision to hand him a touchline ban.

Barcelona confirmed this week they are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Koeman's ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for the massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful, prompting the club to try again with TAD.

"Yes, I think it was personal," said Koeman.

"Because saying 'what a character' in Spanish or 'what a person' in English is not insulting. 

"It is not a reason to sanction. So yes, there is something else behind it.

"Better not talk about the referees because, in general, the RFEF puts one of the best referees in for these games. 

"It is hoped that he [Mateu Lahoz] gets his decisions right, but you don't have to think about the referees. You have to think about yourself and plan.

"Hopefully the decisions of the VAR are fair for us and for Atletico."

Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

"Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

"It takes a long time and there are things that have not gone well with his recovery - I don't want to go into that anymore, but five or six months is a long time.

"Now the most important thing is that he is going to recover, he is going to get well and that he will be with us. Too bad it is for next season.

"It has been important that we missed a player like him, but the most important thing is that he recovers well to continue playing."

 

Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

"I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

"I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

"They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

"We have to be good with the ball because Atletico closes well and defends well. We have to be good with the ball to create opportunities and be effective."

Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

But aside from that rare blip against Granada, Koeman's side have the momentum. They have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico in this period.

Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, with Barcelona confirming the Spain forward has had to undergo another knee operation.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

He had initially been forecast to return in March, though the 18-year-old hinted in a social media post at the end of that month he may be facing a longer spell on the sidelines.

Having failed to return to training throughout April, Fati has now gone under the knife yet again, this time for a revision arthroscopy in his left knee.

Barca confirmed in a statement on the club's official website that the operation had been undertaken by Dr. Jose Carlos Noronha in Porto.

The Blaugrana have offered no update on a timescale for Fati's return, though it will certainly rule the youngster out of Euro 2020, albeit his chances of making the rearranged tournament already seemed extremely remote.

Is Ibrahima Konate bound for Anfield?

The 21-year-old defender has caught the eye of both Liverpool and Manchester United.

But, the Merseyside club appear set to win the race for his signature.

 

TOP STORY – KONATE HEADING TO ANFIELD

Liverpool have agreed a deal to sign Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig, according to the Guardian.

Konate had also been linked with Premier League rivals Manchester United, who are eyeing a new centre-back at Old Trafford.

But Liverpool have reportedly agreed a five-year contract with Konate, who has a €35million (£30.5m) release clause.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Saturday's Mundo Deportivo reports Barcelona want to offer a new and improved contract to teenage sensation Ansu Fati, which would keep him at Camp Nou until 2026. The 18-year-old, previously linked to United, until at least 2022, with the option to extend it by a further two years.

- What does the future hold for Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma? The 22-year-old Italy star's contract is set to expire at the end of the season and he is yet to re-sign at San Siro amid links with United, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Real Madrid. While Milan remain hopeful of keeping Donnarumma, Calciomercato says they have begun conversations with Lille's Mike Maignan.

Milan, Inter and Roma are eyeing Torino captain and star forward Andrea Belotti, claims Calciomercato.

- Fabrizio Romano reports Manchester City are set to sign Metinho in the same deal with Fluminense team-mate Kayky.

Madrid remain optimistic about the possibility of signing Kylian Mbappe from PSG, according to Le Parisien. Mbappe has been tipped to join Los Blancos, who have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Barcelona youngster Ansu Fati seems to have hinted he could be facing up to a year on the sidelines due to his current knee injury.

Fati suffered a serious knee injury in November, having played 10 games in all competitions, scoring five goals. 

The Spain winger had surgery to address the problem with his meniscus and was reportedly set for four months out, but his return has been pushed back until at least April, with no firm timescale on his comeback.

It is not the first serious injury the 18-year-old has sustained, however, with Fati revealing he previously spent close to a year out of action due to fracturing his tibia and fibia – a lay-off he believes has prepared him for the challenge which he is going through.

"A few years ago I had a serious injury, a fractured tibia and fibula, and I couldn't play for almost a year." Fati wrote in a post on his official Instagram account.

"There were many days of suffering and pain, but also a lot of learning. It helped me to appreciate the little details.

"With my family and all the professionals who helped me at that time, I promised myself to keep going and work harder than ever to get back to doing what I love the most.

"Unfortunately, now I have to live through a similar situation, which I will face with the same mentality.

"I want to thank all those people who follow me and support me on a daily basis. Football is my life and no matter how many obstacles there are, I will always have the illusion of continuing to fight for my dreams."

Fati's comments cast further doubt over his chances of returning to action prior to the end of the season, which would also derail any opportunity of making Luis Enrique's Spain squad for the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, which begins in June.

Reports last week suggested Fati was looking to exhaust other options other than going under the knife again which, according to Spanish publication AS, was the advice of knee specialist Bertrand Cottet, who the player recently visited in Lyon.

Ronald Koeman hopes Lionel Messi can stay out of disciplinary trouble for the rest of the season as the Barcelona superstar teeters on the brink of suspension.

Barcelona have strung together a 17-game unbeaten run in LaLiga to transform their prospects, closing the gap on wobbling leaders Atletico Madrid to four points.

Messi, however, is just one yellow card away from a one-game ban, having been booked four times already, and an April 10 Clasico against Real Madrid is looming large.

It would suit Koeman if Messi could avoid any further bookings, but the coach will not let his team selections be ruled by the possibility of the Argentinian missing a future game.

Frenkie de Jong is in the same precarious position, and Koeman said: "We know they are one card away from the sanction, but it is what it is.

"I will not keep anyone in reserve. I hope they do not see a card. If they get it, another will play."

Messi has gone beyond 20 goals in LaLiga for a 13th consecutive season, the only player to do so in the competition's history, and he looks sure to start against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

It would be his 768th appearance for Barcelona, making him the outright all-time leader after drawing level with Xavi's total when he scored twice in a 4-1 win over Huesca on Monday,

With Barcelona already through to a Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao, and on a charge in the league, talk has turned to the prospect of silverware.

Koeman's first season as head coach has been turbulent at times but could yet end in a domestic double.

The Dutchman is not interested in such discussions, though, saying on Saturday: "I don't like to talk about a double.

"This changes very quickly. Not long ago we were bad. We have to go game by game and we are four points behind and the calendar is very difficult.

"We have a final against a very difficult opponent. There is a long way to go to win things."

Koeman warned of the danger of any slip-up, saying that "each defeat can be expensive" as he complimented Real Sociedad and their "great coach" Imanol Alguacil.

One player Koeman has not been able to count on recently has been young forward Ansu Fati, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since November.

Barcelona hoped to have Fati back by around this stage of the season, but Koeman said of the 18-year-old Spain international: "He is taking longer than we expected.

"In a few weeks he will be training out on the field again, but he is young and strong. We are not in a hurry."

Ansu Fati has been advised to stay humble by Barcelona great Lionel Messi, who the teenager would love to see alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in a five-a-side dream team.

Spain international Fati has made a huge impact at Camp Nou since bursting onto the scene in August 2019, setting a number of records along the way before being struck down by a knee injury that has ruled him out since November.

Fati is Barca's youngest ever goalscorer, the youngest player to score and provide an assist in a single LaLiga game, the youngest Camp Nou goalscorer and the youngest player to score in a Champions League game.

Many have compared the 18-year-old's rise to stardom as being similar to that of Messi, who has gone on to win a record six Ballons d'Or across his 17 seasons in Barca's first team.

And La Masia product Fati, who has been nominated for the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year award, has been given guidance by Messi over the past 18 months.

"What advice has he given me? I try to transmit the same humility as he does. Despite all he has done, he is a very simple man, and the advice he gives is always about keeping your feet on the ground," Fati said, talking to Barcelona's official website.

"It is a dream to play with the best player in the world and learn from him in training."

Fati did not name Messi as his role model - that honour instead went to brother Braima - but he did pick the Argentina international in his fantasy side, along with a group of former Barca stars and ex-Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Asked to select five players, Fati said: "That would be Víctor Valdes, [Carles] Puyol, Xavi or Iniesta, Messi and Cristiano."

Fati is not expected to return for Barcelona until the start of next season, at which point he may be joined by fellow academy product Eric Garcia, who looks set to return to the club from Manchester City.

Garcia spent close to a decade in the Catalan giants' academy set-up and Fati has named the 20-year-old centre-back as his best team-mate.

"We have grown up together from a young age," Fati said. "We've played together and he helped me get better.

"He was very hard to dribble past, and we've been 'at war' since we were kids. We've also played together for Spain - we were always dreaming of this as kids."

Manchester City are reportedly yet to begin talks over a move for Lionel Messi, while Erling Haaland is Barcelona's ideal signing.

Messi's future continues to be a major talking point as the star's contract at Barcelona expires at the end of the season.

City have been one of the clubs most strongly linked with a move for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, but it seems the Premier League giants are waiting.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY YET TO BEGIN MESSI TALKS

Manchester City are yet to open talks with Lionel Messi, according to ESPN.

The report says City will wait until the Argentina international has decided his Barcelona future before considering negotiations.

It comes after claims the Premier League side had already tabled an offer to Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland is wanted by numerous European giants. Mundo Deportivo reports the Borussia Dortmund star would be Barcelona's ideal signing, but the LaLiga side are considering more affordable options.

- Manchester United were seemingly keen to land Barcelona forward Ansu Fati last year. Mundo Deportivo says a £129.7million (€150m) bid from United for the 18-year-old was rejected ahead of 2020-21.

- With Tottenham slipping to ninth in the Premier League, Jose Mourinho has come under fire. ESPN reports Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will wait until the end of the season to make a decision on the head coach.

- Out of contract at the end of the season, Gianluigi Donnarumma is yet to agree to a new deal with Milan. 90min claims the 21-year-old wants to succeed Manchester United shot-stopper David de Gea as the highest paid goalkeeper in the world, although he is prepared to take reduced terms at Milan.

- Thierry Henry could be set to take over at Bournemouth. talkSPORT reports the Championship club have requested permission from CF Montreal, where Henry is currently in charge, to talk to the Arsenal great.

Barcelona star Ansu Fati has undergone regenerative biological treatment on a knee injury as his recovery remains on track.

The winger was ruled out for approximately four months in November after having surgery on a tear to the internal meniscus of his left knee.

Barca confirmed on Monday that Fati's recovery is "following a very satisfactory course".

Fati scored five goals and provided two assists in 10 games in all competitions this season before suffering his injury against Real Betis.

The Spain international is expected to be back in contention to play in March, meaning he will likely miss at least the first leg of Barca's Champions League last-16 encounter with Paris Saint-Germain, which takes place on February 16.

Barca lost two of their first three LaLiga games after Fati's injury but have since won four and drawn twice in six top-flight fixtures.

They sit fifth in the table, 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, having played a game more.

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