The understanding between Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud will be key to a successful World Cup qualifying campaign for France, according to boss Didier Deschamps. 

Reigning world champions France start their Group D campaign against Ukraine on Thursday before taking on Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday and Wednesday respectively. 

Les Bleus are expected to comfortably book their place in Qatar next year and Deschamps expects his forward trio to shine again after their heroics won the 2018 tournament. 

"I'm not going to separate them from the rest of the team, but when you look at the number of goals and assists that the three provide, that's what allowed the France team to be world champions," he told a media conference.

"They know each other; it is automatic. The experience they have is something important. It is up to them to maintain this level of performance."

Mbappe has enjoyed another fine season for Paris Saint-Germain and is Ligue 1's top scorer with 20 goals in 21 starts.

He has also laid on six goals for his team-mates – second behind only Angel Di Maria (eight) for Mauricio Pochettino's side. 

Mbappe largely plays on the left of a front three for his club and Deschamps revealed he has spoken to the 22-year-old to ensure his position for France brings out the best in him.

"Kylian has the ability to play in all offensive positions," Deschamps said. "In his club, he is mainly used in a position on the left, even if he has a lot of freedom. 

"Sometimes he plays in the middle, where he is also efficient. On the right, he plays less. I discuss it with him to make sure he is happy [where he plays]."

Trying to force his way into Deschamps' forward line will be Ousmane Dembele, who has not featured for France since November 2018.

Deschamps handed the Barcelona man his full debut back in September 2016 and, after injuries wiped out the vast majority of the 2019-20 season, he has returned to form this term. 

Captain Hugo Lloris is pleased to see the 23-year-old back on the international scene and is hopeful he is in the right condition to make a positive impact. 

"He has a fairly strong history with the France team as he was part of the World Cup group in Russia," the Tottenham goalkeeper said. 

"He was held back by injuries, but we know all his qualities. We hope that his injuries are behind him and that he can look ahead. 

"He is doing very good things with Barca. We know what he can bring and what he is capable of doing."

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was delighted to mark his 58th birthday with an "incredible" 6-1 LaLiga thrashing of Real Sociedad.

The Catalans closed back to within four points of league leaders Atletico Madrid on Sunday with arguably their finest performance under Koeman.

Two goals each from Sergino Dest and Lionel Messi – who made a record 768th appearance for the club – and further strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele secured an emphatic victory, Barca's ninth in a row in the top flight.

Koeman, who was thrilled to see the goals spread out among four players and not only come from his captain, was proud at the way Barca made life so uncomfortable for their hosts.

"Without a doubt, it's the best present they could have given me," said Koeman. "I'm also happy for Griezmann and [Jordi] Alba, who've had their birthdays, and who played a great game.

"Scoring six goals at Real Sociedad is incredible. They tried to press us but, when they saw they couldn't, they took a step back.

"The first goal made us very calm and the second was almost decisive. We gave a really good impression of ourselves. We pressed really well without the ball and we were very effective.

"There's a long way to go. It won't be decided yet. Atletico are strong, but you saw against Alaves that it's not easy to win a game. Real Madrid are also in the fight; we can't forget them.

"We leave with a great result and a demonstration that we're going to go for everything. It's important that it's not just Messi scoring the goals because that makes it more difficult to defend against us."

Barca head into the international break trailing Atletico by 10 points after Diego Simeone's side claimed a hard-fought 1-0 win over Deportivo Alaves.

The Blaugrana look the sharpest of the big three in Spain at present and Koeman thinks they have improved significantly in recent weeks.

"I can't say we're not going to lose any game from here until the rest of the season, but it's clear that we're on a good path. We're very strong mentally and physically," he said.

"We've had many difficulties since the start of the season. We've changed things; any team needs time to learn. We've had some ups and downs in LaLiga, with defensive mistakes and a lack of effectiveness. But it's obvious the team has moved on."

Sergino Dest scored his first goals for Barcelona on a landmark outing for Lionel Messi as the Catalans thrashed Real Sociedad 6-1 to move back to within four points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

The United States international netted in each half after Antoine Griezmann had broken the deadlock against his former club on Sunday.

Messi marked a club-record 768th appearance in all competitions with Barca's fourth and sixth goals either side of a superb fifth from Ousmane Dembele, capping a resounding victory for Ronald Koeman's men on the road, with Ander Barrenetxea grabbing the hosts' consolation. 

Barca's most impressive league win of the season lifted them back into second place behind Atleti, who earlier beat Deportivo Alaves, and means they head into the international break on an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

La Real posed an early threat on the break, Marc-Andre ter Stegen making a solid block to deny Alexander Isak, but they fell behind 37 minutes in courtesy of their former star.

Ousmane Dembele should have buried Jordi Alba's cross but, after Alex Remiro's save, Griezmann pounced to blast the ball home.

Barca doubled their lead two minutes before half-time, Dest producing a confident low finish after a clever turn and slide-rule pass from Messi, all after Ter Stegen had produced another fine stop following a loose goal kick.

Any hope of a Sociedad comeback was lost seven minutes into the second half, Alba surging into the box and crossing for Dest to prod in a surprise second goal.

There was less of a shock about the scorer of Barca's fourth, Messi lifting a composed finish over Remiro following a fine ball over the top from Sergio Busquets.

Dembele had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside but was not to be denied a second time, the France winger waltzing his way into the penalty area before drilling a low finish past Remiro.

The home side did at least get off the mark, substitute Barrenetxea powering an unstoppable effort beyond Ter Stegen from the edge of the box, but Messi completed the rout with a neat near-post finish after a fine move involving Alba and Riqui Puig.

What does it mean? LaLiga pauses as title race heats up

Barca have now won nine consecutive away games in LaLiga, the third best such streak in their history, while they are unbeaten in 10 league meetings with La Real.

More importantly, they have gone back into second in the table, two points above Real Madrid and four behind Atletico with 10 games remaining.

Imanol's men stay fifth, with a 10-point gap to the top four making their Champions League aspirations look a little forlorn.

Messi makes his mark on another momentous day

Dest may have been the unlikely goalscoring hero but Messi was again integral on the occasion of another career milestone.

His pass for the full-back's first goal was superb and his own finishes equally composed as he reached 23 in LaLiga for the season.

A Real concern

Sociedad had responded quite well to losing 4-0 at home to Manchester United a month ago, beating Alaves and Levante and drawing away against Real Madrid and the Red Devils, conceding just once in that run.

However, back-to-back league losses to Granada and Barca may well have put paid to their top-four aspirations and they will need to recharge during the break ahead of their Copa del Rey final. 

What's next?

Barca return from the international break at home to Real Valladolid on April 5. Sociedad, meanwhile, will now prepare for the rearranged 2020 Copa del Rey final with Athletic Bilbao.

Cristiano Ronaldo is more likely to return to Manchester United than Real Madrid, while Chelsea are desperate to land Erling Haaland.

Ronaldo, 36, is out of contract at Juventus in 2022 and his future has again become a talking point.

Two of his former clubs, United and Madrid, have been linked with the Portugal star.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD RETURN MORE LIKELY THAN MADRID FOR RONALDO

A return to Manchester United is more likely than Real Madrid for Juventus star Ronaldo, according to Tuttosport.

The report says Madrid president Florentino Perez has not opened the door for a Ronaldo return, due to the club's interest in Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe.

Ronaldo starred at United between 2003 and 2009 before shining in Madrid for nine seasons.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea look desperate to land Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. The Daily Star reports Chelsea are prepared to again do business with Haaland's agent, Mino Raiola, in a bid to sign the forward. Chelsea fell out with Raiola after Romelu Lukaku joined Manchester United over them in 2017.

- Could Paulo Dybala and Antoine Griezmann be set to swap places? CalcioMercato reports there is an idea for Dybala to leave Juventus and join Barcelona, with Griezmann heading to Turin.

- Liverpool seem set to strengthen ahead of next season. Eurosport reports the Premier League champions are thinking about a move for Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge.

- Manchester United have reportedly received a transfer boost. The Sun reports Sevilla have lowered their asking price for defender Jules Kounde to around £50million (€58.4m).

Lionel Messi scored two gorgeous goals befitting the occasion as he moved level with Xavi as Barcelona's all-time record appearance-maker in Monday's 4-1 win over Huesca, moving the Blaugrana up to second in LaLiga.

The Barca captain was playing his 767th match for the club across all competitions and opened the scoring as Ronald Koeman's men closed the gap on leaders Atletico Madrid to four points, though there were a few scares along the way.

Messi's sumptuous effort got the ball rolling, as Barcelona's talisman became the first player in LaLiga history to net 20 goals in 13 successive campaigns, and Antoine Griezmann scored an arguably even better effort soon after for his 150th top-flight strike.

A farcical penalty allowed Huesca to pull one back through Rafa Mir, who also inexplicably wasted a remarkable opportunity in the wake of Oscar Mingueza making it 3-1, and Messi finished them off towards the end with another fine goal.

The game was just 13 minutes old when Messi made his mark, effortlessly bending a 20-yard effort around Alvaro Fernandez and into the top-left corner via the crossbar.

Jordi Alba almost made it 2-0 just past the half-hour when his shot from a tight angle was kept out by the frame of the goal, but two minutes later Griezmann picked out the same corner as Messi but from about 10 yards further out – his first league goal since the end of January.

Huesca got themselves a lifeline in bizarre circumstances just before the break, Mir converting a penalty after Marc-Andre ter Stegen was deemed to have fouled him when essentially brushing the striker's shin with his hand, the ball having flashed past both of them.

Barca restored the two-goal lead early in the second period, Mingueza getting his head to a Messi to open his account for the senior side.

Huesca should have reduced the deficit again a few moments later, though, as Mir somehow nudged the ball over the goal from under the crossbar with his chest after latching on to Dani Escriche's header across goal.

Messi capped off a wonderful individual display with his second goal in the 90th minute, receiving Francisco Trincao's pass and elegantly picking out the bottom-left corner from just outside the box.

Barcelona midfielder Pedri conceded Lionel Messi's saved penalty was a "big blow" in their Champions League last-16 exit, but blamed wasting numerous chances.

The Catalans prematurely exited the Champions League 5-2 on aggregate to Paris Saint-Germain after a second-leg 1-1 draw in the French capital.

Pedri admitted Barca's 4-1 first-leg defeat left them with plenty to do in Paris but argued they had the better chances.

Messi cancelled out Kylian Mbappe's penalty opener before the Argentinian had a spot-kick saved by Keylor Navas on the stroke of half-time which could have given Barca the momentum to kick on in the second half.

Messi's miss was his first failed penalty attempt in the Champions League since February 2015, having scored his previous eight spot-kicks.

"We knew it'd be vital to take our chances," Pedri said post-game. "We produced a really good game but we missed big chances.

"We believed we could produce another big fightback and qualify but the penalty just before half-time was a big blow to miss.

"We kept on fighting and you can't define a result or a game looking just at a missed penalty. We had many chances and didn't take them."

Barcelona had 21 shots compared to PSG's seven, including 10 on target, while they had 73 per cent possession.

Forward Antoine Griezmann agreed that profligacy in front of goal cost the Catalans.

"It's a real shame, I'd say there were four clear-cut opportunities plus the penalty," Griezmann said.

"If you don't put them away, it's harder later in the game. Nevertheless, it was a completely different contest to the first leg."

Barca's failure to reach the Champions League quarter-finals was their first since 2006-07; having been on the longest-run in the competition's history of 13 consecutive last-eight appearances.

France international Griezmann vowed they would return in 2021-22 to challenge for the European crown.

"It's time to keep our heads up and feel confidence because of how we played," he said.

"We need to keep improving for the season to come. We are hacked off because we were desperate to go through. I don't think we deserved to go out this early but next year we'll try to win this competition."

Diego Simeone has overtaken Luis Aragones for the most wins ever as head coach of Atletico Madrid.

The Argentine coach picked up his 309th victory in charge in Wednesday's 2-1 comeback win against Athletic Bilbao - a result that moves Atleti six points clear at the top of LaLiga.

Iker Munian had given Athletic the lead at the Wanda Metropolitano, but Marcos Llorente equalised late in the first half and Luis Suarez converted a penalty early in the second.

Simeone's latest win came in his 514th match in charge. Aragones, the only other man to have taken charge of more games, reached 308 wins in 612 matches.

Atleti have drawn 121 times and lost 84 games under Simeone, who took over in December 2011 and has gone on to be their most successful manager of all time.

#OnThisDay in 2011, @Simeone took over.

499 games
300 wins
LaLiga
Europa League
UEFA Super Cup
Copa del Rey
Spanish Super Cup

#AúpaAtleti pic.twitter.com/6U8bdMUwX2

— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) December 23, 2020 TROPHIES

Aragones, a star for Atletico as a player, won six trophies as head coach. Simeone, with seven, is the only man with more.

In a little over nine years in charge, the former Argentina midfielder has led Atletico to two UEFA Super Cups, two Europa Leagues, one Supercopa de Espana, one Copa del Rey and, most famously, their only LaLiga title in the past 25 years back in 2013-14.

Simeone has helped to tip the balance of power somewhat in Spain's capital. He is the only coach to have won three finals against Real Madrid in three different competitions: the Copa del Rey (2013), the Supercopa de Espana (2014) and the UEFA Super Cup (2018).

He has twice faced them in the Champions League final, too, losing after extra time in 2014 and on penalties two years later.


TRAILBLAZING

Among South American coaches, only Helenio Herrera (359) has taken charge of more LaLiga matches than Simeone (353).

All of those have been with Atletico, of course. There are just two coaches to oversee more LaLiga games at a single club: Aragones at Atletico (407) and Miguel Munoz at Real Madrid (424).

Munoz won 357 of his 605 games in charge of Los Blancos in all competitions, so Simeone has a little way to go to surpass that tally. Still, he has already won more games than Barcelona record-holder Johan Cruyff, who won 244 times out of 421 matches.

TITANS

Antoine Griezmann is the player to score the most goals under Simeone at Atletico, with 133 in all competitions.

The rest of the top five includes Diego Costa (75), Radamel Falcao (58), Koke (44) and Saul Niguez (43).

Koke leads the way for assists, with 95, comfortably clear of Griezmann (46), Gabi (44), Angel Correa (43) and Juanfran (32).

Ronald Koeman insists he was not sending a message to Antoine Griezmann by leaving the misfiring forward on the bench for Barcelona's 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Griezmann has gone six games without a goal in all competitions and was named among the Barca substitutes for the second match running on Saturday.

Unlike in the 3-0 win over Elche in midweek, the France international was not brought on as Koeman instead turned to Martin Braithwaite with the game poised at 1-0.

Explaining his decision to bring on Braithwaite instead of Griezmann for the final eight minutes, Koeman said: "It's not a message, no. 

"We decided to change the system and, to be able to get in behind, we put Dembele up top. 

"With the first goal, we said that we needed someone quicker than Griezmann on [Lionel] Messi's side. It's not a punishment."

Dembele opened the scoring just short of the half-hour mark at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan and Messi sealed the victory with his 30th goal against Sevilla in LaLiga - his best return against any opponent.

Barca's win was their ninth in 10 LaLiga outings and leaves them two points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a couple of games in hand.

The Catalan giants face Sevilla again on Wednesday at Camp Nou, where they will be looking to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final tie.

And after overcoming the Europa League winners in the league, Koeman is hopeful of a repeat scoreline when the teams reconvene in Catalonia.

"Of course we believe," he said. "That's our mentality, but Wednesday's game will be different because they will analyse the mistakes they made. 

"But yes, of course, we have a chance. I don't want to give more importance to the Copa game. We have to win and we have to fight. We will try to stay in all competitions until the end."

The victory may have come at a cost for Barcelona, however, as Gerard Pique and replacement Ronald Araujo - only just back from an ankle injury - both sustained knocks.

Pedri also left the field in the final 20 minutes after injuring his leg and will be assessed on Sunday, with all three players now doubtful for the cup tie against Sevilla.

"We have to wait and see about the injuries, we still don't know," Koeman said. 

"But despite the changes we had to make we kept the same rhythm because we have a deep squad that doesn't get annoyed [when not playing]."

Kylian Mbappe can go on to be the equal of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo after his hat-trick saw Paris Saint-Germain destroy Barcelona 4-1 in the Champions League.

That was the gracious take of Mbappe's France team-mate Antoine Griezmann, who was on the receiving end of his countryman's heroics at Camp Nou in Tuesday's last-16 first leg.

Messi gave Barca the lead from the penalty spot to score in Europe's top competition for a 17th consecutive season, matching a record set by Real Madrid great Raul.

From then on, however, it was the Mbappe show as Barcelona suffered another humiliating outing on the biggest stage.

A superb equaliser created by Marco Verratti meant it was all square at the interval and Mbappe fired Mauricio Pochettino's men ahead after the hour and completed the rout with a sumptuous finish into the top corner after Moise Kean headed home Leandro Paredes' free-kick.

"PSG have a very big star of the future who will be at the level of Leo and Cristiano," Griezmann told RMC sport.

"I can only congratulate him."

Mbappe became the third player in Champions League history to score a hat-trick against Barcelona and the first for almost a quarter of century after Newcastle United's Faustino Asprilla and Dynamo Kiev's Andriy Shevchenko both achieved the feat in 1997.

It was a sensational all-round performance from the 22-year-old, who also made four key passes to create chances for his team-mates.

"We needed to have a perfect match. We didn't and they did. It's a big defeat," Griezmann said.

"We were ready, we wanted to play a big game, but they were better than us. There is nothing to say. Kylian was having a great night."

Barca need an improbable repeat of the heroics that saw them overturn a 4-0 first-leg deficit against PSG at the same stage in 2017 when they head to Paris for the return next month.

Despite the odds being stacked heavily against Ronald Koeman's side, Griezmann is not giving up.

"You have to go there to win and turn the situation around. We're not going to go there as tourists," he added.

Tuesday sees the return of the Champions League as the first two last-16 ties get started, including arguably the pick of the bunch; Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain.

While we have been robbed of the Messi v Neymar narrative after the Brazilian was ruled out for four weeks with an adductor injury last week, there should still be plenty of talent on display.

Messi can still expect to be the focus, given the strong transfer links to PSG, while the Parisians will be hoping for a hint of revenge for the famous 'Remontada' of 2016-17.

Also in action on Tuesday are Liverpool and RB Leipzig, with the Germans' home leg taking place in Budapest due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed in Germany.

Ahead of the two tantalising fixtures, here are the key stats for both games…

Barcelona v PSG

4 – Barca and PSG last met at this same stage in 2016-17, when the Catalans became the only team to ever qualify for the next round in the Champions League after losing by at least four goals in the first leg. They won the second leg 6-1 in Camp Nou.

14 – Barca are hoping to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the a record 14th consecutive campaign. They were last eliminated at this stage in 2006-07 by Liverpool.

10 – While PSG have only one away win against Spanish opposition (Valencia) in the Champions League knockout phase, Barca have never lost at home to a French side in 10 such games in this competition.

2 – Antoine Griezmann has more yellow cards (two) than he has Champions League goal involvements (one assist) for Barca at Camp Nou in seven appearances.

1 – Kylian Mbappe has scored only one goal in his nine Champions League knockout games with PSG. He had found the net six times in six knockout games with Monaco.

RB Leipzig v Liverpool

0 – RB Leipzig have played 22 matches in the Champions League – none have ended goalless.

8.9 – While Liverpool are known for their effective pressing, Leipzig are even more aggressive. The German have allowed their opponents just 8.9 passes on average before intervening defensively in the competition this season, the lowest figure of any side in 2020-21.

1 – Roberto Firmino has scored only one goal in his previous 16 Champions League games. That came in last season's last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid.

6 – Leipzig wing-back Angelino has contributed three goals and three assists in the Champions League this term – Alvaro Morata (six goals, one assist) is the sole Spaniard with more goal involvements in 2020-21.

45 – Liverpool were the only team not to concede a single goal in the first 45 minutes of matches in the group stage.

Ronald Koeman has reiterated his desire for Lionel Messi to stay at Barcelona, although he once again acknowledged it is the player who will make the final decision.

Messi wanted to leave Barca last year but stayed on to see out the final year of his contract, details of which were recently leaked to the Spanish press.

The revelation of Messi's earnings – potentially worth in excess of €555million over the course of four years – came as Barca's debts reportedly rose above €1.1billion, with the coronavirus pandemic dealing a huge blow to the club's finances.

Despite the speculation surrounding his future, Messi has continued to perform for Barca, scoring 16 goals across all competitions this season.

He missed two games due to suspension in January but returned to score against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey, followed by the opener in Barca's most recent LaLiga match, a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said in midweek that he still hoped Messi would eventually choose to remain at Barca and extend his contract, though the coach conceded he was not confident of that happening.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's game with Real Betis, the former Netherlands boss again stressed Messi's future is in his own hands.

"I said the other day: I think there's one person that can decide his future and that is Leo Messi himself," Koeman told a news conference.

"Us as a club and me as a manager, of course, I would like that he stays here for many more years and we can try to make him feel good, make sure he's happy, because if he's happy, like he is this season, he gives us a lot of quality, which we need.

"He is a player with incredible talent and, on top of that, I think his morale is also very high at the moment; he's got good energy and he helps us a lot. The future is in his hands."

Messi has created 14 goalscoring chances following a ball carry (moving with the ball five or more metres) in LaLiga this season – more than any other player – although he has failed to assist in this way. 

The 33-year-old has an exceptional record against Betis, having had a direct hand in 31 goals in 21 LaLiga appearances against the Andalusian club, scoring 21 times and providing 10 assists, while he has either scored or assisted on each of his past five league visits to Benito Villamarin.

Messi is still the main man at Barca, but Antoine Griezmann has finally rediscovered the form which earned him his big-money move from Atletico Madrid.

Griezmann scored twice and set up two more as Barca laboured to a 5-3 extra-time victory over Granada in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, a result which Koeman celebrated passionately on the touchline.

"I remember that I called him when I signed for Barcelona," Koeman said of Griezmann, who ranks fifth in the Blaugrana squad for league chances created this season (21) but leads the way on assists (four), while his goal tally of six is bettered only by Messi (12).

"I told him that I had a lot of confidence in him. I told him that he should know that he is important.

"Although he started without effectiveness, he has recovered. I have never doubted him. Besides, he is also his own critic.

"You can't ask for more from Griezmann, he's very important to us.

"I can't deny that the other day I was very happy after the game. I don't know for how long. Today it's sunny and tomorrow it may rain.

"I really liked the game the other day, but tomorrow is another game. We have to prove ourselves yet again that we are on the right track."

Barcelona took a "giant step" towards a successful season with a thrilling comeback win over Granada, Ronald Koeman said.

The Catalans claimed a remarkable 5-3 Copa del Rey quarter-final win on Wednesday after forcing extra time at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Barca were trailing 2-0 as late as the 87th minute only for Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba to force the additional period, after Francisco Trincao, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele had all hit the woodwork.

Griezmann made it 3-2 only for a Fede Vico penalty to level matters again, but Frenkie de Jong scored from a rebound and Alba smashed home a stunning volley to secure Barca's semi-final spot.

Koeman last week suggested his side were not ready to compete for the biggest trophies and the Barca boss remains unconvinced they could end 2020-21 winning LaLiga, the Copa and the Champions League.

However, he believes their fightback against Diego Martinez's side could perhaps be a turning point in their campaign.

He said: "I was referring to winning the three trophies: LaLiga, the Champions League and the Copa. I don't believe [we can win all three]. But I've always believed in the team. We've improved many things, above all in character. We've taken a giant step forward.

"It helps to have spirit and strength in the team. That's the way. We've worked a lot to get to the moment when the team starts to believe and it's a proud feeling. And it's come at an important moment of the season.

"We started the game really strongly, we played really well in the first 20 minutes. A mistake in playing where we shouldn't be playing cost us a goal.

"You have to highlight the team's mentality because we never gave up. We had really bad luck with the woodwork. We did everything to win the game.

"We deserved it due to the mentality of the team, but on this occasion, we showed we know how to suffer. We knew how to defend the result and we deserved the win."

Griezmann proved pivotal to the result, scoring Barca's first before setting up Alba's equaliser with a cushioned header from a Messi cross.

The France star then converted an emphatic header of his own and teed up Alba's spectacular second with a clever outside-of-the-foot pass.

It was the first time the €120million man had been directly involved in four goals in the same game for the Catalans.

"I'm really pleased with Griezmann," said Koeman. "I know it's really important for him. The team needs him. With his effectiveness, we're more dangerous."

Barcelona fought back from the brink of defeat to beat Granada 5-3 after extra time in an extraordinary Copa del Rey quarter-final at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Ronald Koeman's side won at this ground 4-0 in LaLiga last month but were facing a battle when Kenedy scored against the run of play after an error by Samuel Umtiti, making just his fifth start of the season.

Roberto Soldado struck a second on the break early in the second half and Barca struggled to get back into the contest against an exemplary Granada defence and inspired goalkeeper Aaron Escandell.

However, Griezmann turned in Lionel Messi's cross from deep with two minutes of normal time left and the same combination set up Jordi Alba to head in an injury-time equaliser.

Griezmann's fine header put Barca ahead in extra time but Fede Vico struck back straight away from the penalty spot, only for Frenkie de Jong and Alba again to settle the encounter at last.

Aaron was forced into six saves in the first half as Barca dominated proceedings, with a double stop to deny Messi and Francisco Trincao the pick of them.

It was Barca's own slack play that gifted Granada the lead, as some loose passing in defence ended in Umtiti being dispossessed by Alberto Soro, who teed up Kenedy for a tap-in.

Granada delivered a sucker-punch in the first two minutes of the second half. Angel Montoro intercepted a Griezmann pass and launched a long ball forward to Soldado, who raced away from Umtiti and slotted past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Trincao, Ousmane Dembele and Messi all hit the woodwork and Griezmann was denied from an overhead kick by a brilliant Aaron save, but the France forward turned a Messi cross in off post and keeper to give his side a lifeline.

The same Messi pass and Griezmann run teed up Alba to net an unlikely header, but Luis Suarez almost snatched a win for Granada with seconds left, the substitute dragging a shot wide after racing through on goal.

Aaron could do nothing to deny Griezmann's emphatic second in extra time as he rose highest to head in Alba's cross, but Vico restored parity three minutes later from the spot after Carlos Neva won a soft penalty from Sergino Dest.

But De Jong denied Granada a second semi-final in succession, side-footing into the net after Aaron had parried Messi's shot in the 109th minute, and Alba blasted home a stunning volley from Griezmann's clever pass to make certain the contest was over.

Antoine Griezmann being a Barcelona success is important to head coach Ronald Koeman.

Barca are preparing to face Granada in an away Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday.

They are favourites to win the competition after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid crashed out against lower-league opposition.

Griezmann scored twice and set up another as Barca won 4-0 at Los Carmenes in LaLiga last month.

Ahead of their latest meeting in the cup, Koeman praised the World Cup winner for his turnaround in form, which was partly sparked by that outing.

He has five goals in his last seven games, including the winner in Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao.

"All season Antoine is working well," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference.

"[He has done] what a player has to do, which is help the team to the maximum. 

"With Antoine there have been moments when he has been scoring and those when he hasn't scored, but they are phases that any footballer goes through, we have all experienced it. 

"Now he is very good and that is important to me. We want to get the most out of each player in the squad."

Griezmann has seven goal involvements in his last six games at Los Carmenes and, prior to his star showing in the last meeting, had netted just three times in his first 16 LaLiga appearances this season.

Barca have five straight away wins in LaLiga, four of which have come with clean sheets. It is their best run under Koeman, who hopes they can carry that form into the cup.

"It is a different game because it is the cup and they are always different games from the championship," said the Dutchman.

"Also I think that both they [Granada] and we have played many games – they have had even more. 

"Do not forget that at the start of the other game we had quite a few complications in playing our game. We expect a difficult game in which we have to be very focused."

Koeman would not go as far as saying the Copa del Rey was now his top priority over LaLiga.

But he concedes it is the most likely route to domestic silverware with Atletico Madrid sitting 10 points clear with a game in hand atop the table.

Koeman added: "The cup is not more important than the league, but it is true that it is closer [to being won] because there are fewer games left. 

"It is not normal for Atletico Madrid to get so many points, they are very strong. In the league we can only wait for them to fail. We have lost many points at home that cannot be dropped.

"I don't give more importance to Wednesdays game than to the weekend [against Real Betis], but we want to keep winning and get through this tie to be in the semi-final. 

"Squad rotation depends on the physical condition of the players. It is a vital match, but if there is a player who is not physically well, he will not play."

Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann labelled Lionel Messi a "legend" after the superstar captain dominated headlines on Sunday.

After details of Messi's Barca contract were reported by El Mundo earlier in the day, the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner scored another landmark goal as the embattled LaLiga giants beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.

Messi opened the scoring with a 20th-minute free-kick – his 650th goal for Barca – before Jordi Alba's own goal restored parity, though Griezmann secured maximum points 16 minutes from the end.

After El Mundo claimed the deal Messi signed at Camp Nou in 2017 – which expires at the end of the season – is worth more than €555million, Griezmann was asked about the 33-year-old's value.

"We are enjoying Messi, he's a legend," Griezmann told Movistar.

"Hopefully we can keep enjoying him and he can keep helping us win."

Messi – tipped to leave Barca amid strong links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City – has scored two direct free-kick goals from his last four attempts for Barcelona in all competitions, after scoring just one from his previous 62 attempts.

Of Messi's 650 goals for Barcelona, 49 of them have been direct free-kicks – 38 in LaLiga.

Messi has 12 goals and two assists in the league for Barca, who are second and 10 points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid.

Griezmann's late winner for Barca maintained his superb record against Athletic.

The France international has now been involved in 15 goals against the Basque side (nine goals and six assists), more than he has achieved against any other team in the competition.

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