Superstar 22-year-old Kylian Mbappe is expected to leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of this season.

Real Madrid have long courted the France international and are expected to secure his signature.

PSG remain hopeful of Mbappe extending his contract but there could be another twist in the transfer saga.

Madrid's LaLiga rivals Barcelona appear ready to make a surprise move.

TOP STORY – BARCELONA READY FOR MBAPPE MOVE

Barcelona believe they can outspend Madrid and land Mbappe from PSG, according to AS.

Despite their financial challenges, the Catalans intend to hijack their rivals' move for Mbappe, who will be a free agent in mid-2022.

Barcelona's salary cap will increase by then and vice president Eduard Romeu reportedly wants to make one major signing.

ROUND-UP

- ESPN reports that Erling Haaland will demand a salary of £30million (€35m) per year for his expected transfer from Borussia Dortmund next year. Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich are among those chasing the Norwegian.

- Eden Hazard could return to Chelsea with the Blues interested in a deal for the Real Madrid midfielder, claims El Nacional.

- Everton have set their sights on a January deal for Manchester United's Jesse Lingard, according to Football Insider.

- Marca claims that Newcastle are ready to splash out £67m (€80m) to sign Porto's Colombian striker Luis Diaz.

- Manchester City are set to enter the race for Ajax's 21-year-od Brazil international Antony alongside Barcelona, according to El Nacional.

 

Andres Iniesta arrived at Vissel Kobe amid plenty of fanfare in May 2018.

One of the most successful players in Barcelona's history, having won LaLiga nine times and four Champions League crowns among his haul of 35 trophies, Iniesta was brought to Vissel to deliver silverware.

Up until his arrival three years ago, Vissel had never won a trophy but during the Spain great's time in Kobe, the ambitious Rakuten-backed outfit have won the Emperor's Cup (2019) and Japanese Super Cup (2020).

Vissel also qualified for the AFC Champions League for the first time in their 55-year history in 2020, reaching the semi-finals.

Iniesta and Vissel are on track to feature in the Champions League again – Atsuhiro Miura's men are third in the J1 League this season and on course for their best finish in the top flight, three points clear of Nagoya Grampus in the race for the final qualification spot ahead of Sunday's showdown – as they seek to become kings of Asia.

"The team have been saying we want to become the number one team in Asia so the first big goal is to win the Asian Champions League," Vissel defender Leo Osaki told Stats Perform about the project in Japan.

"Of course we have to win the J1 League, we can't just be focused on the Champions League. But the biggest goal right now is to win the Champions League. We just have to finish third and hope we can play for the Champions League next season."

 

When Iniesta swapped Camp Nou to join captain Lukas Podolski at Kobe Wing Stadium, it brought more eyes onto the club and attracted a host of stars the following year.

Spain's all-time leading scorer David Villa, former Arsenal and Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper all followed Iniesta to Kobe.

Vissel's investment in Iniesta paid off in 2019 after conquering Kashima Antlers for their first ever piece of silverware before overcoming 2019 J1 League champions Yokohama F.Marinos on penalties in the Japanese Super Cup in 2020.

Since his debut, Iniesta has showed no signs of slowing down, with the 37-year-old maestro boasting 175 completed dribbles (second in the J1 League) and a 64 per cent success rate (third among at least 100 attempts) to go with 164 created chances (fifth) in 81 league appearances.

In total, captain Iniesta has scored 17 goals and supplied 17 assists to spearhead Vissel's cause under the ownership of Rakuten, who continue to dream big after buying the team from the Crimson Group in 2014.

"He didn't come here to finish his career. He came to win and you can see it in the training and locker room," Osaki said, with Vissel's 2021 squad including Vermaelen, Bojan Krkic and Samper. "I think bringing him into the team opened the path for other world-class players to come in and it attracted a lot of people to watch the J1 League and Vissel Kobe. In that point of view, it gave the team a positive reaction.

"For him playing with us, since the first day he came, there was a positive reaction. Watching him from behind, it's a dream come true because most of us were just watching him on TV.

"Playing wise, he demands a lot from everybody, not just players next to him but behind him, goalkeeper and strikers. In our bad times, he tries to talk to players and motivate them so the team doesn't fall apart.

"Winning that title changed everything in a good way," Osaki added. "Since it was the first title in the club's history, that boosted the confidence for everyone. Also the expectations got higher. Winning those two titles changed a lot."

"I think we haven't accomplished anything, so the job isn't finished. We have to play in the Champions League and become the number one team in Asia. We've made progress in terms of getting two titles. The team had never won any titles, so that was big progress," the 30-year-old said.

"Playing in the Champions League gave us experience and confidence, which has helped us this season. In the Champions League, we didn't end up winning but I think that experience gave us confidence and that's why we are in this position now."

 

Since Iniesta's arrival, Vissel have ranked third in the J1 League in possession (57.2 per cent), passing accuracy (85.5 per cent) and shooting accuracy (47.3 per cent), while they have outperformed their expected goals (xG) value of 171.4 by scoring 183 goals – the fourth most in that span.

"Bringing in Andres and all those world-class players always gives a positive reaction to the team but at the same time, fans are like 'you have these players, so you have to win'. But football isn't that easy," he added.

"Of course we have quality players and we play with 11 players, but it's a team sport. It takes time. Fans can't wait, they want results instantly. We struggled in the beginning and we were focused on possession and everything but now we are probably 50 per cent counter-attack and 50 per cent possession - and we started getting results."

He added: "I think sometimes we focus on the project too much in the past. Of course, we want to play out from the back, press the ball and dominate the game but sometimes we focus on that too much. At times we had 60-70 per cent possession but we couldn't get results or win. We're still working on that actually, playing out of the back. We kind of added a different kind of style, just go forward at times.

"Now, we're focused more on the result. At times we play good and at times we don't, but still focusing on the result is keeping us in this position now."

Juliano Belletti believes Barcelona and Real Madrid can make memories to last for many years in Sunday's Clasico as he recalled being on the team that swept aside the famous 'Galacticos'.

Brazilian full-back Belletti spent three seasons at Camp Nou between 2004 and 2007, winning two LaLiga titles and scoring the winner in the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal.

He featured in four games against Los Blancos for the Blaugrana, winning one, losing one and drawing two.

The 45-year-old, who is now assistant manager at Brazilian club Cruzeiro, reflected on the stature of the historic fixture and cast his mind back to his first Clasico after arriving in Catalonia.

"Most of the best players in the world are [at Barcelona and Real Madrid]," Belletti told Stats Perform. "So, just being involved is already special. Barca and [Real] Madrid have fans all over the world. We are aware of it as football players. And when we are not involved in El Clasico, whether we are from the football world or not, we are watching this game.

"There is top quality football, there is big rivalry. There is so much history and it is something global. It is not only about LaLiga. That's why I believe the impact of the result of this game, winning or losing, is incredible. That's all what makes this Clasico special.

"My first Barca v Madrid was at Camp Nou in 2004. We faced 'Los Galacticos' of Real Madrid. It was very special for me to be there at that time.

"Besides, we won that game 3-0. It was even more special as my first time playing against 'Los Galacticos' and winning the game. And even nowadays my family remembers that day."

 

David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Brazilian striker Ronaldo were all in the Madrid team in that November 2004 game, with Samuel Eto'o, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Ronaldinho scoring for Barcelona.

Belletti says those that feature in this weekend's game will already feel, with some justification, that they have made it in the game.

"This sport is very competitive," Belletti said. "Reaching Barca or Real [Madrid] is a very high level, so demanding, a very hard-working culture. So, being there, you think: 'Oh my god, I did well. Now it is time to enjoy it.'"

Barcelona have been experiencing a decline of late, with the Catalan giants failing to win the league in their last two seasons and not claiming a Champions League title since 2015.

Furthermore, financial difficulties prevented the club from offering Lionel Messi a new contract, with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer, and Barca started this year poorly in his absence.

They have won their last two games, however, beating Valencia 3-1 in LaLiga and Dynamo Kiev 1-0 in the Champions League as under-pressure head coach Ronald Koeman looks to generate momentum ahead of the first Clasico of the campaign, possibly a pivotal match in his reign.

Ansu Fati dismissed suggestions that inheriting Lionel Messi's number 10 shirt at Barcelona has brought additional expectations after committing his long-term future to the Catalan club.

Fati signed a new six-year contract to keep him at the club until 2027, with a release clause of €1billion included - a week after Pedri had penned a similar extension with the Blaugrana.

The Spain international burst onto the scene after making his debut in August 2019, becoming the club's youngest ever LaLiga goalscorer at the age of 16 years and 304 days.

He is also the youngest scorer in Champions League history, after netting against Inter in December 2019 a minute after his introduction from the bench.

The 18-year-old inherited the number 10 shirt after the departure of Barca great Messi, who left on a free transfer for Paris Saint-Germain amid salary cap issues with LaLiga in August.

However, Fati insisted that no pressure comes with the famous shirt as he expressed his desire to succeed with his boyhood club after coming up through the La Masia academy.

"My dream has always been to succeed here and continue growing here, luckily I will continue to do so," Fati told reporters on Thursday.

"I'm going to work every day to improve as a person and as a player. I have not done anything yet, I must continue working, mark my path.

"I am very grateful to the club for having trusted me, along with the captains. It could have been worn by another player, but I'm grateful.

"I was ready because they are at Barca and at Barca you must be prepared for everything. Wearing the '10' is not a pressure, it is one more motivation, I will do the best I can."

 

An almost year-long injury lay-off could have stunted the youngster's development, but he has managed two goals in five appearances since returning in September.

He has registered 15 goals in 48 games for the LaLiga giants in total, a tally that is bettered only by Luis Suarez (21), Antoine Griezmann (35) and Messi (69) – none of whom are still at the club – since his senior debut.

But Fati explained his ambition to keep improving at Barca, who are preparing for a Clasico showdown against Real Madrid on Sunday.

"I have a lot of room for improvement, especially listening to people who can help you," he continued. "I would like to improve everything, I have not done anything yet, with work.

"Playing a Clasico is a motivation, Madrid is our great rival. I know that the team is going to give everything for the victory.

"I trust the team, it is true that we have to improve as always. We are going to go out and compete and play at home, which is a factor in our favour."

Raheem Sterling is open about a move away from Manchester City for more game time.

The 26-year-old dropped down the pecking order at City last season before an excellent Euro 2020 campaign, where he scored three times for runners-up England.

Sterling has only managed five starts in all competitions this season and could be on the move in the January transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA PRIORITISE STERLING MOVE

Barcelona will make completing a loan deal for Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling their priority in January, claims Sport.

Sterling faces strong competition for places at City and has spoken publicly about his desire for more time on the field.

The Catalans have financial restraints inhibiting their transfer activity but view a loan deal for the England international as an attractive option given their ambition.

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid have lost ground in the pursuit of Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland , who is also being tracked by Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain,  according to AS. Madrid are being squeezed out financially by the competition for Haaland's signature.

- France forward Ousmane Dembele is open to a move to Newcastle at the end of his contract, claims Goal.com. Dembele has not played a minute for Barcelona this season.

- Newcastle are also interested in signing Everton's England striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin,  reports The Telegraph.

- Manchester City are keeping a close eye on Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic as the race for his signature hots up, according to Tuttosport. City are short on forward options, having not replaced Sergio Aguero following his exit for Barcelona.

- Calciomercato reports that Inter are concerned about the state of contract talks with Croatia international Marcelo Brozovic,  whose current contract expires in June.

Ansu Fati has agreed a new long-term deal with Barcelona to keep the teenager at Camp Nou until 2027, the club have announced.

The Spain international's previous contract ran until the end of this season, but Barca had the option to extend that by a further two years.

Fati has made a huge impact since making his senior debut in August 2019 and the Catalans have now tied the talented forward down to fresh terms.

As they did with Pedri, Barca have inserted a €1 billion release clause in the 18-year-old's deal. 

 

Fati has broken a number of records since his emergence in 2019, including becoming Barca's youngest ever LaLiga goalscorer at the age of 16 years and 304 days.

Barca's number 10, which he inherited after Lionel Messi's move to Paris Saint-Germain, is also the youngest scorer in Champions League history thanks to his strike against Inter at San Siro a minute after being brought off the bench in December 2019.

The Bissau-born attacker's development was stunted by a near year-long lay-off, but he has scored two times in five appearances since returning to action last month.

Fati has netted 15 goals in 48 games for the LaLiga giants in total, a tally that is bettered only by Luis Suarez (21), Antoine Griezmann (35) and Messi (69) – none of whom are still at the club – since his debut 26 months ago.

He has scored from 11 of his 38 shots in LaLiga since February last year and has a conversion rate of 35.48 when excluding penalties.

That is the best return of any player to have scored more than five goals in the competition over that time, followed by Kevin Gameiro and Jorge Molina (both 33.33).

News of Fati's new contract comes a week on from Pedri penning a five-year extension at Camp Nou.

Ronald Koeman says Ansu Fati still has plenty of room for improvement and does not expect the youngster to achieve the "impossible" by completely filling Lionel Messi's void.

The 18-year-old has committed his long-term future to Barca by agreeing terms on a new contract, which Los Cules announced on Wednesday.

Fati inherited Messi's number 10 shirt following the latter's shock switch to Paris Saint-Germain and is considered Barca's big hope now the club's all-time leading scorer is no longer around.

But he was guilty of missing a great opportunity in Wednesday's Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev, which Barca only won 1-0 despite controlling the contest.

The Spain international has scored 15 goals in 48 games for Barca in total, a tally that is bettered only by Luis Suarez (21), Antoine Griezmann (35) and Messi (69) – none of whom are still at the club – since his debut 26 months ago.

Still regaining fitness after nearly a year on the sidelines with a knee injury, Koeman does not want supporters to get carried away when it comes to Fati's development.

"Ansu's chance today shows he still lacks things. He needs to improve," Koeman said at his post-match news conference.

"That is entirely normal. He will only turn 19 at the end of the month. He cannot be expected to solve all our problems, or what Leo Messi left behind. It's impossible.

"You have to help each other go step by step. We cannot expect miracles, especially when he has been out injured for a long time and is still only 18."

Barca had 11 shots against Dynamo but only found the target from three of those, with Gerard Pique scoring what proved to be the winner with 36 minutes played.

As well as becoming Barca's oldest Champions League goalscorer at 34 years and 260 days, Pique is now also the joint-leading goalscorer among defenders in the competition's history, level with Roberto Carlos (16 each).

Koeman felt his side should have won by a more comfortable margin against accommodating opponents Kiev, who failed to muster a single attempt on target at Camp Nou.

"I'm happy with the performance, but not because of our effectiveness," he said. "In a game when we were so superior and created opportunities, we should have scored more.

"If they don't have opportunities, you can't ask for more from the attackers, but they did. The normal outcome today would have been 3-0 or 4-0.

"I understand that people leave upset, because I am too. We have achieved the result we wanted, but with the opportunities we have created, we have to score more."

Barcelona's victory was their first in the Champions League in six attempts since December 2020, a run that includes back-to-back 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica to begin their 2021-22 campaign.

The LaLiga club are now back in contention for a top-two finish in Group E at the midway point, but full-back Jordi Alba – who set up Pique's winner – accepts his side were made to work harder for the points than they perhaps needed to.

"In the first half we had chances to score more than once," he told Movistar. "In the second half we weren't so good under pressure and we suffered a bit.

"They did not create opportunities but we were still not in a good place. We have to improve on the second-half display."

In a worrying update ahead of Sunday's Clasico clash with Real Madrid, Alba confirmed he sustained an injury during the Kiev match despite playing the full 90 minutes.

"It's my toe. We'll have to wait and see what it is," he said. "But now we look forward to the Clasico. We have won our last two games and the fans have responded to that, helping us grow. 

"We are expecting a tough game against Madrid, but we hope to bring more joy to the fans."

Ansu Fati has agreed a new long-term deal with Barcelona to keep the teenager at Camp Nou until 2027, the club have announced.

Gerard Pique scored the only goal as Barcelona beat Dynamo Kiev 1-0 at Camp Nou to get off the mark with their first victory in this season's Champions League.

Barca had lost their opening two group games for the first time ever, going down 3-0 to both Bayern Munich and Benfica, but they were good value for the three points.

Pique volleyed in a first-half opener to end a run of 287 minutes without a goal in the competition for the Catalans and they looked comfortable without adding to their scoring.

The win moves Ronald Koeman's men above Kiev into third place in Group E, a point behind Benfica and three off Bayern Munich, with those two sides meeting later on Wednesday.

Barca had recorded fewer shots on target (one) than any side in the competition heading into gameweek three and that lack of cutting edge was again on show as Sergino Dest failed to test Georgi Bushchan with a close-range header early on.

Luuk de Jong was also off target with a headed attempt from six yards, though the striker did at least manage to force Bushchan into a first save three minutes later with a curled shot from the edge of the box.

The hosts' breakthrough duly arrived through Pique with 36 minutes played, the centre-back being left in space to guide in Jordi Alba's latest exquisite cross with a first-time finish.

Ansu Fati, brought on for the ineffective De Jong at half-time, wasted a good chance to score Barca's second when getting his angles all wrong and sending an overhead kick wide of the target.

Barca could not fashion any more opportunities, but the Ukrainian champions failed to ask any questions of their opponents, not registering a single shot on target as Pique's goal proved the difference.

Newcastle are making plans for the January transfer window following their Saudi ownership takeover.

The Magpies are currently 19th in the Premier League, with three points from eight games and no wins.

Newcastle have been linked with a host of top players at the start of a new era for the club.

 

TOP STORY – OZIL ON NEWCASTLE'S SHORTLIST

Newcastle have shortlisted former Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil as one of their transfer targets, according to Ekrem Konur.

Ozil is currently playing in Turkey with Fenerbahce after moving from the Gunners in January.

The Magpies have made no official offer yet, but they see Ozil, along with Fenerbahce goalkeeper Altay Bayindir in their plans.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport reports that Argentina international Paulo Dybala is set to agree to an extension with Juventus , securing his future with the Turin club until 2026.

- Roma have reignited their interest in Aston Villa's Dutch winger Anwar El Ghazi,  according to Football Insider. Villa are ready to let him go in January for £18million (€21m) if Jose Mourinho's side meet their asking price.

- Netherlands international defender Matthijs de Ligt is unhappy with his role at Juventus and his agent has held talks with Barcelona about a potential move, claims Sport.

- Fabrizio Romano claims that Spain international Yeremy Pino, who turned 19 on Wednesdayis set to agree a new five-year deal with Villarreal.

- Mundo Deportivo reports that Ansu Fati is close to renewing with Barcelona, with an in-principle agreement set to tie him down until 2026.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is under immense pressure and needs a convincing win over Dynamo Kiev, having failed to earn any points from the first two Champions League games of the campaign.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is also in great need of a positive result, having won just two of his past seven games across all competitions, losing four.

Bayern Munich and Chelsea seem set for comfortable victories, however, with Blues boss Thomas Tuchel targeting the joint-best defensive record after 10 games with a club in the competition.

Read on for more as Stats Perform looks at the key Opta facts ahead of Wednesday's Champions League action.

 

Barcelona v Dynamo Kiev: Can Koeman stop the rot?

Koeman will be desperate to prevent his Champions League record at Barcelona from getting any worse after successive 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica in which the Blaugrana recorded a collective total of one shot on target, the least of any team in the competition.  

Despite only taking charge of four per cent of Barcelona’s home Champions League matches (5/131), 25 per cent of their total home defeats in the competition have come under the Dutchman (3/12), who is the only Blaugrana manager to lose more than twice at home in the tournament. 

Ansu Fati is perhaps Koeman's best chance of securing a positive result. The 18-year-old forward has been directly involved in three goals in two Champions League starts at Camp Nou (one goal and two assists), including an assist for Gerard Pique's goal in the 2-1 win against Dynamo Kyiv last year.

Benfica v Bayern Munich: Lewandowski-led Bavarians expect to stay unbeaten on the road

Bayern's record of eight European Cup/Champions League games unbeaten against Benfica is the joint-most by a team against an opponent since the tournament began in 1955.

With the Bavarian giants also on a record 19-match unbeaten run away from home in the competition (W15 D4), Julian Nagelsmann's side will feel confident of success in Portugal.

Furthermore, striker Robert Lewandowski - who has scored over a third of their 54 goals from that run (19 - 35 per cent) - has also netted five times in just six Champions League games against Portuguese opponents, including three against Benfica. No player has ever scored more times against sides from Portugal in the competition. 

 

Chelsea v Malmo: Clean-sheet chasing Blues Luk-ing for big win

Both of Chelsea's Champions League games this season have ended 1-0 - a win over Zenit and a loss to Juventus - but the Blues will be hoping for a more convincing scoreline as they host a Malmo side that have already conceded seven goals (the second-most in the tournament) and have lost their last five games in the competition by an aggregate score of 0-24, losing by three or more goals on each occasion.

Chelsea centre-forward Romelu Lukaku, in particular, will be relishing the opportunity to boost his already impressive tally of 14 goals in 18 appearances in European competition since the start of the 2019-20 season. In this period, the only two players who have scored more non-penalty goals than Lukaku (12) across the Champions League and Europa League are Lewandowski (19) and Erling Haaland (18). 

Tuchel will also be hoping for a seventh clean sheet in his 10th Champions League game in charge of Chelsea. The Blues have only conceded three goals under the German so far, which would be the joint-fewest through a manager’s first 10 games of a club in the competition (along with Fabio Capello at AC Milan and Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid).

 

Manchester United v Atalanta: Ronaldo and Fernandes to rescue Solskjaer?

Manchester United boss Solskjaer comes into this game under pressure after a 4-2 loss to Leicester City in the Premier League. The Red Devils have lost 58 per cent of Champions League games (7/12) under the Norwegian - the highest percentage of defeats by any manager to have taken charge of an English side on 10 or more occasions in the competition.

Solskjaer will be relying on his dynamic Portuguese duo to earn a much-needed win at Old Trafford. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 18 goals in 23 Champions League appearances against Italian sides, while Bruno Fernandes' four goals and three assists is the most direct contributions to a goal from any midfielder since his debut in the competition for United.

Atalanta are no pushovers, however. The Serie A side have only lost one of their last seven away games in the Champions League, winning five and drawing the other, and have won three of their six UEFA European matches against English opponents (D1 L2).

 

Other fixtures:

Zenit v Juventus

0  –  Juventus have never lost in eight previous encounters with Russian sides in European competition (W7 D1), scoring 18 times and only conceding three, although their only failure to win came away at Zenit in November 2008.

4  – Juventus have won their last four games in the group stage of the Champions League without conceding a single goal, with two of these coming away from home – 3-0 against Barcelona in December 2020 and 3-0 against Malmo in September 2021. 

Young Boys v Villarreal

 – Villarreal have lost eight of their last nine games in the Champions League (D1), conceding at least two goals in all nine outings in this run. They will be looking for their first win in the competition since March 2009, when they won 2-1 against Panathinaikos under Manuel Pellegrini.

 – Young Boys are unbeaten in their last three home games in the Champions League (W2 D1), and could equal their longest run without defeat on home soil in the European Cup/Champions League – a run of four games between 1957 and 1959. 

Salzburg v Wolfsburg

21   – In Salzburg’s last four UEFA European competition meetings with German opponents, there have been 21 goals scored (six for, 15 against) – last season’s Champions League games against Bayern Munich alone saw 12 scored (2-6 home defeat, 3-1 away defeat).

 – Karim Adeyemi has won four penalties for RB Salzburg in the Champions League this season. Since 2003-04 (as far back as we have this data), no player has ever won more than four in a single season in the competition. 

Lille v Sevilla

32  – The average age of Sevilla’s starting XI in the Champions League this season is 29 years and 200 days; the oldest of any of the 32 sides. Sevilla have handed starts to five different players aged 30 or older in the competition this season (Jesus Navas, Fernando, Papu Gomez, Ivan Rakitic and Yassine Bounou), with only Malmo (six) having more.

15  – Lille have won just 15 per cent of their home games in the Champions League to date (3/20) – among teams to have played 20 or more home games in the competition, only Romanian side FC Steaua Bucharest have a worse win percentage (9.5 per cent - 2/21).

Barcelona are close to tying Ansu Fati down to a new long-term contract, head coach Ronald Koeman has confirmed.

The Catalans are said to have been focused on handing out bumper deals to their most promising talents after losing Lionel Messi in pre-season, with a rebuild well under way.

Media speculation in recent days suggested their hopes of renewing Fati's deal had hit a stumbling block, with his agent Jorge Mendes apparently unwilling for a €1billion release clause to be inserted into his contract.

Such a clause proved no obstacle to securing Pedri's future and quickly the news reports were turned on their heads, with Mundo Deportivo claiming on Tuesday that a deal has been struck with Fati and Mendes "in principle".

Fati has broken a host of records since his emergence as a 16-year-old in 2019, including becoming Barcelona's youngest ever LaLiga goalscorer, and has looked sharp since returning from a serious knee injury.

He has already scored twice in just 94 minutes of LaLiga action this term, with Koeman easing him back.

Wearing Messi's former number 10 jersey, he looks set to lead Barca for at least the next five years.

"It's true that they are close [to an agreement]," Koeman told reporters ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev.

"It's very important news. He's a young player with a lot of quality. He's one of those who should shape the future of this club."

Fati's previous deal was technically due to expire next year, though Barca did have the option to unilaterally extend the agreement until 2024, much like the case with Pedri prior to the signing of his new contract.

Pedri signed on until 2026 and Fati is rumoured to be in line for a similarly lengthy extension.

Samuel Umtiti was left hurt by the jeers from Barcelona fans but the out-of-favour defender is more determined than ever to be a success at Camp Nou.

The French centre-back arrived from Lyon ahead of the 2016-17 season and played in 50 LaLiga matches over his first two campaigns.

However, a series of knee injuries restricted his involvement over the next three seasons and the defender was reportedly one of several high earners Barca attempted to shift during the past transfer window as the financially stricken giants try to alleviate their spiralling debts.

The situation came to a head during the Joan Gamper Trophy pre-season game against Juventus in which Umtiti was whistled by spectators when warming up and again a target whenever he touched the ball after coming on as a second-half substitute.

Umtiti has since not played a minute of competitive action this season and his treatment by the fans left him feeling isolated.

"Yes [the whistles hurt], a lot, honestly," he said in an exclusive interview with Mundo Deportivo.

"I never thought this could happen to me in this club because I love it, I love this club. 

"I do everything, everything, to be okay. I have had hard times due to injuries but in the end I do my job and this is the most important thing for me. Work and train hard, and people don't know it.

"[I would tell those who whistle] that I'm fine. That the most important thing is the club, helping the players, you have to help everyone. Whistling is useless. I will give everything for the club, as I have tried to do from day one."

The 27-year-old has been the subject of reported interest from former club Lyon and Manchester United but he remains adamant his future remains at Camp Nou with a January exit ruled out.

"I don't see myself playing at another club, no, impossible. Right now I have it very clear [in my mind]," he added.

"I want to show that I have the level to play here. The most important thing is to get back and show everyone that Samu is okay.

"It is clear to me, the most important thing now is to play here because it is my club, I love this club. I want to succeed here, play, win with my team-mates, with the team. 

"I see myself here, I'm waiting for that moment to play. I have to continue training, working and showing that I have a place."

Despite his ostracization from the first-team picture, Umtiti insists he has no issue with head coach Ronald Koeman – whose own position has been under threat amid an indifferent start to a season that began with the exit of Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi primarily due to the club's financial difficulties.

Umtiti, though, says he has not specifically asked the Dutchman for more playing time as he feels he has to prove his worth on the training pitch.

"I can't ask for anything, because the coach makes the decisions and I have to accept them. I must train and show that I am okay," he said.

"Ask for something? I will not do it and I think it should not be done. I must prove it on the field.

"We have six centre-backs and I knew it was going to be difficult to play but I am like that, if I have something in mind and I am sure I have the level, I intend to prove it."

In terms of his injury issues, Umtiti is adamant he is fitter and stronger than ever and is itching for a chance to prove so, while saying the work he has done behind the scenes to recover has not been fully appreciated.

"Nobody knows what I have done and what I do. The workouts I do, the double sessions. I'm a worker," he said.

"Football is my life, Barcelona is my life. Since I do not speak, people think that I do nothing, that I am on the couch all day doing nothing but at home I work, I train every day.

"We can train every day but I lack the rhythm of matches. Rhythm, rhythm, that I hope it reaches me."

Barcelona's youngsters can help the club emerge from their transitional period as a stronger side, according to former full-back Juliano Belletti.

The Catalan giants have endured a difficult time of things on and off the field of late, with a solitary Copa del Rey triumph all they have to show for the last two seasons.

Barca finished outside the top two in LaLiga last term for the first time in 13 seasons and are down in seventh place eight games into the 2021-22 campaign.

Due to the club's well-documented financial problems, with their debts amounting to €1.35billion, they were unable to keep hold of legendary forward Lionel Messi during the close season.

As well as being off the pace in LaLiga, Ronald Koeman's men have also kicked off their Champions League campaign with successive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

It is the first time Barca have lost back-to-back group games in a single season since 2000-01, putting added importance on Wednesday's clash with Dynamo Kiev.

But while many are questioning whether the 26-time Spanish champions are a fading force, Belletti insists what his former side are going through is completely normal.

Belletti has personal experience of helping Barca return to the top of Spanish and European football after the previous barren spell that saw them go five seasons without a trophy between 1999 and 2005.

Then a Brazil international, Belletti arrived from Villarreal ahead of the 2004-05 campaign and was a regular in that season's LaLiga triumph.

He also lifted the title in a memorable second campaign at Camp Nou that also saw him score the winner in the Champions League final against Arsenal – his only goal for the club.

Fourteen years on from his departure, Belletti can see a similar scenario playing out in Catalonia.

"It is very weird for world football to see what's going on at Barcelona lately," he said. "However, I see it as a transition: from what has happened last season, to a new era of the club. 

"When you change something as Barcelona has done it, there are always difficulties and tough times. And you should know how to deal with them. 

"Barca has already dealt with them at times in their history. It is not the first time. When I arrived at Barcelona in 2004, the club was in a dry titles run for five years. 

"It was seen as a very big crisis, so much pressure, many critics… and we were able to change the way. It is exactly what it is going to happen again. 

"Nevertheless, as Barcelona is very global nowadays, their issues are very global too. 

"It's a very well-known club, with many fans all over the world… so, pressure is different to what it used to be a few years ago. But I think it is normal. 

"They will go through it. There are going to be many tough times, but the current president has experience on how to fix this situation."

Belletti, who made 102 appearances for Barcelona before joining Chelsea in 2007, added: "Nobody is perfect and I can guarantee the work is really hard and complicated when you work in a global company. 

"You need people around you who support you, especially in football. All of us we go through difficulties. We are managing a small, medium or huge company. In that process, there are difficulties. 

"What happens to Barcelona is due to its huge size, meaning that difficulties are huge too. They haven't won trophies and it has been tough to keep youngsters like they used to do it and that affects into the pitch."

One positive for Barca this season has been the continuation of their proud history of transforming academy hopefuls into first-team stars.

The average age of Koeman's side this season is 24.9, considerably down on the 27.2 from four seasons ago. That ranks Barca as the team with the third-youngest side in LaLiga this term behind only Real Sociedad (24.2) and Valencia (24.3).

And Belletti is hopeful the likes of Gavi and Ansu Fati, the latter of whom has taken on Messi's famous number 10 shirt, can help Barca get back on track.

"It is what all of us hope, because La Masia has already proved on being able to solve many issues of the club with its own talents," he said. "That transition from the academy to the pro football is one of the main issues to many clubs in the world. 

"However, Barca knows how to do it. They have to work for getting the benefit of this. Youngsters have the talent, as the club has proved already in the past, for being in a top table of best players in the world. 

"So, it has to be invested on them. And especially protect them when there is more pressure around in order to avoid those direct pressures on their performances. 

"On the other hand, they are aware of that pressure and deal with it because they have been educated in that way, so they become Barcelona players."

Ansu Fati has talent that not many others can boast but still has a lot to prove at Barcelona, according to new team-mate Sergio Aguero.

The Spain international marked his first start since last November with a goal in Barca's 3-1 comeback win against Valencia on Sunday.

He missed the best part of a year with a long-term knee injury that had limited him to three substitute appearances before this month's international break.

Fati is regarded as Barca's big hope now that Lionel Messi is no longer around and Aguero, who made his debut against Valencia, hopes to help the youngster showcase his talent.

"Ansu is still a very young player and he has a lot to prove," Aguero told Barca TV. "I'm very happy that we have him here. 

"We have to help him continue showing how talented he is, because not many other players have that."

Fati's goal came from one of three shots against Valencia, two of which were on target – the most of any Barcelona player.

The 18-year-old has scored from 11 of his 38 shots in LaLiga since the start of February 2020 and has a conversion rate of 35.48 when excluding penalties.

That is the best return of any player to have scored more than five goals in the competition over that time, followed by Kevin Gameiro and Jorge Molina (both 33.33).

 

While Fati stole the show against Valencia, the much-needed victory at Camp Nou was also an occasion to remember for fellow striker Aguero.

The Argentina international made his first appearance for the club as a late substitute, 10 and a half years on from his last game in the Spanish top flight for Atletico Madrid.

Having been hampered by a calf injury since arriving on a free transfer from Manchester City in May, Aguero is glad to have finally got some competitive minutes under his belt.

"I'm very happy to have made my debut," he said. "I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time. The most important thing was to win the match.

"It was incredible that the supporters chanted my name, though now I have to get used to that song and show the same affection they show me."

Memphis Depay was also on target for Ronald Koeman's side from the penalty spot after Fati had cancelled out Jose Gaya's early opener, before Phillipe Coutinho added a late third.

The Catalan giants moved up to seventh in LaLiga with the victory, five points behind surprise pacesetters Real Sociedad with a game in hand to play.

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