Erling Haaland is one of the most in-demand players in Europe.

Clubs from across the continent are queuing up to sign the Borussia Dortmund forward.

Real Madrid, however, are firmly placed to make a move for the Norwegian.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL EYEING HAALAND

Real Madrid believe a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could be done next year, according to the front page of Friday's Marca.

Kylian Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has dominated headlines as Madrid target the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

But Madrid have not forgotten about Haaland, who is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic says Bernardo Silva has turned down a move to Tottenham as part of a potential deal that would help send Harry Kane to City. Atletico Madrid and Barca have also been linked with City's Silva.

Pedri could sign a new four-year deal with Barca by September, reports Sport. The 18-year-old has been a revelation at Camp Nou.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Milan are nearing a deal to sign Tiemoue Bakayoko from Chelsea. Bakayoko spent the 2018-19 season on loan at Milan. Di Marzio, meanwhile, says Milan are interested in bringing Monaco's Pietro Pellegri to San Siro on loan.

- Staying in Milan and Tuttosport reports the Rossoneri are interested in Sassuolo and Italy star Domenico Berardi. Leicester City are also reportedly among his admirers.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga is dreaming of a move to PSG, according to Le Parisien. United have also been linked with the France midfielder.

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and no closer to re-signing in the French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly holding onto hope of securing his services before the end of the transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL DREAMING OF MBAPPE

Real Madrid have not given up on signing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Mbappe is into the final year of his PSG contract and while he has been tipped to make the move to Madrid, he has reportedly told friends he will remain in Paris.

However, LaLiga powerhouses Madrid – also linked with Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland – believe it is a strategy to secure a friendly exit from PSG.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in Monaco defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, say reporters Sacha Tavolieri and Jonathan Shrager. United have also been linked with Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, who is reportedly wanted by PSG and Madrid.

- RB Leipzig star Marcel Sabitzer is interested in a move to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, claims Bild.

- Goal and widespread reports say Arsenal are close to signing Martin Odegaard from Madrid. Odegaard spent six months on loan at Arsenal last season.

Duvan Zapata is Inter's priority signing, according to Calciomercato. Despite signing Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries after Romelu Lukaku's, the Serie A champions are eyeing the Atlanta forward. Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, Joaquin Correa of Lazio, Torino forward Andrea Belotti and Wolfsburg's Wout Weghorst are other options.

- Italian journalist Sara Meini reports Manchester City are stepping up their pursuit of Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic amid their struggle to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham. Atletico Madrid and Spurs have also been linked with Vlahovic.

Juventus are nearing a deal to re-sign Miralem Pjanic from Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo. Juve, according to Di Marzio, are also listening to offers for Weston McKennie.

Antoine Griezmann is "happy and proud" after reaching 100 appearances for Barcelona and the French star is targeting history with the LaLiga giants.

Griezmann brought up his century of games in Sunday's 4-2 rout of Real Sociedad and almost marked the occasion with his 36th goal for Barca, only to be denied by the crossbar.

With big shoes to fill after the departure of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca head coach Ronald Koeman will be hoping the forward can team up with recruit Memphis Depay to fire Barca back to the top of LaLiga.

Griezmann, who arrived from Atletico Madrid in 2019, told the club's media on Wednesday: "I am happy and proud to have reached this figure.

"It was very important to get a win in the first game with the fans back, who we haven't seen for so long. It was a good game and hopefully, we can now get another win against Athletic [Bilbao]."

Since arriving in 2019, no player has played more games for Barca, while only Messi (8003) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (8040) have racked up more minutes than Griezmann's 7,497.

France international Griezmann sits behind Messi for goal involvements in that time, too, having recorded 51 direct involvements – 19 more than the departed third-place Luis Suarez, who fired Atletico to their first LaLiga title since 2013-14 last term.

Griezmann's returns do not just impress up against his team-mates, though, given only Suarez (42), Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (51) and Real Madrid star Karim Benzema (59) have scored more among LaLiga forwards since the Frenchman's switch to Barca.

While Griezmann remains a long way behind his 94 goals for Diego Simeone's Atletico, his 20 goals across all competitions last season – the same as his goal involvements in LaLiga – did see him finish as Barca's second-highest goalscorer.

 

Having not added to his 35-goal tally yet this campaign, that return means he is 14 goals away from Thierry Henry (49) as the highest-scoring Frenchman for Koeman's side, Ludovic Giuly third with 26.

However, it is not just his finishing abilities that standout during his Camp Nou career.

Only Messi (233) and Jordi Alba (131) have created more chances than Griezmann (107), who also ranks third at the club behind the same pair for 'big' chances created, defined by Opta, with 26.

In a side dependent on the link-up play of their forwards to unleash the likes of Ansu Fati, Alba and Ousmane Dembele, it is apparent why Koeman has challenged the 30-year-old to improve on those figures to be the spearhead and guide his team to glory.

Nevertheless, the former Sociedad man is looking forward to continuing life at Camp Nou.

"I hope I get to play another 100 games and carry on giving everything to make history with this club," Griezmann added. "I want to keep helping the team both on and off the pitch, in attack and defence, and enjoying being at Barca."

Manchester City's interest in signing Tottenham's Harry Kane is widely known but a deal appears no closer to materialising. 

The 28-year-old forward was absent for the two sides' Premier League game on Sunday, when Spurs took the points.

City have reportedly bid up to £125 million to sign the England international, who reportedly requested a move late last season.

TOP STORY - KANE FRUSTRATED AS SPURS REJECT CITY BID

Kane has grown frustrated with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and thrown down the gauntlet with a proposed move to Manchester City, reports The Telegraph.

According to the report, the England forward feels that Levy has not honoured their meeting at the end of the 2019-20 season when he requested to leave Spurs if they underachieved.

Kane is also frustrated that Levy's tactics have seen fans turned against him and that the chairman is also refusing to sell or even accept calls from City.

The report claims that City have submitted a fresh £125m bid for Kane, which Spurs have turned down.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Larguero claims that Paris Saint-Germain director Leonardo has informed the players that Kylian Mbappe will stay to see out the remainder of his contract, due to expire in mid-2022, scuppering Real Madrid's hopes of signing him this month or in January.

- Samuel Umtiti, Martin Braithwaite and Miralem Pjanic are all on the chopping block at Barcelona, according to Diario AS, which claims the Catalans must sell three players this month to reduce their salary bill despite Lionel Messi's exit.

- Martin Odegaard is set to re-join Arsenal on a permanent deal from Real Madrid, says Fabrizio Romano. Talks are at their final stages with a deal until 2026.

- Tottenham are keen on Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma, reports Sky Sports. The Blues would demand a £25 million fee for the Frenchman.

- Internazionale are in talks to sign forward Marcus Thuram from Moenchengladbach, claims Sky Sport Italia.

- The Sun reports that Wolves are talking to Olympiacos about signing Portuguese defender Ruben Semedo on a one-year loan.

Cristiano Ronaldo is suddenly the name dominating the transfer rumour mill.

The Portuguese superstar is reportedly drawing interest from multiple quarters.

Is a departure from Juventus on the cards?

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO SPECULATION ABOUNDS

Ronaldo is the subject of widespread speculation around Europe. 

Paris Saint-Germain would like Ronaldo to replace Kylian Mbappe if the France international departs for Real Madrid this summer window or next, says Calciomercato, opening up the tantalising prospect of a partnership with Lionel Messi.

Meanwhile, El Chiringuito suggests Carlo Ancelotti could make a move to bring Ronaldo back to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Elsewhere, Corriere dello Sport claims Ronaldo has offered his services to Manchester City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona could swap Philippe Coutinho to Arsenal in their bid to land Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Sky Sports. 

- Despite signing an extension with PSG through 2023 just a few months ago, Julian Draxler could be on the way out. Kicker says a Bundesliga team, likely Bayer Leverkusen, have made a €20m offer. 

- Hector Bellerin wants out of Arsenal, The Athletic reports, saying Inter are monitoring the situation. The Star says the Gunners could move him back to Barca in a swap deal for Emerson Royal.

- Juventus will make a final bid of €35million to Sassuolo for Manuel Locatelli, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Tottenham want to add Patrick Bamford to their attack but Leeds are keen to sign him to a long-term extension, says the Mirror. 

- West Ham are still trying to land Kurt Zouma from Chelsea, says the Guardian.

- Lyon are looking to pry Emerson Palmieri away from Chelsea on a loan deal with an option to buy, L'Equipe reports. 

- Clement Lenglet could be on the move from Barcelona to Roma, says Gianluigi Longari. 

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has once again hit out at predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu after revealing the LaLiga club's debt has risen to €1.35billion.

The Catalan giants' financial problems have been well documented since it emerged in January that their total debt had exceeded the €1.1bn mark.

Barca's money issues have led to the shock departure of Lionel Messi on a free transfer, while Gerard Pique has accepted a substantial pay cut and fellow captains Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto are set to follow suit.

But years of what Laporta described as mismanagement by the previous board have caught up with Barca, as he laid out the true scale of their debt on Monday - including some remarkable allegations.

"When we took over we asked for a bridge loan of €80m, granted by Goldman Sachs because we would not have been able to pay the salaries of players and employees," he said.

"The previous board had received an advance of €79m relating to 50 per cent of LaLiga's television rights and the banks charged it at nine per cent interest.

"The reduction of wages by the previous board was not real. We have found those millions in different types of bonuses and variables included in the new contracts. 

"We have found disproportionate payments to intermediaries, not agents, a transfer that cost €40m and for a purchase premium we paid €8m and a sale premium of €2m. 

"A person was also paid €8m to find players in South America."

Laporta called a news conference to respond to an open letter issued by Bartomeu on Friday which effectively pointed the finger of blame for Messi's exit at the current incumbent.

Breaking down the letter into what he alleges are eight different lies, Laporta said: "It obeys an effort to justify management that is unjustifiable. 

"It is an exercise in despair. We have a salary bill that represents 103 per cent of the club's total income. It represents 20-25 per cent more than our competitors.

"No one is going to escape from those responsibilities. The economic situation is worrying and the financial situation is dramatic. 

"Barcelona has a net worth of minus €451m and a debt of €1.35bn."

In his lengthy letter, Bartomeu – who stepped down as Barca chief in October 2020 after nearly seven years in the role – questioned why Barca reached an out-of-court settlement with former player Neymar over money owed.

"He talks about Neymar," Laporta said. "He says that we have forgone €16.7m. That's another lie, it is not true. And you could remind Bartomeu of the damage that the Neymar case did to the image of Barca. Because it was an infinity of lies. 

"When he sold Neymar for €222m, they had already spent disproportionately. This triggered wages and amortisation."

Pique's decision to accept a reduced salary ensured Barca could register new signings Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia for their opening LaLiga game of the campaign on Sunday.

"I thank Pique for his willingness to help the club. His reduction has helped us to register players," Laporta added. "We can register Sergio [Aguero] with the agreement we plan to have with the other players. I hope the other captains act like Pique.

"The negotiations with the others are going well. Alba, like Busquets and Sergi Roberto, is behaving very well and we hope that we will reach an agreement soon. As soon as we can, we will acknowledge it."

Lionel Messi has left a glaring hole at Barcelona and it will prove to be an extremely difficult void to fill as former team-mate Victor Sanchez discussed the shock and tearful Camp Nou exit.

Messi had been tipped to re-sign at Barcelona but the LaLiga club's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under the league's salary restrictions, paving the way for a blockbuster switch to Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

Instead of extending his time at Barca, dating back to 2000 during his youth, Messi now forms a frightening attack alongside old friend Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Paris.

Sanchez played alongside Messi in Barca, where he emerged from the club's youth system in 2005 and made his first-team debut in 2008 before joining and captaining rivals Espanyol, and he spoke to Stats Perform about the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's stunning departure.

"I was shocked, but everyone too because after last year when he wanted to leave, and he finally didn't, I looked like he would end his career at Barcelona," said Sanchez, who now plays for Western United in Australia.

"So, leaving this year and joining PSG, it is tough to understand on his side, but also on the Barcelona side. I have spoken with former team-mates of his and they think same as me: they thought it was done and he would continue playing for Barca, and everything changed at the very last moment.

"We won't know why it did not happen, but it is a big shame for Barcelona and for Spanish football. On the other hand, it is a big joy for French football and PSG as I think they are building a spectacular team."

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Messi's goals for Barca were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

The 34-year-old's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions, as well as providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Messi netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

 

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in LaLiga in 15 consecutive seasons.

Messi is the all-time LaLiga top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476), while he scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013 - a record for a player in the competition's history.

"It is very tough to replace Messi. You get a player like this every 20-30-40 years," Sanchez said before Barca's season-opening 4-2 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday. "It is so hard. However, Barca's academy works in the same way with every team, so they can get three-four-five players and build a strong team who can win titles and bid for all, something difficult right now in Barcelona.

"It is the same what happened with [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi… probably will happen with [Sergio] Busquets too. It is not easy to replace them with other players because they have been the best in their position.

"Barcelona will get other good players, but it won't be easy to get someone like Messi who has given that much to the team."

Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, Sanchez was part of the star-studded Barca squad that won the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa del Rey in 2008-09 – playing alongside Messi as well as Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto'o.

"I read a lot of comments when I was younger," Sanchez said when asked if he remembered some of the reaction and comments to Messi's emergence at Barca. "I am the same age as Messi, and I read a lot about a player of 16-17 who was superb in the academy. The thing is when I reached the first team, he was playing for three years in the first team.

"I was 20-21 at that time and he was already a star in the first team. However, it is true there were comments on a player in the second team who was going to be a big player and he has become it.

"You could see he was different since he was a child. As you see in others, you could also see on him."

Is Kylian Mbappe's future nearing a resolution?

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and the Paris Saint-Germain forward is no closer to extending his contract in the
French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly poised to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID NEARING MBAPPE DEAL?

Real Madrid are closing in on Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Monday's Marca.

Mbappe is in the final year of his PSG contract and he has reportedly made it clear he has no intention of re-signing in Paris.

Long touted to join Madrid, the LaLiga giants' pursuit of Mbappe is set to enter a decisive phase this week.

The Transfer Window podcast, however, claims Liverpool will attempt to sign Mbappe on a free transfer at the end of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport reports Barcelona are monitoring Arsenal pair Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as they look to rebuild following Lionel Messi's departure to PSG.

- Inter are eyeing Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne but want a discount on the Italy star, claims Sky Sport Italia. Napoli value Insigne at around €25-30million with one year remaining on his contract. Lazio's Joaquin Correa, Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata and Fiorentina sensation Dusan Vlahovic have also been linked to Inter.

- Sport Italia says Tottenham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, who has been linked with West Ham. Spurs are also keen on Fiorentina star Vlahovic, according to Sport Italia.

- According to Cadena SER, Antoine Griezmann is open to returning to Atletico Madrid this off-season. Griezmann swapped Atletico for Barca in 2019.

Luka Jovic has decided he wants to join Inter on loan, per Nerazzurri Siamo Noi. The Madrid outcast has also been linked with Eintracht Frankfurt, Sampdoria and Genoa.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are tracking Metz's 18-year-old midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, claims the Daily Mail.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique compared Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe to Brazilian great Ronaldo as he hailed Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Mbappe and Haaland are two of the most in-demand players in the transfer market, with LaLiga giants Real Madrid reportedly interested in both.

PSG's Mbappe – entering the final year of his contract in Paris – has long been tipped to join Madrid, while Haaland has also been linked with Barca, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

Mbappe scored in PSG's 4-2 Ligue 1 win at home to Strasbourg on Saturday, having now either scored or assisted in seven consecutive matches in the competition (eight goals, four assists).

Haaland took his tally to 62 goals in 61 games for Dortmund after bagging a brace as the German giants opened their Bundesliga season with a 5-2 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt.

Pique was asked to pick between Mbappe and Haaland in an appearance on Twitch following Barca's 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad on Sunday, and he replied: "Mbappe and Haaland are different.

"One is very similar to Ronaldo Luis Nazario, who is Mbappe. Haaland is more powerful, stronger, he is a goal killer."

Barca kicked off the Lionel Messi-less era by seeing off Sociedad at Camp Nou in the opening game of the LaLiga season.

Messi – the club's all-time leading goalscorer – joined PSG after his contract expired, with Barca's financial difficulties forcing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to leave.

"It was tough," Pique said on Messi's exit. "I have known him since I was 13 years old.

"He has made us all better. We have to accept it because it is reality. We will all step forward to be competitive."

Jordi Alba accused people of spreading misinformation regarding his willingness to take a pay cut at Barcelona, insisting he will join Gerard Pique in reducing his salary to help the club's dire financial situation.

After a tumultuous week that saw Lionel Messi complete his stunning switch to Paris Saint-Germain, Barca launched their LaLiga campaign with a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad in which Pique opened the scoring on Sunday.

The former Spain defender headed home a free-kick from new signing Memphis Depay, who was only playing because Pique agreed a substantial salary reduction that allowed Barcelona to register the Netherlands forward within their league-enforced salary limit.

Speaking after the match, where Martin Braithwaite scored two goals and laid on the game-clinching goal for Sergi Roberto, Pique confirmed fellow club captains Alba, Roberto and Sergio Busquets would also bring down their pay.

"My commitment to Barca has always been total, I've been here all my life, 10 years in the first team and eight in the youth categories," Alba told reporters after the game to address suggestions in some quarters he had not been as forthcoming as Pique in Barcelona's time of need.

"I can speak for myself and for the president [Joan Laporta]. We are all going in the same direction. As Gery has said, the commitment has always been the same. Now it will be our turn [to take pay cuts] and there should be no doubt about us.

"What hurts me is that lies are told, I think I've shown how I feel about Barca. The club has given me a lot and we have to be grateful. What hurts me is the lies.

"I think I have to give face, I will give everything as I have always done on the pitch. Things can turn out better or worse, but no one can doubt the commitment.

"My commitment has always been to help the club, just like the rest of the captains."

Alba also reflected on the departure of Messi, with whom he shared a close bond on and off the field.

However, he insisted it had not been within the capabilities of himself and the other club captains to make it financially viable for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner to remain at Camp Nou.

"Leo, apart from being the best in history, was the player I understood the best, so imagine the efforts I would have made for him," the left-back said.

"Leo is an issue separate from the captains, it is a matter of the club

"What I cannot bear is lies and things being leaked so that my character is doubted. I am the first to admit it if I am wrong, but I can't stand the lies."

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona played their best football in "years" during the opening hour of their first LaLiga game since Lionel Messi's exit as they saw off Real Sociedad 4-2.

Martin Braithwaite's brace after Gerard Pique had opened the scoring gave Barca a three-goal advantage with 59 minutes played in Sunday's contest at Camp Nou.

Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal scored quickfire goals to set up a nervy conclusion to the game, but Sergi Roberto struck in injury time to seal a deserved win for the home side.

It was the perfect way for the Catalan giants to put the shock of losing their all-time leading goalscorer Messi to Paris Saint-Germain on a free contract this week behind them.

And while Koeman would prefer to still have Messi in his squad, the Dutchman feels Barca proved there is life without their former captain as they outclassed La Real.

"We know that we are good with the ball, but we have worked hard on pressing and to do so with everyone," Koeman said during his post-match news conference. 

"We have to be more collective than before. For me, the team in the first half hour was the best Barca in years. It is the path we want to follow.

"I would like to have Messi in the team. Of course we don't have the player who decides games on his own, but this is more about the collective now.

"We have to create opportunities to score. Today we scored four so it's fine."

Pique got the ball rolling for Barcelona with his 19th-minute opener, heading in a pinpoint free-kick sent in by Memphis Depay on his competitive debut for the club.

Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj could only be registered by Barca on Saturday after Pique accepted a substantial pay cut to ensure they met LaLiga's salary cap limit.

Pique celebrated his goal by kissing the Barcelona crest on his shirt and Koeman hailed the long-serving defender for putting the team first.

"For me, Pique was also the team leader last year," Koeman said. "Due to injuries he couldn't play as much as he would have liked. He has been exemplary for all the Catalans."

 

Braithwaite was Barcelona's star performer in their opening match of the 2021-22 campaign with his two goals, which makes him the first Danish player to score a brace in LaLiga this century.

His double came from an expected goals return of 0.89 and Koeman expects the 30-year-old to play an important role this campaign, despite being heavily linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

"I have always said that he is a great example of a professional soccer player," Koeman said. "He always works for the team and he has improved his game – not only because of the goals. 

"He helps us in many areas. He also has speed and always he is very difficult to defend against. I am delighted to have players like him."

Barcelona are now unbeaten in their last 11 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga, but tougher tests lie in wait with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid to come in their next seven games.

Following a period of doom and gloom, Koeman is hoping for a positive future with returning supporters fully behind their side.

"We know that the season is very long and many things can happen," Koeman added. "If the fans see a team with enthusiasm, that tries to do things well, with a positive attitude, that always helps. 

"We need the fans. We have to leave them happy and I think they have gone home happy today."

Gerard Pique says cash-strapped Barcelona's captaincy group are "proud" to take a pay cut after he scored in a 4-2 LaLiga victory over Real Sociedad.

Barca revealed on the eve of the club's opening game of the campaign that Pique had taken a "substantial" reduction in his wages in order for Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj to be registered.

Pique's gesture ensured the Catalan giants, who were unable to keep Lionel Messi due to their financial troubles, are within the salary cap.

Fellow skippers Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba are also prepared to take a pay cut.

Depay started to repay Pique by setting up the opening goal on his debut and Martin Braithwaite struck twice, with Sergi Roberto completing the scoring after late goals from Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal gave La Real hope of salvaging an undeserved point at Camp Nou.

Pique criticised the way the club has been run following Messi's departure, but the Spain centre-back was determined to do everything in his powers to ease their problems.

He told LaLiga TV: "I was born here, I was brought up here. I've lived all my life pretty much in Barcelona and I've been a player for Barcelona for a long, long time.

"It was a gesture [to reduce his wages], I think it was the gesture that was required. I'm in contact with the other captains as well. I think they're going to make a very similar step very shortly. I wanted to be the first to get it done.

"We're a family here. All the captains have the same intentions to help the team. It's a decision that we've taken and we're proud of the decision we've taken. There's plenty of desire to keep performing and keep playing well

"I think sometimes people talk a lot and don't understand the situation properly. Right from the end of last season I've been in touch with Sergi Roberto, with Jordi Alba, with Sergio Busquets and it's something that has to be agreed with the club.

"The club needed someone to do this so we could register the players in time for the first game. I was the one that did it but the other players are prepared to do it.

"Sometimes the information that comes out isn't 100 per cent clear. It's not complete. But the club have asked players to make a sacrifice and players are going to do that. All the players have wanted to help the club."

Some Barca fans chanted Messi's name in the 10th minute, although some were not impressed with that gesture.

Pique is confident Ronald Koeman's side can have a season to remember without their leading all-time goalscorer, who joined Paris Saint-Germain after his contract expired.

"We knew the supporters would react the way they've reacted," said Pique. "I'm not going to talk to you about what Lionel Messi means to this club, we all know that. The most important player in the history of this club and the most important player in the history of football.

"But everything changes, nothing stays the same for ever. We have to keep going and I think we've got real quality. I'm convinced we're going to compete for everything this season

"We'll miss Leo, of course we will, but the team has shown in this game that we're all together, we've got goals in the side and despite the fact we were a little bit looser in the second half they didn't create too many chances throughout the game. I think we're going to enjoy ourselves this season."

Memphis Depay went some way to repaying Gerard Pique as Barcelona started life without Lionel Messi by beating Real Sociedad 4-2 in their first game of the LaLiga season.

Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj could only be registered by Barca on the eve of Sunday's game at Camp Nou because Pique took a substantial pay cut, ensuring the cash-strapped Catalan club met LaLiga's salary cap limit.

Impressive debutant Depay set up Pique for the opening goal after chants of 'Messi' reverberated around the stadium in the 10th minute of the Blaugrana's first game since his sensational move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Martin Braithwaite was on target at the end of the first half and added a second after the break before late goals from Julen Lobete and Mikel Oyarzabal set up an unlikely tense finale.

Sergi Roberto eased the nerves with a fourth Barca goal in injury time as they started the campaign with a richly deserved victory.

Antoine Griezmann headed against the crossbar as La Real struggled to contend with Barca's crisp passing and movement in a blistering start from Ronald Koeman's side, but Pique opened the scoring after 19 minutes.

Depay had been lively from the start and the Netherlands forward whipped in a pinpoint free-kick for the unmarked centre-back, who headed in from eight yards out.

Brave goalkeeping from Alex Remiro denied Depay a debut goal soon but Braithwaite doubled vibrant Barca's lead in first-half stoppage time, planting a powerful header into the net after Frenkie de Jong stood up an inviting cross.

Jorda Alba failed to hit the target with only Remiro to beat after he was sent clear early in the second half, but he made amends just before the hour mark.

Depay slipped the marauding full-back in with a clever pass and Remiro could only palm his cross into the path of Braithwaite, who fired home from six yards out.

Barca were relentless and Pedri forced a fine reflex save from the busy Remiro before Lobete pulled a goal back with a measured left-foot finish.eight minutes from time and Oyarzabal curled home a sublime free-kick.

Sergi Roberto sealed the points, though, tucking home the excellent Braithwaite's cross from the right.

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.

Lionel Messi is a Paris Saint-Germain player. Even though we've had a few days to let that sink in, it still seems such a perplexing scenario.

Messi has signed a two-year deal at the Parc des Princes and will form probably the most-feared front three in world football alongside Kylian Mbappe and his old friend Neymar.

Barcelona's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under LaLiga's salary restrictions, meaning they begin their 2021-22 campaign on Sunday against Real Sociedad with a gaping void in their team.

This will be the first season since 2003-04 that Barca haven't been able to call upon the Argentina superstar, and his absence is sure to leave a lingering sense of astonishment that won't clear for a while, particularly if the Blaugrana endure a difficult start to the campaign.

Of course, Barca's hands were ultimately tied in this shocking saga, their financial state so rocky that signing Messi up to a new contract after his previous deal expired was literally impossible. Although the two parties had an agreement, the numbers simply wouldn't work.

The world will now watch on with fascination as Messi represents a new club for the first time in his career, while back in Catalonia, Barca must carry on like nothing's happened.

That'll be difficult to do. Using Opta data, Stats Perform looks at some of the incredible feats that make Messi irreplaceable.

 

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Previously a one-club man, his first appearance for Barcelona came under Frank Rijkaard against Espanyol in October 2004, while his first goal arrived seven months later with a clever lob against Albacete at Camp Nou from a Ronaldinho assist.

Brazil great Ronaldinho was the last Barcelona player to wear the famed number 10 before Messi took that shirt in 2008 and made it his own.

But Ronaldinho does not feature among the top assisters for Messi goals, a list that is led by Luis Suarez (47)Dani Alves assisted 42 of the attacker's goals and third is Andres Iniesta with 37, six more than fellow legendary midfielder Xavi.

 

Messi played under eight different coaches during his time with Barcelona. Of those, he featured most often (219 appearances) and scored the most goals (211) during Pep Guardiola's tenure.

However, the 60 goals Messi scored in 50 games under the late Tito Vilanova – an average of 1.20 goals per match – was his best goals-per-game return with a single coach.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Messi's lowest average goals-per-game ratio was during the Rijkaard era at the start of his career (0.38), followed by the 0.63 managed under Quique Setien between January and August 2020.

 

Messi's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions and providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Indeed, the forward netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

In more recent years, Messi managed 51 goals in 2016, 50 goals in 2017, 47 goals in 2018, 45 goals in 2019 and 26 goals in 2020 – a steady decline that he has already rectified this year, having scored 28 times in the first half of 2021.

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in 15 consecutive LaLiga seasons.

 

Messi's 672 goals for Barcelona were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

Atletico Madrid were next on that particular list, with Messi bagging 32 goals in that fixture, followed by Valencia (31), Athletic Bilbao (29) and bitter rivals Real Madrid (26), making him the all-time leading scorer in El Clasico.

In terms of individual goalkeepers, Diego Alves was Messi's most frequent victim, the former Almeria and Valencia man having conceded 21 goals against the Argentina superstar.

Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas was joint-third with 17 goals against, one fewer than the 18 Messi put past Gorka Iraizoz.

 

Messi is of course synonymous with Camp Nou, a ground where he has scored 394 goals in 381 games at an average of 1.03 per match. Madrid fans will be particularly sick of him as he has scored 15 times in 22 games at the Santiago Bernabeu – his second favourite venue.

That is followed by the Vicente Calderon, Atletico's old home (14 goals in 20 appearances). Deportivo La Coruna's Riazor (13 in eight) and Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan (13 in 18) complete the top five.

It's fair to say Barca have an almighty task on their hands in replacing him.

 

Messi's other notable records and achievements

– Messi is LaLiga's all-time leading scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476).

– He scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013, a record for a player in the competition's history.

– Messi is one of only two players to reach 100 goals in Champions League history (120), alongside Cristiano Ronaldo (134).

– He was the first player to score five goals in a Champions League match, doing so against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012 at Camp Nou.

– The Argentina forward is one of six players to score more than 50 goals in the Copa del Rey's history and the only one to score in six different finals in the tournament (Telmo Zarra scored in five).

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