Diego Simeone is full of respect for Ronald Koeman and sympathises with his opposite number's current situation as Atletico Madrid prepare to host Barcelona in LaLiga.

Atletico lost their previous league match against Deportivo Alaves and are aiming to avoid suffering consecutive defeats in the competition for the first time since 2019.

Simeone's side sit in fourth and have won just one of their last 11 top-flight home games against Barca, who are unbeaten in their first LaLiga six matches this term, though there is mounting pressure on head coach Ronald Koeman.

Reports suggest the under-fire Koeman is soon to be relieved of his duties at Camp Nou, but Simeone spoke highly of the Dutchman ahead of Saturday's meeting in the Spanish capital.

"He will surely be in an uncomfortable situation and, on our side, I imagine that all of his colleagues respect him as a coach and he will surely always do well," Simeone told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference.

"I am not the one to value anything. I respect Koeman very much, he has shown personality and I wish him the best. As for the transition, we are very busy with ourselves and we do not worry about what happens on another team.

"We think about the value of the rival players, Barcelona has great footballers, a very good coach with a lot of personality and we focus on doing well ourselves, improving ourselves."

 

The fixture may well signify the end for Koeman, who will be absent from the touchline after his dismissal against Cadiz, but it also sees Luis Suarez go up against his former club once again.

The forward has scored against 30 of the 31 opponents he has faced in LaLiga, with Barca the only side Suarez has failed to find the net against so far.

However, Simeone insisted there was no change in motivation for Suarez, while he also praised the versatility of Antoine Griezmann following his return to the club from Barcelona.

"I see him [Suarez] as always, since he arrived here, with the same hunger, enthusiasm and we try to empower him that the best thing he has is the goal," Simeone said.

"We always put him [Griezmann] where he normally plays. Footballers always have a privileged place, I like to play here.

"The important thing is where the team needs it and Antoine I have no doubt that where we put him, the other day as a midfielder, I am sure he can help us wherever we put him."

Barcelona club legend Andres Iniesta says it is his 'wish' to return to Camp Nou at some point after he hangs his boots up.

The central midfielder made 674 appearances in Blaugrana colours across all competitions over 16 years in the senior squad, scoring 57 times.

At 37 years old, the Spain great is still playing for Vissel Kobe in Japan, having joined from Barcelona in 2018, and has won an Emperor's Cup and a Japanese Super Cup since.

His contract with the J1 League club runs until January 2024, after which the veteran may decide to retire from playing and potentially return to Catalonia.

"Yes, [returning to Barcelona] is something I wish," Iniesta told the BBC. "I would like it to happen because more than anything it is the club I spent so many years in.

"You don't know what will happen in the future, you don't know in what way I could return or who will be the people in charge at a certain moment.

"So there are many factors which make it hard to see what will really happen, but if you ask me if I would like to, the answer is yes."

However, the scorer of the Spain's World Cup-winning goal in 2010 has not yet decided what role he would like to pursue when he ends his playing career.

"Sometimes I would like to coach, sometimes I think my interests go into other directions," Iniesta continued. "I know I want to stay in football and when I finish as a professional I would like to get a coaching licence, but I don't know if I will use it in the future.

"There's nothing where I wake up in the morning and think 'I want to do this', so for now I will enjoy playing, training and will see what happens in the future."

Barcelona find themselves in a difficult position, with head coach Ronald Koeman under pressure after successive 3-0 Champions League defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

Iniesta reflected on the differences between the side he played in and the current team, reaffirming his affection for the club regardless of their circumstances.

"Barca has always been characterised by being a team that wants the ball and wants to keep the ball," said Iniesta. "In the time of Guardiola, the football itself didn't change but it was a time where teams were really looking at us and trying to learn."

"I will always see Barcelona in a good way because I still see a different team. Many things have changed since then. Naturally the players are different but there is still an idea, a concept.

"Sometimes there will be good times and sometimes there will be worse times, like it has always been, but personally I don't like comparing too much."

Ronald Koeman seemingly accepted that his time as Barcelona head coach is up but has questioned whether his replacement will do a better job with the players available.

Wednesday's 3-0 loss to Benfica – making it back-to-back defeats to begin a Champions League campaign for the first time in Barca's history – has upped the pressure on Koeman.

Amid a run of one win in five matches in all competitions, reports from Spain on Friday suggest this weekend's trip to Atletico will be the Dutchman's last in charge.

Barca president Joan Laporta is said to have made the decision in the wake of the heavy loss in Lisbon and a replacement will reportedly be brought in during the international break.

While Koeman has yet to discuss his future with Laporta, the ex-Netherlands boss admits the reports in the Spanish and Catalan press are telling.

"The club hasn't told me anything, really," he said at a news conference on Friday previewing his side's clash with Atletico. 

"I found out that the president was here this morning but I didn't see him. We were training but I'm still the same. 

"I have ears and eyes and I already know that a lot of things leak. Surely it's true but to me, once again, he has not said anything to me.

"I am not the most important thing, but the team. I am here for the love of the club. I came here during a complicated situation – more complicated than the first day.

"Everyone has their opinion but I am only interested in the players and the Atletico game."

 

Luis Enrique and Roberto Martinez, in charge of Spain and Belgium respectively, ruled themselves out of the running to replace Koeman this week.

A number of other high-profile names have been linked, but Koeman – who saw Lionel Messi depart for Paris Saint-Germain in August – feels the situation will remain the same.

"I don't know if another coach would be able to get more out of this side," he said. "There are a lot of young players here.

"There's been talk about the system, but that's because players are unavailable. There are no wingers. The job of the coach is to work with the players available.

"If I had a bag of money, I would still have Messi here and other players alongside him. If we recover attacking players, we can have a strong and young squad."

Jordi Cruyff, who was appointed as a sporting advisor by Barca in June, is another who has been tipped to succeed Koeman in the coming days or weeks.

"I talk to Jordi every day," Koeman said. "But what we talk about stays between us. From the first day he told me he was not going to take over as the club's coach."

 

Koeman has been under pressure since the end of last season and the 58-year-old has regularly had to defend his position.

"I'm tired of doing that," he said when asked to highlight the work he has done in his 14 months at the helm.

"We have done important things during a period of change. One day I will speak and say what I think."

Asked for his best and worst moments in charge, Koeman said: "It seems I'm out but the best was signing for the club, the worst was Messi's departure."

Koeman's immediate focus is on the match with Atletico, who have beaten Barca just once in their last 11 league meetings in the Spanish capital.

A victory for the Catalan giants would move them above the champions in the table, though Koeman is expecting another tough test.

"We are sides with different styles, but they both lead to winning many things," he said. "They were deservedly champions last season.

"It's difficult to create chances against them. They are great at defending their area and you have to be very good with the last pass. Only by scoring can you beat them."

Young midfielder Pedri and full-back Jordi Alba have both been ruled out of the match through injury.

Roberto Martinez says he has had no contact with Barcelona amid reports he is a contender to replace Ronald Koeman.

Barca boss Koeman is reportedly on the brink of being sacked following a 3-0 Champions League defeat at Benfica on Wednesday.

Martinez is a close friend of Barcelona sporting advisor Jordi Cruyff's and president Joan Laporta is said to be an admirer of the Belgium head coach's work.

However, Spaniard Martinez has played down talk that he could be set to return to his homeland.

"There is absolutely nothing. There are no contacts," Martinez told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws 

"The basis of my friendship with Jordi is that we separate the private from the professional.

"At no time did I ask Jordi what my situation was in Barcelona. I don't think he has the function of appointing a possible new coach."

Martinez is under contract with the Red Devils until after the World Cup in Qatar next year and says he is focused on the job in hand, with a Nations League semi-final against Italy to come next Thursday.

"I would love for us to be the first European country to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar. That is the challenge after the Nations League final," he added.

"But in football you never know what will be done tomorrow. I wake up every morning as Belgium coach until the last day of my contract, but I realise that many circumstances can arise along the way."

 

Barcelona had not lost to Benfica since 1961. They had not started a European season with consecutive defeats since 1972-73. They had last lost back-to-back Champions League group games 21 years ago.

And yet, the most damning thing about their 3-0 defeat in Lisbon on Wednesday was that it wasn't a huge surprise.

By most reasonable football definitions, Barca are in crisis. They have won just three of eight games in all competitions in 2021-22. Spiralling debts of more than €1.2billion meant they could not give Lionel Messi a new contract or conduct any meaningful recruitment, even as club captains took pay cuts.

Those dire financial figures also mean they have a spending cap barely an eighth of the size of Real Madrid's for this season, so January is unlikely to offer much of a chance to change things. And, in Ronald Koeman, they have a coach who appears increasingly out of his depth, unable to inspire his players or maintain much cordiality with the suits above him.

There is speculation that Barca's next game could be his last in charge... and it just happens to be against the champions. How has it come to this?

 

Passive passing

It should be repeated that many of Barca's problems are not of Koeman's making. He was appointed by Josep Maria Bartomeu after the historic ignominy of that 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich, when years of squad mismanagement came home to roost in one horrifying performance. With no money to keep Messi or greatly improve the team, Koeman has been hamstrung in his efforts to build a side capable even of competing for pride, never mind titles.

It's also true that Koeman's system is a mess.

There's a semblance of playing 'the Barca way'. For one thing, they love having the ball: the Catalans average the most possession in LaLiga this season (68.4 per cent), while their average of 4.54 passes per sequence is the highest in the division, and only league leaders Real Madrid (112) have put together more sequences of 10 passes or more than Barca (106). They also press high, restricting opposition teams to just eight passes per defensive action on average, the best figure in the league.

The trouble is, they don't seem to make the most of these positives.

 

Despite ostensibly pressing with intent, their return of 53 high turnovers is only joint-seventh in LaLiga. Despite controlling the ball for the majority of matches, they have only created 55 chances from open play – eight teams have created more – and attempted 72 shots, the 13th-highest tally in the competition. Even crosses are scarce: five teams can better their figure of 211 deliveries into the box.

For context, Sunday's opponents Atletico Madrid have attempted 96 shots this season, the third-most in the league, created 10 more goalscoring chances than Barca and played 44 more passes into the penalty area – and all while facing a league-low 45 shots on their own goal, 14 fewer than Koeman's men. Even taking into account Barca's game in hand, these are notable differences.

 

A Messi divorce

Barca knew they would miss Messi. Koeman knew they would miss Messi. Anyone who has ever kicked a football knew they would miss Messi.

But, boy, they really do miss him.

Barca finished LaLiga last season with 85 goals, 18 more than any other side, 30 of which were scored by Messi. They outperformed their expected goals figure by 11.04, with only champions Atletico doing so by a greater margin (13.95). Messi himself exceeded his xG by 6.21.

 

Excluding penalties and own goals, Barca outperformed their xG of 74 in 2020-21. Their 583 shots, the most among LaLiga teams, each carried an average value of 0.13xG.

 

This season, Barca have scored 11 goals, which almost exactly matches their xG – and that is despite the average xG value of their shots increasing very slightly to 0.15. Without Messi's abnormal abilities, they are reverting towards the norm.

It's amazing how much better things look when someone is there to stick the ball in the net.

 

Dutch courage

Which brings us to Memphis Depay, the big positive of Koeman's time in charge.

Trying to fill Messi's shoes might be beyond mere mortals, but the way Depay has settled into his role as Barca's attacking lynchpin has been extremely impressive. The Netherlands forward has fulfilled his former international boss' requirements, leading the line with aplomb even when the team around him has floundered.

Depay has managed three goals and one assist in all competitions, more than any other Barca player. With 2.49 expected assists, he can consider himself unlucky not to have a greater tally of goal involvements, too.

To date, Depay has attempted 22 shots, more than three times as many as any team-mate, and created 18 chances, six more than the next-best figure posted by Frenkie de Jong.

 

Among LaLiga players in all competitions, only Karim Benzema (16) and Vinicius Junior (14) have mustered more shots on target than Depay (13), while only three players in Spain's top flight have completed more dribbles than the former Lyon and Manchester United man (21). He has embraced the pressure of leading the Barcelona line in one of the toughest periods in their recent history. He just can't do it alone.

If Koeman's reign is to survive this weekend, he will have to hope Depay can produce some magic against Atletico – although even that may not be enough.

Paris Saint-Germain continue to plan for Kylian Mbappe's potential departure. 

The Ligue 1 giants have been linked with several possible replacements. 

Robert Lewandowski is the latest rumoured target.

 

TOP STORY – PSG EYE LEWANDOWSKI AS MBAPPE REPLACEMENT

With seemingly everyone expecting Kylian Mbappe to depart Paris Saint-Germain after the season, the club have been linked with several potential attacking options. 

Robert Lewandowski is the latest, with Le10Sport reporting the Bayern Munich and Poland striker could make a lucrative move to PSG. 

The 33-year-old is under contract with Bayern through 2023, though, and could end up agreeing to a new deal to remain in the Bundesliga. 

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are set to take another run at Manchester United's Edinson Cavani during the January transfer window, says El Nacional. 

Andrea Pirlo and River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo are candidates to replace Ronald Koeman if he is sacked by Barcelona in the coming days, the Express reports. 

PSG are eyeing midfield help, with Inter's Nicolo Barella a possibility, according to Calciomercato, along with N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Franck Kessie.

Liverpool are interested in Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby, according to Calciomercato. 

Timo Werner could look to leave Chelsea if he does not receive more playing time the rest of the season, says the Telegraph.

Luis Enrique has no interest in replacing Ronald Koeman at Barcelona while he is still under contract as Spain head coach.

Koeman is under growing pressure at Camp Nou following Wednesday's 3-0 defeat to Benfica, which makes it back-to-back defeats for Barca to begin a Champions League campaign for the first time ever.

The Catalan giants have now won just one of their past five matches in all competitions ahead of Saturday's trip to reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid.

According to reports from Spain, Barca chiefs will consider replacing Koeman during the upcoming international break should they fall to another defeat this weekend.

Luis Enrique is rumoured to be one of the club's top choices to take over should Koeman leave, but the former Blaugrana boss intends to serve the rest of his contract with Spain, which is due to expire after the World Cup in December 2022.

Asked if Barcelona president Joan Laporta had contacted him regarding the position, Luis Enrique said: "I don't think he has my phone number.

"I'm a coach here for a second time, and it's my custom to keep my word. I'll be here until my contract ends, for sure.

"Despite my proud history with that club, I don't want to get involved in other people's business."

Luis Enrique, who won nine trophies across a hugely successful three-year spell in charge of Barca, was speaking at a news conference on Thursday after announcing Spain's 23-man squad for the upcoming Nations League Finals.

Spain face European champions Italy in next Wednesday's semi-final at San Siro, with the winners of that match to take on either Belgium or France in the final four days later.

 

The high-profile match in Milan presents La Roja with a chance to exact some revenge following their penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 semi-finals a little under three months ago.

The Azzurri went on to beat England on penalties in the final and have remained unbeaten in their three World Cup qualifiers since that Wembley triumph.

Roberto Mancini's men set a new all-time record of 37 matches without defeat in men's international football with their 5-0 win over Lithuania earlier this month, surpassing the benchmark previously set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

"Italy are at their peak and were deserving champions at the Euros," Luis Enrique told reporters. "They have continued with that streak since then, but the day they lose for the first time is near. 

"We were capable of beating them in the tournament, but we didn't. This game will demand a lot from us as they are a team of the highest level, which is where we want to be.

"Whichever players I select on the day, I hope it will be another spectacular game."

Barcelona teenager Gavi has been called up by Spain head coach Luis Enrique for the first time ahead of the upcoming Nations League Finals.

The La Masia product made his senior bow at club level in last month's 2-1 win over Getafe as a second-half substitute and has featured a further five times in all competitions.

At 17 years and 49 days, Gavi became the second-youngest player to make his full debut for the Catalans in last week's stalemate with Cadiz, behind only Ansu Fati (16 years, 318 days).

He is now in line to make his first appearance for Spain in next Wednesday's Nations League semi-final clash with European champions Italy at San Siro, with the winners of that match to face either Belgium or France in the final four days later.

Explaining his decision to call up the youngster, Luis Enrique said at a news conference on Thursday: "I like what I have seen from him. His level has surprised me.

"I have known about him for a long time as he's a player from La Masia. I have no doubt about his future performances.

"With there being players absent I can have a look at others. It's a shame for those who are not with us, but now others can join up.

"Gavi still has to improve, of course, but with and without the ball he can contribute to the side. Seeing what I have seen so far, he will be up to the task.

"It would be risky to put a young player in the side. Perhaps he has been called up too early, but he may still start against Italy. We will see if he can adapt to our side."

While Gavi is preparing to link up with the national side, fellow Barca youngster Fati has not been included by Luis Enrique having only just returned from a serious knee injury.

"It is a joy to see him back, and yes, with him playing again I wanted to bring him back, even if it was not to play and for him to just be with us," Luis Enrique said. 

"We have to put that situation in context, and right now the best option is that he is not with us and that he continues playing and adding minutes for his club."

Gavi is not alone in earning a first call-up to the senior squad as Yeremy is also included after scoring one goal and setting three up for Villarreal in five LaLiga games this term.

Only five players have been directly involved in more goals in the Spanish top flight this term, all but one of whom have played at least one game more.

Chelsea wing-back Marcos Alonso is also part of Luis Enrique's 23-man squad, earning his first call-up in three years, but there is no place for his team-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Luis Enrique has once again overlooked Real Madrid's contingent of players, while Alvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno, Dani Olmo and Raul Albiol are nursing injuries.

Ander Herrera and Brahim Diaz, who have been in good form for Paris Saint-Germain and Milan respectively, are also left out.

 

Spain squad:

David de Gea (Manchester United), Robert Sanchez (Brighton and Hove Albion), Unai Simon (Athletic Bilbao); Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Eric Garcia (Manchester City), Gavi (Barcelona), Inigo Martinez (Athletic Bilbao), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Mikel Merino (Real Sociedad), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Pedro Porro (Sporting CP), Sergio Reguilon (Tottenham); Pedri (Barcelona), Rodri (Manchester City), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona); Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid), Mikel Oyarzabal (Real Sociedad), Pablo Fornals (West Ham), Pablo Sarabia (Sporting CP), Yeremy (Villarreal).

Flamengo will face Copa Libertadores champions Palmeiras in an all-Brazilian final after Bruno Henrique continued his red-hot form in Wednesday's 2-0 victory at Barcelona.

After scoring a brace in the opening leg, Flamengo star Bruno Henrique scored another two goals to set up a comprehensive 4-0 aggregate triumph over the Ecuadorian side.

Flamengo are unbeaten in their last 17 matches in the Libertadores (W12 D5) – the joint-longest undefeated streak of any team in the history of the tournament, alongside Sporting Cristal from 1962 to 1969 (W8 D9).

Two-time South American champions Flamengo – who last prevailed in 2019 – and holders Palmeiras will meet in the Libertadores showpiece on neutral ground in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo on November 27.

Bruno Henrique broke the deadlock in the 18th minute away to Barcelona in Guayaquil – the forward breaking the offside trap before rounding the goalkeeper and finishing into an empty net.

Having provided the assist in the first half, Everton Ribeiro was the provider again for Bruno Henrique five minutes into the second period.

Starting from the goalkeeper, Flamengo navigated Barcelona's high press, keeping the ball before a swift move resulted in Bruno Henrique completing a stunning team move.

Bruno Henrique (16) and team-mate Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa (21) have together scored more than half of Flamengo's goals in the last three editions of the Libertadores (37 of 73).

Sacking Ronald Koeman would be the easy way out for Barcelona, with Sergio Busquets calling on the players to take responsibility for their "critical situation". 

Barcelona were on the receiving end of a 3-0 humbling at the hands of Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday, meaning they have lost their first two matches of a European campaign for only the second time in their history. 

Darwin Nunez put Benfica in front after just three minutes at the Estadio da Luz and the Uruguayan added a second from the penalty spot after Rafa Silva doubled the Portuguese side's advantage in the second half.

Barca finished the game with 10 men after Eric Garcia was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Goncalo Ramos. The Catalan giants have now lost four of their past five Champions League games, conceding 14 goals in the process. 

Calls for Koeman to be relieved of his duties will surely intensify after another disappointing result, but Busquets believes the fault does not lie solely with him. 

"It's the easiest thing in the world of football [to sack the coach], but the responsibility also belongs to the players. We are in a critical situation," Busquets told Movistar. 

"We have zero points. You have to think about moving upwards because there is no other option. 

"We have to win both games against Dynamo Kiev and see what the other teams do. There is a lot left [to play for] and we have to try to be positive." 

Frenkie de Jong made his 100th Barca appearance in the meeting with Benfica and despite the shock defeat does not think getting rid of Koeman would turn the club's fortunes around. 

"I can't talk about Koeman, it's not for me. I don't think changing the coach can solve anything," he said. 

"We are trying everything, working hard in training. We tried our best on the field but today was not the day, that is clear. 

"We have to keep fighting, be together, overcome this situation because you only escape from situations like this when you work hard and are united as a team.  

"We have lost and we have not scored. We are in a very difficult situation. We have to continue and look forward."

Ronald Koeman believes he retains the backing of Barcelona's players but accepts his future is not in his own hands after the club's embarrassing 3-0 Champions League defeat by Benfica.

Barca followed up their 3-0 matchday one loss to Bayern Munich by an even more humiliating defeat as they left Lisbon on the end of another three-goal defeat on Wednesday.

It means Barca have lost the first two matches of a Champions League campaign for the first time ever and leaves them bottom of Group E.

On top of that, Barca have now lost back-to-back group-stage matches for the first since 2000-01, while Benfica's win equalled their biggest ever in the competition.

Barca have been in turmoil ever since Lionel Messi's departure was confirmed last month and their situation has been exacerbated by the financial issues that had threatened to consume the embattle LaLiga giants for months.

Wednesday's defeat came a matter of hours after LaLiga confirmed Barca's salary cap spending limit for 2021-22 had been cut by €280million to just €97m, only the seventh-highest in Spain's top flight, highlighting the plight they find themselves in.

"I am not going to discuss the level of this team," Koeman told reporters after the Benfica loss.

"Everyone knows what Barca's problem is today. It's not possible to comment on a team that is not the one of past years. For me this is clearer than water.

"I cannot say anything about my future. I feel very supported by my players and their attitude, but I don't know what the club thinks.

"It's not in my hands, and that's why I don't want to answer anything about my future. We will see what happens. I accept the world in which we coaches live."

Barca found themselves 1-0 down in the third minute but created numerous chances to equalise before the break, with Luuk de Jong and Frenkie de Jong wasting glorious opportunities.

According to the expected goals (xG) metric, Barca would ordinarily have expected to score 1.4 goals on Wednesday – while that was still less than Benfica's 1.9, it is evidence of their wastefulness.

But the Portuguese hosts were clinical. Rafa Silva effectively put the game beyond Barca deep into the second half and Darwin Nunez added to his opener with a late penalty to compound the visitors' embarrassment, and Koeman accepted the responsibility.

"In the end, the culprit is the coach," he continued. "I think that during many phases of the game the approach was good.

"I understand that after going 2-0 down we had more problems. But I think we had opportunities to score two goals. We have been inferior in effectiveness, not over the course of the match.

"We are at a time where we have to change many things and there are many people missing. I don't think there's any need to repeat this."

Ronald Koeman reached a new low as Barcelona were beaten 3-0 away to Benfica on Wednesday, making it the first time in Champions League history that the Blaugrana have lost the first two games of a campaign.

Barca were comprehensively beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich on matchday one and this was every bit as humiliating as the Catalans lost back-to-back group games in a single season for the first time since 2000-01.

A nightmare start quickly gave them an uphill battle as Darwin Nunez put Benfica ahead in the third minute, and although Barca were soon dominating, they were extremely wasteful in front of goal.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen got away with a dreadful error early in the second half but Benfica held firm at the back and eventually seized their opportunity to finish Barca off through Rafa Silva and a late Nunez penalty before Eric Garcia saw red to cap a dreadful night for Koeman.

Garcia offered little resistance as Nunez earned Benfica an early lead, the Uruguayan producing a couple of stepovers before finding the bottom-left corner.

Barca quickly began to dominate in response, but a fantastic Lucas Verissimo block prevented Luuk de Jong from finding an empty net.

Frenkie de Jong was similarly wasteful when prodding a low cross wide from close range, and Pedri – a surprise starter so soon after injury – shot agonisingly past the left-hand post a little later.

Ter Stegen summed up Barca's poor decision-making early in the second half, bizarrely opting to rush out in an attempt to cut out a throughball and was beaten to it, but Nunez could only hit the post.

Luuk de Jong then somehow hit the upright from point-blank range at the other end, though an offside call against Ronald Araujo in the lead up spared his blushes somewhat.

Either way, Barca were made to rue their profligacy.

Silva slammed home from 10 yards after Ter Stegen parried a shot right to him and Nunez made it 3-0 with a cool penalty after Sergino Dest handled, with Garcia's late red card for a cynical tug compounding Barca's embarrassment.

Real Madrid's salary cap spending limits for the 2021-22 season is seven times greater than financially stricken Barcelona's, LaLiga has announced.

Los Blancos have seen their limit boosted by €270million, with Barca's reduced by €280m.

Carlo Ancelotti's side will be capped at just over €739m, but Barca can spend only €97m – with six clubs able to splash more than them.

Reigning champions Atletico Madrid have also been hit, with their limit reduced by €81m from last term, resulting in Diego Simeone's men allowed to spend €171m for the next campaign – the third-highest ceiling in the division.

LaLiga corporate director Jose Guerra suggested to ESPN that Madrid's limit, which is over €500m more than any other LaLiga team, would have left room for them to secure Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, who they attempted to sign last transfer window.

"They [Real Madrid] would have no problem whatsoever," LaLiga corporate director Jose Guerra said to ESPN. "They were ready for [Kylian] Mbappe or any other player."

LaLiga calculates these figures by considering club's earnings, spendings, overheads, losses and debts to encourage sustainability and financial fair play.

 

Barca caused conflict with the league in August when they, along with Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, refused to sign a deal to sell 10 per cent of its business to CVC Capital Partners and later saw Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi leave for PSG because of the club's perilous financial situation.

Players such as Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba responded by agreeing payment deferrals and salary reductions, but Guerra explained the Catalan club's severe decrease is down to losses of almost €500m last season.

"They acknowledge much higher losses than what they had initially estimated, so the impact is greater on their spending limit," Guerra continued.

"If you take the €97m limit and add the losses, around €480m, we're talking about €570m, which would be more normal. So it's more or less stable."

While Barca expect their cap to increase in the following season due to writing off several assets in last year's accounts, Guerra also warned that this was not guaranteed as LaLiga consider past losses moving forward.

Sevilla have the second largest kitty, capped at €200m, with Villarreal (€159m), Real Sociedad (€127m) and Athletic Bilbao (€111m) making up the top six.

However, Valencia – who won LaLiga in 2003-04 – have the smallest limit, with their spending reduced to just €31m, which is a €71m fall from the previous year.

Youri Tielemans has not yet committed his long-term future to Leicester City.

Tielemans is only contracted with the Foxes until the end of the 2022-23 season.

And Leicester may consider selling their FA Cup final hero at the end of this season if they cannot strike a new deal.

 

TOP STORY – SPANISH GIANTS KEEN ON TIELEMANS

Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are circling for Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, reports The Athletic.

The 24-year-old Belgium international publicly said he is "keeping his options open" as he negotiates a new Leicester deal.

Barcelona and Madrid would be interested in Tielemans, who has also been linked with Liverpool, should he become available next off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

– Football Insider reports Tottenham are still planning to sell Dele Alli, although they will wait until the end of this season. Spurs are hoping Alli's value will rise throughout the season to land a significant transfer fee.

– Everton are considering moves for Real Madrid pair Isco and Luka Jovic in January on six-month loan deals, according to Defensa Central.

– Liverpool are keeping an eye on Porto's Colombian star Luis Diaz, reports The Independent, with the two sides having met in the Champions League on Tuesday.

– Juventus have joined Chelsea in showing interest in Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, claims the Daily Mail.

– Newcastle attacker Allan Saint-Maximin has interest from Chelsea and Liverpool, according to the Express.

Manchester United need points to get their Champions League campaign going, and doing so by getting revenge for their Europa League final shoot-out loss to Villarreal would be a moment to enjoy for the Old Trafford fans.

When it comes to established elite needing results, United are not alone. Barcelona head to Benfica looking to banish thoughts of that humbling home loss to Bayern Munich on matchday one, while Massimiliano Allegri could use a strong performance against strong opposition when Chelsea visit Juventus.

Bayern themselves host Dynamo Kiev, as Mircea Lucescu looks to fare a little better than the last time he took a team to the Allianz Arena.

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

 

Benfica v Barcelona: Can Memphis Depay breathe life back into Catalans?

Barcelona's 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich on matchday one was the first time in at least 186 Champions League matches in which they did not attempt a single shot on target.

Memphis Depay did not manage a shot of any kind, something he had never before experienced when starting a game in this competition. However, with two goals in his previous two games against Benfica, he could be the man to get Barca firing in Lisbon.

Benfica have not beaten Barcelona since the European Cup final in 1961, but if they do manage to pile more pressure on Ronald Koeman with a victory, it will mark the first time the Blaugrana have lost their opening two games of the season in Europe since 1972-73, when they lost twice to Porto.

Bayern Munich v Dynamo Kiev: More unhappy memories beckon for Lucescu

The Allianz Arena was the scene of Lucescu's heaviest Champions League defeat: his Shakhtar Donetsk side lost 7-0 to Bayern Munich in March 2015.

Having failed to score in seven of their previous 11 games in this competition, it is hard to expect Dynamo to stop Bayern from claiming what would be a 33rd home win out of their most recent 35 in the group stages.

In fact, across the past three seasons, Bayern have won the most games (20) and scored the most goals (73) of any team in the tournament. In 14 of their 22 games in that time, they have netted at least three goals.

 

Juventus v Chelsea: Bianconeri out to keep up king-slayer tradition

Juventus have won seven matches against the holders in this competition's history, a figure only Real Madrid can beat (11 wins). They also beat Chelsea 3-0 in their previous meeting back in the 2012-13 group stage.

Still, Chelsea have only lost three of their past 32 group games and none of their most recent 12. Thomas Tuchel's 68 per cent win ratio is bettered by only two men among managers to take charge of 20 or more group games: Pep Guardiola (71 per cent) and Jupp Heynckes (73 per cent).

The last time Juve hosted an English team in the Champions League, Jose Mourinho's Manchester United snatched a 2-1 win in November 2018. Massimiliano Allegri's side have never lost consecutive home games to English opponents.

 

Manchester United v Villarreal: Goals at last in Europa League final repeat?

All five previous European meetings between Manchester United and Villarreal have ended in draws. The first four did not even see a goal scored – it's the most played Champions League match never to see a goal – while the Europa League final last season finished 1-1, with the LaLiga side winning 11-10 on penalties.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the only manager to take charge of 10 or more Champions League matches at an English club and lose more than half of them (he's lost seven out of 11). Should they suffer defeat at Old Trafford, it will mark the first time in history they have ever lost their first two European games of a season.

If he plays, Cristiano Ronaldo will break Iker Casillas' record of 177 Champions League appearances. However, he has failed to score in four games against Villarreal in the competition – only against Lille and Benfica has he played as many times without finding the net.

Other fixtures:

Atalanta v Young Boys

30 – Atalanta's 30 Champions League goals have all been scored by non-Italians. They have netted more goals without any coming from a player of the nationality of the club he's representing in Champions League history. Young Boys have scored six times in the competition, but none has come from a Swiss player.

17 – David Wagner's side had 17 more shots than Manchester United in their opening-round win (19 vs 2). The last time a coach saw his team have that many more attempts than their opponents in his first game in charge was when Hansi Flick's Bayern Munich had 27 shots to Olympiacos' three in November 2019.

Zenit v Malmo

1 – Zenit have only taken one point from their previous eight group-stage matches and have lost four of their past seven home games in European competition.

8 – No team faced more shots on target than Malmo on matchday one of this campaign (eight against Juventus), while their xG against total of 3.5 was the most of any team in the opening round.

Salzburg v Lille

40 – This will be Lille's 40th Champions League match. They only won six of their first 39 - only Dinamo Zagreb (five) and FCSB (four) have ever won fewer than eight of their first 40 games in the competition.

35 – Although 10 of Salzburg's starting XI against Sevilla last time out were aged 24 or younger, they also included 35-year-old Andreas Ulmer, who was two years and 158 days older than his coach, Matthias Jaissle. It's the first time a player has been over two years older than their manager in a Champions League match since Naldo for Schalke in December 2018 under Domenico Tedesco (three years and two days older).

Wolfsburg v Sevilla

3.7 – Wolfsburg's previous six games against Spanish opponents in European competition have seen a total of 22 goals scored (11 for, 11 against), at an average of 3.7 per game.

7 – Sevilla are unbeaten in their past seven away games in this competition (W3 D4), their longest ever unbeaten run away from home in the European Cup/Champions League. They last suffered defeat on the road in October 2017, losing 5-1 away to Spartak Moscow.

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