Marcelo Gallardo has made clear he plans to see out his contract with River Plate amid links to Barcelona.

Ronald Koeman is the head coach at Camp Nou but his time in charge could be coming to an end, despite Barca being unbeaten in LaLiga so far this season.

Wednesday's 3-0 defeat away to Benfica in the Champions League means the Spanish club have lost back-to-back group games in the competition in the same campaign for the first time in 21 years.

Koeman also has a fractured relationship with Barca president Joan Laporta, leading to speculation the Dutchman is on his way out. Gallardo is one of those seen as a potential candidate to take over, though the former Argentina international responded to the rumour on Friday.

Speaking to the media ahead of the huge game against Boca Juniors on Sunday, Gallardo said: "I am focused on the Superclasico and also everyone knows that my thought and my decision is to fulfill the contract with River.

"I have no reason to be distracted by other things and thoughts of others. I have a contract and a commitment to River.

“I want to continue connected with what it means to be River's coach and it never crossed my mind to leave the club."

Gallardo's deal with his current employers expires at the end of the year. Reports in Spain suggested he had already been contacted by Barcelona, though he refused to confirm or deny such speculation.

"If they contacted me or not, what's the point of revealing it," he added.

"The only thing I can say is that my goal is to end the contract with the club. Then we will see, but my focus is on the game against Boca."

Koeman is set to take charge as Barca visit reigning LaLiga champions Atletico Madrid on Saturday, though the Catalan club do not then play again until October 17 due to the upcoming international window.

As well as Gallardo, Belgium national team boss Roberto Martinez and Barcelona legend Xavi have been rumoured as potential options to become the new head coach, along with Italian duo Antonio Conte and Andrea Pirlo.

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.

Inaki Williams is set to break the record for most consecutive games in LaLiga history should he feature in Athletic Bilbao's clash with Alaves on Friday.

If he plays in the showdown at San Mames, the forward will make his 203rd successive appearance in the Spanish top flight.

One of only two players to feature in over 200 consecutive LaLiga matches, Williams would surpass the long-standing record previously held by former Real Sociedad defender Juan Larranaga, who played for Los Txuri-Urdin between 1980 and 1994.

The one-time Spain international, who joined the club from Pamplona in 2012, began his sequence when appearing as a substitute during Bilbao's 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid in April 2016.

He has subsequently featured in every domestic match since, helping the club achieve four top-10 finishes along the way.

 

Williams, who has scored 67 goals in 303 appearances since his senior debut in December 2014, was named LaLiga's player of the month in January 2019 during a season in which he led Bilbao in scoring after finding the net on 13 occasions.

He recently played his 300th game for Los Leones, celebrating the milestone on September 11 with a goal in a 2-0 victory over Real Mallorca.

And the 27-year-old will be eager to mark his historic day by helping Marcelino’s side end a run of three matches without victory on Friday.

Although, Alaves are full of momentum having recorded a morale-boosting 1-0 victory over reigning champions Atletico last time out.

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."

Arsenal are set for a shake-up after missing out on European football for the first time in 26 years.

Mikel Arteta's side started the new Premier League campaign slowly.

But three wins in a row have offered hope and rumours are swirling about transfer activity.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL PLOT SWAP FOR EN-NESYRI

Arsenal will offer Alexandre Lacazette as part of a deal to land Youssef En-Nesyri from Sevilla, according to La Razon.

Morocco international forward En-Nesyri has sparked Arsenal's interest after netting 24 goals in all competitions in the 2020-21 season.

Lacazette has only made one league appearance for the Gunners this term and was reportedly shipped around during the off-season.

ROUND-UP

– Fabrizio Romano reports Lorenzo Pellegrini is set to sign a new long-term contract with Roma, which will remove his €30million release clause. Pellegrini was previously pursued by Liverpool and Tottenham.

– Liverpool scouts kept a close eye on Villarreal's Arnaut Danjuma at Wednesday's Champions League game against Manchester United as they plan for Sadio Mane's successor, claims the Daily Mirror.

– Real Madrid midfielder Marco Asensio remains in Arsenal's sights, reports the Daily Star.

Inter are not considering signing Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno, with Ajax's Andre Onana their preferred acquisition, claims Fabrizio Romano.

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.

Toni Kroos is hopeful Real Madrid will finally land Kylian Mbappe next year after a failed attempt to sign the Paris Saint-Germain in the most recent transfer window.

Madrid are reported to have had three bids turned down for the France international in July and August, the last one said to be worth up to €200million.

However, Mbappe is due to become a free agent at the end of the season and can therefore secure a pre-contract agreement with Madrid – or any other foreign club – from the start of January.

Kroos has previously talked up the prospect of his side bringing in Mbappe and remains eager to link up with the 22-year-old in 2022.

"In the summer, I already said that I would like a player like him to come, but if he doesn't, we have a good team," he told Goal.

"Let's see what happens in the future. It is difficult for me to say, because I am not the one who decides. 

"His quality has not changed – he is a good player and what we know is that Madrid wanted to sign him but in the end they didn't succeed. Everything continues, also without Mbappe here.

"I think we are doing well and for the future my opinion has not changed: the best players have to be at Madrid, and he is sure to be one of them."

Mbappe has four goals and five assists in 10 games this term – only international team-mates Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba (both seven) have set up more goals in all competitions among players from Europe's top five leagues.

The PSG star has gone five matches without finding the net himself, however, after failing to add a goal to his assist for Lionel Messi in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League win over Manchester City.

While PSG were claiming a deserved victory over fellow heavyweights City, Madrid slumped to one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history as they fell 2-1 to Sheriff.

That was just Los Blancos' second defeat in 32 group-stage games at the Santiago Bernabeu, having previously lost to CSKA Moscow in December 2018.

Madrid have otherwise made a positive start to Carlo Ancelotti's second spell in charge, and Kroos, who made his first appearance of the season as a second-half substitute against Sheriff, believes the Italian's methods have changed over time, having been signed during his previous stint.

"Yes, there is a difference, but our relationship still remains very good," he said. 

"I had a good relationship with him in 2014. I haven't played many games so far [this season], so I can't say exactly what has changed because I haven't had many talks with him."

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.

Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Wales' crucial World Cup qualifying double-header next month with what boss Rob Page describes as a "significant hamstring tear".

The 32-year-old has not featured for club or country since sustaining the injury during a training session with Real Madrid three weeks ago.

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti recently said he is unsure how long Bale will be out but there was hope he would be back in time for Wales' trips to the Czech Republic and Estonia.

However, Bale – who is one cap short of a milestone 100 for Wales – was left out of Page's squad on Tuesday and is also a doubt for his side's final three qualifiers in November.

"Hamstring injuries are graded from one to four and this is a four. It's a significant hamstring tear," Page said at a news conference.

"This camp has come too soon for him. He's not going to be involved, and that may also be the case progressing to November's camp."    

Bale started Madrid's opening three games of the season and featured in all three of Wales' matches last month, scoring a hat-trick in the 3-2 win away at Belarus.

That ended a 17-game drought without a goal for the Dragons – his second-longest such run – but he could not find a way through in the goalless draw with Estonia last time out.

Wales are third in Group E after four matches, one point behind next opponents the Czech Republic with a game in hand as the pair fight for second place behind runaway leaders Belgium.

Page's side will head into that clash in Prague without undisputed star player Bale, who has been involved in all five of his side's goals this campaign (three goals and two assists).

"He's been first class for Wales over the years, so of course it's a blow for myself and the supporters," Page said. "But it does give others a chance.

"We can't cry about it. Gareth showed his worth in the last camp and he was at another level.

"We've got new players coming through, and an abundance of players who can fill the position he plays. There aren't many Gareth Bales in the world but others will have a chance." 

 

Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey is back involved for Wales after withdrawing from the last squad through injury.

Ramsey has featured four times in Serie A this term and leads the way for passes per 90 minutes (67.71) and successful passes (61.71) among Juventus midfielders.

He has missed several key fixtures for Wales this campaign, but Page insists the former Arsenal man's commitment cannot be questioned.

"We're confident he'll be with us," Page said.

"I understand the fans' frustration because they want the best players turning up. He can put a shift in and did a full pre-season with Juventus.

"Players like him are prone to picking up injuries. He's managing his body better now and I think we're seeing the best of it.

"He's become more robust and shown over the summer he's more capable of playing games. His training will be adapted but we expect him to play both games."

Bruno Fernandes expressed his delight in working with a proven winner in Raphael Varane as Manchester United look to challenge for trophies this term.

Varane completed a move to United in a deal worth a reported £42.7million (€50m) in August, following a decade at Real Madrid.

The France international boasts a World Cup medal from 2018, along with three LaLiga titles and four Champions League triumphs to his name from his time in the Spanish capital.

Since his debut against Wolves at the end of August, no player has played more Premier League minutes for the Red Devils than Varane (360) and Fernandes hailed the impact the centre-back could have on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

"Of course, he’s a winner," Fernandes told United Review. "Everyone knows that. He’s a nice guy and works really hard and is always pushing everyone to do better.

"I think he has a great mentality but, at the same time, we cannot forget the other players. Rapha [Varane] has been brilliant, but Victor [Lindelof] has had an amazing, brilliant beginning to the season.

"Eric [Bailly] comes later because of the Olympic Games, but he’s a player we trust a lot. 'H' [Harry Maguire] we already know is doing really well."

 

Indeed, Varane led from the front for Madrid last term as well in the absence of Sergio Ramos.

United's new acquisition ranked second for Los Blancos among defenders for duels won (110) and interceptions (36) in LaLiga, while recording 73 aerial successes – more than double the tally of any of his defensive colleagues.

And Fernandes is looking forward for the leadership aspects Varane will bring to United, who currently sit fourth in the top flight after losing to Aston Villa last Saturday.

"Rapha is really important for us, and has been really important for us," he continued. "But the main point is everyone being okay to do the best that they can.

"In football, we all have different qualities, and Rapha has different qualities to Victor, H, Eric and Phil [Jones], but they can all add different things.

"Still he [Varane] is a little bit shy in some ways, because it’s the beginning for him at United, but I think he’s a leader. I think he can help in that part of the game."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.