Manchester City's interest in signing Tottenham forward Harry Kane is well known.

The two sides will meet on Sunday in the Premier League with the situation adding spice.

Spurs have held out on City's interest although the matter will develop as the conclusion of the transfer window approaches.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS HOLDING FIRM ON KANE

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is refusing to budge as Manchester City attempt to sign Harry Kane, reports The Telegraph.

Levy will come face to face with City officials in Sunday's Premier League meeting between the two sides.

The report claims the Spurs chairman is unwavering in his plan to retain his best player despite Kane expressing his desire to leave.

ROUND-UP

- Despite that, Tottenham continue to be linked with big-money moves, hinting they are expecting funds in their pockets soon, with Villarreal's Pau Torres firmly in their sights for £55m (€65m) according to The Mirror.

- Tammy Abraham's proposed switch from Chelsea to Roma is imminent according to The Athletic. The fee is reportedly worth €40m (£34m) with a buy-back clause after his second season.

- Calciomercato claims that Bayern Munich are willing to accept Hector Bellerin as part of a straight swap with Arsenal for Corentin Tolisso .

- Despite heavy speculation, Liverpool are yet to formally lodge a bid for Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez claims AS.

- Former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea striker Diego Costa is set to complete his move to join Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro until December next year reports Fabrizio Romano.

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).

Carlo Ancelotti described Karim Benzema as the "complete player" after he inspired a 4-1 victory at Alaves in Real Madrid's first game of the LaLiga season.

Benzema scored twice either side of a volley from Nacho, before Vinícius Junior headed in the last of four second-half goals for Madrid in their first competitive game since Ancelotti returned to the club.

Joselu had made it 3-1 from the penalty spot just after Benzema's second goal, but Los Blancos made an impressive start to their bid to regain the title.

Benzema has scored 17 LaLiga goals this year, a tally only bettered by Lionel Messi (23), and he appeared to thrive on wearing the captain's armband with Sergio Ramos having joined Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid boss Ancelotti feels the France striker has matured into a magnificent all-rounder player.

He said: "Benzema is the completion of the team, reading the situations of the match very well. He is a player I think is not enough to call a forward.

"He is a very complete player. Now he is more complete than five years ago."

Gareth Bale started his first game in the Spanish top flight since June 2020 after a loan spell with Tottenham last season, while Eden Hazard caused Alaves problems after he was also named in the side.

Bale scored in the 2014 Champions League final victory over Atletico Madrid during Ancelotti's first spell at Madrid, but fell out of favour under Zinedine Zidane and there appeared to be no way back for him after he famously held up a 'Wales, golf, Madrid' flag.

Ancelotti is unsure whether the Wales captain has more desire to play for the club now, but says the forward has plenty to offer.

"I do not know if he is more committed than other years, because I was not there," he said. "Bale is going to improve because his condition is not optimal yet, like everyone else's. Everyone can improve."

Madrid have not been beaten in their opening game of a LaLiga campaign since 2008, winning nine and drawing four of their first games since then.

Karim Benzema scored twice as Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti enjoyed an emphatic 4-1 win on his return to LaLiga at Alaves.

Ancelotti left Everton to take charge of Los Blancos for the second time in June following Zinedine Zidane's departure and the Italian secured three points in his first competitive game back at the helm.

Benzema, captaining the side following Sergio Ramos' departure, scored twice in the second half either side of a strike from Nacho at Estadio Mendizorroza on Saturday.

Joselu pulled a one back from the penalty spot before Vinicius Junior added a last-gasp fourth goal as Madrid, with Gareth Bale making his first LaLiga start since June 2020, issued an early statement of intent. 

Luis Rioja cut in from the right and tested Thibaut Courtois with a left-foot drive in a bright start for Alaves, but Madrid soon stamped their authority on the game.

Eden Hazard curled wide from just outside the penalty area and Bale was also off target as Madrid applied the pressure.

Benzema demonstrated exquisite control prior to bending a measured strike narrowly wide of the far post before Rioja poked an effort onto the roof of the net against the run of play.

France striker Benzema was not to be denied in the third minute of the second half, drilling home with his right foot after Hazard cleverly touched Lucas Vazquez's cutback into his path.

Los Blancos were dominant and soon doubled their advantage, the classy Luka Modric conjuring up trickery and an pinpoint cross for Nacho, who volleyed in from close range as Alaves were caught out by a short corner.

Madrid had seemingly only just finished celebrating when Courtois brought down John Guidetti and Joselu gave Alaves hope from the spot with 65 minutes gone.

The hosts were never likely to mount a comeback, though, and Vinicius headed home a cross from new signing David Alaba right at the end.

Diego Simeone has included his son Giuliano in the Atletico Madrid squad for the first match of their LaLiga title defence.

Atletico, who won their second league crown under Simeone last term, start away to Celta Vigo on Sunday.

They were linked with centre-forwards for much of the off-season, but their inability to bring in significant reinforcements in that department has seen Simeone's second son get a chance.

Giuliano, 18, started all five of Atletico's pre-season friendlies and in doing so earmarked himself as a potential alternative in attack.

Nominally a left-winger, Giuliano has enjoyed encouraging performances while featuring in a more central berth in pre-season.

Prior to July, Giuliano had never featured for Atletico's senior team, but now he could make his competitive debut at Balaidos on Sunday.

New signing Rodrigo De Paul is also in the selection following arrival from Udinese for a reported €35million.

He joined having earned himself a stellar reputation in Serie A, his 82 key passes in 2020-21 bettered by only Hakan Calhanoglu (98).

 

Only five players got more assists than his nine, but all of them massively out-performed their modest expected assists records, which ranged from 3.4 to 6.7. De Paul topped the charts for expected assists with 10.3 xA, evidence that his assists reflected the quality of his service rather than him getting lucky or benefiting from unusually good finishing by team-mates.

Yet the area that highlights a particular compatibility with Atleti is the fact he won more duels (294) than anyone else in Serie A in 2020-21.

Combine that with his league-leading completed dribbles (122) and it paints a picture of a hard-working player who also possesses the quality to get his team on the front foot.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman has called on Antoine Griezmann to step up this season and help fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

The Catalan giants are still coming to terms with the loss of their all-time leading scorer, who officially joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer this week.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for Barca across 778 appearances in his 17 years in the first team.

He directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season, scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Griezmann was the only other Barca player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

As they prepare to begin a first season without Messi since 2003-04, Koeman has challenged World Cup winner Griezmann to improve on those figures.

"I love working with him," Koeman said at a news conference ahead of Sunday's opening fixture against Real Sociedad. "He is a team player who always helps without the ball.

"He is always happy and encourages others. But he must take another step and be more effective. It will be more important without Leo, because he occupied that position."

 

Messi's departure came after Barca had agreed deals with Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero, the pair arriving on free transfers from Lyon and Manchester City respectively.

Aguero did not feature for Barca in pre-season and is out for another 10 weeks through injury, but Depay has made a positive impression with three goals in four friendlies.

"I know Memphis well from our time with the Netherlands national team," Koeman said. "He has been effective with his performances so far.

"We have lost a lot with Leo leaving and now we ask for more from the others, and not just the forwards. We will try our best to improve and achieve our targets."

Barca received a big boost on the eve of their season opener with Sociedad as it was confirmed Depay, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj have been officially registered to play.

Ansu Fati is out until after the September international break, however, while Ousmane Dembele and Aguero are also nursing injuries, leaving Koeman light in attack.

Barca's well-documented financial problems make bringing in new players difficult, but Koeman is hopeful of another new striker arriving before the transfer window closes.

"We lack players, and some are still injured," he said. "The squad is short. That's why we need a striker. 

"But then it depends on whether we can sign the player. It depends on the Financial Fair Play issues. If we can, we will sign someone."

Sunday's clash with Sociedad will mark the first time Barcelona have played a competitive game in front of fans at Camp Nou in 17 months, with up to 30,000 expected to be in attendance.

It will be an emotional occasion in more ways than one as Barca begin a new chapter without the greatest player in their history.

"Messi's exit was painful for everyone because of everything he has done," Koeman said. "We have to live the today and not the past. I am excited and hopefully the fans are too.

"I am excited to play in front of our fans, though we know the quality of the opponent, who we played against many times last year."

Barca are unbeaten in their past 10 league games against Real Sociedad in LaLiga (W8 D2). Only once have they gone 11 league matches without defeat in this fixture, a run of 17 games between 1952 and 1960.

Barcelona have finally registered new signings Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia after Gerard Pique agreed to a "substantial" pay cut.

The Catalans have faced well-documented financial problems, leading to the exit of all-time leading scorer Lionel Messi this week and leaving them unable to officially add players to their squad.

However, Messi's switch to Paris Saint-Germain and Pique's willingness to accept a reduced wage ensures that Barcelona now meet LaLiga's salary cap limit.

And on the eve of Sunday's opening LaLiga clash with Real Sociedad, Barca announced Depay and Garcia, as well as striker Rey Manaj, are all able to play competitive football.

A statement on Barcelona's website on Saturday read: "FC Barcelona is able to register Memphis, Eric Garcia and Rey Manaj to play in the Spanish Liga de Futbol Profesional. 

"This has been made possible thanks to an agreement with Gerard Pique whereby the Barca second captain's salary has been substantially reduced.

"This means that all of the first team players will be available for selection by Ronald Koeman for this Sunday's opening Liga fixture against Real Sociedad."

Barcelona added that they are working closely with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to adapt the pair's salaries as they look to further reduce their wage bill.

Both players are "totally and utterly willing to cooperate" with Barca, who have also offloaded Jean-Clair Todibo, Junior Firpo, Konrad De la Fuente and Matheus Fernandes during the close season.

Ronald Koeman, speaking at a news conference on Saturday ahead of the visit of Sociedad, praised Barca's long-serving players for helping the club during a difficult period.

"We know perfectly well the financial situation of the club and it needs help in every way," Koeman said. 

"The attitude of Gerard, [Sergi] Roberto, Busquets and Alba must be highlighted. Those who have been here for many years want to help the club improve the economic situation.

"It is important and shows that they are people from home."

Sergio Aguero has yet to be registered by Barca, but the LaLiga giants are in no rush to do so as the Argentina international has been ruled out for 10 weeks through injury.

Barca's other recent arrival Emerson Royal is believed to already be registered as he is returning from a loan spell with Real Betis.

Manchester United have completed the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.

United confirmed at the end of July that they had reached an agreement to bring France centre-back Varane to Old Trafford.

However, Varane had to go through a quarantine period upon his arrival in the United Kingdom due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The France international was finally introduced to the Old Trafford fans minutes before kick-off in their Premier League opener with Leeds United on Saturday.

Varane, who had less than a year remaining on his Madrid deal, has now sealed his move to the Red Devils and will play in the Premier League for the first time.

United are reported to have paid a fee of £42.7million (€50m) to secure the services of the 28-year-old on a four-year deal.

Having also brought in Jadon Sancho, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has now added one of the world's best defenders.

Varane, who moved to Madrid in 2011 from Lens, has a wealth of experience, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns as he has racked up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

In the absence of Sergio Ramos for much of last season, Varane ranked second among Madrid defenders in terms of both duels won (110) and interceptions (36) in LaLiga.

It was Varane's aerial presence that really shone through at the back and his 73 successful aerial duels were more than double the tallies of his defensive colleagues.

Indeed, out of all defenders in LaLiga to contest 20 or more aerial duels, Varane's success rate of 76 per cent was the best during the 2020-21 campaign.

That ability in the air will boost a United side lacking in that sense last term, despite Harry Maguire's expertise. Excluding penalties, only Leeds United (15) conceded more Premier League goals from set-pieces than United's 14.

 

Varane's vast experience even beyond his Madrid exploits should aid Solskjaer's side, too.

The defender has played 79 times for France, winning the World Cup in 2018 before playing in all four games at Euro 2020 on the way to Les Bleus' shock last-16 exit.

Varane was the only France defender who saw action and was not dribbled past by an opponent at the Euros, showing his talent on the ground as well as in the air.

With pace to get out of trouble, Varane appears an excellent foil for Maguire as United look to improve on last campaign's second-placed Premier League finish.

Atletico Madrid did not speak with Lionel Messi about the possibility of reuniting him with Luis Suarez at the club, according to coach Diego Simeone.

After Barca's financial difficulties forced a tearful Messi to announce his exit from the club last week, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain on Monday.

Messi is now poised to form a frightening front three with former Barcelona team-mate Neymar and France star Kylian Mbappe.

There had been talk of him linking up with the other former member of Barca's fabled MSN forward line and signing for LaLiga champions Atletico.

But Simeone denied there had been any communication between the club and the Argentina international.

Simeone told a media conference ahead of Atletico's LaLiga opener at Celta Vigo: "[Messi] is a really important departure for LaLiga and for Barcelona.

"We weren't talking with him. We didn't have the slightest chance."

On the impact of Messi's exit on LaLiga, Simeone added: "I understand that not even the Premier League has Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo, and it's a very competitive league.

"It will depend on the growth of all the teams to be able to make a competitive league without having either of [those players], as England have done."

Messi's departure would appear to be a significant boost to Atletico's hopes of fending off both Barca and Real Madrid once more and retaining the title.

But Simeone clearly has little interest in talk of Atletico being title favourites.

"We will not change our path, which is game by game, to understand what the league is like," he said. 

"There is no better way to compete than how we have been doing so in the last nine and a half years."

Real Madrid have responded to a report that they are exploring the possibility of joining the Premier League, branding it "absurd" and "impossible".

Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo claimed on Saturday that Madrid president Florentino Perez is looking at taking the club out of LaLiga.

The report said the Premier League was the preferred choice of Perez, who is at loggerheads with LaLiga president Javier Tebas.

Madrid staunchly opposed the new deal between LaLiga and CVC, which was voted in by the majority of clubs and will see around €2.1billion invested into the competition in return for a percentage of television revenue.

Tebas, meanwhile, is a firm opponent of the proposed European Super League, the breakaway competition still being pursued by Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus despite the other 13 prospective founding members withdrawing from the plans.

Mundo Deportivo said Perez's patience had run out and that he was seriously considering taking Madrid to the Premier League, Serie A or the Bundesliga.

However, the club reacted with a statement saying: "Given the information published today by the newspaper Mundo Deportivo, in which it says that our club studied the possibility of moving from LaLiga to the Premier, Real Madrid wants to assert that this information is completely false, absurd and impossible and it only intends to disturb, once more, the day to day of our club."

Tebas also moved to laugh off the report, sharing the story on Twitter and adding: "What a load of nonsense we're hearing right now."

Madrid begin their 2021-22 campaign against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

Former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has accused successor Joan Laporta of badly managing the club's finances as the fallout surrounding Lionel Messi's departure continues.

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

Laporta pointed the blame at Barca's former board for leaving the club in such a bad financial mess that they were not able to fulfil an agreement with star player Messi over a new long-term deal.

However, commenting on Messi's high-profile exit for the first time, Bartomeu has insisted his planned economic measures would have helped Barcelona through the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as he switched the focus of the blame to Laporta.

"As is known, our board of directors planned to call elections on March 21, within the statutory period at the end of our mandate, which would have allowed us to take on and carry out the settlement of the 2020-21 season accounts," Bartomeu said. 

"We would then have taken the decisions necessary to avoid arriving at the current financial situation.

"We would have been the only ones responsible for the closure [due to the pandemic] and its consequences, a decision that the new board has not taken throughout these past months, making clear their inaction."

Bartomeu went on to suggest that the club could possibly have stayed within LaLiga's salary cap limit, and therefore prevented Messi from joining Paris Saint-Germain, had they accepted external support.

"From April 2020 we began the Barcelona Corporate project, consisting, in summary, of the entry of four strategic partners," Bartomeu said.

"If [Laporta's] board had approved the [Barcelona Corporate] project, it would have meant a capital injection of at least 220 million euros with the aim of reducing the income losses caused by COVID...which in 2020-21 could be 375 million.

"If to those 220 million euros we had added the necessary 20 per cent salary reduction (90 million euros) from the players' contracts, essential from March 21, 2021, when the worst expectations were confirmed, the salary ratio dictated by LaLiga would have been complied with, allowing for players to be registered."

Bartomeu then switched focus to the recent news that Barcelona had reached an amicable agreement to end their long-running dispute over Neymar's move to PSG in a world-record €222million transfer in August 2017.

The Brazil international had claimed he was owed €43.6million in unpaid bonuses by Barca, but the LaLiga giants counter-sued for a breach of contract and a judge ruled in the club's favour, ordering Neymar to pay €6.7m.

Bartomeu added: "Also surprising is his decision to forgive former player Neymar in the framework of a litigation where the expectations in favour of FC Barcelona were quite clear and the auditor did not oblige, in any case, to supply any amount.

"Why did you make this decision contrary to the interests of the club?"

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti insists Martin Odegaard could still have a future at the club amid reported renewed interest from Arsenal.

The Norway international is expected to be left out of Madrid's matchday squad for their LaLiga opener against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

After the news emerged in Spain, reports surfaced in England that Arsenal had opened talks with Los Blancos over the prospect of signing Odegaard before the transfer window closes.

The 22-year-old, said to be valued in the region of €40million, made 14 Premier League appearances during a loan spell with the Gunners last season.

However, Ancelotti does not appear to have made a decision on Odegaard's future, or that of fellow fringe players Jesus Vallejo and Dani Ceballos.

"The fact they've not been named in the squad is down just to technical issues," he said on Friday. "The final list [for the 2021-22 season] doesn't have to be confirmed until September 2.

"Odegaard has done well. We had a chat and of course, there is a lot of competition in midfield. We have eight very good midfielders.

"He hasn't been dropped, nor has Ceballos, nor Vallejo."

 

Madrid kick-start their campaign in what will be Ancelotti's first competitive match in charge since he returned to the club from Everton.

Gareth Bale is expected to be involved, having also gone back to the Santiago Bernabeu after spending last season on loan with Tottenham, with previous Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane deeming him surplus to requirements.

Ancelotti now wants to see Bale prove his worth to the club on the pitch.

"He's a great player, perhaps he quite hasn't lived up to expectations in recent times but I've seen him train every day with great enthusiasm and we have to see how he plays. The talking has to be done on the pitch," Ancelotti added.

"There's competition for places – if players don't play well, there are other players. This is good, it's extra motivation. But he's been very good during this first month back, but we'll see how he performs out on the pitch."

Ancelotti is also hoping for a strong start to the season from Eden Hazard, whose career in LaLiga has been blighted by injuries.

The Belgium star has scored just four goals in 21 league starts since his reported €100m transfer from Chelsea in 2019 and did not once complete a full match in the top flight in 2020-21.

"He's been training with the team for about 10 days, he's fit and ready to play," Ancelotti said. "He's a key player in this team and I'm confident we'll see the best Eden Hazard this season. "

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti expressed his shock at Lionel Messi's Barcelona departure in a pre-match news conference that was dominated by questions relating to Kylian Mbappe.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner ended his 21-year association with Barca on Tuesday by penning an initial two-year deal at Paris Saint-Germain with the option of a third.

Messi looked set to sign a new contract with Barca, but the cash-strapped club were unable to fulfil the agreement in place with their greatest ever player.

It means there is a massive void in the Blaugrana's team, given he directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season – scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Antoine Griezmann was the only other player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

In will be the first season since 2003-04 that Barca have been unable to call upon Messi, and Ancelotti – set to begin his second spell in charge of Madrid – acknowledged it caught him off guard.

"I'm surprised, shocked," he told reporters ahead of Saturday's LaLiga opener against Deportivo Alaves.

"He was always Barca's emblem really, since he was a child. But I've been in this game 40 years, I've seen lots of players change allegiances. I fully respect his decision and Barcelona's decision."

 

Nevertheless, he does not think the loss of Messi will impact Barca dramatically.

"I'm pretty sure Barca will still be a rival, and Atletico," he continued. "Barca even without Messi is still one of the biggest clubs in the world, I don't think much will change."

Messi's new PSG team-mate Mbappe was also a hot topic of conversation on Friday.

The France international is now in the final year of his contract and has been strongly linked with a move to Madrid for a while, though PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi feels Mbappe now has no excuse not to renew his deal following the arrival of Messi.

Ancelotti was reluctant to speak about Mbappe, even as reporters persistently pressed him on Madrid's apparent interest.

"I'm not keen on talking about players who aren't part of my squad," he told them. "I'm happy with the squad, I've a good mix of veterans and good up-and-coming players.

"I've seen some good young players training, players for the future but who could also be important now, like [Antonio] Blanco, Miguel [Gutierrez], [Marvin] De La Fuente, [Victor] Chust.

"Then there's veterans like Casemiro, Luka Modric... Casemiro's improved a lot since I was last here.

"So, I don't think it's right for me to talk about players who aren't at this club. I'm a football fan and happy to see these players here, seeing them training and working day in, day out.

"I still have a great relationship with the PSG owner, I was of course a coach there, I worked at a fantastic club and had a great working relationship with him, but I don't know what he's thinking [regarding Mbappe's future]."

Another forward Madrid have been linked with is Everton's Richarlison, who Ancelotti coached while at Goodison Park, and the Italian was a little more forthcoming about his opinion on the Brazil attacker.

"I'm really fond of him," he said. "He's an Everton footballer and I don't like to talk about players who play for other clubs, but of course I'm really fond of him."

LaLiga has seen a lot of upheaval over the past few months, none more so than since the start of August as Lionel Messi's future unravelled.

This will be the first season that LaLiga has been without Messi since 2003-04, and as such there are plenty of people suggesting Spain's top tier has subsequently lost much of its appeal.

Be that as it may, even with spending significantly limited among clubs this year, there are still some interesting new arrivals to LaLiga.

Below, Stats Perform uses Opta data to look at five of them…

Memphis Depay, forward - Barcelona, free transfer from Lyon

Granted, Barcelona's rocky financial situation means it is yet to be confirmed if Depay will be registered for the start of the season.

But assuming Depay is involved as Barca begin the campaign against Real Sociedad, he will be under pressure to help make up for the loss of Messi.

His record at Lyon at least shows he should carry a threat, and in theory he will be surrounded by better players at Camp Nou.

Depay scored 76 goals in 178 appearances for Lyon after joining from Manchester United in January 2017 and enjoyed a particularly impressive final season in Ligue 1, finishing with 20 goals to trail only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27).

 

The former PSV youth product's 12 assists and 94 chances created were more than any other player managed in France's top flight in 2020-21.

In all competitions, meanwhile, Depay scored 22 goals last term at an average of one goal every 141.5 minutes, making it his second-best season since arriving.

He massively exceeded his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.38, so perhaps he shouldn't be expected to be quite as prolific, but if he can reach double figures in goals and assists once again, Depay would have to be considered a shrewd signing.

David Alaba, centre-back - Real Madrid, free transfer from Bayern Munich

It has been a difficult few months for Madrid. While caught up in plenty of off-field controversy, they have also lost the centre-back partnership that guided them to so much success. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, as well as their former head coach Zinedine Zidane, are no longer around.

The one signing Madrid have managed to bring in does at least offset one of those losses, as Alaba will offer experience, versatility and all-round quality at centre-back. After all, he made 298 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern, and a player does not reach such figures without being excellent.

 

He helped Bayern keep 111 clean sheets across those games, did not receive a single red card in the league, and made only two errors leading to goals in the competition, according to Opta data.

Bayern team-mate Thomas Muller is the only other player in Bundesliga history to have won 10 titles, and Bayern had counted on Alaba as their Mr Dependable. Carlo Ancelotti will hope he can form a great partnership with Eder Militao.

Rodrigo De Paul, central midfielder - Atletico Madrid, €35m from Udinese

While Diego Simeone has perhaps been a bit hit and miss when it comes to making the most of creative talents, De Paul appears to be ideal schemer for his new coach.

Providing creativity is De Paul's bread and butter, with his 82 key passes in 2020-21 bettered by only Hakan Calhanoglu (98) in Serie A.

Of those chances, 34 came from set-pieces, highlighting his prowess from dead-ball situations and ranking him fourth in Italy's top flight.

 

Only five players got more assists than his nine, but all of them massively out-performed their modest expected assists records, which ranged from 3.4 to 6.7. De Paul topped the charts for expected assists with 10.3 xA, evidence that his assists reflected the quality of his service rather than him getting lucky or benefiting from unusually good finishing by team-mates.

Yet the area which highlights a particular compatibility with Atleti is the fact he won more duels (294) than anyone else in Serie A in 2020-21.

Combine that with his league-leading completed dribbles (122) and it paints a picture of a hard-working player who also possesses the quality to get his team on the front foot.

Jose Macias, striker - Getafe, on loan (with purchase option) from Guadalajara

It is fair to say Getafe are not particularly one of LaLiga's most-fashionable sides. Under Jose Bordalas they were more renowned for their aggression and physical style of play, though new boss Michel has significantly different ideas.

In theory, that should immediately make them a more likable proposition for the neutral, and the signing of Macias will only add to the intrigue.

The 21-year-old Mexico international had been linked with numerous clubs with greater status than Getafe, such as Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, but Los Azulones pulled off something of a coup in bringing him to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez on loan with an option to buy.

 

Macias is the first forward that Guadalajara have sold to a European side since Javier Hernandez left for Manchester United in 2010 and he heads to Spain having netted 12 times in the most recent Mexican Apertura and Clausura campaigns.

His 20 shots on target in the 2021 Clausura was the most by a Mexican player, though it was during a loan spell with Leon where Macias really announced himself, netting 24 times in 38 Liga MX matches.

He didn't quite hit those heights again upon returning to Guadalajara, so the jury is still out to a degree, but there is lots of potential for Getafe to tap into.

Yusuf Demir, winger - Barcelona, €500k loan fee (€10m purchase option) from Rapid Vienna

Barcelona fans need not fear life without Messi, for they have signed the 'Austrian Messi'… or something like that.

Obviously that is a fair bit of pressure for an 18-year-old to have, particularly given he was initially signed for the B team, but he's produced some positive performances in pre-season for the senior side and arrived from Rapid with a burgeoning reputation.

While Demir only started in six of his 25 Austrian Bundesliga appearances (825 minutes) last season, he finished the campaign with a highly respectable seven goal involvements, which averages out at one every 117.9 minutes – only 10 players to play at least 825 minutes had a better record.

Despite only getting the one assist, Demir was a regular source of creativity when he did feature, as highlighted by the fact his 2.7 key passes per 90 was the sixth highest among those to play at least 825 minutes.

 

But arguably his most notable asset, and the one that inspires the comparison with Messi, is his ability on the ball.

A dynamic and exciting player, Demir attempted 6.3 dribbles per 90 minutes on average, a figure matched by no one who featured for more than 108 minutes last term.

Similarly, he was successful with 3.8 dribble attempts per game, which was also a league high. It was that kind of flair that helped him realise a childhood dream by moving to Camp Nou, and he could have a more prominent role than he may have initially predicted upon his arrival.

If the coming LaLiga campaign can match the previous few months for drama, an epic is in store.

The 2021-22 season gets under way this weekend with Spanish football still reeling from Lionel Messi's remarkable Barcelona departure.

The move to Paris Saint-Germain leaves one of LaLiga's grandest clubs without its talisman, while rivals Real Madrid have also seen their captain depart for the French capital on a free transfer.

Where does that leave defending champions Atletico Madrid and the rest heading into the opening weekend? Stats Perform takes a look.

CHAOS IN CATALONIA

Barca still have plenty of world-class players and will this season be able to count on Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann and, they hope, Memphis Depay.

But the shocking nature of Messi's exit is going to be tough to move on from, even if the club's dire financial situation does not prevent Depay and the Blaugrana's other new signings from being registered.

Messi either attempted (196) or created (77) 46.8 per cent of Barca's 583 shots in 2020-21 – and he missed three games – so Ronald Koeman's side are going to have to completely change the way they play.

He was already missed when out through injury – Barca won 73.7 per cent of the 520 league games in which Messi featured for the club but just 56.7 per cent of the 120 he did not – and that issue is not going away now.

MADRID COPE WITH CHANGE

Money is tight at Madrid too, but Los Blancos have faced that reality, cutting back spending and agreeing the departures of high earners like Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Despite Zinedine Zidane's exit, they also look in better shape on the pitch on the eve of the new campaign.

Madrid ended last season unbeaten in 18, the best ongoing run in the competition, with only frustrating late-season draws with Getafe, Real Betis and Sevilla – all in the space of five games – leaving them two points shy of Atletico.

They have gone for a familiar face with a proven track record to replace Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti returning after winning 75 per cent of the league games in his first Madrid stint – trailing only Jose Mourinho (76 per cent win rate) among Madrid coaches to oversee 50 matches or more.

ATLETI AT THE TOP

It is a strange phenomenon for Atleti to be both top of the league and not the target of constant transfer enquiries.

Their key men are unlikely to be poached while Barca and Madrid are so short of cash, with the Blaugrana instead reportedly pursuing a deal going the other way, with Griezmann returning to the Wanda Metropolitano.

The development with Messi appears to have put that idea to bed, and Atleti instead spent the week before the season agreeing new contracts for defensive stars.

Those clubs on the outside of the title race looking in are enjoying unfamiliar comforts too, with Europa League winners Villarreal keeping their best players – including Gerard Moreno, whose 23 goals only trailed Messi – and Real Sociedad bringing back the same team that finished fifth.

Unless Ancelotti quickly restores an ageing Madrid side to past glories, this season could be wide open at the summit.

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