Karim Benzema bailed out Real Madrid once again, but the French striker insisted the 2-1 win at Valencia was richly deserved, as their unbeaten LaLiga run stretched to 23 games. 

The capital giants had trailed to a fine 66th-minute strike from Hugo Duro that looked set to take Valencia to the top of the table, but instead it is Madrid who sit on that perch with 13 points from five games. 

Captain Benzema teed up Vinicius Junior to slot in an 86th-minute leveller, with the help of a deflection, before roles were reversed for the winner two minutes later. 

A teasing cross from Vinicius was perfect for Benzema to attack, and although the ball went in off his shoulder rather than his forehead, as was the intention, they all count. 

Benzema has now scored in his last six games against Valencia, and Sunday's late show was sweet revenge for the 4-1 thumping that Madrid took at Mestalla last November. 

Coach Carlo Ancelotti described his team's spirit as "indomitable" and Benzema saw it similarly. 

The 33-year-old said: "I think it was a difficult game for us against a great team who are always difficult to beat here. 

"I think we deserved the three points that are important to us. Each game is a final, today was another final and we won. 

"All the players on the pitch and the people who came on at the end of the game to help us, it is a victory for the squad. If I can continue like this, scoring, the most important thing is that they are important for the club." 

Madrid are unbeaten in their last 18 away trips (W12 D6) in LaLiga, which equals their best such run in the competition's history, having previously reached 18 games unbeaten in 1997 (W11 D7) and 2016 (W13 D5). 

Benzema has six goals already this season in LaLiga from an expected goals (xG) total of 2.61, indicating he is having an outstanding run in front of goal. 

He has become the first player since Lionel Messi in 2011-12 to be directly involved in 11 or more goals in the first five games of a LaLiga campaign (six goals, five assists). 

This season has seen Vinicius very much come to the party too, bagging five goals from an xG of 2.3, also outperforming expectations substantially, and now adding a first assist. 

Quoted by AS, Vinicius said the win at Valencia was credit to Madrid's refusal to accept they are ever beaten.

"It is always difficult to play here, but we continue to believe and Madrid never give up," said the 21-year-old Brazilian.

"The main virtue is patience. It was the job of the coach and the whole team. We are doing things like never before. We played well, but things didn't work out and in the end we got the comeback. I am happy with the victory "

It was a victory that delighted Ancelotti, who has yet to lose a competitive game since returning to the club in the close season.

"We have not won because of quality, but because of the indomitable spirit of the team," said Ancelotti. "We continued to the end."

Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema rescued Real Madrid from a Mestalla deep hole as they stunned Valencia 2-1 after a quick-fire late double strike. 

Carlo Ancelotti's visitors were second best for the first 80 minutes of the game and trailed to Hugo Duro's elegant finish, as former Getafe coach Jose Bordalas looked set to take his Valencia team top of the table. 

A long unbeaten streak in LaLiga looked sure to end, but Vinicius struck a deflected leveller in the 86th minute and Benzema grabbed the winner two minutes later, silencing the home crowd as the ball went in off his shoulder. 

The capital giants had won just one of their previous seven league games at Mestalla (D2 L4), but a never-say-die attitude has served them well in recent times, and it paid off once again. 

Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona all pursued Erling Haaland in the recent transfer window.

The 21-year-old Norway forward opted to stay with Borussia Dortmund.

But the race will heat up again at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA INTERESTED IN STERLING

Manchester United still want to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and will make a move next European summer, reports the Express.

United made a major transfer splash when they landed Cristiano Ronaldo last month but remain in the Haaland race.

The Red Devils are looking to end their trophy drought and added Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho along with Ronaldo for this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- United are leading the way in the chase to sign Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund, according to The Sun. The 18-year-old is being pursued by Chelsea and Manchester City too.

- The Sun reports that United are planning a clear-out at the end of this season, including Donny van de Beek , Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial to free up funds.

- Calciomercato reports that Juventus have identified Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic as a transfer target in the January window on loan.

- Ligue 1 club Lens could make a bid for Liverpool's Belgium international forward Divock Origi , claims Fichajes.

- Crystal Palace are interested in signing US international forward Daryl Dike from Orlando City, reports The Sun. Dike is set to command a £18m fee.

- Transfer expert Ekrem Konur claims that Flamengo have tabled an offer to sign Brazilian veteran Dani Alves.

Raphael Varane believes he is fulfilling his destiny after moving to Manchester United from Real Madrid.

The centre-back won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns in Spain's capital, while triumphing at the 2018 World Cup with France.

Varane, who joined Madrid in 2011 from Lens, completed a move to United in a deal worth a reported £42.7million (€50m) in August.

However, in an interview with Sky Sports, the France international revealed he almost arrived at Old Trafford 10 years prior as former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson travelled to his Lille home to tout the then 18-year-old's services.

"It was a special moment for me and my family," Varane said. "It's amazing to meet a person like him [Alex Ferguson] at 18.

"You know, after that, it's your destiny. Ten years in Madrid and now I'm here.

"This is a new challenge for me. A different competition, a different mentality, a different atmosphere. It's all new for me but I've enjoyed every day so far.

"It's a big challenge to get Manchester United back to the top but I feel people want to win, people want to do great things with this club, and that's a big motivation for me."

 

In the absence of Sergio Ramos last term, Varane shone for Los Blancos, who he ranked second among defenders for both duels won (110) and interceptions (36) in LaLiga.

United's defensive acquisition dominated aerially as well, winning 73 aerial duels – more than double the tallies of his defensive colleagues.

But despite his success at Madrid, he remained on the undercard as he was surrounded by big names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, who he has reunited with in Manchester.

"I don't play football for this focus [the headlines]," Varane continued. "I just want to help the team and do my best.

"I want to improve and be who I am on the pitch. That's my objective and my mentality.

"Playing with this type of player [Cristiano Ronaldo], you improve every day. If he is still playing to such a high level at his age, it's because his work is amazing. I'm very happy to play with him.

"I think he is the best example in the world in terms of work ethic and winning mentality."

Carlo Ancelotti deflected the credit for Vinicius Jr's upturn in form as Real Madrid prepare to face Valencia on Sunday.

Madrid boast the longest unbeaten streak in LaLiga, having gone 22 games without defeat but they have won only one of their last nine visits to Valencian sides in the top flight.

Vinicius has been an integral part of their positive start to this term, winning three and drawing one, as he has scored four times in as many appearances.

And while Ancelotti has been pleased with the Brazil forward's form, he has not been surprised by his impressive performances so far.

"At the game level I see a player with impressive one-on-one ability," Ancelotti told Saturday's news conference.

"Today's Vinicius is the same that I saw when he was not here, what happens is that this season he started scoring and that has given him confidence.

"I am not a magician, just a coach who has to give players the confidence they need to express their qualities." 

 Asked whether Vinicius can continue his form, the Madrid head coach responded: "It depends on the personality, the character, the charisma, the quality that one has. 

"Vinicius has taken the team on our backs on several occasions and at this moment is what he has to do, when he is more veteran he will be able to put his character and experience."

And Ancelotti believes the future of Madrid is in safe hands with another Brazil youngster Rodyrgo coming through the ranks.

The 20-year-old has made four appearances this term, though he has not managed any goal involvements in those outings.

"Rodrygo is very fast, very complete and is very young," Ancelotti continued. "He is the present and the future of Real Madrid."

Could Raheem Sterling leave Premier League champions Manchester City?

The Englishman has slipped down the pecking order in 2021-22.

LaLiga giants Barcelona are reportedly ready to offer Sterling regular football.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA INTERESTED IN STERLING

Barcelona are targeting a loan move for Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, according to Sport.

Sterling has fallen out of favour under Pep Guardiola this season, leading to speculation over his City future.

The England international is reportedly open to reunion with former City team-mate Sergio Aguero at Barca.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Independent claims Manchester United are prioritising a move for West Ham's Declan Rice. The Red Devils are eyeing Rice to partner Paul Pogba, who himself is the subject of transfer speculation. Out of contract at the end of the season, Pogba has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Juventus.

Lazio are interested in free agent Dani Alves following his Sao Paulo exit, reports Calciomercato. The former Barca and Juve full-back terminated his contract and reportedly met with Brazilian rivals Flamengo.

- Fabrizio Romano says Roma are preparing a new five-year contract for Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has been linked with Premier League clubs.

- Serie A champions Inter are weighing up a move for Torino defender Bremer at the end of the season, says Calciomercato. The Brazilian has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

- According to Calciomercato, City have not given up on signing Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic. The Serbia international forward was linked with City as well as Tottenham, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid before the transfer window closed.

Luka Jovic is on the radar of Juventus, per Calciomercato. Jovic is out of favour at Madrid, with the Serbia international originally tipped to return to Eintracht Frankfurt on a permanent basis.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have announced they will continue to challenge LaLiga's agreement with CVC Capital Partners. 

LaLiga last month struck a €2.7billion (£2.3bn) deal with CVC that will see the private equity firm acquire 10 per cent of the commercial business. The other 90 per cent of the investment was earmarked to boost cash-strapped clubs in the top two tiers of Spanish football as they deal with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Madrid and Barca allege the agreement impacts all clubs' audiovisual rights for the next 50 years, with Los Blancos announcing legal action, including against LaLiga president Javier Tebas, last month. 

The deal was overwhelmingly passed by the LaLiga assembly on August 12, yet Barca, Madrid and Athletic still refuse to accept it, while the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) labelled the agreement as "totally illegal". 

In a statement released on Friday, the trio of top-flight clubs made clear their intentions to contest the resolution, following what they describe as a "highly irregular and disrespectful process". 

The statement read: "Barcelona, Athletic Club and Real Madrid announce that they have challenged the agreement adopted by the LaLiga assembly on August 12, 2021, relating to the operation between LaLiga and CVC, as it being an agreement that infringes the applicable rules set out (and in particular, amongst others, the Royal Decree Law 5/2015), and it was adopted as part of an highly irregular and disrespectful process toward with the minimum guarantees required to those purposes, especially faced with an operation of such importance and longevity." 

LaLiga boss Tebas claimed that Barca would have been able to keep Lionel Messi had they agreed to sign up. Due to the club's serious financial issues, the Argentina superstar was unable to sign a new contract and instead joined Paris Saint-Germain. 

Tebas also insisted CVC are investing to develop the league, rather than salvage the finances of Spanish clubs. 

"CVC were interested because of how we have developed, without help from Madrid or Barca. CVC have not come here to bail us out - they are not here because of the pandemic," he said. 

"Only 15 per cent of the money can be used to pay off debts, 70 per cent is for investment in infrastructure. So they are not here to bail out Spanish football, but to help build a stronger league."

Thomas Tuchel is "relaxed" over Antonio Rudiger's future amid reports the defender could leave Chelsea as a free agent at the end of the season.

Rudiger's contract expires next June and the centre-back has been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.

The Germany international has thrived under compatriot Tuchel, with standout performances including a commanding display in the Champions League final victory over Manchester City in May.

Blues head coach Tuchel is hopeful Rudiger will remain at Stamford Bridge, but knows there are no guarantees he will stay with the European champions.

He said in a press conference ahead of Sunday's London derby at Tottenham: "I hope they find solutions but it's not only between coaches and players. It's between the club, the players and the agent. We hope they find a solution.

"He plays excellent, he's been very consistent for a long time at a very high level. He's very calm, very focused and obviously it's not a distraction [his future] for him. Everything is in place, give the time needed, sometimes it takes a bit longer and sometimes fast.

"No news from my side, I think Antonio feels very, very good at Chelsea. He feels the respect he has from his team-mates and the importance in the team, in the squad.

"That's well deserved, because he delivers. He feels the love from the supporters, he plays in the strongest league in Europe, so not many reasons to change that.

"In the end it's between him and the club and that's in good hands. I'm calm and relaxed and whatever has to happen will happen."

Tuchel revealed that N'Golo Kante is available to return at Spurs, but Christian Pulisic remains sidelined with an ankle injury.

Chelsea are second in the top flight and beat Zenit 1-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday, but Tuchel says there is plenty more to come.

Asked if he feels his side had not been at their best, the German said: "Yeah but I didn't expect us to be at our top level early in September, especially after this pre-season and COVID.

"For me at the moment, it is more important that we are competitive, we play relentlessly and have belief to overcome difficult minutes and periods within games.

"Aston Villa played at their top level, this is what we have to accept and respect. Competition is high. It is a good thing that we are able to win."

Chelsea have won their past two Premier League away games against Tottenham, as many as in their previous 13 visits.

Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar offer a unique attraction at Paris Saint-Germain, according to former France international Louis Saha.

Messi ended a 21-year association with Barcelona, amid the Catalan club's financial difficulties, to join PSG on a free transfer and Mauricio Pochettino unleashed his much-vaunted frontline for the first time on Wednesday.

While the Ligue 1 outfit were held to a 1-1 draw by Club Brugge in the Champions League, Saha has expressed excitement about the trio as PSG look to challenge domestically and in Europe.

"It is exceptional for all those who love beautiful football to be able to watch or even imagine watching a trio like Messi, Neymar and [Kylian] Mbappe," Saha told Stats Perform.

"It's true that I was anxious to see Mbappe potentially go to Real Madrid.

"I found it unfortunate, almost for world football, because we just want to see this trio, even if it is only six months. It's a show, it's like the best actors in the world making a movie together.

"That's why fans all over the world watch this sport. It is because of exceptional talents.

"Sometimes you want to forget about the economy, forget about sponsorship and everything else to think about the show. You have to protect it almost because it's unique.

"And we have to realise how lucky we are to have this type of show in Ligue 1 because frankly, in modern football, it's incredible."

 

The trio have yet to click but, as they prepare to face Lyon on Sunday, Mbappe has been the man in form so far.

The France forward has scored four times already and will be looking forward to facing Lyon, who he has scored against eight times – his favourite opponent in Ligue 1.

However, the 22-year-old has repeatedly been linked with a move to Real Madrid and with less than a year left on his current contract, Saha is hoping PSG can keep a hold of their star.

"It's difficult to understand because it seems to be a 'no-brainer', as they say in English," Saha said.

"When you say Messi is coming, that's what you [Mbappe] had asked for in terms of transfer to be competitive and so on.

"He lets people speak, as they say, and he knows where he wants to go and that's to his credit. I love the fact when you know what you want, when you have a vision and you are clear with yourself.

"I see it in his performances. He's on the run. He's scoring goals. All I hope is that he has as much fun as he makes us dream and then it's his destiny.

"I just like the prospect of Neymar, Mbappe and Messi not necessarily challenging each other on goals, but challenging each other at the peak level of what you could find in terms of a trio.

"[They can] make us dream. That's what we expect. When I see a Manchester United team or a Chelsea team or something else, even if I support one or another team, what I want to see is an authentic show, so it's an opportunity to see something exceptional."

Alexandre Lacazette's future at Arsenal is uncertain and a move to Italy may beckon.

The French forward was said to have been a player Arsenal would have considered allowing to leave at the right price during the recent transfer window.

Lacazette has only managed two substitute appearances for the Gunners in the league this season.

TOP STORY - JUVENTUS PLOT MOVE FOR GUNNER

Juventus are considering a move to sign Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette, claims Calciomercato.

Lacazette is due to become a free agent at the end of next June and it remains to be seen whether he renews, yet the Turin club may move for him in January.

Juventus' slow start to the new season may play a part in their decision-making on when to pursue his signature.

ROUND-UP

- Bruno Fernandes will be rewarded with a bumper new Manchester United contract worth £250,000 per week, claims The Sun. The deal could be announced in the next few days, representing a £100,000 pay raise on his current deal that runs until 2025.

- Chelsea will reportedly consider selling Antonio Rudiger, who has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. Any Rudiger sale would raise funds to land Sevilla star Jules Kounde, according to Football365.

- Ansu Fati is committed to remaining with Barcelona despite the club's financial issues, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Could Jurgen Klopp and Robert Lewandowski be set to work together again?

The pair enjoyed a successful partnership at Borussia Dortmund.

Now, Klopp is reportedly trying to lure the Bayern Munich forward to Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – KLOPP WANTS LEWANDOWSKI REUNION

Liverpool are targeting Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, according to Fichajes.

Lewandowski worked with Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund before joining Bundesliga rivals Bayern in 2014.

There has been talk Lewandowski could be ready for a new challenge amid links to Real Madrid and Manchester City, though Klopp is reportedly determined to reunite with the Poland international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bild claims Dortmund have identified Chelsea forward Timo Werner as a possible option to replace Erling Haaland. Club are queueing up to sign Haaland, with City, Manchester United, Bayern, Liverpool, Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all reportedly interested. Should Haaland leave Dortmund, the Bundesliga outfit reportedly see former RB Leipzig star Werner as a potential successor.

- Fabrizio Romano says Inter forward Lautaro Martinez is nearing a contract extension at San Siro. He has reportedly turned down offers from Tottenham and Atletico Madrid.

Bayern, Inter, Real Madrid and Tottenham are interested in Borussia Monchengladbach defender Matthias Ginter, reports Calciomercato.

Chelsea are looking to sign Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen to new contracts, according to Romano.

Eden Hazard did not make it onto the pitch in Real Madrid's win over Inter and Carlo Ancelotti explained why he sent match-winner Rodrygo on ahead of the Belgium winger. 

Madrid had to withstand a barrage of pressure in the first half, with Thibaut Courtois doing well to deny Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez in the Champions League Group D encounter. 

Rodrygo replaced Lucas Vazquez in the 65th minute with Los Blancos getting more of a foothold in the game and the Brazilian popped up with a late winner in a 1-0 success. 

Asked why Hazard, who played 66 minutes in the 5-2 LaLiga win against Celta Vigo at the weekend, did not feature in Milan, Ancelotti said: "I thought about putting him on in the second half, but Inter closed the centre of the pitch well. 

"I wanted to open up the game from the wings, which is why I put Rodrygo on." 

Rodrygo is yet to start a game under Ancelotti, but he has now scored in two of his three Champions League appearances against Inter - both of his strikes representing a winning goal,

Ancelotti has attempted to stop the 20-year-old worrying about the number of minutes he gets and instead get him focused on performing at the highest level when he is selected. 

"I told him it's not important how many minutes he plays, but how he plays them," Ancelotti told Movistar+.

"He helped [Dani] Carvajal a lot and then in front of goal he is very cool and scores goals. 

"With his introduction we played more on the wing and found the solution. I liked the game because he had to suffer and be compact. The team not only has quality, but it also has commitment." 

Rodrygo said: "Of course, I always want to play. When I'm on the pitch, I can do something for the team. 

"I want to play, but I respect the coach's decisions and I'm going to work hard to be able to be there. At Real Madrid it's always difficult." 

Rodrygo silenced San Siro with a last-gasp winner as Real Madrid overcame Inter 1-0 in Champions League Group D on Wednesday. 

A scuffed volley off a lovely cushioned pass from fellow substitute Eduardo Camavinga saw Rodrygo give Madrid all three points in former Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti's first European game since returning to the helm. 

Inter dominated the first half but both Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez failed to find a way past Thibaut Courtois when presented with chances you would have expected them to tuck away.

The game appeared to be destined for a draw until Rodrygo's 89th-minute strike left Samir Handanovic rooted to the spot, giving Madrid a win away at Inter in the Champions League for the second straight season.

Inter cut Madrid open in the ninth minute but Dzeko was unable to get the better of Courtois after a fine touch from Martinez. 

After Casemiro sent a skidding 25-yard effort narrowly wide, Martinez was presented with a glorious opportunity at the end of a blistering Inter break but his free header was straight at Courtois. 

Eder Militao nodded wide from a corner when unmarked at the near post before Martinez, Marcelo Brozovic and Dzeko all failed to send the Nerazzurri into half-time with a lead that their play deserved. 

Courtois made another great save to keep Dzeko's low header out nine minutes after the restart and Milan Skriniar was unable to turn home the rebound. 

Madrid's first shot on target finally came in the 57th minute but Handanovic never looked like being beaten by Dani Carvajal's shot from an acute angle. 

The visitors remained in control and, after Vinicius Junior saw a pair of efforts blocked by Skriniar, Rodrygo snatched the win at the end of a fine move that also involved Federico Valverde. 

LaLiga president Javier Tebas has defended Real Madrid's attempts to sign Kylian Mbappe despite football's wider economic struggles, adamant their conduct pales in comparison to that of Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid president Florentino Perez was at the forefront of the European Super League scandal earlier this year, as a group of elite clubs attempted to form a closed breakaway competition.

Perez said their intention was to "save" football, convinced the sport was financially unsustainable in its current form, but plans quickly unravelled when the English clubs involved pulled out.

Yet, despite talk of football's doom, Madrid lodged bids for Mbappe in the most recent transfer window, with their offers thought to have started at €160million – only the Frenchman himself (€180m) and PSG team-mate Neymar (€222m) have ever cost more.

Nevertheless, Madrid have raised significant capital through sales over the past four years, turning a profit in transfer fees in three of the five seasons dating back to the start of 2017-18.

As such, Tebas sees little cause for concern over the financial state of Madrid, but he cannot see them having a transfer window like that of PSG, who brought in Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos and Nuno Mendes.

Speaking at a sponsorship news conference, Tebas told reporters: "I said that Spanish football is not ruined, neither Madrid nor Barcelona.

"There are at least 80 per cent of clubs in Europe that have it much worse. Regarding Real Madrid, I think they have been the club that's been better managed through the pandemic, with enormous rigor in their salary spending. Real Madrid has the capacity to do what they want.

"They can never be PSG, because PSG cheats. They have a salary expense close to €600m, which is impossible. Madrid are not a state club either, so they can't."

Talk of Spanish football's demise intensified following Barcelona's latest comprehensive Champions League defeat on Tuesday, losing 3-0 to Bayern Munich at Camp Nou, while Sevilla stuttered to a 1-1 draw at home to Salzburg.

For Barca, it was the first time since Opta records began (2003-04) that they had failed to get a shot on target in a Champions League game, and Bayern's superiority condemned Ronald Koeman's men to three successive home defeats in the competition for the first time.

Prior to 2020-21, Barca had only ever lost two Champions League home games by three or more goals but that has occurred three times since – with Messi no longer there, many would expect their standard to plummeting further.

But Tebas insists the odd Champions League result does not necessarily mean anything, pointing out the Premier League arguably enjoyed its greatest period of growth during a European trophy drought.

"There is still a lot of the Champions League to go," he continued. "Last year it was the same and then everyone went through to the knockout phase.

"The level of LaLiga does not depend on a few Champions League games. When the Premier League grew the most, it was in a phase of six years without winning the main elite competition."

Lionel Messi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain "ripped out" the soul of Barcelona, former Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said after the Blaugrana's heavy Champions League defeat to the Bundesliga champions.

Barca may have avoided another demolition job at the hands of Bayern, who defeated them 8-2 in the Champions League quarter-finals 13 months ago, but Tuesday's 3-0 loss was a damning indictment of the gulf between them and the teams likely to challenge for European club football's biggest prize this term.

It was the first time since Opta records began (2003-04) that Barca have failed to get a shot on target in a Champions League game, and Bayern's superiority condemned Ronald Koeman's men to three successive home defeats in the competition for the first time.

Barcelona's crippling financial state – which has seen their debts approach €1.4billion – has contributed to a situation where such heavy losses to Europe's elite are no longer a surprise.

Prior to 2020-21, Barca had only ever lost two Champions League home games by three or more goals but that has occurred three times since – with Messi no longer there, many would expect their standard to continue plummeting.

Barca were unable to keep Messi due to salary cap restrictions and Rummenigge sees a hollow shell of a club left without him.

Speaking to Bild TV, Rummenigge – who left his role as Bayern CEO earlier this year – said: "When you looked at the team and how they performed tactically… with Messi [leaving], their souls were ripped out. They are facing difficult times.

"They had to let him leave, but LaLiga scored an own goal with it [his departure]."

Rummenigge was asked if bringing Messi to Bayern was ever a possibility, but he pointed to the Barca's financial mismanagement around the six-time Ballon d'Or winner that made signing him impossible.

"That couldn't be, that was not a subject [considered]," he continued. "You can't think about that.

"His salary is at such dizzying heights, and don't forget, this has a knock-on effect. Then the others want more too.

"That has resulted in Barcelona having staggering debts."

But while Barca are left tending to an institutional crisis, their bitter rivals Real Madrid appear to be in a far less dire situation.

Although club president Florentino Perez stressed Madrid football was running out of money earlier this year when he fronted up the attempted formation of a European Super League, Los Blancos were comfortable enough to lodge bids of at least €160m for PSG's Kylian Mbappe.

PSG did not entertain any offers but the Frenchman will become a free agent next year and Rummenigge believes there is a strong change both he and Erling Haaland could end up in Madrid in 2022, rather than the Norwegian going to Bayern.

"[Robert] Lewandowski is the best centre-forward in the world. Haaland is the second best," he said. "I think Bayern is interested in Robert staying after his contract expires in 2023. Haaland is an investment.

"I don't think he's going to Liverpool. I know the owner very well and he is not known for splashing out.

"With Haaland, I wouldn't rule Real Madrid out. Maybe they'll open the chequebook a little more in the summer and possibly get Haaland and Kylian Mbappe."

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