Paris Saint-Germain forward Lionel Messi is upset to see Barcelona struggle in his absence and has reiterated he would love to one day return to the club.

Messi's trophy-laden two-decade association with Barcelona came to an end in August when he joined PSG on a free transfer.

He scored a club-record 672 goals for Barca across 778 appearances, but the Catalan giants were unable to honour a contract offered to the player, due to financial restrictions.

The Argentina international's shock exit has left a huge void at Camp Nou, with Barca winning just seven of their 17 matches in all competitions this campaign.

Barca are seventh in LaLiga and have a crucial tie with Benfica on Tuesday as they aim to keep their Champions League last-16 hopes in their own hands.

Asked if his former club's form this season makes him sad, Messi said: "Yes, obviously. I always want the best for Barcelona. I'm a fan even though I'm not playing there now. 

"And I have colleagues and friends there within the team. I want them to do well. It is true that in LaLiga they've dropped many points, but there is still a lot more to play for. I have no doubt that Barcelona will get themselves back up the table."

Messi, who spent 17 seasons in Barca's first team, revealed earlier this month he is open to returning to the LaLiga club in the future in a technical secretary position.

In a wide-ranging interview published by Marca on Tuesday, Messi gave further insight into his recent departure and his future plans.

"I always said that at some point I will return to Barcelona because it is my home and because I am going to live there," he said. "And obviously if I can contribute and help the club I would love to come back.

"My exit is done. I left there and time has passed. What they told me is that they couldn't renew my contract and that I couldn't stay. You don't have to look for more culprits or look back at what happened. I'll stick with what they told me and that's it."

Barca's terrible start to their first season without Messi since 2003-04 led to the sacking of head coach Ronald Koeman in October and the subsequent appointment of Xavi.

Koeman left with a record of 28 wins from his 48 league matches in charge, but Messi believes the Dutchman was treated harshly, saying such dismissals are always "unfair" to coaches.

"When there are bad results, the easiest thing is to target the coach, to replace him and not the players," Messi said.

Messi has made a mixed start to the new chapter in his career with PSG, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner scoring four goals in nine appearances in all competitions.

He netted his first Ligue 1 goal in his sixth outing in the competition last weekend and now feels his "adaption has been pretty fast".

Messi has joined a star-studded cast at PSG that also includes Kylian Mbappe and former Barca team-mate Neymar.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the trio each rank in the top seven for goal involvements in all competitions among players from clubs in Europe's top five leagues.

Messi leads the way with a combined 377 goals and assists, with Mbappe fifth on 246 goal involvements and Neymar seventh with 231.

Despite boasting arguably the strongest attack on the continent, Messi does not believe PSG can consider themselves as firm favourites to win the Champions League.

"Everyone says that we are the big favourites and I will not deny that we are one of the candidates by name, but we still need things to become a really strong team," he said.

"We have to finish consolidating as a team and we have the advantage of having very great players to achieve it.  But we are not the only ones, there are other great teams that are candidates."

Xavi said he "really wants to go home", with Barcelona in talks with Al Sadd to make him their new head coach.

Barca's first vice-president Rafael Yuste and director of football Mateu Alemany were in attendance for Al Sadd's 3-3 draw with Al Duhail on Wednesday, a result that kept Xavi's side three points clear at the top of the Stars League. 

The former midfielder, who made 767 appearances for Barca as a player and won 25 trophies during an illustrious spell for the club, has been the frontrunner to take over following the dismissal of Ronald Koeman last week. 

Al Sadd last week insisted Xavi was solely focused on the Qatari club, with whom he has a two-year contract, but the coach confirmed an agreement on his future could be reached in a matter of hours. 

"I really want to go home. The two clubs are in talks and a resolution must be reached. I am very excited, but it's a matter of respect – I have a contract," Xavi told Mundo Deportivo. 

"It would be a return home. The two clubs have to agree. Hopefully it will be done, because I am very eager and excited. 

"I am very positive. I have been very clear about my position. I think it will be a matter of hours, maybe days. They know my stance and hopefully it can be done." 

He added to TV3: "I am a positive person and it is a matter of common sense. They have to agree. The two clubs know my position and I hope it will be sorted soon." 

After a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves in their first game since Koeman's dismissal, Barca boosted their qualification hopes in the Champions League by beating Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday. 

Speaking more generally about what Koeman's successor needs to do at Camp Nou, Xavi added: "The coach who goes does not have to be a messiah. We saw a different Barca yesterday. 

"Everyone has to row in the same direction for Barca to win games. We are all very excited. We will see if it ends up being done, but it would be spectacular." 

Gaizka Mendieta believes Barcelona should have sacked Ronald Koeman earlier to prevent "negative dynamics" from developing at Camp Nou.

Barca parted company with Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 LaLiga defeat to Rayo Vallecano, on the back of a home Clasico loss against Real Madrid.

Koeman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 but has failed to make an impact as he battled with Barca's dire financial situation, which led to Lionel Messi departing for Paris Saint-Germain.

The Blaugrana were ninth in the table ahead of a clash with Alaves on Saturday and have lost two of their three Champions League Group E matches.

Sergi Barjuan has stepped in as caretaker head coach and club legend Xavi is expected to be named as Koeman's successor on a permanent basis.

Former Spain midfielder Mendieta thinks the writing was on the wall for Koeman long ago and feels president Joan Laporta would have fired the former Netherlands defender sooner if the club were not so short of funds.

"I think finances are only of the reasons [why he was not sacked earlier]. Although, like we see now, if it has to come to that they will do anyway," he told Stats Perform.

"So the question is, why they didn't do it earlier? Because Laporta said he was not the man that he wanted for his project, he couldn't find anyone else so he stayed.

"That already started some negative dynamics in the club and in the team. So why don't do it in the first place I think financially was one of the big reasons for them not to do it.

"And then again, you start to generate some sort of bad atmosphere within the team, the club and the fans which is no good for anyone."

 

Mendieta has sympathy for Koeman given the off-field issues he had to contend with.

He added: "When you plan having a season as a manager with Messi on the team, and Messi leaves days before they start the season, then publicly the president or the board says that Koeman is not the manager they would like to have, but because they haven't got any option he stays.

"Then we see these three pillars of the club having different conversations like the board, the managers and the players in kind of everyone trying to save in a way themselves, which is not good for our team, for our club, in any situation.

"And then resources don't arrive, players injured. So there's a lot of ingredients in this kind of difficult situation. However, I still think there's a lot of potential in the team. There have been other players, key players, injured, and they're slowly coming back, hopefully, but they will need time.

"So it's a matter of time of where resources arrive and there's some sort of consistency in the results and the points, because at the moment they win one game, they look like they are in recovery, then they lose the next one, and crisis again."

Al Sadd have addressed rumours linking manager Xavi with the vacant head coach role at Barcelona by reiterating the former Spain international remains tied to a two-year contract.

Ronald Koeman was sacked by Barcelona after the club's dismal start to the 2021-22 campaign continued with a shock defeat to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday.

That left them ninth in LaLiga and six points off the top – that gap has since been stretched to nine.

Sergi Barjuan was placed in temporary charge until a permanent successor to Koeman is found, and Blaugrana great Xavi is the hot favourite.

The 41-year-old has long been seen as a potential future head coach at Barca, and he is even reported to have turned down two approaches in the past: before Quique Setien was hired to replace Ernesto Valverde, and earlier this year when Joan Laporta reclaimed the presidency.

Laporta addressed the media beside Sergi on Friday and did little to cool speculation as he spoke of his surety that Xavi will one day coach Barcelona – though the president did at least follow that with the caveat of not knowing when that would be.

But while it seems inevitable that Barca will approach Xavi once again in the coming days, Al Sadd have at least attempted to calm the situation from their own perspective.

A statement posted to Twitter read: "In response to what's circulating recently, the Al Sadd management reaffirms that Xavi has a two-year contract with the club and is fully focused on the team's upcoming matches, to maintain our lead at the top of the league and to defend the title."

Xavi came through the ranks at Barca and went on to make 767 appearances for the club during one of their most illustrious periods.

He left for Al Sadd in 2014 and finished his playing career there, before taking over as coach and leading them to seven domestic trophies.

Barca face Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on Saturday and are away to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League three days later.

Sergi Barjuan has urged Barcelona's players to add greater substance to their style as the stop-gap head coach pointed the way forward in the post-Ronald Koeman era.

The clash with Deportivo Alaves on Saturday may prove to be Sergi's only game as boss of the first team, with Barcelona eager to bring Xavi to the club.

Sergi's regular role is as coach to Barcelona B, and he has had precious little time with the senior stars since Koeman was dismissed on Wednesday, after a 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano .

Barcelona head into the weekend in a lowly ninth position, nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad, albeit with one game in hand.

They have played the same number of games as Real Madrid, who sit six points clear of Barcelona and already have a Clasico win in the bag this season.

Sergi believes Barcelona can get back on track and said in a news conference on Friday: "We have to be united, people have to come to the ground tomorrow.

"The way of playing will not change, but maybe some tactical concepts could provide the solution. The style is non-negotiable."

He added: "Tomorrow we have to win the game because LaLiga is open. We have to recover the idea of ​​vertical football."

Former Barcelona and Spain defender Sergi will be without Ansu Fati for the game due to the teenager's knee injury, but Ousmane Dembele could be involved for the first time this season, with the winger back in training after his own knee lay-off.

Sergi said: "I want to put some joy back into the team and get them enjoying their football again. I need all the players to be plugged into turning this situation around."

 

Playing a vertical game, which would mean being more direct, would seem an obvious move given the personnel available to Barcelona.

Feeding the ball as early as possible to the experienced and capable likes of Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero may be the smartest option for a team who have struggled to find an identity since Lionel Messi's move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona have played fewer long passes (449) than any team in LaLiga this season, according to Opta data, but they have played the most possessional passes (6,364), as well as the most passes in the opposition's half (3,431).

Clearly, they are struggling to find a winning formula with their keep-ball game. This has not been helped by their finishing, with just 15 goals scored from an expected goals (xG) total of 18.7.

While Barcelona have lost their last two LaLiga games, to Real Madrid and Rayo, Alaves have picked themselves up after taking just three points from their opening eight matches and have beaten Cadiz and Elche back to back.

Barcelona have not lost any of their last 20 games at home to Basque opponents in LaLiga (W18 D2) since their 2-1 loss against Alaves in September 2016.

Alaves have kept only one clean sheet across their 16 away games against Barcelona in LaLiga, conceding 53 goals across those games. The shutout came in a shock 1-0 win in February 2000.

Sergi said of his opportunity to lead the Barcelona first team: "First of all, I would like to thank the club for the trust they have placed in me. Secondly, I want to send a big hug to Koeman because we have worked side by side these months.

"I arrive in a complex situation, but we are already working. We will have to look for the opponent's weaknesses and try to break their streak with our game."

Joan Laporta is adamant Xavi will be Barcelona head coach one day but refused to reveal if he will replace Ronald Koeman in the dugout this season.

Koeman was relieved of his duties on Wednesday after a poor start to the season that has left Barca ninth in LaLiga and with just three points from three Champions League games. Barca B boss Sergi Barjuan has taken temporary charge.

Club legend and Al Sadd manager Xavi has emerged as the front-runner for the permanent position, but Barca president Laporta – while praising the 41-year-old – maintained he is keeping his options open.

Xavi guided Al Sadd to the Qatar Stars League title last season and has claimed six cups since taking over in 2019, having spent four years at the club as a player.

"I have always said that Xavi will coach Barca one day," Laporta said ahead of Barca's contest with Deportivo Alaves on Saturday. "He is a person who lives for football, he belongs to Barca and has it as a priority objective in his life.

"What I think is that I have a very good relationship with him and we'll see how everything evolves. I have been talking to Xavi since the election campaign and contact has never been broken. 

"I have not changed my opinion about Xavi. Since he went to Qatar, I said he would be a Barca coach. What I don't know is when. The reports we have are very good.

"I have not followed Al Sadd. All the inputs that come to us are positive. He has recently taken the step of being a coach and does not have a long career. As much as we talk about Xavi, let me keep my [options open]."

Laporta also acknowledged the club should have dismissed Koeman sooner and accepts responsibility for the delay in the decision being made.

"[Giving Koeman time] was a way to motivate the coach and the team," Laporta continued. "Possibly we should have decided earlier, and I take responsibility for this decision. The situation was untenable. We had entered a dangerous drift in which we could disengage from everything.

"Ronald is a legend of Barcelona and we had to thank him for the effort he made. I told Ronald that, good luck and thank you very much. Possibly I had to make the decision before, but I opted for this decision."

The Barca president insisted that whoever is brought in as the new head coach will be backed by the board but will also be expected to deliver success within a short period of time.

"[The new head coach] will have the full support of the board that I preside over and the football management," Laporta added. "We will see how he evolves. He will have all our support and all our demands because we aspire to win the competitions we are in.

"At Barca, there are no transitional seasons. Everything is possible in football."

Xavi insists he is focused on his work with Al Sadd amid reports he is set to take over as the new head coach of Barcelona. 

Barca sacked Ronald Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano that left them six points off top spot in LaLiga. 

It was the Catalan giants' first defeat to Rayo since December 2002 and ended a run of 13 straight LaLiga victories against them. 

Sergi Barjuan has been placed in temporary charge, with Xavi expected to be allowed to leave Al Sadd next week following their clash with Qatar Stars League title rivals Al Duhail. 

Asked about the possibility of an impending return to Camp Nou on Thursday, Xavi said: "I am focused on my work with Al Sadd and I won't talk about anything else."

Xavi came through the ranks at Barca and went on to provide 184 assists and score 85 times in 767 appearances for the club during one of their most illustrious periods. 

He left for Al Sadd in 2014 and finished his playing career there, before taking over as coach and leading them to seven domestic trophies.

Barca face Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on Saturday and are away to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League three days later.

Pedri has thanked Ronald Koeman for giving him his breakthrough at Camp Nou and says he "will always be grateful" to the former Barcelona head coach.

Barca confirmed the departure of Koeman on Wednesday shortly after a 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano that leaves them ninth in LaLiga with 10 games played.

The Dutchman lasted just 14 months in the job after replacing Quique Setien in August 2020, during which time he won just 58.21 per cent of his 67 games in charge. 

Koeman had more success when it came to nurturing young players into the first-team fold, though, with Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza and Pedri breaking through last season.

And with Barca's financial issues well-documented, Koeman made further use of the academy this term by giving Alejandro Balde, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez and Yusuf Demir chances.

None of those players have had as big an impact as Pedri, who made the fourth-most appearances under Koeman (56 games), despite this season's injury issues.

Pedri's form last season saw him rewarded with a call-up to the Spain squad ahead of Euro 2020, where he started all six of his country's matches in their run to the semi-finals.

After a memorable 12 months for club and country, the 18-year-old has personally thanked Koeman for giving him a chance to shine.

"I'm sorry things didn't turn out the way we wanted, mister," he posted on his personal Instagram account on Thursday. 

"I will always be grateful to him for everything he has done for me: for giving me his trust from the first moment and for the opportunity to fulfil my dream at Barcelona.

"I wish you the best both personally and professionally."

 

Sergio Busquets was the most used played during Koeman's tenure, featuring 63 times in total – one more than Frenkie de Jong – with 56 of those being starts.

The experienced midfielder also paid tribute to his departing boss on social media on Thursday, posting: "Thanks for everything, mister. Good luck in the future."

Koeman's win percentage is the lowest of all coaches to have taken charge of Barca since Pep Guardiola left in 2012, the next lowest being Setien (64 per cent).

The 58-year-old is also the only Barca boss to average fewer than two points per game in LaLiga (1.96 PPG), again comfortably behind the next worst in Setien (2.21 PPG).

Barca announced on Thursday that Sergi Barjuan will take interim charge while a permanent successor for Koeman – expected to be club great Xavi – is found.

Barcelona have named Sergi Barjuan as their interim head coach while they search for a permanent successor to Ronald Koeman.

The Catalan giants sacked Koeman on Wednesday following a 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano that leaves them ninth in LaLiga with 10 matches played.

Koeman lasted just 14 months in the job after replacing Quique Setien in August 2020 and departs Camp Nou with a 58.21 win percentage across his 67 games in charge.

Widespread reports from Spain suggest legendary Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who is in charge of Qatari side Al Sadd, is being lined up to replace the former Netherlands boss as early as next week.

Talks between the two parties are said to be ongoing, but Barca have moved to place Sergi in charge for the time being.

The former left-back, who has spent the past four months at the helm of Barcelona's B side, will be introduced to the first-team squad ahead of Thursday's training session.

He has also previously managed Zhejiang Greentown, Real Mallorca, Almeria and Recreativo following a 15-year playing career that saw him spend nine seasons at Camp Nou.

The LaLiga side confirmed the news on their official website, with Sergi set to speak to the media for the first time on Friday ahead of this weekend's visit of Deportivo Alaves.

Barca then have a crucial Champions League trip to Dynamo Kiev before travelling to Celta Vigo in their final league game before the international break.

Ronald Koeman's 14-month spell in charge of Barcelona came to an end on Wednesday following another humbling defeat.

Barca fell 1-0 at Rayo Vallecano, fresh on the back of losing to fierce rivals Real Madrid, and find themselves ninth in LaLiga with 10 games played. 

The Dutchman departs Camp Nou with a win percentage of 58.21 across a 67-game tenure that provided more negatives than positives.

Here, Stats Perform picks out a few of the highs and lows from Koeman's reign, which coincided with the most difficult off-field period in the club's history.

MESSI'S DEPARTURE

When looking backing on Koeman's time at Barcelona in years to come, it will be best remembered as the period in which the Blaugrana were having to adapt to life without all-time leading goalscorer Lionel Messi.

Years of financial mismanagement predating Koeman's arrival in August 2020 meant Barca were unable to tie Messi down to a new deal and he left for Paris Saint-Germain shortly before the start of the 2021-22 campaign.

Sergio Aguero arrived but it was always going to take considerable time to replace a player that had scored 672 goals and provided 265 assists across 778 games. So it proved, with Barca's goalscoring problems laid bare this term.

CLASSICO WOES

While the loss to Rayo proved to be the final straw for Koeman, there had been growing talk that he would be on his way out regardless following Sunday's 2-1 Clasico defeat to Madrid.

Barca simply failed to turn up against their biggest rivals – and not for the first time given it was their fourth successive loss to Madrid in all competitions, making it their worst such run in the fixture since 1965.

Koeman is only the second manager in LaLiga history to lose his first three Clasicos, after Patrick O'Connell between 1935 and 1940, and that latest loss was not taken well by Barca supporters. The former Netherlands boss had his car mobbed by a crowd of disgruntled fans as he attempted to depart Camp Nou.

EUROPEAN HUMBLINGS

Barca's on-field struggles were not limited to LaLiga, either, as they made a historically bad start to this season's Champions League campaign with 3-0 defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica.

Never before had they lost their opening two games in the competition and, while they did just about recover with a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev last time out, whoever succeeds Koeman still has plenty of work on their hands to advance from the group.

Indeed, before that win over Dynamo, Barca had lost four and drawn one of their last five games in the Champions League, having also lost to Juventus in the final game of their group campaign last term before losing to PSG over two legs in the last 16.

COPA TRIUMPH EASES PAIN 

Exiting the Champions League in the first knockout round last season was one of a number of disappointments for Barca in their only full season under Koeman.

Barca finished the LaLiga season in third, seven points behind champions Atletico Madrid, and also lost to Athletic Bilbao in the Supercopa de Espana in dramatic circumstances.

But Koeman did win one trophy at Camp Nou thanks to success in the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. After overturning a two-goal first-leg deficit against Sevilla in the semi-finals, Barca exacted revenge on Bilbao in the final with a 4-0 win.

That made ex-Valencia head coach Koeman the second manager after Luis Enrique to win his first two Copa del Rey finals this century.

 

A NEW DAWN

Koeman will rightly point out that he had to operate with one hand tied behind his back due to Barca's financial difficulties, with Antoine Griezmann following Messi out of the door in the most recent transfer window.

Barcelona's squad became substantially weaker as a result, though it did at least present a chance to bring in some new blood. Koeman has brought the average age of the side down to 25.5, ranking Barca as the third-youngest team in LaLiga this season.

Ansu Fati's development may have been stunted by knee injury issues, which again kept him out of the Rayo loss, but the club's new number 10 has been given a firm footing to potentially succeed all-time great Messi as the face of Barca going forward.

Pedri and Gavi have also made a big impact under Koeman, the latter overtaking his team-mate to become the youngest player to start an El Clasico this century last weekend at the age of 17 years and 80 days. 

It will be those players, and not Koeman, who will attempt to return the club to former glories.

Ronald Koeman has been sacked as head coach of Barcelona following a poor start to the season. 

A 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday proved too much for the Camp Nou hierarchy, who pulled the trigger on Koeman's time with the club.

The Dutchman was brought in to replace Quique Setien in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, although they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao. 

The hope was that Koeman could steady the ship in the face of the various financial challenges that were affecting incomings and outgoings at Barca, but after winning just 39 of his 67 games in charge, the former Southampton, Everton and Netherlands boss was relieved of his duties.

A total of 12 draws and 16 defeats during Koeman’s 14-months at the club, with 138 goals for and 75 against, was ultimately not good enough, but was it all bad? Stats Perform takes a closer look at the numbers behind his reign.

 

Worst record post-Pep

Of all the coaches to take charge at the club since the departure of Pep Guardiola in 2012, Koeman had the lowest win percentage (58.2 per cent), with the next lowest being his predecessor Setien (64 per cent), who himself only lasted 25 games in the hot seat.

Koeman is also the only Barca boss to average fewer than two points per game in LaLiga (1.96 PPG), again comfortably behind the next worst in Setien (2.21 PPG).

There was also an undoubted, yet somewhat understandable over-reliance on Lionel Messi. The club's greatest ever player shocked the world when he left for Paris Saint Germain in the summer, but it was no shock to discover that prior to his departure, he had been holding the team up almost single-handedly.

Despite leaving in the summer, Messi has still scored almost twice as many goals as any other Barca player during Koeman’s time as boss (38), has created more chances than anyone else (117), has taken more than twice as many shots as anyone else (271) and is still joint-second in assists (12), behind only Jordi Alba (15).

This season, Barcelona have begun a LaLiga campaign without a win in their first four away games for the first time since 1991-92 – when Johan Cruyff was in charge. They have also failed to score in three consecutive league away games for the first time since February 2003.

They were unable to hit the target in the first half against Real Madrid or Rayo Vallecano, which is just the second time in the last 19 LaLiga seasons they have done so in consecutive games.

During Koeman's reign, Barca dropped 12 points from winning position in LaLiga – only Frank Rijkaard (29) and Ernesto Valverde (26) had poorer records in that regard.

3 - Barcelona are winless in their last four away trips in LaLiga (D2 L2), failing to score in the last three - they have failed to score in three league away games for the first time since since February 2003 (3). Run. pic.twitter.com/cd1Q8QWz7f

— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 27, 2021

 

Did anything go right?

Well, his team did gain 24 points from losing positions in LaLiga – only Valverde (48) and Rijkaard (43) won more.

While reliance on Messi last season was clear, Barca actually coped well on the rare occasions they were without their talismanic figure. 

In the 45 games with the Argentine in all competitions, they had a win percentage of 60 per cent (27), averaged 2.2 goals for, and 1.2 goals against per game. In the nine games without the superstar, their win percentage was 77.80 per cent (seven), with an average of 2.4 goals for and 0.7 goals against.

While his hand may have been forced, Koeman has also given plenty of chances to promising stars of Barcelona's future, in particular overseeing the emergence of Pedri.

The 18-year-old wonderkid was the fourth most used player in Koeman's tenure, playing 56 games, behind only Sergio Busquets (63), Frenkie De Jong (62) and Jordi Alba (57). The former Las Palmas midfielder has clearly benefited from such faith, now starring for both club and country.

Ansu Fati has played significantly fewer games under Koeman (16) but this is mostly due to injury, and would no doubt have featured more otherwise, while Gavi looks to be following in Pedri's footsteps after being given 11 opportunities by Koeman, already earning his first caps for Spain as a result. He is the youngest player to play for the country, and became the youngest Clasico starter since the turn of the century when he was named in the Barca XI on Sunday, for a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid.

There have certainly been promising signs, but whoever comes in next at the Camp Nou will be hoping that the numbers will all start going in the right direction, and soon.

The list of candidates to replace Ronald Koeman at Barcelona is already forming.

Koeman was dismissed after Wednesday's 1-0 defeat to Rayo Vallecano which left them ninth in LaLiga.

Barcelona are battling financial challenges and have struggled since Lionel Messi's exit in August.

TOP STORY – XAVI OFFERED BARCELONA JOB

Barcelona have offered their vacant head coaching role to club legend Xavi, reports Goal.

The Catalans have acted fast with Koeman sacked late on Wednesday.

Xavi is currently coaching Qatari outfit Al Sadd but has an exit clause in his contract, although Barca are prepared to pay any fee required.

The 41-year-old long-time Barcelona midfielder retired from playing in 2019, with his final on-field stint at Al Sadd before moving into coaching.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are in the box seat to sign Leeds United's England international midfielder Kalvin Phillips, according to the Daily Star. Phillips, who is contracted with Leeds until 2024, has been linked with Manchester United too, but the report claims Liverpool are his first choice and the deal would be worth around £60million.

- Manchester United have conceded that agreeing a new deal with Paul Pogba is impossible and are prepared to lose the France international on a free transfer when his contract expires at the end of the season, reports ESPN. Pogba has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain , Juventus and Real Madrid .

- Manchester United's Amad Diallo is interested in going out on loan to Dutch club Feyenoord, according to Feyenoord TM. The 19-year-old Ivorian winger has not played this season.

- TEAMtalk claims that PSG have joined the pursuit of Leeds United's Brazil international Raphinha. PSG is the current home of Raphinha's Brazilian team-mates Neymar and Marquinhos.

- Chelsea are preparing for Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen's exit by lining up moves for Sevilla's Jules Kounde and Juventus' Matthijs de Ligt, reports Eurosport.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti says getting sacked is part of the job after his counterpart Ronald Koeman was dismissed by Barcelona on Wednesday.

Koeman was axed by the Blaugrana following their dismal start to the new season, capped by Wednesday's 1-0 loss to Rayo Vallecano, leaving them ninth in LaLiga.

Intense speculation and pressure had mounted about the Dutchman's future for the past month and former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss Ancelotti weighed in.

"I've been sacked several times and I'm still here, alive and happy," Ancelotti told reporters after Madrid's 0-0 home draw with Osasuna.

"Getting sacked is part of the job and you have to give it everything you've got until the day you're sacked.

"You have to look forward while keeping a clear conscience. He’s giving everything he has to give."

Madrid's draw with Osasuna moved them into top spot in LaLiga but left them with only four points collected from their past four league games.

Ancelotti's side are also winless from their past three home games, including a 2-1 home defeat to Sheriff in the Champions League.

The stalemate with Osasuna follows a goalless draw with Villarreal in LaLiga, meaning Madrid have recorded back-to-back 0-0 draws in home games in the league for the fourth time, and first since November 1996 under Fabio Capello.

"Of the three games, we deserved to win two of them," Ancelotti said. "We have to understand that they are difficult games for this squad, because in this game we lacked presence in the box.

"But do you want the truth? You can call me crazy, but I liked the performance. Especially in the second half. My players have given everything and we have to keep going."

Ancelotti bemoaned a first-half incident where Los Blancos were denied a penalty after Vinicius Junior was stamped inside the box by Osasuna's Lucas Torro. The Madrid boss also felt aggrieved at a lack of stoppage time in the second half.

"The penalty is a complicated issue. All I saw, was Vinicius asking the referee to take a look at VAR and he didn't get why," Ancelotti said.

"Then I understood why, he stamps on him and I think it's a penalty. Why VAR did not intervene I don't know.

"I told the referee I felt he hadn't added enough injury time given how the game had gone. I asked him for an explanation but it wasn't very convincing."

Vinicius Junior was busy throughout, attempting 71 passes (64 completed), which was his highest in a single game for Madrid in all competitions.

Ronald Koeman has been sacked as head coach of Barcelona following a poor start to the club's first season without Lionel Messi in 17 years. 

Financial difficulties saw the six-time Ballon d'Or winner leave for Paris Saint-Germain and, in his absence, Koeman's side have struggled. 

The Dutchman replaced Quique Setien at Camp Nou in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, although they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao. 

A shock 1-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday was the final straw and with the club in turmoil, it is imperative that Koeman's successor is chosen with great care. Stats Perform takes a look at the leading contenders who have been linked with the position. 

Xavi

With Koeman dismissed, Barcelona could turn to another club legend in Xavi, hoping the La Masia graduate can succeed where his predecessor failed with an unbalanced squad of ageing regulars and young talent. The former Spain international has presided over Qatari side Al Sadd since his retirement in 2019, leading them to a league title and six domestic cups.

Turning to a young coach who does not have any experience in Europe amid a time of upheaval could be viewed as a huge risk, however. Plus, will Xavi see this as the right time to return? The opportunity to manage Barca is likely to come around again at some stage.

Andrea Pirlo

Another candidate who enjoyed a glittering career as a central midfielder in his playing days, Pirlo replaced Maurizio Sarri at Juventus in August 2020 and won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana, but was sacked at the end of his debut season following a fourth-placed Serie A finish and another disappointing European exit, this time against Porto.

While Pirlo has experience of coaching in a top-five league, his stint in Turin hardly demonstrated the Italian has the credentials at this stage of his career to rescue an ailing Barcelona side.

Roberto Martinez

Martinez has a greater coaching pedigree, although the highest level he has managed at has come on the international stage with Belgium — a job he still holds. The 48-year-old guided the Red Devils to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and took them to number one in the FIFA world rankings, though a major trophy continues to elude them.

At club level, however, he has managed Everton and Wigan Athletic in the Premier League, winning the FA Cup but also suffering relegation with the latter, and also Swansea City below the top tier — rather different jobs to the one that faces the newcomer at Barcelona.

Erik ten Hag

Could Barca turn to another Dutchman to try to turn their on-field fortunes around? Ten Hag has built his reputation at Ajax, having previously worked at Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles, as well as a stint with Bayern Munich's second string. He has twice won the Eredivisie title, while he appeared set to reach the Champions League final in 2019, only for Tottenham to produce a stunning comeback in Amsterdam.

Barcelona, who know what it is like to be on the wrong end of a second-leg turnaround in Europe, have well-documented financial problems at the moment, potentially raising an issue if they want to try to lure away a coach under contract elsewhere.

Antonio Conte

Conte is out of work, at least meaning Barca would not have to pay any compensation to appoint him. However, that does not mean the Italian comes cheaply, considering he has a hugely impressive resume. The former Juve boss made a quick impact at his previous two jobs, having returned to club duties after a spell in charge of the Azzurri.

He won the Premier League title in his first season at Chelsea, during which they produced an impressive 13-game winning streak, then ended Inter's Scudetto wait last term, leading the Nerazzurri to a first championship since 2010. His San Siro departure amid Inter's financial cutbacks does raise questions over whether he would want to go anywhere near Camp Nou right now, particularly with Manchester United also reportedly interested.

Marcelo Gallardo

A name strongly linked with the post, Gallardo started out his coaching career with Nacional in Uruguay. However, he has been in charge of River Plate — a club he had three stints at during his playing career — since 2014, winning the Copa Libertadores twice among an impressive list of honours at Los Millonarios.

The last Argentinian coach to take the top job at Barca did not last too long: Gerardo Martino had just one season at the helm. Gallardo would have to cut short his River journey to do so, a move he suggested was not likely after revealing he plans to see out a contract that runs until the end of 2021.

Ronald Koeman has been sacked by Barcelona after the club's dismal start to the 2021-22 campaign rolled on.

Koeman replaced Quique Setien in August 2020 but has failed to make an impact at Camp Nou as he battled with Barca's dire financial situation, which led to Lionel Messi departing for Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca sit ninth in LaLiga after 10 games and Wednesday's defeat to Rayo Vallecano proved the final straw.

That loss followed on from a 2-1 home reverse at the hands of Real Madrid in El Clasico, with Koeman's vehicle mobbed by an angry group of Barca supporters after that match. 

Barca's form in the Champions League has also been poor. The Blaugrana lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich and Benfica respectively in their opening matches, before clinching a 1-0 home win over Dynamo Kiev.

It is the first time Barca have opened with two losses in the competition, while the defeat to Benfica also inflicted back-to-back group game losses in a single season for the first time since 2000-01, with only Louis van Gaal (five) losing more such matches at Barca's helm than Koeman (three).

After each passing poor result, Koeman has conceded his future is out of his hands, though he argued the performance against Rayo did not befit the result.

Yet Barca's board decided to cut ties, with their decision confirmed early on Thursday morning local time.

"FC Barcelona has relieved Ronald Koeman of his duties as first team coach," a club statement read.

"The president of the club, Joan Laporta, informed him of the decision after the defeat against Rayo Vallecano. Ronald Koeman will say goodbye to the squad on Thursday at the Ciutat Esportiva.  

"FC Barcelona wishes to thank him for his service to the Club and wishes him all the best in his professional career."

Koeman had endured a strained relationship with club president Joan Laporta since the former's election.

When elected in March, Laporta made it clear that Koeman was not a part of his long-term plans and the relationship has deteriorated from then on, despite suggestions at one point of a new contract for the Dutchman.

Barca will face Alaves in LaLiga on Saturday as they bid to salvage their position in the table without Koeman.

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