Barcelona are in disarray – out of Champions League and out of money.

Funds are limited at Camp Nou and it is forcing the embattled LaLiga giants to make some tough decisions.

Frenkie de Jong and Marc-Andre ter Stegen could be sold.

 

TOP STORY – DE JONG AND TER STEGEN TO LEAVE CAMP NOU?

Barcelona are willing to sell Frenkie de Jong and Marc-Andre ter Stegen due to the club's finances, according to Diario AS.

Eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage, Barca are in the midst of a financial crisis, having been forced to part with superstar captain Lionel Messi at the start of the season.

Barca head coach Xavi faces a rebuilding job but needs to raise funds, and star midfielder De Jong and goalkeeper Ter Stegen could be sacrificed.

De Jong has been linked with Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, who have also eyed Ter Stegen.

 

ROUND-UP

- Football Insider says Real Madrid are weighing up a move for former superstar Cristiano Ronaldo if he does not fit into the system of United interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

- ESPN claims Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, RB Leipzig midfielder Amadou Haidara and Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United are key targets for Manchester United. Erling Haaland is also a long-term target of United.

Chelsea are eyeing Leicester City's Wesley Fofana as a replacement for soon-to-be free agent Antonio Rudiger, per Goal. Rudiger has been linked with Real Madrid and Bayern on a free transfer. Preparing for life after Rudiger, Chelsea have also been linked to Sevilla centre-back Jules Kounde.

Paris Saint-Germain are looking to move on Mauro Icardi, Rafinha and Abdou Diallo, says L'Equipe. Icardi has been linked with Juventus, Milan, Newcastle United and Tottenham.

Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro hailed "difference maker" Vinicius Junior after the in-form Los Blancos star produced a moment of brilliance to sink Sevilla in LaLiga.

Vinicius' stunning late goal helped Madrid overcome rivals Sevilla 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Rafa Mir's early header had Madrid on the backfoot against former head coach Julen Lopetegui, but Karim Benzema restored parity after the half-hour mark.

Vinicius then stepped up three minutes from the end with a wonderful long-range shot as Madrid moved four points clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad atop the standings.

The Brazil international has now scored nine goals in 14 LaLiga appearances this season – one more than in his previous 82 games for Madrid in the competition, and Casemiro lauded 21-year-old.

"He knows that the teams are going to make it difficult for him because they realise that he's a very important player for Real Madrid," Casemiro said of his countryman.

"Great players score great goals whenever they get the chance.

"We know he's a great player, he's a difference maker when he gets the chance."

Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois added: "Vini struggled to get into the game, but then he got a great goal.

"[He] trains really hard so that things like that come off in games. He didn't have the best of games, but the confidence he has in his own ability to make the difference is what we need from him and he delivered tonight.

Madrid have won more points from losing positions than any other team in LaLiga this season – 10 points, two more than neighbours and defending champions Atletico.

"It's important for us to play at home with the fans behind us. The coach makes it very clear that the substitutions are important," Casemiro said.

"The players who came on today did very well. We're Real Madrid and we have to have a strong squad."

Carlo Ancelotti believes Vinicius Junior has "something special" after his stunning late strike sealed a 2-1 win for Real Madrid against Sevilla on Sunday.

Karim Benzema had cancelled out Rafa Mir's opener before half-time at the Santiago Bernabeu, setting the stage for Vinicius to secure maximum points in the 87th minute with a thunderous drive from 22 yards.

The Brazil international has now scored nine goals in 14 LaLiga appearances this season – one more than in his previous 82 games for Los Blancos in the competition.

Ancelotti has long been impressed with the forward's all-round play, but he is delighted that the 21-year-old has added goals to his game.

"Vini has something special," Ancelotti said. "His goal was extraordinary; a spectacular shot.

"He did not have the opportunity to make a difference with dribbling, he could not do what he wanted, but he has focused on being effective in the game.

"It's another step towards being one of the best. I knew his quality in one on one situations, in dribbling, but he did not have that ability to score goals in the past. He has shown another quality; he had never shown it."

The result moved Los Blancos four points clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad at the top of the table, with Sevilla a further point back in fourth.

It meant Madrid have now won more points from losing positions than any other team in LaLiga this season (10).

"The rival was very strong and they showed all their qualities in the first half," Ancelotti said. "After their goal it was difficult for us to press up; we became unbalanced and we gave them opportunities.

"After our first goal, though, we controlled the game. We finished the game well."

 

Madrid are in action again on Wednesday when Athletic Bilbao travel to the capital, and Ancelotti revealed he will likely have to shuffle his pack.

"Those who have come off the bench, like Eduardo Camavaniga and Federico Valverde, brought a lot of energy," he said.

"I can think of some changes I will make as the team is tired – we play every three days. Valverde – we need him because he is a player who puts all his energy into the game."

Vinicius Junior's stunning late strike helped Real Madrid to a 2-1 win over Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Sevilla, led by former Los Blancos boss Julen Lopetegui, could have moved a point clear of Madrid at the top of the table with victory, and they got off to a fine start thanks to Rafa Mir's early header.

Karim Benzema pulled the hosts level shortly after the half-hour mark, before Vinicius secured maximum points three minutes from full-time with a wonderful long-range drive.

The result moved Carlo Ancelotti's men four points clear of Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad at the top of the table, with Sevilla a further point back in fourth.

Sevilla went ahead in the 12th minute when an unmarked Mir headed Marcos Acuna's corner past Thibaut Courtois from 12 yards.

The striker should have scored again just minutes later, but David Alaba cleared his initial effort off the line and Courtois got down well to block the follow-up.

Lucas Ocampos hit the crossbar from distance as Sevilla sought to consolidate their lead, but Madrid pulled level when Benzema slotted into an empty net after Yassine Bounou had spilled Eder Militao's long-range strike onto the post.

Marco Asensio whipped wide from 25 yards shortly before the hour mark, while Vinicius wastefully blazed over after a rapid counter-attack. 

The Brazil international had the final say, though, cutting in from the left and fizzing a strike past Bounou from 22 yards to seal an important win.

The race to sign Erling Haaland may have taken another turn.

Norway forward Haaland is a hot property being pursued by a host of top clubs, with Manchester United among them.

Borussia Dortmund retained his services at the start of this season but the race is expected to heat up in the off-season.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED HOPEFUL OF HAALAND EDGE

The Mirror reports that the imminent appointment of Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United can give them the edge in the race for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Rangnick and Haaland worked together previously at Salzburg and United believe that relationship can propel them to the front of the queue.

Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are all in the race to sign the 21-year-old.

 

ROUND-UP

- PSG will not let head coach Mauricio Pochettino exit the club during the season amid links with Manchester United's vacant managerial role, reports Goal. The Argentine may be allowed to leave at the end of the season.

- Marca report that Real Madrid will not be signing Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba in the off-season despite widespread speculation about a move.

- Sevilla are leading the race to sign Blackburn's Chile international Ben Brereton, according to The Sun. Rovers want £20m for his services.

- West Ham are set to launch a £7m bid to sign Burnley defender James Tarkowski,  report The Sun.

Carlo Ancelotti has insisted that Vinicius Junior will continue to play in his favoured left-wing role regardless of who may join Real Madrid in the future, with Kylian Mbappe heavily linked.

Vinicius has been one of Madrid's standout performers this season, recording 10 goals and five assists in just 18 appearances across all competitions so far – second only to Karim Benzema (15 and eight respectively) in both categories at the club.

Madrid were reportedly keen to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe in the transfer window, but a move never materialised, although the 22-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and continues to be touted as a target.

However, Ancelotti has reassured Vinicius of his place in the side no matter who may arrive in future transfer windows.

"Vinicius is a player who has to play on the left and he will continue to do it regardless of [what other players are at the club]," Ancelotti said ahead of Madrid's LaLiga match against Sevilla on Sunday.

Ancelotti was asked about the club's new stadium plans and any potential future changes to the squad, but refused to be drawn on specific players such as Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland.

"I like good players and they are both very good," Ancelotti continued. "I have talked about the future of this club, which has always been very clear. 

"The new stadium, the squad we have with many young people, a lot of quality, means that the future is going to be better.

"I imagine the new stadium with Ancelotti. I don't want to mix names and hopefully, Carlo will be the coach of the new stadium."

Madrid are one point clear at the top of LaLiga with a game in hand on Real Sociedad and face a tricky task on Sunday as they host third-placed Sevilla.

Los Blancos have not lost any of their last five games against Sevilla in LaLiga (W4 D1). Not since April 2003 have they gone six or more without a loss in this league fixture.

Indeed, Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 home games against the Rojiblancos in LaLiga (W11 D1), scoring an average of 3.25 goals per game across that run.

Julen Lopetegui has come a long way. Very little highlights that more than the fact he has been mentioned as a potential long-term successor to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

While such a move probably won't occur, with Mauricio Pochettino seemingly the likeliest to walk through the door at Old Trafford at the end of the season, the speculation is at least a vindication of the work Lopetegui has done at Sevilla over the past two and a half years.

Of course, it wasn't long before his hiring by Sevilla that Lopetegui seemed to be the butt of all jokes in Spanish football, with the situation surrounding his Spain departure attracting criticism before he was swiftly shown the exit by Real Madrid.

But he is a coach who really has put in the hard graft, having quickly lost his first ever job in management before then opting to refine his skills in youth coaching, steadily working his way up to prominence.

His football may not be universally popular, but Lopetegui has restored his reputation in an emphatic way.

Julen's gambit

Lopetegui saw the writing was on the wall.

"I know the culture of the club. I am identified with [the club] and with its fans. I am not surprised by a dismissal because football depends on results and we are not achieving them," he said.

While you'd think that might sound like what Lopetegui would have said after getting dismissed by Madrid, it was actually a frank response to being ditched by Rayo Vallecano back in 2003.

Rayo, whom Lopetegui finished his playing career with, were in the second tier and won just one of their first 10 league matches under their new, inexperienced coach. They went on to suffer a second successive relegation.

Although getting sacked wasn't a surprise for Lopetegui, it seemed to shock him into something of a rethink – he returned to his first professional club as a player, Real Madrid, in 2006 as their head of international scouting, and two years later he was in charge of the 'B' team, Castilla.

That was the first of several roles focused on youth coaching, which would see him looking after Spain's Under-19s, Under-20s and Under-21s over the following six years. Two seasons with Porto reintroduced him to senior club football, before Spain came calling again.

This time it wasn't an age-group role, it was the real deal. Lopetegui took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016 and set about establishing a new dynasty for La Roja.

 

It was a largely positive two years. Ahead of the World Cup, he had presided over 20 matches for Spain, winning 14 of them and losing none.

That made him the Spain coach to have overseen the most games without losing, while his 70 per cent winning record is second only to Del Bosque (76 per cent) among those to preside over at least 15 games.

Goals weren't hard to come by either. Sure, World Cup qualification in Europe can bring about some lopsided results that boost averages, but still, Spain's 3.1 goals per game under Lopetegui remains the best of any Spain coach (min. 15 matches).

However, his decision to enter a post-World Cup agreement with Real Madrid, which was announced just a few days before Spain's campaign was due to begin, did not go down well with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He was sacked and Fernando Hierro was brought in at short notice to preside over an ultimately disappointing Russia 2018.

Many criticised Lopetegui; some understood why he'd accepted the Madrid opportunity, others suspected it to be a poisoned chalice.

Predictable Perez

Given what he said after being sacked by Rayo some 15 years earlier, why Lopetegui saw Florentino Perez as the patient type was mystifying.

"Real Madrid is still alive. This is still October, we have done some good things, made a lot of chances, and we will try and improve and be more effective. We are ready to play a game of this size and these demands," he said prior to what proved to be his final match in charge.

After the game, that appraisal turned to: "I feel sad, but I want to remain in charge. It's a big blow, but I'm strong enough to know everything can be turned around. I have a lot of faith in this group of players."

Only, Lopetegui wasn't given the chance to turn it around, as we all know, for a 5-1 demolition by Barcelona in El Clasico brought an abrupt end to his brief 14-match stint at the helm. In football terms, there was surely no greater humiliation for a Madrid coach.

 

It was only the third time this century Madrid have conceded five times to Barca in LaLiga, and it meant Los Blancos had lost three league games on the bounce – again, this has only happened on two other occasions since January 2000.

Of course, there's lots to be said for why Lopetegui failed at Madrid. For one, his first-choice full-backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo were in and out of the team, and such positions carry great importance for Lopetegui.

Additionally, let's not forget this was a Madrid very much in transition after the departure – and failed replacement – of Cristiano Ronaldo. It was seemingly expected that Karim Benzema would instantly pick up Ronaldo's slack, despite only passing 20 league goals in two of his previous nine LaLiga seasons. The Portugal star never went below 25 in his nine campaigns in Spain.

 

While Benzema did ultimately score 21 times in the league, only four of those (one via the penalty spot) – split across two games – came during Lopetegui's 10 games. Decisiveness in the final third was a real issue for the team, demonstrated by the fact they failed to beat Levante despite having 34 shots and set a new club record of 481 minutes without a league goal.

But Zinedine Zidane, Lopetegui's predecessor, saw this coming. As he bade farewell to the club alongside Perez just 15 days after winning a third successive Champions League title, the Frenchman spoke persistently about "change" and openly acknowledged he thought "it would be difficult to keep winning if I stayed".

Whether that was down to insufficient investment in the first team, the likelihood of retaining such high standards in the Champions League or a combination of both is unclear, but it would seem his successor was always on a hiding to nothing.

 

From rock-bottom to redemption

Lopetegui left Madrid with the second-worst win percentage (42.9 per cent) across all competitions in the club's history (min. two games), better only than Amancio (40.9).

 

But his record and impact at Sevilla couldn't realistically be much more of a contrast. Over his first 100 matches in charge in Nervion in all competitions, Lopetegui's 59 wins were a joint-record for the club.

It's almost fitting that his 100th career LaLiga match as a coach will come against his former team this weekend – it would be an even sweeter occasion were he to mastermind his first ever victory over Madrid, as success for Sevilla on Sunday will move them above Los Blancos and potentially put them top.

LaLiga is shaping up to be the closest it's been in years. Whether that's down to a dip in quality across Spain's top flight or not is a debate for another time, but Sevilla certainly looked well-placed to mount a challenge for the title having ultimately fallen just short in the final weeks of 2020-21.

At the very least, they are surely on track to finish in the top four in three successive seasons for only the second time since the Spanish Civil War, and it's this kind of consistency that's undoubtedly caught the attention of Man United, whom he defeated en route to 2019-20 Europa League success.

There are reasons to suggest he could be the sort of 'system coach' United need, as well. He's turned Sevilla into a side who dominate the ball, with their 64.4 per cent average possession for the season second only to Barcelona (65.8), while only the Catalans and Madrid have attempted and completed more passes.

But where many teams who like to dominate possession tend to press high, Sevilla do much more of their pressing in the middle third of the pitch – working with a striker like Ronaldo, who's engaged in just 113 pressures in the Premier League this season, ranking 30th at his position, may not be such an issue.

 

For example, Sevilla's 61 high turnovers are 10 fewer than any other LaLiga team this season, yet they have allowed opponents to have just four build-ups (sequences of 10 or more passes) that resulted in a shot or touch in the box. The next best record here is 10 (Barca and Villarreal).

This theoretically then gives Sevilla the chance to showcase their strength in picking through a counter-press, which is demonstrated by their 73 high turnovers against being the third-lowest in the division – none have led to a goal.

 

After getting by on individual quality and a helping of nostalgia for nearly three years, United need a coach who has proven he can mould a team to his philosophy – Sevilla may not be the most exhilarating team to watch, but they are effective and Lopetegui got results very quickly.

Certainly, Lopetegui ending up at Old Trafford any time soon isn't likely, but if Sevilla continue to churn out results in LaLiga and make themselves a genuine silverware rival to Los Blancos and Atletico Madrid, it's only a matter of time before Europe's biggest clubs come poking around. 

Where Lopetegui once saw Madrid as his greatest opportunity, he hopefully now just sees them as a mere obstacle in his quest for a crowning achievement: winning Sevilla their first title since the 1940s.

Real Madrid are trying to offload a pair of veterans to Tottenham. 

Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale could be on the way out at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Spurs are reportedly only interested in one of them.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS WEIGH BALE REUNION

Gareth Bale could be headed for a permanent return to Tottenham, El Nacional reports. 

Real Madrid have offered Bale and Eden Hazard to Spurs but head coach Antonio Conte is not interested in his former Chelsea player. 

However, Spurs may pounce for Bale at a reduced price before he is out of contract following the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in adding France defender Jules Kounde to replace Harry Maguire, says Todofichajes, which reports Sevilla will demand €80million (£68m) in return. 

Donny van de Beek wants out at United, according to the Metro, and Birmingham Live says Wolves will make a strong push to sign the Dutch midfielder, with Everton and Newcastle United also rumoured suitors.

- Fiorentina are willing to sell Dusan Vlahovic in January if an interested club like Manchester City or Tottenham will pay £70m for the Serbia international, says the Sun. Vlahovic has also been linked with Bayern MunichAtletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Arsenal.

Milan have joined Chelsea and Atletico in pursuit of 17-year-old Angers striker Mohamed-Ali Cho, according to L'Equipe. 

Barcelona will extend 17-year-old Spain sensation Gavi's contract for five years, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Dean Smith's appointment at Norwich City is expected to become official Monday, says The Guardian. 

Chelsea are not content to stick with what they have. 

The Blues are top of the Premier League but poised for major moves in January.

Three young stars and a veteran are high on their radar. 

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA EYE REINFORCEMENTS

Chelsea have their sights set on moves for Jules Kounde, Matthijs de Ligt and Lorenzo Insigne, reports Marca, while another report has them as the favourites to land Aurelien Tchouameni

The Blues are poised to revisit their talks with Sevilla over Kounde in January with multiple centre-backs set to be out of contract at the end of the season. 

Thomas Tuchel's side could also dip into Serie A and try to lure De Ligt from Juventus and Insigne from Napoli.

Chelsea are prepared to offer €60million (£51m) to Monaco for Tchouameni, says TuttoJuve, with Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus also possibilities. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona are eyeing Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Hakim Ziyech as possible loan options from Chelsea, says Sport. 

- Manchester United are pushing to line up Zinedine Zidane to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, reports The Sunday Times.

- United are prepared to sell Jesse Lingard for as little as £10m in January, says The Sun. 

- Roma are in negotiations with United over a loan deal with an option to buy Diogo Dalot, claims Corriere dello Sport. 

- Inter will bring aboard Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana on a four-year deal, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Newcastle United will try to land Adrien Rabiot from Juventus for €10m to €15m (£8.5m-£13m), says Calciomercato. 

Aaron Ramsey has become an issue for Juventus, being on a bumper contract but having fallen out of favour.

Ramsey signed with Juve in 2019 on a four-year deal from Arsenal.

The 30-year-old has only made 70 appearances across almost two-and-a-half seasons, including only five this term.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE PAIR KEEN ON RAMSEY

Juventus are shopping around Aaron Ramsey with Premier League pair Everton and Newcastle United in the mix, claims Goal.

The Bianconeri are keen to find a buyer for the Wales international midfielder in January although his salary may be a stumbling block.

No formal offers have been tabled yet for the ex-Arsenal star.

ROUND-UP  

- The transfer saga involving Paul Pogba continues to twist and turn with The Star claiming Manchester United are willing to sell him in January, with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Juventus have been linked with the French midfielder.

- AS claims Manchester United are hoping to win the race for Sevilla's Jules Kounde , with Chelsea 's admiration long known.

- West Ham will turn down any approaches for England international Declan Rice , reports The Sun. The midfielder has been linked with Manchester United and Chelsea .

- Newcastle are angling to land Ousmane Dembele as a free agent if he refuses to pen a new deal with Barcelona, reports Express.

- Internazionale could also seal a free transfer for Andre Onana from Ajax according to Fabrizio Romano, who claims a verbal agreement was reached months ago. Barcelona have also shown an interest in Onana.

- Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah has interest from German club Monchengladbach for a January move according to The Sun.

- Goal claims that Liverpool legend and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is Aston Villa 's first choice to take their vacant managerial role following Dean Smith's dismissal.

For Real Betis, the past 15 years haven't been the easiest. They've been relegated from LaLiga twice and failed to secure a first return to the Champions League since 2004-05, while just a few kilometres north, their bitter rivals Sevilla have enjoyed the greatest period in their existence.

Sevilla have won six UEFA Cup/Europa League titles, a couple of Copa del Rey crowns, the European Super Cup and qualified for the Champions League eight times.

Back in January 2018, the winds of change appeared to sweep through Seville. Betis were 5-3 winners at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in an astonishing, historic match.

Sevilla hadn't lost any of their previous 29 home matches, a run that stretched back to 2016, and were unbeaten in eight editions of Spain's fiercest derby. But on the day, Quique Setien's men were as irresistible going forward as the hosts were hopeless at the back.

Betis went on to finish sixth in the table, one place above a Sevilla side that went through three coaches over the course of the season. It was their first campaign without famed sporting director Monchi and without him they struggled massively for direction.

This was arguably the most vulnerable their status among Spain's top clubs had been since returning to LaLiga in 2001-02, yet they largely managed to weather the storm and Monchi's return restored much-needed stability. Betis, on the other hand, finished 10th and 15th in the following two campaigns, the promising early work of Setien proving something of a false dawn.

But once again there is an aura about Betis, and success in Sunday's Gran Derbi would really show they mean business.

Fun but flawed

Manuel Pellegrini's reputation in some quarters may have taken a bit of a bashing after a fairly underwhelming spell at West Ham, but it was going to take something drastic for him to be written off in Spain given the miracles he worked at Villarreal earlier this century.

It's fair to say things have gone well at the Benito Villamarin for the Chilean, with their sixth-placed finish in 2020-21 ensuring a return to the Europa League and they've started 2021-22 in fine fashion as well.

In fact, their record in 2021 is especially startling. They have lost just six of 42 matches across all competitions this year – across the top five European leagues, only Inter have been defeated less often.

While this Betis may not provide quite the same thrill ride as Setien's from a few years back, they're certainly among LaLiga's greatest entertainers this season.

The personnel available to Pellegrini gives Betis the technical capability to knock the ball around well but they're arguably at their most comfortable when getting the ball forward quickly, with their 26 direct attacks second only to Real Madrid (28) this season.

This coupled with the high quality of the individuals they possess in attack makes them one of the more threatening teams going forward, with their 13.0 expected goals (xG) from open play only bettered by Madrid (15.5), Barcelona (14.7) and – fractionally – Sevilla (13.1).

 

They are also efficient pressers. While their 79 high turnovers may only be the seventh highest in LaLiga this term, their 24 shots from such situations is at least four more than anyone else – these haven't led to any goals yet, but it's a positive sign that they appear pick their moments to increase the pressure well.

 

But conversely, one of the other reasons that Betis matches are so entertaining to watch is that they're not particularly solid at the back, as Thursday's 4-0 Europa League hammering by Bayer Leverkusen showed.

Now, this can potentially be explained by their attack-first mentality, but it should be a cause for concern in the long run if they cannot fix it, especially if they do harbour hopes of finishing in the top four.

Their 11.8 expected goals against (xGA) in open play is the third-worst in LaLiga and almost double Sevilla's respective record (6.2), and that probably doesn't bode well for a derby that can be open and frantic.

The Leverkusen loss came just a few days after Betis were also particularly poor defensively against Atletico Madrid, a 3-0 defeat in which they barely laid a glove on the defending champions.

And perhaps therein lies the biggest psychological barrier of all ahead of Sevilla's visit. Under Pellegrini, Betis have won none and lost seven of their 10 matches against their neighbours, Madrid, Atletico and Barca.

A win on Sunday will move them level on 24 points with Sevilla, who head into the weekend only a point off the top, but arguably more important than anything is that defeating Julen Lopetegui's men might finally show they can rise to the challenge of the league's best teams.

Beauty and the beast

When on song, there are few players in LaLiga more thrilling to watch than Nabil Fekir. Betis fans probably pinch themselves that he's still at the Benito Villamarin – to be honest, the very fact they managed to sign him in the first place was pretty remarkable.

Ignoring the petulance that saw him sent off in Leverkusen, Fekir's made a very lively start to 2021-22, which made it even more astonishing that Pellegrini opted to rest him against Atletico. Now, he was only one booking away from a suspension that would've ruled him out of the derby, but still.

Of course, his talents are nothing new to many, but he's proving what an asset he is with his form at the moment.

His 33 chances created is the second-most in LaLiga after Iker Muniain's (39), with the Frenchman both effective in open play and set-pieces, with these opportunities amounting to 2.7 expected assists, second only to Memphis Depay (4.5).

 

In open play is when Fekir's at his most useful for Betis, though, with his exceptional close control and dribbling skills able to open up spaces and situations that others can't. He's completed 29 dribbles this term – Javi Galan (30), Yannick Carrasco (31) and Vinicius Junior (33) are the three with more.

He's also attempted the third-most shots (34) in the league, though his one-goal haul (2.1 xG) suggests he might be better off showing a little more restraint.

But while Betis are undoubtedly a side that's easy on the eye with the likes of Fekir and Sergio Canales on the pitch, they've also got someone adept at doing the dirty work.

Guido Rodriguez has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence since moving from Club America in January last year, with the Argentina international's trademark bite and tenacity quickly becoming a key element for Betis.

A tall and strong defensive midfielder, Rodriguez has great presence without the ball. Even if he doesn't necessarily win the ball back himself, his willingness to get stuck in gives Betis real steel in the middle and makes him a formidable opponent.

He may not possess the passing ability of William Carvalho, but he's a considerably greater defensive presence, with Rodriguez averaging 3.1 tackle attempts per 90 minutes since the start of last season – among players to play at least 1,000 minutes in that time, only two players have been more forceful than him.

He also ranks in the top 10 among the same players for possession won (7.7) each match. There really is more to Betis than just the craftiness of Fekir.

Sevilla lacking soul

Betis' midfield could be the key on Sunday. While it's in this area of the pitch with players like Rodriguez and Fekir that they thrive, midfield is probably Sevilla's weakest area.

While Fernando was excellent for much of last season and Joan Jordan was solid enough as a No.8 a little in front, Lopetegui muddled through the campaign without ever really figuring out what to do with that third – the most advanced – midfield position.

Ivan Rakitic was usually the one to play there, but Oscar Rodriguez, Papu Gomez and Oliver Torres were also all used there to minimal success. But while that didn't really look like much of a problem last season, there's been little to suggest Lopetegui's fixed the issue, and it's been exacerbated by Jordan going through a drip – the Spaniard has seemed less influential, with his touches dropping from 88.1 each game to 74.4.

Lopetegui has come under fire from some supporters this season for the football they've played, which has looked especially monotonous in the Champions League, but let's not forget they could feasibly go into the international break top of the table, and they do have their strengths.

They may not engage in exhilarating high pressing, with their 46 high turnovers comfortably (by 10) the lowest in the division, but with the likes of Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are pretty adept at evade their opponent's attempts to press, as evidenced by the fact their 66 high turnovers against is the fourth-lowest.

 

Similarly, while their forward line may not trigger a high press, once their opponents get into midfield, they are extremely persistent. There have only been four instances of teams managing to string together 10 or more passes that lead to either a shot or touch in the box against Sevilla, the best such record in the division.

 

But in possession, this is a Sevilla side that lacks identity. While they like to dominate the ball, with their 6,011 passes this season third to Barcelona (6,899) and Madrid (6,173), they're hardly masters of 'tiki-taka'.

Their 40 sequences of 10 or more passes is the third-highest in LaLiga, but they've yet to score a goal in that manner. When they go direct, they're far more efficient, with 13 – which is below average in itself – direct attacks yielding three goals.

It could be argued that the playmaker they're missing is all that's preventing Lopetegui turning Sevilla into a truly excellent team.

Betis will hope something doesn't suddenly click this weekend as they look to overcome a significant mental barrier.

Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic is winning plenty of admirers.

The 21-year-old Serbian has netted 10 times in 12 appearances at club level this season.

Vlahovic is currently under contract until June 23, although La Viola want him to sign an extension.

TOP STORY – PSG TO ENTER VLAHOVIC RACE

Paris Saint-Germain will enter the race to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic, claims Le10Sports.

The Parisians are lining up the Serbian striker as a potential successor to Kylian Mbappe should he exit the club when his contract expires at the end of this season, with Real Madrid circling.

Hot property Vlahovic is being pursued by JuventusLiverpool and Tottenham.

ROUND-UP

- Unai Emery will not be the first permanent manager in Newcastle United's new era, BBC Sport journalist and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague understands. The Basque coach is set to stay at Villarreal for now, though his job there is under threat amid a poor start to 2021-22.

- The Sun reports Antonio Conte's arrival at Tottenham has seen Harry Kane abandon any plans he had to quit the club. Kane apparently wished to join Manchester City during the most recent transfer window.

- New Spurs boss Conte wants to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, according to Metro. Conte also has Inter defender Stefan de Vrij in his sights, claims Football Insider.

Milan are in the race to sign talented River Plate star Julian Alvarez in the off-season, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Fiorentina have also shown interest in 21-year-old Alvarez, who has four caps for Argentina.

Norwich City are considering a move to replace embattled manager Daniel Farke with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, claims the Daily Mail. The Canaries have only two points from 10 games following their return to the Premier League. Howe has also been linked with the vacant Newcastle job.

Newcastle want to make Inter's Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic their first major signing in January, says The Sun. Brozovic is out of contract at the end of the season.

Lazio are looking to convince Luiz Felipe to ink a new deal with the club amid interest from BarcelonaSevilla and Real Betis, reports CalcioMercato. The Brazilian centre-back's contract expires at the end of this season.

Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic is winning plenty of admirers.

The 21-year-old Serbian has netted 10 times in 12 appearances at club level this season.

Vlahovic is currently under contract until June 23, although La Viola want him to sign an extension.

TOP STORY – PSG TO ENTER VLAHOVIC RACE

Paris Saint-Germain will enter the race to sign Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic, claims Le10Sports.

The Parisians are lining up the Serbian striker as a potential successor to Kylian Mbappe should he exit the club when his contract expires at the end of this season, with Real Madrid circling.

Hot property Vlahovic is being pursued by JuventusLiverpool and Tottenham.

ROUND-UP

- Unai Emery will not be the first permanent manager in Newcastle United's new era, BBC Sport journalist and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague understands. The Basque coach is set to stay at Villarreal for now, though his job there is under threat amid a poor start to 2021-22.

- The Sun reports Antonio Conte's arrival at Tottenham has seen Harry Kane abandon any plans he had to quit the club. Kane apparently wished to join Manchester City during the most recent transfer window.

- New Spurs boss Conte wants to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, according to Metro. Conte also has Inter defender Stefan de Vrij in his sights, claims Football Insider.

Milan are in the race to sign talented River Plate star Julian Alvarez in the off-season, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Fiorentina have also shown interest in 21-year-old Alvarez, who has four caps for Argentina.

Norwich City are considering a move to replace embattled manager Daniel Farke with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, claims the Daily Mail. The Canaries have only two points from 10 games following their return to the Premier League. Howe has also been linked with the vacant Newcastle job.

Newcastle want to make Inter's Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic their first major signing in January, says The Sun. Brozovic is out of contract at the end of the season.

Lazio are looking to convince Luiz Felipe to ink a new deal with the club amid interest from BarcelonaSevilla and Real Betis, reports CalcioMercato. The Brazilian centre-back's contract expires at the end of this season.

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.

Jules Kounde is seemingly bound to eventually move to the Premier League.

But where will the French centre-back land?

Manchester United and Chelsea are both believed to be interested.

 

TOP STORY – ANOTHER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are in the race to sign star Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, according to Fichajes.

Kounde was tipped to join Champions League holders Chelsea but a transfer did not materialise before the end of the previous window, much to the frustration of the player.

Despite the arrival of Raphael Varane, United are reportedly set to make a move for the France international centre-back.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Wednesday's Diario AS claims Real Madrid have re-activated their interest in United star Paul Pogba, who will become a free agent at the end of the season. A deal for Pogba would reportedly provide further encouragement for Kylian Mbappe in their pursuit of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

- Corriere dello Sport claims PSG and Atletico Madrid want Nicolo Barella as his contract talks with Serie A champions Inter stall.

- The Express reports United are considering a move for Monaco and France sensation Aurelien Tchouameni, who is also attracting interest from Madrid, LiverpoolChelsea and Juventus.

Barcelona will sell Sergio Busquets in order to sign Milan's Franck Kessie, says El Nacional. Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and the star midfielder has been linked with United, PSG, Liverpool, Arsenal and Inter. The front page of Wednesday's Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, reports Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana, Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger and Pogba are among several soon-to-be free agents being eyed by Barca.

- Le10 Sport claims PSG could join the race for Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic, who is seen as a potential replacement for Madrid target Mbappe. Vlahovic has been linked with Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Juve, Inter, Arsenal and Liverpool. PSG are also believed to be interested in Borussia Dortmund's sought-after forward Erling Haaland.

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