Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone said he was happy to take a point away from the visit to Villarreal after facing "one of the best teams in LaLiga".

Angel Correa struck a sensational opener after 10 minutes, the Argentina international intercepting Daniel Parejo's sloppy pass and firing over Geronimo Rulli from just inside the Villarreal half.

Opta calculated his breathtaking effort to have an expected goal (xG) indicator of just 0.0166 – the lowest for a goal in LaLiga this season.

However, the hosts pulled level before half-time through Pau Torres, shortly after Gerard Moreno had seen a penalty saved by Jan Oblak.

Alberto Moreno put Unai Emery's side ahead after the break but Geoffrey Kondogbia, who was sent off deep into stoppage time after picking up a second yellow card, sealed a point with his first goal for the club in the 67th minute. 

That goal snapped Los Colchoneros' run of three straight LaLiga defeats on the road, and Simeone was pleased with his players' efforts against a strong and spirited Villarreal side. 

"It was a difficult game," he told Movistar. "For me, Villarreal is one of the best teams in LaLiga. They defend well, they are organised at the back and attack very well.

"When [Matheus] Cunha didn't score a second with his chance they grew into the game. They played a good first half and continued that in the second.

"They put themselves ahead but then a different Atletico Madrid appeared. We leave with positives and lots of things to correct.

"We have been fighting and working to improve ourselves. Today we did a lot of good things and we are on a quest to keep improving things."

Marcos Llorente echoed Simeone's sentiments, saying Atleti need to sharpen up if they are to turn draws into wins.

"We always want victory," he said. "But having gone two goals down it was good to see the reaction of the team. It is a point that has been fought for and won. We wanted all three, but we are happy with the reaction of the team.

"We always want more. In the second half we have managed to generate chances. If we correct the errors we know we can win games."

The result lifted Atleti above Real Sociedad into fourth, with Llorente acknowledging the battle for a Champions League place could go right to the wire.

"You can see that it is going to be a very tight fight up there," he added. "There are teams that are doing things very well. Winning three points is very complicated. If you are not at 100 per cent anyone can take them away from you."

Angel Correa scored a sensational goal from almost the halfway line as Atletico Madrid fought out a pulsating 2-2 LaLiga draw with Villarreal on Sunday.

Correa stunned the Estadio de la Ceramica with his sublime early strike, but the hosts pulled level before half-time through Pau Torres, shortly after Gerard Moreno had seen a penalty saved by Jan Oblak.

Alberto Moreno thought he had sealed a fifth consecutive top-flight win for Unai Emery's side before the hour mark, yet Atleti salvaged a point thanks to Geoffrey Kondogbia's first goal for the club, although the midfielder's match ended with a red card deep into stoppage time.

The result moved Diego Simeone's side up to fourth, while Villarreal remained four points behind their opponents in eighth.

Atleti went ahead after 10 minutes thanks to Correa's audacious strike, the Argentina international intercepting Parejo's sloppy pass and firing over Geronimo Rulli from just inside the Villarreal half.

Alberto Moreno struck the post soon after, before he won a penalty when Thomas Lemar handled his shot inside the area in the 23rd minute.

Gerard Moreno's weak spot-kick was kept out by Oblak, though, with Parejo's follow-up ruled out for handball following a pitchside VAR review.

The hosts did pull level six minutes later, however, Torres bundling in from close range after Oblak spilled a Parejo free-kick at his feet.

Villarreal deservedly went ahead in the 58th minute when Alberto Moreno latched on to Gerard Moreno's pass and found the back of the net via a signifiant deflection from the onrushing Oblak. 

Simeone's men went back to the Spanish capital with a point, though, when Kondogbia's 20-yard strike slipped through the grasp of Rulli in the 67th minute, before the 28-year-old goalscorer received a second yellow card for a foul on Yeremi Pino in added time.

Angel Correa scored a remarkable goal from almost the halfway line in Atletico Madrid's LaLiga clash at Villarreal on Sunday. 

The Argentina international intercepted Daniel Parejo's sloppy pass just inside his own half before sensationally firing over Geronimo Rulli from just over the halfway line.

Opta deemed the effort to have an expected goal (xG) indicator of just 0.0166 – the lowest in LaLiga this season. 

Correa has now scored 12 goals in his last 28 top-flight appearances, which is one more than he had in his previous 98 league games for Diego Simeone's men. 

Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos will come up against Real Madrid after Paris Saint-Germain were paired with Los Blancos in the Champions League round of 16, which had to undergo a re-draw.

PSG were initially drawn against Manchester United on Monday, throwing up a tantalising encounter between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, a technical error meant the draw had to take place again and while Messi will not meet Ronaldo just yet, the Barcelona great will go up against his former club's Clasico rivals.

Having finished second in Group A behind Manchester City, who were handed a favourable tie against Sporting CP, PSG will host Madrid in the first leg in February before visiting the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

That means Mbappe, who is a high-profile target for Madrid and could well have already signed a pre-contract agreement with Los Blancos by the time these fixtures roll around, will go up against his suitors.

It also sees Madrid legend Ramos go up against his old club, and it is the same story for Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, who coached PSG from 2011 to 2013.

United, on the other hand, will face Atletico Madrid, who had initially been due to play Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga giants have been drawn against Salzburg.

Liverpool may well lament their luck. Salzburg had been their original opponents, but Jurgen Klopp's team now have to prepare for a tie against Serie A champions Inter - albeit they made light work of the Nerazzurri's rivals Milan in the group stage.

Coincidentally, holders Chelsea were again drawn against Lille, having been set a tie with the Ligue 1 champions during the initial draw. 

Villarreal will take on Juventus and Ajax go up against Benfica.

Champions League last 16 draw in full:

Salzburg v Bayern Munich
Sporting CP v Manchester City
Benfica v Ajax
Chelsea v Lille
Atletico Madrid v Manchester United
Villarreal v Juventus
Inter v Liverpool 
PSG v Real Madrid

UEFA has confirmed the Champions League last-16 draw will have to be re-done after a technical error with the initial procedure.

Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain were set to face each other in the knockout stage, but that headline fixture and the other ties will have to be redrawn after what UEFA labelled as a "technical problem with the software of an external service provider that instructs the officials as to which teams are eligible to play each other."

United were initially drawn to face Villarreal, but the sides were unable to play each other as they had previously featured in the same group.

After complaints from affected clubs, including Atletico Madrid, UEFA later announced the draw would take place again at 1500 CET (1400 GMT).

UEFA's deputy general secretary, Giorgio Marchetti, spotted the mistake involving United's ball and ordered the tie to be drawn again. Manchester City were instead picked to go against Villarreal.

Yet United, due to the technical error, were subsequently blocked from being selected as one of the teams eligible to play the next team, which was LaLiga champions Atleti.

Bayern Munich were ultimately picked to face Atleti, while United were drawn in the glamour tie of the round against PSG – a game that would have seen Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi meet in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 semi-finals.

The re-draw could well benefit United, given the challenge of facing PSG. However, holders Chelsea and Liverpool were handed favourable draws against Lille and Salzburg respectively.

Inter had been due to face Ajax, while Sporting CP were up against Juventus. Real Madrid had been drawn against Benfica.

UEFA has confirmed the Champions League last-16 draw will have to be re-done after a technical error with the initial procedure.

Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain were set to face each other in the knockout stage, but that headline fixture and the other ties will have to be redrawn after what UEFA labelled as a "technical problem with the software of an external service provider that instructs the officials as to which teams are eligible to play each other."

United were initially drawn to face Villarreal, but the sides were unable to play each other as they had previously featured in the same group.

After complaints from affected clubs, including Atletico Madrid, UEFA later announced the draw would take place again at 1500 CET (1400 GMT).

Lionel Messi will once again face off with old foe Cristiano Ronaldo after Paris Saint-Germain were drawn against Manchester United in the headline fixture of the Champions League round of 16.

Former Barcelona star Messi meets Ronaldo in the knockout stages, with United visiting the Parc des Princes in February before the return leg at Old Trafford will take place in March. The legendary duo also met in last season's group stage when Los Cules went up against Juventus.

PSG finished second behind Group A winners Manchester City, while United were top of Group F.

If Messi against Ronaldo was not enough to look forward to, the tie also sees Mauricio Pochettino face the side that he has long been touted as a possible manager of.

Ex-Spurs boss Pochettino remains among the favourites to replace interim boss Ralf Rangnick, who is in charge until at least the end of the season.

United have met PSG in two of the previous three seasons. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer masterminded a 3-1 win at the same stage in March 2019, a victory that saw United through 4-3 on aggregate and secured him the job on a permanent basis.

The sides played each other again in the group stage of the 2019-20 campaign, with Thomas Tuchel's PSG winning at Old Trafford after losing the home game 2-1.

There was, however, a nervy moment for UEFA's officials when United were initially drawn against Villarreal, but due to teams who played each other in the group stage not being able to face each other in the last 16, the tie had to be re-drawn.

It remains to be seen whether any clubs lodge a complaint, with initial reports suggesting the draw will stand.

United's rivals and last season's runners-up City were instead drawn against Villarreal, who were victors of the 2020-21 Europa League.

Elsewhere in Monday's draw, holders Chelsea were paired with Ligue 1 champions Lille and Liverpool landed a favourable draw against Salzburg.

Atletico Madrid, who scraped through in second place behind Liverpool in Group B, face a daunting tie with Bayern Munich.

Benfica went through in Group E at the expense of Barcelona, and the Portuguese giants were drawn against the Blaugrana's Clasico rivals and 13-time European champions Madrid.

Ajax topped a Champions League group for the first time since 1995-96, and were drawn against Inter, with Juventus meeting Sporting CP, who are making their first appearance in the knockout stage since 2008-09.

Champions League last 16 draw in full:

Benfica v Real Madrid
Villarreal v Manchester City
Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich
Salzburg v Liverpool
Inter v Ajax
Sporting CP v Juventus
Chelsea v Lille
PSG v Manchester United

Paul Pogba's club future continues to be a major topic of speculation.

The 28-year-old is into the final year of his Manchester United contract.

Pogba has flirted with the idea of an extension but has been stalling on a decision.

 

TOP STORY – REAL AND PSG HOME IN ON POGBA

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are both ready to ramp up the race to sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United, claims Marca.

Pogba is running down his United contract, meaning he will be a free agent in mid-2022.

Real and PSG will rekindle their interest after new United interim manager Ralf Rangnick said Pogba should not need to be convinced to stay.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United forward Edinson Cavani has offered his services to Juventus, according to Calciomercato. The Uruguayan veteran has also been linked with Barcelona.

- Barcelona are plotting moves for Chelsea's trio Cesar Azpilicueta, Christian Pulisic and Antonio Rudiger, reports Mundo Deportivo.

- Milan are circling to sign Liverpool's super-sub Divock Origi as they seek a long-term replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, claims Tuttomercato. Atalanta are also interested.

- Calciomercato reports that Roma are considering a move for Spezia midfielder Jiulio Maggiore. The 23-year-old is out of contract in 2023 and valued at €8m (£6.8m).

- Roma are also interested in a move for Norwich City's Max Aarons, according to Corriere dello Sport. Tottenham and Everton are also in the race.

- Lyon are interested in a move for Villarreal's Arnaut Danjuma, claims Todofichajes. Manchester United and Barcelona are also tracking the ex-Bournemouth winger.

Duvan Zapata insists that he and his Atalanta team-mates "gave everything" in their 3-2 Champions League defeat against Villarreal on Thursday.

Atalanta required a win in order to leapfrog their opponents into second place in their final group-stage game, which had been rescheduled after heavy snowfall on Wednesday.

However, Arnaut Danjuma scored either side of Etienne Capoue to give Villarreal a 3-0 lead by the 51st minute, and Atalanta were unable to come back despite goals from Ruslan Malinovskyi and Zapata.

The Atalanta striker revealed that, despite the team's regret at failing to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, they remain "calm".

"We are disappointed," Zapata said to Prime Video. "However, we are calm in the sense that we gave everything on the pitch.

"We are very sorry because we wanted to go through and be among the strongest 16. That's how the game went, we need to think about the [league] because it is thanks to the [league] that we are here.

"We were in trouble in the first half also because they took the lead quickly. Then we tried to attack and draw quickly. I think we played against anxiety, they are a good team who played a great match. 

"There is regret for every situation that could have been done better. We gave everything. We are very sorry, but I feel the group [is] calm because we have tried in every way possible to equalise."

Atalanta defender Rafael Toloi echoed his team-mate's sentiments, apologising to the club's fans for not winning the game but looking ahead to the rest of the season with optimism.

"Sorry we didn't win, but I think we gave a good response in the second half," Toloi told Prime Video. "We created beautiful situations. Sorry we didn't win, now we have to continue in the league and watch the Europa League draws.

"We tried to play the game. We conceded a goal at the beginning [due to] a mistake and then they have quality players. We played a great game. Sorry for the result, [but our heads are] held high and we still have a whole season to go."

Atalanta now drop into the knockout play-off round of the Europa League, where they will be drawn against a side that finished second in their group.

Atalanta's quest to reach the Champions League knockout phase has been rescheduled after Wednesday's showdown against Villarreal was postponed due to heavy snowfall.

The crucial Group F fixture on the sixth and final matchday was initially delayed in Bergamo, where snow forced kick-off to be altered by 20 minutes.

But as the snow continued to fall at Gewiss Stadium, the contest was eventually called off, despite the best efforts of ground staff.

Now, Atalanta and Villarreal will go head-to-head on Thursday, with the hosts guaranteed at least third position following the 1-1 draw between group winners Manchester United and Young Boys midweek.

Atalanta can progress to the last 16 if they beat second-placed Villarreal.

"The referee [Anthony Taylor] tried to get us to play, he wanted to see how the weather developed and we cleared the turf, but the snow continued to come down," Atalanta director Umberto Marino told Sky Sport Italia and Mediaset Infinity.

"The official was intelligent, involved the two coaches in the decision. The players had to be protected from potential danger, the referee spoke to the players and coaches, everyone agreed with the decision. In these conditions, there was no alternative."

The rescheduled contest will take place at 19:00 local time after UEFA reportedly planned for the game to kick-off at 16:30.

"UEFA make the decision in Nyon, we made our request and that is to play it in the evening," Marino added.

Atalanta are third in Group F, a point behind reigning Europa League champions Villarreal.

Among teams who have played 20 or more Champions League games, Atalanta have highest goals per game ratio of any side in the competition's history (3.5 – 78 in 22 games).

Barcelona head to Bayern Munich on the final matchday desperately needing a positive result to secure their spot in the Champions League knockout stages.

Benfica, who face Dynamo Kiev in Group E's other clash, hold the head-to-head edge over Xavi's new side as Barca travel to Germany knowing they likely need a win to make it through to the next round.

Manchester United and Chelsea are already through their respective groups, while Juventus host Malmo with the Bianconeri's place in the last-16 sealed before the final matchday as well.

As Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo edge towards more records, Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta data heading into the games taking place on Wednesday.

Bayern Munich v Barcelona: Blaugrana face thankless task to qualify

Bayern have won their last three Champions League meetings with Barca, which is already the longest run against the Blaugrana in European history by any side.

Julian Nagelsmann's team, who have averaged five goals per home game in this season's competition, have cruised through to the next round, while Barca could fall to their second-worst performance in terms of points if they fail to avoid defeat.

The visitors will have to deal with Lewandowski, who is the top scorer in the group stage with nine goals and the Poland forward could become the only player in history to net 10-plus times in the group stage on multiple occasions. Ronaldo (11 in 2015-16) and Lionel Messi (10 in 2016-17) are the only other players to have achieved this once.

Zenit v Chelsea: Blues edge towards more defensive milestones

Chelsea could become just the second English team, after Manchester United in 2003-04 and 2010-11 to win four consecutive games in the competition while keeping a clean sheet on each occasion.

Indeed, with a clean sheet the Blues and Thomas Tuchel could become the fastest team and manager combination to reach 10 shutouts in the competition, having already recorded nine in just 12 games since the German's appointment.

The defending champions have also had 14 different scorers, excluding own goals, the most of any team in the Champions League since Tuchel's Blues bow in Europe.

Manchester United v Young Boys: Ronaldo looks to repeat history

Ronaldo has scored in all five of his Champions League appearances since returning to United (six goals), while Bruno Fernandes boasts the most assists in the competition so far this term (five).

Portugal captain Ronaldo will be looking to repeat the feat of scoring in all six group stage games in a single campaign, having previously done so for Real Madrid in 2017-18 – the only previous instance of this in the competition’s history.

Worryingly for Young Boys, who never kept a clean sheet in 11 attempts in the competition, the Swiss side have lost their last six away games between 1986 and 2021, last tasting European Cup/Champions League victory in August 1960.

Juventus v Malmo: Bianconeri aim to match record home dominance

Juve have won each of their last five Champions League home matches, only registering more consecutive such victories in a run of six between December 2016 and 2017.

While the Bianconeri did suffer their heaviest defeat in the history of the competition against Chelsea, Juve have a perfect record against Malmo in their opening three games – only Barca have ever won their opening four games against a specific opponent in the competitions.

Meanwhile, Malmo have only managed one win in their last eight against Italian opponents in the European Cup/Champions League, with their lone triumph against Inter in September 1989.

 

Other fixtures:

Atalanta v Villarreal:

21 - There have been 21 goals scored in Atalanta’s five games against Spanish opponents in the Champions League (11 goals for, 10 against), at an average of 4.2 per game. Only one of these five games have seen a team manage to keep a clean sheet, with Real Madrid doing so in a 1-0 victory back in February.

1 - Villarreal have won just one of their eight visits to Italian opponents in major European competition (D3 L4), though it came in their most recent such outing, defeating Roma 1-0 in the Europa League in 2016-17.

Benfica v Dynamo Kiev:

4 - Since losing their first ever meeting with Dynamo Kiev in European competition (0-1 in November 1991), Benfica are unbeaten in four games against the Ukrainian side (W3 D1), with all four coming in the European Cup/Champions League.

60 – Dynamo Kiev have lost 60 per cent of their away matches in the competition, only Olympiakos (75) and Galatasaray (71) have lost a larger percentage out of teams to have played at least 50 such games.

Red Bull Salzburg v Sevilla:

5 – Red Bull Salzburg are winless in their last five fixtures against Spanish opposition in the Champions League and have only won one of their last 11 meetings against such sides.

3 – Sevilla's Ivan Rakitic has managed three goal involvements in his side's five goals in the competition, despite only starting two games – only for Barca in 2015-16 did he record more (four).

Wolfsburg v Lille:

5 - Wolfsburg have gone unbeaten in their last five games against French opponents in European competition (W2 D3) after previously going eight games without recording a victory against French teams across all competitions (D3 L5).

8 – Lille have claimed eight points from their opening five games and could equal, or improve on, their best ever return in a group stage in the competition - nine points in 2006-07, where they qualified with a second-place finish.

LaLiga's hopes of staging domestic matches abroad have taken another blow after a Spanish court ruled all league games must take place in Spain.

The Spanish top flight and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) have been contesting a legal battle for three years over proposals to take matches to the United States.

Back in 2018, LaLiga signed a 15-year agreement with multinational media, sports and entertainment company Relevent, with the aim being to promote the division in North America.

That partly revolved around LaLiga matches taking place in Miami, Florida – the first such occasion was supposed to be a game involving Barcelona and Girona in early 2019, but the Blaugrana pulled out citing a lack of support for an idea that attracted widespread criticism.

LaLiga then attempted to organise for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid to face each other in Miami, but a Spanish court declined a November 2019 request to grant an injunction against RFEF, who had blocked the move.

An appeal lodged by LaLiga was then rejected in March 2020, though those in charge of the competition vowed to submit another challenge to the ruling.

Once again, however, the court in question has ruled in favour of RFEF.

"The latest ruling of the Provincial Court of Madrid regarding the Miami match that LaLiga intended to play between Girona and FC Barcelona has once again proved the RFEF right," a statement on the RFEF website read on Thursday.

"This is the second time that justice has ruled on this matter and has once again dismissed the position of LaLiga, rejecting the appeal in full, after the first favourable ruling to the RFEF of March 6, 2020.

"The Spanish justice endorses the prohibition of the dispute of league matches outside of Spain. Justice condemns LaLiga once again to pay the costs of the judicial process. Justice returns to pronounce in favour of the RFEF in a judicial process with LaLiga."

LaLiga chiefs insist they will not be giving up yet, however, with suggestions they could yet lodge another appeal, this time to the Spanish supreme court.

"The internationalisation of Spanish football is a key issue for the future of the industry," said a statement. "Consequently, it will continue to work towards achieving the crucial objective of holding a match outside of Spain."

Xavi believes Barcelona's 3-1 win over Villarreal will give his players a morale boost despite acknowledging their performance did not warrant all three points.

The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another victory on Saturday when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's opener.

Memphis Depay came to Barca's rescue, though, with a vital goal in the 88th minute, before Philippe Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

Not only was it Barca's first away win in LaLiga this season, it was also the first time they have won back-to-back games in the competition this term.

The win over Espanyol was followed by a 0-0 draw with Benfica in the Champions League in midweek, and Xavi says the victory at La Ceramica was comfortably the worst his side has played across his first three games in charge.

"It was very even, Villarreal is a great team," he told a media conference. "Of the three games that I have played, it is the one that we have dominated the least and the one that we least deserved to win.

"Today could have ended up as a draw and instead we are leaving with a victory. That is tremendous and gives us a lot of morale.

"It is a spectacular victory that gives us a lot of morale to continue growing. This victory gives us life.

"That game was the minimum required. Belief, attitude, respect for the badge, and hard work; they are the foundations of a team. Today was a victory of team spirit. When we do not play well, we also have to win. We are Barca."

 

Both sides had cause to be frustrated with the officials during a chaotic opening 10 minutes. 

Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo was fortunate to escape a red card for a shocking early challenge on Sergio Busquets, while Gerard Pique went unpunished for a blatant handball in the penalty area soon after. 

Xavi refused to criticise the officials, though, adding: "In the end, I will not talk about the referees. It is a very difficult job and I will not put myself into it.

"In the end, it is the referee who decides. One day he can help you and another day harm you. It is difficult to be a referee."

Jordi Alba was replaced by Oscar Mingueza in the 71st minute after sustaining an injury, with Xavi revealing the full-back fought through the pain barrier to continue. 

"At half-time it looked like he could not continue, but he has made a brutal effort to carry on," the Barca boss said. "He is an example; he is one of the captains, and he is pushing us forward. Jordi has made an effort until he couldn't take any more."

Xavi made it back-to-back LaLiga wins following his appointment as Barcelona head coach as late goals from Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho secured a 3-1 win over Villarreal.

The former Barca midfielder oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol last weekend after taking over the reins from Ronald Koeman, but it looked like he would be denied another three points at Estadio de la Ceramica when Samuel Chukwueze cancelled out Frenkie de Jong's opener.

Depay had other ideas, though, stroking home with two minutes remaining to spark jubilant celebrations from Xavi on the Barca bench, before Coutinho added a third from the penalty spot in stoppage time.

The result puts seventh-placed Barca seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand, while Villarreal stay 12th.

Xavi wants Ousmane Dembele to stay at Barcelona amid rumours of interest from Newcastle United.

The Premier League side, bankrolled after their takeover by a Saudi Arabia-led consortium, are expected to spend heavily during the January transfer window.

Barca winger Dembele is said to be a target, with a report in Sport on Friday suggesting the player's agent, Moussa Sissoko, is prepared to listen to offers as he is not happy with the Catalans' new contract offer.

The France international, a €105million signing from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, has made only two Champions League appearances this season due to injury problems but is in the squad for Saturday's LaLiga game at Villarreal.

Dembele's time in Spain has been blighted by fitness problems, but he remains a dangerous player when available. Since his arrival, Dembele has managed 30 goals and 20 assists in 120 games, a total bettered by only four players, while his average of 1.9 chances created per 90 minutes is second only to Lionel Messi in that time among players to make more than 14 appearances.

Head coach Xavi has made it clear that Dembele is firmly in his plans.

 

"I had an individual chat with him," Xavi said on Friday. "I made it clear to him how important he was for not only me this season, but for the future.

"It depends on him. Hopefully, he can renew because he's a player capable of making a difference in the next few years."

Xavi added on rumours suggesting Barca could also cash in on some midfield players: "We need them. They're players who are playing and none of them is for sale at all."

Barca beat Espanyol 1-0 in Xavi's first match in charge before a goalless draw with Benfica in the Champions League this week.

Their first away game under the former midfielder pits them against a side who have failed to win any of their previous 24 league matches with the Blaugrana.

Xavi has been impressed with his players' application but admits taking their chances is a concern, Barca having posted figures of 1.56 and 1.39 expected goals against Espanyol and Benfica without scoring from open play.

"I'm really happy with the team's reaction. We win a lot of duels, we're pressing well. I think in attack we have to be more daring," he said.

"We have players who are very young on the inside and have to dare more. I went through it at that age. There's a goal – I can see it in training.

"In general I'm quite satisfied with what I see on the pitch. We want to subdue the opposition and I think we're succeeding, but we have to score to win games."

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