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    Fans joke Lionel Messi would NEVER make it in Prem after leaving Barcelona vs Real Madrid to change wet shirt in storm

    LIONEL MESSI briefly left the field during last night’s El Clasico… in order to change his sodden shirt.And fans online joked that he wouldn’t make it in the Premier League – because of ‘Stoke-ish’ conditions.
    Lionel Messi decided to change his shirt with ten minutes to goCredit: Getty
    The Argentine was not a fan of the wintry conditionsCredit: EPA
    The crunch title clash with Real Madrid was played at Zinedine Zidane’s side’s Valdebebas training complex, due to work being undertaken on Santiago Bernabeu.
    And Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium was besieged by a rain storm of biblical proportions in the second half, even making visibility an issue at times.
    Trailing 2-1 with around ten minutes to go, Messi decided he was too uncomfortable in his damp kit, jogging to the touchline to grab a fresh top.
    And certain observers mocked his kit-change.
    One wrote: “Messi changing shirt because of Stoke-ish conditions. Not sure he would make it in the Prem lads.”
    While another noted that his new shirt would be equally sodden in no time, writing: “Messi wanted a dry shirt for 40 seconds.”
    Another took a pop at Manchester United: “No way Messi has more shirt changes (1) than United have won a league title since 2013 (0).”
    And a fourth weighed in: “Messi was shivering & changed his shirt in rain, He can never do it on a cold night in stokes.”

    The rain was hammering down at ValdebebasCredit: Getty

    It was to be a night of frustration for the Argentine, 33, as his side somehow lost 2-1 to the reigning champions.
    Barca fell behind in the first half to a wonderful Karim Benzema back-heel following a swift counter, before Toni Kroos’ heavily deflected free-kick made it 2-0.
    Oscar Mingueza’s shinned effort got Ronald Koeman’s side back into the match on the hour mark, but they couldn’t find an equaliser.
    Messi had earlier hit the bar from a corner, and the woodwork would be shaken again deep into stoppage time, when Ilaix Moriba’s effort cannoned off the upright.
    Real Madrid’s win saw them leapfrog Atletico on goal different at the top of the table, although Diego Simeone’s side could go back ahead tonight when they play Real Betis.
    Barcelona, meanwhile, are a point behind going into next weekend’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.
    Messi will hope to grab his 30th goal of the season against the Basque side, as he aims to win his 35th trophy with Barcelona.
    Lionel Messi goes inches away from scoring a corner! 😱The crossbar saves Thibaut Courtois just before half time 😅— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) April 10, 2021

    ⚽ Read our Football live blog for the very latest news from around the grounds
    Lionel Messi’s emotional Barcelona celebration during win over Sevilla as fans say he will not quit beloved club More

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    Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 1: Watch Karim Benzema net stunning backheel as Los Blancos go TOP of LaLiga with Clasico win

    REAL MADRID beat rivals Barcelona 2-1 at home in an entertaining, rain-soaked El Clasico on Saturday to go top of LaLiga.Karim Benzema put the champions in charge at a soggy Bernabeu stadium with a delightful backheel in the 14th minute.
    WHAT A GOAL…KARIM BENZEMA! 😱A brilliant run by Valverde, Lucas’ cross is perfectly judged, and Benzema finishes with an audacious backheel flick at the near post 🔥— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) April 10, 2021

    Karim Benzema scored a sensational backheel as Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-1Credit: Getty
    A deflected Toni Kroos free kick then doubled Real’s lead in the 28th.
    Barca hit back on the hour mark through Oscar Mingueza to revive their hopes.
    And the defender almost found the equaliser later on to rescue a point.
    The Catalans also had a huge penalty appeal waved away when Martin Braithwaite fell following a challenge by Ferland Mendy.
    Meanwhile, Real midfielder Casemiro was sent off in stoppage time for picking up two yellow cards in the space of a minute.
    There was more drama to come when Barca substitute Ilaix Moriba hit the crossbar in the fourth minute of added time.
    The hosts survived the nail-biting finish to complete a sensational week.
    They beat Liverpool 3-1 in a Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.
    Valverde hits the post and ter Stegen makes a great follow-up save on the ground! 😮Barca are hanging on for dear life at the moment as Real Madrid threaten a third goal 👀#ElClasico— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) April 10, 2021

    Toni Kroos netted Real’s second goal as they moved top of LaLigaCredit: Reuters

    And Real can secure a place in the semis on Wednesday when they face the Reds at Anfield in the second leg.
    Zinedine Zidane’s side joined Atletico Madrid on 66 points and moved top of the table.
    But Atletico can reclaim first place when they visit Real Betis on Sunday. 
    Meanwhile, Barca have dropped to third on 65. 

    Oscar Mingueza pulled one back for the visitors at the BernabeuCredit: Getty

    Casemiro was sent off late on for Los BlancosCredit: Getty
    Real Madrid’s Miguel Gutierrez shows he has what it takes to be on the football field More

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    Luis Suarez ‘could seal shock Liverpool transfer return in summer over frustrations with Simeone’s Atletico tactics’

    LUIS SUAREZ could make a shock return to Liverpool, according to reports.The Atletico Madrid forward, 34, is understood to be frustrated with Diego Simeone’s tactics.
    Luis Suarez could quit Atletico Madrid after just one season due to clashes with Diego Simeone and his tacticsCredit: EPA
    Spanish outlet Todofichajes state the pair have a ‘difficult’ relationship which could result in the striker leaving – with a clause in his contract enabling him to leave this summer with no penalty.
    And the report adds Suarez could be open to a transfer back to Liverpool, seven years after leaving Anfield for Barcelona.
    However, David Beckham’s Inter Miami could be another potential suitor with an MLS swansong an option.
    After 198 goals in 283 appearances for the Catalan giants, he left in acrimonious circumstances last summer.
    The four-time LaLiga winner signed for Atletico on a two-year, £5.5million deal and hit the ground running.
    He has 19 goals this season as Simeone’s side sit top of the table and he chases the golden boot.
    But the high-pressing, energetic style means Suarez feels ‘physically drained’ and looking for a move away from the Wanda Metropolitano.
    He picked up an injury during training on Wednesday with the club not providing a time scale on his absence – although he will surely do everything he can to be fit to face Barca in a crunch clash on May 9.

    Liverpool have been linked with bringing in a new No9 this summer, especially if they lose one of their fearsome front three.
    Roberto Firmino has six goals in 39 games this term while superstars Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe may be targeted when the transfer market reopens.
    ⚽ Read our Football live blog for the very latest news from around the grounds
    Suarez spent three-and-a-half years at Anfield, scoring 82 goals in 133 appearancesCredit: EPA
    Several success stories have come from January transfers
    Luis Suarez shows his talent as he joins Atletico Madrid in training More

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    Barcelona can afford to LOSE El Clasico with Ronald Koeman busy rebuilding the club, says old pal Albert Ferrer

    EL CLASICO defeats are a coach’s worst nightmare.Rioting fans. Dressing room brawls. Managerial shake-ups. Just some of the many inevitable fall-outs when Barcelona meet Real Madrid.
    Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman heads into El Clasico on a high [Photo by Miguel Angel Molina]Credit: Rex Features
    Albert Ferrer played alongside Koeman for BarcaCredit: Icon Sport – Getty
    Titles are ultimately decided off the back of this historically brutal fixture as well, and this will be no different as both look to chase down current La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.
    Yet for Ronald Koeman, this particular El Clasico is perhaps like no other – in the sense that defeat would not spell the end for the Dutchman. Quite the opposite in fact.
    Albert Ferrer played alongside Koeman for five years in the famous Barca team of the early 90s – winning four league titles on the spin under Johan Cruyff.
    The departure of Koeman in 1995 and then Cruyff a year later sparked a mini decline, similar to where this underperforming Barca find themselves now, as the returning Koeman attempts to rebuild.
    It is this rebuild – a transitional and unenviable project that has been endlessly scrutinised and criticised since Koeman’s arrival last August – that will buy him time, with or without a win over their bitter rivals.
    Ahead of his co-commentary for today’s game on LaLigaTV, former Barca and Chelsea defender Ferrer explained: “Nobody likes to lose El Clasico.
    “But for the circumstances of this season at Barcelona, the project is working so well that despite not winning this game of this type or winning the trophies, it should be enough.
    “What Ronald Koeman has achieved, I don’t know if they will win any titles, but in this season I think it shouldn’t be the most important thing.
    “It is always important at Barca to win but the job Koeman has done, to give importance to the young players and create a project and thinking in the mid-term, it is very exciting.
    “You never know in football. If they don’t win the league and they lose the final of the Spanish Cup, you cannot call it a good season. Will that be enough for them? I don’t know.
    “But I see clearly this is the right project and it should have continuity.
    “He is a very talented manager and a team like Barcelona cannot forget what a hero of the club he is.”
    Even in his pre-match press-conference, Koeman admitted: “The result of the game won’t be decisive. There will be many more games after tomorrow. Of course it’s an important game, that’s for sure.
    “Young players need the help of the senior players, but it is important that the youngsters play so that they get the experience.”

    After a rocky start under legend Koeman, Barca have won their last six league games, leaving them just a point behind Atletico in second. But it hasn’t always been plane sailing.
    Alongside the hierarchal dismay amid the recent board elections, Koeman has also had to deal with convincing Lionel Messi not to abandon a wayward ship.
    Despite their Champions League exit to PSG, Ferrer revealed: “I am definitely convinced that Messi is thinking that this is the right project, that he feels comfortable again.
    “He has been carrying the weight of the team for 13 or 14 years and there was a moment where he needed some help. Ronald Koeman has given him that.
    “You see Messi being important in the team but there is also now Pedri, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie De Jong. A lot of players that Messi can count on.
    “Now he feels that he is surrounded by a good bunch of young talent and a project that has convinced him to stay.”
    Dealing with big egos at a club like Barca is something Koeman and Ferrer watched first hand under Cruyff, one of many lessons the Dutch legend passed on to his disciples.
    Albert Ferrer and Ronald Koeman learned under legend Johan CruyffCredit: Getty Images – Getty
    Ferrer said: “What Koeman also learned from Cruyff was that if you believe in something, you have to do it your way.
    “Cruyff always did what he thought he had to do, even if not many understood at that time. When Koeman arrived, he knew he had to change the system from the favoured 4-3-3.
    “He believed that was the best thing for the team, and the results are there to see.
    “Next season, people will be asking to win major trophies, but I think everyone understood this current style and form is the way to deal with this transition season.”
    Ferrer added: “I met Koeman for the first time when I arrived at Barcelona in the summer of 1990, and he was a player who, and even now as a manager, doesn’t like to talk a lot.”
    El Clasico glory or not, Koeman will continue to quietly transform Barca in the only way he knows how.
    ***Watch ElClásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona this Saturday 10 April at 8pm on LaLigaTV, available from just £6.99 a month via Premier Sports and Amazon Prime Video Channels.***
    Erling Haaland’s dad and agent land in Barcelona and whisked off to transfer meeting with president Joan Laporta More

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    Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Too Big to Fall

    The Clásico has lost some of its luster as a season-defining day, but while its profile has fallen, its importance has not.It does not require a great leap of the imagination to envision the final few weeks of the season playing out like this:Atlético Madrid, shredded by nerves and running on fumes, surrenders its place at the summit of La Liga. Barcelona, restored and unbeaten since the turn of the year, supplants Diego Simeone’s team, reclaiming its crown.At the same time, Real Madrid, the familiar scent of European glory in its nostrils, breezes past Liverpool and edges Chelsea to win a place in the Champions League final. Real Madrid would, by most measures, be the underdog in Istanbul. Manchester City and Bayern Munich, certainly, are more coherent, more complete teams. Even Paris St.-Germain, its mission for revenge fueled by the brilliance of Kylian Mbappé, has more star power, more forward momentum, as it proved so thrillingly on Wednesday night in Munich.But it is Real Madrid, and it is the Champions League, and these things do not necessarily conform to logic. It and Barcelona, the twin, repelling poles of the Clásico, each may be no more than seven weeks from glory. Both have spent much of this campaign in what looked like free fall. It is hardly inconceivable that, in a few weeks, they will have come to rest, still at the pinnacle.That does not mean that the perception was an illusion. Barcelona’s financial strife is alarmingly real, even after the election of a new president. Its salary commitments are still greater than those of any other team. Its squad is still aging. It has still frittered away hundreds of millions of dollars in the transfer market. It has still squandered its legacy, still alienated the greatest star in its history, still lost sight of itself.Real Madrid’s situation is not quite as perilous, but here, too, are the telltale signs of institutional complacency and endemic drift. Its team is starting to creak with age. Its policy of paying premium fees for prodigious young talents — often with only a smattering of senior games under their belts — has not yet yielded the fruit the club imagined.Vinicius Jr. of Real Madrid, which is chasing a record 14th Champions League title.Juanjo Martin/EPA, via ShutterstockIts payroll, too, is littered with unwanted high-earners; Real Madrid’s finances have been stretched by the revamp of the Santiago Bernabéu that has forced it to play home games at its training facility for a year; its belief that it can sign both Erling Haaland and Mbappé over the next two summers seems fanciful at best and faintly hubristic at worst. Lulled by glamour and success, Real Madrid has allowed itself to be transformed into the personal fief of its president, Florentino Pérez.All of those issues were not imagined by a muckraking, scurrilous news media; they are not proof of some sweeping anti-Barcelona and yet somehow also anti-Madrid conspiracy. They are real, and they all manifest on Saturday, when the clubs will meet on the outskirts of the Spanish capital for the second Clásico of the season.When, 50 years from now, sports historians come to look back on European soccer’s imperial phase, examining how it became what David Goldblatt has described as the single greatest cultural phenomenon of the modern era, they could do worse than to start with those 18 days in 2011 when Real and Barcelona played one another four times.Even from the relatively shallow vantage point of 2021, those two and a half weeks have the air of a seed and a flower, a dawn and a dusk and the midday sun. It was, in the first decade of the 21st century, what soccer had been building toward. It would be what soccer, in the second decade of the 21st century, would measure everything against.Juan Medina/ReutersFelix Ordonez/ReutersThe War of 2011: Guardiola and Mourinho, Messi and Xabi Alonso and polite disagreements.Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe Clásico was not only the meeting of soccer’s two great powers or the world’s two best teams. It was also the clash of its two brightest stars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the supernova game. It was a battle of wills and a battle of minds: José Mourinho against Pep Guardiola, defense against attack, destruction against creation, darkness against light.These were days when soccer held its breath.It is somehow fitting, then, a decade later, that the most materially impactful Clásico of the last few years will take place on Saturday night in the Éstadio Alfredo Di Stéfano, rather than the Bernabéu. It is a reduced circumstance for a diminished game.The stakes are high. The winner will take prime position to dislodge Atlético Madrid from the summit of La Liga. The loser, as is the case whenever these two meet, will suddenly be flirting with crisis. It is, without question, the biggest game of the weekend. It is not, though, the centerpiece of the European season as once it was, the fixture that makes the world stand still.In part, that is because of the decline of the teams themselves. Barcelona and Real Madrid are no longer the two best teams on the planet. That honor, currently, falls somewhere between Manchester and Munich. It would be possible to build an argument that neither Spanish giant is, at this moment, in the top five.Even in a pandemic, even in a closed stadium, the world will be watching.Nacho Doce/ReutersThere is still Messi, of course, but there is no Ronaldo, no Xavi, no Andrés Iniesta, no Xabi Alonso. Both teams are in the throes of (reluctant) generational change, works in various stages of progress. The quality — aesthetic and technical — will not be as high as it was on Wednesday night, when P.S.G. stormed the Allianz Arena.But that is also because of the broader decline of La Liga. Spain has long since vacated its position of primacy. France is the world champion, and the world’s most prodigious producer of players. Germany — and, to some extent, the city of Leeds — is the wellspring of soccer’s ideas. England is home to its finest league. Spain, as a whole, has lost its place at the vanguard.And yet, for all that, it is not difficult to envision the season ending with celebrations on Las Ramblas and at the Plaza de Cibeles, with Barcelona anointed kings of Spain and Real Madrid restored to its traditional status as Rey de Copas.That such a denouement is possible is testament, first, to our tendency to assume that decline — soccer as a whole, in fact — runs in straight lines, to reverse-engineer an explanation for every event. If Barcelona wins a championship, rumors of its demise must have been greatly exaggerated. If Real Madrid wins the Champions League, its methods must work.Luka Modric and Real Madrid won the season’s first Clásico, 3-1, in October.Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt does not always, if ever, work like that. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes stars align. Not everything has a deeper meaning, and not every success illustrates some broader truth. Sometimes Liverpool wins the Champions League with Djimi Traoré at left back. Sometimes Croatia gets a golden generation. Had Real Madrid been paired with Manchester City, rather than Liverpool, in the Champions League quarterfinals this week, its almost mystical relationship with the European Cup would not seem quite so potent.But that Barcelona and Real Madrid can be so close to the summit after a season spent at the depths is also a reminder that how far, and how fast, you fall is only one part of the equation. The other is where you are coming from.Between them, Barcelona and Madrid account for seven of the last 14 Champions League titles. They were soccer’s animating force for more than a decade. Each, at different times in that period, reached heights that few teams have reached. Both remain fabulously wealthy, in terms of talent and in terms of revenue. Both retain many of the players who helped them to touch the sky. Their talent may have waned, but it has not evaporated.Eras do not end overnight. History does not run in a straight line. The Clásico of 2021 will be a shadow of the Clásicos of 2011. That Real Madrid and Barcelona have fallen is not in question. But it should be no surprise that there might yet be glory awaiting one, or both of them. They did, after all, have quite a long way to fall.Take a Stand, but Lose 3 PointsValencia supported Mouctar Diakhaby after he said he was racially abused, and then played on.Roman Rios/EPA, via ShutterstockIt is hard to identify the most dispiriting part of the episode last weekend in which Valencia’s Mouctar Diakhaby reported that he was racially abused by the Cádiz defender Juan Cala. Ordinarily, there would be a clear answer: that it happened at all. This time, though, there is another option: that it is hard to identify whether that was, in fact, the most dispiriting part.First of all, there is the fact that it was not the only episode of racist abuse of a soccer player that weekend: several more players, as always happens, were racially abused online. Then there is the fact that, even if Cala is telling the truth in his stringent denials of the accusation, if there has just been some sort of misunderstanding, we are still in a position in which it is easy to believe a soccer player might have been racially abused by an opponent, on the field, in 2021.And finally, there was the sight of Valencia — having initially walked off the field in solidarity with Diakhaby — returning to play out the game, without the victim, but against the accused perpetrator. Cala had asked to play on, and did so. Diakhaby, on the other hand, was understandably not in the right mind to continue.His club played on, it revealed later, because it had been warned — by some unidentified third party — that it would be risking a points deduction if it did not return to the field. If this is true, it does not reflect especially well on Valencia: How many points, exactly, is your player’s dignity worth?More important, the decision to continue (and to threaten to punish a team that will not) reflects appallingly on soccer’s antiracism posturing. All the slogans and all the campaigns in the world are worth nothing if, when presented with an accusation of racist abuse on the field, the immediate reaction is to try to stifle protest, to protect the product at all costs.As usual, this is an area in which soccer’s authorities — more than the players, certainly, and to an extent the clubs — are complicit. These decisions should not be ad hoc, rested on the shoulders of the individual who has endured abuse. If a player believes he has been racially abused, the referee should be under instructions to call off the game. There should be no threat of punishment, no gray area. It is for the sport as a whole to make a stand, on behalf of those who play it.Sign of the TimesIt’s spelled Haaland, with three As.Phil Noble/ReutersIn hindsight, maybe it was the context, not the act itself, that caused such consternation. The officials in Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday did not, it is fair to say, have a great evening: The decision to rule out Jude Bellingham’s goal — and, more to the point, to do so before the video assistant referee was able to contribute — did not exactly scream competence, after all.Still, the outrage that followed those fleeting glimpses of the assistant referee, Octavian Sobre, asking Erling Haaland to autograph his red and yellow cards felt a little overblown. The point of autographs has always eluded me — look at this scrap of paper that a person I have seen on television unthinkingly and resentfully scrawled on! — but it is hard to read the incident as anything other than entirely harmless and even, deep down, quite sweet.Why should an official not want a souvenir of what is likely to be one of the biggest occasions of his career? Who, exactly, is suffering here? Why would we automatically assume that Sobre, who has devoted decades to his job, would sacrifice the integrity of his decisions just because he happened to be a big fan of everyone’s favorite goal cyborg? (Sitting at the Etihad as the controversy unspooled, it was hard not to notice quite how much emphasis seemed to be placed on Sobre’s nationality, too.)As it turned out, of course, there was a wholly different rationale for it. Haaland was not particularly special. Sobre had also hoped to get an autograph from Pep Guardiola. He has been collecting them for years, then auctioning them on behalf of an autism charity he supports in his native Romania. At that point, the shouting was quieted, just a little.It would be nice to think that a lesson might be learned here: to gather all of the available facts before rushing to judgment; to avoid leaping to the most aggravating conclusion possible; to resist the temptation to meet the slightest perceived transgression with fury. You probably wouldn’t hold your breath, though.CorrespondenceAn open goal presented by Alexander Da Silva, who is (admirably) starting a “book club themed around soccer history, politics and tactics,” and wants advice on possible reading material. Well, Alexander, this one was critically acclaimed. It didn’t sell especially well, but if anything that just makes it more exclusive.As for other — some might say lesser, not me, but some — works, there is an abundance. So many, in fact, that I wonder if I should put some sort of list together: It’s a question we get reasonably frequently.A reading list, you say? Let me check in the back.Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIn short: Jonathan Wilson’s “Inverting the Pyramid” remains the compulsory work on tactical history. Depending on which sort of politics you’re interested in, there’s “Fear and Loathing in La Liga” (Sid Lowe), “Angels With Dirty Faces” (Wilson again, you can’t escape him), “Brilliant Orange” (David Winner) or Simon Kuper’s “Football Against the Enemy,” which is more than 25 years old now, but remains genre-forming. For more modern material, “The Club,” by Josh Robinson and Jon Clegg, encapsulates the Premier League era.I’d also recommend the James Montague canon: “When Friday Comes,” “Thirty-One Nil” and particularly his most recent, “1312: Among the Ultras,” all of which are fantastic. My favorite soccer book of all, though, remains “This Love Is Not for Cowards,” by Robert Andrew Powell.Mark Gromko, meanwhile, takes me to task for my “evident disregard for Manchester City. You are tired of the money, the organization, the style of play. Some of us, however, find watching the skill of the players, the coordination and precision of the teamwork, the depth of the squad, and the brilliance of the coach wonderful to watch.”There is no argument from me on any of that — though I’d contest that I’m tired of any of it; not emotionally stimulated is probably a better description — but I would hold off on any particularly ardent criticism. City will, of course, come much more into focus as they pursue all four major trophies — starting in a couple of weeks, in the Carabao Cup final — and we will be covering them in the detail they deserve. More

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    Barcelona identify Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez as transfer alternative to Eric Garcia and David Alaba

    BARCELONA could be interested in signing Tottenham Hotspur defender Davinson Sanchez, according to reports.New club president Joan Laporta is hoping to remould Ronald Koeman’s squad this summer.
    Davinson Sanchez has made 17 Premier League appearances this seasonCredit: AP

    Top of the agenda is keeping Lionel Messi, while strikers Erling Haaland and Sergio Aguero have been heavily linked.
    But Laporta, 58, is also chasing a new defender.
    Eric Garcia is believed to have signed a pre-contract agreement from Manchester City, although there has been no official announcement.
    While fellow upcoming free agent David Alaba has also been heavily linked.
    According to El Desmarque, however, Barca should be keeping an eye on alternatives.
    Sanchez arrived at Spurs in 2017 as the club’s record signing for around £42million.
    But following a disappointing season, the Lilywhites could offload the Colombian – especially if Jose Mourinho manages to cling on to his job.
    Sanchez, 24, may be on Barca’s radar, and could revitalise his career alongside Messi and Co.
    Ronald Koeman wants to sign a new defender this summerCredit: Reuters
    Eric Garcia is set to return to Barca on a free transferCredit: Splash

    The 6ft 2in stopper initially impressed in his first season at Spurs, forming part of a formidable back three alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.
    But having always had the odd mistake in him, however, this season his performances, like Alderweireld’s, and last term Vertonghen’s, have taken a big dip.
    Spurs’ defence has grown leakier, with the North Londoners’ developing a reputation for dropping points from winning positions – as the tally currently stands at an eyewatering 15.
    Koeman, meanwhile, has had to juggle his limited options at the back carefully this term.
    With Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti having suffered from serious injuries, and Clement Lenglet’s form having dipped, youngsters Oscar Mingueza and Oscar Araujo have made plenty of appearances at the back.
    And, with Koeman having reverted to a back three of late, Frenkie de Jong has found himself deployed in the centre of defence.
    Whether the Dutchman is trusted there in Saturday’s Clasico against Karim Benzema and Co, however, remains to be seen.
    Frenkie de Jong has recently been deployed at the heart of a back threeCredit: Rex
    ⚽ Read our Football live blog for the very latest news from around the grounds
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    Cristiano Ronaldo ‘cursed’ Barcelona rival Lionel Messi in El Clasico after leaving Real Madrid for Juventus

    EL CLASICO is a favourite fixture of Lionel Messi’s to showcase his iconic abilities – but it hasn’t been quite the same since Cristiano Ronaldo left.A record of 26 goals and 14 assists against Real Madrid, in 44 encounters, means the Barcelona talisman has eight more derby goals than his rival.
    Lionel Messi has not scored in a Clasico since Cristiano Ronaldo departed Real MadridCredit: Getty – Contributor
    A brace in the stunning 6-2 victory of 2009, a hat-trick in the seven-goal LaLiga thriller five years later, and that last-ditch winner in 2017 are just some of his famous Bernabeu moments.
    But Messi, 33, goes into Saturday’s clash in the capital goalless in his last six Clasico matches.
    The dry spell has coincided with Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for Juventus in the summer of 2018 – something Marca have dubbed a ‘curse’.
    Both stars scored in the Portuguese winger’s final Clasico, a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou weeks before his departure.
    Yet Messi has failed to add to his tally since, missing a 5-1 victory with an arm injury in the first derby without Ronaldo.
    In fact, the striker has not scored in a Clasico without Ronaldo on the pitch since February 2013.
    Real are unbeaten in the last three LaLiga meetings, although Barcelona came out on top in their 2019 Copa del Rey semi-final.
    A victory for the Catalans and Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano would take them top of LaLiga, before leaders Atletico Madrid play on Sunday.

    Madrid sit three points back in the title race but have the worst goal-difference of the leading trio.
    And they will have an in-form Messi to contend as he looks to end his barren run.
    With 29 for the season, he comes into the match on a run of 16 goals in his last 12 league games.
    ⚽ Read our Football live blog for the very latest news from around the grounds

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    Real Madrid to offer Vinicius Jr in swap transfer for Kylian Mbappe as PSG star’s future ‘hangs in the balance’

    REAL MADRID could offer Vinicius Jr in part-exchange for Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe, according to reports.Mbappe’s future ‘hangs in the balance’ in the French capital it’s said.
    Kylian Mbappe is a man in demandCredit: Getty
    Vinicius Jr had a huge game for Real Madrid against Liverpool this weekCredit: EPA
    And should PSG show even a slight inclination to sell, Madrid are favourites to land his signature.
    According to The Telegraph, there is a ’50-50 chance’ of Mbappe staying at PSG.
    But with his contract set to expire in 15 months, and with both parties having made little progress in a year of negotiations, Mbappe could leave this summer.
    Despite being about to enter his deal’s final year, Mbappe would still cost more than £87million.
    But because of the effect of Covid-19 on the market, PSG may be willing to accept a fee structured over a number of years.
    They remain desperate to keep their star man, however, and could even allow him to enter next season without having agreed an extension in the hope he will finally sign.
    Another way that Real Madrid could stump up a high enough bid, however, would be to offer a player in part-exchange.
    And according to El Chiringuito, PSG sporting director Leonardo could be interested in his compatriot Vinicius Jr.
    Neymar and Mbappe’s contracts both expire in June 2022Credit: Getty

    The Brazilian was in sensational form against Liverpool in the Champions League earlier this week.
    But he would be expendable, should Mbappe be available.
    Ideally, PSG want to tie Mbappe, 22, down to a five-year extension.
    Alternatively, however, the two parties could agree upon a one or two year extension – with a slight pay rise – in order to at least improve PSG’s bargaining position.
    As well as Real Madrid, Liverpool are also admirers of his.
    Should Mbappe not be available, Real Madrid will go all in for Erling Haaland, having met with father Alf-Inge and agent Mino Raiola last week.
    Following PSG’s 3-2 victory over Bayern earlier this week, Leonardo said: “I think we’ll have some news that will make us all happy soon.”
    But it is believed he was referring to a new contract for Neymar, whose current deal also expires in June 2022, rather than Mbappe.
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