Barcelona’s Luis Suarez available but face injuries on defence ahead of tough stretch

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ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno and Ross Dyer make their picks for the weekend’s key La Liga fixtures.
Will league-leading Sevilla’s fine run of form continue against Barcelona? Sid Lowe weighs in on the weekend clash between La Liga’s top two.
ESPN FC’s fantasy expert Mark Donaldson shares his tips for this weekend’s La Liga matches, including choosing Real Madrid’s Luka Modric who has a tasty match up with Levante.
Lionel Messi visits the SJD Pediatric Cancer Center and greets the children at a charity event in Barcelona.

BARCELONA — Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto are fit for Barcelona’s triple-header against Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid this week but they still have problems in the middle of defence.

Samuel Umtiti remains sidelined for the foreseeable future with a knee problem, while Thomas Vermaelen will miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury picked up on international duty with Belgium.

That leaves coach Ernesto Valverde with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet as his only fit centre-backs as Barca prepare for the biggest week of their season so far.

Following four winless games in La Liga, which has seen them relinquish top spot, they return to action on Saturday at home to league leaders Sevilla. Inter are then due at Camp Nou on Wednesday ahead of next Sunday’s Clasico.

“I think Sergi [Roberto] and Suarez will both be available this weekend,” Valverde said in a news conference on Friday.

“But [Umtiti] is still in a recovery process. He needs training to strengthen the muscle, so he has fewer problems [in the future]. We hope he’s back with us soon, but I can’t say when because I am not a doctor.”

Suarez and Roberto have benefitted from the international break. The former didn’t join up with the Uruguay squad, instead staying in Barcelona to work on a knee injury, while the latter returned to training this week from a back problem.

Pique is also free of international duty since retiring in the summer but he has put in more air miles than any other player during the last week. The defender travelled to China to watch the Shanghai Masters and then to Madrid to launch his new revamped version of tennis’ Davis Cup.

His journeys come at a time when Barca are struggling in defence — they have conceded nine goals in eight league games — and have provoked complaints in the local media over his commitment to the club’s cause.

“The issue with Pique, the journeys and all that, it doesn’t worry me,” Valverde said. “The only thing that irritates me about him is that he had a brilliant idea [the Davis Cup] and it didn’t occur to me. That’ s the only thing, other than that, there’s no problem with him. He’s 100 percent.”

With only Pique and Lenglet available in the middle of defence, Valverde has been forced to look for reinforcements elsewhere. He says B team players Chumi and Oriol Busquets are options, while Sergio Busquets could also play there in an emergency.

Valverde also said he has spoken with Arturo Vidal after the player took to social media to express his dissatisfaction at a lack of minutes since joining from Bayern Munich in the summer.

“The idea is to solve any problems we have inside the dressing room, not outside, and we will keep things that way,” the coach said. “But, yes, I have spoken with Arturo Vidal, of course, but I won’t detail about what. We try to deal with things this way so there’s not so much drama generated, as there has been in the last few weeks.”



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Transfer Rater Neymar to Barcelona Marcus Rashford to Juventus

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Things change in the blink of an eye in football. The Football Whispers Index takes the latest transfer rumours and gives them a score out of five; the higher the score, the more realistic and reliable the Whisper.

Here are today’s top five emerging whispers. And keep an eye on Transfer Talk for all the latest gossip.

Alberto Moreno to Arsenal

The Liverpool left-back has indicated that he is not going to sign a new deal at the club and will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season. This has alerted a number of sides including Arsenal, according to the Mirror, who also report that Moreno has turned down extensions to his current deal in search of first-team football. Unai Emery has previously worked with Moreno at Sevilla, and is looking for options at left-back having used 32-year-old Nacho Monreal in the position so far this season.

Oleksandr Zinchenko to Betis

The 21-year-old Ukraine international is another player in search of first-team football having struggled to break into the Manchester City side on a regular basis. Spanish outlet AS are reporting that the versatile youngster is a target for La Liga side Real Betis, who are in the market for a left back. Though Zinchenko would consider himself a midfielder, he impressed at full back for Pep Guardiola’s side and this could give him more first-team football in the long run.

Marcus Rashford to Juventus

Juventus sent their scouts to the UEFA Nations League clash between Spain and England, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford the focus of their attention. Reports in Italy by Tuttosport state the Italian champions are looking to take advantage of the 20-year-old’s unhappiness at his hometown club, and will look to make a move for the forward, whose contract has less than two years to run.

Neymar to Barcelona

Rumours of Neymar’s possible return to Barcelona have been given extra weight following new details that have emerged in the Spanish media. Reports on radio station Cadena Ser suggest the player has an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi that will allow him to leave at the end of the season. The deal could see the Brazilian return to the Catalan club for a similar fee that saw him leave for the French capital in 2017.

Franco Vazquez to West Ham United

Manuel Pellegrini’s side will target a forward in the January transfer window, with Sevilla’s Franco Vazquez at the top of their list. Local Seville-based outlet Estadio Deportivo believe that the Argentine could favour a move to east London due to his friendship with one of West Ham’s assistant coaches, Enzo Maresca, who played alongside Vazquez at Palermo. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder has a release clause of around £35 million, but the Premier League club will try to negotiate a lower fee ahead of a possible January move.



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Barcelona’s Arturo Vidal to pay 800,000 euros after nightclub dispute

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‘Take The Ball, Pass The Ball’ will feature former and current Barcelona players looking back on Pep Guardiola’s four years and 14 trophies with the club.
ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
ESPN FC’s Alejandro Moreno explains how Barcelona’s defensive frailties are impacting all aspects of their game.

Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal has been given an €800,000 penalty order by a Munich court after being charged with aggravated battery following a dispute at a disco last year.

Last year, former Bayern Munich player Vidal was part of a group that allegedly attacked another guest with a bottle of vodka at Crown’s Club in September.

Vidal and his half-brother Sandrino, who was also part of the group, did not appear before the district court on Wednesday, with Vidal playing in Chile’s friendly against Mexico.

At the court on Wednesday, Vidal’s lawyer said he could not appear before the court “for job-related reasons.”

Both were given penalty orders but will be able to appeal within the next two weeks. If they choose not to appeal the penalty orders will be final, but if they do so the trial will continue.

The 31-year-old was hit with 80 daily rates of income, which the court set at €10,000 after deducting alimony for his family.

The court refrained from issuing an arrest warrant, calling that “out of proportion.”



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Real Madrid write to Spanish FA, formally object to Girona-Barcelona game in U.S.

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ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
La Liga president Javier Tebas says that La Liga games in the USA will only benefit MLS.

Real Madrid have written a letter to the Spanish football federation (RFEF) expressing their opposition to La Liga’s plans to stage a game between Girona and Barcelona in the United States in January.

The game, which would take place in suburban Miami, would be the first regular-season game held overseas as part of a 15-year marketing agreement struck between La Liga and Relevent Sports with the aim of promoting the league in North America.

The RFEF and the Spanish players’ union oppose the plan to move the game, scheduled for Girona’s Estadi Montilivi on Jan. 26, to Hard Rock Stadium. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also said he does not support the idea.

“First of all, we would like to declare that Real Madrid were never informed that La Liga had requested to play the game, nor of the intention to make the request, and we were never asked our opinion on it,” Madrid wrote in the letter, which was signed by Jose Angel Sanchez, the club’s general director.

“Nor, obviously, did La Liga obtain Real Madrid’s agreement, despite the fact that this game affects a competition in which we participate.”

A spokesman for La Liga told Reuters on Wednesday that no club would be forced to play in the United States and that the decision to do so is voluntary.

The RFEF has told the league it cannot approve the proposal, which also requires support from UEFA, CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer, until it receives more information.

Madrid president Florentino Perez has also spoken out against it, and coach Julen Lopetegui has said “every [La Liga] team should play at every ground.”

Madrid addressed the same concerns in the letter, which was first published by Cadena Ser and also included a list of objections to La Liga’s current marketing strategy and television broadcasts in the U.S.

“We cannot forget that the national league is a competition in which 20 teams participate, not two, and that it is fundamental that every team plays each other twice, home and away and at each stadium, as that guarantees the integrity and the equality of the competition,” the club wrote.

“As a consequence, Real Madrid expresses its opposition to the request made to play the game at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as it affects the integrity and equality of the competition.”

La Liga president Javier Tebas told Reuters earlier this month there were many things that could threaten the integrity of a competition but the Miami game was not one of them.

“In a World Cup, a team playing a … semifinal on Tuesday has a greater advantage in the final than the team playing on Wednesday,” Tebas said.

“Teams have also played at other stadiums while their grounds are being renovated or in order to generate more revenue. If we really believe in this sporting puritanism, then we would need to make many changes in football.”

Information from Reuters was used in this report.



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Lionel Messi dazzled by champion pizza tosser during international break

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When it comes to eating copious amounts of pizza prepared by one of the world’s best dough tossers, Lionel Messi knows carbs don’t count when they’re consumed on holiday.

Messi, whose weakness for the dish has been well-documented, spent time during his Argentina sabbatical by receiving a first-hand demonstration from chef Fabian Martin — twice crowned in Naples as the world pizza champion and apparently a member of, yes, the Pizza Hall of Fame.

The Barcelona star, along with his wife, Antonella Roccuzzo, and children, visited Martin’s restaurant, in the town of Puigcerda in northern Girona, Spain, to witness the legend in action.

“How lucky to have the best footballer in history in the house,” Martin wrote on Instagram. “Many thanks to Lionel Messi, an extraordinary footballer but a better person.”

And it was Martin who, in turn, paid tribute to his customer, ending his whirling dazzle of spins and gyrations with a lovely scorpion kick of the dough that left Messi in awe.

As Messi undoubtedly knows, there’s nothing more special than making a bit of magic with your feet.



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Barcelona won’t sign Matthijs De Ligt in January – Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars

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Sebi Salazar and Kasey Keller answer your tweets about Maradona’s harsh words towards Lionel Messi, Germany’s struggles and much more.

Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars has dashed Barcelona’s hopes of signing Matthijs de Ligt in January, saying there is no chance the defender will leave in the winter window.

Sources have told ESPN FC that De Ligt and Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong are being monitored by the La Liga champions.

Barca failed with two bids for De Jong, who had been their primary summer target of the two, but early-season problems in defence have forced them to rethink their strategy.

El Mundo Deportivo and Diario Sport reported this week that the club would move for De Ligt, but Overmars said the player, watched by Barca’s Ramon Planes as Netherlands beat Germany 3-0 on Saturday, will not go.

“The chances of De Ligt leaving Ajax in January are zero percent,” he told LaRoma24.

However, he left the door open to a summer transfer, saying “it’s a possibility” when asked whether the centre-back could leave at the end of the season.

De Ligt, 19, has been on Barcelona’s radar for a while, but his performance in the Champions League draw at Bayern Munich, watched by sporting director Eric Abidal, accelerated their interest.

Ernesto Valverde’s side have struggled at the back, conceding nine goals in their first eight league games — the same number they conceded in their opening 20 fixtures last season.

There are also concerns over Samuel Umtiti’s fitness, with the club refusing to put a timeframe on his knee injury amid reports he may need to undergo surgery that would rule him out until the New Year.

Thomas Vermaelen is due back in Barcelona on Monday for tests on a hamstring injury, with sources suggesting he could be out for up to a month.

That leaves Valverde with Gerard Pique and summer signing Clement Lenglet as his only fit centre-backs.



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Arda Turan questioned by police after fight with Turkish pop star

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Police questioned Turkey international midfielder Arda Turan late on Thursday over reports that he fought with a pop star at a night club in Istanbul, the Demiroren news agency (DHA) and other media said.

Turan, on loan from Barcelona at Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir, was summoned by a prosecutor to make a statement to police after they received reports of the player’s clash with singer Berkay Sahin, DHA said.

It quoted Turan’s police statement as saying he rejected allegations he harassed Sahin. 

Berkay was with his wife Ozlem Ada Sahin when the alleged incident happened with Turan and she told local media that the midfielder had made suggestive remarks before attacking her husband.

An Istanbul police spokesman said police had sought a statement from Turan. The spokesman did not provide further details.

Turan joined Barcelona from Atletico Madrid for €34 million in 2015, winning six trophies, making 55 appearances and scoring 15 goals for the Catalan side.



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Arturo Vidal disrespected Barcelona teammates over angry social media post – chief

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The ESPN FC crew answer your tweets on Kylian Mbappe’s links to Real Madrid, Philippe Countinho’s woes at the Camp Nou and much more.

Arturo Vidal’s disgruntled social media posts showed a lack of respect towards his Barcelona teammates, the Catalan club’s general manager has told Mundo Deportivo. 

Vidal posted an angry face emoji on his Instagram story following Barca’s Champions League win over Tottenham last Wednesday, when he only came on for the final few minutes.

The Chile international then sparked a fresh controversy after Sunday’s draw at Valencia, when he was an unused substitute, after posting and then deleting a message which said: “Don’t fight with those who are like Judas, they will hang themselves.”

Pep Segura says the posts did more damage to Vidal than to anyone else but backed the midfielder to make amends for his mistake.

“Arturo Vidal’s messages have a double meaning,” Segura said. “You can look at them positively because they demonstrate that he’s a guy who wants to get integrated quickly and help the team. He feels frustrated personally that he’s not playing more minutes.

“The negative is we feel he has to work hard and be aware that he’s part of a great team, with great players. He has to have respect for his teammates, for the dressing room, the coach and the club.

“We understand that he’s aware that those tweets did more damage to himself than anyone else. I think he will make up for it.”

Asked if he has discussed the matter with Vidal, Segura added: “We always speak with all the players and these issues are dealt with day-to-day.”

Vidal, 31, joined Barca from Bayern Munich in the summer for €20 million but has made just two starts for his new club so far — and he was withdrawn before the hour mark on both occasions.

He has made another seven appearances off the bench but in total he has played just 176 minutes of club football so far this season, although he has denied a lack of regular action was behind his social media outburst.

“I think people took [my social media messages] in the wrong way,” he said from Chile’s camp in Miami earlier this week. 

“[The message about Judas] had nothing to do with anything sport-related and I deleted it to stop people from speculating.

“There are personal things and jokes which you can put on social media and people take the wrong way. I changed it but it had nothing to do with Barcelona or with anyone in particular. When I have to say something I say it to someone’s face.

“When I have a problem or I am mad about something, I go straight to the coach and speak directly to him. You can have various reasons for posting these things on social networks.”



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Juventus stay No 1 ahead of PSG Atletico up Barcelona down Shaka Hislop Power Rankings

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored with a powerful first-time strike to help guide Juventus past Udinese at the Stadio Friuli.
ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop unveils his latest power rankings, which see Juventus maintaining their top spot while Barcelona gain ground.

The top two remain the same. Below Juve and PSG, though, Atleti have made a move up, while Barca and Man City go in the opposite direction.

Dropping out: Liverpool.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know, and watch Shaka defend his picks on ESPN FC TV!



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Extra Time: Mbappe and Real Madrid; Coutinho struggling at Barcelona

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Lionel Messi can win 2022 World Cup but Argentina need a process – Jorge Sampaoli

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Argentina’s manager Lionel Scaloni insists he hasn’t spoken to Lionel Messi on whether he wants to play in the 2018 Copa America after the Barcelona forward was left out of the squad for upcoming friendlies.
Interim coach Lionel Scaloni admits he’s uncertain if Lionel Messi will return to the national team, but is optimistic for the newcomers to the side.

Former Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli believes Lionel Messi can still realise his dream of lifting the World Cup in 2022 if the country doesn’t veer from “the process.”

Sampaoli has spoken for the first time since being dismissed by the Argentina Football Association (AFA) after leading the Albiceleste to the Round of 16 at the tournament in Russia where eventual champions France beat them.

Asked if Messi, who will be 35 when the 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar, can win the title, Sampaoli told Marca: “Of course he can. But this needs a process, considering what has happened up to now.

“Processes don’t break, they are corrected. For the next World Cup or Copa America, there needs to be an organisation, unlimited confidence and know what the process requires. In other words, if the Copa America is not won, we need to maintain that process and not break it. Enough of that madness where if you don’t win, you are a loser. It’s not like that, if you believe, then it’s possible even if it may happen later on. But you have to believe.”

Sampaoli said it was a privilege to coach the five-time Ballon d’Or winner even if it was only for 13 months.

“It was incredible,” Sampaoli said of Messi. “Especially seeing him so committed, suffering a lot when we didn’t win. The best player in the history was very committed. Leo suffered like no one else, it was a big weight for him not to have been able to transcend as a team.”

The former Sevilla coach says coaching the Barcelona superstar is highly demanding.

“To have the best in the world in your team forces maximum exigency,” he said. “The rest of us have to be at his level. But at times you can and other times you cannot. We had that battle every day. To have Leo forces you not to have a margin of error when it comes to winning.”

Messi has scored 65 goals in 128 appearances since making his debut with Argentina in August 2005.

Despite competing in four World Cups and four Copa Americas, Messi has not won a major trophy with Argentina.

He has taken an indefinite break from the national team since captaining his national team in the tournament in Russia but AFA president Claudio Tapia and Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde are confident the 31-year-old will return to play for Argentina.

Asked about Messi’s decision, Sampaoli said: “These are very personal decisions. Only he knows what he needs and we must respect it.”

Looking back at the World Cup, where Argentina won just one of its four games, Sampaoli said: “I thought we prepared very well for the World Cup but then in the tournament, it didn’t go as well. It was like suffering to play each match. The weight that this group was carrying around [on their backs] was just too heavy.

“I think everyone that was there was honest in what they gave to the team, including me. I put a lot of heart and feeling but it wasn’t enough. I don’t have anything to reproach myself. In the adversity, I learned a lot for the future.”

Sampaoli believes that for Argentina to have a chance to win tournaments in the future, the culture of the country must be different. “Things have to change, because with those values, it hasn’t gone very well lately for us as a society and in football,” he said.

“It’s the hysteria of immediacy, to win no matter what. And you cannot do it like that. I hope things change in the future.

“Imagine Messi, he came after having great stability in his club in Spain and he arrives to his country, Argentina, and he has to win at all costs, with a very big collective hysteria. You cannot win or enjoy yourself like that.”



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Barcelona exit helped me ‘enjoy my profession’ – Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer

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ESPN FC’s Sid Lowe and the FC panel agree that Luis Enrique’s Spain have flipped the script on the old tiki-taka style of play.
Steve Nicol and Brian McBride react to Spain’s relentless domination of World Cup runners-up Croatia in a surprising UEFA Nations League result.

Spain forward Paco Alcacer is convinced he made the right decision to leave Barcelona for Borussia Dortmund in August as he said he can now “enjoy my profession.”

Alcacer, the Bundesliga’s leading scorer with six goals in 81 minutes, joined Dortmund on a season-long loan.

He has been rewarded with a call-up by Spain coach Luis Enrique for the first time since March 2016 and could feature in the international friendly against Wales on Thursday and the Nations League game against England in Seville on Monday.

“The start that I’ve had at Borussia has allowed me to be here,” Alcacer said at a news conference on Tuesday. “The players in this national team are very good and you have to play at just as high a level as they are in order to be selected. It gives me great pride to be here and I’m very happy with the work I’m doing at Borussia.

“I have to continue and not slow down. The aim is to come here and help the team and if given the chance to play, to make the most of this opportunity.”

Alcacer made only 37 La Liga appearances in his two seasons at Barcelona, the club he joined from Valencia in 2016 for €30 million. Dortmund have an option to sign him for €23m in June.

“I took the decision to leave and go elsewhere in order to find playing time and enjoy my profession,” Alcacer said. “At Barcelona, it’s very difficult to have minutes with the quality of players that Barcelona has with [Lionel] Messi, Luis [Suarez] and Philippe [Coutinho].

“I’m very happy with the decision I made. From the first day I arrived [at Dortmund], all the players in the team have helped me considering all the challenges one faces when going abroad and not speaking the language. I’ve adapted well.”

Luis Enrique said he was thrilled to call up Alcacer, who he coached at Barcelona in 2016-17.

Alcacer, who has scored six goals in 13 appearances for Spain, is happy to be able to work again under his former coach.

“He is serious and direct,” Alcacer said of Luis Enrique. “He tells you like it is. He says very clearly what he wants from you and that is good for the players.”



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Moreno: If you have a pulse, you can score on Barcelona

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Barcelona expect Moussa Wague visa decision and debut by end of month – sources

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ESPN FC’s Mark Donaldson and Shaka Hislop predict the latest La Liga fixtures, including Valencia’s clash with Barcelona and Real Madrid vs. Alaves.
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic lauded teammate Lionel Messi, after the Argentine was pivotal for the Catalans in their 4-2 win over Tottenham.

Senegal international Moussa Wague should be able to make his debut for Barcelona’s B team later this month after a delay in obtaining his visa, sources confirmed to ESPN FC.

Wague, 20, joined Barca in August from KAS Eupen after impressing at the World Cup. He became the youngest player to ever score for Senegal when he did so against Japan.

His performances for Senegal and Eupen earned him a place among the 40 nominees for the Golden Boy award for 2018.

However, Wague has been unable to feature for Barca after running into bureaucratic issues. It has taken longer than expected for him to obtain the necessary paperwork to apply for a visa to play in Spain.

Barca believe a resolution will be in place within 10 to 15 days. A source close to the situation said there has been no rush to resolve it because Wague had an injury when he arrived earlier this year.

Now fit, Wague will not take part in Senegal’s two-legged African Nations Cup qualifier against Sudan later this month. Instead, he will take part in a mini preseason in Barcelona in anticipation of the receipt of his visa.

Wague will first play with Barca’s reserve team, in the third tier, but was signed with the first team in mind in the long-term.

Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo currently share right-back duties for Barcelona.



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La Liga Predictor: Barca & Real battling at the top

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Pochettino: Spurs players heroes in Barca loss

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Fantasy FC: To Messi or not to Messi?

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Barcelona’s Jordi Alba overlooked for Spain squad Alvaro Morata in Paco Alcacer returns

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ESPN FC’s Sid Lowe and the FC panel agree that Luis Enrique’s Spain have flipped the script on the old tiki-taka style of play.
Steve Nicol and Brian McBride react to Spain’s relentless domination of World Cup runners-up Croatia in a surprising UEFA Nations League result.
Croatia suffered their worst-ever defeat in international competition as Luis Enrique earned his first victory on home soil for Spain.

Borussia Dortmund’s in-form striker Paco Alcacer has been included in Spain’s squad for the games against Wales and England, but his former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba continues to be omitted.

Alcacer has scored four goals, including his team’s second in a 3-0 win over Monaco in Wednesday’s Champions League, in three games since joining Dortmund on loan from Barcelona this summer.

Spain coach Luis Enrique has rewarded the 25-year-old, who has not featured for his country since March 2016, with a place in his 23-man squad for the he international friendly against Wales in Cardiff on Oct. 11 and the UEFA Nations League clash against England in Seville four days later.

Alba, who played under Luis Enrique at Barcelona and was a regular with his Spain predecessor Julen Lopetegui, has again been overlooked, and has not featured for Spain since the World Cup.

The 29-year-old provided three assists during Barca’s 4-2 victory over Tottenham on Wednesday night but Luis Enrique has opted to stick to Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso and Valencia’s Jose Luis Gaya to cover the left-back role amid reports that Alba fell out of favour for him during their time together at the Nou Camp.

However, Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke, who also played at the World Cup but did not make Luis Enrique’s first list, is back.

Spain will be without Real Madrid midfielder Isco, who is recovering from appendicitis, as well as Dani Carvajal, Inigo Martinez, Sergi Roberto and Diego Costa who are also injured.

With Carvajal and Martinez out, Luis Enrique has called up Wolverhampton Wanderers right-back Jonny Otto, who has yet to make his senior debut and is one of six Premier League based players included in the squad.

Real Betis defender Marc Bartra returns to the squad, earning his first call up under Luis Enrique.

Chelsea and Real Madrid are the clubs with the most players in the squad with four each, as Luis Enrique continues to place his trust in Alvaro Morata despite the forward’s slow start to the campaign with just one goal scored.

Spain have won their opening two UEFA Nations League Group 4 games, scoring eight goals and conceding one.



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La Liga president Javier Tebas – We’ll have a U.S. match despite ‘cultural wall’ of opposition

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Lionel Messi got Barcelona out of a jam at the weekend, but the FC crew are not convinced he can make up for the club’s deficiencies at Tottenham.
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Spain’s La Liga remains committed to playing Barcelona’s league match with Girona in Miami, despite opposition to the plans, the organisation’s president Javier Tebas told Reuters.

The Spanish football federation (RFEF) has put the brakes on the league’s plans by demanding more information on January’s game, which must also be approved by the United States’ soccer federation and regional bodies UEFA and CONCACAF.

“Playing in the United States is vital to our strategy there and we won’t relent on what is our right,” Tebas said in an exclusive interview at La Liga’s headquarters on Tuesday.

“If you want to make your industry more global, as La Liga wants to, if you want to be among the biggest industries in world sport then you have to be immersed in the U.S. market.

“For us the United States is the second biggest market for television rights, it’s a very consolidated sports industry, with huge growth on social media and digital platforms.”

The Miami match between Girona and Barcelona would be the first game to take place as part of a 15-year deal struck between La Liga and U.S.-based entertainment company Relevent to play one Spanish regular season game in the United States every year.

Relevent organises football’s International Champions Cup tournament held in North America, Asia and Europe in which Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid frequently participate.

Relevent also organised a friendly Clasico between Real and Barca in 2017 which saw 65,000 fans cram into the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Tebas’s plans have proved controversial, however.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has voiced his opposition to the game, saying “home matches should be played at home, not in a foreign country”.

Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales meanwhile has said it is not possible to take a regular season game abroad, despite breaking with convention by holding this year’s Spanish Super Cup in Tangier, Morocco.

The Spanish footballer’s union (AFE) has also spoken out against the plans in the interests of the health of players.

“It’s not easy to take a game out of its usual competition and we knew we would meet a cultural wall of European and Spanish institutions, but we began this process two years ago and we’re going to keep working to make it happen,” Tebas said.

He also dismissed concerns aired by Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui, who said playing games abroad distorts the concept that each team should play at its own ground.

“There are many things that danger the integrity of a competition. In a World Cup a team playing a World cup semifinal on Tuesday has a greater advantage in the final than the team playing on Wednesday,” Tebas said.

“Teams have also played at other stadiums while their grounds are being renovated or in order to generate more revenue. If we really believe in this sporting puritanism then we would need to make many changes in football.”

Real president Florentino Perez declared last month that the defending European champions do not wish to be part of the plans to play in the U.S, which appeared to be another setback to the proposal, although Tebas said no club is obliged to take part.

“It’s voluntary, so if Real Madrid don’t want to go they won’t. But you have to remember that Real Madrid have played in many tournaments in the U.S. organised by Relevent so it’s not a coherent argument, but we’re not concerned,” added Tebas, who said his plans have the backing of the majority of La Liga clubs.

Tebas has overseen a massive foreign expansion strategy in an attempt to bridge the revenue gap with England’s Premier League.

The English competition still out-earns the Spanish top flight, boasting income of £4.5 billion ($5.83 billion) from the 2016-17 season compared to the €3.6 billion ($4.15 billion) posted by La Liga.

The Spanish league has stepped up its operation in Asia, including opening offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and New Delhi, and striking a deal with Facebook allowing fans in the Indian sub-continent to watch every game for free.

Tebas, however, ruled out taking Spanish matches to Asia for now.

“In the short term we haven’t got plans to play in Asia, right now the U.S. is where we need to work in order to grow our brand,” he said.

The La Liga chief also attempted to assuage concerns that playing top flight games in the U.S. would tread on the toes of the country’s domestic competition Major League Soccer.

“Football is the most played sport in schools in the U.S. and so many people want to watch the biggest matches. It’s a very big market and there’s room for everyone, for the MLS, the Mexican league and for us,” he said.

“This will promote the game and make more people want to watch the MLS. We’re going to play a game in the United States to promote our league and football in general, and I think that’s very positive.

“I don’t see it as a threat to other leagues, we see it as an opportunity to promote and grow the industry, which is important for everyone.”



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Barcelona open to Paul Pogba move as Ernesto Valverde receives club backing

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Lionel Messi got Barcelona out of a jam at the weekend, but the FC crew are not convinced he can make up for the club’s deficiencies at Tottenham.

Barcelona have not ruled out the possibility of moving for Paul Pogba in January after club CEO Oscar Grau backed under-pressure coach Ernesto Valverde to turn things around following a three-game winless run.

Sources told ESPN FC this week the Barca board are divided over whether to pursue a move for Pogba as the club continue to follow the midfielder’s situation at Manchester United.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Adrien Rabiot and Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong are also targets as Barca look to bolster their midfield, whether in the winter transfer window or next summer.

Grau says Barca’s budget for the season does not factor in potential signings, although he added that doesn’t mean they won’t add to their squad in January.

“The budget doesn’t contemplate any signings midseason, but it does include contract renewals which we hope to finalise,” Grau said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“But even though [potential signings are not included], there are many ways of doing things. If the coaching staff ask for someone, we will look at it. We’re not closing any doors.”

Barca confirmed an expected revenue of €960 million for the campaign, with profits of €11m post-tax. It is thought the signing of Pogba would help further increase income, with president Josep Maria Bartomeu targeting revenue of €1 billion by 2020.

The Catalan club also confirmed, following the departure of 10 players this summer, including Andres Iniesta, their annual wage bill has fallen from €520m to €492m. That gives them more freedom to make signings in January if necessary.

However, the roots of the division lie in Pogba’s ability to fit into Ernesto Valverde’s side, with some people believing De Jong or Rabiot would offer a more natural fit.

Meanwhile, sources at United have told ESPN FC that Pogba is not for sale, despite the deepening division between the Frenchman and Jose Mourinho.

Barca may well look to sign in January if their form continues. They head into Wednesday’s game against Tottenham having failed to win in each of their last three outings.

Despite winning a domestic double last season, the pressure has been rising on Valverde since the Champions League exit to Roma in April. But Grau says the coach still has the club’s full backing.

“There’s complete confidence in Valverde,” he said. “The season’s long, don’t forget. We are confident that we will achieve our objectives.”

Grau also reaffirmed that Barca hope to secure a naming rights deal for Camp Nou before the end of the season and reiterated the club’s desire to play their league fixture against Girona in Miami in the New Year.

“We think it would be good for everyone, but it’s La Liga’s project,” he added. “We are happy to be involved because we think it’s good for the brand. If the project moves forward, Barca will be involved. If not, no bother.”



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