Four more Real Madrid players, and three from Barcelona, have tested positive for Covid-19, the two clubs said Wednesday as new infections hit record highs in Spain.
Real Madrid’s Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois, Uruguay midfielder Federico Valverde, French midfielder Eduardo Camavinga and Brazilian winger Vinicius Junior are all infected, the La Liga leaders said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the club declined to say how many players are currently infected with the virus but since mid-December eight other players have tested positive including Gareth Bale and Luka Modric.
Meanwhile, Barcelona said its forward Ousmane Dembele, defender Samuel Umtiti and midfielder Gavi have tested positive for Covid-19.
“The players are in good health and self-isolating at home. The Club has reported the cases to the relevant authorities,” it said in a statement.
The three players join left-back Jordi Alba, centre-back Clement Lenglet and defender Dani Alves, who also tested positive this week.
Barcelona, currently seventh in La Liga, travel to Real Mallorca on Sunday.
Several other Spanish clubs, including Cadiz, Real Sociedad and RCD Mallorca, have reported Covid cases but no match has yet been postponed.
Under Liga protocols, a club must have at least 13 players, at least five of them first-teamers and one a goalkeeper, available to play a match.
Vaccinated players can return as soon as they test negative.
This puts Sunday’s match between Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano at risk because the latter team has up to 17 infected players, according to press reports, making it the hardest-hit squad in the first division.
Spain on Tuesday confirmed a record 99,671 new infections in the last 24 hours, bringing the 14-day infection rate to 1,360 cases per 100,000 residents, nearly twice the level from a week earlier.
Xavi Hernandez faces his first critical test as Barcelona coach with the club at risk of failing to make the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in two decades.
A goalless draw at home to Benfica last month left Barca with their destiny in their own hands, but with a much trickier final game away to Group E winners Bayern Munich.
Spanish champions Atletico Madrid have their work cut to secure one of the five unclaimed last-16 tickets after three defeats on the spin, while all four teams remain in the hunt in an unpredictable Group G.
AFP Sport looks at what’s at stake going into the final round of Champions League group games:
Ballon d’Or backlash from Bayern? Barca find themselves on the ropes ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Germany, but it could have been far worse were it not for Benfica forward Haris Seferovic’s glaring miss in stoppage time at Camp Nou.
Bayern are one of three teams with a perfect record in this season’s competition, and Robert Lewandowski’s perceived Ballon d’Or snub may give the star striker extra incentive to prove a point.
Xavi suffered his first defeat as Barca coach on Saturday against Real Betis. He rested key players with a view to the game in Munich, where victory would guarantee Barca go through as runners-up in Group E, extending their 20-year run of reaching the knockout phase.
A youthful Xavi was establishing himself as a mainstay of the midfield when Barca exited in the first group stage of the 2000-01 competition.
Failure to secure maximum points would open the door for Benfica to pip them to second place, with the Portuguese needing to beat Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon.
Three-horse race and four-way showdownPorto, AC Milan and Atletico will battle it out for the second qualification spot behind Liverpool in Group B.
Two-time former European champions Porto hold a one-point edge over both rivals ahead of the visit of Atletico. Milan host a Liverpool side that Jurgen Klopp could rotate heavily ahead of a busy festive schedule.
Last season’s Europa League winners Villarreal, beaten at home by two late Manchester United goals on matchday five, go to Atalanta knowing they will advance at the expense of the Italians if they avoid defeat in Bergamo.
Austrian champions Salzburg appeared to be coasting through after accruing seven points in three games, but back-to-back away losses mean they could still miss out.
Lille top Group G with eight points and will progress if they get a point at Wolfsburg. The Germans are last in the section but victory would send them through instead.
Salzburg can seal a knockout berth with a draw at home to Sevilla, who in turn would qualify if they win.
Already in the last-16 potEleven clubs are assured of their place in the last-16 draw on December 13, five of which have already clinched top spot.
Erik ten Hag’s impressive Ajax will attempt to complete a perfect group stage for the first time in club history at home to Sporting, certain of second above Borussia Dortmund irrespective of Tuesday’s results.
Manchester City cannot be caught by Paris Saint-Germain in Group A, while Real Madrid have a two-point lead over Inter Milan in Group D ahead of their Bernabeu showdown.
Holders Chelsea, who go to Zenit Saint Petersburg for their final Group H game, will nail down top spot if they match Juventus’ result at home to Swedish outfit Malmo.
Ralf Rangnick made a winning start to his spell as United’s interim manager and is safe in the knowledge his team will move on as winners of Group F come what may against Switzerland’s Young Boys.
Europa League consolationAll third-placed clubs will drop into the Europa League, but a revised format now sees them face the group runner-ups from the second-tier tournament in a play-off round before the last 16.
Sheriff Tiraspol, losers of three straight games after shocking Real in September, will continue their European adventure in the Europa League, as will Dortmund and Zenit.
RB Leipzig look favourites to finish third behind City and PSG despite parting ways with coach Jesse Marsch. The Germans are level on points with Club Brugge but have the head-to-head advantage prior to their home game with Pep Guardiola’s side.
Barcelona’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League last 16 go down to the final Group E matchday after an entertaining 0-0 draw against Benfica on Tuesday.
With Xavi Hernandez taking charge of his second game since replacing Ronald Koeman in the Barca dugout, the Catalan side produced a performance a world apart from the sorry outfit Benfica saw off 3-0 in Lisbon in September.
A win would have earned Barca qualification alongside Bayern Munich, whom they must now beat on December 8, if Benfica down Dynamo Kiev, to progress.
Ronald Araujo, the Barcelona defender who had a late effort disallowed, told uefa.com: “We played exactly the game the boss asked us to, pressing high up the pitch in particular. All we lacked was the crucial goal.”
In torrential rain, the Xavi-invigorated hosts were dripping with newfound intensity and pace.
Barcelona threw away a three-goal half-time lead on the day Xavi Hernandez was appointed coach as Celta Vigo scored in the 96th minute to complete a stunning comeback in La Liga on Saturday.
Another deflating result for Barca was made worse by another injury for Ansu Fati, who gave his team an early lead and then had go off with a hamstring problem.
Goals from Sergio Busquets and Memphis Depay had Barcelona 3-0 in front after 34 minutes but Celta came back, Iago Aspas scoring twice either side of one from Nolito to seal a 3-3 draw.
Aspas’ equaliser, with a brilliant shot from the edge of the area, came with 95 minutes and 34 seconds on the clock and left the Barcelona players crumpled on the floor.
It is now Xavi’s job to pick them up, with the team’s new coach watching from Barcelona, where he had landed around three hours before kick-off.
The 41-year-old had flown from Doha following confirmation of his sensational return to the club in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Barcelona’s chaotic defending and inability to manage a game when they looked in charge, will have come as little surprise to Xavi but Fati’s hamstring injury will be a concern, especially with a crunch Champions League game against Benfica to come on November 23, shortly after the international break.
Eric Garcia was also forced off with a calf strain while Nico Gonzalez appeared to be in discomfort when he was substituted before the hour.
Fati’s absence for any length of time would be a blow for Barca, and also for Spain, who will be without the 19-year-old for crucial World Cup qualifiers against Greece and Sweden next week.
It all started so well for Fati and Barca, who took the lead in the fifth minute with a goal out of nothing, Fati drifted in from the left and squared up Celta right-back Hugo Mallo.
Fati shaped to go left towards the line and then came back onto his right, bending a shot into the far corner.
Three minutes later it was two. Nico bustled down the left and picked out Busquets, who shifted across the edge of the penalty area and planted a shot inside the post.
When Depay headed in Jordi Alba’s cross at the near post, Barcelona looked home and dry but then Fati dropped to the ground and Garcia was replaced at half-time by Ronald Araujo.
Celta were transformed after the break, with Thiago Galhardo finding the net after an Aspas ball through, only to be ruled offside, before Aspas did pull one back moments later.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen should have held Franco Cervi’s cross and after he spilled it, Araujo should have cleared. Instead he scooped the ball straight to Aspas, who finished.
Again, Celta had a goal ruled out as Nolito was adjudged to have controlled with his hand before cushioning a shot into the corner but again, Celta were undeterred.
When Busquets was dispossessed, Cervi crossed and Nolito headed in.
Celta had 16 minutes to find an equaliser and then five minutes of injury-time, but it was in the sixth when Aspas finally struck.
Javier Galan teed him up from the left but Aspas still had a lot to do, wrapping his left foot around the ball to whip it right, past the hand of Ter Stegen and in.
Barcelona begin life without Ronald Koeman against Alaves on Saturday as they look to close the gap on La Liga’s top four and restore confidence ahead of a Champions League trip to Dynamo Kiev.
Barca B coach Sergi Barjuan will be in charge at Camp Nou after Koeman’s sacking was confirmed on Wednesday night following a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano at Vallecas.
Xavi Hernandez is reportedly close to being appointed as Koeman’s replacement but the return of the club’s legendary midfielder is not expected to come before the weekend.
There should be a buzz of excitement nonetheless, with the prospect of Xavi coming back to the club he joined as an 11-year-old and left in 2015 enough to stir the players and fans.
Barjuan oversaw training on Thursday afternoon, when Barcelona president Joan Laporta also addressed the squad, explaining the decision to dismiss Koeman and emphasising the onus is now on them to spark a revival.
“We’re all in the same boat here,” Sergio Busquets said on Wednesday night. “It’s everyone’s fault. For good and bad, we’re a team and we have to show it on the pitch.”
Two wins in seven league games have left Barca languishing in ninth, six points adrift of Real Betis in fourth.
The increasingly real possibility of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League was likely a key factor in Koeman’s removal.
Finishing in the top four will be the top priority for Koeman’s replacement but the other immediate objective will be to reach the Champions League knock-out stage this season after consecutive 3-0 losses to Bayern Munich and Benfica left the team on the brink of an early exit.
Beating Dynamo 1-0 last week has given Barca hope but they will need another victory in Kiev on Tuesday against the bottom team in Group B to have any realistic chance of overhauling Benfica.
Frenkie de Jong, Ronald Araujo, and Pedri are all doubtful to face Alaves, who have enjoyed an upturn in form after two consecutive wins over Cadiz and Elche.
Ansu Fati could return after missing the defeat by Rayo, with Sergio Aguero set to continue upfront.
Real Madrid’s goalless draw at home to Osasuna on Wednesday was overshadowed by Koeman’s exit but Carlo Ancelotti’s team missed the chance to go two points clear at the top of the table.
“You might think I’m crazy but I liked the way we played,” said Ancelotti after being held by Osasuna.
“The first half, not so much, but in the second half, much better. I have nothing to criticise my players for.”
Instead, Madrid are three points behind Real Sociedad, who have lost only one of their opening 11 games. They host Basque rivals Athletic Club on Sunday.
Sevilla and Betis in third and fourth face each other next weekend in a much-anticipated Seville derby that for once should have a bearing on the top of the table.
Before then, Sevilla are at home to Osasuna and Betis play away at Atletico Madrid, who are five points off the top after being held to a 2-2 draw on Thursday by Levante.
Atleti face Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Elche v Real Madrid (1200), Sevilla v Osasuna (1415), Valencia v Villarreal (1630), Barcelona v Alaves (1900)
Cadiz v Mallorca (1200), Atletico Madrid v Real Betis (1415), Getafe v Espanyol (1630), Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao (1900)
Rayo Vallecano v Celta Vigo (1630), Levante v Granada (1900)
Solskjaer Fights For Man Utd Job As Top Three Flex Muscles
Lionel Messi will again be sidelined for Paris Saint-Germain for Saturday’s game against Montpellier as he continues to nurse a knee injury, his club said.
PSG said Messi had started running again and that a new update would come on Sunday, raising hope that he will be able to return for the Champions League clash against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Tuesday.
“Hopefully everything will be ok and he will be back with us,” coach Mauricio Pochettino said at a press conference.
“We hope he can be there. We need to be cautious and see how things evolve in the coming days.”
Messi was taken off in the 76th minute of last weekend’s 2-1 win over Lyon in Ligue 1.
It only emerged later that he was suffering from a knock to a knee and he played no part in Wednesday’s 2-1 league win at Metz.
Messi has made just three appearances for his new club since arriving from Barcelona in early August, and has completed 90 minutes just once, at Club Brugge in the Champions League.
PSG are looking to make it eight wins out of eight in Ligue 1 this season when they play Montpellier, with Pochettino insisting that is his focus, not the rematch with a City side who knocked them out of the Champions League in the semi-finals last season.
“The important thing is the Montpellier game, trying to win and improve in the aspects we need to improve. Manchester City doesn’t influence it,” said the Argentine.
“We want to keep our run of results going, although of course it can help us prepare for the game on Tuesday.”
Marco Verratti and Sergio Ramos, the close-season signing from Real Madrid, are also still on the sidelines.
Lionel Messi soared past Luis Suarez to become La Liga’s top scorer on Wednesday by adding his 17th and 18th goals of the season in a much-needed 3-0 victory for Barcelona over Elche.
Barca had followed up last week’s crushing Champions League loss to Paris Saint-Germain by drawing at home to Cadiz on Sunday but eased the strain with a comfortable win at the Camp Nou.
Messi’s double owed much to a pair of superb assists, with a supreme dribble by Frenkie de Jong coming after a sublime flick from Martin Braithwaite, who also set up Jordi Alba to score a third.
After failing to take full advantage of league leaders Atletico Madrid’s defeat by Levante on Saturday, this victory puts Barcelona back in third, five points off the top, having played a game more than Atletico.
Just as importantly, it puts Ronald Koeman’s side back on track after two disappointing results threatened to extinguish momentum gained in recent weeks.
Even if Atletico prove too far ahead to catch, a positive performance was important, especially with a semi-final second leg to come next week against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, which may be their only chance of winning a trophy this term.
Messi’s return to top form comes as a huge boost too. The 33-year-old came off unfavourably in comparisons made with Kylian Mbappe last week but these kinds of performances show he is far from finished yet.
This was Messi’s fifth and sixth goal in his last four games while no player from the top five European leagues has scored more than his 13 this year in all competitions. Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski is closest on 12.
Francisco Trincao and Frenkie de Jong had early chances for Barcelona while Elche should have scored but Lucas Boye blazed over.
Yet a frantic opening gave way to a disjointed first half and Koeman reacted by bringing off the ineffective Miralem Pjanic at half-time and replacing him with Ousmane Dembele.
Barcelona scored within two minutes of the restart, Messi driving from midfield towards the area and rebounding off Braithwaite, whose sweeping flick behind his standing leg gave the scuttling Argentinian a simple finish.
Elche’s early threat had dissipated and Barca added two more in five minutes.
The first came from a breathtaking run from De Jong, who dribbled forward from the halfway line, past three Elche defenders, before cutting back for Messi. He glided past two more and prodded in.
Messi started the move for the third, with a familiar, curving pass to Braithwaite at the back post, whose cushioned header across found Alba unmarked in the middle.
Former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez signed on as head coach of Qatari club Al-Sadd for one more year Sunday, putting to bed rumours of an imminent move back to the Spanish side.
There had been media speculation in recent days that World Cup winner Xavi, 40, was being lined up to replace Quique Setien at Barcelona at the end of the season.
Hernandez turned down an approach in January after Barca sacked Ernesto Valverde, which led to the surprise appointment of Setien.
“I am happy to continue with Al-Sadd, and the team’s goal will always be to compete for all titles,” he said in a statement on the club’s website which added that his contract had been renewed for a second season.
“(My) complete focus in this current period is to fully equip the players for the upcoming domestic and Asian competitions.”
The relationship between Barcelona’s board, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and the players has proved tense, with Lionel Messi’s public criticism of technical secretary Eric Abidal among a number of off-field controversies.
“I am clear that I want to return to Barca, I am very excited,” Xavi said in March when asked if a change of board would be needed for it to happen.
“In the dressing room there can’t be a negative or toxic atmosphere.”
Xavi came through the Barcelona academy before breaking the record for most appearances for the senior side, winning four Champions League trophies and eight La Liga titles.
He joined Al-Sadd as a player in 2015 before being appointed coach last July.
Barcelona and Real Madrid will travel to the Clasico on Wednesday from the same hotel as part of a large-scale security operation aimed at reducing the impact of Catalan independence protests.
The fixture had to be postponed in October due to violent demonstrations and there are renewed fears of unrest breaking out around Camp Nou, where Barca and Madrid will tussle for top spot in La Liga.
Around 3,000 security personnel will be deployed at the stadium and both teams have been instructed to gather at the Hotel Princesa Sofia at midday (1100 GMT) on Wednesday, eight hours before kick-off.
The players, coaching staff and referees will then travel together to the ground around two hours ahead of the match.
It means Madrid will be in a different place to their usual base in the city while Barcelona will arrive earlier than normal for a home match.
“It is a small change, but not very significant. When we play away, we are also in a hotel. It is not a big problem,” said Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde on Tuesday.
Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane described the arrangements as “something different but the rules are the rules”.
Barcelona also issued a statement on Tuesday night to fans planning to attend the game, advising supporters to use public transport, allow plenty of time and warning of “exhaustive security checks” at entrances to the stadium.
Barca called for calm around the fixture, asking fans “to come to the game at Camp Nou on Wednesday to support the team”.
“The game between Barca and Real Madrid is a festival of football and yet it is without doubt also compatible with a civil and peaceful demonstration of opinion, given the exceptional circumstances faced in Catalonia in recent times,” the statement read.
Violent protests broke out in Catalonia in October after nine separatist leaders were sentenced to heavy prison sentences for their involvement in the independence referendum of 2017.
The Clasico was supposed to be played on October 26 but the RFEF decided to postpone “due to exceptional causes”.
Democratic Tsunami, the protest group advocating another independence referendum for Catalonia, has called publicly for its supporters to gather at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium from four hours before the 1900 GMT kick-off.
“Football has to be for everyone, all over the world,” said Valverde. “People should be able to express themselves freely tomorrow, that is what we ask, but that there is respect for everyone. I believe that is the right thing.”
Meetings have taken place between the police, clubs and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to ensure the safe arrival of the two squads and referees, as well as the nearly 100,000 fans expected to attend.
As well as the massive security presence in Barcelona, the numbers of private security staff in the stands will also be increased to reduce the threat of pitch invasions that could interrupt the game.
“The operation will ensure that the Clasico is played normally,” said the chief commissioner of the Catalan regional police Eugeni Sallent.
Democratic Tsunami hopes to transmit its message — ‘Spain, sit and talk’ — through one of the world’s most famous football matches, which has an estimated global audience of 650 million.
Barcelona have historically had a close association with Catalan nationalism, with Camp Nou routinely used as a setting for flags, banners and chants in support of the cause.
“We know we are living in a complex social and political situation but I am convinced that it is compatible with playing a football match,” said the club’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu last week.
Barcelona could also suffer the consequences of any altercations or interruptions during the fixture.
At a meeting in Madrid last week, the RFEF warned it “will apply the regulations in force,” which range from heavy economic sanctions to the closure of Camp Nou to supporters.
Barcelona expect to record revenues of more than one billion euros for the 2019-2020 season, becoming the first football club to pass the mark, the Catalan club announced on Thursday.
According to figures released ahead of the general meeting of their “socios” (supporters, shareholders) scheduled for October 6, Barca expect a revenue of 1.047 billion euros ($1.16 billion) in the fiscal campaign just started, which is six percent more than last season when the club generated 990 million euros.
“It’s an historic record for a sports club, it’s better than the NBA and NFL franchises and other football clubs,” Barcelona managing director Oscar Grau told a news conference.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu had set a strategic goal of being the first outfit to reach the one billion euro mark by the end of his presidency in 2021.
Main sporting rival Real Madrid, president Florentino Perez targetted a similar goal.
In the projected budget presented by Barca, the expenses amount to 1.007 billion euros for a net profit after tax of 11 million euros.
Grau explained that “one of the club’s challenges” was to “reduce the payroll” of its professional athletes.
In 2019-2020, spending on sports salaries is expected to fall by three percent, from 525 to 507 million euros.
The club has budgeted 73 million euros to finance the remodelling of Camp Nou and its surroundings, a vast project called “Espai Barca”.
Grau, who said in 2018 he was hopeful to find a title sponsor for the project by the end of the first half of 2019, said the club was continuing its research and studying alternative forms of financing.
“We want to make a good deal, we do not want to sell, so we are looking for a financial restructuring of Espai Barca so that the project does not stop,” said Grau.
Regarding the accounts for the 2018-2019 financial year, the treasurer Enrique Tombas confirmed the figures mentioned during the summer by the club: 990 million euros of turnover, 973 million euros of expenses and a profit after tax of five million euros.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Monday that Lionel Messi could make his comeback against Borussia Dortmund as the Catalan giants launch a fresh assault on the Champions League title in Germany on Tuesday evening.
Messi, who has missed the beginning of the season with a calf injury, was named in Barcelona’s squad for Tuesday’s Champions League opener, though it remains unclear whether the Argentinian will play.
“We will decide tomorrow. For the last week we have been unsure whether he will be able to play, but he has trained two or three times and made a good impression. We will see,” said Valverde at a press conference on Monday.
The Barcelona coach refused to say whether 16-year-old Ansu Fati, who became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer earlier this month, would break another record by becoming the youngest ever Champions League debutant on Tuesday.
“If he plays, then it will not be because of the record,” said the coach.
Valverde said that his team were looking to put the past behind them after their dramatic semi-final defeat to eventual winners Liverpool in last season’s Champions League.
“If you have one bad day, you can be knocked out of this competition. We lost just one match last season, but it was a decisive match,” he said, adding that Barcelona wanted to go further this year than they had in the past two seasons.
Yet Marc Ter Stegen, Barcelona’s German keeper, who played under current Dortmund coach Lucien Favre at Borussia Moenchengladbach earlier in his career, warned that Dortmund would provide a tough first test.
“Lucien Favre is one of the best coaches I have ever worked under, and he will have thought of a way to hurt us,” said the German.
“It is always difficult to come here, and we always struggled here with ‘Gladbach, but we will try to win and get a good start to the competition.”
“It is a spectacular stadium and the supporters are always crazy, but we will try not to be influenced by that.”
Barcelona have conceded six goals in four games this season and are yet to win away from home.
“We are conceding a lot of goals at the moment, we have to accept that and try to improve,” Ter Stegen
“Some of the mistakes we are making are easy to correct.”