'I am proud to wear the 10 after Leo' – Fati

Ansu Fati has thanked Barcelona for handing him the fabled number 10 jersey he has inherited from Lionel Messi.

Barca legend Messi departed Camp Nou in the summer following the failure to agree a new deal.

Fati, who wore number 22 last season, is seen as the great hope for Barca in the post-Messi era.

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He returned from 10 months on the sidelines against Levante on Sunday, and he marked his return with a goal from the bench.

He was mobbed by his team-mates after netting the third in the 3-0 win, and was quick to praise the club’s medical staff who nursed him back from his knee injury.

“Thanks to the doctors and everyone who has been with me through all this,” Fati said. “And the fans who have been unbelievable.”

Commenting on taking on the shirt from Messi, Fati said:

I am proud to wear the 10 after Leo; happy with the club and captains for the opportunity.

Barca are in a period of transition following Messi’s exit, with coach Ronald Koeman under pressure. Despite the problems, Fati says titles are the target.

“We are Barca and we have to aim to win everything – La Liga, Champions League, all the competitions,” Fati said. “We have to fight and work for that.”

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Opinion: Fitness is no longer Hazard's biggest problem at Real Madrid

All Eden Hazard needed was fitness. That was the widespread belief for the Belgian’s first two seasons at Real Madrid, when a series of persistent injuries prevented him from fulfilling his ‘Galactico’ destiny. Signed for €100m in the summer of 2019 to be the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo, Hazard barely made it on the pitch.

Now, though, the 30-year-old is fit again having had the benefit of a full pre-season. Hazard is leaner than he has been for a number of years and has managed to keep himself out of the physio’s room so far this season. Yet the Belgian still finds himself on the Real Madrid bench.

Carlo Ancelotti has revitalised Real Madrid’s attack since taking over from Zinedine Zidane in the summer, but it is Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior who have fired Los Blancos to the top of La Liga, not Hazard. Indeed, Hazard has played only a bit-part role for the Spanish giants this season.

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The form of Benzema and Vinicius in particular has given Ancelotti no other choice. With eight goals and seven assists in just seven La Liga appearances, Benzema is currently in the form of his life, which is saying something given the key role he has played for Real Madrid over the last three seasons since the departure of Ronaldo.

Vinicius, previously criticised for his lack of final product, has added cutting edge to his game this season. Ancelotti has seemingly instructed the Brazilian to get the ball out of his feet quicker. He is taking fewer touches of the ball and this has added another dimension to his play, scoring five times in his first seven league outings.

Asensio, whose career had stagnated, has also raised his performance level, netting a hat trick in the emphatic 6-1 win over Real Mallorca last week, while Rodrygo has even found a way to contribute, scoring a crucial winner against Inter in Real Madrid’s Champions League opener at San Siro.

On top of this, Eduardo Camavinga has made an instant impact following his deadline day arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. The French teenager has rejuvenated Real Madrid’s ageing midfield core, giving his new team a stronger platform in the opposition half by pushing them 10 yards up the pitch.

All these factors have combined to squeeze Hazard out of the picture even though the Belgian started the season well. The 30-year-old contributed an assist in Real Madrid’s season opener against Alaves and hasn’t played poorly when he has made it on the pitch, but Ancelotti simply has more productive alternatives right now.

Gareth Bale of Real Madrid celebrates scoring his side’s first goal with Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santader match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium on August 22, 2021 in Valencia

Image credit: Getty Images

Concerns over Hazard’s fitness, and more specifically his ability to play back-to-back games, remain. “He has improved his condition, but we have to be careful with him,” Ancelotti recently admitted. “He has had injuries in the past and giving him two games in a row can be difficult. He is still not at the level we want, but we are confident he will return to his best condition again.”

Denied the resources to make many summer signings, Ancelotti has been hired to get more out of Real Madrid’s current squad and in Hazard the Italian coach has taken on a project. At his best, the Belgian is one of the most potent wide attackers in the game. If Ancelotti can restore Hazard’s sparkle, Real Madrid will be a better team.

Right now, though, they are a better team with Hazard starting on the bench, where he can make an impact as a substitute. Fitness is no longer the former Chelsea player’s biggest problem. Instead, Hazard must prove he is a better option for Real Madrid than his team-mates.

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Barcelona v Levante – LIVE

Follow the Liga live Football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD with Eurosport. The match starts at 16:15 on 26 September 2021.
Who will come out on top in the battle of the managers: Ronald Koeman or Paco López? Find out by following our live matchcast.

Catch the latest FC Barcelona and Levante UD news and find up to date Football standings, results, top scorers and previous winners.
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Barca ease pressure on Koeman with comfortable Levante win

Barcelona produced a fine display as they put their off-field woes behind them to beat Levante 3-0 at the Camp Nou.

The Catalans were without Ronald Koeman after he was suspended after his sending off against Cadiz but led by Memphis Depay and supported by young gems Nico Gonzalez and Gavi in midfield, it was all too easy for Barca as goals from Depay himself and his compatriot Luuk de Jong sealed the three points.

Depay would torment Jorge Miramon at right-back for Levante; supported ably by stand-in left-back Sergino Dest, with the American a constant threat on the overlap with his directness and willingness to adapt to the attacking scenario and underlap onto his stronger right foot when needed.

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It would be the case for Barca’s opener on six minutes – Dest the decoy over-lapper, Depay cutting infield, weaving inside with wonderful footwork, felled for a penalty which he aptly converted.

Dest would turn provider for the second just eight minutes later, exploiting the space left infield by the visiting midfield block, and the former Ajax man had the awareness to drive onwards, before sliding a great ball through for de Jong to finish with aplomb.

Aitor Fernandez was on hot form for Paco Lopez’s side, who found their goal peppered heavily by shot volume – predominantly from Depay – but Barcelona would continue to batter on the door in search of a third as Levante looked dead and buried from the offset.

Ansu Fati made his long-anticipated return off the substitutes’ bench with 10 minutes to go, with a rousing ovation from the Camp Nou crowd, and he wrote himself back into the headlines after a very difficult 10 months out with a fantastic finish late on to make it 3-0.

Barcelona proved that, despite being ravaged by injuries, their shoestring squad will still mean business this season.

TALKING POINT – BARCA BRILLIANT

In a game where one could have looked at the teamsheet and thought at most of the names, ‘who?’, it was quite a scintillating performance.

The youngsters fielded by the home side today were exceptional: namely Nico and Gavi in midfield, who look just as senior as Sergio Busquets in the engine room.

Gavi was adventurous in his passing and his ball carrying, while Nico sat beside his captain and did the dirty work, putting a solid shift in as his 17-year old team-mate supported Philippe Coutinho ably down the right, allowing the Brazilian to move more centrally to impact the game.

Gavi would show his own skills – a couple of mesmerising runs found him clean through – but both times he was thwarted by Fernandez.

On this performance from Gavi and Nico alone, La Masia is far from empty when it comes to young starlets.

MAN OF THE MATCH – MEMPHIS DEPAY

Gavi was good, Depay was electric.

In the first half, nearly everything Barcelona created went through their flying Dutchman, as he tormented not just Miramon, but Shkodran Mustafi as well down the Levante right,

He was, as aforementioned, supported well by Dest on the overlap, but it was Depay’s directness, willingness to come deep as well as get in behind, that made it a complete performance from a man who hadn’t been playing with much confidence in recent weeks, but today will certainly lay down a marker for the next weeks ahead.

Barcelona FC

Image credit: Getty Images

PLAYER RATINGS

Barcelona: ter Stegen 6, Mingueza 6, Pique 6, Garcia 6, Dest 8, Busquets 6, Nico 7, Gavi 8. Depay 9, de Jong 7, Coutinho 7, Puig 7, Araujo 6, Fati 7, Demir 6.

Levante: Fernandez 8, Miramon 5, Mustafi 6, Postigo 6, Clerc 5, de Frutos 5, Radoja 5, Pepelu 5, Melero 5, Gomez 5, Marti 5, Morales 5, Martinez 5, Cantero 5, Vukcevic 5, Rober 5.

KEY MOMENTS

5′: PENALTY! Memphis Depay continues Barca’s bright start. Excellent trickery down the left channel from the Dutchman, weaving his way into the box, before being clipped.

6′: GOAL!!! Depay dusts himself down, and takes the kick… scoring with aplomb. Aitor Fernandez goes the wrong way, 1-0.

14′: GOALLLL!!! Another fine move from Barcelona. It started deep, moving it quickly and through the lines of Levante; Dest drove down the left-hand side, driving inside, before finding Luuk de Jong, who had evaded the attentions of Sergio Postigo, before firing past Aitor Fernandez. 2-0.

22′: Depay over this next corner for Barca, short to Coutinho… his cross is deflected towards Pique!! How’s he not scored at the back post?? What a miss!

90′: GOAL!!! It’s him! After so long! Ansu Fati is back with a goal. What an emotional moment, what a finish. No chance for Aitor. 3-0.

KEY STAT

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Real Madrid v Villarreal – LIVE

Follow the Liga live Football match between Real Madrid and Villarreal CF with Eurosport. The match starts at 21:00 on 25 September 2021.

Catch the latest Real Madrid and Villarreal CF news and find up to date Football standings, results, top scorers and previous winners.
Football fans can find the latest Football news, interviews, expert commentary and watch free replays. See detailed profiles for Real Madrid and Villarreal CF. Catch all the upcoming competitions. Make Eurosport your go-to source for sports online from Football to cycling, F1, winter sports and more. Enjoy live streaming of this season’s top sports competitions.

Real remain top of the table despite Villarreal stalemate

Real Madrid missed the chance to go five points clear at the top of La Liga as they were held to a goalless draw at home by Unai Emery’s Villarreal.

Atletico Madrid’s shock defeat to Alaves earlier in the day presented Carlo Ancelotti’s team with the opportunity to extend their advantage over their rivals, but they could only claim a draw to move three points ahead.

Villarreal dictated much of the first half as Real Madrid struggled to get hold of possession. Paco Alcacer could have opened the scoring, but was thwarted by Thibaut Cortois who was called upon more than once in the opening period.

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Eduardo Camavinga was introduced at the break to change the match for the home side and there was improvement in Real Madrid’s play, but Villarreal still carried a goal threat on the counter attack.

Carlo Ancelotti also substituted Eden Hazard and Isco on as Real Madrid looked for a way through.

However, it was the two goalkeepers – Thibaut Courtoius and Geronimo Rulli – who shone brightest as the two sides settled for a point apiece.

More to follow…

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Opinion: Barcelona mustn't count on Ansu to turn around their season

Lionel Messi’s number 10 shirt was still warm when Barcelona, reeling from the shock departure of their greatest ever player, handed it to Ansu Fati. The symbolism was clear. Having suffered the indignity of Messi leaving, the Catalans were eager to highlight how the future remains bright. There is no brighter teenage talent at the Camp Nou than Ansu.

The pressure on the 18-year-old to fill the void left behind by Messi could barely be any greater. Back in the Barca squad for the first time since last November when he suffered a serious injury, Ansu must give his team the attacking spark they have desperately lacked over the first two months of the season.

Without Messi to dictate things, Ronald Koeman’s side have been lifeless of late. They were fortunate to snatch a point at home to Granada last weekend and failed to find a way through against Cadiz on Thursday night. Memphis Depay looks the part as a Barcelona player, but the Dutch forward can’t be expected to do it all on his own.

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This is where Barca hope Ansu will change the dynamic of their attacking play. With the teenager deployed on the left wing, where he is most effective, Koeman will surely use Memphis through the middle as a centre forward with the freedom to drift. This should give Barcelona better balance.

Most crucially, a fully fit Ansu will give Barca some vertical threat. They have struggled to get in behind in almost every match they have played this season and so Ansu’s pace and direct running could be an antidote to this. Koeman doesn’t just need the teenager for his inherent goal threat and creativity, but to stretch the pitch to open up space for others.

Ansu has scored 13 goals and registered five assists in just 41 appearances for Barcelona, making him the club’s most dependable attacking threat. Memphis is capable of brilliance, but he can be inconsistent. Martin Braithwaite is useful as a facilitator, but doesn’t offer much cutting edge – plus, he’s currently injured. Meanwhile, Luuk de Jong is still struggling to justify his deadline day transfer to the Camp Nou.

Barcelona fans are entitled to be excited about the return of Ansu. Not since Messi himself cane though has the Catalan club produced such an accomplished attacking talent. Most young players are incomplete in their qualities, but Ansu has everything – he can dribble, pass, shoot and most impressively, almost appears to know what to do and when to do it. His decision-making is always sharp.

But it is unfair for Barca to demand Ansu turn around their season almost single-handedly. They must be careful not to crush the 18-year-old by heaping too much responsibility on his young shoulders. It is more important that Barcelona look after the long-term development of their best homegrown talent in a generation.

Indeed, it would be better for Barcelona to suffer a dismal 2021/22 campaign while safeguarding the future of their best young players, of which Ansu certainly is one, than run those young players into the ground in the name of short-term salvation. Now is the time for level heads.

Desperation could see Koeman pick Ansu from the start for Sunday’s La Liga fixture at home to Levante. Anything less than a victory might push Barcelona into making a managerial change with Koeman already low on support. The Dutchman’s job could depend on Ansu hitting the ground running.

Anointed Messi’s successor through the symbolism of being handed his former mentor’s shirt, Ansu has the potential to alter the landscape for Barcelona. A lesser player would crumble under the pressure, but the Catalan club are counting on Ansu handling all they are about to ask of him.

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Alaves v Atletico Madrid – LIVE

Follow the Liga live Football match between Deportivo Alavés and Atlético Madrid with Eurosport. The match starts at 14:00 on 25 September 2021.
Who will come out on top in the battle of the managers: Javier Calleja or Diego Simeone? Find out by following our live matchcast.

Catch the latest Deportivo Alavés and Atlético Madrid news and find up to date Football standings, results, top scorers and previous winners.
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Atleti’s luck runs out as Alaves pick up first win of season

La Liga strugglers Alaves condemned reigning champions Atletico Madrid to their first loss of the season with a 1-0 win at home on Saturday afternoon.

The result also marked Alaves’ first win of the season after going into this game rock bottom of the table with only one goal in their run of five losses prior.

The goal coming in the fourth minute took Atleti completely by surprise, as Ruben Duarte’s corner towards the far post was headed home by captain Victor Laguardia, who made a late run into the box before putting the Basque side a goal ahead.

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TALKING POINT

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Opinion: Koeman is only making things worse for hopeless Barca

While Barcelona’s results this season have been poor, they haven’t best illustrated the demise of a club struggling to see the way forward. Draws against Granada and Cadiz have left the Catalans slumped in seventh place in the La Liga table after five fixtures, but these are two teams Barca lost to last season. Instead, it is the manner of the performances produced that have Ronald Koeman fighting for his job.

Against Cadiz on Thursday night, just as was the case against Granada on Monday, Barcelona were lifeless. They mustered just two shots on target and never really looked like scoring. Their attack was toothless and creative edge dulled. Of the Barca players who started only Yusuf Demir, who was withdrawn at half time, had fewer touches of the ball than centre forward Luuk de Jong.

For a club that has long provided a platform for some of the game’s most devastating attackers, this is a sorry state of affairs. It is therefore unsurprising that Koeman is under intense pressure, with recent reports speculating Roberto Martinez could replace the Dutchman if a managerial change is made. Among the Barca fanbase and the Catalan commentariat, support for Koeman is dwindling.

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Much has been made of Barcelona’s off-the-pitch problems in recent months, with their perilous financial situation threatening the very existence of the club. These troubles are now manifesting in the performances being produced on the pitch. With Lionel Messi gone, Barca’s fundamental structural problems as a team are being brutally exposed.

Not for nearly 20 years have Barca been in such bad shape on the pitch. The Catalans have finished in La Liga’s top three for each of the last 18 seasons, but this Barcelona team might struggle to merely keep their spot in the top four this season. There is certainly nothing in the start Koeman’s side have made to the campaign to suggest they will match Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

In the early 2000s, Barca experienced a painful generational transition that saw them finish a lowly sixth in the 2002/03 season. This current transition, however, is on another scale. Not only have Barcelona lost their greatest ever player, they have lost the identity that distinguished them from every other team.

Koeman has been dealt a difficult hand, but his lack of ambition has sedated a team that should still be capable of much better. The Dutchman has more than once refuted the suggestion that Barcelona could challenge for the Spanish title this season and this has led to a certain directionless in the dressing room.

Barca are currently playing without a purpose. Standards have dropped not just as a result of the players that have left the club, but in the way Koeman is seemingly willing to accept mediocrity. Several young players have been brought through, improving Barcelona’s chances of long-term recovery, but Koeman isn’t doing nearly enough to forge them into a winning team.

The high-press that once made Barcelona the most difficult opposition team to play against has completely gone. At times, Koeman’s side are passive in the way they allow teams to play their own game – see how Bayern Munich completely dictated things at the Camp Nou only last week. Barca are no longer proactive. Instead, they are reactive.

Cadiz found it far too easy to sit deep and prevent Barcelona from getting in behind. Illustrating this, it took until stoppage time of the first half for a Barca player to be called offside. There is no width to their play and no passing patterns either. The return of Ansu Fati and Pedri from injury might help in both regards, but the Camp Nou club should be beyond relying on two teenagers to bail them out.

There might be bigger issues dragging Barcelona down, ones that will take years to resolve, but replacing Koeman might at least give the club a chance to instil some principles for the future. Of course, this would depend on finding the right man to take over, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Dutchman is the wrong man to be in charge. He is not helping things.

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