Ronald Koeman had Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati on his mind ahead of Sunday's clash with Valencia as the under-pressure Barcelona boss seeks the wins he admits his team urgently need.

Former Manchester City striker Aguero – the Premier League champions' record scorer – has yet to play a competitive game for Barcelona since joining in the close season, due to a calf injury.

The Argentinian was in Koeman's thoughts, however, ahead of the clash with Valencia at Camp Nou, while Fati appears ready to make his first start of the season.

It remains to be seen whether that comes on Sunday or in the Champions League game with Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, or even in the Clasico against Real Madrid next weekend.

Three home games in eight days for Barcelona could go a long way to determining whether Koeman has a future at Camp Nou, with a Champions League defeat to Benfica and a LaLiga loss to Atletico Madrid before the international break having ramped up pressure on the Dutchman's position.

Assessing Aguero, Koeman said on Saturday: "He has improved a lot lately. He played 20, 25 minutes in Wednesday's [practice] game and it is going well.

"But he lacks the rhythm of the games and a certain physique. He will get that with games. There is a possibility that he will be on the squad list. His quality is not questioned, he can give a lot to this team. Especially up front."

Barcelona have taken 12 points from their opening seven games in LaLiga, meaning they have ground to make up already on the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico and Real Sociedad, who each stood on 17 points from eight games coming into this weekend, albeit Koeman's men have a game in hand.

Teenage forward Fati is being eased back into the first team after his long-term knee injury absence, with Koeman determined not to rush the young Spain international, while at the same time aware his qualities could be hugely helpful to this Barcelona team.

The shot conversion rate by Barcelona in LaLiga so far this season is 13.6 per cent, their lowest in a single campaign in the top flight since 2007-08 (13.5 per cent).

 

"Every day he is doing better because he has been away for a long time," Koeman said of Fati. "You have to think with Ansu that there are three games this week and he cannot play the entire three games. We must decide what is best for him and the team."

Koeman was backed by president Joan Laporta before the Atletico game, but he needs results and knows it.

"I always try to be calm, which isn't easy," Koeman said. "The important thing is to put your energy where you have an influence. Winning games and points is what counts."

The former Ajax and Everton boss will hope Barcelona's reasonably strong recent record against Valencia can continue. They have just lost one of their past 10 LaLiga games against Valencia (W5 D4), a 2-0 setback in January 2020 under Quique Setien.

A flurry of goals would seem likely, given the recent history of this fixture. Valencia are the away team with the most goals at Camp Nou in LaLiga since 2013-14, netting a remarkable 14 goals in eight games and scoring at least twice in six of those.

Koeman would presumably take a win by any means, whether a scrappy 1-0 or a dramatic and high-scoring affair. A defeat is almost unthinkable, given it would be a third straight loss for the Blaugrana.

Asked about his position and the pressures that come with it, Koeman said: "I am used to it. Don't worry, in a big club there are always things with the coach. Last year they also talked about the coach.

"The president has defended me and supported me. Things are fine as they are, in spite of the fact that every coach has to win games to continue."

Ansu Fati was the subject of a rejected €150million bid from an unnamed Premier League club that would have helped solve Barcelona's financial woes, former president Josep Maria Bartomeu has claimed.

The money worries at the troubled LaLiga giants have been laid bare over the past year, with the club having seen huge streams of revenue lost amid the coronavirus pandemic.

It was the money crisis that ultimately led to Los Cules legend Lionel Messi departing on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, while several other big earners agreed to take a pay cut to help alleviate the cash-flow issues.

Bartomeu stepped down in October 2020 following a vote of no confidence, while it has been reported Barca's debts are at the €1.35billion mark.

The ex-president insists there was never any risk of the club dissolving and said teenage superstar Fati attracted interest that could have helped balance the books, but Bartomeu said the decision was taken to find alternative ways of redressing Barca's economic situation.

"No, never [was there a risk], it's fine as an alarmist message. Barca is a sports club and also in the case of the pandemic, the Royal Decree says that the losses due to COVID will never be losses that allow the dissolution of the club, which has assets of players, patrimonial, digital and has a low but high balance sheet value at the market level," he told Mundo Deportivo.

"That is why it is impossible that it is at risk of dissolution. In the summer of 2020 we had a very good offer for Ansu who would have settled the accounts that year and we prefer to bet on the sports project than not to fix the economic issue.

"We knew that when we reopened the Camp Nou to 100 per cent, in a short time we would recover the level of income."

It was reported in November of last year that Manchester United were the team to make a bumper bid for Fati, although that was never officially confirmed.

Asked to elaborate on the Fati offer, Bartomeu explained that had the pandemic never occurred, Barca would not have been in such a precarious financial position.

"It [the Fati bid] was from an English club. It would have been a direct benefit for the year 20-21, but at Barca the sports project prevails and the economy continues," he added.

"Until March 2020 we could afford the amounts that had been agreed. They are very high contracts, which are important because we are the most valuable club in the world.

"A few months ago, Forbes said it that way for the first time in 122 years of history. It is news of satisfaction. That in 2020, in the year of a pandemic, that we are number one in the world, contrasts with the mismanagement message since external organisations, such as LaLiga or Forbes, say so.

"The club has also been declared the best football club of the last decade. This allows you to have a solid base to continue progressing."

Late last month, Fati made a long-awaited return from a meniscus injury sustained in November 2020 that saw him require surgery on three occasions.

Ansu Fati says Barcelona are aiming to triumph in LaLiga and the Champions League this season after making a goalscoring return to action against Levante on Sunday.

Fati, on as a late substitute, put the icing on the cake in his comeback following 10 months out with a knee injury, finishing superbly in stoppage time as Barca ended a run of three games without victory.

Luuk de Jong had earlier doubled Barca's lead in his fourth appearance for the club following his move from Sevilla after his Netherlands team-mate Memphis Depay opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

It was the first time since March 2009 that two different Dutch players had scored in the same LaLiga game, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar last doing so for Real Madrid against Athletic Bilbao.

It has been a difficult start to the season for Barca following the shock departure of club icon Lionel Messi, with coach Ronald Koeman's position the subject of intense scrutiny.

Fati, though, is expecting big things from the Catalan giants this season.

"We are Barca, we are going for LaLiga and the Champions League and all the competitions we are in," he told Movistar.

"All the teams want to win everything, but we are Barca and we have to fight for it."

Fati only returned to training last month after undergoing three operations following his knee injury in November 2020.

Despite inheriting Messi's number 10 shirt in that period, Fati says he feels no pressure following in the Argentinian's footsteps.

"I am proud to be able to wear it after Leo," he added. "I want to thank the club and the captains for giving me the opportunity to wear it.

"It is not a pressure but I am grateful for wearing this number that has given a lot to this club."

Barca's assistant coach Alfred Schreuder oversaw matters on the pitch on Sunday with Koeman suspended from the touchline, and the Dutchman was delighted with the reception afforded to Fati by the Camp Nou faithful.

"The reaction of the stadium was evident, we know that he is a player who generates chances out of nowhere," he said. 

"We knew he could play for 15 minutes and this is the first step. We know that he is an excellent player, but also that he has been absent for a long time."

Barca are next in action against Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Ansu Fati marked his return with a brilliant late goal and Luuk de Jong opened his Barcelona account in a 3-0 LaLiga defeat of Levante.

Luuk de Jong doubled Barca's lead in his fourth appearance for the club following his move from Sevilla after his Netherlands team-mate Memphis Depay opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

An inspired performance from Aitor Fernandez prevented Barca from significantly boosting their goal difference as they totally dominated the game, with under-pressure boss Ronald Koeman watching on from the stands as he serves a two-match ban.

Fati, on as a late substitute, put the icing on the cake in his comeback following 10 months out with a knee injury, finishing superbly in stoppage time as Barca ended a run of three games without victory.

Depay sent Fernandez the wrong way from the spot just six minutes in, having produced great trickery to beat two defenders before being upended by Nemanja Radoja.

De Jong opened his Barca account eight minutes later, finishing clinically with his right foot after Sergino Dest had slipped him in.

Gerard Pique somehow failed to add a third from point-blank range and Gavi was unable to lob an advancing Fernandez, who showed great reflexes to tip the lively Depay's header over the crossbar.

Levante were unable to contain Depay and Fernandez diverted his right-footed drive around the post after some shambolic defending.

Teenager Nico Gonzalez, making his first Barca start, flashed a venomous long-range drive wide and Fernandez thwarted Depay yet again.

Sergio Postigo almost turned the impressive Gavi's cross into his own net before Fati was given a great ovation when he came off the bench with 10 minutes to go.

The 18-year-old looked like he had never been away as he spun away from a defender then beat another before finding the back of the net with a right-footed shot from outside the area.

Ronald Koeman called for caution over Ansu Fati's return to action after the youngster was included in Barcelona's squad for the first time in 10 months.

Fati has not played for Barca in 322 days, after he suffered a serious knee injury in November 2020.

The 18-year-old, who has taken the number 10 shirt vacated by Lionel Messi, has undergone three operations and only returned to training last month.

However, Fati has been called into Barca's 20-man squad for Sunday's home game against Levante, a team he has scored two goals against in two matches. He has only netted more times against Villarreal (three) in LaLiga.

Fati became the youngest goalscorer in Barcelona's history when he netted against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days and has since added a further 12 goals to his tally, but Koeman says the Spain international will need more time to recover full fitness.

"It's really important to have Fati back, for himself because he has been out injured for many months," Koeman told a news conference.

"We have a plan to recover him, to get him in his best shape, so he will have to get minutes little by little and the plan is that he will play around 15 minutes maximum [on Sunday].

"There is a long way to go before he is as sharp as he has been. He does not recover in two games or in two weeks. We have to help him. The most important thing is that he recovers.

"It depends on his state. We are talking about a young man who will give us a lot of quality, but little by little."

Koeman's future at Barcelona is far from certain. His position seems a precarious one, given president Joan Laporta is reportedly searching out replacements, with Belgium coach Roberto Martinez a rumoured target.

Barca have been held to draws by Granada and Cadiz in the last two games, with Koeman seeing red in the latter match.

"I have to learn from this. Be calmer. Think about the team and the game," Koeman said. "I am also human and there are moments in games where it is difficult to accept decisions."

As for his future, Koeman said: "I can't say much about this issue because I haven't been reading the press for a long time.

"I know the rumours out there, but all we have to do is win games. There are rumours, names. I'm not going to waste energy on things I can't control.

"The president can speak, he is the most important man at the club. I have no problem. I am involved in my job, I have to win games. The rest does not interest me."

Koeman also explained he believes he has the backing of the dressing room.

"Every player and every coach wants to win titles and games," he said.

"There are no differences on this issue because I have spoken with them. In general, the players agree. That is the important thing. In that sense, there are no differences of opinions between them and me."

Ansu Fati is back in the Barcelona squad after spending 10 months out of action due to a knee injury.

The 18-year-old has been included in Ronald Koeman's 20-man group for the LaLiga game at home to Levante on Sunday.

Fati has not played for the Catalans in 322 days, having torn the meniscus in his left knee during a 5-2 win over Real Betis last November.

The winger, who underwent three operations, only returned to training in August.

Sunday's game at Camp Nou will offer Fati the chance to make his first competitive appearance since inheriting the number 10 shirt from Lionel Messi, who left the club at the end of his contract before signing for Paris Saint-Germain ahead of this season.

Fati has scored two goals in his two matches against Levante in LaLiga, only netting more against Villarreal (three) in the competition.

He became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, whom he joined at the age of 10.

The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.

Barca's 0-0 draw with Cadiz on Thursday piled further pressure on head coach Ronald Koeman, with president Joan Laporta reportedly keen to appoint Belgium boss Roberto Martinez in his place.

The Catalans have won two and drawn three of their opening five league matches of 2021-22 and are already seven points behind leaders Real Madrid, albeit with a game in hand.

Alexandre Lacazette's future at Arsenal is uncertain and a move to Italy may beckon.

The French forward was said to have been a player Arsenal would have considered allowing to leave at the right price during the recent transfer window.

Lacazette has only managed two substitute appearances for the Gunners in the league this season.

TOP STORY - JUVENTUS PLOT MOVE FOR GUNNER

Juventus are considering a move to sign Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette, claims Calciomercato.

Lacazette is due to become a free agent at the end of next June and it remains to be seen whether he renews, yet the Turin club may move for him in January.

Juventus' slow start to the new season may play a part in their decision-making on when to pursue his signature.

ROUND-UP

- Bruno Fernandes will be rewarded with a bumper new Manchester United contract worth £250,000 per week, claims The Sun. The deal could be announced in the next few days, representing a £100,000 pay raise on his current deal that runs until 2025.

- Chelsea will reportedly consider selling Antonio Rudiger, who has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. Any Rudiger sale would raise funds to land Sevilla star Jules Kounde, according to Football365.

- Ansu Fati is committed to remaining with Barcelona despite the club's financial issues, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Borussia Dortmund teenager Jude Bellingham is attracting plenty of interest.

The 18-year-old England international's price is valued at around £80 million (€94m).

Bellingham made 46 appearances for Dortmund last season and already has eight England caps.

 

TOP STORY – CITY PLACE BELLINGHAM ON WISH LIST

Manchester City have turned their attention to Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, claims the Daily Star.

City have placed the 18-year-old England international on their wish list, as they look for a long-term replacement for veteran Fernandinho.

Pep Guardiola's side will join the queue alongside Liverpool, Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

ROUND-UP

- Dortmund's Erling Haaland will not rush into a decision on his club future when a release clause of approximately £70m (€81m) takes effect in 2022 amid interest from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City,  claims 90min.

- Man City will rival Manchester United and look to complete a deal for West Ham midfielder Declan Rice in 2022, reports The Sun. Rice is valued at £100m by the Hammers.

- The Daily Mail claims Alexandre Lacazette's future at Arsenal is in some doubt after the club reportedly tried to replace him during the recent transfer window.

- Free agent Dani Alves has been heavily linked with a move to Argentine giants Boca Juniors,  according to Marca.

- Barcelona have already tabled a contract extension offer to 18-year-old talent Ansu Fati,  reports Mundo Deportivo.

Ansu Fati will take over the famed number 10 shirt at Barcelona that has been vacated since Lionel Messi's move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi's 21-year association with Barcelona came to an end in August when joining PSG on a free transfer after a new deal at Camp Nou could not be agreed.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner had worn the 10 jersey since Ronaldinho's departure in 2008 and has become synonymous with the shirt, which was also sported by Rivaldo and Romario in the past.

There had been suggestions Barca would leave the number unoccupied, but it was confirmed on Wednesday that fellow La Masia graduate Fati will inherit it.

Fati has been with the Catalan giants for the past nine years, the last two of those in the first team

The forward became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, who he joined at the age of 10.

The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.

Fati, who has been out since tearing the meniscus in his left knee in November 2020, is back in first-team training and could return to action after the international break.

Barcelona have to be "realistic" in the transfer market and cannot hope to match the financial power of Paris Saint-Germain or the two Manchester clubs, according to Ronald Koeman.

Hit hard by previous mismanagement and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barca are in financial turmoil with debts reaching €1.4billion earlier this month.

It resulted in the loss of talisman Lionel Messi, whose 21-year association with the Blaugrana ended in early August when Barca confirmed LaLiga restrictions meant re-signing him was an impossibility following the expiration of his contract in June. He subsequently joined PSG on a free transfer.

Barca are still looking to trim their squad to cut their wage bill. Gerard Pique was among those to take a pay reduction so the club to fall in line with salary cap rules, thus allowing them to register Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia, two of the four new arrivals this transfer window alongside full-back Emerson Royal and striker Sergio Aguero, who is out injured.

With rivals Real Madrid bidding for PSG star Kylian Mbappe, Koeman is still reportedly wanting to add to his squad before Tuesday's deadline, though he accepts Barca have to know their limits.

"Every person who wants the best for this club is frustrated but you also have to be realistic, and economically the club cannot compete with other teams like PSG, City or United," Koeman told a news conference ahead of Sunday's clash with Getafe.

"It is like that and you have to accept it. It will last for a long time, it is not a matter of ending today or tomorrow. I have always said that you have to be realistic and know the situation of the club.

"You have to know the moment of the club, that we are changing things, with young players. We are missing six or seven players who can start but we have a good team.

"I am not in favour of thinking about not winning things. We are a club that must always show a winning mentality, but at this moment we cannot fight with the best in the world.

"It does not depend on the best player in the world, it depends on the team and the mentality. We know that we lack the best in the world and we have to have other things."

Asked for his opinion on Madrid's chase of Mbappe, Koeman replied: "If Madrid have the money... I would also want to have him in my team. If you can improve your squad with these players, perfect.

"It seems crazy to me and absurd figures to pay so much money for a player seeing how the world is."

Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic are players who Barca wish to move on, but Koeman hailed the latter's attitude and application despite his situation, with both making the squad for the Getafe match.

"There are just a few days to go to release players who want to play for other teams. Pjanic is one of the players. His attitude is very good and that's why he's in the squad list," said Koeman.

One player who could bring the star quality Barca crave is Ansu Fati, who has returned to training after missing the majority of last season with a serious knee injury.

Koeman, though, insisted Barca will take it slowly when it comes to easing the teenager back into action.

"We don't have to go fast. I think Ansu still needs more time to become fit at the best level," said Koeman, who is able to welcome back Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Oscar Mingueza for Sunday's game.

"We are talking about a player who has been out injured for seven or eight months and you cannot recover your good form in three weeks, so I don't want to say one date.

"I read in the press that he would be available against Sevilla [on September 11]. I can confirm he won't be ready for that game, he needs more training sessions because we want to have Ansu for a long time and we are not going to take a single risk."

Barcelona forward Ansu Fati has returned to training with the LaLiga club's first-team squad following a lengthy lay-off through injury.

The 18-year-old missed the second half of last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee in November 2020.

Fati sustained the injury during Barcelona’s 5-2 victory over Real Betis at Camp Nou, and has subsequently undergone three operations.

However, the Spain international is closing in on a return to action after he was photographed back on the training pitches at Barcelona's Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training ground on Tuesday.

Although he will not be available for this weekend’s LaLiga showdown with Getafe, Fati could be in contention for Barcelona's trip to Sevilla on September 11.

The forward became the youngest goalscorer in Barca's history when he scored against Osasuna in August 2019 aged 16 years and 304 days.

Fati has since added a further 12 goals in 42 appearances across all competitions for the Blaugrana, who he joined at the age of 10.

The Guinea-Bissau-born youngster has been capped four times by Spain, and scored his first international goal against Ukraine in September 2020.  

Philippe Coutinho, Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti have all been left out of Barcelona's squad for the LaLiga opener against Real Sociedad.

New recruits Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia are set to make their debuts for the club on Sunday, Barca finally able to register the duo - as well as Rey Manaj - after Gerard Pique accepted a reduced salary.

All three are in a 23-man squad named by Ronald Koeman ahead of Sunday's fixture at Camp Nou, as well as another offseason signing in Emerson Royal.

However, a trio of players reportedly available for transfer will not be involved.

Brazilian Coutinho – who made just 12 league appearances before missing the season half of the 2020-21 season through injury – is a notable absentee from the list.

There is no Pjanic either, the midfielder seemingly surplus to requirements after just one season with Barcelona. He has been linked with a return to Juventus.

Defender Umtiti, meanwhile, misses out with fellow centre-back Clement Lenglet fit to feature. Frenkie de Jong has also been cleared to play, but Sergio Aguero is among those ruled out out through injury.

Koeman will also have to do without Ansu Fati, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ousmane Dembele for Barca's first competitive game since the departure of Lionel Messi, now at Paris Saint-Germain after financial restrictions prevented him from signing a new deal.

Ronald Koeman proclaimed Lionel Messi to be the "best player in the world" after it was confirmed the Barcelona legend will be leaving the club.

Messi enjoyed an outstanding career at Camp Nou, scoring 672 times in 778 appearances, but his time with the LaLiga giants ended abruptly this week due to Barca's dire financial situation.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner was expected to sign a new contract, having become a free agent on July 1, before Thursday's announcement shocked the football world.

Koeman, who managed the forward during the 2020-21 campaign, joined a host of football's big names in paying tribute to Messi.

"Still hard to understand that you will not play for [Barcelona] anymore," the head coach wrote on Instagram. "Thanks for everything you have done for our club. I really enjoyed the full season we worked together.

"I am impressed with your work ethic and desire to win. It makes you the best player in the world. For now, I wish you and your family the best!"

With Messi expected to move to Paris Saint-Germain, Koeman must prepare for life without the four-time Champions League winner.

Memphis Depay and Antoine Griezmann will have incredibly large shoes to fill in the 2021-22 campaign, while Barca players past and present used social media to praise their former team-mate.

Gerard Pique, who won the treble with Messi in his first season back at the Catalan club, posted on Instagram that "nothing will ever be the same again" following the end of an era.

"Now you are leaving, but I know that one day you will come back," the centre-back continued. "There are pending things to do. Have fun, enjoy wherever you go and keep winning as only you know how to do. Here we will miss you. I love you Leo."

Luis Suarez, formerly part of the formidable trio with Messi and Neymar, pipped Barca to the title with Atletico Madrid last term but he too revealed his admiration for the "best player ever".

"I will always be grateful for how you received me since I arrived because of what a great human being you are," Suarez wrote.

"Proud to have shared thousands of wonderful moments at [Barcelona] and to be lucky to have played with you. I sincerely hope that what happens in the future is the best for you and your family. I love you so much."

Despite only playing for two campaigns with Messi, Barca youngster Ansu Fati used his Instagram account to say farewell to his captain.

"All the boys who come to the Masia dream of being able to play with you, I feel lucky to have fulfilled it," Fati posted. "I wanted to thank you these two years for your gestures of affection towards me and for everything I learned.

"[Messi] my family and I will always be eternally grateful, I wish you and yours all the best."

Ronald Koeman believes there is something personal behind the decision to hand him a touchline ban.

Barcelona confirmed this week they are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Koeman's ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for the massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful, prompting the club to try again with TAD.

"Yes, I think it was personal," said Koeman.

"Because saying 'what a character' in Spanish or 'what a person' in English is not insulting. 

"It is not a reason to sanction. So yes, there is something else behind it.

"Better not talk about the referees because, in general, the RFEF puts one of the best referees in for these games. 

"It is hoped that he [Mateu Lahoz] gets his decisions right, but you don't have to think about the referees. You have to think about yourself and plan.

"Hopefully the decisions of the VAR are fair for us and for Atletico."

Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

"Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

"It takes a long time and there are things that have not gone well with his recovery - I don't want to go into that anymore, but five or six months is a long time.

"Now the most important thing is that he is going to recover, he is going to get well and that he will be with us. Too bad it is for next season.

"It has been important that we missed a player like him, but the most important thing is that he recovers well to continue playing."

 

Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

"I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

"I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

"They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

"We have to be good with the ball because Atletico closes well and defends well. We have to be good with the ball to create opportunities and be effective."

Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

But aside from that rare blip against Granada, Koeman's side have the momentum. They have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico in this period.

Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, with Barcelona confirming the Spain forward has had to undergo another knee operation.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

He had initially been forecast to return in March, though the 18-year-old hinted in a social media post at the end of that month he may be facing a longer spell on the sidelines.

Having failed to return to training throughout April, Fati has now gone under the knife yet again, this time for a revision arthroscopy in his left knee.

Barca confirmed in a statement on the club's official website that the operation had been undertaken by Dr. Jose Carlos Noronha in Porto.

The Blaugrana have offered no update on a timescale for Fati's return, though it will certainly rule the youngster out of Euro 2020, albeit his chances of making the rearranged tournament already seemed extremely remote.

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