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Report: Neymar, PSG hoping to secure new deal

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Neymar’s future has been a topic of heavy conversation this winter, with reports through the holiday season that Barcelona will once again court their old superstar come summer.

However, it’s now entirely possible that Paris Saint-Germain looks to ward off interest in the Brazilian by presenting him with a new contract, hoping to lock him down for the foreseeable future. While that won’t happen imminently, ESPN’s Julien Laurens reports that the two parties are optimistic about locking things down once talks begin.

Laurens reports that, while there is interest on both sides – notable given Neymar’s reported attempts to push his way out of Paris last summer – talks will not begin until April or May, after the club’s Champions League fate is clearer.

PSG has long coveted a spot among the Champions League elite, and it’s no secret that Neymar’s PSG tenure will be considered a success or failure largely by their progress in European’s top competition. Should they once again be eliminated early in the knockout rounds, it’s possible that one or both parties change their stance on a long-term commitment.

With his current deal set to expire in the summer of 2022, Laurens reports that “informal talks” have been held between PSG sporting director Leonardo and Neymar’s father, who serves as part of the Brazilian’s representation. While those discussions are a necessary first step, there is still a very long way to go before anything becomes more concrete. Laurens also mentions that agent Pini Zahavi, who was instrumental in Neymar’s initial move to PSG, remains close with Leonardo and will no doubt be a key figure in any potential new deal.

Neymar struggled earlier this season with hamstring problems, but he has always been deadly when on the field for PSG. He has 11 Ligue 1 goals in 12 appearances, including at least one goal in each of the team’s last six league games, plus five assists in that span as well. He was also excellent in the 5-0 Champions League win over Galatasaray to finish out group stage play, and scored a goal in the 6-1 drubbing of St. Etienne in the Coupe de la Ligue.

Laurens also reports in the article that Kylian Mbappe is facing a similar situation, with his deal also expiring in the summer of 2022 and waiting to see how the team fares in Champions League play before making a decision. However, Mbappe reportedly already has a concrete offer on the table and is simply waiting to make a decision.

PSG drew Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League Round of 16, with the first leg of that matchup set to take place on February 18. PSG has never progressed past the quarterfinal of the competition, and has been knocked out in the Round of 16 in each of the last three seasons.

Xavi confirms he rejected Barcelona job

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Barcelona legend Xavi has confirmed he rejected the chance to return as their manager as it was “not the right time” for him.

Xavi, 39, is currently coaching Qatari side Al Sadd and Barcelona’s sporting director Eric Abidal and chief executive Oscar Garu spoke with him last week about replacing former manager Ernesto Valverde.

Experienced coach Quique Setien replaced Valverde and Xavi has told Spanish outlet Mundo Deportivo that this opportunity came too early in his coaching career as the midfielder, who played 767 times for Barca and won 25 trophies in his glittering 17-year career with the Catalan club, has only been a coach for six months in Qatar.

“Yes, it’s true that I have had a proposal from Barcelona, they were here to talk with me, but I didn’t accept because I didn’t feel that this was a good time for me,” said Xavi. “I’m very grateful to Barca, Abidal and Grau for this proposal. Of course, it’s my dream to coach Barca, but it’s not the right time. I have to be honest with you and everybody.”

Setien certainly gets Xavi’s blessing as Barca’s new coach, as the former Las Palmas and Real Betis manager is known for his attractive, attacking play and follows the coaching principles of Johan Cruyff.

“Of course Quique Setien (the new coach) is ready to coach Barcelona. I love him as a coach. My heart is for Barcelona and now it is for Quique Setien. I wish him all the best, this is the truth, this is what happened,” Xavi added.

World Cup winner Xavi will no doubt manage Barcelona one day (his current contract with Al Saad runs for another 18 months) and if the likes of Steven Gerrard turns up at Liverpool in the coming years, and Frank Lampard and Zinedine Zidane continue at Chelsea and Real Madrid respectively, it will be like 2005 all over again…

There’s no doubting the incredible experience all of these former legendary players have but some would suggest that being hired by the clubs where they made their names as players is an easy out for the hierarchy who know that the fans will get behind the manager and it will be a less risky appointment.

Reports: Barcelona fires Valverde, hiring former Betis boss Setien

Barcelona makes managerial change
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Quique Setien is set to replace Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona, according to numerous reports in Spain.

The former Las Palmas and Real Betis boss, 61, would be a surprise successor to be sure.

Valverde has been under fire for Barca’s uneven season, though that phrase happens to describe a tie for first in La Liga with rivals Real Madrid.

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According to Marca, “The Barcelona board approved the decision for the 61-year-old to become the new Blaugrana boss unanimously, with the former Betis coach’s stock having gone up since this morning.”

The club has not announced any changes. Reporter Guillem Balague says the silence from Barcelona is down to the resolution of Valverde’s contract with the Catalan club.

He also proffers a thread with lofty praise for Setien.

Barcelona’s attack has been lethal but it’s defending subpar; Valverde’s proverbial hot seat was engulfed in flames when the Blaugranas wasted a 2-1 lead in the Spanish Super Cup semifinal versus Atletico Madrid.

Valverde led Barcelona to La Liga titles in both of his full seasons in charge, but disappointing collapses in the Champions League soured the domestic triumphs.

Defending will become even more important with Luis Suarez out for four months.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

Real Madrid defeats Atlético in penalties, wins Spanish Super Cup

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In the Spanish Super Cup final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid played to a 0-0 draw through 120 minutes with Los Blancos winning their 11th Super Cup after coming out on top in penalties 4-1.

Captain Sergio Ramos converted the decisive penalty, earning manager Zinedine Zidane his ninth final win.

Dani Carvajal, Luka Modric and Rodrygo scored in the shootout, while Saúl Ñíguez and Thomas Partey failed to for Diego Simeone’s side.

Los Colchoneros had a clear scoring chance in the 113th minute. As Alavaro Morata paced forward with only Thibaut Courtois to beat, Real Madrid’s player of the match, Federico Valverde, executed a game-saving tackle, sending Morata to the floor. Valverde saw a red card immediately after the tactical tackle.

Atlético ‘keeper Jan Oblak and Courtois played key factors on Sunday, recording six and five saves, respectively. The routine saves throughout 120 minutes forced extra time for the fifth consecutive final between the city rivals since 2013.

The Madrid Derby wraps up the debut of the new Spanish Super Cup format. Originally a final played between the league and Cup champions, the competition was expanded to four teams by the federation.

Two years remain of a reported three-year, $133-million deal that has the competition based in Saudi Arabia.

Valverde set to lead Barca training despite Xavi reports

Valverde in question as Barcelona speaks with Xavi
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It’s all a mess at Barcelona, as messy as it can be for a table-leading side.

Barca threw away a spot in the Spanish Super Cup Final with more miserable game management and defending versus Atletico Madrid at midweek, heaping pressure on Ernesto Valverde.

He may just pack up and leave given the weekend’s news that Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal flew to Qatar to meet with Xavi Hernandez about the manager’s position.

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Valverde, it’s worth noting, has won La Liga in both of his seasons in charge of the squad. Valverde’s Barca is level with Real Madrid on 40 points, five points ahead of Atleti and Sevilla.

Al Sadd executive director Turki Al-Ali issued a statement saying it is “normal and expected” that Xavi will one day leave for Barcelona, but that nothing is imminent. Reuters correspondent Richard Martin says Xavi has not decided his future, though an AS report claims he wants the job in the summer.

All this leaves the two-time reigning league winner in a rough spot, Valverde wondering what’s next. El Pais suspects Barca may need a bridge manager.

To be frank, Valverde’s roster aside from elite weapons Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann seems stuck between too old and too green. Messi is having perhaps the best season in the world, but Suarez undergoes surgery on Sunday and Griezmann still growing into his Blaugrana shoes.

But the massive chances coughed up to Atleti at midweek were too familiar, and Barca needs some fresh ideas to shore up their structure. Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati aren’t going to fix the back.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

Will Valverde be the man overseeing any of it?