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Barcelona reportedly set to sign young Ansu Fati to first-team

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According to a report by Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona is readying a first-team contract for 16-year-old Ansu Fati after a collection of positive performances for the club.

The youngster was promoted to the senior side at the start of the season thanks to an injury crisis that swallowed up Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Ousmane Dembele.

He made his first appearance off the bench in the opening league game, coming on for 12 minutes against Real Betis. He then was handed a 45-minute substitute appearance against Osasuna where he registered his first goal in a 2-2 draw. That saw Fati handed his first start, and he scored again just two minutes into the eventual 5-2 win over Valencia.

With Messi struggling of late with injuries and Suarez also struck down and seeing his minutes carefully watched thanks to his advanced age, Fati’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for Barcelona. Therefore, the report states the new contract will feature an astronomical release clause of $220 million.

He only just signed a contract with the club back in July that saw him tied to Barcelona through 2022 and put him on a tiered pay scale that would reward him based on appearances for various youth and senior squads. His release clause in that contract was set at $110 million – already a record for a player of his age – but after his recent outburst the club may feel even that is not enough to ward off outside interest. The new contract will also reportedly boost his salary to a fixed $1 million for the season.

Convincing Fati to stick around long-term is of the utmost importance to Barcelona who has been forced to consider the future of the striker position at the club. Suarez’s age is the most pressing concern, but even the potential decline of 32-year-old Messi is a possibility for the near future. With those in mind, Fati’s contributions are critical and could signal a positive future for the Barcelona attack despite the necessary upcoming transitions.

Ahead of 100th cap, why have Brazil fans turned on Neymar?

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SAO PAULO (AP) Ahead of his 100th game with Brazil, Neymar is adamant that he still deserves special treatment in the national team despite never having won a major title in his nine years wearing the famous yellow shirt.

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The 27-year-old forward will reach the century mark in a friendly against Senegal in Singapore on Thursday, and defended his status as the team’s biggest star even though Brazil won this summer’s Copa America without him.

“I was always one of the main figures and one of those carrying it all on my back,” Neymar said at a news conference Wednesday when asked about getting special treatment. “I never ran away from that. I always played my role in the national team very well. When a player reaches that level it is normal that there is a different treatment.”

“I was in places that had players with more history than me and I had to respect what coaches did for them,” the Paris Saint-Germain striker added. “Messi has a different treatment at Barcelona. Is it because he is better looking? No. It is because he is decisive. He earned it. I don’t say that only about myself, but I say it about everyone that has performances at that level. That is normal in soccer.”

Neymar’s comments come at a time when some Brazil fans have accused coach Tite and the Brazilian soccer confederation of being too lenient with the striker over his problems off the pitch. Those include his altercation with a fan after the French Cup final in April; his insistence that his father-agent was allowed into Brazil’s dressing room during a pre-Copa America friendly; and a rape allegation that was recently closed by police.

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Neymar is currently at odds with PSG’s fans as well after trying to force a return to Barcelona during the offseason.

And in Brazil, he remains the country’s most polarizing player.

His statistics with the national team are impressive: 61 goals and 42 assists in 99 games so far. That puts him one goal behind two-time World Cup winner Ronaldo, who is in second place on Brazil’s all-time list of top scorers with 62. Pele tops the list with 77.

With Neymar in the team, Brazil has 70 victories, 19 draws and 10 defeats. But aside from the 2013 Confederations Cup, no titles.

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At the 2014 World Cup at home, Neymar injured his back in the quarterfinal win over Colombia and the team was humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals without him. At least year’s World Cup in Brazil he was far from his best after recovering from a foot injury, and made little impact as Brazil lost 2-1 to Belgium in the quarterfinals.

And this summer he had to miss the Copa America because of an injury he sustained shortly before the tournament.

Asked about his best memories with the national team, Neymar picked his debut, his World Cup debut in 2014 and the goal he scored in the opening game of the tournament against Croatia.

“There is a positive balance, but it isn’t all about victories in the life of an athlete,” Neymar said. “There are many disappointments, defeats and mistakes. But if you fight for it, in the end, you make up for your mistakes. I am very happy to reach that mark of 100 matches. Not even in my best dreams I thought this could happen.”

Lionel Messi plans to retire at Barcelona; confirms he wanted to leave

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That sound you can hear is fans sobbing after thinking they would see Lionel Messi end his playing days in Major League Soccer for Inter Miami CF…

Chin up.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Messi, 32, has told RAC1 that his plan is to retire with Barcelona, as suggestions he would finish his playing career at hometown club Newell’s Old Boys or maybe to even join Pep Guardiola at Man City seem to be well and truly over.

The Argentine superstar has been with the Catalan club his entire career after coming through their La Masia academy, and has won four UEFA Champions League titles, 10 La Liga crowns and has been named the best player on the planet six times.

“Yes, my idea is to stay for many years. I’ve always thought this way and nothing has changed,” Messi said. “It’s clear that my idea is to finish my career at Barca. Especially because of what I feel for the club and for my family. We are very happy in Barcelona. From my childhood I have dreamed of playing for Newell’s because of what football means in Argentina, but sometimes one has to prioritize the family. I wouldn’t like to break up the friendships that my children have made here, as happened to me when I was little.”

Messi did confirm he wanted to leave Spain in 2013-14 after the Spanish authorities launched an investigation into his taxes, and added that he relaxed about his current contract situation.

“In 2013-14, I did want to leave Barca. There was a situation that went beyond what I felt for the club. I wanted to leave Spain because of the tax issue. I felt mistreated… I don’t think that there is anything new to report regarding my contract extension, but there will surely be no problem if it materializes. With the club, everything is always simple.”

Now, Messi has said he wants to finish his career at Barca before but usually there was a caveat of saying, ‘You never know what happens in football,’ or something like that.

This time the answer is definitive and after reports suggested he is now on a one-year rolling contract at Barcelona, where he gets to decide each summer if he stays at the Nou Camp. This commitment to Barca will be music to the ears of their hierarchy.

Messi scores 1st goal of season as Barca beats Sevilla 4-0

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BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi has ended his mini-scoring drought as Barcelona finds its winning stride.

Messi curled a left-footed free kick over the wall and into the net for his first goal of the season to wrap up Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Sevilla in the Spanish league on Sunday.

The soccer great thrust his finger in the air before pumping his fist in celebration after scoring in the 78th minute. Messi had gone scoreless in his previous four appearances after being sidelined for five games with injuries.

Messi’s 37th goal in 38 career meetings with Sevilla was also his first since he won his record sixth FIFA player of the year award last month.

“We know how important Leo is for this team and what he means to us,” Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal said. “If he is playing well it helps us a lot.”

Luis Suarez put Barcelona on the winning path for a second time this week after netting with a bicycle kick in the 27th despite Sevilla having dominated the game before then. On Wednesday, the Uruguay striker had sparked a 2-1 comeback over Inter Milan in the Champions League with a superb volley before he added a fine second goal.

Vidal and Ousmane Dembele added two more goals against Sevilla in the next 10 minutes to turn what had been a tightly contested start into a demolition.

After a stuttering start to the season while Messi was out injured, Barcelona’s fourth straight victory in all competitions lifted it into second place and two points behind leader Real Madrid. Barcelona will host Madrid on Oct. 26.

Atletico Madrid slipped to third – one point behind Barcelona – after being held 0-0 at Valladolid, its third scoreless draw in four rounds.

“It was a complicated match and the score by halftime was a bit exaggerated,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We had more firepower than they did. After scoring the first goal we created danger practically every time we reached their area.”

Barcelona finished with nine men after referee Mateu Lahoz sent off Ronald Araujo on his debut after making contact with Sevilla’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez with only the Barcelona goalkeeper to beat. Replays showed minor contact between the two players.

Demebele was then shown a direct red, for criticizing Lahoz’s decision by saying he was “very bad.”

NIGHT TO FORGET

The last time Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui came to Camp Nou, his Real Madrid team had been routed 5-1. He was fired a day later.

One year later, Lopetegui must have been at a loss to see his team trailing 3-0 at halftime after it had outplayed Barcelona in the first 25 minutes, largely thanks to Lucas Ocampos’ powerful runs down the right flank and on-target passes.

Sevilla’s Luuk De Jong, however, had a night to forget. After goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made an excellent save against his point-blank shot off a pass by Ocampos, the striker had three glaring misses.

Lopetegui looked on in disbelief when De Jong’s header off another Ocampos cross failed to go in – a minute before Suarez whipped in Nelson Semedo’s cross at the other end.

De Jong’s bad Fortune continued after halftime when he stole the ball to leave himself in a perfect position, only to hit the post. He has yet to score since joining Sevilla in the offseason.

“It was a painful and undeserved loss,” Lopetegui said. “We were missing our finishing touch. De Jong did a lot of things very well, just as the team did, but to win at Camp Nou you have to play well and have a bit of luck.”

TOOTHLESS ATTACK

Atletico’s three-prong attack of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata wasn’t able to unsettle the modest Valladolid.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone sent on Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar for Felix and Morata, but they only slightly improved the attack. Atletico’s best scoring chance came in the 82nd when substitute Correa hit the upright.

Valladolid striker Sandor Ramirez squandered his side’s only good opportunity in the first half when he sent a penalty kick, that he had earned, high over the crossbar.

“It was very hard game, they play very well as a tight unit,” Simeone said. “(It was) a game that ended in a draw that we didn’t want, but we gave it our all.”

OTHER GAMES

Getafe fought back once Real Sociedad was reduced to 10 men to win 2-1 in San Sebastian, leaving Sociedad in fifth place just ahead of Sevilla.

Iago Aspas broke his seven-game scoring drought and gave Celta Vigo a 1-0 win over Athletic Bibao.

Espanyol fell second to last after losing 2-0 at Mallorca.

UCL wrap: Suarez leads Barca comeback; Ajax rocks Valencia

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The UEFA Champions League has completed two rounds, and we have some surprise names atop the groups in Europe.

You could say they go from A to Z.

Ajax and Zenit Saint-Petersburg top their groups after two matches, while Borussia Dortmund has managed a tiebreaking lead over Barcelona.

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There’s plenty of time to play, but the UCL showed us some more fun on Wednesday.

Barcelona 2-1 Inter Milan

Inter took an early lead at the Camp Nou, threatening to thrust Barcelona deeper into internal turmoil, but Luis Suarez showed that he’s got plenty in the tank.

The Uruguayan scored twice, the second off a Lionel Messi assist, to offset Lautaro Martinez’s second minute goal and send Barca level on points with Borussia Dortmund.

RB Leipzig 0-2 Lyon

Memphis Depay and Martin Terrier scored with Lyon’s only shots on target, a pretty fortunate win against Bundesliga opposition.

Zenit Saint-Petersburg 3-1 Benfica

Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun scored, with Zenit also collecting an own goal en route to a three-goal lead. Raul de Tomas scored late, but the damage had bene done and Zenit joined Lyon on four points.

Valencia 0-3 Ajax

Ajax sent a statement in Spain, getting goals from Hakim Ziyech, Quincy Promes, and returning Donny van de Beek to move to 2-0 on the campaign despite selling some top talents this summer. Dutch-American teen Sergino Dest went 90 minutes at right back for the visitors.

Genk 0-0 Napoli

Thirty-one shots produced nothing on the score board, as Genk joined Salzburg in telling the big boys that Group E isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

Slavia Prague 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

The Achraf Hakimi show saw the 20-year-old Moroccon cap off two lightning quick counters to move BVB onto the same footing as Barcelona after two match days.