This Week in LaLiga…

What has been going on in LaLiga this past week? From the first ElClasico of the season to a brand-new contract for one of world football’s biggest rising stars, here’s all you need to know.

Real Madrid triumph in El Clásico

Real Madrid came out on top in the first ElClásico of the 2021/22 season, winning 2-1 in a thrilling contest at the Camp Nou. David Alaba’s first goal for Los Blancos was timely and brilliant, before Lucas Vázquez and Sergio Agüero traded stoppage time goals for the 2-1 final score. This is the fourth ElClásico win in a row for Real Madrid, the first time this has happened since 1965.

Sevilla win an eight-goal thriller

Sevilla vs Levante kicked off Sunday’s action with an end-to-end match that produced eight goals, the home side winning 5-3. There were seven different scorers in the game, with only José Luis Morales, Levante captain and all-time top scorer in LaLiga Santander, netting more than once.

A weekend with 35 goals

From start to finish, this was a weekend of goals in LaLiga Santander. 35 goals went in over the first nine fixtures of Matchday 10, with every team netting at least one except Cádiz CF, who lost 2-0 to D. Alavés. This is already the highest scoring round of the 2021/22 season, with a Monday night fixture between Getafe CF and RC Celta still to come.

Real Sociedad stay top of LaLiga Santander

Still at the top of the standings are Real Sociedad, who earned an impressive 2-2 draw away at Atlético de Madrid on Sunday night. The Basque side’s ‘Two Alexanders’ scored the goals, with one for Sørloth and one for Isak, before a Luis Suárez brace levelled the scoreline for the defending champions.

A European win for La Real too

Real Sociedad also earned a positive result in Europe in midweek, defeating Strum Graz 1-0 away from home in the Europa League. In the same competition, Real Betis played out an entertaining 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen.

Spanish victories in the Champions League

In the Champions League, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal defeated Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv and Young Boys respectively, while Sevilla drew at French champions Lille and Atlético narrowly lost a close thriller to Liverpool.

Ansu Fati’s new Barcelona contract

Ansu Fati has signed a new contract with Barcelona, committing to the Catalan club until 2027. This is great news for the Blaugrana, who have great expectations for one of world football’s best young talents. Coming just a week after Pedri agreed his own new deal, this latest contract extension is something for Barça fans to smile about.

Cádiz’s young star commits to a long-term deal too

At Cádiz, they’re celebrating a contract extension too. 17-year-old midfielder Álvaro Bastida has put pen to paper on a new deal that will run until 2026, which is great news for the Andalusian club as Bastida is one of the top talents to have emerged from their academy in recent years. Already, despite his young age, Bastida is part of the first-team setup.

A new deal for Fidel

Another player to sign a new contract this past week was Elche winger Fidel. The 31-year-old, who first joined the club in 2012 and who is a club captain, has agreed to a two-year extension that means his deal now runs until the summer of 2024.

Midweek action across LaLiga Santander

There’s no let-up in the LaLiga calendar, with Matchday 11 being played in midweek across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There are some fascinating games scheduled, such as Real Madrid’s home match against an Osasuna side with just two points fewer, or Barcelona’s visit to a Rayo Vallecano side who sit one point ahead of them.

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CARLES PUYOL: “I’D TELL MYSELF TO BE A LITTLE LESS ROUGH!”

Looking back over a long and trophy-laden career that included lifting six LaLiga Santander titles, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol says the key to his many achievements was to always give 100%.

Now a LaLiga ambassador, devoted father and social campaigner, Puyol was a fearsome defender of the cause of both Barcelona and the Spanish national team for over 15 years.

Asked for some advice to the youngster who made his Barça debut back in October 1999, Puyol laughs that he might maybe have taken things a bit easier, before recalling that it was his commitment and professionalism that ensure such a successful career.

“I would advise myself to be a bit more careful, not so rough,” the now 40-year-old says with a smile. “But that was the way I was, how I understood the sport, to always go at 100%, and not worry about the risks when I was carrying an injury. But I’m happy with how it went, and if I had not been that way for sure it would have gone differently.”

Born in 1978 in the small Catalan town of Puebla de Segur, Puyol entered Barça’s famous La Masia academy aged 17. He went on to win 23 trophies with his only club, including six LaLiga Santander titles and three Champions Leagues, as well as the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 trophies in 100 appearances for Spain. But he says the main motivation for playing was always a pure love of the game.

“For me to be able to play football was a gift,” Puyol says. “I’ve been very lucky as I did it for almost 20 years. Every morning I woke up with a smile, happy to go training. I was one of those players who loved to train and tried to enjoy every day, every session, every game.”

Puyol says that as a young player he learned the importance of training well and eating well from forward-thinking Blaugrana teammate Luis Enrique, later a LaLiga Santander winner as Barça coach and currently Spain national manager.

“I knew that the body and physical conditioning was very important,” he says. “These days players look after themselves a lot more. But I always had it very clear right from the start. My example was Luis Enrique, who always looked after himself a lot. I learned a lot of things from him.”

Already four years into retirement, Puyol says he still looks after himself well, while feeding his competitive streak with games of the popular Spanish racket sport Padel.

“These days I’m a bit more relaxed, although I still like to eat well,” he says. “Sometimes if I have a game of ‘padel’ we’ll have a beer after the third set.”

Puyol has two young daughters with his partner Vanesa Lorenzo, a model, author and yoga expert, and says that since retirement in 2014 he’s been able to really appreciate family life.

“It’s also true that for my whole career, except the last few months, I wasn’t a father,” he says. “Now that I have children, not playing football means I get a chance to enjoy my daughters.”

He still keeps busy professionally, traveling the world to communicate the values he learned during his time as a player.

“I am focused a lot now on my personal brand,” Puyol says. “I travel all over the world as an official LaLiga ambassador and I also work with UEFA, FIFA, Laureus, give speeches at conferences and work in partnership with some brands.”

The same commitment which Puyol put into almost 600 games for Barça over 15 seasons with the first team is now channelled into helping drive positive social change.

“The power which football has is enormous,” Puyol says. “Football moves the masses. Those of us involved in football must be aware of the power we have to help. We also have a responsibility to return to society all that society has given to us.”

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LaLiga and world football braces itself for the first ElClasico of the season

Free scoring stars Ansu Fati, Memphis, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr will lead the lines in the long-awaited return of ElClasico at Camp Nou. 

This Sunday’s clash (4.15pm CEST) will be the first ElClasico with a capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic.

The first ElClásico of the season is just around the corner, with FC Barcelona set to take on Real Madrid at Camp Nou this Sunday at 4.15pm CEST. Notably, this will be the long-awaited first meeting between these sides with supporters in the stands since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ever since Vinicius and Mariano fired Los Blancos to a 2-0 home win in front of a packed Santiago Bernabeu back in March 2020.

Real Madrid come into this encounter on the back of two consecutive ElClasico wins. The first was almost exactly a year to the day since this weekend’s clash, winning 3-1 at an empty Camp Nou in October 2020. After Fede Valverde and Ansu Fati had produced early fireworks with strikes inside the opening 10 minutes, goals from Sergio Ramos and Luka Modrić saw Real Madrid collect all three points.

Six months later they met again under a downpour at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, with Real Madrid edging a thrilling battle 2-1 as Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos’ first half goals proved too much for the Blaugrana, even if they pulled one back through Óscar Mingueza and pushed for an equaliser until the final minute.

Those wins have made it three ElClásico victories in a row for Real Madrid, who hadn’t won back-to-back-to-back matches against their historic rivals since 1978. They haven’t won four in a row since 1965 but will be looking to achieve exactly that when the ball gets rolling this Sunday.

Ansu Fati and Memphis vs Vinícius and Benzema

Barcelona and Real Madrid will be led up front by Ansu Fati & Memphis Depay and Vinícius & Karim Benzema, respectively. The four have started the current LaLiga season like a house on fire, proving themselves to be among the elite group of forward in world football right now. Memphis has already notched four goals in his first ever season in Spanish football, while Vinicius has hit five and laid to rest any doubts about his claims for a starting spot in Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Karim Benzema has scored nine in just eight appearances, showing no signs of slowing down, while Ansu Fati has immediately dazzled following his return from long-term injury, firing in great goals against Levante and Valencia in just a few weeks. By the time Sunday’s match comes around, the 18-year-old will be close to full fitness and be looking to make his mark on the game.

Injury concerns for Barça

All signs point to Koeman being unable to call on three key players this weekend. 18-year-old sensation Pedri, who recently signed a new-long term deal at Camp Nou until 2026, is suffering with a persistent thigh injury and won’t be rushed back for the game – sensibly, bearing in mind the number of games he has played over the last calendar year and the fact that he played through the summer, first at Euro 2020 and then at the Tokyo Olympics.

Also likely to miss out are centre-back Ronald Araujo, who picked up a hamstring injury on international duty with Uruguay, and Ousmane Dembele, who is back in training but yet to play this season after surgery in the summer.

18 years later… Koeman and Ancelotti meet again

Keep an eye on the tactical tussle this Sunday. Ronald Koeman has experimented with different systems already this campaign, oscillating between Barça’s traditional 4-3-3, 3-1-4-2 and 3-4-2-1. Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, has implemented a more attacking style of football since taking over the Real Madrid job in the summer – and Los Blancos have scored the goals to vindicate his decision.

The Dutchman and Italian have some parallels to their careers. Both won the European Cup as players, and league titles with multiple clubs as coaches. They met on one occasion during their playing days in a goalless draw between the Netherlands and Italy in 1990, and then took each other on four times as coaches when Ajax and AC Milan met in back-to-back Champions League seasons in 2002/03 and 2003/04. One draw and three AC Milan victories means Koeman is still looking for his first managerial win over Ancelotti, and where better to break that duck than in ElClasico, the biggest club match in world football.

The 183rd LaLiga Santander Clásico

This Sunday’s game will be the 183rd meeting between these two clubs in Spain’s top division, with Barcelona and Real Madrid having met in every single one of the 90 LaLiga Santander seasons to date, with neither side having ever been relegated from the country’s top tier.

Real Madrid edge the overall record thanks to their three recent victories, having now won 75 of the 182 previous league meetings, while Barça have triumphed 72 times alongside 35 draws. To say this rivalry has been finely balanced over the year would be an understatement.

Watch ElClasico live this Sunday on BeINSports at 10:15pm

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Potential ElClasico debutants

ElClasico is the game with the most and the best stars ever in football history. Both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona reinforced their squads over the summer, and up to six new players may well make their debuts in the legendary ElClasico

From their very first kick of a ball, every professional footballer dreams of playing in the biggest matches. There’s no doubt that the LaLiga Santander ElClasico is one of those, and one which all lovers of the beautiful game eagerly anticipate. Throughout history, some of the best players of all time have had the opportunity to represent FC Barcelona, Real Madrid – or both – in a match that never ceases to excite and compel.

Both Los Merengues and Los Cules made signings in the summer, and on October 24 several of them will have the opportunity and the honour of being able to make their ElClasico debuts. Up to six players could make their debut:

Memphis Depay:

The Dutch star came to LaLiga Santander with the intention of making his mark at Barcelona. He’d always dreamt of representing the club and soon he’ll get the chance to shine in ElClasico. The 27-year-old has hit the ground running and is one of the league’s most in-form attackers. He’s known for his exceptional talent, goalscoring ability, assist providing, plus the ability to conjure something out of thin air. There’s no doubt that FC Barcelona’s acquisition of Memphis could be decisive in what will be a showstopping afternoon at the Camp Nou, at 4:15PM on October 24.

Eric García:

Eric Garcia is a Barcelona boy through and through. The young centre-back from Martorell came through the club’s academy where he did in fact play against Real Madrid. He impressed at every stage of his development, captaining every La Masia side he featured in. He re-joined Barcelona this summer after the club saw in him a player that not only already possessed great quality as a youngster but could go on to form the heart of the club’s defence for years to come. It seems more than likely that Garcia will be making his ElClasico bow this season.

Luuk De Jong:

Luuk De Jong was a last-minute acquisition by Barcelona, joining on loan following a successful stint at Sevilla FC. The Dutch striker has come in to bolster the Barça attack, and will be keen to be among the goals for his new club. But will he manage to make it onto the scoresheet in his LaLiga Santander ElClasico debut?

Sergio Aguero:

Sergio Aguero, one of the best strikers in the history of the game, signed for FC Barcelona this summer. The Argentine is back in LaLiga Santander, where he’d already shone with Atletico Madrid. Bad luck with injuries is about to end, so he may well get his first chance to impress for FC Barcelona on October 24 in ElClasico.

Eduardo Camavinga:

Youth, self-confidence, quality, and power are just some of the hallmarks of Eduardo Camavinga. Real Madrid signed the midfielder with the aim that after bedding into the side he would go on to be a fixture in Los Blancos’ midfield in the coming seasons. Despite his tender years, the 18-year-old has already made quite the impact at his new club. He not only scored on his first appearance but has regularly pulled fans onto the edge of their seats with his class. There’s no doubt that this ElClasico will be the first of many for Camavinga

David Alaba:

29-year-old David Alaba joined Real Madrid during the last transfer window. The versatile Austrian footballer is keen to bring his experiences in elite football to the heart of Los Blancos’ back four. His performances so far this season for Carlo Ancelotti’s men have been of considerable merit. The next LaLiga Santander ElClasico will be a very special occasion for Alaba, as he’ll likely be making his maiden bow in this iconic clash. He’s a top-drawer player who his team will need in this kind of game.

Don’t miss ElClasico on October 24 at 10:15pm on the usual broadcaster: BeINSports

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Six key duels that could decide ElClasico

FC Barcelona and Real Madrid meet at Camp Nou this weekend (Sunday, 4.15pm CEST) in what is the most eagerly awaited club football clash in the world. Here are six direct match-ups which could well decide who takes home the points.

ElClasico is always such a tight contest and this weekend’s encounter could come down to a single individual battle on the chessboard that is the football pitch. Ahead of the meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Sunday, here comes a look at six duels that could prove decisive.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen vs Karim Benzema

Benzema is in terrific form and comes into ElClasico with nine goals from his eight LaLiga Santander appearances so far and after helping France to a Nations League triumph with his excellent performances in the Final Four. Real Madrid’s main man in attack appears to be unstoppable, but ter Stegen has managed to keep Benzema at bay over the years. In fact, the Frenchman has scored just twice across the 1,075 minutes they’ve shared on the pitch in previous ElClásico meetings. The number nine scored in their last encounter, however, in Los Blancos’ 2-1 win at Valdebebas last campaign.

Vinícius Jr vs Gerard Piqué

Benzema might be the primary goal scorer in this Real Madrid squad, but the player who seems to creates out of nothing is Vinícius and he’ll look to use his pace and trickery to get the better of Gerard Piqué. The Brazilian and the Spaniard are at opposite ends of their careers, so we’ll see youthful confidence going up against veteran experience and this could be key to the game’s outcome.

Frenkie de Jong vs Casemiro

As is so often the case in football, the key battles could be in the midfield – and keep a particular eye on the individual duel between Frenkie de Jong and Casemiro. These two players bring the energy to their respective midfields and are capable of playing their best football on the biggest occasions. Key to protecting their defences at the same time as getting forward to contribute to attack, de Jong and Casemiro are undoubtedly two of this fixture’s most important players.

Gavi vs Eduardo Camavinga

We might witness a glimpse into the future during this October’s ElClasico, with 17-year-old Gavi and 18-year-old Camavinga likely to earn some minutes at the Camp Nou. Both these players have caught the eye to start the 2021/22 campaign, with Gavi making an impact after emerging through Barça’s La Masia academy and with Camavinga hitting the ground running at Real Madrid following his summer transfer from Rennes. If these two players do feature in this game, perhaps off the bench, then they’ll likely occupy the same area of the pitch and their fresh legs in the final stages could prove decisive.

Ansu Fati vs David Alaba

There is great excitement at Barcelona at Ansu Fati’s comeback, after he returned from a 10-month injury layoff by scoring a goal against Levante on his first match back. The 18-year-old has inherited Lionel Messi’s iconic number ten shirt at Camp Nou and will be looking to score against Real Madrid, just as he did in this same fixture last year before his knee injury. Out to prevent the teenager from repeating last year’s trick is summer signing David Alaba, the experienced centre-back who has seamlessly slotted into Real Madrid’s back line. While Los Blancos’ defence has been leakier than Carlo Ancelotti would like, that’s not Alaba’s fault and the Austrian will be determined to earn a clean sheet in his first ElClasico.

Memphis Depay vs Thibaut Courtois

While ter Stegen vs Benzema is a duel we’ve enjoyed many times before, the upcoming battle between Thibaut Courtois and Memphis is a relatively novel one. They have only shared the pitch for 17 minutes in their careers, back in 2015/16 when they both played in English football, so this should be a special face-off between the goalkeeper and the forward at Camp Nou. Both players have started 2021/22 in good form and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the result of this ElClasico comes down to a one-on-one chance between the Dutchman and Belgian.

Watch ElClasico this Sunday at 10:15pm on BeINSports.

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ElClasico set to showcase some of the brightest young talent in world football

FC Barcelona face Real Madrid this Sunday (4.15pm CEST) in a clash which pits together some of the most exciting rising stars in football today. Here’s a look at some of the best talent to keep an eye on.

LaLiga Santander leads the way with more nominees for the 2021 Golden Boy than any other league, with Pedri, Gavi, Camavinga and Rodrygo all nominated alongside Villarreal’s mercurial 19-year-old Yeremi Pino.

There is something special about the Barcelona and Real Madrid squads this season: both clubs have many young talents earning serious minutes. Both are inside the top six when looking at the LaLiga Santander teams with the youngest average ages, demonstrating that Ronald Koeman and Carlo Ancelotti are both placing their trust in rising stars. Here’s a look at the up-and-coming talents at Barcelona and at Real Madrid in each position.  

In goals: Lunin and Peña have talent even if they lack minutes

In Marc-André ter Stegen and Thibaut Courtois, Barcelona and Real Madrid have two of the best goalkeepers in the world. That means it is incredibly difficult for up-and-coming shot-stoppers like Iñaki Peña and Andriy Lunin to earn minutes. Yet these young goalkeepers have impressed in training and with their national teams, with Peña having been involved at all youth levels for Spain and even making the senior team’s bench for one friendly, while Lunin has featured for Ukraine’s senior side on six occasions.

In defence: Both clubs already have their centre-backs of the future

Finding world-class centre-backs is one of the most difficult tasks in football, but both Barcelona and Real Madrid have young central defenders they believe in. Éder Militão’s excellent end to last season convinced Real Madrid that the 23-year-old Brazilian is already capable of leading their back line and he has started 2021/22 on the front foot too. Over in Barcelona, Koeman has been rotating between two young centre-backs to start the campaign as 20-year-old Eric García and 22-year-old Ronald Araújo have each shown promise.

Also in defence, there is excitement at both clubs over the promising young left-backs to have come through their respective academies. At Real Madrid, 20-year-old Miguel Gutiérrez has already earned 10 appearances for the first team after catching Zinedine Zidane’s eye and then earning further opportunities with Carlo Ancelotti. Barcelona, meanwhile, have high hopes for Alejandro Balde, the 17-year-old who sadly saw his first senior start end prematurely because of an injury. In 20-year-old Sergiño Dest, Barcelona also have a quality right-back to be excited about.

In midfield: The future has arrived with Valverde, Pedri, Camavinga and Gavi

The centre of the pitch is so important and both Barcelona and Real Madrid already have young midfielders who can lead their sides for many years to come. Nobody has made more appearances for Real Madrid so far this term than Fede Valverde, just like nobody had more appearances at Barcelona last year than Pedri’s 52. What was incredible about Pedri last season was that the 18-year-old had never before played at LaLiga Santander level, yet he immediately became one of the most important players for Barça and then for the Spanish national team.

This year, the Pedri story is being replicated with Gavi, who has emerged from Barcelona’s La Masia academy and then slotted in seamlessly to the Spain squad, even becoming La Roja’s youngest ever player during the Nations League Final Four at the age of 17 and 62 days. Eduardo Camavinga has been just as impressive at Real Madrid, scoring and assisting across his first few appearances following his move from Rennes.

So impressive have the performances of these young stars been that Pedri, Camavinga and Gavi are among LaLiga’s five nominees for this year’s Golden Boy award, given to the best U21 player in European football.

With other young talents earning minutes too, such as Nico, Riqui Puig and Antonio Blanco, it’s clear that Barcelona and Real Madrid have young talent in midfield, players who’ll dominate in the future but who are already impressing in the present.

In attack: Ansu Fati vs Vinícius could be the great individual battle of the next decade

In Ansu Fati and in Vinícius, Barcelona and Real Madrid each have a talented young forward who could go on to become one of the world’s very best. The Spain and Brazil internationals have burst onto the scene in LaLiga Santander and have already demonstrated that they deserve to be starting up front for these two prestigious clubs. With Ansu Fati still just 18 and with Vinícius only 21, both players have room for growth and the latter is showing that this season by already scoring five LaLiga Santander goals, surpassing last season’s tally. Ansu Fati, meanwhile, has just returned from a long-term injury and will be looking to rediscover the form he showed when he shocked the world as a 16-year-old.

As well as those two blue-chip forwards, there are other young attackers at Barcelona and Real Madrid who also have the potential to leave their mark on the game. From Yusuf Demir to Rodrygo – another 2021 Golden Boy nominee –, Barcelona and Real Madrid have as many rising stars in attack as they do in every other position.

Watch ElClasico live this Sunday at 10:15pm on BeINSports

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A high-voltage clash in LaLiga Santander gets the engines running for ElClasico

FC Barcelona will this weekend host Valencia CF in a Camp Nou stadium with 100% permitted capacity for the first time since March 2020.

With Jose Bordalas at the helm, ‘Los Che’ come into the encounter ahead of Barcelona in the table and with some of the brightest young talents in Spanish football.

LaLiga Santander is back with a bang after the international break, with a very tasty clash set to round off the weekend at the Camp Nou. FC Barcelona host Valencia at 9pm CEST on Sunday in what has become one of LaLiga’s most high-profile rivalries over the past two decades – in particular since the late 1990s, when Valencia lived a golden era of LaLiga and European titles and every match against Barcelona seemed to throw up goal fest after goal fest.

These high-scoring encounters have returned in recent years, as have a score of incredibly memorable matches. The 2019 Copa del Rey final saw Valencia upset Lionel Messi’s Barcelona 2-1 in Seville against all the odds, while their last four meetings in LaLiga Santander have seen an average of 4.5 goals per game (5-2, 2-0, 2-2, 3-2).

No less is expected of this Sunday’s encounter; in fact, even more is anticipated. Valencia CF are a different side from that which has struggled over the past couple of seasons – since that 2019 Copa del Rey final, to be exact.

This season, with new coach Jose Bordalas at the helm, Los Che have quickly proven themselves to be a solid, reliable, effective, and exciting side. They’ve recovered the essence of what made Valencia sides so thrilling over the years, and head to Camp Nou one spot ahead of Barcelona in the standings. In fact, they even rose as high as joint leaders six matches into the season, before dropping points in two tough, consecutive games against Real Madrid and Sevilla FC.

Jose Gaya and Carlos Soler, two of Valencia’s most important players, are back for this weekend’s match, though they’ll be without Paraguayan centre-back Omar Alderete through suspension, whose place will most likely be taken by Mouctar Diakhaby. Regardless, Bordalas should be delighted with the performances of his team so far this season, and especially so with those of Jasper Cillessen – who returns to the Camp Nou two years after his move to Mestalla – Hugo Guillamon, playing further forward in midfield, the exciting young American winger Yunus Musah, and Gonçalo Guedes, who looks to be back to his thrilling best.

Up the coast in Barcelona, coach Ronald Koeman is set to face his former side with renewed spirits. His side were outclassed last time out at Atletico de Madrid (2-0), but with a number of players now recovered from injury this Barcelona side looks to be a different proposition. Ansu Fati is likely ready to start and has already shown himself to be match sharp with a tremendous solo goal against Levante UD after almost a full calendar year out with injury. Sergio Agüero, meanwhile, could be in line to make his debut for the club, while Ousmane Dembele is also reaching the end of his return from injury. Koeman lost Uruguayan centre-back Ronald Araujo to injury this international break, but both Memphis and teenage sensation Gavi return with their spirits in the sky after strong showings with the Netherlands and Spain, respectively.

Just a glance at the players to watch in Barcelona vs Valencia this weekend demonstrates why this is one of the most important matches in world football when it comes to young talent. Both sides boast one of the most prolific and impressive youth academies in European football, and the list of young rising stars set to be on show at Camp Nou is astounding: Ansu Fati, Gavi, de Jong, Dest, Yusuf Demir, Riqui Puig, Nico Gonzalez, Carlos Soler, Guillamón, Yunus Musah, Racic, Guedes and Hugo Duro… Factor in those likely to miss the match – Pedri, perhaps the brightest young star in world football right now, Dembele, Eric Garcia, Araujo – and it’s clear that these two sides are absolutely ‘can’t miss’ for football lovers around the globe looking to catch an eye on the stars of the future.

What’s more, this weekend will see Camp Nou open its doors to a 100% capacity crowd for the first time since March 2020, thanks to the recent decision by the regional Catalan authorities to remove all restrictions on outdoor arenas. It’s an ideal starting point ahead of next weekend’s ElClasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the biggest stadium in Europe. But all eyes will be on this weekend first, though; FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF has all the ingredients to be one of the best matches of the season so far. You won’t want to miss it.

Watch FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF this Sunday on BeINSports

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Who is Gavi, the 17-year-old who became the Spanish national team’s youngest ever debutant?

Aged 17 and 62 days, the Barcelona midfielder has broken the record after featuring in the Nations League’s Final Four.

History was made during the October international break, with Luis Enrique having called up Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, more commonly known as Gavi, to the senior Spanish national team. With FC Barcelona’s rising star making his debut against Italy on Wednesday night in the Nations League semi-finals then he became La Roja’s youngest ever debutant aged just 17 years and 62 days.

The record was held by Ángel Zubieta, who made his first Spain appearance at 17 years and 284 days back in 1936, so Gavi surpassed that feat by more than 200 days. Some give the record for Spain’s youngest ever player to Pedro Regueiro for his appearance in a friendly with Portugal in 1927, but that was technically a Spanish ‘B team’ since La Roja’s starters were playing a game against Italy that same day. Even still, Regueiro’s appearance came with 17 years and 161 days, so Gavi has still comfortably beaten that. He’s also debut more than half a year earlier than his friend and club teammate Ansu Fati, who did so aged 17 years and 308 days.

It has been a rapid rise for Gavi, who has skipped the U19 and U21 age groups to go straight to the senior squad. That is similar to his meteoric progression through La Masia, the academy he joined aged 11 in 2015 after taking his first steps in football with Real Betis in his home province of Seville. After arriving in FC Barcelona’s renowned football school, Gavi worked his way through the various age categories to the point where he made his debut for the Catalan club’s senior side earlier this season by coming on for the final 16 minutes of Barça’s 2-1 victory over Getafe CF in LaLiga Santander.

Gavi’s style of play fits perfectly into FC Barcelona’s midfield, with comparisons to Xavi based on a lot more than the similarity of their names. Despite his small frame, the right-footed midfielder can get the better of bigger, stronger and older opponents through his intuition and rapid reading of the field. Able to accurately spin the ball to a teammate’s feet when pressed, he is exactly what Ronald Koeman is looking for in a midfielder and even drops deep on occasion to take the lead when bringing the ball out from the back.

That’s why Gavi has even been trusted to start important matches, such as the recent clash away at Atlético Madrid. FC Barcelona have suffered an injury crisis to start the 2021/22 campaign, but most of those physical issues have come in attack or in defence. Gavi’s minutes haven’t been given to him because of a lack of alternative options in midfield. On the contrary, he has earned those opportunities to start ahead of older and more experienced midfield talents.

With Pedri and Ansu Fati yet to celebrate their 19th birthdays, FC Barcelona really do have an exciting young core of up-and-coming talents and Gavi is very much a part of this reason for optimism. This is encouraging for the Spanish national team too and the genesis of what could be a promising international career for Gavi taking place this week.

Three things you may not know about Gavi

His move into La Masia accommodation

After being signed by FC Barcelona’s academy from Real Betis at the age of 11, Gavi moved to the Catalan capital with his family and they stayed in an apartment in the very centre of town in La Rambla. Before long, though, he told his family that they should move back to Andalusia and that he would move into the accommodation at La Masia, convinced he could make it at the Blaugrana.

His triumph at LaLiga Promises

LaLiga Promises is one of the most prestigious youth football tournaments in the world and Gavi won this title during his youth career. In the 2016 edition, Barça were the victors as they defeated Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals and final, with Gavi scoring both of the goals in the 2-0 semi-final win over the Catalan club’s great rivals.

His red card on his most recent Spain experience

The last time Gavi played for Spain at any level was in a friendly match for the U18s against France in May of this year. That 2-2 draw wasn’t his happiest experience, as the midfielder was shown a straight red card in the 36th minute. Since then, though, Gavi has enjoyed success after success and now has made history with La Roja’s senior side.

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Five duels to follow in Atlético Madrid vs FC Barcelona

This weekend’s LaLiga Santander match between the Colchoneros and Culés will bring up some spectacular collective and individual clashes.

There is a blockbuster fixture in LaLiga Santander this weekend as Atlético Madrid take on FC Barcelona, a match that should produce some thrilling football as two strong teams do battle and as some of the best individuals in their positions go face to face. There are several interesting duels worth keeping an eye on and they are detailed below.

The goalkeepers: Jan Oblak vs Marc-André ter Stegen

Atlético and FC Barcelona boast two of the best goalkeepers in world football in Jan Oblak and Marc-André ter Stegen. The latter hasn’t yet been able to win the Zamora Trophy, given out each season to the goalkeeper with the best goals conceded record in LaLiga Santander, and there’s one main reason for that, which is that Oblak has been in the way. The Slovenian has claimed this prize five times, most recently in 2020/21 as he helped Atleti win the title. This season, Oblak also leads the Zamora Trophy standings after the first few matchdays, having let in just six goals across seven matches so far. Ter Stegen, meanwhile, has only just returned from an injury, having required surgery on his right knee at the end of May and having missed the start of the season, only returning at the end of August. Yet, it hasn’t taken long for the German to once again show why he is one of the best around. From his four league appearances so far this campaign, Ter Stegen has managed to keep two clean sheets already.

The defence: José María Giménez vs Gerard Piqué

In defence, Atlético and FC Barcelona can sometimes be like day and night. On one hand, the Colchoneros have produced one of the most solid defensive lines in LaLiga Santander over the past several years, while FC Barcelona have a philosophy of attacking no matter what and leaving some space behind. Two of the players leading those back lines are José María Giménez and Gerard Piqué. With Giménez, he is one of the best centre-backs in the competition. There may be others who score more goals, who play with a more elegant style or who can bring the ball out better, as may be the case with the Catalan, but few are as rock solid as the Uruguayan.

The midfield: Koke and Marcos Llorente vs Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets

The midfield battle could be more decisive than ever and FC Barcelona will have to be careful. Despite Barça’s tradition of dominating in the middle, this is also one of Atleti’s best positions as they have Koke and Marcos Llorente who can control matches. They complement each other perfectly, combining control with physicality and energy. FC Barcelona have a similarly strong duo in the form of Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets, with the Dutchman one of the most talented modern stars of the competition and with the Spain international one of the most experienced. This clash in the centre promises to be a special one.

The attack: Luis Suárez vs Memphis Depay

Luis Suárez was one of Atlético’s best players as they won the LaLiga Santander title last season, his first as a Rojiblanco after having moved from FC Barcelona. He quickly scored a brace in 20 minutes on his Atleti debut and finished the season by scoring two of the vital four goals over the final two matchdays, for the victories that delivered the championship. The Uruguayan meant business from the start and remains a permanent threat in attack. In this weekend’s match, Suárez and co. will be looking to outscore the Barça attack centred around the talents of summer signing Memphis Depay. Already, the Dutch forward has been one of the stars of the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander season as he has scored three goals and provided one assist over his first six appearances. More than the numbers, he has carried the attacking responsibility on his shoulders.

The dugout: Diego Simeone vs Ronald Koeman

Diego Simeone is the LaLiga Santander coach who has been in his current position the longest and he’ll go up against one of the more recent hires in Spain’s top flight, Ronald Koeman. These two tacticians represent the values of their clubs so well, although there might not be as much of a clash of styles as in previous meetings between these sides. Above all, Simeone demands intensity and balance from his squad, which is now so deep in the forward positions with João Félix, Antoine Griezmann, Ángel Correa, Luis Suárez, Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Lemar and Matheus Cunha. FC Barcelona have always been known for playing attacking football, while they are also looking for intensity and balance under Koeman, who is backing La Masia talent like few before him. These coaches know what it means to win, having taken the LaLiga Santander and Copa del Rey titles respectively last season. They’ll be out to collect another victory at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano this weekend. Don’t miss Atlético Madrid vs FC Barcelona live this Saturday at 3:00am on BeINSports

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