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Koeman Hopeful Messi Can Return To Best Form Following Barcelona Transfer Saga

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The club’s talisman won’t be leaving Camp Nou this year, and their new manager needs him at his best as rebuilding work begins

Ronald Koeman has challenged Lionel Messi to deliver his best form at Barcelona after his dramatic summer transfer saga.

After seeming destined to leave Camp Nou earlier in the window, Messi confirmed in an exclusive interview with Goal that he will remain in La Liga – and outlined his reasons for wanting to move.

Messi notched 31 goals and 26 assists in 44 games last season and, with Barca finishing 2019-20 in disarray, new boss Koeman will need his star man on top form to turn things around.

“He is the best, I have said it many times,” Koeman told BarcaTV+.

“Messi is a very important player and he has shown it for many years. I hope he can do it again this season.”

Barca legend Rivaldo has said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Messi sign a new contract at the club now this summer’s drama has passed.

In the meantime, Koeman will lead his new side in a match for the first time on Saturday. Barca face second-division Gimnastic de Tarragona in a friendly game at their Ciudad Esportiva training base.

With a relatively quick turnaround from their humbling Champions League campaign in Lisbon, they are now building up to their first La Liga fixture, against Villarreal on September 27.

“Things are very positive, we have been in for two weeks and the players are working very well,” Koeman said.

“There is some physical intensity, and now it will be necessary to work on tactics. The players have shown courage, interest and intensity and that is important because for me, you train how you play. I am very happy with the work we have done.

“It is complicated because it is a short pre-season of four weeks before the first game against Villarreal.

“It is a unique pre-season because some have played games and others have had more rest. We want everyone to be at full capacity in the first game, we want to be in good shape to start La Liga.”

After Saturday’s clash with Gimnastic, Barca’s next scheduled friendly will see them face Girona on Wednesday, September 16.

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Arsenal Hopeful Of Martinelli Injury Boost With Gabriel And Partey Set To Return

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The Gunners teenager injured his ankle before Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Newcastle 

Gabriel Martinelli will have a scan on Monday, with Arsenal hopeful the Brazilian attacker’s ankle injury is not as bad as first feared.

Martinelli was injured during the warm-up on Saturday night as Arsenal prepared to take on Newcastle in the FA Cup third round and was replaced in the starting XI by Reiss Nelson.

He watched the second half from the stands while wearing a protective boot and Arteta admitted after the game that the initial signs did ‘not look good’ for the 19-year-old.

But, having seen Martinelli at the training ground on Sunday, Arteta is now in a slightly more positive mood and is hopeful the scan results will show the forward does not have to spend too long on the sidelines.

“We don’t know how bad it is, he’s getting a scan this morning,” Arteta said on Monday. “He didn’t look good after the game because he was in a lot of pain, but yesterday he tested a little bit better.

“So let’s hope he has the scan and it’s not as serious and we can have Gabi back really soon. But we will know more on Tuesday.”

Arsenal take on Crystal Palace in the Premier league on Thursday night looking to make it five successive wins in all competitions.

The Gunners could have their two main summer signings available for the clash, with centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes and midfielder Thomas Partey both expected to return following lay-offs.

Gabriel has missed the last four games having tested positive for coronavirus, while Partey hasn’t played since limping off with a thigh injury during the north London derby defeat at Spurs on December 6.

But Arteta is hopeful both could make their returns against Palace later in the week.

“Gabriel had a training session the other day,” said the Arsenal boss. “He tested positive, he had very mild symptoms, so he’s missed a few weeks of training because he had to be isolated.

“He’s better now, we expect him to be training with us the next couple of days and we’ll make an assessment whether we can have him or not on Thursday.

“Thomas has been in full training for the last four or five days. He’s completely asymptomatic. He was a little bit rushed to try to play him against Newcastle, but I think he will be ready for Thursday.”

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Inter Milan Must Sweat To Show We Are Contenders, Says Conte

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Inter Milan head coach, Antonio Conte, warned against complacency and urged his players to show they are credible Serie A title contenders ahead of Sunday’s home clash with relegation battlers Crotone.

Conte’s team, who finished as runners-up last season, cut the gap to league leaders AC Milan to just one point before the 10-day winter break, thanks to a run of seven straight league wins.

That form has put Inter firmly in the mix to end their 11-year wait for a league title, with defending champions Juventus languishing nine points behind them in sixth.

“We must confirm our place among the contenders,” Conte told a news conference.

“We don’t have to send any message, just be credible. We have the duty to fight until the end. When you’re at Inter, this is an obligation.

“It’s a balanced championship. You need to sweat to win every match and there are no easy games.

“In the end important values like hard work and organisation will stand out, things that make you excel and win.”

Inter are favourites to come out on top against Crotone, who are in 19th place having won just twice since being promoted from Serie B.

However, one of those victories came in Crotone’s last match before the break and Conte insisted he will not be underestimating the threat of the visitors.

“We’re expecting a demanding match, as I think they all are in Serie A,” he said.

“We’re facing a team that has been galvanised by finishing last year with a win against Parma.

“This match will require a lot of focus. Starting again after the holidays is always a great unknown, but we know the importance of continuing our positive streak.”

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Pirlo Warns Juventus Players Never To Repeat Fiorentina Display

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Juventus coach, Andrea Pirlo, has warned his players not to repeat the poor performance they produced during their shock 3-0 defeat against struggling Fiorentina in their last match before Serie A headed into its Christmas break.

The Italian champions, who face Udinese on Sunday, slumped to their first league defeat of the season against Fiorentina.

The result left Pirlo’s side 10 points adrift of league leaders AC Milan, albeit with a game in hand, putting their nine-year stranglehold of the Italian title at risk.

“We talked about the game against Fiorentina, we got it completely wrong,” the 41-year-old, who is in his first season as a manager, said.

“It was a good meeting and we discussed our future objectives. It was productive.

“I don’t want to see any more matches like the one with Fiorentina.

“We’ve otherwise made some progress and improved in many aspects, but I’m convinced it can be even better.”

Udinese also headed into the winter break following a 2-0 defeat to Benevento but Luca Gotti’s side were unbeaten in six league matches before then.

Hence Pirlo is not taking the challenge lightly.

“I’m expecting a difficult match, Udinese are on a good run of form and are a very well organised and physical team with players who are very good on the counter attack,” he said.

“The team is eager to redeem itself after the last defeat. We’ve got almost all our players back, so we’re setting out to restart the league season strongly.”

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