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Messi could make sensational Barcelona free transfer return in 2023

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Lionel Messi could sensationally return to Barcelona in 2023, according to reports in Spain.

The Argentine superstar, 34, was forced to leave the Nou Camp in the summer with the club no longer able to afford his wages.

Both Barcelona and Messi himself have struggled since their well-documented break up.

Messi is under contract at Paris Saint-Germain until the end of the 2022-23 season.

But with the Argentine suffering from a drop in form and a spate of frustrating injuries, he could yet be tempted to return to Barcelona – the club he first joined aged 13.

Marca claim Xavi – who replaced Ronald Koeman as manager – could play a huge role in securing Messi’s return.

The pair played together for over a decade until 2015 when Xavi, 41, joined Al-Sadd, first as a player then as boss.

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Messi and Xavi were friends off the pitch as well as incredible teammates on it.

And now Vincent Font – who finished second behind Joan Laporta in the 2021 presidential race – has demanded the club make bringing Messi home a priority.

Font told RAC-1: “His departure deserved to be through the front door.

“From that moment on, the club should be thinking about how Messi could return to Barcelona in 2023.”

Messi recently revealed he still hoped to return to Barcelona one day.

The superstar winger hinted at a return as sporting director.

While Messi will be 36 years old at the end of his PSG contract, he could follow rival Cristiano Ronaldo in returning to a former club in the twilight of his career.

Messi previously told Sport: “I have always said that I would love to help the club and to be useful.

“I would love to be a sporting director at some point. I don’t know if it will be in Barcelona or not, or if it will be something else.

“If the opportunity arises, I would like to go back and contribute what I can because it’s the club I love.

“I would love them to keep doing well, [to continue] growing and being one of the best in the world.”

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Ligue 1: Marseille up to fourth with Troyes win

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Olympique Marseille moved up to fourth in the Ligue 1 standings as Pol Lirola’s second-half strike gave them a 1-0 win against Troyes on Sunday.

In a game played behind closed doors, after the French league sanctioned Marseille for objects being thrown from the stands in their clash against Paris St Germain, Lirola found the back of the net 16 minutes from fulltime to put his side on 26 points from 14 games.

Lirola was set up by Dimitri Payet, who was hit by a bottle thrown at him by an Olympique Lyonnais fan in a match that was abandoned last Sunday.

Troyes are 17th on 13 points from 15 games.

Marseille, who had won only one of their last seven games in all competitions, struggled throughout against a compact visiting side and it seemed like they were set to suffer a third consecutive draw at home in the league.

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They failed to manage a single shot on target in a poor first half before springing into life after the break with Arkadiusz Milik threatening twice.

It was eventually Lirola who broke the deadlock, beating Gauthier Gallon from close range after being fed by Payet’s through ball.

PSG lead the standings on 40 points from 15 games after beating St Etienne 3-1 away earlier on Sunday.

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La Liga: Vinicius stunner rescues Real Madrid against Sevilla

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Vinicius Junior scored a scintillating 87th-minute winner on Sunday as Real Madrid came from behind to defeat Sevilla 2-1 and move four points clear at the top of LaLiga.

The 21-year-old Vinicius has been a revelation this season and proved the difference again at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he went off to a standing ovation after securing Madrid their sixth consecutive victory.

“He’s extraordinary,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. “He’s a player with something special in his feet.”

His goal, a stunning strike into the top corner after a surging run in off the left, ensured Sevilla took nothing from a game they had dominated for most of the first half.

Rafa Mir headed them in front early on but the game turned on an error from goalkeeper Bono, who gifted Karim Benzema his 19th goal of the season, the night before the 33-year-old hopes to win the Ballon d’Or.

Victory sends Madrid four points clear of Real Sociedad, who they face at Anoeta next weekend, while Sevilla stay fourth, now five points off the top.

“Maybe a draw would have been a fairer result but I don’t think we deserved to lose,” said Ancelotti.

Real Sociedad lost ground after slipping to a surprise 1-0 defeat by Espanyol before Atletico Madrid bounced back from their Champions League loss to AC Milan in midweek with a thumping 4-1 win away at Cadiz.

READY-MADE REPLACEMENT

Vinicius now has 11 goals in 24 appearances this term and while he was never a guaranteed starter under Zinedine Zidane, the Brazilian has exploded into life under Carlo Ancelotti.

This was the kind of decisive moment Madrid hoped they would be getting from Eden Hazard but with the Belgian still lacking both form and fitness, it seems they now have a ready-made replacement.

“I knew about his individual qualities, his dribbling, in one against ones, his speed, in all that he’s very strong,” said Ancelotti. “But what surprises everyone now is that ability to score goals, which he didn’t have before.”

Madrid were sluggish and sloppy for most of the first half an hour, livened up only by Benzema’s goal that was gifted to him after Bono’s mistake.

Sevilla took the lead in the 12th minute when Mir was allowed acres of space to plant a header past Thibaut Courtois.

They should have been two ahead as David Alaba cleared off the line from Mir, who then forced an excellent save from Courtois after a lethargic touch from Toni Kroos gave him a second chance.

Lucas Ocampos struck the crossbar after Sevilla swarmed forward again but in the 32nd minute, they handed Madrid a lifeline as Eder Militao’s shot from distance squirmed through the hands of Bono, came back off ... and to the feet of the grateful Benzema.

Madrid were buoyed by the goal and Marco Asensio went close with a curled finish over the bar while Sevilla thought they should have had a penalty when Alaba toppled Ocampos in the box.

The second half drifted, with neither team for a while willing to over-commit. Vinicius Junior tore away on the counter-attack but blazed over and Madrid moved into the ascendancy in the last quarter of an hour, with Sevilla happier to hold on for a point.

Alaba volleyed over before Vinicius took centre stage. He was almost on the left touchline when he chested Dani Carvajal’s cross-field ball inside Ocampos before darting past Gonzalo Montiel and unleashing a stinging shot that hit the top corner.

Atletico Madrid had earlier blown away Cadiz, with Diego Simeone’s side scoring all four of their goals in the second half.

Thomas Lemar began the scoring in the 56th minute before Antoine Greizmann and Angel Correa put Atletico out of sight. Jan Oblak’s own-goal pulled a goal back for Cadiz but Matheus Cunha responded immediately to add a fourth for Atleti.

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Victory helps lift morale after Atletico’s 1-0 defeat at home to AC Milan that leaves them with a mountain to climb to reach the Champions League last 16.

Atletico look better placed in LaLiga, sitting second in the table and above Real Sociedad, after their loss to Espanyol.

La Real could have gone top for a few hours at least, but instead saw Espanyol end their 13-match unbeaten run in the league thanks to Yangel Herrera’s late winner.

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Serie A: Napoli mark Maradona anniversary with dazzling win

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Napoli paid the perfect tribute to Diego Maradona on Sunday by thumping Lazio 4-0 to move three points clear at the top of Serie A.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino was among those present in Naples as the southern Italian city honoured one of its adopted sons, who led Napoli to their only two league titles and the 1989 Uefa Cup and died a year ago on Thursday.

Fans chanted Maradona’s name as a statue, which depicts their idol in full flight atop the number 10, was carried around the pitch.

A tribute from Pele was shown on the stadium’s big screens, while players came out for their pre-match warm-up to the sound of “Life Is Life” by Opus, the song to which Maradona does keepie-uppies in one of the most beloved pieces of footage of the Argentine in his pomp.

Inspired by the emotional ceremony, Napoli took full advantage of AC Milan crashing to a 3-1 home defeat against Sassuolo to go it alone at the summit with an at times electrifying performance.

Kitted out in shirts which bore Maradona’s face, Luciano Spalletti’s table toppers came out like a team possessed and blew Lazio out of the water with three superb first half goals.

MERTENS SWEEPS LAZIO ASIDE

In almost perfect synergy with the occasion it was another adopted Neapolitan in Dries Mertens who led the charge, the Belgian nicknamed ‘Ciro’ scoring a brilliant brace of which Maradona himself would have been proud.

Piotr Zielinski got the ball rolling in the seventh minute by almost ripping a hole in the net with his rocket opener, and just three minutes later Mertens took the roof off the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona when he ended a brilliant move by dumping Patric on the deck with a feint and slotting home a cool finish.

After Luis Alberto and then Francesco Acerbi went close for Lazio in the space of a minute, Mertens effectively sealed the win with more than an hour to play with another wonderful goal, clipping a first-time strike that sailed over a despairing Pepe Reina and increased his club-record goal tally to 139.

The 34-year-old’s three superb strikes in his last two Serie A matches will also give Spalletti hope that he can get by without star striker Victor Osimhen, out for up to three months with facial fractures.

Fabian Ruiz capped a perfect night when he lashed home the fourth from distance.

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