Cesar Azpilicueta Extends Chelsea FC Contract for Two More Years

Cesar Azpilicueta is staying put…

The 32-year-old Spanish soccer player has decided to extend his contract with Chelsea for another two years instead of moving to FC Barcelona.

Cesar Azpilicueta ESPN sources report that the Spain international reached an agreement to join Barcelona a few months ago but negotiations between both clubs stalled more than expected and Azpilicueta has opted to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Azpilicueta had been hoping to resolve his future before Chelsea’s Premier League opening game at Everton on Saturday.

He has already informed Barca of his decision and signed a contract extension with the London club for the next two seasons.

“I am really happy to extend my stay at Chelsea, my home,” Azpilicueta said ion Chelsea’s announcement. “It is almost 10 years since I first arrived and joined the club so I really feel the love and I am really excited for the new project we have in our hands.

“I would like to say thank you to [chairman and co-controlling owner] Mr Todd [Boehly] and [co-controlling owner] Mr Behdad [Eghbali] for giving me the opportunity to keep my journey at this amazing club and I am really looking forward to continuing our adventure. I am a really proud captain and I hope we can share many good memories together.”

Manager Thomas Tuchel wasn’t keen on letting his captain leave this summer and new owner Boehly stood by his wish, according to ESPN.

According to sources, Tuchel sees Azpilicueta as a key member in the dressing room and his presence brings stability amid upheaval at Chelsea in recent months.

“We are so happy that Cesar is staying at Chelsea for a minimum of two more years,” Boehly said. “We are thrilled with our captain showing his exemplary commitment and leadership yet again. There is still so much to do together.”

ESPN reported in November that Xavi told Barca to sign Azpilicueta to strengthen his defensive options.

Barca obliged and reached a verbal agreement for the defender to move to Camp Nou as a free agent. However, an appearance-related clause triggered an automatic one-year extension for the player at the end of the season.

Xavi was so interested in bringing the defender to the club that Barca were ready to pay a small fee to Chelsea to sign Azpilicueta. But the LaLiga giants prioritiszed other signings and decided to delay their pursuit of Chelsea’s captain.

FC Barcelona Acquires Raphinha From Leeds United

Raphinha is headed to the Iberian Peninsula…

Barcelona has successfully signed the 25-year-old Brazilian soccer player after reaching an agreement with Leeds United in a deal for the Brazilian winger, beating out Chelsea for the star, according to sources.

RaphinhaThe total cost of the deal is still unknown, but the fee is thought to be worth over €60 million including add-ons, with Raphina expected to travel to Barcelona on Wednesday.

ESPN revealed in June that Leeds had also accepted an offer from Chelsea for Raphinha, but the player’s desire to move to Barca has allowed the Catalan club to win the race for his signature.

There was also interest from Arsenal, but the Gunners never returned after having an initial bid turned down by Leeds in June.

Barca’s agreement with Leeds comes following weeks of negotiations, with the Premier League side pushing for a deal similar to the one they agreed with Chelsea worth in excess of €70m.

Sources close to the negotiations previously explained that Barca’s initial offers were not deemed acceptable because they were add-on heavy and in several installments.

However, with Raphinha prepared to wait for Barca, and his agent, Deco, holding a series of meetings with the club’s sporting director Mateu Alemany to help unblock the situation, the two clubs have finally struck a deal.

The arrival of Raphinha will not have an effect on Ousmane Dembele‘s future. The Frenchman’s contract with Barca expired on June 30, but he was at the training ground on Tuesday ahead of signing a new two-year deal at Camp Nou.

Sources told ESPN that Dembele will sign his new contract no later than Thursday, with the final documentation currently being reviewed by the club’s legal team.

Raphinha is a full international with Brazil and played a key role as Leeds secured Premier League survival on the final day of last season.

His penalty in the win over Brentford was one of 17 goals he scored during two seasons at Elland Road following a €20m move from French side Rennes in 2020.

He first made the move to Europe in 2018, joining Sporting Lisbon from Vitoria Guimarães and spending one season in Portugal before his move to France.

Rafael Marquez Returning to FC Barcelona as Barca Atletic’s Coach

Rafael Marquez is returning to Camp Nou

The 43-year-old Mexican former-professional-footballer-turned-coach will replace Sergi Barjuan as coach of Barcelona‘s second team, Barca Atletic, according to ESPN.

Rafael Marquez, Barca has announced that Barjuan would not remain in the role after missing out on promotion into the second-tier of Spanish football last season.

Marquez, as first reported by Relevo, will take over, with “just the contract left to be signed” before an official announcement, according to ESPN’s sources.

Marquez was one of the first signings of Joan Laporta‘s first spell as Barca president in 2003 and went on to win two Champions Leagues with the club.

Laporta and Marquez have maintained a good relationship ever since and the Barca chief first attempted to bring him back to Camp Nou last summer.

He had been earmarked to take over the Under-19 team, but a deal fell through at the last minute due to his presence on a list in the United States linking him to drug trafficking.

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department could have had a knock-on effect for Barca in terms of their commercial activity in the United States.

However, Marquez, who always maintained his innocence, was removed from the list last September, finally teeing up his return to Barca.

It will be his second coaching job in Spain following a fleeting spell working as the manager of Alcala de Madrid‘s U16 side.

Barca Atletic play in the third tier of Spanish football and act as the bridge between the youth academy and the first team.

GaviNico Gonzalez and Ronald Araujo are among the players who have recently made the jump from the second team to the Xavi Hernandez‘s first-team squad.

Ernesto Valverde One Step Closer to Return to Coaching Roster at Athletic Bilbao

Ernesto Valverde could be making a big return…

The 58-year-old Spanish football manager and former player appears set to return to coaching at Athletic Bilbao after a candidate who pledged to sign him won the election for the presidency of the Spanish club on Friday.

Ernesto Valverde Jon Uriarte won a four-year term after he beat two other candidates with 46% of the 22,000 votes cast by members.

One of Uriarte’s campaign pledges was to bring back Valverde for a third stint as Bilbao’s coach.

Valverde has not spoken publicly on the chance to come back to the club that fields only players from the northern Basque Country region bordering with France and surrounding areas.

Another candidate for Bilbao’s presidency, Inaki Arechabaleta, promised to bring back Argentine Marcelo Bielsa for a second stint as coach.

Valverde has not coached since he was fired from FC Barcelona in January 2020. Barcelona let him go despite having won back-to-back Spanish league titles and the Copa del Rey under Valverde and with his team still leading the league.

Valverde, a former player, coached Bilbao to a club record 306 games in 2003-05 and 2013-17. He has also coached ValenciaOlympiakos, Villarreal and Espanyol.

Bilbao is, along with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Osasuna, the last Spanish clubs owned by club members, not shareholders. The club members elect presidents and board members to run the club. Candidates must have been a club member for at least one year to run.

Aston Villa Completes Permanent Signing of Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona

Philippe Coutinho is making things permanent…

Aston Villa has completed the permanent signing of the 29-year-old Brazilian professional footballer from Barcelona, the two clubs announced Thursday.

Philippe CoutinhoBarcelona said they had accepted a €20 million transfer fee with Barca also inserting a sell-on clause of 50% for any future transfer.

Coutinho, who joined Aston Villa on loan in January, became Barcelona’s record signing when he joined from Liverpool for €160m in January 2018.

In a statement, Barcelona said they “would like to publicly state their thanks to Philippe Coutinho for his commitment and dedication, and wish him success and all the best for the future.”

Sources told ESPN earlier this week that Aston Villa had an option to sign Coutinho for €40m at the end of the season but were not willing to invest so much money.

Coutinho accepted a wage cut to join Villa in January due to his desire to play regular football again having fallen down the pecking order under Barca coach Xavi Hernandez.

At Villa Park under his former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard, he has scored four goals and supplied three assists in 16 Premier League appearances.

“This is a brilliant signing for Aston Villa. Phil is a model professional and his impact on the group has been very clear since he joined in January,” Gerrard said in Villa’s announcement.

“With the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch, he’s also a valuable role model for our younger players who can only benefit from his experience.

“As we look to build towards next season, it is incredible to work at a club that executes its business so decisively and smoothly.”

Jordi Alba’s Stoppage-Time Goal Helps Barcelona Secure Qualification for Champions League Football Next Season

Jordi Alba will be getting a hero’s welcome…

A stunning goal from the 33-year-old Spanish professional footballer deep into injury time gave FC Barcelona a 2-1 victory at Real Betis to secure qualification for the Champions League next season.

Jordi Alba, BarcelonaAlba’s unstoppable volley at the back post means Barca now has an unassailable 11-point lead over fifth-placed Betis with three games of the LaLiga season remaining.

Earlier, Barcelona had taken the lead with a first goal since January for Ansu Fati in the 76th minute. But Barca were pegged back almost immediately when former Camp Nou defender Marc Bartra headed home a corner just three minutes later.

Alba’s late goal means Xavi Hernandez has achieved his main aim after taking over midseason. It also gives Barcelona a healthy five-point cushion in second place, although third-placed Sevilla have played a game fewer.

“It’s a weight off our shoulders,” Xavi said afterward. “It could have been an even tougher season but the team has competed well since we arrived in November.

“We have not always played excellently, but we have a winning spirit and we are competitive. We’ve been all the other top half teams in the second half of the season. It’s clear we have to pay better. We have to analyze things. But the effort has been huge since November. We’re in the Champions League, a competition we deserve to be in, now we want to finish second.”

Betis forward Juanmi had the first sight of goal in an entertaining match, but his effort could only find the side-netting in the seventh minute.

Ten minutes later Manuel Pellegrini‘s side lost goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to injury as he hurt himself stretching to reach for the ball and was replaced by Rui Silva.

The Portuguese substitute, however, produced an excellent display, starting with a superb save from Ronald Araujo‘s bullet header minutes after entering the pitch.

Betis created more opportunities in a lively first half, but substitute Fati put the visitors ahead after the break with a low shot towards the left corner in the 76th minute.

“Ansu has a gift, others find it more difficult,” Xavi said. “It’s a great feeling to have him back. The goal was something we had talked about this week regarding the Betis defensive line.

“He’s a difference-maker. He just needs half a chance to score, even with a bad shot. He told me best to play him wide. I told him he could change with Auba, but he wanted to be on the left. He’s always a danger coming inside. He gets two chances, scores one and the other is dangerous. He has a gift. He’s comfortable around the box.”

Despite Bartra leveling for the Copa del Rey champions with a header, Alba sealed the game in the dying minutes.

Barcelona, who have won 10 of their last 12 league matches, are close to wrapping up second place and snatching the 3.4 million euros that the club would make by going to the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

Both Copa del Rey finalists — winners Betis and runners-up Valencia — will be joined in the 2023 Spanish Super Cup finals by top two teams in the LaLiga standings.

Betis, meanwhile, missed an opportunity to move level on points with fourth-placed Atletico in their bid to secure a spot in Champions League next season, as they remain fifth with 58 points.

Before the match, Barcelona gave a guard of honor to the Betis players for their cup victory last month.

Ronald Araujo Agrees to New Contract with FC Barcelona Until 2026

Ronald Araujo is a new Billion Dollar Man

The 23-year-old Uruguayan professional footballer and FC Barcelona defender has agreed a new contract until 2026 with his release clause rising to €1 billion ($1.16bn), the club have announced.

Ronald Araujo Araujo’s previous deal was due to expire in 2023 and ESPN revealed last month that Manchester United and Liverpool were both keen on signing the Uruguay international.

The money on the table from the Premier League sides was higher than Barca‘s offer, but sources have told ESPN that the player’s priority was always to remain at Camp Nou.

Araujo has been on the same terms at Barca since 2018, when he first joined the club’s B team from Boston River in his homeland in a deal worth an initial €2 million.

That made him one of the lowest-paid players in the first team going into the current campaign, with his agents keen for his salary to rise according to his new status at the club.

Under coach Xavi Hernandez he has emerged as a key player this season, making 39 appearances in all competitions and scoring four goals, including one in the 4-0 Clasico win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium.

With Barca having to adhere to LaLiga‘s strict financial rules due to their financial problems, they have played hardball during negotiations with Araujo’s camp.

However, sources told ESPN earlier this month there had finally been a breakthrough in talks, with Barca upping their initial offer and Araujo willing to meet the club in the middle despite the offers from English clubs.

FC Barcelona Signs Rising Soccer Star Pablo Torre

Pablo Torre is headed to Camp Nou

FC Barcelona has signed 18-year-old Spanish soccer player from Racing Santander, the LaLiga club announced on Friday, beating Real Madrid to land the talented youngster.

Pablo TorreTorre is viewed as a potential future star but will initially feature for the club’s reserve team Barcelona B beginning this summer, before challenging for a first-team place in the medium term.

Barcelona stated the transfer fee was €5m with the amount potentially reaching €20m based on variables.

Torre, an attacking midfielder, is now signed with the Blaugrana through June 2026, with a release clause of €100 million.

A number of top teams including Madrid had been tracking Torre, who has been starring for Racing this season, but Barca moved to wrap up negotiations on Friday.

The Spain Under-19 international has scored six goals in 21 appearances — 18 of them starts — for Racing to help them top their group in the Primera RFEF, the third tier of Spanish football.

Barca have made a habit of prioritizing emerging Spanish talent, signing Pedri from Las Palmas in 2019 and promoting academy youngsters like Gavi and Nico to the first team.

Edinson Cavani Reportedly Commits to Playing with Manchester United Through End of Season

Edinson Cavani isn’t leaving just yet…

The 34-year-old Uruguayan professional footballer has told Manchester United interim boss Ralf Rangnick that he’ll stay at Old Trafford through the end of the season.

Edinson Cavani Cavani, who is out of contract in the summer, has been linked with a January move to Barcelona or a return to South America, but Rangnick has said Cavani has promised to stay until the end of the campaign.

“I told him that if it was up to me I would want him to stay,” Rangnick said.

“I had a conversation with him [on Thursday]. He came into my office and we spoke for almost half an hour and he told me he will definitely stay and would want to stay until the end of the season.

“Not only because I told him that he should stay or has to stay, he did it on his own behalf and he told me that I can rely on him to stay until the end of the season and give his very best and be a role model for the young players.

“If he should play from the start, he’s available and he’s happy to play.

“Even if he’s not playing, he will be trying to be the best possible role model for the other players and for me this is good news.”

United and Rangnick begin their FA Cup campaign with a home tie against Aston Villa on Monday.

The club have not won a trophy since lifting the Europa League under Jose Mourinho, and Rangnick has promised to pick a strong side against Steven Gerrard‘s Villa.

Villa have already won at Old Trafford this season — a 1-0 victory in September — and since Gerrard’s appointment have climbed to 13th in the table despite losing their last two games to Chelsea and Brentford.

A home game against Middlebrough in the fourth round awaits the winner.

“I’ve always been a big fan, supporter and admirer of the FA Cup,” Rangnick said.

“For me it’s a very important competition. We will definitely try to play with our best possible team in that game and a strong team. We take the game as seriously as we can and hopefully get one round further ahead but in order to do that we have to be successful against Aston Villa.

Aston Villa Agrees to Deal for Philippe Coutinho

It’s official…Philippe Coutinho is headed to Birmingham.

Aston Villa has agreed on a deal to sign the 29-year-old Brazilian professional footballer and former Liverpool midfielder on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season, the Premier League club announced on Friday.

Philippe Coutinho

The agreement, which is subject to Coutinho completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy, and Philippe will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.

ESPN sources say that five Premier League sides held talks with Coutinho’s camp, with Villa and one other English club showing the most serious interest.

However, the presence of Steven Gerrard, Coutinho’s former teammate at Liverpool, helped swing the balance in Villa’s favor.

The Premier League club said in a statement: “Aston Villa and FC Barcelona have agreed terms for Philippe Coutinho to spend the rest of this season on loan at Villa Park.

“The agreement, which is subject to the player completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy and Philippe will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.”

Gerrard, who left Rangers to replace Dean Smith as the coach at Villa Park at the end of last year, played a key role in persuading the Brazilian to make the move to the Midlands.

Coutinho has previously been reluctant to leave Barca, but a desire to play regular football in a World Cup year has led to a change of mind.

Barca made Coutinho their most expensive signing ever when they paid Liverpool €160 million for him in 2018.

His first season at Camp Nou, playing alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, ended with a domestic double, but he lost his way in his second term.

He spent the 2019-20 season on loan at German giants Bayern Munich, scoring twice as they beat Barca 8-2 on the way to winning the Champions League, before returning to Spain for the following campaign.

Ronald Koeman said he would help Coutinho rediscover his best form, but injury problems held the player back under the Dutch manager.

He missed the second half of last season with injuries and has started just once, a 1-0 loss to Real Betis, since new coach Xavi Hernandez was appointed in November.

When asked about Coutinho’s departure in a news conference on Friday, Xavi said: “It says a lot about Coutinho that he’s gone out on loan because he wants to play, and reducing his salary. He’s a great pro.

“It wasn’t working for him here and he’s looked for a solution. He wants to succeed. We will see what happens with Samu [Umtiti.] I don’t have any complaints about anyone. All the players are professional. I’m delighted with those that are playing but also those that aren’t.”

Coutinho tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but should be cleared to fly to England in the coming days and could come into contention for Villa’s Premier League game against Manchester United on January 15.