Gabriel Jesus joined an illustrious list of players after scoring his 50th Manchester City goal in the Premier League champions' 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Jesus sent a glancing header in off the post to put City ahead 39 minutes into Saturday's encounter at Selhurst Park.

David Silva doubled City's advantage with a wonderful volley two minutes later as Pep Guardiola's side moved to within five points of league leaders Liverpool.

With his goal, Jesus brought up the milestone of 50 in all competitions for City, having joined the club in January 2017.

The 22-year-old also became the seventh player to achieve the feat while playing for Guardiola, joining Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski, along with City team-mates Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling.

Jesus is only eight behind Pedro, but Messi leads the way with an incredible 211 goals during four seasons under Guardiola at Barca.

"I'm very happy, you know, because last season I had a difficult start to the season," Jesus, who has now scored in each of his last seven starts for City, told Sky Sports.

"This season is going to be different for me. I worked hard as well. I focus on the goal all the time and I think that's why I score a lot."

1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona - 211

2. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City - 103

3. Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich - 79

4. Raheem Sterling, Manchester City; Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich - both 67

6. Pedro, Barcelona - 58

7. Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City - 50

Ernesto Valverde thinks "it is fashionable not to agree on anything in political matters" and is keen for a new date for Barcelona's Clasico contest with Real Madrid to be signed off as soon as possible.

The first LaLiga meeting between the fierce rivals this season was due to take place next Saturday at Camp Nou but the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) confirmed on Friday the match was postponed due to the ongoing political tensions and protests in Catalonia.

There were violent scenes in Barcelona this week after nine Catalan political leaders received long prison sentences over their roles in the region's 2017 referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

The RFEF intervened after a rally in the city by pro-independence politicians was called for the same day as the Clasico.

Barca later suggested December 18 as a potential new date and Madrid agreed with the proposal, which still requires ratification from the RFEF's Competition Committee.

Speaking after Barca's 3-0 triumph at Eibar on Saturday, Valverde said: "I hope and I trust that we play this match before the end of the first round of fixtures, or at least before the end of the season.

"It's fashionable to not agree on anything on political issues. I hope that [there is an agreement] in this. I don't think it's too difficult."

On the pitch, Barca ultimately cruised at Ipurua with Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez all on target in a win that saw the Blaugrana reach LaLiga's summit, albeit Madrid can reclaim top spot against Real Mallorca later on Saturday.

It was one of the best collaborative performances the trio have produced since Griezmann's close-season switch from Atletico Madrid and Valverde said it was a matter of time before the triumvirate gained an understanding playing with one another.

"It's a question of time and of playing matches," Valverde added.

"In the end, great players always find each other [on the pitch] and know where their team-mates will be and know where the pass will go.

"They've participated and worked very hard. This is the reward. They scored a goal each, they understood each other well.

"The new players are finding their place and trying to understand each other. It's a question of time before they understand each other better."

Antoine Griezmann believes his alliance with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez is progressing well after the forward trio combined to fine effect in the 3-0 win at Eibar.

Griezmann settled Barca after a frantic opening to the contest, putting them ahead in the 13th minute.

The €120million man then had a hand in second-half goals for Messi and Suarez as Barca moved to the top of the table ahead of Real Madrid playing later on Saturday.

"There will be better or worse days, but we are getting to know each other little by little and we will do more," he told Movistar LaLiga.

Griezmann's opener was made possible by his well-timed run and a wonderful raking pass from centre-back Clement Lenglet – a move the two France internationals conceived before executing it impressively.

"We knew that Eibar were pressing a lot above and I told Lenglet that, if he saw me near the sideline, he should put it long," Griezmann said. "He did so and went 0-1.

"It was important to win all three points because, after the international break, it is always difficult to come on away trips. 

"It has been a good game and now we think about the Champions League."

Ernesto Valverde's side travel to face Slavia Prague on Wednesday, having taken four points from their opening two European matches versus Borussia Dortmund and Inter.

Antoine Griezmann's sense the pass from Clement Langlet would coming was intuitive, his run that caused Eibar defender Pablo De Blasis to panic and clumsily fall instinctive.

But then, reality and the weight of the moment briefly seemed to afflict Barcelona's €120m forward.

This was the second time Griezmann, again lining up in a left-sided attacking role that does not come naturally to him, had started a LaLiga match alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

All three were on the field for the final half hour of Barca's 0-0 Champions League draw at Borussia Dortmund, along with the second half of the 2-0 loss at Granada. On their previous starts together, Messi made it way halfway through a 2-1 win over Villarreal, while victory against Inter was only secured after Griezmann's withdrawal.

The former Atletico Madrid favourite was an unused substituted for the 4-0 win over Sevilla that preceded an international break when he failed to find the net for France. And, at Eibar's wonderfully idiosyncratic Ipurua home, the signs up until the 13th minute had not been great.

               **************************

Suarez is playing with a level of sharpness rarely spotted over the past 18 months, which is bad news for any designs Griezmann might have for operating in the middle of Barca's front three.

In the fifth minute of a lively opening to the contest, the Uruguay striker effortlessly spun Anaitz Arbilla to open up 45 yards of open space and possibilities, including Griezmann to his left.

Suarez instead opted for an audacious and poorly executed shot from a fanciful distance. Would a pass to Griezmann not have been a better option? True, an early dart from Barca's newest attacking recruit had already been headed off by Arbilla but it was hard to imagine seeing something so wild during the MSN days.

Messi. Suarez. Neymar. The trident to which the Blaugrana's latest all-star configuration is always likely to be compared. Messi has made no secret of the fact he wanted a reunion during the close season when it was clear Neymar's Parisian adventure had turned sour.

Three supreme soloists who slotted together irresistibly at their best. The clunk of Suarez swapping positions with Griezmann, only for Arthur's attempted pass to miss them both jarred by comparison.

                **************************

It is worth remembering it was not instantly all milk and honey for Barca's South American superstars in 2014-15.

While Griezmann, Messi and Suarez will be able to iron out the kinks for a few more weeks before meeting Real Madrid, following Friday's El Clasico postponement, MSN made their collective debut at the Santiago Bernabeu and lost 3-1.

Next time out, there was a 1-0 defeat to Celta Vigo. Only in their third game together, where a Messi brace sealed a 2-0 win over Ajax in Amsterdam, did things start to click.

They were in full flight by the turn of the year, their early struggles eventually a forgotten blemish upon a magnificent treble. Those are lofty standards for a signing whose worth has already been extensively disputed to live up to.

                ***************************

And so, with Arbilla helpfully on his backside, Griezmann came over somewhat jittery. His feet, not quite sorting themselves out the other side of an anxious glance backwards to locate the rest of the Eibar defence.

He dug out a left-footed finish that lacked conviction but ended up in the net via goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic and the inside of his post. Suarez was the first to embrace his team-mate. Job done. Relief palpable.

From that point, Artur, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets gradually drew the sting from Eibar before squeezing the life from them. After the interval, it was time for the headline acts to have some fun.

In the 58th minute, Suarez twisted in a tight spot inside the Eibar area and shifted the ball inside to Griezmann, who saw and heard Messi darting around him. A deft one-touch lay-off left the mercurial Argentine with a simple finish.

In the 66th minute, it was Messi's turn to leave it on a plate for Suarez, having raced clear onto a throughball from Griezmann, who often roved slightly deeper to fine effect after the break.

That was 3-0 and game over. There will be tougher tests of their newly established union, but MSG showed enough at Ipurua to make Spain and Europe take note.

Antoine Griezmann, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were all on target as Barcelona coasted to a 3-0 win at Eibar to end a frantic week with a fifth straight victory on all fronts.

Barca opted to travel to the Basque Country early on Thursday amid the political unrest in their home city as a result of nine Catalan political leaders being dealt long prison sentences for their roles in the region's 2017 referendum and subsequent declaration of independence.

The violent scenes that broke out in protest led to the postponement of next week's Clasico with Real Madrid, but it was back to business for Ernesto Valverde's men at Ipurua.

Griezmann opened the scoring with a classy 13th-minute goal and teed up Messi to double the lead after neat work from Suarez, who scored in a seventh straight outing against Eibar to round out the routine triumph.

Suarez's audacious effort just inside the opposition half was not in keeping with the tone of the early exchanges in which Pedro Leon blazed over from one of several dangerous Eibar crosses.

But Pablo de Blasis' untimely slip allowed Griezmann to race onto Clement Lenglet's long punt and he had the composure to clip past Marko Dmitrovic and find the net via the post.

Undeterred, Pedro Leon's exquisite right-wing centre needed evasive action from Samuel Umtiti – making his first competitive appearance of the season – to deny Charles, while at the other end Messi's quick feet nearly rounded Dmitrovic for a tap-in.

It was game over when Messi finished a wonderful team move just shy of the hour. Suarez combined brilliantly with Griezmann and he teed up the Argentina superstar to slot into the bottom-right corner.

Messi then turned provider, racing onto Griezmann's sumptuous throughball and unselfishly laying on for Suarez to pass into an open goal.

Suarez almost added further gloss with a well-struck half-volley five minutes from time, but his effort just cleared the right-hand post.

 

What does it mean? Barca hitting their stride

Messi's injury-hit start to the campaign coincided with some underwhelming early season performances. It took a while for Barca to run through the gears here, perhaps the midweek turmoil playing a part in that, and yet it ultimately ended up a comfortable day for a fourth straight LaLiga win that puts them top – albeit Real Madrid can return to the summit later on Saturday.

Messi, Griezmann, Suarez triumvirate gaining in confidence

One senses Valverde still has solutions to find defensively, but up top there is a growing understanding between Messi, Griezmann and Suarez. The trio combined to glorious effect for Messi's goal and the captain set up Suarez when he could have gone for goal himself for Barca's third. It was an ominous warning to their LaLiga rivals.

Charles struggles to fire

Eibar were arguably the more imaginative team in the opening stages with Pedro Leon and Fabio Orellana dangerous out wide. But Charles did not do enough from his central striking position to put pressure on Umtiti or Lenglet.

What's next?

Barca are back in action on Wednesday when they visit Slavia Prague for matchweek three of the Champions League. Eibar travel to Real Valladolid next Saturday.

Lionel Messi believes a return to Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar is "complicated" because some people do not want him back at the club.

Neymar attempted to engineer a return to Camp Nou during the previous transfer window, just two years after leaving for the Ligue 1 side in a world-record €222million deal.

The strained relationship between the two clubs was said to have impacted transfer discussions, however, and the Brazil international remains a PSG player.

Messi starred in a front three alongside Neymar and Luis Suarez and they remain in contact, but the Argentina star is unsure if a reunion at Barca will be possible.

"We talk often and we have a group chat with Luis Suarez," Messi told Buenos Aires radio station Metro 95.1. 

"The issue of his return is complicated. Firstly, because it was difficult to see him leave, secondly because of how he left.

"There are people from the club and members who do not want him to return. If it is for sporting reasons, Neymar is one of the best in the world, but I understand the other factors."

Messi, presented with the European Golden Shoe for a sixth time this week, recently declared he intends to see out the remainder of his career at Barcelona.

However, unlike fellow club icon Andres Iniesta, he has ruled out signing a lifetime contract

"That was talked about a while ago, as was done with Iniesta and the others," he said.

"I don't want a contract to tie me up because I don't know how I'm going to feel. I don't want to be [under contract] if I'm not well.

"I'm going to compete as long as I feel good physically, but obviously I would stay a lifetime."

Messi also opened up on his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who he competed with for team and individual honours for just short of a decade during the Portuguese forward's time at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo moved to Juventus in 2018 and Messi admits Barca's Clasico showdowns with Madrid have lost some lustre as a result.

"Yes, it was good when he was in the Spanish league," Messi said.

"It made the Clasicos more special and gave them more value."

Lionel Messi admits he needs to be "more careful than before" to get the best from his body in the twilight years of his career.

A calf problem and thigh muscle issue have hindered the Barcelona superstar this season, limiting his involvement and his impact on Ernesto Valverde's team.

At the age of 32, Messi knows he cannot constantly push himself physically to the same extent as he might have done a decade ago.

Conserving energy and strength is something Messi is determined to embrace, knowing it behoves him to produce his best as often as possible, but not at the expense of risking injury or fatigue.

"It is difficult because your mind is fine; you think that you are 25 years old and that you can continue doing the same things [as before] at the time," Messi told Marca.

"But the body rules and there are circumstances in which you have to be more careful than before. Adapting to it requires a process and preparing differently for training and matches."

He added: "You realise yourself how long you can continue. I'll find out over time. I'll be the first to say, 'I've come this far and I can't do it anymore', or that I feel good to carry on."

The Argentina captain is closing in on 700 career goals, the mark his fellow modern-day great Cristiano Ronaldo recently achieved.

In that sense, Messi is streets ahead of any player who ever represented Barcelona, with a goals haul of 604 that is unlikely ever to be matched, so limiting his attacking remit in any way would seem a negative move.

Messi was asked whether he could eventually move back from the forward line and into a midfield role.

He largely has licence to roam with his number 10 status at Barcelona, from which he finished as top scorer in LaLiga last term to earn a sixth European Golden shoe prize.

Messi said of the prospect of a deeper starting position: "I don't know, it depends on how it goes.

"Now I usually drop myself deeper to receive and be in contact with the ball and the midfield. I don't know what will happen in the future."

It appears increasingly likely Messi will play for Barca for the entirety of his career, barring a possible swan song with his boyhood club, Newell's Old Boys.

Unlike Ronaldo, who went from Sporting CP to Manchester United and on to Real Madrid and latterly Juventus, Messi has given little indication he would want to play for another European club.

Ronaldo has espoused the merits of seeking new challenges in different leagues, but Messi sees no reason to walk away from Camp Nou.

He said: "Everyone looks for their targets and their experiences. I never had the need to leave the best club in the world, that Barcelona are."

On October 16, 2004, Lionel Messi got his first taste of competitive senior football for Barcelona, coming on as a substitute for Deco against city rivals Espanyol.

Few watching at the time could have imagined quite what was to come from the Argentinian maestro, who has gone on to become arguably the greatest player of all time.

Messi's influence at Barca has become unrivalled, scoring 604 times to become their all-time leading scorer.

Fittingly, the 15th anniversary of his Barca debut comes on the same day he was presented with the European Golden Shoe for last season, and we have looked back at 10 of his very best goals in action for Barcelona.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already had one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's focus was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete stopper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Getafe (H): April 18, 2007

In the 14 years since Messi first got on the scoresheet, one strike stands out as the best: his Diego Maradona-esque solo goal against Getafe. Messi picked up the ball in his own half and danced around two players before turning on the pace, beating two more defenders and going around the goalkeeper, capping it with a right-footed finish.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, Messi's strike against Real Zaragoza seemed to take him from 'very good' into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in this goal, which began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling the ball into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca were in the midst of a Champions League semi-final shellacking from Bayern Munich when they arrived at San Mames. A goal down in a match that would eventually finish 2-2, Messi received possession from Thiago Alcantara, twisted past Mikel San Jose, Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Herrera with minimal space in which to operate before nonchalantly sidefooting home from just inside the penalty area.

Cordoba (H): December 20, 2014

Messi rounded off a 5-0 procession at Camp Nou with a frankly absurd piece of technique. Cordoba defender Jose Angel Crespo made glancing headed contact with Jordi Alba's searching cross from the left that might ordinarily have averted danger. But Barca's star man pulled the ball down with his left foot, swivelled 180 degrees and crashed right footed past Juan Carlos at the goalkeeper's near post.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Having already opened the scoring three minutes earlier to give Barca a 1-0 advantage over Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final, Messi doubled his tally with a sumptuous effort. Ivan Rakitic's pass sent Messi on his way, before the little maestro's trickery put Jerome Boateng on his backside and allowed the Argentine to casually lift the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.

Athletic Bilbao (N): May 30, 2015

The second part of a treble-winning season for Barca came in the form of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao. With 20 minutes gone and the score deadlocked, Messi set off on a marauding run down the right wing and soon found himself trapped among three defenders. Naturally, Messi was able to float past the trio as if they were not there, before cutting into the box and beating Iago Herrerin at his near post.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Real Madrid the title and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in the 92nd minute gave Jordi Alba the chance to square it to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

Real Sociedad (A): January 18, 2018

Over the past few years, Messi has really mastered the art of free-kick taking, with the skill being one of few to elude him in his younger days. This strike in a 4-2 LaLiga triumph at La Real last January showed just how far he has come, as he lined up a set-piece about 35 yards from goal and coolly curled it into the top-left corner, wrapping up victory for Barca, who had fallen 2-0 behind. 

Real Betis – March 17, 2019

We have become so accustomed to Messi's brilliance that he makes the extraordinary seem normal, but his hat-trick clincher in March's 4-1 win at Real Betis was pure genius. After receiving a cut-back from Ivan Rakitic, he caressed a first-time chipped effort over Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from about 18 yards when shooting through a crowded penalty area looked an impossibility.

Lionel Messi has been presented with the European Golden Shoe for the sixth time, extending his own record as another incredible LaLiga campaign was recognised on Wednesday.

Messi earned the award, which is given to the player who scores the most league goals across Europe's top divisions, by finding the net 36 times in 34 LaLiga appearances in 2018-19.

His efforts helped Barca to successfully defend the LaLiga title as he claimed the Golden Shoe for the third successive season. 

The Argentina superstar was presented with the Golden Shoe at a ceremony in Barcelona, where his sons Thiago and Mateo handed him the latest trophy in a career laden with them.

"It is the most important competition. If you are not good in this tournament, it will cost you the Champions League," Messi said on stage of LaLiga.

"Thank you all. My family, managers, colleagues, all who have helped me to be here today."

With six Golden Shoes to his name, Messi has two more than Cristiano Ronaldo, who has won the award four times, last doing so in 2014-15.

Messi has endured an injury-affected start to the 2019-20 campaign and has scored only once so far this term.

Neymar does not have to leave Paris Saint-Germain to fulfil his goal of becoming the world's best player, according to Brazil team-mate Alisson.

The forward was strongly linked with a return to Barcelona during the transfer window, but no move to Camp Nou came to fruition.

Neymar has instead remained in the French capital, scoring four goals in five Ligue 1 games since recovering from a foot injury.

The 27-year-old did not finish in the top 10 for the 2018 Ballon d'Or but, asked if Neymar could become the best player in the world by joining Barcelona, Alisson told Mundo Deportivo: "I think that Neymar can be the best in the world on any team.

"Neymar is a high-level player and would be fundamental in any team in the world. If he returns to Barcelona or not... I wish him good luck and to play with his usual joy and energy, wherever he is."

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi was reportedly pushing for Neymar to be signed by Barca, but he told RAC1 this month he was surprised his former team-mate did not join Real Madrid after it became clear he wanted to leave PSG.

Messi and Alisson met in the Champions League for the second season in a row last term, with the former Roma goalkeeper again coming out on top with a stunning second-leg comeback.

The Argentina captain had struck twice in the first leg to seemingly give Liverpool a mountain to climb but they won 4-0 at Anfield to overturn their deficit, going on to win the tournament by defeating fellow Premier League side Tottenham in the final.

Alisson also got the better of Messi at this year's Copa America, where Brazil beat Argentina 2-0 in the semi-finals before going on to lift the trophy on home soil with a win over Peru.

"The truth is that Messi played very well in the first leg in Barcelona and achieved two goals, but in the return I managed to stop him in some important moments," Alisson added.

"Messi is one of the best players in football history, but I don't think only of duels with him. Both Barcelona and Argentina are two very good teams that have high quality players.

"Luckily, in the last three matches I have been able to overcome him, but the merits are of the whole team: Rome, Liverpool and Brazil."

 

Carles Puyol admits he prefers Lionel Messi's softly-softly approach to diplomacy at Barcelona over the blunt style of Gerard Pique.

Long-serving defender Pique recently hit out when he blamed the demands of Barca's pre-season travels for the poor start to their LaLiga title defence.

He also suggested the Barcelona board may have been planting stories in the media that were critical of players.

Messi, by contrast, rarely speaks out, and former Barcelona captain Puyol indicated he would follow the superstar forward's lead when it comes to handling club issues.

"You have to respect Gerard," Puyol told reporters on Saturday. "We all know him, we know he says what he thinks, he goes straight...

"I liked to talk the same as Messi, so would have acted just like him."

Puyol also clarified his decision to turn down the sporting director post at Barcelona, explaining he was too busy to take on the responsibility.

"I think the statement was very clear, you can't interpret much more," he said.

"I am at a time when I develop new projects, the next one will come out in a few days and will be related to the Danone Nations Cup, with football and values, an online programme designed for fathers and mothers who want to share time with their children.

"I have many more. I had been working on them for many months and I don't think it's time to leave them. It was not the time to join Barca."

Puyol's former team-mate Victor Valdes was sacked as coach of the Barcelona Under-19 side this month, the ex-goalkeeper having reportedly clashed with La Masia head Patrick Kluivert.

"Victor still doesn't have much experience as a coach," Puyol said. "Last season he did very well and has a lot of knowledge about soccer to teach children.

"I do not know the reasons for what happened, I am not in the club, but I know that he will have a good career as a coach and that he will train great players.

"Youth football is not easy. Many times you look more at the results and you also have to think about the development and training of the children."

Jose Mourinho says Brazil icon Ronaldo is the best player he has ever seen.

The Portuguese was assistant coach to Bobby Robson during the striker's stunning 1996-97 season with Barcelona when he scored 47 goals in 49 appearances across all competitions.

Ronaldo went on to enjoy goal-laden spells at Inter and Real Madrid and fired Brazil to a fifth World Cup triumph in 2002 before hanging up his boots in 2011. 

Mourinho coached Cristiano Ronaldo for three years at Madrid and has watched Barca forward Lionel Messi throughout his career, with the two players considered to be among the greatest of all time.

But while conceding the pair have sustained their brilliance over longer periods, Mourinho - who has been out of a job since his departure from Manchester United in December - says no-one can touch Ronaldo for pure "talent and skill".

When asked by LiveScore who the best player he had seen was, Mourinho said: "Ronaldo.

"Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had longer careers; they have remained at the top every day for 15 years. However, if we are talking strictly about talent and skill, nobody surpasses Ronaldo.

"When he was at Barcelona with Bobby Robson, I realised that he was the best player I'd ever seen take to the field. Injuries killed a career that could have been even more incredible, but the talent that that 19-year-old boy had was something incredible.

"In 1997, Barcelona played against PSG in Rotterdam and Ronaldo's goal, 1-0. Awesome."

Lionel Messi admitted he wanted to leave Barcelona in order to get out of Spain after authorities investigated him for tax fraud.

The Argentina star and his father were found guilty of evading tax on income from image rights by a Catalonian court in 2016 and were sentenced to 21 months in prison, although this was changed to a fine a year later.

Messi has now revealed he felt so "mistreated" during the investigation that he considered quitting Barcelona so he could get out of the country, but he thinks other clubs were put off making official offers as they knew he was at heart a one-club man.

"In the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, I had a tough time," Messi told RAC1. "Yes, for the issue with the Hacienda [Spain's state tax agency]. It was really difficult for me and my family because people didn't really know what was happening. They heard things and they opined. A part of the press did the same, too.

"I think I was the first [footballer to be investigated by the Hacienda] and for that reason it was all so hard. My kids were little.

"At that time, I honestly thought about leaving. Not because I wanted to leave Barca, but to leave Spain because I felt mistreated and I didn't want to be here. I had many doors open but never anything official because everyone knew my desire was to continue but it was something which went beyond my feelings towards Barca."

Question marks over Messi's future appeared again this September when he told Sport that, although he did not want to leave Camp Nou, he was eager to be part of a "winning team".

It was suggested the 32-year-old was referring to recent Champions League frustrations, with Barca's last triumph coming in 2015 and their past two campaigns ending in humiliating defeats to Roma and Liverpool.

However, Messi has made it clear he wants to end his career with Barcelona and may even pass on his dream of playing for boyhood club Newell's Old Boys in Argentina before he retires as he does not want to uproot his family.

"It's true we struggled to get started this season, but we have a good squad with great players to be able to win everything," Messi said.

"We are here to win and to win titles. In recent years we have been close. In the last two years, it was our fault for the way we got knocked out. It wasn't the project or the coach. We have a great squad to be able to win everything.

"And obviously, if they want me, I'm delighted [to stay]. I will repeat: my idea is always to stay here. My idea and my family's idea is to end my career here."

He added that he has "always dreamed" of playing for Newell's.

"But sometimes you have to think more about the family than what you want," Messi said. "The family is the most important thing."

Messi also hopes to see former team-mate Xavi return to Barca as a coach, even if that happens after he has retired. Xavi is currently coaching Qatari side Al Sadd.

"He's in training and at some point he'll come back here," Messi added. "I have a feeling he'll be similar to [Pep] Guardiola. I don't know if I'll experience it as a player, of course."

Lionel Messi has dismissed suggestions he did not want Barcelona to sign Antoine Griezmann as a "lie".

Griezmann joined the LaLiga champions in a long-anticipated €120million transfer ahead of the 2019-20 season.

Barca were also heavily linked with trying to bring Neymar back to Camp Nou but Messi insists a desire to be reunited with his former team-mate did not mean he was cold on the Griezmann deal.

"Obviously it is a lie that I did not want Griezmann," he told RAC 1.

"Last year I said he was one of the best and the best are always welcome. I also wanted Neymar to come for the same reason, because he is different - one of the best, and to have him here would have been important for our goals.

"But with Ney we had to look beyond sports, many parties did not want him to come [due to] everything that had happened."

Griezmann has scored three times in seven LaLiga appearances but struggled to hit the heights that made him one of the most sought-after players in the world while at Atletico Madrid.

He completed 90 minutes and failed to score in the three games in which Barca have dropped points in LaLiga this season, while he is without a Champions League goal and was an unused substitute for last weekend's 4-0 win over Sevilla.

The France international said Messi's early season calf injury and the fact neither player talks too much had made it "difficult" for them to establish a relationship.

Messi maintains there are no issues and knows adapting to Barcelona and the current interpretation of their famed style takes time.

"For any player who does not know the Barca method, coming from outside is very difficult," he added.

"Griezmann is an intelligent player, of great quality, and he will end up adapting."

Neymar signing for Real Madrid was a prospect Lionel Messi feared was about to become a reality.

The Brazil superstar featured in a lethal front three alongside Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou before joining Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222m move two years ago.

Reports of Neymar wishing to return to LaLiga have been frequent since then and an 'MSN' reunion was mooted during the close season.

But with Barcelona unable to put together a package to make the deal happen, Messi worried his old team-mate would end up pulling on the famous white shirt of their sworn rivals.

"I honestly thought that in this market, if he did not come here, he would go to Madrid, because I really thought he wanted to leave," five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi told RAC1.

"He said it, he wanted to change, to leave Paris. I thought that Florentino [Perez, Real Madrid president] and Madrid would do something to take him away."

Barcelona still boast a plethora of elite forward options.

Messi is back to fitness after a calf problem delayed his start to the 2019-20 season, while Suarez came through a period of criticism to score four times in the space of eight days before the international break.

Big-money arrival Antoine Griezmann is still bedding in, although his fellow France international Ousmane Dembele must serve a suspension having been sent off for dissent during the 4-0 victory against Sevilla last time out.

In his report, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz said Dembele told him he was "very bad, you're very bad" in response to Barca youngster Ronald Araujo being red-carded.

Like coach Ernesto Valverde, Messi was perplexed by the incident – mainly due to Dembele's lack of aptitude with the Spanish language – that means the winger is set to miss El Clasico at Camp Nou later this month.

"It is very difficult for him to be able to say that because it is difficult for him to put together sentences and speak well enough to speak clearly," Messi said.

"The coach supported him at a press conference. The truth is we were surprised that [the referee] understood it so clearly because Ousmane has a hard time speaking Spanish – although he makes himself understood and understands everything.

"It's difficult [to accept the referee] understood it so clearly. That's just the way it is."

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