Scaloni: If Barca target Martinez plays with Messi, he is much better

By Sports Desk June 02, 2020

Lionel Scaloni said playing alongside countryman Lionel Messi is better for Inter star Lautaro Martinez amid growing links to Barcelona.

Martinez has been tipped to swap Serie A side Inter for LaLiga champions Barca in the off-season following his exploits in Italy.

The Argentina international forward scored 16 goals in 31 matches across all competitions before the 2019-20 season was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As speculation grows over Martinez's future, Argentina head coach Scaloni discussed the 22-year-old.

"If he plays with Messi he is better, no doubt. Beyond that later he will have to fight for the position as he did in Inter," Scaloni told TyC Sports.

"We have to be calm. If he changes clubs, maybe he does not have to be the undisputed starter, and it will not affect us, as long as he has a number of minutes that allows him to be in force.

"He has a huge future but still has a lot to give."

With Martinez dominating headlines, Scaloni issued a reminder about Sergio Aguero's exploits for Argentina and Manchester City.

Aguero is City's all-time top scorer as he celebrated his 32nd birthday on Tuesday, while he is third on Argentina's overall goals list with 41.

"Talking so much about Lautaro, it is Sergio who is breaking all the records," added Scaloni. "That is why you have to go calmly and wait for the moment of each one."

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    Lionel Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona at the end of last season, according to Gerard Pique, who has hit out at president Josep Maria Bartomeu and defended signing a new contract in an explosive interview.

    Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi stunned the world in August when he told Barca of his intention to leave the club he has spent two decades with.

    He intended to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer, but the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The saga was brought to a temporary end on September 4 when the forward announced he will stay at Camp Nou for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

    But Pique feels the club handled the situation the wrong way, with Bartomeu allegedly backtracking on a promise to let Messi leave whenever he felt the time was right.

    "I didn't have much contact with him around that time because it was a very personal decision," he told La Vanguardia ahead of Barca's Clasico clash with Real Madrid on Saturday.

    "But I remember saying: 'Leo, it's one year, and then new people will come in'.

    "He had more than earned the right to make a decision and if he considered that he should go... I as president would have acted differently.

    "A player who for 16 years has given you so much. You are obliged to come to an agreement with him. It cannot be so obvious that the two parties are so far apart.

    "How can it be that the best player in history, who we have the luck to enjoy, gets up one day and send a burofax because he feel they are not listening to him?

    "Everything is too shocking. What is going on? Leo deserves everything. The new stadium should have his name and then that of the sponsor. 

    "We should preserve our figures, not discredit them. It makes me nervous."

    Pique also criticised Barca's "outrageous" decision to allegedly hire a social media company to damage the reputations of certain key figures, including himself and Messi.

    "As a Barca player, I see that my club as spent money to criticise us – not only people outside the club, but also those who are still playing. That is outrageous," he said, with the club having denied the claims.

    "I asked for an explanation and [Bartomeu] told me: 'Gerard, I didn't know'. I believed it, but then you see the person in charge of hiring those services is still at the club.

    "It hurts a lot. I say that because I personally told the president before. What else can I say? Is it painful? Yes. Can I do something else? Well, no.

    "My relationship with the president is cordial but there are certain things that remain."

    Pique this week penned a new four-year contract, which has reportedly caused a dressing-room split as a number of players – including the defender – are said to have signed a letter saying they will not negotiate with the current board.

    Asked about his decision to renew, and whether he considered departing Catalonia, Pique said: "If the coach didn't depend on me, I'd have had no problem [leaving].

    "The club told me and other players that due to the pandemic they will suffer a lot financially. In that situation, Barca is not above anyone. 

    "Barca have given me everything, so I put myself at their disposal. They tell me all the money I can give up this year will be collected in the future.

    "I think we are helping the club. The pay may be bigger in the future but for there to be a future we must act like this.

    "In a personal capacity, each player is free to accept the club's proposal voluntarily. 

    "Another thing is that they force you unilaterally and that they do it with the ways that they have done it. There, the truth is, I totally disagree."

  • El Clasico: Messi's long goodbye to the world's greatest club match El Clasico: Messi's long goodbye to the world's greatest club match

    A Clasico showdown against Real Madrid, or West Ham away?

    Before Lionel Messi steps out onto the Camp Nou pitch on Saturday, remember this: he had made up his mind, and he had chosen West Ham away.

    Playing for Manchester City was Messi's plan for 2020-21, it is believed, and if that meant sacrificing leading Barcelona against their greatest rivals, shucks to it.

    Messi must have thought he had nothing left to prove in this fixture, being already the top scorer in Clasico history with 26 goals across all competitions, way ahead of names such as Alfredo di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Cesar Rodriguez.

    Eighteen of those goals have come in LaLiga, from 27 appearances, and he has averaged one goal involvement per game in the league thanks to nine assists.

    However, he has failed to score in his last five Clasico games - three in the league and two in the Copa del Rey.

    This weekend, with the world watching, Barcelona need the real Messi to stand up.


    Still the same player?

    Before the king of the Clasico faces Los Blancos one more time, team-mate Ansu Fati was moved to comment this week that "Messi is still Messi".

    The 17-year-old spoke after Messi's early penalty helped Barcelona to a 5-1 Champions League win over Ferencvaros.

    Yet heading into that game, Barcelona's new head coach Ronald Koeman said Messi's form "could be better", cosseting that in sufficient pleasantries to avoid any blowback.

    As for who is right - Fati or Koeman - it is hard to dispute the experienced Dutchman's verdict.

    Doubtless Fati loves playing with 33-year-old Messi, because what teenager wouldn't relish every minute playing with an all-time great?

    But Messi's numbers are down in the early weeks of this LaLiga season, with his average attempted dribbles per game down from 8.58 in 2019-20 to just 4.75, and his shots on target per game at a relatively meagre 1.75 when he has averaged 2.15 or higher in each campaign over the past decade.

    One goal in four LaLiga matches in 2020-21 equates to his slowest start to a season since 2005-06, when the teenage Messi failed to score in his first four games.

    The Clasico drought

    Those five goalless games in Spain's biggest match have consisted of four starts and one appearance off the bench, amounting to 425 minutes of football without a goal, his second longest run without netting in the Clasico - behind a six-game sequence from April 2014 to December 2016.

    He has failed to score with his last 16 shots in the fixture and has not been on the winning side in a LaLiga Clasico at Camp Nou since Barcelona's 2-1 victory in March 2015, having missed the 5-1 success in October 2018 because of a fractured arm.

    He has not had a goal involvement - scoring or assisting - in the last three Clasico league games, putting him one away from what from that statistical perspective would be the worst run of his career.

    And the goal return from Messi in Barcelona's biggest home league match of the season has been modest - albeit only by his extraordinary standards - for some time.

    He scored twice in a 2-2 draw in October 2012 and netted once when the team played out the same result in May 2018, but those are the only goals he has scored in this LaLiga game since a late strike sealed a 2-0 win in 2008.

    Nobody has scored more Clasico league goals at Camp Nou than Messi's haul of seven, which he launched with a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw back in March 2007.

    But the big-game returns are diminishing with time, or at least that is how it seems.

    Has Messi become a flat-track bully?

    The instinctive response is to challenge the use of such a reductive term to describe a footballer so eminent.

    The transition happens time and again though, from sport to sport. The ageing superstars who once routinely tormented elite rivals serve up reminders of their most glorious days in flashes, often against more limited opposition than before. Case in point: Messi looked sublime at times against Ferencvaros.

    In tennis, Roger Federer can still toy with low-ranked tennis players to the point of doling out early-round humiliations, but will he win another grand slam title, having recently turned 39? No, probably not. Will Messi win another Champions League? No, probably not. It is hard to see it happening at a crisis-hit Barcelona, anyway.

    Messi's haul of 25 LaLiga goals last season was his lowest since he scored 23 in the 2008-09 treble-winning campaign, when Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry were also scavenging for chances.

    But if he is not scoring consistently against Real Madrid, and if he was powerless to prevent Bayern Munich's rout of Barcelona in the Champions League back in August, then where is Messi making his big difference heading into his mid-thirties?

    Since the start of August 2018, in LaLiga he has scored eight goals against Eibar, five each against Real Betis, Levante, Alaves and Sevilla, and four apiece against Real Mallorca, Celta Vigo and Espanyol.

    Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are the two teams who have defied him throughout that time.

    A leaving present

    If this is to be Messi's sign-off stretch with Barcelona - and given his recent state of vexation that seems highly possible - then it is to be assumed he wants to depart with a swagger rather than a shrug of a season.

    Had Barcelona's board acquiesced to Messi's departure at the end of last term, this weekend's kick-off in El Clasico would have coincided with the Argentinian winding down at the London Stadium after a lunchtime outing for Pep Guardiola's City against David Moyes' Hammers.

    Perhaps Messi would have tuned in for El Clasico on the team coach; perhaps not.

    Messi was prepared to sacrifice the Clasico - the hysteria and the history that surrounds it - and that summed up the schism that had developed between him and the club's leadership.

    He has since lost good friends Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, offloaded to Atletico Madrid and Inter, and lost some of his sparkle at the same time.

    Suarez and Vidal won't be coming back, but the sparkle still might. There were flashes against Ferencvaros - again, take the opposition into account - but a Clasico against a wobbling Madrid side seems as good an occasion as any for Messi to serve up a reminder of his greatness.

    If he can lift himself for any game, it must be this one.

  • Rumour Has It: Real Madrid's Zidane facing sack, Barca lead Juve in Traore chase Rumour Has It: Real Madrid's Zidane facing sack, Barca lead Juve in Traore chase

    Zinedine Zidane led Real Madrid to LaLiga glory last season as Los Blancos dethroned bitter rivals Barcelona.

    But, Zidane's position is far from certain amid a run of consecutive defeats in 2020-21.

    Madrid are reportedly willing to part with their head coach if he cannot arrest the club's slump.

     

    TOP STORY – ZIDANE FACING SACK

    Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane could be sacked if results do not improve in the team's next two games, according to L'Equipe.

    Zidane is under mounting pressure following back-to-back defeats after Madrid were stunned by newly promoted Cadiz in LaLiga and shocked by Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

    The Frenchman – in his second spell in charge of the Spanish capital club – is facing a crucial period ahead of Saturday's Clasico against Barcelona and a Champions League date with Borussia Monchengladbach.

    Madrid great Zidane has guided Los Blancos to two LaLiga titles and three Champions League trophies during his time in charge.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Calciomercato says Barcelona are ahead of Serie A titleholders Juventus in the race to sign Wolves star Adama Traore. The Spanish speedster has also been linked to Premier League champions Liverpool and Manchester City.

    Manchester United and Chelsea are set to rival Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich for Gladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria, reports Bild.

    - Calciomercato reports Milan are looking to sign Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Lovro Majer. The 22-year-old has already been linked with Borussia Dortmund, Fiorentina, Leeds United, Valencia and Sevilla.

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