Lionel Messi turns 32 on Monday and the Barcelona and Argentina forward's status as one of the greatest players of all time has been firmly cemented.

Not only is he one of the most gifted players to ever play football, he is undoubtedly one of the game's most devastating goalscorers.

Those goals are frequently head-turning in their brilliance, so to celebrate the birthday boy we take on the unenviable task of selecting his 10 best for club and country.  

Feliz cumpleanos, Leo!

 

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 confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Malaga (H): March 22, 2009

Thierry Henry's favourite goal by Messi during their time playing together for Barca. Why not let the France great take up the story? "It defied logic what he did," Henry said in the 'Take the Ball, Pass the Ball' documentary. "There's a diagonal ball and he controls it on his chest. He runs full speed, then the first player goes and the second player is just behind. If he takes another step, that player will clear the ball." A shimmy of the body and deft touch later – in the blink of an eye – Messi stabbed into the top corner to conclude a moment of 100-miles-per-hour brilliance.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as a defining goal in his career, this strike against Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in a goal that 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 into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

At the height of the Clasico rivalry between Guardiola's Barca and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, the two teams met four times in three different competitions in less than a month. The league meeting ended in a draw and Madrid won the Copa del Rey final, but Barca triumphed in the Champions League semi-final with a 3-1 aggregate win. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, an ill-tempered affair to say the least, saw Messi make it 2-0 by bursting beyond four attempted challenges and slotting past Iker Casillas, all in the space of around five seconds.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca would regain their LaLiga title from Madrid but 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.

Iran (N): June 21, 2014

Prior to the 2014 World Cup, Messi had only scored one goal in eight appearances. Seemingly determined to step up for Argentina, he netted in his side's opening match before going on to score one of the goals of the tournament in the second against Iran. With the score at 0-0 heading into stoppage time, Messi took control of the ball and bent a powerful strike past the despairing arms of Alireza Haghighi to break Iranian hearts.

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 Madrid the title, and it looked to be heading 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.

Ecuador (A): October 11, 2017

Romario Ibarra's first-minute goal in the last match of CONMEBOL qualification left football fans across the globe staring at the prospect of the unthinkable - a World Cup without Messi. Enter the man himself, who dragged Argentina out of a bumbling stupor to single-handedly tear Ecuador apart with a sensational hat-trick. The shift of pace and stunning, dipping finish into the top corner to claim the matchball was the best of the bunch and a grateful bench spilled on to the field to mob their hero.

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Rarely has a hat-trick been completed in finer fashion. Messi's two goals had helped Barca to a 3-1 lead at the Benito Villamarin, before he passed to Ivan Rakitic, ran onto the return ball and sent a first-time chip over goalkeeper Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from just inside the box. It was a sublime effort that even had the home fans on the feet, applauding - something Messi himself admitted he has not experienced before.

Liverpool (H): May 1, 2019

Over the past few years, Messi has mastered the art of free-kick taking, one of few skills to elude him in his younger days. Liverpool held their own for long periods in the Champions League semi-final at Camp Nou but goals from Luis Suarez and Messi gave the hosts breathing space. Jurgen Klopp's side then simply had to bow to greatness when, after being brought down by Fabinho, Barca's talisman swept an unstoppable 30-yard effort into the top corner. That strike took Messi to 600 Barca goals, but the shine was taken off six days later as Liverpool mounted a sensational second-leg comeback, winning 4-0 at Anfield.

Every birthday that passes represents a step closer to a time world football will no longer be able to enjoy the prodigious talents of Lionel Messi on the pitch.

The Barcelona and Argentina star is 32 on Monday, an age at which most players would be considered to be entering the twilight of their careers.

Granted, if the years are kind to Messi, he could play until he is 40 - he will surely be good enough.

For the moment, he shows little sign of slowing down and continues to rack up the achievements, accolades, trophies and goals.

Here's a breakdown of the birthday boy's achievements at each age...

 

MESSI THROUGH THE YEARS

17 - Messi announced himself to Spanish football as a 17-year-old, making his debut against Espanyol before going on to get his first goal, a delightful lob in a win over Albacete, having had a similar finish harshly disallowed. That season also brought his first piece of silverware, as Barca won LaLiga.

18 - On the international stage, Messi's career has been a case of 'what might have been' and the signs were there right from the start. His Argentina debut at the age of 18 lasted less than a minute, as he was sent off in a friendly against Hungary. However, he did get his first goal at the same age, scoring against Croatia. At club level, he got his hands on the Champions League for the first time, plus a second LaLiga title and the Spanish Supercopa.

19 - A second successive Supercopa arrived for Messi when he was 19, though his greatest achievement of the year was his first hat-trick, in El Clasico of all games. A clinical finish at the end of a flowing move was followed by an emphatic volley and fine solo effort in a 3-3 draw.

20 - Although he was clearly already destined for greatness, Messi's career may have been significantly different had Pep Guardiola not been appointed Barca coach when the forward was 20. His arrival came after Frank Rijkaard could only guide Barca to third in LaLiga.

21 - Messi found another level and truly established himself as Barca's key player at the age of 21. He scored 38 goals that year, helping the club to a remarkable treble, which included his second European title and a third LaLiga crown.

22 - Champions League and Copa del Rey retention were beyond Barca the following year, though Messi still got to lift the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup for the first time. The Blaugrana also won LaLiga and the Supercopa, while Messi took home his first Ballon d'Or and European Golden Shoe.

23 - Another glorious year followed, as Messi got his hands on a fifth LaLiga title and won the Champions League for the third time. He scored 53 goals as a 23-year-old, a personal best at the time, and unsurprisingly clinched a second successive Ballon d'Or.

24 - Although the two main trophies eluded Barca and Messi when he was 24, it proved to be his best year to date in terms of goals. He scored a remarkable 73 in all competitions, making him the obvious winner of a third consecutive Ballon d'Or and second European Golden Shoe.

25 - Incredibly, Messi reached the 300 goals mark for Barca when he was just 25. The same year he guided the team to the league title – his sixth – and won the Ballon d'Or for the fourth season in a row, making him the first to ever achieve the feat.

26 - Having passed the 300 mark at 25, netting 60 that year, Messi became Barca's all-time leading scorer across all matches – including friendlies – when he was 26, passing Paulino Alcantara's record of 369. The Spanish Supercopa was the only trophy he won that year, however, as Gerardo Martino was dismissed.

27 - Messi's Champions League drought ended when he was 27 and he was truly back to his best. He boosted his goal haul from 41 the previous year to 58, passing the 400 mark in the process, and inspired the team to another treble.

28 - It was another hugely successful year for Messi at 28, with LaLiga, the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup all added to the crowded Barca trophy cabinet. Messi also increased his personal collection, winning a fifth Ballon d'Or. He also overtook Gabriel Batistuta to become Argentina's all-time leading scorer.

29 - The goals landmarks continued to tumble at 29, with Messi surpassing 500 in a Barca shirt. For the year he scored an impressive 54, earning himself a fourth European Golden shoe. With the club, he lifted a fifth Copa del Rey title and seventh Supercopa, but Luis Enrique ended his three-year stint at the helm.

30 - Early in the 2017-18 season, Messi became the first player to reach 350 LaLiga goals and made his 600th appearance for the club across all competitions in November. After the turn of the year, he broke Gerd Muller's record for most league goals at one club in Europe's top five competitions, before helping Barca to a domestic double, while they also set a new record unbeaten streak in LaLiga – 43 matches.

31 - With Andres Iniesta gone, Barca made Messi their new captain in August 2018 and he lifted his first trophy as skipper the same month, winning the Supercopa. He was inspirational in the title win, sparing the team's blushes several times with late goals and winning a sixth Pichichi trophy, equalling Telmo Zarra's record. He also netted his 600th Barca goal but Champions League and Copa del Rey success eluded the Blaugrana.

Luis Suarez has been included in Uruguay's final squad of 23 players for the Copa America despite continuing to recover from knee surgery.

Suarez missed Barcelona's shock defeat to Valencia in last weekend's Copa del Rey final after having an operation on his meniscus.

But he was named in Oscar Tabarez's squad for the Copa America on Thursday, with the selection also including Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani, who had an injury-hit 2018-19.

Diego Godin is among the star names after the experienced defender confirmed his forthcoming exit from Atletico Madrid, who are also represented by defender Jose Gimenez.

Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira, Inter's Matias Vecino and Juventus duo Martin Caceras and Rodrigo Bentancur are among the other notable players included.

Uruguay face Panama in a friendly before opening their group campaign against Ecuador on June 16. Japan and Copa America holders Chile are also in Group C.

Uruguay squad in full: 

Martin Campana (Independiente), Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Libertad); Martin Caceres (Juventus), Sebastian Coates (Sporting CP), Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Marcelo Saracchi (RB Leipzig); Giorgian de Arrascaeta (Flamengo), Rodrigo Bentancur (Juventus), Giovanni Gonzalez (Penarol), Diego Laxalt (AC Milan), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders), Nahitan Nandez (Boca Juniors), Gaston Pereiro (PSV), Lucas Torreira (Arsenal), Federico Valverde (Real Madrid), Matias Vecino (Inter); Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain), Maxi Gomez (Celta Vigo), Jonathan Rodriguez (Cruz Azul), Cristhian Stuani (Girona), Luis Suarez (Barcelona).

Manchester United battered Barcelona for nine minutes, with Cristiano Ronaldo roving maniacally in apparent pursuit of some sort of Champions League final shots record.

It was time for Pep Guardiola to again make the switch that helped to destroy Real Madrid earlier that month: Lionel Messi inside to false nine – a long forgotten position his exquisite Barca team and mercurial forward were beginning to revive.

Samuel Eto'o shuffled from centre-forward to the right of the front three and duly opened the scoring. Messi belied his diminutive stature to net a wonderful second-half header and Barcelona unseated reigning European kings United 2-0, adding the most satisfying part of a historic 2008-09 treble.

Ten years on, the ripples from that captivating night at Rome's Stadio Olimpico can still be felt across modern football. For the outstanding coach and player of their generation, it was the night it became clear everything was possible.

Messi unleashed

The season that earned Messi the first of his five Ballons d'Or was undoubtedly a watershed moment in his career.

Prior to Guardiola's arrival the Argentinian kid with a fondness for pizza and fizzy drinks had suffered frequent injury problems. The 2008-09 campaign was the first where he appeared in more than 30 LaLiga matches.

It was also the first time he broke through 20 top-flight goals. Only twice in the intervening years has he failed to net more than 30.

Messi's game, as with all true greats, has continued to evolve. While he was the most dazzling cog in Guardiola's whirring 2008-09 machine, he now carries Barca on his slight shoulders to a greater degree than ever before.

It feels like heresy to suggest Messi might have become simply the latest "next Diego Maradona", a shimmering talent waylaid by injury and expectation. But that was a possibility 10 years ago.

The Champions League final against United coming hot on the heels of him inspiring a 6-2 routing of Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu demonstrated he was so much more. That he did it within Guardiola's intricate team structure was perhaps the most compelling element.

Messi looked like a superstar entirely at odds with the Galactico age. In that sense he was completely in tune with his coach.

Winning Romanticism

Guardiola's swift salvage job at Barcelona after success had turned to excess under Frank Rijkaard, primarily through giving a tranche of outstanding youngsters their head, is a well-worn tale.

However, the wider footballing landscape in which he prevailed was just as important in establishing the meticulous Catalan as this decade's foremost tactical influencer.

This was the age of 4-2-3-1 – power, pace, pragmatism and confirmation of an accepted basic truth. Flair and invention would always capture the imagination and maybe even win occasionally, but organisational and solidity were the foundation of major titles.

Bolt on a superstar signing or two in an era of ever-spiralling transfer fees and you satisfied both factions, or at least tried to. Real Madrid's "Zidanes y Pavones" model of combining hard-working local players with global superstar yielded mixed results.

The difference with Guardiola's La Masia graduates was his "Pavones" – the label given life by unremarkable Madrid defender Francisco Pavon, the unassuming face of the other side of the Galactico coin – included Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, players every bit as good as Zinedine Zidane.

Guardiola updated Johan Cruyff's Barcelona vision of slick passing and positional play with some of his own influences – namely tactical fundamentalists such as Marcelo Bielsa, Juan Manuel Lillo and Ricardo La Volpe, men romantically attached to their principles of how the game should be played, seemingly at the expense of major honours. Guardiola winning because of, and not despite, those virtues was revelatory.

It captured the imagination of fans everywhere, including some men with very deep pockets.

Petrol and ideas

Fast forward to Manchester City's domestic treble this season and the reaction in some quarters to Guardiola's latest masterpiece has been very different. He is the darling of the romantics no more.

Critics have expressed distaste that City's back-to-back Premier League points hauls of 100 and 98 come fuelled by an Abu Dhabi fortune, fearing their dominance to be a demonstration of a game broken beyond repair. This aspect of coverage seems to have troubled Guardiola, whose commitment to playing the "right" way – as Cruyff would see it – has always projected an element of football moralism.

Big finance and big success have long been easy bedfellows but the focus of City's spending – leaving aside its sources and any outcome of ongoing investigations – is significantly different because Guardiola was always their priority signing. His system suitably fitted out guaranteed success in a way that simply punting on the latest superstars would not.

Arsene Wenger's observation of City having "petrol and ideas" remains pertinent and the influence of the methods European football first fell for in Rome are easy to spot far beyond Manchester.

Bayern Munich, steeped in their own historically successful style, grabbed a piece of the action as Guardiola led them to three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 2013-14 and 2015-16. When he left Germany's top flight, his nearest rival was Borussia Dortmund's Thomas Tuchel. A disciple of the positional style, Tuchel is now trying to bring ideological focus to Paris Saint-Germain's own petrol.

Back at Barcelona, Gerard Pique this week dismissed suggestions that a dispiriting end to the season is in part down to a turn away from Guardiola's style.

The Champions League final will be contested by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham – coaches who have come closer than most to finding the Guardiola antidote, but who similarly demonstrate the prime importance of a high-tempo, hard-working collective. Like Guardiola, they are the single most important people at their clubs. Real Madrid's mooted €500m spending spree on the biggest names looks a strangely dated approach by comparison.

Such cycles invariably come to an end, but for the foreseeable future football's course remains set by the magic Messi and his colleagues weaved so irresistibly 10 years ago.

Luis Suarez has issued an angry response to questions over his commitment to Barcelona after he missed the Copa del Rey final due to knee surgery.

The Uruguay striker opted to have an operation on a meniscus problem in his right knee just days after the Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Liverpool.

It meant the 32-year-old could not play in Barca's last two LaLiga games of the season against Getafe and Eibar and also sat out the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, in which Valencia claimed a 2-1 win.

There have been suggestions Suarez chose to have treatment in order to be fit for the Copa America in Brazil and would not have done so had Barca reached the Champions League final, but he has slammed those suggestions.

In a statement released on social media, Suarez described the day after the loss to Valencia as a "day of sadness and disappointment" but insisted he was "very proud of all of [his team-mates], who tried everything possible to give our fans a joy".

He then explained: "I am not much of clarifying things that are said about me and that reach people, but this time I see myself with the obligation to do it, since I believe that many of the things that are being said are with bad intention and question my professionalism.

"This year I started the season with discomfort in the cartilage, which many people already know, and with the GREAT WORK of the club's medical staff I managed to endure without any problem. To all of them, thank you very much for your work and dedication.

"That is why I want to clarify, especially to all those who seem to want to hurt me, that the injury that led me to undergo surgery has absolutely nothing to do with the cartilage, but because of a meniscus tear that I suffered in the tie against Liverpool. That is why I was forced to go through the operating room and miss the final yesterday against my will.

"I have shown every day since I arrived at this club that I am 100 per cent involved, I give it all in every training [session] and in every match for this shield [badge]. Because it has always been and it is my dream to be here!"

An emotional Dani Parejo was lost for words after Valencia defeated Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno put Marcelino's side ahead at the Benito Villamarin and, although Lionel Messi halved the deficit, Valencia held firm to claim a 2-1 victory and lift the trophy.

It is the first piece of silverware for the club since they last won the Copa back in 2008 and brought a remarkable season to a special end in Seville.

Having been 10 points off the top four in LaLiga at the halfway stage of the season, and with pressure mounting on head coach Marcelino, Valencia enjoyed a stirring second half of 2018-19, claiming a top-four finish and reaching the Europa League semi-finals before their triumph over Barca.

Parejo was in tears after the final whistle and later admitted it was a special moment for everyone concerned with the club, which has been celebrating its centenary this year.

"This is something incredible for my family," he said, as quoted by Superdeporte.

"We've been through a lot of bad times. A club like Valencia deserves a lot more joy.

"I have no words. We've made history by winning the Copa in a year as significant as the centennial.

"I said yesterday it was an incredible year, whatever happens, thanks to the Valencia fans, because they believed from the first moment. I have always believed in this group. The party is one for everyone."

Goalkeeper Jaume Domenech thanked those fans who continued to back Marcelino's efforts even when the season looked destined to end in disappointment.

"We're eager to thank them for not letting us fall at the start of the season, when things weren't going so well," he said.

"I dreamed of winning a trophy with Valencia when I was small. I'm a lifelong Valencian and I'm happy my name is in the club's history forever."

Midfielder Carlos Soler, who set up what proved to be the winner from Rodrigo, added: "I'm dizzy from celebrating so much!

"I've been waiting for something like this for a long time. This is a dream."

Valencia coach Marcelino revelled in the "happiest day" of his career after beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

First-half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo helped Valencia to an upset 2-1 victory in Seville, securing the club's eighth Copa crown.

Lionel Messi scored in the second half for Barca, but Valencia held on to give Marcelino his first trophy since taking charge in May 2017.

The former Sevilla and Villarreal boss, who led Recreativo to the Segunda Division title in 2005-06 for his only other trophy, was delighted.

"It's the happiest day of my career. It's the win. There is always a first final and a first win," Marcelino told a news conference.

"I thank the players, the coaching staff, my family... Everyone has helped me become the happiest person in the world on a professional level.

"Last year was magnificent. We started this year badly – or not well, let's say – because we were competing even when the results weren't there. That suffering has given us this.

"The players gave me the opportunity to win this. The love and gratitude that we have is mutual."

Marcelino was under pressure earlier in the season after Valencia claimed just one win from their opening 11 LaLiga games, but they recovered to finish fourth.

The 53-year-old was thankful to the club and his players after turning their season around.

"In moments of difficulty, the players showed their support for me. I was grateful for that and I'll never forget it," Marcelino said.

"It wasn't easy for the club to place so much confidence in me, and it wasn't easy to turn the situation around the way that we did.

"It's been shown that I wasn't so bad before, nor am I so good now."

Ernesto Valverde seemingly has no plans to quit as Barcelona coach despite growing fan unrest and Saturday's Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia.

Marcelino's side ran out 2-1 winners at the Benito Villamarin in Seville, with Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno netting in the first half to render Lionel Messi's tap-in after the break immaterial.

Defeat means Barca end the season with only the league title to their name, despite appearing to have a strong chance of winning the treble just a few weeks ago.

A shock Champions League elimination at the hands of Liverpool, a tie in which they won the first leg 3-0, saw the discontent from fans towards Valverde increase significantly and that situation is unlikely to improve after Barca failed to clinch an unprecedented fifth successive Copa del Rey crown.

Nevertheless, with president Josep Maria Bartomeu indicating Valverde is safe from the axe, the coach appears relaxed about his future.

"I feel good, but when you win, you are happier," Valverde said. "The reading of the game is different from the one we played 15 days ago, but the reality is that we have lost again.

"We have not fulfilled the expectations created. We thought about the treble and we lost ourselves on the road at the decisive moment. It is evident that we are here to win titles.

"I'm fine, what we – the coaches – want is a rematch, to fight to have a challenge ahead.

"I know that losing is hard, something has failed. This responsibility is difficult and it has to be assumed."

Barcelona's Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia on Saturday was not the fault of under-pressure coach Ernesto Valverde, according to the club's president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

A 2-1 defeat at Real Betis' Benito Villamarin in Seville left Barca feeling as though the 2018-19 season has been something of an underachievement despite retaining their LaLiga crown.

Just a few weeks ago, after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the Champions League semi-final first leg, Barca looked entirely capable of winning the treble.

But they were humiliatingly beaten 4-0 by Liverpool in the return leg and Saturday's loss robbed them of a domestic double, with Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno putting the game beyond Barca despite Lionel Messi pulling one back.

Valverde's suitability has been called into question by many supporters since the humbling Liverpool loss, but Bartomeu backed the head coach.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Bartomeu said: "We have always said that Ernesto has a contract for next season.

"I do not think he's the culprit. We had many opportunities, but they did not find the net. But count the goals and Valencia scored one more than us.

"It is not a season of excellence, but [nor is it one] of failure. We have reached the final of the Copa, the semi-finals of Champions League.

"In the end, we lost two games, but we are out of the Champions League and we are Copa runners-up."

Gerard Pique conceded Barcelona's season felt bittersweet after it concluded with a surprise 2-1 Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia.

Marcelino's side, who shared a pair of draws with the champions in LaLiga this term, tore into their illustrious opponents and deservedly led 2-0 at the interval through goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno.

Pique also completed a remarkable goal-line clearance to deny Gameiro and, although Barca belatedly hit their stride, Lionel Messi's 73rd-minute finish from close range was all they had to show for their efforts.

Despite cantering to an eighth title in 11 seasons in Spain's top flight, Saturday's loss coming on the back of Barca's stunning Champions League semi-final elimination at the hands of Liverpool has had a sapping effect.

"It was a good year because the league was won, but the expectations a few weeks ago were to make a much better year," Pique told reporters.

"We leave with that bittersweet taste that the season could have been much better."

The result is likely to invite further scrutiny for head coach Ernesto Valverde.

Pique reiterated that the former Athletic Bilbao boss retains dressing room backing but added Valverde's fate is not in the hands of the players.

"The future of the coach does not worry us, we have to do an individual and collective analysis," he said.

"We have already said that we would like the coach to continue because he has done a great job, but they are decisions that are not in our hands.

"We have a long summer to analyse what can be done better."

Barcelona were denied an unprecedented fifth successive Copa del Rey crown as they lost 2-1 to Valencia in Saturday's final, heaping the pressure on under-fire coach Ernesto Valverde.

Having had a realistic chance at a treble just a few weeks ago, Barca finish the season with only the league title to show for their efforts, a situation likely to increase Valverde's unpopularity among supporters.

Barca were way off their best in the first half at the Benito Villamarin and deservedly found themselves trailing 2-0 at the break, as Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno clinically punished the defending champions.

Valverde's men pushed forward desperately after the break and Lionel Messi pulled one back shortly after being denied by the post, but their dominance proved futile as Valencia held on to win the Copa for the first time since 2008.

The warning signs were there for Barca after just five minutes, as Gameiro pressured Clement Lenglet into a wayward pass at the back and Rodrigo pounced, skipping past Jasper Cillessen and seeing his effort blocked on the line by Gerard Pique.

Neither Cillessen nor Pique could spare Barca 16 minutes later, however, as Jose Gaya charged forward on the break and picked out Gameiro, who shook off Jordi Alba and blasted home.

Rodrigo doubled the lead just past the half-hour mark, heading in Carlos Soler's inch-perfect cross from close range.

Malcom and Arturo Vidal were introduced for Nelson Semedo and Arthur at half-time, as Barca pushed for a comeback.

Messi remained the one to watch, though, hitting the left-hand post with a gorgeous outside-of-the-boot effort just before the hour after a one-two with Malcom.

But he was not to be denied in the 73rd minute, as Messi tapped in after Lenglet's header came back off the upright.

Valencia squandered two chances to finish Barca off on the break deep into stoppage time, as Goncalo Guedes put wide when one-on-one and also missed an open goal from distance, but they held on to consign Barca to a disappointing end of the season.


What does it mean? Valverde's future surely in doubt

If Valverde's popularity was not already a matter for debate, it certainly is now. With a LaLiga and Copa double, you could justifiably see him hanging on to the job for another season, but now things look a little cloudier, particularly given the increasing fan criticism of his leadership.

Arguably the only thing saving him at the moment is Messi's apparent backing.

Rodrigo and Gameiro lead by example

They got the goals, but Rodrigo and Gameiro did so much more as well. The pair led the line brilliantly, never giving Barca's defence a moment's rest, while their link-up play – with each other and the rest of the team – was exceptional.

Clement's long day

It started poorly for Lenglet, as the Frenchman made an awful error after just five minutes from which Valencia should have scored. He rarely looked comfortable thereafter, with Gameiro and Rodrigo giving him the runaround.

What's next?

Given they finished the season with just one trophy, a big close-season awaits Barca. There are doubts about Valverde's suitability, while their squad is short in a number of areas, such as centre-forward and full-back. As for Valencia, if they can keep hold of their star players and bolster their squad for the Champions League, they will be confident of another promising campaign next term.

Philippe Coutinho, Nelson Semedo and Arthur all start for Barcelona against Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday after recovering from injuries just in time.

Coutinho has endured a particularly difficult season for Barca, with supporters regularly getting on his back in response to underwhelming performances.

He had been considered a major doubt for the final after sustained a hamstring injury against Getafe on May 12, but Barca announced earlier on Saturday the Brazilian had been given the all-clear.

With transfer links to other clubs surfacing recently, while Antoine Griezmann has been reported as a potential replacement for him, it gives Coutinho the perfect opportunity to silence the doubters.

His international team-mate Arthur's season has been completely the opposite, with the former Gremio star seamlessly adapting to life in Camp Nou.

Arthur had been struggling with muscular problems, but he will slot into the midfield as normal.

Semedo had been a doubt after a head knock, though serious injury was soon ruled out.

Valencia have named an attack-minded XI in a 4-4-2 formation, with Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno leading the line, supported by Goncalo Guedes and Carlos Soler out wide.

Full-backs Jose Gaya and Daniel Wass – usually a midfielder – will be expected to offer support in attack as well, as Valencia go for their first Copa del Rey since 2007-08.

Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez is confident star forward Luis Suarez will be fit for the Copa America in Brazil.

Suarez, who scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, will miss Barcelona's Copa del Rey final against Valencia on Saturday after undergoing knee surgery.

The surgery put Suarez in doubt for next month's Copa America – with Uruguay set to open their campaign against Ecuador on June 16 – however Tabarez has "high hopes".

"I think yes, I hope so, he's working well," Tabarez told reporters when asked if Suarez will be fit for the tournament. "I can't give you details but he keeps us updated through videos and images.

"He's working on his recovery and I know the meaning Luis gives to these things, I know he'll give 100 per cent to be fit when the competition starts.

"I don't want to rush, injuries are always due to circumstances, not to the players' will, he's got his mind set on the recovery.

"He's very professional about it and he has a good record on it, so I have high hopes to have him ready on our team, he's very important to us."

Uruguay – who reached the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals – failed to progress beyond the group stage of the Copa America three years ago.

For the 2019 edition, Uruguay will face Ecuador, defending champions Chile and guests Japan in Group C.

Ernesto Valverde insisted there has been enough talk about his future ahead of Barcelona's Copa del Rey final against Valencia.

Barca can complete a second consecutive double under Valverde by defeating Valencia in Seville on Saturday, but pressure has built on the head coach since their latest Champions League collapse away at Liverpool.

Having let a 4-1 first-leg lead slip in the quarter-finals against Roma last year, the Blaugrana saw a 3-0 advantage overturned by Jurgen Klopp's side in the last four this season.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu has offered Valverde his backing, though, while captain Lionel Messi also spoke out in support of the coach on Friday.

Valverde concedes he must accept some responsibility for a defeat that has overshadowed their success this season, but he is keen to set the topic aside until after the final.

"I do not think too much about my future," he told a news conference. "The only thing that worries me is to win [against Valencia]. Every day is a battle.

"If you look around the coaches in LaLiga, we are part of the show. We all get ups and downs. You only have to see what happened to [Valencia coach] Marcelino, who had a moment, or [Real] Madrid changing coach.

"I do not know about Leo Messi defending me. We are all aware that, when there is an elimination, we must all take responsibility, the players, the coaches, all of us. We are hurt, but we have to look forwards and face the consequences again.

"I do not feel any more pressure. Why would I? I've always said that the club respects my work and it's always been like that. I have no complaints from the president or the board."

Pushed further on the issue, Valverde told reporters he had provided all the answers required on his future.

Meanwhile, the coach was expecting Nelson Semedo and Arthur to train ahead of the final and was hopeful on the fitness of Philippe Coutinho.

Valverde insisted he knew nothing in relation to the report the final will be Jasper Cillessen's last match for the club amid reported interest from Benfica.

Lionel Messi feels Barcelona are still yet to recover from their crushing Champions League loss to Liverpool.

Ernesto Valverde's side have the chance to complete back-to-back domestic doubles when they face Valencia in Saturday's Copa del Rey final.

LaLiga glory was wrapped up at a canter, meaning their remarkable collapse to a 4-0 thumping at Anfield – having won the first leg of the semi-final 3-0 – threatens to define an otherwise excellent campaign.

Messi was unable to stem the tide as Jurgen Klopp's side ran riot after half-time and, more than two weeks on, the loss still stings.

"The Liverpool game was a really, really hard blow. It was the hardest moment of the year, it was hard to get back up," Messi told a pre-match news conference, where he insisted he and his team-mates should take responsibility for what unfolded on Merseyside.

"I blame the players, not only the coach. I heard a lot of the critics of Valverde but I do not make him guilty for the loss to Liverpool. The coach has done impressive work.

"I blame the squad. We cannot afford games like that any longer."

Messi is guaranteed to collect the European Golden Shoe unless Kylian Mbappe scores four times in Paris Saint-Germain's Friday encounter against Reims on Friday.

But the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is not thinking of such individual awards and the bad taste of what happened against Liverpool still lingers.

"I'm still thinking about the Liverpool loss. I don't really have time to think about the Golden Shoe award," said Messi, who observed the parallels with last season's Champions League quarter-final defeat against Roma - when Barca won the initial game 4-1 - were particularly tough to take.

"I am focused on winning tomorrow and trying to forget the game at Anfield.

"We did a very similar game to in Rome the year before. In the second half we didn't compete and that's something we cannot afford. Liverpool were much, much better than us.

"We played a lamentable game. It can happen one year, but to happen two years in a row [when you] have the chance to be in a Champions League final… it's impermissible.

"The sensation is strange and that's why the team have to focus on trying to get a double. We were hit so hard by Anfield. We were so focused on the Champions League and trying not to repeat the performance from Rome."

Messi rejected the suggestion that such a loss could persuade him to call time on his exceptional Barcelona career – likening such a reaction to the hysteria that accompanies his every setback with Argentina at international level.

"No, no and no. It happens the same with the Argentina national team," he said. "Whichever time we lose, I am wanting to fight on and on and on to win titles. It is the same with Barca.

"I have to apologise for the second half at Liverpool, not because of the result but because of the image we gave."

Messi added: "We have to be focused on trying to win and trying to get the Copa del Rey. If we lose, it is going to be even worse than the way that we are at this moment.

"Apart from the Liverpool game, Barca have made a great year, winning LaLiga and trying to win the Copa del Rey. Apart from that game at Liverpool, we've done a really nice job. We've had a great year if you take out that game."

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