In an alternate universe unaffected by coronavirus, Atletico Madrid's hosting of Barcelona on Saturday would have been all about Luis Suarez – his first match against his former club and Lionel Messi, hoping to create further distance between the two sides in the table.

But with the Uruguayan's positive test for COVID-19 ruling him out of an early reunion, all eyes were to be on Joao Felix, the undisputed star of this Atletico team that once again appears capable of a title challenge.

Seemingly now accustomed to the pressure that accompanied his big-money move from Benfica, and excelling in a slightly altered role to that he often occupied last term, Joao Felix had been identified as the key man for Atletico heading into the fixture.

If Atletico were to walk away with a potentially vital win, Joao Felix would surely be at the fore.

But while the Portugal star was his usual tidy self in the slender 1-0 victory, it was someone a little less flashy, perhaps even usually unheralded, who gave Atletico their direction and purpose on an eerie evening at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Koke's role was arguably going to be more important than ever – Atletico were unable to call upon either Lucas Torreira or Hector Herrera, meaning that whatever central pairing the captain was going to be a part of was going to be lacking a little steel.

But the Spain international, whose recent form earned him a recall after a lengthy Roja absence, found the space he needed to orchestrate, while he did some of the dirty work as well.

In the first half, Atletico played the much more entertaining football, working it nicely between themselves in triangles around the Barca midfield – Koke was central to many of their finest moves, his link-up play with Joao Felix and Angel Correa in the final third routinely easy on the eye.

Koke appears to have rediscovered his best form again this term and his influence on Atleti was clear throughout here.

His 72 attempted passes were 14 more than anyone else in an Atletico jersey, while he completed 93 per cent of them.

Furthermore, his accuracy actually increased slightly when in the opposing half, where 45 of them were plotted.

There was substance to his distribution as well.

He laid on two key passes, bettered by only Correa (three) in the Atletico side, yet the creative burden would usually be expected to be on the likes of Joao Felix, Marcos Llorente, Yannick Carrasco and Saul Niguez ahead of him.

Koke's 88 touches were unrivalled by anyone else in Rojiblanco, evidence that so much went through him, while off the ball he contributed with a team-high two interceptions, one tackle, one clearance and six recoveries – Carrasco (seven), the scorer of the decisive goal, was the only Atletico player to gain possession more often.

In recent seasons, although he remained prominent in a general sense for Atletico, the wider football community's perception of Koke had suffered – he was even subjected to jeers from home fans a little over a year ago.

At that point, his career appeared to have stalled badly at Atletico. His performances were becoming increasingly ineffective and it was beginning to rub off on supporters.

Simeone remained a believer, putting such actions down to the reactionary nature of football fandom – after all, only six midfielders have had more touches and attempted passes than Koke in LaLiga this term.

This resurgence is coinciding with Atletico undergoing their biggest shift in many years, both in terms of their less pragmatic style of play and, now, key results as well.

Prior to Saturday, Atletico had failed to win their previous 20 LaLiga games against Barca, while Simeone had not ever beaten them in the league – that equates to 17 matches.

But with captain Koke plotting their route through such uncharted waters, leading with rediscovered vigour and panache, it seems unlikely that even a landmark win over Barca will be the high point of 2020-21 for a re-energised Atletico.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen's extraordinary error gifted Atletico Madrid the decisive goal as they defeated Barcelona 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Saturday's hard-fought LaLiga contest was settled by a remarkable Yannick Carrasco strike in the third minute of first-half stoppage time.

Ter Stegen – making just his third Blaugrana appearance in all competitions since returning from a knee injury – rashly set off in pursuit of the ball near the halfway line and was beaten by Carrasco, who kept his cool to find the net.

It was a setback Barca could not recover from as they succumbed to a third league defeat of the season to remain 10th, also losing Gerard Pique to a knee injury as Ronald Koeman's teething problems show no sign of easing.

The visitors had held their own in a lively start that saw Antoine Griezmann stab his volley just over before Ter Stegen dived away to his right to make a smart save from Saul Niguez's 20-yard drive.

Marcos Llorente came closest to an early breakthrough but blasted against the crossbar.

Jordi Alba interrupted a subsequent lull in proceedings with a sublime pass between Kieran Trippier's legs to send Lionel Messi through, yet he shot too close to Jan Oblak from a tight angle.

A nutmeg at the other end proved far more costly on the stroke of half-time, however, as Carrasco nudged the ball beyond Ter Stegen, who had inexplicably charged 40 yards from his goal to leave the Atletico winger with a straightforward finish into an empty net.

Clement Lenglet should have nodded Barca level 11 minutes after the restart but instead directed his header straight at a grateful Oblak and then saw centre-back partner Pique land awkwardly under a challenge, requiring assistance to depart down the tunnel.

And Diego Simeone's men subsequently came on strong again, pushing Barca back the other way to see out a precious victory.
 

What does it mean? Simeone's side the real contenders

For a little over 10 minutes, this was an open, exciting affair with chances at either end. But Atletico, masters of the scrappy win, slowed the pace of the game expertly and seized on a rare Ter Stegen error in clinical fashion.

Koeman needs some respite, but Simeone's side were never likely to relent, surely believing this strange year could be theirs. Atletico are second, level on points with leaders Real Sociedad, as Barca sit nine points off the pace already.

Trippier handles Alba task

Had Messi taken his first-half chance from an exquisite Alba pass, the nutmeg on Trippier would have been replayed over and over again. As it was, the Atletico right-back recovered superbly to win the battle down that flank.

The England international was involved at both ends of the field. He sent in four crosses, two of them finding team-mates, and created one chance, while winning four of his six duels and making one tackle, three clearances and two interceptions.

Barca's sweeper exposed

Ter Stegen is a rival to Manuel Neuer at international level but has long been established as Barca's number one. Neither Germany goalkeeper will reflect fondly on this week, though, as the Blaugrana ace followed up his watching brief in the 6-0 defeat to Spain by enduring a nightmare of his own.

The former Borussia Monchengladbach man, like Neuer, can take risks at times with his sweeping style, and this was one occasion where he paid the price. Carrasco became the eighth player to dribble past Ter Stegen in his LaLiga career as he committed an error leading to a goal for the ninth time.

What's next?

Champions League action resumes in midweek with Atletico at home to Lokomotiv Moscow on Wednesday, the day after Barca visit Dynamo Kiev.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique suffered a potentially serious knee injury in Saturday's LaLiga contest with Atletico Madrid.

Atletico forward Angel Correa awkwardly fell on top of Pique's lower leg after being tackled, causing to bend the wrong way at the knee.

Pique was left in visible pain and seemingly unable to walk unaided.

The centre-back hobbled off the pitch thanks to the assistance of medical staff, but the look of anguish across his face was mirrored by one of concern on coach Ronald Koeman.

Barca were 1-0 down at the time of his withdrawal.

In a show of support, Pique's former defensive partner for Barcelona and Spain, Carles Puyol, tweeted: "Forca @3gerardpique I hope it's nothing."

What does the future hold for Manchester United star Paul Pogba?

Out of form and out of favour, Pogba has found himself out of the starting line-up this season and the Frenchman is not happy.

Could Pogba be prepared to wait for his perfect move away?

 

TOP STORY – POGBA EYEING EXIT

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba could leave Old Trafford on a free transfer, according to The Athletic.

Pogba left United for Juventus on a free transfer in 2012 before returning to Manchester for a then-world record €105million (£89.3m) in 2016.

But the France international is unhappy at the Theatre of Dreams, where he is contracted until 2022, amid links with former club Juve and LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport says Juve have turned their attention from Pogba to his countryman and Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga. The 18-year-old has been tipped to join Madrid, while Paris Saint-Germain are also reportedly interested.

- Bayern Munich centre-back Niklas Sule is dreaming of a move to United, claims Bild. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United are believed to be pursuing a defensive partner for Harry Maguire, with Madrid's Raphael Varane and RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano reported targets.

Isco is ready to leave Madrid in January, reports Marca. The attacking midfielder has been linked with Everton, following previous links to Juve and Manchester City.

- Liverpool Echo claims Liverpool have been quoted £26.7million (€29.8m) to sign Ajax defender Perr Schuurs. The 20-year-old is also reportedly wanted by Milan.

Arsenal are working on a structured payment plan to sign Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai, says the Mirror.

Juve are targeting Sporting CP defender Nuno Mendes, A Bola reports. The 18-year-old has also been linked with Milan, Arsenal, Manchester United and Wolves.

Inter and Antonio Conte have reached an agreement over a new contract but Corriere dello Sport says there will be no contract extensions during the season. Barcelona target Lautaro Martinez is the most problematic case for the Nerazzurri.

Pep Guardiola reiterated he would "love" Lionel Messi to see out his career at Barcelona amid fresh speculation linking Manchester City with the superstar forward.

Messi was unsuccessful in his attempt to leave Barca on a free transfer at the end of last season but is out of contract next July.

The Argentina international thrived under Guardiola during their four seasons working together at Camp Nou and they have been tipped to reunite at the Etihad Stadium.

Guardiola agreed a new two-year deal with City on Thursday, intensifying speculation of a move for Messi going through next year, but he again spoke of his belief the six-time Ballon d'Or winner should remain at Barca.

"Messi is a player for Barcelona," he said at a pre-match news conference previewing Saturday's Premier League clash with Tottenham.

"If you ask me my opinion I have a huge gratitude for what Barcelona has done for me - in the academy, as a player and as a manager, they gave me absolutely everything.

“What I want is [for Messi] to finish his career there. I would love it, I would wish it. That is what I said I don't know how many times, maybe a thousand times. 

"Right now he's a Barcelona player and the transfer market will be in June or July. We have incredible games to play and achievements to try and achieve and this is only in our minds."

Guardiola's new deal will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until the end of the 2022-23 campaign and the Catalan coach is keen to add to his collection of trophies.

"All the managers are there to win titles," he said. "We did an incredible job to win eight of them. 

"I say an incredible thank you for the opportunity to continue here. People say thanks to me but I say thanks to the club. They are the reason I am here. 

"They gave me a lot, we continue to do the best for our people to do the best as possible."

The contract extension also ends speculation over a possible return to Barcelona for Guardiola, who was keen to praise City for the way they have handled off-the-field issues this year.

"There are many reasons why I signed," he said. "The club didn't ask the government for furlough, didn't fire one person. They showed me the club how good they are in many things. 

"The decision was not just mine. The squad are all comfortable together and we will now try to continue doing what we have done in these previous seasons."

Lionel Messi has every right to be "p****d off" at being questioned over his relationship with Antoine Griezmann, according to Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman.

Griezmann's former representative Eric Olhats last week suggested the Barca captain has played a significant role in the France star's struggles at Camp Nou.

Messi was asked about the remarks after landing at El Prat Airport on Wednesday, having represented Argentina in a couple of World Cup qualifiers over the international break.

"I'm a little tired of always being the problem for everything at the club," he said.

Messi's comments come at a time when he continues to be linked with a move away from Barca, but Koeman insisted it is not fair on his player to be constantly questioned.

"I can understand that Leo is p****d off. You have to respect Leo more," he said at a news conference ahead of Saturday's LaLiga clash with Atletico Madrid.

"After such a long trip and asking about Antoine is disrespectful. It may be your intention to create a controversy. 

"I have never seen any confrontation between the two on the field, training ground or in the locker room. 

"I am not in favour of giving importance to Olhats because he stopped being Griezmann's agent years ago. What he said is b******t."

Koeman added: "I have to defend Leo because after 15 hours of travel, they do a one-hour check, and then you find a lot of press asking you a lot of questions."

Messi failed in an effort to walk away from Barca in August as the validity of his release clause was questioned due to last season being prolonged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Koeman reiterated he is hopeful the six-time Ballon d'Or winner will stay on beyond this season but conceded the decision is out of his hands.

"He still has a year on his contract. In my opinion he has to stay here," he said. "But I am not the person who has to convince him. Nobody knows what may happen in the future.

"It is incredible what he has done for this club. He is the person who will make a decision about his future."

The comments made by Olhats placed Griezmann's role at Barcelona firmly back in the spotlight, the forward having failed to make the desired impact since arriving in July 2019.

Griezmann has two goals and one assist in nine appearances this term and missed a penalty in Barca's last outing before the international break.

However, ahead of this weekend's trip to Griezmann's former club Atletico, Koeman reiterated he has no concerns over the Frenchman's form.

"No, because I see him concentrating, working and trying to help win the games," he said.

Philippe Coutinho is back in Barca's squad for the showdown at the Wanda Metropolitano, coinciding with the loss of Ansu Fati to a knee injury for the next four months.

"Philippe is okay," Koeman added. "He has been training for almost a week now and we have to talk to the physios about the best time for him to enter the match - from the start or from the bench.

"He is not a winger who likes to go deep; he plays more as an offensive midfielder. He is a great player and it is always good to have him because he is versatile."

Diego Simeone refused to give his two cents on Antoine Griezmann's struggles at Barcelona after it was suggested Lionel Messi was to blame.

Griezmann's former adviser Eric Olhats said last week the France star was made to feel unwelcome by Messi upon joining Barca from Atletico Madrid for €120million in July.

The 29-year-old is averaging a LaLiga goal every 273 minutes for the Blaugrana, far below his record of one every 152 minutes across five seasons at Atletico.

When asked about Olhats' remarks upon returning from international duty with Argentina on Wednesday, Messi said: "I'm tired of being to blame for everything that's wrong with the club."

Despite presiding over Griezmann's far more successful time at Atleti, Simeone was unwilling to give his opinion on why the move is yet to bear fruit ahead of his team welcoming Ronald Koeman's side to the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.

"I have a great personal affection for Antoine and it would not be appropriate for me to assess what is happening at Barcelona," said Simeone.

"Those questions are for the Barcelona coach, and he will explain what he sees fit."

Atleti lost Hector Herrera and Manu Sanchez to injury during the international break, while Luis Suarez and Lucas Torreira will miss out against Barca after testing positive for coronavirus.

"It wouldn't be my place to have an opinion on the coronavirus protocols," said Simeone.

"As for the positive tests that have affected us, we are part of society and some people can get it. We will have to use other players in the games and we hope Luis Suarez and Lucas recover as soon as possible.

"We are in a moment in the world in which this can happen, and it has affected us."

Barca have been in a state of turmoil since their Champions League quarter-final humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich in August, but Simeone does not believe their tumultuous state gives Atleti a better chance of emerging from their game with all three points.

"Every game is an opportunity and obviously this is one. We will try to take the game where we can hurt them and play the game we want to," said Simeone.

"They are a rival with great standing, a squad that is being rejuvenated, but with young players with experience and an exceptional level.

"It will be hard, difficult and we will try to achieve what we want."

Atleti have failed to win in their past 20 LaLiga games against Barca, with their only worst such run against Real Madrid between 2000 and 2013.

However, they are the only undefeated team left in the division and are on a club-record 23-game unbeaten run, while Barca have only been victorious in one of their past five top-flight outings.

*PUT BACK ON DRAFT - WAIT FOR SUAREZ ABSENCE CONFIRMATION*

 

As recently as January, Joao Felix's Atletico Madrid career appeared to be on a rocky road to nowhere – the previously much-vaunted 'Golden Boy', the club's most expensive signing ever, appeared to be at a loss.

Another big game had passed him by in the shape of the Supercopa final against Real Madrid, who emerged victors on penalties after a 0-0 draw – one Los Blancos dominated.

Even greater burden had been placed on him from late 2019, with Diego Costa ruled out long-term due to a neck injury, but Joao Felix simply couldn't meet expectations.

His struggles understandably led to much debate about the cause; was he finding it difficult to settle in? Was he actually the talent everyone thought he was? Or, as most people seemingly thought, was he just not cut out for Cholismo?

Media reports at the time suggested his team-mates believed Joao Felix was having problems settling in Madrid, but once football resumed after the coronavirus-enforced lockdown, encouraging signs were beginning to show.

And now, as Atletico prepare to host Barca and Lionel Messi on Saturday, few would consider anyone other than Joao Felix to be LaLiga's outstanding player in 2020-21.

Space? You can get lost in space

Joao Felix's arrival at the Wanda Metropolitano was met by the clamouring of Diego Simeone critics suggesting this was the signing that would finally see the renowned pragmatist cut loose and suddenly become the entertainer many hoped he could be.

It didn't work out that way. In fact, their haul of 51 LaLiga goals was the lowest they'd managed since scoring just 46 in 2006-07 – they somehow became even duller to watch.

This didn't do much to convince those adamant Simeone was to blame for Joao Felix's form – many people called for the young talent to be given a "free role" that allowed him to play without the shackles normally associated with the coach's rigid and disciplined system.

Yet, as average touch location maps show, Joao Felix generally operated largely in a less disciplined role last season than he has in 2020-21 – in 2019-20, he occupied spaces through the middle and on the left flank more than most, yet his time in the four zones within that area between the halfway line and penalty area were split fairly evenly.

 

This season, however, 22 per cent of his ball touches have been in a withdrawn area on the left flank, and 19 per cent in the next zone up the same wing. His role is demonstrably more structured yet he is proving far more effective as he wanders less, and this is evident almost across the board.

His tally of five LaLiga goals is second only to Mikel Oyarzabal and, at rate of 0.9 goals per 90 minutes, his frequency in that regard has trebled. His rate of 0.4 assists per 90 minutes is four times higher than the 0.1 for last term.

Joao Felix is now averaging 2.2 key passes every game (up from 0.8), while his records for passes, touches, open-play sequence involvement and goal-ending sequence involvement have all increased massively this season.

 

Suarez makes great players even better

Whether this clear change in role has been engineered by Simeone or Joao Felix himself is difficult to know without one of them claiming as much. Certainly, the Atletico coach has not alluded to such an alteration.

No, Simeone has instead highlighted the impact of signing of Luis Suarez from Sunday's opponents, saying earlier this month: "I believe that all this is generated from the presence of Suarez. With the likes of [Diego] Costa and [Alvaro] Morata before him, they had a lot of other characteristics, but we have been looking for other qualities.

"Luis has needed more people close to him, close to where he can hurt the opposition, and that is the team's goal."

Let's not forget, Suarez has spent years alongside the very best in the business in Lionel Messi, and the pair developed an almost telepathic understanding – as good as the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is, that doesn't happen just because of him.

Suarez is an assassin in attack, boasting off the ball intelligence like few other strikers have in the past 30 years – even if he's not as quick as he once was, the Uruguayan knows what runs to make, and when to make them.

For example, Joao Felix has created four chances for Suarez this season – that's already tied with the highest amount of key passes he played for a single team-mate in 2019-20 (Angel Correa), and one more than he laid on for Morata.

But herein lies a new test for Joao Felix.

Sunday is Atletico's first matchup with either of the 'big two' in LaLiga this term, but they will not be able to look to the finishing abilities of Suarez due to his coronavirus diagnosis.

 

Therefore, even greater onus will be on Joao Felix to provide the spark in attack for Atletico, potentially both as a creator and a finisher - thankfully for him, his positive xG differential of 2.4 suggests he has that capability.

Whether he inspires Atletico to a win or not, the fact such a possibility is even being considered less than a year on from him appearing utterly at odds with the club is a major triumph for Joao Felix.

Will Lionel Messi be a Barcelona player for much longer?

Messi, who has called Camp Nou home for his entire senior career, is reportedly eyeing a sensational exit.

And Manchester City are continuing to pursue the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI, CITY RUMOURS GROW

Lionel Messi's links with Manchester City are tightening following Pep Guardiola's renewal, according to Diario AS.

Messi was tipped to join City after handing in a transfer request at the start of the season, but the Barca captain opted to remain at Camp Nou.

However, with manager Guardiola extending his City contract, rumours are intensifying.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Premier League's 'big six' are interested in signing Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. 90min claims Liverpool, City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham are eyeing the veteran defender, who is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

Milan could be set for a busy January. Tuttomercato reports Milan want Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic on loan with an option to buy for €30million. Inter and Juventus have also been linked with the Serbia international. It comes as Rossoneri duo Andrea Conti and Leo Duarte face uncertain futures, while Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai continues to be linked to Milan.

- Kicker says Paris Saint-Germain are favourites to sign Bayern Munich's soon-to-be free agent David Alaba, who has also been linked to Madrid and City.

- Chelsea full-back Emerson Palmieri could join Juve in January, though Alaba and Atalanta star Robin Goosens are also options for the Serie A champions, according to Calciomercato.

Lionel Messi must be the Michael Jordan of Barcelona, according to presidential candidate Jordi Farre.

Barcelona have been without an official president since Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned at the end of October ahead of an expected vote of no confidence.

The presidential election is scheduled to take place on January 24, and Farre is among the candidates, though Victor Font is the heavy favourite to win.

After Messi handed in a transfer request at the start of the season before opting to stay at Camp Nou, Farre outlined his long-term plans for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, highlighting NBA Hall of Famer and Chicago Bulls great Jordan.

"Doubting what Messi has given us is even in bad taste," Farre told Esport3.

"Messi has to be offered a life project. We have to turn Messi into Barca's Jordan.

"We are working to offer Messi a project in the institutional life of the club."

Messi – out of contract at season's end – continues to be linked with Premier League giants Manchester City.

"We have already spoken with Messi's environment," Farre said. "We have a proposal. The offer is not economic.

"Leo has already made a lot of money. It is a love story. I am sure I have a project that will convince Messi."

Messi returned to Barca to work under new head coach Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for the superstar captain.

The 33-year-old has scored three goals in seven LaLiga games this term, while he has six across all competitions.

Messi's minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

Barca – eighth in LaLiga and nine points off the pace – travel to Atletico Madrid on Saturday following the international break.

Messi has scored 12 goals in 17 LaLiga appearances against Atletico under Diego Simeone, more than any other player, whilst he is also the player to have scored the most LaLiga goals against goalkeeper Jan Oblak (eight goals in 11 games).

Lionel Messi is the only number one in football as former Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic hailed the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Rakitic won 13 trophies, including four LaLiga titles and the Champions League, alongside superstar captain Messi at Barca before returning to Spanish rivals Sevilla at the start of the season.

Messi – Barca's all-time leading scorer – is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and Rakitic lauded the 33-year-old attacker, who has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou.

"One hundred per cent football. It doesn't matter who you are, you just have to watch and enjoy this guy. He's on another level," Rakitic told FIFA.com.

"With all respect to the other greats, there's only one number one – it's Leo. To play 311 games next to him, it was a dream.

"I enjoyed it so, so much. I just want to say this: 'Thank you for everything, Leo, because you'll never know how much it meant to me to play next to you'."

Messi's future remains an important topic at Barca after he handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season.

Argentina's all-time leading scorer and captain was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse Manchester City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

Messi returned to Barca to work under new head coach Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for him.

He has scored three goals in seven LaLiga games this term, while he has six across all competitions.

Messi's minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

Barca – eighth in LaLiga and nine points off the pace – travel to Atletico Madrid on Saturday following the international break.

Messi has scored 12 goals in 17 LaLiga appearances against Atletico under Diego Simeone, more than any other player, whilst he is also the player to have scored the most LaLiga goals against goalkeeper Jan Oblak (eight goals in 11 games).

Rivaldo believes this season will be Lionel Messi's last with Barcelona amid ongoing links to Manchester City.

Messi's future remains an important topic at Barca after he handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season.

The superstar Barca captain was tipped to join Premier League powerhouse City before opting to remain in Spain, though he has since been linked to Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

Former Barca star Rivaldo feels the club's new board will be unable to convince six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi to stay beyond 2020-21.

"Barcelona had already negotiated some salary cuts [amid the coronavirus pandemic] with players and also tried to make a general cut that was declined by the squad, so, this is not new for the players," Rivaldo, who won two LaLiga titles, the Copa del Rey and UEFA Super Cup during his time at Camp Nou, wrote in his column for Betfair.

"But it does reinforce the idea that reaching an agreement to renew Messi's contract is going to be tough with a reduced margin to increase his salary.

"Of course, Messi will have better offers from other clubs, and was already trying to leave the club by the end of last season. I can't see how our board will convince him to take a step back on that decision.

"In my opinion, only winning a Champions League or La Liga title this season, or watching Koeman getting the team playing beautiful football can convince Messi to reconsider his options. Unfortunately I'm afraid this will be his last season with the club."

Messi returned to Barca to work under new head coach Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for him.

The 33-year-old has scored three goals in seven LaLiga games this term, while he has six across all competitions.

Messi's minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

Barca – eighth in LaLiga and nine points off the pace – travel to Atletico Madrid on Saturday following the international break.

Messi has scored 12 goals in 17 LaLiga appearances against Atletico under Diego Simeone, more than any other player, whilst he is also the player to have scored the most LaLiga goals against goalkeeper Jan Oblak (eight goals in 11 games).

Manchester City have tied Pep Guardiola down to a new two-year contract. Could Lionel Messi be next?

Messi has long been linked with a reunion with Guardiola, with whom he won 14 of his 34 trophies at Barcelona during a four-year spell that saw the Argentinian ascend to a level that established him among the greatest players of all time.

Reports of a potential move to City intensified in August after the six-time Ballon d'Or winner informed Barca of his desire to leave the club.

Messi had been banking on being allowed to depart on a free transfer as previously promised by then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who subsequently informed him he would not be allowed out of the final year of his contract unless a fee was negotiated.

Guardiola reportedly met with Messi in Barcelona and told him City would be unable to enter such negotiations and advised him to see out his deal at Camp Nou.

With the Catalan's presence at the Etihad Stadium locked in until 2023, it could be argued that the groundwork is in place to pull off one of the biggest signings in history.

 

A marriage made in Barcelona

Under Guardiola, Messi played more games (219), scored more goals (211) and supplied more assists (79) in all competitions than he has for any other coach.

The Argentina star enjoyed his most prolific campaign in 2011-12 – Guardiola's last before leaving to take a sabbatical.

In just 60 appearances in all competitions he accumulated an incredible 73 goals and 29 assists, both of which remain personal bests for a single season. He scored 50 times in LaLiga, the best all-time mark and one that is unlikely to be surpassed any time soon.

Across the entirety of 2012, he set a world record by scoring 91 goals – 79 for Barcelona and 12 for Argentina. His performances saw him become the first player to win the Ballon d'Or four times, and they came in successive years.

A disappointing start

Messi returned to Barca to work under Ronald Koeman after failing to engineer a move away, but 2020-21 has been far from a vintage season for him.

In his first nine games of the campaign he scored four goals, although every one of them came from the penalty spot.

He started on the bench for the visit of Real Betis prior to the international break due to concerns over his "freshness", but he came on for the second half and registered a double – ending his wait for a goal from open play with his second.

His minutes per-goal-rate of 195 is only good enough for 28th among players to have featured in at least five LaLiga games this season.

 

Could it actually happen?

Messi evidently remains unsettled at Camp Nou. Upon returning from international duty on Wednesday, he was asked for his thoughts on comments made by Antoine Griezmann's former representative Eric Olhats.

Olhats accused the club captain of overseeing a "reign of terror" at Barca and making Griezmann feel unwelcome following his arrival from Atletico Madrid for a fee of €120million in July 2019.

Messi responded: "I'm tired of being blamed for everything that's wrong at the club."

Guardiola has previously urged Messi to retire at Barca, but his change in circumstances at City may well alter his position on the issue.

Atletico Madrid have lost another player ahead of their LaLiga clash with Barcelona after Lucas Torreira tested positive for coronavirus.

Torreira, signed on loan from Arsenal in October, underwent PCR tests for COVID-19 after returning from international duty with Uruguay.

His Uruguay team-mate Luis Suarez is already self-isolating due to contracting the virus, and now it has been confirmed Torreira too has tested positive.

Atleti announced the news on their official website and added that Torreira – who has made seven appearances in all competitions for Diego Simeone's side – is asymptomatic and complying with quarantine protocols.

Torreira started in both of Uruguay's World Cup qualifiers, against Colombia and Brazil, during the international break.

Unbeaten Atleti sit third in LaLiga, five places and six points ahead of Ronald Koeman's Barca side heading into Saturday's meeting.

Lionel Messi hit back after Antoine Griezmann's former representative suggested the Barcelona captain has played a significant role in the France star's struggles at Camp Nou.

Griezmann's ex-adviser Eric Olhats last week alleged to France Football that Messi – whom he claimed "has power over everything" at Barca – objected to the signing of Griezmann and "made him feel unwelcome".

Messi returned to Barcelona on Wednesday having represented Argentina in a pair of World Cup qualifiers and was asked about the comments as he left El Prat Airport.

He said: "I'm a little tired of always being the problem for everything at the club."

Barca signed Griezmann from Atletico Madrid for €120million in July 2019 but he has failed to live up to expectations.

He has scored 11 goals and supplied five assists in 42 LaLiga appearances for the Blaugrana, averaging a goal every 273 minutes – the 36th best in the division among players to have appeared at least 20 times.

In his five seasons at Atletico, Griezmann scored a goal every 152 minutes – the eighth best in the league for those to have featured over 100 times.

Since Griezmann joined him at Barca, Messi has scored 28 goals and supplied 21 assists in LaLiga. Only Luis Suarez can better Messi's average of a goal every 124 minutes in that time.

The Argentina superstar has been under intense scrutiny this season after failing to force through a move away from Barca, where his contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and appears unwilling to suffer any criticism he deems undue.

During his interview, Olhats added: "[Messi] is as much an emperor as a monarch and he didn't take kindly to the signing of Antoine.

"His attitude has been deplorable ... I've always disliked hearing Griezmann say that there are no issues with Messi but never the other way around. It's a reign of terror. You're either with him or against him.

"Last season, when Griezmann arrived, Messi didn't speak to him and didn't pass him the ball. I think he suffered because of a negative adaptation."

Page 3 of 122
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.