Cesc Fabregas still considers his former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho "a friend" but has revealed he is not on speaking terms with Pep Guardiola despite considering him an idol.

Fabregas, now 33 and playing for Monaco, has been one of European football's most recognisable midfielders since breaking into the Arsenal first-team as a 16-year-old in 2003.

His emergence as one of the world's best saw him switch back to Barcelona – whom he had represented as a child – in 2011 and he played under club icon Guardiola, winning six trophies across three seasons.

It was around this time that the Clasico divide with Real Madrid was arguably at its most vociferous in a generation, stoked by off-pitch – and occasional mid-match – barbs thrown by either Guardiola or his Los Blancos counterpart Mourinho.

But despite the fierce backdrop of the Clasicos of this era, which were said to have led to issues within the Spanish national team, Fabregas was ultimately lured away from Barca in 2014 by Mourinho and Chelsea.

"Mourinho was the one who inspired me the most to leave Barca," Fabregas explained to Tot Costa.

"He told me that we had them on the pitch when he was at Chelsea and I at Arsenal, and then when he was training for Real Madrid and I was at Barcelona, ​​but for him it all ended there.

"He told me about his project. I prioritised the professional side, and today I continue to write with him and consider him a friend, he helped me a lot at the time and maybe with him I played one of my best seasons."

It is easy to see why Fabregas feels such a way – in his year and a half under Mourinho, who was sacked in December 2015, the Spaniard was highly influential and won the 2014-15 Premier League title.

He attempted more passes (3,832) than anyone else in the Premier League during this time, while his 3,238 completed passes was not matched by anyone.

On top of that, he also recorded a league-high 20 assists and 4,698 ball touches in this period, highlighting his importance.

Similarly, his 120 chances created was bettered by only three players.

But Fabregas' time working with Guardiola did not inspire the same kind of friendship despite previously idolising the former midfielder.

"With Guardiola, I have not spoken again," he said. "There are things that happened that I do not have to talk about.

"He was my idol in my childhood, perhaps he is the person from whom I have learned the most as a player, as an idol and later as a coach, but that's it."

Lionel Messi continues to dominate headlines.

While Messi decided to stay at Camp Nou, Manchester City are reportedly still trying to prise the superstar from Barcelona.

Could he be set for a mid-season switch?

 

TOP STORY – MESSI TARGETED BY CITY

Manchester City are expected to make a bid to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi in January, according to The Sun.

Messi was tipped to join Pep Guardiola's City after handing in a transfer request at the start of the season, however, he opted to stay at Camp Nou.

City, though, have not given up on signing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner – who has also been linked to Paris Saint-Germain and Inter.

ROUND-UP

- What does the future hold for Sergio Ramos? The Real Madrid captain is out of contract at season's end, and the likes of Juventus, PSG and Manchester United have emerged as possible destinations. Should Ramos leave the Santiago Bernabeu, Diario AS claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba could arrive as a replacement at Madrid. Alaba is also wanted by Juve, Barcelona and City.

- Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga is desperate for a loan move and is willing to take a pay cut to secure a short-term exit, reports The Sun.

- Eurosport says Chelsea are eyeing a future move for Borussia Dortmund sensation Jude Bellingham, who only swapped England for Germany at the start of the season. Bellingham is seen as an alternative to West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.

Inter are keen to make head coach Antonio Conte happy by exchanging Christian Eriksen for PSG midfielder Leandro Paredes and swapping Matias Vecino for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik in the New Year, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Javier Tebas has outlined his desire to keep Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos in Spain as LaLiga's president once again aimed a swipe at Manchester City. 

Messi pushed to leave Barcelona during the previous transfer window, with the 33-year-old citing frustrations with the board as he made clear his desire to move on. 

Pep Guardiola's City were heavily linked with the Argentina international, but Messi eventually elected to see out the remainder of his contract at Camp Nou, staying until at least the end of the 2020-21 season. 

Tebas once more reiterated his wish to see Messi remain in LaLiga, though he does not believe the competition will be significantly worse off should the Barca forward move on. 

"We would prefer Messi to stay in La Liga but Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar left and we haven't noticed any difference," said Tebas, who went on to criticise City over how they go about their business. 

"It seems the only club in Premier League that talks about registering Messi is Manchester City, who compete outside the rules. I am not the only one saying this. 

"I am not too worried about them. I have criticised what they do so many times. Doing it one more time makes no difference. 

"City is neither affected by COVID or pandemics or anything because they are financed differently and it is impossible to fight against that."

Also out of contract at the end of the campaign is Real Madrid captain Ramos, who overtook Gianluigi Buffon to become the most capped European footballer when he played for the 177th time for Spain in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Switzerland, during which the defender missed two penalties. 

Ramos cancelled a planned appearance at the national team's media conference on Monday ahead of facing Germany amid reports contract negotiations with Madrid had stalled. 

Tebas, however, expects the centre-back to remain in the Spanish capital. 

"I prefer Messi in the league, Sergio Ramos in the league," he said. "We have had important outings. But we are prepared to have the least possible impact.

"I think Ramos will continue at Real Madrid."

Barcelona must "take the bull by the horns" as they slash their wage bill, LaLiga president Javier Tebas has urged.

The impact of COVID-19 on Barcelona and Real Madrid was laid bare on Tuesday as LaLiga published this season's staff budgets.

Tebas suggested the January transfer window was one where Spain's biggest clubs would struggle to fund major signings.

Barcelona's budget has come down by 43 per cent, from €671.4million (£592.3m) last season to €382.7m (£337.6m) for the current campaign.

Real Madrid have replaced Barca as the team with the biggest budget in Spain, but they also face a major cost-cutting effort, needing to trim their bill by 27 per cent, from €641m (£565.6m) to €468.5m (£413.4m).

The big two are far from alone in feeling the pinch, and Atletico Madrid have also been faced with the problem of how to reduce their spending from €348.5m (£307.5m) to €252.7m (£222.9m).

LaLiga publishes its clubs' budgets each season, and the effects of the pandemic were always expected to mean clubs would face difficulties in operating at anywhere close to their previous level.

With revenue vastly reduced due to games being played without spectators, clubs have already been taking steps towards balancing their books, with a number of players agreeing to defer wages.

Tebas said: "It is very difficult for players to come to the big clubs in January. Cost savings are mandatory."

He explained that this season would inevitably be very different to previous campaigns.

"In the case of Barcelona, ​​for example, I think they have to take the bull by the horns and reduce their wage bill," Tebas said. "Barca are obliged to renegotiate their contracts."

LaLiga is far from alone in being affected so significantly by the coronavirus crisis, but its transparency in terms of revealing its clubs' staff spending limits shines new light on how severely many of them are being hit.

Speaking about Barcelona, whose former president Josep Maria Bartomeu highlighted the club's financial position prior to stepping down in October, Tebas said it was not a case of mismanagement that led to their current drastic situation.

Tebas said, quoted by Spanish newspaper Sport: "When you have a force majeure cause, you cannot say that things have been done wrongly.

"Barcelona had a specific financial strategy that worked well. If we were not in a pandemic, we would not talk about this reduction; it is a force majeure cause."

Atletico Madrid have been dealt another setback ahead of their clash with Barcelona after confirming midfielder Hector Herrera has sustained a grade two injury to his left thigh.

Diego Simeone's men are already set to be without Luis Suarez for Saturday's LaLiga game following his positive test for coronavirus while away on international duty with Uruguay.

Atleti are sweating on the fitness of a number of other first-team players, including Diego Costa and Yannick Carrasco, and will definitely be without Herrera next weekend.

The 30-year-old played no part in Mexico's 3-2 win over South Korea last week and was sent back to Madrid to undergo a scan.

Atleti confirmed the extent of the injury on their official website on Tuesday, with Herrera now expected to miss around a month.

He has featured eight times in all competitions for Atletico this season and started their last four games before the international break.

Herrera has averaged 85.18 passes per 90 minutes in his five LaLiga outings, which is behind only Toni Kroos (86.54) among players to have played at least five times this term.

Kroos is also the only player to have averaged more touches (104 to 100) than Herrera, while no player has turned over possession more often (9.64) - Manu Garcia being next highest with 9.38.

Atletico take on Barcelona, Valencia and Real Valladolid in LaLiga over the next three weeks and also have Champions League games with Lokomotiv Moscow, Bayern Munich and Salzburg in that period.

Paris Saint-Germain's focus is reportedly on Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, not Sergio Ramos.

Ramos has been linked with the Ligue 1 champions with his Real Madrid deal expiring at the end of the season.

But PSG seemingly have other deals they want done first.

 

TOP STORY – PSG PRIORITISING MBAPPE, NEYMAR OVER RAMOS

PSG are prioritising new deals for Mbappe and Neymar over a potential move for Madrid defender Ramos, according to Goal.

Mbappe and Neymar are both out of contract in 2022 and have unsurprisingly emerged as targets for clubs in Europe.

The star forwards have both been at PSG since 2017, helping the club win Ligue 1 in every season since.

Interestingly, Mbappe and Neymar have both appeared in just 38 of 113 Ligue 1 games for PSG since arriving.

PSG have won 34 and lost just one of those, while averaging 3.3 goals for. Without at least one of them, their win percentage drops from 89.5 to 72, and average goals for dips to 2.5.

 

ROUND-UP

- Out of contract at Liverpool at the end of the season, Georginio Wijnaldum's future remains unclear. CalcioMercato reports the midfielder is wanted by Barcelona and Inter.

- There could be plenty of movement coming up at Barcelona. Sport reports Riqui Puig has no plans to leave the club in January despite interest from Porto and Benfica. It also says while the LaLiga giants are prepared to let Puig and Carles Alena leave on loan, they are working on selling Samuel Umtiti, Martin Braithwaite, Junior Firpo and Matheus Fernandes.

- Staying at Barcelona and Mundo Deportivo reports the club are working on a contract extension for Ousmane Dembele, whose current deal expires in 2022.

- With Lautaro Martinez continually linked with Barcelona, Inter are considering their options. The Serie A giants are eyeing Torino striker Andrea Belotti as a replacement if Martinez joins Barca, according to CalcioMercato. Since Belotti arrived at Torino in 2015, only Ciro Immobile (111) and Gonzalo Higuain (90) have scored more goals than his 85.

- Also in Serie A, Napoli are considering a loan move for Chelsea defender Emerson Palmieri, according to la Repubblica.

Pedri thanked Real Madrid for not signing him, saying he was where he wanted to be at Barcelona.

The 17-year-old joined the LaLiga giants from Las Palmas in July, and has scored twice in 10 appearances for Barca this season.

But it could have been different for the teenager, who was turned down by Madrid after a trial.

Pedri, a Spain youth international, said he was glad to be rejected by Barca's rivals.

"I went to test with Real Madrid but they told me I didn't have the level," he told Cadena SER on Monday.

"I thank the one who told me I was not worth it, now I am in the team that I have always loved."

Barcelona sit eighth in the LaLiga table, nine points behind leaders Real Sociedad, although they have played two fewer games.

Pedri, who has made three league starts this season, is enjoying the opportunity of playing with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi.

"Of course I dreamed of playing with Messi, like many children," he said.

Barcelona are next in action with a trip to Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Luis Suarez has tested positive for coronavirus and is set to miss Atletico Madrid's LaLiga clash with his former club Barcelona.

The 33-year-old will also sit out Uruguay's World Cup qualifier with Brazil on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19 while away with his national side.

Uruguay confirmed in a statement on Monday that Suarez and team-mate Rodrigo Munoz, as well as backroom staff member Matias Faral, are all following coronavirus protocols.

The news comes five days before Suarez was set to take on Barcelona, the club he left for a nominal fee in September after six years at Camp Nou.

He has played nine times for Atletico since joining and has five goals in six LaLiga outings. Only Real Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal has scored more, having played a further three games.

Suarez's six league goals have come from 22 shots, eight of which were on target, both of which are the most of any Atletico player this season.

Speaking to Marca this week, Suarez reiterated his disappointment at being forced out of Barcelona during the most recent transfer window.

"I was sad and hurt by the way I left – I already said it," he admitted. "But when they close a door, five more open to you where they value my work, professionalism and trajectory. I feel proud. 

"Where they did not want me, there was another that wanted me. I found happiness and I'm enjoying this moment now."

Spain have confirmed Sergio Busquets has sustained a mild sprain in his left knee that will keep him out of Tuesday's Nations League clash with Germany.

The Barcelona midfielder was injured during Spain's 1-1 draw with Switzerland last week and was unable to take part in training on Sunday.

After undergoing an MRI scan on Monday, the extent of the damage was revealed by Spain on their official Twitter account.

Busquets is definitely out of the home match against Germany, which La Roja need to win to top Group A4, and is considered a major doubt for Barca's LaLiga showdown with Atletico Madrid next Saturday.

The 32-year-old has started all seven of Barca's league games this term and has appeared in all three Champions League matches.

His 321 passes in the opposition half in LaLiga this term is bettered only by Frenkie de Jong (325), Sergio Canales (332) and team-mate Lionel Messi (332).

However, Busquets' figures in other areas have dropped since last season, leading to calls for Miralem Pjanic to be given the nod in Ronald Koeman's starting line-up.

Busquets' passes-per-game figures are down from 93 per game last term to 80 this time around, while his number of dribbles (0.83 to 0.48) and touches (106 to 91) have also fallen.

Barca face Atletico and Osasuna in their next two LaLiga games, either side of a trip to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.

Barcelona presidential candidate Victor Font has no intention of attempting to re-sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain should he win his election bid.

Neymar spent four trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou before joining the French giants for a record €222million in August 2017.

He has since been embroiled in a court battle with his former club over an alleged breach of contract and unpaid loyalty payments.

Amid fresh rumours last week linking Neymar with a return to Catalonia, Font has ruled out making an approach for the 28-year-old.

"Institutionally, Neymar's not in my plans," said Font, who has previously stated he wants to bring Pep Guardiola back to the club to reunite the Catalan coach with Lionel Messi.

"For financial reasons and for other reasons, like the lawsuit he has against the club and the fact he left the club in a tricky position days before the season started [in 2017]."

Neymar has scored 49 times in 56 Ligue 1 outings since arriving at PSG and assisted a further 29 - only team-mate Kylian Mbappe (95) has been directly involved in more goals in the competition in that time.

During his time with Barca, meanwhile, he was directly involved in 164 goals in 186 appearances, helping the club to eight trophies.

"He would fit in on the sporting side but not on the financial or the institutional side of things," Font added in the interview with Sport.

"But the signings will be in the hands of the sporting directorate, not as they have been made up until now."

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.

Font is the heavy favourite to win the election, which is scheduled to take place on January 24.

Atletico Madrid have been paired with fourth-tier side Cardassar in the first round of the Copa del Rey, though Real Madrid and Barcelona are two of four LaLiga clubs missing.

The draw took place in La Cartuja, the Olympic stadium in Seville that will host the final next April, and is organised so that all LaLiga clubs avoid each other and are instead drawn with teams from the lower reaches of the Spanish football pyramid.

Atletico are the only one of the traditional 'big three' involved and face a trip to Tercera Division side Cardassar, who are from a small town on the island of Mallorca.

Sevilla, Spain's fourth Champions League representative this term, will stay in Andalusia when they go to Ciudad de Lucena and Valencia have been drawn against Catalonian team Terrassa.

Ties will take place on December 16 between the 112 clubs involved at this stage.

Madrid, Barca and 2019-20 Copa finalists Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao have byes to the third round due to their participation in the expanded Supercopa.

Athletic and La Real were unable to play their historic all-Basque final earlier this year as planned due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the match postponed indefinitely at the time.

Recent media reports suggest the match is due to be rearranged for April 4, 2021, two weeks prior to the 2020-21 final.

Lionel Messi first represented Barcelona's senior side 17 years ago, on November 16, 2003. It's difficult to adequately describe the impact and influence he's since gone on to have on one of the world's most illustrious clubs.

A six-time Ballon d'Or winner and long-established as Barca's all-time leading scorer, virtually every major decision that is made at the club ultimately appears to be taken with Messi in mind.

Perhaps the reality is different, but the way the Barca soap opera is played out in Spanish and Catalan media, one comes to assume it isn't just on the pitch that Messi pulls the strings.

It was this situation that made the pre-season tug of war between Messi and the club all the more damaging – while the player was adamant he could leave for free, then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu seemingly reneged on a previous agreement and stood firm.

Seventeen years on from his first appearance in the Barca team, during a friendly with Porto, it seems an opportune time to consider where Messi might go next if he allows his contract to expire next year.

So, just for a minute, let's imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses. What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea, and there is even the faint prospect of Luis Suarez going back to his old club to join him one day.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but imagine if Messi were doing it alongside him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne are going through some tricky times. Markus Gisdol did a brilliant job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga last season and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023, though they're struggling in the bottom three this term.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. As unlikely as it would be in any scenario, if Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

NEWELL'S OLD BOYS

What could be more magical than Messi returning to where it all began? A lifelong Newell's fan, Messi was on their books as a youngster until they – and River Plate afterwards – were unable to pay for necessary growth hormone treatment.

Before then, as the story goes, Messi had scored nearly 500 goals in youth football for the club, and throughout his days as a professional he has been linked with a future move to Newell's prior to retiring.

As recently as last year Messi expressed doubt that such a "dream" could ever happen due to the needs of his family.

It is the move football romanticists will want to see and, while unlikely, Messi did leave the door open: "I will try to convince the family."

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous football export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League at last, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

Luis Suarez says he and Lionel Messi prefer not to talk about football with each other as the Atletico Madrid striker prepares to face Barcelona for the first time since leaving the club in September. 

Surez joined Atletico in a €6million deal after six years at Camp Nou, leaving Messi furious at the club for "kicking out" his close friend. 

Messi also came close to leaving the Catalan giants during the off-season after revealing he wanted to trigger a clause in his contract to depart on a free transfer, although 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 the club for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

Messi and Suarez will face off at Wanda Metropolitano in LaLiga on Saturday, but the Uruguayan says they are unlikely to discuss the game this week. 

"The truth is that we speak a lot, but honestly we talk about our life," Suarez told Marca. 

"It was recently the birthday of one of my children, also his. We talked about life, the virus, everything, but very little about football, about the goals we miss or about tactical systems. 

"We worry more about how the family is than about what happens in football."

Suarez has taken quickly to life at Atletico and is the club's joint top scorer this season alongside Joao Felix with five goals from six games – more than any Barca player has scored this campaign. 

Those goals have come from just eight shots on target, while he has also chipped in with one assist. 

Suarez reiterated his disappointment at the way he was forced out of Barca but says he is revelling in life under Diego Simeone at Atletico.

"I was sad and hurt by the way I left – I already said it," he added. "But when they close a door, five more open to you where they value my work, professionalism and trajectory. I feel proud. 

"Where they did not want me, there was another that wanted me. I found happiness and I'm enjoying this moment now."

Atletico have won five of their opening seven matches to sit three points behind surprise leaders Real Sociedad, who have played two games more – while they are 23 unbeaten in LaLiga, their longest undefeated streak in league history and the best current run of any team in the top five European divisions.

Barcelona, meanwhile, are languishing in eighth having picked up just 11 points from their opening seven games. 

On November 16, 2003, a floppy-haired 16-year-old made his first appearance for Barcelona in a friendly against Porto – little did anyone know he would go on to become arguably the greatest to play the sport.

Lionel Messi had not even featured for Barca's B team at the point he was called up to travel with the senior side to Porto for the inauguration of Estadio do Dragao.

Messi made a 15-minute cameo in the 2-0 loss, marking the start of a remarkable career that has been blessed with a vast array of honours, including a record six Ballons d'Or.

Among the players to feature for Barca that day were Rafael Marquez, Xavi and Luis Enrique, true greats of the club, but Messi has gone on to surpass them all.

However, the ugly off-field saga that played out in pre-season suggests the sight of Messi in a Barca shirt might not be one we see after this season.

Despite all of the drama, Messi's goals have undoubtedly solidified his status as an all-time great and here is a look at a chronological top 10 from his collection.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already seen 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 at 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 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 side-footing home from just inside the penalty area.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Guardiola returned to Camp Nou with a Bayern side struggling with injury problems. They kept Barca at bay until the 77th minute of this Champions League semi-final first leg, when Messi finally struck. It was his second goal that earns a place in this list, though: collecting Ivan Rakitic's pass, a simple-looking shimmy left Jerome Boateng on his backside before he chipped Manuel Neuer with his weaker foot.

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 headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in stoppage time gave Jordi Alba the chance to square to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

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 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 had not experienced before.

Liverpool (H): May 1, 2019

Over the past few years, Messi has mastered the art of free-kick taking, with the skill being one of few to elude him in his younger days. Liverpool held their own for long periods at Camp Nou but goals from Luis Suarez and Messi gave the hosts breathing space. Jurgen Klopp's side then 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. Barcelona would incredibly blow their 3-0 first-leg advantage, however, losing 4-0 at Anfield as Liverpool reached the Champions League final.

Atletico Madrid (A): December 1, 2019

It was goalless in the 86th minute at the Wanda Metropolitano when Messi collected the ball on the right flank, 10 yards inside the Atletico half. Those famous feet began to shuffle with purpose, and although Atletico knew what Messi had in mind, they were powerless to resist the execution of his plan. Messi surged on, playing the ball to Luis Suarez on the edge of the penalty area before taking the return pass and cracking a brilliant 20-yard shot into the bottom left corner of Jan Oblak's goal. A winner, and one of the highest class.

Manchester City could be set to strengthen in attack ahead of next season, with Erling Haaland and Lautaro Martinez reportedly their main targets.

The Premier League giants may be looking for a forward amid uncertainty over Sergio Aguero, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

And two of Europe's top talents are apparently top of their list.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY EYE HAALAND, MARTINEZ

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Inter forward Lautaro Martinez top Manchester City's wish list next year, according to 90min.

Haaland and Martinez have been heavily linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

The report says with Aguero's future unclear and some questions over Gabriel Jesus, City are prioritising a forward.

Haaland is the equal top goalscorer in the Champions League this season with four, converting 60 per cent of his big chances.

Martinez has a goal and an assist in three Champions League games, while creating five chances.

Meanwhile, the Daily Star reports City are weighing up using their £25million buy-back clause on Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz, while they are also looking at star Jack Grealish.

 

ROUND-UP

- While Paul Pogba is reportedly unhappy at Manchester United, Fabrizio Romano says the Premier League giants want to extend the midfielder's contract, although nothing is advanced. Pogba's current deal runs until 2022.

- Hakan Calhanoglu seems set to leave Milan. Mundo Deportivo reports Atletico Madrid are in pole position to sign the midfielder, who has also been linked to Manchester United, Juventus and Inter. Calhanoglu is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Staying at Milan and Milan Live claims the Serie A outfit are looking at Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng, another player whose deal expires at the end of the campaign.

- Barcelona could be looking to raise funds in January. Sport says Riqui Puig and Carles Alena are set for January exits.

- Also at Barcelona and Mundo Deportivo reports the LaLiga giants will rely on Oscar Mingueza, Arnau Comas or Santiago Mingo from the B team if Manchester City do not lower their asking price, believed to be €15m (£13.4m), for defender Eric Garcia in January.

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