Barcelona have confirmed forward Ansu Fati has suffered a torn meniscus. 

Ronald Koeman says his decision to name Lionel Messi on the bench for Barcelona's LaLiga clash with Real Betis was down to the forward carrying a knock.

Messi was absent from Barca's starting line-up for the first time during Koeman's 10-game reign yet still managed to have a major say in his side's 5-2 victory at Camp Nou.

The Argentina international had failed to assist a goal or score from open play in six league matches before Saturday's victory.

It was the first time he had been benched for a league game since September 2019, but Koeman insists he was left out purely for fitness reasons.

"We talked yesterday," Koeman said to Movistar Plus. "Leo came out of the game against Dynamo Kiev with some discomfort and was not in a position to play from the start today.

"We had to put him on the bench. If he has no problems then he plays from the beginning. Today he could not."

Messi was brought on at half-time and scored a brace as a substitute for the fifth time in his career and the first time since May 2013 – also against Betis.

"I have no doubts about him," Koeman said. "I know him well and see him train every day."

Barca went into half-time level after their academy product Antonio Sanabria cancelled out Ousmane Dembele's strike, roughly 15 minutes after Antoine Griezmann had a penalty saved.

Messi inspired his side to a first win in five league games, however, by playing a pivotal part in Griezmann's strike and converting a penalty awarded for Aissa Mandi's handball.

Mandi was sent off but Loren Moreno scored to make things interesting, only for Messi's first open-play goal this term and Pedri's maiden LaLiga strike to settle things.

"It was an important victory for us because we needed the points," Koeman said. "I'm happy because we created a lot of chances, had opportunities to score and did score.

"Luckily, we scored in the second half because the first half wasn't fair. Conceding a goal against a team with 10 men also isn't good, but it was a deserved victory."

Griezmann missed three big chances in the first half, as well as a penalty, which ex-Barca stopper Claudio Bravo did well to keep out.

However, he scored and assisted a goal in the same Barca game for the first time this calendar year and Koeman was pleased with the France international's overall display.

"I hope to see him continue working like this," he said. "To miss opportunities, you have to be there. His character must be highlighted because he is always there.

"He knows perfectly well that he missed a penalty, but the important thing is that he always shows himself and that type of character is important."

Asked for an update on fellow attacker Ansu Fati, who was withdrawn for Messi at the interval, Koeman said: "He had discomfort and we did not want to risk him."

Lionel Messi scored twice and played a key part in another goal in Barcelona's 5-2 LaLiga win over 10-man Real Betis after being left out of Ronald Koeman's starting line-up for the first time.

Barca assistant Alfred Schreuder put the absence of Messi, who has struggled for form this season, down to a lack of fitness as he started a league game on the bench for the first time since September 2019.

The mercurial forward was brought on at half-time with the game poised at 1-1 after Ousmane Dembele's strike was cancelled out by Barca academy product Antonio Sanabria, either side of an Antoine Griezmann penalty miss.

Messi paved the way for Griezmann's goal 194 seconds into the second half, then scored a penalty after Aissa Mandi was dismissed for handling the ball on the line and doubled his tally late on to kill off Betis following Loren Moron's strike.

Pedri then capped a much-improved display for Koemen's side with a fifth goal late on as they secured a first league win in five on Saturday.

Barca had made their worst start to a league season after six games in the three-points-per-win era but made a bright start against Betis, with Griezmann firing wide from 12 yards and Fati curling a shot off target.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen, making his first league appearance of the season, kept out William Carvalho's header before Ansu Fati and Griezmann wasted more presentable opportunities.

However, the breakthrough came 22 minutes in, as Dembele brought the ball inside Alex Moreno and beat Claudio Bravo, who got a touch to the shot but could not keep it out.

Griezmann then hit the post and was denied by Bravo from the spot after Mandi fouled Fati, and Betis were level when Sanabria guided in Cristian Tello's cross on the brink of half-time.

Messi was brought on for Fati at the break and had an instant impact, smartly dummying Jordi Alba's cross for Griezmann to slot into an unguarded net behind him.

After a lengthy VAR check, Mandi was deemed to have blocked Dembele's shot on the line with his arm and Messi had no trouble converting his fourth penalty of the season.

Moron gave the visitors a lifeline by blasting a shot past Ter Stegen after Gerard Pique flicked the ball into his path, but that proved nothing more than a consolation thanks to Messi's powerful left-footed drive and Pedri's close-range finish.

Lionel Messi was named among Barcelona's substitutes for Saturday's LaLiga contest against Real Betis.

The absence of the captain from Ronald Koeman's starting XI at Camp Nou was a peculiar one given Barca have failed to win their past four matches in Spain's top flight, although reports in Spain suggest he is not being risked due to a slight ankle problem.

Messi had previously started every game in LaLiga and the Champions League under Koeman, who named Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati in his starting line-up.

Messi has regularly found himself in the spotlight since failing to engineer a move away from Barca in the past transfer window, particularly given he is yet to score from open play or provide an assist in LaLiga this term - though he has attempted more shots (28) than any other player in the competition.

On Friday, Koeman defended Messi against claims the Argentine was not working hard enough for the team following viral footage from Barca's midweek win over Dynamo Kiev, which showed him failing to press the opposition in second-half injury time. 

In that game, Messi had more shots (six) and created more chances (four) than any other player in the match, but he also lost possession more frequently than anyone else (20 times) without once winning it back.

"I didn't seem him [walking] and I'm not interested in this because I don't see him walking," Koeman said. "If you want to start a controversy around this point, it's your problem.

"Messi is mentally good, enjoying this sport. He's a winner and sometimes you go through moments when the ball doesn't go in, but he looks really focused.

"I think Messi still has so many qualities. He's very important in our game."

Last weekend's 1-1 draw at 10-man Deportivo Alaves saw Barca equal their lowest tally of points through six games in LaLiga.

Arturo Vidal is convinced Inter can win a major trophy this season after opting to join the Serie A club because of the presence of Antonio Conte. 

Vidal arrived from Barcelona ahead of the 2020-21 season as Inter aimed to build on a promising first year under Conte, having finished second to Juventus in the league and lost in the Europa League final. 

However, the new campaign has not started smoothly for the Nerazzurri.  

They have won just three of their opening six Serie A fixtures to quickly slip off the pace and are yet to register a victory in the Champions League, leaving them bottom of Group B at the halfway stage.

Vidal, though, remains confident silverware is a realistic aim with Conte, having enjoyed success while working with the Italian coach during their time together at Juve. 

"I'm not afraid to say the word 'Scudetto' because I have won a lot in my career and I came to Inter to continue doing it," Vidal told Corriere dello Sport. 

"I am convinced that we will be able to raise an important trophy. Juventus remains the number one favourite [for the title].  

"For the Champions League, we have a lot of confidence and I am convinced that we will go on. So far, we have left two-three points on the road. We have to get them back."

Vidal also revealed how much Conte, who led Juventus to the title in each of his three seasons in charge at the club, was key to him choosing to move to San Siro.

"I am here especially for him," the Chile international said of the Inter boss. "We spent three years with Juventus, we won and that was an unforgettable experience. 

"He wanted me; we talked a lot last summer and both he and the club did their best to get me to join Inter.

"I found the same Conte of Juve. He loves football, he makes you feel it and he transmits his passion and his desire to win, with him I am wonderful."

Vidal went on to win league titles in Germany and Spain after leaving Juve, with his two-year stint at Barca seeing him play alongside Lionel Messi.

The midfielder may have now left Camp Nou but revealed he will always have a "beautiful" friendship with Messi, a player he places above long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the debate over who is better.

"There is no comparison. Messi is from another planet," he said of the Barca superstar.

"Of the two years I spent with him in Barcelona, many things remained in my heart. A beautiful friendship was born between us, a relationship that will remain forever. United for life.

"I don't know if Messi will leave Barcelona, but I hope he is happy and makes a decision with his heart."

Luis Suarez will not try to convince Lionel Messi to join Atletico Madrid but would happily endorse the move if the Barcelona captain wanted to make it happen.

Messi failed to engineer a switch away from Camp Nou in the close season and his future at Barca remains uncertain, with his contract due to expire at the end of June.

The club's interim board and numerous presidential candidates have suggested that a projected loss of revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic means the six-time Ballon d'Or winner would need to agree a pay adjustment to stay beyond this campaign.

It was believed one of the motivating factors behind Messi's desire to leave before the start of the season was the treatment of close friend Suarez, who assisted more Barca goals for him (47) than any other player, following Ronald Koeman's appointment.

Suarez was deemed surplus to requirements and shipped off to Atletico for a nominal fee, but he does not intend to go out of his way to make Messi follow him.

"I'll always say it: Leo is mature enough to make the decisions he needs to make by himself. I'll never try to influence what he does; wherever he's happy, I'll always support his right to make the decision that's best for him," Suarez told AS.

"If at any point the possibility arises, then he should say so as obviously I'm going to talk very highly of him to the club.

"But as far as suggesting things to him is concerned, I think he's the one who has to make such decisions and wherever he's happiest is the best place for him to be."

Messi is yet to score from open play in nine appearances in all competitions this season and Koeman this week defended the Argentina international after footage of him failing to close down a player in the final moments of Barca's 2-1 Champions League victory over Dynamo Kiev went viral on social media.

Asked if Messi looked low on morale, Suarez said: "He's 33 years old and he knows how to deal with any situation.

"To me he looks like he has the same desire that he did before, is enjoying his football and is still fighting as hard as ever, which is the main thing. He keeps on trying even if the ball doesn't want to go in. That says a lot about him."

Messi's haul of 31 goals in all competitions last season – 15 of which were scored after Quique Setien replaced Ernesto Valverde as head coach in January – was his worst tally since registering 16 in 2007-08.

Setien, who was sacked after the 8-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in August, this week said Messi was "difficult to manage", but Suarez painted a different picture.

"I'd rather not get into that, because it only helps to turn it into a bigger issue than it should be," said Suarez. 

"Any team-mate who has worked alongside Leo will talk highly of him, of what a class player he is and what a top guy he is away from the pitch. He really helps the youngsters, giving them pieces of advice.

"Every player who has worked with him talks highly of him. That says a lot about the kind of player and person he is in that dressing room."

Barcelona's finances are reportedly precarious amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Wage cuts have been flagged, but the LaLiga powerhouse are also eyeing further sales.

Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti could be among the players to depart Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – DEMBELE AND CO. HEADING FOR EXIT

Barcelona are ready to sell five players during the January transfer window, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti, Carles Alena, Martin Braithwaite and Junior Firpo are the quintet up for sale as embattled LaLiga giants Barca look to raise funds.

Dembele was linked with Manchester United before the previous window closed.

 

ROUND-UP

- Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has twice snubbed Barca as he eyes the United job amid speculation over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's future, says the Daily Star.

Barcelona have been linked with a move for Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram, according to Bild. Thuram's father, Lilian, played for Barca and Juventus, who are believed to be eyeing the Frenchman. Real Madrid have also been linked.

- OK Diario claims Madrid are interested in Rennes teenager Jeremy Doku. The 18-year-old has caught the eye of Madrid, who have also made Eduardo Camavinga one of their top targets.

- Staying at the Santiago Bernabeu and OK Diario says soon-to-be free agent and Bayern Munich defender David Alaba must lower his wage demands if he wants to play for Madrid. The Austria international has also been linked with PSGManchester City and Barca.

- Tuttosport says Antonio Conte wants Chelsea trio Olivier Giroud, Emerson Palmieri and Marcos Alonso at Inter.

- Lille star Renato Sanches is wanted in Italy. Calciomercato reports Serie A champions Juventus, Milan, Inter, Napoli and Roma are monitoring the former Bayern Munich midfielder.

- Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai is a serious January target for Arsenal, according to Index. The Hungarian has emerged as an alternative to Lyon star Houssem Aouar.

Barcelona cannot afford to keep Lionel Messi at Camp Nou on his current salary, presidential candidate Toni Freixa has admitted.

Messi's contract is due to expire next year and the club's all-time record goalscorer and arguably greatest ever player may need some persuasion to stay beyond that.

Freixa has indicated it will not be through a pay rise or even a freeze on his wages that Barcelona invite Messi to extend his time at the club.

But Freixa is hopeful the 33-year-old Argentinian can be convinced to remain, despite Messi having pushed for the chance to leave in the close season.

Former president Josep Maria Bartomeu warned before his departure that the club would face a drastic drop in revenue of around €300million because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to El Curubito, Freixa underlined the financial problems facing Barcelona.

Freixa said: "We will speak calmly with Leo, face to face with the best for Barca as the objective.

"With him, as with all the players who have to renew or are signed, we will make an offer that of course will not be able to match the conditions that he has had up to now."

Messi is Barcelona's best-paid player, with wide-ranging estimates abounding about his exact annual salary which is assumed to run deep into eight figures. It may be that he is invited to defer part of his pay packet to be paid at a later date.

"It is obvious and we cannot deceive members that the proposal which we will offer [to Messi] will not be the same as he has had so far, because our income has fallen significantly and another formula will have to be found," Freixa said.

"You don't have to win over Messi or convince him with other things, you have to look him in the eye and talk, to know what each other wants, what he wants and what Barca wants. We think Messi still has a lot of football in him."

A hint of what Messi might expect came when Gerard Pique, Frenkie de Jong, Clement Lenglet and Marc-Andre ter Stegen last month signed contract extensions with Barcelona.

Those deals followed weeks of negotiations and included "temporary salary adjustments" in response to difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pique suggested the wages being sacrificed now will be repaid in future, once the club is in a better financial state.

Another presidential candidate Pere Riera recently said he "wouldn't pull out all the stops" to keep Messi at Camp Nou, but that he believed the forward wished to stay.

Ronald Koeman has hit back at suggestions Lionel Messi is not working hard enough for Barcelona following criticism of his efforts against Dynamo Kiev.

Messi scored a penalty to help the Catalan giants to a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Wednesday, a result that left them three points clear at the top of Champions League Group G.

A clip of the Argentina star failing to press the Dynamo defenders in second-half injury time went viral after the match, though, as viewers called the forward's work rate into question.

Messi had more shots (six) and created more chances (four) than any other player in the match, but he also lost possession more frequently than anyone else (20 times) without once winning it back.

His form has been scrutinised ever since he failed to engineer a transfer away from Barca in August and September. Despite attempting more shots (28) than any other player in LaLiga, he has yet to score from open play in the competition in 2020-21 or provide an assist in his six appearances.

Koeman, however, says out-of-context footage is no way to judge a player's effectiveness and insists Messi remains an essential player.

"I didn't seem him [walking] and I'm not interested in this because I don't see him walking," the Barca head coach said on Friday. "If you want to start a controversy around this point, it's your problem.

"Messi is mentally good, enjoying this sport. He's a winner and sometimes you go through moments when the ball doesn't go in, but he looks really focused on that subject.

"I think Messi still has so many qualities. He's very important in our game.

"He scored the penalty and we're used to him making the difference here, and he's still a very decisive player.

"You said [the footage was from] the 93rd minute... there are pictures of anyone, of me when I'm sitting down, or annoyed. It seems we should be more aware of our image than our work. I don't agree with that. 

"I think these players, like those of my era, have the same effort as us. They work in training, they want to win and it annoys them when they don't win. If it were not like this, it'd be because my work isn't working."

Barca face Real Betis at Camp Nou on Saturday, looking to record just their third league win of the season.

Veteran winger Joaquin caused a stir this week when he claimed he would not even hire Koeman "as kit man" after a difficult spell working under him at Valencia.

Asked about those comments, Koeman said: "I understand it's a really interesting topic for you.

"If he speaks, it's his problem. I'm focused on the game and not individual things that happened many years ago."

Erling Haaland is reportedly being lined up as a target for Real Madrid in 2022, while Manchester United are eyeing Mauricio Pochettino.

Haaland, 20, is widely regarded as one of the best forwards in Europe as he continues to star for Borussia Dortmund.

Madrid have plans for the Norway international.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID EYE HAALAND IN 2022

Real Madrid are convinced Dortmund star Haaland is their man in 2022, according to AS.

Haaland has scored 10 goals in 10 games in all competitions for Dortmund this season.

The former Salzburg talent, Mino Raiola - his agent - and Dortmund reportedly have an agreement that a transfer away from BVB will be facilitated in 2022, though there is not thought to be a specific fee in mind yet.

Haaland has begun 2020-21 in fine form having netted five goals in as many Bundesliga games, picking up where he left off last term as he scored 13 in 15 league matches for Dortmund.

While early in the campaign, Haaland's shot conversion rate – excluding blocks – in the league this season (31.3 per cent) is lower than last term (52), but his big chance conversion is slightly higher (from 62.5 per cent to 66.7).

Seemingly flowing with confidence from last season, Haaland is averaging more shots in 2020-21 as well. Per 90 minutes, the striker is attempting 3.7 attempts from inside the box (including blocks) compared to 2.8 in 2019-20.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer under pressure, Manchester United have approached former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino to potentially become manager, according to the Manchester Evening News. United are 15th in the Premier League ahead of visiting Everton on Saturday.

- In good news for Barcelona, Sport reports goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is completely committed to the Spanish giants amid links to Bayern Munich. Mundo Deportivo, meanwhile, says Barca could sign Manchester City defender Eric Garcia and Lyon star Memphis Depay for free next year, allowing them to potentially negotiate lower fees in January.

- Amid expectations he will leave Bayern Munich, David Alaba has been offered to Real Madrid, according to Marca. The defender is out of contract at season's end.

- Staying with Madrid – full-back Dani Carvajal is close to agreeing to a new contract until 2024, according to Marca.

- While he is contracted at Liverpool until 2023, Fabinho could be set for a renewal. Fabrizio Romano reports the midfielder is in talks to extend his deal through to 2025.

It has by no means been a vintage start to the season for Lionel Messi.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner failed to force through an exit from Barcelona at the end of 2019-20 and in his nine appearances in all competitions this term he is yet to register a goal from open play.

His solitary goal in LaLiga came from the penalty spot, as did his three in the Champions League as Ronald Koeman's side navigated meetings with Ferencvaros, Juventus and Dynamo Kiev to reach the midway point of the group stage with a 100 per cent record.

Messi may not be at his prolific best but the 2020-21 Champions League is on course to set a record for the most goals per game in the competition's history.

Still a key creator

All of Messi's three goals may have come from the spot, but he is still having an important impact.

The Argentinian has supplied two assists and is creating an average of 4.3 chances per 90 minutes – his previous high was 2.9 in 2011-12 and 2018-19, which were also the two campaigns in which he recorded his best minutes per goal numbers (70 and 71 respectively).

Indeed, only Borussia Monchengladbach striker Alassane Plea (6) has been involved in more Champions League goals this term than Messi, while Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich (10) is the only other player to have hit double figures for chances created.

Although each of Messi's three big chances have been penalties, he has still attempted 5.7 shots per 90 minutes – not too far off his high of 6.9 in 2011-12.

He may not be being as clinical, but there is no doubt Messi is still proving hugely influential in Barca's attack.

Goals, goals, goals

Not everyone has been struggling for goals, though.

Through the opening 48 games of the competition there has been 156 goals, which works out at an average of 3.25 per match – which would represent a record in the modern era. The existing record of 3.24 goals per game was set last term and four of the past five seasons have seen the highest averages.

Of the goals in this year's competition, 22 have come from the penalty spot. That works out at almost one every other game (0.46). The most in a Champions League campaign was set last term at 0.31.

However, the red cards per game (0.15) is one of the lowest, with only five previous campaigns seen fewer on average. The lowest mark of 0.08 was registered in 1992-93.

Pressing high and playing

In European football, there's no doubt it's definitely in vogue to press high, play out from the back and keep possession. No one has quite mastered that like Pep Guardiola.

Manchester City and Real Madrid have recorded the joint-most high turnovers – defined as the number of sequences that start in open play and begin 40 metres or less from the opponent's goal – with 27, more than double the total managed by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool (12), and have both seen eight of them end in a shot and two in a goal.

Atalanta have proved more efficient in making the goalkeeper work when regaining possession at most 40m from the opposition goal. However, despite six of their 15 high turnovers ending in a shot, none have resulted in a goal.

City have begun their open play sequences from an average of 49m from their own goal – further forward than any other team in the competition – and lead the way in open play sequences of at least 10 passes with 82. Only Madrid (61), Borussia Dortmund (64) and Barca (77) have had more than 60 such sequences.

Guardiola's side have also registered a competition-leading 22 build-up attacks, which are open play sequences of at least 10 passes that either end in a shot or include a touch in the opposition box.

Pass masters

It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that City centre-back Ruben Dias has the highest passing accuracy (96.2 per cent) of any player to have attempted at least 200 passes.

The fact the next most precise player in that category is Ferencvaros midfielder Ihor Kharatin, though, may raise some eyebrows.

Cristiano Ronaldo is contracted at Juventus until 2022, but the superstar seemingly has no plans to retire then.

Ronaldo, 35, has made another fine start to the season with Juve, where he arrived from Real Madrid in 2018.

But with his contract expiring in 2022, the Portugal star's future is again set to be a talking point.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO WANTS TO STAY AT TOP LEVEL BEYOND 2022

Ronaldo wants to play at the top level beyond 2022 but there are no guarantees he will stay at Juventus, according to Tuttosport.

The report says Ronaldo, who has been linked to Paris Saint-Germain previously, would prefer not to head to a competition like MLS or the Chinese Super League.

Ronaldo has scored five goals in three Serie A appearances for Juve this season.

While early in the campaign, Ronaldo has a better shooting accuracy (66.7), shot conversion rate (31.3) and big chance conversion percentage (66.7) in 2020-21 than in his previous seasons in Serie A.

 

ROUND-UP

Sergio Ramos reached 100 goals for Real Madrid on Tuesday, but there has been talk about the club captain's future. ESPN says Ramos and Madrid have begun talks over a new contract, with the 34-year-old's current deal expiring at season's end.

Chelsea were reportedly chasing West Ham midfielder Declan Rice in the close season, although they proved unsuccessful. However, Fabrizio Romano reports Chelsea will try to land the England international again in January.

- As Tanguy Ndombele begins to impress at Tottenham, Barcelona are considering a move for the midfielder, according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Amid uncertainty over his Real Madrid future, Luka Jovic is again linked with a move away. CalcioMercato reports Milan and Napoli could return to move for the forward in January. The Serbian is without a goal in four games for Madrid this season.

Ronald Koeman thanked "phenomenal" Marc-Andre ter Stegen for his part in Barcelona's narrow 2-1 win over Dynamo Kiev and acknowledged his side have plenty to work on.

The Catalan giants made it three wins from three in Champions League Group G through Lionel Messi's fifth-minute penalty and a Gerard Pique header in the second half.

However, Barca needed Ter Stegen to make six saves against a Dynamo side depleted by a coronavirus outbreak in their camp, including a top-class reaction stop to deny Vitaliy Buyalskiy.

Viktor Tsygankov eventually found a way past Ter Stegen, who was making his first appearance of 2020-21 after recovering from a knee injury, but Barca saw out the victory.

"He has proved to be a great goalkeeper for us," Koeman told Movistar after the game. "He has been training well and we can see that today.

"We started the match well and quickly made it 1-0, but we were unable to find the second goal and then lost control.

"Thanks to Marc, who has been phenomenal, we managed to keep the opposition out."

Barca have made their worst start to a LaLiga season in the three points for a win era but are well on their way to a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

They are three points better off than second-placed Juventus at the midway stage and have an eight-point advantage on Ferencvaros and Dynamo, with a trip to the latter up next in three weeks' time.

Koeman struggled to find too many positives from his side's latest European victory, though, adding: "We have to play better and improve the game without the ball. 

"Today we did not do that well. In general, we had been good defensively. But today they put us in danger and we must talk about that and improve our game without the ball."

Dynamo had an inspired keeper of their own between the sticks as Ruslan Neshcheret made 12 saves in total on what was just his second senior appearance.

Neshcheret was brought into the side due to the visitors' two other shot-stoppers being ruled out with coronavirus and the youngster produced the performance of a lifetime.

"It was like being in a fairytale," he said. "Playing at this great stadium in such a game is a dream for any footballer. 

"Messi's penalty was very good. He's one of the best in this aspect. We were really happy to have a chance to play against such top opponents."

Gerard Pique acknowledged Barcelona have been regressing season on season but is convinced that will slowly change following some big boardroom changes.

The Catalan giants are gearing up for a presidential election after Josep Maria Bartomeu and the entire board stepped down from the position ahead of an expected vote of no confidence.

Barca finished 2019-20 trophyless and have this season made their joint-worst start to a LaLiga campaign since the competition shifted to three points for a win.

However, Pique is looking forward to a brighter future at Camp Nou once a new board of directors is in place.

"The club is as it is right now," he told Movistar following Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev. "We are in a process of many changes. 

"I think it was necessary to turn this around. It was obvious that the trend was decreasing and that we were a little worse every year. 

"We have to give this time, but there is no transition year at Barca so we don't have much time. There will be a change with the board and it will be seen little by little. 

"It is not an easy year for us, not only because of what is happening at the club. Life is a continuous change in which you have to adapt."

He added: "I am convinced that we are going to change because the feelings are better. There are new people, young people who are making the game more dynamic. 

"We need some time to gain confidence. We can only work very hard and strong. With work, I believe that the results end up coming. We are confident that we can do great things and there is still a lot of this season left."

Barcelona picked up a third successive Group G win thanks to an early Lionel Messi penalty – his third successul spot-kick of this Champions League campaign – and Pique's header in the second half.

Dynamo were depleted by a coronavirus outbreak in the camp but tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen six times and pulled one back through Viktor Tsygankov.

Barca are three points clear of second-place Juventus and nine better off than Kiev and Ferencvaros, but Pique conceded there is still room for improvement.

"It was a game that we started very well," he said. "In the first 20 minutes we should have scored several goals. 

"Then the game got complicated. After the 30th minute they dominated us a lot. There was restlessness at times and they scored a goal. 

"There are things to improve. There have been moments when the pressure has not been good From then on, in the Champions League, all the teams have a level. 

"We have had to grit our teeth and suffer. We are in a good situation in the Champions League but in the league we have to turn it around."

Ter Stegen was making his first appearance of the season after recovering from injury and insists the points matter more than any individual praise aimed his way.

"I think in the end it was very important to win today," he said. "I really wanted to be on the field again and do what I like the most.

"My saves do not matter - it matters that we won today and that I am back on the field. I am very happy for the team and that we are top."

Lionel Messi marked his 150th European appearance for Barcelona with a goal as Ronald Koeman's side saw off stubborn opponents Dynamo Kiev 2-1 in Wednesday's entertaining Champions League clash.

The superstar forward scored from the penalty spot for the third Group G game running and Gerard Pique added a second, but only after Barca had been given a number of scares.

Returning goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced a handful of top-class saves, the best of the lot to keep out Vitaliy Buyalskiy's free header in the first half, while Tomasz Kedziora had a goal ruled out.

Dynamo named a depleted squad due to a coronavirus outbreak in the camp and pushed their opponents all the way thanks to Viktor Tsygankov's strike 15 minutes from time, though Barca held on to make it nine points from nine.

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