Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will do battle in the 2020/21 Champions League after Barcelona and Juventus were drawn in the same group.

Lionel Messi's influence on the Argentina squad is so strong that his international team-mate Rodrigo De Paul says he would "go to war" for the Barcelona star if he asked him to.

Messi, 33, has been Argentina captain since 2011 and helped them to three successive finals in that time, but each one – two in the Copa America and one in the World Cup – ended in defeat.

He retired from international football after the 2016 Copa America only to make a U-turn, while he then took a prolonged break from Argentina duty in the wake of disappointment at the 2018 World Cup.

Messi returned again in May last year, however, and appears set to remain in the fold until at least the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

De Paul has become a regular in the selection since Russia 2018 under new coach Lionel Scaloni and has witnessed Messi's influence in close quarters.

While the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been criticised at times in his career for a quiet and reserved nature, traits not generally associated with captaincy, De Paul is adamant the effect he has on people is significant.

Speaking to FIFA, Udinese star De Paul said: "You look up to him, obviously.

"But when you start sharing things with him, he is so transparent that, instead of telling him what you think of him, you feel more like asking him about his little kids or of reminding him of the time he took you out with his studs up in a Valencia-Barcelona game!

"When he becomes your captain, you'd go to war for him if he asked you to.

"The only untouchable one is Leo. The rest of us contribute by doing whatever is asked of us."

Both Messi and De Paul have been included in the preliminary Argentina squad to face Ecuador and Bolivia in World Cup qualifiers on October 8 and 13.

 

Barcelona have to be successful again if they are to keep Lionel Messi happy, head coach Ronald Koeman has said.

In an interview with SPORT that was published on Tuesday, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi stated his wish to draw a line under recent events and move on after he publicly aired his grievances about the ongoings at Camp Nou on more than one occasion.

The 33-year-old tried, and failed, to force a move away from the club on a free after last season finished before again taking shots at the Barca hierarchy over their handling of his friend Luis Suarez's departure for Atletico Madrid.

Messi, who is only under contract until the end of the 2020-21 season, has now insisted he wants to move on and Koeman has welcomed that.

"I don't know if after Leo's statements I'm going to have a quiet life, I don't think so," he told reporters ahead of Thursday's away LaLiga game against Celta Vigo. 

"But it is positive that the captain shows himself in that sense, asking for unity. This has always been positive. Hopefully we are going to be calmer than lately."

Messi's criticism has centred around president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who will vacate the position in March at the latest, and he has suggested he was unhappy long before Koeman was appointed.

However, the Dutchman thinks the key to keeping Messi content is with results on the pitch.

"I do not know if I have everything in that sense in my hands," Koeman replied when asked what he could do to keep his superstar happy.

"You have to find the best team for him, where he can shine and where he gets the most out of it. And look for a formula in training.

"I have seen that he lives for football, even in training matches he does everything to win. For Leo to be happy, we have to win games."

One man who could be departing Catalonia is midfielder Rafinha.

The Brazilian has played in just eight LaLiga games for Barca across the previous three seasons, having spent time out on loan with Inter and Celta, and he has not been included in the squad for Thursday's match.

A report in England suggested Manchester City had turned down the chance to take Rafinha as part of a deal that would send Eric Garcia the other way, but Koeman indicated the 27-year-old needs to find a new club.

"For players who do not see many possibilities, it is better to find a way out," he said.

"I know that Rafinha has been on loan and it is a moment when you can no longer be on loan every season. We have many midfielders, we will have to look for the best for the team. They are technical decisions."

Lionel Messi understands those who felt he should have kept quiet about Luis Suarez's Barcelona departure but said his criticism was a way of expressing things that have "hurt me".

Suarez was allowed to join LaLiga rivals Atletico Madrid in a €6million deal last week and started life at the Rojiblancos with a brace and an assist off the bench in a 6-1 battering of Granada on Sunday.

The decision of the club and new coach Ronald Koeman to tell Suarez he was free to leave is thought to have been a motivating factor behind Messi sensationally telling Barca he wanted to depart last month.

Messi later signalled he will stay at Camp Nou after accusing president Josep Maria Bartomeu of making a move "impossible".

But when Suarez – who is third in Barca's all-time list of scorers with 198 and won 13 trophies in six seasons with Los Cules – departed, Messi accused the club of "kicking out" the former Liverpool striker and added "at this point nothing surprises me" in an Instagram post.

Explaining why he opted to vent on social media, Messi told SPORT: "I only said what I felt in some moments that were hard for me.

"I understand that there will be those who think that I should have kept quiet or let it pass, as in so many other things that I let pass.

"But many things hurt me in recent weeks and it was my way of expressing it."

A tumultuous period, which started with Barca's 8-2 demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, saw Messi attempt to force a transfer.

Eventually Messi said he will stay put this season, stating he did not want to drag the saga through the courts when Barca and LaLiga disputed the superstar forward's claim he could utilise a clause in his contract to leave on a free transfer.

Messi began Barca's LaLiga campaign by scoring a penalty in a 4-0 rout of Villarreal and he insisted his commitment to winning and the club is as strong as ever.

"Whoever knows me knows that I am not capable of playing anything other than always to win and to give everything on the pitch," he added.

"It was like that throughout my career and that is not going to change. Today my commitment to this shirt and this badge is total, it is still intact."

Lionel Messi's close-season issues at Barcelona means the 2020-21 campaign could be a difficult one for the superstar forward, says his former Argentina team-mate Emiliano Insua.

It has been a tumultuous period for Messi, starting with Barcelona's humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last month.

Following that humbling experience, Messi shocked the footballing world by requesting to leave Camp Nou and stating he believed a clause in his contract allowed him to leave on a free transfer.

Both Barca and LaLiga disputed his interpretation of the clause, though, saying any team wishing to sign Messi would have to pay his €700million release fee or negotiate a transfer.

Messi ultimately opted to stay this season as he did not want to drag the issue through the courts but he hit out at president Josep Maria Bartomeu in the aftermath of the saga.

The 33-year-old struck a more conciliatory and uniting tone in an interview with SPORT this week and LA Galaxy defender Insua spoke about Messi's enduring qualities, which he hopes he can continue to display after a tough period.

"I think he has everything, he was born like this, the quality he has is amazing, everything he does and has been doing is natural," Insua told Stats Perform News.

"The time I was training with him you can see that. He doesn't train too much, he doesn't need to train too much…[because] this fitness situation he has, he's really quick, really strong.

"Hopefully he can keep showing this because this summer he had a lot of problems in Barcelona, they didn't finish maybe so well in the Champions League.

"Hopefully this year he can be at the same level because I think it will be difficult for him this year."

For a long time it was rumoured Messi may have a new and familiar Camp Nou team-mate in the form of Argentina striker Lautaro Martinez, who was heavily linked with a move from Inter to Barca.

This week it was suggested Barca will no longer pursue a deal after being put off by a €98.5million fee, meaning Martinez is set to continue his promising development at Inter where he has scored 21 Serie A goals in 63 games since joining from Argentine side Racing Club ahead of the 2018-19 campaign.

Martinez has struck up a particularly good understanding with Romelu Lukaku in San Siro and Insua has high hopes he will become one of the best strikers in the world.

"He showed in Argentina that he's a really good striker and he's showing it at Inter," Insua added.

"Maybe everyone expected that he needs time to set up in the Italian league, but he was really fast in the adaptation in the way he was playing.

"The partnership with Lukaku was really good also up front, so they help each other.

"He showed last year he can be one of the best strikers in the world and everyone also said that maybe he's going to Barcelona, now nobody knows anything [on that], hopefully he can keep showing that [form]."

Lionel Messi wants to bring an end to any disagreements with Barcelona, calling for everyone at the club to show a united front in their bid for success this season. 

The Argentine superstar stunned the footballing world when he announced he sensationally wanted to leave Camp Nou in August, believing he could still activate a clause to terminate his contract and walk away for nothing. 

However, with both Barca and LaLiga insisting that option had expired in June, leaving any potential buyer to either negotiate with the LaLiga side or pay his €700million release clause, Messi opted not to pursue the matter any further. 

Confirming an exit was "impossible" after his father and agent Jorge met with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, the 33-year-old told Goal Spain he would be staying put to see out the remaining year of his contract. 

Messi converted from the spot as the Ronald Koeman era began with a 4-0 thrashing of Villarreal at Camp Nou and, speaking to SPORT, has now made clear his desire to draw a line under what has been a tumultuous period for both himself and the club. 

"After so many disagreements, I would like to bring an end to everything. We all have to be united and assume that the best is yet to come," the six-time Ballon d'Or winner said. 

In excerpts of an exclusive interview that will be released in full on Wednesday, Messi insisted he had only acted with Barcelona's best interests at heart. 

"I take responsibility for my errors and if they existed, it was only to make Barcelona better and stronger," he admitted. 

Sending a message to the fans, Messi added: "If at any moment, any of them were annoyed by something that I said or did, let there be no doubts that anything I did was always with the club's best interests in mind."

Messi was strongly linked with a move to Manchester City, which would have seen him team up again with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola in the Premier League.

Lionel Messi is welcome to join Luis Suarez at Atletico Madrid if he still wants to play alongside the Uruguayan, Los Colchoneros president Enrique Cerezo has cheekily suggested.

Suarez was unceremoniously dumped by Barca last week, selling him to Atletico for just €6million after six years at Camp Nou.

In that time Suarez rose to third on the club's all-time leading scorers list, but the way his exit was handled angered close friend Messi, who wants to leave Barca.

The initial decision in pre-season to get rid of Suarez reportedly contributed to the club's captain and talisman asking to leave and, although he failed to force a transfer, he again showed his disdain for those in charge by publicly lambasting them for the Uruguayan's exit.

Suarez made his Atletico debut in Sunday's 6-1 demolition of Granada, coming off the bench to devastating effect as he scored twice and got an assist.

And Cerezo has audaciously suggested Messi joins Suarez at the Wanda Metropolitano, borrowing a marketing slogan from Spanish nougat company El Almendro.

"In life, if you want something... If Leo Messi wants to play with Luis Suarez, I tell him the same thing that is said with nougat: 'Let him come home for Christmas'. With desire, anything is possible," he said on Cadena Cope.

Despite the turmoil at Barca over the past seven weeks, Cerezo showed support to his under-fire counterpart at Camp Nou, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

"Everything [with the Suarez signing] went perfectly well," he said. "Bartomeu is a good friend and a great president.

"At the moment things are not going well at Barcelona, but he has acted as he had to act and nothing else has happened. The signing was not complicated, the player plays where he wanted to play."

But Suarez's international colleague Edinson Cavani will not be joining him at Atletico, having previously been mooted as a replacement for Diego Costa.

"Diego Costa is a player that Atletico Madrid needs," Cerezo added. "The season is very long. You don't have to complicate things.

"I don't think there will be a change at Atleti. Cavani's circumstances have not been the same as those of Luis Suarez.

"He is a fantastic player, but everything is different. It wasn't because of me or his brother [Walter Guglielmone, also his agent] that he didn't come."

Barcelona will on Tuesday begin the process of verifying the signatures behind the no confidence motion initiated against president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the board.

The 'Mes que una Mocio' movement was set up in July in a bid to remove a "board of directors that put their interests before those of the club" and gained traction when Lionel Messi announced his desire to leave following the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich in August.

With 20,687 people backing the motion, Barca has set up a "vote of censure board" that will spend 10 working days checking whether the application meets the requirements to progress.

The panel will be chaired by Catalan Football Federation delegate Josep Maria Vallbona and also include Barca board members Marta Plana and Jordi Argemi, and the motion's signatories Jordi Farre and Josep Triado.

"The [vote of censure] board will meet on 29 September at 9.30am CEST and in the space of 10 working days they will make sure that the vote of censure application has met all the necessary requirements and, in particular, has due cause and has enough support amongst members," the club said in a statement.

"As set out in the statutes, the board will be able to invalidate support that is not sufficiently validated and they have the power to carry out the necessary inquiries to ascertain its authenticity. 

"If all the requirements are met, the application will be admitted and the club's board of directors will call a vote that must take place at a date no sooner than 10 working days away but no later than 20.

"If the requirements are not met than the application for the vote of censure will be rejected."

Messi did not end up leaving Barca, claiming Bartomeu made it "impossible" for him to do so by going back on his word to let him go for free.

However, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner only remains under contract until the end of June.

Presidential elections were brought forward in the wake of the Bayern defeat and have since been scheduled for March.

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman was impressed by Ansu Fati's impact in Sunday's season-opening 4-0 win over Villarreal but he tempered excitement around the teenager as he revealed pre-season concerns.

Fati, 17, was in devastating form for Barca at Camp Nou as Villarreal were swept aside, scoring two fine first-half goals in a five-minute period, before then winning a penalty that was converted by Lionel Messi.

With Messi's future seemingly unclear, Fati had been billed as the poster boy of a new era at Barca – fittingly it was the Spain international who got the ball rolling in style.

And while Koeman was impressed – the Dutchman had been shown beaming as he embraced Fati after his 70th-minute withdrawal – he was keen to remind both the player and fans that the youngster still has much to learn.

"We must highlight the game and performance of Ansu Fati," Koeman told reporters. "I was complaining a little last week about him not having the maximum level of performance in the pre-season.

"He is only 17 years old, he will have a great future, but he must improve things. Sometimes he lacks a bit of concentration.

"One of my criticisms was in the friendly against Elche – he was not good. Today he was. His intensity out wide was immense, he played a great game and we took advantage of his qualities."

Sergio Busquets hit a similar note, stressing the need for patience with Fati.

"We have to be calm with him, we know the potential he has," he told Movistar. "He is tremendous for his age, but we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

"He has many team-mates from whom he can continue to learn so that his ceiling is as high as possible.

"You have to let him play his football and take advantage of the fact that he is at a good point."

Lionel Messi has dominated the headlines for Barcelona since their 2019-20 season finished, but he showed little sign of letting off-field matters impact his performances as he helped secure a 4-0 win over Villarreal.

Barca were in action on Sunday for the first time since losing 8-2 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals last month, a result that seemed to start a tumultuous chain reaction at the club.

Quique Setien was sacked and replaced by Ronald Koeman, Luis Suarez was deemed surplus to requirements and ultimately sold, that angered an already disillusioned Messi – who attempted to force a transfer, and supporters subsequently launched a bid to oust president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

But the Blaugrana returned to the pitch and blew Villarreal away to begin the Koeman era victoriously, Barca's baggage seemingly left to one side and forgotten about for an evening at Camp Nou.

Messi was at the fore as he usually is and, after seeing Ansu Fati terrorise the visitors with two early goals, the superstar Barca captain dispatched a penalty that the teenager won.

That goal meant Messi has scored in 17 successive LaLiga seasons, making him just the fourth player to ever achieve the feat.

Real Madrid greats Santillana and Sergio Ramos – who scored against Real Betis on Saturday – both netted in 17 consecutive LaLiga campaigns, with the former doing so between 1971 and 1988.

The only player to have scored in more successive LaLiga seasons is Agustin Gainza, who reached 19 straight campaigns for Athletic Bilbao from 1940 to 1959.

Given the uncertainty around Messi's future, one has to wonder whether the 33-year-old will make it to 18.

Lionel Messi's desire to leave Barcelona showed no sign of impacting his on-pitch performance as he and Ansu Fati led the 4-0 dismantling of Villarreal on Sunday, marking a triumphant start to the Ronald Koeman era.

Barca have been engulfed by all manner of turmoil since losing 8-2 to Bayern Munich in their previous competitive match on August 14, with the unsuccessful attempt to force a transfer by club talisman Messi undoubtedly the major headline, but as they started their 2020-21 season they proved this is not a team to write off lightly.

Fati got the ball rolling with an impressive double in a five-minute period, before then winning the penalty that was scored by Messi, who subsequently saw a cross of his turned in by Villarreal defender Pau Torres.

Unai Emery's side tightened up in the second half, with Barca consequentially having a little less freedom in the final third, but Villarreal's slight improvement had no impact on what was an easy start for Koeman in LaLiga.

With Messi's future up in the air, Fati had seemingly been billed as the poster boy of this new era at Barca and fittingly he was their inspiration here, opening the scoring 15 minutes in with an emphatic first-time finish from Jordi Alba's cut-back.

The teenager was decisive again a few moments later, latching on to Philippe Coutinho's throughball and coolly slotting past the helpless Sergio Asenjo, who also had no answer to Messi's penalty, which was won by the omnipresent Fati as well.

Things got even worse for the visitors on the stroke of half-time, Torres poking Messi's cross beyond Asenjo as the unlikely spectre of Sergio Busquets lurked for a tap-in.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Barca's intensity did drop after the interval and Villarreal became a more compact unit following a couple of half-time changes.

Koeman took the opportunity to give Fati a bit of a rest with 20 minutes to go, with another talented teenager – Pedri – given the chance to come off the bench for his LaLiga debut after joining from Las Palmas.

Miralem Pjanic and Francisco Trincao were also given their debuts as substitutes, with the young Portuguese winger almost adding a fifth goal when stinging the palms of Asenjo, but Villarreal managed to avoid any further embarrassment.

What does it mean? A smooth landing for Koeman

The first five-and-a-bit weeks of Koeman's reign had been anything but straightforward, from watching the fallout of Barca's Champions League humiliation to partaking in the unceremonious dumping of Luis Suarez that – in part – contributed to Messi's disillusionment.

Even just this week Messi vocalised his disdain for the Barca hierarchy following their treatment of Suarez, who earlier enjoyed a goalscoring debut for Atletico Madrid.

But once out on the pitch, Barca's baggage vanished. While this certainly remains a flawed squad, Messi, Coutinho and Fati provided a devastating reminder that it is also a group with immense attacking ability.

Fati sinks Yellow Submarine

While Messi certainly did well with all eyes on him, Fati was the standout, even more so given his age.

In scoring twice, Fati became the youngest player from Europe's top five leagues to net 10 times in all competitions since 2019-20 began, but he also won the penalty and provided a couple of key passes before his 70th-minute withdrawal.

The Griezmann conundrum lingers on

It will be hoped that Koeman finds the secret to getting the best out of Antoine Griezmann this term.

Leading the attack in Suarez's place might help in the long run, but he was practically anonymous here, touching the ball just 30 times (seven fewer than goalkeeper Neto), having only one shot and failing to create a single chance in his 78 minutes on the pitch.

What's next?

Barca go to Celta Vigo on Thursday, while Villarreal will hope to bounce back at home to Deportivo Alaves a day earlier.

Ronald Koeman insisted he was not "the bad guy" in Luis Suarez's transfer away from Barcelona, although he could understand Lionel Messi's anger at the move.

Suarez, third on the list of all-time Barcelona goal scorers, left Camp Nou this week for Atletico Madrid.

It was reported Suarez was one of a number of senior stars informed by new coach Koeman they would have to leave the club following an underwhelming 2019-20 season.

But Koeman suggested some portrayals of this conversation were not entirely accurate, saying Suarez could have stayed but would have had a reduced role.

"It seemed that I had been the bad guy in this movie, but it is not like that," Koeman said ahead of the Blaugrana's LaLiga opener against Villarreal.

"Since the call [regarding Suarez's future], I have shown respect for him and I have always told him that it can be difficult to play but, if he stayed, he would be one of the squad.

"Before I signed the contract, the club was thinking about things, and I have tried to support those things. They are not just decisions of the coach.

"Luis and I respect each other and we have spoken clearly about his future. He had the opportunity to go to Atletico and I wish all the luck in the world."

Suarez's exit prompted a furious Instagram post from captain Messi, whose own attempted departure was blocked by the club.

Messi said Suarez did not deserve "to get kicked out like [he] did", adding he was not surprised by Barca's actions.

Koeman responded: "It is normal for him to be upset that a friend has left, but I have no doubt about Messi. I have seen him train."

The former Netherlands coach, who would not rule out moves for Lautaro Martinez or Memphis Depay, is not concerned by the tumultuous nature of his early Barca reign.

"If you ask the coaches who have been at Barca, they will surely tell you that they have never had a quiet day," he said.

"I knew that when I had to face changes I would have people in favour and others against. I knew it.

"No problem, it is part of being in the best club in the world, although I hope there is a little more peace of mind."

He might not have buried the hatchet, but Lionel Messi has promised Barcelona he will give his all in the coming season.

His attempt to leave the club, played out in public long before he spoke openly about his plans, ended with him accepting he will spend at least one more year at Camp Nou.

Messi is still angry with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, still upset with the way the team has declined since 2015's treble, but he was smiling again when he played in the 3-1 friendly win over Gimnastic, a grin that gladdened the hearts of Barca fans across the world.

So, with exit talks on ice, the focus is once more on how Messi can carry this team to domestic and European success while the impact of that 8-2 battering by Bayern Munich last month still lingers.

He managed 31 goals and 25 assists last season, the latter number his highest such tally in five years, the former the lowest. He completed more dribbles per game than ever (5.91) but recorded his lowest shots-per-game tally in at least five years (4.57).

The freescoring sensation of his earlier years is past; he is now creator-in-chief, a deeper-lying attacking menace, on whom the pressure is arguably greater than ever after years of mismanagement of the playing squad from those above.

So, what can we expect from 2020-21, the season that may come to be known as Lionel Messi's "Last Dance"?

 

THE RECORDS HE HOLDS

This is just a handful, of course.

Messi is the all-time leading goalscorer in LaLiga with 444. In Europe's top-five leagues, only long-time adversary Cristiano Ronaldo has more (447).

In all competitions for Barca, Messi has scored 634 goals and provided 254 assists in 731 appearances. That puts him on 888 goal involvements for the club - a tally nobody even comes close to matching.

Messi has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last 12 seasons and is the only player to score at least 10 in 14 consecutive LaLiga campaigns. He holds the record for the most in a single season, too: he scored 50 in 2011-12.

And, of course, he is the only man to win the Ballon d'Or six times.

 

THE RECORDS THAT BECKON

If Messi features in 31 of Barca's 38 LaLiga matches, he will eclipse Xavi's record of 505 appearances for the club in Spain's top flight. He will also surpass Xavi for games in all competitions for the Catalans (767) if he plays 37 times overall.

Messi will close on the LaLiga record held by Manolo Sanchis for the most appearances at a single club in the division, but he will need more than one season for that - Messi is on 485, while ex-Real Madrid man Sanchis played 523 times.

Of course, Messi will be desperate for trophies this season after a barren 2019-20, and winning two will see him draw level with Ryan Giggs when it comes to titles won with the same club. Giggs won 36 with Manchester United.

But how about this for a feat: if Messi gets 10 goals this season - and let's face it, there's a good chance - he will set a new record for goals scored for the same club in official competitions. The current best is 643, set by a former Santos forward known as Pele.

 

THE PROBLEMS HE FACES

After the friendly win over Gimnastic, Koeman made it clear he plans to deviate from Barca's traditional 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 that will, hopefully, get the best out of their midfielders. Such a system would presumably see Messi stationed as the number 10, behind a central striker.

Perhaps that's no bad thing: Messi, as a false nine under Pep Guardiola, played the most games (219) and scored the most goals (211) of his career in all competitions. His role under successor Tito Vilanova was similar and yielded 60 goals in 50 games, giving him a career-best average of 1.2 goals per game.

His most prolific season - 2011-12, the last under Guardiola - saw Messi record an astonishing 73 goals and 29 assists, leading to his calendar-year record of 79 goals in 2012. Again, that was from a central position in the attack, albeit one in a team filled with exceptional players. A shift back to the middle could suit him.

The trouble is that Messi is increasingly having to do all this himself. The supporting cast has dwindled in quality since 2015 and his most productive relationships are behind him.

Luis Suarez (47) has the most assists for Messi at Barca and completed his switch to Atletico Madrid this week. To continue a recent theme, his great friend expressed displeasure with the board over the matter. The top five Messi assisters after Suarez have all long left the club: Dani Alves (42), Andres Iniesta (37), Xavi (31), Pedro (25) and Neymar (22). The next on the list is Jordi Alba (21), whose own spot in Koeman's team is not entirely certain.

He has never looked entirely compatible with Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati is still a raw talent in many respects, and the squad will take time to adjust to any new formation, not to mention new arrivals in Miralem Pjanic and, perhaps, Memphis Depay. What's more, the embarrassment of last season's final few weeks will be fresh in the players' minds and the unrest from the boardroom downwards will never be far from the headlines.

When it comes to carrying this team, Messi has rarely looked so alone.

Luis Suarez said he was proud after being defended by Lionel Messi following his move to Atletico Madrid from Barcelona.

Suarez, 33, joined Atletico in a €6million move this week after six trophy-laden seasons at Camp Nou.

His close friend and Barcelona star Messi slammed the Catalan giants on Friday, saying Suarez was "kicked out" and "nothing surprises" him anymore.

Suarez, who won 13 trophies at Barca, said he was proud to have left such a positive impression.

"Leo knows me well and is well aware of my level of conviction. It's a source of pride to be able to leave a positive legacy behind me," he told reporters.

"I've now moved on and joining this competitive side is a major motivation."

Suarez scored 21 goals in 36 games last season, but new Barca coach Ronald Koeman had no room for the Uruguayan as he rebuilds the Blaugrana.

The forward said joining another big club in Spain was a huge motivation for him.

"The motivation of coming to a great from Spain, Atleti is," Suarez said. 

"It has great players, a competitive block that always fights to be at the top and for the league. 

"The fans and the coach [Diego Simeone] motivate a lot too."

Atletico begin their 2020-21 season at home to Granada on Sunday.

Lionel Messi has slammed Barcelona for "kicking out" his close friend Luis Suarez after the Uruguay striker sealed a move to Atletico Madrid.

Barca this week let Suarez leave for Atletico in a €6million deal, with new head coach Ronald Koeman having told him he was surplus to requirements.

Koeman's treatment of the former Liverpool star was believed to be one of the motivating factors behind Messi's desire to force a sensational exit from Camp Nou, but he said president Josep Maria Bartomeu made a move "impossible" by going back on his word to let him leave for free.

Suarez is the third-highest scorer in Barcelona's history with 198 goals and won 13 trophies, including four LaLigas and the 2014-15 Champions League, during a six-year spell with the Catalan giants.

Messi was angry with the way things ended for Suarez but said "at this point nothing surprises me".

"I was already getting the idea but today [Friday] I entered the dressing room and the penny really dropped," Messi wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of him and Suarez following the latter's farewell news conference on Thursday.

"It is going to be so difficult to not continue sharing the day to day with you, both on the pitches and away from them. We are going to miss you so much. It was many years, a lot of [yerba] mate, lunches, dinners… many things that will never be forgotten, all those days together.

"It will be strange to see you in another shirt and more so to face you. You deserved to leave like what you are: one of the most important players in the club's history, achieving important things both as a group and individually. And not to get kicked out like they did. But the truth is that at this point nothing surprises me.

"I wish you all the best in this new challenge. I love you very much, we love you very much. See you soon, friend."

Suarez followed Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Nelson Semedo as the latest high-earning figure to be moved on by Barca ahead of the 2020-21 season.

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