Manchester City are reportedly making plans to sign Lionel Messi next year.

Messi, 33, sensationally requested to leave Barcelona during the close season, but ended up staying with the LaLiga giants.

However, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the season and City continue to eye the star forward.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONTINUE TO MAKE MESSI PLANS

Manchester City are making plans to sign Barcelona captain Messi, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The report says the Premier League giants are trying to attract Messi with the idea of playing in England before finishing his career with fellow City Football Group (CFG) club New York City in MLS.

Messi has been linked with the likes of City, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter previously.

He has six goals in 10 games this season, including three in seven in LaLiga.

Messi's dribbles success rate (56.3) in LaLiga is his lowest since 2015-16, while he is creating just two chances per 90 minutes, his lowest number since 2012-13.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reports City manager Pep Guardiola is closer to agreeing to a contract extension, with his deal up at the conclusion of the current campaign.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona's pursuit of City defender Eric Garcia is seemingly continuing. Sport reports Barca will attempt to sign Garcia again in January, but City still want €15million (£13.5m) for the defender despite his contract expiring at the end of the campaign.

- Also out of contract at the end of the season is Bayern Munich defender David Alaba. Tuttosport says Juventus are considering a move for the Austria international, who has been linked with several European heavyweights.

- Sidelined with a serious knee injury, Ansu Fati's future could be clearer soon. Marca says talks between Barcelona and Fati are on track, even with the 18-year-old forward contracted until 2022.

- Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders after serious injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez. The Daily Star says the Premier League champions may make a move for Olympiacos and Portugal defender Ruben Semedo in January, although it could cost them £18million (€20.1m).

- After just three Premier League appearances for Chelsea this season, Marcos Alonso again being linked with a move. The Daily Mail reports Crystal Palace are looking at the left-back.

Lionel Messi will have his motives and reasons for wanting to leave Barcelona and nothing will make him change his mind, according to the club's former player Luis Figo.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner stunned the world in August when he informed Barca of his intention to leave the club he has spent two decades with.

He intended to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer, but the validity of such a stipulation was made murky due to last season being prolonged into August by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Figo, who made a surprising and controversial move from Barca to bitter rivals Real Madrid in 2000, believes Messi will now have his mind set on departing Catalonia.

"I watched the thing with Messi and his attempt to leave Barcelona this summer like all football fans: expectantly and surprised," he told Marca.

"He'll have his motives and reasons for making that decision. I don't know what happened beforehand. 

"Every club wants a player like Messi, but then it depends on factors like the current financial situation at the club, the money he'll cost the club in wages, the will of the player...

"But generally, in life, if you don't want to be somewhere, in the end there's nothing that can change your mind."

Messi, who is due to become a free agent at the end of the campaign, has endured an underwhelming start to the 2020-21 season.

The 33-year-old had failed to assist a goal or score from open play in six LaLiga matches before last weekend's 5-2 win over Real Betis, when he also netted from the penalty spot.

He started that game on the bench - the first time that has happened in the league since September 2019 - but Ronald Koeman has since revealed Messi was carrying a knock.

Messi is now on international duty with Argentina and played the full 90 minutes of Thursday's 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Paraguay, the forward having a goal ruled out by VAR in that game.

Lionel Scaloni called for greater consistency with the VAR after Argentina were denied a winner against Paraguay.

Nicolas Gonzalez cancelled out Angel Romero's penalty at La Bombonera on Thursday and Argentina thought they had a third straight win to begin World Cup qualifying when Lionel Messi scored in the second half.

However, the goal was ruled out after a VAR check for a foul that started Argentina's passing build-up, and Scaloni's men were held as they moved onto seven points from three World Cup 2022 qualifiers.

But the Argentina coach wants to see greater consistency from the VAR after his side were denied a winner.

"I think that in some way it is necessary to seek to unify the issue of the VAR," Scaloni told a news conference, via Argentina's Twitter.

"I am not talking in good or bad faith, but to unify criteria."

After a slow start, Argentina dominated following Romero's opener from the penalty spot for Paraguay.

Argentina have won just two of their past eight qualifiers against Paraguay, who held on for a point in Buenos Aires.

Scaloni was satisfied with his team's performance and said they were dominant for long periods.

"In the first 15 minutes the team did not go well. After the penalty I think it was all ours, honestly," he said.

"The team reacted, created situations, did what it had to do. We achieved a draw."

Scaloni added: "We are leaving with a bittersweet taste because Argentina did everything to win.

"In the second half, we put the rival behind. We must also value the attitude of the team, which always believed in achieving victory."

Argentina continue their qualifying campaign with a trip to Lima to face Peru on Tuesday.

Argentina continued their unbeaten start to World Cup qualifying with a 1-1 draw against Paraguay at La Bombonera on Thursday.

Angel Romero's penalty gave Paraguay a first-half lead, but his opener was cancelled out by Nicolas Gonzalez's header.

After falling behind, Argentina were dominant, and Lionel Messi had a second-half goal ruled out following a VAR check.

Lionel Scaloni's men were forced to settle for a point and are unbeaten through three qualifiers to top the CONMEBOL standings.

After a bright start, Paraguay took a deserved 21st-minute lead through Romero's penalty.

Miguel Almiron's strong run at the Argentina defence saw the attacker brought down by Lucas Martinez, and Romero stepped up to place the spot-kick into the bottom corner.

Argentina started to enjoy more possession but struggled to create much of note before Gonzalez equalised prior to half-time thanks to his first international goal.

Gonzalez met a good corner from Giovani Lo Celso, who replaced the injured Exequiel Palacios during the first half, to head in at the near post and make it 1-1.

The equaliser gave Argentina a boost and Rodrigo De Paul's long-range drive forced a save from Paraguay goalkeeper Antony Silva on the stroke of half-time.

Lautaro Martinez and Paraguay defender Gustavo Gomez squandered good chances shortly after half-time before Argentina thought they had the lead.

After a cutback from Lo Celso, Messi beat Silva despite a strong hand from the Paraguay goalkeeper, but the goal was ruled out for a foul in the build-up after a VAR check.

Messi went close in the 72nd minute, Silva tipping his free-kick onto the crossbar after Lo Celso was fouled as Argentina continued to push, but they were unable to find a winner.

 

What does it mean? Argentina extend unbeaten run

Now unbeaten in three World Cup 2022 qualifiers, Argentina also stretched their overall run to 10. They made a slow start in Buenos Aires but were dominant after falling behind and deserved all three points. Argentina were denied a third straight win to begin a qualifying campaign, something they have managed just three times before.

Lo Celso provides spark

Palacios' injury was unfortunate for Argentina, but Lo Celso's introduction just before the half-hour mark boosted Scaloni's side. The Tottenham attacker assisted Gonzalez's equaliser and set up Messi's disallowed goal, while he was a constant threat.

Paraguay continue to trouble Argentina

Since being belted 6-1 by Argentina at the Copa America in 2015, Paraguay have gone four games unbeaten in meetings between the countries. In World Cup qualifying, Paraguay have won three and lost just two of their past eight clashes with Argentina.

What's next?

Argentina make the trip to Lima to face Peru on Tuesday, while Paraguay host Bolivia on the same day.

Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann get on very well despite claims to the contrary, according to former Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic. 

Griezmann has struggled for consistent form since his €120million move from Atletico Madrid last year and some have suggested his incompatibility with Messi is part of the problem.

Messi came off the bench to score twice and set up another, as well as play a key part in a goal for Griezmann, as Barca beat Real Betis 5-2 in LaLiga last week.

Griezmann, who earlier missed a penalty, scored only his second goal in seven league matches after Messi dummied Jordi Alba's cross into his path.

The pair only exchanged four passes throughout, however, as Messi mostly combined with Sergi Roberto (15 passes) and Sergio Busquets (19 passes) in an impressive cameo.

In an interview with France Football, Griezmann's former advisor, Eric Olhats, went as far as suggesting Messi has actively avoided passing to the France forward, accusing the Argentine of having a "deplorable" attitude and ruling the dressing room with a "reign of terror".

Rakitic, though, believes any such talk will disappear once each player hits a run of goalscoring form.

"From what I saw, they got along very well," he told Canal Sur Radio. "I got on wonderfully with Antoine and with Leo.

"I don't know what there is there. The two of them drink mate and spend a lot of time together in the dressing room.

"If they both start scoring goals, it won't be talked about any more. It's the demand of great teams.

"I'm not worried because they're two amazing guys. I wish them all the best."

Rakitic rejoined Sevilla during the transfer window after six seasons at Camp Nou, in which he won 13 major trophies, including four LaLiga titles, four Copas del Rey and one Champions League.

The 32-year-old has featured in all seven of Sevilla's league games in 2020-21 but still feels he needs time to readjust to his old surroundings.

"I'm going to be judged by what I do on the pitch. I need a little time. It's not the same as Barca; it's a different way of playing," he said.

"We're very competitive and you always want to play. I came here with great enthusiasm to give my very best. I have to rediscover my rhythm, understand my team-mates and have them understand me."

Lionel Messi's father, Jorge, rubbished reports he had been contacted by Paris Saint-Germain about the Barcelona star.

Messi, 33, continues to be linked with a move away from the LaLiga giants with his contract expiring at season's end and having requested to leave during the close season.

PSG, Manchester City and Inter have previously been most strongly connected with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

But after a report claimed Jorge was contacted by PSG to start negotiations in January, Messi's father denied the suggestion.

"Stop inventing!!! #fakenews," he wrote on Instagram.

Messi has spent his entire professional career at Barcelona, where he has won 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies.

He sensationally requested to leave the club in the close season but ultimately ended up staying.

Messi has scored six goals in 10 games this season, including three in seven in LaLiga.

Though it is still early in the LaLiga campaign, Messi is without an assist, while his two chances created per 90 minutes is his lowest since 2012-13 (1.6).

Ronald Koeman's men are eighth in the LaLiga table, nine points adrift of leaders Real Sociedad but having played two fewer games.

Lionel Messi has been declared fit for Argentina's 2022 World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Peru by Lionel Scaloni.

It had been reported that Messi was a doubt for Thursday's meeting with Paraguay at La Bombonera after reporting for duty with an ankle issue.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner started Barcelona's 5-2 victory over Real Betis on Saturday among the substitutes but came on at half-time and scored twice.

Barca assistant coach Alfred Schreuder said the decision was made because Messi was "not fresh", but Scaloni put any lingering concerns over his fitness to bed.

"Leo trained with us normally. He has been experiencing discomfort in his ankle but it does not prevent him from playing, so for us he is fit and available," Scaloni told a news conference on Wednesday.

"We'll see if anything changes tomorrow, but in principle he's ready to play.

"The truth is that we have had quite a few problems. We still do not have every player. [Lucas] Martinez Quarta just arrived and we will see if he can train with the group this afternoon, and the rest of those who trained differently for various reasons, we hope today to see how they are so we can define the team for tomorrow.

"Without a doubt, it was a very unusual selection – the most difficult we have had. It's typical of what we are experiencing with the number of games being played and the rush there is. We hope to have them all."

Angel Di Maria returned to the Argentina set-up for the first time since last year's Copa America and Scaloni explained the reason for the absence of the Paris Saint-Germain attacker for the opening round of qualifiers in October.

"We had Nicolas Gonzalez and [Giovani] Lo Celso, who got injured after being called up. I would have been in favour of calling up Di Maria, but with everything that was happening it did not seem fair and respectful when he would only have arrived for the second game," said Scaloni.

"This time, Nico Gonzalez had very few minutes, Lo Celso had not got a rhythm and we thought we were not going to make the mistake of not bringing him in again.

"My relationship with him is perfect. We are happy to have him and he is training very well."

Ronald Koeman is backing Antoine Griezmann to find consistent form for Barcelona but will not rule out a bid to sign Memphis Depay.

France star Griezmann, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid last year, has struggled to impress on a regular basis alongside Lionel Messi at Camp Nou.

The forward, who missed a penalty against Real Betis last week before scoring in Barca's 5-2 victory, has just two goals, one assist and four chances created to his name in seven LaLiga appearances this season.

Koeman thinks the 29-year-old is bound to hit top gear, though, as long as he maintains his strong work ethic.

"He needs a bit more confidence and scoring goals always gives you that confidence," Koeman told Mundo Deportivo.

"You can't say he doesn't work, he works a lot, but maybe he feels a little more free when he's with the national team, having been with them a long time and always playing in the same position.

"There's are many more things besides, but a player who is working and trying so much to change things, I think in the end he'll get to where he wants to be.

"His best position is maybe more central, as a number nine, a number 10 behind a nine, with a lot of freedom on the right wing cutting in, with [Ousmane] Dembele playing more outside.

"They're positions in which he can give a lot to this team."

With Griezmann out of sorts and Ansu Fati sidelined for four months after meniscus surgery, Barca have been tipped to make a new move for Lyon forward Depay.

The Catalans agreed terms with Depay during the previous transfer window but a deal could not be struck between the clubs, and the Ligue 1 side's president Jean-Michel Aulas insists they will not sell the player in January even though his contract expires at the end of the season.

However, Koeman will not discount the prospect of signing the Netherlands international, with whom he worked while in charge of the national side and who has been directly involved in eight goals in Ligue 1 this season, a tally bettered only by Kylian Mbappe.

"Now is not the moment to talk about players who aren't here. For me, it's not good," he said.

"It's true his name has come out and he's played every game with our national team as a number nine.

"Everyone can have their opinion, but not here, and we'll see what happens in the future."

Koeman also suggested a deal could yet be struck to sign Eric Garcia from Manchester City, adding: "Well, I don't know. It depends on Manchester City."

Speaking to Sport, Koeman admitted captain Lionel Messi had been "unhappy" when he first arrived at the club, the forward having tried unsuccessfully to leave in the wake of the 8-2 Champions League destruction by Bayern Munich, a club-record defeat in the competition. 

Messi's form has been questioned in 2020-21, the Argentina star having failed to score from open play or register an assist in his first six LaLiga matches.

He produced a star turn off the bench against Real Betis, however, scoring twice, assisting another and playing a key role in Griezmann's goal as Barca claimed a 5-2 victory.

"I spoke to him on the first day, totally frankly, and I've never doubted him," Koeman said of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"I see him training every day and enjoying playing. I said on the first day that he's the best player in the world and of course I prefer to have the best in the world in my team.

"As I said after the game against Betis, if he's well, he'll always start."

Lionel Messi remains the best footballer in the world and makes Barcelona a better team when he is in the side, says head coach Ronald Koeman.

The Argentina international was named among the substitutes for a LaLiga game for the first time since September 2019 in Saturday's 5-2 win over Real Betis at Camp Nou.

He had failed to score or assist from open play in six league matches this term before last weekend's contest, but Koeman denied he was dropped and put his absence from the side down to a knock.

Messi ended his open-play drought by powering home as a half-time substitute against Betis, having earlier scored his fifth penalty of the campaign in all competitions.

Koeman has reaffirmed he has full faith in the forward, who failed in an attempt to move away from the club at the end of last season.

"Messi has shown me to be a person who wants to win things and continue to be the best, even though he has had his problems with the club," Koeman told Sport.

"Barcelona have been, are and will be a better team with Messi than without. When I arrived, they told me that Messi was unhappy.

"We spoke at his house and he explained his reasons to me. I was honest. I told him that the only thing is the system, his position on the field, his importance in the team.

"But the problems that he had had with the club I couldn't change. From the first day I have said the same thing. He is the best and is committed to the club.

"He has had his issues, his problems this summer, but since he returned to training he has been very good.

"He has had bad luck in some games and he has not been able to offer the usual performance, but I am sure that at the end of the season he will have scored the usual goals."

Koeman replaced Quique Setien ahead of the 2020-21 campaign and oversaw Barca's joint-worst start to a LaLiga campaign after six games in the three-points-per-win era.

But the ex-Netherlands boss has put part of his side's early struggles down to poor refereeing and is confident positive changes are being made on the field.

"We have been able to change the image of the team. We have made changes that have given another air to the group," he said.

"People are very involved, very committed. We have increased the intensity of the training sessions and we have played good games.

"It is true that we have lost many points in the league, in games that we could have achieved a better result. Refereeing decisions have influenced the final result in some.

"We know we have to improve things and we are working towards that. Now we have a break, but we are already preparing a very demanding schedule for when we return."

Antoine Griezmann has struggled at Barcelona due to the "reign of terror" presided over by Lionel Messi, according to the France star's former advisor.

Griezmann, a €120million signing from Atletico Madrid last year, has found it difficult to hit top form alongside Messi at Camp Nou.

The forward, who missed a penalty against Real Betis last week before scoring in Barca's 5-2 victory, has just two goals, one assist and four chances created to his name in seven LaLiga appearances this season.

Griezmann has previously insisted there are no problems between him and Messi but Eric Olhats, the player's former representative, feels it is telling that the six-time Ballon d'Or winner does not say the same in public.

Speaking to France Football, Olhats even suggested Messi would try neither to speak nor pass to Griezmann when he first joined Barca.

"Antoine arrived at a club where Messi has the final word on everything," he said. "He is as much an emperor as a monarch and he didn't take kindly to the signing of Antoine.

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

"Griezmann is only going to try and solve his problems on the pitch, nothing more. He is never going to look to get into a conflict with anyone. He's not like that at all. And it's not that he lacks personality. He loves football and that's it, he doesn't want to get into arguments with anybody. I've seen him overcome so many difficult moments in his career.

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

Messi came off the bench to lead Barca to victory against Betis, scoring twice and playing a key role in Griezmann's goal when his dummy allowed Jordi Alba's cross to reach his team-mate.

The pair exchanged only four passes in the second half, with Messi mostly combining with Sergi Roberto (15 passes) and Sergio Busquets (19 passes).

Luis Suarez fits like a glove and even Lionel Messi and former star Antoine Griezmann would face competition for places at high-flying Atletico Madrid, says Koke.

Uruguay striker Suarez was deemed surplus to requirements by new Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman and, despite being third on the Blaugrana's all-time goalscorers list, joined Atleti for a nominal fee.

From six LaLiga appearances, Suarez has five goals and one assist for his new club, while he has created four chances for his team-mates and hit the target with eight of his 22 shots at goal (including blocked shots).

It is form that has helped unbeaten Atleti to third in the table with two games in hand on the two sides above them in the table.

Atleti midfielder Koke says Suarez's arrival has allowed others in the team, such as Joao Felix, Angel Correa and Marcos Llorente, to flourish.

"A radical change has hit us in [our] game," he told Cadena Ser. "[Having Suarez] leaves Joao, Correa and Llorente free in some situations. He has fit us like a glove."

One player Suarez has had limited playing time with is Diego Costa, with his fellow Atleti forward out with a left thigh injury sustained last month.

Asked about that link-up, Koke added: "They are two great forwards and they have to adapt together. The team is playing well and has more solutions in attack."

While Atleti's current attacking crop are flourishing, Griezmann – who departed for Camp Nou ahead of the 2019-20 campaign – has struggled to find his best form for Barca.

In seven top-flight appearances this season, Griezmann has two goals and an assist and created four chances, while he missed a penalty in the 5-2 win over Real Betis last week.

The last time Barca faced Atleti in June, it took until the 90th minute for Griezmann to enter the fray despite the game being locked at 2-2 – something that took Koke by surprise.

"I was very surprised to see a player of the stature of Griezmann [not play until] the 90th minute in the last duel in which we faced Barca," Koke said.

But when asked about the potential for a Griezmann return, Koke added: "I think now he would have a lot of competition here."

Indeed, such is the strength of Atleti's forward line, Koke believes even superstar Messi – whose himself failed to engineer a move away from Barca in a long-running sage during the close season – would find it difficult to get into the team.

"He would also have a lot of competition at Atleti," Koke added.

Koke is particularly delighted to see Llorente beginning to flourish at Atleti, with the 25-year-old excelling in a more advanced role, scoring three goals and assisting two more this term.

"He does everything. He is at a spectacular level. The work pays off and he works [hard]," Koke said. 

"I'm happy for him because at first he didn't have a good time by not playing, but all work has its reward. Those that last year had fewer minutes have more this season."

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."

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