Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati led the way for Barcelona as Quique Setien's men did just enough to claim a 2-1 win over Levante at Camp Nou on Sunday, moving them back to within three points of leaders Real Madrid.

After a remarkable breakthrough at the start of the season, Fati had recently come in for criticism amid some underwhelming displays, but he showed just how effective he can be as Messi carved open the Levante defence.

Fati took his top-flight tally to four with a pair of strikes separated by just 102 seconds in the first half, profiting from the brilliance of Messi on both occasions to become the youngest player to score a LaLiga brace this century.

Levante offered a lot more from an attacking perspective after the break and deservedly pulled one back through Barca academy product Ruben Rochina in stoppage time, but Fati's efforts had put the game beyond the visitors, despite a hat-trick ultimately eluding the 17-year-old.

After easing their way into the contest, Barca crafted a flurry of chances after the 13th minute – Messi shooting agonisingly wide and then testing Aitor Fernandez, before Antoine Griezmann prodded just off target.

Levante were eventually breached after half an hour as Messi fed Fati with an exquisite throughball and the teenager clinically slotted home.

The same pair combined again less than two minutes later, Fati this time firing through the legs of the unconvincing Fernandez.

The lead should have been extended before half-time, but Nelson Semedo hit the crossbar and Griezmann inexplicably missed from inside the six-yard box.

Barca were fortunate to not concede early in the second half – Jose Luis Morales galloping through on goal and seeing his effort saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, with Rochina hopelessly blazing the rebound over.

Fati was not far off getting a third in the 73rd minute when his overhead-kick went just past the left-hand post, while Levante finally got on the scoresheet soon after wasting two fine chances – Rochina's strike hitting Ter Stegen and going in.

 

What does it mean? A welcome win but defensive concerns remain

Barca were abysmal in their previous LaLiga match, the 2-0 defeat at Valencia that preceded the Copa del Rey demolition of Leganes.

In Mestalla they left a lot to be desired at the back and again they failed to keep a clean sheet on Sunday, with those concerns still prominent. Levante could – and arguably should – have had more than one goal to show for their efforts.

Fati gets a timely boost

It would be unfair to be too harsh on a teenager, particularly considering he is obviously talented, but Fati's impact of late had been minimal. On Sunday, however, he was lively, intelligent with his movement and a creative outlet, providing three key passes on top of his two goals.

Griezmann is no Suarez

Luis Suarez was always going to be tricky to replace, even for Griezmann. There were hints of promise in the first half as the Frenchman got into some good positions, but he wasted one particularly good opportunity. None of his three shots were on target and he did not create any chances either – Suarez is often productive on both fronts..

What's next?

Barca return to Copa del Rey action on Thursday at Athletic Bilbao, before heading to Seville to face Setien's former club Real Betis in LaLiga three days later. Levante host Leganes on Saturday.

Quique Setien declared Neymar's interest in a Camp Nou comeback to be good news as the Barcelona boss detailed his desire to keep Lionel Messi happy.

Brazil international Neymar attempted to engineer a return to his former employers last year and, though seemingly now fully committed to Paris Saint-Germain, his future could still lay in LaLiga.

Barca have been tipped to reignite negotiations further down the line and their new head coach would welcome the star forward's arrival.

"That's good," Setien told Mundo Deportivo when asked about Neymar's desire for a second Barca stint.

"I love to watch and have great footballers and if I can watch Neymar every day, just imagine."

Barca captain Messi was among those pushing hardest for his former team-mate's return, admitting he would have "loved" the transfer to go ahead.

The 32-year-old claimed "some people were against" moving for Neymar despite the boost he could have given in their pursuit of yet more trophies.

Setien is hopeful the mercurial Messi continues to feel enthusiastic about life in Catalonia, with his contract due to expire next year.

"I hope we make him so happy that he is looking forward to staying," the Blaugrana boss said in a separate interview with Sport. "He will be here in the future, I have no doubts.

"The talks have been very normal as with any other player. He is very convinced that we can win. He is perceived to be a winner and cares that things are done well.

"He takes interest in the talks. He knows he is an important part, one that can solve many games, but we have to rely on the team to be stronger."

Barca, second behind Real Madrid in LaLiga, host Levante on Sunday.

Lionel Messi has hit yet another milestone at Barcelona, having now featured in 500 wins for the club.

Messi scored twice and played a part in Barca's other three goals in a 5-0 rout of Leganes in the Copa del Rey on Thursday.

It makes Messi the first player to reach the landmark, with Xavi having won 476 matches and Andres Iniesta reaching 459 victories before departing Camp Nou.

Espanyol were the first side to lose to a Barca team that included Messi, back in October 2004.

Meanwhile, UDA Gramenet are the only team to have faced Messi and managed to avoid defeat, having beaten Barca in the Copa del Rey last 64 in 2004-05.

In total, Messi has been on the winning side against 86 different teams, with Sevilla his favourite opponent.

Messi has won 29 times against the Andalusian club, while he has 24 victories over Atletico Madrid and 19 versus Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi struck twice as Barcelona bounced back from their first defeat under Quique Setien with a resounding 5-0 victory over Leganes in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey.

A 2-0 loss at Valencia on Saturday resulted in reigning LaLiga champions Barca falling three points adrift of rivals Real Madrid in the title race, but they appeared to get right back on track at Camp Nou on Thursday.

Setien named a strong starting line-up and Antoine Griezmann took less than four minutes to open the scoring, with Clement Lenglet nodding in the second before the half-hour mark.

Messi extended their advantage with a fortuitous finish in the 59th minute, and he doubled his tally after substitute Arthur found the back of the net to send Barca breezing into the quarter-finals.

After Nelson Semedo played a give-and-go with Messi, he cut the ball back to Griezmann, who fired between Chidozie Awaziem's legs and into the bottom-left corner to give Barca an early lead.

Setien's team dominated possession and had a second goal for Griezmann ruled out in the ninth minute, with Jordi Alba deemed to have been marginally offside in the build-up.

Griezmann saw a deflected shot tipped around the post by Ivan Cuellar, but Lenglet nodded the resulting corner from Messi over the Leganes goalkeeper and into the far corner to increase Barca's advantage in the 27th minute.

The visitors sporadically threatened on the counter-attack, yet their hopes of getting back into the game were extinguished when Messi raced away on the right and beat Cuellar with the help of a deflection off Rodrigo Tarin.

Leganes coach Javier Aguirre was shown a yellow card for dissent, and his mood would not have improved in the 77th minute, Arthur firing home after Cuellar denied Ansu Fati and Awaziem blocked Messi on the initial follow-up.

Messi rounded off a magnificent display with one minute remaining by latching onto Ivan Rakitic's throughball, rounding Cuellar and sending the ball into the roof of the net.

 

What does it mean? Barca could rue not getting another striker

With a move for Valencia attacker Rodrigo Moreno having broken down, Barca director Guillermo Amor said they were happy to finish the transfer window without signing attacking cover for Luis Suarez, who has been ruled until close to the end of the season with a knee injury.

This match would have been a good opportunity for Barca to grant Griezmann and Messi a rest, even though they proved pivotal to the result. They are now even more crucial in the run-in and no risks can be taken with the star pairing.

Magical Messi

It was not a spectacular display from Barcelona, but Messi was involved in all five goals. He released Semedo for the opener, assisted Lenglet for the second and got the third and fifth himself. Arthur would not have got on the scoreboard were it not for the Argentina star's initial rebound either.

Not so sterling Silva

It was never going to be an easy task for Jonathan Silva, but he struggled to provide any resistance on the left and lost possession 12 times before being replaced by Kevin Rodrigues in the 57th minute.

What's next?

Barcelona host Levante in LaLiga on Sunday, when Leganes entertain Real Sociedad.

"You were a genius like few others". That was the message from Barcelona captain Lionel Messi after the tragic death of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died following a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California on Sunday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed.

Five-time NBA champion Bryant transcended basketball after his selection in the 1996 draft, going on to spend his entire 20-year career with the Lakers.

Football superstar and six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi joined the list of mourners, using Instagram to write: "I have no words… all my love for Kobe's family and friends.

"It was a pleasure to meet you and share good times together. You were a genius like few others."

Bryant was the face of the Lakers, even after his retirement in 2016.

The guard earned MVP honours in 2008, while he was named the Most Valuable Player in the 2009 and 2010 NBA Finals.

Bryant was also an 18-time All-Star to go with numerous other accolades, including two Olympic Games gold medals with the United States.

Kylian Mbappe has suggested he cannot replicate what Lionel Messi has achieved at Barcelona and will instead look to Cristiano Ronaldo for inspiration.

Since bursting onto the scene with Monaco in 2016, a move to Paris Saint-Germain and a charge to World Cup glory with France has made the 21-year-old one of the leading lights in football.

However, when it comes to choosing between Messi and Ronaldo on who to model his career path on, Mbappe acknowledged his switch from Monaco to PSG means he cannot follow in the footsteps of Barca's six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"It's too late for me to carve out a career like Messi's, I would have had to stay at Monaco," Mbappe told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Without taking anything away from Messi, now I have to draw on Cristiano's career for inspiration.

"If you're French, obviously you would have grown up with [Zinedine] Zidane as your idol. After that, it was Cristiano, who I have been fortunate enough to have faced as an opponent, at club level and with the national team.

"I also love Brazilian players like Pele, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Kaka. And to the young players who look up to me, I'd like to send them a message from someone who believed in their dream, always giving the best they had to give, trying to push their own limits to be able to make a mark in sport."

Mbappe also believes Ronaldo gives Juventus an edge in the Champions League, a competition the Portugal captain has won five times, making the Serie A giants a favourite.

"Juventus are a strong side - they've shown that in the finals they've played during the past few seasons," said Mbappe, who has scored 21 goals in all competitions for PSG this term.

"They have always lacked something to give them the edge and now they have that in Cristiano. He's a player who makes you win major trophies.

"This year Juventus are among the favourites – along with the usual suspects – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool."

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique have all been left out of Barcelona's trip to Ibiza in the Copa del Rey.

The trio are being rested for the round-of-32 clash against the third-tier side.

Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele remain unavailable due to injury, although the former has begun the next stage of his treatment process in Catalonia as he recovers from meniscus damage.

Quique Setien has called up youngsters Carles Perez, Riqui Puig, Abel Ruiz and Chumi to the 18-man squad, alongside rising star Ansu Fati.

Barca face a potentially difficult LaLiga trip to Valencia just three days after the Ibiza clash.

New head coach Quique Setien was pleased with Barcelona's 1-0 victory over Granada in his first game in charge but wants to see his side be more clinical in front of goal.

Lionel Messi's 76th-minute finish following an outstanding team move secured three points at Camp Nou on Sunday for Setien, who replaced Ernesto Valverde last Monday.

Barca had 82.6 per cent of possession but struggled to break down Granada prior to Messi's intervention, prompting hopes from the incoming coach there will be improvement in the final third.

"I think it was a 'good' [performance]," Setien said. "Maybe we lacked a bit of conviction in the first half. Granada defended very well, and it wasn't easy.

"Furthermore, it was an unpleasant day, with wind, a dry pitch, and this stopped the circulation [of the ball].

"I'm happy because we only conceded one shot in the first half and the shot that hit the post in the second half came from our loss [of possession].

"I think we did a lot of things well and I hope that little by little we pick up fluency and improve in front of goal."

Setien does not see a great deal of work for him to do in order to turn Valverde's side into his own, however.

"I have seen many things from Barca that I want today," he said. "There are many things that this team has done well and will continue to do.

"There are not so many things to change - perhaps just the rigour and discipline of maintaining the intensity for 90 minutes in order to not lose matches that you have won.

"Today did not bring much in front of goal, but many things we have done well."

The new boss is happy to be able to rely on Messi, too, adding: "It's what he's done his whole life. That's the reality.

"There are matches like these that are deadlocked, without conviction and without inspiration, and he always appears in a great move in the end.

"[It was] a great backheel by Arturo [Vidal to set Messi up]. This move came in the first half a couple of times and it didn't come off, but when it falls to Messi, there's a high percentage it will go in."

Sergio Busquets refused to compare Barcelona under Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien after the Catalans made a winning start to life under their new head coach.

Barca returned to the top of LaLiga with a 1-0 win over a dogged Granada at Camp Nou on Sunday.

The home side enjoyed nearly 83 per cent of the possession but could not break down their visitors until Lionel Messi struck 76 minutes in after German Sanchez had been sent off.

Setien's variation of a 3-4-3 saw Barca monopolise the ball and push high up the pitch, a style more in keeping with the methods of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola than Valverde, who was sacked this month after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana.

Busquets was pleased with their display but would not enter into comparisons between the methods of Setien and Valverde, who eventually lost the faith of the fans and the board due to his more cautious approach.

"We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us," he told Movistar.

"It's true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

"It's not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You'll see what Setien asks us to do. We're not going to reveal it.

"We're delighted with what Ernesto did and we're delighted with Setien."

Setien also earned a cheer from the Camp Nou crowd for bringing on Masia graduate Riqui Puig, who found chances hard to come by under Valverde.

The 20-year-old won back possession on the edge of the Granada box in the build-up to the goal, and Busquets hopes it is just the start for the midfielder.

"He has a lot of things to mature, but it looks like he can be here [to boost the team]," Busquets added.

Barca are level with Real Madrid on 43 points at the top of the table after 20 games, with Atletico Madrid and Sevilla eight points adrift.

Barcelona were made to work by 10-man Granada at Camp Nou on Sunday in Quique Setien's first game in charge before Lionel Messi secured a 1-0 win.

The champions needed three points to reclaim top spot in LaLiga from Real Madrid but were mostly blunted by a disciplined defensive display in windy conditions in Catalonia.

Setien set his side up in a 3-4-3 variation reminiscent of Pep Guardiola's old formation but, despite enjoying close to 82 per cent of the possession, clear-cut chances were hard to come by.

Barca were given an advantage when German Sanchez was sent off and Messi eventually made the breakthrough with 14 minutes of normal time left as the attack finally clicked into gear.

Setien's much-discussed adherence to the Johan Cruyff school was clear in a first half in which Barcelona made more than 500 passes, but a shot from Messi that rippled the side-netting was the closest they came to a goal.

Messi saw a free-kick deflected over the crossbar before Granada gave Barca a real scare, Yan Eteki's low strike beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen only to bounce back off the inside of the post and away to safety.

Granada's game plan was working well until German was shown a second yellow card 69 minutes in for a trip on Messi, before Setien earned a cheer from the home fans by introducing Riqui Puig for Ivan Rakitic.

The 20-year-old made a telling impact, winning back possession on the edge of the box before Messi found Antoine Griezmann, he flicked the ball to Arturo Vidal and the Chilean's backheel was swept home by the captain.

 

What does it mean? Setien style already on view

This was a Barca performance to make the fans smile.

With Jordi Alba playing almost entirely as a left-winger, the midfield pushed high into Granada territory and centre-forward Griezmann running back to regain the ball in his own half, most in the stands will have considered this a return to a style more in keeping with Barca's heritage.

There needs to be more cutting edge to go with the possession, but there were few signs of the more cautious approach that saw Ernesto Valverde lose the faith of the fans and, eventually, the board.

Martinez deserves plaudits

This game was always going to be about Setien's set-up, but credit must go to Diego Martinez for making Granada such obstinate opposition.

They kept Barca away from Rui Silva's goal very effectively for 70 minutes and were inches from snatching the lead through Eteki before Messi's strike.

German inefficiency costs Granada

There was no need for German to trip Messi for the foul that earned him a second yellow card, the forward some 35 yards from goal and not likely to make inroads with this particular run. Momentum swung Barca's way at this point.

What's next?

Barca head to Ibiza in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday before facing Valencia at Mestalla next Saturday. Granada's cup game sees them head to Badalona, with Sevilla their next league opponents.

Ansu Fati is set for only his fourth LaLiga start after being given the nod to line up against Granada in new coach Quique Setien's first match in charge.

Setien was appointed on Monday following the sacking of Ernesto Valverde, though he has resisted any urge to make wholesale changes.

Barca's last outing saw them lose 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final, with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez leading the line.

But since then Suarez has been ruled out for most of the season after having knee surgery, resulting in a rethink in attack.

The one to benefit from Suarez's absence is 17-year-old Fati, who broke into the first-team squad at the start of the season.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen returns in goal following a spell out with a knee injury, while the much-maligned Ivan Rakitic takes the place of the suspended Frenkie de Jong in midfield.

Setien's arrival was seen as a positive for the club's promising youngsters, with the likes of Riqui Puig – who hardly had a look-in under Valverde – brought to train with the senior side straight away.

Puig, 20, is among the substitutes at Camp Nou, as is fellow La Masia product Carles Perez.

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri said it is "really annoying" that someone has won more Ballons d'Or than superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi moved one ahead of Ronaldo for the Ballon d'Or record, claiming his sixth individual honour in December.

The result came despite Ronaldo helping Juve to an eighth consecutive Serie A title and Portugal win the inaugural Nations League crown.

Sari is determined for Ronaldo – who sat out Wednesday's 4-0 Coppa Italia last-16 victory over Udinese through illness – to add to his Ballon d'Or collection and match Messi.

"I would like to help Cristiano win the sixth Ballon d'Or first," Sarri told reporters post-game in Turin.

"It's really annoying thinking that someone won more [Ballons d'Or] than him. I think about him and I think helping him it is my goal and the goal of the team. It is right for him.

"[Paulo] Dybala is going to be one of the contenders in the next years. I think so."

While Ronaldo sat out, Juve forward Paulo Dybala dazzled with a brace and an assist against Udinese.

Dybala teed up Gonzalo Higuain for the 16th-minute opener following a stunning piece of combination play before curling a memorable strike past Nicolas approaching the hour mark, having converted a first-half penalty.

It took his season tally to 11 goals across all competitions and Sarri added: "Dybala is a top player. As every top player when they are becoming confident and having the right age, they are playing like a top player.

"I don't think a manager can teach something to a top player. Dybala is going to leave a mark in world and European football in the next years. He has got the right age to leave a mark and he's still got many years of his career. He is really confident in this moment after a few difficulties in the past."

Liverpool dominated the voting for UEFA's Champions League Team of the Year 2019, with five Reds players making the final XI alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Jurgen Klopp led Liverpool to their sixth European title in Madrid in June, with Mohamed Salah and Divock Origi on target in a 2-0 victory over Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Virgil van Dijk was named man of the match and he features alongside Anfield defensive colleagues Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, as well as goalkeeper Alisson.

Sadio Mane is the other Liverpool player in the line-up, part of a front four completed by Messi, Ronaldo and Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong earned blockbusting moves to Juventus and Barcelona respectively as they helped Ajax to last season's semi-finals and both make the select side, with the latter partnered in central midfield by Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne.

More than two million votes were cast to select the team via UEFA.com over the course of a six-week period.

Lionel Messi believes the "special duel" between him and Cristiano Ronaldo when the pair were on opposite sides of the Clasico rivalry will leave a lasting impression.

The Barcelona superstar went head-to-head with Ronaldo for almost a decade in LaLiga, where the two scored at an astonishing rate and practically assumed shared custody of the Ballon d'Or.

Debate rages over who the world's best player is, but a shortlist of two is almost universally accepted – it is either Messi or Ronaldo.

The Portugal forward has since departed for Juventus, but Messi ​– who won a record sixth Ballon d'Or in December – has fond memories of their long-running Spanish saga.

"The matches against Real always mean a lot, but when Cristiano was there they became much more special," said Messi.

"But it's a time that has passed now, that we have experienced. Now, we have to look ahead to the future.

"It was a special duel and it will remain [in people's minds] forever, because it lasted for many years and it is not easy to maintain such levels for a long time. 

"Plus, the teams we played in were also very demanding, both Real Madrid and Barca, the two best teams in the world.

"The sporting duel between us was very nice on a personal level and I think people had fun too, whether they were fans of Madrid or Barca, or even only football fans in general."

Barca this week appointed a new head coach, with Quique Setien replacing Ernesto Valverde, despite the club sitting joint-top of the table with Madrid.

The last Clasico clash ended 0-0 at Camp Nou in December, with Barca set to head to the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

 

Lionel Messi has wished Ernesto Valverde luck for the future after the coach left Barcelona, calling his former boss a "top professional and top person."

Barca, following a defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana, decided to part ways with Valverde on Monday, with Quique Setien swiftly named as his replacement.

Former Athletic Bilbao boss Valverde took over Barca in 2017 and guided the club to successive LaLiga titles plus a Copa del Rey success.

However, a dramatic capitulation to Liverpool in last season's Champions League semi-finals, followed by a defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final, put Valverde under scrutiny and, despite being top of LaLiga, Barca fired the coach after missing out on another title in the form of the Supercopa.

Messi, who scored 112 goals in all competitions under Valverde, has now given his thanks to the Spaniard, who the forward is confident will thrive in his next job.

"Thanks for everything, gaffer," Messi posted to his official Instagram account on Tuesday.

"I'm sure everything will go well for you wherever you go because, as well as being a top professional, you're also a top person. Good luck and a big hug."

Setien oversaw training on Tuesday before being presented to the media, with the former Real Betis coach taking charge of his first LaLiga match as Barca coach against Granada on Sunday.

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