Lionel Messi is the world's best player because he is "always a step ahead of everyone else", according to Inter striker Lautaro Martinez. 

Martinez had been tipped to join his compatriot at Barcelona during the transfer window, but the Catalans were unable to strike a deal with the Nerazzurri even after Messi had ended his attempt to leave Camp Nou. 

Still, Messi and Martinez have played together for Argentina since the latter made his international debut back in 2018. 

The 23-year-old says he always tries to learn from the six-time Ballon d'Or winner – a player he claims understands football on a different level to his contemporaries. 

"I know Leo more from the times we've been team-mates for the Argentina national team rather than from having come up against him," Martinez told UEFA.com. 

"I've said it in the past and will say it again now and in the future: he's the best player in the world. The fact he's Argentinian is a source of pride for us and we always try to learn from him. 

"For me, he's on another level – he understands the game in a different way and he's always a step ahead of everyone else." 

Inter are preparing to get their Champions League campaign underway on Wednesday, when they host Borussia Monchengladbach at San Siro. 

Martinez remembers watching Jose Mourinho's treble-winners defeat Bayern Munich in the final in 2010, when compatriots Diego Milito, Esteban Cambiasso, Javier Zanetti and Walter Samuel all played. 

Zanetti, who is now Inter vice-president, was hugely important in helping Martinez settle in Italy after his move from Racing two years ago. 

"Javier is a very important Inter man, and for us [players] as well because he passes down to us everything he's experienced at this club," Martinez said. 

"He did so to me when I first came to Italy. Whenever I've needed something, he's always tried to help me. He always lends an ear and asks how I'm doing or gives me a hand with anything I might need. 

"He's always there to make sure I'm alright inside the club and outside too. Above all, he helped me with the language when I arrived, with what the club meant and how we train. He was very important in those matters, so I'll always be grateful to him. He really helped me out when I got here." 

Will Manchester City land Lionel Messi?

City were reportedly close to luring Messi to the Premier League during the previous transfer window.

Messi remains at Barcelona, but City are believed to be planning another move.

 

TOP STORY – CITY CONTEMPLATING MESSI MOVE

Manchester City are considering an offer to prise Lionel Messi from Barcelona in January, according to the Daily Star.

Messi handed in a transfer request at the start of the season and the Barca captain was tipped to join City before opting to remain at Camp Nou.

Pep Guardiola's City, however, have not given up on Messi as they eye a £15million (€16m) bid for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner – who was also linked to Juventus, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain previously.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Mirror claims Barca are eyeing January moves for Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and City defender Eric Garcia. Lyon captain Memphis Depay has also been linked.

Liverpool and Tottenham are set to battle it out for the signing of Leeds United's £50million midfielder Kalvin Phillips, reports the Mirror.

- The Sun says Manchester United are circling for Real Madrid midfielder Federico Valverde. United believe a swap deal involving Paul Pogba could be possible due to Valverde's £640m (€705m) release clause.

N'Golo Kante has no intention of leaving Chelsea, according to Le10 Sport. The France international has been linked to Inter and Madrid.

Ronald Koeman suffered the first defeat of his reign as Barcelona failed to capitalise on a shock loss for Real Madrid, slipping to a 1-0 defeat at Getafe. 

With El Clasico looming on the horizon, reigning champions Madrid were stunned by newly promoted Cadiz as LaLiga resumed on Saturday following the international break.

However, Barca missed the chance to move level on points with their rivals ahead of next Saturday's showdown at Camp Nou. 

Jaime Mata's 56th-minute penalty was enough for Getafe to secure a first league win over their illustrious opponents since a similar 1-0 result back in November 2011, a run of 16 games. 

Lionel Messi struck a post and Getafe captain Djene Dakonam was spared from scoring an own goal by the crossbar, but - after starting his reign with back-to-back wins - Koeman has now seen his side pick up a solitary point from their next two outings, laying bare the size of the task on his hands. 

Ousmane Dembele made his first start of 2020 and there was also an opportunity handed to teenager Pedri from the outset, suggesting the new boss will show faith in youth during the rebuilding job required. 

Still, it is a big-money signing who will once again come under the spotlight, Antoine Griezmann squandering his team's best chance to leave him still without a goal at club level in the early stages of the 2020-21 season. 

The French forward wastefully blasted over when clean through in a first half consistently punctuated by the sound of referee Cesar Soto Grado's whistle, with five players shown yellow cards. 

Getafe had rarely threatened before Frenkie de Jong helped them out, the midfielder clumsily catching Dakonam inside the area as he rushed in attempting to win the ball. 

Mata duly converted from the spot – sending Neto the wrong way – and the dogged hosts held firm to their slender advantage through to the final whistle. 

In an eventful finish to proceedings not in keeping with the rest of the contest, Juan Hernandez blazed over at one end before Getafe were saved by the woodwork in stoppage time, Barca unable to find a late leveller their performance scarcely merited.

Antoine Griezmann has hinted at displeasure with his role at Barcelona under Ronald Koeman but the new head coach will not cave in.

During the international break France boss Didier Deschamps questioned Koeman's decision to deploy Griezmann on the right wing of a 4-2-3-1 during Barca's first three LaLiga games of 2020-21.

The 29-year-old has registered just one shot on target for the club this season and is yet to create a single chance for a team-mate.

After playing behind a front two of Anthony Martial and Kylian Mbappe in France's 2-1 win over Croatia on Wednesday, Griezmann told TF1: "The coach knows where to put me."

Koeman told reporters at a news conference to preview Saturday's meeting with Getafe that Griezmann must focus on producing his best display wherever he is used.

"Everyone has the right to say what they want. I spoke to him yesterday, but not because of what he said. We talked about his position and his performance," said Koeman on Friday.

"I seek what's best for the team, and if I think that he's better on the right wing with more freedom, that's it.

"He can also play as a number 10 or a nine, but in the end I decide for the good of the team and every player must give their maximum performance for the team."

Asked how Griezmann can improve, Koeman said: "He is doing all he can, which is to work hard, to be disciplined and have some luck. There were four or five attacks in which he had to do better.

"When I was Netherlands coach and we played France, he played on the right. No further discussion is needed on this topic. The coach is in charge and must get the most out of the players.

"I have no problem with Antoine. I never play anyone in a position they can't play. If there's another position that you like, well, we cannot play with 10 players in the number 10 position."

With a Champions League game against Ferencvaros and the first Clasico of the season against LaLiga champions Real Madrid to come next week, Koeman does not intend to use the Getafe game to rest Lionel Messi.

Messi played 180 minutes – including 90 at an altitude of 3,650 metres in La Paz – as Argentina began their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with wins over Ecuador and Bolivia.

"It always depends on the player. I ask how they are, if they are tired. This afternoon we have our last training session and we will decide the team for tomorrow," said Koeman.

"He is a player who if he does not play is more tired. He's a winner who always wants to play, but I want to talk with him and the others and see how they are physically.

"He has been playing a very tight schedule for many years. If there is a medical issue or fatigue it is different, but he is capable of playing the next important games that lie ahead."

First-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is yet to feature this season after undergoing surgery on his knee and was reportedly aiming to return in time for El Clasico.

However, Koeman does not expect Ter Stegen to be ready for the meeting with Madrid.

"Since Tuesday, he has been training on the pitches and everything is going well for now," said Koeman.

"I don't think he'll be ready for the Clasico. There is no need to set a date. He is a great goalkeeper but we are calm. We are happy with Neto's work."

It was 16 years to the day since the world was first treated to a competitive glimpse of Lionel Messi as a fresh-faced teenager in the famous Barcelona jersey.

Few could have imagined that his appearance as an 82nd-minute substitute for match-winner Deco in a 1-0 victory at Espanyol would be the first step towards a career many consider the greatest of all time.

Since that day, Messi has won 10 LaLiga titles, the Copa del Rey six times and the Champions League on four occasions, as well as becoming an unprecedented six-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or award.

To mark the anniversary of Messi's LaLiga debut, we have analysed the Opta numbers behind a genius. 


A CLASS OF HIS OWN

During his 16 years in Barca's first team, Messi has become the club's all-time leading goalscorer with a whopping 635 in total.

Of that number, 445 have come in LaLiga, which means he also has the most in the history of Spain's top flight. Messi has 115 in the Champions League, 53 in the Copa del Rey, 14 in the Supercopa, three in the UEFA Super Cup and five in the Club World Cup.

His first Barcelona goal came against Albacete on May 1, 2005, with fellow superstar Ronaldinho setting him up.

The Argentina great enjoyed his most prolific campaign in the 2011-12 campaign, when he scored 73 goals across all competitions for Barcelona. There were an eye-watering 79 across the calendar year in 2012.

As well as his extraordinary goals return, Messi also has 254 assists for Barca – 183 of which have come in LaLiga and 33 in the Champions League.


LOVE FOR PEP, TITO AND SEVILLA 

It should come as little surprise that some of Messi's best returns in a Barca jersey have come playing in the golden era of Pep Guardiola.

In total, Messi had 211 goals and 79 assists in 219 games played under the now-Manchester City manager – an average of 0.96 goals per game.

He also excelled under Luis Enrique, winning the second of his career trebles. There were 153 goals, 66 assists and a goals-per-game ratio of 0.97 in that period.

But it was actually Tito Vilanova for whom Messi returned the best goals per game, a mind-boggling 1.2, having scored 60 in 50 appearances.

As many as 79 different teams have conceded to Messi but none have picked the ball out of the net on more occasions against the Argentina great than Sevilla, who have done so 37 times.

Atletico Madrid are not far behind on 32, while Valencia have conceded 28 times to Messi and fierce rivals Real Madrid 26 – making him the highest scorer in Clasico history.


LUCKLESS ALVEZ, SUAREZ AFFINITY AND GLORY AT THE BERNABEU

Not many goalkeepers can say they have got the better of Messi and Diego Alves in particular has not enjoyed encounters against the mercurial forward.

Messi scored past the former Valencia stopper on 21 occasions, with Gorka Iraizoz next on the list - having shipped 18 to the Argentina captain. Iker Casillas and Andres Fernandez have been beaten 17 times.

At Barca, Messi has played alongside some of the best players of his, or indeed any, generation.

But no player has assisted Messi more than Luis Suarez, who has now left Barca for Atleti, with the Uruguay star setting up his former team-mate on 47 occasions.

Dani Alves ranks second on 42, with Andres Iniesta and Xavi laying on 37 and 31 respectively.

Camp Nou is of course the venue where Messi has scored the majority of his goals but the Santiago Bernabeu is next highest, with the 33-year-old having celebrated 15 strikes there.

The Riazor is where Messi has his best goals-per-game ratio at 1.63, scoring 13 times in eight games played at the home of Deportivo La Coruna.


THE OPTA FACTS

- Messi is the all-time LaLiga scorer with 445 goals, becoming second-highest scorer in the top-five European leagues after Cristiano Ronaldo (450). 

- Since 2008-09 to 2019-20, Messi has scored 30-plus goals in each of his 12 campaigns.   

- He is the only player to score 10-plus goals in LaLiga in 14 consecutive seasons, netting 50 goals in 2011-12, the most by a player in a single season in the competition's history. 

- Messi scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013, the best run of any player in Spain's top flight. 

- As well as being the all-time top-scorer in El Clasico with 26 goals, Messi is the leading scorer in the Catalonian derby against Espanyol (25 goals). 

- He is one of the two players in Champions League history to score 100+ goals (115), alongside Ronaldo (130). 

- Messi was the first player to score five goals in a single Champions League match, versus Bayer Leverkusen in March 2012 at Camp Nou. 

- He is one of the six players to reach 50-plus goals in the Copa del Rey (53 goals) and one of the two to have scored in five different Copa del Rey finals after Telmo Zarra.

Lionel Messi said he is less obsessed with scoring goals these days as the Barcelona and Argentina superstar eyes team success.

Messi stands alone atop the all-time goalscoring charts for both LaLiga giants Barca and powerhouse South American nation Argentina.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner improved his record-setting international tally to 71 goals after netting in Argentina's 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Ecuador last week.

But Messi is prioritising team objectives, telling La Garganta Poderosa magazine: "Today I am less obsessed with scoring. I try to do my best for the team."

Messi is Barcelona's all-time leading goalscorer with 635 in total, having debuted for the Spanish club in 2004.

Of those goals, 445 have come in LaLiga – a league record ahead of next best and former Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (311).

The 33-year-old has also scored 115 Champions League goals, to go with 53 in the Copa del Rey, 14 in the Supercopa de Espana, three in the UEFA Super Cup and five in the Club World Cup.

Since debuting against Espanyol 16 years ago, Messi has won 10 LaLiga trophies, six Copa del Rey titles and the Champions League on four occasions.

In 2020-21, Messi has one goal through three LaLiga fixtures as Barca – under new head coach Ronald Koeman – look to bounce back following a tumultuous campaign, which saw the club dethroned by bitter rivals Madrid and humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Messi remains at Barca, despite handing in a transfer request at the start of the season amid strong links with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

Lionel Messi would have no issue adapting to any other league but the "romantic" idea of the Argentina great remaining a one-club man with Barcelona is appealing, says Gaizka Mendieta.

There was a time when the idea of Messi, Barca's all-time leading goalscorer, departing Camp Nou would have been unthinkable.

But such a notion was a very distinct possibility during a tumultuous period following Barca's humiliating 8-2 exit at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League in August.

Messi provided Barca with a message notifying the club of his intention to leave, citing his belief that a clause in his contract allowed him to depart on a free transfer.

Both Barca and LaLiga disputed his interpretation, stating any potential suitor would have to pay the €700million fee release clause or negotiate a fee with Barca.

Consequently, Messi opted to remain at Barca, stating he did not want to drag the club through the courts. But he hit out at president Josep Maria Bartomeu, before striking a more conciliatory tone, vowing to give his all for the team in the new LaLiga season.

Mendieta, who spent a season with Barca in the 2002-03 campaign, told Stats Perform: "Regarding what happened, it is already in the past. 

"We can go into details, but Leo has always shown he is a professional. He has shown it for many years."

Speaking while launching the Player 4 Player management group, Mendieta said: "I think all Barcelona fans, his team-mates and people who work for the club, know Leo will give his 100 per cent this season.

"Whether he leaves or not at the end of the season, the fact is he is here, he has stayed, and he will give his best. I don't think other thoughts are correct.

"The most important thing is having him, he is a professional and he will give all as he has been given all the time. That's the key for Barcelona and his fans."

Barca's reluctance to lose a player considered by many as the greatest of all time is obvious given Messi has scored 635 goals and provided 254 assists in all appearances for the club.

As well as being Barca's all-time leading scorer, he also holds that same benchmark in LaLiga having found the net 445 times in Spain's top flight.

One argument against Messi's claims to be the best ever, albeit a rather weak one, is that he has not proven his talent in another division.

Joining Manchester City for a reunion with his former Barca boss Pep Guardiola was seen as the likeliest outcome had Messi left Camp Nou, and Mendieta was unequivocal in his belief a player of his talent would flourish elsewhere.

"Messi would get adapted everywhere. He has already shown many times. On the left, On the right, in the middle, being a striker, being an offensive midfielder, and even being a midfielder," Mendieta said.

"So, a player who reads and understands football as he does, he will not have any issue in any country or any club he joins."

But is it a scenario the former Spain international, now a prominent pundit, would like to see?

"I do have mixed feelings. On one hand, I did play in different leagues and seeing him competing in another league, I would like it," Mendieta said.

"But on the other hand, I do feel the romantic side of watching a player like him starting and finishing his career at the same club. We seldom see that nowadays and I have that feeling, that nostalgia of seeing this.

"It also means both sides have done properly, when a footballer keeps playing for that long a time with the same club.

"Especially a player with the profile of Leo who normally you believe he would be attracted by millionaire bids.

"Therefore, I think I would rather see him staying at Barca forever than seeing him playing in another competition."

Joaquin Correa came off the bench to score the winner as Argentina came from behind to defeat Bolivia 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

Argentina fell behind in the altitude of La Paz, which is situated at 3,650 metres above sea level, when Marcelo Moreno Martins found the back of the net after 24 minutes.

Parity was restored before half-time as Jose Carrasco's clearance cannoned in off Lautaro Martinez, who became the first Albiceleste player not called Lionel Messi to score in a World Cup qualifier since November 2016.

Correa replaced Lucas Ocampos just before the hour mark and fired home the winner with 11 minutes remaining, with Argentina claiming their first victory in Bolivia for 15 years.

Martins had a chance to put Bolivia ahead in the sixth minute but headed Saul Torres' looping delivery wide with Franco Armani scrambling.

Bolivia threatened regularly and got their reward when Martins was left in space by Lucas Martinez Quarta and nodded Alejandro Chumacero's cross beyond Armani.

Leandro Paredes saw a curling 20-yard strike crash back off the post before Argentina drew level in bizarre circumstances when Carrasco's laboured attempt to clear Martinez's cutback ricocheted in off the Inter attacker.

Argentina sat back after the restart and looked to counter-attack as Bolivia went in search of a second goal.

Chances were at a premium until Messi's delightful throughball fashioned one for Martinez in the 75th minute. However, his cross-goal effort from the right side of the area was turned behind by Carlos Lampe.

There was nothing Lampe could do to keep out Correa, though, with the goal allowed to stand after a VAR check confirmed Martinez was onside from Messi's pass, meaning Argentina left with maximum points from their two qualifiers.

In his heyday, Arsene Wenger was widely praised for his trust in young players and eye for developing talent.

After all, Cesc Fabregas, Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie are just a few of the players he helped nurture into top-level international footballers.

But for every Henry is a superstar who got away… Or so Le Professeur would have us believe.

A football manager can't sign everyone, but as the joke goes, Wenger seems to have tried to buy all of them - all of the players. Or, all the really good ones anyway. Funny, that.

The Frenchman has been doing the media rounds of late and most recently floated the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo playing alongside Henry, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord and Dennis Bergkamp in an interview with the BBC.

So, with that as the jumping-off point, we put together an XI made up entirely of players who supposedly came close to joining Wenger at Arsenal…

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

As the story goes, Wenger's pursuit of Buffon got to the point where the pair had dinner together during his days with Parma, but Juventus soon came along and made him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world at the time.

Everything suggests he would've been a remarkable signing in terms of ability and longevity. In 2017 he became the oldest player to captain a side in the Champions League final at 39 years and 126 days – and he's still going, three years on.

RAPHAEL VARANE

Granted, Wenger may not have explicitly said that he almost bought Varane during his formative years, but he was certainly frustrated to have missed out on him in 2013 when he queried why Arsenal hadn't been in for him two years earlier.

Varane has gone on to establish himself as one of the world's best centre-backs and in 2018 became just the third player to be on the winning team in the Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year, emulating Christian Karembeu (1998) and Roberto Carlos (2002).

VINCENT KOMPANY

It's arguable that Arsenal's biggest weakness in Wenger's final 10 years at the helm was their defence – a host of underwhelming options were signed and discarded.

Oh how different it might have been had they signed Vincent Kompany in 2006 when his agent claimed they were interested. He went on to captain Manchester City to two Premier League titles and played 265 times in the top-flight, more than any other Belgian.

GERARD PIQUE

It seems a long time ago that Pique was at Manchester United, struggling to earn a place in the starting XI, but even before then he could have ended up at Arsenal – and, stylistically, one has to wonder whether that would have been the better move for him.

Wenger has previously admitted they tried to get Pique but they were unable to beat United to his signature. He returned to Barcelona in 2008 and has since won three Champions League crowns, just one of three players to play every minute of those finals.

ROBERTO CARLOS

OK, to be fair to Wenger, this isn't one he has specifically claimed – rather Roberto Carlos himself hinted at the move in 2003 as his Real Madrid career appeared to be winding down.

As it was, he ended up staying in Madrid until 2007 before moving on to Fenerbahce, Corinthians, Anzhi Makhachkala (remember them?) and Delhi Dynamos.

N'GOLO KANTE

The one who got away… Twice. That's right, Wenger says he tried to sign the industrious Kante when he was at Caen and Leicester City.

He played a starring role as the Foxes remarkably claimed the Premier League title in 2015-16, before then joining Chelsea and becoming the only player to win the Premier League in successive seasons with different clubs.

PAUL POGBA

When Pogba left United in 2012, a whole host of fellow European heavyweights were linked with him, including Arsenal, but Juventus swiftly struck a deal and the Gunners' attempts fell flat.

He of course left Juve again in 2016, though the then world-record fee United paid was never likely to be matched by Arsenal, and in 2018-19 Pogba became the first United player to appear in the Professional Footballers' Association's (PFA) Team of the Year since Robin van Persie six years earlier.

YAYA TOURE

In hindsight, this one looks a particularly odd miss from Arsenal. Yaya Toure had a trial with the Gunners in 2003, a year after his brother Kolo signed for them, but wasn't particularly outstanding in a trial game and work permit difficulties made it tricky for him to join permanently.

That didn't stop him from enjoying a fine career, however, and he eventually made it to the Premier League in 2010 when joining Manchester City, with whom he became just the second African player to score in both an EFL Cup and FA Cup final.

LIONEL MESSI

That's right, the one you've been waiting for. In an alternate universe, Fabregas, Pique and Messi could have spent the best years of their careers in north London – Wenger attempted to prise all three away.

But six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi had already gotten "too big" reputation-wise when Arsenal made their move. In Barcelona he stayed and he has since become LaLiga's all-time leading scorer with 445 goals in 488 games – a truly remarkable feat, though not as impressive as playing well against Stoke City on a cold Tuesday night, some might have you believe.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

In fairness to Wenger, he insists he has no regrets about not signing Ibrahimovic when he was a 17-year-old on trial. Whether he says as much privately is another matter.

Regardless, Ibrahimovic can console himself with the fact he has gone on to enjoy an incredibly successful career and scored Champions League goals for six different clubs, more than any other player in the competition's history. Unfortunately for him, however, he has never won European football's top prize.

CRISTIANO RONALDO

And finally, the other one you've been waiting for. Arguably the quintessential Wenger "nearly signed" claim relates to Ronaldo, whom he says almost joined Arsenal before United made their move in 2003. Like Buffon, Ronaldo also had discussions with Wenger over food, but he says the Gunners were pipped at the last.

Wenger apparently regards this as his biggest regret, and understandably so – Ronaldo has gone on to win everything in the game, including five Ballons d'Or, and is the Champions League's top scorer with 130 goals in 170 games.

Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets says he could talk for "five or six hours" about the turbulence at the club. 

LaLiga giants Barca have been engulfed in drama for much of 2020, following Lionel Messi's public declaration that he wanted to leave the club, Luis Suarez's contentious departure to Atletico Madrid and the appointment of Ronald Koeman as new head coach following Quique Setien's dismissal in the wake of an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich.

Messi ultimately remained at Camp Nou after it became clear he would be unable to exercise a get-out clause in his contract, while Koeman refuted Suarez's claim that he was forced out of the club. 

Busquets – currently on international duty with Spain – holds strong views on the state of his club but suggested it would take a significant amount of time to discuss them all. 

"One thing is what happens outside, which is not the best moment of the club," he told a media conference ahead of Spain's Nations League clash with Ukraine. "And another what happens in the field, which was not our best year and it shows at an individual and collective level. 

"If I stopped to give my opinion carefully, it could be five or six hours. 

"On the field it was not our best year. Football is a team sport and if you are not well collectively, you will not be individually. But it has already happened and we have a new opportunity. Things have changed and we hope it will get better."

Busquets started Spain's 0-0 friendly draw with Portugal on Wednesday and their 1-0 Nations League win over Switzerland three days later to take him to 119 caps since his debut in 2008.

He is seventh on Spain's all-time most capped list but sits a whopping 55 behind record holder Sergio Ramos, who is the only player in the current squad to have played more international games than him. 

The 32-year-old has dismissed following Barca team-mate Gerard Pique into international retirement, though, and says he hopes to remain part of the Spain squad for the foreseeable future. 

"I focus on going season to season," he added. "It is clear that I am no longer 20-years-old and I cannot look much into the future. I feel fine.

"It depends on each situation of each player. A new but peculiar season has begun. I hope I can last a long time in the national team."

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni has compared playing football in La Paz to "drowning" as he braces his team for the challenge posed by competing at altitude in Tuesday's clash with Bolivia.

La Albiceleste will be hoping to build on their winning start to World Cup qualification on, having beaten Ecuador 1-0 on Friday.

But up next is one of the trickiest tasks on the South American football calendar; getting a result in La Paz.

It is situated roughly 3,650 metres (11,975ft) above sea level, making La Paz the highest capital city on Earth and consequentially causing some visiting athletes to struggle due to the air pressure.

Unacclimatised individuals are known to suffer from breathlessness much faster at such altitudes, giving Bolivia a significant advantage in some home matches.

Never has this been more applicable than when Bolivia thrashed Argentina 6-1 in 2009, despite the visitors having the likes of Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Javier Zanetti and Javier Mascherano in their starting XI.

Argentina's last trip to La Paz in 2017 resulted in a 2-0 defeat, and with their squad vastly different this time around, Scaloni – who played in their most recent away win in Bolivia 15 years ago – is preparing the team for a gruelling challenge.

"I am going to talk about it with the players one by one," Scaloni said. "We are going to evaluate everyone.

"Before we get to the pitch, we will not realise how players react. Coming two days before the match, the idea was to notice [the effects on individual players].

"We need the players at 100 per cent. If there is a player who is not at 100 per cent, I will speak and make the best decision for the team. The important thing is the hour and a half before the game.

"There is no formula, whether you come the day before the game or two days before. You have to spend 20 days training to have a physical condition equal to theirs.

"Drowning. All the players are going to drown. The issue is the feeling that each one has. We are doing everything possible so that they can get to the game in the best way."

Scaloni's plan for the match will seemingly hinge heavily on captain Messi, with the Argentina coach emphasising the importance of retaining possession and exploiting set-pieces.

"I spoke with everyone and with Lionel Messi in particular," he continued. "There are players who suffer more, others who suffer less, due to physical and training issues.

"We prepare the game in a way that we think can go well. It is a football match. We have a clear idea, we transmit it. The important thing is the journey of the ball.

"We have to use all our weapons. We try to take away the anxiety. We have enough to come here and be at 3,000-odd metres. The more you have the ball, the better.

"When we won in 2005, we scored goals from set pieces. They were specific situations and the game was defined there. We emphasise that."

Argentina and Bolivia have met 20 times in World Cup qualifiers – all five of the latter's victories coming at home.

Similarly, Argentina have only won on three of their 10 trips to La Paz and that 6-1 defeat 11 years ago is the joint-largest defeat in their history.

Barcelona won two Champions Leagues under Pep Guardiola only because of Lionel Messi's brilliance, according to former Bayern Munich boss Felix Magath.

The Catalans won their first treble of LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League trophies in 2008-09, which was Guardiola's first season in charge.

They conquered Europe again two years later, again beating Manchester United in the final, to mark one of the finest periods in the club's modern history.

Guardiola, who left in 2012 after winning 14 major trophies, has been unable to win Europe's top trophy since.

He won three Bundesliga titles with Bayern but suffered three consecutive semi-final defeats in the Champions League, to Real Madrid, Barca and Atletico Madrid.

Similarly, he has enjoyed huge domestic success with Manchester City, winning two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and three EFL Cups, but he is yet to guide them beyond the quarter-finals in Europe.

Magath has called Guardiola's possession-based system into question, suggesting it worked at Barca "solely because of Lionel Messi, who can decide a game out of nowhere".

"Messi won the title, not Guardiola," he told Sport Bild.

"Without Messi, this system has never worked as successfully for Guardiola, otherwise he would have won the Champions League with Bayern or Manchester City long ago.

"Tiki-taka only works if you have players who are technically superior to their opponents. For the spectator, holding the ball, as I call it, is just boring and a top team doesn't really need it.

"In my opinion, Guardiola generally too often gets lost in trying to win a game in advance. That tactic often ends in wrong decisions, which prevent success."

City's Premier League title was wrestled away last season by Liverpool, who became champions of England for the first time in 30 years in manager Jurgen Klopp's fourth full season in charge.

Magath believes the Reds' success is more down to shrewd business in the transfer market than Klopp's system, however.

"Jurgen Klopp made the system a success primarily thanks to his decisions on personnel, not because of tactics," he said.

"If Liverpool hadn't reached into the coffers and bought goalkeeper Alisson for €60million and a defender in Virgil van Dijk for €85m, this system would also likely not have been successful.

"In the past, I'd have called it counter-attacking; today, it is called 'Gegenpressing'."

LaLiga president Javier Tebas played down the impact of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi possibly leaving Spain, while warning of a financial crisis should the coronavirus pandemic force football to stop again.

Messi handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season, which saw Barca humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals and dethroned by Real Madrid in LaLiga, before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner opted to remain at Camp Nou this term.

The 33-year-old – who has a €700million release clause – was heavily linked to Premier League giants Manchester City, while Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Inter also emerged as possible destinations.

Asked about Messi, Tebas told reporters: "As I always said, I will always want to see Messi in LaLiga. If he stays at Barcelona, much better for Barcelona.

"The union between Barcelona FC and Messi is so good for Barca, for Messi and for LaLiga. I'm not sure whether departing from Barcelona would have been a good idea for Messi.

"Maybe yes as a player, but not for Messi as a football industry, because Messi is a machine in creating industry around him. Not sure whether it would have worked for him.

"Messi will finally stay but I must say that we had already sold LaLiga TV rights worldwide for the next four years and nobody called us asking to cancel that agreement in case Messi would leave. No one."

The COVID-19 crisis forced the 2019-20 LaLiga season to be suspended in March before the league resumed behind closed doors in June, with Madrid winning the title.

The 2020-21 LaLiga campaign has kicked off but coronavirus cases are rising across Spain and Europe.

"We are reading in the newspapers that the economical activity cannot be stopped again, there must be a balance between the health and the financial aspect," said Tebas.

"If not, we could move from a health pandemic into a financial pandemic, which would be really dangerous."

Ronald Koeman felt Lionel Messi's angry response to Luis Suarez's Barcelona exit made "sense", but insists the Uruguay striker left of his own accord.

The turbulence at Barca became arguably the biggest saga of the pre-season anywhere in European football, with Messi attempting to force an exit after Suarez had been put up for sale, and Koeman replacing Quique Setien in the wake of their 8-2 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich.

While Messi ultimately accepted that leaving was an impossibility despite being convinced a get-out clause in his contract was still valid, Suarez was sold to Atletico Madrid for just €6million.

Suarez's exit coincided with his close friend Messi posting an emotional farewell message on his official Instagram account in which he publicly slammed Barca's treatment of the former Liverpool striker.

And although Koeman said the outburst was understandable, he was keen to stress that no one forced Suarez out.

"If you have someone in the locker room whom you and your wife and children also hang out with outside football, then such a reaction makes sense," Koeman told NOS.

"I said that to Messi too: I understand that you are disappointed and think it is a terrible shame that he is leaving, but these are choices of the club.

"In the case of Suarez, it had become very difficult for him to play, and I made that known to him honestly.

"He found that difficult, but I never had any trouble with him at all. He just trained, trained well.

"In the end he made the choice to leave. And I did also say that, if you don't leave, for whatever reason, then you're just one of the group, then you prove me wrong.

"He could have stayed, yes."

Explaining the club's decision to plan for life without Suarez, Koeman put it down to a desire to start a new era and give young players more of an opportunity.

"I'm good with Luis, but the club felt that we had to rejuvenate," he added. "You can see that now in the team.

"Ansu Fati plays, he is 17 years old. We have Pedri, 17 years old, who gets his chances. Ronald Araujo is 21. [Francisco] Trincao comes in a lot and is 20 years old, and we have taken Sergino Dest, who is 19. Those are all players for the future."

As for Messi, Koeman is adamant the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's behaviour has been befitting that of his role as captain since opting to remain at the club.

"After signing here as the coach, I immediately contacted Leo," Koeman continued. "I went to his home and talked to him about his future.

"He was clear about his dissatisfaction. In the end it worked out well and from the moment he indicated [that he is staying], he has done everything I expect from him."

Kevin De Bruyne dismissed speculation linking Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi with a move to Manchester City, while he discussed his own contract situation at the Premier League giants.

Messi handed in a transfer request following a tumultuous 2019-20 season, which saw Barca humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals and dethroned by Real Madrid in LaLiga, before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner opted to remain at Camp Nou this term.

The 33-year-old was tipped to join City and while the transfer did not materialise, Pep Guardiola's side are reportedly still eyeing a move for the Argentina skipper.

As rumours regarding Messi refuse to subside, City star De Bruyne said: "I don't really care to be honest.

"If he comes, it's a good thing, if he doesn't there is enough good players at the club who I enjoy playing with, so that is not for now."

De Bruyne's future has also been a topic of discussion amid reports City have made progress regarding contract talks.

The 29-year-old is contract to City until 2023 but the club want to offer De Bruyne a new five-year deal.

But De Bruyne said: "I am very happy at the club, I can say now I have not spoken once to the club so I don't know why people are saying I have already agreed to something.

"I always told everybody I am really happy at the club and I feel comfortable so if the people at the club want to talk to me I am open to that and we will see what happens.

"But at the moment nothing has happened so I just get on with the way it goes."

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