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.

Those inside Camp Nou on November 11, 2018 where treated to a true spectacle. Regardless of whether or not Barcelona fans were angered by the end result, a 4-3 defeat, they were almost certainly entertained.

It was Barca's first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.

Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.

Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis' win is in charge of the champions.

Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.

Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.

If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.

Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars

A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge - get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien's possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won't always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?

Look to La Masia, promote Puig

During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien's Las Palmas squad had 14 'cantera' products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca's famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don't be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.

Sign a Suarez substitute

Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It's likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona's Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila's nickname 'Chimy' comes from his father's conclusion that he is "spicy like chimichurri", a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.

Win LaLiga

To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He'll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien's presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren't met. "Setien has signed until 2022, but there's also a caveat that there can be a change," the president said on Tuesday. "Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there's a change."

Avoid a Champions League collapse

Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde's first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams' defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it'll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Quique Setien insists he will not be afraid to be direct with Lionel Messi and Barcelona's other superstars, though he is confident his relationship with the squad will be excellent.

Setien was appointed as Barca's new coach on Monday after the club elected to part ways with Ernesto Valverde despite being top of LaLiga.

It is by far the biggest role of the 61-year-old's coaching career, with his most recent job being at Real Betis, who he left at the end of last season.

However, Setien has no doubt his attacking, possession-based style of play will suit Barca, though he is adamant hard work must always come first.

"I've spoken to the players and the willingness is extraordinary," Setien said at a media presentation on Tuesday.

"I said not just to Messi but to others, that I've enjoyed watching this team and players on TV. They allowed me to really enjoy football, it's been every day, every game.

"There's always something that's enjoyable to watch. Obviously today, being able to coach the best player in the world and his team-mates, I'm still not sure what that means.

"One thing is your admiration for someone, then there's the reality – Messi is Messi, [Gerard] Pique is Pique, [Sergio] Busquets is Busquets, I'm sure my relationship will be extraordinary with everyone.

"They'll see what I'm like, sincere and direct, I don't beat around the bush, I say if I see something I don't like, I try to fix it. 

"We are sure we are going to understand each other very quickly because a lot of the things we will propose to them, they already know.

"Hard work is the most important. Conviction also, but real hard work. I will listen to everybody, but it is difficult to take out of my mind the ideas that I have and am convinced about."

One player Setien will be without for the immediate future is striker Luis Suarez, who is set to miss four months after undergoing knee surgery.

The coach is yet to decide how he will set his team up without such a crucial figure leading the line.

"We've a lot of things to talk about, so we've not had time to talk about this," Setien, who oversaw training on Tuesday, added. 

"We've not seen enough to analyse this perfectly, but I'm clear we're always going to have a consensus in decision; they listen, I listen. 

"We all make mistakes, we all get things right. We have an important player out, but we must think about the players we have got. 

"We'll possibly go 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, because that has been played a lot recently, but I'll leave that to one side because we need to speak to the players."

Sergio Aguero's phenomenal goalscoring exploits for Manchester City make him one of the best in world football, but Pep Guardiola maintains Lionel Messi still stands apart.

Aguero fired a hat-trick in City's 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa on Sunday, replacing Thierry Henry as the most prolific overseas player in Premier League history.

A 12th treble in the competition represents a new all-time best mark, edging City's record goalscorer ahead of Alan Shearer.

Asked afterwards whether Aguero was the best he has worked with, City manager Guardiola felt compelled to highlight his alliance with six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi at Barcelona.

"The best is Messi," he smiled, before a follow-up enquiry pondered whether Aguero was the finest out-and-out striker he had handled in his decorated career.

Guardiola added: "Messi is [the best] number nine, number 10, number 11, number seven, number six, number five, number four…

"But Sergio, [among] the rest, he is certainly one of them. I said many times, he will die scoring goals. It is his talent."

It has proved a tempestuous few days at Barcelona, with club great Xavi reportedly turning down the chance to replace the under-fire Ernesto Valverde.

Guardiola expressed sympathy with the former Athletic Bilbao boss, who has won LaLiga in each of his two full seasons in charge, with the Blaugrana joint-top this time around.

"Barcelona is a special place, because wining the league is not enough," he said.

"I am so sorry for Ernesto. I think he doesn't deserve that.

"Hopefully we can solve it soon, as an associate of this club."

Lionel Messi believes Barcelona played well in their Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid, but has called on Ernesto Valverde's side to cut out "child mistakes".

Barca went down 3-2 to Diego Simeone's side in Thursday's semi-final in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as Atleti teed up a final with Real Madrid.

After Koke had opened the scoring for Atleti, Messi equalised with a fine strike before Antoine Griezmann put Barca ahead against his former club.

But with Barca having had two goals disallowed by VAR, Atleti came from behind to claim a dramatic win thanks to Alvaro Morata's penalty and Angel Correa's effort.

Messi insists Barca must not be too down about the level of their display, though conceded they cannot continue making basic errors.

"It is a pity, we played a great game, after a long time we returned to have good feelings, having control and attacking all the time," Messi told reporters.

"We lost due to specific errors when they were almost out, in less than 10 minutes they had a result that we should have closed.

"Today we took a step beyond defeat but we are aware that we have not been doing things as we want, we do not want to make child mistakes again.

"It hurts because it is a title and we wanted to be in the final and win it, we played a good game but unfortunately we did not get the victory.

"We are still working and trying to improve, now we will have more days to prepare the next game, we have much to improve and although we have not been doing good games we will try to recover the game."

The defeat will put more scrutiny on the position of Valverde, but Messi insists the squad must stick together behind their coach.

"It is normal when there are defeats and the objectives are not achieved," Messi added.

"People see that their team does not play as they would like, as we would like, it is normal for them to talk but we have to be closer than ever, it is a difficult situation because we missed a title we wanted but we have to look forward."

Lionel Messi was hugged by a pitch invader following the final whistle in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, before the intruding fan was tackled to the ground.

Angel Correa's late strike earned a dramatic 3-2 victory for Atleti in Saudi Arabia, teeing up a final against city rivals Real Madrid and adding more scrutiny to Barca boss Ernesto Valverde.

There was concern after full time, though, as Messi – who equalised for Barca following Koke's opener – was rushed by a spectator who had made their way onto the pitch.

The 32-year-old was in no way harmed, with the fan briefly hugging Messi before security personnel took him to the turf, with Barca's captain then making his way to the tunnel.

However, the incident will likely raise questions over the ease at which the spectator got onto the pitch and evaded security at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium – which also hosts Sunday's final – in order to reach Messi.

Angel Correa stunned Barcelona with a late winner as Atletico Madrid snatched an improbable 3-2 semi-final victory in the Supercopa de Espana.

Barcelona had 75 per cent of possession in the opening 45 minutes in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and looked set to ease to victory once they got over the shock of shipping a goal to substitute Koke after 20 seconds of the second half.

Lionel Messi equalised, Antoine Griezmann headed Barcelona ahead against his former club, and Messi and Gerard Pique both had goals disallowed by VAR for marginal offside decisions.

But against the momentum, which suggested a Barcelona landslide, Atletico equalised when Vitolo was hacked down by Neto and Alvaro Morata fired home the ensuing 81st-minute penalty.

Atletico wanted a second penalty moments later when Pique handballed, but their frustration at not getting that decision was forgotten when Morata slipped Correa through and the Argentinian forward fired home the fifth and final goal of a remarkable game.

Now Real Madrid stand between Atletico and the Supercopa trophy, with the final on Sunday at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium.

Andres Iniesta believes Barcelona would not regret bringing Neymar back from Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazil star Neymar has been repeatedly linked with a Camp Nou return over the past six months, with PSG digging in during the Ligue 1 close season to ensure he stayed in Paris.

An astonishing move to the French giants in August 2017 saw Neymar bought out of his Barcelona contract for a world-record €222million, and PSG hoped he would lead them to Champions League glory.

Only this week, Neymar said he felt the longed-for European glory remained a possibility this season, and he has seen off much of the hostility from Parisian supporters that followed several months of appearing to agitate for a return to Barca.

Yet as PSG bid to scoop a third successive Ligue 1 title and brace for a Champions League last-16 clash with Borussia Dortmund, rumours linking Neymar to the Blaugrana continue to linger.

Iniesta was a team-mate of Neymar's at Barcelona. Now a Vissel Kobe player, the Spain great has no doubt Neymar would slot back in and make a big contribution if a return could be negotiated.

"He's one of the best forwards out there, not just now," Iniesta said, quoted in Marca.

"He'd be a great signing for Barcelona. Another thing is whether it's necessary or not. For me, he's one of the best and he'd be a great signing."

Barcelona have a strong array of attacking talent, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann leading the line in Thursday's Supercopa clash against Atletico Madrid.

Messi and Suarez are both 32, however, and eventually Barcelona will need a succession plan when it comes to their vaunted attack. Neymar does not turn 28 until next month.

Iniesta remains in awe of Messi's achievements, though, saying of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner: "He keeps outdoing himself, beating records; he's more important than ever.

"It's the best news for Barcelona that he's like this. I hope that he can achieve the objectives that he has this season."

Lionel Messi will draw the crowds in their droves despite fears over ticket sales for the Supercopa de Espana in Saudi Arabia, insists Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Reports suggest a fraction of the tickets allocated to the four competing clubs – Real Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Atletico Madrid and Valencia – have been sold ahead of the opening game on Wednesday.

The first fixture sees Valencia face Zinedine Zidane's side, with Barcelona taking on Atletico in the second semi-final on Thursday.

And Pizzi, who played for Barcelona between 1996-98 and recently had a spell in charge of the Saudi Arabia national team, is confident the venues will be full for all of the matches.

"I have no doubt," he told Marca.

"They're aware of how much it means to have the four best teams in Spain and four of the best in the world. It's exceptional for them, like a party.

"Also, you have to keep in mind Messi is there, who's a person they admire and recognise, so seeing him on the pitch will be a big deal for them.

"They fill grounds and love the sport. The level isn't like Europe yet, and they know that, but that's why they're investing so much and it's why they follow European football so much.

"Every weekend they watch LaLiga, the Premier League and even the Bundesliga."

Pizzi, who won a top-flight title with Barca in 1998, said his old club have to be considered favourites but warned of the threat Diego Simeone's men will carry.

"Barcelona are a favourite in every competition they play," he said. "But it's one match, so anything can happen. Atletico are a very strong team, too, and they're hard to score against. It's an attractive semi-final."

Barcelona failed to regain their two-point lead at the top of LaLiga after Wu Lei scored a late equaliser for Espanyol in a 2-2 derby draw that saw Frenkie de Jong sent off for the visitors.

The champions fell behind 23 minutes into a contest they dominated but in which their best football was rarely in evidence against the division's bottom club.

Thankfully for Ernesto Valverde, Luis Suarez was at his lethal best, instinctively making it 1-1 shortly before he brilliantly teed up Arturo Vidal for Barcelona's second.

But after De Jong was shown a second yellow card, Espanyol ramped up the pressure and Wu clinched a precious point for LaLiga's bottom club as he became the first Chinese player to score against Barca in a competitive game.

The result leaves the champions level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table at the midway point of the season.

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