Ronald Koeman had an eye-catching statement about the importance of Lionel Messi to Barcelona as he was quizzed on both his own future and that of his captain.

Barca can no longer win LaLiga following Sunday's results, with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both victorious elsewhere as the Blaugrana lost 2-1 at home to Celta Vigo.

Atleti's triumph meant Barca would not have been able to finish this season as champions regardless of their result against Celta, though Koeman's side could not deliver anyway.

Although they led through Lionel Messi in the first half, Santi Mina netted before the break and then late on to seal a fine victory for the Galicians.

It was a familiar sinking feeling against Celta, who have now beaten Barca five times since the start of the 2014-15 season – tied with Madrid for the most in that time.

However, this campaign has been particularly disappointing at Camp Nou, with a seventh loss the Blaugrana's most in a league season since nine in 2007-08. That was also the last time Barca had fewer than their current 76 points after 37 games (64).

Questions about Koeman's job security are to be expected then, but he responded on Sunday: "I'm not going to answer that."

Of greater concern to Barca fans, though, will be a decision on Messi's next move, with the legendary number 10 out of contract for the second consecutive close-season.

His header against Celta made this the 300th different LaLiga game he has scored in – Madrid great Raul is a distant second on 186 – while he tallied 30 league goals for the ninth time in 12 campaigns.

Since the turn of the year, no player in Europe's 'top five' leagues has been involved in more than Messi's 31 goals (23 goals, eight assists) and Barca are of course keen to keep their captain.

Asked if Messi was appearing at Camp Nou for the last time, Koeman said: "Hopefully not.

"He is still the best in the world and has also shown today that it is impossible to play without him.

"He has scored 30 goals in LaLiga and has given us many points in LaLiga. It's a question for Leo. For my part and the club, let's hope he stays with us.

"Because if Leo's not here, we have a doubt who's going to score the goals."

Left-back Jordi Alba was offered the same question and replied: "Let's hope not, although it's a decision [Messi] has to make."

Alba appeared to excuse Koeman, meanwhile, as he reflected on a tough run-in for Barca, who have won only one of their past five matches.

"We haven't won four games," he said. "It's a shame. We players are to blame. We have to give a good image in Eibar [in the final game], give it our all."

The coach added: "The problem wasn't today. We had the opportunity against Granada [another 2-1 defeat] and today we have lost in a similar way. That's how we feel.

"It has to be accepted because, in the end, the champion will just be the champion. And we won't have done enough."

Ronald Koeman has launched a staunch defence of Barcelona's season, insisting his team did not throw away their shot at LaLiga glory.

Tuesday's dramatic 3-3 draw at Levante means Barca go into this weekend's match against Celta Vigo four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid with two games to play, having won one of their past four top-flight outings.

After the Levante game, where the hosts came from 2-0 and 3-2 down to snatch a point, Koeman said he understood questions over his future as head coach.

However, he was in a more strident mood when previewing the Celta game, insisting Barca's run of 19 LaLiga games unbeaten – beginning in December and ending with April's Clasico loss at Real Madrid – and their Copa del Rey success should be the main marker of this campaign, as opposed to the recent collapse.

"We didn't throw it away," he said. "We made a comeback that cost us a lot of effort. 

"Atletico and Real also lost points. It's true that we lost a big chance against Granada [a 2-1 home defeat at the end of last month after Lionel Messi put Barcelona ahead], but we're talking about one match.

"It is important to believe and continue, trying to win and hope. Our chances of winning are small but we still have some and it is about winning our games.

"In the past two weeks I have felt mistreated. We won the Copa, we recovered 12 points in LaLiga.

"If you look at the press in recent days, it seems that we did a very bad job and I do not agree with that."

Koeman went on to insist he retains the support of the dressing room at Camp Nou and similarly dismissed suggestions he should be disappointed by the efforts of his players.

"I am not disappointed with my players. For them it has also been a very difficult year," he said.

"There are five or six players who have missed 35 or 40 matches in all competitions. We were only able to sign one player. 

"The fans have seen a team that has played fantastic games, which has shown to be very hungry, recognising that sometimes we do not win key games, such as Levante in the second half. 

"The team has a future. If we can sign what we think is missing to take the next step, we can be excited about next year."

On the subject of his own future, Koeman claimed that had not been on the agenda during a meeting with club president Joan Laporta this week.

"I can't explain much, we talked about the latest results, the team and we meet to talk [again] after the season," he added.

What does the future hold for Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez?

The pair helped Inter to their first Scudetto since 2009-10.

But both could depart San Siro as Inter look to cut costs.

 

TOP STORY – LUKAKU AND LAUTARO TO LEAVE INTER?

Inter could be forced to sell star forwards Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Antonio Conte's Inter have been crowned Serie A champions this season, but the Nerazzurri have financial problems as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lukaku has been linked with former club Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid, while team-mate Martinez has long been tipped to join Barca.

Alessandro Bastoni is also listed in the report amid links to Manchester City and Liverpool, while star full-back Achraf Hakimi is said to be of interest to Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The front page of Thursday's Mundo Deportivo reports Barca look at the idea of signing City's Sergio Aguero favourably. Aguero is out of contract at season's end and he has been linked with Inter, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham. But the Argentina star reportedly wants to play alongside countryman Lionel Messi. A move for Aguero would not prevent Barca from signing fellow free agent and Lyon captain Memphis Depay. Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland is also a target for the LaLiga giants. It comes amid doubts over the future of head coach Ronald Koeman.

Manchester United and Arsenal are battling to sign Sparta Prague sensation Abdallah Sima, claims the Mirror. Sima is reportedly valued at £25million (€29m).

- Sky Sports says United are interested in Juventus defender Cristian Romero, who could cost £34m (€40m). The 23-year-old Argentinian joined Atalanta on a two-year loan deal from Juve and the Serie A side have an option to buy Romero. United have also been linked with Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Lille defender Sven Botman, Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres and Real Madrid duo Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

- Former Chelsea boss Frank Lampard could replace Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace after emerging as a leading contender, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Ronald Koeman understands why further doubts were being raised about his Barcelona future after a 3-3 draw at Levante dealt a major blow to their LaLiga title hopes.

Barca needed a victory to go top of the table at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia on Tuesday and were well on course for three points at half-time courtesy of goals from Lionel Messi and Pedri.

The Blaugrana relinquished their lead all too easily after the break, though, with Gonzalo Melero and Jose Luis Morales on target in the space of two minutes.

Ousmane Dembele put Barca back in front, but more slack defending allowed Sergio Leon to nip in for an equaliser seven minutes from time.

Barca trail leaders Atletico Madrid by a point with only two matches to play, while Real Madrid are only a point behind them in third place and both capital clubs have a game in hand.

Koeman's future had already been called into question before this huge setback, so the Dutchman was not surprised to be asked if he felt his position is under the threat.

He said: "Coaches are always questioned but I understand that, after that second half, there are questions.

"We are disappointed and we're wondering what happened. We have to move on and prepare for next season.

"As a coach, you're always responsible. We spoke at half time about improving defensively and not dropping our intensity. We were hopeful, we were 2-0 ahead. You don't expect to draw from there."

Koeman knows Barca's chances of being crowned champions are slim ahead of their remaining games against Celta Vigo and Eibar.

He added: "Our aim was to win all three games and hope that the others would lose points, but now it's difficult.

"Games last for 90 minutes and we lost a lot in the second half. They caused problems and we didn't defend well. It's very disappointing. It's impossible to understand what happened. It's difficult to explain it."

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman reiterated his stance on VAR but was unwilling to comment on the controversial penalty awarded against Real Madrid through fear of being further punished.

Zinedine Zidane was left furious after Sevilla were given a spot-kick for handball against Eder Militao as Madrid were held 2-2 on Sunday, meaning the LaLiga title is no longer in their own hands.

Los Blancos thought they had earned a penalty for Yassine Bounou's foul on Karim Benzema at 1-1, only for a VAR review to overturn the decision because of Militao's handball at the other end at the start of the move.

Sevilla were instead awarded a penalty and Ivan Rakitic converted from 12 yards, though Madrid did at least rescue a point in the 94th minute through a goal later credited to Eden Hazard in what is the tightest LaLiga title battle in years.

Barcelona have themselves been on the wrong end of some controversial decisions this season, with Koeman questioning why VAR is even used in the Spanish top flight after his side were denied two penalties in their loss to Madrid.

The Dutchman, who has just served a two-game ban for comments made to the fourth official during last month's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada, did not want to get involved in the drama that unfolded at Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.

"If someone is better off not talking about refereeing, it is me," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's trip to Levante. "I have already said what I think, my opinion has not changed. 

"If Madrid think they were harmed, that is their problem. As for VAR, I will not repeat any more."

Barcelona remain two points off leaders Atletico Madrid following Saturday's stalemate between the sides and level on points with Madrid, who are one place better off due to their superior head-to-head record over their Clasico rivals.

Barca have collected just 10 of the last 18 points available in LaLiga, after picking up 45 from the previous 51, which Koeman puts down to fatigue at the end of another gruelling campaign behind closed doors.

"There are a lot of games that take their toll," the Dutchman said. "It is normal for all teams, especially those who have played in Europe and have reached cup finals this season.

"In addition, playing without an audience can also play a part. That's why many teams have dropped points at home. It's not normal for so many games to be played. The team that is physically and mentally stronger will win the title. 

"We will fight until the last moment to win the league. It is not in our hands and we cannot afford to make any mistakes."

Koeman has another year to run on the contract signed when taking over as Barca boss last August, but his future will reportedly come down to whether his side finish top of the LaLiga standings or not.

However, the Dutchman remains confident he will still be in charge at Camp Nou next season regardless of results over Barca's remaining three matches.

"There is nothing to answer on my future," he said. "You don't have to look for stories that are not there. From the first day he arrived, the president has shown me his confidence. If anyone can decide, it's him.

"The future is not for me to be worried about because I've signed two years as a coach. We have agreed to talk after the season, but before then we have two weeks and three more games to go.

"I cannot win a battle with the press or people on the outside. For many periods this season they have valued me. For me, the important people are those who I work with every day and who value what we are doing."

Koeman has not lost any of his two matches against Levante as a manager, with his teams keeping a clean sheet in both previous encounters, including a 1-0 win for Barcelona in this season's reverse fixture.

However, Levante have won two of their last three meetings with Barcelona at the Ciutat de Valencia in LaLiga - one more than they had in their previous 11 home games against them in the competition.

Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona until the end of his career after president Joan Laporta's efforts in revitalising the club.

That is the view of former Barca full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, who believes the Messi transfer saga will be laid to rest once and for all.

It had looked likely Messi would leave, probably for Manchester City, at the start of this campaign but a dispute over the terms of his contract at Camp Nou proved a stumbling block too far.

The Argentina star has since helped Ronald Koeman's side win the Copa del Rey and they remain in the battle for LaLiga, sitting two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who they face on Saturday. 

And Zambrotta, who played for the club between 2006 and 2008, feels Barca now represent a more attractive proposition for Messi since Laporta's election as president for a second time in March.

"They won already an important title in Spain and this is already something," the former Italy international told Stats Perform.

"They are in contention for La Liga title. On Saturday there will be the game versus Atletico Madrid, they are just two points down with Real Madrid, so Barcelona are a team that's still up there regardless of any problem.

"They have the chance to win La Liga too, although it will be a fight until the end.

"I see Barcelona as an improved team in recent months. Laporta has brought enthusiasm and made the place a bit more serene with the aim of keeping their most important player, Messi."

Asked if Barca will achieve that aim, he replied: "I guess so, Messi will never leave Barcelona unless in a distant future he will like to go back to Argentina, but I doubt it.

"I think he will stay at Barcelona until the end of his career."

Ronald Koeman believes there is something personal behind the decision to hand him a touchline ban.

Barcelona confirmed this week they are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Koeman's ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for the massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful, prompting the club to try again with TAD.

"Yes, I think it was personal," said Koeman.

"Because saying 'what a character' in Spanish or 'what a person' in English is not insulting. 

"It is not a reason to sanction. So yes, there is something else behind it.

"Better not talk about the referees because, in general, the RFEF puts one of the best referees in for these games. 

"It is hoped that he [Mateu Lahoz] gets his decisions right, but you don't have to think about the referees. You have to think about yourself and plan.

"Hopefully the decisions of the VAR are fair for us and for Atletico."

Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

"Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

"It takes a long time and there are things that have not gone well with his recovery - I don't want to go into that anymore, but five or six months is a long time.

"Now the most important thing is that he is going to recover, he is going to get well and that he will be with us. Too bad it is for next season.

"It has been important that we missed a player like him, but the most important thing is that he recovers well to continue playing."

 

Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

"I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

"I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

"They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

"We have to be good with the ball because Atletico closes well and defends well. We have to be good with the ball to create opportunities and be effective."

Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

But aside from that rare blip against Granada, Koeman's side have the momentum. They have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico in this period.

Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

Barcelona are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Ronald Koeman's touchline ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld.

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments he supposedly made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

The 58-year-old sat out Sunday's 3-2 win against Valencia, with assistant coach Alfred Schreuder placed in charge for the win that leaves Barca two points behind leaders Atletico ahead of this weekend's showdown.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for that massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful.

However, the Catalan giants will now take their case to TAD and have requested a temporary suspension of the ban which will allow the Dutchman to be on the touchline against Atletico.

Barca are also behind second-placed Real Madrid by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record and face Levante, Celta Vigo and Eibar after the visit of Atleti.

Barcelona withstood a scare to beat Valencia 3-2 and set up a grandstand Camp Nou clash with LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid next weekend.

Lionel Messi missed a penalty but scored twice, including a sublime free-kick, with Antoine Griezmann also on target at Mestalla.

The Barcelona goals came after the jolt of conceding early in the second half when Gabriel Paulista headed in from a corner to give the hosts the lead, with visiting boss Ronald Koeman banned from the touchline after his dismissal in the shock defeat to Granada.

Carlos Soler drove in a spectacular late second for Valencia, but Barcelona's success means they are back to just two points behind Atletico, and level again with Real Madrid, as the saga of the title race heads for a thrilling conclusion.

Pedri wasted a great chance in the third minute as he shot wide of the right post after being teed up by Frenkie de Jong, and Ronald Araujo's effort on the stretch from a teasing Messi free-kick was blocked away by goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.

Valencia's Goncalo Guedes should have scored early in the second half but allowed Marc-Andre ter Stegen to push his shot wide for a corner. However, Gabriel made no mistake when Soler swept the set-piece delivery across from the left, heading in at the far post.

Barcelona drew level in the 57th minute through Messi, despite him failing from the spot. Toni Lato conceded the spot-kick after jabbing his right arm at a floated Messi pass, and although the Argentinian saw his tame penalty parried by Cillessen, Pedri's shot as the ball pinged around the box was deflected to Barcelona's record scorer, who netted from close range.

The visitors went ahead six minutes later when De Jong's powerful header from Jordi Alba's cross was well saved by Cillessen but palmed only as far as Griezmann, who tucked home.

Messi's second goal was a 69th-minute curling free-kick from a central starting point that found the back of the net via the inside of the right post, giving the goalkeeper little chance, a speciality of Barca's captain.

It was arguably topped by Soler's brilliant long-range finish in the 83rd minute, but Valencia could not find a leveller.

Ronald Koeman remains convinced Barcelona can still win LaLiga, even though they have left themselves with little margin for error during the run-in.

Barca missed the chance to take over at the top of the table on Thursday, letting slip a one-goal lead to surprisingly lose 2-1 at home to Granada.

The unexpected defeat means Koeman's side instead sit third with just five games to play in the top-flight campaign, starting with Sunday's tricky trip to Valencia.

Yet with Atleti still to visit Camp Nou, a defiant Koeman insists maximum points will be enough to pip both Diego Simeone's side and Real Madrid, who are second in the standings, to the title.

"It is true that we were very disappointed because it was a very great opportunity to get to the top, but there is no more time to be sad because we are fighting with the top three teams," Koeman told the media on Saturday.

"In all the games we have a lot of possession, we create opportunities. It is true that defensively we have to improve things.

"We expect a difficult game [against Valencia], where we are going to have a lot of possession, we have to create, be better defensively.

"It is a great opportunity that we have missed, but I am convinced that if we win the last five games we will be champions."

Sevilla are also firmly in the title race too, sitting just a point behind Barca, while Granada's midweek win provided a further example of why there are no certainties in a highly competitive league, according to Koeman.

"It is a strong championship, with very good teams. There are four teams fighting for LaLiga," he said.

"If you are not well, if you lack things, then you pay dearly. That is the beauty of this season. There is no team superior to the rest. That shows that it is a very strong championship."

Koeman was sent off after Granada's equaliser and is set to serve a two-game touchline ban, though Barcelona have appealed against the punishment.

The Dutchman will watch on from the stands for the game against Valencia, but a reduced suspension would allow him to be back in the technical area for the crucial clash with Atleti on May 8.

"We are going to appeal because I think it is a very exaggerated sanction for saying 'what a character', you wear two games, if you really insult, they give you 20 games," Koeman said. 

"Tomorrow I will not be able to be on the bench, but we have technical staff and we are going to overcome it."

Barcelona have launched an appeal against the two-match touchline ban handed to Ronald Koeman following his dismissal during the shock 2-1 LaLiga loss to Granada.

Koeman was shown a red card for comments he supposedly made to the fourth official not long after Granada had drawn level at Camp Nou on Thursday.

The Dutchman then watched on from the stands as the home side conceded again in the 79th minute, substitute Jorge Molina heading home to provide a further twist in the title race.

"I don't understand why they have sent me off. They [said I] have disrespected the fourth official," Koeman said after Thursday's match, according to Marca.

"I don't understand the red. According to the delegate, it was a lack of respect for the fourth official. I haven't said anything. I haven't insulted him or anything. But hey, if the fourth official wants to be the star of the night ... thank you."

Barcelona had appeared set to take over at the top of the table but now sit two points behind LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid with five games remaining.

One of those matches sees Barca host Atleti on May 8, which will be covered by Koeman's suspension unless his appeal is successful. The other fixture will be Sunday's trip to Valencia.

In confirming the appeal, the club referenced that their head coach had not previously been sent off since taking charge.

Meanwhile, Barca have extended Oscar Mingueza's contract.

The defender, who made his first-team debut in a Champions League fixture against Dynamo Kiev in November, is now tied down until June 2023 with a release clause of €100million.

"It's a dream come true. I've been working for many years for this objective, to sign a contract with the first team," Mingueza said in an official club interview.

"I'm really happy, really proud to have this chance after all the support that I have received."

Mingueza has made 36 appearances in all competitions this season since his promotion from the B team.  

Ronald Koeman suggested the fourth official perhaps wanted to be "the star of the night" after the Barcelona boss was set off in Thursday's damaging 2-1 defeat to Granada.

Talisman Lionel Messi's 23rd-minute goal appeared to have Barca on track towards a fifth straight home win and three points that would have seen them leapfrog rivals Real Madrid and table-toppers Atletico Madrid in LaLiga.

However, Darwin Machis levelled and Koeman was sent to the stands prior to Jorge Molina heading home the winner 11 minutes from time to leave Barca two points off the pace with five games to play.

Koeman insisted he did not say anything insulting to the official and hinted he may challenge the decision.

"I don't understand why they have sent me off. They [said I] have disrespected the fourth official," he said in quotes reported by Marca.

"I don't understand the red. According to the delegate, it was a lack of respect for the fourth official. 

"I haven't said anything. I haven't insulted him or anything. But hey, if the fourth official wants to be the star of the night ... thank you.

"Let's see what the record says. If the record says something that I haven't said, I'll have to do something."

Koeman accepted his team made errors in a defeat few would have seen coming but the Dutchman is refusing to lose belief in a thrilling title tussle.

"We lost focus in the second half and made mistakes in defence," he added.

"We must accept today's defeat. It is reality. We had opportunities to win, but okay we have five games to go. Each one will have its difficulties. We have to prepare well for next Sunday.

"There are still possibilities. We have to accept defeat, analyse it and prepare for this tournament.

"I think we have tried to continue. We have not created many opportunities after their goals. They have closed down well and we could not create more.

"Seeing the two goals, we leave spaces where we have to close them. We have not been well defensively.

"It is a hard blow to stop depending on us. We are disappointed. We have five games to be champions. For us it is the same as for others."

Barcelona missed the chance to move top of LaLiga after suffering a shock 2-1 loss to Granada at Camp Nou on Thursday.

Lionel Messi’s 23rd-minute goal appeared to have Barca on course for a fifth straight home win, a result good enough to see them leapfrog both rivals Real Madrid and long-time leaders Atletico in the table.

However, Granada – who had failed to even manage a draw in any of their previous 25 league visits to their Catalan opponents – turned the game around to further change the outlook in the title race.

Darwin Machis equalised before Barca boss Ronald Koeman was shown a red card, meaning the Dutchman had to watch on from the stands as Jorge Molina was afforded time and space to head in a 79th-minute winner.

The dramatic turnaround had never appeared on the cards, yet Barcelona allowed their opponents to score with their only two attempts on target to cause a huge upset.

Messi had broken the deadlock after linking up with Antoine Griezmann, the Frenchman timing his delayed return pass perfectly to allow his team-mate to fizz a low, left-footed shot beyond goalkeeper Aaron Escandell and into the far corner of the net.

However, Messi was not quite so clinical with another one-on-one opportunity later in the first half and Griezmann himself failed to capitalise when presented with a clear sight of goal soon after the break, firing well wide with his right foot.

Sergi Roberto also sent a volley off target as Barca struggled to make their dominance tell – and Granada made them pay to clinch a result that will undoubtedly be celebrated in the Spanish capital.

Oscar Mingueza's failure to cut out a throughball allowed Machis to run clear and slot the ball beyond the advancing Marc-Andre ter Stegen, while Barca's goalkeeper had no chance when Molina ghosted into the penalty area to convert Adrian Marin's cross.

Ronald Koeman says he has "no interest" in further speculation over Lionel Messi's future as Barcelona battle for the LaLiga title.

According to TNT Sports, Paris Saint-Germain are preparing an "unbeatable" contract offer to try and lure Messi to the French capital.

Messi's contract expires at the end of June, so the Barca captain could walk away from Camp Nou as a free agent.

The mercurial Argentina forward sensationally handed in a transfer request last August before agreeing to remain with the Catalan giants for the 2020-21 season.

Koeman reiterated his desire for Messi to sign a new deal, but for the time being the focus is on securing a win over Granada on Thursday that would move Barca top of the table.

The Barca boss said in a press conference on Wednesday: "I am not interested in what has come out because I do not know if it is true and because I hope he continues with us.

"I have said several times that it has to end here, but it is a decision that he has to make."

Atletico Madrid's defeat at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday has given Barca the chance to take a one-point lead at the summit by beating eighth-placed Granada at Camp Nou.

Koeman does not see his side as favourites to be crowned champions as his side prepare to try and leapfrog Real Madrid and Atleti.

The former Netherlands defender said: "The team that goes first is the favourite and we are not the first."

Koeman says there is no chance Barca will get ahead of themselves in their quest to dethrone Real Madrid with six games to play.

"I have not seen the players thinking that the job is done," he added. "Now we may be the favourite according to many people, but we do not think that way. We know the difficulty of winning the games because all the rivals play for something.

"I've learned that you have to go game by game. You don't have to go crazy for the possibility that exists if you win. The important thing is tomorrow and being prepared for a difficult game."

Ronald Koeman promised Barcelona would "go with everything we have" to secure the LaLiga title on an evening when Atletico Madrid faltered again.

The trophy, and a domestic double, looked unlikely prospects as Barcelona stumbled through the opening months of the season.

Yet they will head into May with the Copa del Rey locked away in the trophy room and league glory could follow.

Long-time leaders Atletico have struggled without former Barcelona frontman Luis Suarez recently, and although he came off the bench in Sunday's clash with Athletic Bilbao, Diego Simeone's wobbling side suffered a 2-1 defeat.

It means that although Atletico still hold a two-point lead at the top, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the closest chasing sides, level on 71 points. Importantly, Barca have a game in hand over both their rivals.

The Camp Nou club's 2-1 win over Villarreal strengthened their championship case, with Real Madrid only able to draw 0-0 with Real Betis on Saturday.

Asked about the prospect of a league and cup double, Koeman said on Sunday: "I have never said that it is impossible, but when you have a distance of points and you are behind, you have to go game by game.

"We're in there. But the best way to win this league is to go game by game."

Speaking after Barcelona's win but before Atletico fell to their jolting defeat, Koeman praised his side, who have now gathered 46 points from a possible 51 since the turn of the year in LaLiga.

Of their last 24 clashes with Villarreal in LaLiga, Barca have won 18 times and drawn the other six, a staggeringly good record against one of Spain's better club sides.

"It is closer, but I don't know if it is very close," Koeman said of the title. "We have a track record of many victories. And what the team are doing is something very big, trying to win LaLiga as well.

"We know that if we win all six games we will be champions. We are going to go with everything we have to try to win LaLiga."

Atletico have lost two of their last five LaLiga games, showing fallibility at just the wrong time. They had previously lost just two of 44 league matches, including a strong finish to last season.

A Camp Nou clash between Atletico and Barcelona on May 8 is the standout fixture of the title run-in, and momentum can quickly turn.

Before that, Barca have games against Granada on Thursday and at Valencia on Sunday.

Koeman said it is "difficult to be 100 per cent" when games are coming so thick and fast.

But having come so far, making up so much ground when at one point qualifying for the Champions League looked to be in doubt, Barcelona are determined not to slow down.

As goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen put it on Instagram: "6 finals to go. We must be ready for Thursday."

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