Lionel Messi has left a glaring hole at Barcelona and it will prove to be an extremely difficult void to fill as former team-mate Victor Sanchez discussed the shock and tearful Camp Nou exit.

Messi had been tipped to re-sign at Barcelona but the LaLiga club's dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under the league's salary restrictions, paving the way for a blockbuster switch to Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

Instead of extending his time at Barca, dating back to 2000 during his youth, Messi now forms a frightening attack alongside old friend Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Paris.

Sanchez played alongside Messi in Barca, where he emerged from the club's youth system in 2005 and made his first-team debut in 2008 before joining and captaining rivals Espanyol, and he spoke to Stats Perform about the six-time Ballon d'Or winner's stunning departure.

"I was shocked, but everyone too because after last year when he wanted to leave, and he finally didn't, I looked like he would end his career at Barcelona," said Sanchez, who now plays for Western United in Australia.

"So, leaving this year and joining PSG, it is tough to understand on his side, but also on the Barcelona side. I have spoken with former team-mates of his and they think same as me: they thought it was done and he would continue playing for Barca, and everything changed at the very last moment.

"We won't know why it did not happen, but it is a big shame for Barcelona and for Spanish football. On the other hand, it is a big joy for French football and PSG as I think they are building a spectacular team."

Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.

Messi's goals for Barca were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.

The 34-year-old's most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions, as well as providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.

Messi netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.

 

He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in LaLiga in 15 consecutive seasons.

Messi is the all-time LaLiga top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe's top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476), while he scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013 - a record for a player in the competition's history.

"It is very tough to replace Messi. You get a player like this every 20-30-40 years," Sanchez said before Barca's season-opening 4-2 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday. "It is so hard. However, Barca's academy works in the same way with every team, so they can get three-four-five players and build a strong team who can win titles and bid for all, something difficult right now in Barcelona.

"It is the same what happened with [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi… probably will happen with [Sergio] Busquets too. It is not easy to replace them with other players because they have been the best in their position.

"Barcelona will get other good players, but it won't be easy to get someone like Messi who has given that much to the team."

Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, Sanchez was part of the star-studded Barca squad that won the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa del Rey in 2008-09 – playing alongside Messi as well as Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto'o.

"I read a lot of comments when I was younger," Sanchez said when asked if he remembered some of the reaction and comments to Messi's emergence at Barca. "I am the same age as Messi, and I read a lot about a player of 16-17 who was superb in the academy. The thing is when I reached the first team, he was playing for three years in the first team.

"I was 20-21 at that time and he was already a star in the first team. However, it is true there were comments on a player in the second team who was going to be a big player and he has become it.

"You could see he was different since he was a child. As you see in others, you could also see on him."

Central Coast Mariners will host Macarthur in a home A-League elimination-final next weekend after beating Western United 2-0 following Brisbane Roar's defeat to Sydney FC.

Brisbane were beaten 2-0 by second-placed Sydney in their final match of the regular season at Moreton Daily Stadium on Saturday.

Goals from Kosta Barbarouses and Harry Van der Saag opened the door for the Mariners to move above the Roar and take third place, an opportunity they grabbed with both hands.

Jack Clisby struck in the first half and Marco Urena sealed the victory in stoppage time at Central Coast Stadium.

Alen Stajcic will pit his wits against fellow former Matildas coach Ante Milicic in an all-New South Wales clash next Saturday.

The Roar will have an extra day to prepare for a home showdown with Adelaide United a week on Sunday, when a place in the semi-finals will be up for grabs.

Newcastle Jets moved off the bottom of the table courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Perth Glory, A Jonathan Aspropotamitis own goal giving them a point after Bruno Fornaroli opened the scoring.

That point moved the Jets above Melbourne Victory, while Perth remain ninth.

Macarthur tightened their grip on a top-six spot in the A-League courtesy of a 2-1 win at lowly Western United.

The Bulls look set to secure a finals berth in their maiden campaign, with Ante Milicic's side boasting a four-point gap to seventh-placed Wellington Phoenix, who they play on Friday in their final regular-season game.

First-half goals from Markel Susaeta and Mark Milligan proved enough to get the job done on Monday, with Iker Guarrotxena netting United's consolation.

While the hosts have now lost seven on the bounce, Macarthur have suffered only one defeat in their past eight matches.

Matt Derbyshire set up both goals for the visitors, his headed knockdown handing Susaeta the chance to finish deftly past Ryan Scott in the 27th minute.

And just four minutes later the Englishman teed up Milligan to rifle home from outside the area.

Guarrotxena's powerful second-half header gave United hope but there was to be no comeback.

Ninth-placed Perth Glory are the only team that could deny Macarthur a top-six finish. They sit six points adrift of Macarthur but have a game in hand.

Melbourne Victory claimed just their fifth win of the A-League season in stunning fashion on Friday, thrashing Western United 6-1 at AAMI Park.

Elvis Kamsoba scored twice as the visitors recorded a first triumph against their opponents at the sixth attempt, having drawn 0-0 in the previous meeting.

However, United came into the fixture having lost five on the spin, including failing to score in the past four outings.

They did manage a goal this time, albeit a penalty from captain Alessandro Diamanti in first-half stoppage time was the only highlight in a fixture played without a crowd due to seven-day lockdown in Victoria.

Jake Brimmer opened the scoring in the 12th minute, with Rudy Gestede doubling the lead. After setting up Kambosa to score, Ben Folami was also on target as Melbourne went in at the break 4-1 up.

Kambosa added another five minutes into the second half, the away team seizing on a loose pass as the scorer exchanged passes with Callum McManaman before firing beyond goalkeeper Ryan Scott.

Jacob Butterfield completed the rout in the 82nd minute, the midfielder's left-footed drive finding the net to cap a resounding result for Melbourne’s stand-in boss Steve Kean.

Melbourne City celebrated their first A-League silverware as a narrow 1-0 triumph over Central Coast Mariners secured the Premiers Plate amid a dramatic finish at AAMI Park.

Craig Noone's headed effort just shy of the hour was enough to earn City the three points and the trophy with three games to spare, but only after enduring a tense finale.

City thought the points were wrapped up when Jamie Maclaren netted with three minutes to play, only for the hosts' striker to be denied when a VAR check found he had handballed in the build-up when tussling with Kye Rowles.

The Mariners then thought they had a chance to snatch a point in injury time when goalkeeper Mark Birighitti - up at a late corner - won the visitors a penalty.

But once again, VAR intervened with referee Shaun Evans reversing his original call after checking the pitchside monitor, to leave the home fans breathing a sigh of relief and celebrating the confirmation City will finish top at the end of the regular season.

Elsewhere, Wellington Phoenix dazzled on their New Zealand homecoming in a 3-0 win over Western United that keeps them on the coattails of the A-League's top six.

It had been 433 days since Phoenix had played a home fixture at Sky Stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic and a bumper crowd of 24,105 was not disappointed.

Clayton Lewis's deflected 38th-minute opener had Wellington in front at the break and two goals in the space of six second-half minutes from Reno Piscopo and Tomer Hemed had the patient crowd celebrating a comfortable win.

While having the fans back in attendance was a victory itself, the win means Phoenix are just three points shy of Brisbane Roar in sixth with three games to play before the A-League Finals.

Central Coast Mariners and Sydney both recorded slender away victories over Newcastle Jets and Western United respectively in Saturday's A-League action.

Sydney briefly moved up to second in the table after an Adam Le Fondre penalty – his first goal since returning to the club - secured them a 1-0 triumph on their visit to Mars Stadium.

Referee Shaun Evans deemed Ivan Vujica had handled inside the penalty area and pointed to the spot, the official confirming his initial decision after a lengthy VAR check.

United goalkeeper Ryan Scott had kept Sydney at bay up until that point but was unable to deny Le Fondre, who is back after a spell with Mumbai City in India.

However, Central Coast leapfrogged back over Sydney in the standings thanks to a 1-0 win of their own in the late kick-off.

A penalty settled the game at McDonald Jones Stadium too, Matt Simon on target in the 54th minute as the Mariners recorded back-to-back wins over the Jets for the first time since October 2014.

Simon has now scored nine A-League goals against Newcastle - only against Melbourne Victory (10) has he managed more in his career.

Bruno Fornaroli scored a free-kick as Perth Glory earned a key 3-0 home win over Western United as they continued to emerge from their A-League slump.

After going six straight matches without a win, Perth have now won two in a row to keep their Finals hopes alive.

Fornaroli put them ahead on Wednesday with an early free-kick into the top corner before Chris Ikonomidis scored his third goal in as many league matches.

Substitute Joel Chianese wrapped up the points with a fine finish 13 minutes from time, to leave Western floundering given they lost 5-0 to Western Sydney Wanderers last time out.

Perth's win, though, may have been fortunate as they scored three times while only registering an xG of 0.5 compared to 0.8 for the visitors.

 

Second-placed Central Coast Mariners racked up 20 attempts on goal but were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw at Brisbane Roar, who are sixth, six points ahead of Perth in 10th.

Joey Champness hit the crossbar for Brisbane, while Central Coast thought they had won it when Oliver Bozanic chipped goalkeeper Jamie Young in stoppage time, only to be denied by the woodwork.

Alen Stajcic's side are one point clear of Sydney FC, Adelaide United and Macarthur in a tight table, though leaders Melbourne City are eight points clear of them at the summit.

James Troisi had a hand in four goals as Western Sydney Wanderers thrashed Western United 5-0 in the A-League on Saturday.

The Australia international opened the scoring with a thumping strike into the top corner and added two assists as well as forcing an own goal from Western United substitute Dylan Pierias.

Troisi created goals for Ziggy Gordon and Bruce Kamau either side of half-time before Pierias' own goal and a last-minute effort from Bernie Ibini rounded out the scoring.

The result puts Western Sydney up to sixth in the table, just one point off second place in a tightly packed group of sides pursuing spots in the Finals.

Defending champions Sydney FC are the side sitting at the front of that pack in second position after they struggled to a 1-1 draw away at bottom club Newcastle Jets.

A penalty from Roy O'Donovan after 59 minutes gave Jets hope of a famous victory.

But they were denied by a bizarre own goal 14 minutes from time as an attempted clearance from Connor O'Toole struck the chest of Nigel Boogaard and bounced in.

Valentino Yuel missed a big late chance to recapture the lead, the result meaning Newcastle have gone 12 matches without a victory and are a point behind Melbourne Victory.

Sydney, who only got four of their 19 attempts on target, have won just one of their last six matches in the competition.

Adelaide United missed the chance to go second in the A-League as they were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Western United in an ill-tempered and dramatic encounter on Friday.

The first of two goals disallowed by VAR came in the 16th minute as Tomislav Uskok appeared to handle the ball in the process of nudging it on to Besart Berisha for an easy close-range finish.

Western were then dealt a significant blow just past the half-hour mark as Victor Sanchez was dismissed for a second booking, though Adelaide struggled to make their numerical advantage count.

In fact, it was Western who again had the ball in the net with 11 minutes to go, as Dylan Pierias latched on to a ball over the Adelaide defence, skipped past approaching goalkeeper Joe Gauci – who took out one of his defenders in the process – and tucked into an empty net.

But another VAR review saved Adelaide, this one rather more controversial as footage of the decision-making process suggested it was inconclusive, or marginal at best regarding the call for offside.

It continued to heat up in the latter stages, with an apparent dive by Adelaide's Ben Halloran sparked something of a brawl, which resulted in yellow cards being shown to Alhassan Toure and Andrew Durante.

Toure was then sent off four minutes later for a crude challenge on Durante as a feisty contest ultimately ended level.

Western United recorded a 2-0 win over Newcastle Jets on Monday – their second triumph over the A-League strugglers in the month of April.

A Lachlan Wales goal in the first minute of proceedings had secured United a 1-0 triumph at McDonald Jones Stadium on April 5.

Wales was involved in an early opener again at AAMI Park, sending in a low cross that Newcastle captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley prodded into his own net in the 12th minute.

Dylan Pierias tapped in a second for the hosts midway through the second half, converting from close range after good work by substitute Aaron Calver down United's right flank.

The Jets had 13 attempts but managed to hit the target with just three of them. Their winless run now stands at 10 games, stretching back to a 1-0 triumph over Melbourne Victory on February 21, as they sit bottom.

As for United, they move into the top six in the table and still have games in hand on the teams above them apart from leaders Melbourne City.

Western United put an end to a three-match losing run against Wellington Phoenix thanks to a 1-1 draw at UTAS Stadium.

Wellington lost 1-0 to their opponents in October 2019 but had prevailed in each A-League meeting since that inaugural encounter.

Their successful streak included a 3-2 triumph over United on April 11 thanks to a 90th-minute winner from Ben Waine.

The teenage forward was on target again on Thursday too, putting Phoenix into an early lead when turning in a cross from Ulises Davila in the seventh minute.

However, having seen his team concede in the opening 15 minutes of a game for just the second time this season, Lachlan Wales curled in an impressive equaliser just before the half-hour mark.

United collected a point despite having to play the entire second half down to 10 men, Brendan Hamill dismissed in added time before the interval after receiving a second yellow card.

Jamie Maclaren scored five times as Melbourne City thrashed 10-man Melbourne Victory 7-0 in an astonishing derby match.

City moved top of the A-League on Saturday with a Melbourne derby victory that will live long in the memory.

Andrew Nabbout had given the hosts an early lead but there were no signs an extraordinary contest was on the cards until a 30th-minute red card for Victory captain Adama Traore for a foul on the goalscorer.

Nabbout won a penalty shortly after the red card which was converted by Maclaren and it stayed 2-0 until the 64th minute.

That was when the floodgates opened.

Substitute Marco Tilio set up Maclaren for the third goal before winning a penalty that the striker converted to bring up a hat-trick with 15 minutes left to play.

The lead remained at four until a remarkable spree saw City score three times in the space of 178 seconds from the 84th minute.

Maclaren scored two of them before Adrian Luna finished the rout in style, leaving the Victory players dumbfounded.

Tilio ended the night with two assists while Luna had a game-high four key passes, with Victory mustering only one shot on target compared to 10 for the hosts.

City had beaten their rivals Victory 6-0 in the first derby of the season, with this match capping a remarkable double.

In the first game of the day, Western United defeated Central Coast Mariners 1-0 in Tasmania.

A fifth-minute goal from Connor Pain – after a one-two with Besart Berisha – proved to be the only goal.

Central Coast have now fallen to one point behind Melbourne City at the top of the table.

Ben Waine headed a late winner as Wellington Phoenix came from behind to beat Western United 3-2 in an A-League thriller on Sunday.

Besart Berisha put United on course for a third consecutive win with a penalty 32 minutes in after Lachlan Wales was upended by Tim Payne at WIN Stadium.

Wellington were level on the stroke of half-time, though, when Ulises Davila struck from the spot, making Andrew Durante pay for handling in the area.

Jaushua Sotirio got on the end of a Davila volley to put the Phoenix in front for the first time, but Iker Guarrotxena nodded just over the line three minutes later to peg Ufuk Talay's side back.

There was a final twist, however, as Waine nodded in fellow academy graduate Sam Sutton's cross from close range and was able to resume his celebrations, which had been cut short by an offside flag, following a VAR check.

Wellington had suffered back-to-back defeats, but three points moved them up a place to ninth.

Melbourne City left it late to overcome Wellington Phoenix 3-2 and climb into second place, while an early Lachlan Wales strike saw Western United down Newcastle Jets 1-0 in Monday's other A-League match.

City's six-match winning run was halted by Western United last time out, but they hit back at WIN Stadium to move to within two points of leaders Central Coast Mariners with a game in hand.

Tomer Hemed equalised for Phoenix after Curtis Good had headed City in front from six yards, but Jamie Maclaren restored the visitors' lead with a powerful strike across Oliver Sail.

Wellington equalised for a second time before the hour through skipper Ulises Davila, who curled a delightful low shot into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards – the seventh goal they have scored from outside the box in the 2020-21 A-League season.

But Melbourne went away with the three points in Wollongong thanks to substitute Marco Tilio's late header following some good link-up play out on the right to make space for Connor Metcalfe's cross.

It was an early goal that proved the difference in Monday's early kick-off between Jets and Western United, with winger Wales slotting Dylan Pierias' throughball into the bottom-left corner after just 36 seconds to make it goals in back-to-back games.

That was the first goal the visitors had scored in this fixture at the fourth attempt and was the earliest they have netted in their A-League history, putting them on course for a maiden victory against the Jets.

Craig Deans' side attempted 20 shots in the remainder of the game, but just two of those were on target as they fell to a sixth loss in a row to remain second bottom of the division, while United are up to seventh with games in hand on the top six.

Central Coast Mariners survived missing two penalties in a top-of-the-table battle as they beat Adelaide United 2-1 to surge four points clear at the top of the A-League.

Goalkeeper Joe Gauci saved spot-kicks from Matt Simon and Oliver Bozanic, and Adelaide went ahead between those dramatic moments when Kusini Yengi struck in the 48th minute.

Gauci, 20, had kicked away Simon's powerful strike and dived full length to push away Bozanic's penalty, but the goalkeeper could not defy the Mariners all night and was finally beaten in the 72nd minute.

Captain Bozanic found space on the edge of the penalty area and drilled a powerful drive into the left corner for an equaliser, and four minutes later Alou Kuol slotted in after Gauci was beaten to the ball by Josh Nisbet, who cut back for his fellow substitute to convert.

The result ended Adelaide's six-game winning streak, but they stay second in the table.

Third-placed Melbourne City's own six-game run of victories was halted by state rivals Western United, who snatched a 2-1 win despite falling behind early on.

Craig Noone struck from close range in the 12th minute after combining cleverly with Jamie Maclaren.

But Western United drew level in the 61st minute when Besart Berisha volleyed across goal for Lachlan Wales to head home against his former team.

Substitute Alessandro Diamanti then set Wales clear on the right flank with a terrific pass, and the scorer of the first goal repaid the earlier favour from Berisha by feeding his team-mate inside the Melbourne City penalty area.

Berisha turned sharply and smashed a low shot in off the right post for the 66th-minute winner, lifting Western United three places to seventh in the table.

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