Carles Puyol admits he prefers Lionel Messi's softly-softly approach to diplomacy at Barcelona over the blunt style of Gerard Pique.

Long-serving defender Pique recently hit out when he blamed the demands of Barca's pre-season travels for the poor start to their LaLiga title defence.

He also suggested the Barcelona board may have been planting stories in the media that were critical of players.

Messi, by contrast, rarely speaks out, and former Barcelona captain Puyol indicated he would follow the superstar forward's lead when it comes to handling club issues.

"You have to respect Gerard," Puyol told reporters on Saturday. "We all know him, we know he says what he thinks, he goes straight...

"I liked to talk the same as Messi, so would have acted just like him."

Puyol also clarified his decision to turn down the sporting director post at Barcelona, explaining he was too busy to take on the responsibility.

"I think the statement was very clear, you can't interpret much more," he said.

"I am at a time when I develop new projects, the next one will come out in a few days and will be related to the Danone Nations Cup, with football and values, an online programme designed for fathers and mothers who want to share time with their children.

"I have many more. I had been working on them for many months and I don't think it's time to leave them. It was not the time to join Barca."

Puyol's former team-mate Victor Valdes was sacked as coach of the Barcelona Under-19 side this month, the ex-goalkeeper having reportedly clashed with La Masia head Patrick Kluivert.

"Victor still doesn't have much experience as a coach," Puyol said. "Last season he did very well and has a lot of knowledge about soccer to teach children.

"I do not know the reasons for what happened, I am not in the club, but I know that he will have a good career as a coach and that he will train great players.

"Youth football is not easy. Many times you look more at the results and you also have to think about the development and training of the children."

Ousmane Dembele will miss the first Clasico of the season after being handed a two-match ban by the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

The Barcelona winger was sent off in the closing minutes of the 4-0 LaLiga win over Sevilla last Sunday after confronting referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz, who had just given debutant Ronald Araujo a red card for a foul on Javier Hernandez.

According to the referee's match report, Dembele said to him, "Very bad, you are very bad", as Barca players surrounded him to argue against Araujo's dismissal.

Barca appealed against Dembele's red card but the RFEF has dismissed their case and given the France international a two-game ban.

He will therefore sit out the trip to Eibar on October 19 and then the visit of Real Madrid to Camp Nou on October 26.

Araujo has been banned for one game, as has Gerard Pique, who has collected five bookings this season. Both will be available to face Madrid.

Dembele has made three LaLiga appearances this season and scored his first goal of 2019-20 in the defeat of Sevilla.

Barca are two points behind league leaders Real Madrid after eight matches.

Gerard Pique defended Luis Suarez, reminding fans that players were "not machines" amid criticism of the Barcelona forward.

Suarez was substituted in the second half of Barca's much-needed 2-1 win over Villarreal in LaLiga on Tuesday.

The Uruguayan forward has scored in just one of four league games this season, netting a brace against Valencia, leading to criticism.

Pique accepted fans could have their say, but said players were trying their best.

"I understand the people, they pay the entrance fee and they deserve to express what they feel," he told reporters, via Marca.

"We would like to win all the games, but the players are people and emotionally and personally we have our life and it is difficult to yield 100 per cent and we are not machines.

"We try to do our best. I wouldn't give it more importance. We have to focus on Getafe."

Goals from Antoine Griezmann and Arthur helped Barcelona past Villarreal, easing the pressure on head coach Ernesto Valverde.

Pique said Valverde deserved more credit after winning back-to-back LaLiga titles and a Copa del Rey.

"There is very little memory with Valverde, as few coaches have won two leagues and a cup in their first two seasons," the defender said.

Gerard Pique blamed Barcelona's pre-season fixtures for their slow start to the campaign after a 2-1 win over Villarreal on Tuesday.

Barca eased the pressure on head coach Ernesto Valverde with their victory at Camp Nou, moving onto 10 points from six LaLiga games.

While not wanting to make excuses, Pique felt Barcelona's pre-season – the LaLiga giants travelled to Japan and the United States – has impacted their start to the campaign.

Lionel Messi made his first start of the season after recovering from a calf injury, only to come off at half-time due to an adductor problem.

"The pre-season did not help at all to start well in the competition, a lot of travel and little training," Pique said. 

"Many of us notice it and we don't have the tone yet, not only Messi, but we must continue because we are forced to win, it is a setback. 

"Look now what has happened to Messi, but there are no excuses, in the team there are qualified people to replace him and move on, although we hope he will be out as short as possible.

"There are quite a few players who have not achieved the tone because it is what it is. I do not know the severity of his [Messi's] injury and I hope it is as little as possible.

"There are no excuses. Although it is the best there are no excuses in Barcelona, although the pre-season was not the best."

Goals from Antoine Griezmann and Arthur helped Barca past Villarreal, who pulled one back through Santi Cazorla.

Pique said the three points were vital for Valverde's team as they sit a point behind league leaders Granada.

"It was important to win so as not to disengage from the top teams. With both goals and Leo's injury, the team has pulled back a bit," he said.

"They have advanced the lines and marked us. In the second half, it was difficult."

Barcelona make the trip to Getafe in their next outing on Saturday.

Ansu Fati produced another star performance as Barcelona routed Valencia 5-2 at Camp Nou on Saturday to close the gap to LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Winger Fati, just 16, got a goal and an assist for Frenkie de Jong in the first seven minutes of his full debut for the club, having become their youngest league goalscorer as a substitute in the draw with Osasuna last month.

Kevin Gameiro pulled one back for Valencia, who caused a shock this week when they sacked head coach Marcelino and replaced him with the inexperienced Albert Celades, but Gerard Pique effectively killed off the contest 51 minutes in.

Luis Suarez scored his first goal of the season with his second touch after coming on as a substitute and added a late second to seal the win, as Lionel Messi - still not risked following a calf injury - watched on approvingly. Maxi Gomez pinched a late consolation, his first Valencia goal.

In just the second minute, Fati met De Jong's cut-back and rifled home his first Camp Nou goal for the club.

He turned provider five minutes later, dancing his way into the box from the left and teeing up De Jong to open his account for the club with a powerful side-foot finish.

Barca appeared in total control but allowed Valencia a lifeline when Gameiro sprung the offside trap and slotted in off the left-hand post, a VAR review granting him a reprieve after the goal was initially disallowed.

Ernesto Valverde's side restored Barcelona's two-goal lead six minutes after the interval, as Pique pounced to tap home the rebound after Jasper Cillessen could only parry an Antoine Griezmann shot against the woodwork.

Nelson Semedo then rattled the other post as Suarez came on for Fati, and the Uruguay star promptly scored with his second touch of the ball, feinting before bending a shot into the bottom-left corner.

Suarez hit almost the same spot with eight minutes to go for Barca, further highlighting the difficult task awaiting Celades over the coming weeks.

What does it mean? Barca take advantage of Atletico slip-up

Atleti's 2-0 defeat to Real Sociedad earlier means there is not a single team in the division with a 100 per cent record this season, despite only four rounds of matches having been played.

Barca made the most of Atleti's loss to move within two points of the early league leaders, while the manner of the performance will give Valverde plenty of encouragement - particularly ahead of the start of the Champions League.

Fati's rise shows no sign of slowing

Fati started the season pushing for a regular place in Barca's B team, making his emergence under Valverde all the more remarkable.

He showed a clinical touch for his goal and some excellent wing play to set up De Jong, and went close with two further efforts from distance before departing to a standing ovation.

Cillessen's rotten return

In his first game at Camp Nou since leaving for Valencia in June, Cillessen made only one save in the first hour - and it left Pique with an easy finish on the rebound. It was not a happy homecoming.

What's next?

Barca begin Champions League duties away to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, with a league trip to Granada to follow four days later. Valencia head to Chelsea before a home league meeting with Leganes.

Gerard Pique has confirmed the existence of a clause in Lionel Messi's contract that enables the Barcelona captain to leave on a free at the end of each season – although it does not worry the defender.

Spanish newspaper El Pais first reported on the presence of a yearly exit option in the lucrative four-year deal the Argentina superstar signed in 2017.

The clause is said to have come into effect when five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi turned 32 in June.

It purportedly grants him the power to become a free agent on June 30 every year, not that centre-back Pique is concerned about losing his long-time team-mate.

"It's something I already knew about," Pique told Cadena SER.

"We know Leo's commitment to Barca and it doesn't worry me at all. He has earned the right to be able to decide his future."

Messi has spent his entire career at Barca and was reportedly at the forefront of the Spanish champions' decision to pursue former player Neymar during the close season.

The Brazil international ended up staying at Paris Saint-Germain as the clubs apparently failed to reach an agreement before the transfer window closed on September 2.

Pique spoke to the wantaway Neymar following the deadline and told him not to give up hope on a future return to Camp Nou.

"There has been a lot of drama, but you have to turn the page," the ex-Spain international said.

"The conclusion to be drawn is that perhaps the transfer market lasting until the third week of the league season is nonsense.

"I talked to him and I said I hope he does very well this season and that you never know. Football gives you a chance every year."

Gerard Pique said he would like to see Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar return to LaLiga champions Barcelona.

Neymar wants to leave PSG and has been linked with a move back to Barca, two years on from his world-record €222million transfer.

Real Madrid have also emerged as a possible destination for Neymar before the transfer window shuts on September 2, but Barca defender Pique would be happy if the 27-year-old returned to Camp Nou.

"Of course we'd like him to come back," Pique told La 1 of Television Espanola.

"But it's something we can't control. We'll leave it in the hands of those who decide [these things] and from there we'll see in a few days."

Neymar – who missed the Copa America due to an ankle injury – is yet to feature for Ligue 1 champions PSG this season amid the ongoing speculation over his future.

The Brazilian forward was targeted by PSG fans during the home clash against Nimes on August 11, with banners criticising Neymar.

"He's thought a lot about everything and he's done everything right," Pique added.

Neymar has scored 34 goals in 37 Ligue 1 appearances despite both his seasons at PSG being interrupted by serious foot injuries.

In total, Neymar has managed 51 goals in 58 games for PSG – who have won two of their opening three Ligue 1 games in 2019-20.

There were cards of a different kind for Gerard Pique and Arturo Vidal when the Barcelona team-mates won almost €500,000 at a European Poker Tour event on Monday.

World Cup winner Pique placed second in the Single-Day High Roller category at Casino Barcelona the day after helping his club to a 5-2 victory over Real Betis in LaLiga.

The former Spain international pocketed €352,950 as he finished runner-up to countryman Juan Pardo from a field of 70 entrants.

Event sponsor PokerStars revealed "poker aficionado" Pique has now collected more than half a million euros from his involvement in high-level tournaments.

Vidal also performed well, winning €134,460 to claim fifth spot.

The cash contributed to a memorable two days for the midfielder, who netted the final goal as his side secured three points at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Pique made his 500th appearance for Barca in the match.

Gerard Pique made his 500th Barcelona appearance when the LaLiga champions played Real Betis on Sunday and he sits proudly among the greatest defenders in the club's history.

The most decorated Barcelona defender of all time, Pique trails only Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta when it comes to honours won, and he can reflect on the memory of lifting no fewer than 29 trophies.

But there has been more to Pique's 11 years at Camp Nou than just silverware, and the 32-year-old has become renowned for his outspoken personality and uncompromising style.

To mark his milestone match, we take a look back at some of the moments that shaped a Barcelona great.

Unbeaten beginnings

Pique added steel to Barcelona's defence from the moment he arrived from Manchester United, with his first appearance for the club coming in a 4-0 victory over Wisla Krakow in the Champions League.

He made his LaLiga debut for Barca in a 1-1 draw against Racing Santander at Camp Nou on September 13, as the Blaugrana made an inauspicious start to a memorable 2008-09 season.

On target in Europe

Pique has scored goals in all of his 11 seasons at Barcelona, and his first goal in red and blue came against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League.

After Lionel Messi put the visitors in front at Estadio Jose Alvalade, Pique made his presence felt in the opposition box and duly doubled Barca's lead from close range.

A goal in the Clasico

Real Madrid were on a hot streak when Barcelona arrived at the Bernabeu in May 2009, the capital side having won 17 of their previous 18 matches.

But the Blaugrana put them to the sword in a 6-2 thrashing, with Pique grabbing the last goal of a victory that all but etched Barcelona's name onto the title.

That was Pique's first league goal for Barcelona. Some way to announce yourself as a club superstar in the making.

Champions League vengeance

Pique was left out of Manchester United's squad when the Red Devils won the Champions League in 2008, but a year later he made up for that omission.

Barcelona went up against United in the 2009 Champions League final at Stadio Olimpico and Pique was at the heart of Pep Guardiola's defence as goals from Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o took Europe's top prize to Camp Nou.

Five finger salute

Pique's anti-Real Madrid stance has endeared him to the Camp Nou faithful ever since he enraged the Los Blancos fans back in November 2010.

After Barcelona thumped their old enemies 5-0, Pique held up five fingers to the Camp Nou crowd - a gesture known as the 'manita', or 'little hand', and the Madrid faithful have never forgiven him.

The second treble

After a glorious first season at Barcelona in which he won LaLiga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, Pique might have worried he had peaked too soon.

But any such concerns were blown away in 2014-15 when Pique starred in a 3-1 victory over Juventus in Berlin to clinch a historic second treble of domestic league, domestic cup and Champions League.

Old Trafford return

Pique described Old Trafford as his "second home" when Barcelona were drawn to play against Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final and he relished the opportunity to return to the Theatre of Dreams.

An imperious performance from Pique helped Barca to a 1-0 victory that paved the way for a 3-0 second-leg win at Camp Nou, and United must have wished they had never let him leave for a paltry €5million back in August 2008.

Presidential ambition

In January 2018, Pique signed a contract to keep him at Camp Nou until 2022 with a buyout clause set at €500m.

The deal is expected to be the 32-year-old's last, and with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu set to stand down in 2021, there is perhaps no candidate to replace him who would be more popular than Pique, who has made no secret of his ambition to take charge of the club.

Gerard Pique conceded Barcelona were deservedly beaten by Athletic Bilbao, saying the defending LaLiga champions were "put in our place" at San Mames.

A stunning overhead kick from veteran substitute striker Aritz Aduriz in the 89th minute snatched all three points for the home side in the opening LaLiga match of 2019-20.

Barca hit the post through Luis Suarez - who went off injured in the first half with a muscle injury - and replacement Rafinha struck the crossbar, but they were largely lacklustre in attack without captain Lionel Messi, who is sidelined with a calf problem.

The result is likely to see pressure again begin to mount on head coach Ernesto Valverde, who came under fire at the end of last season for Barca's Champions League capitulation against Liverpool, as well as the Copa del Rey final loss to Valencia, although they retained the league title.

While he accepted the defeat, Pique did not believe Barca were especially poor and stressed losing at this stage of the season could in fact prove to be useful.

"San Mames is always very difficult and today the competition put us in our place," he told Movistar.

"We weren't ourselves. From the start, they pressed us a lot and physically they were better, although in the second half they dropped off a little.

"In the end, winning or losing comes down to details, and we leave with a defeat that will be good for us, because it's better to lose now than at the end of the season.

"We came from pre-season, there are new people... sometimes, you prepare for a game in one way and it doesn't happen as you expected.

"In the first half, they had one clear chance, [Inaki] Williams' one, and we had Luis hit the post.

"We played more in our own half, but that's what you expect at San Mames. In the second half, we played more in their half, but details are details and one killed us in the end."

Gerard Pique would not begrudge Philippe Coutinho a move away from Barcelona if it makes the Brazilian happy.

LaLiga champions Barca are reportedly prepared to loan out the former Liverpool star, with four Premier League clubs having been linked with a move.

Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham are rumoured to be interested, though with the English transfer window shutting on Thursday any deal would have to move swiftly.

Barca signed Coutinho in a deal reportedly worth €160million (£142m) in January 2018, but it has not worked out for the midfielder, who managed five LaLiga goals last term.

The signings of Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong seem to have further restricted Coutinho's chances under Ernesto Valverde, and Pique just wants the 27-year-old to be happy.

"I don't know," Pique told reporters in Miami when asked for an update on Coutinho.

"Obviously I want him to stay but at the end of the day it's what he wants and I want him to be happy. Let's see.

"Until the last day of the transfer market we will not know if he stays or not. But it's not my decision, it's the club's and Philippe's."

Coutinho is with Barca's squad in Miami as they prepare to face Napoli in the first of two friendlies against the Serie A club in the United States.

Gerard Pique told Neymar to speak if he wants to return to Barcelona as the defender said a deal for the Paris Saint-Germain star was "complicated".

Neymar is expected to leave the Ligue 1 champions this close season, with Barca – the club he left in a world-record €222million deal two years ago – said to be interested.

Pique would like to see the Brazil forward return to Camp Nou, but accepts it will be hard to complete a deal for the 27-year-old, urging him to speak.

"I think the operation is very complicated. He is a PSG player," he told a news conference on Tuesday.

"I would be delighted to have him here, although it has to be Neymar who manifests. Of course we talk to him, but it is not appropriate to discuss private conversations.

"It is he who has to go out to talk. He is a star on and off the field."

Even without Neymar, Barcelona have added the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann to their squad from Ajax and Atletico Madrid respectively.

Pique, whose team face Napoli in a friendly in Florida on Wednesday, praised Griezmann and hopes the forward can deliver at Camp Nou.

"Griezmann is a great player and it's good to have him with us," the centre-back said.

"We hope he adapts well and can help us win games."

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