Barcelona head coach Xavi has denied reports that striker Sergio Aguero has been forced to retire.

Rumours emerged on Saturday that the Argentina international will hold a news conference next week to confirm he will not resume his playing career.

Aguero has not played a game since the 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alaves at Camp Nou on October 30, during which he was substituted after feeling dizzy and suffering apparent discomfort in his chest.

Barca later confirmed he would be unavailable for three months while doctors monitored a suspected cardiovascular problem. The 33-year-old tweeted on November 12 to insist he was "always positive" amid suggestions he would not be able to continue playing.

Xavi, who oversaw a 1-0 win over Espanyol in his first match in charge, insisted it was not true that Aguero's retirement was confirmed.

"What's come out isn't true," he told reporters. "I spoke with him, he's calm and happy. I asked him to come back when he was feeling okay."

 

Memphis Depay's penalty sealed Barca's victory over their city rivals, although they rode their luck in the closing stages as Raul de Tomas twice hit the post and Landry Dimata headed a glorious chance for an equaliser wide.

"I'm very happy with the three points and the effort of the players," said Xavi. "We're not in the best of spirits and Espanyol created a lot of problems for us. And we deserved the luck with the posts.

"I'm happy, and I think it was a deserved victory. What couldn't fail, which was the attitude, didn't fail."

The result moved Barca to within eight points of LaLiga leaders Sevilla, who earlier drew with Alaves, after 13 LaLiga matches.

While a title shot appears unlikely at this stage, Xavi – an eight-time league champion in a glittering playing career with the club – saw no reason to discount a challenge for the trophy.

"We're far away but there are matches left. I'm optimistic and why can't we fight for the title?" he said.

Sergio Aguero is "staying positive" as the Barcelona striker waits to discover if he will be forced to retire due to a heart problem.

Reports from Catalonia emerged on Friday suggesting Aguero may have to bring an early end to his playing career because of an irregular heartbeat.

The Argentina international first experienced chest pain in Barca's draw with Alaves on October 30, which the club later confirmed was down to a heart arrhythmia.

After undergoing tests, Aguero – who has started just two games for the LaLiga giants since arriving on a free transfer from Manchester City – was ruled out for three months.

Catalunya Radio reported the problem is worse than first feared and Aguero may have to hang up his boots at the age of 33.

However, the former Atletico Madrid striker took to Twitter on Friday to deny that is the case, with a decision on his future not being made until at least February.

"Given the rumours, I can say that I am following the indications of the club's doctors, doing tests and treatment and seeing my progress within 90 days. Always positive," he said.

Aguero had been carrying a separate injury upon joining Barca that has restricted him to only five appearances in all competitions this term, totalling 166 minutes on the field.

He scored his one and only goal in last month's Clasico showdown with Real Madrid, the late strike proving to be nothing more than a consolation in Barca's 2-1 defeat.

Prior to joining Barca, Aguero scored a club-record 260 goals in 390 appearances in a glittering decade at Man City, including their famous last-gasp winner against QPR in 2011-12 to clinch the club's maiden Premier League title.

The Buenos Aires-born forward also previously spent three years with Independiente and five with Atletico.

Pep Guardiola urged former Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero to prioritise his health and be careful in his recovery from treatment for a suspected cardiovascular problem.

Aguero, who ended a 10-year spell with City at the end of last season, had to be substituted during Barcelona's 1-1 LaLiga draw with Deportivo Alaves on Saturday after feeling dizzy and suffering apparent discomfort in his chest.

The City great was sent to hospital for a cardiac exam and will now not be available for Barca until at least February, with treatment in that time set to determine the extent of his recovery process.

The news came as a shock for Barca given Aguero had started just two games for the club since joining from City, and the Argentinian has been in Guardiola's thoughts.

"I sent a message to him through his agent," Guardiola told a news conference on Tuesday. "It's difficult news for him and his family.

"We wish him – everyone at Manchester City from the staff to the chairman, all the people – a safe recovery, doesn't matter the time.

"Health is more important than anything else. I'm sure he's in very good hands, with the best doctors.

"He will take care of himself. I wish him the best recovery as possible and he can come back to play again, otherwise he [can] enjoy his life and enjoy what he has done.

"I don't know what he has, but now he knows it [that there is something wrong], he has to be careful and safe for the rest of his life."

Kyle Walker joined Guardiola for media duties ahead of a Champions League game against Club Brugge and was also rocked by the situation affecting Aguero, a team-mate of his for four years.

Walker also played at Tottenham alongside Christian Eriksen, who is yet to return to the pitch since suffering a cardiac arrest during Denmark's first Euro 2020 match, and such scares seemed to put life into perspective for the England international.

"It's a shock when it happens to anyone," Walker said. "I played with Christian [Eriksen]. You think about them and the family. I'm glad they're okay.

"We're all fit athletes and train hard every day. You have to take precautions and his health is more important than football at the minute.

"We're all human in more ways than one. We make mistakes, we put in good performances. Health is key, without health you're nothing.

"As long as Sergio's okay… I know Christian is because I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. I spoke to him on text, said I hope he's okay.

"I played in the game at Spurs when [Fabrice] Muamba went down. Seeing it happen with a few people which isn't nice.

"The main priority is health, [Aguero] should take as much time, being fit and healthy is the main priority."

Barcelona striker Sergio Aguero will be out for three months while he undergoes treatment for a suspected cardiovascular problem.

Aguero had to be substituted during the 1-1 LaLiga draw with Deportivo Alaves after feeling dizzy and suffering apparent discomfort in his chest.

The former Manchester City star was sent to hospital for a cardiac exam and will now not be available for Barca until at least February.

A club statement confirmed: "The first team player Sergio Aguero has been subjected to a diagnostic and therapeutic process by Dr.Josep Brugada.

"He is unavailable for selection and during the next three months the effectiveness of treatment will be evaluated in order to determine his recovery process."

Aguero has only started two games since joining Barca following the end of his spectacular 10-year spell in the Premier League.

The Catalans face Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday in a key Champions League clash in Group E, in which they are third after three matches.

Sergio Aguero was taken to hospital following his early substitution against Deportivo Alaves, Barcelona have confirmed.

The Argentina international was making his first LaLiga start at Camp Nou, but was replaced by Philippe Coutinho after just 41 minutes.

Aguero went down clutching his chest and was tended to by the medical team, although he was able to get to his feet and walk from the field.

The club later confirmed the former Manchester City striker had complained of chest discomfort and had been admitted to hospital for a cardiac exam.

Barca also lost Gerard Pique to a right calf strain during the 1-1 draw.

"[Aguero] told me he was a little dizzy," interim coach Sergi Barjuan told Marca. 

"Now, I have learned that he has been taken to the hospital. I can't say more.

"Between cheering on the guys and the press conference, it's hard to know more."

The stalemate marked Sergi's first match in temporary charge following the departure of Ronald Koeman earlier this week.

Memphis Depay's sublime strike was immediately cancelled out by Luis Rioja and despite just under 80 per cent of possession and 16 shots on goal, the hosts were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

"We controlled the game, and we were intense in the second half," Sergi continued.

"We had our chances to score and win the game, but we could not take them.

"I have had very little time to work with the players. I have tried to get them in order in both a defensive and an offensive level.

"But, these players are very good, and they have to believe in themselves."

Sergio Aguero's first Barcelona start at Camp Nou ended prematurely as he was substituted before half-time against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The former Manchester City striker, who arrived on a free transfer in July, led the line in Barca's first game since the departure of Ronald Koeman this week.

Aguero went down clutching his chest just before the break and appeared to be in some discomfort as he was tended to by the medical team.

Although the stretcher was initially called for, the Argentina international was able to get to his feet and walk from the pitch to be replaced by Philippe Coutinho in the 41st minute.

Sergi Barjuan was taking temporary charge of the hosts, who had lost three of their past four LaLiga matches.

Barcelona saw their long winning run against Rayo Vallecano end on Wednesday as they lost 1-0 at Estadio de Vallecas.

In need of a positive result after their 2-1 Clasico defeat, Ronald Koeman's men instead suffered a fifth defeat of the season in all competitions courtesy of Radamel Falcao's first-half goal.

Barca went into this latest contest on a run of 13 consecutive LaLiga wins over Rayo in which they had averaged 4.3 goals per game, yet they paid the price for Memphis Depay's missed penalty midway through the second half.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a desperate early save to keep out Oscar Trejo's ambitious long-range chip, but it began to look like Barca would keep up that formidable scoring record, Depay going close and Sergio Aguero seeing vague penalty appeals against goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski dismissed.

Yet it was Rayo who took the lead on the half-hour mark, Trejo robbing Sergio Busquets and threading the ball to Falcao, who turned away from Gerard Pique before finishing low to Ter Stegen's right.

Sergino Dest missed a golden chance to equalise before the break, turning over the bar from point-blank range after some brilliant play from Depay down the left, and Aguero blasted high and wide from inside the box after the United States international had teed him up.

Depay earned the chance to level from the spot after he was clipped from behind by Oscar Valentin, but Dimitrievski saved superbly to his right before bravely gathering the rebound as the Barca forward closed in.

Dimitrievski was more hesitant with a loose ball outside the Rayo box in injury time, but substitute Luuk de Jong's attempted lob landed on the roof of the net.

In eight minutes of injury time, Aguero glanced a diving header wide and then set up Gavi for what looked a simple finish, but the young midfielder scuffed his effort wide.

 

What does it mean? Barca title challenge looking bleak

The end of their LaLiga dominance over Rayo feels like a watershed moment for Barca and their hopes of quickly becoming a major force again.

With four wins from 10 games, they are six points off the top of the table and have now gone five away matches in all competitions without a victory.

Falcao still has the magic touch

After scoring in three of his past four league games against Barca, it was little surprise to see Falcao convert his one chance with the kind of poise he showed in his best days with Atletico Madrid.

He had lost all four of those previous meetings with the Blaugrana, so this was a sweet moment indeed for the Colombia striker.

Aguero off-colour

It looked like Aguero would mark his first Barca start with a goal when he lined up the kind of high near-post finish that became a trademark of his at Manchester City. He missed, though – and by a long way.

With just 31 touches throughout, by far the fewest of any starting Barca player, this was not a match to bring the best out of the Argentina striker.

What's next?

The pressure will be even greater on Barca when they host Deportivo Alaves on Saturday, with Rayo heading to Celta Vigo on November 1.

Real Madrid returned to the summit of LaLiga as David Alaba's stunner and Lucas Vazquez's late tap in saw Carlo Ancelotti's team beat Barcelona 2-1 in the season's first Clasico.

Sergino Dest squandered a golden chance for Barca at Camp Nou and Madrid made their hosts pay when Clasico debutant Alaba arrowed in a brilliant shot.

Karim Benzema should have added to Madrid's lead in the second half, though Vazquez was on hand to nudge in at the end of a stoppage-time counter.

That proved to be crucial, with Sergio Aguero's maiden Barca goal in the 97th minute not enough to inspire a comeback as Barca failed to win a fifth straight LaLiga Clasico, their longest winless run against any team in the competition since May 2008.

Barca seemed all set to take the lead after breaking clear from a Marc-Andre ter Stegen pass, yet with only Thibaut Courtois to beat, Sergino Dest lashed a close-range effort way over the bar.

Where one defender failed, another one made no such mistake. After getting Madrid on the counter by dispossessing Memphis Depay, Alaba continued his run to latch onto Rodrygo's pass and thump a wonderful finish into the top-right corner.

 

Alaba made a telling contribution at the other end before half-time, blocking Ansu Fati's goal-bound attempt after Gerard Pique had headed just wide.

Benzema snatched at a volley just after the hour, before he failed to turn home Vinicius' cross from close range, albeit the offside flag spared his blushes.

Pique and substitute Aguero both flapped at a cut-back in injury time and Madrid grabbed a second goal from the resulting counter when Vazquez tucked in on the rebound from Marco Asensio's shot.

Aguero, another Clasico debutant, gave Barca a glimmer of hope with a close-range strike, though the final whistle blew a minute later.

Ansu Fati has talent that not many others can boast but still has a lot to prove at Barcelona, according to new team-mate Sergio Aguero.

The Spain international marked his first start since last November with a goal in Barca's 3-1 comeback win against Valencia on Sunday.

He missed the best part of a year with a long-term knee injury that had limited him to three substitute appearances before this month's international break.

Fati is regarded as Barca's big hope now that Lionel Messi is no longer around and Aguero, who made his debut against Valencia, hopes to help the youngster showcase his talent.

"Ansu is still a very young player and he has a lot to prove," Aguero told Barca TV. "I'm very happy that we have him here. 

"We have to help him continue showing how talented he is, because not many other players have that."

Fati's goal came from one of three shots against Valencia, two of which were on target – the most of any Barcelona player.

The 18-year-old has scored from 11 of his 38 shots in LaLiga since the start of February 2020 and has a conversion rate of 35.48 when excluding penalties.

That is the best return of any player to have scored more than five goals in the competition over that time, followed by Kevin Gameiro and Jorge Molina (both 33.33).

 

While Fati stole the show against Valencia, the much-needed victory at Camp Nou was also an occasion to remember for fellow striker Aguero.

The Argentina international made his first appearance for the club as a late substitute, 10 and a half years on from his last game in the Spanish top flight for Atletico Madrid.

Having been hampered by a calf injury since arriving on a free transfer from Manchester City in May, Aguero is glad to have finally got some competitive minutes under his belt.

"I'm very happy to have made my debut," he said. "I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time. The most important thing was to win the match.

"It was incredible that the supporters chanted my name, though now I have to get used to that song and show the same affection they show me."

Memphis Depay was also on target for Ronald Koeman's side from the penalty spot after Fati had cancelled out Jose Gaya's early opener, before Phillipe Coutinho added a late third.

The Catalan giants moved up to seventh in LaLiga with the victory, five points behind surprise pacesetters Real Sociedad with a game in hand to play.

Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer running out of time at Old Trafford?

Manchester United are already five points off the pace in the Premier League and pressure is mounting.

United, though, are believed to be firmly in favour of sticking with their manager.

 

TOP STORY – SOLSKJAER WANTED AT THE WHEEL

Manchester United are still backing under-fire manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Fabrizio Romano.

United slumped to a 4-2 Premier League defeat to Leicester City at the weekend, which has left the Red Devils with just two wins from their past seven games across all competitions.

As pressure mounts on Solskjaer, United still reportedly have faith in the Norwegian amid links with the likes of Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Erik ten Hag.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Serie A champions Inter are ready to battle Arsenal for Madrid forward Luka Jovic. The Serbia international has struggled for form and fitness in the Spanish capital.

PSG want to swap Mauro Icardi for Barcelona's Sergio Aguero, claims El Nacional. The reports says Lionel Messi wants to reunite with countryman Aguero, who left Manchester City for Barca, only for Messi to join PSG.

- Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, Borussia Dortmund's Axel Witsel, Denis Zakaria of Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax's Ryan Gravenberch are among Juventus' transfer targets as they look to add options in midfield, per Tuttosport. Tchouameni has also been linked with Chelsea, Manchester United, Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, while Roma have been eyeing Zakaria.

Sergio Aguero cannot claim to have played a meaningful role in Barcelona's much-needed 3-1 defeat of Valencia, but his Camp Nou debut was a significant step nonetheless. 

A free transfer from Premier League champions Manchester City, Aguero spent more than two months recovering from a calf injury before being included in Ronald Koeman's squad on Sunday. 

Aguero finally took the field in a Barca shirt officially for the first time in the 87th minute, coming on to replace Sergino Dest shortly after Philippe Coutinho's goal sealed the win for the LaLiga giants.

Argentina international Aguero became the third oldest player to debut for Barcelona in LaLiga in the 21st century (33years and 137days) after Lilian Thuram in 2006 (34years and 251days) and Demetrio Albertini in 2005 (33years 159days). 

Back in LaLiga for the first time since leaving Atletico Madrid for the Premier League 10 years ago, Aguero soaked in the adoring welcome as the home crowd chanted his name. 

"Well, that was incredible," City's all-time leading scorer Aguero told Barca TV. "People calling my name, singing my name. It'd be nice to get used to that. 

"I want to thank them on the pitch for that affection. I can't thank them individually but I hope they enjoy my play on the pitch." 

Barcelona have scored at least one goal in each of their previous 18 home games against Valencia in LaLiga (48 goals) – their second longest run scoring at home against them (after 31 between 1939 and1970).

They are unbeaten in their last six games at Camp Nou against Valencia (W4 D2), since a 2-1 loss in April 2016.

"I am so happy to make my debut, I have been looking to this moment," the 33-year-old added. "It was a good debut because we won and that is the most important thing.

"It was great to hear the fans chanting for me and now it is my turn to repay their love."

Any contributions from Aguero would be welcome as he joins a side that had won just three of their first seven league games before Sunday in addition to heavy Champions League defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica. 

Aguero could be in line to star at home against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday with Barca looking to secure their first points in Group E, and the Clasico against rivals Real Madrid looms Saturday. 

Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati have been included in Barcelona's 23-man squad for Sunday's crucial LaLiga clash with Valencia at Camp Nou.

Manchester City great Aguero has yet to feature in a competitive game for Barca since joining at the end of May, due to a troublesome calf issue.

Fati is being eased back into the first team after a long-term knee injury absence, with the teenage forward having featured three times as a substitute since making a return from a near year-long lay-off.

Both players are in contention to play a part against Valencia as Barca attempt to kickstart their LaLiga campaign on the back of a 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid two weeks ago.

Aguero's inclusion and the return of Fati will be considered a major boost for coach Ronald Koeman, whose side are down in ninth place after seven matches.

Barca's shot conversion rate of 13.6 per cent in LaLiga this term is their lowest in a single campaign since 2007-08 (13.5 per cent).

Asked on Saturday about Aguero's chances of playing his first competitive minutes at club level since the Champions League final, Koeman said: "He's improved a lot lately.

"He played 20, 25 minutes in Wednesday's [practice] game and it is going well. But he lacks the rhythm of the games and a certain physique.

"He will get that with games. His quality is not questioned; he can give a lot to this team. Especially up front."

 

Fati has scored 14 goals in 46 appearances for Barca since making his senior debut in August 2019, but he has just 57 minutes of playing time under his belt this term and was not included in Spain's most recent squad.

Koeman will not take any unnecessary risks over the youngster's fitness, with games against Dynamo Kiev and Real Madrid to follow in the coming week, in the Champions League and LaLiga respectively.

"Every day he is doing better because he has been away for a long time," Koeman said at Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"You have to think with Ansu that there are three games this week and he cannot play the entire three games. We must decide what is best for him and the team."

Elsewhere, Barca are without the injured Ronald Araujo, Pedri, Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele.

The Catalan giants have just lost one of their last 10 LaLiga games against Los Che (W5 D4) – a 2-0 reverse in January 2020 under Quique Setien.

Ronald Koeman had Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati on his mind ahead of Sunday's clash with Valencia as the under-pressure Barcelona boss seeks the wins he admits his team urgently need.

Former Manchester City striker Aguero – the Premier League champions' record scorer – has yet to play a competitive game for Barcelona since joining in the close season, due to a calf injury.

The Argentinian was in Koeman's thoughts, however, ahead of the clash with Valencia at Camp Nou, while Fati appears ready to make his first start of the season.

It remains to be seen whether that comes on Sunday or in the Champions League game with Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, or even in the Clasico against Real Madrid next weekend.

Three home games in eight days for Barcelona could go a long way to determining whether Koeman has a future at Camp Nou, with a Champions League defeat to Benfica and a LaLiga loss to Atletico Madrid before the international break having ramped up pressure on the Dutchman's position.

Assessing Aguero, Koeman said on Saturday: "He has improved a lot lately. He played 20, 25 minutes in Wednesday's [practice] game and it is going well.

"But he lacks the rhythm of the games and a certain physique. He will get that with games. There is a possibility that he will be on the squad list. His quality is not questioned, he can give a lot to this team. Especially up front."

Barcelona have taken 12 points from their opening seven games in LaLiga, meaning they have ground to make up already on the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico and Real Sociedad, who each stood on 17 points from eight games coming into this weekend, albeit Koeman's men have a game in hand.

Teenage forward Fati is being eased back into the first team after his long-term knee injury absence, with Koeman determined not to rush the young Spain international, while at the same time aware his qualities could be hugely helpful to this Barcelona team.

The shot conversion rate by Barcelona in LaLiga so far this season is 13.6 per cent, their lowest in a single campaign in the top flight since 2007-08 (13.5 per cent).

 

"Every day he is doing better because he has been away for a long time," Koeman said of Fati. "You have to think with Ansu that there are three games this week and he cannot play the entire three games. We must decide what is best for him and the team."

Koeman was backed by president Joan Laporta before the Atletico game, but he needs results and knows it.

"I always try to be calm, which isn't easy," Koeman said. "The important thing is to put your energy where you have an influence. Winning games and points is what counts."

The former Ajax and Everton boss will hope Barcelona's reasonably strong recent record against Valencia can continue. They have just lost one of their past 10 LaLiga games against Valencia (W5 D4), a 2-0 setback in January 2020 under Quique Setien.

A flurry of goals would seem likely, given the recent history of this fixture. Valencia are the away team with the most goals at Camp Nou in LaLiga since 2013-14, netting a remarkable 14 goals in eight games and scoring at least twice in six of those.

Koeman would presumably take a win by any means, whether a scrappy 1-0 or a dramatic and high-scoring affair. A defeat is almost unthinkable, given it would be a third straight loss for the Blaugrana.

Asked about his position and the pressures that come with it, Koeman said: "I am used to it. Don't worry, in a big club there are always things with the coach. Last year they also talked about the coach.

"The president has defended me and supported me. Things are fine as they are, in spite of the fact that every coach has to win games to continue."

Sergio Aguero needed Lionel Messi to tell him why he was being continually overlooked for Ballon d'Or honours.

Despite scoring a record 260 goals for Manchester City, Argentine striker Aguero has never come close to winning the trophy that Messi has carried off six times.

Being repeatedly overlooked began to trouble Aguero, but when Messi spelled out what he was lacking, it all made sense.

Now at Barcelona, Aguero looks back on his City career and appreciates why his feats fell short of making him a major contender for a prize Messi has won more than anyone else.

"Many times I thought about what was missing," Aguero told Spanish newspaper El Pais. "And one day I asked Leo. He told me that to have a chance to win the Ballon d'Or I had to win the Champions League. And he is right.

"The subject of trophies with the national teams is also important. Take [Fabio] Cannavaro's case, for example, when he won the World Cup in 2006."

Cannavaro took home the Ballon d'Or that year, with Italy team-mate Gianluigi Buffon in second place.

"I played great seasons, scored many goals and won many titles," Aguero said, "but I was not in the Champions League final. And last year when we reached the final, I had a knee problem, COVID and different injuries."

 

In 10 years at City, Aguero hit at least 20 Premier League goals in a season on six occasions, and only in one campaign (2012-13) did his minutes-per-goal record in the competition creep above one goal every 140 minutes.

That is a record that attracted Barcelona, with Messi's run of form over the same period having seen him score at between one every 57 minutes (2012-13) and one every 143.1 minutes (2006-07) in LaLiga.

Aguero has recovered from a calf injury and on Wednesday he featured in a training game for Barcelona against UE Cornella, meaning a competitive debut could be just around the corner.

It remains to be seen whether Aguero will be fit enough to play a part in Sunday's LaLiga match against Valencia, as Barca look to get their season on track.

A home fixture follows against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League; then comes the first Clasico of the season, with Real Madrid visiting Camp Nou on October 24.

Long-time Argentina team-mate Messi was at Barcelona when Aguero arrived, but he has since departed for Paris Saint-Germain.

Aguero recalled visiting Messi when it emerged he would be forced to leave Barcelona.

"It was a moment of shock. He was in a very bad way. When I found out I couldn't believe it. That Saturday I went to see him at his house," Aguero explained.

Aguero said he attempted to cheer up Barcelona's record goalscorer.

Now there will be expectations on Aguero's shoulders, and despite losing Messi, he says moving to Barcelona was the right choice once his City contract expired.

"Let's be honest. What player does not want to be at Barca?" Aguero continued.

"The majority of footballers would like to wear this shirt, no matter how good or bad Barca is. I arrived with the expectation of playing with Leo and that a good team would be put together, which was what the club tried to do. When they called me, I thought: 'I don't care what they pay me. I'm feeling good and I'm going to help the team as much as I can.'"

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni believes superstar captain Lionel Messi is thriving in the current national team environment with the 2021 Copa America champions.

Messi has been criticised in the past for his performances for Argentina, which have paled in comparison to his club output, dominating with Barcelona up until 2021 having won a club-record 35 trophies and become the LaLiga giants' all-time leading goalscorer.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner led Argentina to their first piece of silverware in 28 years after La Albiceleste dethroned rivals Brazil in July's Copa America final, while Scaloni's side are well on their way to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, unbeaten across 10 matches.

"It is very difficult that [Messi] has not performed with the national team," Scaloni told a news conference ahead of Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier with Peru.

"There will be moments and team moments and I think that's the most important thing in the end."

Paris Saint-Germain's Messi – who eclipsed Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation during the previous international break – scored his 80th international goal was as Argentina eased past Uruguay 3-0 on Sunday.

"The team is the one that takes the situation forward, the one that makes him even better," Scaloni added. "I think he is good in the team and comfortable with his team-mates. All of this makes it even better.

"It is clear that without the team his performance is not so reflected. Today we are doing well as a group, as a team and that is what is most important."

Scaloni also welcomed Sergio Aguero closing in on a return to fitness, having featured in a Barcelona training match on Wednesday.

The 33-year-old, who was part of Argentina's Copa success, has not played for Barcelona since his off-season move from Premier League champions Manchester City due to a calf injury.

Argentina – second in the qualifying standing – have only netted 18 goals in 10 qualifiers with Aguero potentially boosting their attacking options for November's scheduled games against Uruguay and Brazil.

"The case for him, as with the other boys who have not been able to play, the most important thing is that they compete in their club and make things difficult for us," Scaloni said.

"We have a team of enormous hierarchy, a team of great forwards and the final decision is the most difficult. What interests us is that they play for their club, that they perform well and we will have time to make the decision.

"Logically, we like them to play and that they are in continuity and we expect that from the boys who are not there."

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