Ernesto Valverde dismissed a question about whether he would resign as Barcelona boss after his side's shock defeat at the hands of Levante.

LaLiga leaders Barca went down 3-1 at Ciutat de Valencia on Saturday, three goals in seven second-half minutes proving decisive for the hosts after Lionel Messi's penalty before the break.

Barca's third loss in six top-flight away games this season means Real Madrid have the chance to go top of the table when they play Real Betis, while Sevilla will also climb above them if they beat Atletico Madrid.

The setback for Valverde's men ended an impressive seven-match winning run in all competitions, but the head coach still faced questions over his future after the match.

Asked if he was surprised by his players' performance or contemplating resignation, Valverde said: "No to both of those questions. I'm not thinking of resigning – only looking forward.

"Everything just collapsed. We didn't start the second half well and we weren't creating any danger.

"Then, although they weren't causing us too many problems, they put two goals past us in two minutes. The third goal after that really punished us.

"Our opponents play against us as if it's the biggest game of the year and so you need to be able to respond.

"We know what this result means and what it means to win at these grounds. You need to make a massive effort, but my team is used to that.

"They had a great second half and managed to beat us. We have to analyse what happened and ask ourselves why it did."

Sergio Busquets came on in the second half and struggled to put his finger on what had gone wrong, suggesting the margin of victory was not an accurate reflection of the match.

"There's no explanation," the midfielder said. "It was a very even game and we did the most difficult part by going ahead.

"But they landed a blow and it did us damage. They had a burst of 10 minutes and they play with a lot of people in attack. On one of the goals, we couldn't get the second ball.

"I think that the game was equal, but the result was excessive. We were on a good run before. There is a game in the Champions League soon and another in LaLiga."

Barcelona fell apart as Levante scored three times in seven second-half minutes to claim a dramatic 3-1 LaLiga victory.

Lionel Messi, who returned to the Argentina squad this week, made it six goals in his last five games with a first-half penalty that appeared to have leaders Barca on course to extend a seven-match winning streak in all competitions.

But after Luis Suarez went off injured, an astonishing spell saw Jose Campana, Borja Mayoral and Nemanja Radoja all score as the match was turned on its head.

Barca's defeat means Real Madrid, who face Real Betis later on Saturday, have the chance to go top of the table with a victory.

After a quiet start to the contest, Antoine Griezmann saw a right-footed effort saved by the outstretched leg of Levante keeper Aitor Fernandez, Messi's throughball having created the opportunity.

Barca's breakthrough arrived seven minutes before the break, a slick passing move ending when Arthur found Nelson Semedo, who was hacked down by Jorge Miramon in the box.

Messi stepped up and comfortably sent Fernandez the wrong way from 12 yards, finding the top-right corner.

He almost had a second with half-time approaching, only for a combination of Fernandez and Miramon to deny him from close range, while Barca were forced to replace an injured Suarez after the striker could not run off an earlier knock.

Levante did not produce a shot on target in the first hour, but levelled the match when a poor Gerard Pique clearance led to Mayoral and Jose Luis Morales combining to set up Campana, who confidently beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen from just inside the area.

Just two minutes later, Mayoral collected a pass from Campana and curled an excellent 20-yard strike beyond Ter Stegen, who got a hand on it.

An astonishing sequence concluded with Levante's third after 68 minutes, with Clement Lenglet's headed clearance volleyed in by Radoja from 18 yards, courtesy of a big deflection off substitute Sergio Busquets.

VAR ruled out a second goal for Messi due to offside against Griezmann in the build-up and that was as close as Barca came to producing a fightback, despite the arrival of Ansu Fati from the bench.
 

What does it mean? Another away loss brings Barca back down to earth

Barca had started to hit top gear during their seven-match winning streak but could now fall behind rivals Madrid.

They have suffered three league defeats in only six away games this season and will also hope the injury to Suarez does not make this collapse even more costly to their title hopes.


Campana crucial in comeback

Campana was superb for Levante, scoring the equaliser, setting up Mayoral's strike and creating three chances for his team-mates in an influential display.
 

Griezmann quiet in defeat

The injury to Suarez afforded Griezmann the chance to play more centrally, but he struggled to make an impact as his mixed start to life at Barca continued. 

He had a first-half chance saved and poorly found the side netting with another opening before being spared by the offside flag. He did not create a single chance for his team-mates either.


What's next? 

Barca look to bounce back when they host Slavia Prague in Champions League business on Tuesday before a return to LaLiga action against Celta Vigo on Saturday, a match which is also at Camp Nou. Levante, meanwhile, are away to Athletic Bilbao on November 10.

A new striker in January is a priority at Manchester United and reports suggest a familiar face could make a sensational return to England.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has previously said the club will be doing business after Christmas, with a striker still required following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.

Marcus Rashford has scored three goals in his previous two matches, while Anthony Martial marked his return from injury with a goal against Norwich City last Sunday, but a surprising name could provide the answer to United's depth issues up top.

 

TOP STORY – MANCHESTER UNITED MAKE CONTACT WITH IBRAHIMOVIC

Manchester United have made contact with former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, according to TuttoMercatoWeb.

Ibrahimovic scored 30 goals in MLS for LA Galaxy in 2019, but they were eliminated from the post-season after a 5-3 defeat to cross-town rivals LAFC in the Western Conference semi-finals last weekend.

Interest in the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Paris Saint-Germain striker has increased since the end of LA Galaxy's season with the Swede still believing he can contribute at the highest level.

The 38-year-old is currently a free agent and scored 29 goals at Old Trafford in a brief spell with the club previously.

ROUND-UP

- One player who may create funds for Manchester United's January business is defender Chris Smalling, but Corriere dello Sport claim the Red Devils want double the €10 million price Roma are expecting to pay for him. 

- AS are reporting Edinson Cavani is weighing up his future at Paris Saint-Germain with Atletico Madrid and Inter Miami keeping tabs on the Uruguayan.

Stefano Sensi is currently on-loan at Inter Milan from Sassuolo, but Sport claim Sensi's agent is in Barcelona as speculation of a move to the Spanish champions grows.

- The Daily Mail claims Wolves will turn to Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes in January as they seek reinforcements to cover the injured Willy Boly.

- Chelsea are interested in signing Hertha Berlin winger Javairo Dilrosun when their transfer ban expires, according to Calciomercato.

- L'Equipe say Nantes are among several clubs showing interest in free agent forward Hatem Ben Arfa.

Ousmane Dembele has been omitted from Barcelona's squad for Saturday's LaLiga meeting with Levante, despite being available following a two-match suspension.

The France international was sent off in the 4-0 victory against Sevilla on October 6 following a confrontation with referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz, forcing him to miss the league wins against Eibar and Real Valladolid.

He was free to be involved in this weekend's trip to Estadi Ciutat de Valencia, but coach Ernesto Valverde has left him out of his 19-man squad.

It is the latest in a long line of setbacks for Dembele, who missed a month of action earlier in the campaign due to a hamstring problem.

Samuel Umtiti is also not part of Barcelona's travelling group, having only returned to full training on Friday.

However, Valverde has recalled Arthur and Junior Firpo following the 5-1 win over Real Valladolid on Tuesday.

Antonio Conte is not concerned about speculation linking Lautaro Martinez with Barcelona and has challenged the Inter forward to take his game to the next level.

Reports in Spain have suggested Barcelona are eyeing the Argentina international as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez, while Manchester United are also rumoured to be interested in the player.

Martinez scored for Inter in their 2-1 Champions League loss at Camp Nou last month and already has seven goals in all competitions this term, striking up an excellent partnership with Romelu Lukaku.

Yet despite the speculation, Conte has told the 22-year-old to continue working hard if he wants to maximise his obvious potential.

"We look to the present to build the future," Conte said at his pre-match news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Bologna.

"He is working well and has made good progress. He can still make further progress because he is still only 22 years old.

"He has to continue to work hard. Much of the transfer talk comes from that and it cannot be seen as a problem at this moment - there are bigger concerns.

"He must try to be more selfish when he has a chance to score. It's all part of his growth process. I want to improve all of my players.

While Martinez has thrived under the coaching of Conte, team-mate Valentino Lazaro has struggled since arriving from Hertha Berlin in a €22million deal during the close season.

Amid talk that Inter are looking to bring in a new right-sided player, Conte has vowed to give the Austria international a chance to justify his price tag.

"He has been used seven times this season and for his national side he is very promising," he said. "At Hertha there is less pressure than he has found in Milan. 

"He is working hard and we will give him the opportunities to start games. It was a big investment for him."

Inter have won eight of their opening 10 league matches - equalling their best Serie A return at this stage - but are still one point behind champions Juventus.

The Bianconeri's period of dominance started with Conte at the helm, but the Italian coach has played down comparisons between his first seasons at Juve and his early work at Inter.

"There is an important difference - we did not have cup competitions in the first year at Juve," he said. "We could dedicate ourselves, heart and soul, to the league. We played in the league, and then the league again.

"It is not the same thing here - the expenditure is very high. One thing that I am sure of, here we also have to play a thousand miles per hour. If we take our foot off the accelerator, it will be difficult to win games.

"We must sweat for the victory. That is beyond doubt and must be clear to all the players."

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde does not see Lionel Messi's recall to the Argentina national team as a setback to the LaLiga giants.

Messi was banned and fined $50,000 by CONMEBOL in August for accusing the governing body of corruption in the wake of Argentina's Copa America semi-final defeat to hosts Brazil.

The Barca talisman has missed Argentina's past four matches – all friendlies – as a result, but he was named in their latest squad on Thursday for upcoming matches against Brazil and Uruguay.

Those games will be played this month in Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively.

Messi has suffered with injury problems this term, leading to some suggesting his return to the Argentina set-up could be a negative development for Barcelona.

Although Valverde's tone seemed to a suggest a hint of frustration, he refused to outright call Messi's call-up a problem.

"Look, we know that if Messi is active, there's a good chance he gets called up to the national team," Valverde told reporters on Friday.

"He hasn't been [in the Argentina squad] because of suspension, but now that's over it's normal for him to be back for Argentina.

"It's something we accept, he accepts. I don't think it's a setback as such."

Defender Samuel Umtiti has endured a wretched time with injuries over the past 18 months, playing just 15 LaLiga matches since the start of last season.

His solitary outing this term against Eibar last month was followed by another knee injury, though Valverde hinted he could potentially feature at Levante on Saturday.

"Let's see how he does in training today [Friday]," Valverde said. "He's had fitness issues hanging over from last year, that's why he's not playing regularly.

"Hopefully we can get this sorted once and for all so he can play more regularly, but the other thing is competition for places. Lenglet is playing very well.

"He [Lenglet] is an absolutely reliable player, very professional in what he does. He's really settling into his position.

"Shortly after arriving last season, he covered extremely well for Samuel and the French team is also aware of how well he is playing."

Andres Iniesta wonders where Neymar would fit into Barcelona's team, while he thinks it would be "complicated" for them to appoint Jose Mourinho as coach.

Neymar was in the close season heavily linked with a return to Barca, whom he left for Paris Saint-German in a world-record €222million move in August 2017.

The Catalan giants remained interested in re-signing the Brazil international despite shelling out €120m to bring Antoine Griezmann in from Atletico Madrid.

While a move for Neymar did not materialise, the 27-year-old is reportedly still a target for Barca. However, club great Iniesta struggles to see how they would line up if he returned.

"I don't know how the negotiations went or if Ney will arrive in the future, but he'll be an important piece," Iniesta told Marca.

"I don't know how they'd fit so many high-level players together."

Speculation remains over the future of Ernesto Valverde, who signed a contract for the 2019-20 season prior to Barca's Champions League semi-final capitulation against Liverpool and Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia.

While Mourinho has been touted for a return to Real Madrid as a successor to Zinedine Zidane, the suggestion the Portuguese could make a Camp Nou comeback, having initially worked as a translator under Bobby Robson, is not something Iniesta anticipates coming to fruition.

He said: "I'm not in the know on whether Mourinho could go to Madrid or not. To Barca, I see it as complicated."

Lionel Messi played a starring role in Barca's 5-0 victory over Real Valladolid on Tuesday.

The Argentina superstar has stated he does not want to sign a "lifetime contract" with the club and has a clause in his current deal that enables him to leave at the end of the season if he desires.

Asked if Messi's exit would see Barca encounter the same difficulties Madrid did following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, Iniesta said: "It'll be difficult.

"But the clubs are above the players or coaches. That's how it is. Obviously, it'll be a shame, but it'll come."

Barcelona are planning for life after Luis Suarez.

With Suarez now aged 32, the clock is ticking on his career at Camp Nou.

Barca are identifying potential replacements and have their sights on an Argentina international setting Serie A and Europe alight.

 

TOP STORY – MARTINEZ INTERESTS BARCA

LaLiga champions Barcelona are interested in Inter star Lautaro Martinez, reports Mundo Deportivo.

Ernesto Valverde's Barca are looking for a long-term replacement for Uruguay forward Luis Suarez, who turns 33 in January. 

And the front page of Friday's newspaper says Argentina international Martinez fits the bill for Barca amid reported interest from Manchester United.

 

ROUND-UP

Roma have opened talks with Manchester United about signing Chris Smalling permanently, according to the Express. Smalling is on loan from United and the English defender scored his first goal for Roma during the week. The Red Devils are reportedly seeking £17.2million (€20m).

- Remaining at Old Trafford and Sport Italia claims Paul Pogba was close to joining Paris Saint-Germain during the previous transfer window. Pogba was heavily linked to LaLiga giants Real Madrid and former club Juventus .

- Tuttosport says Juventus are ready to make another attempt to sign Real Madrid midfielder Isco. The Spain international has struggled for regular game time and Madrid are reportedly holding out for €70m. The Italian champions have also been linked to Manchester United teenager Tahith Chong, who is out of contract at the end of the season, via the Daily Mail.

- Barcelona's Arturo Vidal is ready to snub the Chinese Super League in favour for a move to Inter, says InterNews. Vidal continues to be heavily linked to a reunion with former Juve boss Antonio Conte at Inter, while Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG are reportedly interested.

United could be set for a raid on Juve. Tuttosport claims the Old Lady will allow Emre Can to leave in January as United, Bayern Munich and PSG eye the Germany international.

- According to the Daily Mail, former Manchester United and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is the front-runner to replace Unai Emery at Arsenal. Emery is under mounting pressure in London.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is back in Argentina's squad for next month's friendlies against Brazil and Uruguay after serving a three-month suspension.

Messi was banned by CONMEBOL in August and fined $50,000 for accusing the governing body of corruption following his side's semi-final loss to Brazil at the Copa America.

The 32-year-old has missed Argentina's past four matches - all friendlies - but is in line to make his return in November after being named in Lionel Scaloni's latest 26-man squad.

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is also included for the first time since Argentina's 2-1 third-place play-off victory over Chile in the Copa America, while Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso returns after sitting out of this month's draw with Germany and victory over Ecuador.

There is still no place in the squad for Paris Saint-Germain's in-form striker Mauro Icardi, however, with his most recent cap coming against Mexico in November 2018.

Club team-mate Angel Di Maria, absent since the Copa America, is also missing again.

Argentina meet Brazil in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 15 and then travel to Tel Aviv, Israel, to face Uruguay three days later in the final international break of the calendar year.
 

Argentina squad in full:

Agustin Marchesin (Porto), Emiliano Martinez (Arsenal), Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors), Juan Musso (Udinese); German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Juan Foyth (Tottenham), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Nehuen Perez (Famalicao), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Renzo Saravia (Porto), Walter Kannemann (Gremio); Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Guido Rodriguez (Club America), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Marcos Acuna (Sporting CP), Nicolas Dominguez (Velez Sarsfield), Roberto Pereyra (Watford), Rodrigo de Paul (Udinese); Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

Gerard Pique insists Barcelona stars Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann have a perfectly normal relationship.

Earlier this month, new signing Griezmann admitted to finding it "difficult" to connect with Barca's superstar captain as neither of them are naturally big talkers.

It had been rumoured Messi, who hoped for Neymar's return, objected to the club's pursuit of the France international.

Messi branded that a "lie" and insisted he has no problem with Griezmann, a claim supported by Pique.

The experienced centre-back told Spanish broadcaster Cadena SER the pair are on "very good" terms.

"Here, we magnify everything very much," Pique said.

"Leo and Grizi get along, the same as Leo and [Ousmane] Dembele get along, or Leo with Pedro or [David] Villa. It's good. With Luis [Suarez and Messi], they are almost like brothers.

"Just because he doesn't get along [with Griezmann] like he does with Luis doesn't mean they get along badly."

Messi and Suarez starred for Barca in their last outing, a comprehensive 5-1 win over Real Valladolid.

The Spanish champions sit top of LaLiga, a point ahead of Real Madrid, but there will no showdown between the bitter rivals until December 18 following the postponement of the season's first Clasico.

The decision to move the match, originally scheduled to be played at Camp Nou on October 26, was made amid civil unrest and protests in Catalonia.

Barcelona-born Pique believes that was a mistake.

"My opinion is that it was not necessary," he said.

"It magnified a problem that wasn't there. Espanyol played Villarreal that week and nothing happened. I think that for the league and for the clubs it was not the best.

"I think the league, as a competition, and the clubs have to take the bull by the horns and ensure that the show goes on."

Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham may have been humiliated 7-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, but he is a target for the German giants.

With Niko Kovac overseeing an inconsistent start to the season in Munich, Bayern are reportedly willing to move on from the former Eintracht Frankfurt boss.

That could open the door for Pochettino, whose Tottenham have struggled to reach the heights of last season following their memorable run to the Champions League final.

 

TOP STORY – BAYERN CONSIDER POCH

Bayern Munich are considering Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino as a replacement for Niko Kovac, according to Sport1.

Kovac has found himself under increasing criticism following Bayern's inconsistent start to the season.

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag – who previously worked with Bayern's reserve team – has also been linked, but sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has reportedly identified Pochettino as the man to replace Kovac should he depart.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to Mundo Deportivo, Atletico Madrid are eyeing Napoli's Faouzi Ghoulam. The left-back is out of favour and set to leave the Serie A outfit in January.

- Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain are keen to sign Borussia Dortmund's Lukasz Piszczek and Juventus midfielder Emre Can, claims Soccerlink. Piszczek's contract expires at the end of the season, while Can is reportedly eager to leave after being left out of Juve's Champions League squad.

- Sport Bild says Liverpool have joined the race to sign Valencia sensation Ferran Torres. The 19-year-old winger has attracted interest from Dortmund and Barcelona.

Arkadiusz Milik has agreed a contract extension with Napoli, reports Calciomercato. The Poland international's current deal runs out in 2021.

- Former AC Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso is favourite to take charge of Udinese. It comes as Sky Sport Italia, Tuttomercatoweb and La Gazzetta dello Sport claim Igor Tudor's position is being considered after consecutive 7-1 and 4-0 routs in Serie A.

Dortmund have set their sights on Hertha Berlin's Javairo Dilrosun, according to Bild. As the German side reportedly prepare for life without Jadon Sancho amid ongoing links to Manchester United, former Manchester City youth-team player Dilrosun is on their radar.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique revealed the team offered to change their salaries so Neymar could return to the LaLiga champions.

Neymar attempted to engineer a return to Barca during the previous transfer window, just two years after his world-record €222million transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

However, a deal did not materialise with PSG despite Barca's efforts to bring Brazil international star Neymar back to Camp Nou.

Pique said he and his team-mates tried to help Neymar return to the Spanish giants amid the constraints of Financial Fair Play, telling Cadena Ser program El Larguero: "We didn't stump up money.

"What we said to the president was whether we could change our contracts because we knew there was a Financial Fair Play issue... so we said to the president, rather than earn something in year one, we could earn it in year two or three or four.

"At the end of the day we want to go along with what the club is doing and if we can help the club, in this case avoiding a financial fair problem, we've got no problem in doing that.

"Rather than reducing our salary it was about finding a formula so that if the club wanted to sign Neymar they could. At the time they thought it was a good idea, but then other problems cropped up."

Asked if Neymar could come back to Barca, Pique added: "In football anything can happen and every year just makes that clearer. We told Neymar, 'you're going to a golden prison'. But in football things can happen and you find the door open."

Lionel Messi will be hoping to dethrone Cristiano Ronaldo at the Globe Soccer Awards after both were named among the nominees for the Best Men's Player for 2019.

Virgil van Dijk and Liverpool team-mates Alisson, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are also up for the annual honour, which is to be presented in Dubai on December 29.

Bernardo Silva, part of the Manchester City side largely snubbed at the FIFA Best awards, rounds out the seven-man field.

Juventus forward and five-time winner Ronaldo claimed the main prize for the third consecutive year in 2018.

Barcelona superstar Messi has won it once, in 2015.

United States stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan headline the contenders for the Best Women's Player title.

Lyon trio Amandine Henry, Lucy Bronze and Ada Hegerberg are all shortlisted and the French outfit have been nominated for Best Club, alongside Liverpool and Ajax.

Jurgen Klopp, Erik ten Hag, Fernando Santos and Djamel Belmadi, who guided Algeria to victory at the Africa Cup of Nations, are in contention to succeed Didier Deschamps as Best Coach, as is former Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri.

Other award categories include Best Agent, Best Sporting Director and Best Revelation, designed to recognise emerging players.

Inter's Antonio Conte, ex-England manager Fabio Capello and Portugal legend Luis Figo form part of the judging panel.

Juventus are not resting on their laurels.

Despite their domestic dominance, Juve are craving European glory as they eye a first Champions League crown since 1995.

So much so that they have three Premier League stars on their mind.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE WATCH SALAH, SON & ERIKSEN

Juventus scouts watched Mohamed Salah, Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen during Liverpool's Premier League clash with Tottenham, according to Tuttosport.

Seeking a ninth successive Scudetto, Serie A champions Juve are prepared to spend heavily in pursuit of Champions League glory.

With money no obstacle as they reap the benefits of Cristiano Ronaldo's presence, Liverpool star Salah and Tottenham duo Son and Eriksen are reportedly on Juve's list.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun claims Jose Mourinho wants to become the first manager to win major trophies with three English clubs as the former Manchester United boss is linked to Arsenal. Gunners head coach Unai Emery is under pressure at the Emirates Stadium amid growing fan frustration.

Manchester United are hopeful of completing a deal for Lyon striker Moussa Dembele in January, reports Soccerlink. With Dembele's future uncertain, Lyon are lining up Chelsea's Olivier Giroud.

- Staying at Old Trafford and United's name has again been thrown into the mix for Brescia sensation Sandro Tonali. The 19-year-old Italy international is fast becoming one of the most sought-after players in Europe, attracting interest from Juventus, Manchester City and Inter. Now, The Suns says United are weigning up a £40million move for Tonali after sending scouts to watch him once more.

- Calciomercato claims Napoli are considering a January move for Benfica full-back Alejandro Grimaldo. The 24-year-old Spaniard has been linked to Arsenal, Tottenham and Barcelona.

Newcastle United are close to agreeing a deal to sign Strasbourg's Ibrahima Sissoko. The 21-year-old French midfielder is poised to make the switch when the transfer window opens in January.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said he has "run out of words" to describe Lionel Messi after the captain inspired a 5-1 rout of Real Valladolid.

Messi produced a masterclass with a brace and two assists as defending champions Barca moved top of the LaLiga table on Tuesday.

Barca captain Messi set up Arturo Vidal with an exquisite pass before scoring a stunning free-kick – the 50th of his career for club and Argentina – prior to half-time at Camp Nou.

Messi netted his second of the match after the interval and the five-time Ballon d'Or winner teed up team-mate Luis Suarez as Barca climbed above Granada and Atletico Madrid atop the summit.

"What else can be said about him? I've run out of words," Valverde told reporters. "We always know that he will appear, whatever the match.

"His talent isn't comparable to anything; the reality is that every time he touches the ball, something special happens. I just don't know what to say."

Valverde added: "He is getting closer to his best form [after injury], when Leo gets it something bad will happen to the rival.

"He has that talent that nobody has, he escapes anyone and it is not only that he can make an individual play but he does things that nobody sees.

"It happens to me sometimes, he does things that are not seen even from the crowd, every day is better."

Although Clement Lenglet's second-minute opener was fortuitously cancelled out by Valladolid's Kiko Olivas 13 minutes later, Messi was able to inspire Barca against the visitors.

Barca are two points clear of Granada and Atletico Madrid – the latter of whom have played an extra match due to the postponement of El Clasico last weekend – after 10 games.

"We value very much what we do," Valverde added. "We have in memory what we have done but we want to look forward and win this league.

"It is not easy to take the games forward, Valladolid tied against Atletico and Real Madrid and it is not easy to beat them."

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