Paulo Dybala and Sergio Aguero have been included in Argentina's squad for the 2019 Copa America, but Mauro Icardi misses out after a difficult few months at Inter.

Icardi has failed to impress this year at club level, with a combination of contractual issues and injuries seeing him left out of the team and stripped of the captaincy.

He scored for only the second time in 2019 during Inter's 4-1 defeat to Napoli on Sunday, but both of those goals have come from the penalty spot and he did little to catch the eye in general.

Manchester City star Aguero is in the squad, however, returning to the selection for the first time since Argentina's disappointing World Cup campaign, when he scored two goals in four games.

Aguero has enjoyed another strong season at club level and will be confident of transferring that form to the Copa, where he will be joined with City team-mate Nicolas Otamendi.

Dybala also makes the cut despite an underwhelming campaign with Juventus, in which he seemed to suffer from the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi is expected to captain the team as one of the senior stars, while Matias Suarez – also 31 years of age – is a surprise inclusion among the strikers, with the River Plate man having won his only two senior caps this year.

There is also a shock in defence, with Milton Casco chosen ahead of Gabriel Mercado, a mainstay over the past few years.

Manchester United pair Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo also miss out.

Argentina will play Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar in the group stage of the tournament in Brazil.

 

Argentina squad in full:

Franco Armani (River Plate), Agustin Marchesin (Club America), Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors); Juan Foyth (Tottenham), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Renzo Saravia (Racing Club), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Ramiro Funes Mori (Villarreal), Milton Casco (River Plate), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City); Roberto Pereyra (Watford), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcos Acuna (Sporting CP), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Guido Rodriguez (Club America), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Exequiel Palacio (River Plate), Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis); Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Matias Suarez (River Plate), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Lautaro Martinez (Inter).

Lionel Messi equalled Telmo Zarra's record of six Pichichi awards after the Barcelona star finished the 2018-19 season as the leading scorer in LaLiga.

The Argentinian has had a sensational campaign for Barca in the league, scoring 36 times in 34 appearances.

His form has been the main catalyst for Barca's title surge, with the Catalans finishing the season 11 points clear of nearest rivals Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.

Messi has rarely looked in danger of being caught, with team-mate Luis Suarez and Real Madrid's Karim Benzema the closest to him with 21 apiece.

It is the sixth time in his career Messi has taken home the Pichichi trophy as LaLiga's top scorer in a single season, moving him level with Athletic Bilbao great Zarra.

Among Messi's 36 goals were three hat-tricks – against Real Betis, Sevilla and Levante – while he rounded out the campaign with a brace in the 2-2 draw with Eibar.

He could yet add the European Golden Shoe too, with Messi four goals clear of Kylian Mbappe, who has one league game left to play this season with Paris Saint-Germain.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak finished a fourth successive season as the goalkeeper with the fewest goals conceded - just 27 in 37 appearances.

 

Lionel Messi opened up a four-goal lead over Kylian Mbappe in the race for the Golden Shoe as a brace in a 2-2 draw with Eibar lifted the Barcelona star on to 36 LaLiga goals.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe – who has one league match still to play – scored a double against Dijon on Saturday to close in on Messi, who provided a fine response as Barca's successful LaLiga campaign drew to a close on Sunday.

Barca-owned Marc Cucurella scored against his parent club and although a Messi double had Eibar trailing by the 32nd minute, a glorious Pablo de Blasis strike saw Jasper Cillessen punished for the second time, making it 2-2 just before half-time.

Although both sides crafted chances, the second half was significantly less dramatic as proceedings petered out, bringing the 2018-19 LaLiga season to an end.

An end-to-end start benefitted Eibar and they took the lead 20 minutes in, Cucurella drilling at Cillessen and the ball squirming underneath the Dutchman.

Messi turned things around just past the half-hour mark, though, equalising with a clinical finish into the bottom-right corner after racing on to Arturo Vidal's pass.

He then produced a delicate chipped finish a minute later after breaking Eibar's offside trap and running through on goal.

But Eibar went into the break level thanks to De Blasis' spectacular effort, pouncing on Cillessen's poor headed clearance and catching him out of his goal with a gorgeous long-range volley.

The hosts looked the more threatening throughout the second period, first going close in the 52nd minute when Sergi Enrich was denied by Cillessen.

Cucurella then wasted a glorious chance nine minutes from time when he blasted over from 10 yards, meaning Eibar had to accept a draw.

 

What does it mean? Messi signs off in expected fashion

Messi has again enjoyed a stunning season. With 36 goals, there can be no doubt the Argentinian has been the main catalyst behind their success and he will likely claim the Golden Shoe award, unless Mbappe enjoys a remarkable final outing. 

Cucurella shows his worth to Barca

The young full-back – who has also played on the wing – has enjoyed a strong season on loan from Barca. Although he needed a helping hand from Cillessen, he got a deserved goal and was a constant energetic nuisance on the left. He will surely be of use to Ernesto Valverde next term.

Cillessen culpable

With Marc-Andre ter Stegen injured, Cillessen continued to deputise in goal. He has generally been solid in recent weeks, but at Ipurua he was at fault for both goals conceded by the champions.

What's next?

Barca still have one last game to play this season, as they prepare to face Valencia in the Copa del Rey final next Saturday.

Eibar's campaign is now over, and they will turn their attention to the transfer market. They will hope to keep Cucurella for at least another year, though Barca are expected to recall him.

Kylian Mbappe moved two behind Lionel Messi in the race for the Golden Shoe as his brace helped Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain to a 4-0 victory over Dijon.

World Cup winner Mbappe, back from a three-match ban following his red card in the Coupe de France final, scored in either half to move onto 32 goals for the season, two adrift of Barcelona striker Messi's haul of 34 in LaLiga, ahead of their respective teams' final fixtures.

PSG passed the 90-point barrier in their final home fixture of the campaign, Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani both netting inside the opening four minutes.

Mbappe then struck either side of the interval to become the first Frenchman to score 32 league goals in a Ligue 1 season since Philippe Gondet did so for Nantes in 1965-66.

PSG's form since being confirmed as champions had been patchy, and their win over Angers last time out was just their second in seven Ligue 1 games, but their rapid start ensured they could coast to three points at the Parc des Princes.

Di Maria's third-minute effort deflected off Wesley Lautoa to leave Dijon goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson stranded as the ball hit the net.

The goalscorer then turned provider a minute later, crossing the ball to the back post for Cavani to head in from close range.

Teenager Loic Mbe Soh was denied a first senior goal by the post when he nodded Thomas Meunier's cross against the woodwork before Mbappe stabbed in his first from virtually on the line after Cavani had almost turned in Layvin Kurzawa's cross.

Nine minutes after half-time, Mbappe displayed his ruthless streak again, racing onto Leandro Paredes' throughball and dinking over Runarsson to make it 4-0.

On an otherwise flawless night, the 20-year-old then squandered a chance to score his hat-trick, heading wide from a corner when unmarked before Runarsson denied him again late on.

 

Ernesto Valverde described Antoine Griezmann as "a great player" but was unable to confirm whether he would be joining Barcelona, despite Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain distancing themselves from the World Cup-winning forward.

Griezmann announced his decision to leave Atletico Madrid in a video posted on his social media accounts on Tuesday, thanking the club's supporters for "five incredible years".

He has been linked with a transfer to Camp Nou for over a year, opting to sign a new five-year contract at the Wanda Metropolitano before the start of the 2018-19 season rather than pursue a move at that time.

With the 28-year-old set to switch allegiances, and both City's Pep Guardiola and PSG's Thomas Tuchel saying they would not be signing him, Valverde was asked whether he would be looking to add Griezmann to his squad for next season.

"We always say the same – he's a player at a different club," Valverde told a news conference.

"Who knows? He's a great player, I've never denied that. Are you going to ask every coach in football if they want him? Is that your plan?"

When asked what role Griezmann might play in his Blaugrana team, Valverde responded: "If he came you would see.

"We're talking about an assumption, a player who might come, who could be here. I'm not going to talk about his position."

Barcelona clinched the LaLiga title with three games to spare and their clash with Eibar on Sunday is of relatively low significance to both sides.

But Valverde insisted he will name a strong side to ensure his players' match fitness does not wane ahead of the Copa del Rey final against Valencia six days later and deflected further questions about transfer targets, preferring to focus on his aim of winning the double.

Asked if he had new players in his sights, he replied: "I don't know, that's an internal club matter. There are other parties involved who might have an opinion.

"The club's idea is to make the best team we can, taking into account our strengths and weaknesses. Right now we've got a final to think about. We could win the double this year.

"It has been an extraordinary season – things were broken a lot by the way we went out of the Champions League, but we won the Super Cup, the league with three games in hand. We've got the cup final to come."

He added a word of reassurance over Lionel Messi, who was short of his best in Barcelona's 2-0 win over Getafe five days after their Champions League elimination at the hands of Liverpool, who overturned a 3-0 first leg deficit on a dramatic night at Anfield.

"When you lose a game the way we did [in Liverpool] that does hit you very hard," admitted Valverde.

"Leo [Messi] is fine, better every day. The days after going out of the Champions League you find it difficult – they are not a team that is used to losing.

"But they are looking forward to the cup final, Leo as much as anyone else."

Antoine Griezmann looks set to be at the heart of 2019's major transfer saga, having announced his intention to leave Atletico Madrid.

Griezmann has been Atletico's leading light since he joined from Real Sociedad five years ago, but he confirmed on Tuesday he will leave the Wanda Metropolitano at the end of the season, with Barcelona reportedly his preferred destination.

Atletico can reflect on a period of success for the club with Griezmann playing a key role, the France forward firing them to Europa League glory last year before winning the World Cup with his country.

Replacing Griezmann will prove a major challenge for Diego Simeone as the striker has scored 133 of their 463 goals in all competitions since 2014-15, 28.7 per cent of the club's total.

But how does that figure compare to some of the other elite strikers of European football in recent seasons?

 

CRISTIANO RONALDO

There was European disappointment for Cristiano Ronaldo this season, but he helped Juventus cruise to another Serie A title and contributed 28 of the 86 goals they scored in all competitions - 32.6 per cent

That figure is remarkably similar to his record at Real Madrid between the 2009-10 and 2017-18 seasons, where he was responsible for 450 of their 1,378 goals - 32.7 per cent - contributing to a historic run of three consecutive Champions League crowns.


LIONEL MESSI

Griezmann could line up with Lionel Messi at Camp Nou next term, with the Argentina attacker on track to win the European Golden Shoe for a record sixth time.

Messi, now captain at Barca, has scored 27.9 per cent of his team's goals since breaking into the team as a teenager in October 2004.

LUIS SUAREZ

Griezmann is widely expected to be a successor to Luis Suarez, with the Uruguay international aged 32 and seemingly coming towards the end of his career.

Suarez has scored 177 of 767 Barcelona's goals in all competitions - 23.1 per cent - since he joined the club from Liverpool in 2014.


ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

Bayern Munich look set to clinch another Bundesliga title, their success continuing to be built around the reliable goalscoring of Robert Lewandowski.

Poland international Lewandowski joined Bayern in July 2014 and has since scored 189 goals in all competitions for the club, 29.7 per cent of their total in that time.


HARRY KANE

Pep Guardiola once famously described Tottenham as 'the Harry Kane team' and the Opta numbers bear out his assessment to a degree.

England captain Kane has scored 30.6 per cent of Spurs' 519 goals in all competitions since the start of the 2014-15 campaign, winning two Premier League Golden Boots in the process.


SERGIO AGUERO

Perhaps surprisingly, Manchester City's all-time record goalscorer Sergio Aguero has the joint-lowest percentage for his club among the strikers we examined.

Since joining City ahead of the 2011-12 season he has scored 231 of their 1,019 goals in all competitions for a comparatively low 22.7 per cent. However, that still marks a hugely significant contribution to City's ongoing success. 



EDINSON CAVANI

Paris Saint-Germain's all-time leading goalscorer Edinson Cavani has had an injury-hit campaign for the Ligue 1 champions.

Since 2013-14, Suarez's international team-mate Cavani has scored 192 of PSG’s 847 goals in all competitions - 22.7 per cent - although he did play wide when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was at the club.

Antoine Griezmann announced his intention to leave Atletico Madrid on Tuesday after five years at the club, surprising few who had seen reports of Barcelona's interest resurface in recent weeks.

It comes less than 12 months after the Frenchman committed his future in Atletico in a documentary, rebuffing Barca and signing a new five-year contract at the time.

But with Atletico's season fading away and Barca going for a domestic double, Griezmann and his club published a video to Twitter in which the forward confirmed he is seeking a move.

Griezmann's contract has a €120million release clause in it, meaning Atletico will expect to be heavily compensated should a transfer go through, and Barca are firm favourites to bring him in following their long-held admiration.

Although Barca could yet add the Copa del Rey to their LaLiga title, their Champions League quarter-final exit was proof of a need for Ernesto Valverde's side to be improved.

Should Barca finally get their man, there will be several stars already at the club who will take particular interest in the arrival…

 

Philippe Coutinho

Despite a promising start, it's fair to say Coutinho's time at Camp Nou has not gone to plan since joining from Liverpool for a reported €160m in January 2018. This season the Brazilian has failed to nail down a regular spot in midfield or attack, often filling in either role with minimal success and he is a frequent target for jeers. If Barca see Coutinho as more of a forward, there may not be space for him should Griezmann arrive, with first-team opportunities likely to be even trickier to come by. Linked with a move, the former Liverpool star could be heading back to England.

Ousmane Dembele

Like Coutinho, Dembele was brought in as part of the post-Neymar splurge. While the winger is undoubtedly talented and has shown flashes of his potential, his Barca career has been interrupted by injuries and reports of immaturity. Few can argue Griezmann is not a model professional. Perhaps, as an international team-mate and fellow World Cup-winner, Griezmann might just be the influence Dembele needs to find his best.

Luis Suarez

In the opening months of the season Suarez showed signs of decline, as he endured a couple of uncharacteristic droughts. Thankfully for Barca he recovered and has managed to score 21 goals in LaLiga, though his form in the Champions League remains a concern, the Uruguayan netting just five times in his past 29 games in the competition.

While there's no suggestion Griezmann is set to replace Suarez, the fact the Frenchman could fill in for him and allow him more rests can only be a good thing, particularly with the former Ajax star now 32 years old. However, for the two to co-exist, they may need to bury the hatchet, with Suarez unimpressed by Griezmann's efforts to show respect to Uruguay after his goal against them for France at the World Cup.

Lionel Messi

The main man, the superstar and the one who makes everything tick. None of that will change if Griezmann arrives. Messi has been inspirational again this season, scoring 34 times in 33 LaLiga games. He has been used a little more sparingly and Griezmann's potential arrival could allow him more rest, but the Argentine's status as top dog will certainly remain either way. Nevertheless, another superstar forward might just alleviate some of the goal-scoring burden.

Malcom

A transfer that appeared to promise much has yielded little. Brazilian winger Malcom is almost certain to leave Barca at the end of the season, his departure something that will surely be hastened if a deal for Griezmann is struck. A gifted player that Barca pipped Roma to at the last minute in July 2018, it's been pretty clear from the outset that he doesn't have Valverde's faith. Sevilla, who look set for a close-season rebuild, are rumoured to be interested, though sporting director Monchi – in charge at Roma when Malcom rejected them – might not be willing to offer him a lifeline.

Sergio Aguero has publicly backed Lionel Messi's bid to regain the Ballon d'Or and denied he overlooked his close friend's claim to win the coveted award.

Eyebrows were raised when Manchester City striker Aguero, addressing a question in front of gathered media, indicated the next Ballon d'Or winner has "to be in the Champions League [final]".

Messi, a five-time recipient, agonisingly fell one step short of Europe's showpiece stage as Barcelona gave up a three-goal advantage in losing 4-3 on aggregate to Liverpool in the semi-finals.

The 31-year-old controversially finished fifth in the voting for the Ballon d'Or last year and Aguero took to social media to further explain whether he thinks his Argentina team-mate deserves the honour in 2019.

"I don't enjoy having to clarify my statements – but when I'm quoted for things I haven't said, it must be done," Aguero said in a Twitter post.

"I'll spell it out then. No one other than Messi will be my pick for the Ballon d'Or as long as he keeps on playing – particularly if he plays like he did this season.

"The question put forward to me was whether I should win the award myself this year.

"My reply was that I should have reached the [Champions League] final if I wished to deserve it. Couldn't be clearer, and there shouldn't have been room for misinterpretation."

Messi and Aguero have both celebrated domestic success this season, with Barcelona retaining their LaLiga crown and City finishing a point above Liverpool in the Premier League.

Ernesto Valverde admitted Barcelona's defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League left a bad taste in Lionel Messi's mouth, but he felt the Blaugrana's 2-0 win over Getafe on Sunday helped his players "get rid of the ghosts in our heads".

Arturo Vidal scored in the first half and Messi had a hand in Barcelona's second goal as Mauro Arambarri put through his own net in the 89th minute to extend the champions' lead at the top of LaLiga with one game left to play this season.

Valverde admitted that bouncing back from a 4-0 defeat at Anfield, which resulted in a 4-3 aggregate semi-final defeat to Liverpool, would take time but backed his players to return to form in time for the Copa del Rey final against Valencia on May 25.

"For us, a victory was essential to get rid of the ghosts in our heads," Valverde told reporters after the win over Getafe.

"Everyone will bounce back, although at the beginning it's hard. We have the Copa del Rey final in mind.

"Messi is making an effort to overcome the bad taste in his mouth. We all had high hopes to be in the Champions League final and we have to move forward."

Valverde substituted Philippe Coutinho 20 minutes from time during one of his better recent performances for the club, and it was later revealed the midfielder would likely be out for up to 10 days with a hamstring injury.

The Brazil international was subjected to whistles from Barcelona supporters following his poor display in midweek, but Valverde said the receptions he has received at Camp Nou have not all been negative.

"I did not speak with Coutinho," said Valverde.

"They have whistled him, but they have also have applauded him. The best thing is to help the players."

Barcelona responded to their shock midweek Champions League exit at the hands of Liverpool with a lethargic 2-0 win over Getafe at Camp Nou on Sunday.

The LaLiga champions, who were knocked out at Anfield after letting slip a three-goal advantage from the first leg, seemed to still be struggling in the aftermath against opponents aiming for a top-four finish.

Arturo Vidal capitalised on one of the few opportunities Barca carved out in a game played at a leisurely pace, with Ernesto Valverde's men in no mood to over-exert themselves having wrapped up the title two weeks earlier.

Lionel Messi forced an own goal by Djene Dakonam in the closing minutes to seal a result that allowed Valencia, who won at home against Deportivo Alaves, to leapfrog Getafe in the table.

Ronaldo said when Barcelona win it is because of Lionel Messi but when the Spanish giants lose it is down to Ernesto Valverde and Philippe Coutinho as he had a dig at the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi and Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday, the LaLiga holders surrendering a 3-0 first-leg advantage in a stunning 4-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

Barca head coach Valverde was heavily scrutinised after the club's treble hopes ended, while attacker Coutinho was also the target of criticism.

Brazilian great Ronaldo – who played for both Barca and Real Madrid – believes the other players are deserving of more respect in the shadow of superstar Messi.

"Barcelona have a great team, and they have the best player in the world in Messi," Ronaldo said.

"The other day I heard that when they lose, it's because of Valverde, Coutinho... but not Messi.

"And when they win, Barcelona win because of Messi. It's a tremendous lack of respect to all the players and the coaching staff."

Reflecting on the match, Ronaldo added: "When a team are a lot more motivated, with an intensity that is noticeably greater than that of their opponents, [the comeback] can happen.

"Liverpool's intensity was not a surprise for Barcelona, but they lacked a bit of luck.

"The first leg was a great match by Barcelona, with an exceptional performance by Messi, but in the return fixture, Liverpool overwhelmed them with intensity, desire and a clinical nature."

Brazil legend and former Real Madrid striker Ronaldo does not put any stock in rumours linking Neymar with a move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Neymar is coming to the end of an injury-hit second season at Paris Saint-Germain and the opening of the transfer window could bring fresh speculation about his long-term plans.

Madrid have been credited with an interest in the Selecao star since his departure from Barcelona in 2017 and are expected to adopt an aggressive recruitment approach under Zinedine Zidane in response to an underwhelming campaign.

Ronaldo played alongside Zidane for Los Blancos and believes his old team-mate has little chance of prising attacker Neymar away from PSG.

“It's been dragging on for many years," Ronaldo said at a promotional event for Santander.

"There are many rumours, but I don't think there's anything concrete with Real Madrid.

"He's an incredible player and anyone would like to have him but, from what I see, he's not on the market."

Madrid's rivals Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League on Tuesday as their three-goal first-leg advantage against Liverpool was overturned by a damaging 4-0 defeat at Anfield.

The collapse echoed last season's shock quarter-final exit against Roma and immediately thrust Ernesto Valverde's position into doubt.

Ronaldo defended the Blaugrana boss, suggesting the blame for such failures should be shared more equally.

"Barcelona have a great team, and they have the best player in the world in [Lionel] Messi," he said.

"The other day I heard that when they lose, it's because of Valverde, [Philippe] Coutinho... but not Messi. And when they win, Barcelona win because of Messi.

"It's a tremendous lack of respect to all the players and the coaching staff."

Neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will play in the Champions League final for the first time since 2013, but Mario Balotelli does not believe they should be criticised.

Messi and Barcelona were beaten by Liverpool in a remarkable semi-final second leg on Tuesday, following Ronaldo's Juventus, beaten by Ajax in the last eight, out of the competition.

With Liverpool facing either Ajax or Tottenham in the final, the two stars - considered among the greatest players of all time - will be missing from European football's showpiece.

This last happened when Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in 2013.

But Marseille striker Balotelli claims any criticism of the pair for their teams' failures is "nonsense", describing Messi as an "alien" and Ronaldo as the best.

Posting on his Instagram story after Barca's 4-0 defeat at Anfield, which resulted in a 4-3 aggregate defeat, Balotelli wrote: "Messi is an alien, despite the bad and very difficult match.

"Ronaldo remains the best player from this planet, despite not having played in the semi-finals.

"Anything else is nonsense talk. You cannot say bad things against these two for a game played badly or a missed qualification or a defeat. That would be crazy."

Lionel Messi stared at the Anfield turf as bedlam broke out around him, helpless and alone. Somehow – improbably – it had happened again.

Liverpool's incredible 4-0 semi-final win on Tuesday means they have the chance to become the kings of Europe for a sixth time, while arguably the greatest footballer of all time must continue to wait and strive for his fifth Champions League success.

There was a time when everything in this competition seemed ludicrously easy for Messi and his gilded contemporaries at Barcelona. They were a team who won adoration on their way to final victories over Manchester United.

The only problem with capturing the collective imagination is it means everyone is paying attention.

From Rome to the world

When Messi and six fellow La Masia graduates lined up at the Stadio Olimpico in 2009, against the United of Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest, they and rookie coach Pep Guardiola were underdogs.

Despite the confidence gleaned from a domestic double, Barcelona were pegged back as Cristiano Ronaldo waged a one-man war upon their goal early on. Then Andres Iniesta shuffled inimitably into the final third and released Samuel Eto'o to beat Edwin van der Sar at his near post.

From that point, United found themselves strapped to Barca's passing carousel and whirred dizzyingly around. Messi beat Ferdinand to a header and it finished 2-0.

The sides reconvened at Wembley two years later and a 3-1 loss flattered United. Barcelona were on another plane and had defined an era.

The Cruyffian identity

As Guardiola will frequently point out, that Barcelona's team irresistible style – one he has since refined through decorated spells at Bayern Munich and Manchester City – was not his idea. He is simply a keeper of the flame.

Johan Cruyff's Barcelona "Dream Team" of the early 1990s won four consecutive LaLiga titles. Guardiola was at the base of their midfield, the fulcrum of a team steeped in the Cruyffian doctrine of passing football and positional play. Football tactics as ideology and philosophy.

Yet, they needed extra time and a thundering Ronald Koeman free-kick to beat Sampdoria 1-0 and claim a maiden European title at Wembley in 1992. Two years later, Fabio Capello's injury-ravaged but still formidable AC Milan ransacked the romantics 4-0 in an Athens final, aptly leaving Cruyff's celebrated side in ruins.

In elite European football, there was no question pragmatism would continue to reign and it did so, largely unchecked, for another 15 years. Teams dotted with flair, such as Barca's class of 2006, would occasionally prevail. But organisation, clean sheets and priceless away goals remained the hard currency.

The new normal

What set the 2009 and 2011 final wins apart was that, for all the Mes que un club bluster, these were the first European finals Barcelona won by practicing what they preached.

In 2010 and 2012, Guardiola's side were strangled by unflinching hard-nosed defensive efforts from Inter and Chelsea at Camp Nou, but it felt like they had been desperately unlucky rather than naive.

There was an infatuation with Barca's style, with imitations springing up far beyond Guardiola's subsequent places of employment. However, the greatest legacy of that side was the booming message that there was no need to compromise on a tactical vision. Indeed, to do so was an exploitable weakness.

In the 2012-13 Champions League, the Bundesliga dominated. Jupp Heynckes' treble-winning Bayern Munich saw off Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund in the final, Bayern having routed Barca 7-0 on aggregate in the semi-final.

Dortmund held on in their semi with Real Madrid, but only after Klopp's gloriously and rabidly high-tempo outfit thumped Jose Mourinho's team 4-1 in the first leg. The message to fight LaLiga fire with an inferno of your own was clear.

Glass-jawed heavyweights

While the past decade has been a time to celebrate beautiful football, it has gone hand in hand with the less-palatable reality of the rich getting richer and preserving their dominance accordingly.

Juventus have won eight consecutive Scudetti, Bayern are on the verge of their seventh straight Bundesliga. A Monaco team swiftly ripped apart by wad-flaunting vultures won Ligue 1 in 2016-17 to punctuate six Paris Saint-Germain triumphs either side, while Barca have claimed eight of 11 in LaLiga.

These heavyweight clubs can indulge the pursuit of an attacking football vision – Barca-inspired or otherwise – to a greater extent than all others. It can be honed within domestic mismatches, where the attacking threat from the opposition is minimal.

The upshot for the Champions League is the major players think first to attack, before attacking some more. All is possible, so why defend cautiously when you don't get to practice that too often? These are teams built for many things but – as Liverpool's remarkable overturning of a 3-0 aggregate deficit on Tuesday showed - extended periods of scrutiny are not among them.

Look at this season alone. Manchester United's heist against PSG in Paris, Tottenham and Manchester City's ludicrous epic, Ajax's fearless dismantling of a Real Madrid dynasty. Every round, conventional wisdom has been kicked further down the road as teams clatter about their business without care for compromise or consequences.

There is also a troubling weight of evidence for Barca. Last season, back at the stadium where they lit this fuse, Roma won 3-0 to progress on away goals after a 4-1 first-leg defeat in the quarter-finals.

A year earlier, Juventus walloped them 3-0 in Turin at the same stage before dusting off some good old-fashioned Catenaccio in the return (it still, just about, has its place). Barca had to overcome a 4-0 thrashing at PSG in the last 16 to get that far. Similarly, Guardiola's Champions League career is now as much about humbling knockout losses as those two initial triumphs.

At Anfield, Messi and Barcelona were given their latest reminder that when you show the world everything is possible, the real danger is all your enemies believing you.

"I don't know how this affects my future," said Ernesto Valverde. Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu suggested he was too "hot" to discuss a change.

Heading into Tuesday's Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool, Valverde and Barca stood on the brink of an incredible treble, his status set to be boosted.

A title in LaLiga was wrapped up and the Blaugrana led a weakened Reds side 3-0 after the semi-final first leg, while the Copa del Rey final against Valencia is still to come.

But another collapse on Europe's biggest stage - a second in two years - might well change everything.

Where Valverde was previously closing on a place alongside Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique in Barca's modern history, his job now appears less than certain.

Did domestic success and Lionel Messi's brilliance disguise underlying issues? There are a few reasons why Valverde may be under pressure...

 

MORE EUROPEAN FAILURE

The big one. Barcelona watched Real Madrid collect the Champions League trophy in four of the past five years heading into this season and there was a determination within the club, vocalised by Messi, to put that right.

The cards fell for the Catalan giants, too, meeting Lyon and a back-pedalling Manchester United in the knockout stages. Elsewhere, Ajax took care of Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus.

While Liverpool were perhaps the toughest opponent left in the competition, they were trailing 3-0 and without Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah by the time they got back to Anfield. But once the goals started going in - as at Roma last season - Valverde did not appear to have a solution, extending Barca's barren European run to four years.

THE STYLE OF PLAY

Valverde was slightly unfortunate to arrive at Camp Nou as Neymar departed, while Andres Iniesta was soon winding down his esteemed Barca career, too. Without two players that could thrill any crowd, the team's style of play has suffered.

The Blaugrana have exciting, brilliant players in attack, but they no longer dictate the match in quite the same way as they did under Guardiola or even Luis Enrique. Each prior European opponent this season appeared to believe they were in with a chance of springing an upset before being undone by Messi or Luis Suarez.

Yet when the result does not come, as it did not on Tuesday, the justification of Valverde's tactics is slightly tougher. The notion that this Barca team are solid at the back was put to bed by Divock Origi of all people.

RELIANCE ON AGEING MESSI

Barca have been criticised for their recruitment since losing Neymar, yet Valverde must surely shoulder some of the blame for failing to get the best out of Ousmane Dembele, Malcom or Philippe Coutinho, players that almost any other club would love to have.

The woes of those signings and the increasingly inconsistent form of Suarez leaves Barca dependent on Messi. He rescued them from a hole in the first leg against Liverpool.

There are worse players to be reliant on than one of the greatest of all time, but Messi is now 31 and the Barca team around him appears to be getting worse. Although Valverde has done well to utilise his captain so effectively, Messi is always likely to deliver. The Blaugrana might wonder if another coach could get the rest of the squad firing.

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