Philippe Coutinho concedes he has "not performed as expected" during his time at LaLiga champions Barcelona.

The 27-year-old has failed to rekindle his Liverpool form following his €160million switch in January 2018, struggling to make an impact during his first full season at the club.

The attacking midfielder managed only five LaLiga goals in 34 appearances last season and failed to nail down a place in the starting XI, with 12 of his league outings coming from the bench.

Coutinho's underwhelming form has seen him become a target for Barca supporters who have jeered him on several occasions, while media reports have linked him with a move.

He put his club woes to one side on Saturday, though, scoring twice as Brazil opened their Copa America campaign with a comfortable 3-0 win over Bolivia.

Speaking after the game, Coutinho admitted that things have not going according to plan during his time in Spain.

Asked by reporters if he had a message for Barca's fans, Coutinho said: "I do not have much to say to them; I am grateful for all the support that I have always received. 

"I had a tough time on the field because I have not performed as expected, but football is like that and I'm working hard to improve."

Speaking about his role in Brazil's opening win of the tournament, he added: "It's a very happy day to have scored two goals, to have helped the team and come out with a victory."

Brazil's next Group A game is against Venezuela on Wednesday.

Philippe Coutinho scored a brace as Brazil opened the Copa America with a 3-0 win over Bolivia in Sao Paulo.

After an underwhelming first half at Estadio do Morumbi, Coutinho scored twice within eight minutes of the restart to put Brazil in control on Friday.

A VAR check and handball led Coutinho to the penalty spot and the Barcelona star made no mistake in the 50th minute before making it 2-0 three minutes later after capping a sweeping move.

Everton came off the bench and scored the goal of the night with a blistering effort from outside the area in the 84th minute as the Selecao – who have won the Copa on each of the previous four occasions they have hosted in 1919, 1922, 1949 and 1989 – made a winning start in Group A.

Playing without superstar Neymar after he was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury, 2018 World Cup quarter-finalists Brazil dominated but struggled to create any real clear-cut chances.

Thiago Silva saw a header flash wide of the post and Casemiro came close with an audacious effort for Brazil, who had 77 per cent of the possession in the opening 45 minutes.

The half-time whistle was met by a chorus of boos around the stadium amid a subdued atmosphere as Brazil failed to impress against Bolivia – a nation in which they had won nine and drawn two of the past 11 games on home soil, scoring 46 goals and conceding just four times.

But a VAR check helped ease some of the tension and pressure with the ground after Adrian Jusino was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the penalty area.

Coutinho successfully converted the spot-kick before he completed a quick-fire double after latching on to Roberto Firmino's cross at the back post.

The result was never in doubt from that point as Brazil turned the boos into cheers in the south-west of Sao Paulo, where substitute Everton scored a stunning long-range goal with six minutes remaining.

 

What does it mean? Brazil up and running with 100th win

Seeking a ninth Copa title and first since 2007, Tite's Brazil got the job done in Friday's curtain-raiser. It was not perfect but the Selecao managed to claim their 100th Copa victory.

Coutinho takes centre stage

The Barcelona attacker struggled at Camp Nou in 2018-19, leading to speculation of a possible return to the Premier League via Chelsea or Manchester United. Coutinho, however, stepped up when Brazil needed him most with his first international brace since scoring a hat-trick against Haiti at the Copa America Centenario.

Improvement needed by Brazil

If the half-time boos were any indication, Brazil did not meet expectations prior to the break. Richarlison and Roberto Firmino were virtually non-existent in the first half, while Coutinho and David Neres struggled to make an impact. The Selecao did beat Bolivia but they will be punished against better opposition if they do not improve.

What's next?

Brazil will look to make it two wins from two against Venezuela on Tuesday, while Bolivia face Peru on the same day.

Thiago Silva called on Philippe Coutinho to step up for Brazil in Neymar's absence at the Copa America.

Brazil thrashed a 10-man Honduras 7-0 in their final friendly before the tournament on Sunday, with Coutinho scoring a penalty and providing an assist.

Neymar will miss the Copa America due to an ankle injury in a huge blow for the hosts, who are considered among the favourites.

Silva acknowledged Coutinho had endured a tough campaign at Barcelona, but he hopes the attacker can deliver with Neymar sidelined.

"The collective game comes first. Coutinho had a difficult season in Barcelona. It was demanding and they booed him many times, but here in the team he is our reference, especially when we don't have Neymar," he said.

"Coutinho calls for the game. In the two friendlies we played he was the best player on the pitch, not only because of passes and goals, but also with his defence. He is finding his happiness again.

"I'm very happy and not at all comfortable talking about this player because we are very close.

"In the first friendly, I tried to pass him some calmness, and I told Neymar also to give him help.

"We need him, especially now with the absence of Neymar."

Brazil open their Copa campaign against Bolivia on Friday.

Eden Hazard completed his much-anticipated move from Chelsea to Real Madrid on Friday, the 13-time European champions agreeing to pay a fee that could rise to €140million.

In doing so, Hazard became the latest Premier League superstar to be drawn to the bright lights of LaLiga.

Over the past decade, Barcelona and Madrid have repeatedly cherry-picked the English top flight's hottest talent – a policy that has helped deliver six Champions League titles between the two great rivals in the 10 seasons from 2009-10.

Will Hazard's arrival return Madrid to the head of European club football's top table? He has a lot to live up to if he is to fill the shoes of the first man on our list of players to recently swap the Premier League for LaLiga.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United to Real Madrid, €94m, July 2009

Arguably the greatest ever player to have represented the mighty Madrid. The Portuguese arrived from United and, in an incessant personal battle with Barca icon Lionel Messi, set new standards for goalscoring feats. In all, Ronaldo rattled in a record 450 for Los Blancos and delivered two LaLiga crowns as well as a remarkable four Champions Leagues over a five-year period of dominance. Now 34, he left for Juventus in a €112m switch last July.

Luka Modric, Tottenham to Real Madrid, €35m, August 2012

Alongside Toni Kroos in midfield, the heartbeat of the Madrid side that left the rest of Europe trailing in their wake. A glorious technician with Spurs, Modric blossomed even further at the Santiago Bernabeu into a player capable of controlling the tempo of games on the grandest stage. His individual brilliance was recognised last year as he broke the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly on the Ballon d'Or, having inspired Croatia to the World Cup final.

Gareth Bale, Tottenham to Real Madrid, €101m, September 2013

An immediate hit at the Bernabeu, Bale helped to secure the club's 10th European Cup at the end of his first season, scoring the crucial second goal against rivals Atletico Madrid. He has made a habit of delivering in major finals – a stunning solo effort against Barca in the 2014 Copa del Rey and a frankly ridiculous overhead bicycle kick against Liverpool to help win the 2018 Champions League ought to have endeared him to Madrid fans forever. But, amid injuries and a loss of form, it has gone slightly sour for Bale and rumours abound he is keen to leave the Spanish capital.

Luis Suarez, Liverpool to Barcelona, €81m, July 2014

Having almost earned the Reds a first league crown since 1990 in a devastating partnership with Daniel Sturridge in 2013-14, Suarez made the move to Camp Nou to link up with Messi and Neymar as part of the fabled 'MSN' strikeforce. Together, the trio inspired Barca to the treble at the end of that first season – just three of the 11 major honours picked up by Suarez in the five seasons since he left Liverpool behind.

Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool to Barcelona, €130m, January 2018

It is fair to say Barca will probably feel they are yet to see value for their significant outlay on another South American star taken from Anfield. Coutinho has struggled to find his feet at Camp Nou thus far, starting just 22 league games in his first full season with the Blaugrana. To make matters worse, he was essentially anonymous over two legs against his old club in last month's Champions League semi-final, hauled off on the hour in both matches.

Who's next?

With Madrid and Barca proving attractive prospects for any footballer with lofty ambitions, it seems certain that Hazard will not be the last Premier League superstar to join one of the colossal Clasico clubs. Paul Pogba is repeatedly linked with a move to LaLiga's big two, while Christian Eriksen has already indicated he is ready to leave Spurs and find a new challenge – Madrid being widely reported as his likely destination. United goalkeeper David de Gea is never far away from speculation about his future, while Sadio Mane and Harry Kane have previously been suggested as targets for Madrid, as has Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette for Barca.

Eden Hazard's seemingly imminent move from Chelsea to Real Madrid looks set to kick off a busy close-season of transfer activity ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

Hazard has made no secret of his desire to join Los Blancos and despite Chelsea's two-window transfer ban - which the club are appealing against - he is expected to complete his switch soon.

Madrid are likely to spend heavily on reinforcements for Zinedine Zidane's squad after a deeply underwhelming season and Hazard could be the first of a new batch of 'Galactico' signings by the LaLiga side.

But who are the other big-name players likely to be involved in extensive transfer sagas before the big kick-off? Omnisport picks out 10 players who will be making the headlines...


ANTOINE GRIEZMANN

Some players are coy about their transfer wishes, preferring to let their agents do the talking for them with interested parties in private. That is not the case for Antoine Griezmann, though. After mulling over his Atletico Madrid future in excruciating detail in a television documentary a year ago, where he announced his intention to stay, the World Cup winner has now revealed he wants to leave.

Barcelona remains his most obvious destination but, after Griezmann pulled out of a seemingly done deal 12 months ago, the Catalan club may be unwilling to negotiate with him again. That could open the door for Manchester United or Paris Saint-Germain, with Atleti reportedly keen on Edinson Cavani as Griezmann's successor.


NEYMAR

Another bout of Neymar rumours seems inevitable, with the Brazil superstar having again been unable to fire PSG to European glory after once more seeing his season disrupted by injury. Madrid are regularly linked with Neymar, but the expected arrival of Hazard may negate the need for him, especially given Vinicius Junior's exciting emergence. Incredibly, given the fractious circumstances in which he left, Neymar has also been linked with an improbable, if not impossible, return to Barca.


PHILIPPE COUTINHO 

For Barca to launch a move for Neymar they will certainly have to raise funds, with Philippe Coutinho the most likely to make way. He has been unable to justify the outlay, reportedly an initial £105 million up front, with Ernesto Valverde seemingly preferring Ousmane Dembele as the third member of his attack, along with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Coutinho could return to the Premier League with Chelsea among his suitors - despite a potential transfer ban - as well as PSG.


PAUL POGBA

After Jose Mourinho's departure, Paul Pogba initially seemed reborn under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, his form tailed off and he was involved in a confrontation with a fan after their home loss to Cardiff City on the last day of the Premier League season. United need to revamp Solskjaer's squad and Pogba is their most sellable asset. Madrid have long been touted as the midfielder’s next club, while a return to Juventus has also been suggested for the France international.


PAULO DYBALA

Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival in Turin was always likely to be bad news for someone – and it was Paulo Dybala who suffered the most. The Argentina attacker is still regarded as one of world football's brightest lights, but at 25 he cannot afford another season on the periphery. Massimiliano Allegri's relationship with Dybala was strained, so he will await the appointment of a replacement with interest, but his future may lie away from Juve. Bayern Munich and Manchester United are reportedly keen.


NICOLAS PEPE

Only Kylian Mbappe scored more Ligue 1 goals in 2018-19 than Lille's rising star Nicolas Pepe, with PSG reportedly ready to snap up the star man of the side who finished a distant second. Ivory Coast international Pepe could further his growing reputation at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations, with Premier League sides Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal all said to be interested in the 24-year-old forward.


LUKA JOVIC

Eintracht Frankfurt can look forward to banking a huge profit if Luka Jovic completes an expected move away, with the Bundesliga side having only paid a reported €6m to trigger a purchase option as part of his loan deal from Benfica. Jovic's goals were instrumental in Frankfurt's run to the Europa League semi-finals but he will surely be playing in the Champions League next term. Barcelona scouts were seemingly spotted watching him earlier in the season, but Madrid have reportedly identified the Serbia striker as a long-term replacement for Suarez. Eintracht can expect to receive a fee around 10 times what they paid for Jovic.


KYLIAN MBAPPE

PSG have strongly insisted they do not have to sell Neymar or Mbappe to meet Financial Fair Play regulations, but it is not out of the question that both forwards leave the French capital. Mbappe would likely command a new world-record fee, with the striker having suggested he is ready for a new challenge elsewhere when he collected the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award recently. Mbappe's asking price would rule out almost everyone, with Madrid in a small group of clubs who could afford him, although he undoubtedly has the potential to be the best player in the world. Manchester City have previously been linked, too.


MATTHIJS DE LIGT

Defenders are not usually as in-demand as Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt, but the teenager is a one-off talent. De Ligt's strong leadership saw the Dutch side reach the last four of the Champions League, with Lucas Moura's dramatic late goal for Tottenham denying Erik ten Hag's team a place in the final. De Ligt's club and country team-mate Frenkie de Jong has already agreed to join Barca and the centre-back has long been expected to follow. Still, just about every big club in Europe would be keen on signing De Ligt, if they have the funds required.


GARETH BALE

Former Madrid coach Fabio Capello has said Madrid have €500million to spend, so they have to raise funds somewhere. The most obvious place to start is with Wales star Gareth Bale, whose relationship with Zinedine Zidane appears impossible to repair. Reports in Spain claimed Bale would be happy to see out his contract if necessary, but United continue to be linked with offering him a route back to the Premier League. A romantic option would be to go back to Tottenham, but huge expenditure on a shiny new stadium likely rules them out as a destination.

Philippe Coutinho, Nelson Semedo and Arthur all start for Barcelona against Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday after recovering from injuries just in time.

Coutinho has endured a particularly difficult season for Barca, with supporters regularly getting on his back in response to underwhelming performances.

He had been considered a major doubt for the final after sustained a hamstring injury against Getafe on May 12, but Barca announced earlier on Saturday the Brazilian had been given the all-clear.

With transfer links to other clubs surfacing recently, while Antoine Griezmann has been reported as a potential replacement for him, it gives Coutinho the perfect opportunity to silence the doubters.

His international team-mate Arthur's season has been completely the opposite, with the former Gremio star seamlessly adapting to life in Camp Nou.

Arthur had been struggling with muscular problems, but he will slot into the midfield as normal.

Semedo had been a doubt after a head knock, though serious injury was soon ruled out.

Valencia have named an attack-minded XI in a 4-4-2 formation, with Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno leading the line, supported by Goncalo Guedes and Carlos Soler out wide.

Full-backs Jose Gaya and Daniel Wass – usually a midfielder – will be expected to offer support in attack as well, as Valencia go for their first Copa del Rey since 2007-08.

Philippe Coutinho has returned to Barcelona training ahead of the Copa del Rey final against Valencia on Saturday.

Brazil international Coutinho sustained a hamstring injury in the 2-0 victory over Getafe on May 12 and was expected to be out for 10 days.

The 26-year-old sat out Sunday's 2-2 draw against Eibar and in the aftermath coach Ernesto Valverde was not optimistic about his availability – and that of Ousmane Dembele – for the clash in Seville.

However, Coutinho returned to the training field on Wednesday and will hope to prove his fitness before LaLiga champions Barca go in search of a domestic double.

Jean-Clair Todibo did not participate in the session due to "general discomfort", according to a tweet posted by the club, while Arthur and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are doubts for the match.

Barcelona have confirmed Nelson Semedo did not suffer a concussion in their last LaLiga game of the season against Getafe.

Semedo was taken to hospital with a head injury that appeared to have put his chances of being fit for Saturday's Copa del Rey final in doubt.

But Barcelona confirmed on Monday that right-back Semedo has been cleared following tests and released from a hospital in Bilbao.

"Semedo has passed the tests for his head injury and has been discharged from hospital," a club statement said. 

"He returns to Barcelona to continue with the protocol established in these cases and his return to training will be monitored."

Head coach Ernesto Valverde is seeking to win the LaLiga and Copa del Rey double for the second season in a row when Barca face Valencia in Seville.

Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele are unlikely to be available due to hamstring injuries, while Arthur is another doubt.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde is not optimistic about having Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele available for the Copa del Rey final.

LaLiga champions Barca face Valencia in the May 25 showpiece, hoping to end the season with a domestic double.

But Coutinho and Dembele appear to be in serious danger of missing the game, having sat out Sunday's 2-2 draw away to Eibar in Barca's final league fixture of the season.

Coutinho suffered a hamstring strain in the 2-0 win over Getafe on May 12, while Dembele sustained a similar issue at the start of the month.

They may now miss the Copa final, though Valverde does expect to have goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen back after a minor knee injury.

"We've got a few issues in certain positions and we're going to see if we can get a few players back," the coach told reporters in his post-match news conference.

"Ter Stegen will certainly be available. Coutinho, I don't know and Dembele is looking unlikely. Let's see about Arthur.

"He's had a problem for two to three months and he needed a break. It could have happened a month or so ago, but it's happened now. I don't know if he'll be available."

Barca lost Nelson Semedo to a head injury at Ipurua and the Portuguese full-back was taken to hospital, but Valverde is hopeful he will be completely fine.

"I don't have any news about Nelson," Valverde added. "We hope it's only a precaution for the knock."

Antoine Griezmann will not replace Philippe Coutinho at Barcelona at the end of the season, according to the Brazilian's agent.

Despite an encouraging start to life at Barca, Coutinho has failed to recapture the form he showed at Liverpool before his €160million switch in January 2018.

This term, the attacking midfielder has managed only five LaLiga goals in 34 appearances and failed to nail down a place in the starting XI, with 12 of his league outings coming from the bench.

Coutinho's underwhelming form has seen him become a target for Barca supporters who have jeered him on several occasions in recent months, while media reports have linked him with a move.

Griezmann's announcement on Tuesday that he will leave Atletico Madrid in the coming months will likely increase speculation surrounding Coutinho, though his representative is convinced the Frenchman potentially joining Barca will not impact his client.

"It's untrue that Griezmann is going to replace Philippe at Barcelona," Andrea Bertolucci told AS.

"I don't know why they are saying that. I don't know about that and that's why I don't want to talk anymore, but it's false."

Coutinho has a contract at Camp Nou until 2023 and is said to be interesting Manchester United, who look set for a major rebuild over the close-season.

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.

Barcelona's preparations for the Copa del Rey final have taken another hit, with the LaLiga champions confirming that Philippe Coutinho will be out for approximately 10 days.

Coutinho, who struggled to make an impact in Barcelona's Champions League capitulation at Liverpool in midweek, put in an impressive display against Getafe on Sunday before limping off midway through the second half.

And Barca have now provided an update on the Brazil international, confirming on Twitter that he "is expected to be out for around 10 days" with a hamstring injury.

Coutinho may now face a race against time to be fit for the Copa del Rey final, though if Barca's timescales are correct, the former Liverpool playmaker will be back in contention for the clash with Valencia on May 25.

Barca will, however, be without Luis Suarez, who could be out for up to six weeks following knee surgery earlier this week.

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 captain Lionel Messi scored a brace that put his side on the verge of the Champions League final then backed Philippe Coutinho after the ex-Liverpool midfielder's underwhelming display against his old club prompted jeers at Camp Nou.

The Blaugrana beat Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of their semi-final on Wednesday, with Messi netting his 599th and 600th goals for the club after Luis Suarez had broken the deadlock in the opening period.

While Suarez made a meaningful impact against his former team with his first Champions League goal in over a year, Coutinho was once again largely anonymous before being substituted on the hour mark when Liverpool were on top.

The Brazil international has struggled in his first full year at Barcelona, yet he received support from Messi after the game.

"We are in a defining moment and it is not time to criticise anyone," Messi told Movistar Plus.

"It is time to make everything happen as we talked at the beginning of the season. It is ugly to see a team-mate get booed like that.

"We must all be together and support."

Messi's milestone 600th goal – 14 years to the day since his first for the club – was a brilliant free-kick whipped into the top corner from 30 yards out with eight minutes remaining.

"The truth is that it went spectacular, I looked and I had the fortune," Messi admitted.

Liverpool had their chances when 1-0 behind, with James Milner twice denied by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who also thwarted Mohamed Salah.

And after substitute Roberto Firmino had an effort cleared off the line, Salah slammed the loose ball against a post as Liverpool missed out on an away goal Messi felt would have been crucial.

"Above all, [it was important] they did not score," said Messi.

"They pushed us in the second half, although they did not create many chances but they pushed us hard."

Philippe Coutinho was picked to start Barcelona's Champions League semi-final first leg against his former club Liverpool, who selected fellow Brazil international Roberto Firmino on the bench. 

Coutinho has garnered mixed reviews since swapping Merseyside for Catalonia in a reported €160million move in January 2018 but, following a stunning goal against Manchester United in the previous round, he was granted a spot alongside Lionel Messi and another ex-Red Luis Suarez in Barca's front three at Camp Nou. 

Liverpool's own feted trident were not all named from the start, however, with Firmino among the substitutes after sitting out last Friday's 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town with an ankle knock. 

Naby Keita was set to line up on the left of Jurgen Klopp's attack alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, while James Milner got the nod to start alongside Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield. 

Club captain Jordan Henderson had to be content with a place among the substitutes alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, the England right-back dropped in favour of Joe Gomez. 

Barca head coach Ernesto Valverde expressed a pre-match wish to disrupt the supply line to Liverpool's attackers and Arturo Vidal being preferred in midfield to playmaker Arthur appears to be in line with those sentiments. 

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