Martin Braithwaite is hoping to answer Barcelona's SOS with goals that carry Quique Setien's team all the way to trophy glory after opening his account.

The Danish striker played his first full 90 minutes in LaLiga since joining from Leganes as an emergency signing in February, as Barcelona thrashed Real Mallorca 4-0 on Saturday night.

It was his fourth appearance and second start in the league since swapping a relegation battle for the title race.

And the man Barca bought to ease their injury problems intends to show how much he can contribute over the remaining weeks of the coronavirus-disrupted season.

He may have his work cut out to secure a regular start, given Luis Suarez returned from knee surgery as a substitute at Mallorca.

But Braithwaite wants to play a part and said of his maiden Barca strike: "I've been waiting for it for a long time, so it's amazing to score my first goal.

"It was most important to start like we did [on Saturday], so we are happy and we have to continue like this.

"As an offensive player you want to score goals and I've been working a lot in this break, and I've been really looking forward to playing this game and hopefully getting a goal and I'm happy, I'm really happy."

Suarez's season looked to be over when he had an operation in January, but the three-month suspension of the league has allowed him to recover fitness, and now coach Setien has options up front for the title push.

The Uruguayan had a 33-minute run-out at Son Moix, and Braithwaite can expect to come under pressure for a regular start.

Barcelona's win in their first match back after lockdown restrictions were eased ensured they would remain top of the table.

Braithwaite said of the successful trip, speaking to Barca TV: "It's really important because we have to start with confidence, and to score four goals and not concede any goals is really important for us.

"We started good and just built our confidence and we need that to continue pursuing what we want."

After Arturo Vidal's early opener, Lionel Messi set up Braithwaite and Jordi Alba before sealing Barca's victory in additional time.

Barcelona have 10 games left in the LaLiga season as they attempt to fend off Real Madrid and wrap up what would be a 27th league title.

Manchester United may be getting closer to finding a way to land Ajax star Donny van de Beek.

Van de Beek has been linked to numerous European giants after impressing with the Eredivisie outfit.

United are among them and the Premier League side could be ready to make a sacrifice to bring the Netherlands international to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD FIND WAY TO LAND VAN DE BEEK

Manchester United will sell Andreas Pereira to bring in Van de Beek, according to the Mirror.

Van de Beek has been linked with the likes of Real Madrid, but United could beat the LaLiga giants to the midfielder.

The 23-year-old has managed double-digits in goals in three straight seasons, netting 10 times in 37 games in 2019-20.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Old Trafford and Manchester United may keep Alexis Sanchez. On loan at Inter this season, Sanchez is contracted at United until 2022 and the Mirror says the Chile international could stay at the club if he accepts a squad role over being first choice.

- Barcelona are said to be struggling to find a suitor for Philippe Coutinho. Marca reports no clubs have made a move for the playmaker so far.

- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is being linked with an Arsenal exit. However, The Sun says the Premier League club are willing to sell Ainsley Maitland-Niles to fund a new contract for Aubameyang, or find the forward's replacement. Aubameyang's deal at Arsenal expires next year.

- Several clubs are reportedly eyeing RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano. Tuttosport says Arsenal are favourites to land the 21-year-old ahead of Milan. Staying at Arsenal and La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Justin Kluivert could join the club from Roma, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan – on loan at the Serie A club this season – heading permanently in the opposite direction.

- Speculation continues around Achraf Hakimi. Marca reports Bayern Munich are keeping an eye on the defender's situation, with the 21-year-old on loan at Borussia Dortmund from Real Madrid this season.

- Juventus could be preparing to sell Aaron Ramsey. The Mirror reports Tottenham are one of several clubs to have been offered the chance to sign the midfielder.

Quique Setien was "very pleased" with Barcelona's form as they returned to action with a 4-0 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

After Arturo Vidal's opener, Lionel Messi set up Martin Braithwaite and Jordi Alba before sealing Barca's victory in additional time.

Although Real Madrid have a game in hand, Barcelona are five points clear, having made a bright return following a break of more than three months from competitive action due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Setien liked what he saw from his side, who have 10 games left in the LaLiga season.

"The feelings are good. There are always things that you want to improve, but I am satisfied with the game we have made," he told reporters.

"We have had an effectiveness … but we were fine with the ball. We have had a break, but I am very satisfied.

"To be the first game without playing, we could be accused of a lack of rhythm, but I think it is a good start to face this sprint that we have 10 games left. I have good feelings in general."

Luis Suarez played his first game since January, coming off the bench in the second half to return from a knee injury.

Setien was pleased with the Uruguayan forward, who set up Messi's sealer after replacing Antoine Griezmann.

"Everything he has done, he has done well. He had quality actions," he said.

"Surely we will see how he is improving, but he has been spectacular."

Barcelona are next in action on Tuesday, hosting Leganes.

Lionel Messi set another LaLiga record on Saturday as Barcelona made a winning return in LaLiga.

The leaders won 4-0 at Real Mallorca in their first match since the campaign was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Arturo Vidal opened the scoring after just two minutes before Messi set up Martin Braithwaite for his first Barca goal and then Jordi Alba to make the points safe.

Messi then added a fourth in second-half injury time to reach 20 LaLiga goals for 2019-20.

The Argentina star is the only player to score 20 or more goals in Spain's top flight in 12 consecutive seasons.

Arturo Vidal, Martin Braithwaite, Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi were all on target as Barcelona beat Real Mallorca 4-0 to make a winning return in LaLiga.

It had been three months since the leaders last played because of the coronavirus-enforced break, but they needed less than two minutes to go ahead through Vidal's header.

Braithwaite then fired in a second eight minutes before the break in a game that also saw the return of Luis Suarez from injury.

Alba struck11 minutes from time before Messi wrapped up victory in injury time as Barca went five points clear of Real Madrid ahead of Los Blancos' return to action on Sunday.

There was no sign of any rust in Quique Setien's ranks as Barca went ahead after just 65 seconds.

Frenkie de Jong robbed Real Madrid loanee Takefusa Kubo in midfield and the ball was delivered into the box by Alba, with Vidal running onto the cross and directing his header into the bottom-left corner of the net.

Barca threatened to put the game to bed early on as Braithwaite and Messi both came close before Mallorca finally woke up.

Kubo looked intent on making amends as he forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into a good save from the edge of the box before being denied again with a low free-kick.

Yet the leaders doubled their lead before the interval, Braithwaite clinically dispatching his first goal for the club after a scrappy build-up that included headed flick-ons from De Jong and Messi.

Mallorca nearly found a way back into the match shortly after the restart, but Ante Budimir's first-time effort was always bending away from Ter Stegen as it flew wide.

Setien brought on Suarez – out since January because of a knee injury – and that seemed to galvanise Messi, who set up Braithwaite and Ronald Araujo for efforts that were stopped by Manolo Reina and the post respectively.

Messi would not be denied a second assist, though, as he cleverly flicked the ball over the top for Alba, who just managed to stay onside and finish at the near post.

There was time enough for Messi to get on the scoresheet as he kept his balance in the box before working space and firing right-footed high into the net.

 

What does it mean? No away day blues for Setien's side

Barca's away form has been a problem this term and they arrived at Son Moix having won just one of their previous five LaLiga games on their travels, conceding 10 times across those games.

However, with centre-back Araujo making his first start, the Blaugrana recorded their first away clean sheet of 2020 and extend their lead at the top.

Alba delivers the goods

Coming into this game, Ter Stegen had more LaLiga assists this season than Alba but the left-back pulled level with his early cross for Vidal's goal.

The 31-year-old was involved in the second goal too, while he regained possession a team-high six times and had three clearances to boot.

Anonymous Antoine

The return of Suarez – and the continued transfer talk surrounding Inter's Lautaro Martinez over the break – should have jolted Antoine Griezmann into delivering a better performance.

However, in the 57 minutes the Frenchman was on the pitch, he failed to have a single shot and Braithwaite's goal means Griezmann is in danger of falling further down the pecking order.

What's next?

Barcelona host Leganes on Tuesday before travelling to Sevilla three days later as the fixtures come thick and fast in LaLiga. Mallorca, who have a crucial clash with Leganes next Friday, travel to Villarreal next.

Arturo Vidal is happy to remain at Barcelona so long as he feels important at the club, despite rumours of a reunion with Antonio Conte at Inter.

The midfielder is aiming to help Barca retain their LaLiga title following the coronavirus-enforced suspension to the season, as they try to hold off rivals Real Madrid to be crowned champions again.

Vidal turned 33 during the break and while he has made 31 appearances in a 2019-20 campaign that has seen a change of head coach at Camp Nou, he has started only eight times in the league.

The Chile international is settled off the field but admits playing time - and more specifically a lack of it - will dictate his future in Spain beyond the completion of the 2019-20 campaign.

"There are two months left [of the season]. But I want to feel important and, if not, I have to look out for my career," Vidal said in an interview with El Periodico.

"In Barcelona it is spectacular, my family is happy and I have very good team-mates.

"I like to play, I like to feel important. I do not say [to play in] all the games, but those that are key, those that help win titles."

Inter have been linked with a move for Vidal, who previously worked with Nerazzurri boss Conte when the Italian was in charge of Juventus.

"We have a very good relationship," he said of Conte, who led Juve to three successive Serie A titles during his reign.

"You know I'm a winner, you know you can trust me. You understand? 

"That is what I want here [at Barcelona]. Let people trust [in me], we have two months left and I hope to have that confidence."

Barcelona great Hristo Stoichkov says he would be willing to give up the Golden Boot he won at the 1994 World Cup if it meant Lionel Messi could win international football's greatest prize.

Despite sweeping the board during a glittering career with Barca, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi has never lifted a major honour with Argentina.

There were a succession of near misses during the past decade, with Germany beating La Albiceleste after extra time in the final of the 2014 World Cup, before Chile prevailed on penalties in the 2015 Copa America and Copa America Centenario showpieces.

The 2020 Copa America was due to start on Friday but has been put back 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is likely to be Messi's final tilt at the big prize.

Speaking to Argentinian station Radio Villa Trinidad, Stoichkov said he felt the 32-year-old had shouldered an unfair share of criticism over the failures of his national team.

"To see a friend happy, like Leo, and to stop him suffering so much for not being able to win a World Cup, I would change my Golden Boot, which I got at the 1994 World Cup, to see Messi world champion," he said.

"Always when he loses, Messi has the blame and they never talk about those who are next to him and fail.

"In South Africa [at the 2010 World Cup under Diego Maradona], they had a great team and where did it end and why? No one asks it.

"Later in Brazil, Argentina reached the final and when [other players] have clear opportunities, the fault lies with Messi and Messi loses.

"In the Copa America they have lost two finals on penalties. And again, Messi cannot win, but what do we do with the players who failed and Messi assisted them? They are hiding."

Nevertheless, Stoichkov does not think all is lost for Argentina ahead of Qatar 2022.

"Sooner or later the glory of Messi will end," he added. "Then we must value everything that was done in football.

"I believe that in 2022 in Qatar this Argentine national team will have the last great opportunity to win the World Cup in its history .

"With Lautaro Martinez, with Paulo Dybala, with the last campaigns, I imagine, by Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. There is a very competitive team."

Jadon Sancho's future could be resolved sooner rather than later.

The England international is tipped to return to his homeland after leaving Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017.

Premier League leaders Liverpool are reportedly at the front of the queue for the 20-year-old attacker.

 

TOP STORY – REDS IN POLE POSITION FOR SANCHO

Liverpool are leading the race to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to Le10 Sport.

Sancho is a player in demand, the former Manchester City youngster linked with a return to England via Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Real Madrid are also reportedly interested, but Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool appear to be favourites to land the England international if Sadio Mane leaves Anfield.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims United are considering a move for Lazio striker Ciro Immobile. The Italy international has scored a Serie A-high 27 goals this season amid links to Liverpool and Napoli.

Chelsea are not close to reaching an agreement over Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz, says The Athletic. Chelsea have emerged as favourites to sign Havertz, who is also reportedly wanted by United, Liverpool, Madrid and Barcelona. But Chelsea – who are set to bring RB Leipzig's Timo Werner to Stamford Bridge – are apparently nowhere near matching Leverkusen's asking price.

- The Independent reports Dortmund are set to beat United to Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham. The 16-year-old is coveted by Dortmund and United, however, the Bundesliga side are viewed as the more attractive option to give the wonderkid game time.

- Could Dries Mertens leave Napoli for Barcelona? Mertens' contract is set to expire, though the Belgium forward has been tipped to sign an extension. Het Nieuwsblad says Barca could turn to the Napoli star if they are unable to prise Lautaro Martinez from Inter.

Chelsea believe Champions League football will convince Leicester City's Ben Chilwell to snub Manchester City for the London club, according to the Daily Mail. Chelsea have been linked to another full-back – France Football claims the Blues are eyeing Paris Saint-Germain's Layvin Kurzawa, who is available on a free transfer and wanted by the likes of Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Inter.

- Tuttosport says Inter are targeting Nice centre-back Malang Sarr. The 21-year-old has also been linked to Pep Guardiola's City.

- According to The Telegraph, Barca are prepared to pay a portion of Philippe Coutinho's wage to help the Brazilian leave Camp Nou. Tottenham and Newcastle United are possible destinations.

Liverpool are eyeing a double transfer raid on Wolves for stars Ruben Neves and Adama Traore, says The Sun.

Barcelona director Xavier Vilajoana said the LaLiga champions have no intention of selling Ansu Fati amid links to Manchester United, denying talks over a possible transfer.

Fati has reportedly emerged as an alternative target to Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho for United as the Premier League giants eye attacking reinforcements.

There has been talk of United making a £100million (€111m) bid for 17-year-old Barca sensation Fati, who only made his senior debut in August.

However, Vilajoana dismissed the speculation over Fati's future at Camp Nou.

"For us, there's no story with Ansu, we have never spoken about selling him," Vilajoana told Sport.

"We won't use players from the academy to make cash. In principle, we have no intention of selling the players we believe will make the first team."

Vilajoana added: "I think he's happy. He will be an important player in the coming years."

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Fati had scored four goals and supplied an assist in 16 LaLiga appearances for Barca.

Fati has played 24 matches in all competitions this season, scoring five goals.

LaLiga leaders Barca will return to action with a trip to Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Juventus are confident of renewing Paulo Dybala's contract, according to chief football officer Fabio Paratici.

Dybala is contracted to the Serie A champions until June 2022 and said in an interview with CNN this week he was waiting for the club to initiate talks.

The Argentina international has struggled for form since Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival at Juve, scoring 23 goals in all competitions since the start of 2018-19, fewer than he managed in 2017-18 alone.

Maurizio Sarri has acknowledged it is difficult for Dybala, who was linked with a move to Manchester United in the previous close season and has expressed an interest in playing for Barcelona, and Ronaldo to "coexist" in the same team.

However, Paratici is optimistic about Dybala's long-term future in Turin.

Ahead of the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final against Milan on Friday, Paratici told Rai Sport: "We are not worried, as we started discussing the situation with Dybala and his entourage, so we are absolutely optimistic and confident.

"Everyone who goes to negotiate a contract wants an improvement, so that's entirely logical."

Asked about Juve's reported interest in Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo, he added: "This is not the time to talk about the transfer market, it's already been done when there was no football being played, but we want to fully enjoy this moment when Italian football returns."

Juve's clash with Milan is their first game in over three months, after football was suspended across most of the globe in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Barcelona head coach Quique Setien has held discussions with Arthur over the midfielder's future, but is counting on him for the remainder of the season.

Arthur has made 23 appearances in all competitions during a campaign that has seen him sidelined due to injury, though that has not stopped speculation that he could be on the move.

The Brazil international has been linked with a switch to Juventus, potentially with Miralem Pjanic moving in the opposite direction.

Setien refused to discuss rumours over the 23-year-old's long-term future at Camp Nou, instead making clear he remains part of his plans ahead of a return to LaLiga action.

Barca face Real Mallorca on Saturday following a lengthy break caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is also set to have an impact on the transfer market as clubs deal with the financial ramifications of the health crisis.

"It is true that we have talked about something, but not too much," Setien said when asked about Arthur at his pre-match media conference on Friday.

"The current circumstances are different from the usual ones and will affect the market.

"As for the players, I am clear that all those who are currently in the squad, I count on them and I need everyone because there are going to be many games.

"On outside speculation, I choose not to speak."

Arthur made clear his desire to remain with Barcelona back in April; he was previously suggested as a transfer target for Inter.

In a statement sent to Mundo Deportivo, he said: "There will always be speculation but, sincerely, my idea is very clear. The only option that interests me is to continue at Barcelona.

"I'm very secure and relaxed. I feel really well here and, plus, I'm grateful to the club and technical staff for their confidence. This is yet another reason to be totally clear that my only desire is to continue."

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are ready to start for Barcelona against Real Mallorca, head coach Quique Setien has confirmed.

Barca return to LaLiga action on Saturday with a trip to Son Moix following the coronavirus-enforced break, and a win over relegation-threatened opponents will see them extend their lead at the summit.

Spain's reigning champions sit two points clear of rivals Real Madrid, who are not in action until Sunday when they host Eibar in the capital.

Messi's fitness was a major concern ahead of the resumption - the talismanic forward dealing with a quadriceps injury - but he has suffered no further setbacks since returning to training with the rest of the squad at the start of the week.

"He's ready to play, he's perfectly okay. He's trained well, there is no problem," Setien said as his pre-match media conference.

"Messi and a lot of these players know how to gauge things and how to save their strength when necessary.

"As for breaks, we'll see. For some, the more time they're on the pitch, the better."

As for Suarez, the striker had seemingly been set to miss the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign with a knee injury before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now the Uruguay international is back for the rearranged season run-in, both in terms of domestic duties and the Champions League.

However, Setien will be cautious with a player who is returning from a lengthy lay-off, meaning Suarez will not play the whole game against Mallorca.

"Surely he is to be a starter, but not for the full 90 minutes," the Barca boss explained.

"We will not take risks after five months. It will be good for him to play and he will need games to be the same as he was before."

Suarez has scored 14 goals in all competitions this season but has not featured since January 9.

Lionel Messi can make the difference whenever he wants and there is nothing his opponents can do to stop him when he is in such a mood, Real Mallorca coach Vicente Moreno said ahead of Barcelona's visit to Son Moix.

After more than a three-month hiatus enforced by the coronavirus pandemic, LaLiga resumed on Thursday, and Barca will recommence their title charge in Palma on Saturday.

Hosts Mallorca – who are in the third relegation spot – could have dropped down to 19th by kick-off, and they are well aware of the mighty task that awaits them.

Messi had been inspirational for a Barca side that many feel has underwhelmed this season prior to the suspension, the Argentina star scoring 19 goals – including a hat-trick against Mallorca at Camp Nou – and providing 12 assists, both of which are league-high figures.

Despite the possibility for a bit of rustiness after such a prolonged break, Moreno is expecting Messi to be as deadly as ever – but coming up against him is a privilege, the coach says.

"I think when you face Barcelona, you always have two sides," Moreno said on Friday. "On one hand, there is big excitement because you want to enjoy the chance of playing against this kind of player.

"We will have in front of us the best player in the world by far, who is Messi. There will be many more [players in the Barca team], but especially Messi, the one who makes the difference compared to the others.

"So, we will have the opportunity to enjoy watching Messi, and we have to as the football fans we are, but, on the other hand, we will suffer him as well. In fact, we did already in the other game when he scored a hat-trick.

"He is such a good player, so when he wants to make the differences, he just does it, and you can do nothing to stop him.

"I hope to have these chances many times. Playing against a team like Barcelona, or players like Messi, means that we stay in the top tier - if Messi keeps playing for many years, we can enjoy watching him too.

"If we keep struggling with him, that means we stay in the elite, and that's all we want."

Barca are set to be without Nelson Semedo after he was left out of training "as per protocol established by LaLiga" following reports he attended a party earlier in the week, flouting medical guidelines in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite widespread criticism of him, and the four Sevilla players who were caught breaking similar rules at a barbecue last month, Moreno has sympathy.

"I think players are also young people," he added. "They are also doing a big effort. Sometimes It looks like they don't have any other right, as they are earning that big amount of money, we are always judging the player because he is earning a lot of money.

"So, I've nothing to say. They are young people and they want, like all of us wanted, to get out from the lockdown and going out to dinner with friends. Many times they judge them correctly or wrongly, depending on some pictures that someone could have uploaded without your knowing.

"So, I understand him [Semedo] and I think he didn't have any bad intentions. Again, I believe we have to give confidence to the player and not kill him."`

Lionel Messi is eager to be back playing for Barcelona again this weekend after admitting the suspension of football "has made me think".

LaLiga was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, with Barca two points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table after 27 games.

Spain's top flight returned on Thursday behind closed doors as Sevilla defeated Real Betis 2-0, with the leaders set to resume their campaign at Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Messi has described football as "a gift" and is happy at the prospect of playing once more after three months of uncertainty.

"Being away from the game has made me think," he said in an Adidas video.

"I feel like any other player. I just want to play. And to play our game is a gift. To be supported by so many, even more so.

"To be able to inspire others, and be inspired. And maybe the greatest gift of all: to create joy for others.

"So, now the game has returned, I'm ready for its gift again."

Messi is the top scorer in LaLiga this season, with 19 goals from 22 appearances, five clear of nearest challenger Karim Benzema.

The 32-year-old also has the most assists, with 12, four ahead of Real Sociedad forward Portu.

The Argentina star is bidding to win his 11th league title with Barca and his 25th club trophy in total.

Unique circumstances may have seen LaLiga return in mid-June, but little else has changed in Spain's top flight.

Barcelona again sit at the summit, led once more by Lionel Messi.

The Blaugrana are chasing a fifth title in six seasons, and Messi has been as influential as ever in their latest pursuit.

With the help of Opta data, we take a look at the Barca captain's LaLiga campaign so far.


BY THE NUMBERS

Between the coronavirus pandemic and a couple of early-season muscle injuries, Messi has played just 22 times in the league this term, with one of those appearances coming from the bench.

But Messi remains the main man at Camp Nou, scoring a goal every 99.47 minutes for an outstanding 19 in total - comfortably the most of any player in the division.

The Argentina talisman seems certain to become the first player to win the Pichichi seven times, surpassing Telmo Zarra with whom he shares the existing record of six.

Messi's team-mates have also again thrived thanks to his mercurial talents. His 55 chances created have generated 12 assists.

With 11 games remaining, the 32-year-old could yet match his career-best tally of 18 assists in a league season, set in 2010-11 and equalled in 2014-15.


SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

Few players in history have combined substance with style as effectively as Messi, and his trademark panache has been evident again in his exploits this term.

The forward endured a slow start to the campaign, scoring for the first time in LaLiga in October against Sevilla, but he quickly made up for lost time.

A stunning free-kick in the 78th minute of that match was the first of eight goals in five league games - including a hat-trick against Celta Vigo that featured two more glorious set-piece goals.

Perhaps the most important goal of Messi's season came on December 1, when he traded passes with Luis Suarez and swept a fine finish past Jan Oblak for a late winner at Atletico Madrid.

Goals were initially harder to come by in 2020, but Messi's third hat-trick in the league this term sent Barca top in late February. He hit four against Eibar.


AS IMPORTANT AS EVER?

The burden on Messi - and, to a slightly lesser extent, Suarez - has increased in recent years following Neymar's 2017 departure, with Barca's number 10 either scoring or assisting at least 45 per cent of their league goals in each season since.

The pre-season arrival of Antoine Griezmann should have aided the Blaugrana in this department, yet the World Cup winner is still to find his best form in Catalonia.

While no outfield player has started more league games for Barca than Griezmann this term, he has scored just eight times.

Injury to Suarez, who had 11 by January, did not help matters, but Messi responded with a vital winner against Granada the following week.

Messi's 31st goal involvement of the campaign - making up 49.2 per cent of Barca's 63 goals - saw Real Sociedad beaten by a late penalty on March 7 in the final game before the season was suspended and Suarez was able to return to fitness.


OFF-FIELD CONTROVERSIES

Messi's continued achievements this season come against a rather unsettled backdrop. The one-club man has fought as many battles off the pitch as on it in 2020.

After head coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January, sporting director Eric Abidal bravely picked a fight with the squad - including former team-mate Messi - by suggesting players were not working hard enough for the dismissed boss.

Messi fired back and claimed Abidal was "dirtying" the team, with reports of discontent behind the scenes persisting ever since.

Indeed, the saga prompted speculation the Barca great could make the most of a contract clause and walk out on a free transfer, although that option has now reportedly expired.

Both Messi and Barca will surely now be keen to get back on the pitch and set things straight with another title triumph.

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