Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is no longer a phenomenon as Hugo Gatti criticised the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Messi scored four goals in a 5-0 LaLiga rout of Eibar last month but the Barca captain has failed to find the back of the net in six of his past seven matches.

The 32-year-old attacker struggled to make an impact in the 2-0 El Clasico defeat to Real Madrid last time out and former Argentina goalkeeper Gatti took aim at Messi.

"I don't care if they criticise me in Argentina," Gatti said on El Chiringuito. "I'm very Argentinian and Messi is a phenomenon, but he's not a phenomenon now.

"They treat him wrong because they big him up and big him up and treat him wrong. He gets used to it and walks more on the pitch. He has to be better.

"Cristiano [Ronaldo] and him are the two best. Messi has to be better, he's got used to playing at a weary rhythm, walking and those that know football think the same.

"Take off, kid. You have to play well. When there's a player like Messi, like it was with Maradona and Pele, and his team-mates always give the ball to him to win the game.

"They spoil the team and they don't put everything they have into it. The team get used to giving him the ball and not anyone else."

Messi has scored 18 LaLiga goals for Barca this season, and 23 across all competitions.

Barcelona midfielder Arthur will miss Saturday's LaLiga match with Real Sociedad due to an ankle injury.

The champions confirmed on Friday that Arthur has begun treatment on the problem, which could reportedly keep him sidelined for up to three weeks.

The news is a blow to Barca coach Quique Setien, who is already without Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto for the visit of Sociedad.

Youngsters Riqui Puig and Alex Collado have been called up to the 18-man squad for the meeting at Camp Nou.

Arthur could now be a doubt for Barca's Champions League last-16 clash with Napoli on March 18, with the first leg in Italy having finished 1-1.

The 23-year-old was included in Tite's Brazil squad for their World Cup qualifying matches against Bolivia and Peru this month, despite his injury.

Diego Simeone is convinced Joao Felix "can go far if he wants to" despite struggling in his first season at Atletico Madrid.

Joao Felix became Atletico's record signing when he arrived from Benfica for €126million in pre-season, coming in as Antoine Griezmann's replacement.

But the Portugal international's impact has not been as significant as expected, scoring just three goals in 19 LaLiga appearances, having also missed a chunk of the season through injury.

Atletico face a fight to qualify for a Champions League spot, as they sit fifth behind Getafe and Sevilla – their visitors on Saturday – in the battle for a top-four place.

Simeone remains a believer in Joao Felix's abilities and potential ahead of a crunch clash with Sevilla on Saturday.

"He started with great enthusiasm," Simeone told reporters on Friday. "He had two injuries that took him out of that continuity.

"He is looking for that continuity in the team again, that continuity we all need and expect from him.

"Hopefully he gets to where he suggested he could, because in the case of young boys it is a consequence of where one wants to go. If he wants to go far, he can."

Like Joao Felix, Diego Costa has also recently returned to fitness and could play a significant role in the final weeks of the season, with Simeone optimistic about the striker's condition.

"I see him growing, looking for his best state, training accordingly to want to improve," the Atleti coach continued.

"He was never a great header, his game was more direct, more vertical, more positional. He felt comfortable in the game [against Espanyol].

"I see him [getting] better. He could not show all this the other day, but it is a phase of his recovery and we can count on him."

The visit of Sevilla comes just four days before Atletico's Champions League last-16 second-leg clash with Liverpool at Anfield, where Los Colchoneros will start with a 1-0 lead.

But Simeone insists his one and only focus is the Sevilla match, knowing victory will move them back into the top four and above Julen Lopetegui's erratic side.

"We do not look five days ahead, only Sevilla," he said. "We have the need to make an important match. Sevilla is strong away from home, signed new players [in January] like Suso that give quality in attack.

"The importance of the match is clear. Sevilla is a dangerous team away from home - they move better with spaces for their fast players in attack. That's where they perform their game best.

"Both matches are important - we are excited. It's a football week, in which we prepare to reach important targets. We have a beautiful battle ahead."

Lionel Messi's lean spell in front of goal is not causing Quique Setien to panic, with the Barcelona coach insisting "it could happen to anyone".

The usually prolific Messi has failed to score in six of his last seven games and was a peripheral figure in Sunday's 2-0 Clasico loss to Real Madrid.

That uncharacteristically unproductive run of form for Messi has coincided with Barca losing top spot in LaLiga, being knocked out of the Copa del Rey and being held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli.

However, speaking ahead of Saturday's home match with Real Sociedad, Setien claimed to be entirely unconcerned by Messi's apparent downturn.

"I don't care that he didn't score recently," said Setien. "If he scored it would be better, but it has never bothered me.

"It could happen to Leo or anyone. He is having chances and that is the important thing, that chances are generated. 

"He has been scoring goals for 14 years, if he now has a period in which he scores less it is not important."

Quique Setien insists Barcelona's Clasico defeat will not knock them off course as they seek to regain top spot in LaLiga on Saturday.

Barca were lacklustre in a 2-0 loss to Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend, with Zinedine Zidane's side replacing them at the summit.

The reigning champions have come under even closer scrutiny after assistant coach Eder Sarabia's expletive-laden outburst during the game, which Setien admitted was "a bit embarrassing".

With pressure building on the coach's shoulders, the visit of a Real Sociedad side enjoying a six-match winning run, including a Copa del Rey semi-final triumph, presents a significant challenge for Setien, who is nonetheless upbeat.

"I am calm because I know that we are going to face the game having got over the [Real Madrid] defeat," he said, with Barca a point behind a Madrid team who do not play until Sunday.

"There are no sequels of the Clasico. We are aware that we generated seven scoring chances, which is a significant number. That defeat will not affect us.

"I understand that it is very difficult for Barca and Madrid to win everything until the end.

"The league is very complicated, it is very difficult to win the matches against any team. We are motivated to keep the pace we want."

On the subject of the under-fire Sarabia, Setien said there was no need for his assistant to change his ways, but conceded he should moderate his language.

"He will be as he always has been," said Setien. "He just has to control the way he expresses himself a bit, but he will keep his character and that's it."

Setien will be without Arthur, who has suffered an ankle injury, but the coach does not know how long the midfielder will be out for. 

"He has pain, some discomfort, and we have to see how he evolves with the treatment," said Setien.

Barcelona know what they want to do with Philippe Coutinho should the attacker return to the club from Bayern Munich.

Coutinho is on a season-long loan at the Bundesliga club, who have an option to buy the Brazil international at the end of the campaign.

But Barca reportedly already have plans in place if the 27-year-old comes back to Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA PLAN TO USE COUTINHO AS MAKEWEIGHT IF HE RETURNS

Barcelona will use Coutinho as a makeweight in any of the huge deals they are planning in the close season, according to Sport.

The LaLiga giants are reportedly again targeting Neymar, who was linked with a return but ended up staying at Paris Saint-Germain last year.

PSG and Liverpool are rumoured to be interested in Coutinho, although Bayern have a €120million option to buy the playmaker.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus' interest in Mauro Icardi is ongoing. CalcioMercato reports Juve still want the forward, who is on loan at PSG from Inter, with the Ligue 1 club holding a €70m purchase option. Goal reports Juventus are also monitoring Santos teenager Kaio Jorge, who has a €50m release clause.

- Linked with a move to Bayern Munich, Leroy Sane may yet remain at Manchester City. The Telegraph reports the attacker, who has been sidelined with a serious knee injury, will consider staying at the Premier League club beyond this season.

- Hirving Lozano's Napoli stay may be short-lived. Corriere dello Sport reports Atletico Madrid have their sights set on the Mexico international, who is out of favour under Gennaro Gattuso in his first season at the Serie A club.

- Having dealt with defensive problems this season, Manchester City seemingly have a solution in mind. CalcioMercato reports the Premier League giants are ready to again make a move for Inter defender Milan Skriniar, a player they have been linked to previously.

- Already up to 15 goals this season, Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin appears set to be rewarded for his good form. The Times report the 22-year-old – apparently a target for Manchester United previously – is ready to sign a deal until 2025 with the Premier League club.

- Arsenal have started talks over a move for Feyenoord's 19-year-old playmaker Orkun Kokcu for £23m (€26.5m), according to the Daily Mail.

Jose Bordalas hit back at Frenkie de Jong over his criticism of Getafe's style of play, saying he had no interest in playing like Barcelona.

Getafe reportedly used De Jong's criticism as motivation to stun the midfielder's former club Ajax in the Europa League last 32.

But Bordalas responded by criticising Barcelona, who edged Getafe 2-1 when the teams met in LaLiga last month.

The Spaniard said he had no desire to see his side play like Barca, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen having played 69 passes – the fourth most on the pitch – in that clash.

"When we played against Barca, his goalkeeper gave 69 passes," Getafe coach Bordalas told Radio Marca on Thursday.

"I don't want my goalkeeper to give 69 passes, something we would not be doing well.

"I want to create goalscoring chances."

Getafe will face Inter in the last 16 of the Europa League, while they are fourth in LaLiga, 10 points behind second-placed Barcelona.

Quique Setien says the focus on Barcelona assistant Eder Sarabia's expletive-laden outburst during the Clasico defeat to Real Madrid is "embarrassing".

Barca lost their first Clasico under Setien last week and ceded top spot in LaLiga in the process, going down 2-0 to Madrid through goals from Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz.

Matters went from bad to worse for the Blaugrana, however, as television cameras picked up on Sarabia fuming at his own players on the bench.

Several Barca stars were picked out for criticism, yet Setien was not happy the comments were highlighted.

"It is a bit embarrassing that it becomes news and has a dimension like the one it has acquired," he told El Periodico.

"That is embarrassing, that the media use a camera that is permanently following you on the bench. It is something that should be eradicated. It is something that should end.

"You can't spend all day with your hand over your mouth. I don't have to force myself to cover my mouth. It's unfortunate that these things happen."

However, Setien was also apologetic and suggested Sarabia was working to ensure there would be no repeat.

"It has affected me a lot," the head coach said. "The first thing I think about is the club and the club's image. It must be a clean image – you have to take care of it.

"It is a topic that worries me a lot. It is something very important to me. You can criticise us because we make wrong the changes, because we set the team up wrong, for whatever, but not for our behaviour.

"You have to understand people and moments. Not everyone is the same. Eder is a kid who has a great temperament, which for many things is phenomenal. But you have to learn to control yourself.

"These situations are more and more sporadic, but it's something we don't like. It is no excuse that these situations are seen on the benches.

"It is an issue that Eder is trying to solve. He is a young kid, an impulsive kid, who has a lot of energy. But we are on the bench of a club you represent and the behaviour should be faultless."

Eden Hazard has undergone successful surgery on his ankle at a facility in Dallas.

The Real Madrid star sustained a fracture to his right fibula in the 1-0 LaLiga defeat to Levante.

The 29-year-old was sent for an operation in the United States as, according to reports in Spain, it was felt that doctors with experience of treating similar injuries sustained by NBA stars would be best placed to offer a long-term fix.

Madrid confirmed on Thursday that Hazard's surgery went as planned, under the supervision of club doctors, and he will continue to be monitored before beginning his rehabilitation process.

Hazard, who has only made 15 appearances for Madrid since a €100million move from Chelsea as a result of injuries, met Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic after arriving in the USA.

He is expected to return to the Spanish capital in the coming days to continue his recovery.

It has been speculated Hazard is not likely to be fully fit for three months, although Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has expressed confidence the forward will play again for Madrid this season.

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are Paris Saint-Germain's star duo but they could be separated next season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are eyeing Neymar and Mbappe respectively.

Ligue 1 champions PSG have reportedly made it clear who they want to keep.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR OUT FOR MBAPPE?

Paris Saint-Germain could sell Neymar in order to keep fellow superstar Kylian Mbappe, according to AS.

Neymar continues to be linked with a return to LaLiga champions Barcelona, while Mbappe is a long-term target for Real Madrid.

Amid ongoing speculation over Mbappe and a possible move to Madrid, PSG are reportedly willing to sacrifice Neymar to retain the France international.

Deportes Cuatro adds that Barcelona could offer up Antoine Griezmann to PSG in order to lure Neymar back to Camp Nou.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal says Tottenham star Harry Kane would consider a move to Premier League rivals Manchester United at the end of the season. The England striker is reportedly weighing up his future in London.

- The future of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is up in the air, reports Catalunya Radio. Mundo Deportivo, however, says the Germany international is committed to Barca.

- Corriere dello Sport claims Serie A high-flyers Lazio are ready to launch a €50million bid for Lyon star Memphis Depay.

Inter are lining up a move for Chelsea full-back Marcos Alonso, according to Calciomercato. A €30m (£26m) fee has been mooted.

Juventus are still looking to sign Mauro Icardi, Tuttosport claims. Icardi is on loan at PSG from Inter this season, however, Juve are reportedly willing to include either Paulo Dybala or Miralem Pjanic in any deal to sign the striker.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Everton and Premier League rivals Tottenham want to sign United defender Chris Smalling, who is on loan at Serie A side Roma.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is yet to decide his future but the veteran striker would be happy to extend his contract at Milan beyond this season, says Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Nicolo Schira. Milan are in turmoil amid a row between board members Ivan Gazidis, Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban.

FIFA 20 players building their Ultimate Team squads around Spaniards will be intrigued by the latest Team of the Week, with four selected in a starting XI that also includes Philippe Coutinho.

Dani Carvajal impressed in El Clasico at the weekend, with the Real Madrid right-back slotting into a defence in front of Crystal Palace's Spanish goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

Marcos Alonso is in the team after returning to form with Chelsea, the full-back scoring both goals as the Blues drew with Bournemouth.

The other Spaniard in the starting line-up is Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez, while Ismaila Sarr takes a place on the bench after he stole the show in Watford's shock 3-0 win over Liverpool, whose 44-match unbeaten run in the Premier League ended abruptly at Vicarage Road.

Below, we have the entire squad.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

GK: Vicente Guaita (Crystal Palace) – 82

RB: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – 87

CB: Kostas Manolas (Roma) – 86

LB: Ramy Bensebaini (Borussia Monchengladbach) – 84

RM: Calvin Stengs (AZ) – 84

CM: Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid) – 87

LWB: Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) – 86

LW: Philippe Coutinho (Bayern Munich) – 89

LM: Fabian Orellana (Eibar) – 84

ST: Duvan Zapata (Atalanta) – 86

ST: Dario Benedetto (Marseille) – 84

SUBSTITUTES

GK: Predrag Rajkovic (Reims) – 79

LB: Marcal (Lyon) – 81

RM: Ismaila Sarr (Watford) – 82

CM: Teji Savanier (Montpellier) – 82

CF: Andre-Pierre Gignac (Tigres) – 83

ST: Nikola Kalinic (Roma) – 82

ST: Dieumerci Mbokani (Antwerp) – 82

RESERVES

RB: Matias Rodriguez (Deportes Nunoa) – 78

LM: Danny Blum (Bochum) – 78

ST: Klauss (LASK) – 77

GK: Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs) – 75

LF: Max Burgess (Western United) – 73

Neymar is reportedly becoming Barcelona's top target again ahead of next season.

The Brazil international was heavily linked with a return to the LaLiga giants ahead of this season, but ended up staying at Paris Saint-Germain.

However, Barca are ready to try to land the forward once more.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR OBJECTIVE NUMBER ONE FOR BARCELONA

Neymar is Barcelona's top priority ahead of the 2020-21 season, according to Sport.

The cover of the Spanish sports daily reads: "Neymar objective number one".

It reports FIFA is also allowing Barcelona to negotiate more strongly with PSG than it did last year.

Neymar has scored 16 goals in 20 games in all competitions for PSG this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying with PSG and L'Equipe reports the Ligue 1 giants will not release France star Kylian Mbappe, or any of their players including Neymar, to play at the Olympics.

- Harry Kane may be sidelined with a hamstring injury, but his career at Tottenham remains a talking point. The Telegraph reports the forward will consider his future with Spurs at the end of the season as they face another campaign without silverware.

- Jadon Sancho continues to star for Borussia Dortmund and the 19-year-old is already up to 17 goals in all competitions this season. Bild reports the asking price for the England international has risen to £122million (€140m), with Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea said to be interested in the attacker.

- Real Madrid, PSG and Chelsea have already made contact with the agent of Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, according to Italian journalist Nicolo Schira, who says they are ready to offer the 21-year-old an annual salary of €8m.

- Appearing set for a Barcelona exit at the end of the season, Ivan Rakitic recently met with Atletico Madrid representatives, according to Marca.

- With plenty of changes seemingly ahead at Camp Nou, Mundo Deportivo reports Barcelona are in regular contact with the agency of Ferran Torres, the 20-year-old attacker who has caught the eye at Valencia.

Rafael Benitez insists it is not true he tried to teach Cristiano Ronaldo how to take free-kicks while head coach of Real Madrid.

Benitez was in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu for an ill-fated seven months between June 2015 and January 2016 before he was replaced by Zinedine Zidane.

The former Liverpool manager struggled to win over the fans and reportedly had a difficult relationship with some of Madrid's first-team stars, most notably Ronaldo.

Benitez is said to have encouraged the Portugal star to review footage of his own past performances in order to improve and, according to some reports, even attempted to instruct Madrid's record goalscorer how best to shoot from dead-ball situations.

However, Benitez, now coach of Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, has offered his side of the story.

"That's a lie. At no time did I tell him how he had to take them," Benitez told Marca.

"The only conversation I had with Cristiano about free-kicks was in Australia, during pre-season. I told him we had analysed, together with my goalkeeper coach, the free-kicks he took when he was at Manchester United and the trajectory of the ball in relation to the position of the wall.

"Our idea then, as Liverpool coaches, was to try to counter their [United's] free-kicks. But that's it. At no time, as coach of Madrid, did I tell CR7 how free-kicks should be taken."

Benitez also denied trying to persuade Luka Modric to stop passing the ball with the outside of his right foot, insisting he merely encouraged the 2018 Ballon d'Or winner to use his instep for short, simple passes.

"I only told him that, of course, when you have a simple pass, you have to hit it with the inside [of your foot] because then it's easier for your team-mate," Benitez said. "When I played, I also used the outside, but in 10-15-metre passes.

"Anyone who knows me knows this is a lie [that I told Modric to stop]. However, it's very easy to release lies and make them appear true."

Benitez remains reluctant to talk publicly about his short-lived spell in charge of Madrid, which ended with a 2-2 draw at Valencia on January 3.

"I went a long time without talking about the club. In one moment, it occurred to me to say something... and it seemed as though I couldn't say what I thought," Benitez said.

"Therefore, what I do is not talk about Madrid. I focus on the future, which is Dalian.

"We were able to sign Lucas [Vazquez], Casemiro and [Mateo] Kovacic. Two of them are still there, and at a good level, but I don't want to talk about that.

"In six months, they let me do what they let me do. For whatever reason, there wasn't interest to do more. And that's it. I don't want to say more."

Benitez was a far more popular figure during his three years in charge of Newcastle United before he moved to China.

The 59-year-old says he turned down several offers from other lucrative leagues before taking the Dalian role, as he felt the other clubs did not represent the same meaningful challenge, although he is not discounting a return to Europe.

"I'm not thinking of coming back now," he said. "We want to develop this Chinese project. Before coming here, I had offers from different places, but they didn't meet the conditions we were looking for.

"We could have gone to other countries. There was a lot of money from several leagues where they pay a lot. But they were teams that didn't have the capacity to compete, to win.

"Here, in addition to a good contract, there's a project where nobody demands that you win titles, but to improve and leave something for the future, a legacy. And we're doing that."

He added: "The important leagues always attract me. The essential thing is that people know we are up-to-date with everything. We never stop, my team and I."

Lautaro Martinez is a wanted man and his future could become clearer.

The Inter star has dazzled in Italy this season, alongside team-mate Romelu Lukaku.

And Barcelona are reportedly keen to tie up a deal for the Argentina international.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA TABLE MARTINEZ BID

Barcelona have made their first offer to Inter for star forward Lautaro Martinez, according to FCInterNews.it.

Martinez has reportedly been identified as a long-term replacement for Barca veteran Luis Suarez, while the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Manchester United are interested.

According to the report, LaLiga champions Barca have tabled a €70m bid for Martinez plus two players – Arturo Vidal and Nelson Semedo.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Telegraph says United are favourites to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho at the end of the season. Liverpool and Chelsea have also been linked with moves for the 19-year-old.

Athletic Bilbao are interested in Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain, reports Marca. Bilbao have a Basque-only transfer policy, however, Argentina international Higuain qualifies due to the Basque-French origin of his grandfather.

- Amid doubts over Martinez's future in Milan, Calciomercato says Inter are eyeing Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata.

- According to Goal, Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is considering a move to MLS outfit and sister club New York City. The 36-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic faces an uncertain future at Milan amid doubts over directors Zvonimir Boban and Paolo Maldini, claims Tuttosport. Boban and Maldini had reportedly been seeking to extend Ibrahimovic's contract until 2021 but the pair are reportedly set to leave San Siro following a row with Elliott Management.

Thibaut Courtois believes Real Madrid's decision to press Barcelona as they played out from the back paid off in El Clasico.

In his 50th LaLiga game as a Madrid player, goalkeeper Courtois made key first-half saves from Arthur and Lionel Messi.

That set the platform for second-half goals from Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz as Zinedine Zidane's men claimed a 2-0 home win on Sunday that put them top of LaLiga.

Courtois felt Madrid's tactics made the difference and was glad to have stepped up when it mattered with important stops before the break.

"Against Barcelona you can play in two ways: get into the area and defend or press and risk as they play out," he said to the club's official website.

"We did the latter very well and winning a Clasico is always good. 

"At 0-0 in the first half it was important not to concede any goals. When it was my turn I made good saves, like against Arthur and Messi. 

"Then in the second half we were better and made the difference."

Courtois felt Madrid had been playing well despite their recent defeats to Levante and Manchester City.

Now ahead of Barca by a solitary point, he has urged his team-mates not to take their foot off the gas ahead of the away match with Real Betis on March 8.

The Belgium international added: "We are ahead but we can't forget that there are 12 games left. 

"Next we visit Betis and if we want to win LaLiga we have to win there too.

"After our last results we have continued to work well. I think we played better in those games but we didn't win.

"Football is about small details and this time we got the win with the help of our fans. That is key and they have been incredible."

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