Lionel Messi posted a message to departing Barcelona team-mate Arturo Vidal as the midfielder prepared to join Inter.

Vidal is set to be confirmed as a Nerazzurri player on Monday after the buying club posted updates on his arrival in Italy this weekend.

The 33-year-old, who previously played in Serie A for Juventus, is set for a €1million move after two years at Barca.

Vidal and Luis Suarez are close friends of Blaugrana captain Messi and were reportedly each told they could leave the club by new head coach Ronald Koeman.

Former Bayern Munich man Vidal has secured his exit, while Suarez's situation remains unclear, after Messi failed in his attempts to force through a transfer of his own.

As well as Manchester City, Messi – who wanted to be released from his contract – was linked with Vidal's new employers Inter.

He wrote to the Chilean on Instagram on Sunday: "I only knew you from facing each other and you always seemed like a phenomenon to me, but later I was lucky to meet you personally and you surprised me even more.

"They were two years sharing many things and you made yourself noticed. The dressing room is going to miss you.

"I wish you all the best in this new stage at your new club. We will cross paths again, for sure."

Vidal commented: "Thanks alien! I am proud to have played with the greatest in history and thank you very much for your friendship. I miss you. See you soon."

Vidal was part of the 2018-19 LaLiga title-winning team at Camp Nou and scored 11 goals in 66 league games in total.

Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted he had no interest in continuing a public spat with Lionel Messi despite the Barcelona captain's criticism of his presidency.

Messi stunned the world last month when he informed Barca of his intention to depart the LaLiga giants, with the 33-year-old intending to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free at the end of last season.

However, the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the campaign being extended by the coronavirus pandemic, and Messi ultimately opted to remain in Catalonia rather than challenge Barcelona in a legal battle.

That did not prevent him from taking aim at Bartomeu in an interview with Goal, though, as he accused the president of reneging on his wish to leave and presiding over a club that had "no project or anything for a long time".

"As president, I will not enter into any conflict with Messi," Bartomeu told TV3.

"Messi is our captain, our leader. The issue is parked. What has been said has been said.

"I couldn't allow to let the best player in the world go. The team needs him, he guarantees success. Things have to be discussed at home. You have to support the team and the players.

"We have to congratulate ourselves that Messi is still with us. He is excited about [coach Ronald] Koeman's project. The important thing is he plays for Barca, at his home. We want him to retire at the club."

Messi's contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 season anyway, though by that point Barcelona will have a different president as there are elections to replace Bartomeu next March.

However, Bartomeu, unpopular with some Barcelona fans due to his role in the Messi saga, may be forced out before then if he faces a vote of no confidence on the back of a motion to remove him, which has so far gathered more than 20,000 votes.

"Right now, no-one is considering resigning," Bartomeu added.

"The club is not going to stop. I think everyone was surprised by the number of signatures but we respect democracy and the club's laws."

Lionel Messi headlines Argentina's preliminary 30-man squad for next month's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Bolivia.

World Cup qualifying for the 2022 showpiece in Qatar was due to begin in March, but the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay until October.

Now, Lionel Scaloni's Argentina – who have not played since November – will kick-off their campaign against Ecuador in Buenos Aires on October 8 before travelling to Bolivia five days later.

Argentina and Barcelona captain Messi is joined in the preliminary squad by Juventus star Paulo Dybala and Inter forward Lautaro Martinez.

Uncapped duo Facundo Medina and Nehuen Perez have also been included, while former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez could make his debut after completing a move to Aston Villa.

 

Argentina squad: Agustin Marchesin (Porto), Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa), Juan Musso (Udinese); Marcos Acuna (Sevilla), Leonardo Balerdi (Marseille), Juan Foyth (Tottenham), Walter Kannemann (Gremio), Facundo Medina (Lens), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Nehuen Perez (Atletico Madrid), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Renzo Saravia (Internacional), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax); Joaquin Correa (Lazio), Rodrigo De Paul (Udinese), Nicolas Dominguez (Stuttgart), Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton and Hove Albion), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla), Exequiel Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Guido Rodriguez (Real Betis); Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Lautaro Martinez (Inter), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristian Pavon (LA Galaxy), Giovanni Simeone (Cagliari).

Pep Guardiola insisted it was not right for him to talk on Lionel Messi's behalf after the transfer saga that saw the Barcelona superstar heavily linked with a move to Manchester City.

Messi asked to leave Barca in the tumultuous aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

City were widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature, with a reunion between Messi and Guardiola heavily tipped to happen before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner announced he would remain at Barcelona for the final year of his contract, accusing president Josep Maria Bartomeu of going back on his word and making the financial cost of any deal for a buying club "impossible".

LaLiga backed Barca in confirming the €700million release clause in Messi's contract remained valid.

Speaking ahead of Monday's trip to Wolves, where City will begin their attempt to unseat Liverpool and win a third Premier League title in four seasons, Guardiola was keen not to cause any friction with his former employers.

"I think I don't have to explain anything," he said. "Leo explained quite well his feelings, I don't have anything to add.

"He's a football player for FC Barcelona, the club I love, and there is nothing more to say."

Asked whether City would be interested in signing Messi were he to become available, at the age of 34, when his contract expires in June, Guardiola replied: I don't know. It's a question for Leo Messi. I cannot talk about the intentions of other people."

Guardiola's forward line at Molineux will be entirely without Argentinian talent after he confirmed City's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero is yet to resume full training following meniscus surgery in June.

Riyad Mahrez is set to feature after time in isolation following a positive coronavirus test, although centre-back Aymeric Laporte only returned to training from his own COVID-19 absence on Friday, so is a doubt.

That could mean a debut for Nathan Ake at centre-back, one of two major close-season acquisitions for Guardiola, alongside winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

"So far really good," he said of how Ake and Torres had settled.

"What we have to do with all the players and staff, the people close to them, is to help them to settle as quickly as possible.

"They are two nice people and it's good to have them with us."

City have been extensively linked with a move for Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, with the deal appearing to have stalled over recent weeks.

Nevertheless, Guardiola has no qualms over how his club have backed him in the transfer market.

"Since day one, when I arrived here, I was more than satisfied with what I had in the team," he added.

"The club do absolutely everything to do their best for all of us. I'm a lucky person to have these players and be in this club."

Former Barcelona midfielder Bernd Schuster said he can see the embattled club winning LaLiga but little else in 2020-21.

Barca are coming off a trophy-less season and superstar captain Lionel Messi's unsuccessful attempt to leave Camp Nou.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu is also under increasing pressure following Messi's transfer request.

As Barca prepare for their LaLiga opener against Villarreal on September 26, ex-Real Madrid player and head coach Schuster told Onda Cero: "I see Barca winning LaLiga but little else.

"The radical overhaul at Barca included selling Messi. That's what I believe the people at the club thought." 

Ronald Koeman is at the helm after Barca opted to sack head coach Quique Setien, who had only replaced Ernesto Valverde in January.

Barca were dethroned by bitter rivals Madrid last season and humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

"When a new coach arrives at a club, you can't overhaul the squad. It's a mistake because they might be forced to stay and you're off to a bad start," German Schuster, who won LaLiga and five other trophies during his time at Barca from 1980 to 1988, said.

"Barca are going through a tough moment and a radical change was needed. But this transition period might take a couple of years."

Life 20 years ago was markedly different to the world we know today.

Grim predictions of global chaos did not come to fruition as the human race survived Y2K and the threat of the "millennium bug".

Planes did not fall from the sky, missiles did not fire at random, and the resetting of dates on computers didn't set alarms blaring. No, we ticked along just fine into the year 2000.

And what a year it was. Beyonce was dominating the charts and inspiring a generation of independent women as part of Destiny's Child. Kylie Minogue made a fierce comeback. Coldplay launched their debut album. Eminem was leading the hip-hop boom. David Bowie wowed at Glastonbury for the final time.

'Big Brother' launched in the United Kingdom, sparking a global franchise that changed the landscape of reality television forever. Anne Robinson became a cold-hearted cheeky winker on 'The Weakest Link', a quiz-show concept that too travelled the globe. Russell Crowe was the ultimate 'Gladiator' and Ang Lee's 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' mesmerised with its comic-book like narrative. 

There were no iPhones. Oh no, they were still a pipe dream. Instead, millions were getting aching thumbs playing Snake on their Nokia 3310s – the best-selling phone of all time. Nintendo sold its 100 millionth Gameboy, the PlayStation 2 was launched, and The Sims hit the shelves for the first time.

In sports, Tiger Woods dominated the golfing landscape, Pete Sampras won a 13th grand slam and Wimbledon for the seventh and final time, Venus Williams won two majors and sister Serena only had one of her 23. France were European champions in football and Steve Redgrave won a fifth gold medal at a Sydney Olympics where Maurice Greene was the 100 metres champion.

But on September 17 two decades ago another seismic moment was taking place. Lionel Messi trained with Barcelona for the very first time.

"In the moment I met him [Messi], his family wanted to leave Argentina for economic reasons. They saw an opportunity with Leo," Fabian Soldini, the agent who helped bring a 13-year-old Messi to Barcelona from Argentina, recalled to Stats Perform News.

"A boy from Newell's [Old Boys] had just left for Milan and Messi's family had the idea to leave through a trial with Leo, because they understood they had the new [Diego] Maradona. 

"We did not even have passports. In those days it took time to get a passport in Argentina, we had to do everything to obtain the passport very quickly and be able to travel on September 17th with hope and uncertainty because I knew what Leo was capable of doing but I had never been [to Barcelona] and did not know the youth football in Spain."

The circumstances prior to Messi's first session were not ideal. There were concerns too over his physical ability to mix it with others who became global names.

Soldini explained: "For us, it was something with a lot of hope and we were looking for something unknown. It was like going to conquer Spain to see what level he had. 

"We had a quite difficult flight with turbulence so Leo could not rest nor eat, the day we arrived he had his first training session. I did not want him to do it because he was not at his best condition. 

"Also, I saw the boy in that moment. Gerard Pique was there, Cesc Fabregas, Victor [Vazquez], Toni Calvo. All players who reached the first division. 

"They had well-developed bodies. Pique was much bigger than Leo. And [I remember] seeing Leo so small going there. I remember Juan Mateo [Walter, an Argentine agent] said to me: 'Fabian, he is too small. You can get Barcelona's doors closed forever if you say you have a good player and he is not.' After 15 minutes watching him touching the ball, he changed his mind concerning what he thought about Leo."

It was not just the global landscape that looked very different 20 years ago. So too did the picture at Camp Nou. Barca had seen superstar Luis Figo depart for fierce rivals Real Madrid and lost their crown in LaLiga – a title they would not win again until 2005.

But behind the scenes at Barca's famed La Masia academy a perfect storm was brewing and a golden generation, led by their crown jewel Messi, that would thrive under Pep Guardiola was being moulded.

"I believe Messi arrived at the right place and at the right time, they are important things,"Soldini said. 

"It came at a time when Figo was leaving. Messi arrived in that year. I remember that we went to see a game, together with Leo. A derby [El Clasico]. Real Madrid came, I remember the whistles to Figo every time he touched the ball. Messi arrived at a time that was not a good sporting moment for Barcelona. 

"For me, Barcelona, in the academy, is one of the best clubs, with its model of play. Some may like it, others may not. But Leo arrived precisely at a stage with great players who accompanied him. 

"That is what makes Barcelona reach that level, an unbeatable team, with a coach [like Guardiola]. For me it was as if the planets were aligned at that time for Barcelona. I say that if Leo had been nationalised Spanish, as at some point they asked him, Spain would have been world champion three times, I have no doubt."

Over the next two decades Messi etched himself into football legend and is considered by many as the greatest of all time.

A club-record 634 goals, 254 assists, 444 goals in LaLiga - a competition record - the most registered in a calendar year in 2012 with 91, 10 LaLiga titles, six Copas del Rey, four Champions Leagues, 34 Barca honours in total, a benchmark six Ballons d'Or. The only blot on a flawless resume is a lack of international titles with Argentina.

This transfer window almost saw the end of one of football's greatest love affairs. Barca's humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League left Messi despondent and seeking a new challenge.

A dispute over a clause in his contract meant Messi, who did not want to drag his beloved Barca through the courts, stayed put. 

"FC Barcelona is his life. I am sure it is his life," Soldini said about the saga. "In 2015, he told me that he was going to stay there all his life. 

"He could play in the United States when he is no longer at his highest competitive level. The feeling for Barcelona ... he said it's the club he loves. I have no doubt about his feeling for Barcelona."

Messi's love affair with Barcelona has produced some of the most utterly joyous moments for fans of the game. The world may be a completely different place to when he first stepped foot on a Barcelona training pitch 20 years ago, but boy has football been blessed by his presence.

There will be no 2020 Ballon d'Or due to the coronavirus pandemic, seemingly costing Robert Lewandowski his shot at the top prize.

While perennial contenders Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi each made relatively early Champions League exits last term, Lewandowski was the best player for the best team in Europe.

Bayern Munich won the treble, aided in no small part by an outstanding haul of 55 goals in all competitions from their number nine.

It was the best campaign of Lewandowski's career, yet there appears no reason to believe he cannot hit similar heights in the season to come as we use Opta data to reflect on a stunning year.


LIKE RONALDO... BUT BETTER!

Lewandowski brings plenty to the table, but above all he is a goalscorer - as he proved in 2019-20. The 32-year-old's 55 goals came from just 47 matches as he netted once every 75 minutes on average.

Rather than a feat of finishing, however, Lewandowski put on a movement masterclass, taking up goalscoring positions time and again. Of his 55 goals, 52 were scored from inside the area - including 33 of 34 in the Bundesliga, where he also dispatched each of his five penalties.

The Poland international only outperformed his expected goals value of 51.0 by four, yet the next highest xG in Europe's 'top five' leagues - Ronaldo's - was way back at 35.8.

Lewandowski was expected to score 1.09 goals per game, comfortably the only star averaging more than one a match in this respect, with Kylian Mbappe next on 0.82 xG per game

Ronaldo prides himself on his goalscoring tally in much the same way but hit the net 'just' 37 times, also putting him behind Lazio's Ciro Immobile (39), who was still a long way short of Lewandowski.


BEATING THE VERY BEST

Last term was actually the first season in Lewandowski's career in which he scored more goals than both Ronaldo and Messi (31). He has topped Ronaldo in consecutive campaigns, too.

Lewandowski is only a year younger than Messi but scored just nine times in the 2010-11 season as the Barcelona forward was tallying 53, tied with Ronaldo. The Bayern star - then of Borussia Dortmund - scored 30 the next season to start to close the gap yet still had a long way to go to reach his current standards.

Given his age, it seems unlikely Lewandowski will be able to extend his peak years over such a spell as the big two have, but he should certainly back himself to dominate in the coming season.

Lewandowski has a better, more settled team than Ronaldo, meaning there is little reason to doubt he can edge out that particular rival again. Meanwhile, partly due to Lewandowski's Bayern, Barca are in crisis, with Messi unhappy even as he sticks around for another season.

Other contenders will emerge, such as Mbappe, but the Paris Saint-Germain forward is already missing games in 2020-21 due to coronavirus and fluffed his lines against Lewandowski's Bayern in last season's Champions League final.

As Ronaldo and Messi enter the final stages of their careers and the next generation take time to hit the heights, Lewandowski looks primed to be the middle man as European football's statistical phenomenon and, perhaps, the world's best player.

Lionel Messi returned to the scoresheet in style with a brace in Barcelona's 3-1 friendly win over Girona on Wednesday.

The Blaugrana captain is set to see out the remaining year of his contract at Camp Nou after failing to secure a move away from his only senior club.

Messi was heavily linked with Manchester City but stayed at Barca despite announcing his frustration with the failed negotiations.

The number 10 returned to the fold for his side's first pre-season friendly under Ronald Koeman on Saturday, playing the first half against Gimnastic but failing to find the net.

Messi put that right against Girona, however, with a stunning right-footed strike from 20 yards crashing against the post and in on the stroke of half-time, although it prompted only an understated celebration.

A second followed after the restart, his shot deflecting beyond the wrong-footed goalkeeper and adding to Philippe Coutinho's opener.

Messi made way for Ousmane Dembele after 63 minutes and now has one more friendly remaining - the Joan Gamper Trophy against Elche - before Barca's LaLiga campaign begins at home to Villarreal on the weekend of September 26/27.

Lionel Messi has been "deceived and ignored" by Barcelona and should still be granted his wish to leave, according to former Rayo Vallecano head coach Paco Jemez.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi announced on September 4 he was staying at Camp Nou after Barcelona made it "impossible" for him to leave with their demands.

Barca disputed that the 33-year-old was still able to take up an option in his contract that would have allowed him to depart for free, meaning any suitors had to pay his €700million release clause or negotiate a fee.

He will now remain in Catalonia for at least another season, but Jemez has suggested it may have worked out better had the Argentina international moved on.

"It is great news that Messi remains in Spanish football and Barca will think the same, but I would not be so happy because Messi has not been comfortable," he said on YouTube channel Idolos. 

"Messi has stayed because they have forced him.

"If what he said is true, Messi has been deceived and ignored. That is not a good thing. If I was the president of Barca, I would do everything possible to make Messi leave. Because if not, this situation will burst."

Jemez has sympathy for recently appointed Barca boss Ronald Koeman and insisted the issue will not go away now that Messi has committed to staying.

"Letting go of Messi is also very difficult. I understand it, too. What I am clear about, at least as a coach, is that I would not like to have Messi unhappy," he said.

"Koeman has a significant 'dead man'. It often happens to us coaches, finding yourself with a problem that other people have generated. You get there and it turns out that the one who has to fix it is you.

"The problem will not be solved just because Messi is staying at Barcelona. There comes a time when there is so much animosity that it is practically impossible to redirect things."

Ronald Koeman said Barcelona must sell before they can think about signing Lyon captain Memphis Depay as the head coach expects to start the LaLiga season with no additions to the squad.

Depay has been tipped to reunite with former Netherlands coach Koeman at Barca following his exploits for Ligue 1 outfit and Champions League semi-finalists Lyon.

However, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas – prior to Tuesday's 2-1 loss against Montpellier – claimed Barca cannot afford to buy Depay due to their finances amid the coronavirus crisis.

Koeman, who has replaced Quique Setien at Camp Nou, was asked about former Manchester United forward Depay amid talk of a €25million transfer and he told Fox Sports Netherlands: "For Depay to arrive, you must first sell."

Barca have been linked with a number of players following a miserable 2019-20 campaign, which saw the Spanish powerhouse dethroned by bitter rivals Real Madrid in LaLiga and embarrassed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

After receiving Miralem Pjanic in a swap deal that sent Arthur to Serie A champions Juventus, Barca continue to be linked with Inter star Lautaro Martinez.

Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum has emerged as a possible target for Barca, while former star Thiago Alcantara has also been linked with a move from Bayern.

However, Koeman said: "We're working towards the new season and I think we will go into it with the same group of players that we have now for pre-season."

Barca will open their 2020-21 LaLiga campaign at home to Unai Emery's Villarreal on September 26.

Lionel Messi is set to take to the field for Barca following a turbulent off-season, which saw the superstar captain try to leave the club.

Linked to Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus, six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi decided to stay after handing in a transfer request amid frustration with Barca's board.

Asked about the situation involving Messi, former Barca defender Koeman added: "That has passed me reasonably well. That was mainly a conflict between Messi and the club.

"I have spoken to Messi since then and we will continue as usual." 

Miralem Pjanic is fulfilling a dream by sharing a dressing room with Barcelona legend Lionel Messi and cannot believe his luck having also previously played with Francesco Totti and Cristiano Ronaldo.

New €60million signing Pjanic was belatedly presented as a Barca player on Tuesday, having tested positive for COVID-19 in August which meant the 30-year-old had to go into quarantine.

That delayed the midfielder's arrival in Barcelona until last week, with him working out at the club's training ground for the first time on Saturday prior to their friendly against Gimnastic.

A tumultuous transfer window for Barca saw Messi ask to leave the club before ultimately staying, a decision Pjanic both expected and relished.

"I have met with him two or three days ago," Pjanic told reporters about Messi.

"I have played with Totti, Cristiano and now Messi. That is fortunate, to have players like this as team-mates. They are athletes who have given a lot to football. 

"Today I have the opportunity to share the dressing room with an alien and it will be beautiful. 

"Sharing a dressing room with Messi and not only with Messi, with others too, is a dream for me. 

"But we will be a squad of 25 and all 25 will be important.

"I have played in great teams and I have respected my teams, but today a dream comes true. It is the ultimate dream. I will give everything I can to leave a good memory of me."

Of the transfer saga, which saw Barca refuse to allow the Argentina international leave for free, Pjanic added: "I followed everything that happened about Messi. 

"But I don't see Messi outside of this club. He has made an incredible story for the team and I think this story will end well. Leo is a winner, an achiever. 

"I only imagined Messi at Barca because this is his home. He is perhaps the best player of all time and for us having him is a great asset.

"Messi has grown up here and I've seen him happy. Everyone is going to have a good time here.

"He has made an incredible history with this club and all will be well.

"My will was to play with this player and I had no doubt that it would happen. I did not imagine him being in other colours or a different shirt."

Lionel Messi has retained his place at the top of Forbes' list of highest-paid footballers after earning $126million over the past year, with Cristiano Ronaldo closely behind him in second. 

The Barcelona superstar sent shockwaves through world football last month when he told the club he has spent his entire career at he wanted to leave after a trophyless campaign in 2019-20.

Messi believed he could use a clause in his contract to leave for free, but Barca and LaLiga disputed that claim and insisted his deal could only be terminated should his €700m release clause be paid.

Amid frustration with the Camp Nou board, Messi performed a U-turn and elected to stay with the embattled LaLiga giants for at least the 2020-21 campaign.

He does so as the highest paid footballer in the world after earning $126million in salary and endorsements over the past 12 months.

His long-time rival Ronaldo is second on the list after bringing in earnings of $117m. 

Paris Saint-Germain stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are third and fourth respectively, with Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah in fifth place.

Making up the rest of the top 10 are French World Cup winners Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, Real Madrid outcast Gareth Bale, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.

 

Forbes' top 10 highest-paid footballers:

1. Lionel Messi - $126m
2. Cristiano Ronaldo - $117m
3. Neymar - $96m
4. Kylian Mbappe - $42m
5. Mohamed Salah - $37m
6. Paul Pogba - $34m
7. Antoine Griezmann - $33m
8. Gareth Bale - $29m
9. Robert Lewandowski - $28m
10. David De Gea - $27m

Ronald Koeman explained why Barcelona need to change from their traditional 4-3-3 formation after enjoying a winning start as head coach.

The Blaugrana beat Gimnastic 3-1 in a friendly match at Estadi Johan Cruyff on Saturday, their first outing since Koeman took over from Quique Setien.

With Lionel Messi captaining the team for the first time since announcing he will stay at the club, Barca scored through Ousmane Dembele and a penalty each from Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho, with Javier Bonilla getting a goal for the Segunda B side.

Koeman changed all 11 players at half-time but stuck with a 4-2-3-1 set-up, a system he appears likely to keep for the start of the LaLiga season.

Explaining that decision, the former Netherlands boss told Barca TV: "The midfield system is a little different to previous seasons but the team has the quality to do that and do it well.

"We're looking to move the ball much quicker high up the pitch to break the lines [of the opposition], to create space and generate more dangerous [situations] so the team scores goals.

"It was our first match in pre-season and that is why everyone only played 45 minutes. They need to build rhythm and play with intensity. It was a little better in the second half than the first. Not picking up any injuries was also very important as we looked to set the tempo in the match. That was more important than the final result.

"All the boys did well and we saw some who hadn't played before. There are always things which can be improved upon but, in general, we are very happy with how the players did after just two weeks of training.

"It isn't a normal six-week pre-season. We've only got four weeks and some even less because they've gone away with their national teams or been injured.

"It's important to integrate everyone. It's complicated because all we want is to build up fitness and over the next two weeks add a more tactical side ahead of a complicated league season."

Barca's next friendly match is against Girona on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi is in the Barcelona squad for Saturday's friendly with Gimnastic, but Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal will not be involved.

Captain Messi is in line to appear in Ronald Koeman's first match in charge despite having tried to engineer a move away from Barca in the past month.

The Argentina star decided to stay at Camp Nou for the final season of his deal rather than threaten Barca with a lawsuit, having tried unsuccessfully to argue that the clause allowing him to terminate his contract was still valid.

Messi felt he was able to make use of that clause because the 2019-20 season was extended by the coronavirus pandemic, but Barca and LaLiga insisted the timeframe in which he would have had to activate it had elapsed.

While Messi is now committed to the club for at least another year, the futures of Vidal and Suarez are far less certain.

Suarez is reported to have been told by Koeman on the phone that he can leave, although AS claim the new Barca coach also made it clear that selling the striker was not his decision.

The Uruguay international has been heavily linked with Juventus, who have allowed Gonzalo Higuain to leave ahead of an expected move to Inter Miami.

Vidal, meanwhile, has been tipped to join Inter to reunite with former Juve boss Antonio Conte.

Barca face Gimnastic at Estadi Johan Cruyff on Saturday in the first of their pre-season fixtures, before playing Girona next Wednesday.

Philippe Coutinho is in the squad, having returned from a loan spell with Bayern Munich, while Francisco Trincao and Pedri could make their first appearances for the club.

They are due to begin their LaLiga season against Villarreal in 15 days' time.

Lionel Messi needed a professional on his side and not his father as he attempted to leave Barcelona, according to former Argentina team-mate Hernan Crespo.

After initially telling Barca he wished to leave after a trophyless campaign in 2019-20, and amid frustration with the Camp Nou board, Messi performed a U-turn and elected to stay with the embattled LaLiga giants.

Messi's contract expires next year, with Barca having been desperate to keep hold of their superstar captain as they look to overhaul the squad under new head coach Ronald Koeman, who replaced Quique Setien last month.

But Crespo believes the crisis could have been avoided, telling TyC Sports: "Here again, with this whole situation, the issue is that... with all due to respect to Jorge Messi, it seems to me that in these circumstances you need a professional by your side.

"It's not the same thing to talk an agent, that is, someone professional, as your father... the agent is not going to take into account the family issue and so on.

"You need to be a professional in these cases."

Last season's runners-up Barca kick off their league campaign against Villarreal on September 26, with friendlies against Gimnastic Tarragona and Girona taking place in the meantime.

Barca endured a miserable 2019-20 season, dethroned by bitter LaLiga rivals Real Madrid, while they were humiliated 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi scored 25 LaLiga goals and 31 across all competitions for Barca last term.

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