Lionel Messi wants to stay at Barcelona, but it is "never easy" to renew his contract, according to the club's technical secretary Eric Abidal.

Messi's future has been thrown into doubt following a turbulent week at Camp Nou, during which he criticised Abidal in a social media post for his comments on the squad's efforts under former coach Ernesto Valverde.

The Barca captain called on Abidal to name names and accused him of "dirtying" the squad by suggesting certain stars downed tools during Valverde's final weeks in charge.

With Messi able to have his contract cancelled at the end of the season and leave for free, there have been suggestions he could seek a new challenge for 2020-21, although Pep Guardiola insisted on Friday he did not want Manchester City to sign the Argentina star.

Abidal seems hopeful of extending Messi's contract, which will expire in June 2021, but he concedes it is difficult to negotiate terms with a player considered the greatest in the world.

"It's a question for him," he told Mundo Deportivo when asked about Messi's contract. "Hopefully, he continues.

"Leo said Barca is everything for him, that he wants to continue here and, from there, there are conditions. We're talking about the best player in the world and to have a renewal of such a player is never easy."

Messi has always seemed likely to end at least his European career with Barca, although it is said he wants the club to be in a strong position to challenge for LaLiga and the Champions League before he commits to new terms.

Abidal appears hugely confident in Barca's chances of continental glory this season, suggesting they could be unbeatable if they play to their highest level.

"The Champions League is the objective. We know the challenge is difficult but it's not impossible," he said, with Napoli up next in the round of 16.

"For me, Barca's only rivals are Barca. If the team is good physically and mentally, it will be very difficult for us to lose the ball and not be able to win."

Barcelona's trophy hopes have already been dealt a blow by the loss of Luis Suarez, who is not likely to return until near the end of the season due to a knee injury.

The striker will also be out of contract after next season, but Abidal expects to begin discussions over a new deal when the time is right.

"First, you have to have respect for the players, for what they're giving, what they've given before and what they will give to the club," he said. "It's an injury situation now. Hopefully, he'll recover well and, aside from that, it's just talking.

"If things look good to us as a club, of course we'll enter into negotiations and he will also have to tell us how he feels because, in the end, it's [about] respect for the club and for the team."

Quique Setien has confirmed Barcelona are considering signing another striker to ease the loss of Luis Suarez following the Uruguayan's knee surgery.

Suarez, 32, was said to have been carrying a knee injury for a while before Barca revealed he was set for surgery on January 11.

Reports suggested that Barca only expected him to be missing for a few weeks, but a club statement the following day confirmed their worst fears, with Suarez likely to miss most of the season.

Unsurprisingly Barca have been strongly linked with several strikers since, with Osasuna's Chimy Avila, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal and RB Leipzig star Timo Werner all mentioned as potential targets.

And while Setien refused to comment on specific names, he did confirm Barca are contemplating making a move.

"It is true that we are considering the signing of a number nine. We still have to develop things a little more," the head coach said ahead of the Copa del Rey trip to Ibiza.

"It's not an issue that worries me too much, I am more concerned about the games. It's an issue that I will have to deal with sports management about and we will see which is the most convenient.

"It's a matter [talk of specific players] I can't respond to you about, I won't either. I spoke a lot with the sports management about it, but we haven't decided on anything.

"It's all internal, so its preferable you don't ask me, as I won't say anything more."

The return of Ousmane Dembele could alleviate some of the burden on the remaining Barca attackers without Suarez, as the Frenchman is back in training after almost two months out with a thigh injury.

Dembele's Barca career has been somewhat underwhelming so far, though Setien still has high hopes for him.

"He's undoubtedly going to be very important," Setien said. "He's an extraordinary player who unfortunately hasn't had much consistency.

"Of course, he'll be very important, we hope he'll help us a lot."

Quique Setien has confirmed Barcelona are considering signing another striker to ease the loss of Luis Suarez following the Uruguayan's knee surgery.

Suarez, 32, was said to have been carrying a knee injury for a while before Barca revealed he was set for surgery on January 11.

Reports suggested that Barca only expected him to be missing for a few weeks, but a club statement the following day confirmed their worst fears, with Suarez likely to miss most of the season.

Unsurprisingly Barca have been strongly linked with several strikers since, with Osasuna's Chimy Avila, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal and RB Leipzig star Timo Werner all mentioned as potential targets.

And while Setien refused to comment on specific names, he did confirm Barca are contemplating making a move.

"It is true that we are considering the signing of a number nine. We still have to develop things a little more," the head coach said ahead of the Copa del Rey trip to Ibiza.

"It's not an issue that worries me too much, I am more concerned about the games. It's an issue that I will have to deal with sports management about and we will see which is the most convenient.

"It's a matter [talk of specific players] I can't respond to you about, I won't either. I spoke a lot with the sports management about it, but we haven't decided on anything.

"It's all internal, so its preferable you don't ask me, as I won't say anything more."

The return of Ousmane Dembele could alleviate some of the burden on the remaining Barca attackers without Suarez, as the Frenchman is back in training after almost two months out with a thigh injury.

Dembele's Barca career has been somewhat underwhelming so far, though Setien still has high hopes for him.

"He's undoubtedly going to be very important," Setien said. "He's an extraordinary player who unfortunately hasn't had much consistency.

"Of course, he'll be very important, we hope he'll help us a lot."

Ansu Fati is set for only his fourth LaLiga start after being given the nod to line up against Granada in new coach Quique Setien's first match in charge.

Setien was appointed on Monday following the sacking of Ernesto Valverde, though he has resisted any urge to make wholesale changes.

Barca's last outing saw them lose 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final, with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez leading the line.

But since then Suarez has been ruled out for most of the season after having knee surgery, resulting in a rethink in attack.

The one to benefit from Suarez's absence is 17-year-old Fati, who broke into the first-team squad at the start of the season.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen returns in goal following a spell out with a knee injury, while the much-maligned Ivan Rakitic takes the place of the suspended Frenkie de Jong in midfield.

Setien's arrival was seen as a positive for the club's promising youngsters, with the likes of Riqui Puig – who hardly had a look-in under Valverde – brought to train with the senior side straight away.

Puig, 20, is among the substitutes at Camp Nou, as is fellow La Masia product Carles Perez.

Patrice Evra has revealed Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore wrote to him to apologise for the Reds' backing of Luis Suarez following a controversial incident in 2011.

Evra accused Suarez of using a racial slur against him during a match between bitter rivals Manchester United and Liverpool nine years ago.

Suarez was subsequently charged by the Football Association (FA) and banned for eight matches.

Liverpool supported the striker throughout the process, with their players even wearing t-shirts with his name and number on while warming up for a home game.

Jamie Carragher - a key member of Liverpool's team at the time – apologised to Evra while working alongside him as a pundit last October.

The former France full-back has confirmed Liverpool's CEO Moore has also expressed his regret over how the club acted.

"First of all I was really pleased with Jamie Carragher apologising and then I received a personal letter from Peter Moore and I was really touched by it," Evra told Sky Sports ahead of Sunday's clash between the Premier League leaders and United at Anfield. 

"He said he hopes it's never too late, because this incident happened nine years ago. Three days after the show [he made contact] and I said thank you very much, this letter has touched my heart.

"I was really disappointed at such a big club like Liverpool to support [Suarez], but now I can see it’s real, honest people working at this club and I get even more respect for Liverpool because I can see they are fighting this problem with the human race.

"I was really pleased and I just said I hope they do not win the league, but that was three months ago! Even though there is a big rivalry between us, it shows Liverpool is a top-class club."

Liverpool head into the contest 27 points clear of United and a win would see them lead the way at the top by 16 points with a game in hand on second-placed Manchester City.

Those inside Camp Nou on November 11, 2018 where treated to a true spectacle. Regardless of whether or not Barcelona fans were angered by the end result, a 4-3 defeat, they were almost certainly entertained.

It was Barca's first loss at home in any competition since September 2016 and the manner of the defeat was truly impressive.

Real Betis battered Barca for much of the match and finished with a commendable 48 per cent possession, a feat few clubs can match at Camp Nou. At no point did Betis trail.

Fourteen months on, that remains the last time Barca were defeated at Camp Nou, in any competition. But now, the man who masterminded Betis' win is in charge of the champions.

Quique Setien was announced as the successor to Ernesto Valverde following his unceremonious sacking on Monday, with the 61-year-old seemingly hired due to his football ideologies being closely aligned to those of Barca.

Despite being held in high regard by many for his philosophy and championing of Barca icon Johan Cruyff, there remain massive reservations about his adaptability and whether he truly is the right man for the club in the long-term.

If he is to be the perfect fit, there are a few things he needs to address at a clun that some feel has lost its identity.

Adapt his system to Messi and determine future of aging stars

A non-negotiable condition of the job that even the most vociferous cirtics of Valverde will accept he more than met during his two-and-a-half years in charge - get the best from Messi. In theory, Setien's possession-based football should make him the ideal fit for Barca, and therefore Messi. But his teams – namely Las Palmas and Betis – had as much of a reputation for a chaotic approach that bordered on all-out attack as they did for dominating possession. Betis in particular played some rip-roaring football at a blistering pace, but playing at break-neck speed won't always been the case for Barca, who often have to be more methodical to break down deep-sitting opponents. Messi should still be expected to thrive, but where Setien opts to utilise the 32-year-old and the other stars of an aging team will be crucial. Can Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and the others over the age of 30 still keep up?

Look to La Masia, promote Puig

During the 2016-17 LaLiga season, Setien's Las Palmas squad had 14 'cantera' products in it. While that might be more readily expected of a club with a significantly smaller budget than Barca, he continued to make the most of the academy when at Betis. Francis, Fabian Ruiz, Loren Moron and Junior Firpo – with whom he has reunited – were all prominent figures under Setien at the Benito Villamarin. Barca's famed La Masia has been less successful in recent years, but there are certainly talents coming through with the likes of Ansu Fati. An easy early win for Setien would be promoting Riqui Puig to the first-team, with the silky – albeit diminutive – midfielder ready for the step up. Don't be surprised to see teenager Pedri also link up with the senior squad when he officially joins from Las Palmas at the end of the season.

Sign a Suarez substitute

Luis Suarez is set to miss most – if not the rest – of the season after having knee surgery, leaving Barca with a significant hole to fill. It's likely Antoine Griezmann will be asked to take up a central position, but beyond him their options are more or less limited to Carles Perez. As such, Barca are reportedly considering bringing in another forward, with Girona's Cristhian Stuani seemingly among the most likely arrivals. But the burly Uruguayan is not an archetypal Setien striker – Chimy Avila of Osasuna is. The Rosario-born forward is said to be being monitored by Barca, as the Argentinian is enjoying a fine season. A feisty competitor, Avila's nickname 'Chimy' comes from his father's conclusion that he is "spicy like chimichurri", a popular South American sauce. Small, quick, agile and relentless, comparisons with Sergio Aguero are understandable, and his release clause is a fairly modest €25m.

Win LaLiga

To be fair, achieving league success in isolation may not be good enough to keep Setien in a job for long – just ask back-to-back LaLiga winner Valverde. No, Setien will have to do more. He'll essentially have to win LaLiga while playing exciting football and win the Champions League to earn an extension to his contract, which ties him to the club until 2022. But, as was made abundantly clear by Josep Maria Bartomeu in Setien's presentation, the length of a contract can be irrelevant if certain expectations aren't met. "Setien has signed until 2022, but there's also a caveat that there can be a change," the president said on Tuesday. "Valverde had a contract until 2021 [until 2020 with the option for another year] and we saw there's a change."

Avoid a Champions League collapse

Perhaps the biggest issue the fans had with Valverde was humiliating collapses in successive Champions League campaigns. In Valverde's first season, Barca took a 4-1 lead into their quarter-final clash with Roma, only to be eliminated by virtue of a 3-0 loss in the return leg. The next year they did go a step further, but the result was much the same – a 3-0 defeat of Liverpool at Camp Nou was following by a 4-0 Anfield annihilation by the eventual champions. The concerns some might have of Setien relate to his teams' defensive capabilities, as such an emphasis on attacking left Las Palmas and Betis vulnerable at the back. While he will have a greater calibre of player at Barca, if this side of his team is to be exploited, it'll likely be in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Luis Suarez has thanked Ernesto Valverde and all of the former Barcelona boss' coaching staff after the Blaugrana decided to relieve him of his duties.

After days of speculation, Barca confirmed Valverde's departure on Monday, with former Real Betis coach Quique Setien coming in amid reports Xavi – in charge of Qatari side Al Sadd – had turned down the opportunity to take over at this stage in the season.

Valverde's sacking comes on the back of Barca's 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals on Thursday.

Suarez has now offered his thanks to Valverde for the work the ex-Athletic Bilbao coach did with him during his time at Camp Nou, with Barca winning consecutive LaLiga titles under his tutelage. 

"Thank you very much mister for all the moments we live as professionals," Suarez – who recently underwent surgery on a knee injury, meaning he will miss up to four months – tweeted.

"Keep the positive things you taught me and the great human being you are. Thanks to you and all your staff for the professionalism. I wish you good luck in everything that comes for the future!"

Suarez has scored 14 goals this season for Barca, who sit top of LaLiga. Setien's first match in charge will be at home against Granada on Sunday.

Luis Suarez is set to miss the majority of the season after the Barcelona and Uruguay forward underwent surgery on an injury to his right knee.

The 32-year-old had reportedly been struggling with an ongoing problem with the external meniscus in his knee for several weeks, with Barca announcing on Saturday they had decided to go ahead with on operation.

There were initial suggestions Barca expected Suarez to miss around a month of action, but it has now been confirmed the striker will be out for approximately four months following the surgery, which was performed by renowned knee specialist Dr. Ramon Cugat.

Losing Suarez, who has scored 14 goals in total this season, will come as a significant blow to Barca, who do not have great depth in the central striking position.

It also represents another issue for Ernesto Valverde, who is reportedly under pressure at Camp Nou, with media reports claiming Blaugrana icon Xavi has been sounded out over potentially taking over as coach.

It remains to be seen if Barca look to bolster their ranks up front in the January transfer window, or rely on Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati, Carles Perez and the currently injured Ousmane Dembele to fill the void.

As well as missing crucial games for Barca, including their Champions League last-16 tie with Napoli in February and the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu in March, Suarez will also be unavailable for Uruguay's opening World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Ecuador.

Should Suarez return ahead of schedule, he may target the clash with Atletico Madrid – a match that could be crucial in the title race – in late April, though it seems more likely he will make his comeback against Espanyol in the derby on the weekend of May 9-10.

Luis Suarez is set to miss the majority of the season after the Barcelona and Uruguay forward underwent surgery on an injury to his right knee.

Luis Suarez will have knee surgery on an external meniscus this Sunday, Barcelona have announced.   Suarez, 32, is said to have been struggling with a niggling problem in his right knee for several weeks and it has finally been determined he will have an operation to prevent complications ahead of the season's run-in.   Media reports began circulating on Friday suggesting Suarez was set for a prolonged period of absence due to the problem.   And, following examinations on Saturday, Barca have confirmed the Uruguay striker will be operated on by renowned knee specialist Dr. Ramon Cugat.

Losing Suarez will come as a significant blow to Barca, who are not blessed with depth in the central striking position, with Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati and the currently injured Ousmane Dembele preferring to operate support roles either out wide or off a main forward.

Despite reports suggesting Barca have been identifying potential long-term replacements for the experienced Suarez, he has been enjoying another solid season in LaLiga.

His 11-goal haul is only bettered by Messi and Karim Benzema, while he also has a league-high record of seven assists to his name.

While Barca have not confirmed how long they expect him to be out, reports suggest Suarez will be sidelined for around a month.

He's likely to miss games against Granada, Valencia, Levante and Real Betis, but is not thought to be at risk of missing Barca's Champions League last-16 first-leg clash with Napoli on February 25, or El Clasico four days later.
 

Luis Suarez said under-fire Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde was not to blame for the team's Supercopa de Espana collapse against Atletico Madrid.

Barca were stunned 3-2 by Atletico in the Supercopa semi-final, conceding two late goals to sensationally lose in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

Goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann cancelled out Koke's 46th-minute opener until Barca shipped twice in the final nine minutes as Atletico earned a showdown with Real Madrid.

The result plunged Valverde's future further into doubt but star forward Suarez defended the 55-year-old.

"[Valverde] is not to blame, the mistakes were ours and we can't make them," Suarez said post-match.

"I do not know if they are defeats that help us grow, [but] this defeat shows that there are things to correct.

"It shows us that there are mistakes that cannot be committed because we were in control of the game and we have allowed them to hit us on the counter-attack."

Griezmann was frustrated afterwards as the Barca forward lamented the side's errors against LaLiga rivals Atletico in Jeddah.

"I think we lost due to our own errors and they had the legs at the end," Griezmann said. "It cost us and we have to work hard in order to continue.

"We all made errors. I played a bad pass and then their goal arrived. They are errors which can cost you a Champions League or a league title."

Barcelona failed to regain their two-point lead at the top of LaLiga after Wu Lei scored a late equaliser for Espanyol in a 2-2 derby draw that saw Frenkie de Jong sent off for the visitors.

The champions fell behind 23 minutes into a contest they dominated but in which their best football was rarely in evidence against the division's bottom club.

Thankfully for Ernesto Valverde, Luis Suarez was at his lethal best, instinctively making it 1-1 shortly before he brilliantly teed up Arturo Vidal for Barcelona's second.

But after De Jong was shown a second yellow card, Espanyol ramped up the pressure and Wu clinched a precious point for LaLiga's bottom club as he became the first Chinese player to score against Barca in a competitive game.

The result leaves the champions level on points with Real Madrid at the top of the table at the midway point of the season.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is expected to miss the derby with Espanyol and the Supercopa de Espana due to a tendon problem.

Head coach Ernesto Valverde said on Friday that the Germany international has been struggling for some time with the knee injury.

Valverde has ruled Ter Stegen out of the LaLiga trip across the city to RCDE Stadium and thinks it will be difficult for him to face Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals of the inaugural revamped Supercopa in Saudi Arabia.

"He's had some tendon problems for a while and at one point we considered he could be out for a little while. That moment is now," said Valverde.

"He won't be available tomorrow and we think it'll be difficult for the Supercopa."

Asked if Ter Stegen needs an operation, Valverde replied: "I don't know. We haven't talked about that. Our idea is that these discomforts go away with time."

Valverde does at least hope to see Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez fit to face Espanyol, the attacking stars and Arturo Vidal having only returned to training after the holidays on Thursday.

"Luis, like Leo and Vidal, came back okay and we'll see how they are [in training]. Based on that, we'll decide for tomorrow," he said.

Arthur, though, is expected to be sidelined for three weeks with a groin injury, something Valverde admits is deeply frustrating.

"It's a setback that he's not here. I won't deny it," he said. "I don't want it to be like last year, when he was limping. We need the player at 100 per cent."

Saturday could see Vidal play for the first time since it emerged the midfielder is taking action against Barca due to €2.4million in outstanding bonus payments.

Valverde sees no reason why the issue could affect Vidal's involvement in the team.

"I know that this has been talked about, but I think it's a difference in criteria, but I don't think it has to have an impact on the sporting side of things," he said.

"He's training well and it will have to be he who settles things with the club.

"In contractual matters, there will always be discrepancies, and this will be resolved internally. Arturo is training normally, and he has the same enthusiasm as ever."

Luis Suarez is confident he and Barcelona will come to an agreement regarding a new contract as he eyes second place in the club's list of record goalscorers.

Suarez joined Barca from Liverpool in 2014 and has gone on to enjoy a wonderful spell at Camp Nou, both in terms of individual accomplishments and success with the club.

In that time, he has scored 190 goals and won every trophy possible, including a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble in 2014-15.

Now 32, Suarez has shown signs of decline in the past year or so, with recent media reports suggesting Barca want to replace him with Inter's Lautaro Martinez, despite the former Ajax star boasting a commendable tally of 10 in 16 LaLiga games this term.

But the Uruguay international appears set for a few more years at the club, as he is seemingly expecting to agree an extension to his current deal, which runs out in 2021.

"I'm very happy at the club," he told Sport. "I have always given myself to the fullest. The statistics and the numbers back that up.

"I think I am up to the task and when it comes to [contract] talks, we will arrive at a good conclusion."

Suarez's haul of 190 goals means he is just four behind Barca great Laszlo Kubala – but the main target he has his eyes on is Cesar Rodriguez.

Cesar netted 232 times from 1942 to 1955 and is second only to Lionel Messi in Barca's list of all-time goalscorers, though Suarez accepts catching his team-mate – who is way out in front on 618 – will be impossible.

"I always said that personal challenges have to be left aside, but in this case, when there is so little to match or overcome a historic player like Kubala and get in there [the top three], you feel very proud," he continued.

"Second place is obviously a more difficult challenge, but that does not take it out of sight.

"You always try, but it will be done over time. First place is unattainable, but it is very exciting to be able to reach Cesar's numbers."

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