Top of the table, sack your head coach, lose El Clasico, return to the top of the table.

It is hard to argue with where Barcelona stand as LaLIga's season pauses amid the coronavirus pandemic, although their means of staying on course for a ninth title in 12 seasons have often been unconvincing.

Here, we take a look back at the Opta numbers behind a campaign where Quique Setien has replaced Ernesto Valverde in the Camp Nou hot seat and many of the old certainties seem not to exist anymore.

Well, apart from one man's enduring brilliance.

WORST BARCA TEAM SINCE BEFORE GUARDIOLA

Barcelona's points haul of 58 from 27 games is enough for a two-point lead over Real Madrid in second but it is their worst return at this stage since 2007-08, when they had 54 points in the last knockings of Frank Rijkaard's tenure

The Blaugrana's 63 goals in 27 outings is also their lowest since that season, when they had 52 at this juncture and finished a distant third on 67 points.

Pep Guardiola took the reins for 2008-09, completed a clean sweep of trophies and Barca have never been outside the top two since.

That run is unlikely to change this time around but concerns over the longer-term direction of travel are understandable – even if making Valverde the first LaLiga boss to lose his job despite being top at the midway point since Radomir Antic made way for Leo Beenhakker at Real Madrid in 1991-92 left a sour taste.

Perhaps prophetically, Johan Cruyff's Barcelona won the title that year.

MAJESTIC MESSI

Unperturbed by these struggles and even speculation over his own future, Lionel Messi has continued on his merry way.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is the top scorer in LaLiga this season with 19 goals and his 12 assists also lead the divisional statistics.

Borussia Dortmund and England star Jadon Sancho is the only other player in Europe's big five leagues with double figures for both, with 14 goals and 15 assists.

For now, Messi also has another marker over the man to whom he will always be compared. His 438 domestic league goals put him one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo on 437, although Messi's have arrived in 474 appearances as opposed to 540.

The Argentina international now has 420 LaLiga starts to his name and has surpassed the previous highest by a non-Spanish player, former Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna defender Donato (415).

THE BARCELONA WAY

Setien's commitment to a short passing, high pressing style earned him the nod of the Barcelona board after Valverde's unseemly departure.

Although the high-octane thrills of his best Real Betis sides have largely been absent, he did put down an important marker in his first game.

During the 1-0 win over Granada, Barca completed 1,002 passes – only the third time they or any other team have done so in a LaLiga contest.

The 1,046 recorded by Guardiola's men against Levante in May 2011 remains the highest, with his successor Tito Villanova overseeing 1,035 versus the same opponents in 1,035.

However, hoarding possession does not provide the security it once did.

Barcelona have conceded 31 goals in LaLiga so far this term, amounting to a higher goals per game against than in any of the previous nine season (1.15).

In fact, in five of those, Gerard Pique and his defensive colleagues had let in fewer than 31 at the end of the campaign.

Easier to score against, not as prolific and yet still on course for the title usefully sums up the peculiarity of Barcelona in 2019-20 at this point.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit Spain, it had been an uneasy season for Barcelona, despite the Blaugrana sitting top of LaLiga by two points when the division's suspension was confirmed.

It remains to be seen whether the 2019-20 season resumes at all – it is not outside the realms of possibility the campaign is voided across Europe, even if the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) insists it will be finished.

If it were to be nulled, one gets the feeling few associated with Barcelona would be especially angry to see the back of 2019-20 – even if it means the title is no longer attainable, as strange as that sounds.

With the help of Opta data, we've taken a look back at Barcelona's campaign and, despite the issues surrounding the club, Lionel Messi unsurprisingly still comes out well…

BARCA IN 2019-20

58 - Barca have 58 points at the 27-match mark, making it their worst haul at this point of the season since 2007-08 – the campaign before Pep Guardiola took charge – when they had 54 at this stage. Frank Rijkaard was in charge at the time.

1 - Ernesto Valverde became the first LaLiga coach since Radomir Antic in 1991-92 to be dismissed in the same season he was top of the table during Spain's winter break. Johan Cruyff's Barca won the title that year.

63 - Barca's haul of 63 goals is also the fewest they have managed after 27 matches since netting 52 in 2007-08, when they finished third.

5 - Five defeats have already been inflicted upon Barca this season, more than in any of the previous 11 LaLiga seasons.

MESSI SHOULDERS THE BURDEN

31 - With 19 goals, Messi is LaLiga's top scorer this season. But that's by no means all he has contributed – the Argentinian dynamo has also provided 12 assists in LaLiga, more than any other player.

2 - Indeed, Messi is one of only two players to reach double figures for both goals and assists across Europe's top five leagues – the other being Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho (G:14, A:15).

438 - Messi became the leading all-time goalscorer across Europe's top five leagues as well, having taken his tally to 438 from 474 matches. His eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo remains on his heels, however. The Portugal icon has 437 from 540 outings.

THE REST

1,002 - Quique Setien joined Barca with a reputation for his obsession for possession. So, it's perhaps unsurprising that in his LaLiga debut with the club, he became only the third coach since records began in 2005-06 to oversee a team that attempted over 1,000 passes in a single match. Against Granada, Barca tried 1,002.

3 - Ansu Fati became the third-youngest goal-scorer in LaLiga history (16 years, 304 days) when he scored against Osasuna in August. Only Fabrice Olinga (16 years, 98 days) and Iker Muniain (16 years, 289 days) were younger when they opened their respective accounts.

Barcelona coach Quique Setien insisted he was happy with Frenkie de Jong's form, but said the LaLiga giants were perhaps asking for too much from the midfielder.

De Jong has faced some criticism for his performances since arriving at the club from Ajax for a reported €75million ahead of this season.

The midfielder, who has scored two goals and provided three assists in 37 games this season, played 90 minutes in Barca's 1-0 LaLiga win over Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Asked about De Jong afterwards, Setien said he was satisfied with the 22-year-old Netherlands international.

"I see Frenkie in quite a good place," he told a news conference.

"This doesn't just apply to Frenkie, but if you analyse all the players down to fine detail you'll always see some things that certain players can improve on, or every player can. Some decisions can have an impact on the game. As long as it's a good technical decision, that's what's important. That sometimes happens where a decision can be the wrong one or not.

"Frenkie gives us a lot. He helps us out a great deal. It's true that perhaps we might ask a little bit too much from him, as we demand excellence from our players and it's never easy when you're facing a team like we did [on Saturday]. It's not easy at all.

"Our players' characteristics are not really designed for an intense high press compared to Real Sociedad and that's what we struggled with and when they managed to play to their strengths they made us suffer. But that also happened to them.

"At the end of the day, in general I am happy with how the team played and how Frenkie played."

Barcelona moved top of the LaLiga table, two points clear of rivals Real Madrid, who visit Real Betis on Sunday.

Left-back Jordi Alba was disappointed to hear jeers among the Barcelona supporters as they struggled to break down Real Sociedad, prompting a response when he appeared to have scored.

Barca ran out 1-0 winners at Camp Nou as Lionel Messi's late penalty ended La Real's six-match winning run in all competitions.

Sociedad are one of LaLiga's form teams, but there was little patience with the home side as they toiled for a time.

Alba noted prominent early whistles from the fans, and so the Spain international stuck his fingers in his ears as he found the net in stoppage time, only for the goal to be ruled out.

"I respect the fans but the fans have to respect me," he explained afterwards. "Nobody likes to be whistled, and less so after 15 minutes at 0-0.

"It's true that we have to improve a lot of things but the attitude is good."

Head coach Quique Setien, nodding to La Real's quality, added: "The team have not lost confidence at all, but the fans do not contemplate that the opponent can dominate you.

"I give La Real a lot of credit. We have done many things well. We have had more chances than them.

"You end up being in the lead because you're better, but it's getting more even. La Real have three or four players who could play perfectly in Barcelona."

Barca moved top of the table at least until rivals Real Madrid face Real Betis on Sunday, although Setien suggests victory for Zinedine Zidane's side is not a given.

"We overcame a difficult game and now it's they who have a difficult game in Seville," Setien said.

Gerard Pique has defended Barcelona assistant Eder Sarabia for his foul-mouthed rant in El Clasico and insisted the players welcome his intense approach in the dugout.

Barca returned to winning ways with a 1-0 triumph over Real Sociedad on Saturday, six days after their desperately disappointing LaLiga loss to rivals Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu.

Ahead of the clash with Sociedad, head coach Quique Setien described the focus on Sarabia's outburst against his players during the Clasico as "a bit embarrassing" and urged his assistant to show control.

Setien also apologised to the squad, but Pique stressed that was not necessary after playing the full match at Camp Nou.

"The assistant coach is full of adrenaline and intensity which manifested itself in this way at the Bernabeu, but it is all completely normal for us," Pique said after Lionel Messi's late penalty gave Barca victory.

"All the players discussed it in the dressing room. The boss apologised and we told him that nothing had come from us; if anything it [the controversy] related to the image of the club.

"What's more, we like that there's intensity in the dugout and they are living [the game] too.

"When the club is weak, these types of things come up. A few weeks ago, the talk was about the players not having a huddle before the game because of the change of coach, then it was the warm-up was different.

"It's the same thing. It's another story that happens after a defeat and you always have to go out and deny it. [Sarabia's behaviour] is completely normal."

Pique was relieved to get the job done against a Real Sociedad team who had won six straight matches coming into the clash.

"We knew it was going to be very tough because we are coming from the defeat at the Bernabeu and they are having an exceptional season and they've reached the final of the Copa," said the Spain defender.

"It wasn't going to be easy; they play good football, we try to, and the game was decided by the small details.

"Some hands inside the penalty area have given us the three very important points that are going to help us fight for the title."

Sarabia had also addressed the topic prior to the match and insisted he will remain passionate in his approach.

"My spirit will never change," he said to Movistar. "It's more about ways [of doing things] than the substance.

"It's true that we have to set an example for lot of people, for children. We have to be careful with certain things.

"But I'm going to keep experiencing football intensely, I'm proud to be the way that I am and I'll keep it up, keep working and keep going."

Lionel Messi scored a late penalty as Barcelona shook off a post-Clasico hangover and edged to a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Having lost first place in their defeat to rivals Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu six days ago, Barca took the chance to return to the summit, albeit in an unconvincing Camp Nou victory on Saturday.

Messi came into the contest having failed to score in six of his last seven games but he converted the crucial spot-kick with nine minutes remaining after a VAR review adjudged Robin Le Normand had handled a left-wing cross.

Madrid now trail by two points but have the chance to reclaim top spot in Sunday's match against Barca head coach Quique Setien's former club Real Betis.

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.

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."

Quique Setien insisted there were still "many turns" left in the LaLiga title race after Barcelona gave up top spot with an El Clasico loss to Real Madrid.

Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz scored in the second half as Madrid claimed a 2-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Madrid jumped a point clear courtesy of their victory, but Barcelona coach Setien said there was still plenty to play out.

"Last week, we were two points up. Now, they are one up. There is much left and this [title race] can take many turns," he said, via Mundo Deportivo.

Setien added: "It's a tough defeat because these games affect you when you lose them, obviously, but we have the ability to recover.

"There are positive things to rescue and we will analyse what we have not done well."

The loss ended a four-game LaLiga winning streak for Barcelona, who sit nine points clear of third place.

Setien was pleased with the way his side started El Clasico, but felt they lost their way in the second half.

"I think we did a good first half and they did it in the second," he said.

"Even at the beginning of the second half we started quite well and we had it under control, but we started to have inaccuracies and they squeezed us very hard."

Quique Setien does not believe victory in Sunday's Clasico would be enough to clinch the LaLiga title for Barcelona and suggests Real Madrid's difficult run will have no impact on the match.

Barca are two points clear of their fierce rivals at the top of the table heading into the clash at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Madrid are winless in three games in all competitions, losing their past two matches to Levante in the league and Manchester City in the Champions League, but Setien does not believe their title challenge will be over if his Barca side consign them to another defeat.

"It could be a very important day," the Barcelona head coach said during a news conference on Saturday. "A win would give us a lead. I don't know if that would be enough - I'm sure it wouldn't.

"We see very strange things happen in football, but I don't really trust form too much. In football, you put the past behind you. It's the present that you're rewarded on.

"In a Clasico, people tend to forget about the points, positions in the tables. This is a Clasico where both teams always play as hard as they can regardless of the situation they're in.

"I expect a very tightly contested game, very evenly matched. The question is who gets things right to win the game."

He added: "For Madrid, it is a vital game - probably much more important than it is for us, because of the situation in the table at the moment and the amount of time that's left.

"We could pick up a five-point lead, which would be a big step forward. It would leave them with a lot of ground to make up. I don't like the word decisive, it's certainly important."

Setien won twice at the Bernabeu while coach at Real Betis, and he expects those experiences to aid him this weekend.

Asked if previous victories were a help, he replied: "Yes, of course. We've looked back at some of the games played before - the game Barca played last year, the game Betis played last year.

"You tried to pick out things that could be useful. We certainly want to play with a daring team tomorrow - Madrid will, I'm sure, do likewise. We are a team that always plays the way we do.

"I'll do something similar to what I did with Betis and with Las Palmas, now with Barca. I like a daring team.

"Whether things work out, let's wait and see. You have to remember that Madrid are a very, very good team. You might think they are not at their best at the moment, but I'm not trusting to that kind of thing.

"You need to be ready for games like this - when we've got the ball and when we do not."

Jordi Alba has been named in the Barcelona squad to face Real Madrid, but head coach Quique Setien is unsure what part the full-back will play in Sunday's Clasico.

Alba injured his right adductor against Getafe on February 15, with Junior Firpo subsequently filling in at left-back against Eibar and Napoli.

However, Alba was on Saturday included in Setien's 18-man selection for the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Setien told a news conference: "The fact is he's very well at the moment, a positive sensation. Clearly you have seen I've put him in the squad.

"The question now is whether he will start the game or not. We're not sure. It depends how he's feeling tomorrow, if he's feeling the same as today.

"He's got another day, but he's looking confident. Let's see whether we play him to start with or not. I haven't decided yet."

Barca boss Setien kept his cards close to his chest, but revealed Alba was not the only player he would be making a late call on, adding: "No, I've got others."

However, Barca should also be boosted by the presence of Gerard Pique in the centre of defence, with the former Manchester United man fit despite suffering an ankle knock against Napoli in midweek.

"I think he's pretty much over the problem he had," Setien said. "There's no major damage. He's over the problem."

Quique Setien may only have been at Barcelona for just over a month, yet he will already know the importance of winning a Clasico.

The new Blaugrana coach takes his side to Real Madrid on Sunday, with his team having a two-point lead over Los Blancos at the top of the LaLiga table.

Barca are unbeaten against their great rivals in their previous seven games, while Madrid have not beaten them in the league since April 2016.

Here we look at how Barca's past five coaches have fared in their first LaLiga Clasicos.

 

PEP GUARDIOLA. BARCELONA 2-0 REAL MADRID. DECEMBER 13, 2008.

Both dugouts featured coaches taking charge of teams in a Clasico for the first time and it was Guardiola who got the better of Madrid's Juande Ramos.

Late goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi earned Barcelona the victory as they moved 12 points clear of Madrid in the table too.

That victory occurred during a 10-game winning streak in LaLiga and it was no surprise that Barca, who beat Madrid 6-2 later in the season, went on to win the title.

TITO VILANOVA. BARCELONA 2-2 REAL MADRID. OCTOBER 7, 2012.

The two clubs had already met in the Supercopa de Espana at the start of the season, Madrid winning on away goals after both teams had won a leg apiece.

Their first league meeting of 2012-13 was all about Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi as both men scored twice in a 2-2 draw.

Ronaldo scored for a record sixth successive Clasico to put Madrid ahead and, after Messi had netted a brace, Los Blancos' Portuguese star took his tally to 160 goals in 155 games since his 2009 move from Manchester United with an equaliser.

 

GERARDO MARTINO. BARCELONA 2-1 REAL MADRID. OCTOBER 23, 2013.

All eyes were on new recruits Neymar and Gareth Bale and it was the former who scored first to set Barca on their way.

Alexis Sanchez would double that lead and though Jese Rodriguez pulled one back, Madrid fell to a defeat that left them six points behind Barcelona after just 10 league games.

Both teams would finish the campaign on 87 points, a total not good enough to win the league as Atletico Madrid claimed 90 to be crowned champions.

LUIS ENRIQUE. REAL MADRID 3-1 BARCELONA. OCTOBER 25, 2014.

The Blaugrana had claimed 22 points from the first 24 available but they suffered defeat at Santiago Bernabeu in October 2014.

Barca debutant Luis Suarez, back after a four-month ban for biting, set up Neymar for a fourth-minute opener but the home side stormed back.

An in-form Ronaldo levelled from the spot with his 21st goal of the season before Pepe and Karim Benzema scored in the second half. This remains Madrid's most recent home LaLiga win over Barcelona.

 

ERNESTO VALVERDE. REAL MADRID 0-3 BARCELONA. DECEMBER 23, 2017.

Los Blancos' awful start to the 2017-18 campaign continued as Barcelona moved 14 points clear of the defending champions with a comfortable win at the Bernabeu.

Suarez, Messi and Arturo Vidal all scored while Madrid, who had beaten Barca in both Supercopa de Espana legs at the beginning of the campaign, had Dani Carvajal dismissed for handball.

It was the first time Barcelona had won three successive league matches at the Bernabeu in Clasico history, and they come into Sunday's game with four straight victories at the ground.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are level on 72 LaLiga wins each in El Clasico, but Zinedine Zidane's side are facing an unwanted record on Sunday.

Madrid are winless against their rivals in seven league matches, meaning failure to beat Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend will set a new worst record for the club in Clasico history.

Not only that, but the Catalans are on a four-game winning streak in league trips to Madrid, and they have a man in charge who could be well placed to extend that run.

Quique Setien has faced Madrid eight times as a head coach in LaLiga and, as history shows, he has something of a knack when it comes to giving Los Blancos a tough time.

MADRID ARE SICK OF THE SIGHT OF SETIEN

"I'm blown by the north wind; I don't go down easily," Setien said last month amid growing unrest behind the scenes at Barca, as Eric Abidal and Lionel Messi began to play out a row in public.

That was not a problem of Setien's making, but Madrid would do well to heed his words - not that they need reminding about his pedigree.

In his eight previous visits to the Santiago Bernabeu as a coach, Setien has won two, drawn two, and lost four. That might not sound hugely impressive for a team such as, say, Barcelona - but what about Las Palmas and Real Betis?

In 2015-16, Setien's Canary Islanders went down 3-1 to Rafael Benitez's Madrid. The following season, with Zinedine Zidane in the opposite dugout, the scoreline was reversed, Las Palmas on the brink of a stunning victory only for Cristiano Ronaldo to score twice in the closing minutes.

His next visit came with Betis in September 2017, when Antonio Sanabria scored in the dying seconds to snatch a famous win. Then, on the final day of last season, Setien was celebrating again at the Bernabeu, this time as Loren Moron and Jese Rodriguez sealed a fully deserved 2-0 triumph.

"To the teams that I have been to lately," he said, "I have guaranteed only one thing, and that is that my team is going to play well." Madrid need no reminders.

STANDING UP TO BARCA SCRUTINY

One of the reasons behind Setien's appointment was to ensure a return to a Johan Cruyff-esque brand of football, removed from Ernesto Valverde's pragmatism.

Setien's method might just bring the boldness Barca will need to beat a Madrid team still smarting from the way they lost to Manchester City.

Setien has lost only half of his trips to the Bernabeu, the same ratio as Luis Enrique, who won two and lost two of his four games there. It's also a notable improvement on Valverde's record: he won nine of his 29 visits with Barca, Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol, losing 15 times and conceding 52 goals.

If there was any greater argument for Setien to stick to his principles of attacking, possession-based football, he need look no further than the man who made the approach his own in the modern game. Pep Guardiola has won 10, drawn four and lost only four of 18 games at the Bernabeu as a head coach.

Batten down the hatches – the north wind is coming.

Martin Braithwaite enjoyed a strong second-half cameo on his Barcelona debut following a controversial transfer - and he vowed to not wash his jersey after receiving a hug from Lionel Messi.

After a difficult week for the club, Barca demolished struggling Eibar 5-0 at Camp Nou, with four-goal Messi in inspirational form as he netted a first-half hat-trick.

Before the match many Barca supporters waved white handkerchiefs towards president Josep Maria Bartomeu and chanted for his resignation after he was forced to deny allegations earlier in the week that the club had hired a firm to "damage the image" of players past and present, including Messi.

Then there was the controversial signing of Braithwaite, who arrived from Leganes as an "emergency" purchase to cover the absence of Ousmane Dembele and seen as an underwhelming acquisition.

But the Denmark international made an immediate impact, having a hand in Messi's fourth before getting involved in Arthur's goal that rounded out the scoring.

When asked about what Messi said after helping him score, Braithwaite told reporters: "He congratulated me, he's a great guy.

"He tried to make me comfortable [after being brought on], he looked for me with his passes. I won't wash my clothes after the hug he gave me," he quipped.

"Honestly, I'm very happy to have been able to give him assistance. I felt very well here, surrounded by fantastic players.

"I tried to run and move, which is what I have to do, and the team-mates have found me, so it has been amazing. I am very happy."

Barca coach Quique Setien was pleasantly surprised by Braithwaite, accepting the forward had more of an impact than anticipated.

"Braithwaite did more than I expected, much more," he said. "Honestly, he was very good and I think we have got an extraordinary signing.

"He'll adapt perfectly to what we do, he was involved in two goals and he understands the game so well. He's powerful and technically very proficient – he's a worker and has many things that will help us."

Barca are in action again on Tuesday in the Champions League against Napoli, before returning to LaLiga action against Real Madrid next Sunday.

Page 1 of 4
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.