Real Madrid returned to the summit of LaLiga as David Alaba's stunner and Lucas Vazquez's late tap in saw Carlo Ancelotti's team beat Barcelona 2-1 in the season's first Clasico.

Sergino Dest squandered a golden chance for Barca at Camp Nou and Madrid made their hosts pay when Clasico debutant Alaba arrowed in a brilliant shot.

Karim Benzema should have added to Madrid's lead in the second half, though Vazquez was on hand to nudge in at the end of a stoppage-time counter.

That proved to be crucial, with Sergio Aguero's maiden Barca goal in the 97th minute not enough to inspire a comeback as Barca failed to win a fifth straight LaLiga Clasico, their longest winless run against any team in the competition since May 2008.

Barca seemed all set to take the lead after breaking clear from a Marc-Andre ter Stegen pass, yet with only Thibaut Courtois to beat, Sergino Dest lashed a close-range effort way over the bar.

Where one defender failed, another one made no such mistake. After getting Madrid on the counter by dispossessing Memphis Depay, Alaba continued his run to latch onto Rodrygo's pass and thump a wonderful finish into the top-right corner.

 

Alaba made a telling contribution at the other end before half-time, blocking Ansu Fati's goal-bound attempt after Gerard Pique had headed just wide.

Benzema snatched at a volley just after the hour, before he failed to turn home Vinicius' cross from close range, albeit the offside flag spared his blushes.

Pique and substitute Aguero both flapped at a cut-back in injury time and Madrid grabbed a second goal from the resulting counter when Vazquez tucked in on the rebound from Marco Asensio's shot.

Aguero, another Clasico debutant, gave Barca a glimmer of hope with a close-range strike, though the final whistle blew a minute later.

Ansu Fati has talent that not many others can boast but still has a lot to prove at Barcelona, according to new team-mate Sergio Aguero.

The Spain international marked his first start since last November with a goal in Barca's 3-1 comeback win against Valencia on Sunday.

He missed the best part of a year with a long-term knee injury that had limited him to three substitute appearances before this month's international break.

Fati is regarded as Barca's big hope now that Lionel Messi is no longer around and Aguero, who made his debut against Valencia, hopes to help the youngster showcase his talent.

"Ansu is still a very young player and he has a lot to prove," Aguero told Barca TV. "I'm very happy that we have him here. 

"We have to help him continue showing how talented he is, because not many other players have that."

Fati's goal came from one of three shots against Valencia, two of which were on target – the most of any Barcelona player.

The 18-year-old has scored from 11 of his 38 shots in LaLiga since the start of February 2020 and has a conversion rate of 35.48 when excluding penalties.

That is the best return of any player to have scored more than five goals in the competition over that time, followed by Kevin Gameiro and Jorge Molina (both 33.33).

 

While Fati stole the show against Valencia, the much-needed victory at Camp Nou was also an occasion to remember for fellow striker Aguero.

The Argentina international made his first appearance for the club as a late substitute, 10 and a half years on from his last game in the Spanish top flight for Atletico Madrid.

Having been hampered by a calf injury since arriving on a free transfer from Manchester City in May, Aguero is glad to have finally got some competitive minutes under his belt.

"I'm very happy to have made my debut," he said. "I've been looking forward to this moment for a long time. The most important thing was to win the match.

"It was incredible that the supporters chanted my name, though now I have to get used to that song and show the same affection they show me."

Memphis Depay was also on target for Ronald Koeman's side from the penalty spot after Fati had cancelled out Jose Gaya's early opener, before Phillipe Coutinho added a late third.

The Catalan giants moved up to seventh in LaLiga with the victory, five points behind surprise pacesetters Real Sociedad with a game in hand to play.

Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer running out of time at Old Trafford?

Manchester United are already five points off the pace in the Premier League and pressure is mounting.

United, though, are believed to be firmly in favour of sticking with their manager.

 

TOP STORY – SOLSKJAER WANTED AT THE WHEEL

Manchester United are still backing under-fire manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Fabrizio Romano.

United slumped to a 4-2 Premier League defeat to Leicester City at the weekend, which has left the Red Devils with just two wins from their past seven games across all competitions.

As pressure mounts on Solskjaer, United still reportedly have faith in the Norwegian amid links with the likes of Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane and Erik ten Hag.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Serie A champions Inter are ready to battle Arsenal for Madrid forward Luka Jovic. The Serbia international has struggled for form and fitness in the Spanish capital.

PSG want to swap Mauro Icardi for Barcelona's Sergio Aguero, claims El Nacional. The reports says Lionel Messi wants to reunite with countryman Aguero, who left Manchester City for Barca, only for Messi to join PSG.

- Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, Borussia Dortmund's Axel Witsel, Denis Zakaria of Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax's Ryan Gravenberch are among Juventus' transfer targets as they look to add options in midfield, per Tuttosport. Tchouameni has also been linked with Chelsea, Manchester United, Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, while Roma have been eyeing Zakaria.

Sergio Aguero cannot claim to have played a meaningful role in Barcelona's much-needed 3-1 defeat of Valencia, but his Camp Nou debut was a significant step nonetheless. 

A free transfer from Premier League champions Manchester City, Aguero spent more than two months recovering from a calf injury before being included in Ronald Koeman's squad on Sunday. 

Aguero finally took the field in a Barca shirt officially for the first time in the 87th minute, coming on to replace Sergino Dest shortly after Philippe Coutinho's goal sealed the win for the LaLiga giants.

Argentina international Aguero became the third oldest player to debut for Barcelona in LaLiga in the 21st century (33years and 137days) after Lilian Thuram in 2006 (34years and 251days) and Demetrio Albertini in 2005 (33years 159days). 

Back in LaLiga for the first time since leaving Atletico Madrid for the Premier League 10 years ago, Aguero soaked in the adoring welcome as the home crowd chanted his name. 

"Well, that was incredible," City's all-time leading scorer Aguero told Barca TV. "People calling my name, singing my name. It'd be nice to get used to that. 

"I want to thank them on the pitch for that affection. I can't thank them individually but I hope they enjoy my play on the pitch." 

Barcelona have scored at least one goal in each of their previous 18 home games against Valencia in LaLiga (48 goals) – their second longest run scoring at home against them (after 31 between 1939 and1970).

They are unbeaten in their last six games at Camp Nou against Valencia (W4 D2), since a 2-1 loss in April 2016.

"I am so happy to make my debut, I have been looking to this moment," the 33-year-old added. "It was a good debut because we won and that is the most important thing.

"It was great to hear the fans chanting for me and now it is my turn to repay their love."

Any contributions from Aguero would be welcome as he joins a side that had won just three of their first seven league games before Sunday in addition to heavy Champions League defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica. 

Aguero could be in line to star at home against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday with Barca looking to secure their first points in Group E, and the Clasico against rivals Real Madrid looms Saturday. 

Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati have been included in Barcelona's 23-man squad for Sunday's crucial LaLiga clash with Valencia at Camp Nou.

Manchester City great Aguero has yet to feature in a competitive game for Barca since joining at the end of May, due to a troublesome calf issue.

Fati is being eased back into the first team after a long-term knee injury absence, with the teenage forward having featured three times as a substitute since making a return from a near year-long lay-off.

Both players are in contention to play a part against Valencia as Barca attempt to kickstart their LaLiga campaign on the back of a 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid two weeks ago.

Aguero's inclusion and the return of Fati will be considered a major boost for coach Ronald Koeman, whose side are down in ninth place after seven matches.

Barca's shot conversion rate of 13.6 per cent in LaLiga this term is their lowest in a single campaign since 2007-08 (13.5 per cent).

Asked on Saturday about Aguero's chances of playing his first competitive minutes at club level since the Champions League final, Koeman said: "He's improved a lot lately.

"He played 20, 25 minutes in Wednesday's [practice] game and it is going well. But he lacks the rhythm of the games and a certain physique.

"He will get that with games. His quality is not questioned; he can give a lot to this team. Especially up front."

 

Fati has scored 14 goals in 46 appearances for Barca since making his senior debut in August 2019, but he has just 57 minutes of playing time under his belt this term and was not included in Spain's most recent squad.

Koeman will not take any unnecessary risks over the youngster's fitness, with games against Dynamo Kiev and Real Madrid to follow in the coming week, in the Champions League and LaLiga respectively.

"Every day he is doing better because he has been away for a long time," Koeman said at Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"You have to think with Ansu that there are three games this week and he cannot play the entire three games. We must decide what is best for him and the team."

Elsewhere, Barca are without the injured Ronald Araujo, Pedri, Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele.

The Catalan giants have just lost one of their last 10 LaLiga games against Los Che (W5 D4) – a 2-0 reverse in January 2020 under Quique Setien.

Ronald Koeman had Sergio Aguero and Ansu Fati on his mind ahead of Sunday's clash with Valencia as the under-pressure Barcelona boss seeks the wins he admits his team urgently need.

Former Manchester City striker Aguero – the Premier League champions' record scorer – has yet to play a competitive game for Barcelona since joining in the close season, due to a calf injury.

The Argentinian was in Koeman's thoughts, however, ahead of the clash with Valencia at Camp Nou, while Fati appears ready to make his first start of the season.

It remains to be seen whether that comes on Sunday or in the Champions League game with Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday, or even in the Clasico against Real Madrid next weekend.

Three home games in eight days for Barcelona could go a long way to determining whether Koeman has a future at Camp Nou, with a Champions League defeat to Benfica and a LaLiga loss to Atletico Madrid before the international break having ramped up pressure on the Dutchman's position.

Assessing Aguero, Koeman said on Saturday: "He has improved a lot lately. He played 20, 25 minutes in Wednesday's [practice] game and it is going well.

"But he lacks the rhythm of the games and a certain physique. He will get that with games. There is a possibility that he will be on the squad list. His quality is not questioned, he can give a lot to this team. Especially up front."

Barcelona have taken 12 points from their opening seven games in LaLiga, meaning they have ground to make up already on the likes of Real Madrid, Atletico and Real Sociedad, who each stood on 17 points from eight games coming into this weekend, albeit Koeman's men have a game in hand.

Teenage forward Fati is being eased back into the first team after his long-term knee injury absence, with Koeman determined not to rush the young Spain international, while at the same time aware his qualities could be hugely helpful to this Barcelona team.

The shot conversion rate by Barcelona in LaLiga so far this season is 13.6 per cent, their lowest in a single campaign in the top flight since 2007-08 (13.5 per cent).

 

"Every day he is doing better because he has been away for a long time," Koeman said of Fati. "You have to think with Ansu that there are three games this week and he cannot play the entire three games. We must decide what is best for him and the team."

Koeman was backed by president Joan Laporta before the Atletico game, but he needs results and knows it.

"I always try to be calm, which isn't easy," Koeman said. "The important thing is to put your energy where you have an influence. Winning games and points is what counts."

The former Ajax and Everton boss will hope Barcelona's reasonably strong recent record against Valencia can continue. They have just lost one of their past 10 LaLiga games against Valencia (W5 D4), a 2-0 setback in January 2020 under Quique Setien.

A flurry of goals would seem likely, given the recent history of this fixture. Valencia are the away team with the most goals at Camp Nou in LaLiga since 2013-14, netting a remarkable 14 goals in eight games and scoring at least twice in six of those.

Koeman would presumably take a win by any means, whether a scrappy 1-0 or a dramatic and high-scoring affair. A defeat is almost unthinkable, given it would be a third straight loss for the Blaugrana.

Asked about his position and the pressures that come with it, Koeman said: "I am used to it. Don't worry, in a big club there are always things with the coach. Last year they also talked about the coach.

"The president has defended me and supported me. Things are fine as they are, in spite of the fact that every coach has to win games to continue."

Sergio Aguero needed Lionel Messi to tell him why he was being continually overlooked for Ballon d'Or honours.

Despite scoring a record 260 goals for Manchester City, Argentine striker Aguero has never come close to winning the trophy that Messi has carried off six times.

Being repeatedly overlooked began to trouble Aguero, but when Messi spelled out what he was lacking, it all made sense.

Now at Barcelona, Aguero looks back on his City career and appreciates why his feats fell short of making him a major contender for a prize Messi has won more than anyone else.

"Many times I thought about what was missing," Aguero told Spanish newspaper El Pais. "And one day I asked Leo. He told me that to have a chance to win the Ballon d'Or I had to win the Champions League. And he is right.

"The subject of trophies with the national teams is also important. Take [Fabio] Cannavaro's case, for example, when he won the World Cup in 2006."

Cannavaro took home the Ballon d'Or that year, with Italy team-mate Gianluigi Buffon in second place.

"I played great seasons, scored many goals and won many titles," Aguero said, "but I was not in the Champions League final. And last year when we reached the final, I had a knee problem, COVID and different injuries."

 

In 10 years at City, Aguero hit at least 20 Premier League goals in a season on six occasions, and only in one campaign (2012-13) did his minutes-per-goal record in the competition creep above one goal every 140 minutes.

That is a record that attracted Barcelona, with Messi's run of form over the same period having seen him score at between one every 57 minutes (2012-13) and one every 143.1 minutes (2006-07) in LaLiga.

Aguero has recovered from a calf injury and on Wednesday he featured in a training game for Barcelona against UE Cornella, meaning a competitive debut could be just around the corner.

It remains to be seen whether Aguero will be fit enough to play a part in Sunday's LaLiga match against Valencia, as Barca look to get their season on track.

A home fixture follows against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League; then comes the first Clasico of the season, with Real Madrid visiting Camp Nou on October 24.

Long-time Argentina team-mate Messi was at Barcelona when Aguero arrived, but he has since departed for Paris Saint-Germain.

Aguero recalled visiting Messi when it emerged he would be forced to leave Barcelona.

"It was a moment of shock. He was in a very bad way. When I found out I couldn't believe it. That Saturday I went to see him at his house," Aguero explained.

Aguero said he attempted to cheer up Barcelona's record goalscorer.

Now there will be expectations on Aguero's shoulders, and despite losing Messi, he says moving to Barcelona was the right choice once his City contract expired.

"Let's be honest. What player does not want to be at Barca?" Aguero continued.

"The majority of footballers would like to wear this shirt, no matter how good or bad Barca is. I arrived with the expectation of playing with Leo and that a good team would be put together, which was what the club tried to do. When they called me, I thought: 'I don't care what they pay me. I'm feeling good and I'm going to help the team as much as I can.'"

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni believes superstar captain Lionel Messi is thriving in the current national team environment with the 2021 Copa America champions.

Messi has been criticised in the past for his performances for Argentina, which have paled in comparison to his club output, dominating with Barcelona up until 2021 having won a club-record 35 trophies and become the LaLiga giants' all-time leading goalscorer.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner led Argentina to their first piece of silverware in 28 years after La Albiceleste dethroned rivals Brazil in July's Copa America final, while Scaloni's side are well on their way to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, unbeaten across 10 matches.

"It is very difficult that [Messi] has not performed with the national team," Scaloni told a news conference ahead of Thursday's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier with Peru.

"There will be moments and team moments and I think that's the most important thing in the end."

Paris Saint-Germain's Messi – who eclipsed Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation during the previous international break – scored his 80th international goal was as Argentina eased past Uruguay 3-0 on Sunday.

"The team is the one that takes the situation forward, the one that makes him even better," Scaloni added. "I think he is good in the team and comfortable with his team-mates. All of this makes it even better.

"It is clear that without the team his performance is not so reflected. Today we are doing well as a group, as a team and that is what is most important."

Scaloni also welcomed Sergio Aguero closing in on a return to fitness, having featured in a Barcelona training match on Wednesday.

The 33-year-old, who was part of Argentina's Copa success, has not played for Barcelona since his off-season move from Premier League champions Manchester City due to a calf injury.

Argentina – second in the qualifying standing – have only netted 18 goals in 10 qualifiers with Aguero potentially boosting their attacking options for November's scheduled games against Uruguay and Brazil.

"The case for him, as with the other boys who have not been able to play, the most important thing is that they compete in their club and make things difficult for us," Scaloni said.

"We have a team of enormous hierarchy, a team of great forwards and the final decision is the most difficult. What interests us is that they play for their club, that they perform well and we will have time to make the decision.

"Logically, we like them to play and that they are in continuity and we expect that from the boys who are not there."

Barcelona could soon be able to call on Sergio Aguero after the forward returned to some form of action during a training match on Wednesday.

Aguero joined Barca on a free transfer following the expiration of his Manchester City contract at the end of last season.

The 33-year-old helped Argentina win the Copa America during the close-season, yet a calf injury suffered just before the start of 2021-22 has seen him miss the opening weeks of the campaign.

Barca and under-pressure Ronald Koeman need all the help they can get. The Blaugrana sit ninth in LaLiga following a 2-0 defeat to champions Atletico Madrid last time out, while they have also lost both of their Champions League matches so far.

In a boost, Aguero returned to training over the international break and on Wednesday he featured in a training game against UE Cornella.

It remains to be seen whether Aguero will be fit enough to play a part in Sunday's match against Valencia, as Barca look to get their season on track.

A home match against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League is then followed by the first Clasico of the season, with Real Madrid visiting Camp Nou on October 24.

Sergio Aguero denied the presence of any get-out clauses in his Barcelona contract relating to Lionel Messi.

Aguero, who scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances for Manchester City, arrived at Camp Nou on a two-year contract following a free transfer from Pep Guardiola's men.

He was expected to link up with international colleague Messi before the Blaugrana legend departed on a free to Paris Saint-Germain, the Blaugrana's financial issues preventing them from re-signing six-time Ballon d'Or winner after his contract expired, thus ending a 21-year spell at the Catalan club.

After Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets agreed to pay cuts, Ronald Koeman's side were able to meet salary-cap restrictions and register Aguero and their other new signings.

The Argentina forward has now quashed any rumours that any so-called "Messi clause" was in his contract.

"I don't understand why there was talk of this," Aguero told RAC1. "When I signed, Leo [Messi] had nothing signed. They [Messi and Barca] were coming to an agreement.

"It was invented that there was a clause, but there was nothing.

"I didn't ask Leo much either, I didn't want to bother him.

"I saw him at the Copa America, he told me that they were about to agree, and I thought, good!

"But I didn't want to bother him every day either. I didn't speak any more after the Copa America and I was shocked when everything happened."

The 33-year-old enjoyed a stunning decade at the Etihad Stadium, but only managed seven league starts in 2020-21, playing 559 minutes across 12 appearances.

His final campaign at City was hampered by coronavirus-related issues and injuries, but when Barcelona came knocking, Aguero could not refuse.

"When I was no longer at City and the talks with Barcelona came, I knew how the club was doing financially but I told my agent that I didn't care about money, that I wanted to come and play," he continued.

"Money is not a problem. What I was getting paid at City, I wasn't going to get paid here. Any player wants to play for Barca.

"Of course I would sign again, without a doubt. If someone from Barca calls you ... the name of the club ... many players are willing to give up money."

Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba have followed Gerard Pique in taking pay cuts to allow Barcelona to register Sergio Aguero and reduce financial concerns.

Lionel Messi could not be signed to a new deal because of spiralling costs at the Catalan club and, with no signs of improvement, Barca risked not being able to register new signings Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Aguero.

However, after Pique agreed to a salary reduction and deferral of payments, Ronald Koeman's side confirmed they were able to register Depay, Garcia and Rey Manaj.

Alba and Busquets have now, too, agreed to alterations to the terms of their contracts.

Both players will collect reduced wages for this season and deferred payments for the rest of their deals, with also Sergi Roberto reported to be negotiating changes to his terms.

The agreements with Busquets and Alba mean cash-strapped Barca can now register Aguero, who is expected to be out injured until the middle of October, while avoiding complications with financial fair play regulations.

Left-back Alba created the second most chances at the club last term in LaLiga (53), while Busquets led the way for tackles and interceptions while also completing the second most passes.

Manchester City will unveil statues of former players Vincent Kompany and David Silva ahead of Saturday's Premier League fixture against Arsenal with another of Sergio Aguero to follow in 2022.

The trio have been key players during City's emergence as a football superpower and played crucial roles on the pitch.

Kompany, now head coach of Anderlecht, captained City to the Premier League title in 2011-12, their first English league championship in 44 years.

The Belgian won three more in 2013–14, 2017–18, 2018–19 in addition to two FA Cups and four League Cups.

Aguero, who left City at the end of last season and joined Barcelona, is City's all-time leading goalscorer with 260 goals.

The most famous of the Argentina striker's goals dramatically delivered that first Premier League title with virtually the last kick of the game against QPR.

Spanish midfielder Silva, now at Real Socieded, was also instrumental in City's success and made 436 appearances in all competitions for the club between 2010 and 2020.

Award-winning sculptor Andy Scott was the artist commissioned to create the statues on behalf of City.

City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said the decision to honour the three players was based on their unparalleled contribution to the club's transformation.

He told City's website: "Ultimately, Vincent and David do not need statues to enshrine their achievements at Manchester City over the past decade. They are already revered as icons of their generation.

"But what these artworks give us, and generations to come, is the opportunity to be reminded of, and savour, the truly magical moments created by both men.”

Al Mubarak has since indicated that further work is being undertaken to ensure the legends of earlier eras are appropriately celebrated.

Scott added: "On hearing that I had secured the commission to bring Vincent, David and now Sergio to life in sculpture form, I was absolutely thrilled.

"It's an unbelievable honour to work on something that will be visited by hundreds of thousands of fans as they remember and celebrate the achievement of their footballing heroes."

Barcelona's nightmare has continued after it was confirmed Sergio Aguero is likely to be out until mid-October due to a calf injury.

Already having to contend with the unexpected departure of talisman Lionel Messi, Barca are in a dire financial situation heading into the new season.

They will now also be without one of their new arrivals for up to 10 weeks, though LaLiga's salary restrictions have meant Barca have not yet been able to register Aguero, who joined on a free transfer from Premier League champions Manchester City.

The 33-year-old left City after 10 years with the club, but his final season was hampered by injury and COVID-19 lay offs.

He managed only eight starts in 2020-21, playing 720 minutes in total across 20 appearances in all competitions.

Aguero's tally of six goals – two of which came from the penalty spot – was by far the fewest he managed for City since joining in 2011. Indeed, his previous low was 17, in the 2012-13 season.

His Barca career has now stalled before it has even started.

Reports in Spain on Monday suggested Aguero had already been expected to miss a month due to the injury, but further tests had revealed a tendon tear in his inner right calf – this was subsequently confirmed by Barca.

"Tests carried out on first-team player Kun Aguero have confirmed a right calf injury. He will be out around 10 weeks," a Barca statement read.

Aguero will miss Barca's opening nine LaLiga fixtures and at least the first two rounds of the Champions League group stage.

Reports emerged over the weekend that Aguero wished to leave Barca already, with the possibility of playing with his good friend and compatriot Messi having been a major factor in his decision to sign on at Camp Nou.

On Sunday, Aguero posted a farewell message to Messi on his official Instagram account.

"All the best in whatever comes my friend. And always with that smile. I love you," the post read.

Barca kick-off their LaLiga campaign – and the post-Messi era against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Memphis Depay is confident he can form a balanced front three with Lionel Messi and fellow new signing Sergio Aguero at Barcelona.

Netherlands attacker Depay joined Barca as a free agent when his Lyon contract expired on July 1 and scored a penalty on his debut in Saturday's 3-1 friendly win over Girona.

The 27-year-old got his career back on track at Lyon following a disappointing spell with Manchester United, scoring 76 goals in 178 appearance for the Ligue 1 side.

Depay played mainly as a centre-forward in the French top flight last season and scored 20 goals – only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27) netted more.

He also showed his ability to create for others by laying on 12 assists and creating 94 chances, which were more than any other player managed in Ligue 1 in 2020-21.

And the PSV academy product believes he is capable of playing with ex-Manchester City striker Aguero and Messi, who is expected to sign a new deal to remain at Camp Nou.

"We are all attackers, but we are all different in my opinion," Depay told Sport. "I have different abilities and strengths than Aguero, for example, or any other player.

"I think the three of us are compatible and different. But we will see how everything goes.

"It would be amazing to play with Messi and I hope that is possible. He has a number of qualities that the team needs and it's important to build everything around that.

"There is a lot of talent here. It would be great to play alongside him and win titles."

 

Depay previously played under Barca head coach Ronald Koeman for the Netherlands national side and is glad to have reunited with his compatriot in Catalonia.

"He has had a great impact on me," Depay said. "He changed the Netherlands team and counted on me, giving me confidence. 

"Now he is counting on me for this adventure, so he has undoubtedly been an important figure in my career.

"I know him and how he trains, so it's easier for me to adapt. I know what he expects of me after working together for a long time.

"Even with him on the bench it will obviously not be easy, but without him it would have been different."

Depay has been labelled a "rebellious" figure during his career to date but, citing comparisons to former Barca player Luis Suarez, is not fazed by that tag.

"I think 'rebellious' is often used as a negative, but sometimes you can use it as a good thing," he said. 

"Sometimes if you are rebellious on the field it can give you something extra and help you win the game. 

"For example, Luis Suarez has won many games and scored many goals without being the nicest and sweetest person in the world. 

"Maybe because of my appearance people may think that I am a rebellious boy. When you meet me, you see that I am a normal guy, like any other person. 

"Maybe I'm a little different because of the way I express myself, how I make music. I may be more misunderstood for that. 

"But boy, I don't mind being called a rebel. People have a feeling about me that may either be very good or they may not like. 

"The truth is that everyone is free to create their own opinion, their image."

Ronald Koeman has warned Barcelona's rivals a rejuvenated and focused Lionel Messi will have a massive impact in the forthcoming season.

Messi is technically still a free agent after his contract with the Blaugrana expired at midnight on June 30, but it has been widely reported the 34-year-old is poised to sign a new five-year deal at Camp Nou.

Messi was again hugely influential for Barcelona last season, finishing as LaLiga's top scorer and managing 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions.

He also created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes over the course of 2020-21. 

The Argentina international is expected to take a substantial pay cut to stay at Barca but Koeman does not expect his influence to diminish.

"Messi is very important, he is the captain of the team and an example," head coach Koeman told a media conference on Sunday.

"After a difficult start due to his own situation, his effectiveness was enormous [in 2020-21].

"He really wanted to win the Copa America and, as he is the best player in the world, he is used to winning things. For me, he is the big favourite to win the Ballon d'Or."

 

Koeman claimed the presence of Messi and other experienced players will bring balance to Barca in the new campaign.

"The veteran players have a place in the squad," Koeman explained.

"They already showed it last year and it is important that they be with us. In a club like Barca, the balance between the oldest and the youngest must exist."

Koeman has taken some of the attacking burden of Messi shoulders with the signings of Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero on free transfers.

Depay enjoyed a fine final season in Ligue 1, scoring 20 times, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27), while his 12 assists and 94 chances created were the most in France's top flight.

Aguero scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances in all competitions during a glittering decade with Manchester City.

"I know Memphis very well and he knows how to work," Koeman added.

"He has a lot of character, physicality, speed, he can play in different positions in attack. He's the perfect age to show it.

"With Sergio, we had to improve our performance at the top and he is a very experienced and dangerous player in the penalty area. 

"The important thing is that he is physically well and our goal is to keep him in top form."

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