Xavi feels sympathy for Lionel Messi and his former club Barcelona following the superstar forward's switch to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi held a tearful news conference on Sunday to confirm the end of his 21-year stay at Camp Nou ahead of completing a move to PSG on Tuesday.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner revealed both he and Barcelona did everything possible to agree a new deal, but it was made impossible by "financial and structural obstacles".

Xavi, who won 24 trophies playing in the same side as Messi prior to departing Barca in 2015, is upset that the Argentina international was effectively forced out of the door.

"I'm just so sad for Leo," Xavi, who is now managing Qatari club Al Sadd, told The Times. "It's a pity to see he and the club couldn't find a solution.

"I know that Leo wanted to stay, but in the end it could not be sorted.

"The only thing I can say now is that I will miss him a lot. It's even hard for me to picture Messi with a shirt other than Barca's. 

"It's sad for Leo, especially for how I saw him emotionally at the Camp Nou the other day, but for FC Barcelona as well."

 

As Barcelona get set to begin a new season without Messi for the first time since 2003, there will be plenty of onus on others in Ronald Koeman's squad stepping up.

One of those who has already made big strides in his first full campaign at Camp Nou is young midfielder Pedri, who also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympics.

He played more passes in the opposition half (461) than any player at Euro 2020.

Pedri's 421 successful passes was bettered by only four players, with the 18-year-old completing 65 of the 66 attempted in the semi-final loss to Italy – that one misplaced pass coming in extra time.

And Xavi can see similarities between Pedri and another Barcelona icon in Andres Iniesta, who spent 16 years in Barcelona's first team.

"Pedri is unbelievable. The kid has Iniesta's profile of a player, for sure," Xavi said.

"Watching him play at his age, doing what he does, leaves you with the only answer: he'll be great. Actually, he already is so impressive, but he can be even better."

While Spain's campaign ended at the last four stage, England reached the final on home soil before suffering a cruel defeat to Italy on penalties.

Xavi was impressed by what he saw from Gareth Southgate's side and in particular a couple of their midfielders.

"I've seen England at a fantastic level. They have absolutely everything in the squad. Well, actually they were not champions just because of a penalty," he said.

"This generation is young, physically strong but also great technically. With this group of players, they'll always be competitive.

"I can see them fighting for the World Cup, without a shadow of a doubt. They are almost there.

"I think that sooner rather than later they'll have this spark of luck you need to win trophies.

"I have also been hugely impressed by the two midfielders, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. I did not know them that well, but they were superb.

"You can see a centre-back like John Stones and how he plays the ball out from the defence.

"Next to him there's [Harry] Maguire, who drives up the ball to split the opponent's pressing. 

"How the full-backs and wing-backs behave for the team . . . there are details that speak volumes of Southgate's work."

 

Euro 2020 was a rather mixed tournament for Phil Foden, who started England's first two matches but struggled to make an impact and was largely overlooked from that point on.

"I think he is an unreal talent for a lot of reasons," Xavi said of the Manchester City midfielder. "He has an amazing work rate, but also his decision-making is ace. 

"He's strong, quick, has a sense of goal, great passer and shooter... There's everything in the pack.

"I would have loved to see more game time for Foden. When you have this number of talented players, all I can think of is putting them on the pitch. 

"I understand it's very tough to make changes with the squad Southgate had. There were a lot of options in his hands and only eleven could play. 

"But it's a pity to see so many special talents with not much playing time."

Spain greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta are inspirational figures for Italy's Nicolo Barella, although the Azzurri midfielder does not try to replicate their skill sets.

Barcelona legends Xavi and Iniesta formed a key part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 – in which they thrashed Italy in the final – either side of lifting the 2010 World Cup.

While the Barca duo were more renowned for their creativity than goalscoring exploits, albeit Iniesta got the crucial strike in Spain's World Cup triumph in South Africa, Barella has established himself as a real goal threat for both Inter and Italy.

Indeed, the former Cagliari man opened the scoring in Italy's 2-1 quarter-final win over Belgium with a fantastic finish, teed up by some excellent footwork.

And while Barella is inspired by the Spain greats of the past, he finds it hard to compare his own game with theirs. 

"They had great champions who inspired everyone, like Xavi and Iniesta," Barella told a news conference. 

"It's easy to say that we were inspired, but all those who love football are. I have different characteristics, seeing me in them is difficult.

"The Spain side that won the Euros in 2012 had an incredible midfield. There were amazing champions there, here there are great players, but we hope we can reach their level and possibly do even better."

Italy inflicted a 2-0 defeat in the last 16 of Euro 2016 to gain revenge for their 4-0 loss in Kyiv nine years ago, and a final against either England or Denmark is the prize for the victor at Wembley on Tuesday.

"[Sergio] Busquets has been one of the best midfielders in the world for many years," Barella continued.

"Then they have Pedri and Koke. It will be a nice game, we'll try to beat their midfield and beat Spain.

"It will be a tough game, we are similar as we both want to dominate the possession. I hope it will be a nice game, we want to enjoy it in a fantastic stadium."

Italy did suffer a blow in the win over Belgium, with influential left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon.

"It was strange not to celebrate because one of my team-mates had suffered a serious injury," Barella said when asked about Spinazzola, who has travelled to Finland for surgery.

"It was the first time I didn't celebrate a win at the end of the game, all we can do is to make Spinazzola proud and celebrate for him."

Only three defenders – Andrew Robertson (nine), David Alaba (10) and Jordi Alba (11) – have created more chances than Spinazzola (eight) so far at Euro 2020, though Barella is confident that Chelsea's Emerson, who is set to replace the stricken Roma full-back, will prove an able deputy.

"Emerson and Spina have different characteristics, they are two great players and nobody is worried," he said.

"[Emerson] won the Champions League and he will help us as he's always done. He's played many games for us and we all trust him."

Lionel Messi became a free agent on Thursday, but Xavi believes it is a matter of time before the captain and record goalscorer re-commits to Barcelona.

While away with Argentina at the Copa America, Messi has been focusing on that tournament, and as July arrived there was no word of a new contract at Camp Nou.

That meant his previous deal expired, making Messi potentially available to suitors that may wish to sign him.

Interest from Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain has appeared to go quiet amid an assumption that Messi will stay with Barcelona.

Former team-mate Xavi feels Messi is moving closer to signing again with the Catalans and would put money on the 34-year-old doing so, even if small doubts linger.

"These are market circumstances, we have to wait," Xavi said. "I imagine he is talking to the club and the president.

"I wish Leo the best, as a friend of his and as a cule [a Barcelona fan], I wish him to continue at Barca. Hopefully, it can be announced as soon as possible."

Speaking to Mundo Deportivo, Xavi, who is coach of Al Sadd, added: "If I had to bet, I would say that he will continue at the club, although many things have been said in football, but I would say that he will continue.

"Leo needs Barca and Barca need Leo. He is happy in Barcelona; he has spent his life there. I would bet on him renewing."

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

He created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes, when taking all competitions into account.

Jordi Alba was next on the list of the most chances created, teeing up 85 goalscoring opportunities, while of players with more than five goals, Antoine Griezmann had the next-best minutes-per-goal ratio, with one every 195.2 minutes.

 

In terms of the most games played, top-flight rookie Pedri finished top of the pile with 52 games, and he has since gone on to play for Spain at Euro 2020.

Pedri will then go on to the Olympic Games and will have had barely any break by the time LaLiga gets under way in 2021-22.

Barcelona are reportedly unhappy at the demands placed on the shoulders of the 18-year-old midfielder, but Xavi thinks such experiences are priceless.

He said: "If I were Pedri, I would go to the Games. I had the opportunity at the time, and they are opportunities that do not return.

"He is 18 years old and footballers want to play. It's a unique opportunity to go to the Games. If you ask Pedri, he will tell you that he is excited."

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has insisted he is in good health and told his followers "don't believe anything you hear" in a social media post.

Club president Joan Laporta said in a news conference earlier on Friday that Koeman had given the club "a scare" this week.

It came after the 58-year-old, who had a heart procedure last year, visited hospital, with conflicting reports over whether the trip was routine or related to anxiety.

Koeman attempted to clarify the situation on Twitter, writing: "Don't believe anything you hear. I am healthy, that's all that matters in life!"

The comments come at an uncertain time for Koeman, who has one year left on his contract at Camp Nou but is under pressure to keep his job.

Laporta has held initial talks with the Dutchman and his agent and is set to hold a further round of discussions in the near future after the head coach finished his first campaign in charge.

The president is said to have asked him to wait for a verdict while he looked at alternative options to fill the role.

Laporta faced questions at a news conference after speculation he would look to pursue Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola after the Champions League final.

Former Barca player Xavi, currently in charge of Al Sadd in Qatar, has also been heavily linked with the job.

"Ronald has a contract and that gives him peace of mind that he should not be rushed into a decision," Laporta said. "We spoke calmly with him. 

"He had an episode that took him to hospital and he routinely gets checked up. He gave us a scare, especially thinking that a year ago he had a heart attack. I told him to take it easy.

"We spoke with respect. We will sit down with Ronald next week and we will decide after outlining all the aspects.

"Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]. We are talking.

"We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Adding to the complexity of the situation, Koeman's agent Rob Jansen - via his own Twitter account and that of agency Wasserman - appeared to hit out at Laporta.

"Imagine: I want to marry you, but I have doubts," he posted. "Give me two weeks to find a better partner. If I can't find the right person, we will get married anyway!"

A statement from Wasserman added: "The words of FC Barcelona's president Joan Laporta during a press conference today about Ronald Koeman's anxiety attack are overdone.

"Ronald has been to the hospital for blood pressure checks, a routine check for people with his medical history. We regret the way it got into the media. Ronald is fine, there is nothing to worry about."

Joan Laporta says he is eager to see Pep Guardiola lift the Champions League trophy amid reports the Manchester City boss is his top target to coach Barcelona.

It was suggested this week that Barca president Laporta will make an audacious attempt to persuade Guardiola to return to Camp Nou after the Champions League final.

Laporta reportedly wishes to speak to Guardiola - who is under contract with City until 2023 after signing a new deal last year - before determining his next move with under-pressure incumbent Ronald Koeman.

Guardiola enjoyed a hugely successful spell at the Barca helm between 2008 and 2012, winning the Spanish title for three successive seasons, as well as the Champions League twice.

"If you want to ask me about Pep, I wish that he wins the Champions League with City on Saturday," Laporta said on Friday.

"I am not here to talk about my dreams. I focus on realities and like to make my dreams come true, not talk about them.

"May he win the Champions League with Barca and City; I think it will be wonderful for him and also for all of us who love him.

"That is the only thing in my head when we talk about Guardiola. I can't wait to watch the final and I hope Pep can win it because he is a good friend of mine."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project.

The Dutchman, who has one year left on his contract, is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge.

Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation and the president asked him to wait for a verdict while he looked at alternative options.

Former Barca player Xavi, currently in charge of Al Sadd in Qatar, has also been heavily linked with the job.

"Xavi will be a great coach and he is a friend but we have nothing specific," said Laporta.

"These are names that sound good - everyone wants them to come, but we are in a different situation now than when we bet on [Frank] Rijkaard or Guardiola, plus we don't want to involve Ronald in more stories.

"Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]. We are talking.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca. We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta revealed contract talks with Lionel Messi are going well as he prepares to meet again with Ronald Koeman to decide the head coach's future.

Messi's current deal is set to expire at the end of June but the Spanish club are in negotiations to make sure their talisman remains at Camp Nou.

Having pushed to leave Barca a year ago, the 33-year-old scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga appearances to finish as the competition's leading scorer, though Barca finished behind both champions Atletico Madrid and rivals Real Madrid in the table.

Laporta provided an update on Messi's situation at a lengthy news conference on Friday that covered a number of topics, during which he confirmed new signings are imminent.

"Messi's new contract is going well, but it has not been done yet," Laporta announced.

"We are working hard, all the executives that we have involved here are working hard to give him a good proposal. We are going to give him a proposal that is within our means and we hope that it will be accepted by the player.

"I see our relationship as very good. Messi loves Barca. We know that he is a man and a player conditioned by his incredible talent.

"Of course, we all want him to continue, and we hope that he will stay with Barca."

Barca are expected to sign defender Eric Garcia and forward Sergio Aguero in the transfer window, with both players soon to be out of contract at Manchester City.

"Our ambition is to improve the current squad and we are working on that very hard," Laporta said.

"Next week, we will talk about new arrivals for the first team. You will see the result of some of the work we have been doing.

"I understand that people want us to work in a rhythm that is faster, but we believe in working step by step, little by little and doing things right. We need to make two situations compatible, when I'm talking about the liquidation of one project and the beginning of a new one."

It remains to be seen whether Koeman will be around to continue with the new Barca project; the Dutchman is set to hold a fresh round of talks with Laporta in the near future after completing his first campaign in charge. Koeman and his agent met with Laporta this week for an initial conversation.

"There are no transitional seasons at Barca," Laporta said. "We [the new board] arrived halfway through the season and said we would give our evaluation of the coach at the end of the season and communicate our decisions then.

"We've always worked with the maximum respect for Ronald Koeman. Of course, the admiration we have for him as the player who won us the European Cup at Wembley, and he still has a contract in place.

"At the end of the season we will evaluate his time here and make decisions accordingly. We spoke to Koeman and will continue to do so when making important decisions."

Laporta was also questioned about links to Xavi and Pep Guardiola, two legendary names at the club who have been rumoured to be potential replacements for Koeman.

“Out of respect we owe Koeman, he has a current contract and don't rule it out [that he stays]," Laporta said. "We are talking."

Xavi believes Barcelona have failed to take full advantage of having Lionel Messi in their ranks, as the Argentina forward's Camp Nou career hangs in the balance.

Messi could walk away from the club as a free agent in two months' time, when his contract expires, but reports in Spain indicate Barcelona are making determined attempts to persuade him to stay.

New president Joan Laporta, back for a second spell at the helm, is reported to have recently had dinner with Jorge Messi, father of the 33-year-old whose record-breaking feats at Barcelona continue to beggar belief.

For a 12th successive season, Messi has scored at least 25 league goals, making him the only player in Europe's top five leagues to achieve the feat in consecutive campaigns this century.

Messi has reached that target this season despite doubts lingering over his future at Barca, after he requested a transfer during the last close season.

He has scored over 400 goals more than any other player in the club's history and this season has overtaken Xavi to set the record for most appearances.

Xavi, coach of Al Sadd in Qatar, has despaired at seeing his former team-mate disenchanted at times, telling TV3: "That he has not felt happy in what I consider to be the club of my life makes me sad, and something has had to be done very badly for Leo to not feel happy.

"You have to make sure that Leo is happy, because with a happy and content Leo you have more numbers to win titles. Many times I've had the impression that Leo has not been happy on the pitch, that he has been sad, and it makes me sad as a cule [Barcelona supporter] that we have not taken advantage of him enough in recent years.

"We had the best footballer in the world and in history and we haven't taken advantage of him enough."

According to TNT Sports, Paris Saint-Germain are preparing a blockbuster contract offer in an effort to draw Messi to the French capital.

While what Xavi says certainly held true for a significant stretch during Josep Maria Bartomeu's presidency, the return of Laporta appears to have lifted the mood around the club.

Captain Messi has appeared increasingly to be enjoying his football this season under coach Ronald Koeman's leadership, and his form in recent weeks has been dazzling.

Barca have won the Copa del Rey already and on Thursday have the chance to go top of LaLiga as they face Granada.

Barcelona legend Xavi has endorsed "luxury coach" Joachim Low for the Barcelona job once he steps down as Germany boss later this year.

Low announced earlier this month that he will leave his role with the national side after the delayed European Championship finals, which are scheduled to begin in June.

The 61-year-old has been in charge since 2006 and guided his country to World Cup success in 2014, as well as winning the Confederations Cup three years later.

He revealed earlier this week he has been learning Spanish, only strengthening rumours he is in contention to take over at either Real Madrid or Barcelona at some point.

And Xavi, who is also regularly linked to the head coach position at former club Barca, believes Low would be a good fit at Camp Nou.

"He is a luxury coach," Xavi told Suddeutsche Zeitung. "He wants sparkle and attacking football, and he is a world champion.

"Low has helped Germany develop a different understanding of football that reminds me a lot of what I know from Spain and Barcelona."

Asked more specifically why Low would suit Barcelona, Xavi said: "Because of his way of understanding the game. And because of his personality."

Low's contract with the German Football Association was originally due to run until the 2022 World Cup, but he requested to leave his position early on the back of a disappointing 2020.

Germany won only three of their eight matches last year, which culminated in a 6-0 Nations League loss to Spain - their heaviest defeat since losing to Austria in a friendly in 1931 by the same scoreline.

Xavi, who was overtaken by Lionel Messi last week in the list of all-time appearances for Barcelona, feels it is the natural time for Low to seek pastures new. 

"With such a period of time, wear and tear is inevitable," he added. "That might be the case now."

Could Harry Kane end up at Real Madrid?

Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is one of Europe's most sought-after and expensive players, while Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe also commands a hefty fee.

With that in mind, Tottenham's Kane has reportedly emerged as a transfer target in the Spanish capital.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID ADD KANE TO LIST

Real Madrid are interested in signing Tottenham star Harry Kane, according to SER Deportivo.

Madrid have been heavily linked with in-demand Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe.

But Madrid's hierarchy reportedly feel a deal to prise Kane from Tottenham may be easier.

 

ROUND-UP

- Wednesday's Marca and Diario AS newspapers are dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo. Marca claims Ronaldo would exit Juventus to return to Madrid, who he left in 2018. Diario AS says Juve are ready to listen to offers for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner. Ronaldo has also been linked with former club Manchester United.

- Sport reports Manchester City defender Eric Garcia will join Barcelona on a five-year deal. It will be the first major signing under new president Joan Laporta as the LaLiga giants also eye Haaland and look to re-sign superstar captain Lionel Messi, who has been tipped to join either PSG or City on a free transfer at season's end.

- TV3 claims Ronald Koeman will continue as Barca head coach in 2021-22 following talks with Laporta. RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann and club great Xavi had been linked.

Inter are ready to reignite their interest in Udinese star Rodrigo De Paul, claims Calciomercato. The Serie A leaders have previously been linked with the Argentina midfielder. Antonio Conte's Inter are also tracking Madrid outcast Isco, according to Sport.

- L'Equipe claims United are considering a move for Tottenham captain and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris amid doubts over David de Gea. Milan star Gianluigi Donnarumma has also emerged as a possible target.

Bayern Munich are in talks to sign Madrid attacker Lucas Vazquez on a free transfer, according to AS.

Liverpool, Juventus and Roma are among clubs interested in Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez, says AS. The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of 2021-22.

Lionel Messi has set a new club record for Barcelona, after making his 768th appearance for the Spanish giants.

Messi matched his former team-mate and fellow Blaugrana legend Xavi when he played against Huesca last Monday, taking him to 767 games for the club he first joined as a 12-year-old.

The 33-year-old and former midfielder Xavi are the only players in the club's history to have surpassed 700 games for the Catalans, with Andres Iniesta next on the all-time appearance list on 674.

Messi already boasts the record for the most trophies won (34) and highest goal tally (658) for Barca, and marked the record-equalling appearance in typical style, netting a sensational opener before laying on an assist and then rounding off the scoring himself in a 4-1 victory.

He also became the first player to score 20 or more goals in 13 successive LaLiga campaigns in the process and, on Sunday, he took the outright record for Barca appearances when he started against Real Sociedad. 

To date, Messi has featured in 511 LaLiga matches, while playing 149 Champions League fixtures, 79 Copa del Rey games, 20 in the Supercopa de Espana, five in the Club World Cup and four in the UEFA Super Cup.

Messi tops LaLiga's goalscoring charts this season with 21 goals, as Barca look to close within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid, who beat Deportivo Alaves 1-0.

The Argentina great has been involved in 21 goals in 22 games against La Real in LaLiga (14 goals and seven assists), scoring and or assisting in 14 of them.

Barca have won their last eight games away from home in LaLiga, keeping six clean sheets. They could level their third-best consecutive winning run on the road, and would only be behind their 12 wins in a row between May 2010 and January 2011 and 10 between August 2012 and January 2013.

Messi has yet to sign a new contract with Barca which means, as it stands, he may be down to his last 11 games in all competitions with the club following Sunday's meeting with La Real.

Ronald Koeman's team have 10 LaLiga fixtures remaining following the international break, while they will also take on Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final next month.

Lionel Messi was hailed as "the magical one" after he matched Xavi's appearances record for Barcelona and marked the achievement with a double strike against Huesca.

The Argentine great played his 767th game for Barca on Monday and will set an outright record if he faces Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Former Barcelona team-mate Arturo Vidal wrote on Instagram: "One more record brother @leomessi. You are the master of football. You are the best, the extraterrestrial, the only one, the magical one."

Vidal, who left Barcelona to join Inter last September, added: "Surely you will continue to beat many more records, you are unique, an extraterrestrial hug ..."

Xavi, currently coach of Qatari champions Al Sadd, paid his own compliment on Tuesday by writing to his former team-mate: "Congratulations Leo!! It's an honor that you match this record."

The 4-1 win over Huesca moved Barcelona to within four points of stuttering leaders Atletico Madrid, who have only won two of their previous five league games.

Both of Messi's goals came from outside the penalty area, and the club captain has made a habit lately of scoring from long range.

Stats Perform data shows that 36 per cent of his LaLiga goals last season (9 of 25) and 33 per cent this term (7 of 21) have come from outside the 18-yard box.

Those are the highest percentage rates he has achieved in his Barcelona career and appear to signal a change in his approach to the game as he approaches his mid-30s.

In the 2011-12 season, when Messi scored a career-high 50 LaLiga goals in 37 games, only three of those - or six per cent - came from outside the penalty area.

Six of his seven from long range this season have come in his last nine league games.

Messi turns 34 in June and reaches the end of his contract at the end of the season, with uncertainty over whether he will stay at Camp Nou.

Whether his goals are coming from inside or outside the penalty area, crucially they continue to flow from the club's record scorer, whom Barca would be loath to see depart.

Monday night's double means he has scored over 20 goals in a LaLiga campaign for a 13th consecutive season, an unprecedented feat.

Lionel Messi has matched Xavi's record for the most appearances for Barcelona in all competitions.

The club captain started Monday's LaLiga match with Huesca, taking him to 767 games for the club he first joined as a 12-year-old.

Messi already boasts the record for the most trophies won (34) and most goals scored (658) for Barca.

The 33-year-old and former midfielder Xavi are the only players in the club's history to have surpassed 700 games for the Catalans, with Andres Iniesta next on the all-time appearance list on 674.

To date, Messi has featured in 510 LaLiga matches, while playing 149 Champions League fixtures, 79 Copa del Rey games, 20 in the Supercopa de Espana, five in the Club World Cup and four in the UEFA Super Cup.

Speaking before the Huesca game, head coach Ronald Koeman described it as "an incredible number of games".

"That also shows what Xavi did for the club, and now Messi will equal the number games of Xavi," he said.

"It will be a great day and then the next that will be one more than Xavi achieved with Barcelona. It is incredible because that shows how important he is and was for Barcelona.

"The number of games, the number of goals, the number of hat-tricks, the number of titles.

"Let's hope that we will continue with Leo, winning titles, what he showed and what he did for this club."

Messi tops LaLiga's goalscoring charts this season with 19 as Barca look to close within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid.

The Argentina star has been involved in five goals in two games against Huesca in LaLiga (two goals and three assists), including two goals and two assists in his only league appearance against them at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have gone 16 games without losing in LaLiga (W13 D3) – the best current unbeaten streak of any team in Eurppe's five major leagues.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman lauded "incredible" Lionel Messi as the superstar captain prepares to equal Xavi's historic appearance record.

Messi is one game away from matching Xavi as the players with the most games in Barcelona's history – 767 – ahead of Monday's LaLiga clash against Huesca.

Barca's Messi, who already holds the record for most trophies (34) and goals (658) in club history at Camp Nou, equalled Barca's all-time LaLiga appearances mark set by Xavi last month.

To date, Messi has featured in 509 LaLiga matches, while playing 149 Champions League fixtures, 79 Copa del Rey games, 20 in the Supercopa de Espana, five in the Club World Cup and four in the UEFA Super Cup.

"Well it is an incredible number of games," Koeman told reporters. "That also shows what Xavi did for the club, and now Messi will equal the number games of Xavi.

"It will be a great day and then the next that will be one more than Xavi achieved with Barcelona. It is incredible because that shows how important he is and was for Barcelona.

"The number of games, the number of goals, the number of hat-tricks, the number of titles.

"Let's hope that we will continue with Leo, winning titles, what he showed and what he did for this club."

The 33-year-old Messi tops LaLiga's goalscoring charts this season with 19 as Barca look to close within four points of leaders Atletico Madrid.

Messi has been involved in five goals in two games against Huesca in LaLiga (two goals and three assists), including two goals and two assists in his only league appearance against them at Camp Nou.

Barcelona have gone 16 games without losing in LaLiga (W13 D3) – the best current unbeaten streak of any team in the five major leagues in Europe.

Xavi was celebrating on Sunday as his Al Sadd team clinched the Qatar Stars League championship, the first league title of a coaching career that many expect will lead him back to Barcelona.

The former Spain and Barca midfielder saw his players secure the trophy with a 3-0 win over Umm Salal that puts them 13 points clear with four rounds of games remaining.

Xavi previously helped Al Sadd land the 2018-19 title in what proved to be the final year of his playing career.

The 41-year-old stepped up to be head coach of the team following that campaign and has led Al Sadd to a string of trophy successes in cup competitions, but he was thrilled to finally land a league title.

"We created a new history for Al Sadd," Xavi said. "I am happy to win the league title for the first time as a coach with Al Sadd, after winning it as a player."

Goals from Baghdad Bounedjah, Yousuf Abdurisag and Rodrigo Tabata secured Sunday's win.

Xavi told the club's website: "I am happy to be in this group of players, officials, technical and medical staff. Our goal is to win all the tournaments we participate in.

"Special thanks to the fans of Al Sadd who supported the team with full force throughout the season and also in the championship match against Umm Salal, and we promise them to continue working to make them happy and win more championships for the club."

Those supporters will hope Xavi's message signals a long-term commitment to the Al Sadd cause, given he has frequently been linked with a return to LaLiga giants Barcelona, the club where he spent his entire career until moving to Qatar at the age of 35.

Such suggestions were revived during the campaign to decide Barcelona's new president; however, the man heading for victory in the vote on Sunday, Joan Laporta, indicated recently that Xavi may not yet have sufficient experience to return to Camp Nou as head coach.

Al Sadd's league title was the 15th in their history and a 75th trophy in total, the club said.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique cast his vote in the Barcelona presidential election on Sunday and kept his fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

The former Barcelona player, who coached the team to treble glory in the 2014-15 season, was one of thousands who turned out to Camp Nou to vote in person.

Barcelona said 20,663 club members had already voted by post for their choice of the president to lead the club forward.

Luis Enrique was among a host of big names who arrived at the club's stadium to have their say in the election, with current players including Lionel Messi also exercising their right.

"It is an opportunity to choose the president of Barca and with joy. I hope that the one who comes out on top, the one picked by all the members, will be the best for the club," Luis Enrique said, quoted by Mundo Deportivo.

He was pictured wearing a face mask as he submitted his voting card, with the elections taking place while COVID-19 remains a major global crisis.

"Everything is strange in these times and what we have clearly demonstrated is the ability that we have to adapt," Luis Enrique said. "We will prepare and look for the positive side of things."

Xavi, a former Barcelona midfield talisman, urged members to come out and vote, to take their chance to influence the club's future direction.

Former president Joan Laporta is favourite to return for a second term in charge, with Victor Font and Toni Freixa the other men in the running.

Xavi, who Font has pledged to bring back to the club as head coach if he wins, had a major distraction on Sunday as his Al Sadd team attempted to wrap up the Qatar Stars League against Umm Salal.

But the 41-year-old wrote on Instagram: "From Doha I encourage all members to vote in the elections of the best club in the world. Long live Barca!"

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