Lionel Messi did not want to leave Barcelona and his eventual signing for Paris Saint-Germain even caught them by surprise, according to the Parisians' sporting director Leonardo.

Messi ended a 21-year association with Barca back in August when it was announced he would not be re-signing for the club.

His contract had officially expired at the end of June but Barca and Messi were expecting to be able to announce a new deal on a reduced salary.

But even with the reduced terms, Barca were still unable to get their wage expenditure under their LaLiga-imposed salary cap, which prevented them registering new signings.

As such, Messi was officially a free agent and PSG quickly swooped to bring him in, with the Ligue 1 champions and Manchester City both being linked with him extensively in the past.

The situation surrounding Messi's inability to re-sign for Barca and his move to PSG shocked the world of football, and that included those at PSG.

"Messi was convinced to stay at Barcelona," Leonardo told reporters at the Festival dello Sport on Saturday.

"We had some contacts. Some rumours were saying he may not stay at Barcelona because his contract was expiring.

"We checked the situation, we talked but we did not have the feeling he wanted to leave Barcelona. However we started networking. This helped us to be in a good position.

"Then Barcelona announced the end of their relationship, so that's the moment we started and it's been great. It's been a surprise for everybody.

"Then he arrived. The way he arrived… he was at Barcelona for 21 years. It was the first transfer he'd done.

"It was a new thing for him to be in a new dressing room. He's got an impacting silence, he doesn't talk much but he is someone to admire."

Another high-profile player signed by PSG on a free transfer in pre-season was Gianluigi Donnarumma, who departed Milan after running his contract down.

Many in Italy have been intensely critical of Donnarumma for opting to leave for the greater riches on offer in Paris, but Leonardo insisted PSG did not get in touch with him until June, two months after his exit was confirmed.

"I know it's a difficult situation," Leonardo said. "We never contacted Donnarumma before June. I don't want to be wrong, I think Milan announced in April that they were not extending the contract [of Donnarumma].

"They signed a new goalkeeper in Mike Maignan, so Donnarumma was free for the market. We had never contacted Donnarumma before, then some things happened.

"I had been in Milan but his future was not decided yet. He was free in June. We talked and we took this decision.

"We had never done previous work to have him for free. He was going to another team if it wasn't PSG. He wouldn't have stayed at Milan."

LaLiga president Javier Tebas pleaded for a more sustainable level of spending across football as he refused to take the blame for Lionel Messi's departure from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi left his only senior side Barca to join PSG on a free transfer after the Catalan club were unable to offer him a contract due to LaLiga's spending restrictions.

Barca's salary cap was cut to €97million this season due to a combination of their lavish prior outlay and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Messi instead headed for big-spending PSG in France, but Tebas believes Ligue 1, along with Serie A, should follow LaLiga in keeping a closer eye on finances.

He suggested LaLiga needed its fellow 'top five' leagues to stay afloat in order to ensure the European Super League, proposed last season before a swift collapse, does not return.

Faced with financial difficulties, Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus remained committed to the Super League project, even as their domestic rivals and the Premier League's 'big six' backtracked.

"Is the transfer of Messi to PSG my fault? Obviously not," Tebas said, speaking at the Festival dello Sport. "We need sustainability in football. It is a special sector, football is passion and belonging, but in recent years it has become a business.

"Serie A has been at a loss for 20 years, what matters is the total balance. This also happens in France, not in Germany and not from us.

"What did we have to do to be sustainable? The competition must be regulated by some rules; otherwise, teams like PSG will arrive and invest €400m in a single summer. They have very high salaries; this leads to inflation.

"It is not our fault that Messi has not renewed his contract; we have a salary cap in LaLiga, a rule approved by all the teams, and this is what makes LaLiga sustainable. If there were such controls also in Italy and France, there would be no more losses.

"The economic solidity of the other leagues is also fundamental for Spain: if there are no strong leagues, the risk of the Super League is always high.

"I have said it many times to [Juventus chief] Andrea Agnelli: 'Do you want to go to the Super League where Real Madrid and Barcelona will earn more and more than you?'"

As well as the Super League, Tebas is opposed to the idea of a biennial World Cup put forward by Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager and FIFA's chief of global football development.

The LaLiga boss was frustrated FIFA had not first involved the leagues.

"Football has a problem with governance," he said. "FIFA wants to change the international calendar with a unilateral decision. This has an impact on the leagues.

"If you want to take a decision with an impact on domestic leagues, the FIFA Council cannot just take the decision with the Solomon Islands voting, too. With UEFA, we have reached an agreement with the leagues.

"The biennial World Cup will have an impact on the revenues of clubs like Torino and other Italian clubs, no doubt about that.

"Leagues cannot just be consulted in the decision-making, they need to be part of the decision."

Lionel Messi has revealed that Real Madrid target Kylian Mbappe speaks "perfect Spanish" as he explains how his Spanish-speaking Paris Saint-Germain team-mates have aided his transition to France.

Barcelona's financial situation forced Messi to move away from Catalonia and the 34-year-old is still adjusting to life away from Camp Nou, scoring just once in his five appearances for PSG across all competitions so far.

However, despite admitting that he found leaving the club he spent 21 years at difficult, while also acknowledging he feels "a little bit lost" in Paris, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner says that having players who speak the same language as him in the dressing room has helped.

"I knew I was coming to a new country and had to start from scratch," Messi said in an interview with France Football. "Knowing that I had friends in the dressing room made me think that things would be easier to adapt to.

"And I was not wrong, because it was very easy to settle, especially because there are many players who speak Spanish, like me, and some friends like 'Ney' [Neymar], 'Lea' [Leandro Paredes], 'Fideo' [Angel Di Maria], who helped me when I arrived."

 

France star Mbappe – who has revealed he instructed PSG in July that he would not sign a new deal – was also mentioned, with Messi praising his command of the Spanish language.

"With a player like [Mbappe], it's easy to get along. Also, Kylian speaks perfect Spanish, so we have good exchanges off the pitch as well," continued Messi.

"It makes things easier. Now, I've only been here a short time, so it's still a bit early to draw conclusions. But I'm sure it will work out well."

PSG ultimately turned down three bids for Mbappe, with the last offer said to be worth up to €200million for a player whose deal runs out at the end of the season.

Expectations are high for the attacking trio of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, with Messi and Neymar previously forming two-thirds of the fearsome 'MSN' trident at Barcelona alongside Luis Suarez that scored a staggering 364 goals in 450 combined appearances.

So far, however, Messi and Neymar have contributed just one goal apiece, with Mbappe netting four and assisting a further five across all competitions.

Lionel Messi is still adapting to life in Paris after his switch from Barcelona to the French capital.

Messi moved to Paris Saint-Germain in an astonishing free transfer after the Catalan giants' financial difficulties prevented him from signing a new, pre-agreed contract.

The 34-year-old has claimed several clubs were in contact, but his move to PSG was swiftly completed as he spearheaded a star-studded collection of arrivals at the Parc des Princes over the recent transfer window.

Achraf Hakimi, Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma also joined Messi in bolstering Mauricio Pochettino's squad, with Portugal full-back Nuno Mendes subsequently joining on loan late in August.

Messi has not exactly hit the ground running, however. He came agonisingly close to opening his PSG account in a Champions League match against Club Brugge when he struck the woodwork, before then hitting the crossbar with an outstanding free-kick against Lyon in Ligue 1 a few days later.

The Argentine forward was substituted off in that clash with Lyon, missing PSG's next two matches before returning to score a sublime goal against Manchester City in the Champions League, only to then play the full match in a 2-0 defeat at Rennes last Sunday.

While there is still no doubting Messi's stellar quality, he acknowledged he is feeling somewhat "lost" in Paris, as he continues to adapt to the city, culture and his new club.

"At the moment I have to admit that I am still a bit lost," Messi told France Football in an interview published on Saturday.

"It was very painful for me to leave Barcelona after all these years. I had made up my mind, and my family too, that I was going to end my career in Barcelona.

"I had the idea to sign my contract and resume training immediately. I thought that everything was settled and all that was missing was my signature.

"But, when I arrived in Barcelona, ​​I was told that it was no longer possible, that I could not stay and that I had to find myself another club, because Barca did not have the means to extend [my deal]."

However, Messi has no regrets over joining PSG, as he linked up with former Barca team-mate Neymar and France star Kylian Mbappe in a fearsome attacking unit.

"[I am] very happy to be here today," said Messi, who has once again been nominated for the Ballon d'Or, an award he has won a record six times.

"We were very motivated, we really wanted to come. PSG have a fantastic team, with which we can aspire to win lots of titles, which is my goal for the years to come.

"We have great individualities, but we still have to get to know each other well to form a team. This will perhaps avoid falling into certain traps, such as the one set last weekend by Rennes."

While Messi continues to adapt to Parisian life, his sons are seemingly finding the transition to be a smooth one.

"They go to school and learn [French] there," Messi said. "They pick up the words and remember them immediately. They are better than me at that!"

After not being awarded in 2020, the Ballon d'Or – football's most prestigious individual award – is back up for grabs this year.

Argentina superstar Lionel Messi is the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers to win a record-extending seventh trophy.

Messi was, of course, among a shortlist of 30 players nominated on Friday, with that number to be whittled down to just three players next month.

Here, Stats Perform looks at five candidates for the prize… starting with the obvious.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona may be in turmoil, but Lionel Messi was still at his extraordinary best before departing for Paris Saint-Germain amid financial strife for the LaLiga heavyweights – albeit on the trophy front he won only the Copa del Rey last term. In 2021, Messi has 29 goals, nine assists and 76 chances created domestically for Barca and PSG. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina at the Copa America that make him the favourite for a seventh Ballon d'Or, with the achievement finally marking his first title on the international stage. Messi had four goals and five assists as Lionel Scaloni's men celebrated success in Brazil.

Jorginho

It has been a year to remember for Jorginho, who has been one of the biggest beneficiaries following Thomas Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea boss in January. The deep-lying playmaker was influential as the Blues were crowned Champions League winners for the second time, securing the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win over Manchester City. Fast forward two months and Jorginho was celebrating Euro 2020 success with Italy, playing in every match for the Azzurri, who defeated England in the final via a penalty shoot-out at Wembley. His achievements have already been acknowledged after he was named UEFA's Men Player of the Year.

N'Golo Kante

Much like team-mate Jorginho, N'Golo Kante has been superb under the tutelage of Tuchel. Kante was a top performer as Chelsea defeated Real Madrid in the semi-finals and was named man of the match following an all-action display against City in the final. France's shock last-16 exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 is likely to count against Kante, but he remains one the finest midfielders in the game.

Robert Lewandowski

Really the only thing that denied Robert Lewandowski winning a Ballon d'Or in 2020 was France Football's decision not to present the award amid the coronavirus pandemic. While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of that disrupted 2019-20 campaign, Lewandowski has still been in astounding form for Bayern Munich and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign. So far in 2021 across Europe's top-five leagues, Lewandowski leads the way for goals scored (41) and big chances (as defined by Opta) scored (34).

Cristiano Ronaldo

Much like Messi, five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo did not necessarily enjoy his finest year in terms of domestic trophies won. Juventus ended up in a disappointing fourth position in Serie A, while they were knocked out of the Champions League last 16 by Porto. But he did finish as top scorer in the league with 29 goals and helped the Bianconeri win the Coppa Italia before he left to re-join Manchester United in a late transfer window move. Internationally, Ronaldo – at the age of 36 – finished top scorer at Euro 2020, where Portugal's defence of the European Championship was ended at the last-16 stage. In September, he became the record goalscorer in men's international football, as a brace against the Republic of Ireland took him to 111.

 

Ballon d'Or 2021 shortlist in full:  Cesar Azpilicueta, Nicolo Barella, Karim Benzema, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bruno Fernandes, Phil Foden, Erling Haaland, Jorginho, Harry Kane, N'Golo Kante, Simon Kjaer, Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku, Riyad Mahrez, Lautaro Martinez, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, Gerard Moreno, Mason Mount, Neymar, Pedri, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah, Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez.

The winner of the prestigious prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris on November 29.

 

 

The contenders for the Kopa Trophy – awarded to the world's best male under-21 footballer – was also published by France Football on Friday.

Barcelona's teen sensation Pedri, Bayern Munich talent Jamal Musiala and England trio Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood have all been nominated.

Jeremy Doku, Ryan Gravenberch, Nuno Mendes, Gio Reyna and Florian Wirtz complete the 10-man shortlist.

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Ederson, Edouard Mendy, Thibaut Courtois, Kasper Schmeichel, Manuel Neuer, Emiliano Martinez, Jan Oblak, Keylor Navas and Samir Handanovic are in the running for the Yachine Trophy, which is awarded to the best goalkeeper of the year. 

Joan Laporta has revealed he hoped Lionel Messi would make a last-ditch offer to play for free to avoid him leaving Barcelona.

Messi ended up moving to Paris Saint-Germain in a blockbuster free transfer move in August.

It came after long negotiations over his new Barcelona contract reached a point where the Catalan giants could no longer afford to renew his terms while complying with the financial rules in LaLiga.

Messi, who this week insisted he had not made a mistake in joining PSG, was in tears as he attended his farewell news conference at Camp Nou and admitted he was leaving against his will.

Barca president Laporta was holding out hope Messi would end up staying without taking a salary but ultimately felt it was unreasonable to expect that from the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

"With Messi I do not get angry because I appreciate him," Laporta said to RAC1. "I love him too much to be angry.

"I know he had a huge desire to stay, but also a lot of pressure because of the offer he had. 

"Everyone knew that he had a very powerful offer. Everything indicated that he already had the offer from PSG and would go there if he did not stay."

Laporta added: "There comes a time when you see that things just cannot happen, and there was disappointment on both sides.

"When it came to making the decision, I thought I was doing the best thing for Barcelona - nothing can put the institution at risk.

"I did hope that at the last minute there would be a change and Messi would say that he would play for free. 

"I would have liked that and he would have convinced me. I understand that the league would have accepted it. But we cannot expect that from a player of his level.

"We have a very good relationship. I knew that if we recovered financially we would compensate him, but we couldn't make demands knowing the offer he had in Paris."

Messi scored his first PSG goal in the Champions League win over Manchester City last week but has failed to score in his first three Ligue 1 appearances, including Sunday's shock 2-0 loss to Rennes.

Lionel Messi's Argentina were frustrated in a goalless draw away to Paraguay in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Argentina had their chances against Paraguay in Asuncion, but the Copa America champions could not find the breakthrough on Thursday.

Lionel Scaloni's Argentina, though, remain unbeaten in second position after nine matchdays on the road to Qatar 2022 and undefeated across 23 games across all competitions.

Messi was entering the contest on the back of his record-breaking exploits during the last international break after surpassing Brazil great Pele (77) as the all-time leading scorer for a South American nation with his hat-trick against Bolivia.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar looked lively away to Paraguay, creating a great opportunity for Argentina to break the deadlock in the 11th minute.

Messi, who had received 437 passes in CONMEBOL qualifying – the most by any player in the campaign – weaved his way past defenders and slid a ball through to Lautaro Martinez, whose goal-bound effort was somehow cleared off the line by a scrambling Omar Alderete ahead of Angel Di Maria.

Argentina were largely in control in the opening half, though Paraguay had some moments in the attacking third.

Another chance went begging for Argentina within five minutes of the second half getting underway, Rodrigo de Paul's ball across the six-yard box somehow evading his team-mates.

Paraguay almost took a surprise lead four minutes later after Miguel Almiron's turn of pace created an opening, but Emiliano Martinez was up to the task to deny the Newcastle United star.

Di Maria picked out Joaquin Correa at the back post on the hour mark, however, some desperate defending blocked the Argentina forward's goal-bound header.

Martinez was kept rather busy in the second half, but the in-form goalkeeper continued to thwart Paraguay, who were searching for their first home World Cup qualifying win against Argentina since 2009.

Antony Silva produced a fabulous sequence to deny Argentina during the closing stages, first dealing with Guido Rodriguez's header before pushing Papu Gomez's long-range effort onto the crossbar seven minutes from the end, while Carlos Gonzalez almost snatched victory for Paraguay in the 88th minute.

 

What does it mean? Unbeaten run continues

While Argentina were unable to secure maximum points, the South American champions have not tasted defeat since 2019.

Goalkeepers flex muscles

It was a showdown between two goalkeepers at the top of their game. Martinez came up big for Argentina in the second half, while Paraguay counterpart Silva was not to be overshadowed in a strong display.

Paraguay struggling for home form

While Paraguay would have probably taken a point before the match, their home woes continue. Paraguay have only won one of their past eight World Cup qualifiers on home soil, dating back to March 2017.

What's next?

Argentina are back in action for the visit of Uruguay on Monday, while Paraguay are away to Chile on the same day.

Lilian Thuram has declared Paris Saint-Germain cannot rely on their superstar strike force to deliver trophies – and he wishes he had the chance to face them down.

France great Thuram recognises Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe bring individual brilliance to PSG, who are tearing away at the top of Ligue 1 despite a shock weekend defeat at Rennes.

In a reputational sense, the French giants possess the most fearsome front three in world football, with Messi arriving from Barcelona in August to complement an already mighty attack, with Mauro Icardi also hoping to make an impact.

That makes them strong contenders for the Champions League, in theory, and a European triumph is the target that PSG have been striving for since Qatar Sports Investments came on board in 2011, changing the outlook of the club.

Mauricio Pochettino has seen his side capture four points from their opening two group games this season, including a statement win over Manchester City.

"The PSG squad is made of many excellent players, especially forwards. If you boast Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, it is really unbelievable," Thuram said on Thursday.

Handling that front trio, once they click together, will be a daunting prospect, but it was by taking on such opposition during his playing days that Thuram established himself as one of the world's most formidable defenders.

Whether at right-back or in the centre, Thuram was a titan for Monaco, Parma and Juventus, before seeing out his career at Barcelona, where a young Messi was making his name.

"Truthfully, if I were a centre-back now, I would love to face them," Thuram said, speaking at the Festival dello Sport.

 

Thuram, now 49, suspects he and former Juventus colleagues Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluigi Buffon might have drawn the best out of PSG's 'MNM' trio.

"If Fabio and Gigi, who still plays, were young, they would have put on a show against them, it would be so difficult to stop them. But it doesn't mean you win at the end," Thuram said.

"If you have Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – well no, with Cristiano you win a lot – but with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe, no victory is granted.

"You need the entire team and this is what football is about. Teams win."

Mbappe has not scored in his past four Ligue 1 games, his longest drought in the French top-flight since March to May 2018 when he failed to net in six successive matches.

He hit four goals early in the campaign and has three assists, so leads their league scoring charts, but Messi and Neymar are not next on the list. Instead, second place is shared by Achraf Hakimi and Ander Herrera, both of whom have managed three goals and two assists in nine games.

With such contributions coming from defence and midfield, that may be an early indication of PSG delivering the team-wide performance this season that brings success.

Neymar, however, has just one goal from five Ligue 1 appearances in 2021-22, while Messi has yet to score or have an assist in the league in 190 minutes of action.

Including the final months of last season, Brazilian Neymar has netted just two goals from his past 41 shots attempted in open play in Ligue 1 – with only 10 of those attempts hitting the target.

Lionel Messi insisted he did not make a mistake leaving boyhood club Barcelona for Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi joined PSG on a free transfer after Barca were unable to re-sign the six-time Ballon d'Or winner due to their financial crisis.

It ended Messi's long-standing association with Barca, having made his senior debut for the LaLiga powerhouse in 2004-05.

Messi won 35 trophies at Camp Nou, scoring a record 672 goals across all competitions.

Now settling into life with PSG in the French capital, Messi said he is happy with his decision.

"I didn't make a mistake in going to PSG," Messi told France Football in a preview of his interview, which will be published in full on Saturday.

Since making the move to PSG, Messi has scored once – a goal in the club's 2-0 Champions League win over Manchester City.

The 34-year-old is yet to find the back of the net in Ligue 1, where PSG suffered a shock 2-0 loss at Rennes last week.

It snapped PSG's perfect start to the league season after eight consecutive wins, though Messi's men are still six points clear atop the table through nine rounds.

Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni said superstar captain Lionel Messi is clear to face Paraguay in La Albiceleste's CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier.

Messi missed two matches due to a knee injury before returning for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League win over Manchester City and last week's shock Ligue 1 loss at Rennes.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner is away on international duty with Argentina, who will visit Paraguay on Thursday, and Messi has been given the all-clear to play.

"Messi trained with us yesterday [Tuesday] without any problems and this morning too, so he's fine to play," Scaloni told reporters on Wednesday.

"Which is the most important thing and he's like the rest of the group, wanting to get together and do the best for the national team. Regarding his injury, it is evident that he has played two games before coming here and this is fine."

During the last international break, Messi surpassed Brazil great Pele as the all-time leading goalscorer for a South American nation.

Messi scored a hat-trick for Copa America champions Argentina in their 3-0 qualifying win over Bolivia last month, the 34-year-old taking his tally to 79 international goals.

Argentina – second behind Brazil in the standings – remain unbeaten on the road to Qatar 2022 with five wins from their eight fixtures, while they extended their undefeated streak to 22 matches across all competitions.

"The challenge that we have, or that I have in this case as a coach, is that the team competes in all the games and, that the things that I know that are done well, do it again or strengthen them and that they can be improved and tried in training even if they are few, and try to put a lot of emphasis on that," Scaloni said.

"We believe that in a collective level the national team has a fairly regular performance and I think that at an individual level it is evident that we have players who decide matches, but in a collective level I think that we have improved a lot in that and that one of the things in which the team does is give the feeling that that is always why, because we work as a team and because whoever enters or leaves knows very well what they have to do and I think that is the most important thing.

"Then there are things to improve on like all teams and even more so that we have very few days together. But our feeling is that as a team we are doing well."

Mauricio Pochettino was left "frustrated and disappointed" after Paris Saint-Germain failed to register a shot on target in Sunday's shock 2-0 loss to Rennes.

The Ligue 1 leaders' eight-game winning streak to begin their league campaign came to an end at Roazhon Park as goals from Gaetan Laborde and Flavien Tait proved decisive.

PSG registered 13 shots but failed to test opposition goalkeeper Alfred Gomis from any of those, with Kylian Mbappe having a second-half strike ruled out by VAR for offside.

Mbappe had earlier scuffed a shot over the crossbar with only Gomis to beat, while Neymar was way off target with a volleyed attempt six yards out with the scores still level.

Pochettino also started with fellow superstar forward Lionel Messi, who had a game-high five shots, the most notable of which saw him hit the crossbar from a free-kick.

Angel Di Maria was brought into the side in place of Ander Herrera from Tuesday's 2-0 win over Manchester City, but Pochettino has no regrets over his attack-minded selection.

"I don't think we can look at our system. We played 25 of our best minutes of the season [in the first half]," Pochettino said at his post-match news conference.

"We didn't start the game well, but we then had 25 or 30 minutes of good quality football. It was a shame not to capitalise.

"We then had two psychological blows, conceding just before and just after half-time. The match was then open. We created chances but had a hard time.

"Rennes grew in confidence and we started to become frustrated."

 

The defeat was Messi's first since joining PSG from Barcelona in August, the Argentina international still without a goal in three Ligue 1 matches.

Mbappe, meanwhile, has now had 17 shots since last finding the net in Ligue 1.

While Messi, Mbappe and Di Maria played the full 90 minutes, Neymar was withdrawn 14 minutes from time after managing just that one wayward attempt in the first half.

Rather than point the finger at individuals, however, Pochettino accepted the blame for his side's first league loss since early April, a run of 15 matches.

"When we won against Man City, it was down to a collective effort," he said. "The first person in charge is me. What we did for 25 minutes was of very high quality.

"We must extend that to 90 minutes. I am satisfied with one sector – we created a lot of situations and opportunities."

PSG's 13 attempts without registering a shot on target is their highest in a Ligue 1 match since Opta started collecting such data in 2006-07.

Rather than put the rare setback down to fatigue on the back of a tough European match with Man City five days ago, Pochettino accepts a lack of cutting edge was to blame.

Asked if he was feeling angry, Pochettino said: "Yes, a bit. Nobody likes to lose games. We can't underestimate what Rennes did, but we are frustrated and disappointed.

"We had chances to score and then conceded a couple of goals. Situations like this leave us bitter and disappointed.

"But it's not to do with playing in midweek. We've had five days since then. I repeat, we played 30 minutes of good football today. 

"We had control of the game and conceded when on top. We were immediately 2-0 down in the second half and then it's a different game."

Diego Simeone did not feel Atletico Madrid were any better against Barcelona on Saturday than in previous meetings, with Lionel Messi's absence instead the decisive factor.

Atletico have had a poor record against Barca in Simeone's time at the club, going 20 without a win in this fixture before their 1-0 success in 2020-21.

But they have now gone three without conceding to the Blaugrana in LaLiga for the first time, having drawn 0-0 at the end of last season and won 2-0 on Saturday.

Barca had 70.4 per cent of the possession but created only nine shots worth a combined 1.0 expected goals at the Wanda Metropolitano.

New Paris Saint-Germain signing Messi had scored 26 goals in 30 LaLiga games against Atleti – only managing more against Sevilla (30) and Valencia (27) – and a lack of cutting edge was evident without him.

"It's the first game we played against Barca without Messi," coach Simeone told a news conference. "Other games there has not been much difference to this one, but now Messi is not there."

By contrast, Atleti were ruthless in attack, led by former Barca superstar Luis Suarez.

He teed up the opener for Thomas Lemar, who returned the favour for Suarez to score against Barca for the first time, meaning he has netted against all 31 opponents he has faced in Spain's top flight.

Joao Felix was also involved in both goals, with the opener including one of four passes he completed to Suarez. He found no team-mate more often.

The Portugal international started ahead of Antoine Griezmann, who failed to fire from the bench, but Simeone was not ready to declare Joao Felix and Suarez his new first-choice front line.

"At this hour, we can't get carried away by one game," he said. "There's [Angel] Correa, Griezmann's moment. He scored in the Champions League.

"We have important footballers. Hopefully they can accept that we can be a group so we can be a team."

Barcelona had not lost to Benfica since 1961. They had not started a European season with consecutive defeats since 1972-73. They had last lost back-to-back Champions League group games 21 years ago.

And yet, the most damning thing about their 3-0 defeat in Lisbon on Wednesday was that it wasn't a huge surprise.

By most reasonable football definitions, Barca are in crisis. They have won just three of eight games in all competitions in 2021-22. Spiralling debts of more than €1.2billion meant they could not give Lionel Messi a new contract or conduct any meaningful recruitment, even as club captains took pay cuts.

Those dire financial figures also mean they have a spending cap barely an eighth of the size of Real Madrid's for this season, so January is unlikely to offer much of a chance to change things. And, in Ronald Koeman, they have a coach who appears increasingly out of his depth, unable to inspire his players or maintain much cordiality with the suits above him.

There is speculation that Barca's next game could be his last in charge... and it just happens to be against the champions. How has it come to this?

 

Passive passing

It should be repeated that many of Barca's problems are not of Koeman's making. He was appointed by Josep Maria Bartomeu after the historic ignominy of that 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich, when years of squad mismanagement came home to roost in one horrifying performance. With no money to keep Messi or greatly improve the team, Koeman has been hamstrung in his efforts to build a side capable even of competing for pride, never mind titles.

It's also true that Koeman's system is a mess.

There's a semblance of playing 'the Barca way'. For one thing, they love having the ball: the Catalans average the most possession in LaLiga this season (68.4 per cent), while their average of 4.54 passes per sequence is the highest in the division, and only league leaders Real Madrid (112) have put together more sequences of 10 passes or more than Barca (106). They also press high, restricting opposition teams to just eight passes per defensive action on average, the best figure in the league.

The trouble is, they don't seem to make the most of these positives.

 

Despite ostensibly pressing with intent, their return of 53 high turnovers is only joint-seventh in LaLiga. Despite controlling the ball for the majority of matches, they have only created 55 chances from open play – eight teams have created more – and attempted 72 shots, the 13th-highest tally in the competition. Even crosses are scarce: five teams can better their figure of 211 deliveries into the box.

For context, Sunday's opponents Atletico Madrid have attempted 96 shots this season, the third-most in the league, created 10 more goalscoring chances than Barca and played 44 more passes into the penalty area – and all while facing a league-low 45 shots on their own goal, 14 fewer than Koeman's men. Even taking into account Barca's game in hand, these are notable differences.

 

A Messi divorce

Barca knew they would miss Messi. Koeman knew they would miss Messi. Anyone who has ever kicked a football knew they would miss Messi.

But, boy, they really do miss him.

Barca finished LaLiga last season with 85 goals, 18 more than any other side, 30 of which were scored by Messi. They outperformed their expected goals figure by 11.04, with only champions Atletico doing so by a greater margin (13.95). Messi himself exceeded his xG by 6.21.

 

Excluding penalties and own goals, Barca outperformed their xG of 74 in 2020-21. Their 583 shots, the most among LaLiga teams, each carried an average value of 0.13xG.

 

This season, Barca have scored 11 goals, which almost exactly matches their xG – and that is despite the average xG value of their shots increasing very slightly to 0.15. Without Messi's abnormal abilities, they are reverting towards the norm.

It's amazing how much better things look when someone is there to stick the ball in the net.

 

Dutch courage

Which brings us to Memphis Depay, the big positive of Koeman's time in charge.

Trying to fill Messi's shoes might be beyond mere mortals, but the way Depay has settled into his role as Barca's attacking lynchpin has been extremely impressive. The Netherlands forward has fulfilled his former international boss' requirements, leading the line with aplomb even when the team around him has floundered.

Depay has managed three goals and one assist in all competitions, more than any other Barca player. With 2.49 expected assists, he can consider himself unlucky not to have a greater tally of goal involvements, too.

To date, Depay has attempted 22 shots, more than three times as many as any team-mate, and created 18 chances, six more than the next-best figure posted by Frenkie de Jong.

 

Among LaLiga players in all competitions, only Karim Benzema (16) and Vinicius Junior (14) have mustered more shots on target than Depay (13), while only three players in Spain's top flight have completed more dribbles than the former Lyon and Manchester United man (21). He has embraced the pressure of leading the Barcelona line in one of the toughest periods in their recent history. He just can't do it alone.

If Koeman's reign is to survive this weekend, he will have to hope Depay can produce some magic against Atletico – although even that may not be enough.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said he is "in love" with Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, while he also lavished Lionel Messi in praise after his side lost in the Champions League.

Messi scored his first goal for PSG after Idrissa Gueye's opening-half breakthrough in Tuesday's 2-0 victory over City in the French capital.

While Messi stole the headlines with his stunning 74th-minute goal, Guardiola heaped praise on Verratti – who helped Italy win Euro 2020 before the start of the season.

"I'm in love," Guardiola told reporters post-match. "He's an exceptional player because he's under pressure and has the calmness to take on extra touch and in that moment create extra passes behind our midfield players.

"I know the character and personality that he has and he did it again. I'm happy he's back from his injury and yeah, an exceptional player.

"He's not tall from his aspect from outside, but when you see how he moves, how he plays… he's not a player for long distance passes, but you can count on him to always help to make a build up and know exactly where the spaces are to create other situations.

"Especially in the first half, second half was much better controlled by Kevin [De Bruyne], but first half we were a little bit soft with him."

Messi has scored more Champions League goals against City (seven) than any other player, while his seven strikes against sides managed by Pep Guardiola (two against Bayern Munich, five versus City with him as manager) is also the most of any player in the competition's history.

Meanwhile, Messi has scored 27 Champions League goals against English clubs – 15 more than any other player. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals against opponents of a specific nation (28, versus German teams) in Champions League history.

City were heavily linked with Messi before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner joined PSG at the conclusion of his Barcelona contract during the off-season.

"I wish, through my short personal relationship with him, I wish him the best," Guardiola said. "If he’s happy and enjoying this period in Paris, I will be happy. He made me so happy when we worked together, he decided for many reasons to come here, for him and his family I wish him the best."

On dealing with Messi, Guardiola added: "We deal with PSG first of all. We know that it is impossible to control Leo [Messi] during the [whole] 90 minutes, but they were not giving him a lot of touches of the ball.

"Of course, he is coming back from some injuries, so he lacked a bit of rhythm, but we know when he can run and be quite close to the ball he is unstoppable. What we have done is minimise as much as possible these kind of actions and create the chances that we could create. I’m satisfied for the way we played, it was the same as when we were at Stamford Bridge. I said after the game, I’m happy for the victory of course, but the way we played today was quite similar.

"So the people cannot deny that we were there… this is our team. In good and bad, improving or not improving, this is our team. We arrived here, played our game and they defended deep really well with seven and a half players.

"This is the risk when you lose the ball and they can make one pass, especially [Marco] Verratti, an exceptional, extraordinary player that can have contact with Neymar and Messi where they can run, so always it’s difficult. But even with that, they didn’t do much and that's all."

City suffered their first Champions League group-stage defeat since September 2018, when they lost 2-1 to Lyon – they had been unbeaten in 18 such games since then.

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino said there is no doubt Lionel Messi is the best player in the world after scoring his first goal for the French giants in Tuesday's win over Manchester City.

PSG got past Premier League champions City 2-0 at Parc des Princes, with Idrissa Gueye opening the scoring in the eighth minute before Messi sealed the win via a 74th-minute strike into the top corner.

The goal was Messi's first in PSG colours in his fourth appearance since switching from LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona on a free transfer in the off-season.

Messi has scored more Champions League goals against City (seven) than any other player, while his seven strikes against sides managed by Pep Guardiola (two against Bayern Munich, five versus City with him as manager) is also the most of any player in the competition's history.

Meanwhile, Messi has scored 27 Champions League goals against English clubs – 15 more than any other player. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals against opponents of a specific nation (28, versus German teams) in Champions League history.

"I think it was amazing, his performance," Pochettino told BT Sport. "And he scored an amazing goal.

"He's the best player in the world, that is no doubt. Of course, [I am] happy to see him showing his football.

"Him and all the team worked really, really hard to achieve that victory. [It is] Never easy, they're probably the best team in the world, Manchester City. That is why we're so happy."

PSG trailed in the key stats, with City having 18-6 shots and 7-3 shots on target, but Pochettino was delighted with his side's defensive commitment.

Messi combined clinically with Kylian Mbappe for his goal, impressing Pochettino who has stressed that their attacking connection along with Neymar remains a "work in progress".

"We can do it. They showed that we want to be united, to work together," Pochettino said. "The quality is there. We have amazing quality and amazing players.

"The challenge is that all work in both phases of the game with the same capacity to suffer. Tonight we showed very good belief and I started to see the team that can work together, not only in an offensive way but a defensive one too."

On Canal Plus, Pochettino added: "They were a great strength of the team, they sought to be in the attacking sector, and the team was always well positioned. We managed to get out in transition."

The result moves PSG into top spot in Group A with four points alongside Club Brugge, who won 2-1 at RB Leipzig, while City are third with three points.

"Today was a Champions League against Manchester City, we knew that we needed to show that being solid and help each other," Pochettino said.

"But with time we will be better. We need to improve in other aspects. I'm very happy overall."

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