LaLiga has seen a lot of upheaval over the past few months, none more so than since the start of August as Lionel Messi's future unravelled.

This will be the first season that LaLiga has been without Messi since 2003-04, and as such there are plenty of people suggesting Spain's top tier has subsequently lost much of its appeal.

Be that as it may, even with spending significantly limited among clubs this year, there are still some interesting new arrivals to LaLiga.

Below, Stats Perform uses Opta data to look at five of them…

Memphis Depay, forward - Barcelona, free transfer from Lyon

Granted, Barcelona's rocky financial situation means it is yet to be confirmed if Depay will be registered for the start of the season.

But assuming Depay is involved as Barca begin the campaign against Real Sociedad, he will be under pressure to help make up for the loss of Messi.

His record at Lyon at least shows he should carry a threat, and in theory he will be surrounded by better players at Camp Nou.

Depay scored 76 goals in 178 appearances for Lyon after joining from Manchester United in January 2017 and enjoyed a particularly impressive final season in Ligue 1, finishing with 20 goals to trail only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27).

 

The former PSV youth product's 12 assists and 94 chances created were more than any other player managed in France's top flight in 2020-21.

In all competitions, meanwhile, Depay scored 22 goals last term at an average of one goal every 141.5 minutes, making it his second-best season since arriving.

He massively exceeded his expected goals (xG) tally of 12.38, so perhaps he shouldn't be expected to be quite as prolific, but if he can reach double figures in goals and assists once again, Depay would have to be considered a shrewd signing.

David Alaba, centre-back - Real Madrid, free transfer from Bayern Munich

It has been a difficult few months for Madrid. While caught up in plenty of off-field controversy, they have also lost the centre-back partnership that guided them to so much success. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, as well as their former head coach Zinedine Zidane, are no longer around.

The one signing Madrid have managed to bring in does at least offset one of those losses, as Alaba will offer experience, versatility and all-round quality at centre-back. After all, he made 298 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern, and a player does not reach such figures without being excellent.

 

He helped Bayern keep 111 clean sheets across those games, did not receive a single red card in the league, and made only two errors leading to goals in the competition, according to Opta data.

Bayern team-mate Thomas Muller is the only other player in Bundesliga history to have won 10 titles, and Bayern had counted on Alaba as their Mr Dependable. Carlo Ancelotti will hope he can form a great partnership with Eder Militao.

Rodrigo De Paul, central midfielder - Atletico Madrid, €35m from Udinese

While Diego Simeone has perhaps been a bit hit and miss when it comes to making the most of creative talents, De Paul appears to be ideal schemer for his new coach.

Providing creativity is De Paul's bread and butter, with his 82 key passes in 2020-21 bettered by only Hakan Calhanoglu (98) in Serie A.

Of those chances, 34 came from set-pieces, highlighting his prowess from dead-ball situations and ranking him fourth in Italy's top flight.

 

Only five players got more assists than his nine, but all of them massively out-performed their modest expected assists records, which ranged from 3.4 to 6.7. De Paul topped the charts for expected assists with 10.3 xA, evidence that his assists reflected the quality of his service rather than him getting lucky or benefiting from unusually good finishing by team-mates.

Yet the area which highlights a particular compatibility with Atleti is the fact he won more duels (294) than anyone else in Serie A in 2020-21.

Combine that with his league-leading completed dribbles (122) and it paints a picture of a hard-working player who also possesses the quality to get his team on the front foot.

Jose Macias, striker - Getafe, on loan (with purchase option) from Guadalajara

It is fair to say Getafe are not particularly one of LaLiga's most-fashionable sides. Under Jose Bordalas they were more renowned for their aggression and physical style of play, though new boss Michel has significantly different ideas.

In theory, that should immediately make them a more likable proposition for the neutral, and the signing of Macias will only add to the intrigue.

The 21-year-old Mexico international had been linked with numerous clubs with greater status than Getafe, such as Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, but Los Azulones pulled off something of a coup in bringing him to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez on loan with an option to buy.

 

Macias is the first forward that Guadalajara have sold to a European side since Javier Hernandez left for Manchester United in 2010 and he heads to Spain having netted 12 times in the most recent Mexican Apertura and Clausura campaigns.

His 20 shots on target in the 2021 Clausura was the most by a Mexican player, though it was during a loan spell with Leon where Macias really announced himself, netting 24 times in 38 Liga MX matches.

He didn't quite hit those heights again upon returning to Guadalajara, so the jury is still out to a degree, but there is lots of potential for Getafe to tap into.

Yusuf Demir, winger - Barcelona, €500k loan fee (€10m purchase option) from Rapid Vienna

Barcelona fans need not fear life without Messi, for they have signed the 'Austrian Messi'… or something like that.

Obviously that is a fair bit of pressure for an 18-year-old to have, particularly given he was initially signed for the B team, but he's produced some positive performances in pre-season for the senior side and arrived from Rapid with a burgeoning reputation.

While Demir only started in six of his 25 Austrian Bundesliga appearances (825 minutes) last season, he finished the campaign with a highly respectable seven goal involvements, which averages out at one every 117.9 minutes – only 10 players to play at least 825 minutes had a better record.

Despite only getting the one assist, Demir was a regular source of creativity when he did feature, as highlighted by the fact his 2.7 key passes per 90 was the sixth highest among those to play at least 825 minutes.

 

But arguably his most notable asset, and the one that inspires the comparison with Messi, is his ability on the ball.

A dynamic and exciting player, Demir attempted 6.3 dribbles per 90 minutes on average, a figure matched by no one who featured for more than 108 minutes last term.

Similarly, he was successful with 3.8 dribble attempts per game, which was also a league high. It was that kind of flair that helped him realise a childhood dream by moving to Camp Nou, and he could have a more prominent role than he may have initially predicted upon his arrival.

If the coming LaLiga campaign can match the previous few months for drama, an epic is in store.

The 2021-22 season gets under way this weekend with Spanish football still reeling from Lionel Messi's remarkable Barcelona departure.

The move to Paris Saint-Germain leaves one of LaLiga's grandest clubs without its talisman, while rivals Real Madrid have also seen their captain depart for the French capital on a free transfer.

Where does that leave defending champions Atletico Madrid and the rest heading into the opening weekend? Stats Perform takes a look.

CHAOS IN CATALONIA

Barca still have plenty of world-class players and will this season be able to count on Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann and, they hope, Memphis Depay.

But the shocking nature of Messi's exit is going to be tough to move on from, even if the club's dire financial situation does not prevent Depay and the Blaugrana's other new signings from being registered.

Messi either attempted (196) or created (77) 46.8 per cent of Barca's 583 shots in 2020-21 – and he missed three games – so Ronald Koeman's side are going to have to completely change the way they play.

He was already missed when out through injury – Barca won 73.7 per cent of the 520 league games in which Messi featured for the club but just 56.7 per cent of the 120 he did not – and that issue is not going away now.

MADRID COPE WITH CHANGE

Money is tight at Madrid too, but Los Blancos have faced that reality, cutting back spending and agreeing the departures of high earners like Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Despite Zinedine Zidane's exit, they also look in better shape on the pitch on the eve of the new campaign.

Madrid ended last season unbeaten in 18, the best ongoing run in the competition, with only frustrating late-season draws with Getafe, Real Betis and Sevilla – all in the space of five games – leaving them two points shy of Atletico.

They have gone for a familiar face with a proven track record to replace Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti returning after winning 75 per cent of the league games in his first Madrid stint – trailing only Jose Mourinho (76 per cent win rate) among Madrid coaches to oversee 50 matches or more.

ATLETI AT THE TOP

It is a strange phenomenon for Atleti to be both top of the league and not the target of constant transfer enquiries.

Their key men are unlikely to be poached while Barca and Madrid are so short of cash, with the Blaugrana instead reportedly pursuing a deal going the other way, with Griezmann returning to the Wanda Metropolitano.

The development with Messi appears to have put that idea to bed, and Atleti instead spent the week before the season agreeing new contracts for defensive stars.

Those clubs on the outside of the title race looking in are enjoying unfamiliar comforts too, with Europa League winners Villarreal keeping their best players – including Gerard Moreno, whose 23 goals only trailed Messi – and Real Sociedad bringing back the same team that finished fifth.

Unless Ancelotti quickly restores an ageing Madrid side to past glories, this season could be wide open at the summit.

Ronald Koeman believes Barcelona have a strong enough squad to compete for major honours as long as others step up to fill the void left by Lionel Messi.

Barca are heading into a new season without Messi in their ranks for the first time since 2003-04 following the superstar forward's shock switch to Paris Saint-Germain this week.

Messi scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for the Catalan giants across 778 appearances, helping the club to 35 trophies across his 17 years in the first team.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner directly contributed to 39 goals in LaLiga last season – scoring 30 and setting up a further nine.

Antoine Griezmann was the only other player to reach double figures for goal involvements (20), with Ousmane Dembele next on the list with nine.

Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho had a combined four goals and assists each – the same number as Martin Braithwaite – in what was an injury hit campaign for the pair.

Each of those players remain at Camp Nou, while Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero have been signed as a free agents, though the latter has been ruled out for 10 weeks with a calf injury and neither has yet been officially registered as Barca continue to struggle financially.

And with Fati and Coutinho closing in on returns to action, Koeman has underlined the strength of his squad even without Messi around.

"Of course we will have more difficulties to score goals," he told ESPN. "Messi scored 30 goals last season.

"Other players need to bring more and take the next step and it's more about the team now than individual players.

"It's not always one player, you have to do it together. Hopefully, we get players back from injury like Fati and Coutinho and then we still have a strong squad. 

"We will work harder, we will do more to achieve what people expect from us. We are still in the transition. We have to understand that the start of this season is difficult.

"We still have COVID, for all the clubs, but still we have players with injuries so we cannot put all the players for playing because we are still missing good players. 

"We had a good pre-season, we have young players in, but if we get all the players back from injury the squad is still a strong one."

Barcelona finished third in LaLiga last season – their lowest finish in 13 years – and exited the Champions League to PSG at the last-16 stage.

The Catalans did manage to win the Copa del Rey in Koeman's first campaign in charge, though, and the Dutchman is out to win more silverware in 2021-22.

"The goal is always winning trophies, being champions, to have a good run in the Champions League," Koeman said. 

"Clubs like Barcelona don't have seasons out of winning something. We know that, and the football people will understand it will be more difficult. 

"It's all about working rate and the team and we can make a step forward."

 

The shock exit of Messi will undoubtedly take time for Barca to fully get over, but Koeman reiterated the importance of moving on as quickly as possible.

"We have to understand that there is always an end for a player," the Dutchman added. "You have to close the book because now we have to focus on this new season.

"We have new players in and we have to move forward, and we have time for that. We have young players in the squad this season, and it's also for the future.

"We are working on the future of this club, and it's really important to have our focus on this and not focus on what happened in the last few days."

Messi looked set to sign a new contract with Barca, but the cash-strapped club were unable to fulfil the agreement in place with their greatest ever player.

"I knew there was a difficult situation between the club and Leo Messi and the league to have the possibilities to keep Messi in the club," Koeman said.

"It takes a long time, but I was surprised by the day and the moment I heard that he was finished playing for Barcelona. I knew the financial situation of the club made it difficult.

"I think it was difficult because we are not just talking about any player, we are talking about Leo Messi, the best player in the world through a lot of seasons.

"We were all disappointed that he will not play for us this season. But okay, you have to change fast because you don't stay in the disappointment with the new season starting. 

"You have to understand it was for a few days a difficult situation. Messi meant so much for this club."

Javier Tebas says it has "hurt" LaLiga to lose Lionel Messi but pinned the blame at the door of Barcelona for refusing to accept a contentious financial arrangement.

LaLiga has struck a €2.7billion (£2.3bn) deal with CVC Capital Partners, one that will see the private equity firm acquire 10 per cent of the commercial business.

In turn, the other 90 per cent of the investment would be used to help cash-strapped clubs across the top two tiers of Spanish football as they cope with the long-term financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Both Madrid and Barca have spoken out against the proposal, while on Wednesday the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) insisted it was "totally illegal."

Madrid and Barca allege the agreement includes all clubs' audiovisual rights for the next 50 years, with Los Blancos taking legal action as they were not properly consulted.

However, the deal will go ahead as planned after a general assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour on Thursday, though Barca and Madrid are two of the four clubs to have opted out of the agreement.

Speaking after the proposal was passed, LaLiga president Tebas was adamant Barca could well have kept hold of Messi – who has now joined Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent – had they signed up.

"I don't know exactly what Barca are doing to lower their wage-bill — with the CVC money they would have had around €40m more," Tebas said.

"It could have been for Messi, or others, to make a more competitive squad. We are hurt by Messi leaving, for sure, but there is no clause in any TV deal which sees us get less money without Messi, although it could hurt companies who are looking to add subscribers and fans of the biggest clubs.

"In LaLiga we've always wanted to have the best players but then Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar left and Messi has now left.

"I'd say it's probably been quite traumatic because for a whole month the president of Barcelona kept saying everything was going well and all of a sudden, one afternoon, the whole transaction went down.

"So it's a real shame that Messi has left but we've worked a lot to ensure our value in broadcasting rights doesn't go down.

"I'm convinced that the fans of Barcelona in Spain will still watch Barcelona as well whether or not Messi is playing for them.

"We signed recently an eight-year contract with ESPN and there was no clause that obliged us to have Messi playing for our league. Who knows in eight years' time who is playing in the Spanish league. They're important, the players, and they help, but they're not essential."

Tebas also hit out at Madrid and Barca for "hampering" the process, suggesting the two giants of Spanish football are instead invested in developing a European Super League.

"Everything that LaLiga do, Real and Barcelona try to block it," Tebas said, as reported via The Athletic. "But we keep growing anyway, and it will continue to grow whether all clubs agree to this deal or not.

"Real and Barca do not want the national leagues to develop and grow stronger. That would not benefit their Super League project. They want most of the money to flow to them.

"Real Madrid have been for eight years hampering our attempts to grow LaLiga's TV revenues, [former Barcelona president Josep Maria] Bartomeu was with them in that too."

According to Tebas, CVC are investing to develop the league, rather than salvage the finances of Spanish clubs.

"CVC were interested because of how we have developed, without help from Madrid or Barca. CVC have not come here to bail us out — they are not here because of the pandemic," he said.

"Only 15 per cent of the money can be used to pay off debts, 70 per cent is for investment in infrastructure. So they are not here to bail out Spanish football, but to help build a stronger league."

Lionel Messi has joined Paris Saint-Germain training and was given a warm welcome by superstar team-mate Kylian Mbappe.

Messi this week completed his stunning free transfer to PSG having left Barcelona.

The deal was completed on Tuesday, before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner faced the media on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was able to link up with his new team-mates.

On their official Instagram page, PSG posted a short video clip to their story showing Messi going through running drills.

Meanwhile, Mbappe – whose contract talks are now the club's chief focus – posted pictures of an embrace with the 34-year-old great.

"Welcome to Paris, Leo," he wrote, adding a further caption on his story: "Legend."

PSG are expected to move some squad players out to offset the cost of Messi's deal and a tentative first transfer was secured on Thursday.

Timothee Pembele, the 18-year-old defender who featured six times in Ligue 1 for PSG last season, has joined Bordeaux on loan until the end of the season.

Bordeaux have the option to sign Pembele permanently, too, with a PSG statement telling the teenager to "develop the qualities he has already shown".

LaLiga is arguably harder to call than ever before heading into 2021-22 – Barcelona no longer have Lionel Messi to guide the way and Real Madrid have seen significant upheaval, so surely the smart money is on defending champions Atletico Madrid?

Diego Simeone's men won the title in 2020-21 after watching Barca and Madrid trade success for seven years and look in good shape given they've not lost any major players. But can you really write off the 'big two'?

Well, you shouldn't, according to Stats Perform predictions.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Without further ado, let's look at what could occur over the 2021-22 LaLiga season.

 

ANCELOTTI DELIVERS THE GOODS

Carlo Ancelotti's back at the Santiago Bernabeu, and so – it seems – will the Spanish title. The Stats Perform model calculates Madrid have a 42.3 per cent chance of taking the crown back from their local rivals.

In fact, if the model proves accurate, Atletico may not even finish in the top two, as their 18.7 per cent chance is a fair bit smaller than Barca's 30.4 per cent likelihood of winning LaLiga.

However, it's worth pointing out that, because the model is based on historical data points and results, the Barcelona that appears here is one that has had Messi in the team for past 17 years.

It's entirely reasonable to expect Barca to see a significant drop-off given they'll no longer have the greatest player of all time on their books – as such, a 30.4 per cent chance of winning the title might actually be quite generous.

THE BIG FOUR?

The 2020-21 season was the tightest LaLiga title fight in recent memory. Although Atletico were 11 points clear at one point, with five matches left there were just three points separating first from fourth.

In that respect, it was the closest title race LaLiga had ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present) and the least predictable since 2006-07, when Madrid, Barca and Sevilla could all win the league on the final day of the season.

Sevilla's challenge ultimately faded before that stage in 2020-21 but they've managed to keep Julen Lopetegui, their coach, and their squad is largely unaltered for the time being.

The prediction model makes them fourth favourites for the title (6.8 per cent) and far better placed to take the final Champions League spot (69.4 per cent) for the third year in a row than their likeliest challengers Villarreal (36.2 per cent).

There was a 15-point gap between fourth and fifth last season – this is the closest to a 'big four' Spain has had in years.

 

FOUR TIPPED FOR RELEGATION TUSSLE

Rayo Vallecano, Real Mallorca and Espanyol were the three to come up from the Segunda last season. While most people would ordinarily point to the promoted sides as the most likely to be relegated, the prediction model disagrees.

It gives Mallorca a 30.7 per cent likelihood of going straight back down, and Espanyol are at 17.6 per cent – neither of those are among the bottom three, though Rayo (45.9 per cent) are seen as the second favourites to head back to the second tier.

But it's Elche (57.9 per cent) who are the clear front-runners in this regard, and then it looks agonisingly close for the third and final relegation spot.

According to the predictor, it's likely to be neck-and-neck between Deportivo Alaves (41.1 per cent) and Cadiz (41.9 per cent).

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke says that it is "unfair" that Paris Saint-Germain have signed Lionel Messi.

PSG unveiled Messi on Wednesday following his free transfer move from Barcelona on a bumper two-year deal.

Watzke, who has had to ward off strong interest in Dortmund's prized asset Erling Haaland this off-season, said Qatari-owned PSG's economic position was unfair.

“It is a fact that PSG has more economic resources than 85 per cent of other European teams," Watzke said as reported by L'Equipe.

"It is clear that this is an unfair competition that has already been rife for too long but I am by no means jealous.

"Frankly, it wouldn't be my cup of tea to have to kneel down every fourth morning in front of the Emir of Qatar."

PSG have signed Messi along with Georginio Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma on free transfers this off-season, bumping up their player wages.

The Parisians also spent €60million to sign Internazionale full-back Achraf Hakimi, having purchased Mauro Icardi for the Nerazzurri 12 months ago for €50m.

To paraphrase the apocryphal question asked of Abraham Lincoln's widow, "Aside than that, Mr Laporta, how was the lunch?"

When Lionel Messi jetted into El-Prat last Wednesday, it was to complete the formalities of a long-awaited contract extension that would commit him to the club of his life for the rest of his career.

At least, that's what the six-time Ballon d'Or winner and pretty much everyone else thought until he sat down for lunch with club president Joan Laporta on Thursday. After that, all hell broke loose.

"We had everything agreed but, at the last minute, it couldn't happen," he said at his tearful Sunday news conference, with the rampaging shambles of Barca's financial, internal and political affairs having put paid to the best laid plans.

Messi is now a Paris Saint-Germain player. It will be a jarring thing to type and read for some time, and the claims, counter-claims and recriminations over how Barcelona allowed things to reach this point of collapse will rumble on for some time.

It feels like a barely relevant sidenote that four days on from their greatest ever player addressing the media and being paraded around Paris, Barcelona will host Real Sociedad to begin their LaLiga campaign. What, if anything, can Ronald Koeman and his players salvage from the wreckage?

 

The Barcelona Way

The delayed election campaign that secured Laporta's return to the top job – his initial term between 2003 and 2010 having overseen the transformative tenures of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola – was a fraught one for Koeman.

Victor Font, one of Laporta's rival candidates, pledged to bring in club great Xavi if he was successful, while the eventual winner's support for Koeman was tenuous and conditional at best.

After a chaotic 2019-20 season, where Ernesto Valverde's lamentable sacking cleared the way for Quique Setien to surrender LaLiga to Real Madrid and oversee the humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, Koeman was not a universally popular choice and easily viewed a stop-gap appointment.

Whereas Messi wanted to stay but had to leave this time around, last August he wanted to leave but had to stay – relations with Laporta's predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu having broken down. On the field, the Blaugrana were inevitably a little bit all over the place.

But after a chastening 2-1 loss to Cadiz on December 5, Barcelona and a rejuvenated Messi went 19 games unbeaten in LaLiga. It was almost enough for an unlikely title success, but the run ended with a 2-1 defeat away to Real Madrid on April 10.

Koeman lost both Clasicos and his Barca only took a point from Atletico Madrid, failing to score in either game against the eventual champions. There were heavy Champions League losses to Juventus and PSG, and Koeman's record in big games was and is an obvious concern.

Yet, it was fairly bizarre to see the Dutchman treated with such disregard during the electioneering, which ran parallel to the long undefeated streak. After tinkering with various formations earlier in the season, Koeman had settled upon a 3-4-3 in which his team thrived.

Nevertheless, in May, it was reported by Mundo Deportivo that Laporta demanded Koeman commit to Barca's classic 4-3-3 and brand of football married to the club's traditions. A stay of execution would be dependent upon one of Johan Cruyff's former disciples committing to the Barcelona Way.

Back to the future

Looking at their performances from last season, it is easy enough to spot elements of classical Barcelona in Koeman's side.

They scored the most goals in LaLiga and had the highest expected goals (xG) figure of any team, indicating they cumulatively created a better quality of chances than their rivals.

The way they got to this point was also very Barca.

No side in LaLiga had a higher average sequence time than the Blaugrana's 14.27 seconds, while their average of 5.52 passes per sequence was also a league best. They were the only team to average above five.

In terms of sequences featuring 10 or more passes, they were streets ahead with 910. The next most 10+ pass sequences came from Madrid with 662. As a consequence, Barcelona also ranked top for build-up attacks – open-play sequences of 10 or more passes that end either with a shot or a touch in the opposition box.

Now as then in the glory days of Guardiola, you spend a lot of time chasing the ball against Barcelona.

Pedri enjoyed a breakout campaign so good he's only just been allowed to finish it, shining for Spain at Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games, while the evergreen Sergio Busquets ticked away in his customary style to average 95.52 passes per game. The next best midfielder in LaLiga on that metric was Madrid's Toni Kroos on 85.76.

 

Frenkie de Jong developed a knack of chiming in with some important goals from midfield after the turn of the year, while also showing his versatility by slotting into the back three when injuries and circumstances required.

Consider the presence of Riqui Puig and teenage sensation Gavi and the "take the ball, pass the ball" part of the Cruyffian legacy remains in safe hands, albeit with the fairly large assumption that there remains room for all of them on the accounts.

Pressing concerns

The other key facet of the teams in which Messi rose to his place at the top of the world game was their work without the ball.

Teams being at their most vulnerable in transition is now an accepted reality of the modern game, but Guardiola's Barcelona swarming opponents as soon as they lost the ball altered perceptions of what was required of elite teams in terms of intelligent commitment to the cause.

Barca operated under their six-second rule, which had nothing to do with anybody dropping food on the floor. They attempted to retrieve possession within six seconds of losing it via immediate and intensive pressing. If this was not possible, they would fall back into a defensive shape to guard against opponents now settled in possession and more able to play through the press.

Pressing methods and teams' aptitude in dealing with them have obviously evolved since Barcelona scared the life out of European football a little over a decade ago, but the principles remain. If a team wishes to play a high-possession game with a high defensive line, their defending from the front as to be impeccable.

In 2020-21, Koeman's side were merely quite good in this regard. Passes per defensive action (PPDA) is a metric that indicates how well a team presses. The lower the average number of passes an opponent is allowed to make outside the pressing team's defensive third before being met with a defensive action – such as a tackle, interception or a foul – the better the press.

Barca's 10.6 PPDA put them sixth best in LaLiga last season, below Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Getafe and Real Betis. Although they scored the most goals from high turnovers (seven), this can be attributed to the sharp finishing of Messi and others, as their 37 shot-ending high turnovers were only the eighth highest.

They are not numbers that suggest Laporta's fantasy of seeing a whirring 4-3-3 back in motion is one grounded in reality. By comparison, Luis Enrique's "MSN" Barca of 2014-15 averaged a staggering 7.0 PPDA. Had Messi remained, his capacity to do this sort of work is diminished, but that is now a puzzle for Mauricio Pochettino to solve.

Messi's great friend Sergio Aguero is one of the attacking reinforcements, although a calf injury means he will be sidelined for 10 weeks. If the masterful Argentina striker's body still allowed him to press with suitable intensity, he would probably still be with Guardiola at Manchester City.

 

Memphis Depay is fit to start the new season and some of the onus will fall upon the Netherlands international to sharpen Barca up a little.

He comes from a Lyon side who forced more shot-ending high turnovers than any other in Ligue 1 last season (62), while his 25 instances of winning possession back in the final third placed him joint fifth among forwards in the French top-flight. 

Antoine Griezmann won the ball 24 times deep in opposition territory last term in LaLiga, alongside 37 tackles and 100 recoveries, all of which were highs among Barca forward. He and Depay could certainly prove a useful nuisance in tandem.

Getting on with the job

Of course, it is not entirely certain Barcelona will be able to register Depay with LaLiga in time to face Real Sociedad, such is their parlous financial state.

Laporta claims this will not be a problem. But then, he said he'd re-sign Messi and essentially ran for election on a pledge he spectacularly failed to fulfil.

If it turns out Barca passed up on Messi because they decided to reject LaLiga's deal with CVC Capital Partners and its associated cash injection in favour of remaining in cahoots with Real Madrid and Florentino Perez's doomed Super League project, it's unlikely holding Laporta to account over whether or not Koeman plays 4-3-3 will be the top of anyone's agenda. It should be noted Madrid president Perez said it was "impossible" for him to have had such an influence, in response to allegations levelled by former Espai Barca Commission member Jaume Llopis.

One of the major reservations surrounding Koeman's appointment was whether he was the man to win Messi more Champions Leagues, with the clock ticking on the great man's career.

 

This might feel like an absurd grasp for positives and Koeman would be better off if the greatest player of all time was in his squad, but he is at least without one of the big over-arching narratives that Barca have specialised in both constructing and crushing themselves with over recent years.

Valverde was saddled with "only" winning LaLiga as European glory painfully slipped away. If Koeman can wrest back domestic control in these conditions, it would be recognised as a brilliant achievement in its own right. The atmosphere among fans back in Camp Nou might be perilous in the initial post-Messi weeks, but a few wins will place a defiant siege mentality within reach.

Since Cruyff was appointed head coach in 1988, this will be the first season without the late Dutch master, Guardiola or Messi – those three giants of the modern Barcelona – having any active association with the club. It is time for an institution on its knees to let go and turn the page.

Koeman put together a team that functioned well amid considerable turbulence last season and should be allowed to improve upon that template with the fine players that still remain, free from any Mes Que Un Club self-flagellation as Laporta tends to the dumpster fire he inherited and chucked a vat of petrol all over last week.

LaLiga's deal with CVC Capital Partners has been labelled "totally illegal" by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

The €2.7billion (£2.3bn) arrangement that was announced last week would see private equity firm CVC acquire 10 per cent of the league's commercial business.

The other 90 per cent of the investment was earmarked to boost cash-strapped clubs in the top two tiers of Spanish football amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the deal – which must be approved by two thirds of the 42 clubs involved at Thursday's general assembly – was heavily criticised by Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Madrid and Barca allege the agreement affects all clubs' audiovisual rights for the next 50 years, with Los Blancos threatening to take legal action against LaLiga and president Javier Tebas as they were not properly consulted.

In a long statement released on their official website on Wednesday, the RFEF said it is also totally opposed to the proposal that has been put forward.

The statement read: "This operation, carried out with the absence of the slightest publicity and concurrence in the selection of the successful bidder, has two parts. The one related to the commercialisation of audiovisual rights, on the one hand; and the rest of the LNFP businesses, which make up a heterogeneous group, on the other.

"Regarding the agreements between the LNFP and CVC related to the audiovisual rights of sports clubs and corporations, the RFEF must express its opposition. 

"Not only for legal reasons, which will undoubtedly generate numerous litigation derived from the agreement and may put its own viability in doubt, since it is intended to force some legal institutions to the extreme; but also for economic reasons, since the rights of clubs and SADs are heavily taxed for the next fifty years in exchange for a small amount of money. 

"But the most important thing is that the agreement increases inequality and, in a capital and definitive way, makes a reasonable evolution of the format of professional football competition in Spain impossible. 

"Causing that in practice and in application of the agreement the competition is petrified without the possibility of evolution or can only be modified when a third party outside the sports structure so decides or agrees, a fact that flagrantly violates the law and the European sports model. 

"In addition, forget about the clubs that play non-professional competitions that, at the time of their promotion to professional competition, will see that their income is reduced by CVC's remuneration, without having obtained any benefit from the contribution of that entity."

The RFEF also claims the agreement with CVC does not account for the clubs who will be promoted to LaLiga further down the line, which would see their income reduced if not paid upfront.

"If there are clubs who, with their own rights, wish to indebt themselves voluntarily, they are free to do so, whether at market rates or extortionate ones, but not through a totally illegal agreement which obliges everyone else, via a false attribution on the part of the LNFP of rights it does not own," the statement continued.

"We consider this attempt to bypass the law and create an agreement which is economically dreadful and deplorable in terms of the future of Spanish football while, in contrast, excellent for an investment fund and other possible beneficiaries.

"The RFEF must also warn that it will not allow during these 50 years any reduction in the contribution from audio-visual rights given to the lower tiers of football."

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has denied claims that he played a part in Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca announced last week that their greatest ever player would not be staying on at Camp Nou, despite agreeing terms for a new contract.

Messi's 21-year association with the Catalan giants formally came to an end on Tuesday when putting pen to paper on an initial two-year deal with PSG.

Barca president Joan Laporta insists the club did all that they possibly could to keep hold of the Argentina captain, but "financial and structural obstacles" stood in the way.

However, ex-Espai Barca Commission member Juame Llopis claimed this week Laporta was convinced by CEO Ferran Reverter and Madrid chief Perez to let the forward leave in order to free up funds.

The comments were made after LaLiga announced a €2.7billion deal with CVC Capital Partners to boost clubs, with 90 per cent of the investment earmarked for their use.

Llopis, who resigned from his post after Messi's departure, told Cadena SER: "The new CEO [Reverter] is in charge. 

"I know that everything has to go through the CEO, everything has to be signed by the CEO and not the president.

"The CEO threatened Joan Laporta with his resignation, and he has an ironclad contract, if he signed [LaLiga's deal] with CVC.

"Laporta was pressured by his CEO and, on the other hand, Florentino convinced him. 

"Between the two of them they convinced him that he has to kick Messi out [of Barcelona] and not sign with CVC."

Madrid and Barca have since stated their objections regarding the CVC deal due to a disagreement over audiovisual rights.

And Perez has now issued a statement in response to Llopis' remarks, insisting it was "impossible" for him to have any sway over Messi's future at Camp Nou.

"Given the statements made by Jaume Llopis, a former member of the Espai Barca Commission, I want to state the following," the statement read. 

"It is flatly false that he has been friends for a long time with the CEO of FC Barcelona, ​​Ferran Reverter, since he is a person with whom I have only met twice in my life.

"One of those occasions was four months ago and the other last Saturday at the meeting that took place in Barcelona with President Joan Laporta and President Andrea Agnelli. 

"That was after the official communication on Messi had already taken place. 

"Therefore, it is impossible for me to have had any influence either on Messi's departure or on any other FC Barcelona decision. 

"So, I hope that Jaume Llopis rectifies these statements that do not correspond to the truth as soon as possible."

Madrid kick off their 2021-22 LaLiga campaign with a trip to Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

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."

Lionel Messi has targeted Champions League glory with Paris Saint-Germain after finalising a "complicated" exit from Barcelona.

The Argentina international's 21-year association with Barca officially ended on Tuesday when joining PSG on a two-year deal with the option of a third.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi looked certain to sign a new long-term deal at Camp Nou, but financial complications at the LaLiga club forced him out of the door.

Less than a week after Barca announced the 34-year-old was to leave, he was unveiled as a PSG player at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

Reflecting on a whirlwind week, Messi admits it was difficult departing the only club that he has represented in his career to date.

"It's been a very hard moment after so many years," he said at a news conference. "It was a difficult change after so much time. But the moment I arrived here I felt very happy. 

"I'm really enjoying my time in Paris and want to begin training now, starting this new moment in my life.

"The club were really quick with negotiations. It's been a really easy process, even if it was a tricky situation. I want to thank them for sorting out any problems."

 

He added: "Everything that happened to me this week has been very strange. It's been emotional. I can't forget what I lived and experienced at Barcelona.

"But I feel impatient and ready for this new life with my family. I'm very happy. This whole week I've been going through up and downs, but we are processing all of this little by little every day. 

"I was in Barcelona when the press talked about the move. The people in Paris were already outside. It was incredible to see them in the streets. I really want to see them in the city, in the stadium. It will be an incredible year."

Messi departs Barcelona having scored 672 goals and assisted 265 more for the Catalan giants across 778 appearances.

He won 35 trophies at Camp Nou, including four Champions League triumphs.

PSG have never won the competition, coming closest to doing so last year when losing to Bayern Munich in the final, but Messi is hopeful of lifting the famous trophy once again.

"I still want to play and I still want to win, as I did at start of my career," he said of his ambitions with the French giants. "This club it is ready to fight for all the trophies.

"That is my goal. I want to keep growing and winning titles. That's why I came here to this club. I hope we can make it happen."

 

Asked specifically about PSG's Champions League hopes, Messi said: "This team is ready. There are some new transfers, but they have been close and are ready to win it.

"I have just come here to help. My dream is to win this trophy again and I think Paris is the best place to do so.

"It was very complicated to exit Barcelona without knowing where I would go. Barcelona was my home since I was a kid. 

"I knew I'd arrive in a strong team that was aiming to win the Champions League, which I love to win. I know my goals and Paris' goals are the same. 

"It's difficult to win it, you need a strong group. Luck is also a factor. Sometimes the best team in the world does not win. We want to win the Champions League."

Messi may cross paths with Barcelona in UEFA's showpiece competition this coming campaign, potentially giving the superstar forward a chance to sign off at Camp Nou in front of supporters.

"It would be very nice to go back, hopefully with fans," Messi said. "It would be very strange to play at home, there in Barcelona, in another shirt, but it could happen."

Kylian Mbappe has "no excuse" to leave Paris Saint-Germain following Lionel Messi's arrival, according to club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Messi was unveiled at a press conference at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday while thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium to welcome the superstar forward.

The Argentina captain signed a two-year deal, with the option of a further 12 months, after Barcelona were unable follow through on the terms they agreed with the 34-year-old due to financial problems.

Mbappe has less than year remaining on his contract with the Ligue 1 club but PSG president Al-Khelaifi believes the France forward has no option but to stay and play alongside Messi and Neymar.

"Everyone knows the future of Kylian," said Al-Khelaifi. "He's a competitive player who wants to win trophies - he's said that himself.

"He wanted a competitive team, [with Messi] there is no excuse. He can't do anything else but stay."

Al-Khelaifi insists PSG are in no danger of breaching UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations after luring Messi to the French capital.

Asked about FFP, he replied: "A very great question, thank you. We have checked and we knew we had the capacity to sign Leo.

"What Leo brings to the club is huge, that is what you media need to focus on, not the negative, the positive."

Nasser Al-Khelaifi expects Lionel Messi to win "a lot of trophies" for Paris Saint-Germain after the Argentina captain was unveiled at the Parc des Princes on an "historic" day for the Ligue 1 club.

PSG confirmed the signing of mercurial forward Messi on a two-year deal on Tuesday, with the option of a further year.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner left Barcelona as the LaLiga giants were unable to afford to keep the 34-year-old.

Messi scored 672 times in 778 appearances for the Blaugrana, winning the Champions League four times and claiming 10 LaLiga titles.

PSG president Al-Khelaifi believes he will add many more honours at PSG, declaring the signing of Messi to be "just the start".

"I am very happy and proud to present Lionel Messi as PSG player. It is an historic day for the club and football world and is a fantastic moment for us," Al-Khelaifi said as thousands of fans gathered outside the stadium to welcome their new hero.

"It will be very exciting for our fans and fans worldwide. It is amazing what we have tried to achieve.

“We have a big ambition, a football project. We are very proud of where we are today. There is no secret this agreement is with this best player in the world." 

Al-Khelaifi added: "There was a great desire on both sides to make this happen.

"This is just the start as the hard work will start now, on the pitch and off the pitch, but most important the person next to me has won a lot of trophies and I'm sure he will bring a lot more trophies to this club."

 

Ossie Ardiles believes Lionel Messi will form a stronger bond with Mauricio Pochettino than he has with any other manager after the Argentina captain's sensational move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi has signed a two-year deal with PSG after Barca were unable to keep the superstar forward for financial reasons.

Former Argentina midfielder Ardiles expects the six-time Ballon d'Or to revel in playing under his compatriot Pochettino.

Ardiles also feels the presence of fellow Argentinians Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi and Leandro Paredes can only be a positive for Messi.

"Messi is not just Argentinian, but a global player. Of course he is able to play with anyone and he is also able to play at any style of game. This is how enormous his game is," Ardiles told Stats Perform News.

"it helps to have that many Argentinians. Mauricio, for instance, is from the same city [as Messi], Rosario. Obviously, they speak same language.

"It will be very important for Lionel Messi to have Mauricio there. Messi got along well with almost every manager, but I think it will be even better with Mauricio.

"Being with Di Maria, Paredes and Icardi will help, but I also think these players don’t play the full Argentinian style. They are very global. Icardi has been in Italy and now at PSG. The same for Paredes or Di Maria, being also in English football. From that point of view, there won’t be any issue, for sure."

Messi scored 672 times in 778 appearances for the Blaugrana, winning the Champions League four times and claiming 10 LaLiga titles.

The 34-year-old was reduced to tears during an emotional farewell press conference and Ardiles fears for Barca following the departure of the inspirational skipper - especially considering the desperate state of the club's finances.

 

Ardiles added: "Barca stays very, very hurt. Actually, the situation is absolutely critical. To lose the best player in the world is tough.

"He has spent 20 years in the club, he is the symbol, the captain… he is everything. I really think there are coming very tough times for Barcelona.

"We were used to seeing Barcelona leading the game and being the team to be beaten. If you wanted to lift the Champions League or LaLiga you had to beat Barcelona. That will all change with Messi's departure. Absolutely.

"On the other hand, Barcelona spent so much money. That's why it is in this situation now. Like people say, it has likely been [the fault of] the previous board, but the fact is Barcelona has spent much more than they could.

"So, nowadays, Barcelona cannot go to the market and buy the best player in the world, not even keep him in his own squad. And it can't either go to the market to buy the current stars, as they don't have money to do it.

"However, Barcelona is a very big club, an extraordinary club and of course it will be back. But I think it will take a long time."

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