Ronald Koeman does not agree with Gerard Pique's claim that referees favour Real Madrid over other LaLiga sides.

Pique this week quoted a former referee who, according to the Barcelona defender, said 85 per cent of officials in Spain's top flight were from Madrid.

In an interview with Post United, Pique said: "How are they not going to whistle in favour of Real Madrid? Even unconsciously, how are they not going to give more for one side than the other?"

Pique added last season, when Madrid won the title, was "the most absurd refereeing experience ever".

En route to the championship in 2019-20, Zinedine Zidane's side earned a joint-high 11 penalties and conceded a joint-low two.

But Koeman disagrees with his centre-back, who reportedly could be sanctioned for his comments, insisting the league's referees are honest.

"Those are [Pique's] words. I can only comment on this year, not on previous seasons," Koeman told reporters.

"There are decisions in which we have had no luck, but I don't think they are against us. They are decisions of the referee and also VAR.

"I always think that the attitudes of the referees are honest. They give what they see and are not in favour of any team."

The numbers have changed this term as Madrid have received a joint-low 37 cards (36 yellow, one red) but only Cadiz (none) and Huesca (one) have won fewer than their two penalties.

The defending champions have also conceded a joint-high seven spot-kicks heading into this weekend.

Barca have been shown 38 cards, won five penalties and given away two.

Koeman was speaking ahead of Sunday's trip to Real Betis, which follows hot on the heels of Barca playing 120 minutes against Granada in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Victory after extra time in that match set up a double-header with Sevilla in the semi-finals, adding to an already packed schedule.

Koeman feels the calendar is "killing the players" and pleaded for help from competition organisers.

"It is difficult," he said. "The number of games that the big teams have, with three competitions, on top of the COVID situation, makes everything more difficult.

"You have to talk with the players to see how they are physically, their feelings. Sometimes you have to give someone a rest to be able to have everyone in the best condition.

"If we count tomorrow's game and Wednesday's, there are 12 games in a row, of which 11 are away from home. And that's playing at 21:00, coming home at 03:00 in the morning. It is difficult for the players to be able to play all the time. We need help.

"I hope that one day UEFA or LaLiga will think about the number of games and what this does to the players. It is not normal. The games we've had to play, the trips, the schedules, playing the Supercopa between four teams, in my opinion, is a lot.

"Each coach has his opinion about the fixture schedule that the players have to go through. I think this has to stop, it's killing the players. We will have many injuries as a result of this. It is impossible.

"Hopefully one day they will make a decision to help the players with their fitness."

Ronald Koeman has reiterated his desire for Lionel Messi to stay at Barcelona, although he once again acknowledged it is the player who will make the final decision.

Messi wanted to leave Barca last year but stayed on to see out the final year of his contract, details of which were recently leaked to the Spanish press.

The revelation of Messi's earnings – potentially worth in excess of €555million over the course of four years – came as Barca's debts reportedly rose above €1.1billion, with the coronavirus pandemic dealing a huge blow to the club's finances.

Despite the speculation surrounding his future, Messi has continued to perform for Barca, scoring 16 goals across all competitions this season.

He missed two games due to suspension in January but returned to score against Rayo Vallecano in the Copa del Rey, followed by the opener in Barca's most recent LaLiga match, a 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Koeman said in midweek that he still hoped Messi would eventually choose to remain at Barca and extend his contract, though the coach conceded he was not confident of that happening.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's game with Real Betis, the former Netherlands boss again stressed Messi's future is in his own hands.

"I said the other day: I think there's one person that can decide his future and that is Leo Messi himself," Koeman told a news conference.

"Us as a club and me as a manager, of course, I would like that he stays here for many more years and we can try to make him feel good, make sure he's happy, because if he's happy, like he is this season, he gives us a lot of quality, which we need.

"He is a player with incredible talent and, on top of that, I think his morale is also very high at the moment; he's got good energy and he helps us a lot. The future is in his hands."

Messi has created 14 goalscoring chances following a ball carry (moving with the ball five or more metres) in LaLiga this season – more than any other player – although he has failed to assist in this way. 

The 33-year-old has an exceptional record against Betis, having had a direct hand in 31 goals in 21 LaLiga appearances against the Andalusian club, scoring 21 times and providing 10 assists, while he has either scored or assisted on each of his past five league visits to Benito Villamarin.

Messi is still the main man at Barca, but Antoine Griezmann has finally rediscovered the form which earned him his big-money move from Atletico Madrid.

Griezmann scored twice and set up two more as Barca laboured to a 5-3 extra-time victory over Granada in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, a result which Koeman celebrated passionately on the touchline.

"I remember that I called him when I signed for Barcelona," Koeman said of Griezmann, who ranks fifth in the Blaugrana squad for league chances created this season (21) but leads the way on assists (four), while his goal tally of six is bettered only by Messi (12).

"I told him that I had a lot of confidence in him. I told him that he should know that he is important.

"Although he started without effectiveness, he has recovered. I have never doubted him. Besides, he is also his own critic.

"You can't ask for more from Griezmann, he's very important to us.

"I can't deny that the other day I was very happy after the game. I don't know for how long. Today it's sunny and tomorrow it may rain.

"I really liked the game the other day, but tomorrow is another game. We have to prove ourselves yet again that we are on the right track."

Barcelona were handed a tough draw against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semi-finals as Ronald Koeman chases his first trophy since being appointed head coach.

The two-leg tie will be a repeat of the teams' memorable meeting at the quarter-final stage two years ago, when Sevilla won 2-0 at home before being thrashed 6-1 at Camp Nou.

Koeman, who took charge last August, saw his side beaten 3-2 in the Supercopa de Espana final by Athletic Bilbao in January, when Lionel Messi was sent off in extra time.

That silverware slipped by but the Dutch coach will hope for a better outcome for Barcelona as the Copa del Rey enters its final stages.

They were almost knocked out in the quarter-finals this week by Granada, saved by late goals in normal time from Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba before winning 5-3 after extra time.

Facing Sevilla will surely be no easy task given Barca, second in LaLiga, are just a point ahead of Julen Lopetegui's team.

There could be another final between Barcelona and Athletic in store, with the Bilbao giants drawn to face Levante in the other semi-final.

The first legs of each tie will be played next midweek, with the return games to be played on the first midweek in March, with exact dates for each match to be determined.

Sevilla will have extra incentive to reach the final, given that match will be staged in their home city on April 17, at Estadio La Cartuja.

Because of the coronavirus impact on Spanish football, last season's Copa del Rey final has yet to be played, with that game between Athletic and Real Sociedad to be played at the same Seville stadium on April 3.

Barcelona hold the record for the most Copa del Rey titles, having won the competition 30 times, with Athletic next on the list with 23 victories.

Ronald Koeman hit out at Paris Saint-Germain, accusing the Ligue 1 giants of being "disrespectful" for continuing to talk about Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Messi, 33, has been heavily linked with a move to PSG when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Angel Di Maria became the latest person connected to PSG to discuss Messi, with coach Mauricio Pochettino, sporting director Leonardo and Neymar having also spoken about the Argentina star in recent months.

After opening the scoring in Wednesday's 3-0 win over Nimes, Di Maria – who is also out of contract at season's end – talked up a potential PSG move for his compatriot.

"I hope to renew with PSG. Play with Messi? Yes, hopefully, I think there are many possibilities," he said.

"I have to be calm, think about my own thing and continue in Paris because I am very happy here."

Barcelona coach Koeman is growing tired of the Ligue 1 giants speaking about his star.

After a stunning comeback to get past Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals, Koeman hit out at PSG, who face Barca in the Champions League last 16 beginning this month.

"It is disrespectful that so many people from PSG talk about Messi. They are spicing up the [Champions League] game," he said.

"He is still a Barca player."

Barcelona took a "giant step" towards a successful season with a thrilling comeback win over Granada, Ronald Koeman said.

The Catalans claimed a remarkable 5-3 Copa del Rey quarter-final win on Wednesday after forcing extra time at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.

Barca were trailing 2-0 as late as the 87th minute only for Antoine Griezmann and Jordi Alba to force the additional period, after Francisco Trincao, Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele had all hit the woodwork.

Griezmann made it 3-2 only for a Fede Vico penalty to level matters again, but Frenkie de Jong scored from a rebound and Alba smashed home a stunning volley to secure Barca's semi-final spot.

Koeman last week suggested his side were not ready to compete for the biggest trophies and the Barca boss remains unconvinced they could end 2020-21 winning LaLiga, the Copa and the Champions League.

However, he believes their fightback against Diego Martinez's side could perhaps be a turning point in their campaign.

He said: "I was referring to winning the three trophies: LaLiga, the Champions League and the Copa. I don't believe [we can win all three]. But I've always believed in the team. We've improved many things, above all in character. We've taken a giant step forward.

"It helps to have spirit and strength in the team. That's the way. We've worked a lot to get to the moment when the team starts to believe and it's a proud feeling. And it's come at an important moment of the season.

"We started the game really strongly, we played really well in the first 20 minutes. A mistake in playing where we shouldn't be playing cost us a goal.

"You have to highlight the team's mentality because we never gave up. We had really bad luck with the woodwork. We did everything to win the game.

"We deserved it due to the mentality of the team, but on this occasion, we showed we know how to suffer. We knew how to defend the result and we deserved the win."

Griezmann proved pivotal to the result, scoring Barca's first before setting up Alba's equaliser with a cushioned header from a Messi cross.

The France star then converted an emphatic header of his own and teed up Alba's spectacular second with a clever outside-of-the-foot pass.

It was the first time the €120million man had been directly involved in four goals in the same game for the Catalans.

"I'm really pleased with Griezmann," said Koeman. "I know it's really important for him. The team needs him. With his effectiveness, we're more dangerous."

Antoine Griezmann being a Barcelona success is important to head coach Ronald Koeman.

Barca are preparing to face Granada in an away Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday.

They are favourites to win the competition after Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid crashed out against lower-league opposition.

Griezmann scored twice and set up another as Barca won 4-0 at Los Carmenes in LaLiga last month.

Ahead of their latest meeting in the cup, Koeman praised the World Cup winner for his turnaround in form, which was partly sparked by that outing.

He has five goals in his last seven games, including the winner in Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao.

"All season Antoine is working well," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference.

"[He has done] what a player has to do, which is help the team to the maximum. 

"With Antoine there have been moments when he has been scoring and those when he hasn't scored, but they are phases that any footballer goes through, we have all experienced it. 

"Now he is very good and that is important to me. We want to get the most out of each player in the squad."

Griezmann has seven goal involvements in his last six games at Los Carmenes and, prior to his star showing in the last meeting, had netted just three times in his first 16 LaLiga appearances this season.

Barca have five straight away wins in LaLiga, four of which have come with clean sheets. It is their best run under Koeman, who hopes they can carry that form into the cup.

"It is a different game because it is the cup and they are always different games from the championship," said the Dutchman.

"Also I think that both they [Granada] and we have played many games – they have had even more. 

"Do not forget that at the start of the other game we had quite a few complications in playing our game. We expect a difficult game in which we have to be very focused."

Koeman would not go as far as saying the Copa del Rey was now his top priority over LaLiga.

But he concedes it is the most likely route to domestic silverware with Atletico Madrid sitting 10 points clear with a game in hand atop the table.

Koeman added: "The cup is not more important than the league, but it is true that it is closer [to being won] because there are fewer games left. 

"It is not normal for Atletico Madrid to get so many points, they are very strong. In the league we can only wait for them to fail. We have lost many points at home that cannot be dropped.

"I don't give more importance to Wednesdays game than to the weekend [against Real Betis], but we want to keep winning and get through this tie to be in the semi-final. 

"Squad rotation depends on the physical condition of the players. It is a vital match, but if there is a player who is not physically well, he will not play."

Ronald Koeman believes it is "absurd" that a report over Lionel Messi's contract is still dominating headlines but has been delighted with the way his captain has responded.

The build-up to Barcelona's Copa del Rey quarter-final at Granada has been overshadowed by an apparent leak of Messi's deal at Camp Nou, which was signed in 2017.

A report by El Mundo on Sunday claimed the contract, which expires at the end of this season, is worth more than €555million.

It was already believed that Messi was on an extraordinary salary at Barcelona, given he is recognised by many as the greatest active player of the world's most popular sport.

But the leaking of the exact sums payable to Messi has caused a stir, coming at a time when the embattled LaLiga giants are in financial trouble.

Koeman has previously rejected any suggestion that Messi's contract was connected to Barcelona facing a financial hurdle.

He was unhappy that it remained the central story prior to Wednesday's last-eight tie, with Barca favourites to win the cup due to Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid already being eliminated.

"It is something absurd that you [the media] have been on with this issue for three or four days," Koeman said at his pre-match news conference.

"The team and Leo have responded in the way that I like, which is to try to leave the things from the press aside and concentrate on the game.

"I am happy with the team and how he [Messi] is currently working."

Koeman has previously said anyone inside Barca who is found to have leaked sensitive details would be fired.

But he reiterated his comments made after Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao – where Messi scored his 650th club goal – that the leak could well have come from outside.

Koeman added: "It can come from many places, because there is always competition between the big clubs and there are people from outside with friends inside.

"As a coach I defend the players and the club. Leaks like these are not good and have bad intentions.

"When things come out it is important to be more united in the dressing room."

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman remains hopeful Lionel Messi will opt to stay at Camp Nou, but is "not confident" about that outcome.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and has been heavily linked with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

The 33-year-old wanted to leave last season after the club finished without a trophy and he fell out with then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Messi agreed to stay for the last year of his contract when Barca refused his request and has impressed under Koeman, scoring nine goals in his last 10 games.

But Koeman is not convinced a happier Messi this season will result in him remaining with the club for the long term.

"I'm not confident about that," Koeman said to The Athletic.

"I'm hopeful, yes, about this because he's still a great player and he's still winning matches for us, for the team. 

"I'm enjoying being his coach, if you look at his qualities every day in the training sessions, it's incredible. 

"Of course, he came as a young kid to Barcelona. And I still don't see Leo Messi in another shirt other than the Barca shirt."

Messi reached 650 Barca goals in Sunday's 2-1 home win over Athletic Bilbao.

After the match, Koeman said Barcelona "can't aspire to much" without Messi as he reflected on a leak by El Mundo which claimed the deal his captain signed in 2017 is worth more than €555million.

Koeman was thrilled to get the Barcelona job ahead of 2020-21 but reflected on how tough it had been to immediately handle the Messi saga, which was already under way and has raged on since.

"It was a difficult time because he's still the best player, but he was angry about some situations in the club," added Koeman. 

"And he was not happy that he was in a team who lost 8-2 against Bayern Munich in the quarter-final of the Champions League. 

"Of course, he was angry, he had to leave, he wanted to leave the team.

"First of all, what I said to the club was, 'OK, it's not my problem. It's a problem between the club and Leo Messi. And you have to resolve that'. 

"Finally, the club said, 'We don’t make a transfer for him. He needs to stay'. It was a difficult time for Leo but he finally accepted it."

Koeman has not had any issues with Messi's attitude.

The former Netherlands head coach added: "I spoke to him in his house before we started the season and I made plans with him and he was really enthusiastic.

"I knew that he had some problems with the club and I was out of that.

"I said to Leo, 'I'm really happy if you stay. If you don't stay, it's your decision and it's what you have to handle with the club. If you stay, you will be part of the team and this will be your position to get all the best out of yourself'. 

"Little by little, he accepted that situation. And look how he is playing in the last few weeks, he is really involved in the club, in the team. 

"But nobody knows what will happen in the future."

Lionel Messi did not deserve his contract to be leaked to a newspaper, said Ronald Koeman, as the Barcelona head coach claimed there was an agenda to "hurt" the Argentine superstar.

A report by El Mundo claimed the deal Messi signed at Camp Nou in 2017, which expires at the end of this season, is worth more than €555million.

It was already believed that Messi was on an extraordinary salary at Barcelona, given he is recognised by many as the greatest current player of the world's most popular sport.

The leaking of the exact sums payable to Messi has caused a stir, coming at a time when embattled LaLiga giants Barcelona are reported to have built up debts of over €1billion.

Koeman rejected any suggestion that Messi's contract is in any way connected to Barcelona facing a financial hurdle, insisting he has "helped this club to make it very great".

The club's record scorer, who netted his 650th Barcelona goal in Sunday's 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao, could leave on a free transfer in a matter of months.

And Koeman vowed that if anyone employed by Barcelona was proven to have leaked private details, they would be shown the door.

"If you are part of the club, you have to help the club, the coaches, the players. If someone from the club has leaked this, they cannot have a future at this club," Koeman said.

"They are things that come out, that cannot come out. There are people who are interested in hurting Messi and Barca."

Messi is sure to have been unimpressed by his personal details making it into the public domain, but the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner did not let it impede his performance on the pitch against Athletic.

Speaking after the game, Koeman expressed alarm that anyone would want to cause upset in the ranks, particularly concerning Messi, a player destined to be remembered as an all-time great.

"You have to respect him, I see bad intention and desire to hurt," Koeman said, quoted by Mundo Deportivo.

"We must try to find out how this could have come out in the press and we have to focus on our work, that the team are well, and we cannot allow ourselves to lose focus over this issue."

Ronald Koeman said Barcelona "can't aspire to much" without Lionel Messi after the Argentinian scored another landmark goal in Sunday's 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Messi was headline news earlier in the day when a report by El Mundo claimed the deal he signed at Camp Nou in 2017, which expires at the end of this season, is worth more than €555million.

He proved his worth to Barca with a fine free-kick midway through the first half - his 650th goal for the club - before Jordi Alba's own goal drew Athletic level early in the second half.

Antoine Griezmann secured all three points with the winner 16 minutes from time, though, to help Barca leapfrog Sevilla and Real Madrid into second in LaLiga, 10 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid.

Head coach Koeman was less than impressed with the details of Messi's contract surfacing, but insists the saga did not provide any additional motivation for a player he believes is the world's best.

"We've known, for quite some time, that he's the best in the world," the former Netherlands coach told Movistar Plus.

"He's done a lot for the club. He's decisive during games. You have to respect everything he's done. He's a great player, he gives us creativity in attack. Without Leo, you can't aspire to much."

Koeman added, according to Marca: "He hasn't been more motivated today [because of the reports]. What's happened has been for bad intentions, to cause harm.

"We have to be united and focused. Things that are published have to be put to the side, but it's tough."

It seems unlikely that Barca will rein in Atletico, who can move 13 points clear if they win their game in hand, but Koeman says his improving side have no intention of giving up hope of claiming the title.

"The team is improving," Koeman added. "There's concentration, mentality. I'm not saying we didn't have that before, but we're growing in confidence.

"It's important to be second. We want to be as high as possible. The gap to the leaders is big but we have to keep going."

Griezmann's late winner maintained his superb record against Athletic.

The France international has now been involved in 15 goals against the Basque side (nine goals and six assists), more than he has achieved against any other team in the competition.

The former Atletico Madrid forward was pleased to overcome an obdurate opponent and had words of praise for Ousmane Dembele, whose fine pass played in Oscar Mingueza in the build-up to the winning goal.

Griezmann told Movistar Plus: "Sometimes you play and sometimes you don't but in the end we are all part of this and we need everyone. Ousmane is playing very well, he is taking good care of himself and we try to ensure that he is in the best condition."

Barcelona are not ready to win the biggest trophies and fans must be "realistic" about their title chances, head coach Ronald Koeman said.

The Catalans face Athletic Bilbao on Sunday for the first time since suffering defeat to Marcelino's side in the final of the Supercopa de Espana.

Barca go into the match 10 points behind LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand. Their tally of 37 points from their first 19 matches is their lowest return at this stage of a season since 2003-04.

According to a Stats Perform AI model run last week, Barca had just a 12.4 per cent likelihood of winning LaLiga, with Atletico overwhelming favourites at 75.1 per cent.

Having won just twice in their past seven meetings with Athletic in all competitions, the pressure is on Barca and Koeman to deliver to keep their slim hopes of a title challenge intact.

However, the former Netherlands boss feels this has been a year of transition for the club that means they should not aim too high.

"It's tough, because the points gap is very big," he said on Saturday. "In the Champions League, there's no clear favourite. We have a knockout against Paris Saint-Germain that we'll try to get through.

"I have said several times that this is a season where we are changing things, we are opting for young players.

"Barcelona are not about to win a lot of things right now. We have to be realistic about where we've come from, the changes we've made... not everything depends on one player. We always have to be ready to fight, but we have to be realistic."

With Barca having reported debts of close to €1.2billion and with presidential elections not taking place until March, January signings have been practically impossible.

The club remain hopeful, however, of bringing in Eric Garcia from Manchester City this month. The defender has already agreed to a deal with the club but they are exploring options to sign him in the coming days rather than wait for a free transfer at the end of the season, when his City contract expires.

"It's always important to have someone at the club working to improve our squad, if not in January for next year," Koeman said.

"It doesn't bother me because it's a job the club has to do. The players don't have to be bothered by these issues, because we talk to them every day, they take part in the games.... These things happen at any club in the world and I don't see any problem.

"We'll certainly have him [Garcia] for next season. If it's not possible for him to come now, we have to accept it and we'll keep going with what there is.

"But I don't know. I don't want to spend energy on this and I'm just focused on preparing the team for the games.

"I spoke to [City manager] Pep [Guardiola] a little while ago to wish him a happy 50th birthday. We talked, but we don't do so on Eric Garcia. That's not my job. I'm dedicated to coaching.

"I think it's normal that it's talked about so much because it's a transfer and because of the circumstances around the club. I've said what I thought, but what ends up happening is something I can't control, so I'm focused on what's important, which is trying to win games."

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman said his team are trying to win the Copa del Rey as they attempt to overhaul LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Barca came from behind to beat second-tier side Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in Wednesday's last-16 showdown in the Copa del Rey.

Fran Garcia gave Vallecano a 63rd-minute lead before Lionel Messi equalised six minutes later and Frenkie de Jong completed Barca's comeback 10 minutes from time midweek.

It has been a challenging season for Barca amid doubts over Messi's future, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and a struggle for form as the Spanish giants sit third and 10 points behind Atletico, while they also lost the Supercopa de Espana final.

But Koeman and Barca remain focused on the goal of silverware, with the Catalan club set to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League round of 16.

"I am very happy," Koeman said post-match after reaching the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. "From the beginning we played a good game. In the first part we forgave them on several occasions, in the last pass, there were plays in which there could be penalties.

"Yes, we had problems in the first half. In the second one, especially with the score against, I think we've showed our personality, scoring quality goals, we came back in the game. At the end you always suffer with such a tight result with just one goal difference. Overall, the team played very well.

"We know these are complicated games, it does not matter the category of the opponent. They played a great game, they complicated us. But, in the first half we forgave them, we should've scored one or two goals."

"Our goal is to go game by game, try to win every game in order to try to move up in the table," Koeman added. "Cut the gap we have now [in the league], play in the Champions League.

"We want to win the Copa [del Rey]. I think this is the mentality our team has shown in all competitions and try to get the most out of it. It is important, we are Barca, but there are no easy games.

"We know how the Copa games are, it doesn't depend on the category of your opponent. You have to work a lot and play well. The field was not very good to play our game. Despite the state of the field, we played a very good game. Also, the team had the right mentality to overcome this play-off."

Barcelona booked their place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals as goals from Lionel Messi and Frenkie de Jong sealed a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday. 

Ronald Koeman's side had looked set to follow Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in losing to lower-league opposition when Fran Garcia gave Segunda Division side Rayo the lead shortly after the hour-mark. 

As is so often the case, though, Messi pulled Barca level soon after with a close-range finish. 

That set the stage for the impressive De Jong to secure Barca's progression 10 minutes from time.

The first clear sight of goal did not come until the 20th minute, De Jong looping an effort from six yards onto Stole Dimitrievski's crossbar.

The visitors somehow failed to take the lead 10 minutes before the interval when Dimitrievski initially pawed away Trincao's strike before Riqui Puig's follow-up was diverted onto the crossbar by Ivan Martos.

Antoine Griezmann and De Jong had further chances, but Barca were ultimately unable to make their superiority count at the break.

Messi clipped the top of the crossbar with a free-kick three minutes after the restart before the Argentina international blazed over after being played clean through soon after.

Barca were made to rue those misses in the 63rd minute when Fran Garcia turned home from almost on the line after Neto had parried Alvaro Garcia's cross into his path.

Messi restored parity six minutes later, however, sliding in from six yards after being teed up by Griezmann.

De Jong ensured there would be no need for extra time to settle the result, stroking home from a similar position to Messi from Jordi Alba's cross.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman insists his players are not worried by the club's financial situation amid concerns around spiralling debts.

Barca's latest financial figures, dated August 17 but only released this month after their previous AGM was postponed, indicate their total debt has now exceeded €1.1billion.

Their short-term debt has risen to €730m, having increased by €225m since the 2018-19 season largely due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: specifically, the lack of matchday revenue as games continue to be played behind closed doors, and the reduction in tourists visiting the Camp Nou facilities.

Although Barca top the 2021 Deloitte Football Money League with total revenues of €715.1m, the stark numbers released by the club paint a concerning picture for prospective new presidents Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa.

Last November, it was announced the players had agreed to a salary reduction that would save the club €122m and help to avoid widespread layoffs of non-playing staff, but interim president Carlos Tusquets claimed last month that the squad would not be paid for January due to the precarious financial situation.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey clash with Rayo Vallecano, Koeman stressed the senior squad was dully focused on keeping their trophy push alive.

"Barca is a great club that has been affected by COVID and suffers more than others, also from the tourism side of things," he said. "But all the big teams can take numbers that aren't good, not just here.

"The players are focused and not worried about this subject. We're concentrating on our work."

When asked if some Barca salaries were too high, Koeman replied:  "The club makes the contract and the player accepts it or not. We have to train and win games and trophies. We have all helped the club with the salary reduction."

He added on the subject of January wages not being paid: "I don't know if that's true. You'd have to ask."

Koeman is taking a strong side to second-tier Rayo, with the Copa del Rey looking likely to be Barca's best chance of winning silverware this season, with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both out.

While he may rotate his starting line-up, Koeman expects Lionel Messi to be raring to go after missing two games through suspension.

"It depends on the state of the players. If there are tired boys, we'll have to change," he said.

"We'll take a strong team to get through this tie. We know the road is shorter to winning something. The teams who are left are strong and we saw that in the Supercopa de Espana.

"[Messi] is really looking forward to playing and winning things. He's a winning player who wants titles. We have to wait until the morning to know if he'll play.

"To win something, we need Messi fit."

Ronald Koeman praised Frenkie de Jong for improving the attacking aspect of his game after chipping in with another goal and an assist in Barcelona's 2-0 win over Elche.

The Netherlands international profited from a Diego Gonzalez error to give Barca a 39th-minute lead and crossed for substitute Riqui Puig to score a late second in Sunday's LaLiga clash.

De Jong now has three goals and two assists in his last six games in all competitions, while his five LaLiga goals in 18 months at Camp Nou is one more than he managed in five seasons in the Eredivisie.

He also contested more duels (11) than any other Barca player at Estadio Martinez Valero and no visiting player intercepted the ball more often (twice).

But it is the attacking side of De Jong's game that most pleased head coach Koeman, who wants his midfielders to take the goalscoring burden off the forward line.

"The three forwards aren't enough; we need the midfielders to score too," Koeman said. "It's good that he's scoring and assisting.

"He's always improving. We want the midfielders to get into the box and get up there."

Fellow midfielder Puig followed that advice by getting on the end of De Jong's cross and heading past Edgar Badia from his seventh touch after being introduced from the bench.

It was the academy graduate's first goal at senior level but he admitted to being disappointed by his lack of playing time this term, having made only one start in all competitions.

"I'm having quite a difficult season because I'm not used to playing so little," Puig told Movistar.

"But I'm getting stronger mentally. I'm happy with the team's hard work and how my team-mates are helping me."

Victory for Barcelona was their fourth in a row in the league, three of those without conceding, as they moved up to third place.

The Catalan giants have not conceded in any of their last nine LaLiga games against Elche, meanwhile, which is their best such run against a single opponent in the competition.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced a big save to deny Emiliano Rigoni with Barca 1-0 up and Koeman was grateful for his compatriot's shot-stopping ability.

"They didn't have many chances - they only had one and it came from a big mistake from our defence," Koeman said. "But Ter Stegen was very good in the one-on-one.

"Luckily we have a good goalkeeper, because they could've equalised at that point.

"Defensively, apart from that mistake, we did well. The best thing about today was our pressing and our performance without the ball. We deserved to win.

"I'm very happy with how we won. We've had lots of matches in the last few days and we've kept focus.

"We were better than our opponents. We were patient. We won possession. It was difficult to score because they had lots of men behind the ball. But we pressed well."

Barcelona return to action on Wednesday with a trip to Rayo Vallecano in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey.

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