Lionel Messi gives his Champions League picks

Lionel Messi collected his fourth Golden Shoe on Friday and it seems that Marca managed to grab an interview with the Barcelona star.

It’s not often we hear from the Argentinian but he was quizzed about who he felt had the best chance of claiming glory in the Champions League this season.

Barca are, of course, already through as group winners following Wednesday’s draw with Juventus and Messi has highlighted who he feels are the teams to beat.

“[Manchester] City is one of the strongest teams at the moment together with PSG,” he said.

“So far, they have been the two teams that have shown themselves to be favourites, but this is a very long and tough competition.

“I never rule out Madrid because although they’re not having the results that everyone expects, I have no doubt that in the end they will be fighting for everything, as they do every year.

“Bayern is another big team that will also be there at the end, but it’s true that today City and PSG are the best .”

Source | Marca

Barcelona finish their group stage campaign at home to Sporting Lisbon but will he hoping for a more favourable draw after finishing in top spot.

The Blaugrana will not be able to face Manchester City in the next round as Pep Guardiola’s side have also topped their group.

Paris Saint-Germain should also finish as group winners unless Bayern beat them by a four-goal margin in the final fixture.

Madrid, meanwhile, will finish second behind Tottenham in their group but can’t be drawn in the next round against Barca as teams from the same country can’t play one another.

What are your Champions League predictions and how far can Barca go this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Messi awarded fourth Golden Shoe as Europe’s top scorer

Another trophy for the Barcelona legend

Lionel Messi has received his Golden Shoe trophy for finishing last season as Europe’s top scorer with 37 La Liga goals in 2016/17.

Messi won the award ahead of Bas Dost with 34 goals, while Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged 31 and Luis Suarez finished fifth behind Robert Lewandowski with 29 goals.

It’s the fourth time Messi has won the award and he was handed the trophy by a familiar face.

There was disappointment though for those who were expecting Messi to talk about his future and his contract situation.

The Argentine made no mention of his renewal and we are now heading towards December with the contract still unsigned.

How should Barcelona line up against Valencia?

There’s no Gerard Pique for Sunday’s clash

Barcelona head to Valencia on Sunday for perhaps the most eagerly anticipated La Liga game of the season so far.

Marcelino’s men have been brilliant in this campaign and go into the match in second place just four points behind Barca at the top of the table.

Neither team has yet to taste defeat in the league this season but that could change at Mestalla. Here’s a look at how Barca might line up for the big game…

Defence

The big question ahead of the game is who will replace Gerard Pique who is suspended?

With Javier Mascherano injured, the most obvious choice is Thomas Vermaelen and if he doesn’t feature, well there’s very little point in him being at the club anymore.

So Vermaelen to partner Samuel Umtiti at centre-back with Jordi Alba back on the left, Nelson Semedo at right-back and Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal.

Barcelona have been brilliant defensively this season but will need to be at their best against Valencia who have been pretty ruthless in front of goal

Midfield

As usual this is where it gets tricky. Just how pragmatic will Ernesto Valverde be against Valencia who have scored 32 goals in 12 La Liga games so far this season?

Paulinho, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic all started against Juventus but you get the feeling Valverde will make changes.

Rakitic has come under scrutiny this season and he hardly shone against Juventus, but then neither did Paulinho.

It’s difficult to second guess Valverde at the moment but Brazilian is the more like option to drop to the bench with Iniesta, Busquets and Rakitic starting and more changes further forward.

Athletic Club v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Attack

Lionel Messi was, of course, rested in midweek so should be fresh and back in the starting line-up. He also hasn’t scored since the win over Athletic Bilbao and is overdue a goal.

There’s a chance we could also see Paco Alcacer back as he has been impressive in recent weeks and Barca have looked brighter in attack with him in the team.

Alcacer should relish taking on his former side and Luis Suarez also looks happier with the striker in the team.

Suarez has also looked sharper since the international break and scored twice against Leganes last time out in La Liga to end his recent goal drought.

Deportivo Alaves v Barcelona - La Liga
Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Vermaelen, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta, Alcacer, Messi, Suarez.

Who do you think should start against Valencia? Let us know your thoughts and line-ups in the comments below!

Denis Suarez: Barcelona aren’t boring

The midfielder says the team are doing just fine

Denis Suarez has hit back at claims that Barcelona are boring following Wednesday’s 0-0 Champions League draw with Juventus in Turin.

The Blaugrana secured their qualification for the knockout stages in a game of few chances against the Italian champions.

Barcelona have rarely managed to produce their best free-flowing attacking football this season which has led to suggestions Ernesto Valverde’s side are dull.

However, Denis has defended his team and pointed to their record this season, with the club four points clear at the top of the table in Spain and group winners in Europe.

“If Barcelona are boring by being top of LaLiga and first in their Champions League group…,” he said.

“If a team that has scored so many goals and conceded so few is boring then I don’t know what to say.

“We are top of La Liga and four points above second place.

“We’ve sealed our qualification in the Champions League and our Copa del Rey tie [against Murcia] is on the right track.

“It has been a good start to the season.

“I don’t think our style of play is boring and I don’t think it disrespects Barcelona’s identity.”

Source | Marca

It’s fair to say that Barca haven’t been great to watch this season but it’s difficult to argue against current results, particularly with the club top and also with the most goals scored and least conceded so far this season.

Barcelona wanted Naby Keita, says RB Leipzig director

The Blaugrana didn’t push as hard as Liverpool

Barcelona wanted to sign Naby Keita last summer according to RB Leipzig director Oliver Mintzlaff.

The midfielder has agreed a deal to join Liverpool next year after the Reds paid his £48 million release clause.

However, he could apparently have been heading to Camp Nou if Barca had pushed a bit harder.

“FC Barcelona was interested in Naby Keïta,” he said.

“That was confirmed to us also from Barcelona. However, they were not as drive as Liverpool.”

Source | Sport Bild

It was a pretty chaotic summer in the transfer market from Barca who were linked with several midfielders and came close to a deal for Jean-Michael Seri.

That deal ultimately fell through with Barca bringing in Paulinho instead.

UEFA Champions League: Talking points from Juventus 0-0 Barcelona

Valverde makes shock decision to rest Messi

Who saw this one coming? Not me, that’s for sure. Yet Ernesto Valverde’s decision to rest Messi paid off and in hindsight it looks a good, and brave, decision.

There have been suggestions Messi has a niggle and whether that’s true or not, what is obvious is that Sunday’s game with Valencia is THE biggest game of the week.

Barca only needed a draw against Juve, and that’s what they got, they also now head to Valencia with a rested Messi and with Champions League qualification wrapped up.

Whether you like it or not, Valverde’s gamble paid off and with Messi now in his 30s, this is something we may see more of as the season progresses.

Barcelona struggling to score away from home in Europe

A draw in Turin against Juventus is a pretty good result, particularly when you think back to last season.

However, one thing that is worrying is Barcelona’s lack of goals on the road in Europe:

Lionel Messi’s last goal away from home in the competition was last November, Luis Suarez hasn’t score on the road since March.

In fact, Barca’s only away goal in the competition so far came at Sporting and that was an own goal from Sebastian Coates. This is a stat that surely has to improve if Barca are to make any impression on this season’s tournament.

Barca’s stars are the defenders

Despite a run of 18 games without defeat, there’s still a lot of negativity from some sections of the support who have been spoilt rotten with years of glorious football.

We all know Barca are not playing spectacular football right now, but they are getting seriously impressive results.

The style may come, we hope so, but for now why can’t we at least celebrate that the club has some superstar defenders?

After all, keeping a clean sheet at Juventus is something that hasn’t happened too often recently.

Lucas Digne hailed Marc-Andre ter Stegen as “the best goalkeeper in the world” after last night’s game and on current form you can understand his point.

Samuel Umtiti was brilliant again while Gerard Pique played well and they deserve appreciation, particularly at a time when there seems to be a shortage of truly top class defenders around.

Valverde explains why he left Lionel Messi out against Juventus

Ernesto Valverde raised eyebrows on Wednesday night, opting to leave Lionel Messi out of his starting line-up for the clash against Juventus in Turin.

It was a massive call by the Barca coach and it worked out as his side drew 0-0 with Juventus to secure their spot in the knockout stages.

Valverde spoke after the game and explained why he had left the little genius on the bench

“No, Messi wasn’t suffering a knock – we just decided that for once he might rest although the idea was always that we’d keep it tight without him and then let him try and open up the game in the second half.

“Leaving Messi out was difficult but he has played a lot this season and today we saw a long and tough contest so we thought a rest would do him good.”

Messi came on in the 55th minute so will be pretty fresh for Sunday’s crucial clash against Valencia.

It’s been a good week for Barca, beating Leganes at the weekend, getting the result they needed in Turin – now can they make it a great week at Mestalla on Sunday?

Ter Stegen’s amazing record after Barcelona’s draw with Juventus

Proof that the goalkeeper is almost unbeatable

Another game and another clean sheet for Marc-Andre ter Stegen as Barcelona held Juventus to a 0-0 draw in Turin.

It’s a great result for Barca that sends them into the knockout stages as group winners with a game to spare.

Ter Stegen was again called into action against Juventus but the Italian champions could not find a way past the German, to be fair not many have this season.

Another clean sheet against Valencia at the weekend would be superb but there’s no doubt Ter Stegen will have a tough game with Simone Zaza and Rodrigo Moreno both in top form.

Chiellini ruled out for Juventus against Barcelona in the Champions League

The hosts have been dealt a blow ahead of kick-off

Juventus have been dealt a blow ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash with Barcelona as Giorgio Chiellini has been ruled out due to injury.

The centre-back had been expected to feature but will sit this one out due to a thigh problem.

The news will be a boost to Barca who only need a draw to secure top spot in Group D.

Medhi Benatia is expected to come in for the Italy international although Massimiliano Allegri could use Daniele Rugani.

How will Barca get on tonight? Let us know your thoughts and predictions in the comments below!

Buffon sends awesome message to Rakitic ahead of Barcelona’s clash with Juventus

The goalkeeper showed again what a legend he is

Ivan Rakitic and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have indulged in some mutual admiration ahead of tomorrow night’s Champions League clash in Turin.

Speaking ahead of the game Rakitic said he would like to give his World Cup place to Buffon after Italy failed to make it to World Cup 2018.

“I would like to tell Buffon to go in my place because what he’s done for football is incredible, simply unique,” he said at a pre-match press conference.

“When a child writes out his ideal lineup, Buffon is always in there. I can’t explain what it’s like to see him at the end of a game in that shape and to stand next to him. It’s a shame he isn’t able to finish his career at another World Cup and I’d honestly love to give him that opportunity.

“It’s difficult to stay out of a tournament like that. When you saw him crying in the interview at the end of the match [against Sweden], you wanted to cry with him.”

The words clearly had an impact on Buffon as he responded almost immediately to Rakitic on Twitter.

What a legend.