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Messi still the best – Koeman

Lionel Messi remains the best footballer in the world and makes Barcelona a better team when he is in the side, says head coach Ronald Koeman.

The Argentina international was named among the substitutes for a La Liga game for the first time since September 2019 in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Real Betis at Camp Nou .

He had failed to score or assist from open play in six league matches this term before last weekend’s contest, but Koeman denied he was dropped and put his absence from the side down to a knock.

Messi ended his open-play drought by powering home as a half-time substitute against Betis, having earlier scored his fifth penalty of the campaign in all competitions.

Koeman has reaffirmed he has full faith in the forward, who failed in an attempt to move away from the club at the end of last season.

“Messi has shown me to be a person who wants to win things and continue to be the best, even though he has had his problems with the club,” Koeman told Sport .

“Barcelona have been, are and will be a better team with Messi than without. When I arrived, they told me that Messi was unhappy.

“We spoke at his house and he explained his reasons to me. I was honest. I told him that the only thing is the system, his position on the field, his importance in the team.

“But the problems that he had had with the club I couldn’t change. From the first day I have said the same thing. He is the best and is committed to the club.

read also:‘Messi’s attitude deplorable; he runs a terror regime at Barcelona!’

“He has had his issues, his problems this summer, but since he returned to the training he has been very good.

“He has had bad luck in some games and he has not been able to offer the usual performance, but I am sure that at the end of the season he will have scored the usual goals.”

Koeman replaced Quique Setien ahead of the 2020-21 campaign and oversaw Barca’s joint-worst start to a La Liga campaign after six games in the three-points-per-win era.

But the ex-Netherlands boss has put part of his side’s early struggles down to poor refereeing and is confident positive changes are being made on the field.

“We have been able to change the image of the team. We have made changes that have given another air to the group,” he said.

“People are very involved, very committed. We have increased the intensity of the training sessions and we have played good games.

“It is true that we have lost many points in the league, in games that we could have achieved a better result. Refereeing decisions have influenced the final result in some.

“We know we have to improve things and we are working towards that. Now we have a break, but we are already preparing a very demanding schedule for when we return.”

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