Ronald Koeman claims Barcelona are "better" structurally without Lionel Messi

By Freddie Keighley

Ronald Koeman has raised eyebrows by declaring Barcelona have a better pressing and structure now Lionel Messi has departed the club.

Messi, 34, left Barca last month after he was unable to sign a new contract at Camp Nou before sealing a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

The Argentine forward is the top goalscorer (672) and top assister (265) in the club's history, while he also served as club captain for his final three seasons with the Blaugrana.

Many consider Messi the greatest player of all time and Barcelona cannot hope to replace him - but Koeman insists his side do not need to.

Lionel Messi made his debut for PSG in a 2-0 victory at Reims before the international break (AFP via Getty Images)

"It was a huge blow to lose him," Koeman told reporters in Catalonia. "We had planned for the season with him. We lose so much and it took a few days to get things in order, but we must turn the page and build the team.

"Losing Messi doesn't oblige us to play different tactically but there are things without the ball where the team can improve.

"We won't have the individual quality of Leo, but in pressing and structuring the team, the team is better now."

In Messi's absence, the spotlight is on Memphis Depay to step up having arrived on a free transfer from Lyon this summer.

Barcelona's new No. 9 has scored two goals and registered one assist so far, helping the club record two wins and one draw in their opening three La Liga games.

"Memphis can mark an era at Barca," said Koeman. "He has something that is essential to be a success here: personality and character.

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"There's something different about him and he's really motivated by the challenge of being here."

The Dutch manager added: "There are always things to improve but I'll tell you one thing: if we have everyone available, we can do big things.

"We have a great team. We still have to be realistic, it will be difficult, but I am optimistic and ambitious."

Koeman also opened up on the decision to allow Antoine Griezmann to return to Atletico Madrid on a season-long loan late in the transfer window.

Griezmann is one of the highest-earners on Barcelona's payroll and his move back to Atletico helped alleviate the financial crisis at Camp Nou.

"The aggravation we had on the last day, with practically no time to find a solution, it was a b****," Koeman said of Griezmann's loan.

"Griezmann had a great contract and if he left it was going to help improve the financial situation of the club. That's why I agreed to his departure."


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