In Depth

Panama Papers: Barcelona stand by star player Lionel Messi

Club's bad week continues as the forward is named in leaked documents ahead of Champions League showdown

Barcelona's preparations for their Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid have not gone according to plan.

First, there was the shock of a 2-1 home defeat to their bitter rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico, Barcelona's first loss in 39 matches and their first reverse at home since losing 1-0 to Malaga in February 2015.

Then, on Monday, the club was forced to come to the defence of Lionel Messi after reports in the Spanish press that the Argentine forward and his family were involved in a tax evasion scheme.

It's not the first time Messi's finances have hit the headlines but the latest stories come with the release of the Panama Papers, which have revealed the financial arrangements of powerful figures from around the world.

According to reports in Spain, Messi and his father, Jorge, are "named as owners of a Panama company that had not previously been disclosed during a Spanish probe into their tax affairs", reports the Daily Mail.

The player is already facing a tax inquiry in Spain and, according to the Daily Mirror: "Documents... show both the signatures of Messi and his father in acquiring the dormant Mega Star Enterprises, via a Uruguayan buffer company, just one day after being indicted by Spanish fiscal authorities over a separate case worth an alleged €4m in unpaid taxes."

The Messi family issued a statement of their own in which they said threatened legal action over the claims and said reports the player had "created a money laundering network are false and damaging".

Barcelona are backing their star player: "The club trusts the arguments the Messi family have made public and that from the moment the documents linking Leo Messi with the Panama Papers were made public, Barcelona have shown their support and solidarity to the player and all his family."

Coming on the back of the loss to Real Madrid, the latest revelations, have taken some of the sheen off the Catalan club's season, but coach Luis Enrique did his best to sound upbeat ahead of the Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid.

"The game against Real Madrid was good for 65 minutes," he reflected. "Of course, we made mistakes, but that is normal when your opponents are a quality team. We are not machines and I'm satisfied with what I saw. We had almost forgotten how it felt to lose, but I hope it will be motivation for us to get back on a winning streak again."

Enrique will be hoping that his strike trio of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar rediscover their zest after a sudden slump in form. Between them, all they've managed in the last two matches is a Neymar penalty.

Some in Spain claim there are signs of burnout as the long season takes its toll. Messi, for example, who has played all but two of Barcelona's 23 games in 2016, has looked sluggish of late.

But team-mate Gerard Pique brushed off the idea the trio were on the wane.

"Sometimes it might seem like they're not there, but then they will score three goals," he said. "They are the three best forwards in the world."

And he had this warning for Atletico ahead of their trip to the Camp Nou: "We are going to go for it from the very first minute and try to score as many goals as possible."

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