Former Barcelona defender Dani Alves says Lionel Messi is still the world’s best despite a below-par performance as Barcelona were thrashed 4-0 at Liverpool to crash out of the Champions League.

Former Barcelona defender Dani Alves says Lionel Messi is still the world’s best despite a below-par performance as Barcelona were thrashed 4-0 at Liverpool to crash out of the Champions League.

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi showed flashes of his usual brilliance during the opening minutes at Anfield on Tuesday as Barca looked to snuff out any hope of a Liverpool fight-back following a 3-0 first leg defeat.

But the visitors wilted under an intense onslaught from Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, losing 4-0 and leaving critics to run the rule over a transfer policy that has recently seen the club eschew the nurturing of their own talent in favour of expensive foreign buys.

And former full-back Alves, who won three Champions Leagues at Camp Nou between 2008-16, believes the change in approach has negatively affected the club formerly praised for its academy graduates.

“When I see stories about how Barca are now buying players to market them, you can sense that they are changing their philosophy a bit,” he told ESPN. “Barca were about developing players.

“They didn’t change their style, they signed players for specific positions. Now the feeling is they make too many moves on the market. But I also think that criticism is opportunistic.

“It’s easy to lecture after elimination. You know Barca still like to take care of the ball and make good passes. It doesn’t matter who comes in or who leaves, that’s their identity.”

Alves was quick to defend the legacy of Barca’s most famous academy graduate – Messi came through the ranks at La Masia between 2001-04 – who continues to thrill despite his advancing years.

He scored his 600th goal for the club during the Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool, just days after his goal against Levante wrapped up an eighth La Liga title in 10 seasons.

“I still think the one untouchable person in football is Leo [Messi] because of what he brings to the game,” said Alves.

“Even if things don’t turn out well, Leo’s always fine. But this is a team sport and everyone has his responsibility. Cristiano [Ronaldo], Leo and Neymar get the cover when things go well for their teams, but they also have to be on the cover when things don’t go well.”

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