Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has admitted that the club were going through a difficult time when Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer. 

The move came after the Catalan side had lost their league title to rivals ​Real Madrid and failed to make the Champions League final, with a number of fans restless about the club's place in the order of top-level European football. 

Speaking in an interview on the club's ​official website, Valverde admitted: "Neymar's departure was a difficult moment for the club. We can't deny that."

Things have gone significantly better for the former Athletic Club manager and his charges since then however, topping ​La Liga by nine points at the winter break and cruising into the second round of the Champions League at the top of a group which also featured Juventus. 

The club have also brought in the player who they see as Neymar's replacement in Ousmane Dembele, and Valverde added: "Any ​Barca player is a different player. Dembele's profile was different to anything we had. He is able to play in various positions and is very fast. We have a big squad, we've made good replacements up to now, and now he's coming back. It's great news."

The club's main man remains Lionel Messi though, and the manager insisted: "Messi is the best player in the entire world. He does something extraordinary with every ball he touches. We have the incredible good fortune to have him at our club. 


"I can see how he faces competition and his enormous commitment to the club and the team. In terms of his position, playing in the middle is good both for him and for us. However, he can play well anywhere."