City defender Zabaleta, who moved to the Etihad Stadium in 2008 from Espanyol, claims Barcelona star Messi has often asked him about the club since his switch to Manchester.

Zabaleta is not the first City player to discuss the Argentine star, with striker Alvaro Negredo recently claiming he could see Messi moving to Manchester in the future if he grows tired of life in Catalunya.

Messi, crowned the best player in the world for the last four years, has been linked with a move away from Barcelona - Bayern Munich and City are among his reported suitors - and Zabaleta revealed life with the Premier League giants is something the pair regularly discuss.

"I remember when we were in Barcelona we were very close friends because we were living in the same city and had known each other for a number of years," Zabaleta said. 

"I was just starting out at Espanyol and Lionel was at Barca. When I signed for City I think two days later the news broke that Sheikh Mansour had bought the club and Lionel always recalls that I joined at such a fantastic time.

"He asked me a lot about City but I couldn't tell him much because I didn't know much myself – but it's something we often talk about. Plus the fact that I'm still here."

City face Viktoria Plzen in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, with the Premier League side having already secured their qualification for the knockout stages for the first time. 

However, Zabaleta was keen to play down his side's chances of winning the competition.

"We are up against the best teams in Europe and it is a difficult competition to win being realistic," he added.

"But we will try our best and you never know in football."