Koeman hits back at claims Messi is not working hard enough for Barcelona

By Sports Desk November 06, 2020

Ronald Koeman has hit back at suggestions Lionel Messi is not working hard enough for Barcelona following criticism of his efforts against Dynamo Kiev.

Messi scored a penalty to help the Catalan giants to a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Wednesday, a result that left them three points clear at the top of Champions League Group G.

A clip of the Argentina star failing to press the Dynamo defenders in second-half injury time went viral after the match, though, as viewers called the forward's work rate into question.

Messi had more shots (six) and created more chances (four) than any other player in the match, but he also lost possession more frequently than anyone else (20 times) without once winning it back.

His form has been scrutinised ever since he failed to engineer a transfer away from Barca in August and September. Despite attempting more shots (28) than any other player in LaLiga, he has yet to score from open play in the competition in 2020-21 or provide an assist in his six appearances.

Koeman, however, says out-of-context footage is no way to judge a player's effectiveness and insists Messi remains an essential player.

"I didn't seem him [walking] and I'm not interested in this because I don't see him walking," the Barca head coach said on Friday. "If you want to start a controversy around this point, it's your problem.

"Messi is mentally good, enjoying this sport. He's a winner and sometimes you go through moments when the ball doesn't go in, but he looks really focused on that subject.

"I think Messi still has so many qualities. He's very important in our game.

"He scored the penalty and we're used to him making the difference here, and he's still a very decisive player.

"You said [the footage was from] the 93rd minute... there are pictures of anyone, of me when I'm sitting down, or annoyed. It seems we should be more aware of our image than our work. I don't agree with that. 

"I think these players, like those of my era, have the same effort as us. They work in training, they want to win and it annoys them when they don't win. If it were not like this, it'd be because my work isn't working."

Barca face Real Betis at Camp Nou on Saturday, looking to record just their third league win of the season.

Veteran winger Joaquin caused a stir this week when he claimed he would not even hire Koeman "as kit man" after a difficult spell working under him at Valencia.

Asked about those comments, Koeman said: "I understand it's a really interesting topic for you.

"If he speaks, it's his problem. I'm focused on the game and not individual things that happened many years ago."

Related items

  • Rumour Has It: Man Utd prepared to challenge Chelsea for Rice Rumour Has It: Man Utd prepared to challenge Chelsea for Rice

    Manchester United and Chelsea are set to do battle for the signing of West Ham star Declan Rice.

    Rice, 22, is being touted for a move in the close season, with Chelsea having reportedly led the race for the midfielder's signature.

    But United could be ready to fight for the England international.

     

    TOP STORY – MAN UTD TO CHALLENGE CHELSEA FOR RICE

    Manchester United are prepared to challenge Chelsea to sign Rice ahead of 2021-22, according to ESPN.

    The report says United are eyeing a forward, centre-back and defensive midfielder as priorities at the end of the season.

    Rice is contracted at West Ham, where he arrived as a youth player from Chelsea in 2014, until 2024.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Eric Garcia looks set to finish the season with Manchester City. Marca reports Barcelona cannot afford a transfer fee for the defender and the delay of the LaLiga club's presidential elections, now scheduled for March 7, mean Garcia will have to wait for a move.

    - Also at Barcelona and backup goalkeeper Neto has asked for a January move, according to Sport. It comes as he struggles for game time behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen and amid links to Arsenal.

    - Eder Militao is facing an uncertain future at Real Madrid. Goal reports Bayern Munich have joined the list of clubs who have asked about the defender, with Juventus, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund also reportedly interested in Militao, who has played just three times this season.

    - Milan want Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori. The Daily Mail reports the Serie A leaders have discussed a loan with the option to make the move permanent for €30.4million (£27m) at season's end.

  • Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool

    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

    They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

    Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

  • Nash eyeing championship but warns Nets must improve Nash eyeing championship but warns Nets must improve

    Steve Nash is eyeing a championship with the Brooklyn Nets after the arrival of James Harden, but the head coach warned his team they needed to improve.

    Harden, an eight-time All-Star, was traded to the Nets from the Houston Rockets on Thursday, joining Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.

    The Nets (7-6) are set to contend for a first NBA championship and Nash said there was a huge opportunity ahead.

    "We want to win a championship, for sure. That's why we made the deal, that's what we're setting out to do," he told a news conference.

    "Having said that, we're so far from that right now so our expectations are to grow every day, to get better, to figure out who we are and what we are and how we fit together and where we can improve. It's a process.

    "You have to earn the right to play for a championship through the regular season and playoffs so those steps are still in front of us before we can say we're a championship team.

    "We're not a team that's running it back that's been to the Finals or Conference Finals even, we're a brand new entity that has to figure it out but that is the end goal and if we take the necessary steps and continue to improve and work towards that and commit to that process, why not? We have a great opportunity here with the players we have."

    With Durant and Harden, the Nets now have two players who have won seven of the past 11 NBA scoring titles. No Brooklyn qualifier has ever finished higher than fifth.

    Irving, Harden and Durant all rank in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring average (minimum 500 games) since the former's rookie season in 2011-12.

    Harden could make his Nets debut against the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.