Barca boss Koeman defends Messi after red card in Supercopa loss

By Sports Desk January 17, 2021

Ronald Koeman empathised with Lionel Messi's frustration after the superstar captain was sent off in Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana final loss against Athletic Bilbao.

Messi saw red for the first time in his illustrious club career as embattled LaLiga giants Barca were upstaged 3-2 by Athletic after extra time in Seville on Sunday.

After Athletic star Inaki Williams struck in the third minute of extra time, Messi swung at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by VAR and referee Jesus Gil Manzano brandished a red card.

Messi – who has been tipped to leave Camp Nou amid links with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain – is facing a lengthy suspension, but Barca head coach Koeman defended the 33-year-old.

"I can understand what Messi did," Koeman said afterwards.

"I don't know how many times they fouled him, and it's normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly."

Messi, who was fouled eight times against Athletic, recovered from a minor injury to return to Barcelona's line-up in his 753rd appearance for the Catalan club.

"Leo, after so many years in the elite of football, knows perfectly if he is in condition or not," Koeman said.

"We spoke before, he said he was in condition to play the game, he has given his maximum and nothing else."

Antoine Griezmann scored twice for Barca, including the 40th-minute opener, but his goals were cancelled out on both occasions at Estadio de La Cartuja.

Athletic's Oscar de Marcos equalised in the 42nd minute before substitute team-mate Villalibre forced extra time at the death, after Griezmann had restored Barca's lead with 13 minutes remaining.

Williams stepped up with a sublime goal as Barca – third in LaLiga and seven points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid – missed out on their first title under Koeman, who replaced Quique Setien ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

"We are sad, disappointed by the result," Koeman added. "We played the final to win and not to lose that, yes. But there is no time to get off. We'll be playing soon, there's a cup and a league, there's no time for regrets.

"We have done positive things, we have improved. We have failed in the goals received. We have to be more forceful in defence. We must defend better in the area and not let the opponents think, they cannot control, turn and shoot easily. We can improve.

"My work ... I give the maximum I can. My work is not very good if we had won, nor very bad for losing. We are on the way, there are positive things, although losing today is very hard."

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    Barca headed into the match at Camp Nou having endured consecutive disappointing results in their previous two games, losing 4-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and then conceding a late equaliser to Cadiz in a 1-1 draw.

    While Koeman has come to rely heavily on teenagers Pedri and Francisco Trincao this season, it was the more experienced players he demanded more from in his pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

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    Messi moved up a gear anyway, scoring with two of his three shots, creating a further chance and playing a role in the build-up to Jordi Alba's clinching goal.

    The Barca number 10 certainly could not be questioned after increasing his 2021 tally to 13 goals in all competitions, the most of any player in Europe's 'top five' leagues.

    "When I talk about veterans, I don't mean him," Koeman said. "Leo continues to score many goals.

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    Messi was not immediately joined in lifting Barca's level as Trincao attempted the hosts' only two shots in the first half, their lowest tally in the opening 45 minutes of a home game this season.

    Koeman had no issue then with Messi making his frustration clear during a tetchy first period.

    "Everyone has seen that we lacked intensity and rhythm of the ball, especially," the coach explained. "It is good that Messi, as captain, asks for intensity."

    Seven attempts followed after the interval, with all three of those on target hitting the net, while Koeman ended an eight-match run without a clean sheet.

    "It was good," Koeman said. "The lack of rhythm was not due to a lack of attitude.

    "Sometimes the opposition make things not go the way you want. We are human. The team has shown personality and desire."

    Still third but now within five points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, Koeman was hopeful the mood in the Blaugrana camp would improve with the much-needed victory.

    "Surely, having won today, tomorrow will be different," he said. "It is normal [to be upset] if you drop two points against Cadiz when it was time to cut back those at the top.

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    Ronald Koeman's men had missed a chance to take advantage of Atletico's slip-up against Levante at the weekend when they were held at home by struggling Cadiz.

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    Trincao jinked past two Elche defenders after latching on to a pass from Messi, only to see Badia produce a fine diving save with his left hand.

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    That parity lasted just three minutes into the second half, Messi's shot squirming into the net despite Badia getting a hand to it following a superb flicked return pass from Martin Braithwaite.

    Messi's second was similarly aesthetically pleasing, De Jong finding him at the end of the slaloming run before the Argentine delicately dinked the ball over Badia.

    And the game was put beyond any doubt in the 73rd minute when Braithwaite nodded Messi's excellent cross-field ball into the path of Alba to dispatch with an acrobatic effort.

    The scoreline could have been made more emphatic late on, but substitute Antoine Griezmann cracked the crossbar from Sergino Dest's low cross.

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    The 17-year-old has since broken into Hansi Flick's first-team plans and has already made 25 appearances in all competitions this season, mostly as a substitute. He scored in Bayern's 4-1 Champions League last-16 first-leg win over Lazio on Tuesday to become the youngest English player to score in the competition and the second-youngest of any nationality to get a goal in the knockout phase.

    Speaking to The Athletic about his deliberations over his international future, Musiala said: "I've thought about this question a lot. What is best for my future? Where do I have more chances to play?

    "In the end, I just listened to the feeling that over a long period of time kept telling me that it was the right decision to play for Germany, the land I was born in. Still, it wasn't an easy decision for me.

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    "They [Chelsea and England's Football Association] are family for me, and I am sure that I remain a member of the family, even though I'm no longer there. I wouldn't be where I am right now without the trust and support of Chelsea and the FA, throughout the hard times and fun times. It wasn't always easy, but they made me the player I am now."

    Low, who met with Musiala in recent weeks along with national team director Oliver Bierhoff, said of the news: "Obviously, we cannot give him any guarantees at the moment. That wouldn't be right.

    "I think we will call him up in March because we will have a bigger squad than usual due to having three games in quick succession. We will be able to get to know one another better during this time.

    "I'm pleased that Jamal has decided to play for Germany in the future. I see a lot of potential in him."

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