Barca still optimistic in LaLiga title pursuit despite Clasico defeat, says Koeman

By Sports Desk April 10, 2021

Ronald Koeman insisted Barcelona remain upbeat and optimistic in their pursuit of the LaLiga title, despite suffering Clasico pain at the hands of Real Madrid.

Barca left the Spanish capital emptyhanded after Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos guided defending champions Madrid to a 2-1 win on Saturday.

Oscar Mingueza set up a dramatic final half-hour with his second goal of the season for Barca, while Madrid midfielder Casemiro was sent off in the 90th minute.

But Madrid held on at a sodden Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium to seal a third consecutive win against Barca in all competitions for the first time since 1978 as they provisionally moved top of the table, with Atletico Madrid in action on Sunday.

Barca are third and a point off the pace, though they could fall four points adrift if Atletico beat Real Betis.

"Of course we're still upbeat and optimistic because we've produced a serious performance," Barca head coach Koeman told reporters. "We are fighting.

"We lost a match against a team who are fighting to win the league but there are nine matches and all the matches are important for the three best teams.

"It's difficult for all three of us. We will come back, we will fight until the last match."

Barca attempted 12 shots in total in the second half, three of those on target, and nearly snatched a point when Ilaix Moriba struck the crossbar in the 94th minute.

But, Koeman became the first Barcelona coach to lose his first two LaLiga games against Madrid since Joaquim Rife in 1980 (also the first two).

Koeman could not hide his frustration post-match, having felt his side should have had a penalty when substitute Martin Braithwaite went down in the box under pressure from Ferland Mendy.

The former Netherlands boss said: "I'm not the only person who's upset about the decision, or lack of decision.

"The players feel disappointed because of this decision by the referee to not give the penalty and there's players who have been playing for years for Barcelona, so I know. But once again not all decisions were right.

"You should ask the players but I would like to include myself. We know that we've played a good match football wise, the first part, the first half, ok, we were not up to our standards. Real Madrid defended very well in the first half.

"There's no [league] match next week and the title [Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao] is at stake. We have a week to prepare for a difficult match so we'll carry on and we are strong."

Lionel Messi, meanwhile, failed to score in seven consecutive Clasicos in all competitions for the first time in his career.

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    Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane says his side will go until the final minute in the LaLiga title race after closing within two points of leaders Atletico Madrid on Thursday.

    Madrid won 4-1 away to Granada to keep the pressure on the leaders with games to go, while moving ahead of third-placed Barcelona who are a further two points back after their 3-3 draw at Levante earlier in the week.

    Atletico remain in the box seat to clinch their first LaLiga title since 2013-14, but Zidane's side remain in the hunt should there be any slip-ups.

    "We'll keep going; there are two games left and we'll go to the end, until the final minute, we'll give it our all," Zidane said post-game.

    Atletico's final two league games are at home to 11th-placed Osasuna and away to 18th-placed Valladolid, while Real go to ninth-placed Athletic Bilbao and host seventh-placed Villarreal on the final day.

    Madrid are unbeaten in their last 16 games in LaLiga (W11 D5), the best current unbeaten run in the competition. In addition, Los Blancos have equalled their best unbeaten run in a single league campaign under Zidane, achieved in 2016-17 (P16 W12 D4).

    Zidane was delighted with the win at Granada which loomed as a tricky assignment in the run home.

    "It's not just about the goals," the Frenchman said. "We played very well, defensively too.

    "We started the game very well, it was a complete performance. I say that because at 2-1 we didn't let our intensity drop, we scored again quickly and that shows our character.

    "Thibaut [Courtois] made two or three saves, as he has been doing lately, but it's all good. In general terms it was a good win against a decent side at a tough place to come, because Granada are a side who have had a fantastic year."

    Marvin was substituted at half-time after a hamstring issue, while Marcelo did not play due to a minor injury concern as Zidane fielded his youngest starting XI all season.

    "Marvin picked up a knock. I hope it's nothing serious but yes, he felt something in his hamstring," Zidane said.

    "Marcelo didn't play because of an injury and we didn't want to take any risks, as always. The injury is the reason why he didn't come with us."

  • Solskjaer worried about defence as Liverpool expose Man Utd set-piece frailties Solskjaer worried about defence as Liverpool expose Man Utd set-piece frailties

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he is concerned about Manchester United's defending, especially from set-pieces, after they were beaten at home by Liverpool.

    The Red Devils took the lead through a deflected Bruno Fernandes strike but went on to lose 4-2 at Old Trafford on Thursday as Jurgen Klopp's side boosted their Champions League hopes.

    Liverpool's equaliser came following a corner, Diogo Jota turning in a Nat Phillips effort, and they took the lead in first-half injury time when Roberto Firmino headed in Trent Alexander-Arnold's free-kick.

    Firmino got his second just after half-time from a rebound from a Dean Henderson save and, although United got a goal back through Marcus Rashford, Mohamed Salah struck a fourth with a late breakaway goal.

    United's defence rarely looked comfortable without captain Harry Maguire as they suffered a third defeat in eight days in all competitions, while they have now conceded 27 home goals in the league this season, the most in a single season since 1969-70.

    More worrying is their persistent fallibility from dead-ball situations. United have conceded 33 per cent of their league goals against in 2020-21 from set-pieces (14 out of 42, not including penalties), which is the highest ratio in the division.

    They also conceded from a last-minute corner against Milan in the Europa League last-16 first leg, while Manchester City's goals in their 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final win at Old Trafford came from a free-kick and a poorly cleared corner.

    Manager Solskjaer would not criticise his players for the way they lost possession in the build-up to Liverpool's third, but those set-piece concerns are ones he wants to address.

    "The goals we conceded, set-plays, [it is] disappointing," said Solskjaer. "That is something we have to work on because we have conceded too many goals from it.

    "The third one, we want to play out, we have been good at playing out, we put pressure on them to play out and sometimes we've scored goals from it.

    "Today, unfortunately, the two or three mistakes that happened cost us a goal. But they tried to correct it by winning it back and then we lost it after winning it back.

    "Football would be really boring if no-one made a mistake. That is the whole idea of football. Of course, you try to eradicate them and work on them, but we have conceded too many goals and we could have avoided some of these and especially the timings of them.

    "We're going to use the next couple of days well, to recover physically and mentally, and then we have to prepare for Fulham and then Wolves and then the final. We should have more energy.

    "We should use this period well. More energy means a better press; a better press means less chances against.

    "We will work on it and brush up on a few details, pay attention to some details on the set plays and put the players in the frame of mind that these set-plays are vital in football. But we can do so much better and when we do that, we will improve."

    With Maguire set to miss their final league games against Fulham and Wolves, and with the captain a major doubt for the Europa League final on May 26, Solskjaer is looking for others to take on leadership roles.

    He said: "Harry has been amazing since he came to the club, he's been more or less ever-present, so of course, when a player is a leader, a captain, the status of him, his presence is missed.

    "But then we've got players who can come in and it's a chance for everyone to take on that little bit of leadership. We need to do that when he's gone.

    "You can hear him in the stands when he's not playing. He is important for us and someone else has to just take that responsibility now.

    "I'm sure that, in the next two games, we will be without him. Hopefully, we can get him in for the final but who knows? I don't know yet."

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