Barcelona will need time when Messi leaves, like Madrid did post-Ronaldo – Guardiola

By Sports Desk February 05, 2020

Pep Guardiola warned Barcelona they would need time to readjust when Lionel Messi leaves the club, after Real Madrid's struggles following Cristiano Ronaldo's exit.

Ronaldo left Madrid for Juventus in July 2018 and the Spanish giants battled that season, winning only the Club World Cup and seeing three different coaches at the helm, including the return of Zinedine Zidane.

Manchester City manager Guardiola expects his former club Barca to endure a similar problem when Messi, another all-time great, departs Camp Nou.

"It is inevitable, these players are so transcendent," he told Post United in an interview conducted by Spanish YouTuber DjMariio, via Marca.

"When Messi leaves Barca it will take time to readjust. It is inevitable.

"They score 40-50 goals per season."

Guardiola has continued to enjoy coaching success since leaving Barcelona, a spell at Bayern Munich preceding his move to Manchester.

Already a two-time Premier League winner, Guardiola has another young star in his squad in highly rated midfielder Phil Foden.

Foden has only made two Premier League starts this season, but Guardiola talked up the 19-year-old's talent.

"He will be a bomb," he said.

"There are no clauses here, you have it raw, you have to negotiate with me."

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    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is glad to see Bruno Fernandes demanding more from his Manchester United team-mates and hopes other players in the squad will learn from the star midfielder.

    Fernandes has made a huge impact at Old Trafford since arriving from Portuguese giants Sporting CP in January, playing a direct part in 34 goals in 35 games for United.

    No player has scored the winning goal in more different Premier League games than Fernandes this season, the 26-year-old netting the winner in all four of United's victories.

    Fernandes is not afraid to bark out instructions on the pitch, either, and has even been trusted with the captain's armband at times in the absence of regular skipper Harry Maguire.

    And Solskjaer is more than happy for former Sporting captain Fernandes to keep berating those around him if they fail to match the high standards he has set in his 10 months at United.

    "In the heat of the moment people are allowed to air their frustration and be angry for a second or two, but then it's over and done with, because it's just for the benefit of the team," Solskjaer said. 

    "If it lingers on that's a different scenario. I've been in a team and I like a team that has that inner justice where it's not just the managers and the coaches that shout. 

    "I want players to take responsibility and put other players into their places at times when it’s necessary. They're out there fighting for one cause and that's for the team to win.

    "The players have reacted really well [to Fernandes], we see different kinds of leadership, some lead by example, some lead by both, once in a while you just have to take a rollicking when you deserve one.

    "He's not just giving out rollockings; he's also instructing players. We can all learn from his mentality and mindset, that winning mentality. If it's 2-0 he wants 3-0, if it's 4-0 he wants 5-0, he always wants the team to improve."

    Fernandes scored a brace against Istanbul Basaksehir in midweek to keep United well on course for a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

    Solskjaer's United have struggled for any sort of consistency in the Premier League, however, and find themselves down in 13th position – eight points off the pace – ahead of Sunday's trip to Southampton.

    But they travel to Southampton seeking an eighth away league win in succession for the first time ever in the top flight and Solskjaer can see signs of progress.

    "The main thing for me is to keep improving, and climbing the table would be a sign of that," he said. "I do feel that we are getting to the right mindset after a difficult start to the season. 

    "Generally speaking, teams that are capable of winning the league are the ones that can put good runs together.

    "I don't know if that will hold true this season because it might be a little more unpredictable than most, but we are starting to show a bit more consistency. I like the way we approach games."

  • Zidane offers no excuses after Real Madrid shocker - 'We played a bad game, blame me' Zidane offers no excuses after Real Madrid shocker - 'We played a bad game, blame me'

    Zinedine Zidane admitted Real Madrid produced an unacceptable performance as the reigning LaLiga champions slumped to another dismal defeat.

    Cadiz, Shakhtar Donetsk and Valencia had already beaten Madrid this season, which is in its infancy, and Deportivo Alaves added their name to the list of surprise conquerors across all competitions thanks to a richly deserved 2-1 win on Saturday.

    There were grumbles from the Madrid camp about decisions the VAR may have given them, with penalty claims from Eden Hazard and Marcelo failing to result in spot-kicks.

    But Madrid head coach Zidane was clear in his mind that his team got what they deserved from the clash at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium, where the Spanish giants lost for the third time in LaLiga this term.

    The losses to Cadiz and Shakhtar also came at Madrid's temporary home, which they are using while the Santiago Bernabeu is being renovated.

    They were pushovers for much of Saturday's game, with Lucas Perez and Joselu giving Alaves a 2-0 lead before a familiar late Madrid rally saw Casemiro net from close range and Isco hit the top of the bar.

    Conceding the early penalty that Perez tucked away made Madrid's task especially challenging, but they repeatedly looked vulnerable to Alaves' energetic, fast-paced counter-attacks.

    "When you start the game like that, everything is complicated. We haven't been focused," Zidane said, speaking on Movistar LaLiga.

    "We are not going to look for excuses. We played a bad game. I am the coach and I am to blame.

    "We have to turn the page. On Tuesday we have another game [against Shakhtar]. We will continue working. We are going to try to change the dynamics."

    Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois gave away the ball sloppily to gift Joselu the second for Alaves early in the second half, while Los Blancos suffered a blow when star winger Hazard had to come off just before the half-hour mark.

    The former Chelsea player has been tormented by injuries in his Madrid career, but it appears that Hazard does not see his latest blow as anything serious.

    "I hope and I think that Hazard's [injury] is a knock like he said and that it's not muscular," Zidane said.

    Madrid sit fourth in the table, six points behind Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad, with their one consolation being that rivals Barcelona have started the season even more wretchedly.

    Three defeats in their last five home games across all competitions is bleak form for Madrid, given they had only lost three of their previous 31 such games.

    Casemiro said Alaves finished their chances better and praised the quality of Perez and Joselu, who were outstanding as a front pairing and went close several times to stretching the visitors' lead.

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  • Chelsea v Tottenham: How Kante has gone back infield and back to his best under Lampard Chelsea v Tottenham: How Kante has gone back infield and back to his best under Lampard

    "Ridiculous" was a word used by Frank Lampard to sum up N'Golo Kante last week - and with good reason. 

    The Chelsea midfielder is back fit, back in the side and more or less back to his best, having missed 16 Premier League matches last season. 

    Kante's "quietly influential" form has helped Lampard's side to a strong start to the season that has left some to bill Sunday's derby clash with Tottenham as something of a title showdown – or at least a game that could well highlight which of the two has the best chance of dethroning Liverpool. 

    A win for either side will move them top of the table after 10 games, but Kante's recent performances might just indicate Chelsea have the edge.

    BACK WHERE HE BELONGS?

    In 2018-19, Maurizio Sarri preferred Jorginho at the base of midfield, with Kante generally shifted to the right of a three. 

    The system was hardly a failure: Chelsea returned to the Champions League, won the Europa League and only lost the EFL Cup final on penalties to Manchester City. Few, though, ever thought it brought the best out of Kante. 

    Since taking charge last year, Lampard has shifted Kante back towards the middle and, as can be seen from his average touch maps, 2020-21 sees a full return for the France international as the midfield anchor.

    N'Golo Kante's touch maps by season, from 2018-19 (L) to 2020-21. The shift from the right-hand side towards the base of midfield is clear.

    He is averaging 82 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League, the highest figure he has ever posted for Chelsea, five more than in his title-winning debut season in 2016-17. He is also averaging 67 passes per game, more than he ever has before for the club.

    In other words, Kante is very much at the heart of Lampard's Chelsea.

    He is also back to his exceptional defensive levels in 2020-21, averaging three interceptions per game – again the most in his Chelsea career – as well as three tackles, his highest figure under Lampard.

    The caveat is his passes in the final third have dropped by an average of six per game compared to last season and by nine compared to 2018-19, but the creative talent at Lampard's disposal means the burden of attacking is no longer on Kante's shoulders.

    HOJBJERG BATTLE AWAITS

    If Chelsea's form is based in part on the performances of Kante, Tottenham's strong start to the season is very much built on the work of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

    Signed from Southampton for a reported £15million fee, the 25-year-old has established himself as Jose Mourinho's most important player behind the relentlessly brilliant Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

    Through nine rounds of the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, Hojbjerg had managed more touches (809), attempted more passes (695) and completed more passes (619) than any other midfielder in the competition. He has also got stuck into 29 tackles, the third-highest number for midfielders this term and four more than Kante.

    Hojbjerg might not be a player of the Kante mold, but the two have had remarkably similar influences on their teams. Each has one assist in nine league starts, their passing accuracy practically matches (88.5 per cent for Kante, 89.1 for Hojbjerg), and they have made exactly the same number of recoveries (64).

    Effective as they are without the ball, so much of Chelsea and Spurs' good work with it also relies on these two.

    Kante has started 139 open-play sequences this season, eclipsing Hojbjerg (111), but that is about as big a difference as you will find.

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    Indeed, in terms of involvements in open-play build-up, Kante has managed 423, only slightly up on Hojbjerg's 415. Of those tallies, each player has seen 31 of those involvements end in a shot; when it comes to resulting in a goal, Hojbjerg edges Kante eight to three.

    On Sunday, the winner of the battle for midfield control between these two could well swing the match in his side's favour.

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