Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman has defended his decision to play Lionel Messi in Sunday’s Spanish Supercopa final defeat to Athletic Club, in which Messi picked up the first red card of his club career.
The Argentine had been a doubt for the game after missing the semi-final with a hamstring injury, but he was surprisingly named in the starting lineup and played the entire 120 minutes, putting in a performance which looked like that of a player who wasn’t fully fit.
Messi was well off the pace and allowed his frustrations to boil over in stoppage time, striking Asier Villalibre and being shown the first red card of his club career after VAR intervened, but Koeman insisted that it was the 33-year-old’s decision to play.
“After so many years, he knows when he is fit to play and when he is not,” Koeman said (via Marca). “He has decided to play, nothing more. He was fine.
“I understand what happened. I don’t know how many fouls he has made. The player tries to dribble and cannot. Can I excuse him? I have to see the play first.”
Koeman also declined to give his opinion on the performance of referee Gil Manzano, adding: “I’d better not speak. It would be repeating things and I don’t like it. I’m not going to give an opinion.”
Fortunately for Barcelona, Manzano did not describe Messi’s foul as ‘aggressive’ in his match report, instead stating the Argentine used ‘excessive force’, a charge which brings about a lighter punishment.
It’s expected that Messi will now miss just two matches – the Copa del Rey third round against Cornella and the league meeting with Elche – whereas he could have been sidelined for anywhere up to 12 games if it was deemed as aggressive.
That decision will likely frustrate Villalibre, who claimed after the game that it was clear Messi set out to physically hurt him.
“I put my body in his way to stop him from going forward, he has got angry, he has put his hand in my face and I think it was a clear show of aggression,” the Athletic forward said (via AS).
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp appeared less than impressed with the way Manchester United set up for the side’s 0-0 draw on Sunday.
Klopp’s men dominated possession and had far more shots on goal, but it was United who had the best chances and would have walked away with all three points if goalkeeper Alisson had not been on his toes.
Liverpool ended the game with 66% of the ball, and Klopp confessed to BBC Sport that he’s not exactly a fan of United’s preferred approach.
“We played football, tried to do it, force them back into their own box,” he said. “The worst thing you can face in the world, in football, is you play against a side with world-class players and they all defend with all they have, deep in the box and only counter-attack.
“It’s really difficult – that’s the biggest challenge.”
Liverpool failed to break down United’s stubborn defence, meaning they are now on a run of three consecutive games without a goal, but Klopp insisted he is not worried by the Reds’ struggles in front of goal.
“There is nothing fundamentally different, it’s just the result is different,” Klopp stated (via the club’s official website). “We try and we don’t score or we try and we score – that’s a big difference, to be honest.
“It’s not that we ignore the fact and just hope it will be good again. We did that but the only possibility you have to score goals is to create situations and to be ready to fail and to do it again. That’s a massive difference between when you are flying and you score with pretty much each chance you have because then you deal with the missed chances better. It is just information. That is the difference and nothing else.
“I saw my team playing tonight and I saw a really good football team with a clear idea, with super passes, great counter-press and great desire to score – but we didn’t score. We will create chances and we will score, but I know, now we face Burnley on Thursday and they are not famous for conceding an awful lot of goals. Then a few days later we play again against United and they obviously defend with all they have.
“It is not that we just decide from now on we want to score again and now we will do it, but I see the boys really in the situation and I will help as much as I can so that we change it as quickly as possible.”
Athletic Club earned a 3-2 win over Barcelona after extra time thanks to an Inaki Williams strike to lift the Supercopa de España trophy on Sunday night.
La Blaugrana saw most of the ball in the early stages of the match but found it very difficult to pierce through Bilbao’s rigid and organised lines. That said, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was forced into a great save from Ander Capa’s strike on 25 minutes.
However, it was Barcelona who found the first goal as the ball broke Antoine Griezmann’s way in the box, before the Frenchman clinically slotted home. Bilbao, however, went straight up the field from kick off and replied instantly when Williams’ cross found Oscar de Marcos, who finished calmly at the back post past an onrushing Ter Stegen to put the sides on level terms at the break.
Bilbao had a goal disallowed ten minutes into the second half when Iker Munain’s free kick found Raul Garcia in an offside position. The second half continued at a slow pace until the 77th minute when Barcelona found a second through Griezmann, who calmly netted after good work down the left between Ousmane Dembele and Jordi Alba.
La Blaugrana couldn’t see the game out, however, and conceded a disappointing 90th minute equaliser as a set piece found Asier Villalibre, who finished from three yards out to take the match to extra time.
It didn’t take long for the Basque side to take the lead for the first time as Williams produced a bit of magic to find the top corner with a spectacular strike for the game’s deciding strike.
Despite knocking on Athletic’s door throughout extra time, Barcelona couldn’t find a reply to Williams’ strike. Matters were made worse when Lionel Messi received a red card for an off-the-ball incident with Villalibre, ending La Blaugrana’s hopes and allowing Bilbao to see out a 3-2 victory.
Now, to the Barcelona ratings.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK) – 6/10 – Despite a couple of good saves, hecouldn’t provide the same heroics as the semi final, and really wasn’t helped out by his defenders. Sergino Dest (RB) – 5/10 – Was forced off at half time through injury. He wasn’t missed, however, having failed to make an offensive impact in the first 45 – no crosses or key passes.
Ronald Araujo (CB) – 7/10 – Another assured performance at the back. The Uruguayan made a crucial tackle as Williams looked through on goal at 1-1, as well as five clearances to bail his side out of danger. Clement Lenglet (CB) – 6/10 – Won the ball three times for his side, but did have to rely on Araujo’s pace on several occasions.
Jordi Alba (LB) – 3/10 – Provided a good assist for his side’s second, but was at fault for both Bilbao equalisers in normal time with truly terrible defending – one to forget, to say the least.
Sergio Busquets (DM) – 7/10 – Made 124 touches as he linked defence and the players in front of him, while also winning the ball back five times. Another solid showing before being taken off.
Frenkie de Jong (CM) – 7/10 – A poor performance in the first 45 but normality resumed afterwards as he drove forward, provided options in the final third and distributed the ball quickly and efficiently, eventually achieving a 96% pass accuracy.
Pedri (CM) – 5/10 – Was barely noticeable in the first half and really struggled in the second as Bilbao’s physicality afforded him no time or space on the ball.
Ousmane Dembele (RW) – 5/10 – The winger was crucial in the build up to the second Barcelona goal but for the most part found no end product in his game as he inexplicably favoured cutting into a sea of bodies every time he had the ball.
Lionel Messi (ST) – 5/10 – One to forget for Messi. Failed to make an impact after playing a vital role in the opener, being marshalled to perfection when he dropped deep. His torrid outing was brought to an end when he got sent off in the 119th minute.
Antoine Griezmann (LW) – 7/10 – Another good performance from the Frenchman as he scored his third and fourth goals in three matches for La Blaugrana. The forward had a difficult chance in the 110th minute but couldn’t volley home in the box to draw the sides level.
Oscar Mingueza (RB) – 6/10 – The 21-year old provided more attacking impetus down the right in place of Dest but still struggled defensively, making only one tackle. Miralem Pjanic (CM) – 5/10
Martin Braithwaite (RW) – 6/10
Riqui Puig (CM) – 7/10 – Showcased a wonderful range of passing and technical ability. La Blaugrana looked more threatening after he came on, completing dribbles and finishing with a 96% pass accuracy. Trincao (ST) – 5/10
Inter came out on top in the Derby d’Italia as goals from Arturo Vidal and Nicolo Barella gave them a comfortable 2-0 win over Juventus on Sunday night to go top of Serie A.
The hosts took the lead inside 12 minutes with Vidal haunting his former club by nodding home Barella’s well-placed cross. Inter pressed home their advantage for the rest of the half with Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku both missing chances to extend their lead.
After the break it was more of the same and Inter doubled their advantage when Alessandro Bastoni’s sumptuous long ball set Barella through on goal, who then smashed it into the roof of the net.
Inter are now top of Italy’s top flight, though city rivals Milan will regain first position if they avoid defeat to Cagliari on Monday night. Juve are down in fifth.
Here are your player ratings for both teams from San Siro…
Samir Handanovic (GK) – 6/10 – Flapped at one shot early on. Other than that, it was a quiet evening.
Milan Skriniar (CB) – 8/10 – A fine display that typified his side’s solidity. HIs covering was top class.
Stefan de Vrij (CB) – 8/10 – Nothing got past the big Dutchman. By full time he had registered six clearances, as well as a block and an interception.
Alessandro Bastoni (CB) – 8/10 – His assist for Barella’s goal needs to be watched multiple times to be truly appreciated. He also defended splendidly.
Achraf Hakimi (RWB) – 7/10 – A real nuisance going forward. Some of his crosses could have been better.
Nicolo Barella (CM) – 9/10 – Assisted Vidal’s goal with a superb, floated cross. Showed his class throughout, carrying the ball through Juve’s midfield with ease. Rewarded for his efforts with a fine goal.
Marcelo Brozovic (CM) – 8/10 – His positioning and pressing were big reasons for Inter’s midfield dominance.
Arturo Vidal (CM) – 8/10 – Broke the deadlock with a well placed header early on. His late runs into the box were dangerous, though his tackles were sometimes a bit rash.
Ashley Young (LWB) – 7/10 – Not the most eye catching display but dealt with Chiesa pretty well.
Romelu Lukaku (ST) – 7/10 – Spun Chiellini on several occasions and was only denied a goal by several pieces of great goalkeeping.
Lautaro Martinez (ST) – 6/10 – Spurned two fine chances in the first half and a few more after the break. Was always lively.
Matteo Darmian – 6/10 – Slotted in and defended well.
Roberto Gagliardini – 6/10 – Full of running.
Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – Made a significant impact during his brief cameo.
Wojciech Szczesny (GK) – 5/10 – Beaten twice. Perhaps could have done better with the second.
Danilo (RB) – 7/10 – Juventus’ best defender and also their biggest attacking threat at times. One second half cross deserved better from Ronaldo. Leonardo Bonucci (CB) – 4/10 – Sluggish performance. Being caught out by Bastoni’s long ball was particularly worrying.
Giorgio Chiellini (CB) – 4/10 – Looked every bit as old as his 36 years at times. Marked Lukaku too tightly at times, allowing himself to get spun easily.
Gianluca Frabotta (LB) – 5/10 – Hakimi gave him a tough game, pinning him back and limiting his attacking threat.
Federico Chiesa (RM) – 5/10 – Tried his best to make things happen but Young defended well.
Rodrigo Bentancur (CM) – 4/10 – Overwhelmed by Inter’s clever combinations, particularly in the first half.
Adrien Rabiot (CM) – 4/10 – The game passed him by in the first half and he did not use the ball particularly well.
Aaron Ramsey (LM) – 4/10 – Had the tricky task of keeping tabs on both Hakimi and Barella. He struggled with his defensive workload and, aside from some rare, bright moments, offered little in the final third.
Alvaro Morata (ST) – 4/10 – Minimal impact on proceedings. He was isolated, sure, but could have done more to make things happen.
Cristiano Ronaldo (ST) – 5/10 – A few half chances here and there, but nothing was dropping for him. When he doesn’t score, he feels like a bit of a waste.
Dejan Kulusevski – 5/10 – Struggled to make an impact.
Weston McKennie – 6/10 – Added some energy to the Juventus midfield after coming on. Should have started.
Federico Bernardeschi – 5/10 – Nothing would break for him.
Going into their game against table topping Manchester United, most Liverpool pre-match analysis focussed on their lack of defensive options.
The story went that pairing Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at centre-back would be a disaster, especially with a resurgent Paul Pogba and the irrepressible Bruno Fernandes to contend with. However, by the time the final whistle was blown at Anfield, it was not Liverpool’s makeshift defenders who were making headlines.
Against United, both Henderson and Fabinho were extremely solid. Although not placed under a great deal of pressure, when called into action they responded with all the calmness of professionals who have been playing alongside each other for years.
So, if their defence was not being place under the microscope at full time, who was? Well, almost unbelievably, it was the once invincible trio of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino being scrutinised.
Liverpool’s three headed, attacking dragon have been one of, if not the best forward line in Europe for the past three years. The goals, assists and general good vibes they have brought to Merseyside in recent seasons are legendary but right now, all is not well.
The 0-0 draw against United on Sunday means the Reds have not scored in any of their past three Premier League games with Mane’s strike in a 1-1 draw against West Brom the last time Liverpool toasted a league strike.
The scoreless run is made more worrying by the amount of possession the Reds have enjoyed during this frustrating period – they have averaged over 70% and returned just one goal – and in no game was their lack of cutting edge more frustrating than during their most recent outing against their old rivals.
The Reds’ first half dominance was quite startling. Xherdan Shaqiri, Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum combined neatly with both full-backs to cut through United’s midfield with ease. At times, the United pair – Bruno Fernandes did next to nothing to help out – were left chasing shadows, with Scott McTominay in particular struggling to assert himself.
Thiago did a fine job of running the show on what was his first ever Anfield appearance, looking a cut above even the incredible Fernandes and Pogba early on. Despite this, the Reds never seriously looked like scoring.
When the ball moved into the final third, their approach play seemed to be conducted at double speed and this frenetic build-up led to several basic, passing errors. Salah and Wijnaldum were the main offenders, surrendering possession ten times between them during the opening 45 minutes.
There were also countless if less measurable moments of poor decision making. Roberto Firmino committed the worst of these, failing to slide Andy Robertson in for what would have been a near certain shot on goal.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s decision making was also poor. The right-back looked badly shot of confidence, neglecting to take on Luke Shaw with any gusto, instead playing it safe with hopeful crosses from deep.
This mojo-less attacking display was not arrested after the break. In fact, it got even worse. Not even Salah nor Mane, Liverpool’s get out of jail free cards in the past, could muster up a moment of magic. In the end, United comfortably created the better chances, despite being pummelled early on.
At the end of the game, the stats made for grim reading. Only one of Firmino’s five shots had hit the target, while none of Salah’s three attempts forced a save out of David de Gea.
The result maintains United’s three point lead over Liverpool and Manchester City could go above them, if they manage to beat Crystal Palace. The Reds’ front three need to regain their form quickly to prevent this scoreless run becoming an albatross around their neck in the title race.