Friday’s soccer news starts with reports of discontent at FC Barcelona. After parting ways with the coach that got them everything but the Champions League, Barcelona regrouped around Quique Setien. Whatever good feelings existed, the La Liga table tells the story. Barcelona is now 2nd to Real Madrid, trailing their old rivals by two points after 22 games. Compounding Barca’s issues, they exited the Copa del Rey at the quarterfinal stage on Wednesday with a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao. Barcelona gave up a goal three minutes into stoppage time in the 1-0 loss, with Real Madrid also not advancing scant consolation.
Then there’s the squad itself. Sporting director Eric Abidal told Diario Sport that there were issues under their previous coach, specifically that “many players weren’t satisfied or working hard and there was also an internal communication problem.” Abidal went on to draw a line between that and the decision to remove Ernesto Valverde in favor of Setien.
Lionel Messi’s response to Abidal’s comments was to ask which players Barcelona’s sporting director was talking about. “You have to give names because if not, it gives air to things which are not true,” Messi wrote in a widely circulated Instagram post. Messi went onto broaden any criticisms of Barcelona’s on field issues to include the whole of the club. Consideirng how these stories go, it’s not at all surprising that media outlets are now asking about Messi’s future with the club.
Though it’s bizarre to think that a one-club global superstar like Messi might leave Barcelona, it’s not the first time his exit has made the media rounds. Once again, Manchester City is the likeliest suitor. The Athletic’s Sam Lee reports on that link. How reasonable an approach for Messi really is along with his ability to leave are both questions that will wait for the summer. Right now, it’s steadying the club in La Liga and putting the focus squarely on the Champions League.
Barcelona plays Napoli in the round of 16 in what looks like an assignment considering what the knockout round draw produced for some of the other seeded teams. 10th-place in Serie A, Napoli beat Juventus 2-1 at home at the end of January. It’s worth the reminder that these two clubs met in the United States in early August. Though the La Liga – Serie A Cup wasn’t an official tournament with all the caveats of preseason friendlies, Barcelona won 2-1 in Miami and 4-0 in Ann Arbor. Since then, Napoli shutout Liverpool 2-0 to open their Champions League group schedule and drew 1-1 at Anfield. They were also the only team to give up a point to last-place Genk. It’s a team capable of big wins and confusing slips, creating the kind of scenario that could trip up a club like Barcelona.
When asked earlier this week if the situation with the club had him regretting taking the job, Setien responded with, “Regret signing for Barça? No way. It’s true last month I was sitting at home and had no problems but when you arrive at a club like this you expect things to happen and for them to be amplified.”
Maybe that’s the only pragmatic way to look at this situation. Like any of the elite, winning tends to solve all problems. The insistence that every game on the schedule is winnable and any slip is an overarching disappointment is the self-imposed reality of clubs at this level. Barcelona isn’t going to change.
The Daily Mail’s Ollie Lewis with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola setting expectations at the club. The Liverpool Echo’s Matt Addison looks at Manchester City’s situation in the shadow of Liverpool this season. BBC Sport’s Simon Stone reports on the mounting problems at West Ham. The Guardian’s Louise Taylor explains why what might be best for the Championship may not involve the Football League.
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