Defensive woes frustrate Messi

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi showing his frustration during the 1-1 LaLiga draw with Athletic Bilbao at the Nou Camp on Saturday.
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi showing his frustration during the 1-1 LaLiga draw with Athletic Bilbao at the Nou Camp on Saturday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Barca forward wants backline to tighten up, coach Valverde rues gamble to rest talisman

BARCELONA • Barcelona captain Lionel Messi has said that the Spanish LaLiga champions are "angry" about dropping seven points in their last three league games after he came off the bench to help his side scrape a 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

The Argentinian striker, who has scored five goals in their seven LaLiga matches so far plus a hat-trick against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League, was a surprise absentee from the starting line-up, along with Sergio Busquets.

But the duo were both called into action in the second half after Oscar de Marcos had put the visitors ahead at the Nou Camp.

Barcelona were desperately chasing an equaliser following their 2-1 defeat by Leganes last Wednesday and a 2-2 draw with Girona last weekend, with Messi eventually providing the cross for Munir El Haddadi's 84th-minute leveller.

"We are not anxious because the season is long and has only just started, but we are angry about the last (few) results," said Messi.

"We didn't expect them. Against Leganes, we played well in the first half and lost, and today we created chances to win but couldn't."

TIME TO BUCK UP

Last year, we hardly conceded goals but now, teams are scoring against us with their first attempt. We cannot afford to concede goals in every game.

LIONEL MESSI, Barcelona superstar, on his team's defensive frailties.

De Marcos' volley was the eighth goal Barcelona have conceded in seven games this season and Messi added that his side urgently needed to improve in defence.

"We are aware that we have to be much stronger defensively," he said. "Last year, we hardly conceded goals but now, teams are scoring against us with their first attempt. We cannot afford to concede goals in every game."

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde admitted that his gamble to rest Messi backfired.

"Leaving Messi on the bench is absolutely my responsibility," said the Spaniard, whose side will head to Wembley to face Tottenham in the Champions League on Wednesday.

"He has four games in 10 days and I think it's good for Leo to rest, like Busquets, thinking of the Champions League. It was a risk and, on this occasion, it didn't come off."

Rivals Real Madrid failed to capitalise on Barcelona's surprise draw as they were thwarted by two outstanding saves by Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak in a 0-0 derby draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real have now failed to beat Atletico at home in the league in their last six attempts, with their last victory coming in 2012.

"I'm not satisfied with the result because we always want to win and we deserved to win," said Real coach Julen Lopetegui.

"We were the far better team and had clear chances, but football games are decided by goals, not by whether you deserved to win."

Real are joint-top of the standings before yesterday's round of matches, locked on 14 points with Barcelona, who have a slightly superior goal difference of four goals.

Sevilla, meanwhile, climbed into third with 13 points after winning 3-1 at Eibar in a game that had to be stopped for several minutes after a barrier collapsed.

The incident left Sevilla supporters spilling on to the pitch and eight people were taken to hospital with injuries. In a message on Twitter, the club dedicated the win to those affected.

"The victory is dedicated to our supporters who suffered today in the accident in the stands. We hope they recover soon," a statement read.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2018, with the headline 'Defensive woes frustrate Messi'. Print Edition | Subscribe