Lionel Messi has been left out of the Barcelona squad to face Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday after one of his worst performances for the club in Saturday’s defeat by Atletico Madrid.
‘We have decided not to take Messi and [Frenkie] De Jong,’ said Koeman. ‘Our Champions League position is comfortable and they need a rest.’ Most supporters will agree on both counts.
Messi lost the ball an astonishing 23 times in the 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano. He also managed just 36 passes.
Lionel Messi lost the ball an astonishing 23 times in the 1-0 defeat against Atletico Madrid
He gave one of his worst performances for the club in Saturday’s defeat to Atletico Madrid
Supporters will hope the performance could just be put down to fatigue and his 15-hour flight back from South America on Thursday, and hope that his display was not a symptom of the captain already drifting away from the club, disillusioned, with no desire to sign a new contract, and ready to leave at the end of the season.
Barcelona are missing Messi’s goals – he has just one in open play so far this season. But they are also missing his leadership, or somebody’s leadership. Barcelona sent 17-year-old Pedri out to explain the defeat to Atletico at the weekend.
None of the players had wanted to stop as they made their way off the pitch. The club’s communications department appeared to ask experienced centre back Clement Lenglet and he appeared to turn them down.
The cub lack leadership with Pedri, 17, sent out to explain the defeat to Atletico at the weekend
Clement Lenglet was asked to carry out media duties but he appeared to turn them down
This is a side without personality at the moment. Koeman, who was never short of character knows that as well as anyone. He will have sensed it earlier in the season by the way the team went behind against Getafe and never looked like getting back into the game. Likewise against Madrid once they were down it seemed there was no way back.
Gerard Pique is perhaps the last remnant of that extraordinary winning drive the team possessed for so long but he will now be out for at least three months and quite possibly five.
There is no shortage of people to blame. The former president Josep Bartomeu always blamed the players. ‘This is a sporting crisis not an institutional one’ he said after that heavy defeat to Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League.
They used to blame him. Now that he is not there the finger of blame has turned on Barcelona’s interim president Carlos Tusquets, who travelled with the team to Madrid at the weekend.
Gerard Pique is the last remnant of winning drive but he will be out for at least three months
The former president Josep Bartomeu always blamed the players and they used to blame him
If his trip to the capital was designed to bring him closer to the players it did not work. They ignored him. They cannot understand why elections are not happening until the end of January and why they are being asked to negotiate pay cuts with him instead of with an incoming new president.
If there is no leadership in the boardroom because there is no permanent president, and there is no leadership in the dressing room because the captain admitted in the summer that he wanted to leave and was only staying because he had no choice, then Koeman must try to lead. But he can’t play. So he needs players to take his message out on to the pitch. Again it is hard to see just who will do that.
It speaks volumes that Ousmane Dembele was the player who seemed most intent on getting Barcelona back into the game at the weekend.
There was very little from Antoine Griezmann and from Philippe Coutinho, who returned from injury as a substitute but failed to inspire.
Cadena Ser reported on Saturday that Barcelona were offered three Atletico Madrid players in exchange for Griezmann last summer – Alvaro Morata, Mario Hermoso and Thomas Lemar – but refused the swap deal. On Monday 74 per cent of respondents to a Sport reader poll said they would have accepted it.
Interim president Carlos Tusquets, who travelled with the team to Madrid, is being blamed
Ronald Koeman must try to lead but it is hard to see just who will do that in Messi’s absence
It still grates that the club spent more than £312million (€350m) on those three and it’s part of the reason why they are now in the financial mess they are in.
They must move on from that but the squad is so poorly constructed that some bad luck with injuries has left them with fit centre back, Lenglet and one fit regular central midfielder in Miralem Pjanic. Carles Aleña and Riqui Puig could get their chance in the Champions League this week.
That competition could come as light relief for Koeman.
They have played three and won three and if they can scramble a win over Dynamo Kiev with a patched up team missing Sergio Roberto, Sergio Busquets and Ansu Fati as well as Pique and the rested Messi and De Jong, then they will have qualified for the knockout rounds.
Cadena Ser reported Barcelona were offered three Atletico players for Antoine Griezmann
Koeman has only one fit central midfielder in Miralem Pjanic available against Dynamo Kiev
Back in the league they have taken just 11 points from 24 games and are nine points from second-placed Atletico Madrid having played the same number of games. It’s the worst start for 29 seasons.
When the team returns from Ukraine on Wednesday there will be a final attempt to reach an amicable agreement over wage cuts.
Reductions will have to be made if they players are to be paid in January.
Over pictures of Pique and Sergi Roberto, Mundo Deportivo went with the headline ‘Emergency’ on Monday. That is true at the moment both on and off the pitch.
Over images of Pique and Sergi Roberto, Mundo Deportivo went with the headline ‘Emergency’