Supercopa de Espana: Barca edging towards the light after year of darkness

By Sports Desk January 13, 2021

And so, after two head coach sackings, a torrent of boardroom upheaval and the most discussed transfer request of all time, Barcelona return to the scene of the crime.

The scene in terms of the tournament itself, of course. But even after swapping Saudi Arabia for Seville, the memory of last season's Supercopa de Espana semi-final will be enough to bring many a Cule out in a cold sweat.

Barca led 2-1 going into the final 10 minutes of their encounter with Atletico Madrid at King Abdullah Sports City, only to lose 3-2. Ernesto Valverde would never lead them again.

To say Valverde's sacking and its aftermath were shoddily handled would go some way to redefining the notion of understatement.

Club great Xavi was courted before deciding he would rather lead his boyhood club at a more agreeable time, one without mayhem spewing everywhere behind the scenes at Camp Nou.

Quique Setien took the reins and came to look out of his depth long before the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich. Despite it being a game that caused shockwaves around world football, "8-2" still feels an utterly preposterous thing to type.

Sporting director Eric Abidal called out the squad for a perceived lack of effort during Valverde's final days, a somewhat belated show of solidarity with a coach he unceremoniously bundled towards the exit door.

Lionel Messi took umbrage and an unseemly public spat was still festering by the time LaLiga resumed following the coronavirus shutdown. Barca surrendered the title to Real Madrid before their night of shame in Lisbon.

Setien was gone and newly installed boss Ronald Koeman decided Luis Suarez should follow him through the exit door, something that did nothing to improve Messi's mood as he sought to prise himself away from Barcelona before being forced to stay under contractual duress.

A 2-1 defeat to Cadiz on December 5 left Barca seventh in LaLiga with 14 points from 10 games, with Koeman's dream job turning rapidly into a nightmare.

A listless 3-0 Champions League loss at home to Juventus followed, ceding top spot in their group. But since then, Barcelona are unbeaten in eight LaLiga matches, winning six, and Opta data suggests they might be in better health ahead of Wednesday's semi-final against Real Sociedad than at this time last year.

Creating more under Koeman

In 24 games under Koeman in all competitions, Barca have scored 53 and conceded 22, averaging 2.21 and 0.92 per game respectively in all competitions.

Heading into the semi-final with Atletico, Valverde's team were top of LaLiga with 40 points from 19 matches. That betters the 34 from 18 that Koeman's men have to lie third this time around, but it should be noted that leaders Atleti have 41 points from just 16 outings so far.

The numbers behind Valverde's final half-season at the helm hint at comparative progress under Koeman.

When the former Athletic Bilbao boss led the Blaugrana during the period in question, they averaged 2.32 goals per game with 58 in 25.

However, that hugely out-performed an expected goals (xG) figure of 41.1, meaning they were getting out of jail a fair bit thanks largely to a certain special player. Koeman's Barca are in line with an xG of 53.66 this season, with shots per game up to 16.9 from 12.5 in the same period under Valverde.

Both men left their defences grateful for wasteful finishing, with an xG against of 30.37 for Valverde and 29.83 for Koeman.

 

Messi still the master, Pedri and Griezmann stepping up

Despite a slow start to the season after his attempted exit, Barcelona's main man looks to be back up to speed.

In 21 games this term Messi has 14 goals, closing on the 15 from 19 in his final stint with Valverde as boss, when he hugely out-performed an xG of 9.83.

His importance to Barca remains paramount, leading the way in chance creation (51) as he did in the first half of last season (47).

Suarez was next on that list with 29 last time around. Although no one has filled the breach of 14 goals scored in the period by a man now spearheading Atleti's title charge, youngster Pedri has stepped up to craft 29 opportunities for team-mates.

Frenkie de Jong has created 25 chances from midfield - up from 19. The often maligned Antoine Griezmann has made the same leap, despite being on the pitch for 396 fewer minutes compared to last season. However, until he lifts considerably his goal and assist contributions from seven and four respectively, unflattering comparisons to Suarez and Neymar will remain.

There are numerous shafts of light permeating the gloom that descended upon Barcelona a year ago. Enough to justify the chaos of the interim period? Of course not, but there might be legs in the fragile Koeman-Messi axis yet.

Nevertheless, as Barca face up to Sociedad and Real Madrid prepare to take on Athletic Bilbao, it is hard to escape who this week's real winner will be.

A clinical 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday put Atletico four points clear at LaLiga's summit with two games in hand. Diego Simeone's men will have enjoyed the Barcelona demise they triggered; this time they get to put their feet up for eight days and enjoy their fellow heavyweights punching holes in one another.

 

Related items

  • Rose 'angry' after Dortmund blow chance at title with shock DFB-Pokal exit Rose 'angry' after Dortmund blow chance at title with shock DFB-Pokal exit

    Borussia Dortmund head coach Marco Rose admits he is "angry" after his side spurned a golden opportunity to win a title after crashing out of the DFB-Pokal 2-1 to St Pauli on Tuesday.

    DFB-Pokal holders Dortmund conceded twice in the first half before Erling Haaland pulled back a 58th minute penalty but they could not find an equalizer in the last-16 clash.

    The defeat means for the first time since 2006-07, neither Dortmund or Bayern Munich will contend in the DFB-Pokal quarter-finals, with Rose admitting it was a major missed opportunity.

    "I'm just angry. The cup is a chance for a title and we're generally in good shape," Rose told Sky. "Then we just give the game away in the first 10 minutes.

    "The fact that you then get into problems with the ground and the strong opponent under the conditions is inexplicable and cannot be excused."

    Dortmund had come into the DFB-Pokal game fresh from beating SC Freiburg 5-1 in the Bundesliga on Friday, as well as coming from behind to win 3-2 over Eintracht Frankfurt.

    "It's a pity and a bit stupid of us that after a top performance against Freiburg and the game we played in Frankfurt, we didn't do it again," Rose said.

    "Unfortunately, we are again confirming a few things that have been held up to us in the last few weeks, months and years. It's just our fault.

    "The end pisses me off because it was a chance for a title and we're just giving the game away."

  • Australian Open: Medvedev, Kyrgios get chance to bring Melbourne to life Australian Open: Medvedev, Kyrgios get chance to bring Melbourne to life

    Nick Kyrgios is box office whenever he plays – and the Australian Open gets a first-week gift in the form of a second-round blockbuster against Daniil Medvedev.

    Kyrgios still managed to bring John Cain Arena to life even during a relatively straightforward 6-4 6-4 6-3 win over Liam Broady on Tuesday.

    The Australian, who has dropped to 115th in the rankings after not playing since last year's US Open, is arguably the must-watch player in the men's draw.

    Anything can happen when Kyrgios is in action. For all the frustrations about a thus far unfulfilled talent, Kyrgios – a two-time grand slam quarter-finalist – is box office.

    On Thursday he faces the highest ranked player in the men's draw, last year's US Open champion Medvedev, in what shapes as being a thrilling contest.

    Kyrgios has won both of his previous meetings with the Russian second seed, who is among the favourites to win the title at Melbourne Park.

    With Roger Federer absent and Novak Djokovic having been deported from Australia, tournament officials have been gifted a contest that belongs in the second week.

    All eyes will be on Thursday's schedule, with Kyrgios seemingly likely to miss out on playing on his preferred court – John Cain Arena – in a match that undoubtedly belongs on Rod Laver Arena.

    "I mean, obviously either way it's going to be a hell of an experience for me. He's probably the best player in the world at the moment. So I'm pretty excited, I'm excited for that moment. That's why I play the game," Kyrgios said after beating Broady.

    "I feel like those matches still excite me, to go out there and play the best in the world. That was always something I wanted to prove to people that someone like me could do, win those matches. I'm not going to go into it with a lot of expectation. I'm going to go out there, have some fun, play my game. I have a pretty set-in-stone game plan of what I need to do to have success.

    "As I said, he's probably the best player in the world, he does everything extremely well. He's a hard worker, ticks all the boxes. I'm not going to even think about that now. To play it on John Cain would be – I'm just going to call it the Kyrgios Court – would be fun."

    Kyrgios and Medvedev played twice in 2019, the Australian winning two tie-breaks in their most recent meeting in the final in Washington in August of that year.

     

    Medvedev was a top-10 player then, but it would be later in that year that the Russian would truly make an impact, edged by Rafael Nadal in the US Open final.

    He went 20-3 at majors last year, winning the title at Flushing Meadows, reaching the final in Melbourne and the French Open quarter-finals.

    When he met Kyrgios in Washington, Medvedev had won four ATP titles. He now has 13 to his name.

    "Yeah, I just became a different player in terms of ranking and titles. It gives you experience. That's where you can try to win matches which you have lost before, opponents which you have lost before," Medvedev said following his opening-round win against Henri Laaksonen.

    "I think there are still some guys on tour who I haven't beat. So can stay like this. I think our last match was so long ago and we are both so different and a different momentum of our careers that it's really tough to count it. As I say, win or lose, I don't think these two matches gonna count into this one, so yeah."

  • Umtiti out for three months after foot surgery Umtiti out for three months after foot surgery

    Samuel Umtiti is expected to be out of action for around three months after undergoing surgery on a fractured metatarsal, Barcelona have announced. 

    France international Umtiti had a procedure on his right foot on Tuesday and will be consigned to the sidelines until April at the earliest. 

    A club statement read: "Samuel Umtiti has undergone successful surgery on the fifth metatarsal of his right foot. 

    "Tuesday's operation was performed by Dr Antoni Dalmau under supervision of the FC Barcelona Medical Services. He is expected to be out of action for around three months. 

    "The French centre-back suffered the fracture in training on Monday." 

    Umtiti this month signed a new contract that tied him to Camp Nou until 2026, despite having been heavily linked with an exit.  

    The World Cup-winning defender's three-year extension included a temporary pay decrease that allowed new signing Ferran Torres to be registered. 

    Umtiti has long been a peripheral figure at Barcelona, featuring in just 17 games in all competitions since the start of last season.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.