Koeman expects 'enormous' Messi to lead the way again

By Sports Desk July 18, 2021

Ronald Koeman has warned Barcelona's rivals a rejuvenated and focused Lionel Messi will have a massive impact in the forthcoming season.

Messi is technically still a free agent after his contract with the Blaugrana expired at midnight on June 30, but it has been widely reported the 34-year-old is poised to sign a new five-year deal at Camp Nou.

Messi was again hugely influential for Barcelona last season, finishing as LaLiga's top scorer and managing 38 goals and 12 assists across all competitions.

He also created 117 chances for others and netted a goal every 110.32 minutes over the course of 2020-21. 

The Argentina international is expected to take a substantial pay cut to stay at Barca but Koeman does not expect his influence to diminish.

"Messi is very important, he is the captain of the team and an example," head coach Koeman told a media conference on Sunday.

"After a difficult start due to his own situation, his effectiveness was enormous [in 2020-21].

"He really wanted to win the Copa America and, as he is the best player in the world, he is used to winning things. For me, he is the big favourite to win the Ballon d'Or."

 

Koeman claimed the presence of Messi and other experienced players will bring balance to Barca in the new campaign.

"The veteran players have a place in the squad," Koeman explained.

"They already showed it last year and it is important that they be with us. In a club like Barca, the balance between the oldest and the youngest must exist."

Koeman has taken some of the attacking burden of Messi shoulders with the signings of Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero on free transfers.

Depay enjoyed a fine final season in Ligue 1, scoring 20 times, trailing only Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe (27), while his 12 assists and 94 chances created were the most in France's top flight.

Aguero scored a club-record 260 goals in 389 appearances in all competitions during a glittering decade with Manchester City.

"I know Memphis very well and he knows how to work," Koeman added.

"He has a lot of character, physicality, speed, he can play in different positions in attack. He's the perfect age to show it.

"With Sergio, we had to improve our performance at the top and he is a very experienced and dangerous player in the penalty area. 

"The important thing is that he is physically well and our goal is to keep him in top form."

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    Intense speculation and pressure had mounted about the Dutchman's future for the past month and former Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain boss Ancelotti weighed in.

    "I've been sacked several times and I'm still here, alive and happy," Ancelotti told reporters after Madrid's 0-0 home draw with Osasuna.

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    Madrid's draw with Osasuna moved them into top spot in LaLiga but left them with only four points collected from their past four league games.

    Ancelotti's side are also winless from their past three home games, including a 2-1 home defeat to Sheriff in the Champions League.

    The stalemate with Osasuna follows a goalless draw with Villarreal in LaLiga, meaning Madrid have recorded back-to-back 0-0 draws in home games in the league for the fourth time, and first since November 1996 under Fabio Capello.

    "Of the three games, we deserved to win two of them," Ancelotti said. "We have to understand that they are difficult games for this squad, because in this game we lacked presence in the box.

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    Ancelotti bemoaned a first-half incident where Los Blancos were denied a penalty after Vinicius Junior was stamped inside the box by Osasuna's Lucas Torro. The Madrid boss also felt aggrieved at a lack of stoppage time in the second half.

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    Vinicius Junior was busy throughout, attempting 71 passes (64 completed), which was his highest in a single game for Madrid in all competitions.

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    Ronald Koeman has been sacked as head coach of Barcelona following a poor start to the club's first season without Lionel Messi in 17 years. 

    Financial difficulties saw the six-time Ballon d'Or winner leave for Paris Saint-Germain and, in his absence, Koeman's side have struggled. 

    The Dutchman replaced Quique Setien at Camp Nou in August 2020 and led Barca to Copa del Rey success in his first season, although they finished third in LaLiga and suffered a Champions League last-16 exit, as well as losing the Supercopa de Espana final to Athletic Bilbao. 

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    Xavi

    With Koeman dismissed, Barcelona could turn to another club legend in Xavi, hoping the La Masia graduate can succeed where his predecessor failed with an unbalanced squad of ageing regulars and young talent. The former Spain international has presided over Qatari side Al Sadd since his retirement in 2019, leading them to a league title and six domestic cups.

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    Andrea Pirlo

    Another candidate who enjoyed a glittering career as a central midfielder in his playing days, Pirlo replaced Maurizio Sarri at Juventus in August 2020 and won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana, but was sacked at the end of his debut season following a fourth-placed Serie A finish and another disappointing European exit, this time against Porto.

    While Pirlo has experience of coaching in a top-five league, his stint in Turin hardly demonstrated the Italian has the credentials at this stage of his career to rescue an ailing Barcelona side.

    Roberto Martinez

    Martinez has a greater coaching pedigree, although the highest level he has managed at has come on the international stage with Belgium — a job he still holds. The 48-year-old guided the Red Devils to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and took them to number one in the FIFA world rankings, though a major trophy continues to elude them.

    At club level, however, he has managed Everton and Wigan Athletic in the Premier League, winning the FA Cup but also suffering relegation with the latter, and also Swansea City below the top tier — rather different jobs to the one that faces the newcomer at Barcelona.

    Erik ten Hag

    Could Barca turn to another Dutchman to try to turn their on-field fortunes around? Ten Hag has built his reputation at Ajax, having previously worked at Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles, as well as a stint with Bayern Munich's second string. He has twice won the Eredivisie title, while he appeared set to reach the Champions League final in 2019, only for Tottenham to produce a stunning comeback in Amsterdam.

    Barcelona, who know what it is like to be on the wrong end of a second-leg turnaround in Europe, have well-documented financial problems at the moment, potentially raising an issue if they want to try to lure away a coach under contract elsewhere.

    Antonio Conte

    Conte is out of work, at least meaning Barca would not have to pay any compensation to appoint him. However, that does not mean the Italian comes cheaply, considering he has a hugely impressive resume. The former Juve boss made a quick impact at his previous two jobs, having returned to club duties after a spell in charge of the Azzurri.

    He won the Premier League title in his first season at Chelsea, during which they produced an impressive 13-game winning streak, then ended Inter's Scudetto wait last term, leading the Nerazzurri to a first championship since 2010. His San Siro departure amid Inter's financial cutbacks does raise questions over whether he would want to go anywhere near Camp Nou right now, particularly with Manchester United also reportedly interested.

    Marcelo Gallardo

    A name strongly linked with the post, Gallardo started out his coaching career with Nacional in Uruguay. However, he has been in charge of River Plate — a club he had three stints at during his playing career — since 2014, winning the Copa Libertadores twice among an impressive list of honours at Los Millonarios.

    The last Argentinian coach to take the top job at Barca did not last too long: Gerardo Martino had just one season at the helm. Gallardo would have to cut short his River journey to do so, a move he suggested was not likely after revealing he plans to see out a contract that runs until the end of 2021.

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