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."

Related items

  • Curtis Jones: Liverpool midfielder impresses Klopp and Henderson as Reds flatten Porto again Curtis Jones: Liverpool midfielder impresses Klopp and Henderson as Reds flatten Porto again

    Curtis Jones may have not started the 2021-22 season quite as he hoped, but the Liverpool midfielder has been making up for lost time in his recent outings for the Reds.

    After a breakout campaign that saw him go from talented prospect to first-team squad member, Jones' desire to hit the ground running this term was held up by a concussion diagnosis, having suffered a blow to the head in a pre-season friendly.

    Absent for the opening win over Norwich City, the midfielder saw Harvey Elliott emerge in the opening weeks to provide further competition for a place in the team, only to then suffer a serious leg injury in the away win at Leeds United.

    With Naby Keita once more missing time and Thiago Alcantara sidelined, Jones has capitalised on his opportunities. A first start against Norwich in an EFL Cup tie was followed by a goalscoring appearance from the off at Brentford, as he played 67 minutes in the pulsating 3-3 draw.

    Jurgen Klopp retained Jones in the starting XI once more on Tuesday, lining him up alongside captain Jordan Henderson and anchor Fabinho, a midfield trio that made sure Liverpool seized control after a somewhat shaky start. His work in combination with full-back Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane on the left-hand side helped lead dominate possession, with the visitors enjoying 66.8 per cent of the ball as they coasted to a 5-1 win. The solitary surprise with the scoreline was that Porto even managed to get one.

    Only centre-back pairing Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip made more successful passes than Jones in the lopsided contest, though no player wearing red managed more than his total of 49 in the opposing team's half.  

    Klopp was pleased with what he saw from a player who had to learn on the job in 2020-21, part of a Liverpool squad that had to come through a defensive injury crisis and produce a fast finish just to secure a place at the top table of European club football once again.

    What made Jones' performance in Portugal even more impressive was how he had not been feeling well beforehand, as his boss revealed to the media.

    "Curtis played a good game. He had some problems a little bit with the stomach before the game. They told me I need to keep an eye on him, but I told him after the game whatever it is, keep it because it was really a good game," Klopp joked.

    "He played a really good game, he was everywhere, he was involved in everything. Set up the first goal with a surprising finish, goalie cannot save it. In a lot of other situations he was really there - maybe not as spectacular as the offensive stuff, but defensively he played a top-class game.  

    "He defended really well, pressed from the blind side, a lot of things I liked a lot about his performance tonight. So, let's keep going, Curtis, it was not bad tonight."

    "Not bad" is an understatement. It was Jones' effort after cutting inside that led to Mohamed Salah tapping in to make it 1-0, while his determination to work his way out of a tight spot late in the game when under pressure led to a ball in behind that set up Roberto Firmino for the first of his late brace, albeit with plenty of help from wandering goalkeeper Diogo Costa. 

    That shot for Salah's opener was one of four attempts as he looked to follow up his rocket of a strike at Brentford. He had shown his willingness to have a go in the previous season too, averaging 1.69 shots per 90 minutes. His eye for goal led to him scoring four times in 34 appearances, including a Champions League winner against Ajax in December 2020. 

    While his defensive work may not get the same level of attention, but his manager certainly appreciated his efforts against Porto, which included winning seven of his 10 duels. 

    "I know, on paper, he’s so young, but I feel as though he has been around the first team for a few years now, he has settled in really well, he has matured really well," Henderson told BT Sport. 

    "Now you're starting to see what a good player he is over the last few weeks. He has had to be a little bit patient at the beginning of the season but he’s come in and he's done fantastically well.  

    "You can see he has got all the attributes to be a top player. I feel as though he is maturing all the time and he’s putting in some really good performances to help the team."

    Patience has certainly paid off for Jones, who has made a compelling case to remain in the team when Manchester City visit Anfield on Sunday, as well as pushing for inclusion in Gareth Southgate's England squad for the upcoming October internationals. 

  • Madrid didn't deserve to lose – Ancelotti frustrated by shock defeat to Sheriff Madrid didn't deserve to lose – Ancelotti frustrated by shock defeat to Sheriff

    Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti bemoaned one of the biggest upsets in Champions League history, the Italian believing his side did not deserve to lose to giant-slaying debutants Sheriff.

    Sheriff caused a boilover at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the Champions League debutants and Moldovan visitors won 2-1 on Tuesday.

    Jasurbek Yakhshiboev opened the scoring with a powerful header in the first half, before Karim Benzema's emphatic penalty levelled the scores for Madrid.

    But Sebastien Thill rifled home a stunning effort from the edge of the box in the 89th minute to hand the Moldovan outfit a dramatic win in Madrid.

    Los Blancos had 31 shots, hitting the target with 11, and recorded over 75 per cent possession, while Sheriff took just four shots, but came away with all three points in the Spanish capital.

    The result leaves Madrid second in Group D, three points behind Sheriff, who have won their first two games in the competition.

    "More than worried, we're sad," Ancelotti said after the game. "We played with intensity and were looking good. We lost because of small details, even though the side played well. We could've been better when it came to the final third but it's tough to explain.

    "It's small details that cost us this game. It's a lesson for us in the future as it's a defeat we didn't deserve. We had chances, we were creating out wide and [Luka] Jovic came on and had a couple of opportunities. I think that in the end, everything went well for them and bad for us.

    "We've missed out on three points and the group is wide open. We need to win our next game."

    Madrid were beaten for just the second time in their last 32 group-stage games in the Champions League when playing at the Santiago Bernabeu (W25 D5) – losing against CSKA Moscow in December 2018 and Sheriff on Tuesday.

    Los Blancos star Casemiro lamented the team's defensive lapses and profligacy in front of goal on a humbling night for the LaLiga leaders.

    "That's football for you," Casemiro said after the full-time whistle. "One team has more than 20 shots on goal and plays well and the other team that comes here to defend and had two shots go and score twice.

    "That's how things go in football and you've got to be more focused defensively. We fully dominated the game and had the chances to have made it 1-0, then 1-1 and they’ve ended up scoring a screamer.

    "You've got to win in football, but this year we've already produced some poor performances and won, but that wasn't the case tonight. If you're not clinical, you end up paying the price at the back."

    Madrid face Shakhtar Donetsk away from home on October 19 in their next Champions League outing, where they will seek to right the wrongs of their defeat to Sheriff.

  • Giant-slaying Sheriff targeting Champions League last 16 after 'dream' win at Real Madrid Giant-slaying Sheriff targeting Champions League last 16 after 'dream' win at Real Madrid

    Sheriff's win over Real Madrid was a "dream come true" but captain Frank Castaneda warned the Champions League debutants will not dwell on the upset as they target the last 16 amid their giant-slaying run.

    In one of the biggest shocks in Champions League history, Sheriff claimed a late 2-1 victory at Spanish giants Madrid on Tuesday.

    Jasurbek Yakhshiboev's first-half header was cancelled out by Karim Benzema's spot-kick after the interval in the Spanish capital, given following a VAR check after Vinicius Junior went down in the box.

    However, Sheriff had the final say to maintain their 100 per cent record in Group D, Sebastien Thill's thunderous strike in the 89th minute earning the Moldovan visitors a remarkable triumph.

    "For us this is a dream come true to have won here," Castaneda said. "We're so happy, and just enjoying it. We have full faith in what we've been doing and things are going well for us.

    "We came here to win. We didn't just come here to sit around, we know how good our players are and luckily for us Madrid weren't able to take their chances and we took ours.

    "Thill's goal is out of this world. It's one you dream of. I thanked him at the end of the game!

    "We are dreaming of getting into the last 16 and that's our objective. Our attention now turns to Inter and we'll work hard in order to ensure we keep getting positive results." 

    Sheriff – who beat Albanian champions Tueta Durres, Armenian titleholders Alashkert, Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade, Croatian titleholders Dinamo Zagreb and Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk during their European campaign this term – became the first team to win their first two games in the Champions League since Premier League outfit Leicester City in the 2016-17 campaign.

    This was just the third ever away victory by a Moldovan team in a major European competition, following Zimbru Chisinau in the UEFA Cup in 1995 and Sheriff themselves in the UEFA Europa League in 2017.

    Sheriff head coach Yuriy Vernydub said: "I'm happy to play a game like that against Madrid. I'm so full of emotion and thankful to my boys for what they've done. They went out there as a side, and we deserved it.

    "Of course we knew that we were going to have to defend. We did that well and we countered really well too, and we were able to score a winner right at the end.

    "I'm happy and proud of my side, these boys. We're on the right path and we'll continue to follow it."

    Sheriff are three points clear of Madrid atop of Group D, while they are five points ahead of Inter and Shakhtar.

    "We aren't thinking about the last 16 yet as we still haven't done anything extraordinary, we're just going forward step by step," said Vernydub. "We have four very important games to go, and when it comes to the final group stage game then we'll talk about the next round."

    Sheriff match-winner Thill added: "We're so happy today. We played a really good game. The side were so brave with how we played and luckily enough I was able to score a bit of a stunner.

    "It's the best and most important goal of my career, that's for sure! We'll go game by game. We've got a tough group, and we'll give our all in what's left of it."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.