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

  • Gilbert cautiously optimistic World Cup Girlz, JFF impasse will be resolved ahead of April window Gilbert cautiously optimistic World Cup Girlz, JFF impasse will be resolved ahead of April window

    With another window providing another pair of defeats to reflect on, interim Reggae Girlz Head coach Xavier Gilbert is hopeful that the rift between the World Cup players and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) will be resolved soon, so the programme can regain its competitive edge before the start of any other major women’s competition.

    This, as he bemoans the fact that the impasse had a hand in Jamaica’s failure to qualify for the ongoing inaugural Concacaf Women’s Gold Cup, and the possibility of the country’s current ranking taking a hit by virtue of the recent results, which could discourage potential opponents.  

    Gilbert’s sentiments follow the new-look Reggae Girlz 0-1 defeat to Chile in the second of their two-match international friendly series in Santiago on Tuesday. Yessenia Lopez scored the lone goal in the 34th minute.

    The Girlz lost the first game 1-5 on Friday.

    While he welcomed the improved performance from the new-look team, coupled with the exposure to high level competition for most players in a now widened pool, Gilbert believes a mixture of the World Cup players and their younger counterparts is the best way to build going forward.

    “Both games served us well because like I said a number of players were exposed to high level competition and it was good. So, I hope we can continue to use the FIFA windows, to not only widen the pool and look at as many players as possible, but also to ensure that we are in competitive mode ahead of the other competitions including the World Cup qualifiers,” Gilbert said.

    “So, I am optimistic that the World Cup Girlz will be up for selection (for the April window), so hopefully all things can be sorted out by then because we want to continue to build,” he told SportsMax.TV.

    Reflecting on the overall trip to Chile, pointed out that the improved performance speaks volumes of what can be achieved when players spend more time together, as he believes additional training sessions contributed to a more energetic and cohesive display.

    “It was a way better performance and I honestly thought that we should have taken something out of the game. We created a few scoring opportunities and should have converted at least one, but overall, everything about the performance was much better in terms of our energy and all that,” Gilbert shared.

    “I think we applied ourselves much better than the first, and I think having a few training sessions contributed to that because we sorted a few things out. So, we were better and more aggressive in terms of how we defend and applied pressure to the Chileans,” he added.

     Despite the low of dealing with numerous player injuries, Gilbert rated the overall trip a success where player development is concerned.

    “We made six changes from the first game, and some were forced changes, so that was a major low for us. But the high point is the exposure that the younger players got and the way they performed, I think they acquitted themselves well which augurs well for the programme going forward,” he ended.

  • Jurgen Klopp compares Liverpool’s kids’ impact to ‘darts sensation’ Luke Littler Jurgen Klopp compares Liverpool’s kids’ impact to ‘darts sensation’ Luke Littler

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp likened the instant impact of his academy players to that of darts player Luke Littler last month – but then asked for the youngsters to be given time to find their feet.

    Jayden Danns scored his first two goals in only his third appearance after fellow 18-year-old Lewis Koumas had opened the scoring on debut as Southampton were beaten 3-0 to set up an FA Cup quarter-final at Manchester United.

    As sons of former Premier League players Neil Danns, the ex-Crystal Palace midfielder, and Jason Koumas, who played for West Brom, the pair will have a lot of experience to call on but Klopp said they should be allowed to do that out of the spotlight.

    Referencing Littler, who reached the World Darts Championship final at the age of 16, the German asked for perspective despite the youngsters’ key roles in a depleted side.

    “It is little bit like the new darts sensation, it is fine for tonight. Tomorrow, leave the boys in the corner,” Klopp said.

    “Everyone who is with us, we should have our moments, they will have more moments than we expect.

    “All of it was obviously incredibly important. Against a Southampton team we would have had problems with anyway but in our situation we tried to give as much information as possible to them and we had to improve during the game.

    “The first 15 minutes we were all over the place; we tried to press but the timing was horrendous and Southampton used that.

    “We found a way into the game and the goal we scored was in a nearly perfect moment, it felt like a momentum change and then an exceptional finish from Lewis.

    “We now had the momentum rather than Southampton and won a lot of high balls and scored, the play was special, the way we won the balls was special and something like that, as impossible as it seems, can happen.

    “Maybe the people (fans) don’t forget it when the transfer window opens, don’t close the door (on young players) with 12 signings.”

    On Danns, who came off the bench to score twice in 15 minutes to earn the man-of-the-match award, Klopp added: “Exceptional talent. Of course it is not natural that a boy 18, is as calm as you like. The second goal calm as you like.”

    Saints boss Russell Martin was left to rue several missed chances in the opening 30 minutes in particular.

    “I don’t think 3-0 is a fair reflection of the game as we should have been one or two up before they got close to a goal,” he said.

    “The difference in the game is the quality of the finishing and their goalkeeper making some brilliant saves.

    “If we are ever going to lose, then let’s do it being the team we want to be and I can’t ask any more from them tonight.

    “I really enjoyed watching my team but I am really hurt for them and the result as I didn’t think we deserved that.”

  • Steven Naismith hits out at ‘idiots’ who struck Lawrence Shankland with objects Steven Naismith hits out at ‘idiots’ who struck Lawrence Shankland with objects

    Steven Naismith condemned the “idiots” who threw objects at Lawrence Shankland as he waited to take Hearts’ penalty in their 1-1 draw at home to Hibernian.

    The Jambos top scorer had to hold his nerve before he equalised from the spot just before half-time after a range of items rained down on him from the stand behind the goal housing Hibs fans.

    Shankland was struck by more objects when defending a corner later in the game, while Hibs goal-scorer Emiliano Marcondes was also hit by something thrown from the Hearts end.

    Hearts boss Naismith said: “I think it was everything that was in everyone’s pockets, whether it be coins, vapes or whatever. All the stuff getting launched on, it’s just not acceptable.

    “If that then gets looked at, what’s going to happen is they are just going to reduce the amount of fans that can go into that stand and that’s going to impact what I think is a good atmosphere, a good derby which has a fierce rivalry.

    “It’s just idiots that are going to spoil the party for everybody. It’s just not good enough, end of.”

    Shankland’s penalty – contentiously awarded after Hearts forward Kenneth Vargas went down while trying to get away from Will Fish – just before the break cancelled out Marcondes’ 27th-minute opener for Hibs.

    “It was end to end at times, both teams had chances and, ultimately, that bit of quality was the thing that was missing in the game,” added Naismith.

    Hibs boss Nick Montgomery was adamant his team deserved to win the game and felt referee Kevin Clancy made an error by sticking with his decision to award the penalty to Hearts even though he was advised by VAR to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

    “The VAR is there to call the referee over so he doesn’t make a mistake and when he called him over, I looked at it on the monitor and my opinion is no way it’s a penalty – and I don’t think anybody else probably thought it was,” said Montgomery.

    “And then, lo and behold, he’s got a clear view of it, he can slow it down, he can watch it. Yeah, he gives a penalty. I’m just really disappointed that we don’t take three points. It cost us two points.

    “Maybe we’ll get another apology this week like we did after Aberdeen. Maybe we won’t. But at the end of the day, what we won’t get back is any points.”

    Asked about the objects being thrown from the stands, Montgomery said: “I don’t condone it, Steven doesn’t condone it. Neither do the clubs. Unfortunately there were a few things.

    “Emi Marcondes had it in the first half as well when we had serious pressure on them.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.