Messi starts for Barcelona against Athletic Bilbao in Copa del Rey

By Sports Desk February 06, 2020

Lionel Messi was given the chance to do his talking on the pitch on Thursday after he was named in the Barcelona starting line-up for their Copa del Rey clash with Athletic Bilbao.

Messi made headlines this week when criticising Eric Abidal, the Spanish club's director of football, for suggesting some Barca players were not working hard enough under previous boss Ernesto Valverde.

The Argentina international called out Abidal for his comments in the media, telling the Frenchman he should name the individuals who were not pulling their weight.

Such a reaction has raised questions over Messi's future at Camp Nou, though the 32-year-old was selected in the XI for the quarter-final tie against Athletic.

Ansu Fati was also chosen in the team, the teenager keeping his place after scoring both goals in Barcelona's 2-1 LaLiga win over Levante at the weekend.

Head coach Quique Setien made just one change from that side, bringing in Sergi Roberto to replace Antoine Griezmann.

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  • Rennes star has time on his side – could Camavinga be Casemiro's deputy at Real Madrid? Rennes star has time on his side – could Camavinga be Casemiro's deputy at Real Madrid?

    With Real Madrid reportedly eyeing Eduardo Camavinga, could the Rennes midfielder prove a fine deputy to Casemiro?

    Camavinga, 17, is said to have attracted interest from Europe's biggest clubs, including Madrid.

    Marca reported on Sunday that the teenage midfielder was a preference for Madrid as coach Zinedine Zidane wants to avoid being too reliant on 28-year-old Casemiro.

    Camavinga would surely not be expected to match Casemiro immediately, but rather provide Zidane with a back-up option while learning from the 46-time Brazil international.

    Using Opta data, we take a look at how Camavinga and Casemiro compare in Ligue 1 and LaLiga respectively this season.

     

    Casemiro busy for busier Madrid

    Casemiro and Camavinga have each made 25 league appearances this season, although the former has played 108 more minutes.

    Yet, while Camavinga narrowly edges Casemiro for passing accuracy (87.7 to 83.8), including more notably in the opposition half (83.3 to 78.8), the Madridista has played 1,521 passes to the Angola-born midfielder's 975. That includes making 379 into the final third, compared to Camavinga's 141. Those numbers must also be put into perspective with Madrid averaging 58.2 per cent possession in LaLiga this season, while third-placed Rennes have averaged 49.7 per cent in Ligue 1.

    More to come from Camavinga in attack

    Goals from midfield are a bonus and Casemiro has struck three times in the league for Real Madrid this season, while Camavinga has netted once for a less prolific Rennes. Casemiro has also taken more shots (26 to 10) and had more 'big chances' (four to one), while creating two to Camavinga's one. Both players have provided two assists in the league this season.

    Plenty for Rennes' teenage star to learn

    Casemiro is widely regarded as one of the world's best midfielders, and Camavinga could learn plenty from the Brazilian. Casemiro has 218 recoveries in the league this season to Camavinga's 147, but Rennes man has a slight edge in duel success (57.5 to 55.7). Camavinga has won more tackles (64 to 55), Casemiro has a better success rate (66.3 to 61) and more interceptions (53 to 44), while neither has made an error leading to a shot this season. At 17, Camavinga is supremely talented, and he could thrive given the chance to develop alongside Casemiro.

  • Rumour Has It: Camavinga the preference for Real Madrid amid changes Rumour Has It: Camavinga the preference for Real Madrid amid changes

    Real Madrid have seemingly set their sights on Eduardo Camavinga, and it may be one of several changes at the LaLiga club.

    Camavinga, 17, has been linked to several European giants after impressing for Rennes.

    The teenage midfielder is a target for Madrid, who could be set for sweeping changes in the close season.

     

    TOP STORY – CAMAVINGA THE PREFERENCE FOR REAL MADRID

    Camavinga is the preference for Real Madrid as it is likely to prove tough to land Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, according to Marca.

    Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is also keen to avoid becoming too reliant on Casemiro, the report says.

    Camavinga has made 25 Ligue 1 appearances for Rennes this season, including 24 starts.

    ROUND-UP

    - It may be just one of several changes at Real Madrid. AS reports there must be exits if players are to come in, with James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale, Lucas Vazquez and Mariano Diaz potentially leaving. The futures of Nacho Fernandez, Marcelo, Luka Modric and Brahim Diaz are also uncertain.

    - Staying at Real Madrid and AS reports the coronavirus pandemic may impact what the club do with Martin Odegaard. The Norway international was expected to spend another season on loan at Real Sociedad but could return ahead of the next campaign as clubs become stricter with their finances.

    - Diego Costa has scored just twice in 19 games for Atletico Madrid this season and could be set for a move. Sport reports Roma are interested in the 31-year-old forward.

    - Achraf Hakimi appears likely to return to Real Madrid from his loan at Borussia Dortmund. However, the Mirror reports Chelsea have enquired about the defender.

    - After impressing with Wolves in the Premier League, Raul Jimenez is attracting interest. Sport reports the Mexico forward could return to LaLiga, with Real Madrid and former club Atletico Madrid interested.

    - Out of contract at the end of the season, Pedro is poised to leave Chelsea. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Lazio are interested in the attacker.

  • Messi is Argentina's 'leader and protector', says Tagliafico Messi is Argentina's 'leader and protector', says Tagliafico

    Lionel Messi is the "leader and protector" of Argentina, according to international team-mate Nicolas Tagliafico.

    Messi, 32, has faced criticism for his performances for the national team as his wait for a first senior trophy at international level goes on.

    But Ajax defender Tagliafico, a 25-time Argentina international, said the Barcelona star was key for his nation.

    "Messi was released from the pressure to get results [at the 2019 Copa America, where Argentina finished third]," he told Ole.

    "He more than anyone gets angry when he loses, but Messi became more aware that he has to enjoy the national team.

    "I don't know until when he will play, but it is not that he will have too many cups with the national team. He is at a stage where he wants to enjoy everything, training, games.

    "He is the leader and protector of the team. That facet came out that we might not always see."

    The Copa America was due to be played again this year, but has been pushed back to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Tagliafico said it was crucial for Argentina, who are unbeaten in seven games, to develop a strong foundation.

    "We must find a very solid structure, not only for Leo, but also for the future, for what is to come," he said.

    "To be able to find a structure to grow. It is good to build a solid foundation and don't build a base and then take it apart.

    "If we can help Leo and Leo can help us, we will do much better. Everything is going to multiply. You have to create a structure and from there start to grow."

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