Barca boss Setien sniffs title chance despite Real Madrid's seven-win streak

By Sports Desk July 07, 2020

Barcelona boss Quique Setien is clinging to the hope Real Madrid will falter to allow for a late twist in the title race.

Despite holding a narrow LaLiga lead when the season resumed, Barcelona have slipped four points behind their great rivals and only four rounds of games remain.

A coronation for Zinedine Zidane's team appears inevitable, given they have won seven straight fixtures since the league's suspension ended.

But Setien is refusing to wave the white flag, saying on Tuesday: "Of course we can still win LaLiga. Mathematics says it. We have to keep hope until the final day.

"We have to look at what we can do. Win, leave good feelings, make progress. And if not in this situation, everything we do is worth it for the next one."

Should Barcelona take the title battle down to the final day, that would be a small triumph in itself given current circumstances.

They have the Champions League resumption to come in August, then a new LaLiga season after that, and Setien wants to see signs of progress from a team who have struggled since COVID-19 caused the 2019-20 campaign to be stalled for three months.

Victory in the home derby against Espanyol on Wednesday is surely imperative.

 

Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has indicated he plans to keep Setien on for the 2020-21 season, with the coach speaking of "the circus that is football" as speculation surrounded his position.

"The club are happy with the work we do, I focus on that," he said in a news conference. "I don't value whether we win a game or lose others. I don't live daily, I work with more perspective.

"We are quite happy, as I have said on numerous occasions. Results are one thing and the feelings are another."

Setien feels his team are performing better than their results have been indicating, speaking of "very good moments" in the matches where Barcelona have dropped points. Three draws, alongside the four wins they have achieved since LaLiga returned, have been costly.

Coach Setien was cheered by Antoine Griezmann's delicious chip in Sunday's 4-1 win at Villarreal, where the Frenchman was given a more central attacking role than in previous games and thrived on the responsibility.

"He has enough ability to show his level," Setien said. "The other day there was a moment of inspiration and the players who played on the inside and the threat on the outside were closely linked. Sergi Roberto helped and did things very well."

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    The Poland international improved his season goal tally to 53 in all competitions as he scored twice and assisted another two in a 4-1 victory at the Allianz Arena that saw Bayern advance from the last 16 as 7-1 aggregate winners.

    Lewandowski now has 13 goals in seven Champions League appearances this term, four behind the record Cristiano Ronaldo set for a single season in 2013-14.

    But the prolific 31-year-old striker insisted he is more interested in helping his side progress from next Friday's single-leg quarter-final in Lisbon, where Barca await following their 4-2 aggregate win over Napoli.

    "It's not a target for me," Lewandowski told Sky Germany when asked about Ronaldo's record. "We have another knockout game to come and have to play really well as a team.

    "The most important thing is to play well and reach the next round. We have to show as a team we are better [than Barcelona] in order to reach the semi-finals.

    "Barcelona are always dangerous and play great football. We have to be at it from the first minute and show our quality. The better team will play in the next round."

    Lewandowski played a direct part in every goal for Bayern in their 7-1 aggregate victory over Chelsea, having also scored one and set up a couple for Serge Gnabry in February's first leg at Stamford Bridge.

    Head coach Hansi Flick was keen to praise his whole side and not just in-form Lewandowski, who has netted more times in 2019-20 than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    "He scored twice, so it goes without saying what he can do," the Bayern boss said. "This is what makes us stand out as a team.

    "I was very satisfied with the 90 minutes from everyone. We wanted to win the game and pick up from where we left off. 

    "Chelsea have an exciting team and an incredible amount of speed. It would have been our fault if we let them into the game, but the first 30 minutes from us were great."

    The only sour note for Bayern was the sight of Jerome Boateng hobbling off with an apparent knee injury in the second half, but Flick was hopeful the centre-back would be fit for next week's huge showdown with Barca.

    "I don't think it is so bad for Jerome," he said. "That's the information I got from the medical staff. [Benjamin] Pavard is also trying everything to be ready.

    "We will prepare for that game like any other. We want to show our strengths again and must be 100 per cent focused, not just on Lionel Messi but every player."

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    First-half goals from Clement Lenglet, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez ultimately proved enough for Barca to win 3-1 in the second leg of the last-16 tie on Saturday, with Lorenzo Insigne's penalty proving a mere consolation for the visitors at Camp Nou.

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    "There are many regrets, because we had a blackout for half an hour, conceded three ridiculous goals and made some very serious errors during that period," Gattuso told Sky Italia.

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    Barca overcame Napoli 3-1 at Camp Nou on Saturday to seal a 4-2 aggregate victory and set up a meeting at the Estadio da Luz on Friday with Bayern, who beat Chelsea 4-1 to make it 7-1 over the two legs.

    It could have been a very different story in Catalonia had Dries Mertens' second-minute effort found the back of the net rather than the post.

    However, Clement Lenglet headed Barca in front seven minutes later and Lionel Messi's excellent solo goal was followed by a penalty from Suarez.

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    On the game against Napoli, he added: "It's what we wanted. For two weeks since LaLiga ended we've been preparing for the match knowing the difficulty of an opponent who made things tough for us in the first leg," said Suarez in a TV interview.

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