Messi leaving Barcelona would be bad for LaLiga, says Real Madrid star Kroos

By Sports Desk September 02, 2020

Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona might make them less of a threat to Real Madrid, but his exit would be a blow to LaLiga, according to Los Blancos midfielder Toni Kroos.

Messi rocked Barcelona last week when informing them of his desire to leave the club he initially agreed to join as a 12-year-old.

Now 33, Messi had a clause in his contract that allowed him to leave on a free transfer at the end of the 2019-20 season, but that is reported to have expired at the end of May.

But because the coronavirus pandemic extended the season into August, Messi and his entourage believe it should still be valid.

LaLiga has sided with Barca, though that has not stopped speculation as to his next destination from running wild, with Manchester City appearing the most likely move.

Messi's father, who is also his agent, suggested on Wednesday that his son remaining at Barca would be "difficult", and Kroos – a regular opponent of the Barca icon in El Clasico – thinks it would be bad for the league if the Argentinian star left.

"Messi is a player who is interesting for all clubs in the world," Kroos said in a news conference on international duty with Germany.

"It's bad for LaLiga and especially for Barcelona. For me, as a Real Madrid player, it's of course something different.

"But even if Messi left, it wouldn't automatically mean that we at Real Madrid would win everything."

Messi has a year left on his contract at Barca, who are reportedly demanding his €700million release clause be met for their talisman to leave.

Should he depart without playing another game for them then his final match will have been the 8-2 Champions League humiliation to Bayern Munich.

 

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    Ronald Koeman will get his first taste of El Clasico from a dugout when Barcelona host Real Madrid on Saturday.

    The LaLiga champions head to Camp Nou after a pretty rotten week in which back-to-back home defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk have left fans and pundits alike thoroughly disillusioned with Zinedine Zidane's current approach.

    Barca also lost 1-0 in their previous league game, away to Getafe, but a 5-1 thumping of Ferencvaros in the Champions League was a tonic and, in truth, that defeat at Coliseum Alfonso Perez felt more like an aberration during what has mostly been an encouraging start under Koeman.

    The Clasico is always the acid test, though – and Barca, barring a dramatic change in system, will line up for this one in a 4-2-3-1 formation, something they have not done for at least the previous 46 meetings.

    BREAKING THE WHEEL

    Nobody need tell Koeman about Barca's traditional adherence to 4-3-3. He had enough experience as a player for the Netherlands and the Blaugrana to know such a system like the back of his hand, even if Johan Cruyff's peak 'Dream Team' – such as the one that won the 1992 European Cup final through a Koeman extra-time goal – thrived instead in a 3-4-3.

    The fact is, though, that Barca have doubled down on 4-3-3 since Frank Rijkaard took charge in 2003. He, Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and, eventually, Quique Setien – all have either stuck religiously to the system or at least made good use of it.

    That rings true in the Clasico, too. Since the 2005-06 season, there have been 46 matches between Barca and Madrid in all competitions, and Barca have started in a 4-3-3 in 39 of them. Four games have seen them set up in a 4-4-2, and one each in 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-1-2.

    It's yielded mixed success, as you might expect. Barca won 17 of those 39 games in 4-3-3 – a 43.6 per cent winning rate – and lost 12. They scored 71 goals and conceded 53.

    In 4-4-2, they won twice, drew once and lost once, scoring eight goals and conceding four. The 3-4-3 was, fittingly, a 3-3 LaLiga draw in October 2007; the 4-3-1-2 was that famous 3-2 win for Barca at the Santiago Bernabeu under Luis Enrique in 2017, when Lionel Messi scored his 500th club goal; and the 3-5-2 was used by Valverde when they lost 2-0 in the Supercopa de Espana second leg in the capital three years ago.

    Koeman's set-up, then, is a big departure from the norm. But will it work against Madrid?

    FATI AND FRENKIE ON FIRE

    Koeman explained this month that 4-2-3-1 was preferable because of Barca's lack of wingers. "Looking at the quality that we have, this formation is perfect for the team," he told Barca TV.

    Fans may not have warmed to the idea at first, but Koeman's approach makes sense – and there are certain players thriving in this formation.

    For one thing, it gets Ansu Fati involved closer to goal. In four league games, the young Spain star has attempted 15 dribbles, created three chances and scored three goals. The freedom to cut inside from the left has also liberated Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest at left-back, each of whom have also created three goalscoring chances. Given Madrid presently have no fully fit right-backs, that should worry Zidane.

    Another to benefit is Frenkie de Jong, a player who admitted to underwhelming in his first season after joining from Ajax for an initial €75million. He has performed positively in a central axis, usually alongside Sergio Busquets, asserting himself in games far more even though Barca's average possession figure has dropped to 59.2 per cent, lower than in any of the past 11 seasons.

    He, too, has created three goalscoring chances and has a remarkable 100 per cent success rate from 11 attempted dribbles. He has also completed 216 passes, behind only the more possession-focused Gerard Pique (255) and Busquets (261). He is a player with renewed confidence in breaking lines in transition and getting the ball into threatening areas, and Madrid's midfield three will have a real test on their hands to cover the space of Barca's four forwards while keeping De Jong quiet.

    And Messi? Koeman said before the Ferencvaros game that his captain's form "could be better", and he had a point – one goal (a penalty) and zero assists from four league games is an unusually modest return. He is also averaging 3.9 shots per game, his lowest rate since 2007-08.

    Still, Messi has created more chances (six), attempted more dribbles (19) and more shots (15) than any other Barca player in the league this season, and he may be about to face a Madrid defence without Sergio Ramos.

  • Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona – Pique hits out at Bartomeu for poor handling of transfer saga Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona – Pique hits out at Bartomeu for poor handling of transfer saga

    Lionel Messi earned the right to leave Barcelona at the end of last season, according to Gerard Pique, who has hit out at president Josep Maria Bartomeu and defended signing a new contract in an explosive interview.

    Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi stunned the world in August when he told Barca of his intention to leave the club he has spent two decades with.

    He intended to trigger a clause in his contract to walk away on a free transfer, but the validity of such a stipulation was murky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The saga was brought to a temporary end on September 4 when the forward announced he will stay at Camp Nou for another year, rather than challenge Barca in a legal battle.

    But Pique feels the club handled the situation the wrong way, with Bartomeu allegedly backtracking on a promise to let Messi leave whenever he felt the time was right.

    "I didn't have much contact with him around that time because it was a very personal decision," he told La Vanguardia ahead of Barca's Clasico clash with Real Madrid on Saturday.

    "But I remember saying: 'Leo, it's one year, and then new people will come in'.

    "He had more than earned the right to make a decision and if he considered that he should go... I as president would have acted differently.

    "A player who for 16 years has given you so much. You are obliged to come to an agreement with him. It cannot be so obvious that the two parties are so far apart.

    "How can it be that the best player in history, who we have the luck to enjoy, gets up one day and send a burofax because he feel they are not listening to him?

    "Everything is too shocking. What is going on? Leo deserves everything. The new stadium should have his name and then that of the sponsor. 

    "We should preserve our figures, not discredit them. It makes me nervous."

    Pique also criticised Barca's "outrageous" decision to allegedly hire a social media company to damage the reputations of certain key figures, including himself and Messi.

    "As a Barca player, I see that my club as spent money to criticise us – not only people outside the club, but also those who are still playing. That is outrageous," he said, with the club having denied the claims.

    "I asked for an explanation and [Bartomeu] told me: 'Gerard, I didn't know'. I believed it, but then you see the person in charge of hiring those services is still at the club.

    "It hurts a lot. I say that because I personally told the president before. What else can I say? Is it painful? Yes. Can I do something else? Well, no.

    "My relationship with the president is cordial but there are certain things that remain."

    Pique this week penned a new four-year contract, which has reportedly caused a dressing-room split as a number of players – including the defender – are said to have signed a letter saying they will not negotiate with the current board.

    Asked about his decision to renew, and whether he considered departing Catalonia, Pique said: "If the coach didn't depend on me, I'd have had no problem [leaving].

    "The club told me and other players that due to the pandemic they will suffer a lot financially. In that situation, Barca is not above anyone. 

    "Barca have given me everything, so I put myself at their disposal. They tell me all the money I can give up this year will be collected in the future.

    "I think we are helping the club. The pay may be bigger in the future but for there to be a future we must act like this.

    "In a personal capacity, each player is free to accept the club's proposal voluntarily. 

    "Another thing is that they force you unilaterally and that they do it with the ways that they have done it. There, the truth is, I totally disagree."

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    This most peculiar of Premier League seasons resumes this weekend with leaders Everton facing Southampton – and a notable nemesis.

    Champions Liverpool tackle an out-of-sorts Sheffield United and last season's runners-up Manchester City meet West Ham, who produced that utterly amazing comeback against Tottenham last week.

    Spurs are good value to bounce back against Burnley, particularly given Harry Kane's recent record, and Hugo Lloris might fancy a first clean sheet of the season.

    There's also the small matter of Manchester United versus Chelsea, where Bruno Fernandes will hope to keep racking up those fantasy points. He's just one of our Opta-powered tips for you this week.

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    Spurs will want to get that collapse against West Ham out of their system swiftly, and a trip to Burnley might just be exactly what they need.

    The Clarets have only beaten Spurs twice in 12 Premier League meetings and Jose Mourinho has never lost to them in nine games as a manager.

    Lloris will hope this is the moment for a first shutout of the season. He's certainly earned one: of Premier League keepers to play at least 10 games since August 2018, only Emiliano Martinez (81 per cent) has a better save percentage than Lloris (75.4 per cent). Lloris has saved 193 of the 252 most recent shots on target he has faced.

     

    AARON CRESSWELL

    If you're looking for full-back value, look no further than Aaron Cresswell.

    Okay, West Ham are likely to concede at least one goal against Manchester City, but Cresswell has more assists (three) and more chances created (12) than any other Premier League defender in 2020-21.

    And City are not exactly impregnable at the back – they have already conceded seven times this term.

     

    ANDY ROBERTSON

    Andy Robertson is probably the safest swap for those having to take Virgil van Dijk out of their defences.

    Liverpool's left-back has more assists (three) and more overall goal involvements (he's also scored twice) since the restart in June than any other Premier League defender.

    The Reds face Sheffield United, who have looked decidedly shaky of late.

     

    BRUNO FERNANDES

    It might be a stretch to predict another 4-0 win for United at home to Chelsea as it was at Old Trafford last season, but few would bet against Bruno Fernandes being involved in the thick of it.

    Since his debut in the Premier League, Fernandes has scored 11 and assisted nine goals, and no other player has reached 20 goal involvements in the competition in that time.

    Chelsea have also conceded three goals in two of their past three league matches.

    RAHEEM STERLING

    Simply put, Raheem Sterling loves playing against West Ham.

    The City forward has six goals and five assists in his past six league starts against the Hammers, a run that includes a hat-trick in a 5-0 win at London Stadium last season.

    In fact, Pep Guardiola has won all nine games against West Ham as a manager, his joint-best record against a single opponent alongside Watford and Bournemouth.

     

    DANNY INGS

    Everton are tough opponents for anyone right now, but that does not change the fact that Danny Ings has always rather enjoyed facing them.

    The Southampton striker has scored in four of his five appearances against the Toffees in all competitions, including in both games last season.

    Only against Spurs (five) has he scored more goals for Saints.

     

    HARRY KANE

    Harry Kane has been flying this season and there is every chance his form continues against Burnley on Monday.

    Kane has managed six goals and two assists in his past four Premier League games against the Clarets and hit a hat-trick at Turf Moor three years ago.

    Spurs have also scored 11 in just two away games in the league this term.

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