Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi, left, and Getafe’s Uruguayan defender Mathias Olivera during the Spanish League match on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”


Hamilton tests positive for COVID-19, will miss Sakhir F1 GP

Updated 38 min 23 sec ago

Hamilton tests positive for COVID-19, will miss Sakhir F1 GP

  • The team issued a statement saying Hamilton was tested three times last week and returned a negative result each time
  • Hamilton is in isolation in accordance with the health protocols in Bahrain

World champion Lewis Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Sakhir Grand Prix this weekend, his Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team said Tuesday.
The team issued a statement saying Hamilton was tested three times last week and returned a negative result each time, the last on Sunday afternoon at the Bahrain International Circuit where he won the Grand Prix.
“But he up woke Monday morning with mild symptoms and was informed at the same time that a contact prior to arrival in Bahrain had subsequently tested positive,” the team said. “Lewis, therefore, took a further test and returned a positive result. This has since been confirmed by a retest.”
Hamilton is in isolation in accordance with the health protocols in Bahrain.
“Apart from mild symptoms, he is otherwise fit and well, and the entire team sends him its very best wishes for a swift recovery,” the team statement said.
The 35-year-old Hamilton appeared to be drained at the end of the race in Bahrain.
“It’s physical, this track has always been physical. We’ve got lots of high-speed corners so I was definitely feeling it,” he said soon after the GP. “I was sliding around a lot out there and I wasn’t really quite sure how it would play out at the end.”
There is another race in Bahrain on Sunday — on Sakhir’s shorter outer circuit — before the 17-race season concludes in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton has a big lead in the F1 drivers’ champion with 332 points, well ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas on 201 points and Max Verstappen on 189.
The Mercedes team said it would announce a replacement driver later in the week.