Barcelona look to stir from poor start in La Liga

Barcelona look to stir from poor start in La Liga
Lionel Messi
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Updated 07 November 2020

Barcelona look to stir from poor start in La Liga

Barcelona look to stir from poor start in La Liga

MADRI, Spain: Barcelona have taken solace in the Champions League recently while getting off to their worst start to a La Liga season in almost two decades, leaving Ronald Koeman’s side already under serious pressure before Saturday’s meeting with Real Betis.

The Catalans have taken just eight points from their first six matches in La Liga, failing to win any of their last four outings after drawing 1-1 away at 10-man Alaves in the Basque Country last time out.

It is their worst start since 2002/03, a campaign in which they finished sixth, and they are already nine points behind the leaders, Real Sociedad, albeit with two games in hand.

Barca are also eight points adrift of reigning champions Real Madrid and they desperately need a result at home to Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis with a trip to Atletico Madrid coming up next.

“The mood is better, there are new players, young players who are bringing dynamism to the group and the way we play,” insisted Gerard Pique after Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Dynamo Kiev, their third in three Champions League outings.

The emergence of the likes of Ansu Fati, who turned 18 last weekend, and fellow teenager Pedri does point to a brighter future, but Barca remain mired in crisis off the field after the recent resignation of president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

“The club right now is how it is,” Pique said. “It’s in a process of many changes which are necessary. We needed to turn things around. It was obvious that we were in decline and every year we were a little worse.

“We don’t have much time, but we need it to improve. There’s never a transition year at Barcelona, but now a new president and board will come in and we will see changes in the coming months.”

In the meantime Koeman will also be hoping for Lionel Messi to show something more like his old form against Betis, as the Argentine is still looking for his first goal in open play this season.

He has just one league goal so far, and leaving aside last season when he was injured at the beginning of the campaign, it is Messi’s own worst start in front of goal in La Liga since 2005. Back then he was an 18-year-old just breaking through.

Betis head to the Camp Nou in seventh place and their star man so far has been a former Barcelona player: Catalan-born winger Cristian Tello has four goals to his name including two in last week’s win over Elche.

After a shocking mistake by stand-in Neto gifted Alaves a goal last weekend, Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a welcome return between the posts for Barcelona against Dynamo Kiev.

The German was making his first appearance of the season after a knee injury and starred as Barca beat the Ukrainians 2-1. Koeman will hope for more of the same from his No. 1 in the weeks ahead.


Saudi golfer Alsharif says game in the Kingdom ‘better than ever’

Saud Alsharif has called on more young potential golf stars to make the most of what is available to them throughout Saudi Arabia and the wider region. (Golf Saudi/File Photo)
Saud Alsharif has called on more young potential golf stars to make the most of what is available to them throughout Saudi Arabia and the wider region. (Golf Saudi/File Photo)
Updated 19 January 2021

Saudi golfer Alsharif says game in the Kingdom ‘better than ever’

Saud Alsharif has called on more young potential golf stars to make the most of what is available to them throughout Saudi Arabia and the wider region. (Golf Saudi/File Photo)
  • World’s best players preparing for Saudi International this February
  • Alsharif said no excuse for more Arab talent not to take up golf

RIYADH: Saudi golfer Saud Alsharif believes having the sport's best players competing in Saudi Arabia is key to the development and growth of the game in the Kingdom. 

World number one Dustin Johnson will be joined by the likes of US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau as well as European superstars Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia at the Saudi International in February.

Royal Greens Golf Club will host the third edition of the event, which is once again one of the opening events on the European Tour calendar.

Johnson won the first Saudi International in 2019, recording an impressive 19 under par, whilst Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell secured victory at last year’s tournament.

“Players like Dustin (Johnson) and Brooks (Koepka) coming to Saudi is a real honour and I really do wish I can play with any of these guys – they are massive stars in world golf. For golf fans in Saudi to see Dustin Johnson and others is incredible – they are some of the best sportsmen in the world, Alsharif said.

“Three years ago we didn’t have any big, global event in Saudi and right now we have the biggest golf event in the Middle East with the biggest field so it really is booming. It really does help the golf community in Saudi Arabia and encourage more people to take this up.”

Growing up in the region, Saud didn’t have anywhere near the same accessibility to coaches or facilities as today’s young hopefuls – and he has called on more young potential stars to make the most of what is available to them throughout Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

“Right now golf in Saudi Arabia is better than I could have ever imagined it. We have everything we need to go out and play the best golf we can. We’ve got coaching throughout the game, including on the mental side of the game,” he said. 

“We’ve also got great facilities too and its exciting that there is young talent coming through.

“Previously it used to be travelling to play in local events with a lot less coaching and a team gathering every three or four months in Riyadh – that was pretty much it. Now we have good relationships with our coaches where we can see them more and the team can sign us up to compete in more events too.

Whatever you wish for, it is there, so there is no excuse for us not to go out there and play well,” he added.

Tournament preparations have been different this time around due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed on competitions and travel, but Alsharif said that has had limited impact on his own confidence as he looks to improve on previous years in the competition.

“It’s been very quiet with COVID and travel so we haven’t been able to play. I played an event in Bahrain last month which was nice to get into. Unfortunately, I lost in the play-off but I keep working very hard with Jamie (McDonnell, coach and caddy). I can’t see him at the moment, but we communicate a lot,” he said.

“I’m very excited but I’m also really relaxed going into this event. I know I haven’t played a lot of events recently but I have so much confidence in my game right now because of the practice over the year.

“One thing that stood out last year was my decision making on the course and the caddy/player relationship and how we talked on the course.

“It’s a big part of the game and its important. You need a good caddy and Jamie was there for me and he did such a great job for me last year on this course.

“I went from shooting 85 to 75,and that is all down to decision making. I was going into the first round very excited, taking on shots and not really taking on the game plan and managing it as we discussed.

“That really affected me on the first day but on the second day it was the complete opposite, I was completely relaxed and I listened to my caddy and the results showed that,” he added.

Saud will be joined by fellow Saudi Othman Almulla as the two local representatives competing at the tournament, which runs Feb. 4-7.

For more information visit www.saudiinternational.com