Ahead of FC Barcelona’s trip to Ferencvaros in the Champions League, head coach Ronald Koeman has spoken on a range of subjects including the decision to drop captain Lionel Messi and the 33-year-old’s transformation in playing style.
Koeman started his press conference by stressing that tomorrow’s clash is not a dead rubber.
“The most important thing is to qualify for the next round, which we achieved in Kiev, but we are at Barca and we have to play well and win every match,” the Dream Team legend said.
“If we want to [finish] first in the group, we know that we have three points advantage over Juventus and there are two matches left,” he pointed out.
Dropping Messi for the second time running on the continent, Koeman conceded that this was “unusual” but has been done due to having already qualified so that the Argentine can be rested for Saturday’s La Liga showdown with Cadiz.
His return much-needed, due to a lack of defensive options owing to injuries, Koeman confirmed that World Cup winner Samuel Umtiti will play for the Barca B reserves on Wednesday.
It was also explained that Ronald Araujo would have only travelled to Hungary if he was 100 percent fit. And as he is not, he could instead make his way back to the fold at the weekend or when the Blaugrana face Juventus.
“Of course I talk to [Gerard] Pique, because he’s here every morning to train [his] strength,” Koeman answered, when asked whether he’d touched bases with the sidelined veteran.
“I hope we can count on him [this season] in some games but I don’t know what date [he’ll return]. We don’t have to force [him].”
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In a purple patch after scoring three across his last two outings, Koeman declared that striker Martin Braithwaite “deserved to play”, and will be needed in the domestic championship where “it is more necessary to play with a ‘9’”.
“Leo is always Leo,” Koeman began, in relation to the 33-year-old’s recent transformation to a different type of role. “He has a lot of importance, especially in attack.
‘If he gets to the ball [we make] moves, [and] there’s a lot of quality in his passes. At the beginning of the season he tried [as a false ‘9’].
‘You can’t always score 30 goals, but he’s still an important and decisive player in our attack.”
Lastly, on whether it was difficult to convince the Ballon d’Or holder to sit the last two away trips out, Koeman said, “Of course, any player always likes to play but all the decisions are made by talking to the players even though the [final] decision is mine, the coach’s.
There were two opportunities for Leo to rest, in Kiev and Budapest, because in the rest of the season we have to play La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Super Cup, the Champions League… So we’ve taken the opportunity to rest him.”