BARCELONA – Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman is grateful to Lionel Messi for endorsing his appointment and praising his impact even though they are enduring their worst start to a season in 33 years.
Messi said a young team were growing under the Dutchman as they bid to improve on their current fifth place in La Liga, eight points behind leaders Atletico Madrid.
“I’m not sure if it makes me more calm but I’m grateful because he’s a very important player to this club and in the world of football, so anyone would be happy for him to speak well about them,” Koeman told a news conference on Monday.
“But I feel the same way, I’m trying to get the team to move forward. It’s a transitional year with lots of changes but he’s still a very important part of this team and if he can help us improve more for the rest of this season we can be happy.”
Messi, who is heading into the final six months of his contract with Barca, will miss Tuesday’s home game against Eibar due to an ankle injury but should be fit to face Huesca on Jan. 3.
French winger Ousmane Dembele is set to return to the team against Eibar after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Eibar are hovering above the relegation zone but gave champions Real Madrid good game this month before losing 3-1.
“They are a very competitive team, who always try to press their opponents high up the pitch,” Koeman said.
“We will have to play well and make the most of the space when they press us. If we’re not on top form, it’ll be a tough game.”