Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has admitted opposition sides are being bolder against his side now that they can no longer count on Lionel Messi, after the Catalans were held 1-1 away to Athletic Bilbao in LaLiga on Saturday.
A thumping late strike from Memphis Depay cancelled out Inigo Martinez’s header to earn Barca a point but Koeman admitted his team were still keenly feeling the absence of their all-time top scorer and former captain, two weeks after he left Barca for Paris St Germain following 21 years at the club.
“I don’t like to keep talking about the same thing but we’re talking about the best player in the world and opponents are always more scared when Messi is around,” Koeman told reporters.
“It’s also the same for us, if you give a pass to Messi, he normally doesn’t lose the ball. You can feel that he is not here any more. We all know it but we can’t change it.”
Barca had gotten off to a strong start in their first game without Messi by easing to a 4-2 win over Real Sociedad last week but were given a cold dose of reality against an intense Athletic side, who overpowered and outrun them for most of the game.
“I think we ran into too many difficulties at the start of the game. They put us under a lot of pressure and did very well and we couldn’t play with any patience,” Koeman added.
“But I have to highlight the attitude we showed after we went behind. I think the draw is fair because if you play like we did at a ground like this you’re always going to run into trouble. I have no complaints about the result.”