Sport Soccer

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Martino demands better attitude from Barca

Gerardo Martino
Gerardo Martino

Nigel Whittaker

Injury-hit Barcelona could hardly have picked a more difficult match as they bid to bounce back from their first defeat of the season – an away date at Athletic Bilbao tomorrow, even though they haven't lost there for nearly eight years.

Barcelona did not need a deep analysis of last Tuesday's 2-1 loss at Ajax to know where the problems lay.

It wasn't so much their play or tactics, but a lack of hunger and desire shown by the players, with the team having already clinched a spot in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Coach Gerardo Martino criticised his players' attitude and warned that it needed to change for match against Bilbao. The Catalans remain without Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, but Xavi Hernandez, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves and Adriano are available for the trip to the Basque country.

Bilbao, unbeaten in their last eight games, will have to ditch a dangerous trend if they are to beat Barcelona for the first time since May 2006 – they have come from behind to win four times and draw twice in 14 games.

Under coach Ernesto Valverde, Bilbao have returned to a free-flowing style of football that led the Basque club to the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals two seasons ago before the exits of Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente.

Real Madrid will decide shortly before kick-off whether to play Cristiano Ronaldo against Valladolid at the Bernabeu.

Everyone is waiting for Atletico Madrid's impressive start to the season to come to a halt, with the 'other' Madrid club sitting just three points off first-place Barcelona.

Atletico, who play Elche, routed Getafe 7-0 last weekend, which led coach Diego Simeone to call the Spanish league "boring" due to the disparity between Barcelona, Madrid and the other 18 clubs.

Despite injuries to captain Philipp Lahm, striker Mario Mandzukic and winger Franck Ribery, Bayern Munich are expected to rack up another win against Eintracht Braunschweig in one of the most lop-sided meetings in the Bundesliga for years today.

Bayern's players cost 128 times more than the promoted side's (€222.3m versus €1.73m), while the league's meanest defence (seven goals conceded) faces the most impotent attack (eight goals scored).

Elsewhere, Serie A leaders Juventus will be cheered on by thousands of children against Udinese.

The sectors behind each goal at the Juventus Stadium, normally populated by ultras, will instead by filled by 6,400 children. The punishment was inflicted for insulting territorial chants in a 3-0 win over Napoli.

Irish Independent

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