Football

Coach Quique Setien disputes reports of unrest at Barcelona

Club legend Xavi waiting in the wings to take over Nou Camp hot seat

Barcelona coach Quique Setien insists his relationship with the players is good, despite reports of unrest in the dressing room and tension between Lionel Messi and Setien's assistant, Eder Sarabia.

An angry exchange of views reportedly followed Barca's 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo last Saturday, a result that allowed Real Madrid to go two points clear at the top of La Liga by beating Espanyol 1-0.

Madrid-based daily Marca reported that the players questioned Setien's tactics and his decision to bring on Antoine Griezmann and Arthur.

Footage also appeared to show Messi twice pointedly ignoring Sarabia, with the Argentine turning away from Setien's No. 2 as he tried to give him instructions during a cooling break.

Luis Suarez also appeared to blame the coaching staff during the post-match interview. When asked about Barca's poor away form in La Liga, the striker replied: "It's up to the coaches to analyse it. We're there to do our best on the pitch."

The La Liga champions have dropped just two points in 16 home games but have lost five away matches, just one fewer than they have won on the road.

The reports of strife come at a bad time given Barcelona host in-form Atletico Madrid tomorrow morning (Singapore time), when another slip-up could effectively concede the title. Third-placed Atleti have won their last four matches.

"There are always controversies, like in life, because we all have our own way of seeing things and thinking," Reuters quoted Setien as saying.

"But this is normal. I was not an easy player to deal with either. You have your own vision and the important thing is to convince everyone to defend a common cause.

"But I see it as something natural. I think the communication is good and I don't attach importance to specific incidents."

Barcelona were leading 2-1 against Celta at Balaidos with two minutes left when Iago Aspas scored from a free-kick given away by Gerard Pique.

On the suggestion of arguments in the dressing room after the match, Setien said: "When you don't win and when there is a one-off moment like that free-kick, everyone looks for something. This is the circus we're involved in.

"We are concerned with more general aspects. The relationship with the players is good.

"There are specific moments when there may be differences of opinion but I don't perceive any problem that is worth mentioning, far from it."

Setien confirmed another meeting took place with the players on Sunday.

"Yesterday we talked about many things but we focused on football, on doing things better, on this situation we are in where we are not converting superiority into goals, which then results in nervousness and frustration."

Compounding matters for Setien are comments from club legend Xavi Hernandez. Setien was handed the reigns at the Nou Camp only after the 40-year-old turned his boyhood club down.

Xavi told Catalan daily Sport: "The biggest hope I have now is to be Barca coach and get Barca back to winning ways.

"I'm a club man. I would like to return at the right moment to start a project from zero. I've said it a lot of times but I want to take footballing decisions at Barcelona.

"It's clear that after the elections the stage would be set, of course. I'm not ruling anything out."

Football