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Ronald Koeman defends decision to start Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann 'angry' at defence as Barcelona lose Spanish Super Cup final

Catalans defeated 3-2 after extra time by Athletic Bilbao, with captain receiving the first red card of his club career

Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman has defended his decision to start Lionel Messi in the Spanish Super Cup final after the Argentine was sent off for the first time in his club career as Athletic Bilbao won 3-2 after extra time.

Messi had missed Wednesday's semi-final win over Real Sociedad through injury but before the final Koeman said he would allow his captain to make a decision on his fitness.

"I think after so many years at the top level, he knows when he can play and when he can't," Koeman told a news conference after the defeat. "I spoke with him and he said he was fit enough to start the game."

Messi was lively early on and heavily involved in Barca's opener, but he visibly tired and was kept out of the game by Bilbao as it wore on.

His frustrations got the better of him and reached boiling point in the final minute of added time as he struck Asier Villalibre and was dismissed following a VAR review.

"I can understand what Messi did," Koeman said. "I don't know how many times they fouled him, and it's normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly."

Given the red card was shown for violent conduct, Messi is likely to face a four-game ban across La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

Antoine Griezmann, who scored both of Barcelona's goals, blamed a lack of leadership in defence for his side's defeat.

Griezmann twice gave the Catalans the lead, however Bilbao enjoyed the game's best chances, causing havoc at set-pieces as they had a goal disallowed for offside and missed two gilt-edged headers to increase their advantage in the extra period.

"I'm angry, annoyed, peeved. Every single bad feeling you can have after losing a final," Griezmann told Movistar.

Barca have struggled to defend dead ball situations in big games in recent years, conceding from corners in their famous Champions League eliminations to AS Roma and Liverpool.

They are currently missing defensive lynchpin Gerard Pique, who is likely to be out until March with a knee problem, and are sorely missing his presence at the back.

"We knew that Marcelino's side's press well and they played well, but we made so many strategic mistakes.

"We defended poorly and weren't communicating on set-pieces: important little details like when the ball is cleared or when we need to push out, someone needs to be shouting."

Goals from Oscar De Marcos, substitute Asier Villalibre and Inaki Williams secured the trophy for Bilbao.

Barcelona face neighbours Cornella in the Copa del Rey round of 32 in midweek, while they sit third in La Liga, seven points behind leaders Atletico Madrid having played two games more.

Published: January 18, 2021 08:21 AM

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