BARCELONA

Messi: Barcelona boss Koeman defends captain after red card

Barça head coach Ronald Koeman reacted to Lionel Messi's sending-off in the Blaugrana's Spanish Super Cup final defeat to Athletic Club on Sunday.

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Barca boss Koeman defends Messi after red card in Supercopa loss

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman empathised with Lionel Messi's frustration after the Argentine was sent off in the Blaugrana's Spanish Super Cup final loss to Athletic Club.

Messi saw red for the first time in his illustrious club career as embattled LaLiga giants Barça were upstaged 3-2 by Athletic after extra time in Seville on Sunday.

After Athletic star Iñaki Williams struck in the third minute of extra time, Messi swung at Asier Villalibre in an off-the-ball incident that was spotted by VAR and referee Jesús Gil Manzano brandished a red card.

Messi – who has been tipped to leave Camp Nou amid links with Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain – is facing a lengthy suspension, but Barça head coach Koeman defended the 33-year-old.

Koeman: "I can understand what Messi did"

"I can understand what Messi did," Koeman said afterwards. "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."

Messi, who was fouled eight times against Athletic, recovered from a minor injury to return to Barcelona's line-up in his 753rd appearance for the Catalan club.

"Leo, after so many years in the elite of football, knows perfectly if he is fit or not," Koeman said. "We spoke before, he said he was fit to play the game, he has given his maximum and nothing else."

Antoine Griezmann scored twice for Barça, including the 40th-minute opener, but his goals were cancelled out on both occasions at Estadio de La Cartuja.

Athletic's Óscar de Marcos equalised in the 42nd minute before substitute team-mate Villalibre forced extra time at the death, after Griezmann had restored Barcç's lead with 13 minutes remaining.

Williams stepped up with a sublime goal as Barça – third in LaLiga and seven points adrift of leaders Atlético Madrid – missed out on their first title under Koeman, who replaced Quique Setién ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

Barcelona "must defend better"

"We are sad, disappointed by the result," Koeman added. "We played the final to win and not to lose that, yes. But there is no time to get off. We'll be playing soon, there's a cup and a league, there's no time for regrets.

"We have done positive things, we have improved. We have failed in the goals received. We have to be more forceful in defence. We must defend better in the area and not let the opponents think, they cannot control, turn and shoot easily. We can improve.

"My work ... I give the maximum I can. My work is not very good if we had won, nor very bad for losing. We are on the way, there are positive things, although losing today is very hard."