Madrid: Lionel Messi’s 90th-minute winner against promoted Leganes did little to ease tensions at Barcelona, which finds itself in the unusual position of having to make peace with its fans.
There were jeers throughout the lackluster win over Leganes at Camp Nou on Sunday, prompting some players and coach Luis Enrique to leave the field discontent, and demanding more support from the crowd.
It’s a relatively new situation for Barcelona, which has been dominant in world soccer for the last decade. And it could get even worse if the club is unable to earn a good result against rival Atletico Madrid next weekend at Vicente Calderon Stadium, where the host has won four in a row in the Spanish league.
“Right now, the players don’t need to hear whistling, they need support,” Luis Enrique said. “For me, it makes no sense for a fan to jeer the players of his team. What can help is the support that we saw from the majority of the fans, that’s what makes us stronger.”
Barcelona fans are still processing the humiliating 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last week, which all but ended the team’s hopes for a European title. Defeat against Atletico could leave the club in a difficult position to win the Spanish league as well. Barcelona is one point behind leader Real Madrid after 23 rounds, but Real has two games in hand.
Against Leganes, Messi converted the late penalty kick but he appeared upset and did not celebrate.
“It’s clear that at times we are lacking confidence,” Luis Enrique said. “But the team rallied in a match that was complicated. The winning goal came through a penalty, but considering our situation, we will take it.”
Gerard Pique, who also didn’t celebrate the winner as he watched from the bench, complained of the fans’ “short memory.”
“I can understand the discontentment, but I don’t agree with how it’s being displayed,” he said. “We are talking about eight titles out of 10 competitions with this coach. We can overcome this. It’s been a month or so without playing the way we are used to playing. It’s taking a while, but we are still alive in three competitions.”
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who had to make some great saves against Leganes, said he didn’t understand the jeers at Camp Nou.
“Everyone who was on the field tried to do their best,” he said. “The most important thing we need is for the fans to support us in difficult moments like this, like after the 4-0 loss we had in Paris. We need the fans to support us, especially at home. We need to stay united.”
The match Leganes, which is winless in 11 games and only one spot away from the relegation zone, marked the worst attendance at Camp Nou in the Spanish league this season. About 63,300 fans were on hand for what was Leganes’ first league match at the venue.
The crowd showed their discontentment with the whole team, but most of the jeers were targeted at midfielder Andre Gomes, the newly signed midfielder who was replaced in the 80th after another disappointing performance.
Luis Enrique, who has been loudly criticized since the demoralizing loss to PSG, also was targeted. Part of the crowd chanted the coach’s name at one point, but their yells were quickly muffled by boos from the rest of the crowd.
“It was expected after the result and the performance that we had in Paris, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “But those who are on the field need to be focused 100 percent. I don’t think the jeers helped us.”
Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu expressed his support for the coach.
“Luis Enrique is the coach that we want, he is doing a fantastic job and, with the exception of Paris, we are happy with the results,” Bartomeu said.
Barcelona’s return last-16 match against PSG is on March 8 at Camp Nou. Barcelona wants to avoid its first elimination at this stage since 2007. The team is also playing in the Copa del Rey final on May 27 against Alaves.
“The situation will improve 1000 percent,” Luis Enrique said. “We know that confidence, solidarity and effort will lead us to good results. I’m certain that better days will come and we will turn this situation around.”