Javier Mascherano insists it’s too early to write off Barcelona’s season

‘Don’t kill us yet’ says the leader of Camp Nou ahead of Manchester City clash

 Javier Mascherano of Barcelona faces the media during a press conference ahead the Champions League quarter-final second-leg match against Manchester City.  Photograph:  David Ramos/Getty Images

Javier Mascherano of Barcelona faces the media during a press conference ahead the Champions League quarter-final second-leg match against Manchester City. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

 


Javier Mascherano faced Barcelona’s executioners and said: “Don’t kill us yet.” As the pressure builds and talk of crisis engulfs the Catalan club, the man they call the Little Chief stepped forward once again.

The Argentinian carries a gravitas and leadership that has been apparent at key moments before – he spoke before the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid in 2011, three days after a wounded Barca had lost the cup final to their bitter rivals, and he was called on again as they prepared for the second leg against Manchester City.

Mascherano insisted that Barcelona have a “lovely opportunity” to reach the quarter-finals after their 2-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium. He also noted: “We’re not so bad.”

So far, so standard but if this appears a redundant message, it was not. It needed to be delivered and few do so like him. The mood in Catalonia is far from optimistic. That first-leg victory was three weeks ago but feels like a world away and the criticism has been vicious. The 2-0 lead appears vulnerable.

Third defeat
Barcelona fell to their third defeat in six league games against Valladolid on Saturday, slipping four points behind Real Madrid and releasing months of simmering debate and doubt. For much of the last 18 months, the team have sustained the institution amid a catalogue of off-field problems, including the resignation of the president, Sandro Rosell, after prosecutors opened an investigation for alleged “simulated contracts” and tax avoidance.

With poor results and performances, the pressure has built. Against Valladolid, Barcelona were dreadful and the press has been pitiless. Supporters have grown concerned, even if the coach, Tata Martino, did insist that they, unlike the press, would back the team tonight.

Mascherano appeared at Sant Joan Despi and was engulfed by cameras. When they parted, it was as if he faced a firing squad.

A similar experience awaited Martino afterwards. Why are you playing so badly? Has the team become satiated by success? Are you weak? Will you continue? Are the team training hard enough? Are the players on the manager’s side? One after the other, the questions came. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat. Few asked about City, except to question what happened. How could a team who played so well in Manchester be so different now?

Mascherano talked of “dramatisation” and insisted that this was neither “Disney nor a horror film”. His message was a measured and positive one. At one point it was passionate too, leaning forward, voice rising, swift and direct. This was a defence of Barcelona and of the manager. “We’re not tocados,” he said. Tocados roughly means wounded or damaged, hurt, mentally as well as physically. “It’s March. Wait for us to be dying before you kill us off. We’re still alive.

“We have a 2-0 lead, in our favour,” Mascherano said, stressing “in our favour”. “We’re not so bad. This is a nice opportunity to reach the quarter-finals. The idea is to win trophies but the obligation is to be competing for them at this stage. If all goes well I think we have 18 games left. Let’s weigh things up at the end. Wait until we’re dying before you kill us. Don’t kill us yet; it’s only March.”

As for tonight, Mascherano highlights Sergio Aguero as City’s greatest threat and admits Barca cannot afford to offer his fellow Argentinian any space.


Best forwards
“I think we’ll see City really attack. They play that way normally and with the result against them more so. Aguero is one of the five best forwards in the world, a fantastic player, and with space he can ruin your night.

“We’ll try to give him as little space as possible and make sure he is not comfortable, that he doesn’t feel like he’s in his natural habit. We will try to do the same [as in the first leg]: keep possession, not let them counterattack, don’t give them space. The way to do that is to have the ball for the majority of the game. We’re the ones who have the lead.
Guardian Service

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