The Liga champions have stumbled from one controversy to the next in recent weeks, but their new manager and the players remain focused on results
Head coach Quique Setien does not expect Barcelona‘s focus to waver over a key run of games despite a series of off-field controversies.
The forthcoming schedule represents a make-or-break stretch in the season for Setien’s side, who are a point behind Madrid in the table.
Yet a number of incidents away from the pitch have overshadowed the early weeks of Setien’s tenure.
Director of football Eric Abidal suggested the players had not been working for previous coach Ernesto Valverde prior to his January dismissal, prompting a strong response from captain Lionel Messi.
Barca then denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER this week that they hired a company to damage the image of key figures associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.
But Setien is not distracted said ahead of the Eibar game: “You’d think it might affect us, but the reality is it’s not like that.
“We’re very focused on what we need to focus on. We’re focused on football matters, we have a lot to focus on. We know what goes on, but I can assure you it doesn’t influence anything.
“We’re focused on our objective, which is to win games, play well and allow the fans to enjoy themselves. Anything other than that really doesn’t affect us.”
And Setien confirmed president Josep Maria Bartomeu had discussed the latest issue with senior players.
“Everything the president says is accepted. He told us exactly the same as what he said everywhere,” he said. “I’m not thinking about that anymore.”
Setien was reluctant to discuss the clash with Napoli but was asked about Messi’s suggestion in a wide-ranging Mundo Deportivo interview that Barca were not ready to compete for the Champions League this season.
“There are things that I agree with and things that I’m not in agreement with,” Setien said. “In the past 20 years, we have won a lot of Champions Leagues.
“We’ve got the same chance of winning as other teams have. There’s no room for error. There are things we need to try to improve and that we need to do well. That’s clear.
“We’re not happy with everything, but I think we’re growing gradually and reaching a level that will allow us to compete, definitely, with every team.”
Barca controversially signed Martin Braithwaite from Leganes this week, following long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, and the new man has gone straight into the squad for the Eibar game.
“He’s come here with a lot of excitement and a lot of desire,” Setien said of Braithwaite. “We hope that he can help us a lot.”
Also in with the chance of a first-team debut is Barcelona B left-back Sergio Akieme, who joined the club from Rayo Vallecano in September.
The 22-year-old has been called up to provide cover for Junior Firpo after Jordi Alba injured his right adductor last weekend, potentially making the Spain international a doubt to face Madrid.