BARCELONA CRASHED out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday night as Athletic Bilbao pulled off a shock result to reach the semi-finals.
Barca were beaten 1-0 by Bilbao at San Mames, where Inaki Williams scored a dramatic 93rd-minute winner.
For Barca, defeat was particularly painful, coming at the end of a turbulent week that saw Lionel Messi engage in a public spat with the club’s sporting director Eric Abidal and Ousmane Dembele ruled out, probably for the rest of the season, with another hamstring tear.
To make matters worse, Gerard Pique hobbled off with his own injury problem in the second half against Bilbao and now looks doubtful to face Real Betis in La Liga on Sunday.
Messi’s riposte that “everyone should take responsibility for their own decisions” after Abidal suggested Ernesto Valverde was sacked last month because of the players, means Barcelona are in political turmoil off the pitch.
And the fear is Messi could even leave in the summer by activating a clause in his contract that allows him to walk away from the club for free.
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Defeat in the Copa del Rey, a distance third in Barca’s list of priorities this season, will not dictate Messi’s thinking but another setback certainly adds to the sense of a club currently in a state of crisis.
Quique Setien has now lost two of his opening six games in charge, with a Champions League tie against Napoli fast-approaching. The fall-out from another disappointment in Europe would prove longer-lasting.