Barcelona forward Lionel Messi gave his backing to the club's under-pressure manager Ernesto Valverde at a rare press conference appearance on Friday.
Messi was speaking on the eve of the Copa del Rey final with Valencia, where a win would see the Blaugrana complete a cup and La Liga double.
Despite that, Valverde has been under scrutiny following the team's exit from the UEFA Champions League, as Barcelona let a 3-0 first-leg semi-final lead slip against Liverpool, crumbling to a 4-0 loss at Anfield.
Messi said the players should take responsibility for the manner of the defeat, not the manager:
As Spanish football journalist Andy West relayed, it's been a long time since the Barcelona No. 10 addressed the media at a press conference:
Here is a reminder of the remarkable night on Merseyside that left a huge stain on the Blaugrana's season (U.S. only):
Having clinched the La Liga title before that match at Anfield, Barcelona's season has meandered towards a conclusion since their elimination from the Champions League. Their league term culminated in a 2-2 draw at Eibar on Sunday.
Messi said the Liverpool loss is still on his mind:
What was infuriating for Barcelona supporters following their collapse against Liverpool was that it was the second time the team have capitulated in this way under Valverde. In the quarter-finals of the same competition in 2017, they lost 3-0 in the second leg to Roma, meaning they were eliminated on away goals after a 4-1 victory in the first leg.
Messi said he thinks the elimination against Liverpool represented much more of a low point for the team than the Roma result:
The Argentina international also dismissed any notion that the team's Champions League failures would make him consider his own future at the Camp Nou:
It's set to be a busy summer at Barcelona regardless, with Frenkie de Jong arriving from Ajax. There has also been speculation linking Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann with a move to the club after he confirmed he would be changing teams in this window.
Messi was asked about the prospect of linking up with Griezmann, but he wasn't keen to discuss any possible deal:
He also said he's hoping the team can finish the season by beating Valencia and winning their fifth Copa del Rey in succession:
Given the pressure Valverde is under, the Barcelona hierarchy will be hopeful that Messi's praise for the coach will help stem criticism from sections of the fanbase. After all, the 31-year-old's words carry so much weight, especially since he speaks in public so rarely.
With Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele missing for Saturday's game, there will an onus on Messi to make the team tick in attack. After scoring 50 goals in all competitions this term, he's unlikely to be burdened by that expectation.