Barcelona v Manchester City: Javier Mascherano forced to defend Barca against angry fans

Barcelona's bid for the La Liga title has taken a hit in recent weeks

barcelona

Tomorrow night he faces the challenge of marking Sergio Aguero, but Javier Mascherano was today defending Barcelona against a threat far closer to home – the club's own critical supporters.

"Wait for us to be dying before you kill us off," the former Liverpool midfielder said of the wave of criticism and negativity engulfing Barcelona as they prepare for the last-16 second leg against Manchester City.

Barça were six points ahead of Real Madrid in the table last year but a dismal 2014 has led to Real turning the tables, establishing a four-point lead at the top of La Liga. It's a 10-point swing that has the club's opinion-formers already planning a future without coach Gerardo Martino at the end of the season.

After their worst performance of the season at the weekend against Valladolid, criticism has intensified but Mascherano said: "We just have to keep doing what we have been doing for so many years.

"Our heads are not down. We don't analyse things as the media do. We are in the final of the Spanish Cup and have an advantage in this game and winning the league is still possible."

He was asked about stories circulating after the weekend defeat that the team are not training as well as they were two seasons ago under Pep Guardiola. Mascherano laughed at the suggestion.

"If there is one thing we have, it is unity," he said, before giving a stirring defence of his under-fire coach Martino. "Maybe he does not have a big name but he is 15 years in this job [as a coach] and no one has given him anything; he has had to fight to get to where he is.

"He had to go outside of his home country to get recognition," he said referring to the coach's first success in Paraguay. "He then went back home, won things in Argentina and then he went to the World Cup and almost knocked out the winners [Spain].

"Then he beat Brazil in the South American championship. When you start disrespecting someone, you should take a look at their CV. He will have gone through much worse things than two defeats in 15 days.

"People want to make us believe it's over but we know it isn't. We can still fight for all three trophies. We have already won one trophy – the Spanish Super Cup – and are in three other competitions."

There was also plenty of emphasis on the game being in the Champions League, where Barcelona have dominated winning it three times since 2006, and not in the league which increasingly looks Madrid's to lose.

What Barcelona supporters have most criticised the team for is the lack of competitive edge and hunger, with it being pointed out that in the team that lost 1-0 to lowly Valladolid at the weekend, the players on the pitch had won 147 trophies between them.

There is a perceived motivation deficit after so much success but Mascherano said: "We know football has no memory. We know we cannot hang on to what has happened in the past.

"When you are in pre-season, you dream about being in exactly the position we are in now – it's March and we are still in three competitions." There was even a pop at the nostalgia for Guardiola that clouds all that happens at the club. "In my second year here we only won the Copa del Rey," he said.

And there was a tired rub of the face when the Argentine was asked about his compatriot Leo Messi, who also had the finger of blame pointed at him for not showing sufficient leadership qualities at the weekend. "He is our talisman," he said of the striker who is now five goals from Raul's all-time Champions League scoring record of 71.

The other Argentine striker on the pitch tomorrow could end up having an even bigger say in events. Aguero returns after missing the first leg and Mascherano said: "He is one of the best five strikers in the world and if you let him, then he will ruin your night. We have to make sure he has a very uncomfortable night and he does not feel in his natural habitat."

Martino defended accusations that his star-studded forward line was misfiring. "They have not played together a great deal but when they have they have linked up well," he said of Messi and Neymar.

The Brazilian was accused of strolling through the defeat at the weekend and being guilty of missing the only real chance that Barcelona created. Having just come back from scoring a hat-trick for Brazil against South Africa, this only increased the suspicion that some players have their sights set on the World Cup and are letting the distraction affect their form.

Martino said despite the negativity surrounding Barcelona's season, the supporters inside the stadium will not let the side down.

Barcelona have a 2-0 lead to protect and Martino said: "If you are playing at home and the opposition score, that always makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere but I'm sure the fans will understand they have a role to play."

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?