Gerard Pique: Pre-season tour the reason for Barca's poor start
Barca centre-back says long trips to Japan, US contributed to lethargic opening
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has pointed to the club's exhausting pre-season programme as the reason for their slow start to the season.
The Catalan side's 2-1 home victory over Villarreal yesterday morning (Singapore time) meant that they now have managed three wins, two defeats and a draw in La Liga.
The Villarreal victory was a welcome relief after Barca suffered a humbling 2-0 defeat by newly promoted Granada last weekend, a result that saw them get off to their worst start since the 1994/95 season.
Barca's win was marred by the sight of Lionel Messi, making his first start this season, receiving lengthy treatment before being replaced at halftime by Ousmane Dembele.
"The pre-season did not help at all to start well in the competition, a lot of travel and little training," Pique, 32, said.
Barca travelled to the Japanese cities of Saitama and Kobe for friendlies before heading back to Nou Camp to face Arsenal.
They then flew out to Miami and Michigan in the United States before returning for their La Liga opener against Athletic Bilbao.
"There are quite a few players who have not achieved the tone... it shows, there are players who are still not in form, others who have (injury) discomfort," the centre-back added.
"Look now what has happened to Messi, but there are no excuses. There are qualified people to replace him and move on, although we hope he will be out as short as possible[MESSI'S].
"There are no excuses in Barcelona, although the pre-season was not the best."[/MESSI'S]
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde insisted that taking off Messi, who won Fifa's Player of the Year award on Monday, was a precautionary measure.
"When something happens to Messi, everyone stops, not only on the field, but in the stands as well," Valverde said.
"He noticed a little bit of an issue with his adductor and we preferred for him not to stay on the pitch, but it was just a precaution. I don't think it's any more than just a niggle, but we'll need to wait for tomorrow to confirm.
"We are playing well at home... We're very much on the right track at home."
Barcelona raced into a two-goal lead inside 15 minutes. Antoine Griezmann's header from a Messi corner-kick sent his side in front after six minutes, before Arthur Melo's spectacular strike from distance doubled Barca's lead.
FAR FROM OUR BEST
Villarreal midfielder Santi Cazorla halved the deficit on the stroke of half-time with a swerving effort from distance.
"We are still far from our best but, with matches, everything will improve," said Griezmann.
On his own adaptation at Barcelona, he added: "It's different. A different style of football, a different position. I knew it was going to be a challenge and it would take time.
"But I'm not too bad, right? Three goals. I can do better, yes, but I have to keep working."
The victory takes Barcelona up to fourth on 10 points, one point behind leaders Granada, Athletic Bilbao, who faced Leganes this morning, and Real Madrid who took on Osasuna. - AFP, REUTERS