Barcelona manager Luis Enrique launched a staunch defense of his players after they came from behind without the injured Lionel Messi to beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 on Tuesday.
Goals in the last 10 minutes from substitute Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez propelled the holders to the top of Champions League Group F after Kyriakos Papadopoulos had headed the visitors into a deserved half-time lead.
“It was a difficult night. It was our second game without Leo Messi, the second game without our best player, an irreplaceable player, and it is the second game the team has won,” said Enrique, after Barcelona avoided what could have been only their second home defeat in 34 matches in the Champions League.
“I am very happy for what the players have achieved. They turned around a very difficult game.
“We can be more precise, but no one can say Barca relax and don’t give everything.”
Despite Messi‘s absence, the Nou Camp crowd were less than patient as boos rang out at the half-time whistle. Enrique pleaded for more understanding from the club’s fans at a difficult time, with a host of young players drafted in to cover a mounting injury crisis.
“I think this team deserve more credit for what they have won recently and how they carry themselves,” he said.
“They try until the last minute and if then they deserve to be booed then fine, but we are much stronger in the delicate moments if they support us.
“At 2-1 we didn’t need their support, we needed it at 0-1. I would like the few people that do boo not to do it because we hear them and we need the support of everyone.”
On top of Messi and Brazilian international Rafinha, Barca are set to be without Andres Iniesta for a month after he pulled up with a hamstring injury after an hour.
Enrique now has just seven midfielders and strikers available. And the blow is just the latest strain on a Barca squad hampered by a year-long ban from registering new players which will expire in January.
A hectic pre-season tour and three early-season clashes with Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao in the Uefa and Spanish Super Cup respectively have been blamed for Barca’s raft of injuries.
But midfielder Javier Mascherano called on those like Roberto and Munir El Haddadi, who made a significant impact from the bench against Leverkusen, to take their chance in the first team.
“Obviously we are in a difficult situation,” said the Argentinian. “That is football and that is why we have a squad to keep going in these moments.
“It is not just 11 or 12 players that win competitions, there are reserves behind and now some of those that wouldn’t have had so many minutes will get their chance.”