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Who are the early favorites to win the NFL rushing title?

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Injuries have also played their part. Striker Luis Suárez is out for several weeks and winger Ousmane Dembele for the rest of the season, forcing the club to make the curious signing of Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite to give it fit bodies in a depleted attack.

But the rest of the chaos has been created by the club.

Messi himself has been embroiled in a public spat with sports director — and former teammate — Eric Abidal, who has accused some players of not playing hard for Valverde. Messi responded on social media by demanding that Abidal name names and to take full responsibility for the firing of Valverde.

Two weeks later, Messi maintained his position that he had felt “attacked” by Abidal as a member of Barcelona’s squad and its captain.

“It bothered me that a club official, a sports director, had put the squad in middle of the firing of coach. That seemed crazy to me,” Messi said. “He takes the decisions. That’s why I decided to clarify things. I knew that I couldn’t let the sports director attack me like that.”

Then came the oddest of all the Barcelona maladies when earlier this week the club severed its contract with an Internet services company that made negative comments on social media about people within the club. Reports by Spanish radio Cadena SER said those online comments included Messi, fellow player Gerard Piqué, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.

Messi said that he was still not sure what had happened.

“The truth is that I find it strange that something like that could happen,” the Argentine said. “But they (Cadena SER) also said there was evidence. We will have to wait to see if it is true or not.”

Messi made the call for his club to put its house in order ahead of an important stretch of matches for the defending league champions. After hosting Eibar on Saturday, Barcelona travels to Italy to face Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday. It will then visit Real Madrid on March 1 in a “clásico” that could determine who leads the league.

Messi, however, also sent a message to Barcelona’s fans that he has no plans to abandon the club that has been his home since he was 13 years old.



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