Smalling hit Messi like a train, says Valverde

By Sports Desk April 12, 2019

Lionel Messi could be rested against Huesca after a challenge by Manchester United defender Chris Smalling was compared by Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde to being hit by a train.

Messi was left with a swollen eye and a bloody nose after being caught in the face by Smalling's elbow during the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

The Barcelona captain completed the match, which Valverde's side won 1-0, but he could sit out their trip to LaLiga strugglers Huesca.

Strike partner Luis Suarez, though, should be available for Saturday's game despite appearing to be struggling in the closing stages at Old Trafford, while Ousmane Dembele is back from a torn hamstring.

Smalling, who was not punished during the game, said his clash with Messi was an accident, while former United manager Jose Mourinho said the incident happened because the defender has "tall arms".

Valverde, though, said the clash could result in Messi being given the weekend off ahead of United's visit to Camp Nou for the second leg.

"It is possible that Messi rests, the blow was strong, as if a train runs over you," Valverde told reporters on Friday. "I spoke with him and it is a possibility."

On Suarez, he added: "He's fine, but at the end of the matches there are always problems that then appear, but we see him well, it was a very intense game, it's normal.

"Tomorrow is important for [Ousmane] Dembele, not in terms of being important for the Manchester United game. We need to really focus on getting the three points we need. I know focus can turn to games like ones at Old Trafford but we have to maintain our mental focus on the next game.

Valverde has been adamant it is too early to talk up Barca's treble chances, despite last weekend's victory over Atletico Madrid giving them an 11-point cushion in LaLiga.

His side are also through to the final of the Copa del Rey, where they will face Valencia, while winning at Old Trafford gives the Catalan club the advantage over United in their bid to lift the Champions League for the first time since 2015.

"I think last season we were also in the same position at the same stage and we won two trophies [LaLiga and Copa del Rey]," said Valverde. "But we haven't won any at the moment. We'll be happy with one, happy with two and ecstatic if we win three.

"Circumstances are what they are, there may be changes tomorrow but we do not forget that we have 10 points left to be champions. No matter how much we think it is won, it is not."

Barca beat Atleti after Diego Costa was sent off after clashing with match referee Jesus Gil Manzano.

The striker has been banned for eight matches by the Royal Spanish Football Federation: four for foul-mouthed comments made towards the referee and another four for grabbing the official's arm.

Diego Simeone labelled the ban "excessive" and Valverde also expressed surprise at the scale of Costa's punishment, which is a further blow to Atletico's already slim hopes of catching Barca.

"It's a considerable suspension. I think it's four for one incident. four for another," Valverde added. "I thought it would be four as something similar happened with [Gerard] Pique and he missed four games. Eight games, I'm not sure of the rules but it's a big suspension."

Related items

  • Kane disappointed with Olympiacos draw but still backs Spurs to progress Kane disappointed with Olympiacos draw but still backs Spurs to progress

    Harry Kane says Tottenham have "got to get better" after letting slip a two-goal lead to draw against Olympiacos on Wednesday, but he remains confident they will qualify for the Champions League knockout stages again.

    Losing finalists last season, Spurs opened their Group B campaign in 2019-20 by picking up a point from a tricky trip to Greece.

    However, it could have been much better for Mauricio Pochettino's side after Kane's 26th-minute penalty was followed by Lucas Moura's strike from the edge of the box, putting the visitors 2-0 up.

    Kane acknowledged conceding just before the interval was crucial, with Daniel Podence halving the deficit in the 44th minute. 

    Mathieu Valbuena then drew Olympiacos level from the penalty spot in the second half, forcing Spurs to settle for a draw ahead of a home game against Bayern Munich in their next Champions League outing.

    "We put ourselves in a great position but the goal before half-time changed the momentum. We've got to get better," England international Kane told BT Sport.

    "We didn't play well in the first half but we scored two goals, which away from home isn't bad.

    "Overall, we're disappointed because it's a game we want to be winning but we have to look back and try to improve.

    "In the second half, it was 50-50. We could have done better on the ball, but it's a point away from home."

    Tottenham have no reason to worry just yet, though, as they also made a slow start to the competition a year ago. 

    They picked up just a solitary point from their first three games in the group stage in 2018-19, yet still managed to squeeze through as they pipped Inter to join Barcelona in qualifying for the last 16.

    "Last season we didn't start too well and had to play catch-up. This is only the first game and we are definitely backing ourselves to go through," Kane added.

  • Club Brugge 0-0 Galatasaray: Honours even in game of missed chances Club Brugge 0-0 Galatasaray: Honours even in game of missed chances

    Club Brugge's unbeaten run in the Champions League continued but they could not find a way through Galatasaray in a frustrating 0-0 draw.

    Brugge exited last season's competition in the group stage but went on a streak of four successive games without defeat to end their participation in the tournament.

    They had much the better of Wednesday's Group A encounter at the Jan Breydel Stadium but wasted too many opportunities in a game they deserved more from.

    The stalemate does little for the hopes of two teams expected to be battling for the Europa League place in a group containing heavyweights Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

    Brugge dominated from the off and should have led in the eighth minute when Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis had the goal at his mercy but could only meet Ruud Vormer's cross with a woefully off-target header.

    Matej Mitrovic then shouldered a free-kick over the crossbar and Brugge were almost made to pay for their profligacy, Gala's Ryan Babel unable to beat Simon Mignolet after a defensive mistake sent him through on goal.

    There was more frustration for Brugge as Federico Ricca hit the crossbar on the half-volley at the end of a counter-attack after a pass deflected into his path, with Dennis then wasting another gilt-edged chance, collecting a long ball only to drag wide with just goalkeeper Fernando Muslera to beat.

    Muslera came to Gala's rescue twice in quick succession, first to again deny Dennis before then keeping out David Okereke's header with a superb diving save.

    Sofiane Feghouli clipped the top of the crossbar with a curling effort and Yuto Nagatomo fired wide from long range but Gala could not claim a victory they would not have merited.

     

    What does it mean? Stalemate benefits nobody

    In a group where the odds are stacked against them with Madrid and PSG expected to progress, the onus was on one of these clubs to earn a positive result to boost hopes of becoming a surprise package. Despite Brugge's best efforts, neither side did so and they each figure to be counting the cost of that failure come the next round of fixtures.

    Muslera preserves point

    Brugge would have had taken maximum points if not for the reflexes of Uruguay keeper Muslera, whose fine two saves early in the second half proved pivotal.

    Dennis lacks menace

    Nigerian striker Dennis has already found the net three times this season but he was guilty of spurning several chances to put Brugge ahead before being substituted in the second half. A better side would have punished his wastefulness.

    What's next?

    Brugge must now turn their attention to the rather large matter of a crunch domestic clash with Anderlecht. Their next Champions League assignment is at the Santiago Bernabeu against Madrid. Gala visit Yeni Malatyaspor before a huge league match with Fenerbahce. They welcome PSG to Istanbul on October 1.

  • Olympiacos 2-2 Tottenham: Spurs collapse as Valbuena leads deserved comeback Olympiacos 2-2 Tottenham: Spurs collapse as Valbuena leads deserved comeback

    Tottenham threw away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at Olympiacos in their opening match of this season's Champions League.

    Last term's beaten finalists were two goals to the good after half an hour in Athens thanks to Harry Kane's penalty and Lucas Moura's excellent finish.

    Mathieu Valbuena was the catalyst for a deserved Olympiacos comeback, though, setting up Daniel Podence for a goal on his debut in the competition before burying a penalty 54 minutes in.

    Olympiacos seemed to target Davinson Sanchez at right-back in the early stages and one such attack led to Guerrero rattling the base of the left-hand post with a shot from just inside the area.

    The home side were certainly the stronger until Kane fired a spot-kick high into Jose Sa's net, having been tripped by Yassine Meriah as he worked his way into the box.

    There was another blow to Olympiacos four minutes later, as Ben Davies stole back the ball in their half and fed Lucas, who lashed a shot beyond Sa from the edge of the area.

    Pedro Martins' side grabbed a lifeline before the break, though, Podence exchanging passes with Valbuena and firing past Hugo Lloris' right hand.

    Spurs were then punished again when some slack play from Christian Eriksen led to Jan Vertonghen standing on Valbuena's foot, allowing the French midfielder to send Lloris the wrong way from the spot.

    Dele Alli was denied by the legs of Sa, who also kept out an effort from Erik Lamela, as Spurs failed in a late push for a winner, meaning they still have not won back-to-back away matches in Europe's elite competition.

     

    What does it mean? Spurs frailties a growing concern

    The problems in Mauricio Pochettino's defence were apparent last term even as Spurs reached the final – indeed, they have now conceded 20 goals since the start of last season's competition, more than any other team.

    While most would still expect them to progress from Group B, this was a stark reminder of Spurs' fallibility at the back. They might not have merited a 2-0 lead after 30 minutes, but a team of their standing should certainly not have surrendered it so meekly.

    Olympiacos dance to Valbuena's tune

    Valbuena set up Olympiacos' first goal and won and converted their penalty, capping a fine display in which he largely dictated the pace of the game.

    Eriksen a shadow of himself

    When Spurs threw away a two-goal advantage at Arsenal this month, it was a result that did not do Eriksen's excellent display justice. On this occasion, he summed up Spurs' frailties completely, offering next to nothing in attack and conceding possession in the build-up to Valbuena's penalty.

    What's next?

    Spurs – who face Leicester City in the Premier League on Saturday – play their second group game at home to Bayern Munich on October 1, when Olympiacos head to Red Star Belgrade.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.