Barcelona are behind Valverde, insists Abidal

By Sports Desk November 17, 2019

Ernesto Valverde has the backing of Barcelona's backroom staff according to sporting director Eric Abidal, who moved to distance the Blaugrana from "clubs that change coaches after bad results".

Barcelona are top of LaLiga, level on points with second-placed Real Madrid, but a 3-1 defeat at Levante and a goalless draw at home to Slavia Prague brought doubts over Valverde's leadership back to the fore among sections of the club's fanbase.

Ronaldo Koeman has been touted as a potential replacement for Valverde, should he leave the position he took up in May 2017.

Abidal admitted that Valverde's position is never far from the headlines, despite his back-to-back LaLiga triumphs, pointing to Barcelona's Champions League eliminations at the hands of Roma in 2017-18 and Liverpool in 2018-19 as sore points for supporters.

"There's always a debate about Valverde," Abidal told SPORT.

"The same thing that happened in Rome happened in Liverpool. Because of one result you can end up thinking that it's been a bad season. And for the way that it happened. 

"In these situations, you can think that the coach is to blame, but you have to analyse everything. What does the coach bring to the team and vice-versa?

"We support the coach and we give him all the information, although the day-to-day is his. There are clubs that change coaches after bad results, but you always have to look at the wider situation.

"If the coach sees that it can be improved, you have to back him."

Antoine Griezmann's performances have also been heavily scrutinised by the Camp Nou faithful since his €120million transfer from Atletico Madrid, and Abidal conceded the France international has not been at his best.

Griezmann has scored four goals in 11 league appearances and only one in his last six domestic outings, leaving him vulnerable to criticism from an expectant crowd.

Abidal backed the 28-year-old to improve, saying: "He knows it's complicated to adapt. Here the movements are different, but he's a player that can add a lot and the coach knows that. 

"Defensively he brings a lot and he can play in many positions. He came because he wants to win the Champions League.

"He knows he's not at his best and that's only fixed by working hard. Griezmann is an intelligent player and the important thing is to know what you can add to the team in the position you are playing."

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  • Ansu Fati is a 'born scorer', says Valverde Ansu Fati is a 'born scorer', says Valverde

    Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde described Ansu Fati as a "born scorer" after the teenager made history against Inter in the Champions League.

    Fati, 17, became the youngest goalscorer in the competition's history, netting a late winner in a 2-1 victory at San Siro on Tuesday.

    The attacker has three goals this season and Valverde praised the Spain youth international, whose strike came after Romelu Lukaku had cancelled out Carles Perez's opener in the Group F clash.

    "They [Fati and Perez] are two players who have reached the first team this year. Young players, very young in the case of Ansu," Valverde told a news conference, via AS. 

    "The game was complicated, especially for Carles Perez because they had an experienced defence and he started, but he has a goal because he hits the ball well. 

    "Ansu has been going through some physical difficulty, with some discomfort, but he is a born scorer."

    Barcelona had already booked their place in the last 16 and they finished top of the group as Inter were eliminated.

    Valverde talked up the importance of the Champions League to the Catalans, who last lifted the trophy in 2015.

    "We have a very big obligation with our club and with this competition," he said.

    "We have shown that you have to win everywhere and today's game was not going to be an exception."

    After criticism earlier in the season, Barcelona top LaLiga and are on a six-match winning run in all competitions.

    But Valverde wants to see more from his team, who make the trip to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

    "We are fine, but I like to see everything in a more continuous way. At first we had difficulties," he said.

    "This group phase has been difficult for us. We suffered to overcome Inter, to win at Slavia [Prague]. But we are here and we have a tremendous challenge with three games in a week and we want to close well."

  • Conte insists he has 'no complaints' despite rueing finishing in costly Barca defeat Conte insists he has 'no complaints' despite rueing finishing in costly Barca defeat

    Antonio Conte was rueful regarding Inter's poor finishing in Tuesday's costly 2-1 Champions League defeat to Barcelona but insisted he had "no complaints" after elimination from the competition.

    Inter needed to at least match Borussia Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague, but the Germans claimed a 2-1 victory and the Nerazzurri did not do enough in San Siro.

    Despite early dominance and a flurry of chances, Inter found themselves trailing in the 23rd minute when Carles Perez swept home in composed fashion.

    Romelu Lukaku equalised before half-time, but he was otherwise wasteful and Ansu Fati, 17, secured Barca the three points four minutes from time to become the youngest Champions League scorer in history.

    Conte acknowledged Inter had enough clear-cut opportunities to beat Barca.

    "We had the chances to win the game, we created those opportunities, but lacked that clinical edge to convert them," he told reporters.

    "I have no complaints to make, as my players gave their all. We just lacked a goal and instead conceded at the other end to go 2-1 down, which really killed us.

    "Watching that Ansu Fati goal is painful, as it killed us in every way. We were pushing, creating the chances to score and go 2-1 up.

    "I was also disappointed for the fans in San Siro, as they pushed us from start to finish and created a wonderful atmosphere. It should've ended differently.

    "I think we deserved more in this group. Still, I think it's all valuable experience. We wanted to qualify, so there is disappointment from everyone right now, but as I told them, we have to raise our heads again."

    Inter finished third in the group, meaning they will drop into the Europa League in the New Year. They will find out their next opponents in Monday's draw.

  • Ansu Fati and I proving La Masia products can still make it at Barca – Carles Perez Ansu Fati and I proving La Masia products can still make it at Barca – Carles Perez

    Carles Perez revelled in the fact he and fellow Barcelona academy product Ansu Fati made the difference in Tuesday's 2-1 win at Inter, proving La Masia has not lost relevance.

    Barca endured a real tussle with Inter at San Siro, only securing a late win thanks to Fati's 86th-minute strike.

    That goal made the 17-year-old the youngest scorer in Champions League history and sealed Inter's fate, as the Serie A side drop down to the Europa League after finishing third in the group.

    Perez had opened the scoring with a composed finish, and his thoughts quickly turned to Barca's La Masia after the match, with the famed academy receiving criticism in recent years for a perceived lack of homegrown players reaching the first team.

    "It is something incredible that we are both living," Perez told Movistar. "Both Ansu and I are an example for La Masia if you think you can get there [to the first team].

    "Barca trust the people of academy and that is the most important thing."

    Coach Ernesto Valverde also spoke of the two goal-scorers and was particularly thrilled by Fati's record.

    "Carles has the nose for more goals and strikes the ball really nicely," he said. "Ansu is a born scorer and, although he's had some niggling pain, we wanted him to have some minutes.

    "That it's a Barca lad who's the youngest ever scorer in this competition delights us."

    Barca had already secured top spot in the group and will find out their next opponents in the Champions League during Monday's draw.

    The Catalans face Real Sociedad at the weekend before then going head-to-head with bitter rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on December 18.

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