Amor plays down Valverde sacking talk

By Sports Desk January 09, 2020

Guillermo Amor played down suggestions Ernesto Valverde was close to being sacked after Barcelona's Supercopa de Espana loss to Atletico Madrid.

Barca conceded twice in the final nine minutes in a 3-2 semi-final defeat to Atletico in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

While they are top of LaLiga, Barca have won just one of their past five games, a period which has included three draws to reportedly put the pressure on Valverde once more.

However, Amor – the club's director of institutional and sporting relations – played down talk Valverde was close to being sacked.

"It has bothered us a lot to lose. We continue, this is very long," he told Movistar+.

"There are many and very important [games]. Of this you say about Valverde, there is nothing."

After Koke's 46th-minute opener, Barca led thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann.

However, Alvaro Morata's penalty brought Atletico level before Angel Correa scored the winner four minutes from the end.

Amor lamented the result, with Messi and Gerard Pique both having goals disallowed by VAR for marginal offside decisions.

"When you have played football, you know that these things can happen, especially in important games with strong teams," he said.

"What you think is won, you can lose. In the summary of the game, I think we have dominated the first half.

"They advance and the two goals that were annulled indicate that we were close and we were superior."

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    Barcelona assistant boss Alfred Schreuder insisted his side can still win La Liga despite missing the chance to leapfrog leaders Atletico Madrid.

    The two sides played out a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou on Saturday that keeps Atleti two points ahead at the summit with three games of the season remaining.

    However, the result opens the door for Real Madrid, whose head-to-head record means they could go top with a win over Sevilla on Sunday.

    Schreuder, who took on the post-game media duties as a result of Ronald Koeman's two-match touchline ban, is confident Barca can still be champions.

    He said: "We know that now we have to wait for the results of other games. 

    "Let's see what Madrid does with Sevilla. We know that we depend on others, but it is still possible to win La Liga. 

    "We are where we wanted to be three months ago."

    Barcelona dominated possession but struggled to create too many clear chances against a typically obstinate Atletico backline.

    Schreuder was not surprised by the pattern of the game but believes the hosts had enough opportunities to claim all three points, including a late Ousmane Dembele header that went over.

    "We knew it would be a very difficult game, without a doubt," he continued.

    "We had a good chance from Leo [Lionel Messi] in the first half, another from Dembele in the second. We had the ball. We knew that Atletico would be very defensive. 

    "Obviously there is always an opportunity for the rival. Now we have to focus on the next game. 

    "We wanted to win, but we are still in this position. We are two points behind Atletico."

    Schreuder also provided an injury update on Sergio Busquets, who left the field after just over half an hour after suffering a blow to the face.

    The Barca assistant said on the midfielder: "I just spoke with him and I think he's fine, but we have to wait for the results of the tests they are doing in the hospital.

    "We had to reorganise the midfield. He always gives us confidence there and we have lost the organisation a bit."

  • Simeone has no plans to watch Real Madrid against Sevilla Simeone has no plans to watch Real Madrid against Sevilla

    Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone insists he will not be watching Real Madrid's crunch LaLiga game against Sevilla on Sunday.

    Atleti's 0-0 draw with fellow title hopefuls Barcelona on Saturday opened the door for Los Blancos, who can usurp their Madrid neighbours at the top of the table with victory in their game in hand.

    A win would lift them level on points, but they would be first courtesy of their superior head-to-head record this season.

    Atleti dominated the opening 45 minutes at Camp Nou but they could not find a way past Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

    Los Rojiblancos had six shots on target in the first half – the most by an opposing team before half-time against Barca this season in all competitions.

    Simeone said he has little interest in watching Sunday's clash at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, instead preferring to spend time with his family ahead of Wednesday's visit of Real Sociedad.

    "I don't think I will watch it," he told a media conference. "I'm not watching the games; I don't have a good time and I prefer not to watch them. 

    "It will not change much if I see it. I will be with the family having dinner and preparing on Monday for a good game against Real."

    The result means Simeone has overseen more away games without a win against Barca in LaLiga than against any other side in the competition, drawing four and losing five of his matches in charge of Atleti at Camp Nou. 

    Despite the extension of that unwanted run, Simeone was pleased with his players' efforts. 

    "We came to Barcelona to play a game with determination and collective work, and the game that we imagined happened," he added.

    "We have had a great first half. The second half was more even. The team did a great job and we are continuing on the path we are on, which is to take things game by game.

    "The only thing I asked the players is to play, that they are themselves and they manage to play. And they absolutely did. 

    "That fills me with joy because success is in being able to compete every year where we are."

    After also drawing a blank in the previous meeting of the teams, Barca have failed to score against Atleti in the same campaign for the first time since 1989-90, back when the legendary Johan Cruyff was at the helm.

  • Messi defied by Oblak magic and roughhouse tactics in Camp Nou stalemate Messi defied by Oblak magic and roughhouse tactics in Camp Nou stalemate

    Jan Oblak saw it approaching like a heat-seeking missile and witnessed everyone in red and white clearing a path.

    But it was only when Oblak tipped the narrative wide of his left-hand post that you sensed this would be Atletico Madrid's day, and perhaps it will still be their season.

    On the day that Neymar ruled out a return to Barcelona by signing a new Paris Saint-Germain contract, the stage was set at Camp Nou for Lionel Messi, and my word he almost scored an unforgettable goal.

    Oblak, however, had other ideas, and unlike his team-mates he found a way to defy the Barcelona captain without resorting to brazenly foul means.

    It would have been one for the Messi showreel, a sensational charge infield from the right flank taking him at lightning speed through the massed ranks of the visitors and to the edge of the penalty area, before the Barca forward ripped a shot that was arrowing into the corner.

    Oblak sprung into action and plunged to his left, Atletico indebted to their last line of defence. The Slovenian is the wall that few find cracks in, the player as vital to their success as anyone, the glovesman who has kept clean sheets in both LaLiga clashes with Barcelona this season and 18 shutouts in 35 league games so far.

    In front of him, Atletico's players know their roles, even if in that one instance they could not get close to Messi.

    Typically here, the tactic was to halt Messi by fair means or foul. Given he has scored a remarkable 21 league goals already in 2021, that seemed a reasonable ploy from Diego Simeone's troops.

    Saul Niguez, Felipe and Koke were each booked for identikit fouls on the 33-year-old, recognising he was in full stride and rationalising that was an unhealthy state of affairs for Atletico. Geoffrey Kondogbia tripped Messi on the edge of the box in the 89th minute, but there would be no dramatic finale, the assailed Argentinian ripping a free-kick wide of the top left corner.

    So it finished nil-nil and that might be interpreted as the dream outcome for Real Madrid, who sit third for now but would join Atletico on 77 points should they defeat fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday.

    For Barcelona, they are counting on their title rivals falling at the last now, with three rounds remaining. They would have gone top with a win here, but instead remain two points shy of Atletico.

    Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente threatened in the first half for Atletico at Camp Nou, and the visitors had an abundance of the ball early in the second period too, but the chance of the game was probably the one that Barcelona substitute Ousmane Dembele headed over in the 85th minute, getting on the end of a cross that left-back Jordi Alba stood up to the far post but sending his effort far too high.

    When the big chances fall to Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, playing like a competition winner against his former club here at times, there are days when that can spell terrible trouble for Barcelona.

    Griezmann has now failed to score in the 12 LaLiga matches he has played against Atletico.

    How Messi must wish he still had Luis Suarez by his side rather than on the opposing team.

    Suarez, who was hurried out of Barcelona and welcomed with open arms by Atletico last September, was welcomed back to his old stamping ground with a big-screen video montage of some of his finest moments for the club.

    He had a game-high four shots, three of which hit the target, and generally made a jolly old nuisance of himself without looking at his sharpest.

    Messi was devastated to lose Suarez last year, but he has put that dismay behind him in recent months, with coach Ronald Koeman coaxing the best out of his talisman.

    Barcelona now have 50 points from 20 LaLiga games in 2021, but their chaotic start to the season is catching up with them again. Too many points were dropped then, and for Barcelona to snatch the title this felt like a must-win game.

    Koeman had an eagle's eye view, sitting high in the stands as he completed his touchline ban, unable to impose his presence and forced to settle for stalemate.

    Like Oblak against the Messi missile, perhaps he saw it coming.

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