Ernesto Valverde understands the pressure is increasing at Barcelona following their shocking collapse against Levante, yet he is trying to remain calm as they aim to get back to winning ways against Sparta Prague.

Not for the first time in Valverde's reign, Barca let slip a promising position on Saturday, conceding three times in seven second-half minutes to suffer a 3-1 defeat in LaLiga.

While other results went Barca's way to keep them on top of the table, the nature of the loss raised questions over the future of the head coach.

Valverde insisted in the aftermath he had no intention of resigning and, speaking on Monday, the former Athletic Bilbao coach declared he aimed to "maintain a balance" in his job, despite the hysteria following the surprise result.

"It is clear that, when you lose, you have more tension," Valverde told the media ahead of Barca's midweek Champions League outing.

"We know what it means to lose. There is always a swell of pressure. We know that it is the case, and that is fine because it forces us to react.

"I know that the general tendency is to get off the table if we do well or sink if we lose. I try to maintain a balance.

"When we lose a game, I try to find the football reasons. At the beginning of the season, we were not well, especially away from home. Then we had a three-game winning streak.

"The other day [against Levante], when we had everything on track, we lost it in a minute. We have to ask ourselves why we have lost and the game situations that led to this [happening]."

Valverde was also in charge when Barcelona failed to hang on to first-leg leads against Roma and Liverpool in their previous two campaigns in Europe, ending their hopes of Champions League glory.

Asked if the worrying slumps were a sign of a lack of leadership, he referenced their battling 2-1 home win over Inter when they rallied from a goal down to triumph at Camp Nou.

"Lack of leadership? You could have asked yourself that after coming back with Inter," Valverde replied.

"This team has come back in many games, also against Real Betis [when they trailed 1-0 but ending up winning 5-2 in LaLiga this season]. You can't always [come back], you just have to admit that and look at where we failed."

Luis Suarez was forced off in the first half of the Levante defeat with what the club later confirmed to be a right calf injury.

However, Valverde revealed that, while the Uruguayan striker is set to miss Tuesday's clash with Sparta, Suarez may recover in time to face Celta Vigo this weekend.

"It's not an important injury like last time," he said. "Tomorrow is very unlikely. Next week? I wouldn't like to say."

Napoli head coach Carlo Ancelotti has praised Mario Balotelli's reaction to the racist abuse he received during Brescia's Serie A clash with Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Balotelli kicked the ball angrily towards Verona supporters early in the second half after hearing abuse, before threatening to walk off the pitch.

The referee brought play to a halt before following protocol, with a statement read out to the crowd in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Balotelli was persuaded to stay on and see out the game by team-mates and Verona players, before the former Manchester City and Inter striker scored a stunning late goal in Brescia's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

Ancelotti believes Balotelli was right to highlight the abuse and suggested the stoppage shows football is making advances in its efforts to combat racism.

Speaking ahead of Napoli's Champions League clash with RB Salzburg on Tuesday, Ancelotti said: "He did the right thing, he had the right reaction.

"There have already been a couple of episodes when the match has been stopped, so we are on the right path."

Ancelotti's Napoli are top of Champions League Group E and will qualify for the knockout stages if they beat Salzburg while Genk fail to beat Liverpool in the pool's other game.

The former AC Milan coach says it would be "exceptional" if they qualified with two games to spare but the experienced boss is refusing to get carried away.

"The Champions League is a way shorter competition than Serie A," he added. "For this reason, we have to be focused and our first goal is to go through.

"If we can manage it with two matchdays to spare, it would be exceptional. Tomorrow we have this chance and all our energy will be spent on getting it done. Then we will see.

"Many things can change and usually the Champions League is decided on little details."

Frank Lampard insists he is "very happy" with the players at his disposal as Chelsea appeal against a transfer ban imposed by FIFA.

The Premier League side were blocked from signing new players for two transfer windows in February after breaching rules relating to the international transfer and registration of players under the age of 18.

That ban was partially upheld following Chelsea's initial appeal to FIFA, although the club are still unable to bring in senior players, serving the first part of their suspension in the recent transfer window.

Chelsea were permitted to register players under the age of 16, but the club announced their intention to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with the hearing date now set for November 20.

Lampard says he is relaxed about the club's transfer situation, given how impressively academy graduates Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have taken to life in the first team this season.

Asked for his opinion on the appeal at a news conference ahead of his side's Champions League clash against Ajax on Tuesday, Lampard said: "I'm very interested, but I don't know enough about the legal situation to delve.

"It can effect what we can do, but it is a little down my list. We have games against Ajax and Crystal Palace to think about.

"We are on a good run. We will always look to improve if we can, but I am very happy with what I've got."

After losing to Valencia in their opening Group H game, Chelsea have bounced back with consecutive wins over Lille and Ajax.

They are level on six points with Dutch champions Ajax at the group's summit, but Lampard refuted suggestions the Blues would have one foot in the knockout stages if they overcome Erik ten Hag's side at Stamford Bridge.

"I don't like to say that," he added. "I felt at the start it would be tight. We have had two good results and another one would be great for us. But the danger of Ajax is massive.

"After losing the opening game, we have shown a great reaction. It is expected of Chelsea to go through. It is maybe why we had the reaction after Valencia. We need to have the same attitude as the last results."

Jurgen Klopp has defended Sadio Mane after Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola suggested the Liverpool forward is "sometimes" guilty of diving.

Mane scored a late winner for Liverpool in Saturday's 2-1 win at Aston Villa but was earlier shown a yellow card for simulation, having been criticised previously when winning contentious penalties.

Guardiola stoked tensions ahead of next weekend's top-of-the-table showdown with Liverpool by taking a swipe at the Senegal international for going to ground too easily.

"Sometimes he is diving," Guardiola told BBC Sport, speaking after both City and Liverpool pulled off late Premier League comebacks at the weekend.

"Sometimes he has this talent to score incredible goals in the last minute. He's a talent."

However, Klopp responded that contact was made on Mane inside the box and claimed City's players would have likewise gone down, before insisting he did not want to talk about Liverpool's domestic rivals.

"I don't know how [Guardiola] could have known about any incident in our game so quickly after their game," Klopp told a pre-match news conference ahead of Tuesday's Champions League meeting with Genk.

"Sadio is not a diver. There was a situation in the Villa game when he got a contact and went down but there was contact.

"I am 100 per cent sure if something like this happened to Man City, they would want to have a penalty. I am absolutely not in the mood to talk about Man City. I really want to talk about Genk."

Klopp was pressed on the looming clash with City, though, as Liverpool remain six points clear at the top of the league table.

Despite the magnitude of Sunday's match at Anfield, Klopp has no concerns his players will be distracted against Genk.

"You can say the words Man City, you just cannot think about it," he said. "I don't doubt my players at all. I would feel a bit embarrassed if I had to tell them, 'Don't think about Man City already'.

"The story we have written over the last three years is only possible because we always focus on the next game. We have big ambitions in the Champions League and it's an open group. 

"We have to be 100 per cent spot on, make a good atmosphere and get the points. For the people at Anfield, we need to focus on this match, just like the players will be."

Liverpool have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the visit of Genk, who were beaten 4-1 when the sides met in Belgium two weeks ago.

That results contributes to making Liverpool heavy favourites for the return fixture, and Klopp said of the expectation of victory: "It will be a challenge but a nice one to have.

"It means we have a good team. It's not the biggest problem to have. It's 100 per cent clear we have to put in a proper shift to get the win.

"We have to use the spaces. The group is still open and we need everyone. [Genk] can still make Europa League so they still have targets. 

"We need to respect them. The story of the last two years is that we have always been spot on when we needed to be."

Chelsea head coach Frank Lampard has confirmed N'Golo Kante is available for Tuesday's Champions League clash with Ajax.

The France international has not featured since injuring his groin during the warm-up ahead of his country's Euro 2020 qualifier against Iceland on October 14.

After missing five games for the Blues, he returned to training on Monday and is in consideration for the visit of Dutch champions Ajax to Stamford Bridge.

Lampard told a media conference: "He is in the squad. It looks like the injuries are clearing up."

The Chelsea boss, however, was unable to confirm when Antonio Rudiger might return to first-team action.

Rudiger was forced off at half-time in Chelsea's 5-2 victory over Wolves on September 14, which remains his only appearance for the first team since sustaining a knee injury in April.

Chelsea are level with Ajax on six points at the top of Group H, with Valencia two points further back.

 

Pep Guardiola expects David Silva to sit out Manchester City's mouth-watering Premier League clash with leaders Liverpool on Sunday.

City captain Silva sustained a muscular injury during the first half of City's 2-1 win over Southampton on Saturday and was replaced at the interval by Gabriel Jesus.

The former Spain international – who is in his last season with the Premier League holders – will also miss Wednesday's Champions League visit to Atalanta.

Asked during a media conference if Silva would be fit for the showdown with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, manager Guardiola said: "I don't think so.

"I didn't speak with the doctor but when he has some muscular problems and can't play more minutes it's because he has something, and muscular problems normally mean 10 to 12 days out."

City travel to Anfield knowing a win over the Reds would cut their lead at the Premier League summit to three points.

Jurgen Klopp is open to fielding two entirely different teams in the EFL Cup and Club World Cup next month but says Liverpool's star men would be in Qatar.

The European champions are due to play a Club World Cup semi-final on December 18 - the day after a scheduled domestic quarter-final at Aston Villa.

Klopp suggested after Wednesday's remarkable last-16 victory over Arsenal that his side may have to pull out of the EFL Cup altogether, but an alternative solution may yet be found.

The Liverpool boss made 11 changes against Arsenal and, in a bid to fulfil nine fixtures in December, he might consider leaving a young squad of fringe players behind to face Villa.

"We have discussed it already," Klopp said at Friday's news conference before playing Villa in the Premier League. "We have to because there's not too much time to make that decision. 

"There's not a final decision yet but, if we would play while we are in Qatar, it would be two different teams. We cannot leave any [senior] players at home for the EFL Cup - we have two games [in Qatar] in a very busy period. 

"It's not that we can go there with 11 players and say these 11 guys play the two games in Qatar and the other [senior] guys play at home in England against Aston Villa. We have to make a decision and we will make a decision but not yet."

Klopp also criticised the scheduling of Liverpool's festive fixtures last year and has previously taken aim at UEFA for putting further demands on his international players with the introduction of the Nations League.

When asked if there is a concern his players are being pushed too far, Klopp offered an impassioned reply as he highlighted some issues with the English football calendar.

"Let's have a look how they deal with it," he said. "If you see the schedule that's coming up, it's all okay.

"The Premier League, what a competition, sensationally cool; then the EFL Cup, nice competition, what a game we had on Wednesday night. 

"But then at the end of January, after a very busy schedule in December, there are two semi-finals. It's an easy decision for me to say if you keep that competition then why don't you make just two semi-finals?

"We still have, in February, March and April, FA Cup games at the weekend.

"I'm four years in and, before I knew about it, people discussed it already. That's the difference to other countries - Italy has 20 teams as well.

"England is the only country where nobody wants to touch it, or maybe wants to touch it - the FA wants to touch the League Cup, the Football League wants to touch the FA Cup - but nobody really wants to discuss it. 

"Then, on top of that, UEFA decides to make the Nations League to give the boys who are already pretty busy - some very successful players, good players - another couple of intense games. 

"I said it before and it always sounds like it's my problem. I'm not involved in Nations League games, I don't play international games at all. I have a couple of days off, it's not my problem. I only discuss from the same perspective that you should discuss it but you don't."

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola backed Klopp's stance on fixture congestion and called on the relevant governing bodies to do more to protect players.

"I completely agree," he said. "How do we pay bigger squads? We need less fixtures, less competitions, more recovery. We play [December] 27 or 29 in winter time.

"In UEFA meetings, always they talk about it. I'm with Jurgen when he makes these kind of statements about too many games."

Eden Hazard has confirmed he discussed Real Madrid with Thibaut Courtois and Florentino Perez before completing his "dream" transfer from Chelsea.

Belgium star Hazard brought months of speculation to an end when he swapped Stamford Bridge for the Santiago Bernabeu in June.

The former Lille winger had hoped to make the move immediately after claiming the Silver Ball at the 2018 World Cup but the Blues blocked his exit, having already allowed goalkeeper Courtois to leave for Los Blancos.

Hazard spent a further 12 months in London and used the time to confirm the club's interest and the mood of his future team-mates.

"My dream was always to play for Real Madrid, the greatest team in the world, and so far I'm happy," Hazard told Real Madrid TV.

"Courtois always told me that this was the best club.

"I'd already made my mind up after the World Cup and I said to myself 'I have to join Real Madrid now'. That wasn't possible and I spent another year at Chelsea and that made my departure easier. The club understood it and allowed me to leave.

"I spoke to Florentino and he told me that he was waiting for me in Madrid.

"I also spoke to [Luka] Modric and got the impression that they all wanted to see me at Real Madrid and it finally happened."

Hazard, like many of his team-mates, has not enjoyed an easy start to the new season, with a glaring miss in the narrow Champions League win over Galatasaray indicative of his struggles.

But as Zinedine Zidane's men strive for form, the 28-year-old continues to have high hopes for success in Europe.

"As I said on my first day, for me, the Champions League is important," he said.

"In London, I only once reached the semi-finals. Chelsea had won their only Champions League trophy the year before I joined.

"They've won it a lot of times here in previous years and it's difficult to win it every season because there are many teams involved, but I've come here to win it because it's important for everyone and that goes for me too."

Liverpool's Champions League success has given Jurgen Klopp's side further confidence in their abilities, but the Reds still see plenty of room for improvement.

Klopp's men sit top of the Premier League heading into Sunday's encounter with Tottenham – their first meeting with Spurs since beating them 2-0 in the Champions League final in June.

With Liverpool's winning start to the season halted by a draw at Manchester United last weekend, Manchester City's 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday moved Pep Guardiola's side three points behind the league leaders.

Liverpool responded to their disappointing display at Old Trafford with a stylish 4-1 rout of Genk in the Champions League on Wednesday, however, and Klopp suggested the Reds' triumph in Europe last season has given them a stronger mentality.

"The next challenge will be difficult again but of course we know more about it," Klopp told Sky Sports.

"We all know how important that confidence is and the confidence it gives you when the things you do work out, so the boys have started the season with a different mindset, more convinced, maybe.

"I still think we have a lot of space in that department where we could be more convinced of ourselves, more natural."

Tottenham have endured a difficult start to the campaign, though they bounced back from three games without a win in all competitions with a 5-0 hammering of Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday. 

"I don't understand 100 per cent what happened but I saw now in the [Champions League] that was Spurs how they can be as well," Klopp said when asked about Tottenham's troubles.

"That is the team we need to prepare for, we cannot prepare for the team that struggled two or three weeks ago, we need to be tense in the game for sure because to play just a little bit against Tottenham will not be enough.

"They will want to strike back, we won the Champions League final.

"Against United we were not really ourselves, that's how it is. Against us they set up in a specific way. With Tottenham it's a home game so that makes a difference as well."

Cristiano Ronaldo will sit out Juventus' Serie A trip to Lecce on Saturday.

Speaking ahead of the game, head coach Maurizio Sarri said he would need to rest his star forward, who has already played the full 90 minutes in 10 of Juve's 11 matches in all competitions this season.

That opportunity to recuperate comes immediately, with Juventus announcing later on Friday that Ronaldo is not part of their travelling party for the game at Stadio Via del Mare.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored four times in Italy's top flight this season and was also on target during Juventus' 3-0 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen earlier this month.

Right-back Mattia De Sciglio is in line for his first action since the end of August after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Cristiano Ronaldo may be rested for Juventus' Serie A encounter with Lecce on Saturday as head coach Maurizio Sarri weighs up the possibility of tinkering with his line-up.

Superstar forward Ronaldo has started all but one game for Juve this season and has five goals in 10 appearances across all competitions.

Juve travel to Lecce just four days on from completing a late revival against Lokomotiv Moscow, where Paulo Dybala's double earned a 2-1 win in the Champions League fixture.

Ahead of a busy run of games, Sarri is contemplating giving Ronaldo a break.

"With Cristiano, we speak often," he told a pre-match news conference.

"Even for him there will be need for rest. We'll see based on how he's feeling. I don't know when, we will decide.

"Right now we don't have a lot of options in order to completely rotate the squad. We'll change things with regards to the conditions of the players."

Centre-back Leonardo Bonucci is another who Sarri is planning on resting in the coming days.

"Leonardo Bonucci has played a lot this season and he's needed to. We'll see if we can give him a rest over the next few games," he added.

Dybala's future at the Bianconeri was in doubt during the previous transfer window, with Manchester United, Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain having been linked with a move.

But Sarri was not surprised by the Argentina forward's contribution against Lokomotiv, where goals in the 77th and 79th minute proved crucial.

"If we talk about an explosion with the one-two it is fine, but from the performance point of view Dybala has always played well this season, so I expected a good performance from him. I had no doubts," Sarri said.

"I expected a high-performance level because I know he has the qualities to provide it."

Cesar Azpilicueta called for Chelsea to be realistic with Callum Hudson-Odoi but acknowledged the teenage winger is set to be a "massive player" for the club.

Hudson-Odoi has reclaimed his place in the Chelsea team after returning from a ruptured Achilles, starring against Newcastle United last week and then making his first Champions League start away at Ajax.

The England international was less effective in Amsterdam on Wednesday than he had been in recent weeks, but Frank Lampard's men earned a precious 1-0 away win.

Club captain Azpilicueta was not concerned by a quiet showing from Hudson-Odoi, recognising the inconsistency that comes with a young player who still has just six Premier League starts to his name.

Azpilicueta said: "We don't have to forget that Callum is 18 years old and his progression in the last 12-15 months, with an injury in between... We have to be realistic.

"The way he worked for the team, the way he always showed the ability to get the ball, to dribble, not to have any fear to hide in between the full back.

"I think Callum is a very important player for us. He's going to be massive player in the future for Chelsea but we have to accept the progression.

"Still, to be 18 years old and the way he's playing is amazing. The only way I can see is by his work rate going up and improving."

Hudson-Odoi is one of a number of academy graduates now in the Chelsea first team, with Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham earning international call-ups this season while Reece James is also breaking through.

Azpilicueta has been pleased with both the way the young stars are adapting to their new demands and with the support they are receiving from more experienced team-mates.

"The players who have more experience in these games try to help the young lads," he said. "For some of them, it's the first year in the Premier League, the first year in the Champions League.

"So we have to be a help for all of them, use our experience to keep them confident and make them express themselves the way they have been doing in the academy.

"It is very important for them to feel confident. It is the way we are working.

"But a lot of credit goes to them because they are good lads, they listen, they want to improve in every training session and learn from the more experienced players, the manager and the staff. It is the right way to keep improving."

Liverpool and Senegal forward Sadio Mane deserves to win the 2019 Ballon d'Or after a standout 12 months for club and country, according to Didier Drogba.

Mane started all 13 matches in Liverpool's glorious Champions League campaign last term and finished joint-top-scorer in the Premier League as his side missed out on the title by a point.

The 27-year-old then helped Senegal to the Africa Cup of Nations final, where they were beaten 1-0 by Algeria.

Mane has started 2019-20 in impressive form, too, and was this week included on the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or alongside six Liverpool team-mates.

He has Drogba's backing, as the former Chelsea explained to Paris Match.

"For the Cup of Nations, the Champions League and the Premier League [Mane deserves to win]," Drogba said. "What he does in the Premier League, very few players are able to do it."

George Weah is the only previous African player to have won the sport's top individual accolade, doing so in 1995, and Drogba is keen to see a new name in that select group.

"There are many players who have well represented the African continent, like Samuel Eto'o," he said.

"What is a pity is that when we talk about African player, we talk about the continent, we do not speak of a country. We will never say Kylian Mbappe represents the European continent. It is a small shift that is present.

"But to return to the question, it would be really nice if Sadio or even Mohamed Salah continue to raise their level of play to hope to win this trophy."

Lucas Hernandez has undergone successful surgery on an ankle ligament injury sustained against Olympiacos, Bayern Munich have confirmed.

France defender Hernandez was forced off in Greece on Tuesday, as Robert Lewandowski's brace and Corentin Tolisso's strike proved enough to claim a 3-2 win for Niko Kovac's side.

Hernandez's injury followed on from Niklas Sule suffering anterior cruciate ligament damage early on in Bayern's draw with Augsburg on Saturday.

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic confirmed on Tuesday that Hernandez, signed for a club-record €80million from Atletico Madrid, faces "several weeks out."

The Bundesliga champions have now announced the 23-year-old's surgery on a partially torn ankle ligament had been a success, though no timeline has yet been placed on his return.

With Sule and Hernandez both set for long spells out of action, Kovac has been left with Benjamin Pavard, Javi Martinez and the out-of-favour Jerome Boateng as the senior centre-backs at his disposal.

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