Will Ernesto Valverde rest stars and other talking points as Barcelona visit Malaga

Andy West 10/03/2018
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Barcelona are aiming to continue their seemingly inevitable march towards La Liga’s title with Saturday night’s trip to rock-bottom Malaga, but thoughts of Wednesday’s Champions League second leg with Chelsea are already starting to loom large.

Last weekend’s 1-0 victory over second-placed Atletico Madrid gave Ernesto Valverde’s men an eight-point lead at the top of the table, and this weekend’s modest opposition could give the Camp Nou coach an opportunity to rest some of his key players.

But Malaga have every incentive to gain a shock result and boost their battle to avoid relegation, so Valverde is sure to remind his players not to take anything for granted.

Here are three key questions in the build-up to the action.

Rotations from Valverde?

Although he would not admit it, and insisted during Friday’s press conference that this weekend’s trip to Malaga is the only thought in his mind, Barca boss Valverde must surely already have an eye on Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Chelsea.

That could be reflected in his team selection, with veteran skipper Andres Iniesta already ruled out through injury and others – especially Gerard Pique, who has been playing through a knee injury for the last few weeks – potentially set to be rested.

However, Barca are coming into this weekend’s game on the back of a rare free midweek, so Valverde could prefer to persist with his strongest available eleven rather than risk his players losing their rhythm at such a key stage of the season.

And Valverde has been eager to point to his team’s last away game, when they slipped to a 1-1 draw at lowly Las Palmas, as a warning not to let their guard drop.

Ernesto Valverde 2

Dembele in the doghouse?

The sight of flying winger Ousmane Dembele in the starting eleven for the midweek Catalan Super Cup against Espanyol – very much a reserve team fixture from Barca’s point of view – suggested that Valverde does not yet regard the former Borussia Dortmund man as an integral member of his team. (For the record, Barca lifted the trophy after winning a penalty shoot-out 4-2, following a goalless draw in normal time.)

Even more concerning are various reports circulating in the local media that Valverde and his coaching staff are unhappy with the Frenchman for a number of reasons. According to those reports, he has failed to learn Spanish and therefore doesn’t understand tactical instructions, doesn’t work hard enough in training and is not sufficiently disciplined in his personal life.

Whether or not those allegations are fair, they are serving to pile more pressure on the inexperienced 20 year-old to live up to his hefty price tag, and Dembele could certainly use a decent performance to win over some of his detractors at Malaga on Saturday – if he is given the chance.

Ousmane Dembele 1

Can Malaga spark late revival?

This has been a desperately disappointing season for Malaga, who headed into the campaign surrounded by negativity after selling all their best players during the summer and promptly sank to the foot of the table by losing their first five games.

Things have not really improved since then, with the firing of manager Michel and appointment of former player Jose Gonzalez failing to improve their fortunes. The Andalusian club are marooned at the foot of the table, having only won three games and scored 16 goals all season, eight points from safety with just 11 games remaining.

They have lost their last six games, scoring only twice in the process, and clearly need something close to a miracle to avoid relegation – a sad fall from grace for a team which reached the Champions League quarter-final five years ago.

However, Malaga can cling to the hope that history will repeat itself at La Rosaleda this weekend. They have a decent recent record against Barca, avoiding defeat on four of their last seven meetings, and gained a 2-0 home win this time last year. There’s little likelihood of that outcome repeating itself this weekend, but at least it gives Malaga some reason for hope.

Malaga

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Ernesto Valverde rejects prospect of Barcelona return for Neymar

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has dismissed reports suggesting Neymar could leave Paris Saint-Germain and return to the Catalan giant as “fantasy”.

In the same week that PSG crashed out of the Champions League, and only seven months after he joined the club for a world record 222million euros ($264 million), Neymar´s future has grown uncertain.

Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo claims the Brazilian, recovering from surgery on a broken foot in Brazil, has made contact with Barca to ask how he can engineer a return.

The article adds Neymar has explained he made a mistake in leaving the club, was wrong to want independence from Lionel Messi and has been disappointed by the standard of opposition in Ligue 1.

Asked about the reports on Friday, Valverde said: “It seems to me a fantasy and we do not know where it came from or where it will end.

“It is a fantasy and we are not going to speak about rumours when we know it would not end here.”

Neymar Jr looks on

Barca, however, is not the only club Neymar is reportedly targeting as a potential way out of PSG.

Madrid-based newspaper AS reports Neymar´s father has met with Real Madrid, who are ready to pay 400million euros to sign the striker.

Real coach Zinedine Zidane said on Friday: “Neymar could play in all the clubs because he is very good, like many players.

“I´m not going to talk about a player that is not mine. On the 400 million, they paid 220 million and when they bought me they paid 72.

“It seemed crazy to me and 10 years later they are paying 220 million. It may well be that in the next 10 years someone will pay 400m, or sooner, I do not know.”

Mundo Deportivo concedes Neymar´s courting of Barcelona may even be a tactic to justify a move to Real, given the Catalan club are likely to reject any chance to re-sign the 26-year-old.

Barcelona are still embroiled in a financial dispute over a bonus due to Neymar last summer, which the club cancelled when they believe it became clear he was moving to PSG.

Neymar missed PSG’s last 16 loss to Real on Tuesday after undergoing surgery on a broken foot in Brazil last week.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Neymar wants to return to Barcelona from PSG - reports

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Neymar already regrets moving to Paris Saint-Germain and is seeking a shock return to Barcelona, according to reports in the Spanish media on Friday.

In the same week that PSG crashed out of the Champions League, and only seven months after he joined the club for a world record 222million euros ($264 million), Neymar’s future has become uncertain.

Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo claims the Brazilian, recovering from surgery on a broken foot in Brazil, has made contact with Barca to ask how he can engineer a return.

The article adds Neymar has explained he made a mistake in leaving the club, was wrong to want independence from Lionel Messi and has been disappointed by the standard of opposition in Ligue 1.

Barca, however, is not the only club Neymar is reportedly targeting as a potential way out of PSG.

Madrid-based newspaper AS reports Neymar´s father has met with Real Madrid, who are ready to pay 400million euros to sign the striker.

Asked about the speculation on Friday, Real coach Zinedine Zidane said: “Neymar could play in all the clubs because he is very good, like many players.

“I’m not going to talk about a player that is not mine. On the 400 million, they paid 220 million and when they bought me they paid 72.

“It seemed crazy to me and 10 years later they are paying 220 million. It can be that in the next 10 years someone will pay 400m, or sooner, I do not know.”

Mundo Deportivo concedes Neymar’s courting of Barcelona may even be a tactic to justify a move to Real, given the Catalan club are likely to reject any chance to re-sign the 26-year-old.

Barcelona are still embroiled in a financial dispute over a bonus due to Neymar last summer, which the club cancelled when they believe it became clear he was moving to PSG.

Neymar missed PSG’s last 16 loss to Real on Tuesday after undergoing surgery on a broken foot in Brazil last week.

Provided by AFP Sport

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