Ivan Rakitic wants PSG star Neymar back at Barcelona

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Barceloan star Ivan Rakitic says the door is always open if Neymar decides he wants to return to Barcelona.

According to reports in the Spanish media, the Brazilian wants a move back to the Catalan giants in the wake of PSG’s defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde labelled the rumours a ‘fantasy’ in the build-up to the 2-0 win over Malaga but Rakitic was more welcoming to the idea of Neymar returning to the Camp Nou.

“He hasn’t said anything to me but I would open the door to him right now,” he said to Sport.

“Not just because of the relationship I have with him, but because of the type of player he is.

“I’d always have Neymar in my team.”

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Chelsea Champions League clash on mind of Barcelona stars during win at Malaga reveals Ernesto Valverde

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Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez starred for Blaugrana.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde accepted his players had Chelsea on their minds after coasting through the second-half of the 2-0 win over bottom club Malaga, who played for an hour with 10 men.

Even without star forward Lionel Messi, who was with his wife following the birth of their third son, Barcelona had too much for the hosts.

Luis Suarez headed in a fine opener after 15 minutes before Philippe Coutinho added a second with a neat flick and Malaga midfielder Samuel Garcia saw red following a rash tackle from behind on Jordi Alba.

The comfortable victory leaves Barca 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid, who host Celta Vigo on Sunday, at the top of LaLiga.

Valverde had resisted temptation to rest several key players ahead of next week’s Champions League match against Chelsea at the Nou Camp, with the last-16 tie finely poised at 1-1.

“In the second-half we began to subconsciously think about the match on Wednesday,” he said at a press conference reported by the Spanish press.

“Scoring early here was crucial, the red card made the match easier for us.

“We will have to suffer to progress past Chelsea.”

Ousmane Dembele continued to impress on his return from injury, setting up Coutinho’s goal.

Valverde said: “Dembele always tries, he has a place here, but he is a player who needs time, is young and had injuries, also there is pressure on him.

“Today is yet another step forward for him.”

Earlier on Saturday, Real Madrid, buoyed by their Champions League success over Paris St Germain, defeated Eibar 2-1 to record an eighth victory from their last nine matches in all competitions.

Despite the 15-point deficit, Valverde is not ruling Los Blancos out of contention just yet.

“Of course they’re a rival for the league title,” he said.

“They will remain to be a rival until the maths of the table suggest otherwise.

“I don’t discount them – and they would do well not to discount themselves either.”

Malaga, meanwhile, look set to lose their LaLiga status barring a remarkable turnaround over the closing weeks of the campaign, having slipped 11 points from safety.

Midfielder Garcia posted an apology on Twitter for his red card.

He wrote: “I want to apologise to the fans, my team-mates and Jordi Alba… my intention at all times is to play the ball. I’ve never been a player to kick out. I’m sad for the situation of the team.”

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Dembele beginning to adapt to Barca style and more things learned after Malaga success

Andy West 11/03/2018
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Ousmane Dembele is starting to have more of an impact.

Barcelona tightened their grip at the top of La Liga with a 2-0 win at bottom club Malaga, who played for an hour with 10 men.

Even without star man Lionel Messi, who was with his wife following the birth of their third son, Barcelona had too much for the hosts.

Luis Suarez headed in a fine opener after 15 minutes before Philippe Coutinho added a second with a neat flick and Malaga midfielder Samuel Garcia saw red following a rash tackle from behind on Jordi Alba.

The comfortable victory leaves Barca 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid, who host Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Here we look at three things learned from La Rosaleda…

BARCELONA KEEP IT SIMPLE

The absence of Messi – who pulled out on the day of the game to attend the birth of his third son, Ciro – barely mattered to Barca as they cruised to victory against a desperately weak Malaga team.

Once Suarez broke the deadlock thanks to a sublime assist from Jordi Alba, swiftly followed by a smartly taken second from Coutinho, the result was never in doubt – especially when Samu then got himself sent off for a brutal challenge on Alba – and the league leaders were able to step down a couple of gears and ease through the remainder of the game without a care in the world.

If anything, in fact, it was too easy for Barca against the well-beaten ten men in the second-half, with elements of sloppiness and laziness creeping into their play towards the end. But as a warm-up for Wednesday’s Champions League meeting with Chelsea this could not have been a more comfortable outing, and manager Ernesto Valverde can be highly satisfied with a job well done.

OUSMANE DEMBELE SLOWLY SETTLING

Slowly but surely, summer signing Ousmane Dembele is adapting to the demands of playing in this Barca team, which is in many ways highly unsuited to his natural style of play.

Whereas the team’s general approach is rapid passing with no more than two touches on the ball per player, Dembele much prefers to get plenty of contact with the ball and take on opposition defenders one on one.

This slows down the team’s passing rhythm but also provides a different kind of attacking approach through Dembele’s more directly penetrative style, and that kind of variety could prove invaluable over the next few weeks against deep-lying opponents who back themselves to prevent Barca from passing their way through to goal.

Dembele was especially bright in the first-half, creating the second goal for Coutinho and frequently looking dangerous around the edge of the box, and he could yet prove to be a very useful option for Valverde in the remaining weeks of the season.

MALAGA DOWN AND OUT

Malaga aren’t bottom of the table by accident, and in this outing they showed exactly why they have only won three games all season – and none at all since early December. The Andalusian team offered no real resistance, looking entirely resigned to their fate – which, barring a miracle, will be relegation.

The only time they did show some fight, it was done so in an unacceptable manner as midfielder Samu launched a horrible studs-up assault on Jordi Alba, giving referee Juan Martinez no choice but to issue a straight red card.

But on the whole the only Malaga player who showed a willingness to take the battle to Barcelona was striker Diego Rolan, with the rest of the team pretty much going through the motions and not even making the visitors’ life difficult.

Malaga are now 11 points away from safety and, even with ten games still remaining, the chances of them salvaging their season look extremely remote. Relegation lies in wait.

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