Barcelona better this season than 2014-15 treble-winning side, says Jordi Alba

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Jordi Alba and Barcelona are aiming for a third treble in nine seasons.

Left-back Jordi Alba believes Barcelona are playing better this season than they did during the treble-winning campaign of 2014-15.

“To start with the feeling is even better because we have much more consistency in our play and results,” Alba explained.

Barca are of course in the running for another historic three-trophy haul, which would be their third in nine seasons, as they first achieved the feat in 2008-09.

“The gap over our rivals in the league is very good, we’re in the final of the Copa del Rey and in the Champions League we will have to see how we do,” the Spaniard added.

“The feeling in the dressing room is positive, we know how to handle games with attack but this year we’ve improved in defence.”

“We don’t talk about the treble because there’s a long way to go, but we clearly have a chance.”

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Ernesto Valverde hopes Samuel Umtiti will be at Barcelona for 'many years' to come

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Samuel Umtiti has been inked with a move away from Barcelona.

Barcelona are not worried about Samuel Umtiti’s future at the club despite mounting speculation linking the centre-back with a move to Manchester United.

“I have not followed Umtiti’s statements,” manager Ernesto Valverde said ahead of the first leg of Barcelona’s Champions League quarter-final against Roma. “What I understand, and I know, is that he is very happy here and we are very happy with him.

“We hope the negotiations will come to fruition and that he will be able to continue for many years here.”

The Frenchman has a relatively low release clause of just €60 million, prompting speculation that a club could prise him away from the Nou Camp, although Umtiti himself has claimed that he is happy in Catalonia.

However, the defender is aware of the speculation, and as neither side have begun talks over a new deal that could see a much bigger release clause inserted, the rumours are set to continue.

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Ousmane Dembele is justifying his price tag and other Barcelona talking points

Andy West 3/04/2018
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Ousmane Dembele

Lionel Messi is expected back for Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Roma and for Barcelona his return cannot come soon enough.

Here, we look at the main talking points ahead of the clash at Camp Nou.

SAME AGAIN FOR VALVERDE?

Ernesto Valverde

Ernesto Valverde

With Lionel Messi shrugging off the hamstring injury which ruled him out of Argentina’s recent friendlies, the only remaining fitness concern for Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde is Sergio Busquets, who has not played since suffering a foot injury during the second leg of the previous round’s victory over Chelsea.

However, Busquets was able to train fully on Tuesday so it appears the experienced midfielder is ready to resume his usual place in the starting line-up, allowing Valverde to field his strongest possible team.

That increasingly looks like containing a place for winger Ousmane Dembele, whose gradual elevation to starter status has been the big change instigated by Valverde over the last few weeks.

The French starlet is finally beginning to justify the lofty price tag which secured his transfer from Borussia Dortmund, with his pace and penetration down the right wing adding a new element to the team’s attacking play.

So everything points towards Valverde repeating the same eleven that started the second leg against Chelsea, and right now it’s difficult to pick many holes in Barca’s ‘gala eleven’, with everyone in good form and the team more or less picking itself.

DENIS IS A VIABLE BENCH OPTION?

Denis Suarez

Denis Suarez

It’s just as well that Valverde is not afflicted by injuries, because his bench options are looking generally rather unappealing at the moment with players like Paulinho, Paco Alcacer and Lucas Digne looking well below the required standards.

One exception, perhaps, is attacking midfielder Denis Suarez, who was in danger of becoming the forgotten man after being left out of several matchday squads to suggest that he had completely lost the confidence of his coach. However, Denis was finally given a chance to impress from the bench during Saturday’s game at former club Sevilla – his first league outing since January – and he played a full enough role in that comeback to suggest that he could become far more prominent in Valverde’s plans.

If Barca suffer an injury or need to make a tactical change, Paulinho would probably still be Valverde’s first choice to freshen things up. But at least the more refined skills of Denis might at least now figure in his thinking.

ROMA GOING FOR GOALS?

Edin Dzeko

Edin Dzeko

The old established idea that a goalless draw is a good result for the away team in the first leg of a knockout tie is quickly becoming obsolete, with Manchester United becoming the latest to discover the importance of an away goal when they failed to gain one in the last sixteen against Sevilla and eventually paid the full price.

Realistically, Roma cannot expect to keep Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and co scoreless over two full games, and the Italian team would be well advised to avoid falling into the trap of believing that defence is their only priority at Camp Nou for this first leg.

They have plenty of attacking options, with veteran target man Edin Dzeko netting four goals so far in this Champions League campaign and adding 14 more in Serie A, while mercurial Italian international Stephan El-Sharaawy always capable of conjuring up a piece of magic.

But perhaps more importantly than the identity of the individuals, Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco will have to give his players the confidence to genuinely believe they can put Barca’s defence under pressure. If they don’t, the tie could be effectively settled this week.

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