Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde dismisses Neymar talk and looks ahead to Malaga clash

David Cooper 10/03/2018
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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde.

Neymar will not be heading back to Barcelona, according to coach Ernesto Valverde.

Reports in Spain suggested that the Brazilian could make a return to his former club from Paris Saint-Germain where he is currently injured – and reportedly unsettled.

But Valverde described the story as “a fantasy” as he held his pre-match press conference ahead of Barca’s La Liga trip to Malaga on Saturday (kick-off 23:45 UAE).

After their win over nearest rivals Atletico Madrid last weekend, Barcelona are eight points clear at the top – and still unbeaten in the league.


Malaga were the last team to defeat Barcelona in La Liga, with a 2-0 win last April.








Barcelona’s players welcomed a special visitor at their training session ahead of the match, when they were joined by Benjamin Suarez, son of striker Luis.



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Lionel Messi's verdict on Luis Suarez's son after he attended Barcelona training

David Cooper 10/03/2018
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Luis Suarez‘s son is only four and a half years old but that didn’t stop Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi commenting on his footballing ability.

Benjamin Suarez was a hit at the club’s training session on Friday even though he wasn’t able to show off his skills in front of Barca’s stars.

Instead, he watched in silence as his father trained with the first team.

However, Messi believes he’s seen enough of Benjamin’s ability on previous occasions to claim he is indeed gifted.

The Argentine was quick to point out that he is left-footed, unlike his father.

“Benja plays very well, he is also left-footed, so nothing to do with his father,” Messi joked in an interview with Marca.

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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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