Barcelona icon Andres Iniesta voices support for ex-Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui

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Iniesta spent two years with Lopetegui in national colours

Former Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has voiced his support for sacked former Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui, who he holds in high regard.

Ex-Spain captain Iniesta shared his thoughts on Lopetegui’s dismissal as both national team and Los Blancos boss in a span of less than five months.

Iniesta had shared a strong bond with Lopetegui during the two years of the latter’s tenure as La Roja coach.

The World Cup winner and two-time European Championships winner has voiced his support for his unfortunate compatriot.

“My relationship with Julen began when he took over at the national team, and we had a strong relationship,” Iniesta told Onda Cero.

“Nobody wanted what happened at the World Cup to unfold, and personally he made me feel important, so I messaged him just the other day.”

Iniesta has sympathy for former Spain and Real coach Lopetegui.

Iniesta has sympathy for former Spain and Real coach Lopetegui.

Lopetegui was announced as Real manager two days before the World Cup kicked off and was subsequently sacked as Spain’s head coach the next day.

This had adverse affects Spain’s World Cup campaign in Russia and the 2010 champions were subject to a shock exit in the round of 16 after going down on penalties against hosts Russia.

“In football, what happens to the coach is dictated by the results and the dynamics of football and we must accept these things can happen,” added Iniesta.

Iniesta, meanwhile, maintains that El Clasico is a huge fixture and the desire to win which is shared by all the players of Barca and Real outweighs the absence of a player, even if that player is Lionel Messi – who missed the recent 5-1 thrashing handed out by Barca to their fierce rivals.

Iniesta added: “Did I watch El Clasico? Barca were superior, and it was not important that Lionel Messi was not available as everyone plays at their highest level for these games.”

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Ernesto Valverde hails Barcelona character in comeback victory at Rayo Vallecano

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde was pleased by the character his team showed to come from behind and win at Rayo Vallecano.

The Spanish champions stunned their hosts with two late goals as they claimed a 3-2 victory to extend their lead at the top of La Liga.

Barcelona took an early lead through Luis Suarez but looked to be heading for defeat when efforts from Jose Pozo and Alvaro Garcia either side of half-time turned the game on its head.

Ousmane Dembele equalised with three minutes remaining and then Suarez got his second goal of the game in the final minute to seal a dramatic comeback.

Valverde accepted his side had been disjointed at time in the game but was happy to take the three points whichever way they came.

“I was happy with the victory. Our attitude was always the same, to go for it, and that’s what gave us the win,” Valverde told the club’s official website.

“We started well, but then we lacked depth. We had many problems with our opponents and once they scored, they grew in confidence.

“In the end we had to go for it, trying to find finishes from within the area, and if that couldn’t be achieved, trying another way. The important thing is the character of this team.”

Dembele came on as a substitute for the ineffective Rafinha, who kept his place in the team in the absence of the injured Lionel Messi. Despite struggling to get into the game, he made a telling impact with his late equaliser.

“We expect a lot from him,” Valverde said. “Dembele can be decisive and today he helped us with a great goal that allowed us to get the next.”

Suarez followed up his hat-trick in El Classico with a double on Saturday evening to take his tally for the season to nine LaLiga goals.

He said: “The game was very difficult but the most important thing is that the team knew how to turn the situation around. We have to be self-critical, but the important thing was to win the game.”

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Real Madrid interim coach Santiago Solari wants to keep rising star Vinicius Junior grounded

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Real Madrid did not impress in their 2-0 win over Real Valladolid.

Real Madrid interim coach Santiago Solari will contain his excitement over Vinicius Junior despite accepting that expectations will grow even more following his impressive cameo in Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Real Valladolid.

Solari threw Vinicius on with the score goalless and tension building at the Bernabeu but the striker delivered, before Sergio Ramos’ late penalty gave the scoreline a deceptively comfortable look.

Previous coach Julen Lopetegui had, understandably, decided Madrid’s B team was the best place for the 18-year-old to settle but with every chance missed, the youngster’s reputation has swelled.

Solari, who has worked with the attacker for Castilla, is happy to let the external hype grow, but knows it will take time for the young Brazilian to develop.

“It’s fantastic that people are excited. We can’t fight against what goes on outside,” Solari said.

“Vinicius has his whole career ahead and judgments will be made in time.

“With his virtues and defects, he is one more player in the squad.

“I told him to be bold and to take people on, which is what he knows how to do. I also told him to defend, which he needs to be reminded about.”

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