Valencia coach Nuno is trying to put thoughts of the Champions League and a row with club legend Mario Kempes out of his mind as his winless side travels to Sporting Gijon on Saturday night.
Having started the La Liga campaign with disappointing draws against unfancied Rayo Vallecano and Deportivo La Coruna, Los Che are mindful of the need to get their league campaign up and running rather than focussing on Wednesday’s European date with Zenit St Petersburg.
Manager Nuno was jeered by a section of fans during the draw against Deportivo, and knows his side faces a tough task tonight against a Sporting side which is yet to concede this season.
“They are a hard-working team but we are going there with the intention of collecting three points,” said the Portuguese boss, whose close links to super-agent Jorge Mendes have prompted scepticism among some supporters.
One outspoken critic of the relationship between Mendes and Nuno is former striker and club ambassador Kempes, who believes too much power is concentrated in the hands of the agent and the coach.
Nuno fired back: “Mario Kempes is a legend of this club and an inspiration to us, but he has made a mistake here. The structure of the club has not changed.”
Mendes’ “love story” at Madrid is over, El Confidencial say. His preferred clubs to deal with are now Porto, Monaco and Valencia.
— Jonas Giæver (@CheGiaevara) September 9, 2015
An on-field concern for Nuno is in the goalkeeper position, with Diego Alves a long-term absentee and his replacement Matthew Ryan now also missing through injury.
That leaves Valencia with the relatively untested duo Yoel and Jaume Domenech, and Nuno said: “They are both good enough and I have made my decision, but I won’t say what it is.”
Also on Saturday, David Moyes will go in search of Real Sociedad’s first victory of the season at Real Betis, who are looking to bounce back from a 5-0 thumping at Real Madrid in their last outing.
Scotsman Moyes said: “We are travelling with optimism. Away from home we have to be mentally tough and take our opportunities.”
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique would certainly have hoped for smoother preparations as his team heads into one of their most demanding fixtures of the season.
Enrique will be missing three of his regular back five for today’s trip to Atletico Madrid, with injured goalkeeper Claudio Bravo joining Dani Alves (groin) and Gerard Pique (suspended) on the sidelines.
There are also doubts over the fitness of Alves’s replacement at right-back as Sergi Roberto has travelled to Madrid still bothered by a hamstring strain which he suffered in the 1-0 victory over Malaga a fortnight ago.
— barcastuff (@barcastuff) September 12, 2015
And with Neymar still lacking in match practice after missing the start of the season through illness, another unwanted complication has been provided with superstar Lionel Messi not training with the team all week.
Messi started the week on international duty with Argentina – scoring twice against Bolivia and netting a late equaliser against Mexico – and after his return to Barcelona he was given permission to miss preparations for today’s game and attend the birth of his second son, Mateo, who was delivered by partner Antonella on Thursday.
Enrique said: “All we can do is look for solutions. Excuses serve no purpose.”
He added: “The thing that does worry me is that Atletico are very difficult to beat. Atletico put you under a lot of pressure, they give you no space, they are intense and they carry a lot of threat with setplays and counter-attacks.
“They are a complete team, which is why they are one of the strongest in Europe. They’ve had a great summer in the transfer market and are contenders for the title.”
The absence of Bravo, who has been so assured since joining Barca from Real Sociedad 15 months ago, will give a rare opportunity in La Liga to Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The young German was restricted to cup appearances last season and responded with a series of excellent displays to help Barca win both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, but he delivered some worryingly error-strewn performances in pre-season.
Ter Stegen conceded eight goals in the space of two games in the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla and the Supercopa a Espana against Athletic Bilbao, but Enrique insisted the whole team was culpable for those poor defensive displays.
“When we concede, the goalkeeper is only responsible for a small percentage,” he said. “It normally starts with the forwards, the midfielders or the defenders doing something wrong.
“We have three keepers [Bravo, ter Stegen and Jordi Masip] and they all have the confidence of the team.”
Atletico midfielder Koke, meanwhile, believes his team can come out on top if they play to their strengths and work hard to nullify Barca’s.
The Spain international conceded that the visitors are favourites, admitting: “You have to focus against Barca, because they dominate possession, make you chase the ball and with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, they can break you open at any moment.”
But he pointed to Atletico’s setpiece prowess as a reason for optimism, noting: “We know set-pieces are important because they have already won a lot of games for us. Why not again? It’s one way of gaining three points.”
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