‘It happened to me!’ – Valverde laughs off Dembele timekeeping

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde has defended Ousmane Dembele after the France forward reportedly turned up late for training again.

Dembele helped Barcelona to a 4-0 derby defeat of Espanyol on Saturday but following that crushing La Liga victory made headlines again for another disciplinary issue.

The France forward’s timekeeping has been a concern throughout his career, with the 21-year-old reportedly arriving two hours late for Monday’s session.

Valverde was repeatedly asked about Dembele’s discipline during a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Tottenham.

But the coach was unwilling to publicly criticise the youngster and even made light of the matter.

Asked if he could remember such lateness in a player, Valverde joked: “It happened to me!

“I knew you were going to ask about Dembele. It’s true that some things have happened, we will try to solve things internally, and there’s not much more to say about this.

“It is a new situation, and we want to help this player, because he has great talent, and we want to help him make the most of it.

“These are questions about an internal matter, he’s a player who gives us a lot of things in the field, but in the same way that others contribute a lot on the pitch. We all have to follow some guidelines here.

“You win the derby 4-0 and everyone says it’ll be relaxing, it’s sunny outside and you hope nothing crazy happens. This is an internal issue, we will resolve it internally, and I’ve said that four times.”

Philippe Coutinho’s recent performances have also been questioned but Valverde said he is happy with the Brazil international’s contribution.

“The players’ form goes up and down all season. When Luis Suarez wasn’t scoring the questions were about him non-stop,” Valverde added.

“Philippe is very important for us. He played in the second half the other night [against Espanyol] and is another option for us. We want to support him to give us the best he can, as he is a decisive player.”

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No guarantee Coutinho will be picked ahead of Dembele – Valverde

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde says Philippe Coutinho cannot count on being picked ahead of Ousmane Dembele for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with PSV.

Victory in Eindhoven would see Barca finish top of Group B and earn a last-16 tie with a runner-up from one of the other groups.

Dembele came off the bench to score the equaliser for the Catalans in a 1-1 La Liga draw with Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

With Coutinho again available after missing the Atletico game and a shock defeat to Real Betis two weeks earlier, it was put to Valverde at a news conference on Tuesday that Dembele – who Goal reported has requested a transfer in January  – may be forced back down the pecking order.

“We’ll see about that,” responded Valverde. “Ousmane has been playing regularly, so there’s no reason why that definitely will be the case.

“We hope that the goal against Atletico helped Dembele. A goal gives confidence to any player and I have the feeling Dembele will always try to do his best when he comes out.

“Dembele is a player who has been playing regularly, from the bench or the start, and he has quality.

“When he comes off the bench he can change a game and that’s a quality that is undervalued in football. Not everybody has that quality.”

Barcelona have had to cope with a lengthy list of injuries this season, with Luis Suarez (knee), Rafinha (knee) and Sergi Roberto (hamstring) the latest to head to the treatment room.

And Valverde placed some of the blame on having so many players called away on international duty in the early part of the campaign.

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“It’s not that we don’t want the players to go away with the national team, but it is something that we have to pay a price for and, in this case, several players’ injuries have coincided at the same time,” he added.

“Throughout the season there are casualties of all kinds, as we have played the last two games of the Champions League without Lionel Messi.

“In the previous match were cautious with Coutinho, but we think that he can play this time. We will see how Ivan [Rakitic] trains, but we are optimistic.”

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Coutinho returns to Barca training ahead of Atletico Madrid trip

Philippe Coutinho has returned to training following the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the first week of November.

The Brazilian had been expected to miss three weeks for the champions after picking up a knock during the team’s 1-1 draw with Inter Milan at San Siro earlier this month, but trained on Tuesday alongside those of his teammates who are not away on international duty.

Coutinho could now be in contention to play some part during Barca’s game away at Atletico Madrid on Saturday having missed the side’s shock 4-3 home defeat to Betis plus Brazil’s game against Uruguay in London during the international break.

Training alongside Coutinho on Tuesday were Juan Miranda and Riqui Puig from Barca’s B team.

Neither player has yet made an appearance in Ernesto Valverde’s first team at Camp Nou but the manger took the opportunity to give both youngsters a run-out whilst the bulk of the squad remains away on international duty.

Barca sit top of a tightly packed La Liga table despite defeat to Betis last time out, their second defeat of the season in the league, but will relinquish top spot should they lose for a third time against Atletico at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday evening.

And the champions could fall as low as fourth by the end of the weekend if Sevilla and Alaves also pick up wins.

Barca’s internationals are due to report back for training on Wednesday morning before traveling on to Madrid.

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Valverde will likely still be without Lionel Messi who is yet to recover from the fractured arm he sustained during the win against Sevilla last month.

Atletico could be without as many as four of their central defenders against Barca with Diego Godin, Lucas Hernandez, Stefan Savic and Jose Maria Gimenez all having spent time on the treatment table.

Diego Simeone is hoping that the international break will have given sufficient time for at least two of his first choice defenders to recover their fitness, in order to prevent him having to turn to emergency measures against the champions.

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Marcelo, Coutinho and Casemiro withdraw from Brazil squad

The trio have pulled out of this month’s Brasil Global Tour clashes – and are replaced by Alex Sandro, Renato Augusto and Rafinha

Marcelo, Philippe Coutinho and Casemiro have been forced to withdraw from the Brazil squad for this month’s matches against Uruguay and Cameroon.

All three picked up injuries with their respective clubs and have been replaced in the squad by Alex Sandro, Renato August and Rafinha for November’s Brasil Global Tour.

Marcelo suffered a hamstring injury in Real Madrid’s Clasico defeat to Barcelona last month and failed to recover in time to join the Selecao in the United Kingdom.

His absence provides an unexpected chance for Juventus’ Alex Sandro to make an impression, after he was unable to make the left-back role his own in two starts for Brazil since the World Cup.

Coutinho, meanwhile, also misses out due to a hamstring injury. Midfield maestro Renato Augusto will now be presented with another opportunity to prove he can help set the tone in Tite’s midfield.

Casemiro had hoped he could overcome fitness issues of his own by on Monday but the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) confirmed he, too, would be replaced.

The Selecao face Uruguay on November 16 at the Emirates Stadium, London, before hosting Cameroon on November 20 at Stadium MK, Milton Keynes.

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Coutinho facing three weeks out in injury blow to Barcelona & Brazil

Barcelona have announced that Philippe Coutinho is to be sidelined for up to three weeks with a hamstring injury.

The Brazil international will be forced to sit out upcoming fixtures for club and country after damaging the femoral biceps in his left leg.

He was able to play a full part for Barca in their most outing, against Inter in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Coutinho completed 90 minutes at San Siro, providing the assist for Malcom’s effort in a 1-1 draw in Milan .

He is, however, set to miss the rest of the month after picking up an untimely knock.

A statement released by Barca on their official website read: “Tests undertaken on Thursday morning have confirmed that Philippe Coutinho has a small rupture in the femoral biceps of his left leg.

“He will be out for approximately two to three weeks.”

If Coutinho is unable to make a speedy recovery, then it is unlikely that he will be seen again in November.

He will be absent from La Liga and Champions League fixtures as a result, while also missing out on international duty.

Barcelona are set to face Real Betis at Camp Nou on Sunday before domestic action shuts down once more.

Coutinho-Brazil

Coutinho would have been expecting to link up with Brazil, offering him a chance to add to his 45 caps, but he will play no part in friendly dates with Uruguay and Cameroon on November 16 and 20 respectively.

If he is able to shake off his ailment inside two weeks, then he could play some part in a crunch La Liga clash with Atletico Madrid on November 24.

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That contest may, however, come too soon, as could a European date with PSV in Eindhoven on November 28.

Barca’s first outing in December will see them play host to Villarreal, and they will hope to have Coutinho back at their disposal by then.

Ernesto Valverde’s side are currently perched at the top of the Liga standings and safely through to the last-16 of the Champions League .

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VIDEO: Coutinho, Neymar & The Ones to Watch in the UEFA Champions League

Europe’s greatest club competition returns on Tuesday with yet another collection of mouth-watering ties in store.

But who will lead his club to glory with the most impressive performance of this matchday? 

Who will rise up above the rest and be crowned the UEFA Champions League Player of the Week, sponsored by Banco Santander?

Will PSG’s creator-in-chief Neymar take centre stage once again? Since his UCL debut in September 2013, no player in the competition can match his tally of 19 assists.

Or will his Brazil colleague over in Barcelona, Philippe Coutinho, be the star of the show as he faces his old club Inter? Coutinho has been directly involved in 10 goals in his last seven Champions League outings (six goals, four assists).

Another Brazilian, Porto’s Felipe, will be looking to inspire his side to victory over Lokomotiv by adding to his Group D-best 17 successful aerial duels.

The UEFA Champions League has a great tradition on unearthing young talent and few are as hot as those found at Dortmund right now.

Twenty-year-old Achraf Hakimi is flourishing under Lucien Favre and has notched an impressive three assists in the UCL this season – a joint high in the competition.

Ones to Watch

Player of the Weeks Ones to Watch
Posted by Football Santander on Tuesday, 06 November 2018

Voting for Player of the Week opens on Thursday .

Follow Football Santander on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram for continued coverage of the UEFA Champions League.

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Dembele or Rafinha? How Barcelona will line up in the Clasico without Messi

The news that Lionel Messi had been ruled out of action for three weeks with a fracture in his right arm sparked panic among Barcelona fans.

How on earth were they supposed to cope without their talisman in Sunday’s Liga showdown with Real Madrid?

Messi, after all, is the king of the Clasico, with more goals (26) and more assists (14) than any other player to have ever graced the most iconic fixture in world football.

He is, in that sense, irreplaceable. And yet someone has to fill the void left by the No.10. 

So, who will Valverde turn to? 

On Wednesday, the Barca boss pointed out that he has “very options” but the most obvious solution initially appeared to be Ousmane Dembele, the man who replaced Messi after the Argentine had been forced off injured in last Saturday’s Liga win over Sevilla.

The France international, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund last year for an initial €105 million, had both form and fitness issues during his debut season in Catalunya. 

However, Dembele has played with far greater consistency this season.

Barcelona Dembele

Indeed, while he has yet to rack up an assist, only Messi has scored more goals (five), created more chances (24) or completed as many dribbles (18) for Barcelona as the 21-year-old. 

He even made four key passes in just 65 minutes against Sevilla – a tally only matched by Philippe Coutinho and Ever Banega, both of whom played the full game.

However, Dembele was omitted from the starting line-up for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Inter amid reports that Valverde had been left unimpressed by how long it had taken the Rennes academy product to get himself ready to replace Messi against the Rojiblancos.

Whatever the veracity of that rumour, the fact is that Rafinha took full advantage of an unexpected outing against Inter and is now in contention to start against Madrid. 

The 25-year-old had made just four previous appearances for Barca this season but, playing in a slightly withdrawn role, Rafinha excelled, even opening the scoring after starting and finishing a brilliant breakaway by coolly volleying home an exquisite Luis Suarez cross.

Of course, Malcom is also an option in attack but the 21-year-old Brazilian has been seen just twice in La Liga since joining from Bordeaux for €41 million during the summer and is as likely to start as the injured Messi.

Instead, Valverde is likely to choose between Rafinha and Dembele. The former offers industry and intelligence, while the latter is as pacy as he is unpredictable. 

Barcelona Rafinha

As it stands, Rafinha appears to have the edge, with Valverde singing his praises after an impressive showing against former club Inter.

“Everything seems brighter when you score a goal but Rafinha’s good work was already there for all to see,” the Barca boss enthused.

“He linked up well between the lines and was very generous when it came to winning the ball back.”

Still, Valverde was also at pains to point out that Dembele hadn’t been punished for any perceived indiscretion. 

“If Dembele didn’t play, it’s not because I want to send a message to anyone,” he insisted. “That inference would be wrong.

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“He’s another player in the squad. Sometimes he’ll play and sometimes others will.”

Who plays against Real remains to be seen but don’t be surprised if we see both Rafinha and Dembele, with Rafinha starting to provide great discipline and security, and Dembele coming on later in the game to exploit tiring legs.

As Valverde said himself, “One player can’t replace Leo. It’s about collective responsibility.”

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Shaqiri the closest Liverpool have to Coutinho – Mellor

Xherdan Shaqiri is capable of filling the void at Liverpool created by Philippe Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona, says Neil Mellor.

The Reds reluctantly parted with a star playmaker during the January transfer window, with persistent pressure from Camp Nou eventually forcing them into a sale.

Jurgen Klopp resisted the urge to land a direct replacement at that time, with other areas of his squad considered to be in greater need of addressing.

He did, however, snap up Switzerland international Shaqiri from Stoke over the summer, and the 27-year-old has offered glimpses of what he is capable of during limited game time thus far.

Former Liverpool striker Mellor believes he is capable of making more of an impact if given a regular run, telling Love Sport Radio: “I really like Shaqiri. What a bargain he seems like when you think what Liverpool bought him for in the summer from Stoke.

“He has that creative ability in the final third to open up defences. Again at the weekend against Huddersfield with his assist for the goal and again in the second half with a lovely little through ball.

“Not since Coutinho have Liverpool had that sort of creative player in the midfield three.

“We know about the front three and they’re going to score plenty of goals. But if you’ve got someone with that creative influence just in behind he could well make a big difference.

“Adam Lallana has been that player but unfortunately injuries have limited his game time. So Shaqiri could be a big difference in games where teams are going to set up and say ‘come and break us down’. Someone like Shaqiri could be the answer in those tighter games.”

Mohamed Salah Liverpool 2018-19

While seeking a midfield spark, Liverpool are still looking to a fearsome front three to do much of their damage, with Mohamed Salah having got himself back among the goals in recent outings against Huddersfield and Red Star.

Mellor said of the Egyptian forward: “He’s such an important player for Liverpool and his goals are going to be absolutely vital if Liverpool are to achieve and succeed this season.

“The numbers last season were quite incredible: 44 goals. It was a big surprise but he’s enjoying himself and he’s playing for a manager who’s getting the best out of him.

“The big difference for Salah from when he was at Roma is he’s playing more central now so he’s making those runs in behind and getting lots and lots of chances. I think he’ll continue to do that.

“He got two goals [against Red Star], he got the winning goal against Huddersfield. So it’s not like he’s short of goals and it was good to see him hit a couple and he probably would have got a hat-trick if he’d stayed on the pitch.”

Fabinho Liverpool 26092018

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Klopp has never questioned Salah’s form, even during an early-season dip, and he has also backed summer signing Fabinho to make a telling contribution in time after easing him into the fold at Anfield.

The versatile Brazilian was another of those to impress against Red Star, with Mellor saying of his qualities: “I think Fabinho was excellent. He was brought in for a few quid, he’s had to be patient and to adapt to Liverpool Football Club, to life in England. But it was no surprise to see that a Champions League night would suit him because obviously he excelled for Monaco in that competition.

“He’s had to be patient and he may well have to be patient in the Premier League. Injury has given him that opportunity so he may well get a little run in the side to show those qualities but there’s no doubt he has that quality to protect the defence and he’s really aggressive too which the supporters enjoy.”

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Barcelona 4 Sevilla 2: Messi injured but champions go top

Lionel Messi was substituted with an arm injury that makes him a doubt for next weekend’s Clasico but the Barcelona captain inspired a 4-2 home win against Sevilla to send his side top of LaLiga.

Philippe Coutinho scored from Messi’s pass in the second minute to get Barca off to a flying start at Camp Nou on Saturday and the Argentina superstar soon doubled the lead.

But Messi had to be substituted having hurt his right arm in an awkward fall and he could miss Wednesday’s Champions League game against Inter, as well as next Sunday’s showdown with rivals Real Madrid.

Luis Suarez’s second-half penalty and a late strike from Ivan Rakitic secured the points despite consolations from Pablo Sarabia and Luis Muriel, Ernesto Valverde’s men moving into first place in the table, with Sevilla third after their four-game winning streak ended.


Despite being on a run of one win in five in all competitions, Barca led inside two minutes with Coutinho bending home a sensational first-time strike to complete a wonderful team move involving Messi and Suarez.

Guilherme Arana struck the post but Messi scored a typically brilliant second for his side in the 12th minute, running on to a superb Suarez pass and cutting inside off the right flank to find the bottom-left corner from 20 yards to record his 25th goal against Sevilla.

Messi, though, was then replaced by Ousmane Dembele after landing heavily on his right arm, Barca’s treatment team initially patching him up but finding he could not continue.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen twice produced remarkable double saves, then Suarez sealed victory when he sent Tomas Vaclik the wrong way from the penalty spot after he was felled by the goalkeeper.

Sarabia’s 79th-minute reply took a vital deflection off former Sevilla defender Clement Lenglet to ruin Ter Stegen’s clean sheet, the Germany goalkeeper then making a second double save.

Rakitic added a late fourth with a controlled volley against his old club but Sevilla still had the final say, Muriel bending home a fine finish in added time.

Despite a welcome win, Barcelona will be concerned about Messi’s injury ahead of next weekend’s Clasico.


What does it mean: Messi major concern

Getting back to winning ways will be a huge relief for Valverde, but Messi’s injury gives him another headache. Barca are arguably more reliant on their talisman than ever before and if he is out for any serious length of time, their title aspirations will be severely dented.

Ter Stegen heroics save Barca

A wonderful double save from Ter Stegen was a vital moment for Barca, who then quickly extended their lead from the penalty spot after Suarez was felled. The first save from Andre Silva’s header was brilliant but blocking the rebound from Franco Vazquez was arguably even better. Incredibly, Ter Stegen made another amazing double save in the closing stages to keep out Muriel and Sarabia.

Ben Yedder toothless for visitors

Behind Messi and level with team-mate Sarabia, Wissam Ben Yedder was among LaLiga’s top scorers this term with nine in all competitions, but the striker had little involvement. Sevilla – now winless in 16 games at Camp Nou – were on the back foot from the off, however, blunting his impact.

What’s next?

European action for both sides this week with Barca hosting Inter in the Champions League on Wednesday and Sevilla welcoming Akhisarspor in the Europa League a day later. On Sunday it’s Huesca at home for Sevilla, while Barca will hope Messi is fit to face Madrid in the Clasico.

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How have Brazil changed since the World Cup?

A new captain, changing faces and shape-shifting tactical set-ups – Tite and the Selecao are deep in a period of transition ahead of Copa America 2019


GOAL ANALYSIS – Raisa Simplicio & Rupert Fryer


Following World Cup 2018, Brazil coach Tite and his technical staff are leading a process of renewal in the Selecao. Their work has been broken down into three stages: the short, medium and long term.

The short term utilised the six Brasil Global Tour dates from September to November, the first big test of which arrived this week with the Superclasico against Argentina in Jeddah.

Neymar refused to lose Miranda takes the Superclasico

Posted by Brasil Global Tour on Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The 1-0 victory over their old rivals made it four straight victories, but it is the performances rather than the results of those matches that are most important to the coach.

Tite has taken the opportunity to introduce a number of new faces, handing out nine debuts since the World Cup (Neto, Felipe, Eder Militao, Andreas Pereira, Arthur, Lucas Paqueta, Richarlison, Everton and Pablo), while retaining the core of the World Cup squad. The intention is to find an ideal blend of youth and experience.


A FIXED CAPTAIN


Neymar Brasil Argentina 16 10 2018

The big news ahead of the Selecao’s first post-World Cup test was the appointment of a new captain. After two years of rotating the armband around the squad, Tite announced that Neymar was being anointed the responsibility on a permanent basis. Tite made a point of explaining his decision, insisting that his no.10 was the technical leader of the team who will guide them into World Cup 2022. 

There were some reservations following intense criticism of Neymar’s temperament in Russia, but it is clear to see that the 26-year-old has learned from the experience and is growing. Some of the criticism appeared to miss the point; this was not a reward from Tite, but rather a tool to ensure the player remains entirely focused and accepts his responsibility on the pitch.


ARTHUR’S EMERGENCE


Arthur Brazil El Salvador Friendly 11092018

The most prominent of all the new arrivals is Barcelona midfielder Arthur. The former Gremio man charmed the coaching staff and started against Argentina, a match in which Tite played what he believes is his best team. The match served as a something of a ‘simulation’ for next year’s Copa America, a tournament Tite is under huge pressure to win.

If the tournament started today, Arthur would be in the first-team. Despite having just over a year of senior football under his belt, Arthur has shown the strength, athleticism, tactical nous and technical quality to set the rhythm in the Brazil midfield, seemingly relegating Manchester Untied’s Fred back to the bench.


STRONG CORE


Philippe Coutinho Neymar Brazil 2018 World Cup

While Brazil are going through a major renovation, the Selecao remains standing on a solid foundation of five key players. In goal, Alisson has been consistently excellent and is yet to let his country down, though Ederson is pushing him hard. Marquinhos is the one member of the back-four whose place is assured, while Casemiro at the base of the midfield remains possibly his side’s most important player in terms of the team’s overall functionality.

In midfield, Coutinho – whether wide right or in central midfield – is immovable and so too is Neymar. Arthur is on the verge of making it six, but elsewhere places are very much up for grabs. Both full-back positions are being keenly contested and as many as half of the positions in midfield and attack are yet to be claimed.


STRIKING COMPETITION


Richarlison Brasil Argentina Amistoso Superclássico das Américas 16102018

One of the biggest changes for Brazil post-World Cup has been in the centre-forward position. For two years, Gabriel Jesus was immovable from the no.9 position. However, after failing to score in Russia, Tite has had a rethink. Jesus was left out of the squad completely last month but returned last week and found the net against Saudi Arabia.

Roberto Firmino, for so long his understudy, is now pushing for a start. Moreover, Everton forward Richarlison has entered the race after starring against El Salvador last month with two goals. The Argentina match saw Firmino and Jesus start a Brazil match together for the very first time, but they seemed to lack an understanding and the attack certainly lacked cohesion overall. Tite, then, has plenty to ponder up front ahead of next month’s Brasil Global Tour.


NEW FORMATIONS


GFX 1a mudança Tite Arábia Saudita

This week, for the match against Argentina, Tite took the extremely rare decision not to confirm his starting XI on the eve of the game, explaining that he was yet to devise his tactical plan for the contest. The 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 that had been omnipresent since his appointment has changed following their disappointment in Russia.

Against Saudi Arabia, he used three different formations and against Argentina went out with two centre-forwards, though Jesus did play from the right. The theory was that Firmino would drop and the likes of Neymar and Jesus would exploit the space. However, in practice it proved problematic, and will undoubtedly require more work on the training ground.

Regardless, Tite and his staff are working hard on varying Brazil’s shape and finding a system that can get his best attackers onto the field while retaining the ‘balance’ he believes is so important.

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