Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 February 2020

Barcelona look for return to winning ways, as spotlight shines on Real Madrid teen sensation Rodrygo

Valverde desperate to ease pressure after two poor shows, while Zidane calls for calm over Brazilian 18-year-old

La Liga leaders Barcelona go into this weekend looking to get back on track after failing to win their last two games against beatable opposition – and with manager Ernesto Valverde under pressure.

Last weekend’s humbling 3-1 defeat to Levante was followed by a turgid 0-0 home draw against Slavia Prague in the Champions League, with fans voicing their displeasure throughout.

They welcome strugglers Celta Vigo on Saturday and Valverde believes the side can get back to winning ways just as quickly as they have stumbled of late.

Such is the relentless pressure that Barca managers have to endure, Valverde was asked if he was surprised by his team's display or was considering quitting after the Levante defeat.

Baring in mind the team had just been on a seven game winning streak in all competitions, the second question seemed harsh. "No to both of those questions. I'm not thinking of resigning – only looking forward," said the bullish 55-year-old.

Yet he admits they need to start winning again soon. “It’s good that our fans ask a lot of us,” Valverde said. "In football, everything happens so quickly. Until a few days ago we were on a winning streak and now everything has flipped on its head in just one minute.

"If this can happen over the space of a few days, you can get out of it in that time too.

"In football nowadays, and with sides like ours, the only thing that counts is winning every game, and if you can do so by crushing the opponents, all the better. It’s never enough."

Valverde will be without injured duo Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba against Celta, who will play their first game under new manager, former Barcelona midfielder Oscar Garcia.

Real Madrid, who are level on 22 points with the Catalans, will be looking to put pressure on their great rivals when they face Eibar earlier on Saturday.

Fresh from hammering Galatasaray 6-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday, Real will be confident when they head to the Basque Country.

Yet they are likely to be without a host of first-team regulars including Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Marcelo, Marco Asensio and Nacho.

Forward Rodrygo, 18, has made the most of the absentees, scoring four in his last three appearances, including a Champions League hat-trick on Wednesday to make him the new darling of the Bernabeu.

"I’m not surprised the crowd have taken to him,” manager Zinedine Zidane said. “He’s a player full of quality and he’s come here to do what he’s showing us he can do.

"We’re enjoying him and this is only the beginning. Hopefully, he can carry on like this but we need to be calm."

High-flying Real Sociedad have a chance to go top – temporarily at least – when they face Leganes on Friday.

Atletico Madrid, who are without a win in their last three in all competitions, host Espanyol on Sunday before Real Betis host Sevilla in what is always a feisty Seville derby.

Spain's parliamentary election on Sunday is being cursed by fans of Levante, who risk losing goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez for their trip to Athletic Bilbao.

Fernandez has been called up to work at a polling station and, to make matters worse, reserve stopper Oier Olazabal is injured, meaning they could potentially be without a senior goalkeeper for the fixture.

Fernandez, who is from the Basque town of Mondragon approximately 50 kilometres from Bilbao, has been drafted onto a list of reserves who are required to attend the polling station on the morning of the election to see whether their presence is required.

All Spaniards on the electoral register are liable to be called up to work at polling stations, for which they are paid €65 (Dh263), and require mitigating circumstances to be excused.

Levante have seen an initial appeal rejected by the local Electoral Commission, however they are set to present a second request.

"The club’s working so that I don’t have to go there [polling station] on Sunday,” Fernandez said. “I just want to know what’s going on. I’m fully focused on the game and I’m certain I’ll be playing in it.

“If needs be I can sleep at home, go down to the station, and then get myself to San Mames by car.”

Updated: November 8, 2019 03:56 PM



Most Popular