x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Martino calls for big response to Barcelona’s first loss of season

AC Milan put chief executive's departure on back burner

Gerardo Martino, the Barcelona coach, has urged his side to bounce back from their first defeat of the season when they travel to face Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Various players, along with Martino, criticised the team’s lack of intensity and focus after they lost in midweek by Ajax, having already sealed their passage into the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League.

The manager hopes the negative reaction will ensure there is no repeat performance in what appears to be their toughest match remaining between now and the winter break in three weeks.

“What we need to do is show a different face. We need to change what we did in the first 45 minutes, no matter who the opponent is,” he said. “I don’t want to speak about a process. Before, we had won by four goals and I would sign up to losing one game in every 20.

“We lacked intensity compared with Ajax, who were playing with a different need and that showed. We need to show we have learned from the errors we committed. We have spoken and we recognise it.”

Barca will again be without long-term absentees Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes and Jordi Alba. Martino said Dani Alves and Carles Puyol would also miss the game.

Adriano and Alexis Sanchez return to Martino’s 18-man squad, while Sergio Busquets will start, having been rested in midweek.

Athletic are unbeaten in six games since opening their new stadium and could move to fourth with a win, after Villarreal’s 1-1 draw with Malaga on Friday.

Martino has consistently stressed that his side’s injury problems cannot be used as an excuse, given the depth they have on offer.

He said it was the strength of Athletic Bilbao, rather than Barca’s sizeable injury list, that is causing him most concern.

“The opponent is very difficult, they are a team replete with technically gifted, good players and they worry me,” he said.

“It is a very important match, one which will show us where we are, independent of what happened in Ajax. We will need to be at our best to win the game. I don’t think they will change how they line up because they always play in the same manner.”

Galliani’s departure on hold for now, Berlusconi says

Adriano Galliani will remain as AC Milan chief executive despite handing in his resignation, the club president Silvio Berlusconi announced on Saturday.

“Serenity has returned to AC Milan. Adriano Galliani will remain in his position,” Berlusconi told news agency ANSA.

On Friday, Galliani announced he would resign after nearly 28 years, citing his treatment by club director Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of Silvio, who said recently the troubled club needed a new philosophy.

Milan are 13th in Serie A after a poor start and have taken 14 points from 13 games.

The bad results have enraged fans, who have blamed directors rather than coach Massimiliano Allegri. Some 300 supporters blocked the players’ exit from the San Siro after a 1-1 draw with Genoa last weekend.

Galliani and Silvio Berlusconi met late on Friday at the former prime minister’s villa in Arcore, the site of the “bunga bunga” parties which landed him in legal hot water, Italian media said.

Berlusconi, 77, was convicted in June of paying for sex with a minor and was this week expelled from parliament over a tax-fraud conviction.

“Milan can go forward in a calm manner. Adriano Galliani is more relieved now after yesterday’s dinner at Arcore, everyone is staying in their positions and Milan proceed in unity,” the elder Berlusconi said.

Galliani was appointed by Silvio Berlusconi when the latter took charge of the club in 1986 and was a key part of their subsequent success. In his time at Milan, they have won 28 trophies, including eight league titles and five Uefa Champions Leagues.

sports@thenational.ae