Enrique wants more for City visit

Barcelona's Rafinha celebrates scoring the winner against Granada on Saturday. It was his fifth goal in as many La Liga games.
Barcelona's Rafinha celebrates scoring the winner against Granada on Saturday. It was his fifth goal in as many La Liga games.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Barca boss demands sharper performance against Guardiola's men after narrow win

BARCELONA • Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insisted his side will need an improved display when faced with the very different challenge of former Barca boss Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, after labouring to a 1-0 win over Granada on Saturday.

Barca travel to Manchester tomorrow having thrashed City 4-0 two weeks ago to take a commanding lead of Champions League Group C.

However, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar endured a rare off night in front of goal as midfielder Rafinha bagged the only goal against an ultra defensive-minded Granada.

"Now we will go to Manchester and in theory we will have a team that presses us high and we'll be left almost one against one," said Enrique. "You have to be very efficient and precise to overcome that pressure. If you overcome it, you are going to have chances and, if not, the opponent will win the ball in your half with quality players."

In contrast to their Champions League position, Barca trail arch rivals Real Madrid by two points at the top of La Liga after 10 games.

However, with four wins in a row in all competitions, Enrique believes Barca are headed in the right direction.

"There are still almost all the clashes between the title rivals to come, but I think we are headed in the right direction in La Liga and the Champions League," he said.

Rafinha's fine overhead finish was his fifth goal in as many La Liga games as the Brazilian continues to make the most of his opportunities in a Barca squad ravaged by injuries. And Enrique stressed the importance of goals from midfield to back up the threat posed by Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

"Rafinha's getting into the box more which is something we always ask of midfield players," he said. "That's the important thing. We have three unique, incomparable players up front, but the more players we can have taking chances and getting into the box the better.

"It is always a boost for the midfield players to score goals and in Rafinha's case he is a player that arrives very well from deep."

While the Barca strike trio struggled on Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo returned to scoring form with his first hat-trick of the season as Real Madrid enjoyed a 4-1 win at Alaves on Saturday.

The Portuguese superstar could even afford to miss a penalty.

His wayward form in recent weeks had come under the spotlight - even drawing whistles from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd last weekend. But he turned the game around after Deyverson had put Alaves into a shock early lead.

"We are always going to demand goals from Cristiano, but he was good in all aspects," said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane. "We knew how to suffer because the first half and the start of the second weren't comfortable or easy. But playing like this, if you know how to suffer and then add a bit of movement, we know what we can do."

Zidane got a further boost yesterday when Gareth Bale, 27, tied his long-term future to Real by extending his contract to 2022.

The Welshman's deal is understood to be worth around £350,000 (S$594,000) a week after tax, more than the estimated £288,000 a week Real pay Ronaldo.

Bale is the latest of a series of Real stars to agree contract extensions in recent weeks as the club prepares to serve a one-year transfer ban imposed by Fifa should a final appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport fail.

Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Lucas Vazquez have already agreed new deals, while Ronaldo is expected to follow suit.

Atletico on Saturday bounced back from their first defeat of the season at Sevilla last weekend, thanks to doubles from Yannick Carrasco and Kevin Gameiro in a 4-2 win over Malaga.

This, despite playing with 10 men for the final half hour. Stefan Savic picked up two quickfire yellow cards to leave Atletico up 3-1 but a man short for the final half hour.

Ignacio Camacho headed home from a corner to cut Malaga's deficit to 2-3, but Carrasco showed stunning speed and produced an unerring finish into the far corner to seal the points four minutes from time.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Enrique wants more for City visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe