Barca need 2 stars badly

Karim Benzema's goal just before half-time against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup gave Real a 2-0 lead and at 5-1 on aggregate, virtually wrapped up proceedings.
Karim Benzema's goal just before half-time against Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup gave Real a 2-0 lead and at 5-1 on aggregate, virtually wrapped up proceedings.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Coutinho and Dembele can re-balance team after Neymar's exit and Super Cup thrashing

MADRID • Barcelona could be handed a lift after losing 1-5 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, as a senior official claimed that the side are "close" to signing Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele.

Pep Segura, Barca's general manager, said negotiations with Liverpool for Brazilian playmaker Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund over a deal for promising French winger Dembele could be finalised within days.

"We have to help the team with reinforcements and they will be here in the coming days," Segura told Catalan TV station Esport3 after Barca lost the second leg of the Super Cup 0-2 in Madrid.

"We are discussing the conditions of Coutinho and Dembele. They are close. We hope they will be Barca players next season."

Barca's season has been thrown into turmoil by Neymar's world record €222 million (S$356 million) move to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month.

Following the transfer, the Catalans have struggled to close deals for Coutinho and Dembele, with Liverpool and Dortmund holding out for fees in excess of €100 million.

"Things have happened in pre-season that have affected the balance of the team and our job is to find that balance again," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, whose team host Real Betis in their LaLiga opener on Sunday.

"We have to recover quickly from the defeat, the league is on the horizon."

However, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insisted yesterday that the Coutinho sale is not even close.

In the Super Cup match, despite missing the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, whose five-game ban for pushing a referee after being sent off in the first leg was upheld on appeal before kick-off, Real were dominant in the first half.

Marco Asensio's brilliant strike after just four minutes and Karim Benzema's goal before the interval settled the match for the Madrid club.

Victory also sealed Real's seventh trophy of a spectacularly successful spell since Zinedine Zidane took charge just 20 months ago.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, blasted his treatment by the Spanish Football Federation as "persecution".

The Portuguese star will miss Real's first four LaLiga matches, starting with Sunday's game away to Deportivo La Coruna.

"Impossible to be immune to this situation, 5 games!!" he posted to his 108 million followers on Instagram. "It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution!"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Barca need 2 stars badly'. Print Edition | Subscribe