Barca stars back under-fire Valverde

JEDDAH • Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde's future remains as uncertain as ever after failure in yet another Cup competition, but he still has the backing of his star players in Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

The La Liga champions slumped to a 3-2 defeat by Atletico Madrid on Thursday night, crashing out of the revamped Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.

They dominated possession and were leading 2-1 with 10 minutes left thanks to goals from Messi and Antoine Griezmann. But it was Atletico, who opened the scoring through substitute Koke, who qualified for tomorrow's final with Real Madrid, courtesy of a penalty from Alvaro Morata before Angel Correa struck the winner.

Barcelona also had two second-half goals ruled out after reviews by the video assistant referee, leading Messi to curse his side's "schoolboy mistakes".

The captain said: "We need to try and continue playing as well as we did today for the rest of the year, but make sure we don't make the childish errors we made today.

"We controlled the game for around 80 minutes, we played at a high pace, we attacked all the time and created lots of chances. But, in the last 10 minutes, we made big (errors) and we let a game slip which we had under control."

The defeat continued a poor start to the new year by the league leaders, who drew 2-2 against bottom side Espanyol last week, leaving them level on points with second-placed Real. The hashtag #ValverdeOut again trended on social media, just like after the team lost to Liverpool in last term's Champions League semi-finals and following the defeat by Valencia in the King's Cup final.

However, Messi insisted the players "still have confidence in him", adding: "We will work hard so we can improve. But it's normal that there is discontent when there's a defeat and people feel the team are not playing as they would like."

Suarez echoed Messi's comments, claiming "Valverde's future is with this club" and "he doesn't carry any blame".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2020, with the headline 'Barca stars back under-fire Valverde'. Print Edition | Subscribe