Valverde praises Dembele, happy with Barcelona squad

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi lifting the Spanish Super Cup after they came from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1 at the Ibn Batouta Stadium in the Moroccan city of Tangier.
Barcelona captain Lionel Messi lifting the Spanish Super Cup after they came from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1 at the Ibn Batouta Stadium in the Moroccan city of Tangier.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TANGIER • British media reports have linked Manchester United's Paul Pogba with a move to the Nou Camp but, after Barcelona came from behind to beat Sevilla 2-1 in Morocco on Sunday to lift the Spanish Super Cup for a record extending 13th time, additional signings are not factoring in the thoughts of manager Ernesto Valverde.

The video assistant referee was used for the first time in Spanish football to award Pablo Sarabia's goal when he latched on to Luis Muriel's pass to give King's Cup finalists Sevilla the surprise lead against the LaLiga and Cup holders in the traditional curtain-raiser.

However, a stunning long-range strike from Ousmane Dembele proved to be the winner after Gerard Pique had equalised, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen saving a last-minute penalty from Wissam Ben Yedder to ensure Barca claimed their first trophy of the new season.

It was new captain Lionel Messi's first piece of silverware since inheriting the armband from the departed Andres Iniesta, and the Argentinian also overtook the Spaniard as Barca's most decorated player with 33 winners' medals.

And Valverde declared himself pleased with the manner in which Barca fought back after conceding Sarabia's early opener, despite his team's lack of training time together following the players' World Cup exertions.

"We are happy because we have won a title against a great rival and the circumstances were not easy. A lot of players only returned (after the World Cup) during the week and we were still missing some things," he said.

"I am thinking about my team and what we will do in our next (league) game (against Alaves)... We will see what happens (with the Spanish transfer window closing on Aug 31), but my idea is to strengthen the players I have because they are very good. I want them to improve and to be ambitious."

The Spaniard also reserved praise for Dembele, who was the subject of speculation over a possible transfer to Arsenal in the close season, after a difficult debut season.

"We have a lot of hope placed in him and he has a lot of talent. Today, he helped us a lot and scored a great goal," Valverde added.

The match had endured a controversial build-up when Sevilla threatened to file a complaint against Barca if they fielded more than three non-European Union players.

As such, only Brazilian midfielder Arthur, who was signed for €31 million (S$48.5 million) from Gremio, started with fellow new signing, Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, named on the bench.

Brazilian winger Malcom, who moved from Bordeaux last month for €41 million, was left out of the match-day squad, while another summer recruit in French centre-back Clement Lenglet made his debut alongside Pique in defence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2018, with the headline 'Valverde praises Dembele, happy with Barcelona squad'. Print Edition | Subscribe