Valverde: Barcelona away goal not definitive for progression

Ernesto Valverde believes Barcelona’s away goal in a 1-1 Champions League draw at Chelsea is not a “definitive” sign the La Liga team will progress to the quarter-finals.

Willian’s goal looked set to give the Premier League champions a narrow lead to take into the second leg of the last-16 tie.

But when Andreas Christensen’s sloppy pass to Cesc Fabregas let the visitors in, Andres Iniesta squared for Lionel Messi to tuck home his first goal in nine appearances against the Blues.

And while Valverde conceded Messi’s strike was a big moment in the context of the tie, he does not think it necessarily means Barca will be going through.

“The equaliser was very important, scoring here,” Valverde told a post-match news conference. “They might be happy with the result and we have to be respectful with their style of play.

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“They didn’t make as many passes as us, but they pressed high and made it difficult for us. The away goal isn’t definitive but it is important.

“We make it a very positive thing. It was a clash of styles. We tried to control the game. We had a lot of possession and tried to get close to the goal. They tried to get us on the counter.

“We had a lack of quality in the final third. There was a lot of congestion and they defended well. Willian hit the post a couple of times. We lacked clear-cut chances.

“But we managed to get an error out of them and get the equaliser and it is a good result in the end.”

Valverde opted to leave Ousmane Dembele as an unused substitute, only making two of his three changes, but the Barcelona coach defended the selection of Paulinho in a midfield four.

“When I went to choose the team I had to think about the best way to play, as much as having to choose Paulinho and having [Aleix] Vidal to come on,” Valverde said.

“I made that decision and be respectful of the way they play. [Paulinho] had a chance in the first half but missed.”


Conte defends ‘incredible’ Christensen after costly error against Barcelona

Andreas Christensen cost Chelsea victory against Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday, but Antonio Conte hailed the defender’s “incredible” performance.

After a flawless defensive display at Stamford Bridge, where the Premier League champions led through Willian’s strike, Christensen’s loose pass evaded Cesc Fabregas with 15 minutes to play.

Barca captain Andres Iniesta subsequently set up Lionel Messi to beat the otherwise untested Thibaut Courtois to earn the Catalans a crucial away goal to take into the second leg on March 14.

Conte left club captain Gary Cahill on the bench but the Italian said he did not regret selecting Christensen in the heart of a back three, the Denmark international flanked by Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta.

“It was a great performance, an incredible performance,” Conte told a post-match news conference. “He is only 21 and it is great he can play with that maturity. He was one of the best players. He played a top game and I am very pleased for his performance.

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“I don’t remember a great save from Thibaut. They had the one chance in the first half with Paulinho and then the second half with [Luis] Suarez. I think we played a really good game and I must be pleased because my players made a great effort. They followed the plan, the programme we prepared.

“They showed themselves to be a really strong team, a fantastic team, but we showed that if we are ready to work very hard together defensively but at the same time when you continue to have the right feeling with the ball to create the chance to score I think that we can try to do something incredible at Camp Nou.”

Conte did not make his first change until 83 minutes had been played, Alvaro Morata replacing Pedro, with Danny Drinkwater then coming on for former Barca midfielder Fabregas.

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But Conte, who did not use his third substitution, with Olivier Giroud among the players left on the bench, reiterated that he felt Chelsea – who fielded a front three of Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard – performed to a high standard.

“Without the mistake Barca were struggling to create a chance to score,” Conte said. “We tried to exploit the situation. Don’t forget we hit the post twice and we were unlucky. We gave 120 per cent.

“Our three strikers played very well and a fantastic game. Willian played really well against Hull [City in the FA Cup] and in the last three games we have scored eight times – seven with Willian, Pedro and Hazard. We must be pleased with the game, not the final result.”


Could Real Madrid rescue Pogba from Manchester United?

It is fair to say that Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United has not worked out as planned. When the midfielder signed from Juventus for €105 million in the summer of 2016, he became the most expensive player ever. On the pitch, however, he has yet to live up to the billing.

Now, in his second season back at Old Trafford, Pogba has shown signs of his obvious talent, yet there has always been the feeling that there is much more to come from the France international.

And there should be. At the age of 24, the player is approaching his best years. However, with tensions rising between the midfielder and United manager Jose Mourinho in recent weeks, there are now concerns over his long-term future at the club.

Pogba believes he is being played out of position by Mourinho, with the Portuguese sticking to what he thinks is best for the team as cracks in their relationship have started to surface.

The player, who is back in United’s squad for the Champions League clash against Sevilla on Wednesday after missing United’s FA Cup win over Huddersfield through illness, is already being linked with a potential summer switch to Real Madrid, with L’Equipe reporting that he regrets moving to Manchester and not Spain in 2016. Here, Goal takes a closer look at the current situation…

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Real Madrid were frontrunners to sign Pogba from Juventus in the summer of 2016 and Los Blancos did attempt to bring in the midfielder. Ultimately, however, they decided against a move.

Zinedine Zidane’s side had just won the Champions League and pushed Barcelona close in La Liga following a spectacular second half of the season. And, with a one-year transfer ban which was later reduced to a single window hanging over the club, it looked as if there would be plenty of movement that summer.

The French coach was asked about his compatriot during Real’s pre-season tour and he said. “Do I like Pogba? Of course, he’s a very good player and every club wants the best players but right now he’s at Juve and we have a large squad already.”

With no bids for James Rodriguez, and Pogba’s price pushed up by the demands of his agent Mino Raiola, with whom Madrid do not like to negotiate, it was decided in the end that in excess of €100m was too much money for a player who was not really even needed at Real.

Zidane was also happy with Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro as his first-choice midfield trio, with Isco, James and Mateo Kovacic all in reserve. And, although the club considered selling James and even Isco, there were no suitable bids for either player. So, Madrid did not pursue Pogba and he joined United instead.

Paul Pogba Juventus


Pogba’s position at United has proved to be a bone of contention between the player and his manager. The player has long claimed his best position is on the left of the midfield three, but he is being used by Mourinho in a two-man midfield in a 4-2-3-1 system.

That means he is often in a deeper role than he would like and, as witnessed with France in Euro 2016, such a position does not allow the player to operate in the areas where he can cause the most damage.

Performances in recent weeks have been poor. Pogba was taken off after 63 minutes of the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham, before featuring as a substitute in the win over Huddersfield in the league and then producing another indifferent display in the 1-0 loss at Newcastle.

“I remember clearly, without television but just with my memory from the touchline, a Newcastle player jumping and two of my players looking at him and staying on the floor,” Mourinho said after that game, in reference to Nemanja Matic and Pogba, and their role in the match’s decisive goal.

The Portuguese also praised United youngster Scott McTominay at the weekend in what appeared to be another dig at Pogba. “I think maybe it’s because he [McTominay] is this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” he said after the FA Cup win at Huddersfield.

Public criticism of his players has not always worked well for Mourinho in the past and, although he believes he is right about a system in which he has an array of attackers – including Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata – fighting for four spots, with not many midfielders of the same quality, the United boss will also need to ensure he is not alienating the club’s most expensive player.

Paul Pogba, Jose Mourinho, Tottenham vs Man Utd, 17/18


Real Madrid are somewhat in limbo at the moment following a year of extraordinary success in 2017 when the club claimed five trophies, including a second successive Champions League crown and a first Liga title since 2012.

Although the squad remains strong, the departure of Alvaro Morata to Chelsea last summer left a significant hole in the attack – exacerbated by Karim Benzema’s poor form – and signing a new striker will be one of the priorities in the next transfer window.

With Gareth Bale often injured and Cristiano Ronaldo now 33, Madrid will also be looking to bring in another forward player some time in the next couple of years, while Los Blancos also want to sign a new goalkeeper and a right-back as competition – and cover – for Dani Carvajal in the summer.

In midfield, however, it seems less likely the club will make a major signing. Modric is 32 and will eventually need to be replaced, but is still at the peak of his powers, while Zidane remains happy with Kroos and Casemiro.

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Isco and Marco Asensio have both signed new deals, while more will be expected of Dani Ceballos in his second season as well. So, even though Pogba has his admirers at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Zidane and Florentino Perez among them, there still appears to be no need to splash out in excess of €100m – around one third of the club’s transfer budget for the summer – on a midfielder at this point.

On top of that, it is unclear whether Zidane will continue beyond this summer. Whether he does or not, Madrid will continue to track Pogba and a transfer cannot be ruled out in future. This summer, however, a move seems unlikely.

Paul Pogba & Luka Modric


LaLiga is the best league in the world, says former Real Madrid star Mutiu Adepoju

LaLiga is the best league in the world according to former Real Madrid and ex-Nigeria international Mutiu Adepoju.

The football legend disclosed this on social media after Barcelona held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw in Tuesday’s Champions League Round of 16 encounter.

Willian hit the post twice but finally found the net with what looked to be the winning goal, only for Lionel Messi to score for the first time in six games to earn a valuable away.

According to Adepoju, the result at Stamford Bridge proves the quality of the Spanish top flight.

“Next time someone asks you to name the best league in the world, I’m sure you know the already-made answer,” he tweeted.

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Antonio Conte’s Blues face an uphill task going to the second leg at Camp Nou as they need a win or at least a 2-2 draw to progress to the next round of the tournament.


Bayern equal club record 14-game winning run as Muller maintains impressive streak

Bayern Munich have equalled their club record winning run, and it always looked to be on the cards once Thomas Muller had opened the scoring against Besiktas.

A 5-0 thrashing of Besiktas in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie means Bayern have now won 14 games in a row to match a club milestone from 1980.

And the signs were ominous as soon as Muller had given Jupp Heynckes’ side the lead before the end of the first half.

Bayern had already been put in an advantageous situation just 16 minutes into the contest as a bad Atiba Hutchinson back pass was picked off by Robert Lewandowski. Besiktas’ Domagoj Vida brought the striker down, earning him a red card for a denial of clear goal-scoring opportunity.

With two minutes of the first half remaining, Kingsley Coman broke through down the left and crossed into the area. David Alaba didn’t strike his shot well, but the ball fell to Muller to score after he had been played onside by Besiktas right-back Adriano.

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Once Muller scored, Besiktas faced the unenviable task of trying to become the first team to defeat Bayern when the Germany international finds the back of the net. 61 sides had tried and 61 had failed previously, with the best result achieved by three teams who managed a draw.

But it was not to be for Besiktas. Coman turned goalscorer from Lewandowski’s assist early in the second half to double the advantage for the hosts.

And then Muller doubled his fun in the 66th minute as he poked home a Joshua Kimmich cross to make it 3-0 to Bayern, and ensure the streak moved to 62.

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Lewandowski added a fourth for good measure late in the second half and then picked up the club’s fifth when Muller set him up for the brace. 

Besiktas will get their chance to overturn the massive deficit on March 14 when they face Bayern at home in the second leg of the tie.