‘I don’t know how to qualify him’ – Valverde in awe following Messi’s latest showing

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde was delighted to leave Levante with an emphatic 5-0 win given his side’s travails in the same game last season.

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick and assisted goals for Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique as LaLiga’s leaders restored their three-point cushion at the top on Sunday.

Messi was rested for this fixture in May, in which Barca were beaten 5-4 and saw their hopes of going an entire league campaign without defeat dashed.

And Valverde was thrilled to earn some measure of revenge against a Levante side who are only three points outside the top five after 16 games.

“I’m happy because we conceded five here last year and that was after a whole season without losing, and it was only a few months ago,” he told a news conference.

“They’re having a great season and they showed that when they came out against us. I’m leaving here particularly satisfied.”

Messi’s display left Valverde struggling to find the right words, the 31-year-old having become the first player in Europe’s top-five leagues this season to reach double figures for goals and assists.

“I don’t know how to qualify him. I don’t know how to answer the most repeated question,” he said.

“He’s the one who makes us play, who gives us amazing goals … we just have to enjoy him.”

Barca had looked a little uncertain before Suarez’s opener 35 minutes in, with Valverde forced to reshuffle his side into a makeshift 3-5-2 after Nelson Semedo was ruled out with injury at the last minute.

“The line-up was conditioned by Semedo,” he admitted. “It was a solution that was determined by injuries.

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“We thought Nelson was going to play. They are used to a quick counter-attack and we had to control those situations. It cost us in the middle of the pitch, but in the second half we had total control.”


Pochettino calls on fans to ‘kill’ racism in wake of recent incidents

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino wants to “kill” racism and believes it is the responsibility of everybody in the game to stamp it out.

The issue of racism was thrust into the spotlight last week after Raheem Sterling was allegedly subjected to racist abuse by a Chelsea fan during Manchester City’s 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge.

Sterling then took to Instagram the next day to condemn the abuse and suggest media outlets are fueling racism with subjective coverage of football. 

The weekend prior to that, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown at him by a Tottenham fan while playing in the north London derby for Arsenal. The fan, who has been charged by the Metropolitan Police and banned by Tottenham, denies it was a racist act. 

Spurs meet Arsenal again on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup and, speaking to reporters after his side’s game against Burnley on Saturday, Pochettino urged supporters to be more positive in the stands: “Our fans, Arsenal fans, Chelsea fans, around the world – we need to celebrate for us.

“I don’t care if it is Arsenal fans, Argentina fans, Tottenham fans, Espanyol or Barcelona fans – I am against this type of situation.

“For me it [racism] is the worst thing in the world and that is why I am completely against this behaviour. I don’t want to be populist – I don’t care whether it is our fans or other fans, I want to kill [the bad behaviour and racism]. For me it is like this. Our responsibility is to behave like this.”

Tottenham snatched a 1-0 win in the dying minutes thanks to a Christian Eriksen effort after a frustrating game against Burnley.

Pochettino’s side earned a hard-fought draw on Tuesday night to secure qualification to the Champions League last 16, and captain Hugo Lloris believes the effects of that encounter showed on Saturday. 

“You have a bit less energy, you play with less intensity,” said Lloris. “I think we made a good performance – not fantastic, but really professional.”


Klopp: I cannot keep every Liverpool player happy

Jurgen Klopp said he cannot keep all of his Liverpool squad happy, but he does not believe that will be a problem for the Premier League leaders.

Liverpool moved back to the top of the pile on Sunday, with Xherdan Shaqiri’s double securing a 3-1 win over Manchester United.

Alisson’s error had allowed Jesse Lingard to square things up after Sadio Mane’s opener, but Shaqiri’s introduction in the 70th minute paved the way for Liverpool to make their dominance count.

And although Klopp was delighted with Shaqiri’s impact from the bench, he said that players must prove their worth if they are to keep a place in his XI.

“I cannot keep players happy,” Klopp told a news conference.

“You are happy or not happy, you understand it or you don’t understand it.

“A big squad isn’t there to make each member of the squad happy. I think the boys understand it. That’s how it is.

“So rotation, whatever it is, in that intense period there are two opportunities. You play all the time until you are injured, or when we have to manage games.

“These are the only two possibilities. This is the Premier League. You cannot manage games.

“That means we have to make changes. I’d prefer to make these changes before the boys are injured. Then there are specific jobs to do against specific opponents.”

Defender Nathaniel Clyne made his first league appearance of the season against Jose Mourinho’s side, and Klopp used the full-back as an example of the quality required from his squad players.

“The best example is Nathaniel Clyne,” Klopp said.

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“Since I have been here, he has played 100 or so games, then he got a bad injury and was out.

“Trent [Alexander-Arnold] emerged, then Joe [Gomez] got fit, and the situation changed.

“You can train at the highest level, but you have to wait. Is that nice? No. Is it the job? Yes. That’s how it is.”


Messi and Suarez the world’s best strike partnership, says Pique

Gerard Pique described Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as the world’s best strike partnership following Barcelona’s 5-0 thrashing of Levante on Sunday.

Messi hit a hat-trick and assisted goals for Suarez and Pique as the champions restored their three-point advantage at the top of La Liga.

Barca’s front two have now scored more between them than Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the top flight this season, while Messi is the only player in Europe’s top five leagues to have reached double figures for goals and assists in 2018-19.

And Pique thinks there is little else that needs to be said to describe his ruthless team-mates.

“Twenty-eight, with me!” he joked to Spanish television when asked about Messi and Suarez netting a combined 25 goals in La Liga.

“Luis and Leo are the best couple of forwards from the last few years. Luis has goals in his blood and we’ve already said everything about Leo. We have a lot of firepower up front.”

Barca’s win means they need only a point against Celta Vigo to ensure they will finish 2018 at the top of the table.

Pique, though, is frustrated the mid-season break is approaching given the form his side have found.

“We’ve been in a very positive vein in the last few games and it’s a shame that the Christmas break is coming, because we’ve found our cruising speed,” he said.

“In the last few days, we were playing better, conceding fewer and getting a lot of goals. It’s very positive. We’re better in defence and we’re playing very good football.”


Gabriel Jesus will benefit from having his family in England, says Pep Guardiola

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola believes that Gabriel Jesus’ family is key to the Brazilian’s efforts to reverse recent poor form in front of goal.

The 21 year-old scored twice on Saturday as City returned to the top of the Premier League with a 3-1 win against Everton, ending a run of 11 games without a goal for the club that stretched back to August.

That stay proved short-lived, as Liverpool retook the summit with an identical win over Manchester United on Sunday.

The Brazil international had attempted 18 unsuccessful shots during that barren spell when he turned the ball past Jordan Pickford from a tight angle after getting on the end of a pass from Leroy Sane at the Etihad Stadium.

And the manager hopes that the support of his family will help to improve Jesus to feel at home in England.

Guardiola said: “I would like to know when the family came here because in yesterday’s press conference when everybody said, ‘Oh, Gabriel is not in form’, maybe the family was not there but arrived this morning and that’s why he scored two goals!

“No, seriously, it’s much better, definitely. Being alone, a young player, I don’t think he’s got a girlfriend, he’s not married, so to have his family here is so important and I think it’s going to help him. His family will be so important to him.

“The effort Gabriel put in today – he’s always does that. But what I also like is it’s the first I listened to him in the media speaking English. That’s cool. I insist on them having to learn English because sometimes I have the feeling he maybe doesn’t understand me when I speak in English so it’s important too.”

Jesus, who scored his 30th and 31st goals since signing for City in 2017, famously said that he would have “brought his whole neighborhood” to England from Sao Paulo if possible.

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“We can’t forget that football players are human beings and there are many players who have the talent but are in bad, bad form because of personal issues,” said Guardiola.

“Maybe getting divorced, things not going well at home, problems with their mum, dad, whatever, and that can influence things a lot on the pitch, more than people can imagine or expect and sometimes we don’t know it.

“That’s why he Gabriel has that feeling that, with his family here, he will be calmer, better. It’s good to have your family there. I could not live without my family, for example.”