FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde and defender Nelson Semedo have spoken on a wide range of topics prior to their team’s hosting of Slavia Prague in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Speaking to the press first, in-form Portuguese star Semedo said that tomorrow his side ‘play a very important game’. ‘We want to win. We know it will be complicated, as it was in Prague,’ he admitted.
‘"The Champions League is a very difficult competition, but we are Barça. We are candidates to win every competition and we want to win them all. We have to go game by game and keep improving,’ he added.
Asked whether it was strange standing-in for Jordi Alba on the left and if he was better there, Semedo was non-commital and merely replied that he plays ‘where the boss decides’. ‘I just try to do my best, all games are difficult, but the spaces that were given to me [in the Levante loss] allowed me to play better,’ he expanded, on being one of the few bright sparks in the loss.
‘We are a very strong team at home. I think we need to improve our away form,’ confessed Semedo - an allusion to 3-1’s humbling defeat on Saturday - but he refused to accept that his team lacks attitude or possesses a poor one, as has been suggested by some corners of the press. ‘We’ve gotten over the setback against Levante and tomorrow is a chance to correct errors and respond.’
‘I can't talk about those things, each player knows what they need to correct,’ he said, when probed on whether specific problems that need to be addressed had been discussed behind the scenes.
‘We learn from our defeats,’ was the retort to whether pyschological problems, after the harrowing Roma and Liverpool away defeats in the Champions League knockout phases in 2018 and 2019, persist. ‘We’re working together to find better results, [and] we really try to play better,’ he concluded.
Next up was Valverde, who was forced to confirm whether a switch to 4-4-2, as suggested analysts in the Catalan press, had been considered. ‘The possibility of changing the system is always there,’ conceded Valverde. ‘But having three forwards fits the way we play.’
Naturally, the under-pressure coach was grilled on FCB’s Jekyll and Hyde form away from home "[Is there a] Huge difference between Barça at home and Barça away?’ he pondered. ‘We did start badly, but then we had a good run away from home. Now we lost again, but it doesn't have to mean we will extend that to a streak.’
‘It's not a big injury,’ he remarked on Luis Suarez’s knock at the Estadi Ciutat de València. ‘Tomorrow is unlikely, but maybe he will be with us soon.’
Playing earlier tomorrow, at 18.55 CET compared to the usual 21.00, is seen as ‘no problem’ for Valverde, who elsewhere remarked that ‘It's true that we must improve in some aspects’. ‘When you lose, you're always under pressure, especially at Barça. It forces a reaction from us,’ he said.
Complimenting Frenkie de Jong, ‘a very strong player’, who is ‘giving us a lot’, praise was also set aside for Antoine Griezmann. ‘Griezmann is fitting very well in the team. He does an incredible job, together with the team. He has scored goals and we expect even more from him,’ was what Valverde had to divulge about the World Cup winner.
Regarding La Masia graduate Riqui Puig, who has refused to go out on loan and has had his future speculated on after a demotion to the B team, Valverde revealed that ‘Riqui is a talent and it's clear that he will play at Barça, but we do not know when.’
‘We have a lot of midfielders in the midfield and that, of course, is a handicap. Riqui is a great talent,’ he finished, on that particular matter.
Losing their winning streak of seven matches, Barcelona will look to steady the ship with two victories over Slavia Prague, to keep atop of the Champions League’s Group F, and Celta Vigo on Saturday to maintain their lead in La Liga heading into the international break.