Former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso believes the Reds have the quality to tackle Barcelona at the semi-final stage of the Champions League. The Merseyside giants reached their second Champions League semi-final on the bounce after beating Porto by a convincing 6-1 aggregate scoreline and they are now set to face their toughest challenge yet.
Speaking to the club’s official website, Alonso said that the Reds have the recent experience of reaching the current stage of the competition and this should give them a boost ahead of their challenge against the Spanish champions, he said: “Yes, they can, because they reached the final last year so now they know how it feels to be there. But we will see. It’s going to be a great, great semi-final to watch and [I’m] really looking forward to it.”
Arsenal manager Unai Emery has praised the qualities of Samuel Umtiti amid suggestions that the Gunners are interested in the Barcelona defender. The France international has endured a tough season with the Blaugrana where he has struggled to regularly make the starting lineup due to form and injury concerns, and this has invited speculation regarding his future.
Speaking to RMC Sport, Emery was asked about the progress of Umtiti at the Camp Nou, where he highlighted that the Frenchman is a very good player, he said: “He’s a very good player [Samuel Umtiti]. France has a lot of very good footballers who are playing abroad. The French league is a very attractive market for a lot of teams. I’ve always had French players in my teams. At Valencia, Sevilla, PSG and here at Arsenal. I’ve always been able to count on those players.”
Barcelona legend Carles Puyol has said that Gerard Pique remains the best central defender in the world despite the progress of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool this term. Van Dijk has been building a reputation for himself at the Reds by helping them challenge for a maiden Premier League crown, but this has not changed the opinion of Puyol.
Speaking to Mundo Deportivo, Puyol heaped praise on Pique and stated that his compatriot remains the best centre-back in the world, he said: “Gerard Pique, without a doubt. Yes, he’s the best central defender in the world. We’re different. He is key to Barcelona in everything he contributes, in his leadership. He’s a phenomenon and a great friend.”
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has confirmed that the Spanish champions are looking at the prospect of signing Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax at the end of the season. The Netherlands international has improved leaps and bounds since graduating through the youth system at the Amsterdam club and he has been tipped for a big-money move during the summer.
Speaking to RKB, Bartomeu acknowledged that De Ligt is one of the players who are being tracked by the club with a view to the summer transfer window after watching him in close quarters in the past few months. He added that the club have yet to register any official approach and there is nothing to say about the transfer proceedings in regards to the teenage centre-back.
Former Barcelona star Hristo Stoitchkov has urged Philippe Coutinho to stay put with Barcelona beyond the ongoing season. The Brazil international is currently in his second year with the Catalan giants after having joined them from Liverpool in a club-record deal during the 2018 winter transfer window.
Despite this, he has not managed to settle with his struggles to claim a regular starting role and this has recently spread speculation that he could favour a Premier League return when the season closes. In a report covered by Mundo Deportivo, Stoitchkov has now written an open letter to Coutinho urging him to make a career with the Catalans rather than pursuing a fresh challenge elsewhere.
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has indicated that Philippe Coutinho has been unlucky with the Catalan giants during the current campaign. The Brazil international has barely started a game for the Blaugrana since early December and this has recently raised the speculation regarding his future with the Spanish champions.
Speaking to reporters, Valverde admitted that Coutinho is going through a difficult phase with the Catalan giants and termed the situation as being ‘unlucky’. He added that both Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele remain vital figures to the team while not ruling out the possibility of the duo playing together more often.
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has said that he is comfortable with his position at the Catalan giants and does not seek to leave the club anytime soon. The Argentina international was recently urged by Cristiano Ronaldo to take up a fresh challenge in the Serie A but Messi appears content to prolong his stay with the Spanish champions.
In an interview covered by Marca, Messi said that Real Madrid are a great club but they have been hampered this campaign with Ronaldo’s departure reducing their impact in the forward department, he quipped: “At the beginning of the season I said they are a great club, one of the best in the world and with a lot of great players, but anyone would miss Cristiano. He scores a lot of goals and gives you many other things so it doesn’t surprise me.”
Barcelona’s summer signing Malcom has stressed that he is pleased with his position with the Catalan giants despite taking time to adjust to the manager’s style of play. The Brazilian had managed only 25 minutes of league action until late October but he has appeared to turn the corner of late after scoring an important Champions League goal in the 1-1 draw against Inter Milan.
Speaking to reporters, Malcom highlighted that he has settled well into the new surroundings despite finding first-team football hard to come by under Ernesto Valverde, he said: “I have settled very well, I am learning Spanish. This team is like a family and everyone wants the best for each other, we make many a joke in the changing room. The relationships are getting better. I want to play difficult games to show the coach that I have the quality to be in this team. I spoke to him and he [Valverde] told me what I needed to do to get minutes.”
Inter Milan manager Luciano Spalletti has heaped praise on the qualities of Lionel Messi ahead of the club’s Champions League encounter against Barcelona in midweek. The Argentina international has been absent for the past three matches with an arm injury but he is expected to make a comeback during the upcoming European meeting at San Siro.
Speaking in a news conference, Spalletti hailed Messi as the world’s best and praised the player’s quick transition of play when in possession of the ball, he said: “Messi’s shirt is the one wanted by every child who dreams of becoming a footballer. He plays that game at another speed. He is the best.”
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde was disappointed to see his team only get a 1-1 draw with Valencia during the weekend. The result has extended at the club’s winless run in the league to an incredible four matches. Lionel Messi was able to come up with a crucial equaliser that helped Barcelona pick up at least point. It took only two minutes for Valencia to score in the match but it was Messi who came up with the equaliser in the first half. Even though Barcelona were unable to find a winner in the game, they were able to look at Real Madrid also drop points during the weekend.
Valverde is coming under immense pressure on already and one of the few joys for Barcelona came in the Champions League where they have picked up back-to-back wins. The summer witnessed several changes in the Barcelona setup and they seem to have missed the magic that made them champions last season. The failure to win the recent matches has been characterised by a lack of creativity and Barcelona are now behind Sevilla going into the international break. Valverde lamented Valencia scoring from one of the few mistakes that Barcelona committed in the match and he is confident of the team recovering back to their best in the near future.