Sport Soccer

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Luis Enrique plays down talk of Ivan Rakitic joining Manchester City

Ivan Rakitic has been linked with a move from Barcelona to Manchester City
Ivan Rakitic has been linked with a move from Barcelona to Manchester City

Luis Enrique played down talk of Ivan Rakitic joining Manchester City after Barcelona lost ground in the title race.

Real Madrid equalled Barca's Spanish record of 39 games unbeaten in all competitions by swatting aside Granada on Saturday.

Their grip at the top of LaLiga tightened the following night as Enrique's side edged a 1-1 draw at Villarreal, with a moment of magic from Lionel Messi required to cancel out Nicola Sansone's fine strike.

It leaves Barca third, five points off the league summit, after a match that midfielder Rakitic was conspicuous by his absence.

The Croatia international has struggled for game time in the league recently and was not in the squad at Villarreal, with it reported in his homeland that a move to Pep Guardiola's City was on the cards.

"It's up to me to decide the squads and the teams," Enrique said. "That's my job.

"What's been published has nothing to do with that. Only 25 per cent of things are true, be it in the Croatian, Spanish, England, Italian media..."

Rakitic will have seen his team-mates struggle to breakdown Villarreal, where Barca clearly appeared aggrieved at some decisions.

It eventually took a stunning last-gasp Messi free-kick to snatch a draw, but Enrique felt they deserved more - just as in their midweek 2-1 loss at Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

"The team deserved more, we deserved to win, but football is not always fair," the Barca coach said.

"Villarreal are a team that try to play, they have quality players. They know their style of play well, with and without the ball.

"We knew about the difficult of the game against Villarreal, but we deserved to win. I have nothing more to say to my players, we played a great game.

"The same feelings that I had in Bilbao, even better in fact. We created many chances against the team who has conceded the fewest goals in LaLiga, although we were not as accurate as we could have been in the final metres.

"There is plenty of the league still to play, we will definitely be fighting for it.

"We must continue improving and be even stronger to fix this form. The hardest thing in football is to score goals."

Messi's late leveller was compounded by Jaume Costa's stoppage-time sending off, but Villarreal coach Fran Escriba remained upbeat.

"It is necessary to value this point," he said.

"I am very proud of my players and this gives us more moral ahead of Wednesday's game against Real Sociedad. I am very satisfied with the team."

Press Association

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