Monday 26 February 2018

Barcelona players 'were not focused' amid political unrest

Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde. Photo: Getty Images
Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde. Photo: Getty Images

Independent.ie Sportsdesk

Ernesto Valverde admitted his Barcelona players struggled to concentrate as they faced Las Palmas at an empty Nou Camp amid yesterday's political unrest.

La Liga leaders Barca hosted struggling Las Palmas behind closed doors after a request to have the game postponed due to local turmoil amid the Catalonia independence referendum was rejected.

Final confirmation the game would go ahead - but in an empty stadium - was only communicated 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off in a chaotic build-up.

Consequently it took Barca's players time to warm to their task. Las Palmas, with new manager Pako Ayestaran in charge for the first time, started well and hit the post through Jonathan Calleri.

Sergio Busquets eventually broke the deadlock four minutes into the second half and Lionel Messi made victory certain with two typically well-taken finishes.

Valverde said: "It was a weird and complicated situation for everyone and it wasn't possible to postpone the game.

"That is why we played behind closed doors, because it was a consensual decision of the club.

"We were not very focused and started with little rhythm. Las Palmas have great players and our mistakes were costing us. In the second half we were more effective in pressuring them and managed to score.

"The impact of playing at an empty Camp Nou is important. It is not normal to be in a situation like that and we had to overcome those difficulties.

"We wanted to win because we represent a lot of people and want them to be happy. We're all aware of what happened in Catalonia."

Ayestaran, who was brought in after Manuel Marquez Roca resigned last week, found plenty of positives in his side's performance.

He said: "We are not happy with the final scoreline but there some good things to have come out of the match.

"We certainly gave Barcelona a battle in terms of possession and the team was able to put into practice the ideas we have set out for them in just a couple of days."

Barca's seventh consecutive league win sees them lead second-placed Sevilla - who were 2-0 winners over Malaga on Saturday - by five points.

Champions Real Madrid lie seven points adrift of their bitter rivals after Isco's brace earned a 2-0 win for Zinedine Zidane's side over Espanyol last night.

Elsewhere, Bayern Munich, who parted company with boss Carlo Ancelotti last week following an underwhelming start to the season under the Italian, surrendered a two-goal lead away to Hertha Berlin to slip further behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

Second-placed Bayern now trail the leaders by five points after Dortmund ran out 3-1 winners at Augsburg on Saturday and the Bavarians could only draw 2-2 in the German capital yesterday.

In Italy, Napoli maintained their 100pc record in Serie A after a comprehensive 3-0 win over Cagliari at the Stadio San Paolo yesterday afternoon thanks to goals from Marek Hamsik, Dries Mertens and Kalidou Koulibaly.

Maurizio Sarri's side have now won seven league games on the spin and scored 25 times in the process to lead Juventus by two points after the champions failed to prolong their own perfect record as they were held to a 2-2 draw at Atalanta.

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