Football

Calm Valverde focused on football matters

Barca coach celebrates 100th day in charge with 10th win in 11 matches

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde celebrated his first 100 days in charge and Lionel Messi hit his 100th European goal as the Catalan giants swept aside Olympiakos 3-1 yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Valverde has overseen a sublime start of 10 wins to go with a draw at Atletico Madrid last weekend in his first 11 La Liga and Champions League matches in charge.

However, that trouble-free start to life on the field contrasts with a series of distractions surrounding the club.

Valverde's men have coped admirably with the departure of Neymar, which provoked calls for club president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign, and the tense political situation sweeping Catalonia.

In their first appearance at the Nou Camp since beating Las Palmas behind closed doors as a violence-marred referendum on Catalan independence took place on Oct 1, Barca were met with a largely empty stadium due to torrential rain in the hours before kick-off.

Yet there were still calls for Bartomeu's head, chants in favour of independence and a banner reading "Freedom for Catalonia".

"We concentrate on football so that the fans can enjoy themselves," said a characteristically calm Valverde.

"In the stadium, people come to express themselves, but the most fundamental thing is that they come to see their team win and that is what we are here for... to try to win.

He has made the Nou Camp and the members fall in love with him. Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu on Valverde's start

"As the Barca coach, I represent loads of people with many different personal opinions. The only thing that interests me is that my fans are happy and that the flag we defend is that of Barcelona."

A third straight win in Champions League Group D firmly maintains Barca's place at the top of the section, three points clear of Italian champions Juventus, who beat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in Turin yesterday morning.

Barca also enjoy a four-point lead at the top of La Liga, thanks to Valverde's bright start.

"He has made the Nou Camp and the members fall in love with him," said Bartomeu of Valverde's start.

"They are 100 very optimistic days and we have to be ambitious."

Barca did as much damage to themselves as a meek Olympiakos as, after Dimitrios Nikolaou's early own goal, Gerard Pique got himself sent off for slapping the ball into the net to pick up a second yellow card just before half-time.

Yet, the hosts' numerical disadvantage mattered little with Messi on their side as the Argentinian's free-kick took his tally in the Champions League to 97 in his career, allied to three goals in Uefa Super Cup finals.

And Messi was involved again for Barca's third as his low cutback was driven home by Lucas Digne before Nikolaou atoned for his earlier error with a late consolation.

"The results are favouring us, but what matters is to be calm when things go well and badly," added Valverde.

"We know Barca is an enormous club and moves in extremes. Our intention is to maintain that calm because that suits us." - AFP

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