Refusal to sell Van Dijk cost Pellegrino his job
His reign could end badly, but Barcelona’s Valverde doing just fine
ANTONIO Conte has said he will consult his players ahead of Chelsea’s Champions League clash with Barcelona tomorrow – and after the game he might do better to seek out Ernesto Valverde.
Both coaches faced chaotic starting points this season but only Valverde heads into this last 16 second leg at the Camp Nou with his domestic campaign still very much intact.
Each began the campaign at the end of a frenzied summer in which key players were sold, less wanted ones bought and with the feeling overall of a squad weakened rather than bolstered.
Asked in September to reflect on the club’s transfer dealings, Conte said: “This question is very difficult to answer. I think we have to wait until the end of the season and then we’ll see.”
Valverde was even less diplomatic: “The best thing about this window is that it is now closed.”
Each had unexpectedly found a gaping hole in attack as Neymar was lured by Paris Saint-Germain while Conte was only too happy to let Diego Costa leave, but then watched Manchester United walk off with Romelu Lukaku, the intended replacement.
Barcelona bought Ousmane Dembele, the club’s most expensive signing, who limped off 55 minutes into his debut and would not return until January.
Chelsea, meanwhile, plumped for Alvaro Morata, who lacked confidence and gumption. And then in January, Olivier Giroud, who had already been failing to get into the Arsenal team.
But eight months on and with the season’s end now in sight, one coach allowed the frustration to fester and deepen, while the other has ensured it is all but forgotten.
Barcelona sit eight points clear at the top of La Liga and are unbeaten after 28 games. Chelsea are fifth, four points adrift of the Champions League qualification spots and might need to win the tournament to play in it again next season.
The Blues could certainly beat Barca. They were unfortunate to come away from the first leg with a 1-1 draw.
They could still sneak into the Premier League’s top four but they are 25 points behind Manchester City and their miserable title defence is likely to mean Conte departs in May.
What Conte has complicated, Valverde has simplified. Barcelona are more functional this season, playing 4-4-2 as well as 4-3-3 and tighter at the back.
They have conceded only one more league goal than Atletico Madrid. When Valverde was asked about the possibility of Neymar returning last week, he brushed it off. And he has kept Messi happy, with five goals in his last four games. Conte, meanwhile, is yet to find a solution to his striking problems, and has given oxygen to his conflict with the club’s hierarchy and has also succeeded in alienating his best player, Eden Hazard. After Barcelona edged out Atletico 1-0 earlier this month, Diego Simeone said Messi was the decisive factor but also had paid tribute to Valverde’s calm and his calculated Barca revival. – AFP SOUTHAMPTON’S refusal to sell defender Virgil van Dijk in the close season had disrupted their Premier League campaign which ultimately led to manager Mauricio Pellegrino being sacked, former club captain Matt Le Tissier said.
Southampton dismissed Pellegrino on Monday after just one victory in 17 league games under the manager. Saturday’s 3-0 defeat by Newcastle United had left them a place and a point above the relegation zone and sealed the Argentine’s fate.
Le Tissier suggested that the turmoil surrounding Dutchman Van Dijk’s future amid interest from Liverpool and Manchester City had affected the team’s performances early in the season.
Van Dijk eventually moved to Liverpool in January for £75m (R1.2bn), according to British media reports.
“I think that was probably something that, looking back with hindsight, the club would probably regret, trying to keep him in the summer,” Le Tissier, who scored 209 goals for Southampton during his 16 years at the club, said.
“They tried to do the right thing by said.
“When I was in Dortmund I was playing every three days but now I play once a week or have a long time between games. It is not easy, that’s life. I have the fans, in terms of not selling their best player every season, but sadly that did appear to backfire and that situation probably didn’t help the performances in the first half of the season.”
Southampton have lost a large number of players to their domestic rivals in the past few years and club chairperson Ralph Krueger said earlier in the season that they were keen to end the perception that they were a selling club.
“That’s life, that’s football, those decisions were made with the best intentions and it didn’t turn out right,” LeTissier said.
“It’s now time to move on, appoint a new manager and get out of the trouble we are in at the moment.”
Welshman Mark Hughes was firming as the bookmakers’ favourite to replace
STAR TURN: Lionel Messi poses a huge danger to Conte’s hopes tonight.
DELAY: Virgil van Dijk was initially prevented from joining Liverpool.