Valverde banks on Dem­bele

New­comer ex­pected to fill gap from Ney­mar’s de­par­ture as Barcelona wel­come Es­panyol visit

Bangkok Post - - SPORTS -

>> BARCELONA: Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde will be bank­ing on new sign­ing Ous­mane Dem­bele to fill the gap left by Ney­mar’s de­par­ture as he looks to over­come off-pitch dif­fi­cul­ties when the Cata­lans take on Es­panyol to­day.

Barcelona have en­joyed a win­ning start in La Liga and de­spite all the offfield drama, Valverde is de­ter­mined that they make it three wins out of three when they face his former club.

Valverde had a two-year spell as an Es­panyol player be­tween 1986 and 1988, reaching the 1988 Uefa Cup fi­nal, and later guided Barcelona’s city ri­vals to the 2007 Uefa Cup fi­nal, where they also lost on penal­ties, dur­ing a twoyear ten­ure as coach.

So fond are Es­panyol of their former striker that he has a gate named af­ter him at their sta­dium but to­day they will be hop­ing to take ad­van­tage of in­sti­tu­tional in­sta­bil­ity at Barcelona to end their torrid run at the Nou Camp.

Barcelona have won their last eight La Liga der­bies at the Nou Camp dat­ing back to 2009, in­clud­ing 4-0, 5-1 and 5-0 vic­to­ries in their last three meet­ings, al­though there is some hope in Es­panyol of end­ing that dis­mal run.

Barcelona had a frus­trat­ing trans­fer win­dow, fail­ing to sign top tar­get Philippe Coutinho af­ter los­ing Ney­mar to Paris St Ger­main for a world record fee of €222 mil­lion, and there have also been calls to hold a vote of no con­fi­dence against pres­i­dent Josep Maria Bar­tomeu.

There is also un­ease at Barca over the fu­ture of tal­is­man Li­onel Messi and captain An­dres Ini­esta, who are both out of con­tract next sum­mer and have yet to sign new deals.

“We haven’t had a good time at the Nou Camp re­cently, it’s al­ways dif­fi­cult and we have re­ally strug­gled to win there, even to pick up a point, but I be­lieve we can get some­thing pos­i­tive this time,” said Es­panyol mid­fielder Vic­tor Sanchez.

“Right now ev­ery­one is talk­ing about what is hap­pen­ing off the pitch at Barcelona, and we hope we can take ad­van­tage of that.”

Barcelona are one of only three teams in La Liga to win both their open­ing matches, beat­ing Real Betis and Alaves 2-0 with­out hit­ting top gear but are set to be boosted by the de­but ap­pear­ance of striker Dem­bele to­day.

The France in­ter­na­tional, 20, joined from Borus­sia Dort­mund as a direct re­place­ment for Ney­mar, be­com­ing the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive player of all time at €105 mil­lion, ris­ing to up to €147 mil­lion in­clud­ing in­cen­tives, de­spite only play­ing pro­fes­sional foot­ball for two sea­sons.

Valverde has his whole squad avail­able af­ter the in­ter­na­tional break aside from Ivan Rakitic, who sus­tained a ham­string in­jury while on duty with Croa­tia.

Else­where, cham­pi­ons Real Madrid host Le­vante hop­ing to get back to win­ning ways af­ter draw­ing 2-2 with Va­len­cia in their last out­ing.

They can re­call captain Sergio Ramos from sus­pen­sion but are still with­out Cris­tiano Ronaldo, who is serv­ing the fourth of his five-game ban for push­ing a ref­eree.

Barcelona’s Ous­mane Dem­bele dur­ing the of­fi­cial pre­sen­ta­tion at the Nou Camp this week.

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