Barcelona face a crunch LaLiga clash at Atlético de Madrid on Saturday with coach Ernesto Valverde facing plenty of selection posers.
Ernesto Valverde says everyone at Barcelona is working hard to get the best out of troubled France international Ousmane Dembélé. The 21-year-old, who joined Barça from Borussia Dortmund for an initial €105 million in August 2017, has had his professionalism called into question this season with reports suggesting he regularly fails to arrive on time for team meetings while also staying up late to play video games.
Dembélé has not started a LaLiga game since the 1-1 draw with Athletic Club on 29 September and is likely to be among the substitutes once again when the Blaugranas visit fellow title-challengers Atlético de Madrid on Saturday.
Dembélé "a rare talent"
"He's a member of my squad and we're all trying to help get the best out of him," Valverde told reporters this afternoon. "We want him to show his talent on the pitch. Last season he missed a lot of games through injury, but these type of players, with his talent, are hard to find. I don't know what is being said; we are five or six questions in and two of them have already been about him, maybe it has been a bit cruel on Ousmane. There's pressure on every player to play and he finds it hard to get a place in the team."
One player who could have been lining up for Barça on Saturday is Antoine Griezmann, who spurned reported interest from the Spanish champions in pre-season to remain at Atlético. "Antoine is a great player and in big games he tends to appear," added Valverde. "He's a player we need to consider [on Saturday]. I imagine we'll see the best of him, although we hope not. Atleti are getting the best out of him and we will need to stop him."
Barça head to the capital a point clear of three teams, one being Atlético, at the top of the table. Valverde acknowledged a win at the Wanda Metropolitano would represent a major statement in the title race. "[It] is a very important game after losing our last match [against Real Betis]," he said. "We lost three points and now we've got a game where we're trying to keep our lead. It's a very tight league, there's not much difference between the teams. The so-called bigger teams are dropping points but we know Barça is a team that when we get on a roll are very hard to stop. There's no reason why we can't challenge for every trophy this season."
Rakitic to miss the trip
Valverde will be without Ivan Rakitic on Saturday through injury with Arturo Vidal likely to replace him.