Valverde backs Suarez amid criticism over the striker’s form

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has dismissed criticism of forward Luiz Suarez ahead of a key week in the season which begins with Saturday’s trip to fourth-placed Sevilla.

Suarez’s performance in the goalless draw with Lyon on Tuesday came under the spotlight as his struggles, and those of Barca as a whole, in front of goal continued.

Barcelona have scored only two goals in their last four matches, winning once, with Lionel Messi, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho also off-colour.

The strongest criticism came Suarez’s way after a poor display in the Champions League, but Valverde said a player who has 168 goals in 231 appearances for the club has more than earned his trust.

“Luis Suarez guarantees us chances in every game,” Valverde said. “It’s difficult to do without him.

“Everything is always focused around the big names at certain times. In the case of Luis it is curious because this same focus has been placed on him before and he has answered by scoring many goals.

“In the last two games he has had clear chances to score. All we need is patience and perseverance, which is what he does. I and everyone else has patience because he is a great player.”

Barca could certainly do with Suarez and his colleagues rediscovering their scoring touch.

Back-to-back away games against Real Madrid – in the Copa del Rey and LaLiga respectively – follow Saturday’s trip to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where Valverde’s side were beaten once already this season in the Copa del Rey.

“We are clear that there are important matches coming and we know what it means in the world of football,” Valverde said. “But tomorrow we also have a very difficult match.

“Sevilla are fearsome opponents at home, it’s one of the most complicated away trips we have left. We have already lost there this season.

“In seven days we have three tough matches, we have to think a bit, we know the price of having an injury now.”

Barca go into the weekend seven points clear at the top of the table, nine ahead of third-placed Madrid.

“Nothing is decided now nor will it be within a week,” Valverde said. “Our intention is not to focus on what our rivals do, but on ourselves.”

Barca will be heading to a club in mourning after Sevilla on Friday announced the death of former club president Roberto Ales, who is credited with saving the club from the dual threats of severe financial troubles and possible relegation around the turn of the century.

Current president Jose Castro said he was “devastated, destroyed and incredibly emotional” about the loss of Ales.

“In a moment when all hope seemed lost, with financial difficulties, Roberto took charge and laid the foundations of what we are enjoying today,” he said.

Jesus Navas is expected to be fit to play in the match, having limped off during Wednesday’s Europa League win over Lazio.

Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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