Messi, Suarez back Barcelona boss Valverde amid sacking pressure

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Lionel Messi insists Ernesto Valverde maintains the backing of Barcelona’s players after the coach’s position came into question once again after a thrilling Spanish Supercopa 3-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia.

Barca looked on course for a place in Sunday’s final when goals from Messi and Antoine Griezmann canceled out Koke’s opener. However, strikes from Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa in a crazy final 10 minutes saw Atletico set up a meeting with Real Madrid — who defeated Valencia on Wednesday — at the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium instead.

Champions League defeats at Roma and Liverpool in the last two years have led to doubts about Valverde’s future. La Liga losses this season against Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante, as well as last weekend’s draw against bottom club Espanyol, have since increased the pressure.

Valverde was even jeered by a largely pro-Barca crowd in Jeddah before the game, but Messi insists the players stand with their coach.

“Yes, there’s complete confidence in the coach,” the forward told reporters after the game.

Asked for his thoughts on the doubts surrounding Valverde, Messi added: “It’s normal that a lot gets said when there’s a loss, when you don’t meet your objectives or you don’t play like we like to play.

“We can’t commit schoolboy mistakes as we did. It’s been a while since we felt so good, though. We controlled the game for 80 minutes, taking the match [to Atletico], and then it gets away from us with a couple of untimely mistakes. They were dead before then.

“Now we’re thinking about the second half of the season. We have a lot to improve. We’re top of the league, but we’re not playing well and we need to get back on our game. We took a step forward today in that sense, looking beyond the result.”

Luis Suarez echoed teammate Messi’s comments, saying that “Valverde’s future is with this club” and “he doesn’t carry any blame.”

Valverde, meanwhile, said he’s used to the speculation and the job insecurity which comes with his role.

“Coaches focus on working hard and giving everything,” he said in a news conference. “We know how football is. There is a permanent instability when you lose. You can’t control that. I just focus on my own business.”

On another night, Barca would have breezed into the final. Only a string of fine saves from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak and two goals disallowed by VAR prevented them from extending their lead over Atletico.

“It was a game which we dominated, maybe in the first few minutes we struggled a bit, but after that it was complete domination,” Valverde added.

“We couldn’t get the goal which they got at the start of the second half, but then it seemed we had it in our hands only for them to turn it around at the end. It was almost a complete performance save those final minutes.”

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