Fri, Apr 06, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Valverde admits Barca below-par, despite emphatic win

AFP, BARCELONA, Spain

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde admitted that his side were well below their best, despite beating AS Roma 4-1 in their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday.

Two own-goals, from Daniele De Rossi and Kostas Manolas, and a close-range finish from Gerard Pique presented Barcelona with a flattering 3-0 advantage at the Camp Nou before Edin Dzeko snatched Roma a late away goal.

However, just as Roma looked to have grabbed a lifeline, Luis Suarez restored the three-goal cushion by scoring a fourth in the 87th minute.

The result means Barca is to head to Italy next week with a place in the last four firmly in their grasp, but it was not a virtuoso attacking display.

Instead, they benefited from two fortuitous own-goals and some careless Roma finishing.

They are unlikely to meet opponents as generous in the semi-finals.

“We did not have continuity in the game,” Valverde said. “We had some errors and there were times that we rushed into the attack, instead of having some control.”

Barca also had referee Danny Makkelie to thank for not awarding Roma an early penalty, after Nelson Semedo pushed Dzeko in the back.

“They are already good on their own, they don’t need help,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said. “Tonight they had help both from the referee and from us.”

After Cristiano Ronaldo’s spectacular bicycle-kick for Real Madrid on Tuesday, even Lionel Messi, back from an injury, endured a slightly frustrating night, his shots and dribbles for once meeting opponents rather than the net.

Messi returned to the starting lineup after recovering from his hamstring complaint, as did Sergio Busquets, who broke his toe against Chelsea three weeks ago.

However, while Messi completed the 90 minutes seemingly unscathed, Busquets had to be replaced by Paulinho midway through the second half.

“Busquets has played with some small discomfort for the injury he has,” Valverde said. “In the end, he was suffering a lot and we have changed it, but that’s fine.”

Barca led at halftime after De Rossi slid to prevent Andres Iniesta’s pass reaching Messi, inadvertently stabbing into his own net.

Two goals in four second-half minutes then took the tie away from the visitors as Samuel Umtiti’s finish cannoned off both the post and then Manolas, before Pique side-footed home from close range.

Dzeko’s finish might have given Roma hope had it not been canceled out by Suarez scoring a fourth, as Barca wrapped up a win that did not wholly reflect a scrappy performance.

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