Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez have backed under-pressure Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde following the club’s Spanish Super Cup semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.
The Spanish champions were dumped out of the expanded tournament at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, beaten 3-2 having fought back from a goal down at the beginning of the second half to lead 2-1. They conceded twice in the final nine minutes to suffer a first loss to Atletico in 10 matches.
The defeat ramped up the pressure on Valverde, who was at times booed by the majority of the crowd inside the stadium on Thursday.
The Spaniard, in the role since May 2017, has been criticised for Uefa Champions League exits the past two seasons to Roma and Liverpool, while Barcelona have lost three times already in La Liga this campaign – the same amount as they experienced in the whole of last season.
Nevertheless, Barcelona sit joint-top of the standings after 19 matches, ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference and five points clear of third-placed Atletico.
It was no surprise then that Messi, their captain, came to Valverde’s defence immediately after the Jeddah disappointment.
"Yes, there's complete confidence in the coach," the Argentine said. "It's normal that a lot gets said when there is 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 like we did. It's been a while since we felt so good, though. We controlled the game for 80 minutes, and took the match to them, and then it got 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. Looking beyond the result, in that sense we took a step forward today."
Meanwhile, Suarez insisted that "Valverde's future is with this club … he doesn't carry any blame".
As Messi stated, Barcelona provided one of their better performances of the season, even in defeat. They did not deserve to go a goal down to Koke’s smart finish 20 seconds into the second half, but rebounded swiftly through goals from Messi and Antoine Griezmann. They also had two goals disallowed by VAR.
Yet poor defending led to both Alvaro Morata’s 81st-minute penalty and Angel Correa’s winner five minutes later. Atletico now face Real Madrid in the final in Jeddah on Sunday, while Valverde will return to Spain to likely face more questions about his future.
"Coaches focus on working hard and giving everything," the Spaniard said. "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 the match itself, Valverde said: "It was a game that we dominated; maybe in the first few minutes we struggled a bit, but after that it was complete domination.
"We couldn't get the goal and they did 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."