November 24, 2018 / 4:38 AM / 22 days ago

Soccer: Valverde defends Barca's Dembele ahead of Atletico clash

MADRID (Reuters) - Ernesto Valverde says Barcelona must help struggling forward Ousmane Dembele after media coverage of the French international he described as “cruelty”.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - FC Barcelona v Real Betis - Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain - November 11, 2018 Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde REUTERS/Albert Gea

The La Liga leaders’ coach praised the forward’s talent and said reports of his unprofessionalism had been harsh ahead of Saturday’s clash with third-placed Atletico Madrid.

“He’s another player in the squad and we have to help him so that he’s at his best,” Valverde told reporters on Friday.

“He’s a player who has great innate talent, both technically and physically.”

Dembele, who joined Barcelona in August, 2017, suffered injury problems in his first year which stopped him settling in the side and this season he has been criticised for his behaviour including turning up late to training and events.

Barca striker Luis Suarez and defender Gerard Pique have told the winger publicly that he must become more dedicated and improve his attitude on and off the pitch.

“I haven’t paid attention to (the coverage) but seeing that two questions have been about him (already), maybe there has been some cruelty shown to him,” Valverde said.

Dembele was left out of the squad for Barcelona’s 4-3 defeat by Real Betis in their last league match, but is hoping to face Atletico Madrid.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone praised Barcelona ahead of the game at the Wanda Metropolitano.

“It has always been hard for us to beat Barcelona, they have always been the best in the world even though they have had some struggles in Europe,” Simeone said.

“In Spain their records are tremendous. We will play with energy, enthusiasm and the word ‘opportunity’ which is always so important in football.”

Reporting by Rik Sharma, editing by Ed Osmond

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