MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde praised winger Ousmane Dembele after his late goal rescued the La Liga leaders in a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
The French international struck in the 90th minute after coming on as a substitute to earn his team a point that kept the Catalans top of the standings.
Dembele has faced media criticism and was dropped from the squad for Barcelona’s league game against Real Betis following media reports of unprofessional behaviour, including poor time-keeping.
“He’s a great player and has a lot of talents, among them goals, he’s showing that,” Valverde told a news conference.
“(The media) talk about him far too much. The last game he wasn’t called up, it’s true. He’s a player that we have to help so that things work for him and he can help us as a team. We expect a lot of him because he is a great talent.”
Despite Dembele’s struggles, including an injury-hit first season at the club after joining in 2017 for 147 million euros ($166.7 million) fee as a replacement for Neymar, the World Cup winner has proved effective this season.
His late strike earned Barcelona a 2-1 win over Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup and he netted the only goal of the game against Real Valladolid in an early league match.
Goals against Real Sociedad and Rayo Vallecano helped Barcelona secure narrow wins and his effort against Atletico ensured Diego Simeone’s side could not leapfrog the Catalans.
Barcelona failed to break down Atletico during a game that did not see a shot on target until Costa’s header broke the deadlock.
“We had a lot of the ball, their first corner was their goal, each team has their own style,” Valverde said.
“We wanted to dominate the game and play close to their box but you have to understand they are experts at this, sitting deep and counter-attacking.”
Atletico coach Simeone denied that his team, second and a point behind champions Barcelona, had set out to get a draw.
“Who went out looking for a draw? Where does it say that? That is just your opinion,” Simeone said. “I liked everything about my team, we worked hard, I have congratulated my squad.”
($1 = 0.8819 euros)
Reporting by Rik Sharma, editing by Ed Osmond