Guardiola not worried Lahoz will referee Champions League football

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said he “couldn’t care less” about Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz taking charge of Saturday’s Champions League final with Chelsea, despite a public dispute with the official three years ago.

Guardiola previously called Lahoz as a referee who “likes to be different” after he ruled out a Leroy Sane goal in their quarter-final Champions League defeat at the hands of Liverpool in 2018 and sent the dissenting City manager to the stands.

Asked on Monday if he had worries about the appointment of Lahoz for the final in Porto, the Catalan said it was not a problem.

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“No. Not one second. I could not care less. I am so confident in my team. You cannot imagine how confident I am in my team and what we have to do,” he said.

Guardiola’s description of his compatriot after the exit at the Etihad Stadium three years ago was sharply worded.

“He’s a referee who likes to feel different, he’s special. When everybody sees things, he is going to see the opposite. It’s too much to send me off because I didn’t say any wrong word.”

The same referee had also given Guardiola reason to complain in the 2017 game with Monaco when Sergio Aguero was given a yellow for diving after going down in the box and the manager believed his team should have had a penalty.

Guardiola said he had yet to decide on his starting line-up for the final but dismissed the idea that he may be swayed by performances in training this week.

“They are ready. I know how good they are – all of them. I will not change because of one or two sessions,” he said.

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“I have known most of them for many, many years, but the starting XI is not done, not yet.”

City have lost twice to Chelsea since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel as manager in January and while Guardiola says that has no bearing on the final, he is well aware of his opponents’ strengths.

“The setup of the team is wide in the sides, depth, they are so close, the distances, the players in between, they are close, they play really good in the pockets, incredible in behind, create problems for all the teams, not just us,” he said.

“Congratulations on the two games they beat us, this is another competition, the final, we will see what happens.

“We are quite satisfied to get into the final but we know if you don’t have a huge desire to win it, a huge desire to know what you have to do, then it will not be possible to win the game and win the Champions League.”

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From teacher’s pet to career-changing campaign – Mount lights up Europe

Mason Mount just keeps getting better and better.

One day after Mount’s compatriot Phil Foden lit up the Champions League semi-finals with a sparkling performance, it was the turn of Chelsea’s English youngster to star on the biggest stage.

But perhaps the most notable aspect of Mount’s superb showing against Real Madrid was that it didn’t remotely come as a surprise.

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It’s not so long ago that Frank Lampard was being mocked for starting the ‘teacher’s pet’ ahead of players perceived as being more deserving of a Chelsea first XI spot.

And it’s also not so long ago that the judgement of Gareth Southgate was being called into question by thousands of fans – and plenty of pundits too – for picking Mount over Jack Grealish for England.

But nobody should be asking those questions now.

Mount’s performance against Real was brilliant. Slated in a starting position on the left of a front three, the 22-year-old showed his flexibility to slot back into central midfield when required, drift more centrally when his team needed it, and continually offer a counter-attacking threat… all while helping Ben Chilwell keep the half-fit Eden Hazard and underwhelming Vinicius Junior extremely quiet.

Mount has a little bit of everything, the sort of player that every manager wants in their squad: intelligent, hard-working, technically superb – a new breed of English midfielder. And it was just days ago that his coach lavished similar praise on his young shoulders.

“He has the full package, mentally, in terms of talent and physically,” Tuchel said of Mount following the 2-0 win over Fulham last weekend. “And the most important part is his character, he has his feet on the ground and he’s a nice guy.

He comes to Cobham every day to learn something new and have new experiences. He is the guy who can recover very fast, he’s a very physical player and is fully adapted to Premier League football. He has big self-confidence in a very, very positive way. It’s a pleasure to have him, be at his side and guide him and support him.

Tuchel of course left Mount out of his very first Chelsea side to play Wolves. But he’s barely been on the bench since, with Wednesday night’s semi-final second leg being his 19th appearance since the German took charge.

The only significant game Mount has missed was due to suspension (he sat out the round-of-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid) and there was little doubt that he would start again at Stamford Bridge against Real. But Mount’s evening almost didn’t have the gloss that it deserved, with the midfielder blazing over the bar with an uncharacteristically rash finish on 53 minutes.

That miss – one of a number of fluffed chances from Chelsea on a night that should have been more comfortable – threatened to leave the door open for an undeserved Madrid equaliser. But another great quality of the Englishman is his relentless positive attitude, and he stayed alert when another counter-attack looked to have fizzled out late on, making a darting run across the face of goal to turn home Christian Pulisic’s low cross.

It was his ninth goal of a career-changing campaign, and by far the biggest. But, speaking after the match, Mount played down the success he’s enjoyed this year so far.

“Yeah, it’s been alright,” he smiled. “I haven’t won nothing yet though. We’ve got two massive cup finals, hopefully we can win them.”

Win them or not, Mason Mount is here to stay.

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'We should have had about five' – Mount on semi-final win

Chelsea goalscorer Mason Mount said he was left almost speechless by the quality of his side’s performance as they secured a place in the Champions League final with a 2-0 win over Real Madrid.

The two sides were level at 1-1 after the first leg, but a first-half goal from Timo Werner plus Mount’s late second was enough to see them through to the Champions League final.

Speaking to BT Sport after the match, the 22-year-old midfielder said:

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I can’t put it into words at the moment. It was a great performance. We should have had about five, but the most important thing is that we won.

“To get that goal late on, you could see by the celebrations how massive it was, giving us breathing space in the last five minutes. We gave it everything, we had that desire, we wanted to win. I haven’t won anything yet, but we have two massive cup finals, and hopefully we can win. The final is going to be a stunning game.”

Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta praised his teammates and looked ahead to the final against Manchester City.

“It was a massive performance for the team,” he began.

We knew we had a tough opponent but we performed really well and could have scored more goals. In the second half we were clearly better. We had to suffer but we fought really hard.

“We have one more step, we want to go to the final to try to win it. For me, this is massive, we have plenty of things to fight for with some massive weeks coming up. We have played Manchester City a lot of times, but we believe in ourselves and are ready for it!”

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Tuchel: Chelsea deserved the win over Real

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel was thrilled to see his team through to the finals of the Champions League after beating Real Madrid 2-0 on Wednesday night.

The teams started level on 1-1 after the first leg but goals from Timo Werner and then Mason Mount saw them through 3-1 on aggregate. They will play Manchester City in teh final.

Tuchel took over Chelsea at the end of January when had been struggling under Frank Lampard, but they now appear on course for a top four finish in the Premier League, and are in the finals of both the FA Cup and Champion League.

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Speaking after the game to BT Sport, he said his side were worthy victors.

“We deserved to win,” he said.

“The first half was difficult, they had a lot of possession and made us suffer, but every ball from us was dangerous. We were dangerous with counter attacks. We never lost the hunger, the desire to defend. In the second half, it was an even better structure to defend.

“We could have scored so much earlier, so much more to be safe, but now is no time for criticism. It is a fantastic achievement and big congratulations to the team. To hang in there, even if you miss big chances, you never lose focus. It was a huge performance. I am very happy that we achieved this.

“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to live my life in football. This passion as a profession, I am more than grateful. It is not done yet, we want to go all the way, we arrive in Istanbul to win!”

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Chelsea dominate Real to set up all-English CL final with Man City

Chelsea booked a Champions League final meeting with Manchester City in Istanbul on May 29 after overcoming Real Madrid 2-0 in the semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Thomas Tuchel’s side went through 3-1 on aggregate and in surprisingly comfortable fashion thanks to Timo Werner’s header from point-blank range in the first half and Mason Mount’s close-range finish late on to set up a tantalising third all-English final.

Antonio Rudiger had the first meaningful attempt on goal with a powerful strike that former Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was forced to punch away.

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That was before Werner had a goal chalked off in the 18th minute for straying offside when he tapped in Ben Chilwell’s low cross.

Karim Benzema tested Edouard Mendy with a vicious curling effort into the bottom corner which the Senegalese goalkeeper was forced to tip onto the post two minutes before Chelsea took the lead.

N’Golo Kante, who was instrumental in Chelsea’s attacks, slid a neat pass by Casemiro before laying off to Kai Havertz. He attempted to dink the ball over Courtois and it crashed off the bar before it fell to Werner to nod home his first Champions League goal in open play for the Blues this season.

Real rallied and Benzema gave Mendy more to think about when he rose highest to meet a Luka Modric cross in the 36th minute, but it was acrobatically tipped over the bar by the 29-year-old.

Into the second half and Mount squandered a glorious chance to extend Real’s lead in the 53rd minute moments after Havertz cracked the woodwork with a header. Werner neatly flicked the ball into Mount’s path and the England international lifted it over the bar from point-blank range.

Five minutes later and Havertz burst into a one-on-one thanks to a simple ball over the top which split Real’s backline in half, but his shot was straight at Courtois’ feet. Kante then made it three golden chances missed by Chelsea with Courtois again denying him in yet another one-on-one opportunity for the Blues.

With Chelsea simply too quick and too powerful on the break, Real were unable to threaten any further. The 2012 winners knew they could look forward to the final when Mount sealed victory from close range in the 86th minute after Kante capitalised on a sloppy Sergio Ramos pass near Real’s own box.

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Chelsea were languishing in ninth in the Premier League and bereft of confidence when the German manager took charge in January. Fast forward just over three months and Chelsea are fighting for a top-four finish, are in the FA Cup final on May 15 and are now in the Champions League final for the first time in nine years.

Their second leg performance against Real was punishing on the Spanish side’s ageing team as their energy, pace and fluidity was too much for Zinedine Zidane’s men to handle. Chelsea’s threat on the counter-attack terrified Real. Manchester City better be switched on.

MAN OF THE MATCH – N’Golo Kante

It’s no wonder Tuchel said pre-match the diminutive midfielder is “the guy you need to win trophies”.

Chelsea’s high pressure, full-throttle display was encapsulated by the Frenchman who did not give the Real midfield – Casemiro in particular – room to breathe. The 30-year-old single-handedly cut open the Real defence for both goals and was unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet himself.

PLAYER RATINGS

Chelsea XI: Mendy (8), Christensen (7), Silva (6), Rudiger (8), Azpilicueta (7), Kante (9), Jorginho (7), Chilwell (8), Mount (8), Havertz (7), Werner (8)

Subs: Pulisic (8), James (N/A), Ziyech (N/A), Giroud (N/A)

Real Madrid XI: Courtois (7), Nacho (4), Militao (5), Ramos (4), Mendy (4), Kroos (4), Modric (5), Casemiro (4), Hazard (4), Vinicius Jr (3), Benzema (6).

Subs: Valverde (5), Asensio (5), Rodrygo (N/A), Mariano (N/A)

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KEY MOMENTS

12′ – SAVE! Rudiger has a strike from range but Courtois punches clear! That was a fine, powerful strike from the German! Moments later Mount jinks his way into the box from the left and attempts a low driven cross, but it’s blocked behind for a corner. Vinicius then gives a free-kick away on the edge of the box for tripping up Chilwell.

18′ – NO GOAL!!! It looked like Werner had his first goal in open play in the Champions League this season for Chelsea as Chilwell squared for the German to tap home, but he was narrowly offside and it’s chalked off! Luck is just not on Werner’s side.

26′ – OFF THE POST! Real Madrid are enjoying more of the ball further up the pitch and Benzema has a go from outside the box… it’s curling into the bottom corner but it’s a fantastic stop by Mendy who parries it away onto the woodwork for a corner! The following corner comes to nothing.

28′ – GOAL!!! Werner has scored and Chelsea are 2-1 up on aggregate! It’s brilliant work from Kante who plays a one-two with the German before laying it off to Havertz. He tries to chip Courtois and it comes off the bar and lands perfectly for Werner, who nods in his first Champions League goal for Chelsea in open play! A huge goal!

36′ – GREAT SAVE! It’s a brilliant pick out from Modric who dinks a ball into the area into the path of Benzema. He leaps up high above Rudiger and glances his header towards goal, but Mendy tips over the bar! The Chelsea goalkeeper is having a great game.

53′ – BIG MISS! Real’s defence completely opens up. Werner flick the ball into the path of Mount who just has to slot the ball home… but he fires over the bar! It looked like he should have dinked it over Courtois but he ends up lifting it way over! That was a golden chance missed!

58′ – BIG SAVE! Havertz bursts into a one-on-one thanks to a simple ball over the top which splits Real in half, but his shot is straight at Courtois. It’s a fine save from the Belgian using his feet by he simply had to finish there!

66′ – ANOTHER HUGE CHELSEA MISS! Werner sprints forward and leads a Chelsea counter-attack. He lays it off to Kante but it’s saved again by the feet of Courtois! That’s the third golden chance squandered by Chelsea this half!

86′ – GOAL!!! Mount has sealed it for Chelsea! It’s all too easy. Again, Kante seizes on a sloppy Ramos pass and lays off to Pulisic. In space and time, he squares for Mount to comfortably fire into the back of the net! It’s Mount’s ninth goal of the season and Chelsea are heading to Istanbul!

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Guardiola: Remarkable City fought together to reach first final

Pep Guardiola is hoping there will be “something in the stars” in Istanbul after he guided Manchester City to their first ever Champions League final.

City beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 on Tuesday night to wrap up their semi-final 4-1 on aggregate, and they will now face Chelsea or Real Madrid in the final on May 29.

For Guardiola it is a first final since he won his second European Cup as Barcelona manager in 2011, and after ensuring PSG’s wait goes on, the City boss hopes the “little details” will help his side make history later this month.

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Guardiola told BT Sport: “People believe it’s easy to arrive in the final of the Champions League. Getting to the final now makes sense of what we have done in the past four or five years.

“Every day these guys have been consistent and this is remarkable. We scored a goal through the hips in the first game, and today Marquinhos hit the bar in the first half – you can be out for little details.

“[Manchester] United won a title because of John Terry’s slip and in the last minute against Bayern Munich and Real won a title against Atletico in the 93rd minute. It’s a competition that is so difficult and something in the stars is involved in that.”

City recorded nine blocks on the night as PSG failed to record a single shot on target, with Ruben Dias picking up the man of the match award for his defensive contribution.

Guardiola added: “They [PSG] win every year the league, they are a team built to win, they fought to the end. They are a huge team but we were so, so composed. We fought together and we’re in the final of the Champions League and those are nice words.”

City last reached the semi-finals in 2015-16 under Manuel Pellegrini, and after Guardiola took the reins they were knocked out of the last 16 to Monaco a season later before suffering three straight quarter-final exits to Liverpool, Tottenham and then Lyon.

Now with a first final to prepare for, Guardiola knows his side are on the verge of a Premier League and Champions League double to add to the League Cup they won last month.

He added: “It is for all of us and the club. I’m incredibly proud and my first thoughts are with the players who didn’t play today. They all deserved to play, everyone has made a contribution and now it is time to enjoy it. We have to win the league and we have two or three weeks to prepare for the final.

“They put a lot of players in the middle and we struggled a lot in the first half to high press and we changed at half-time. We recovered the ball better in the second half and we were much better in the way we played and 4-1 on aggregate against a team that beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich and it means a lot to us.”

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Paris Saint-Germain tried everything. They attempted to shoot through him from distance. They tried to dribble and pass around him. Once or twice, they even challenged him in the air. Ruben Dias, though, was the proverbial footballing wall as Manchester City tackled and blocked their way to a first ever Champions League final.

Of course, there was some trademark Pep Guardiola football in there too. The moves that produced both goals in the 2-0 semi-final second leg win on Tuesday night were City at their best, particularly the second goal which saw Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden combine to set up Riyad Mahrez for the finish at the back post.

But the most notable thing about City’s performance came at the other end of the pitch. PSG didn’t create much, but what they did was repelled by an opposition defence led by Dias. Nobody made more blocks than the Portuguese centre back who along with John Stones and Oleksandr Zinchenko threw himself at everything (City made nine blocks in total).

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Ruben Dias vies with Neymar

Image credit: Getty Images

The Champions League knockout rounds haven’t been kind to Guardiola as City boss, but this display was in stark contrast to the lifeless offerings of past seasons. Lyon, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Monaco have all stopped the Catalan from achieving his ultimate objective at the club, but this was pre-Dias.

Signed for £65m from Benfica last summer, Dias has changed the landscape at the Etihad Stadium. Guardiola didn’t know what to do with his defence last season, playing a back three of Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia and Fernandinho in the shock defeat to Lyon in the Champions League quarter-finals. It was City’s biggest weakness.

Almost as soon as he arrived in England, Dias steadied City at the back. His impact at the Etihad Stadium can now be compared to Virgil van Dijk’s upon joining Liverpool. Just like the Dutchman, Dias has lifted the game of everyone around him, not least John Stones whose City career has been revived as the Portuguese’s centre back partner.

If Guardiola goes on to lift his third Champions League trophy, and his first as Manchester City manager, he will surely look at Dias as the biggest difference between this team and teams that have fallen before the final hurdle in years gone by. And if City win three titles this season (the Champions League, Premier League and Carabao Cup) Dias’ Ballon d’Or case will be just as strong as van Dijk’s was in 2019.

City’s reliance on Dias is exposed when the 23-year-old isn’t on the pitch for them – see the shock home defeat to Leeds United on April 10, when Nathan Ake and Stones failed to keep out mid-table opposition. Without Dias, Guardiola’s side are that bit more vulnerable, further underlining comparisons with van Dijk whose absence this season has shaken Liverpool.

Virgil van Dijk, Jurgen Klopp

Image credit: Getty Images

Dias embodies the other side of Guardiola’s ideology – the dirty side. It’s not all about intricate passing triangles and off-the-ball movement. In fact, without full commitment to the cause Guardiola’s brand of football is worth nothing. Dias has brought the sort of fight and spirit that was previously lacking at City. He is a Gerard Pique-esque figure.

Last summer’s signing of Dias was a sliding doors moment for Manchester City with the 23-year-old not even their top target at the time of the transfer window opening – bids for Sevilla’s Jules Kounde and RB Leipzig Dayot Upamecano were reportedly made before the focus shifted to Portugal.

No matter whether Chelsea or Real Madrid come through Wednesday’s other Champions League semi-final, City will be favourites to be crowned European kings later this month. There might not be anybody left to stop them, especially if Dias is on shot-blocking duty in Istanbul.

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PSG players allege referee told them to 'f*** off' during City defeat

Ander Herrera and Marco Verratti have accused referee Bjorn Kuipers of insulting Paris Saint-Germain’s players during their Champions League defeat to Manchester City.

PSG lost 2-0 in their semi-final second leg on Tuesday night to lose the tie 4-1 on aggregate.

Riyad Mahrez opened the scoring after 11 minutes, and once he doubled City’s lead on the night in the 63rd minute, PSG simply imploded.

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Angel Di Maria was shown a straight red for a petulant stamp on Fernandinho in the 69th minute, while Marco Verratti, Danilo Pereira and Presnel Kimpembe all picked up late bookings as PSG’s tackling became reckless.

Tensions clearly boiled over in the final 20 minutes, and afterwards Herrera and Verratti made the extraordinary claim that Kuipers told some of PSG’s players to “f*** off”.

Mauricio Pochettino (C) remonstrates with Referee Bjorn Kuipers

Image credit: Getty Images

Herrera told RMC, per France-based journalist Matt Spiro: “We talk about respect with referees… the referee tonight said f*** off to Leandro Paredes. If we say that we get a three-four match ban.”

Verratti added: “He said f*** you to me… I talk to referees a lot but I never say that or I get a 10-game ban.”

Mahrez told BT Sport afterwards: “They lost their nerve and started to kick us and after the red card it was more comfortable.”

City meanwhile put in an immense defensive display, blocking nine shots and leaving PSG without a shot on target in a match where they required at least two goals to have a chance of progressing.

Mahrez added: “You have to be solid and everybody has to be solid defensively and that’s why we did. We didn’t concede much and I think that’s why we’re in the final. It’s good.

“We have another game on Saturday we need to be win to be league champions and then we’ll concentrate on the Champions League final.”

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Guardiola: I hope Mbappe is fit

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola predicted Kylian Mbappe would start for Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League semi-final second leg encounter.

Mbappe missed PSG’s game at the weekend with a calf injury and that has put his involvement in the return leg at the Etihad in doubt, but Guardiola thinks the French international striker will play.

Speaking in a press conference ahead of the game, Guardiola said of Mbappe featuring: “I’m looking forward to it. He’s going to play. I’m looking forward to him playing. For the football, for the game itself, hopefully he can play.”

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Guardiola then said he believed Mbappe and Brazilian striker Neymar posed a threat in the next leg, one he was focused on negating.

Guardiola explained: “They played really well, the first half was exceptional. Mbappe was dangerous, in the second half we were better. They judged Mbappe and Neymar because they lost, if they won they play good.”

“I think they played good. What’s the best way for them to not play good? That’s what we try to do tomorrow,” he closed.

More generally, the Spaniard claimed that the second legs of semi-finals are the most difficult.

“From my experience the semi-finals are always difficult,” he said.

You play with the result of the first leg, you play with your mind on the final and sometimes you forget what you have to do – win the game you are playing.

“The semi-final second leg is always the difficult one – always has been like this. Final is completely different.”

Guardiola hoped his side would get through, but acknowledged the club are yet to reach a European final with him as manager.

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“The nice part of our jobs is it’s incredibly unpredictable. It was disappointing, but life always gives you another opportunity, another challenge,” he said.

“I would love to say, ‘yes, we learned from that’, but maybe tomorrow we play a bad game. I don’t think it, but we could play a bad game and be out of the final.

“But what I think right now is we’re going to do an incredible game and we’re going to reach the final. If the other ones are better, I congratulate the opponent. But I have the feeling we’re going to do well.”

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El ayudante de Valverde se desahoga en el primer aniversario del despido

Jon Aspiazu, el que fuera segundo entrenador de Ernesto Valverde durante dos temporadas y media, concedió una entrevista al programa ‘Què t’hi jugues’ de Ser Catalunya donde hizo un amplio inventario de su etapa en el club blaugrana, incluyendo también los dos grandes fracasos en Europa, tanto en Roma como en Liverpool.

De hecho, Aspiazu recordó que tras el 3-0 en el Camp Nou en la ida de las semifinales de la Champions, el equipo fue a Anfield con una cierta soberbia. Para justificar esta sentencia, el ayudante de Valverde explicó una anécdota: “A aquel partido los técnicos íbamos con muchos temores. De hecho, un jugador durante la charla técnica nos dijo ‘míster, ¿pero cómo vamos a perder hoy?’ y Valverde le dijo ‘yo soy el míster, tengo que ponerme en todas las tesituras'”. De hecho, Aspiazu sigue repasando ese partido todos los días: “El partido en Liverpool fue mucho más igualado de lo que reflejó el resultado final. Pero el último gol fue tan determinante y tan fuera de lo común que acabó siendo un lastre increíble”.

También se mostró muy contrariado por la forma que Bartomeu decidió prescindir de ellos: “Es evidente que no fue el momento más oportuno. Estábamos primeros en la Liga y habíamos pasado la fase de grupos de la Champions sin perder un partido, pero el club decidió dar un volantazo…”

Sobre las explicaciones que dio el entonces secretario técnico, Eric Abidal, sobre que el equipo no entrenaba lo suficiente, Aspiazu reconoció sentirse insultado: “Ma partí de risa. Hay que tener en cuenta que el Barça es un equipo especial, que juega cada tres días y se ponen en forma jugando. Es una forma de trabajar muy específica”.

Aspiazu aprovechó para recordar que fueron ellos quienes apostaron por Ansu Fati: “Lo vimos en el filial y desde el primer momento nos pareció un chaval especial. Lo hicimos subir a un entrenamiento en el primer equipo y Valverde cuando lo vio jugar ya nos dijo: ‘Ansu se queda con nosotros'”.