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The Champions League returns to the Camp Nou on Wednesday and it’s going to be a very special game for Barça manager Ernesto Valverde. He is facing a club that he managed on two separate occasions, and is remembered with extraordinary fondness by the people of Piraeus.
"I don’t know why the Olympiacos fans like me so much” he told his pre-game press conference. “But we did win a lot of trophies. And the feeling is mutual because the Greek people always treated me very well. I say that because I left a large part of my heart there.”
"These will be two special games for me, and especially the game over there because it’s a magical place for me. The team has changed a lot but it’s still Olympiacos, a team where I won a lot of titles, although what really matter to me are the people I got to know there.”
"Olympiacos is an aggressive side, and not in the negative sense. They have an important league game on Sunday and they’re struggling a bit, but they always raise their game for the Champions League.”
Coping with tiredness
Focusing on his own side and his potential line-up, Valverde offered that "it is an important game for us, but the Malaga one is too. So we’ll use the players that are essential to win it. I agree that the players were very tired after the Atlético game because they’d just got back from a very intensive international break, but we have had four days to recover.”
Focused on football
He was also asked about the prospect of playing in front of the fans for the first time since the events of October 1, answering that “people come here to watch the game, to have fun. Hopefully tomorrow will be just the same. But if people do want to express themselves in any way, that won’t affect us.”
Paulinho on Neymar
Valverde was joined in the conference hall by Paulinho and being Brazilian, the name of a certain compatriot naturally cropped up in many of the questions fired from the room.
“It is a privilege to play with both Neymar and Messi” said the midfielder. “They are very different players, but I have always said that Messi is the best in the world and all I can do is help him to be the best in the world more times. Similarly, with Neymar my job is to help to achieve great things for Brazil.”
But during their time away on World Cup duty, did the former Barça striker give away any clues as to whether he is happy at PSG or maybe regretting his decision to leave?
"Me and Neymar never spoke about that. We have our own professional decisions to think about and that is not the kind of thing we discuss.”
Buzzing with confidence
On a more personal level, Paulinho was pleased to describe how confident he is feeling at the moment. “Some people questioned me at first, but I never let that interfere with my peace of mind. I just wanted to do the best I can for my team-mates and the coaches that showed such faith in me.”
"Being at FC Barcelona is the best motivation I could ask for. There’s nothing more specific about it than helping my team-mates to achieve our targets.”
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