Gerard Pique did not deserve his handball red card during Barcelona’s 3-1 Champions League Group D win over Olympiacos, according to head coach Ernesto Valverde.
LaLiga leaders Barca made it three wins out of three in Europe’s top competition this term as Lionel Messi moved on to a century of continental goals.
Barca were a goal up – Dimitris Nikolaou having put through his own net – but a man down by the time Messi dispatched a 61st-minute free-kick, after Pique collected a second booking for turning in a rebound from Gerard Deulofeu’s angled shot with his hand.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Valverde felt the Spain centre-back had not moved deliberately towards the ball.
“I do not know how Pique’s move was, I think it was an instinctive play,” he said.
“It was a setback that made the second half look difficult because we had one less.”
Lucas Digne made sure of the points before Nikolaou ended his evening with a consolation goal for Valverde’s former club but, as usual, Messi was the talk of the town.
“Messi makes the play and looks for players to link up with, with his passing,” Valverde said after another typically accomplished showing from his star man.
“It’s his instinct, as soon as he’s running at goal he sees just the right team mate with whom he can exchange passes and score.”
Deulofeu turned in a bright performance but the former Everton winger was sacrificed in favour of Javier Mascherano, who slotted into Pique’s place at the heart of defence.
“Yes, it has been a shame not to be able to continue due to the expulsion of Gerri,” Deulofeu told Sport.
“It was my first Champions League match with Barca here at the stadium for five years.
“I found myself very well, fresh and fast when facing one-on-ones. I combined well with my team-mates and that is the way I want to make the most of my minutes.
“I have to let go and play as I know, but I’m in the best team in the world and I understand how difficult it is.
“There is a lot of quality here and in the end the coach is the boss, but I know I’m going to have minutes if I do what I have to do.”