Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has dismissed suggestions the LaLiga title race will be over if his side beat Atletico Madrid in this weekend’s battle of the top two at the Nou Camp.
A victory for the defending champions would move them 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico with seven games remaining.
For a side that has only lost three times in their last 75 league games, it seems unlikely Barca would let slip such an advantage but Valverde is taking nothing for granted.
🔥 #BarçaAtleti 🔥
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) April 5, 2019
He told a press conference as reported by the Spanish press: “It (the gap) is not definitive until it is mathematically so.
“For many people, the league was decided in January. Then you lose a game and the league is back on. We need to carry on until the end.”
Asked if a draw would be a decent result, Valverde added: “If you’re losing 2-0 with three minutes to go, then yes a draw is a great result.
“But our intention is to win. Of course, anything can then happen in the game but we’re setting out to win it.
“The three points are very important for both teams.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 5, 2019
Barca are still firmly in the hunt for the treble this season. On Wednesday, they face Manchester United in the first leg of a Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford.
Valverde, though, is not letting that match cloud his thinking for the visit of Atletico.
The Barca boss, whose side play Valencia in the Copa del Rey final next month, said: “Tomorrow’s game is of vital importance, and after we will have four days (before playing United).
“The best way to prepare ourselves for the Champions League is to have a great game against Atletico.”
It remains to be seen how involved Lionel Messi will be this weekend after he came off the bench to help Barca salvage a 4-4 draw at Villarreal in midweek.
The Catalan club will be without several players, including winger Ousmane Dembele, with Valverde uncertain if the France international will be fit to face United.
Arturo Vidal also serves a suspension, Rafinha is injured and Jean-Clair Todibo and Thomas Vermaelen have been omitted. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has been given the green light to return, however.
Despite what Valverde may say about the title race, Atletico will know their bid to be crowned champions for only the second time since 1996 will realistically end if they fail to beat Barca.
— LaLiga (@LaLiga) April 4, 2019
That is something they have failed to do in LaLiga since Diego Simeone took charge in December 2011.
Simeone has called on his team to show their true colours against the league leaders on Saturday night.
“That we’ve never won at the Nou Camp actually makes me very optimistic,” he told the club’s official website.
“If we win tomorrow and then we don’t win the next games, it counts for nothing. Tomorrow we have to show the identity which this team has.”
Simeone will be short of attacking options at the Nou Camp.
Diego Costa will miss out with a muscular problem, while Alvaro Morata suffered an ankle injury in the home win against Girona on Tuesday night. Thomas Lemar is also absent with a muscle injury.