Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde insisted Saturday’s clash with Real Sociedad is “not just another game” as he looks to move a step closer to wrapping up the LaLiga title.
Barca hold a nine-point advantage over Atletico Madrid at the summit with six games to go and are closing in on a fourth domestic crown in five seasons, although they were held to a goalless draw at Huesca last time out in the league.
Valverde’s men are also into the Champions League semi-finals, where they will face Liverpool, and a Copa del Rey final against Valencia, and the temptation to manage the fitness of his squad by rotating in the coming weeks could be difficult to resist.
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But the former Athletic Bilbao boss is determined not to take his foot off the gas in pursuit of a third treble in the club’s history.
“The league is at stake and we know it,” he said at a press conference. “This game is not just another game, it’s a game that can be an important step towards the title. We know that.
“It’s a good season so far, but we want it to be a complete one. We’re top of the league, we’ve got an advantage, but we want to finish there.
“We’ve won the treble twice in history. It’s not something you can say you have won lots of times.”
We’ve won the treble twice in history. It’s not something you can say you have won lots of times.
If he plays, Sociedad will find Lionel Messi in fine form, with the Argentina star having scored 12 goals in his last eight matches, including two in the 3-0 win over Manchester United that secured their place in the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday.
That recent flurry sees Messi now only three short of reaching 600 goals for the club.
“I don’t know how to evaluate it,” added Valverde. “I’d like to have a selection of words that I could use so I wouldn’t keep repeating myself!
“He’s breaking every record, he’ll break many more and every time the fans come to watch him at Camp Nou, or any other ground, they expect something special and he always pulls it off. They go home happy.”
Sociedad sit 10th but already have a major scalp under their belt this season, having won 2-0 at Real Madrid in January.
“We go with the intention of winning, because there is no other way to face a game like this,” said head coach Immanol Alguacil. “We believe it. We have to play with a lot of personality and we are going to try it.
“We were able to win in Madrid and now we’ll see if we can do it in Barcelona.”
Barca will have Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique at their disposal after both men served a one-match ban at Huesca, while Valverde played down the impact of Philippe Coutinho’s controversial celebration in the win against United.
Having scored Barca’s third, the Brazilian placed his fingers in his ears in an apparent act of defiance against his critics after a difficult season.
“What surprises me is that people speak more about the gesture than the goal,” added Valverde. “The gesture is just a gesture.”