16 Feb Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde only has eyes for Eibar
Ernesto Valverde insists he is focused on ending Barcelona’s LaLiga blip rather than Champions League opponents Chelsea.
Barcelona visit Eibar on Saturday afternoon unbeaten in LaLiga and with a seven-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid.
But they have shown signs of tiredness in league draws against Espanyol and Getafe, with Tuesday’s trip to Chelsea in the Champions League round of 16 now just a few days away.
“It is more mental than physical, the weeks when you have four days rest you can manage better than three,” boss Valverde said at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
“We will have three before we take on Chelsea and Chelsea will have four.
“That day extra, to have a break from the pressure of staying in the cup is good to have.
“But in terms of important games, the one tomorrow is also and we are not thinking about Chelsea.
“The week was free and now we have games again after each other.
“We need to get going again and after the Getafe game this is now even more important.”
Barcelona have a perfect record against Eibar, having scored 26 goals in their previous seven meetings.
Lionel Messi has 12 goals in six games against the Basques, his best scoring average against any opposition.
Atletico have closed the gap in the past fortnight with wins over Valencia and Malaga and Valverde said: “When you start thinking about margins for error then it is the first step towards losing it.
“If you look at the table and see the points then it is clear that we can afford to lose.
“But that is a mistake to look at it that way, we need to always go into the next game trying to be strong.
“What we have said from the start of the season is that there is a long way to go and it is never easy to pick up three points, more so than people think.
“I like the spirit in this team, how they overcome problems and the way they don’t look too far ahead.”
Barcelona are strengthened in defence with Gerard Pique fit again and Samuel Umtiti back from suspension.
Seventh-placed Eibar have lost only once in 10 league games, and thrashed Sevilla 5-1 in their last home fixture.
Manager Jose Luis Mendilibar – a former team-mate of Valverde at Basque club Sestao in the 1980s – will be in charge of Eibar for the 100th time in LaLiga.
“We’re feeling good, we’re enjoying one of our best spells of the season and we’ve been performing pretty well and getting good results for a couple of months now,” Mendilibar said at his pre-match press conference, carried on the club’s official website.
“We know what we’re coming up against. Even if we perform very well, it will all depend on how they play.
“Against opposition like them there’s no formula to it, the key is for us to just be ourselves, be assured and not have any doubts about what we have to go out there and do.
“They’ve got their Champions League game coming up, but right now their coach will be insisting that their sole focus is on the game here at Ipurua.”
Eibar are without injured pair Seri Enrich and Fran Rico and defender Paulo Oliveira is doubtful.