03 Mar Title won’t be decided this weekend, says Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde
Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde insists Sunday’s clash with Atletico Madrid will not decide LaLiga.
Valverde’s side are unbeaten in their 26 league games this season but only lead Atletico by five points heading into the fixture at the Nou Camp.
Victory against their closest challengers would leave Barca eight points clear and on the verge of reclaiming the championship.
But Valverde insisted there is a long way to go in the campaign regardless of the outcome this weekend.
“It’s not a final for LaLiga,” he told a press conference, according to Marca. “It will be an important three points to the winners, but not decisive.
“We are two strong teams and the three points are worth a lot.”
Atletico have lost just once in the league this season – away to Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol in December.
Since then, los Rojiblancos have won eight and drawn one of their nine league outings, and have found the net nine times in their last two games.
Antoine Griezmann, a reported target for Barcelona in the summer, has scored seven of them.
The France forward netted a hat-trick in the 5-2 thrashing of Sevilla last Sunday before scoring all four goals as Leganes were swept aside in midweek.
Valverde, who has left-back Jordi Alba available following suspension, would not be drawn on the future of Griezmann.
“He is a great player and he is in a great moment of form,” Valverde added.
“I am incapable of guessing the future, but I am not going to talk about a player who is in another team and even less one we are facing.”
Atletico boss Diego Simeone has not lost in 12 meetings with Valverde and is hoping his team can keep the title race alive as long as possible.
“We have always competed and we will be competitive again on Sunday,” Simeone said at his press conference.
“The game is important, against a rival with numbers that speak for themselves.
“We still have to go to Villarreal and Real Madrid. There are 12 games left and we are all competing for something.
“The points (on Sunday) are important because they give us a (smaller) margin and that makes us better able to handle what’s left.”
Simeone was full of praise for the impact Valverde’s had on Barcelona this season.
The Atletico boss, who welcomes back defender Lucas Hernandez into his squad following injury, added: “Valverde resolved the departure of Neymar, changed a system that had worked successfully for many years, taught everyone that Barcelona can also play 4-4-2 and he’s unbeaten in the league.
“We play against a team that is having a fantastic season and the game will be resolved, like every one we have played against them, by the small details.”