Ernesto Valverde says Barcelona’s success in La Liga would be given more credit if there wasn’t such a big gap between his side and the chasing pack.
Barca remain unbeaten in the league this season and sit 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid going into Tuesday’s game at Celta Vigo. They need just seven points from their final six fixtures to secure their seventh title in 10 years.
However, last week’s unexpected Champions League elimination to Roma has brought their season into wider focus. The Spanish press has accused Valverde of mismanaging his resources while Barca’s position at the top of the table has been brushed under the carpet.
Luis Suarez moaned after Saturday’s win against Valencia that it feels as if “winning the league has lost its merit” because of Barca’s European exit. And Valverde on Monday said he believes things would be viewed differently if Barca hadn’t streaked clear of their rivals, sapping the excitement out of any potential title race.
“Maybe it’s [because of] the position we’re in,” Valverde said in a news conference when asked if he felt Barca’s achievements in La Liga were being undervalued.
“If we were second, one point off the leaders, they would be giving a lot more value to [winning] the league title.”
Not only are Barca on the cusp of winning their 25th league title, but they also could become the first-ever side to go an entire season in Spain’s top flight unbeaten.
On Saturday, they face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final, too, with the possibility of a second double in three years a very real prospect.
“Our first objective is to win La Liga,” Valverde added. “But if we can do it without losing, that would be great because no one has ever managed to do that. We know that it’s so difficult, so difficult, though, and that’s why no one has done it.
“It’s exciting, but so is the double, which we also have a chance of winning. But I want to say: we have not achieved anything yet. Let’s see if we can take another step forward against Celta.”
Barca’s trip to Balaidos represents their sixth game in just 16 days and Valverde confirmed there would be changes in Galicia with the weekend’s cup final in mind.
Ivan Rakitic is the only player sidelined through injury as he recovers from an operation on a broken finger, but the coach said Lionel Messi was among a number of other players who could be given a rest.
In each of the last two seasons, Barca have been beaten in Vigo, conceding four goals on each occasion. In addition, Celta are now coached by Juan Carlos Unzue, Luis Enrique’s former assistant, which the Blaugrana boss conceded could help give them an inside track.
“Unzue knows our players and he knows what Celta have done to do damage to Barca in recent years,” Valverde said. “In that sense, it’s an advantage for them and it could condition the game.
“But I don’t really have [those defeats] on my mind, even if I am aware of them. We’ve already played them three times this season and we know how good they are. They’re fighting for Europe and have done well at home against the other top teams this season, like Sevilla and Real Madrid.”
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.