Ivan Rakitic has warned that La Liga’s title race is far from over as Barcelona face Las Palmas in Gran Canaria in what represents their second game in four days.
The champions moved six points clear with a hard-fought 3-1 win away to Sporting Gijon on Wednesday, extending their unbeaten run in all competitions to 31 matches in the process.
Alen Halilovic, on loan at Sporting for the season from Barca, claimed after the match that the title race is effectively over, but his compatriot insists Luis Enrique’s men cannot allow themselves to believe that the trophy is within their grasp.
“I think we deserved to win. We have to enjoy the moment but also keep working,” said the Croatia midfielder.
“There’s still a long way to go in the league, and nothing is decided yet. All we can do is focus on this weekend’s game.
“We’re enjoying ourselves on the pitch and I think it tells. We always try to help each other.”
Barca were dealt a stern test in the reverse fixture at Camp Nou in September, with a double from Luis Suarez enough to seal a 2-1 victory in a match that saw Lionel Messi limp off with a knee injury.
Las Palmas have remained locked in a relegation battle ever since, with just five victories so far keeping them four points off the foot of the table after 24 matches, while they have lost four of their last five.
Veteran midfielder Juan Carlos Valeron, who played for Las Palmas against Barca head coach Luis Enrique in the 1997 Copa del Rey semi-finals, says his side must focus on giving another good account of themselves against the champions in order to boost their confidence.
“Whatever the result, the important thing is to give a good image of ourselves and to emerge stronger for what’s still to come,” he told the club’s official website.
“It’s very difficult to get possession away from Barcelona, they’re a very strong opponent, one of the best in the world. And they’re very dangerous going forward.”
Barca remain without Rafinha (knee) and Sergio Busquets is suspended after picking up a booking against Sporting.
Hernan Santana (hamstring) and Javi Castellano (knee) are out for Las Palmas, while Dani Castellano (thigh) and David Simon (back) are doubts, but Angel Montoro should be fit.
Key Opta Stats:
– Las Palmas haven’t defeated Barcelona in a La Liga game since 1986 (3-0 at the Insular), meeting Barca nine times in the top flight since then (D4 L5).
– The Blaugrana have gone six league games away from home without a defeat (W4 D2), conceding just two goals in that period.
– Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are La Liga’s joint-top scorers in 2016 (nine goals apiece).
– Messi has failed to score against just four sides he has faced and one of those teams is Las Palmas (Real Murcia, Cadiz and Xerez).
– Only Barcelona (67.1 per cent) have a higher possession rate than Las Palmas (57.9 per cent) in La Liga since the arrival of Quique Setien.
– Luis Suarez has assisted more goals than any other player in La Liga since the start of 2016 (seven).