Ernesto Valverde says there is no good time to rest Lionel Messi as Barcelona prepare for a potentially critical week in their season.
LaLiga’s leaders head to struggling Villarreal on Tuesday as they aim to at least maintain a 10-point gap to second-place Atletico Madrid, who host Girona two hours earlier.
The top two meet on Saturday at Camp Nou in a match that could effectively end Atletico’s lingering title hopes, before Barca travel to face Manchester United in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final on April 10.
Despite two significant matches on the horizon, Valverde has suggested he will use Messi against Villarreal in order to avoid the risk of costly slip-ups in form.
“There’s no ideal setting to use a player like Leo sparingly,” he told a news conference on Monday.
“We’re giving a lot of value to this game. There are people who have set their sights on the Champions League and Atletico, but this game is very important.
“It doesn’t escape me that our rivals are waiting for a slip-up to feed their hope of catching us. We should not give them that chance.”
March Let’s start an intense April!
Força Barça!! pic.twitter.com/eWIQwfxn2L
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 1, 2019
Atletico exited the Champions League at the hands of Juventus and suffered a 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao prior to the international break, amid increasing speculation over the future of Antoine Griezmann.
But Valverde has denied suggestions that either Atleti or Barca could be distracted by talk of the France star moving to Catalonia, especially since the same rumours abounded last year.
“Neither us nor Atleti are destabilised by him being talked about,” he said. “Other players will be talked about, too. It was talked about last year. We’re used to it, as are Atletico.”
Barca have won three of the last four league titles but only one Champions League in the last seven years, while they have watched Real Madrid claim all of the last three.
Valverde, though, insists the league remains just as important as ever to the club, even if European dominance is the priority for many supporters.
“Historically, when Barca win the Champions League, they win LaLiga,” he said. “The Champions League motivates the fans, the players, but it doesn’t escape us that any game can get away from you if you are not focused for 15 minutes.
“In LaLiga, you’re assessed from the first minute until the last. The way to be in other tournaments is how you are in LaLiga. For me, the league is essential.
“All three trophies are equally close or far away. Everything depends on little things, and we still haven’t won anything yet. We’re on a well-travelled path and now we have to be precise. We’d like to get a trophy, and it would be best to get all of them.”
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