Sat, Apr 18, 2015 - Page 18 News List

Leaders Barca face Valencia test

AFP, MADRID

Valencia’s Alvaro Negredo, center, scores against Levante UD in their La Liga match at the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia, Spain, on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Barcelona have little time to rest on their laurels after a stunning victory over Paris Saint-Germain in midweek as the Catalans’ quest for a treble continues when Valencia visit the Camp Nou today.

Luis Enrique’s men all but secured their place in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday with a 3-1 dismantling of the French champions thanks to two wonderful goals from Luis Suarez.

However, a 2-2 draw away to Sevilla last weekend means should Barca suffer one more slipup between now and the end of the league campaign, the destiny of the title would be in Real Madrid’s hands.

“We learned our lesson from the game against Sevilla. In Paris we played a more complete game and that shows in the scoreline,” said defender Gerard Pique, who made his 300th appearance for the club at the Parc des Princes in Paris on Wednesday. “We are very confident. The dressing room is very happy, but we have our feet on the ground. We know the most difficult part [of the season] is yet to come being leaders of La Liga, in the final of the Copa del Rey and with a result in our favor to qualify for the semi-finals of the Champions League.”

“From now on every game is like a final and we don’t have time to rest,” he said. “First, we have Valencia, then PSG at the Camp Nou. The schedule is very difficult, but if we want to win as many titles as possible we have to accept it and move on.”

Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta is a doubt after suffering heavy bruising on his lower back against PSG, but Dani Alves is set to return from suspension to take his place at rightback.

Valencia are in need of the points themselves as they battle with Atletico Madrid and Sevilla for the final two Champions League places for next season.

Los Che stunned the Camp Nou in February last year with a 3-2 win and striker Alvaro Negredo sees no reason why they cannot repeat that feat this weekend.

“We know it will be very difficult to win at the Camp Nou, but my teammates managed it last season,” the Spain international said. “Why not this year as well? It’s very demanding, you have to be fully focused for 90 minutes, and we are going to try and take all three points.”

Valencia will be boosted by the return of fullback Jose Luis Gaya from injury, despite continuing speculation about a move to Real Madrid next season for the 19-year-old.

Real Madrid host Malaga later today and could move back to the top of the table should Barcelona fail to win.

The European champions were frustrated by Atletico Madrid in a 0-0 Champions League quarter-final, first leg on Tuesday and cannot afford to let their minds wander ahead of next week’s decisive return against Los Rojiblancos at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Malaga have already shown their ability to upset the odds this season by beating Barcelona at the Camp Nou in February, and by holding the league leaders and Atletico to draws at La Rosaleda.

Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema missed training due to minor injuries on Thursday, but both are expected to be fit to take their place alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in the Real Madrid attack.

Atletico, meanwhile, will face a hostile atmosphere when they travel to meet RC Deportivo de La Coruna.

The champions’ 2-0 win over the Galicians in November last year was overshadowed by the death of a Deportivo fan in fighting between rival supporters groups in Madrid.

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