Ernesto Valverde warns Barcelona against complacency in Copa del Rey clash with Sevilla

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Valverde is not underestimating Sevilla in the summit clash.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has warned his La Liga champions-elect cannot be complacent when they take on Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final in Madrid.

The Catalans have all-but secured another league title, boasting a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid with five matches left, and are firm favourites to pick up a fourth successive Copa crown on Saturday night as well.

Opponents Sevilla head into the final on the back of a seven-match winless streak, but in the last five weeks they have managed to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and held Bayern Munich to a draw at the Allianz Arena.

They also came within a whisker of defeating Barca last month, losing a two-goal lead in the final minutes to draw 2-2, and Valverde is not about to underestimate the Andalusian side at the Wanda Metropolitano.

“There was a similar situation against Roma, where Barca were very much the favourites and people were already perhaps thinking about the next stage and it didn’t happen,” said Valverde, referring to his side’s shock Champions League quarter-final exit when they were knocked out despite winning the first leg 4-1.

“The important thing is to think you could lose the match – if you go into the game thinking only that you can win it, that is when you are in trouble.

“Our La Liga game (on March 31) was a warning because Sevilla were ahead for much of that game, Barca just managed to sneak two late goals,” Valverde added at a press conference.

“It shows what a very good team they are and perhaps their league position (seventh) is because they have been concentrating on playing in the Champions League and the cup as well, which has possibly taken its toll.”

Midfielder Ivan Rakitic has been given the all-clear to resume training after surgery on a broken finger.

Rakitic has resumed training and will be available for the finals.

Rakitic has resumed training and will be available for the finals.

The 30-year-old suffered the injury during the Champions League’s defeat in Rome, and was forced to sit out the last two La Liga fixtures.

The Croatian, who joined Barca from Sevilla in the summer of 2014, admitted he was relieved to be able to make a swift return to action.

“I always want to play – the first thing I asked the doctors was when I can play again. Now I’m back, I want to do a good job,” he said at a press conference, broadcast on the club’s official website.

“Tomorrow it is time to grit my teeth and go into the game – if I had to break another finger to win the cup, I would do it.”

Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella must decide whether Wissam Ben Yedder and Luis Muriel should lead the attack as they look to go one better than in the 2016 final, when they lost to Barca after extra time.

Midfielder Ever Banega was part of the Sevilla side on that day – the Argentinian one of three players to be sent off – but he is optimistic of a happier night on Saturday.

“If we are intense on all fronts and focused at every minute, we can definitely do it,” Banega said on the Sevilla club website.

“It is 90 minutes of work, we have to see where we can play, where they might slip up.

“You always have to go in with respect, with humility, but I think the team is ready to have a great match.”

He added: “This team is mentally prepared for this game. It’s clear that we don’t come into the game as we’d want to, but anything can happen in a game and we’re going to try and make it happen,”

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Atletico Madrid must match ambition of Barcelona target Antoine Griezmann, says Simeone

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Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone admits his club must show they can match Antoine Griezmann’s ambition if they want to hold onto the striker this summer.

Griezmann has scored 19 goals in 22 games since the turn of the year and continues to be linked with Barcelona, who denied publically in January they had struck a deal to sign the Frenchman.

After claiming last summer there was a “7/10 chance” he would join Manchester United, Griezmann signed a one-year contract extension at Atletico. The deal, however, retained his release clause, reported to be set at 100 million euros ($124 million).

“We want the best for Griezmann. We must make him see that this team can continue to grow, and hopefully we will,” Simeone said on Wednesday.

Second-placed Atletico trail leaders Barca by 12 points in La Liga and while that gap can be cut to nine if they beat Real Sociedad on Thursday, it would take a stunning collapse for the Catalans not to be crowned champions.

It means Simeone’s side are left chasing silverware in the Europa League, where they face Arsenal in the first leg of the semi-finals next week, but even winning that tournament might not convince Griezmann to stay.

“We have to show our ambitions are real, they are not just words,” Simeone continued.

“If we continue fighting with Barcelona and go until the end in the Europa League, we will ensure that every year something good happens.

“We have to give our team all the tools so that when a player has to decide, they will want to continue with us.”
Griezmann has remained tight-lipped over his future in recent weeks but told French newspaper L’Equipe in March he wanted any uncertainty resolved before the start of the World Cup.

The 27-year-old is expected to be France’s leading striker in Russia.

“I want to go to Russia with a clear conscience and anyway, I think that is what everybody wants,” Griezmann said.

“I have told my sister (his agent) whether it be staying or leaving, it has to be solved before the World Cup.”

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Ernesto Valverde defends much-changed Barcelona line-up

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Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde defended his decision to rotate the team against Celta Vigo, where the LaLiga leaders saw their title charge held up by a 2-2 draw and had Sergi Roberto sent off.

With one eye on Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Sevilla, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez started on the bench while Gerard Pique and Andreas Iniesta were rested.

Ousmane Dembele fired Barca ahead with his first LaLiga goal before defender Jonny Castro Otto equalised on the stroke of half-time.

Paulinho put the visitors ahead again just after the hour, by which time Messi had been introduced.

However, substitute Roberto, not long on himself, saw red on 71 minutes for pulling down Iago Aspas, who made it 2-2 with eight minutes left via a somewhat fortunate deflection which looked to have gone in off his arm.

It could have been worse for Barca but for a block from goalkeeper Marc ter Stegen, captaining for the first time, to deny Celta substitute Lucas Boye a dramatic late winner.

Barca held out to extend their unbeaten run to 40 matches and move 12 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Blaugrana boss Valverde, though, offered no excuse for his team selection at Estadio Balaidos.

“The other time we came here, in the Copa, we also made many changes,” Valverde said after the match, as quoted by Spanish media outlet Marca.

“This time, considering where we came from and that we now have a final, I wanted to make changes.”

Despite now being just two more victories from the championship, barring any unexpected defeats from their rivals, Valverde remains cautious.

“We don’t take it for granted because we always think about winning, but we have to settle for what we have,” the Barca coach added.

“I thought that we were the better side, then came the red card and we had to change things.

“Afterwards, we didn’t have the capacity to form an attack that would have pushed them back completely, and thus the equaliser came.

“It is one more point and now we need two victories to be champions. We would like to get them, but we’ll see.”

Barcelona are reported to be set to wear Senyara shirts for Saturday’s final against Sevilla at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, as a protest to support Catalonian political prisoners.

Valverde, though, stressed: “I don’t say anything [about the kits], I just hope we are recognisable so that we can pass the ball between ourselves and not give it to our opponents.”

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