Still work to do in the title race, says Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde warned his side still have work to do to defend their La Liga title despite boasting a nine-point lead with five games to go.

Barca ground out a hard-fought 2-1 win over Real Sociedad on Saturday night, turning to the unlikely scoring duo of Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba to see off their battling visitors.

The three points move treble-chasing Barca another significant step closer to the crown as they responded to Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 win at Eibar earlier in the day.

“Today was always going to be a very important game and we have nine points left until we’re champions, but it’s very difficult to win,” Valverde said in comments reported by Marca.

“I know that people say we’re already champions, but we’re not.

“We have to go game by game to win until the end. This is not over, not until we get to the last game is everything done. It will always be difficult.”

Barca were a long way from their best against Sociedad, with Valverde admitting they struggled to find their rhythm after victory over Manchester United in the Champions League in midweek.

“When there is a game like the one against Manchester United, which is the centre of attention, you then have to get back to remotivating the team for another game which is fundamental,” he said.

“The games after Champions League matches are difficult for us. The game was uncomfortable, as they played well and tried to bring the play out from the back. We could not bring it out as we wanted to.

“We lacked a spark and freshness to be able to settle the game.”

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N'Golo Kante insists Chelsea do not consider themselves Europa League favourites

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N’Golo Kante insists Chelsea do not consider themselves Europa League favourites.

The Blues raced into a 3-0 lead in Thursday’s quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague at Stamford Bridge, only for the visitors to pull three goals back for a fraught finale.

Chelsea prevailed 4-3 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate, with Pedro on target twice and Olivier Giroud notching his 10th Europa League goal of the campaign.

Maurizio Sarri’s men will now face Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals, but with Arsenal facing Valencia in the other last-four tie Kante maintains Chelsea will not get ahead of themselves.

“We’re not favourites; we played a good match and we will do all we can to get to the final,” said Kante.

“But we’re not favourites. It was important for us to win this game.

“I think it’s important to be in the semi-finals, it was our target.

“We played a good game, it was difficult in the second-half but we got what we wanted and we are happy for that.

“I think they worked very well, they tried to push more and scored two beautiful goals.

“And after that we managed to hold on to keep the win.”

Pedro’s first finish, a neat Giroud effort and an own goal from Simon Deli put Chelsea three goals to the good inside 20 minutes in south-west London on Thursday.

Tomas Soucek’s headed finish did not dent Chelsea’s authority, but Petr Sevcik’s double after the break most certainly did.

Chelsea are still chasing a top-four Premier League finish, along with their European ambitions.

And World Cup winner Kante believes completing that Europa League mission would turn Chelsea’s campaign into a success.

“We can make the season beautiful by winning the Europa League,” said Kante.

“That’s the only title we can win now, so it would be great to win the Europa League.

“I think at the beginning of the game it was a good feeling to score three goals like this. The most important thing was to qualify.

“We’ll go into the semi-final with confidence and we hope to qualify for the final.”

Chelsea head coach Sarri lamented another slow second half start that nearly derailed the Blues’ bid for European glory.

The hosts were cruising until Sevcik’s quick-fire double that teed up a tense finish.

France star Kante admitted Chelsea have an issue with their second-half performances, but insisted the Stamford Bridge men still have chance to resolve those shortcomings.

Asked about those slow second-half starts, Kante said: “It’s just something that has happened many times this season and something we need to manage a bit better. But we still have to work on that.”

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Valencia overcome Villarreal to set up Europa League semi-final with former boss Unai Emery

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Dani Parejo celebrates his goal.

Valencia boss Marcelino said he was proud of his side after they booked their place in the Europa League semi-finals with a 2-0 win over La Liga rivals Villarreal

Toni Lato netted his first senior goal for the club in the 13th minute before Dani Parejo doubled the lead at the start of the second half to secure a 5-1 aggregate victory.

Marcelino told a press conference reported by Uefa.com: “We are proud of what we’ve done and grateful to the players.

“We are in a semi-final, a final and doing well in the league. We’d like to be in two finals in this centenary season.”

On his semi-final opponents Arsenal, he added: “They have a coach we know very well here and some extraordinary players.

“But if there’s any more pressure on them to win this competition, we’ll play the semi-final with just the same desire to go through as they have.”

The game was played in torrential rain at the Mestella.

Marcelino added: “I thank the crowd for coming tonight. I’ve been in this city for a couple of years and never seen it rain like this but they came, roared their support and stayed on an ugly night of unbelievable weather.”

Villarreal coach Javier Calleja felt his side missed too many chances as they sought to overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit.

“We’ve given two serious performances. We really showed up in each match. The first leg probably marked the way this quarter-final would end up,” Calleja said.

“We created lots of chances, which against Valencia is tough. But we missed too many – we didn’t quite have the definition to tuck them away.”

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