Barcelona welcome Atletico Madrid to the Nou Camp Sunday for a top-of-the-table clash in front of an enthusiastic crowd cheering them on to cement their hold on top of the La Liga table..
Ernesto Valverde’s side are unbeaten in their 26 league games this season but though victory against their closest challengers would leave them eight points clear at the top, the Spaniard insists the showdown will not decide the title.
“It’s not a final for La Liga,” he told reporters. “It will be an important three points to the winners, but not decisive. We are two strong teams and the three points are worth a lot.”
Atletico have lost just once in the league this season – away to Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol in December. An unbeaten streak has seen Antoine Griezmann, a reported target for Barcelona in the summer, score seven goals in two games but Valverde would not be drawn on the Frenchman’s future.
“He is a great player and he is in a great moment of form,” Valverde, who has left-back Jordi Alba available following suspension, added. “I am incapable of guessing the future, but I am not going to talk about a player who is in another team and even less one we are facing.”
Atletico boss Diego Simeone has not lost in 12 meetings with Valverde and is hoping his team can keep the title race alive as long as possible. “We have always competed and we will be competitive again on Sunday,” Simeone said.
“The game is important, against a rival with numbers that speak for themselves. We still have to go to Villarreal and Real Madrid. There are 12 games left and we are all competing for something. “The points (on Sunday) are important because they give us a (smaller) margin and that makes us better able to handle what’s left.”
Simeone might be gunning for victory at the Nou Camp but was full of praise for the impact of his opposite number this season.
The Atletico boss, who welcomes back defender Lucas Hernandez into his squad following injury, added: “Valverde resolved the departure of Neymar, changed a system that had worked successfully for many years, taught everyone that Barcelona can also play 4-4-2 and he’s unbeaten in the league.
“We play against a team that is having a fantastic season and the game will be resolved, like every one we have played against them, by the small details.”