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Barca braced for week of reckoning – Valverde

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde warned against complacency when the La Liga leaders travel to Leganes on Saturday ahead of a testing week with trips to Juventus and Valencia also to come.

Barcelona’s forward from Argentina Lionel Messi (R) celebrates past Barcelona’s defender from Spain Gerard Pique after scoring during the UEFA Champions League Group D football match FC Barcelona vs Juventus at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO

Barca could move seven points clear of Valencia at the top of the table and open up an 11-point lead over Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who face each other later on Saturday, with an 11th win in 12 La Liga matches since Valverde took charge.

“It is clear it is an important week given the opponents we are facing,” said Valverde on Friday.

“We have a lot of games in the run up to Christmas in which a lot is at stake in all three competitions.”

However, having thrown away the title last season with defeats at Malaga, Deportivo la Coruna, Celta Vigo and at home to Alaves, Valverde wants Barca’s minds concentrated on Leganes.

“Above all as a coach you are alert to these type of games. Last year at these type of grounds they lost points.”

It is three months since Barca tasted defeat when they were swept aside 5-1 on aggregate by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

And Valverde warned that just as Madrid have subsequently struggled, Barca too will go through difficult spells over the course of the season.

“Back then it seemed Real Madrid were going to win everything and we said at some point they would have to lose. It is the same for us now.

“There is no point celebrating three months (unbeaten). Things keep moving on and we have another game tomorrow.”

Injury-prone centre-back Thomas Vermaelen could be drafted in for his first league appearance of the season with Javier Mascherano out for a month with a hamstring problem.

First-choice central defenders Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti are both just one yellow card away from being suspended for the trip to Valencia next weekend.

The midfield trio of Andre Gomes, Rafinha and Sergi Roberto are also absent through injury, but Luis Suarez is fully fit and refreshed after being handed a rest during the international break by Uruguay.


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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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