Ernesto Valverde defends much-changed Barcelona line-up
Barca held out to extend their unbeaten run to 40 matches as they turn attention to the Copa del Rey final.
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.”