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Record-chasing Barcelona not in a slump – Valverde

Barcelona will break a club-record 31-match unbeaten league run by avoiding defeat to Girona.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde insists his LaLiga leaders are not in a slump.

The Catalans hold a seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid and will break a club-record 31-game unbeaten LaLiga run – set by Pep Guardiola’s side in the 2010-11 season – by avoiding defeat at home to neighbouring Girona on Saturday.

But Valverde has had to face criticism after a below-par performance in Tuesday’s 1-1 Champions League draw with Chelsea.

Lionel Messi’s equaliser means Barcelona should be favourites to progress to the last eight of the competition, but they have now won only two of their last five games in all competitions and Atletico have closed the gap at the top of LaLiga.

“I don’t think we’ve dipped,” Valverde said at his pre-match press conference for the visit of Girona.

“Obviously I’d like to go to Chelsea and dominate and score more goals, but they are a very good team.

Chelsea v Barcelona – UEFA Champions League – Round of Sixteen – First Leg – Stamford Bridge

“We’ve had two straight home matches that have challenged us, but we’re not in a slump.”

Treble-chasing Barcelona were held 0-0 by Getafe in their last home game and defender Gerard Pique could be rested as a precaution this weekend.

Pique has been nursing a niggling injury and Yerry Mina or Thomas Vermaelen could deputise.

FC Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain – UEFA Champions League – Round of 16 – Second Leg – Camp Nou

“He did not train (on Thursday) as a precaution and it is true that we are in a week in which we play for nine points,” said Valverde, whose side face Las Palmas next Thursday before hosing Atletico on the Sunday.

“It’s an important week because there are 14 games left and three of them are already this week. These nine points are going to say a lot.

“It is possible that there will be changes in the team due to the number of matches played, but all will be designed to achieve victory. ”

Girona are resolute opponents and more than held their own against Barcelona in September before two own goals condemned them to a 3-0 defeat.

“Of course the match against Chelsea will be something we look at,” said Valverde, who could recall Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele on the flanks.

“Although they are different teams they both play in a similar style.

“Teams have to adapt to play against Girona and they are having an incredible season – they are the revelation of the year.

“It’s been so surprising that Girona, playing with such enthusiasm and intensity, are close to European qualification.”

Having won promotion last season, Girona are in eighth place and only four points from the European positions.

This will be Girona’s first visit to the Nou Camp and coach Pablo Machin insists his players will be under no pressure.

Barcelona v Juventus – UEFA Champions League – Quarter Final – Second Leg – Camp Nou

“In these games we do not have to motivate the players,” Machin said at his pre-match press conference.

“Without a doubt, we have a lot to win and little to lose.”

Girona could be without injured left-back Johan Mojica, but midfielder Pere Pons should shrug off a knock to feature.


From Belfast Telegraph