Copa del Rey triumph can help ease Barcelona’s UCL pain – Ernesto Valverde

Shaka Hislop, Craig Burley and Stevie Nicol discuss whether Barcelona’s record-breaking La Liga unbeaten run has been overshadowed by their Champions League exit.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde says his team can remove some of the sting from their Champions League exit by winning their fourth straight Copa del Rey on Saturday.

Although Barca’s hopes of a Treble-winning campaign vanished after their shock quarterfinal defeat to Roma on April 10, the La Liga leaders are set to take on Sevilla in the cup final at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

“It’s clear that when you have suffered an important defeat you want to achieve an important triumph,” Valverde said in Friday’s news conference.

“Now we have the opportunity following that small disenchantment because this is an important title and it would be significant considering the club has won three straight Copas and it’s no easy achievement.”

Valverde believes a double-winning season is now what the club’s fans expect.

“To win at Barca is an obligation, whatever title it is, whether it’s La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa,” he said.

Even so, the knockout from Europe’s elite club competition at the hands of Europe continues to weigh heavily on Barca as they prepare to take on Sevilla.

“We were considered favourites to progress [in the Champions League] and we got halfway,” Valverde said. “That is a lesson.”

Barca are 12 points clear at the top of La Liga with five games remaining and are one win away from securing the league title, and Valverde defended his decision to rest his players in midweek’s 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo to prepare for the cup.

“With respect to La Liga, we have five match balls and we only need one,” the coach said. “We’ll try to get it as soon as possible.”

Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League against Roma.
Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League against Roma.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will return to the starting XI after beginning Wednesday’s draw at Celta Vigo on the bench. Gerard Pique and Andreas Iniesta will also return to action after being rested in midweek.

Sevilla held Barca to a 2-2 home draw in the league on March 31 and have been dangerous in big games.

Vincenzo Montella’s side defeated Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa and then ousted Manchester United from the Champions League last 16 before being eliminated 2-1 by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals.

Sevilla lost 2-0 to Barcelona in the Copa final two years ago and last won the cup in the 2009-10 campaign.

“What we have to have clear in our minds is that while playing in a final is an opportunity, we must also know that we can lose,” Valverde said. “The league draw against Sevilla is a warning for us in terms of what to expect tomorrow. There are things we must correct with respect to that game.

“Sevilla have great players that can decide a game at any given moment. It will be a tough encounter.”

Former Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic last played in the 3-0 loss at Roma but has recovered from hand surgery and will feature on Saturday.

“If we weren’t in the final, I would have liked for Sevilla to win the Cup,” Rakitic said. “But since I have been here, we have won every Cup final.

“It would be a success to finish the campaign with two titles. We can’t think about La Liga right now. We have to go step by step. We have to go and clinch the first title tomorrow. The Champions League elimination is still a thorn.”

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.