Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has warned his LaLiga champions-elect cannot be complacent when they take on Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final in Madrid.
The Catalans have all-but secured another league title, boasting a 12-point lead over Atletico Madrid with five matches left, and are firm favourites to pick up a fourth successive Copa crown on Saturday night as well.
Opponents Sevilla head into the final on the back of a seven-match winless streak, but in the last five weeks they have managed to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and held Bayern Munich to a draw at the Allianz Arena.
They also came within a whisker of defeating Barca last month, losing a two-goal lead in the final minutes to draw 2-2, and Valvede is not about to underestimate the Andalusian side at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“There was a similar situation against Roma, where Barca were very much the favourites and people were already perhaps thinking about the next stage and it didn’t happen,” said Valverde, referring to his side’s shock Champions League quarter-final exit when they were knocked out despite winning the first leg 4-1.
“The important thing is to think you could lose the match – if you go into the game thinking only that you can win it, that is when you are in trouble.
“Our LaLiga game (on March 31) was a warning because Sevilla were ahead for much of that game, Barca just managed to sneak two late goals,” Valverde added at a press conference.
“It shows what a very good team they are and perhaps their league position (seventh) is because they have been concentrating on playing in the Champions League and the cup as well, which has possibly taken its toll.”
Midfielder Ivan Rakitic has been given the all-clear to resume training after surgery on a broken finger.
The 30-year-old suffered the injury during the Champions League’s defeat in Rome, and was forced to sit out the last two LaLiga fixtures.
The Croatian, who joined Barca from Sevilla in the summer of 2014, admitted he was relieved to be able to make a swift return to action.
“I always want to play – the first thing I asked the doctors was when I can play again. Now I’m back, I want to do a good job,” he said at a press conference, broadcast on the club’s official website.
“Tomorrow it is time to grit my teeth and go into the game – if I had to break another finger to win the cup, I would do it.”
Sevilla coach Vincenzo Montella must decide whether Wissam Ben Yedder and Luis Muriel should lead the attack as they look to go one better than in the 2016 final, when they lost to Barca after extra time.
Midfielder Ever Banega was part of the Sevilla side on that day – the Argentinian one of three players to be sent off – but he is optimistic of a happier night on Saturday.
“If we are intense on all fronts and focused at every minute, we can definitely do it,” Banega said on the Sevilla club website.
“It is 90 minutes of work, we have to see where we can play, where they might slip up.
“You always have to go in with respect, with humility, but I think the team is ready to have a great match.”
He added: “This team is mentally prepared for this game. It’s clear that we don’t come into the game as we’d want to, but anything can happen in a game and we’re going to try and make it happen,”