Valverde may risk unbeaten run against Celta with cup final looming
By Rik Sharma
MADRID, April 16 (Reuters) - Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona set a La Liga record by going 39 games unbeaten on Saturday as they beat Valencia, but the coach may risk losing the chance to extend it on Tuesday when his team face Celta Vigo away with other commitments looming.
Barcelona play Sevilla next Saturday in the King's Cup final in Madrid and, having played a full-strength team against Valencia, Valverde must decide if he rests key players against Celta.
The coach has not rotated much, with key players selected in all the big games if fit, perhaps contributing to their Champions League quarter-final downfall in Rome, where they lost a three goal first leg lead to be eliminated on away goals by AS Roma.
Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique have been carrying knocks, while Sergio Busquets was rushed back from a fractured toe. Ivan Rakitic is hoping to return against former side Sevilla after fracturing a finger.
Barcelona are 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid in the league with six games remaining and the temptation for many coaches would be to play fringe players against Celta to give the big names a break for the cup final.
However, Valverde said the crushing 3-0 defeat by Roma led to him picking a strong team to surpass Real Sociedad's record of 38 games unbeaten, set in 1980, against Valencia.
"It was vital that we picked ourselves up after a difficult week. As for the records, it's normal that these players keep on breaking records," said Valverde.
"But it was a fundamental win in many senses. I am happy first of all with the three points. It was 10 points needed to win the league, now it's seven with just 18 to play for.
"I'm also happy because of the week we've had. The atmosphere around the club this week has been a little gloomy and we needed to put the brakes on that and stand up and be counted."
To maintain morale, Valverde might pick a strong side against Celta, where Barcelona have suffered defeats in the past two seasons, conceding four goals on both occasions.
The coach said his team cannot hide and must fight to win the double.
"Are you going to disappear into a shell for three months?" added Valverde.
"No, you get up and go again. We want to win the league and the cup, which is a big challenge for us. That's what we have ahead of us." (Reporting by Rik Sharma Editing by Christian Radnedge)