Barcelona hoping to banish Champions League nightmare with domestic double
Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is eyeing a domestic double to finish the season on a high following the disappointment of their Champions League exit earlier this month.
The Catalan giants’ hopes of a treble were dashed when they squandered a three-goal lead against Liverpool, who turned in a fantastic performance at Anfield to triumph 4-3 on aggregate in their semi-final.
Messi admitted Barca’s horror-show on Merseyside is still hanging over them, as evidenced by a 2-2 draw at Eibar on the final day of the LaLiga season.
Yet, having retained their league crown, Messi knows Barca must shake off any lingering European hangover when they take on Valencia in the Copa del Rey final at Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarin on Saturday night.
The Argentinian forward said in quotes on his club’s website: “We are still getting over the setback at Liverpool. It was a big blow. It was difficult to pick ourselves up as you could see in the following game.
“It has been a spectacular year in which we have won the league and we are in the final of the Copa del Rey. We have had a great season with the exception of the game at Liverpool.
“That game has spoilt a little the year we have had. I just want to win the final and end the season with another trophy.
“We are all aware that it is a final and it’s another trophy to win. We have to end the season well, celebrating another title if we can.”
Messi bagged a brace against Eibar last weekend to take his tally to 50 goals for the season in all competitions.
He remains the heartbeat of Barcelona and insists he has no plans on leaving the club he first joined as a 13-year-old in 2001.
The 31-year-old said: “I want to keep competing at Barca and I have never thought about leaving the club. Nothing makes me think about not competing here.”
While Ernesto Valverde has been successful at domestic level, Barca’s struggles in Europe have brought the head coach’s future into focus.
Messi added: “I would like Valverde to continue. Last season we did the double and this season we can do it again.”
Barca, who are looking to win the Copa del Rey for a fifth successive year, will be without Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan had surgery on his knee, while goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is also sidelined.
Philippe Coutinho played a full part in Thursday’s training although fellow midfielder Arthur and forward Ousmane Dembele are doubts.
Because of their injury problems and the unpredictable nature of finals, Valencia head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral is in optimistic mood against a side that won the league title by 11 points.
He said in quotes on his club’s website: “It is an ideal moment because it is a final. We are going to try to win against Barca and put an extraordinary team in difficulties.
“We are excited, motivated and go there with the courage to try to win the final and celebrate it with our fans.
“We’ve reached a first final in 11 years, a first Europa League semi-final in five years, and qualified for the Champions League for the second consecutive year. We will try to cap a very successful season with a trophy.”
The teams drew their two previous meetings this season – though Barca battled back from a two-goal deficit for a 2-2 stalemate at the Nou Camp in February.
Marcelino added: “If we score first, then we will try to score again to have a greater advantage, even if that isn’t definitive. The capacity of Barca in attack is huge and will force us to be almost perfect in defence over the 90 minutes.”