DAMAGE limitation, and a fifth consecutive Copa del Rey, will be the prize if Barcelona beat Valencia today as their rejuvenated opponents eye a final flourish to their remarkable comeback season.
Victory for Barca would only slightly alleviate the disappointment of failing in the Champions League but another defeat, less than three weeks after the collapse at Anfield, would plunge the club back into crisis.
For Valencia, the possibilities are more positive, given a loss in Seville is expected, while a win would turn a decent campaign into a sensational one.
The numbers favour Barcelona. Twenty-six points separate the two sides in the table, with Barca scoring more goals than Valencia.
Valencia’s captain Dani Parejo finished their top scorer on nine goals, the same number Lionel Messi had hit before the middle of November.
And Valencia have beaten Barcelona only once in 14 attempts, without a success in any of their last eight meetings. But the records ignore trajectory and momentum. Barca looks like a side still hurting, eager to end the season and begin recovering over the summer. Valencia are flying high, fresh from a late surge that saw them snatch fourth place on Saturday.
After beating Real Valladolid, Valencia’s players celebrated like they had won a trophy.
“It wasn’t easy to turn it around,” said coach Marcelino. “But we did it.”
A day later, Barcelona ended with a 2-2 draw away at Eibar.
“We weren’t playing for anything and it showed,” said Ernesto Valverde. “In Seville, we will be completely different.”
Barcelona are depleted. Luis Suarez and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are out with knee injuries. Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Arthur Melo are all struggling. Nelson Semedo and Kevin Prince-Boateng might not have started, but they are unlikely to make it either.
When the club’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu was asked for his reaction to winning La Liga last month, with three games to spare, he said: “We want to win the treble.” – AFP