Ernesto Valverde has admitted that he has prepared for Barcelona’s meeting with Atletico Madrid as though it’s a major final.
The Catalan giants have seen their strong grip on the title relinquish slightly over the past month, having drawn three of their last five in the Spanish top flight.
To make matters worse for Barca, who were held 1-1 by Las Palmas on Thursday evening, they welcome closest challengers Atletico at Camp Nou on Sunday.
Valverde acknowledges the importance of the 90 minutes, with the 2014 champions just five points worse off.
“It’s an important game, but there is still a long way to go,” he told reporters at his pre-match presser. “The points are important for what they could mean and also to stop the gap being cut even more.
“Our advantage is down to just five points after dropping two the other day, so now the points are worth even more and the prize is a juicy one. If we win, we go eight points clear and that’s the intention. Winning would be an important step forward.
“But there’s still a long way to go to decide the league, so I don’t consider it a final. But we will prepare for it as if it’s our last game, as if it’s a final. That’s the only way to prepare for games against Atletico.”
Barca’s lead over Atletico at the top of La Liga stood at 11 points heading into February.