Gerard Pique predicted there will be major twists to come in LaLiga's title race after Barcelona beat Valencia 3-2 to crank up the pressure on Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

The Barcelona defensive stalwart said there is a determination within Ronald Koeman's squad to secure a league and cup double after already securing the Copa del Rey title.

Pique believes that would be a major statement by the current set of players, but it will take a big effort from Barcelona, who must face leaders Atletico at Camp Nou this coming Saturday.

Atletico hold a two-point advantage over Barcelona going into that game, while Real Madrid are also two points back from their city rivals. Sevilla, too, are clinging to the hope of fighting their way past the big three to snatch only their second Spanish league title. Sevilla and Madrid face each other next Sunday.

"We hope to be leaders after the next match day, but even if we are leaders, I would not put my hand in the fire that whoever comes out leader will win LaLiga," Pique told Movistar Plus.

He added: "It is not in our hands, but I think that if we win the four games that remain, we have many chances to win LaLiga. It would be a shame if after the effort we made in this second half of the season we wouldn't end up fighting for LaLiga until the end."

Lionel Messi's double strike took his haul to 28 goals in LaLiga this season, and it came despite him missing a penalty when Barcelona were 1-0 behind, just as he also did in the home game against Valencia in December.

As in that first match, Messi made amends by finding the net just seconds after failing from the spot.

Whereas Barcelona could only draw 2-2 at Camp Nou, in this Mestalla clash Messi's equaliser was the cue for a flurry of goals for the Blaugrana, with Antoine Griezmann prodding them ahead. Messi curled a stunning free-kick in off the right post to make it 3-1, before Carlos Soler hit a brilliant consolation for Valencia.

Messi's second goal was the 50th direct free-kick he has scored in his Barcelona career, with 39 of those coming in LaLiga, five in the Champions League, three in the Copa del Rey, two in the UEFA Super Cup and one in the Supercopa de Espana.

The penalty miss, meanwhile, signalled the first time that Messi has missed consecutive spot-kicks for Barcelona in all competitions, after previously failing to convert against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Pique acknowledged Barcelona "had to suffer a little" after Soler's strike ramped up the pressure in the closing minutes.

Pique added: "We've shown ourselves and our fans that we want this league title. Winning the Copa was a first step, but we now want LaLiga. It would be a great message for this season and next season."

Ronald Koeman needs his whole Barcelona squad playing at their top level alongside Lionel Messi in Saturday's crucial Clasico, while he welcomed the return of Gerard Pique to his squad.

A patchy run of form from Atletico Madrid, in which the leaders in LaLiga have won only four of their past 10 top-flight matches, means Barca are only a point off top spot with Madrid just three back.

Saturday's contest, at Madrid's Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano, could now have a huge bearing on the outcome of the title race in Spain this season.

Messi is the top scorer in El Clasico for all competitions (26) and in LaLiga (18) but has not scored in his previous six encounters against Madrid, matching his longest run without a goal in the fixture.

"Hopefully Messi will be decisive for us tomorrow," Koeman told a pre-match news conference.

"We need the best Messi, but above all we need the best Barca. And obviously we need Leo to have a good game, a good attack."

Barca's squad for the trip to Madrid has been boosted by the return of veteran centre-back Pique, who has been sidelined for just over a month since spraining his knee in the 3-0 win over Sevilla that secured a comeback 3-2 aggregate win in their Copa del Rey semi-final.

The versatile Sergi Roberto is also included in the squad having been out since February with a thigh issue.

"They are two important players due to their quality and personality," Koeman added.

"They lack rhythm but they are physically well, very excited to help the team, and it is important to have almost all the players available.

"For me, every player has to be in good physical and mental condition, so they all have a chance to play. 

"Every player has to prove this, and my role will be to pick the 11 best players to start the match."

Barca have been on a sensational run in LaLiga, going unbeaten in 19 matches and winning 13 out of the past 14.

The last time these sides met, Madrid ran out 3-1 winners at Camp Nou and Los Blancos are aiming for a third straight win in this match for the first time since 1978 and a first LaLiga double since the 2007-08 campaign.

But Koeman insists the outcome of this game will not be decisive in determining the end-of-season outcome at the top of LaLiga.

"The result in principle is not decisive because there are still many games to go and it will be difficult to win every game," Koeman said.

"But it is true that the team that wins will see their morale increased.

"El Clasico is a different game from the others, there is always a lot of emotion. Barca are having a great season, with many points achieved that allows us to fight for La Liga, but Madrid is still Madrid and we have to respect them and be at our best.

"We have improved a lot from the last Clasico. Although in the last Clasico, we played well, in my opinion. 

"We were better in the first half, but we lost in the second half with the intervention of the VAR. But we have improved in effectiveness."

Barcelona produced a storming fightback to reach the Copa del Rey final thanks to a dramatic 3-0 victory over Sevilla after extra time at Camp Nou. 

The Catalan giants hit the headlines at the start of the week when president Josep Maria Bartomeu was among those arrested on Monday - he was then provisionally released under charges of unfair administration and corruption of business - as part of a police investigation into last year's 'Barcagate' scandal. 

Barca's players looked anything but affected by off-field events, however, as they dominated the majority of the second leg, Ousmane Dembele giving them a richly deserved first-half lead. 

Lucas Ocampos had a penalty saved by Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with 17 minutes to go and Gerard Pique made him pay by making it 2-2 on aggregate right at the end of stoppage time, moments after Sevilla had seen Fernando sent off. 

Martin Braithwaite put Barca in front early in extra time and Luuk de Jong - who had been substituted - was shown a red card for dissent after Sevilla were not awarded a penalty, with the hosts going through to face Athletic Bilbao or Levante in the final. 

Dembele opened the scoring in the 12th minute in a scintillating Barca start, showing excellent close control in the penalty area before drifting outside the box to find the top-right corner with a sublime right-footed finish from 20 yards out. 

The Blaugrana were causing Sevilla all sorts of problems with their slick passing and movement in a relentless first-half display, Marcos Acuna clearing a deflected shot from the brilliant Lionel Messi off the line. 

Barca were almost level when Jordi Alba's acrobatic volley rattled the crossbar and there was more drama when Ocampos' tame penalty was saved by Ter Stegen after the Sevilla player had been upended by Oscar Mingueza. 

Substitute Antoine Griezmann then produced the impact hoped for with time almost up, delivering an inviting cross for Pique to head home, this after Fernando was shown a second yellow card for upending Messi. 

Barca were in front for the first time in the tie four minutes into extra time, Braithwaite coming off the bench to nod in Alba's superb cross. 

Sevilla thought they had a second penalty for handball against Clement Lenglet but the VAR verdict ruled there was no intent, resulting in De Jong seeing red on a miserable night for the visitors.

Gerard Pique believes Barcelona have the opportunity to turn their entire season around by knocking Sevilla out of the Copa del Rey having beaten the same side in LaLiga on Saturday.

The first part of a huge double-header went Barca's way in a 2-0 away triumph as Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi scored to take Ronald Koeman's men to second.

The Blaugrana are now only two points behind league leaders Atletico Madrid, albeit having played two games more, and have their confidence renewed heading into Wednesday's home Copa semi-final second leg against Sevilla, where they must overturn a two-goal deficit.

A 2-0 defeat in the first leg earlier in February had contributed to a downbeat mood at Camp Nou, combined with a humbling Champions League defeat to Paris Saint-Germain and a modest league position.

But Barca stalwart Pique is now feeling positive, even though Pedri and the returning Ronald Araujo appeared to suffer injuries.

He explained: "There is a league [title race]. We have seen much worse things. We are not in a perfect situation, but there is confidence. We hope we can do something.

"Everything is in the head. During my time at Barca, we have had many moments of these injuries, but if the team is good in the head, it does not matter who plays. It is a matter of having team spirit.

"If we turn it around in the tie on Wednesday, the season changes completely.

"It's a matter of looking for that life that allows us to fight for titles until the end, which is what Barca are asked to do."

After the Copa first leg kickstarted a run of one win in four for Barca, they have enjoyed back-to-back victories and were good value for Saturday's success, Koeman's first against Sevilla in his coaching career.

Sevilla did not muster a single first-half attempt and finished with only four in total, while Barca had three big chances - from which Opta would expect them to score - and netted two of them.

"The last times I have come to speak [to the media] have been painful moments," Pique said. "Today I am very proud of the team. We came from hard blows and the team has risen.

"Today I think we have shown that the team is still very much alive, that it has the squad to compete and that on Wednesday we will fight."

Araujo, back having been out since prior to the February 10 trip to Sevilla, was only involved due to Pique's substitution on 67 minutes.

Pique, whose seven aerial duels contested was more than any other Barca player, was not injured, though, rather still working to recover full fitness following a three-month layoff with a knee injury.

"It is a small inconvenience," he said. "I had not played for a long time and I am playing more than expected.

"It was agreed that this would be the minute. I am very happy to continue participating."

Gerard Pique accepted it will be "difficult" for Barcelona to rein in Atletico Madrid at LaLiga's summit after Cadiz snatched a late 1-1 draw at Camp Nou on Sunday.

Atleti's surprise home defeat to Levante a day earlier had given Ronald Koeman's side the chance to move six points behind Diego Simeone's league leaders.

They appeared to be on course to do just that after Lionel Messi marked a club-record 506th league appearance with a 32nd-minute penalty.

Alex Fernandez sealed a dramatic point for the visitors in the 89th minute, though, slamming home from the spot after Clement Lenglet was ruled to have clipped Ruben Sobrino.

The result ended Barca's seven-game winning streak in LaLiga and left them with 47 points after 23 games this season – their lowest tally at this stage of the season since the 2006-07 campaign when they amassed 46 points.

While Pique acknowledged it will not be easy to challenge Atleti for the title, he insisted they will not give up.

"It hurts a lot because Atletico's defeat gave us a chance," he told the club's official TV channel.

"Losing two points is difficult to take. Every game that you do not win, your options are reduced a little. There is an important distance [between Barca and Atleti], not unassailable, but it will depend on the next games. If we get good results, we will have options.

"It's difficult, obviously. We have to try. It's a hard blow. On Wednesday, we have another test against Elche.

"We have to recover our game and feelings because, if not, we could lose more games. We need to raise our heads, improve mentally and win against Elche."

Following the visit of Elche, Barca travel to Sevilla on Saturday.

Gerard Pique is in contention to face Paris Saint-Germain after being named in the Barcelona matchday squad.

Barca host PSG at Camp Nou on Tuesday as their huge Champions League last-16 tie gets under way.

Pique has not played for almost three months since being replaced in the November 21 defeat to Atletico Madrid in LaLiga.

He suffered a sprain to his right knee and partial damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.

But the defender has been named in a 21-man squad on the morning of the game, from which head coach Ronald Koeman will pick his team.

Barca followed the announcement with an excited tweet declaring Pique "is back".

As well as Pique, forward Martin Braithwaite is included after being medically cleared.

Ronald Araujo is still out, so the potential involvement of Pique alongside Clement Lenglet at centre-back will come as a big boost to Barcelona.

While former Barca star Neymar is ruled out, PSG still boast a host of attacking talent including Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and in-form Moise Kean.

Ronald Koeman does not agree with Gerard Pique's claim that referees favour Real Madrid over other LaLiga sides.

Pique this week quoted a former referee who, according to the Barcelona defender, said 85 per cent of officials in Spain's top flight were from Madrid.

In an interview with Post United, Pique said: "How are they not going to whistle in favour of Real Madrid? Even unconsciously, how are they not going to give more for one side than the other?"

Pique added last season, when Madrid won the title, was "the most absurd refereeing experience ever".

En route to the championship in 2019-20, Zinedine Zidane's side earned a joint-high 11 penalties and conceded a joint-low two.

But Koeman disagrees with his centre-back, who reportedly could be sanctioned for his comments, insisting the league's referees are honest.

"Those are [Pique's] words. I can only comment on this year, not on previous seasons," Koeman told reporters.

"There are decisions in which we have had no luck, but I don't think they are against us. They are decisions of the referee and also VAR.

"I always think that the attitudes of the referees are honest. They give what they see and are not in favour of any team."

The numbers have changed this term as Madrid have received a joint-low 37 cards (36 yellow, one red) but only Cadiz (none) and Huesca (one) have won fewer than their two penalties.

The defending champions have also conceded a joint-high seven spot-kicks heading into this weekend.

Barca have been shown 38 cards, won five penalties and given away two.

Koeman was speaking ahead of Sunday's trip to Real Betis, which follows hot on the heels of Barca playing 120 minutes against Granada in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Victory after extra time in that match set up a double-header with Sevilla in the semi-finals, adding to an already packed schedule.

Koeman feels the calendar is "killing the players" and pleaded for help from competition organisers.

"It is difficult," he said. "The number of games that the big teams have, with three competitions, on top of the COVID situation, makes everything more difficult.

"You have to talk with the players to see how they are physically, their feelings. Sometimes you have to give someone a rest to be able to have everyone in the best condition.

"If we count tomorrow's game and Wednesday's, there are 12 games in a row, of which 11 are away from home. And that's playing at 21:00, coming home at 03:00 in the morning. It is difficult for the players to be able to play all the time. We need help.

"I hope that one day UEFA or LaLiga will think about the number of games and what this does to the players. It is not normal. The games we've had to play, the trips, the schedules, playing the Supercopa between four teams, in my opinion, is a lot.

"Each coach has his opinion about the fixture schedule that the players have to go through. I think this has to stop, it's killing the players. We will have many injuries as a result of this. It is impossible.

"Hopefully one day they will make a decision to help the players with their fitness."

Ronald Araujo says he is inspired by Gerard Pique as he bids to carve out a lasting career at Barcelona. 

The 21-year-old Uruguayan has played in 10 LaLiga games already this season after featuring in just six during his debut campaign for the Catalan giants in 2019-20. 

In those appearances he has completed eight blocks – three more than any other Barca player – made the second highest number of clearances (29) and has yet to be dribbled past by an opponent. 

His displays have earned him comparisons with club icon Pique and Araujo admits he looks to the 33-year-old, who has made 553 appearances for Barca, for inspiration. 

"His experience has always been one thing that I have looked at since I arrived and more now that I share a dressing room with him," he told Mundo Deportivo. 

"I like to look at the characteristics of each player but from Gerard I like to look at how he plays with the ball, which is something that I felt was missing from my play, and also that he is a defender who is not very fast but is always well positioned. 

"I pay attention to that a lot. Every day I try to get a little information out of him in every game and in every training session."

Araujo also praised the influence of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, adding: "Marc speaks to me a lot, how to position myself or have peace of mind to play with the ball.

"Marc is very important and I always emphasise that he is always talking to us and is very important to us. 

"When he gives us the ball he already tells us where the opponent is coming from because he is looking straight ahead and these are very important references for us."

Araujo joined from Uruguayan side Boston River in August 2018 and is already thinking about spending the next decade at a club that has made a significant impact on him.  

"I work to be able to be here for many years, it is one of my goals and something that I would like," he said. 

"I really like Barca and everything that Barca is and I want to be here for many years. If there is the possibility of being here for 10 years I would be very happy. And then the rest, one day being a captain or whatever, that will come by itself. 

"The important thing is to continue being me and doing what I do every game and every training session and helping the team because it is my way of helping us to be connected and I myself feel connected when I am talking all the time. I can concentrate and I know that I help my colleagues."

Ronald Koeman's Barca, who are 10 points adrift of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, take on Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Eder Sarabia, the assistant to Quique Setien during his Barcelona tenure, has been appointed head coach of the Gerard Pique-owned FC Andorra.

After working under Setien at LaLiga clubs Las Palmas, Real Betis and Barca, Sarabia has taken his first head coaching job with the Segunda B side.

His appointment came just hours after Nacho Castro was relieved of his duties, with Andorra sitting second in Segunda B3 and having won 2-0 against Llagostera on Sunday.

Sarabia has been backed by Pique despite being involved in reports of unrest during Setien's turbulent Barca stint, which ended last August.

His touchline manner during a Clasico against Real Madrid last March reportedly drew the ire of the Barca players, while in June he was involved in further controversy when footage purportedly showing Lionel Messi ignoring his instructions was shared on social media.

Page 3 of 3
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.