Barca boss Valverde insists title race is not over after Clasico cruise

‘We do not think about that, just to keep picking up points and moving forward’

 Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Clasico  match against Barcelona  at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Photograph: Oscar Del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Clasico match against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Photograph: Oscar Del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images

 

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde insists the title race is not over yet despite his side opening up a 14-point lead over Real Madrid with a 3-0 Clasico win at the Bernabeu on Saturday.

The Catalan giants’ closest challengers heading into the winter break are Valencia and Atletico Madrid, with Los Blancos well adrift in fourth as speculation continues to surround coach Zinedine Zidane’s future.

“The first half of the season is not yet over,” Valverde told the Spanish media, in reference to the fact that there were still two La Liga fixtures left to play after El Clasico.

“We have a gap over our rivals but we do not think about that, just to keep picking up points and moving forward.”

Zidane appeared to have got his tactics spot-on as Real had the better of the first half, with surprise inclusion Mateo Kovacic helping to nullify the Barcelona midfield.

But that was as good as it got for Madrid as Luis Suarez swept home in the 54th minute after good work from Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto in the build-up, and the task became even tougher when the visitors added a second in bizarre circumstances.

Suarez was denied by Keylor Navas and then hit the post, with Dani Carvajal denying a third Barca effort with a blatant handball before steering the ball over the line as he fell.

Rather than award a goal, referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez sent Carvajal off and awarded a penalty, which Lionel Messi confidently converted to make it 17 La Liga goals against Real.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made smart saves from Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos as Real threatened a fightback, before substitute Aleix Vidal added a third for the visitors in injury time, his shot squirming under Navas after good work on the right from Messi.

Valverde, asked about the difference between the first half and the second, simply said: “We were able to get past their first line of pressure. It was more difficult in the first half.

“This is a game in which details, certain moments, can be decisive.”

Zidane admitted the defeat “hurt” Real, adding: “This is a difficult moment, a defeat by three goals. I can say we did not deserve it, but this is football, and it is what happened today.

“We feel bad but we will not drop our hands for sure. We must rest well and return stronger than ever. Madrid never gives up, whatever happens.”

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