August 17, 2018 / 5:44 PM / a month ago

Soccer-Barcelona's Valverde not prioritising Champions League

BARCELONA, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde says he will not prioritise reclaiming the Champions League over retaining La Liga this season despite Lionel Messi’s pledge to do everything possible to end the team’s recent failings in Europe’s top competition.

Barca romped to the league title and lifted the Copa del Rey last season but their campaign was soured by crashing out of the Champions League to AS Roma at the quarter-final stage while Real Madrid wonn the trophy for a third consecutive year and now have 13 European Cups to Barca’s five.

New Barca captain Messi declared on Wednesday that last season’s Champions League failure was “a thorn in our sides”, adding that his side “will do everything to make sure that beautiful trophy returns to this stadium”.

Barca, however, have won the league title in each of the five seasons they lifted the Champions League trophy, which they last did in 2015, and Valverde believes the surest way of doing it again is to ensure his side are the best team in Spain.

“We prioritise everything,” the coach told a news conference on Friday ahead of Barca’s opening league game against Alaves.

“We always fight for the Champions League, we did last season and we always will, and we know the best way to win the Champions League is to win La Liga.

“That’s how it has always been. If you focus on the league you’re focused on being the best throughout the year, and that makes it easier to achieve your objectives.”

Valverde said Barca have had a more relaxed pre-season than last year, when their preparations looked to have been thrown into turmoil by the unexpected sale of Neymar to Paris St Germain.

“If I go back a year ago I remember that we had some difficulties in August and at that moment everything seemed complicated but we ended up winning the league,” he said.

“Now we have new challenges and new difficulties, because the hardest thing is to try and recharge our batteries to win again. I’ve said before that the most difficult thing is not winning, but winning again.”

The coach was also asked about La Liga’s announcement to play regular season games in the United States, potentially starting this campaign.

“At first glance the idea of playing a competitive game abroad sounds strange, but we did it with the Spanish Super Cup, and if someone had told us before it would be played in Morocco we would have thought it was strange too,” he added.

“But football crosses the usual borders of sport. We’ll see how it turns out.” (Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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