Having extended their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points, Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde was full of praise for his side who overcame second place Atletico Madrid 1-0.
Lionel Messi stole the show as his free-kick took this season’s unbeaten streak to 27 and closed any murmurings of a distant fall from grace.
In a match where the title race could have been blown open, Valverde’s men put in a performance to remember and this was recognised by their coach.
When asked after the game what the win does for the title race, Valverde replied:
“It was a very important match in that sense.
“Everything has followed the script.
“It isn’t the same to be eight [points clear], than two. It isn’t definitive, obviously, but we have taken a step. We’ll see what the future holds.”
Barcelona dictated the game from start to finish and could have been further in front had it not been for goalkeeper Jan Oblak and the offside flag ruling Luis Suarez’s strike out.
Although Atletico Madrid striker Kevin Gameiro also had a goal ruled out due to the assisting Diego Costa being flagged offside, Barcelona was too good.
Valverde had a special mention for the team’s mentality and spirit.
“(I’m) proud, above all, of how we have competed,” he said. “In matches of this kind, we have responded with certain guarantees and today has been like that.
“It was hard to get [the win] because they have a great defence.”
Having played against Las Palmas on Thursday and only returning to their Catalan home Friday, Valverde was pleased with the team’s will to keep going.
“Little by little we have been moving forward,” Valverde explained. “We knew that, as the game went on, it would become more difficult because of the week we have had.”
Atletico Madrid only managed one shot on target for the whole 90 minutes, a statistic Valverde feels could have been a lot worse.
“They haven’t had clear chances,” the coach analysed. “But you’re uneasy because they have great strikers. We suffered because, to beat Atletico, you have to suffer.”
The Spaniard will now prepare his team for bottom place Malaga as they look to consolidate this win and maintain the deficit.