Guardiola vows to compete for Liga
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola claimed his side deserved to be closer to Real Madrid than the current ten-point gap to La Liga's leaders but vowed his team would not give up their title without a fight after last night's 5-1 thrashing of Valencia. Four goals from Lionel Messi put the third-placed visitors to the sword on a night when Barça could have scored a dozen but for the efforts of Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves.
The victory moved Barça back within ten points of Madrid, who strolled past Racing Santander 4-0 at the Bernabeu on Saturday night. Of the substantial deficit, Guardiola said on www.fcbarcelona.cat: "When one sees how we've competed throughout the year, they think we don't deserve it. It's a shame we're so far away. I sincerely believe that our play isn't representative of being ten points down, but we are, and we have to live with it.
"The distance is what it is. Let's see if we can fulfil our job," the coach stated. "We must compete well. If we don't this [season] will be very long for us. We have to try to make sure that these three remaining months in the league aren't drawn out and we must try to compete the best we can.
"We have to go to the Vicente Calderon [to face Atletico Madrid on Sunday night] and play a good game. Let's see if we can get any closer to [Real Madrid]. We'll start preparing for the game on Wednesday. It'll be a good test to see if we want the title."
Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference that he had still not decided whether to remain at the Nou Camp helm beyond this season, and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta reiterated the club's stance that the 41-year-old can take all the time he needs before making a decision on his future. The former Barça goalkeeper said: "Pep knows that he has the complete confidence of the club - the same as when he first started training here.
"We aren't giving him any deadlines. He has all of our confidence. If he needs time, he'll have it. Each year he has signed a new contract and he's always needed time to feel good about it. His way of working isn't a problem for us. The club is at peace [with the process]."
Los Che took a surprise lead last night through Pablo Piatti in the ninth minute, but Barca's response was composed and clinical as they tore the visiting defence to shreds, producing chance after chance as Messi scored twice before half-time, then twice more in the final 15 minutes, and then helped set up Xavi for a fifth in stoppage time. Xavi had been introduced as an 86th-minute replacement for Andres Iniesta and Guardiola was clearly glad to have the 32-year-old back after a calf injury.
Asked what his team would look like without Xavi, he said: "Without Xavi this would be different. Not only because of what that implies on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. He's a lad that goes out to train ten minutes before training is scheduled, he guides the players that come in, he likes to work... he's a one-of-a-kind player, not repeatable."
Meanwhile, Guardiola called for the Copa del Rey final to be played at Valencia's Mestalla home rather than at the Bernabeu. Real Madrid have expressed their concerns over hosting the May showpiece between Barça and Athletic Bilbao, and Guardiola will not take his team to a stadium where they are not wanted.
"I'd like to go where we are welcome and I'd rather not go to a place where they don't want us to dignify a competition like the Copa del Rey," he said. "In the end there aren't any problems. We're thankful to Valencia for receiving us. We never want to make anyone uncomfortable. If they don't want us, we won't go. It's clear that we won't play in a place where we aren't welcome."