GValverde – roup winners Barcelona will still take Sporting seriously

BARCELONA — Ernesto Valverde says Barcelona will take their responsibility to beat Sporting Lisbon seriously despite already guaranteeing top spot in their Champions League group.

Sporting need to win at Camp Nou on Tuesday and hope that Juventus fail to beat Olympiakos away from home in order to join Barca in the round-of-16.

Barca will not make things easy for their Portuguese visitors, with Valverde stressing that his players are committed to getting a result to extend their 21-game unbeaten run.

“We’re not playing for anything in theory as we are top of the group, but we know our opponent has a lot to play for and the difficulties they will pose us,” Valverde told a news conference on Monday.

“The Champions League is a tournament we really like and we have a responsibility to try and win the game for our fans and to respect [the competition].

“This competition has given us a lot and it is important for us. We want to win and to calibrate the good form we’re in. We want to keep that run going.” Valverde confirmed he will make some changes for the game with Samuel Umtiti out for eight weeks and Javier Mascherano still sidelined — while Barcelona have been left with just Thomas Vermaelen and Gerard Pique as their only fit central defenders.

Valverde said Sergio Busquets or Lucas Digne could fill in at the back if required, but suggested it may be better for Pique and Vermaelen to work on their partnership ahead of Sunday’s tricky La Liga game at Villarreal.

“It’s true, there’s an important game on Sunday but we have five days to prepare for it,” he responded when asked if Pique or Vermaelen were in line for a break. “Sometimes the best way to compete is to keep on competing.”

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