No complacency from Pique

Central defender Gerard Pique says neither he nor any of his Barcelona team-mates are taking anything for granted as they go in search of a treble this season.

Barca moved ten points clear at the top of La Liga thanks to a 4-1 victory at Real Betis on Sunday, while they are also through to the final of the Copa del Rey, where they will face Valencia.

And the Catalan giants are still very much involved in the Champions League, have progressed to the quarter-finals, where they have been drawn to face Manchester United.

However, Pique is adamant that complacency will not be allowed to creep in during the final couple of months of what could turn out to be a famous campaign.

He told Marca: "We know there is a still a long way to go in every competition. We have to take things one match a time and not get carried away, despite a lot of people now becoming very excited.

"We are in a very strong position in La Liga and we are through to the Copa del Rey final, while we know how difficult the Champions League is at the quarter-final stage."

Barcelona are currently priced at 7/2 to win the Champions League this season, while they are 7/4 to reach the final, which will be played in the Metropolitano in Madrid.

Meanwhile, the Blaugrana are waiting to discover the extent of the ankle injury sustained by the in-form striker Luis Suarez during the closing stages of the win over Betis.

The 32-year-old Uruguay international had to be replaced by Philippe Coutinho in the final minute of normal time, with Suarez having scored five goals in his last six games in all competitions.

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Jose: Zidane ‘perfect’ for Real

Jose Mourinho says Zinedine Zidane's return to Real Madrid is 'perfect' for the club and will give the Frenchman a chance to prove himself.

Mourinho meanwhile says he was not in the race to return to the Bernabeu himself, despite intense speculation before Zidane's appointment.

Zidane, who won three Champions League trophies and a Liga title in his two-and-a-half-year spell at the Bernabeu previously, is the right man for the job according to Mourinho.

"It seems perfect to me. With the fantastic things he has done in the last years – it seems perfect," he said.

"For Madrid it is perfect, and for him it is a great opportunity to demonstrate how good he is. And now with a new project, it is fantastic."

Real's hopes of a fourth successive Champions League crown were crushed by Ajax recently, the Eredivisie side running out convincing winners of their last-16 tie.

With Madrid currently third in La Liga and 12 points behind Barcelona, Santiago Solari was dismissed from his post.

He had only taken over at the end of October when former Spain boss Julen Lopetegui was shown the door a matter of months after being appointed by Real Madrid.

Mourinho has denied that he wanted to return to the club.

Asked if he was disappointed, Mourinho replied: "I never said I wanted it or not. I just told you Zidane to Madrid is perfect."

Real Madrid are 1/5 to beat Celta Vigo in the Bernabeu on Saturday. The visitors are 12/1 while the draw can be backed at 6/1.

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Giggs gives Bale backing

Ryan Giggs says that Gareth Bale remains crucial to Welsh hopes as they prepare to begin their Euro 2020 qualification campaign.

The Real Madrid player had a starring role as Wales surpassed expectations in reaching the sem-finals of the last European Championships in 2016.

However, he has had problems with his club side this season with Real appointing Zinedine Zidane for his second spell as manager.

Bale's long-term future in Spain remains uncertain but, with international football set to resume later this month, the Welsh manager expects Bale to perform as he always has for his country.

Giggs said: "I expect Gareth to turn up and do what he always does, give everyone a lift. When he plays for Wales he gives 100% and more often than not he performs well.

"You have to take the rough with the smooth. He always turns up and is always brilliant around the camp."

Giggs hopes that Bale will be fully fit for the internationals despite hurting his ankle in Real's Champions League defeat to Ajax and missing their La Liga game at Valladolid on Sunday.

Giggs named a 31-man squad, including Bale, for a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago on 20th March which is closely followed by the first game of Wales' Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, at home to Slovakia.

As well as Slovakia, Wales will also face Hungary, Azerbaijan and World Cup finalists Croatia in Group E with the top two qualifying for Euro 2020 which will, for the first time, be staged throughout Europe rather than having a host country.

The semi-finals and final will be played at Wembley Stadium.

Wales are 7/2 to qualify from Group E with Croatia 2/5 and Slovakia 9/1.

James Chester and Andy King are out of the Welsh squad due to injury while Rotherham's Will Vaulks is included for the first time.

Wales are 66/1 to win Euro 2020 with England 7/1 and France 4/1.

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Zidane back in charge of Real

Real Madrid have re-appointed Zinedine Zidane as their head coach, ten months after he brought an end to his first spell in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 46-year-old Frenchman was previously at the helm for Los Blancos between January 2016 and the summer of 2018.

Zidane returns in place of Santiago Solari, who took over at the end of October when former Spain boss Julen Lopetegui was shown the door a matter of months after being appointed by Real.

The World Cup winner has agreed a contract running until the summer of 2022, having previously led Real to three consecutive Champions League titles, as well as success in La Liga, the Spanish Super Cup, the Club World Cup and the European Super Cup.

His first task is to try and get Real back on track following recent exits from both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, while Los Merengues currently lie down in third place in La Liga, some 12 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.

Zidane had earlier spent five seasons at the Bernabeu as a player, helping the club to win La Liga, the Spanish Super Cup, the European Super Cup, the Intercontinental Cup and the Champions League.

The playmaker netted the winning goal in the Champions League final of 2003, as Real defeated Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at Hampden Park in Glasgow.

His first game back in charge of Real comes on Saturday, when Celta Vigo are the visitors to the Spanish capital.

Los Blancos are 2/9 to win the game and are 13/2 to do so by a 2-0 scoreline, with a 1-1 draw available at 11/1.

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Pique issues Coutinho backing

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has offered his backing to team-mate Philippe Coutinho after he was jeered by home supporters on Saturday.

The Brazil international, who joined the Blaugrana for £142m from Liverpool, has been linked with a return to the Premier League after struggling for form at Barca.

Jeers were heard as Coutinho was subbed with 10 minutes remaining of Barca's 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

Team-mate Pique says the supporters are entitled to show their emotions but the defender is adamant Coutinho has the full support of the players in the dressing room.

"Philippe is having a good season," Pique told Marca. "Obviously his cost was very high so that means there are more expectations of his performance level. It is what it is.

"We need him at his best for the end of the season and I'm sure he will be."

The three points on Saturday means Barca are seven points clear at the top of the La Liga table, with Atletico Madrid currently second ahead of city rivals Real Madrid.

Barca are 4/1 to win the Champions League this season, while Atletico are 15/2 to claim the European title this term.

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Valverde takes nothing for granted

Barcelona have been told by head coach Ernesto Valverde not to think the Spanish title race is over after they beat Real Madrid 1-0 to move ten points clear at the top of the table.

That advantage can be cut to seven points if Atletico Madrid win at Real Sociedad on Sunday and Valverde sees no reason to get carried away with a second El Clasico success in a matter of days.

He told the Spanish media: "We still have a whole world in front of us. We know Madrid can win a lot of consecutive games, Atletico Madrid are still there too.

"Until (the title is) mathematically secure, we will keep battling. You have to keep fighting, if you think about it, you start losing.

"Madrid are there, there are many days left and we have to foresee that Madrid will recover and will cut our lead.

"You always look at second place and also Atletico are a very solid team – there is a lot of the league left."

Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal of the game in the Bernabeu on Saturday, with Barca having won 3-0 in Madrid on Wednesday to secure a 4-1 aggregate victory in the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey.

Barcelona can be backed at 1/5 to win the Copa del Rey by seeing off Valencia in the final, while the Catalans are 5/1 to triumph in the Champions League.

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Messi eyes famous treble

Lionel Messi says Barcelona will continue to attempt to win every competition they are involved in this season.

The Argentina international scored the 50th hat-trick of his career on Saturday as Barca won a vital match at Sevilla 4-2.

Messi insists Barca are back to their best but admits they have been inconsistent recently.

They had only won one of five games in February before Saturday's match but remain at the top of La Liga, face Real Madrid in the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final this week, and are well-placed to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League after drawing 0-0 in Lyon earlier this week.

"We were ourselves again [against Sevilla] and we produced a great performance," Messi said. "We went through a spell where, to be honest, we did not play our best football so that made it much harder for us to score.

"You have different moments over a season, and we can't always play at the highest level. But when we manage to get the play to flow, things always happen for us.

"Now we have some very difficult games coming up and everything will get harder as the season draws to a close. We won't give up in any competition. We are one step from reaching the Cup final. That game is going to be very tough because it's against Madrid, in their stadium.

"But we will go out to win and believe we can. Then we will focus on the league game. We're going to try and win everything."

Barcelona are 5/1 to win the Champions League this season, while Manchester City can be backed at 11/4 and Real Madrid at 9/1.

Suarez offered Valverde backing

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde has no doubt that striker Luis Suarez will rediscover his touch in front of goal sooner rather than later.

The 32-year-old Uruguay international is without a goal in his last five games and came under the microscope in midweek as he passed up several opportunities in the goalless draw against Lyon in the Champions League.

However, Valverde says he is confident that the South American will be back among the goals in the near future, with Suarez having netted 168 goals in 231 games in all competitions for the Catalan club.

Valverde told reporters: "Suarez guarantees us chances in every game, it's difficult to do without him.

"It's curious with Luis, because he's been in the spotlight before and then he has come back and scored lots of goals. We are talking about the fifth highest scorer in the club's history.

"In the last two games he has had clear chances to score. All we need is to be patient and persevere, which is what he is doing. The players and I are very patient with him because he's a great player."

Barca are back in action on Saturday afternoon when they face a tricky trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan to take on Sevilla.

Suarez can be backed at 10/11 to score at any time in the game, with the visitors 10/11 to win the game and 15/2 to do so by a 2-1 scoreline.

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Solari insists title still possible

Real Madrid boss Santiago Solari insisted his team are still in the hunt for the La Liga title despite losing at home to Girona.

After leaders Barcelona won on Saturday and Atletico moved into second with victory, Real had the chance on Sunday to move back to second with a win of their own.

However, despite Casemiro giving the home side a first half lead Girona gave their relegation concerns a huge boost with two goals in 10 second half minutes.

They equalised from the penalty spot after a Sergio Ramos handball, converted by Cristhian Stuani and then, after Portu had hit the crossbar, he won the game with a diving header on 75 minutes.

Real's woes were increased in injury time with Ramos being sent off for two yellow cards.

Their seventh defeat of the league season means they now trail Barcelona by nine points in La Liga, a gap that Solari insists can still be breached.

He said after the game when asked if they can still win the title: "Always. We are always in it. We need to get good results as soon as possible, but we're still in three competitions.”

On the game he added: "We tried to increase our energy levels with our changes but we did not achieve it – we have a big squad and a lot of good players.

"We did not take our chances when we had them and it was really difficult for us in the first 25 minutes."

Real are still in contention in two other competitions as Solari indicated. They are in the Copa del Rey semi-finals where they are tied with Barcelona 1-1 after the first leg.

They are also in the Champions League and, having won the trophy the last three years, have a 2-1 lead over Ajax after the first leg of their round of 16 tie in this season's competition.

They are 8/15 to win the second leg with Ajax 17/4 and the draw 7/2.

Real Madrid are 9/1 to win the Champions League while they are 5/4 to win the Copa del Rey.

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Valverde reveals trophy targets

Ernesto Valverde is looking to guide Barcelona to "a lot of trophies" after extending his contract until summer 2020 with the option of a further year.

The 55-year-old enjoyed a successful first season in charge at the Camp Nou last term, having replaced Luis Enrique in summer 2017, as he helped Barca win the La Liga and Copa del Rey double.

The Catalan giants remain on course to repeat that feat as they sit six points clear at the top of La Liga and are set to go into the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg away at El Clasico rivals Real Madrid on 27th February with the tie level at 1-1.

Barcelona are also still in the Champions League with a two-legged last-16 tie against French side Lyon coming up and Valverde is delighted to end any doubts surrounding his future by putting pen-to-paper on the contract.

"I am really happy, I have the sensation that I'm experiencing a unique situation and I'm grateful that the club value what I am doing," he said, ahead of Saturday's La Liga home clash against Real Valladolid.

"They offered me the chance to continue and I had no doubts. I am delighted to extend my contract.

"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, a lot of games to win and a lot of trophies to win.

"It's comforting that the club want me to give continuity to the project. To a certain degree, that makes me take on more responsibility."

Barcelona are 1/7 to retain the La Liga title and 11/8 to defend their Copa del Rey crown this season, while they are also priced at 5/1 to win the Champions League.

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