MADRID (Reuters) – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has insisted his side will “respect the competition” when they host Tottenham Hotspur in their final Champions League group stage game on Tuesday.
Barca have already qualified for the round of 16 as Group B winners, however Spurs, who sit joint second above Inter Milan on head-to-head, must better the Italian side’s result against the already-eliminated PSV Eindhoven if they are to join Barca in the knockout stage.
Valverde admits he will make changes, but that Inter can rest assured his side will remain competitive.
“I’ll make a change or two tomorrow, there’ll be players with knocks like Luis Suarez who I wasn’t planning on asking to play two games in a row to give him a rest,” Valverde told a news conference on Monday.
“You’ll see tomorrow when the lineup is announced if Lionel Messi plays, but the important thing is that whoever is selected goes out onto the pitch motivated because they’ll come up against a side playing for their future.
“We respect Inter and Spurs, but we have done our main job. We like this competition and we will go out with the idea of winning, which is what we always do.”
Valverde, who also hinted that Thomas Vermaelen and reserve goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen could be given rare outings, played down any issues with French forward Ousmane Dembele’s behaviour, after media reports emerged saying the 21-year-old arrived two hours late for training on Sunday.
“I don’t have any sort of feeling about it — we’ll deal with it internally and in the best way possible helping the player,” he said. “It’s true that when you win a derby 4-0 you hope for a nice quiet day the next day, but as I said we’re going to sort it out internally.
“He is a player who gives us a lot, but we have certain rules of behaviour that are the same for everyone. We want to help him because we know when he’s on it he is really important for us and gives us a lot.”
Tottenham, who lost 4-2 when the sides met at Wembley earlier this season, rested talisman Harry Kane in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Leicester City, a result that put Mauricio Pochettino’s side third in the Premier League.
Valverde was effusive in his praise for the England captain who was on target in the first match.
“He’s a world class player, one of those who can always make the difference. He links up well and shoots great, too. It’ll be a similar game (to the first meeting), but they’ll have a couple of players back such as Christian Eriksen and Delle Alli.”
(Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli; editing by Martyn Herman)