By 90Min
January 22, 2018

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde has insisted he and his side will not take their lead in La Liga for granted, despite opening up an 11-point gap over second-place on Sunday evening with a 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis at the Estadio Benito Villamarin. 

Following a respectful first-half from both free-scoring outfits, which saw little created at either end of the pitch, Blaugrana's ruthlessness in front of goal, via Ivan Rakitic, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, during a 10-minute capitulation from the hosts was enough to forge an insurmountable lead. 

The visitors then rounded things off in style as the tie came to an end, with the South American attacking pair grabbing another goal apiece in the final 10 minutes to claim all three points in style.

However, despite the rather dominant scoreline, Betis were arguably the stronger team in spells, with their high press, particularly in the first-half, troubling for Valverde's men.

But, the Catalonians' persistence and patience made the victory all the more sweeter for the 53-year-old head coach, who was keen to single out Messi in particular for praise. 

"You're always satisfied when you win the game", the Spaniard told his post-match press conference, as quoted by SPORT

"It was a tough one tonight. Betis took risks and pressed high. It was tough because they went man for man all over the pitch. 

"We struggled in the early stages because they changed their way of playing, with three at the back. As the game progressed, we got better. We persevered, they took risks and we punished them. Patience has given us the result.

"You try to order yourself from the point of view of the pressure. When it came to bringing the ball out they forced us to go long and were creating superiority.

"We played well and Messi was incredible. We knew that we had to press in the same way [as Betis] and to take risks. We dominated and we scored five goals."

But despite now opening up an 11-point gap over Atletico Madrid, due to the capital side failing to get past Girona earlier in the weekend, Valverde has called for focus from his side, who take on Espanyol next in Copa del Rey following a 1-0 defeat in the first-leg, and has remained  adamant the title chase is not over yet. 

"The Champions League and the Copa del Rey are competitions which excite us, but we won't take the distance [in La Liga] for granted", he said. 

"We have to continue as we are, keep going. Now we have to prepare for the Copa game on Thursday and try to turn the tie around.

"La Liga is not boring for us. We will keep on trying to win games without taking our position for granted. 

"There are still 18 games left, which is a lot. But every game we win will be another big step [towards the title]." 

There has been speculation that record-signing Philippe Coutinho could well be involved in Valverde's matchday squad as Espanyol visit the Camp Nou in midweek, with some believing this could bring an end to Rakitic's ever-present stature in his starting XI. 

However, despite this, the 53-year-old was quick to point out how highly he thinks of the Swiss-born Croatia international after the 29-year-old opened the scoring on Sunday evening. 

"Rakitic is a vital player for us, for what he adds to the team and the balance he provides is priceless", he added. "He's having a superb season."

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