Ernesto Valverde believes Lionel Messi’s brilliance trumps all forms of rivalries after he bagged a hat-trick against Real Betis.
Barcelona moved 10 points clear at the top of LaLiga Santander as they beat Real Betis 4-1 at the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Nonetheless, Messi’s third goal was a delightful finish as he chipped Pau Lopez, which led to the applause of the home fans who even chanted his name.
“Our opponents suffer because of Messi, but they also enjoy him,” Valverde explained in his post-match press conference.
— Craig (@Craig_m93) March 17, 2019
“His match tonight was extraordinary, he’s scored three goals and also made a fourth.
“The public has recognised his talent, they are enjoying seeing him in his prime and they respect him for the player he is.”
Barca’s performance really excited the former Athletic Bilbao boss despite the flurry of chances created by the host in the first half.
“We came from an intense match in the week,” he admitted via Marca.
“We pushed hard and lived dangerously, we knew they were going to press us and take the ball for long periods.
“They played in an uncontrolled way, they took risks and we were a threat every time we crossed the halfway line.”
Messi: "I do not remember the last time a rival audience applauded me… Betis fans always treat us very well, I'm very grateful for that." pic.twitter.com/KhXLpGjRap
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 17, 2019
With the Catalans, 10 points clear at the top of the table in La Liga, Spanish fans have concluded the title race is over, but Valverde is wary of complacency.
“Today was a vital match, especially after Atletico [Madrid’s]’s defeat,” he confirmed. “We’ve taken an important step, but we have to be cautious.
“It’s a league and we have to be careful because there is room for teams to catch up, we have to keep going.”