Barcelona, Spain | AFP | Ivan Rakitic has said Lionel Messi’s desire to win the Champions League is proving an inspiration for Barcelona ahead of their Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool on Wednesday.
At the start of the season, Messi stood on his home pitch and pledged to bring “that beautiful cup back to Camp Nou” after three consecutive years of Barca crashing out in the quarter-finals.
They will host Liverpool this week, four days after celebrating winning La Liga on Saturday, and with a Copa del Rey final to come next month against Valencia. It means a treble is in their sights.
“Whenever our captain says something the rest of us follow,” said Rakitic at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Leo has been a La Liga champion 10 times in 15 years and of course, after seeing him lift the cup (on Saturday) with such happiness, that motivates everyone.
“If Leo is happy to win every title, it makes us even more eager too. We know we’re Barca, we have to give everything and following the best player in history gives us more confidence to do that.”
A domestic double last season could not make up for failure in Europe, after a 3-0 defeat by Roma ensured Barcelona were left watching Real Madrid triumph again.
“We want to be in the final but we have to understand the last few years weren’t the best for us,” Rakitic said. “We have to learn from that.”
The pressure is particularly intense for Messi, whose four Champions League titles include only one in the last seven seasons and still fewer than the five of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Asked if Messi has to win the Champions League this year, coach Ernesto Valverde said: “Nobody has to do anything. We embrace the challenge to win but there is no obligation. Every team that starts in September wants to play in games like this.”
Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp has caused a stir by dismissing the idea his players could be intimidated at Camp Nou, which he described as “just a stadium”.
Rakitic believes Barcelona’s home advantage is significant. “I understand he wanted to take a bit of pressure off his players, he wants them to see it as another stadium. All I can say is playing at Camp Nou is a different thing, something special and you have to respect that.”
Valverde added: “Our fans can be decisive. We feel it, our rivals have felt it and we hope it will be the same tomorrow.”
Liverpool have lost only once in the Premier League this term and are still fighting with Manchester City to win the title.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino already boast 68 goals this season between them.
“We need to stop them running at our defence,” Rakitic said. “We are going there to score but we mustn’t lose our heads.”
“We know how valuable a clean sheet is but our aim is to win,” said Valverde.
“We know in these ties one good game is not enough, you need to play two great games. If you switch off for five minutes against Liverpool, they can finish you off.”