Barcelona’s top scorer Luis Suarez admitted the European champions are feeling the effects of their hectic schedule across six competitions this season ahead of their return to Champions League action against Arsenal on Tuesday.
Suarez netted his 41st goal of the season as Barca opened up a nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 win at Las Palmas on Saturday.
Victory was Barca’s eighth straight in La Liga, part of a 32-game unbeaten run in all competitions stretching back to October.
However, the visibly jaded European champions had to withstand a late onslaught from relegation threatened Las Palmas to protect Neymar’s first-half winner.
“To win titles you have to suffer and we’ve now had a couple of games away from home where we have struggled,” Suarez told Canal Plus.
“It is not an excuse, but we know we have played a lot of games in the last month and a half. Players always want to play as many games as possible and have that rhythm.”
Despite Barca’s pending trip to the Emirates Stadium, coach Luis Enrique rested only Gerard Pique, while Sergio Busquets was also suspended.
And after 17 games in the last two months, including a trip to Japan for the Club World Cup, the coach admitted he can ask little more from his squad.
“When you have to play every two or three days, the only thing I can ask is that they compete and that is what we did,” he said.
“We can be more or less precise, have more control, but I am happy with what I saw.
“It is another round of games when we have played first and extended the advantage. Now we have to wait and see what the others do.”
Atletico face a tough test if they are to keep pace with Barca when fourth-placed Villarreal visit the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid — who are now 10 points adrift of Barca in third — will have to do without both Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale for the tricky trip to Malaga.
“At the very least we will maintain the difference with those that are chasing us,” said Barca defender Javier Mascherano.
“We are another game closer to the objective, but (the lead) is not definitive yet.”
Mascherano was moved from defence into midfield in the final stages as Luis Enrique introduced an extra defender to try to protect Barca’s lead.
And the Argentine believes the champions had themselves to blame for such a tight finish after missing chances to kill the game off before half-time.
“Perhaps we could have killed the game earlier. We didn’t manage it and then it is normal with such a tight result that we suffered towards the end.” – Agence France-Presse