Barcelona's Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta admit Barcelona in slump
Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta and defender Gerard Pique have acknowledged that the players are suffering a major dip in form at just the wrong time this season following Wednesday's Champions League exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid.
Luis Enrique's men crashed out 3-2 on aggregate to their Spanish rivals after losing Wednesday's quarterfinal second leg 2-0 at the Estadio Vicente Calderon. The loss, which eliminates their chances for a second straight Treble, leaves them to focus on the La Liga and Copa del Rey.
"You never have a perfect season, teams always have a little dip and this is our one at the moment," Pique told reporters. "We just want it to be as short as possible because we have La Liga and Copa del Rey coming up.
"I don't think any of us were really at our best out there today. We tried to create chances but we weren't able to get anything going. It wasn't to be."
Since the international break, Barcelona have struggled. Against Villarreal, they missed out on the chance to go 11 points clear at the top of the Primera Division as they squandered a two-goal advantage in a 2-2 draw.
That loss was followed by defeats to Real Madrid and Real Sociedad, which saw their La Liga lead shrink to three points. They were outplayed in the first half against Atletico last week coming into Wednesday's loss.
"I think the team aren't in the best form of the season, but we have to pick ourselves up," Pique said. "We all try to do our best in every game. We have to win the two competitions we are still involved in."
Veteran midfielder Iniesta, meanwhile, said the Champions League exit left the players questioning themselves.
"Difficult times like this always generate doubts but we have to turn the page and focus on what we have left," he said after the Catalan side missed out on the Champions League semifinals for just the third time in 11 years.
The 31-year-old added: "We're not in very positive form. We have to find strength from somewhere because what we still have to play for is very nice too."
With Barca needing a goal to send it to extra time, they were denied a late penalty after a Gabi handball was judged to have been outside the area.
Iniesta, however, said the play was no excuse for losing.
"It's not a question of whether the referee was right or wrong. That would solve nothing," he said. "It is difficult to take in because we're out of such a nice tournament."
The club turned the page on the loss on Thursday morning, with training photos stressing preparation for Sunday's match against Valencia.
"We are not going to feel sorry for ourselves. It's happened and now we have to look ahead. We have to lift ourselves up, focus hard on the league and get ready for the cup final," Javier Mascherano said.
The club issued the following statement saying they were looking forward to Sunday's challenge.
"After suffering a disappointing exit from the Champions League just 12 hours earlier, the FC Barcelona players were back in training on Thursday morning.
"The squad are looking to put the 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid behind them and refocus their attention on the league.
"Sunday sees Luis Enrique's side host Valencia for Week 33 of La Liga and Thursday's training session at Ciutat Esportiva was the first with Los Che in mind.
"All available first-team players took part in the session while those who played in last night's game carried out a light recovery workout."