Valencia coach expects protracted Champions League fight

Reuters , Wednesday 8 Apr 2015

The battle between Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla for a lucrative Champions League berth will go down to the wire, Valencia coach Nuno predicted on Wednesday as his side prepare for Thursday's La Liga match at Athletic Bilbao.

Leaders Barcelona and second-placed Real Madrid look destined to finish in the top two places, making it likely Atletico, Valencia and Sevilla will fight it out for Spain's third automatic spot in Europe's elite club competition, as well as fourth, which carries a place in Champions League qualifying.

Champions Atletico are currently in third on 65 points with eight games left, four points ahead of Valencia and Sevilla, with Nuno's side having played one game fewer and holding on to fourth due to a better head-to-head record over the Andalusians.

Barca and Real play later on Wednesday, with Barca on 71 points and Real on 67.

"This season more than 70 points are going to be needed to finish in the top four," Nuno told a news conference previewing the match at Bilbao's San Mames stadium.

"We are three teams who are fighting for that (Champions League) place and it is going to be a tough battle," added the Portuguese, who has had a successful first season after taking over from the sacked Juan Antonio Pizzi.

"We have to do our job, keep playing the same way because we know that it will be a fight to the finish for a difficult goal. We are motivated, we are on track and working well."

After missing out on a place in Europe last season, Valencia were taken over by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim and hopes are high his investment will help the club regain their status as genuine challengers for silverware in Spain and Europe.

Valencia last won La Liga under Rafa Benitez in 2004 and were losing finalists in the Champions League in 2000 (Real Madrid) and 2001 (Bayern Munich).

Their chances of victory in Bilbao have been hit by an injury to fullback Jose Luis Gaya, whose performances this term have reportedly attracted interest from big-spending Real.

Nuno said Gaya had a muscle strain and would be sidelined for up to two weeks.

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