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May 14, 2014

Neymar set to miss La Liga decider

Ahead of their winner-takes-all clash with Atletico Madrid, Barcelona's Andres Iniesta claimed that his team would be deserving La Liga champions.

Injured defenders Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba look more likely than attacker Neymar to recover in time for Barcelona's La Liga decider against Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Neymar rues a missed chance as Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid.
Neymar looks likely to have to sit out the title decider.

• Hunter: Two worthy winners
Messi criticism misguided

Pique has been sidelined since cracking a hip during the Champions League semifinal first leg draw with Atletico on April 1. Alba and Neymar -- the only Barca player to score in any of the five meetings with Los Colchoneros so far this season -- have not played since straining a hamstring and bruising a foot during the Copa del Rey final defeat to Real Madrid last month.

The trio, all of whom are set to feature at the World Cup, have stepped up their recuperation this week ahead of the final weekend of the Spanish season. However, a Barca club statement, released after training on Wednesday, suggested the two Spain internationals were more likely than the Brazil talisman to make it back for the clash with Atletico.

"Barca continue to prepare for next Saturday's game at the Camp Nou against Atletico Madrid which will decide La Liga," the statement said.

"The new development at training was the presence of Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba on the pitch. The two players are coming into the final stage of the recovery from their respective injuries and worked on the pitch to the side of the group, with their view fixed on Saturday. For his part, Neymar did specific individual work."

After training, blaugrana midfielder Xavi Hernandez told reporters that winning the title would be celebrated as an achievement in itself, rather than as a response to recent criticism of the club's players, coach and directors in the media.

"It's not about shutting any mouths, we just must win," Xavi said. "Fans, players, staff deserve it. Anyway, it's impossible to shut everyone up.

"The day of the [2-2] Getafe draw, we saw everything as totally black. Maybe we threw in the towel too early, but football has given us an opportunity.

"This is a unique game -- it gives this generation a chance to put cherry on top of all we've done. Atletico are the best team defensively in Europe at the moment. It's important we score first in the game so they will have to come out."

A key member of that generation is long-serving goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who is set to leave when his contract ends at the end of June.

Valdes, 32, has left the Catalan capital to undergo the final stage of his recovery from a serious knee injury in Germany, and instead of saying goodbye to fans at the Camp Nou wrote an open letter, published on the club's website.

It reads: "The time has come for me to say goodbye to you all. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to say goodbye playing football, as I would have liked, but that's life at times, and this year has been a bit cruel to me in this regard.

"I've had time to look at where I am and what I've become. I can only think about the people who helped me to get where I am today. I dedicate this letter to them."

The letter namechecks the 11 youth-team coaches who oversaw his progression through the La Masia youth system, as well as past senior team managers Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova -- but not current boss Gerardo Martino -- the players with whom he has worked during his 12 years in the first team, and the fans.

The goodbyes will continue on Thursday, when departing club captain Carles Puyol is honoured at a special event at the Camp Nou.

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