BARCELONA - Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and defender Gerard Pique have played down reports of a rift, with both saying the centre back was left out of the Spanish and European champions' last two matches for purely sporting reasons.
Spain international Pique was an unused substitute in the Champions League semi-final first leg defeat at Chelsea last week and Saturday's reverse in the La Liga 'Clasico' at home to Real Madrid, prompting further speculation his relationship with Guardiola had broken down.
Barca host Chelsea in Tuesday's return leg at the Nou Camp and Pique said he was focusing on working hard to win back his place in the starting 11.
"This is a new situation for me because I am used to playing and I haven't had a chance in the last couple of matches," Pique told a news conference on Monday.
"But it's a technical decision for the manager and he chooses who plays and you have to respect that," added the former Manchester United player.
"Every year there are new players and he chooses the team he thinks most capable of winning.
"I take each match at a time and train hard and try to show the coach I deserve to be in the team."
Pique has been a key player for Guardiola since the former Barca and Spain midfielder took charge in 2008, helping the club to 13 trophies including three successive Spanish league crowns and two continental titles.
Spanish media reports have suggested Guardiola does not approve of the high-profile lifestyle Pique leads with his pop-star girlfriend Shakira and even that the coach has asked the club to sell the player as a condition for extending his own contract beyond the end of this season.
Guardiola said it was not his job to control what players did away from the pitch and that Pique's lifestyle was a fundamental part of his character.
"Gerard has a very full life as a person and I am not going to change it," he told a separate news conference.
"Some players only have football and he has football and many other things and that's very important," he added.
"He is forced to live the way he does because that's his character. I love him as he is."
Pique, who came through Barca's youth ranks with Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas before moving to United, said he and Guardiola were part of an important era for Barca and he had a "very, very good" relationship with his coach.
"We talk much more than you might think and our daily contact and our daily discussions are very positive," he said.
"We don't just talk about football, we talk about everything. He is always tough on me but I like that."