PETE JENSON: Barcelona's problems continue to grow after suffering a shock 1-0 loss to Almeria... and the LaLiga leaders must now prepare to face Real Madrid THREE times in the next month, starting tonight in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg
- Barcelona are under growing pressure after a shaky performance on Sunday
- Xavi's side were dealt a shock loss to Almeria, shortly after losing to Man United
- The LaLiga leaders must now prepare to face Real Madrid three times in a month
Back in January, after a win over Real Sociedad that took Barcelona into the Spanish Cup semi-finals Xavi told reporters: ‘At this club you win a game and it buys you three days grace. If I lose my next game it will be carnage again.’
He knows better than anyone how high the bar is set and that being top after 23 games gets him no credit at all after two straight defeats against Manchester United and Almeria.
The problems are mounting up for the coach who picked up another yellow card at the weekend and will not be in his technical area in Barcelona’s next league game Valencia because of a one-match ban. By then he could have lost to Real Madrid in what would be an unthinkable third straight loss.
In the next month Barcelona face Real Madrid three times and if those games see Xavi topple out of the Copa del Rey and see the gap closed at the top the pressure will be back on the manager with the his future into next season on the line once more.
Xavi called the first half of Sunday’s loss to Almeria – who were in the bottom three when the game kicked-off – his team’s worst performance of the season. And he needed to say it before someone else did.
Barcelona were dealt a shock defeat to Almeria in a dent to their LaLiga title hopes this year
There's now growing pressure on boss Xavi after consecutive defeats for the Catalan giants
His problems aren’t just that of the next six games, three of them against Real Madrid. They play them away on Thursday in the Cup, at home in the league on March 19 and then home in the second leg of the Cup at the start of April. They also host Valencia and Elche and go away to Athletic Bilbao.
But it’s the missing three that are the problem. Pedri and Ousmane Dembele are both missing through injury, Robert Lewandowski is missing in action, no longer a threat for opponents like Manchester United who contained him in open play in Europe, and like Almeria who dealt with him without problems on Sunday.
Pedri is the biggest loss for Xavi. Barça lost seven games without him last season and there is a sense this season that they still don’t have an alternative when he is not on the pitch.
He is likely to be out for another 20 days making it likely he will not return until the league Clasico on March 19. He wont be risked at all before then because that is the game that could decide the title – reducing the gap to four points or seeing it extend back to double figures.
Pedri can play between lines. He can weave a way through a team defending in low-block and packing the area neutralizing the countless crosses that Barça tried at the weekend. It seems no one else can do it when he is no there.
Dembele is the one other player who can produce something from nothing but he is also still out and although he is closer to returning than Pedri the temptation is there to bring him back against Real Madrid in the league even though that risks losing the cup first leg.
Thursday’s match assumes more importance after the set-back against Almeria because three straight defeats for any Barcelona manager is one too many for the patience of most presidents.
The team had not mustered a chance on goal until minute 82 against Almeria and without Pedri and Dembele it was down to Lewandowski to make a difference.
His form has dropped off a cliff post World Cup having only scored twice since returning from Qatar, having netted 13 times before the tournament.
The LaLiga leaders failed to register a serious chance on goal until the 82 minute of the match
The Catalan giants must now prepare to face rivals Real Madrid three times in the next month
He was absent without leave in Almeria and now has a knock which could see him resting on the sidelines in anticipation of that March 19 visit of Real Madrid.
Will Xavi make it to then if he loses on Thursday and again at the weekend against lowly Valencia – potentially without not just Pedri, Dembele and Lewandowski, but also the suspended Gavi?
Of course he will, but never let it be forgotten that president Joan Laporta was skeptical of appointing Xavi in the first place, and he is unlikely to pass up the chance to doubt even further if things continue to go awry.
It’s always important to beat Real Madrid, but after losing to Almeria and Manchester United, for Xavi, it has become more important than ever.
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