FC Barcelona will be expecting to have to beat Real Sociedad today to retain their place at the top of La Liga, because Real Madrid have the much easier task of a home game against Elche. Barcelona can expect a tough away match, with the Sociedad manager, players and fans seeking revenge for what they see as a very unfair game at the Nou Camp recently.
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It might surprise you to know that Barcelona have actually got a pretty poor record for this stage of the Champions League. It is not that bad, of course, because we have not failed to reach the semi-final stage since 2007 and have won the competition twice in that time. But in four of the last five years, Barcelona have failed to win their away leg at the last 16 phase.
There is no doubt that Barcelona were not particularly happy about getting Manchester City in the draw for the knockout stages of the Champions League, with only Arsenal a possible tougher test because of their experience in the competition.
And not too long ago it was looking worrying for the Spanish champions, as their form dipped while Manuel Pellegrini had City blasting teams off the pitch every week. But our fortunes have reversed a little. City suffered two games in a row where they failed to score, but they did come back with a good FA cup win over Chelsea on Saturday.
The fact that Barcelona have not lost a game by more than one goal all season is a pretty incredible stat and should give Tata Martino and his players a great deal of confidence for tomorrow. But the Barca boss is taking no chances and is set to name his strongest possible starting XI.
The second leg of the Copa Del Rey semi-final against Real Sociedad should see the new manager book a place in the final of a major competition at the first time of asking. I’m not including the Spanish Supercup victory over Atletico Madrid because Martino was not in charge to qualify for that.
When Barcelona suffered a shock defeat at home to Valencia last week, it saw them slip off the top of the Spanish La Liga table for the first time in months and, with Real Madrid and their city rivals Atletico seemingly in relentless form (winning games even when playing badly) it seemed like it might be a hard task to get that top spot back.
But a spot of luck has given Barca the chance to bounce back at the first opportunity. Atletico travelled to relegation strugglers Almeria but were below par and ended up losing 2-0. To be fair to them, the referee was abysmal and should have given them two penalties and sent two Almeria players off, but all that matters now is that we take advantage of their slip.
It must be difficult being the manager of FC Barcelona. You do not get a lot of credit for winning, even when your players play brilliantly and score a hatful of goals. But one defeat and the club is in crisis, whether the defeat be a narrow or undeserved one or not.
Tata Martino has faced the Spanish press today ahead of the Copa Del Rey semi-final against Real Sociedad and as well as deflecting more questions about the Neymar transfer, he has had to field questions about the so-called crisis of losing to Valencia at the weekend.
There may have been some concern among Barcelona fans about the future of star midfield magician Andres Iniesta this season. There have been stories in the Spanish and English media about him possibly leaving as contract talks were taking longer than expected and Premier League clubs like Manchester United and City were linked with a possible transfer bid.
Meanwhile, Iniesta was not playing quite at the top of his form and even sat on the bench in a few important games. But Barcelona fans can relax, because the 29-year old has this week committed his future to Barcelona by signing a new three year extension which will now run until 2018. BY that time he will be 34-years old, but if he looks after himself that should be no problem and is becoming much more common in modern football.
The Barcelona manager can pretty much do whatever he wants tonight. With Cartagena coming to the Nou Camp for the second leg of the cup clash already 4-1 behind from the first leg, Tata Martino has the luxury of resting players, but it is the players who will play that are making the news.
It seems as if club captain Carles Puyol and first choice right back Dani Alves will both make their comebacks from injury tonight. Hopefully they will both gain the match sharpness they need to be considered for the more important La Liga games to come.