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.
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.
There have been concerns raised in Spain about the form of Barcelona and Lionel Messi. As usual, the two are closely linked, even perhaps intrinsically linked, especially with new Brazilian star Neymar currently unavailable with his own injury problem.
People have pointed to the fact that Messi has not been playing quite the same role as usual, often dropping deeper and not making his trademark bursts into the penalty area. His goalscoring has certainly not been what we expect since he returned from a two month lay-off with a hamstring problem.
The performance of Lionel Messi was one of the few positives to come out of the Barcelona vs Valencia game at the weekend. Not only did Barcelona lose at the Nou Camp for the first time this season, the defeat meant that the Spanish champions slipped off the top of La Liga for the first time in well o0ver a season.
Barcelona traveled to play Getafe in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey clash last night and Tata Martino could have been forgiven for sending out a team of youngsters and fringe players as they were already ahead 4-0 from the first leg at the Nou Camp.
At the end of the game, which Barca won comfortably 2-0, the manager may have wished that he had. Halfway through the first half, the Brazilian superstar Neymar, just back from a spell on the sidelines with illness, went over on his right ankle and slow motion replays did not look good.
It was billed as the clash of the titans in La Liga and for good reason. It was only a superior goal difference that was keeping Barcelona above Atletico Madrid at the top of the Spanish league table. The fact that Atletico had home advantage as well and had only lost the two-legged Spanish Supercup on away goals, all pointed towards it being a very tough game.
Add to that the fact that Tata Martino had a selection headache, with two of the club’s best players, Lionel Messi and Neymar, as doubtful to start. The Barca boss has been criticised from some quarters in Spain for leaving the two stars on the bench, even though both did come in in the second half, but is that really fair?