March means it’s time to take another look at how Barcelona FC are getting on. Last we left them they were sitting pretty on top of La Liga and easing through the early rounds of the Cup and Champions League. In the three intervening months Valverde’s outfit have lost just twice, both defeats in the Cup and proving to be inconsequential after Barça overcame first leg deficits against Levante and Sevilla to progress into the semi finals. The first defeat of the calendar year came at Levante on January 10 (2-1), barely three weeks since they’d triumphed 5-0 on the same ground in the league. However, a convincing 3-0 home leg meant passage was secured to meet Sevilla in the quarter finals. The 2-0 defeat at the Sánchez-Pizjuan left some fears that Machin’s men were going to knock the holders out earlier than expected this year, but a 6-1 drubbing in the home leg put paid to that and set up the mouth watering prospect of Real Madrid in the semis.
Indeed, at the time of writing we approach a monumental week of two clasicos in four days, both at the Santiago Bernabéu, with the second leg of the King’s Cup semifinal on the Wednesday being followed by a league game on the Saturday. In just three days, then, Valverde’s side has the opportunity to both see off Real Madrid’s league challenge – a league win at the Bernabéu would open an insurmountable 12-point gap between them and the Merengues – and knock Solari’s side out of the Cup at the semi final stage. Of course, that means that their arch rival also has the opportunity to maintain a foothold in the title race by reducing the gap to 6 points with 12 games to play and knocking Barça out of the Cup on home soil. The first leg was, as always, a highly strung and highly entertaining affair – never miss a clasico encounter is one of my life’s mantras – with Madrid arguably having the better of it in a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou.
As for the league, the 13 games since the end of November have yielded 10 wins and three draws (33 points from a possible 39), with 31 goals for and just 7 against. In the same period, second placed Atlético have managed eight wins and three draws and two defeats (27 points), with 20 goals for and 9 against, while third placed Real Madrid are actually second in the form table with nine wins and one draw and three defeats (28 points), with 23 goals for and just 14 against.
The outstanding performances and results from those 13 games were Messi’s hat-trick in a 4-2 win at Sevilla (staggeringly, the 50th of his career), a game in which the blaugrana were twice behind, a 4-0 mauling of Espanyol at the RCDE stadium, and the aforementioned 5-0 win at Levante, featuring yet another Messi hat-trick. A 2-2 home draw with Valencia and 0-0 draw at Athletic the only two recent league games that didn?t end in victory.
Barça’s stingy defence can be attributed to the fact that the only two ever-presents in the league this season have been the reliable pairing of centre-half Gerard Piqué and goalkeeper Marc André ter Stegen, while left-back Jordi Alba has also started in 22 of the 25 games. It’s also worth mentioning the impact of Arthur in his first full season, whose burgeoning talent has been more than apparent it the centre of Barça’s midfield in the 10 games he’s started.
Champions League form
Messi is top scorer in both the league (25 goals) and the Champions League, where he has notched up six goals in four games to date. Barça face Lyon in the first knockout stage, and came away from the first leg in France with a 0-0 draw. That was their third draw in four in the competition, following the two 1-1 draws away at Inter and at home to Tottenham, although in the latter game they had nothing to play for. Valverde will know his side need to be on their guard in the home leg against Lyon, however, as an away goal or two from the visitors would cause the nerves to jangle at the Camp Nou, even if recent Champions League history suggests that top teams can overcome just about any score line in the second leg. The home game with Lyon is to be played on Wednesday March 13.