For the second time in five days the Castilians of Real Madrid defeated FC Barcelona Catalans 2-1 in the El Clásico (rivalry game played between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona). Thr rivalry is more than another soccer match for the players and fans of both sides—it also has significant political implications.
While Madrid's dual victory over Barcelona has done very little to prevent the Catalans from claiming the Spanish league title, it has boosted Madrid’s confidence going into its critical Champions’ League play at Old Trafford on Tuesday. (It is worth noting, Madrid remains 13 points behind Barcelona in La Liga).
More than boosting Madrid’s confidence, the loss was a huge blow to Barcelona’s psyche, as it has now lost 3 of its last 4 games. Much of Barca’s flaws have now been exposed. Barcelona's defense has conceded a goal in each of the last 13 games. The team’s one bright spot, Lionel Messi (the reigning FIFA Ballon d' Or winner) is Barca's one true constant. Messi has now extended his Spanish league scoring record to 16 straight games, and has scored 18 career goals in ''El Clasico'' matches.
Interim Manager Jordi Roura, (currently filling in for Manager Tito Vilanova as he goes through treatment for throat cancer) continues to struggle to find the right lineup to compliment Messi.
In Saturday’s lost to Madrid, Jordi Roura chose to go with striker David Villa to play on top alongside Messi; and inserted Thiago Alcantara in the middle for the injured Xavi Hernandez. The constant changes in the lineup have not yet paid off for the Catalans. While the team has been passing the ball around exceptionally well, they have failed to consistently find the back of the net.
Barcelona now faces an uphill battle in Champions League play against AC Milan in the return leg at Camp Nou on March 12. If Barca wants to advance to the next stage of the tournament, it has to regroup quickly. The players are saying all the right things—defender Pique was quoted as saying the following after Saturday’s lost:
''It's impossible to keep up the same level of play for 12 months,...But it is true that we have played three or four bad games and that is serious because Barcelona always has to win. But this team will turn things around. I believe that because this is the best team I have ever played on. I'm surprised so many people have already jumped off the bandwagon.''
However, none of the politically correctness has translated into winning on the pitch.
Underneath all the rhetoric, you can’t help but think there is obvious panic in Barcelona's camp as was evident from Saturday's match, as players started to lose their cool after finding themselves in an unfamiliar territory—losing; and losing more often than they would like.
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