If only we could start these two together...Pique at LCB and Puyol at LB?
And then it was eight. With Real Madrid’s unexpected home draw with Malaga, the situation at the top of the table is far from concrete. In fact, "all" Barcelona need to do is win all their remaining matches and hope Real slip to either three draws or one draw and a loss outside of El Clasico. It is unlikely, but remains a possibility, especially when Jose Mourinho’s side are expected to qualify for the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, which would put a further strain on a squad that is beginning to look a little jaded.
Back to Barcelona though, and Saturday’s match against Sevilla was far from a confident display. Aside from the first 30 minutes (where Barcelona looked superb I must say), their performance was average, with limited chance creation, and woeful finishing across the board. Even the defense looked shaky, although that only rings true for the left-side as Javier Mascherano and to a lesser extent, Dani Alves were like brick walls on the right-side, contributing seven of the team’s 14 tackles. Gerard Pique remains a liability, although what a liability to have. Yes, he is not playing his best football of the past four years, but at 25 years of age, this can only be a blip in form. How many players can you recall hitting a decline so early in their career?
While Geri’s continued presence could hurt the team, I think that a lot of this poor form has been caused by the media speculation, and the reaction of the fans. How does it help that we criticise Pique, when virtually everyone else in the squad is exempt from the same criticisms? At this point, I believe we should just give Pique our support, and after a run of games in the middle, ideally with Carles Puyol, Geri will be back to his old self in no time at all.
Much like Gerard Pique, the team also needs to step it up a gear. Pep Guardiola may have publicly stated that the league is out of reach, but I doubt he believes it for one second. All throughout the match on Saturday, he appeared agitated when the team gave away possession, and notably culminated in his talk with Adriano after he took the Brazilian off. I cannot begin to imagine what was said, but as always, Pep was not taking this match lightly. Now, if he truly thought the league was out of reach, why would he "care" as such when Barcelona are 2-0 ahead?
Clearly, he knows that Real Madrid will drop points, but I think he is unclear whether or not the squad have what it takes to finish the season without a further defeat. While the Sevilla match was typified by a far from encouraging performance, the result spoke volumes about this squad.
For example, the Blaugrana only kept 59% possession and their pass accuracy dipped a little to 86%, but they still got the three points. Furthermore, they struggled to involve Lionel Messi in the game from the half-hour mark onwards, so Leo had to drop deeper, still only touching the ball 78 times. Compare that to his best performance of the season, versus Bayer Leverkusen where he touched the ball 118 times, and you can understand why Messi was so quiet.
This match had all the makings of another 2-2 draw after the 30th minute, but Barcelona held on, and were even denied a third. While angles of the "offside" are few and far between, the videos I have saw show it was a debatable decision, but it didn’t even matter. Michel may have made a great decision to primarily attack down two flanks, thus avoiding Javier Mascherano, but his side never really created any clear-cut chances of their own. Manu’s header off the bar was courtesy of a communication lapse between Pique and Valdes, while most of Navas’ crosses led to half-chances rather than clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities. Perhaps if Sevilla had started better, then the match would have ended differently, but they gave Barcelona space and time, which ultimately led to their demise.
Stat Quiz: Santi Cazorla's late free-kick gave Malaga a share of the points at the Santiago Bernabeu last night, but when was the last time (in La Liga) that Malaga escaped the Bernabeu with a 1-1 draw? Answer to last match's question was indeed Antoni Ramallets and kudos to Joel Prushan and Sebanovic for providing us with the correct answers in the comments!