La Liga Latest: A Tough Couple Of Months Await For Barcelona7 min read
This time last week, the fixtures for the Spanish Super Cup were announced, and it threw up the prospect of some epic football matches.
Those who love to watch La Liga will certainly have been enthused by a Barcelona v Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid v Valencia set of semi-finals.
The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), had decided to dispense with the pre-season nature of the competition, and instead of being a two-legged final with one leg played at each of the finalists home grounds, a ‘Final Four’ at a neutral venue was settled on.
Money talks in the modern game of course, and those in power will always turn a blind eye if enough cash is put on the table. That’s precisely why Jeddah in Saudi Arabia will host the next three editions of the competition.
It’s not gone down well with supporters of each club, principally because if they now want to watch the games live, they’ll have to shell out a fair amount of money directly after Christmas.
In any event, the scheduling could also present something of a fixture problem for Barcelona.
Both Spanish Super Cup games are sandwiched between a Catalan derby at Espanyol in the first game back after Christmas, and a trip to Valencia’s Mestalla ground two weeks after the Super Cup final.
In recent years, it’s been shown that Barcelona have had to be at their very best if they want to come away with anything from either of those stadia, and where a relatively easy Copa del Rey tie would normally allow for wholesale changes in January, this clearly will be an issue next year.
After the latest round of internationals, Barca will aim to stay on top of La Liga for at least another week when they take on bottom club, Leganes.
With a must-win Champions League group game coming just a few days later, it could tempt Valverde into some rotation, but it’s so tight at the summit that there’s a very fine line that the Basque has to walk in that particular fixture. Especially given Barca’s poor away form.
The Catalans have suffered with a number of injuries already this season, and that could be said to be a major factor in why they’re not further out in front at the top of the La Liga table.
The Germans will bring their free-flowing brand of attacking football to the Camp Nou, with Paco Alcacer, more than any other Dortmund player, ready to prove a point.
With Gerard Pique booked for the third time in this season’s Champions League (against Slavia Prague), he’s ruled out of the fixture, as are Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba, unless the latter manages to recover quicker than expected. Three of the regular back four missing presents a huge problem for Valverde to overcome.
Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano isn’t the fixture to be thrust headlong into straight after, but those are the cards that the Blaugrana have been dealt.
A win there, with Antoine Griezmann returning for the first time, won’t quite knock the Rojiblancos out of the title race, but it will strike a blow for Barca at a critical point of the campaign.
With Mallorca fighting for points, they too could put up more of a fight than expected, but if the Catalans can get even a little respite, they’ll head to Milan to try and reverse a record of never having beaten Inter in Italy in their final UCL group game, and one that could be crucial to the final standings.
Real Sociedad away has generally proved a less than fruitful excursion, and with the way that the team from San Sebastian are playing at the moment, it’s a tough ask to come away from the Reale Arena with three points.
Three days later and the rearranged El Clasico takes place, and it really couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Had it been played as planned, there was a strong likelihood, given the form that Real Madrid were in at the time, that Barcelona would’ve turned the screw a little tighter on Zinedine Zidane.
Now, Los Blancos have hit 16 goals in the league without reply, and are starting to look like a much more formidable outfit. In Karim Benzema, they have the league’s top scorer.
Despite losing so heavily last time they were at Camp Nou, they had their chances when the game was still 2-1, and this current side are in much better form.
Valverde’s side round off the year against Alaves, just a few days before Christmas, by which time they’ll have played eight games in just 29 days.
If, by the end of January, Barca come out of this two-month period relatively unscathed, they’ll have every reason to feel positive.
This mid-season slog wasn’t always on the cards, however, so game management as much as man-management is crucial to their aspirations.
Listen to the first episode of the BetVictor Euro Weekly podcast with Oliver Wilson, Jason Pettigrove and special guests Tom Sanderson and Chloe Beresford: Let The Games Begin