Barcelona’s trip down the coast to face Valencia in La Liga on Saturday has taken on a new dimension following their midweek Champions League defeat by Royal Antwerp.
The Catalans still topped Group H but it was a chastening end to their group-stage campaign.
Coming on the back of a 4-2 hammering at league leaders Girona last week, there is the unmistakeable sound of knives being sharpened for coach Xavi Hernandez.
“Xavi’s team does not have a game pattern,” howled the Catalan newspaper Sport, normally a diehard cheerleader for Barcelona.
“It is disoriented, the players constantly make childish mistakes and, on top of that, they are vulnerable in defence. In other words, nothing works. Nothing at all.”
Xavi’s problems have been compounded by reports that club president Joan Laporta has been interfering in team selection.
“Tensions are being generated that make no sense,” said Xavi after an insipid performance against Antwerp.
“I’m worried, it’s normal. The team is not comfortable. We’re on a bad run, we’ve had two negative results.
“The feelings are not good. We have to be self-critical. We have to improve to win things.”
Another defeat on Saturday against 11th-placed Valencia and, for sure, the pressure will rise even more for Xavi and his players.
Barca go into the match in fourth place, seven points behind Girona who close the 17th round of La Liga on Monday against 12th-placed Alaves.
Girona have one draw and nine wins in their last 10 matches.
“These players are really making history and this is what makes me happiest,” said Girona coach Michel Sanchez after his side had whipped their fellow Catalans.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, can take over the lead, even if only for 24 hours, if they can beat 13th-placed Villarreal on Sunday.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side were held to a 1-1 draw by seventh-placed Real Betis last weekend, dropping to second place, two points behind Girona.
Real Madrid go into the game on the back of a 3-2 win over Union Berlin on Tuesday to wrap up a clean sweep of Champions League group stage victories.
“We’ve done very well in this first part of the season so far,” said a satisfied Ancelotti after the win.
Player to watch: Antoine Griezmann
Atletico Madrid travel to Bilbao to take on fifth-placed Athletic on Saturday with Antoine Griezmann looking to add to his goal tally as he chases down Luis Aragones as the club’s all-time record goalscorer.
With his goal in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Lazio in the Champions League, the Frenchman is now just two goals shy of the 173 that ‘El Sabio de Hortaleza’ notched up for the club.
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