Barcelona dis­cour­aged by set­backs ahead of Madrid cla­sico

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Barcelona play­ers are unusu­ally down­beat ahead of one of their most im­por­tant games of the sea­son.

The Cata­lan club will en­ter the first “cla­sico” of the sea­son against Real Madrid filled with doubts af­ter a cou­ple of dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mances in the Span­ish league.

Barcelona was out­played through­out the 1-1 draw at Real So­ciedad on Sun­day for its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive set­back in the league. It had also been held to a 0-0 home draw against Malaga in the pre­vi­ous round.

The re­sults left the two-time cham­pi­ons six points be­hind Madrid ahead of Satur­day’s much-an­tic­i­pated game at Camp Nou.

“It was a day when very few things worked,” Barcelona de­fender Ger­ard Pique said af­ter the draw against So­ciedad. “The team didn’t play in the first half. We im­proved in the sec­ond, but it will be very dif­fi­cult to win La Liga play­ing like this.”

Sun­day’s per­for­mance left En­rique wel­com­ing the draw, while ad­mit­ting that Barcelona was dom­i­nated by its op­po­nent, some­thing that doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten to the Euro­pean pow­er­house.

“We played our worst match of the sea­son. The op­po­nents were far su­pe­rior,” he said. “Foot­ball is so spe­cial that we al­most won with a chance ... but it wouldn’t have been fair.”

Barcelona es­caped an even worse re­sult be­cause a sec­ond­half goal by So­ciedad was in­cor­rectly dis­al­lowed for off­side. The hosts also were de­nied by the wood­work twice near the end of the game.

“When an op­po­nent plays bet­ter we have to ad­mit it,” Barcelona de­fender Jordi Alba said.

En­rique said things must change for the cla­sico, when a loss would leave Barcelona nine points be­hind Madrid and in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion to try to win the ti­tle for a third straight time. Even a draw would not be a good re­sult con­sid­er­ing the ri­val’s ad­van­tage.

“We are still in the 13th round, you can’t dis­count the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons. There is still a long way to go,” En­rique said. “We will play against the leader and the di­rect matchups could be de­ci­sive. We will be at home and things will be dif­fer­ent.”

Barcelona lost to Madrid the last time the teams played at Camp Nou, a re­sult that brought Madrid back into the ti­tle hunt with only a few rounds left last sea­son. The loss also put an end to Barcelona’s 39-game un­beaten streak.

Now it’s Madrid com­ing in with the league lead and an un­beaten run. Zine­dine Zi­dane’s team hasn’t lost in 31 matches, dat­ing back to a 2-0 set­back at Wolfs­burg in the Cham­pi­ons league last sea­son.

“The game against Madrid is one ev­ery­body wants to win,” Alba said. “If we win it, we are right back in the fight for La Liga.”

Be­fore the cla­sico, Barcelona makes its Copa del Rey de­but by play­ing at Her­cules in the first leg of the com­pe­ti­tion’s round of 32 to­mor­row. Luis En­rique is ex­pected to rest nearly all of his top play­ers.

Madrid plays the sec­ond leg against Cul­tural Leonesa on the same day and is also ex­pected to play with sec­ond-stringers. It won the first game 7-1.

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