An inquisition is in full force at Barcelona after Luis Enrique’s dropped more points against Real Sociedad in the last round.
Luis Enrique’s side came out of the last international break facing what one would consider a pleasant schedule. Home games against Malaga, Real Madrid and Espanyol mixed with away trips to Real Sociedad and Osasuna were all seen as chances to get maximum points in the league. Celtic and Borussia Mochengladbach were the last opponents in the Champions League along with a two-legged Copa del Rey tie versus Hercules. In spite of injuries and suspensions, Barcelona would have expected to pick up all three points at home to Malaga just as they did against Celtic in the next match.
The result, and more importantly, the performance against Real Sociedad has provoked real concern from all corners.
“El Clasico” is the next big game on the line and the Blaugrana are headed to must-win territory. Madrid currently lead the league by six points and anything but a loss will suit them just fine.
A Barcelona loss wouldn’t end the title race at this point in the season but it would be a severe blow to their hopes.
Enrique’s team does have some positive news heading into the game though as ESPNFC has reported that Andres Iniesta will return in time for the marquee match. The return of the captain will ease concerns over the lack of control in midfield which has hampered Barcelona’s play recently. Newcomers Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez, along with Rafinha, have had decent moments covering Iniesta but Barca will clearly be a better side upon his return. Enrique should have his full first-choice eleven available for Madrid’s visit which bodes well for the home team.
Madrid will have to do without two major contributors in Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos. Their replacements may be solid players but won’t have the experience of playing in such a big fixture. Personnel and recent results aside, Barcelona will feel they have the upper hand. Neither team has been totally convincing or consistent so far this season but Barcelona are at home and have a point to prove.
Madrid also has the Champions League to consider. They currently sit second in their group and welcome leaders, Borussia Dortmund, to the Bernabeu four days after “El Clasico.” Madrid will surely want to end the group stage on top even if it might mean facing the likes of Bayern Munich or Manchester City in the next round. Barcelona, however, can put all their efforts into this game knowing that a loss to Borussia Mochengladbach would still see them finish first in their group. That fact, and a look at Barcelona’s schedule until now, are other reasons Barcelona need not panic.
A win against Madrid would leave the Blaugrana three points off the pace with two games remaining in the year.
Enrique will be keen to make sure his side finishes 2016 in top form before the winter break with wins against Osasuna and Espanyol. When La Liga returns next year Barcelona will have already faced Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia away, along with bogey sides Sociedad and Celta Vigo. Madrid will have faced Atletico, where they won quite convincingly, and Barca.
The added distraction of the Club World Cup in December is something to consider as far as Madrid is concerned. It will be new territory for Zinedine Zidane and the last time Madrid were in this situation they started January with losses, though admittedly those came in away games to Atletico Madrid and Valencia.
Barcelona will start the new year with a trip with a potential banana slip game away to Villarreal. Pass that test with three points and the Blaugrana will feel confident in picking up maximum points before games against Bilbao and Aletico, and the return of the Champions League, in February. Add in the continued assimilation of the newcomers and Barcelona will look to be firing on all cylinders during the business end of the season.
Luis Enrique’s side certainly has some kinks to work out. Iniesta’s return will help calm the midfield but a consistent successor is yet to appear. Sergio Busquets will certainly return to form at some point and the goals will flow again for Luis Suarez and Neymar. A loss to Madrid would certainly lead to more hand-wringing but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Barcelona were arguably in a worst spot internally two seasons ago yet went on to win the treble. History might be on the way to repeating itself.