Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted he is worried about his side's shocking away form since the turn of the year after they slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Valladolid on Saturday. The Catalans have won just once in five away games in La Liga in 2014 and also lost in their last game on the road away at Real Sociedad.
"What is worrying is that at the stage of the season when the league is decided, we have taken no points from the last two away games," said Martino.
The Argentine has rotated his squad constantly throughout the season with the idea that they would be well rested for the final few decisive months of the season. "All the measures and care we took the first part of the season was done with the idea of arriving in the final part of the season in good shape. It is obvious at the moment that is not having the desired effect," said Martino.
"The players have played fewer minutes and are less fatigued than in previous years and we expected this to be the time of the year when we hit our best form. Evidently, based on the last two away games, that is not what has happened." Defeat means that Barca will fall four points behind Real Madrid should their bitter rivals beat Levante at home on Sunday.
Real and Barcelona then meet in two weeks' time at the Santiago Bernabeu and Martino accepted anything but a win for his side would all but end their title chances.
"Even if we had won or drawn today we would have to have gone to the Bernabeu to try and win the game because we are behind in the league. It is clear that right now we are not in our best form and we need to be to be able to beat Real Madrid. There are still 15 days to go until that match for us to find ourselves."
First up for Martino's men, though, is Manchester City in the Champions League at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. Barca hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg of the last-16 tie, but midfielder Xavi said they would have to improve greatly if they are to be sure of finishing off the job against Manuel Pellegrini's men.
"We cannot draw any positive conclusions, we need to improve a lot looking ahead to Wednesday. It just wasn't to be," said Xavi. "It is a very painful defeat, it is a step backwards, but we need to turn that around for City on Wednesday."
Dani Alves also issued a rallying cry to his teammates to get over the defeat as quickly as possible. "If we fail on Wednesday it will be far more damaging than today. Whilst there is a chance we will continue to fight. It also depends on what the others do, but all we can do is fight," he said. "Obviously we leave here sad and annoyed, but there is no time to feel sorry for ourselves."
Barcelona slumped to their third defeat in seven league games as they lost away to relegation-threatened Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday. Italian Fausto Rossi scored the only goal of the game as he slammed home from close range after 17 minutes.
Valladolid goalkeeper Diego Marino was forced into four saves by Lionel Messi, but it was Neymar who had the best chance to level when he ballooned over just before the hour mark. However, the Catalans couldn't find a way through and could fall four points behind La Liga leaders Real Madrid should Los Blancos beat Levante at home on Sunday.
Victory for Valladolid also has significant consequences at the other end of the table as La Pucela move out of the relegation zone with just their fifth league win of the campaign. Despite the majority of his squad having been away on international duty in midweek, Barca boss Gerardo Martino named almost his strongest starting line-up with only Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta missing out.
After Messi had forced Marino into an early save at the end of a swift counter-attack, it was Valladolid who had the upper hand in the opening half hour. Rossi opened the scoring with his first goal for Valladolid as he took advantage of a ricochet off two Barca defenders inside the area to fire past Victor Valdes.
Barca reacted as the first-half drew to a close and Marino had to be alive to deny Messi twice from range before Cesc Fabregas also tested the keeper with a drive from the edge of the box. Marino made another good save just three minutes after the restart as the Argentine squeezed a shot towards goal with his weaker right foot from a narrow angle.
Neymar then had a great chance to equalize when he blasted over from close range after being brilliantly played in by Fabregas. That pass was to be the former Arsenal captain's last significant involvement as he was replaced by Alexis Sanchez with just under half an hour remaining.
Gerard Pique and Neymar were also withdrawn as Martino made a desperate last attempt to influence the game by introducing Sergi Roberto and Cristian Tello. Messi had another free-kick comfortably held by Martino eight minutes from time and the result could have been even worse for Barca had Oscar not wastefully spooned over Valdet Rama's cut-back moments later.
Raul Garcia opened the scoring from a well-worked free-kick after three minutes before Diego Costa lofted in his 25th goal of the season 60 seconds later. And Diego Godin rounded off the scoring when he headed home the third 17 minutes from time.
After Barca's win against Rayo, Atletico now share the lead with them and are three ahead of Real Madrid. After three consecutive defeats in league and Cup it was imperative for Diego Simeone's men to get back to winning ways if they were to maintain their title challenge and they couldn't have made a better start.
Garcia fired home his 10th goal of the campaign from the edge of the area from Gabi's free-kick. Costa then doubled his side's advantage as he raced onto Koke's ball over the top and lobbed the ball over the advancing Diego Marino. Atletico then eased off after their initial burst and Valladolid threatened to get back into the game at the start of the second-half when Javi Guerra volleyed just over.
Mario Suarez nearly made the game safe when he saw his header come back off the bar from Koke's corner. However, Atletico did get a third goal from another corner 10 minutes later when Godin headed back across goal into the far corner to leave Martino stranded.
Simeone then had the luxury of replacing Koke and Arda Turan with one eye on their return to Champions League action away to AC Mila as David Villa made his return from injury, suggesting he may be fit to start at the San Siro on Wednesday.
Winters in Valladolid are intrepidly cold, so cold that in Spain, Real Valladolid’s stadium, Estadio Nuevo Jose Zorrilla, is known as the “pneumonia stadium.” Saturday night was not cold. The continuation of First Division football in a city of approximately 311,000 inhabitants, or close to 500,000, as the cab driver explained on the way to the stadium, is up in the air. Real Valladolid woke up in relegation zone with 16 points, same as Rayo Vallecano, and five points above the last placed team, Real Betis, wh0 took another blow Friday night by losing 4-2 against Celta de Vigo in the Spanish province of Galicia.
Villarreal came to Valladolid fully rested and with a complete team, with exception of Cani, who still is recovering from a sprained knee injury suffered back in December. Before the Saturday night match, Marcelino Garcia Toral’s team had lost three away games - at Betis 1-0, at Athletic Bilbao 2-0, and at FC Barcelona 2-1.
In Real Valladolid, there was an apparent relaxation hours before the important match that a lot of “Pucela” followers saw as vital not to lose, knowing that Celta won an important match over Betis. The fact that the opponent was Villarreal CF did not intimidate Juan Ignacio Martinez’s boys. Around noon, the team bus was touring the city with some players as they listened to music with their Beats, while other players were in mini vans, listening to electronic dance music, and telling jokes, while people walked on the sidewalks and took pictures with their phones, some did not even noticed.
Hours before the match, local journalists wondered why German playmaker Patrick Ebert did not line up for Real Valladolid and could not believe that Serbian Stefan Mitrovic was starting the match after being in town for less than four days. It all worked for coach Juan Ignacio Martinez.
His players understood the plan, perfectly. Real Valladolid's main plan was to undermine Uche and Giovani dos Santos’ association that had been in a hot streak since that impressive 5-1 win over Carlos Vela’s Real Sociedad. Real Valladolid closed all avenues for Villarreal, while it waited for the Yellow Submarine to fail in defense.
Real Valladolid’s goal came from a free-kick and a Jesus Rueda header. The goal ignited a huge roar in the stadium, which did not do effusive chants throughout the game. The chants came sporadically.
Villarreal was not the Villarreal that has taken La Liga by storm and Fernando Roig, the club’s owner, left the stadium with a serious countenance, zero smiles. Uche walked by himself to the bus; he had a one vs. one against goalkeeper Diego Mariño, which saw the Real Valladolid keeper make the stop of the game that acted as another goal. That stop proved to be the killer for Villarreal.
Aquino and Giovani walked together to the bus. Gio declared that at the moment he does not want to talk to the press in an extremely courteous manner. His focus is all in Villarreal CF and leading the team to a European tournament; he left the stadium displeased, so much he did not smiled in a single photo he took with the fans that jumped him. Javi’s game was more positive, looking it from a stamina standpoint. His sprints were equally as fast in the 93rd minute as those he did in the warm-up before the game.
In Valladolid, they believe in salvation, even if a sector of the population is not so into the team. At night in the bar, lots of people asked, “What? Valladolid won!” It was only their third home win in the present season.
Athletic Bilbao currently lead the race for the 4th place with 39 points after defeating Real Valladolid in a fun game at the San Mames stadium. But the Basques are not in the clear just yet. They are closely followed by the recently promoted 'Yellow Submarine,' Villarreal, who as of now sit in the fifth position with 37 points. Trailing both squads are Athletic's historic rivals Real Sociedad who have taken a turn for the better after a poor start of the season and now sit in 6th place with 33 points. Sevilla also has a chance at finishing in the final Champions League spot, currently with 31 points.
For the fourth time this season, Athletic Bilbao has come from behind to take away three points from their rivals at the San Mames stadium; this time it was against relegation threatened Valladolid.
The Basque team regained their 4th place in the table after an impressive display of La Liga football on Monday, January 20th, against Valladolid. The 'Blanquivioleta' squad opened the scoring after 15 minutes, with a goal from Oscar, but Almeria would not be able to retain their lead in the second half.
Ibai Gomez lead his team to victory with a beautiful brace in the second half, to help his squad come from behind. De Marcos and Ander Herrera would also put their names on the scoresheet and help the Basque team retain their table position that was temporarily taken over by Villarreal, who defeated Almeria last Sunday.
Rama scored a stoppage time consolation goal for Valladolid, to ease the pain of defeat a little, but giving away the victory has left the Pucela squad in the bottom of the table with only 16 points, in 18th place, inside the relegation zone, a space they share with Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis.
Xabi Alonso, Modric and Isco make up Real's midfield in the upcoming game against Valladolid. It would be Ancelotti's 12th experiment on the backbone of the 'Los Blancos' team, as due to Sami Khedira's injury he still hasn't been able to count on a set starting XI.
However, on the contrary to what used to happen at the beginning of the season, now each experiment is a guaranteed success. The reason? Xabi Alonso. With the Spaniard there to command play, all midfield permutations work like a well-oiled machine. It doesn't matter if Illarra is played, or Casemiro - Real is always on to a winner as long as Xabi is there to sort things out. A perfect example is the Galatasaray game, in which he was rested for 60 minutes and then revolutionised the game as soon as he came on.
The most repeated midfield line-up so far this season has been that of Xabi, Khedira and Modric – players that played the 4-3-3 system to perfection. Now with the German injured, new formulas are being looked for, and today Ancelotti has opted for the most attacking one. Xabi and Modric will play in midfield, with Isco as a false 9. A artful threesome that is sure to delight the Bernabéu.
The three players are sure to be a guarantee of possession, fast circulation of the ball and some great play-ins to the area. Xabi will be the man to start the gameplay, with Modric playing as Khedira did, to help him out – although with a lot more skill. Isco will be there to connect the midfield with the waiting forwards – Bale, Di María and Benzema. Game on.
Starting lineup: Diego López; Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Modric, Isco; Di María, Bale & Benzema.
Barcelona continued their march to a record breaking start to the La Liga season after collecting a 4-1 win against Valladolid on Saturday night at the Camp Nou.
A brace from a red-hot Alexis Sanchez and goals from an outstanding Neymar and Xavi earned the Catalonians their eighth straight win to open the league campaign.
With Lionel Messi out injured, Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino rolled out an attacking front three of Cristian Tello, Sánchez and Neymar. In the middle there were two major changes with both Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets yielding their spots as Xavi, Alex Song and Cesc Fàbregas composed the middle. In defense Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Marc Bartra and Adriano were tasked with protecting goalkeeper Victor Valdés
Valladolid took a shock lead early as Javi Guerra headed home to put the Pucela up in just the 10th minute. A corner kick served in by Patrick Ebert was seized upon by Guerra who took advantage of some lackadaisical Barcelona defending and smacked the header past Valdés to stun the Camp Nou.
But the visitors from Castilla y León saw their lead evaporate after just four minutes when a brilliant strike from outside the area by Sánchez leveled the score 1-1. At the half hour mark the Barcelona bench erupted in anger after Neymar was brought down in the area, yet no penalty was called by referee Teixeira Vitienes. The Brazilian was clearly fouled on a clumsy challenge in the Valladolid area, but Vitienes -- who was the object of scorn for calling a soft penalty in last week's Osasuna-Levante match -- only signaled for play to continue, amid a cascade of whistles and jeers from the Camp Nou faithful.
Some exquisite passing enabled Barcelona to take the lead six minutes into the second half. Neymar charged into the area taking on defenders before dishing to Tello who then lasered a ball in the center to Xavi who stroked it home to give the hosts the 2-1 advantage.
Barcelona struck once more in the 63rd minute with Sánchez finding the back of the net for the second time. But again it was the work of Neymar who set the table for his South American teammate. The summer signing received a ball in from Dani Alves and then played a simple yet devastatingly effective pass to the onrushing Chilean who then fired home.
Seven minutes later Neymar collected a goal of his own when Xavi flicked on to Sánchez who cut back for Neymar and it was an easy swipe of the boot from the former Santos man to make it 4-1 which all but put the match to bed. A hat trick for Sánchez was not meant to be as Barcelona cruised in the end to grab the three points.
After the international break, the reigning league champions will be back in action Saturday October 19th at Osasuna.