One can almost imagine the scene, players walk in a line into Barcelona training ground after the international break with some limping and hobbling, and on looking physios nodding their heads in anguish at head Coach, Tito Vilanova, who in turn asks ´When will it all end?’
Once again it seems that Barca are set to come down with a full dose of the so called ‘FIFA virus’, a term used for the struggles major clubs have in games immediately after an international break, when their players return from duty fatigued and crocked. Whilst a number of clubs can claim to suffer from it, it appears that Barca always seem to get the worst of the symptoms. Already from the last set of internationals, they have lost Alexis Sanchez and Andres Iniesta for the trip to Getafe and possibly Jordi Alba too. For the visit to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, where the team lost last year, this Barcelona are again looking vulnerable after the internationals.
It says it all when the Catalan club are celebrating the fact that Leo Messi and Javier Mascherano have returned in good shape, whilst the stats speak for themselves and suggest this is more than just superstition. Under Pep Guardiola, Los Cules managed to get 31 points out of a possible 51 in games played after an international break. Compare that to bitter rivals Real Madrid, who won 48 points out of the 51 and you can see that it is a serious matter. Pep’s reign will be remembered for two things. One is trophies, a lot of trophies and two, the birth of the term ‘FIFA virus’.
Guardiola started his term with poor results because of players coming back with jet lag and an international playing hangover. A draw against Racing Santander and a defeat to Numancia had many questioning his abilities after only a few games in charge. He was able to turn it around and last season after international breaks he saw his side win twice, draw once and lose just once after internationals. Tito, as Coach, has yet to have the opportunity to face the issue and he will be slightly worried that history may repeat itself.
Real Madrid have also seen the standard drop in performance after international games but they have more often been able to draw from their squad's resources to squeeze out a result. Barca on the other hand, whilst with quality, can at times look light and, as was very clear last season, a few injuries can see them struggle. The injury to Iniesta, who is set to miss up to two weeks will be a bitter pill to swallow. The club have already voiced their displeasure at the fact that Dani Alves played 90 minutes in what they and probably almost everyone else saw as a meaningless friendly. Spain had one friendly and one qualifier. Both Alba and Iniesta played in both and the Spanish FA will surely be on the receiving end of some harsh comments soon too.
Week 4’s hosts Getafe, who will still have fond memories of the Real Madrid victory, also welcomed Pep and his boys into town for their first away game in November after a set of international ties last season. The side from the suburbs won by a single goal, whilst earlier in the night Real Madrid had defeated derby rivals Atletico in the Bernabeu.
Barca players have said in the Press that to go in to the first Clasico of the La Liga campaign with a five point cushion would be perfect but Luis Garcia loves to upset the odds. Apart from the top two, they also beat Los Rojiblancos at home last term, despite being a goal and a man down. It will be no mean task for Tito and his charges to get a result and with the injuries they have now, one suspects that if he were offered a simple 1-0 victory he would take it.
As for the ‘FIFA virus’, it has become similar to the common cold, it appears that there is no known cure.