The tension has been bubbling under the surface at the Camp Nou all season. Splits between the first-team playing squad and the sports management of the club emerged in February, when sporting director Eric Abidal and star player Lionel Messi had a public splat.
Such friction had come directly from the sacking of Ernesto Valverde the previous month. The man who had guided the club to league titles in each of his two full seasons at the helm, and who left the club top of La Liga. It was a messy episode drawn-out in the media before confirmation arrived. Barcelona wanted their former captain Xavi Hernandez to replace him, but the current Al Sadd boss did not think the time was right and rejected the role. Ronald Koeman too was approached, but he stayed on with the Netherlands.
Quique Setien, who had been out of a job since leaving Real Betis last summer, was eventually appointed. As he amusingly said in his introductory press conference: “Yesterday, I was walking around my home town with cows around me and now I’m here at Barcelona managing the best players in the world.”
Setien described the job as beyond ‘his wildest dreams’, but that appears to be swiftly unravelling into a nightmare. A report this weekend in Marca claimed there was a heated argument in the dressing room between the Coach and his players following a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo. Couple with Real Madrid’s victory at Espanyol the following evening, Barcelona now trail Los Blancos by two points at the summit of La Liga. Madrid have a superior head-to-head record too, meaning that the Catalan giants must finish above their El Clasico rivals if they are to retain their league crown. For more potential prizes, check out casino bonus terms & conditions.
Of the six games remaining in the league season, Barcelona’s next two are their biggest hurdles. On Tuesday night they host Atletico de Madrid who have consolidated third spot in recent weeks with four successive league victories – their best form of the season. On Sunday, Barcelona then travel to Villarreal who, alongside Atleti, have the best form in La Liga outside league leaders Madrid – the Yellow Submarine have collected 13 points from a possible 15 since the restart earlier this month.
Barcelona can feel their league crown slipping away. They could win all six of their remaining fixtures and it still might not be enough. Madrid can now afford to drop two points in the run-in and they could still be champions. Setien’s side will know that they will not be able to win La Liga in their next two games, but they run a very high risk of losing it. Winning both of their next two games will require levels of performance which have evaded them all too often this season. If they slip-up, Real Madrid will have one hand on their league trophy.