David Villa popped up to score late on against 10 man Sevilla on Saturday and maintain Barcelona’s 100% record in La Liga and the Champions League this season but only after coming from 2-0 down. Below par for much of the first half and the start of the second, the Catalan club were somewhat lucky to avoid a similar fate as rivals Real Madrid. Amid the poor start from Madrid, who they face next week, Barca had been running away with La Liga and seemed intent on punishing the capital side. Instead Villa’s late goal ensured Barcelona exited the game which they could so easily have lost with three points.
Poor defending allowed Sevilla to capitalise, mistakes Tito Vilanova will have to address, especially with Carlos Puyol out injured for a few more weeks. A team likely to challenge for the title cannot be conceding goals such as those on a regular basis. The loss of Puyol’s leadership may be beginning to tell considering stand-in skipper Xavi is not the loudest of players on the pitch.
Last week saw a nervy victory over Granada at home and only a wonder goal from Xavi and an own goal secured the win moments from time. This week saw the same type of timidity in the final third and took a special performance (not the diving) from Fabregas to claw Barcelona back into the game. David Villa‘s goal epitomises the difference from last season as his strike made sure of the points and helped Messi out when for much of last year he cut an isolated figure.
With El Clasico coming up pretty sharpish, Barcelona received a vigil reality check – a let off. Had they lost against Sevilla arguably the team could regroup and come back stronger. Benfica will prove a sterner test in the midweek Champions League group fixture but Barca’s performance should improve for a highly motivated encounter. The type of mentality the players enter La Liga games with seems to be different to that of European games. On a mental side, the game against Madrid will need no hype or boost.
Tactically however, ensuring the team enter the game on the back of a win – a late league win at that which continues their imperious start to the season – is important. Benfica will be a test but a draw won’t be a bad result. The expectation is for Barca to qualify, not to win every game. In the league, especially against teams of the calibre of Sevilla and taking into context Madrid’s record last year, every game is targeted as a victory, even El Clasico.
Barca haven’t been playing at their maximum lately but the last gasp win will surely kick the creeping arrogance from their game and increase focus. To be playing poorly but winning games is the hallmark of a title winning team, exactly what Barcelona hope to be by the end of the season.
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