Barcelona's Breakdown

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Barcelona's Breakdown

Once upon a time, Barcelona was leading La Liga by 12 points and were in scintillating form, with many suggesting they were the favourites for the UEFA Champions League.

What a difference three weeks makes.

Barcelona’s lead has now been slashed from a seemingly unconquerable 12 points to a vulnerable four points. All of a sudden there is a strong shadow of a doubt about Barcelona’s title chances and their chances in Europe as well.

Think back to December when Real Madrid, in all sorts of trouble, finally parted ways with their German manager, Bernd Schuster. Enter Juande Ramos. He had the toughest assignment possible in his first game in La Liga: an away trip to the Camp Nou.

El Clasico, as it is known, was a mismatch. An already desperate Real Madrid, nine points behind their bitter rivals prior to the match, were now staring down the barrel of a 12-point gap, and it wasn’t even Christmas yet.

I’m not sure what Santa Claus had in store for Ramos and Madrid, but it sure was good. Madrid have not lost a game since that day, displaying incredible consistency.

The signing of Lasanna Diarra in the defensive midfield position has improved their already formidable defensive record. I think they have finally found a long-term replacement for Claude Makelele.

They have been free-scoring as well, despite injuries to key strikers such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

The problem for Real was that Barcelona kept winning, so the gap remained at 12 points for a couple of months.

However, Real’s persistence has finally paid off, and in the last three weeks Barcelona has dropped eight points. It all points to an exciting end to the La Liga season.

So what has gone wrong for Barcelona? In short, it is their defence that is faltering. On top of that, it seems their major stars, with the exception of Messi, aren’t doing their bit in attack either.

Their first slip up was against Real Betis and, although they did dominate possession, they conceded two early goals that they shouldn’t have. They had to play catch-up from then on and eventually came away with a 2-2 draw.

The loss to Espanyol was simply a matter of Barcelona not taking their chances. Once again Barcelona dominated, but Espanyol made the most of their opportunities. Let’s not forget that goalkeeper Victor Valdes had a shocker and was entirely at fault for Espanyol’s second goal.

Valdes hasn’t been great in goal recently, and I think a club as big as Barcelona deserves a better goalkeeper. His weaknesses haven’t been exposed until now, covered up by the team's performances at the other end of the pitch. Now that they have been unveiled, it might be time for a change.

If the first two results could be put down to bad luck, the last one certainly cannot. Losing 4-3 to Atletico Madrid, after leading 2-0, will cause real concern. Atletico had no fewer than 22 shots at the Barcelona goal, and their four-goal haul also included a penalty. If this doesn’t show that the Barcelona defence is nervous then I don’t know what does.

This last game in particular will really affect the confidence of the Barcelona players but it is important they bounce back soon, especially with the Champions League around the corner. Lyon will have seen Barca's collapse against Atletico and will believe they can upset the Spanish giants in the second leg of their round of 16 tie.

Whatever happens from now, we are certain to see a tight finish in La Liga. What was once almost a foregone conclusion will now be a question of who is more hungry for the title: Barcelona or Real Madrid?

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