Assessing Barcelona's Chances of Reaching 100 Points
Barcelona went into the match against Atletico Madrid knowing their 22nd La Liga title was already assured, but would the title party fall flat against an Atletico side gearing themselves up for the forthcoming Copa Del Rey Final against Real Madrid?
Although Manager Tito Vilanova went with a strong lineup, including the returning Lionel Messi, the Blaugrana started the game like they just weren't bothered.
The interplay was generally sloppy and indecisive, and for a club that that often sets the benchmark, that's just not good enough.
Atletico weren't making too many in-roads either, with the majority play being in the central midfield areas.
As a result the game had a real end-of-season feel about it, and Cristian Tello's curling shot just on half time was the closest we came to a goal in the first half.
By winning the match, Barcelona would remain on track to equal the 100-point mark set by Madrid last season, and when Falcao—who else—gave the home side the lead, the record seemed nothing more than a distant, and unlikely, possibility.
With all three Barca substitutions made and Messi taking himself off as a precaution with 25 minutes still to play, the game was turning into something of a damage limitation exercise.
Yet somehow, and with very good fortune, Barca turned the match on its head to give Atletico manager Diego Simeone some food for thought ahead of the cup final.
Tito Vilanova meanwhile has Valladolid in his sights and then two further games against neighbours Espanyol and Malaga for Barcelona to complete their topsy-turvy season.
Dependant on the severity of Messi's injury, the first question that the manager may wish to ponder is whether he should enforce a period of rest for the Argentine.
He has looked jaded at times this season and coming so soon after being forced to leave the field at PSG in the Champions League, this suggests that Messi's body is beginning to suffer from the constant punishment of elite level competition coupled with no significant rest period.
Four goals are all that separate him from equalling his own personal La Liga record of 50 goals in a season, and you can place money that "La Pulga" will want to be given every chance of reaching or bettering that mark.
That Barcelona have been unbeaten over the last three years when Messi has not played may sway the manager's mind and allow the player an extended sabbatical.
David Villa could do with some minutes on the pitch, and with a view to putting himself in the "shop window," a final three-game flourish for Barcelona could see him play his way to the transfer he desires.
Cristian Tello needs to supplement his blistering pace with a better final ball and perhaps come up with a goal or two himself, and if Alexis Sanchez can chip in again as he did tonight, then this front three can finish off the season in fine style.
Sanchez particularly has worked hard this season, often without the reward of a goal, and the Chilean deserves great credit for his doggedness and perseverance, which will be required yet again in those final three games.
Barca will need to defend from the front because behind the strikers the defence are dropping like flies.
GOAL ! Radamel FALCAO scores for Atletico 1-0 Barcelona, aN awesome finish by him. WATCH >>> bit.ly/12nqpbU— Genius Football (@GeniusFootball) May 12, 2013
How poorly they defended Falcao's goal and such second-rate work has been emblematic of Barcelona's season as a whole.
Carles Puyol's organisational abilities have been sorely missed, but Tito Vilanova has only taken the plunge with Marc Bartra when there has been no other option.
Whatever the reasons for his reticence, the next three games give the manager a chance to assess Bartra's credentials over a slightly extended period and allow the player himself to forge a well-overdue understanding with Gerard Pique at the heart of the Barca back line.
With Confederations Cup duty upcoming, it makes sense for both Adriano and Dani Alves, injured this evening, to take a breather and allow Bartra and Martin Montoya to slot in as required.
Montoya, like Bartra, has a point to prove to the management team and will be hungry to produce his best work over the next three matches.
It's also with the Confederations Cup in mind that Vilanova may care to rotate his midfield more than usual.
Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta will all be picked for the Spanish national side.
Do Barcelona really want to force those players to play in the final three matches knowing that they will then travel to Brazil as soon as the La Liga season is over, and when returning for preseason will have had another summer without rest?
Surely some down time now will benefit the Blaugrana later on?
We can probably gauge how seriously the club will take equalling the points record by which midfield Vilanova puts out in those matches.
Valladolid visit Camp Nou with a terrible record against their hosts. In the 10 previous meetings between the sides, there have been three draws and seven wins for Barca.
Patchy current form—two wins, two draws, two losses—from the team sitting in 12th place suggest that the same pattern will continue.
The penultimate match is at the Cornella El Prat against Espanyol and Lionel Messi may insist he is given the chance to score at the only stadium in the league where he is yet to find the back of the net.
El Derbi is always an important date in the Catalan calendar, and although Espanyol have little to play for sitting just above Valladolid in 11th position, you can be assured that Javier Aguirre's men will go all out to dent any hopes Barca may have of reaching the 100-point total.
Malaga visit the Camp Nou on the final day of the season, and despite not being able to enter European competition even if they finish in the top seven—as seems likely—Manuel Pellegrini will ensure that his players produce a professional performance in what will be his swansong.
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