FC Barcelona: February Woes Put Behind at Mallorca, Match-Point at Mestalla

Manuel TraqueteSenior Analyst IFebruary 26, 2011

MALLORCA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 26: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his first team's goal during the La Liga match between Mallorca and Barcelona at Iberstar Stadium on February 26, 2011 in Mallorca, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

After a good week's rest, Barcelona travelled to Mallorca and easily won 3-0, despite the absence of such important players as Valdés, Puyol, Xavi (all injured) and Daniel Alves (suspended) and took a giant step towards securing their third consecutive La Liga title.

February slumps have become a habit under Pep Guardiola, and this season was no different: in a single week, Barcelona tied 1-1 at Gijon (thus ending their legendary 16-game winning streak in La Liga), lost 2-1 to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium and struggled to get a 2-1 win at home over Atletic Bilbao. These are teams that Barcelona would normally be expected to blow apart, but once again, February wasn't a very kind month for Pep Guardiola's team.

While the points dropped at Gijon are hardly compromising, the same can't be said about the shocking defeat at the Emirates; in Cup competitions, there's no room for error and Barcelona have put themselves in a very difficult position for the second leg at Camp Nou.

Pep Guardiola has said that the league is always Barcelona's priority, and there's no denying that Barcelona are poised to win it again. After today's convincing win at one of the most difficult grounds in La Liga and Real Madrid's shocking draw at Riazor, Barcelona have a seven-point lead over their eternal rivals—not to mention an easier (on paper) fixture list.

In fact, Barcelona's most difficult match will be played on Wednesday, at Mestalla against third-place team Valencia. The Mestalla is traditionally a very difficult ground for Barcelona, but if the blaugrana pass this test, it's safe to assume the title will be all but guaranteed. But, it's easier said than done; Valencia have a magnificent team, brilliantly coached by Unai Émery, and the Mestalla is an almost impentrable fortress. In fact, Pep Guardiola has never managed to win there: 2-2 in 2008/2009 and 0-0 last season.

The possible return of Xavi Hernandez and the certain return of Daniel Alves are certainly huge boosts to Barcelona ahead of this clash. The blaugrana will be facing one of Europe's top teams, and they'll have to play at their absolute best in order to win. If they play like they did at the Emirates recently, they might as well forget the three points.

This is a vital match, a potentially championship-winning match, and Barcelona must rise to the occasion, as they've always done under Pep Guardiola and show that their February slump is over. 

This is a crucial week for Barcelona's aspirations; less than a week after facing Valencia, Barcelona will face Arsenal, an equally great team, with their Champions League future at stake. A win at Mestalla will allow Barcelona to face Arsenal with a much calmer mindset and considerably less pressure.

While everyone will have a role to play, there's no denying that Barcelona need their talisman Lionel Messi, now more than ever. The finest player of this generation has already netted 42 goals and assisted 20 in only 37 matches, and he has truly been an inspirational leader for Barcelona.

Last season, Valencia and Arsenal were both victims of the Argentine genius, who scored a hat trick against Valencia and four goals against Arsenal at Camp Nou, in two of the most awe-inspiring individual performances seen in recent times. Barcelona supporters expect Messi to rise to the occasion and show once again that he's the undisputed best player in the world. If that happens, Valencia and Arsenal will certainly have their hands full again!