Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola yesterday tried to dampen a sensation that his team are now favourites to claim the La Liga crown.
A victory over Getafe at the Camp Nou tonight would see his side close to within one point of Real Madrid, when the gap was ten points just weeks ago.
Guardiola had then repeatedly claimed Barca’s chances of a fourth consecutive Primera División title had disappeared, but nine straight wins since February’s loss at Osasuna – along with Madrid’s failure to collect maximum points against Málaga, Villarreal and then Valencia last Sunday – has seen the momentum swing back towards the defending champions.
The Catalan coach used yesterday’s pre-game press conference to remind euphoric Barca fans that José Mourinho’s Madrid remained in control of affairs at the head of the table. “In the entire history of La Liga nobody has made up ten points on Madrid,” he said.
“People are assuming that our game at the Camp Nou is already won. With Madrid, four points are still a lot. I have heard it said that we will win all our final 15 games. I do not know what sport people watch. The opposition also play, and they can draw or win games.”
Although Barca have won 14 and drawn one of their first 15 home Primera División games this season, Getafe will arrive at the Camp Nou with real confidence having won the reverse fixture in November 1-0 and climbed within reach of Europa League qualification after four wins in their last seven matches.
“Getafe beat us in the return game,” said Guardiola. “They have a defensive structure, a good goalkeeper and all their movements have a very clear defensive shape. If you start scratching your stomach, Getafe will come and beat you.”
Opportunities to impress
The coach will likely give youngster Martín Montoya another chance to impress at right-back, with first choice defenders Daniel Alves and Gerard Piqué struggling with muscle strains. Cesc Fábregas is suspended, but Andrés Iniesta – rested for Saturday’s 4-1 win at Real Zaragoza – is a more than adequate replacement.
Dutch winger Ibrahim Afellay could return to the squad after six months out with a knee injury, but Lionel Messi – on 60 goals already this season – is unlikely to be given a break.
“The final stage of the season has arrived, we need to be very fresh and sparkling,” said Guardiola. “I do not know if we are, with the problems in our defensive line. I must say too that these players have relaxed very little for years.”
With regular Getafe left-back Mané suspended, South African international Tsepo Masilela should deputise, and coach Luis Garcia hinted yesterday he may reshuffle further the XI which defeated Sporting Gijón 2-0 on Saturday.
“I will make a few changes to freshen things up,” said Garcia. “It is our most difficult remaining game. I have told my players to believe in themselves, in what they have done. We can win here. We need to be at our best.”