Competitive football seems to be taking its toll on FC Barcelona as the Catalan club struggled to overcome a 10-man Real Betis side this weekend and edge closer to a 24th La Liga title. Record 32-time winners Real Madrid are just a point off the leaders and Atletico Madrid are tied on 36 points with Barca, with the Catalans on pole with a superior goal difference. Coach Luis Enrique has enough reasons for concern though, with a Barcelona side going into the final stretch looking considerably more worn out than Atletico and Real.
After Madrid beat Real Sociedad and Atletico eked out a win against Rayo Vallecano at the Vicente Calderone, Barcelona had their task cut out. The Betis fixture had now turned into a must-win. The Catalan side did not look their attacking best and put up an uncharacteristically drab first half. But tables turned real swift when Heiko Westermann was shown a red card, reducing the Seville side to 10 men. Custodian Antonio Adan, Camisetas De HUNGRÍA Baratas having commented pre-match about how he'd love to thwart Barca's title challenge, made a fatal error, giving Ivan Rakitic and Barca their first goal of the day when Rakitic tapped hoem the spillover from Adan. Luis Suarez sealed the deal with some clinical finishing as the Uruguay striker judged Messi's pass to perfection and slid the ball home as late as the 81st minute.
The performance was far from memorable, but fans went home satidfied as the league table remained the same with only one fewer match to play. In the last two matches, Barca only need to match their rivals' performances to take the La Liga title home. So what they are basically looking at is a win against Espanyol at home followed by an away win at Granada. The Espanyol derby would have set the rival tongues wagging, with the La Liga no stranger to upset victories. But Espanyol's sudden drop in form means Barca will always have the upper hand. The Granada match is supposed to be more competitive though, with the side fighting hard to keep their place in the top tier of Spanish football.
Barca's recent slump in the quality of football though, has raised concerns over the depth in their squad. Football critics say it is high time administrators and managers pay equal attention to consolidate a star side and rest their starters to avoid fatigue in the final stretches for overworked marquee players. To put matters in perspective, Barca looked to romp home with a 24th title win with 10 points between them and the closest competitors from Madrid. As of now, Luis Enrique and Co. would be happy to crawl over the line and into the safety of Nou Camp with a La Liga trophy to show for their efforts. But Spanish football is in the thick of things right now as Atletico look to drive home a 1-0 advantage in the first leg of their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich as they travel to the Allianz Arena. Cristiano Ronaldo is ready to join the Madrid ranks for their Wednesday fixture and it seems James Rodriguez, the Colombian prodigy, seems set to make a summer move out of Real as English, Italian and German clubs line up to sign him on.
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