Catalan clubs in good shape
We take a look at the situation at Catalonia’s leading clubs as the season gets back into full swing
It was a bittersweet month for Xavi’s side, having racked up four more league wins to extend their lead at the top of La Liga and put themselves in pole position for a first league win in four years, only to get knocked out of European competition for the second time this season before losing the last league game of the month with a miserable performance away at lowly Almeria.
It was Europe that once again brought a shuddering halt to Barça’s imperious form, since impressive wins at Betis (1-2) and Villarreal (0-1) and a convincing 3-0 drubbing of Sevilla at the Camp Nou where followed by a 2-2 home draw with Ten Haag’s in-form Manchester United. Although the next game brought three more points with a 2-0 home defeat of Cádiz to briefly send Barça more than 10 points clear at the top of La Liga, the subsequent visit to Manchester saw a 2-1 defeat and exit from the Europa League, with Gavi and Pedri’s absence (the former suspended and the latter injured) perhaps the difference between the two sides.
With 15 league games left to play, the seven-point lead over Madrid in the league will seem smaller than it should have been following “the worst performance of the season” at Almeria. Indeed, the upcoming two-legged King’s Cup semi-final against Real Madrid will be a further test of Barça’s trophy-winning credentials, especially after Ancelotti’s side came back from a 2-0 deficit to demolish Liverpool 5-2 at Anfield in the Champions League recently.
February saw Espanyol take 7 of the 12 league points on offer thanks to narrow wins over Elche (0-1) and Mallorca (2-1) in the last two games of the month. Given that three of the four games were at the RCDE Stadium and the one away game at the bottom-placed club, fans will be forgiven for having wanted even more, though 27 points and 12th place at this stage of the season does at least seem to offer the hope that there will be no relegation battle this year.
What a month for Míchel’s men. Despite a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Cádiz, who seem to only win at home and lose away, Girona earned nine points from the 12 available in February with home wins over Valencia (1-0) and Almeria (6-2) and a wonderfully unexpected 2-3 victory at San Mamés, always one of the more testing grounds to visit in La Liga. That leaves Girona in a very comfortable 11th place in the league, and barring any sudden hiccoughs, Michel’s side can head into the final stretch looking up at the European places rather than below them at the relegation fight.