After remaining undefeated until late November, Barcelona have suffered their first two defeats of the season in the past week – the first of them largely irrelevant, considering Barcelona were already through to the knockout stages of the Champions League, but the same can’t be said about the second one, which made the club lose some crucial ground in La Liga. More worrying than the 1-0 defeat at Bilbao is the fact that the result does reflect what happened on the pitch, with the Catalans struggling for ideas in the final third and getting outplayed by a combative Basque side. These results and performances clearly signal a drop in performance, one that Barcelona’s can’t afford to continue if they are to keep on track to achieve their goals.

The most obvious explanation to this drop, of course, would be Lionel Messi’s absence – it’d be unrealistic to expect everything to stay the same with the world’s best player off the picture. But that can’t be the only explanation for a squad like Barcelona’s dip in form so noticeably: even without Messi there’s enough attacking firepower to put to shame any other team in Europe save the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Whether this is just a blip or a sign of things to come, remains to be seen. The key for now is not to panic; despite the two consecutive losses, not all has changed for the club’s season prospects and a slight dip in form isn’t anything to be overtly worried about. However, this is something that’s bound to happen to every team at some point during a season. Regrouping and getting back on the winning trail as soon as possible should be very achievable with the resources at Tata Martino’s disposal.

Gerard Martino seems to be the best man for the Barca job

Tata tweaks his forward line

They will have to do so without Lionel Messi, who is only scheduled to be back in 2014, which makes the task more challenging. In a league like La Liga, there’s not really any room for prolonged slumps; either Barcelona get back to winning ways soon, ideally as early as the next match, or they’ll let the title slip through their fingers and back to the Spanish capital. Keeping the current lead until the end of the year won’t be en easy job, and it will require the rest of the players to step up Ai??and prove once and for all that they are capable of winning even tough matches without Messi. Whenever a big club like Barcelona loses two matches in a row, a big deal tends to be made out of it; but in reality, there’s very little reason to overreact to the current situation; unless this dip in form carries on into the next few weeks, it will remain as simply a blip in the radar. The fact remains that Barcelona still lead La Liga, albeit at par with AtlAi??tico Madrid and just three points above Real Madrid – the club’s title aspirations remain pretty much intact; the only thing that really matters is focusing on the next match with Villarreal at Camp Nou to get the club back on the winning trail.

It is time to maintain calm and not panic, and to focus on finishing 2013 on a positive note. Regardless of the past two matches, Barcelona have still had a very bright first half of the season where they established themselves as contenders for every single title and saw their newest start Neymar have a pretty quick and successful adaptation. Only Messi’s injury problems have brought down the mood at Camp Nou but even they should be solved come the start of the new year. Until then, the rest of the team need to prove their undoubted quality and keep collecting wins in La Liga. A team’s worth is often found out in adversity and this is the first sign of it that Barcelona are facing this season; the way they react to it will go a long way towards defining this season for the Catalans, be it one of success or failure.

Tata Martino will now really begin to feel the pressure of the biggest challenge of his career; while two losses in a row are simply shrugged off in most other clubs, at Barcelona that is enough to cast doubts and raise the pressure immensely with all the press scrutiny that comes with it. The next few matches will be a test of the manager’s competence and character as much as that of the players. It’s still too soon for alarm bells to ring, but the ship must be steadied immediately.

 

 

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