Not To Be Sniffed At
That Mallorca lie in the middle of the Primera Division table is quite an achievement. Plundered for their best players last season because of their inclement financial position, the Balearic Islanders were left to rebuild their side with a new coach. Michael Laudrup has done a fine job at the Iberostar Estadi, though his latest assignment, meeting Barcelona head on at home, will rank as one of his toughest.
Last weekend, els Barralets slipped to a 1-0 defeat in the Basque Lands when they met Real Sociedad, though a week previously they beat Champions League hopefuls Athletic Bilbao at home, where many of their best results are earned.
Even in losing at Anoeta, Laudrup gleamed positives from the performance, though he would also confessed that his side put together their best run in the match too late.
“In the last 20 minutes we tried to react, but it was too late,” the Dane considered of the affair, which was played in miserable conditions. “After the break, we have gone to pieces. We knew that the wind could create problems, and unfortunately it has.”
Laudrup’s achievements this season with Mallorca have seen him linked to several bigger clubs, and his notoriety will only grown should the Islanders again upset one of their coach’s former sides.
Crisis Talk Premature
Barcelona approach the business end of the season well placed to pick up another treble, but Pep Guardiola’s side have shown some signs of discomfort in recent weeks. A surprise draw at the hands of Sporting de Gijon was followed by Champions League defeat at Arsenal, and though they accomplished their task by beating Athletic Bilbao at home last weekend, a trip to Mallorca will be no easy task.
The Islanders are one of only three teams to have taken Primera Division points from the Catalans this season, working industriously to earn a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou back in October.
But while Barca have fumbled with their form for the first time in four months, there has been cause for celebration off the park as coach Pep Guardiola has finally penned a new contract, which will keep him at the club until the end of the 2011-12 season, potentially making him la Blaugrana’s fourth longest-serving coach of all-time.
And he remains unflustered over newspaper talk suggesting the wheels are coming off the club’s bandwagon. “We are accustomed to hearing about crisis talks. We heard it last season when we were leading by 12 points over [Real] Madrid,” he pointed out to the press. “No matter what happens at the end of the season, nothing will change about the opinion I have about these players.”
Leading los Blancos by five points in the Primera Division, Barca will hope to be eight clear by full-time, allowing them to focus on a difficult midweek encounter against Valencia.
Ivan Ramis and Victor Casedesus missed out last weekend and are not expected to be involved on Saturday evening.
Pep Guardiola has some significant selection headaches ahead of this trip. Xavi, Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol are all poised to sit out due to injury, while Dani Alves is suspended. Barca’s strength in depth is set to be significantly tested.