Barcelona's black month: February is never kind to Pep Guardiola and his players considers how the Blaugrana have historically struggled in the second month of the year since Pep took over the reins in 2008
Barcelona travel to the Iberostar Stadium this evening to take on Mallorca, desperate to secure a straightforward three points to draw what has been their most testing period of the season to a close.

Their unadulatered dominance in recent times means that a month that includes two consecutive matches without victory triggers alarm bells, but under the charge of Pep Guardiola, the Blaugrana's invincibility has generally came under most scrutiny in February. Injuries become more predominant, and expected wins become surprise scorelines. assesses Barca's results in the second month of the year since Guardiola took the helm, and discovers a blot on the copybook of the near-perfect tactician...

Feb 14 
Real Betis 2 Barcelona 2
Feb 21
Barcelona 1 Espanyol 2
Feb 24
Lyon 1 Barcelona 1

Guardiola had collected one point from his first two league matches as Barca coach, and already replacements were being speculated - it seems ridiculous now, but the former club captain had to follow up a defeat to Numancia and home draw with Racing by guiding his team to a 21-game unbeaten run in the Primera Division that branded his team as champions-in-waiting by the end of January.

The Blaugrana approached the trip to Andalucia to face Betis with a twelve-point lead at the top, but were without key defender Carles Puyol, while Lionel Messi was rested. Subsequently, an unrecognisable performance developed, and the Verdiblancos took full advantage, going two goals up within the space of 25 minutes. A Samuel Eto'o double continued the Cameroon international's prolific campaign but only managed to preserve the Catalan giants' domestic record for an extra week.

Espanyol arrived at the Camp Nou having failed to record a win in four months, and additionally hadn't tasted victory at the home of  their inter-city rivals in nearly 30 years. Puyol once again missed out, and the majesty of former charge Ivan de la Pena orchestrated a 2-1 victory for the Blanc i Blau, and trim Barca's lead at the summit to seven points.

Their malaise continued into the midweek; Guardiola tasted knockout football in the Champions League for the first time in the dugout, but thanks to an audacious Juninho free-kick, his team were toiling to overcome a Lyon side notorious for their attacking capabilities.  They were fortunate to trail only by a single goal at the interval, however improved greatly in the second period and were able to net a priceless away goal thanks to the boot of Thierry Henry, earning what was ultimately a worthy share of the spoils.

Season Effect: Well, the rest is history; despite losing to Atletico Madrid in a thrilling 4-3 reverse at the Vicente Calderon a week later, they failed to lose a game in any competition until Osasuna on matchday 37, when the title had already long been secured. The Champions League and Copa del Rey were added soon after to create an unprecedented Triplete.

Feb 14 Atletico Madrid 2 Barcelona 1
Feb 23
Stuttgart 1 Barcelona 1
Feb 27 Barcelona 2 Malaga 1

A year on from coming within minutes of losing to Betis in Andalucia, Atletico Madrid offered little Valentine's day affection for the Blaugrana's title aspirations as they clinched a superb 2-1 win.

What made Quique Sanchez Flores and his team's result so impressive was the fact it was the reigning champions only league defeat in the entire campaign. Guardiola, however, was without five first-team defenders and was forced to employ untried winger Jeffren at full-back. The hosts took full advantage, with strikes from Diego Forlan and Simao rendering Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal as redundant.

A convincing 4-0 defeat of Racing came three days before Champions League action returned, and a trip to face 2007 Bundesliga champions Stuttgart. The Germans were utterly dominant in a flowing first half, and had it not been for the instincts of Victor Valdes, the holders could potentially have been facing a considerable deficit before the second leg. However, Ibrahimovic pounced in the second half to snatch an away goal, and in the process extinguish the hopes of the home side.

Barca picked up a win in the last match of the month - but their performance was far from convincing. Against a Malaga side lacking in any genuine quality, Valdo cancelled out a Pedro goal nine minutes from time, before Messi rescued the situation with a late winner and ensured the points distance ahead of Real Madrid was maintained.

Season Effect: A 2-2 draw with Almeria followed the following week, but beyond that Barca only failed to take maximum points once in their remaining thirteen league games. Their complacency during February, however, allowed Madrid to extend the title race until the final day of the season.

Feb 12 Sporting 1 Barcelona 1
Feb 17
Arsenal 2 Barcelona 1
Feb 20
Barcelona   2 Athletic Bilbao 1

A 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid the weekend prior to facing Sporting cemented Barca's place in history, their sixteenth consecutive victory in the Primera Division, surpassing the previous record set by Real Madrid in the 1960's.

But with captain Puyol suffering from tendonitis, Guardiola's team, who have at times appeared flawless throughout the season, fell behind early to a well-taken David Barral strike. With Messi's finishing uncharacteristically askew, it took a David Villa lob in the closing stages to rescue a point.

Puyol was once again absent for the crucial Champions League trip to Arsenal, but his omission seemed an afterthought as Villa struck again to gain the advantage. Opportunities were missed, however, and the Gunners took advantage; complacency from Gerard Pique allowed Robin Van Persie to equalise, and Andrey Arshavin's winner condemned the Blaugrana to defeat.

Inconsistency continue to plague their performance when welcoming top-four challengers Athletic Bilbao, who had already secured a creditable 0-0 stalemate in Catalunya in the Copa del Rey earlier in the campaign.

Villa struck for the third consecutive match, but his effort was cancelled out when stand-in central defender Sergio Busquets conceded a penalty that was ruthlessly converted by Andoni Iraola. Lionel Messi's late flick ensured that there is currently a five-point gap between the champions and Jose Mourinho's challengers.

Season Effect: A gap that was ten points two weeks ago has now been reduced to five, and nothing less than victory over Arsenal in the Champions League will suffice in order to progress.