The final game ahead of the international break gave Barcelona fans the joy they craved for years. Not only did the Catalans defeat their arch-rivals in their own backyard but did so in some style.
The game was an absolute annihilation of Carlo Ancelotti’s side as the Blaugranas created chance after chance in a devastating fashion.
The victory over Real Madrid left Cules begging for more, but the untimely international break deprived fans of enjoying the garnet-and-blue team weave their magic.
Now, Barcelona return to La Liga and face off against second-placed Sevilla with the chance to leapfrog them. A win at Camp Nou will take Xavi’s side to 57 points and within nine points of Real Madrid. Here are three talking points ahead of the awaited clash.
1. The potential impact of the international break
Continuity is the one factor that ensures consistency. Barcelona have undoubtedly been playing at a very high level in the past few months, but a long hiatus at their peak is the last thing Xavi would have wanted.
There are both positives and negatives to take away from the international break. The break from club football meant some much-needed rest for veteran stars like Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets who did not take part in international football.
At the same time, some players like Ronald Araujo, Frenkie de Jong, and Frenkie de Jong played exhaustive spells in the past week.
The game against Sevilla will be the first game the team play together after close to 14 days, and it remains to be seen if they can pick up exactly where they left off.
A tough April awaits the Blaugranes, with seven games this month. Needless to say, the form in the first game will have a big part to play in how the rest of the month pans out, and that begins with the starting lineup. As Xavi said, rotations are key.
2. An opposition in jeopardy
While Barcelona’s stocks exponentially rose since January, Sevilla’s situation has been the opposite. Los Nervionenses were closely competing with Real Madrid for the title two months ago, with the difference between them less than five points. However, their form has tapered since then.
Their poor run of form started with a defeat to Real Betis in January after which they drew three league games in a row. After dropping nine points in four games, they drew against Espanyol before losing to Dinamo Zagreb.
In the last month, Sevilla drew thrice and lost once. Their only win came against West Ham in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16. Yet, they lost 2-0 in the second leg and found themselves eliminated by the Premier League side.
To compound their problems, Lopetegui will not have several key players in the clash through injury. Thomas Delaney, Fernando, Bono, Marcos Acuna, Suso and Alejandro Gomez are unavailable for the game at Camp Nou, putting further pressure on the Seville based side.
3. The title race: Unrealistic or achievable?
With a comfortable lead of 12 points over Barcelona, Real Madrid are the clear favourites to walk away with the La Liga title. Though the Catalans have a game in hand, the remaining lead of nine points is a mammoth gap that is difficult to close. Yet, one cannot be blamed for dreaming.
The past week has revolved around calculating scenarios in which Barcelona can overtake Real Madrid on the league standings.
While the chance is very slim, it is mathematically possible. Nine rounds remain in La Liga, and the leaders need to either lose three games or draw two and lose two games to give their arch rivals a chance.
In their nine games, Los Blancos face Celta Vigo, Sevilla, and Atletico Madrid, none of which are assured wins. They also have fixtures against Espanyol and Real Betis at home, two games that will push them to their limits.
It is not impossible that Real Madrid drop some points in these five games.
Meanwhile, Barcelona have a relatively easier run into the final phase of La Liga. Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal are the four big names on their schedule.
To have any shot at challenging Real Madrid for the title, Barcelona will have to win all of their games from now as a non-negotiable. Moreover, they will have to balance the domestic games with the Europa League too.
Yet, if there is one thing the world has seen from Xavi’s side, they will fight till the last minute.