Barcelona’s recent three-game losing streak has sparked panic in parts of the media and groups of supporters. The Catalan club has become synonymous with success in recent years, and anything but perfection is rarely accepted by the fans. Within the last two weeks, Barça has seen its lead atop the league table dwindle as they now sit level on points with Atlético Madrid, who recently managed to knock them out of the Champions League. While some have been quick to ring the alarms at the Nou Camp, I don’t think it’s time to panic just yet.
First, let’s take a look at the packed schedule that Barça was tasked with in recent weeks. In a span of 31 days spanning March and April, Luis Enrique’s club played seven matches. Opponents in those fixtures included Arsenal, Real Madrid, Atlético and Valencia. In all but one of those games, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez started up front. In the midfield, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic have also featured in nearly every game with the Croatian missing just a single match in that seven game span. This hectic schedule was bound to catch up with these guys at some point, and it makes sense that it would come at the end of a season where they’ve played over 50 fixtures.
The good news for the Barça faithful is that they close out the domestic campaign with just five league fixtures. In that five-game span, there’s only one fixture that the club will go into it with less than seven days of rest. A luxury that their cluttered schedule has limited this year. The last time that there was an extended run of week-long breaks was back at the start of the season in August before the Champions League started. A well-rested Barcelona is nearly unbeatable, and fans will be hoping that the absence of Champions League action from their schedule will give players like Messi, Neymar and Suárez a chance to return to their top form.
Looking at the teams that Barça face to close out the season, none of the clubs are higher than 13th in the table. Two of them (Sporting Gijón and Granada) are even in danger of being relegated. In terms of head-to-head records, the best any of the clubs have managed against the Catalans is a draw, with Deportivo and Espanyol both stealing a point from the fixture (Barça would thrash Espanyol 6-1 on aggregate in the Spanish cup, however). Even though three of Barça’s fixtures are away from home, the Catalans have recorded the second best away record in the league with ten wins through 16 matches, and just three losses. A relatively weak ending to the season in the league should boost the optimism of the club’s supporters and give them momentum going into the Spanish Cup final against Sevilla.
Even forgetting about the less packed schedule and weak opponents, let’s not forget that Barcelona have the most lethal strike force in the league. You could easily argue that all three parts of the MSN could’ve been named finalists for this year’s Ballon d’Or if it wasn’t for Cristiano Ronaldo taking Suárez’s place. Even though the three are in the little bit of a scoring drought as of late, one goal in the last three matches, they are still fully capable of dominating a match. Through all competitions, MSN has provided 113 goals. Luis Suárez alone has scored 48 times in just 51 appearances. Excluding the last three games, only three matches all season have ended without a Barcelona goal. I feel very bad for the team that Barcelona decide to make a statement against in the next month.
With all of that being said, I’m not quite ready to hit the panic button on Barça’s season. Granted, elimination from the Champions League would have been disappointing, but the club are still in contention for a league title and the Spanish Cup. In addition to those two pieces of potential silverware, Barça have also claimed the Club World Cup this year. With the high level of play, and results that the club have recorded over the last several seasons, it’s understandable why a losing streak would cause such a stir, but the talent they have and the additional rest should set the stage for Barça to defend their champion status in both La Liga and the Copa del Rey.