• March 19, 2018
    Last updated 4 minutes ago

la liga

For the record: Can anyone actually stop Barcelona?

Coach Valverde has mastered the ability to always make the right decision

Jason Pettigrove, Special to Gulf News
14:05 February 28, 2018

Last week in this column, I wrote about the great form Girona were in as they headed to the Camp Nou for the first time in their history.

After two minutes of the Catalan derby, once Portu had opened the scoring, those words seemed almost prophetic … for the two further minutes it lasted before the beast was awoken.

Barcelona played as well as at any point this season and left no one in any doubt that they were watching the La Liga champions-elect.

Each member of the team did their bit, but Messi, Suarez and Coutinho were simply unplayable. It was 6-1 but could quite easily have been eight or nine. Quite astonishing when you consider it was against one of the form teams in the division.

A record-breaking performance too. The win represented a 32nd consecutive match unbeaten for the Blaugrana. Seven from the back end of last season and 25 more from the start of this campaign.

That’s one more than Pep Guardiola’s magnificent side managed back in 2010.

Though talk of an unbeaten season is folly, the way in which Ernesto Valverde’s side completely dismantled Girona has definitely left a question mark … Who is actually good enough to beat Barca?

A big test comes this weekend when closest pursuers, second-placed Atletico Madrid, come to the Camp Nou.

Barcelona have a good record against the Rojiblancos during Diego Simeone’s time in charge, but the visitors have been grinding out wins and keeping clean sheets throughout 2017/18. Another on Sunday would see them within touching distance of the top spot.

Should Valverde’s men provide another master class, however, they’ll have made huge strides towards the title with just 11 games left to play.

Importantly, the coach will now need to seriously think about rotation. Gerard Pique limped off against Girona, with what would appear to be a recurrence of the injury that he’s been carrying for the last few weeks.

Nelson Semedo is out for a minimum of five weeks after pulling a hamstring in the same game, while a number of other players need to rest with a view to looking ahead to the Champions League return against Chelsea.

Clearly, the Blaugrana are not the same team without Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, but both will begin to feel the pace at the business end of the campaign if Valverde can’t trust their replacements for a game or two.

If there’s one thing that sticks out above all in this record-breaking run, it’s that the coach has mastered the ability to always make the right decisions.

The players will rightly take the credit for their high level of performance, but if the buck stops with the man on the bench when things aren’t going so well, then so the plaudits should come also his way when you’re still the only unbeaten team in Europe’s top five leagues — in late February.

Viva Valverde!