Amid tempests, Barca can't afford letdown at Getafe

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

These are chaotic days for Barca, with various legal issues surrounding the club and Lionel Messi splashed all over the world press, talk of an organised witch hunt nationally against the club by the Madrid-based press corps and rumours emanating from Argentina that Tata Martino will not see out his three-year contract after this season.

This all comes at the same time as the more positive news of Andres Iniesta’s signature on a contract extension and the opening on Wednesday of a new, 2,100 square-metre, three-story megastore, the biggest of its kind in the world, next to Camp Nou.

It almost seems that the importance of Sunday's away game at Getafe -- which will be followed by a two-week break -- has been buried under the weight of all the other news.

Barca very probably need to win, and by some margin, to guarantee top spot in La Liga over the new year, with an in-form Atletico Madrid breathing down their necks. Atleti host Levante on Saturday evening and a home win there would pile the pressure on Barca.

Indeed, a win may not be enough to stay top if Atletico rack up a load of goals on Saturday. Barca currently remain top by the slimmest of margins: goal difference between the sides is identical, with the Blaugrana at the top only because they have scored one more goal.

After a record 54 consecutive weeks at the top of La Liga stretching way back into last season, it would be a psychological blow -- but not a disaster -- to allow Atletico to get the upper hand at this stage.

Given the upcoming Jan. 11 showdown between the sides in the Vicente Calderon, it will be key for both sides to not lose any ground. Barca go into Sunday's game without either of their attacking stars in Messi (injured) and Neymar, who picked up his fifth yellow card against Villarreal and is already back in Brazil on holiday.

The fact that Getafe currently sit eighth and has always traditionally been a tough venue for Barca means a lot of pressure will be on the threesome of Alexis Sanchez, Pedro Rodriguez and Cesc Fabregas to supply the necessary firepower.

The three have contributed 20 goals to Barca’s league campaign. While none lack the experience needed to see off Getafe, Barca have had either Messi or Neymar on the pitch all season to produce a piece of magic when necessary, and it will be interesting to see how the Blaugrana cope without them.

Fabregas is likely to again be asked to fill the false nine position, and whether or not Xavi Hernandez recovers in time to feature will be key to the supply line the three can expect. Xavi did not train with his teammates on Thursday or Friday and is doubtful to play; that would be a big blow.

On a more positive note, both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are both available. Whether Xavi plays or not, there will surely be a start for Iniesta after only playing 15 minutes from the bench against Cartagena on Tuesday.

Two years ago last month, Barca’s title challenge came off the tracks in the same Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium (named after the former Barca striker, born in Getafe) when a Juan Valera header was enough for Getafe to inflict the first defeat of the season on a Barca side with Messi on the pitch. They never recovered from that when they went six points behind Real Madrid in the only season they have lost the league title in the last five years.

This season, there is the added threat of Atletico, who have showed no signs of weakness. They will already be looking to the opportunity that will present itself 11 days into the new year.

Atletico have not conceded a goal in the league at home since Oct. 6, and that record will stretch to three months by the time Barca visit if Levante do not manage a strike on Saturday. Barca have their own strike worries at Getafe on Sunday, and anything but a win will hang heavy over all Cules throughout the festive season.

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