Pep Guardiola has taken Barcelona to the heights of world football, but his team has never been in a tougher situation than now. It trails Spanish league leader Real Madrid by six points and faces a loaded fixture list that will complicate the chase of its inform rival.
Guardiola has had an unprecedented run since he took over as Barcelona’s first-team coach in the summer of 2008 with a club record 12 trophies, including two Champions League crowns and three straight Spanish league titles.
”The loss isn’t terrible,” Guardiola said. ”I don’t think the league has slipped away. There is still a long way to go.”
Even so, the former midfielder recognized that his team’s margin of error is shrinking.
”We can afford fewer slip-ups now,” Guardiola said. ”We will keep working hard and move forward.”
The European champions have had to reshuffle their schedule to make room for the upcoming Club World Cup, meaning that fatigue from added games could also play an important factor as they try to keep pace with Madrid.
Barcelona plays Rayo Vallecano on Tuesday, Levante next Saturday, and BATE Borisov in the Champions League four days later before then heading to Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium on Dec. 10.
”The distance is considerable. Madrid is getting away,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. ”But Guardiola has done things to make this club rise to an even greater level, and we have to continue believing in him.”
If Barcelona plans on catching Madrid, it will have to improve its play away from home.
While Barcelona has outscored its opponents by an overall 30-0 in seven league games at Camp Nou to start this season, it has only won two of seven away matches.
Compare that to last season when Barcelona set league records for most away wins in a season with 14 and for the most consecutive away games unbeaten with 23.
Much of the downturn has to do with its lack of scoring punch outside the Catalan capital.
Lionel Messi has scored 15 goals this season in the Spanish league but has only found the back of the net once away from home, and the star forward has received very little help from his partners up front.
David Villa has scored four goals while forward Pedro Rodriguez and new signing Alexis Sanchez have only struck once each in league play.
Villa says Barcelona is already targeting the first ”clasico” of the season as its best chance to cut into the deficit.
”We still have a direct game against them and we can win that easily,” the Spain striker said. ”This isn’t over.”